23 March 2014

Screw the Crimea

Okay, that establishes the theme. Maybe I should quit there.

The Crimea is a peninsula which projects into the Black Sea. The only other nation which it abuts is the Ukraine. Both the Crimea and Ukraine were part of the USSR before it self-destructed.

That nimble – and dangerous – old KGB apparatchik Vladimir Putin is steering Russia on a course of re-expansion into formerly Soviet areas. He's not being subtle about it. When Russia sees some substantial public opposition to a smaller neighbor’s government, Putin and the Red Army invade with expressions of the friendliest and most humanitarian motives.  But still with tanks.  And even though Russian provocateurs are responsible for a lot of the initial unrest, Russia is claiming the moral high ground with a straight face.

Well, at least we have to admire Putin’s no-nonsense approach.

The annexation of the Crimea IS in Russia's interest. It gives Russia additional warm water access the Aegean and Mediterranean.  Crimea has substantial energy resources. And since no part of the Crimea currently abuts Russia, the annexation gives Putin yet another reason to annex the Ukraine.

There is broad support in Russia for annexing the Ukraine. Many Ukrainians are ethnic Russians/Caucasians. (That's meant in the original sense, people from the Caucasus.) These ethnic Russians were relocated to the Ukraine as part of Stalin’s agricultural & genocide program.

The Ukraine is a lot like Iowa and Kansas, only bigger, Ukraine produces crops on an unparalleled  industrial scale. For a nation like Russia with a short growing season owing to high latitude, that's real important.

In response to Russia's annexation/invasion of Crimea, we are aghast.  For that matter, moral superiors around the world join the expressions of horror.  Yawn.  I just heard a stirring speech by the United Nations ambassador from Argentina giving Putin a thorough talking to about maintaining peace. Western nations including the United States have imposed economic sanctions on Russia and are threatening more. The current American Administration swears it has no intent to use military force. 

Unimpressed, Putin has told the rest of the world to go to hell.

Protests of peaceful intent notwithstanding, who thinks this administration – or any administration – could resist the urge to show off las enormes bolas by sending in the United States military? Already, the Obama Administration is dropping hints that it is "considering" assistance to the Crimea in the form of military material.

By imposing sanctions, the United States and other western nations have painted themselves into a corner. We are playing chicken with Vladimir Putin. We're in a car. Putin is driving a train.

The sanctions or not insignificant. But the probability of their success is at best questionable. Putin has lots more "face" invested than does the United States right now. That dynamic can change. The United States, by initiating military action, can make this an all-or-nothing test of American power and the future of some American hegemony.

The United States remains a superpower, able to project military force worldwide, even to the Crimea.   Doing so is a bad idea. At the very best, United States is at a large geographical disadvantage. The United States is across an ocean plus a huge landmass from the Crimea.  For Russia, the Crimea is right down the block.

The inevitable costs to the United States are obvious.  The first which often comes to mind is "treasure."  (Which is sad.  It’s not what should be considered first.)  Nevertheless, with anything beyond sanctions, we're going to be spreading around a lot of cash. Compare the cost of the War on Terror with the results. At least part of it has been remarkably cost-ineffective.

We don't seem to discuss the human cost very much, perhaps because it's a limited group of people – the military – which will incur them.  Can we rationalize lots of death of young warriors as being "required" by national interests in the Crimea?  The cost of wounded warriors is at least as great.  I have to wonder who in the American Government  decision-making circles actually have familiarized themselves with the reality of war trauma.

There aren’t a lot of scenarios which can play out.

1 - We continue to sanction and pray that sanctions will start working. Right, let's trust hope over experience.

2 - We go away. Ignore the Crimea. The effect of that would be at least partly negative. Those opposing American interests would lay claim to proof of American weakness and undependability.  Opponents of the Administration (which has played a part in creating these bad choices) will claim whatever makes the Administration look even worse. And we will listen to endless brave noise from Americans who neither want to pay for aggressive military with their taxes nor incur personal inconvenience. 

On the flip side, we’re gone.

3 - We initiate military action at great cost and win, however we would define winning. Then we have yet another conquered area and no idea what to do with it.

4 - We initiate military action at great cost and lose anyway.  And “losing” can be local or can even be the Pyrrhic victory of winning a large-theater war.

In any of these options, we are being suckered in to considerable costs and risks which will retard American ability to respond to more urgent needs.

And this for the Crimea and Ukraine. Where the United States has NO objective national interests.

Some see a national moral imperative to punish the wicked and enforce a Pax Americana.  So far, that hasn’t been working out.

There are lots of other places where we have at least as good a justification for military intervention.

Think of Mexico – There are areas where the Mexican government is powerless and regional policy is created and enforced by los narcotraficantes.  Were we to intervene in Mexico, we would be advancing real national interests right next door to us.  Which you know we aren’t going to do.

You don't have to look far for other places that American moral superiority might be a good idea. Who knows, maybe American troops this time around could end the thousand years of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.   Myanmar could use a good invasion.  Afghanistan has a long history as a dangerous focus of unrest.  Oh, yeah, we're already there. Who thinks that's working out?  China is one of the great human rights violators and a leader in economic oppression and environmental rapine.  Nobody seems to talk about invading China. Of course that's where we get our shitty plastic toys and where a foreign government owns 1.3 TRILLION dollars of American national debt. Oh, did I mention the the People’s Liberation Army, etc., has 7+ million members?  Almost all volunteer, too.

Leaving the Crimea alone is not going to fix very many American problems. We haven’t found the guts to fix much of anything.  We are busy enough creating dilemnas from cultural and societal weaknesses which are discussed ad nauseum and addressed not at all.

By staying out of the Crimea, maybe we can keep one brick from being added to the wall of American stupidity.

07 March 2014

Pride in West Virginia!: Take Me Home, Country Roads (Just Kidding)

On this glorious neo-spring day, the West Virginia Legislature has adopted John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” as an official song of the State of West Virginia.  This has gotten so much feel-good publicity, a level that we haven’t seen for a while.

Um, OK.

Hey, it’s a good song.  Pitched a little lower than written, I can sort of sing it.  Nice tune.  Mostly understandable lyrics, although the “Mountain mama” part is a little strange.

And the “misty taste of moonshine”?  Have you ever tasted REAL moonshine, i.e., liquor made in an outdoor still and aged about 30 minutes?  Misty?  Nope.  Acrid.  Choking. Caustic.  They don’t call it inTOXICation for nothing.

Oh, and the two geographical features mentioned in the song, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River?  Both are almost entirely in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Entirely different state ever since 1863.

West Virginia is beautiful, at least to me.  I find it strange when I’m in different sort of terrain and flora.  But there is a certain complacency about the “Almost Heaven” that is misleading or, at least, incomplete.

The Gallup-Healthways 2013 State of American Well-being Index placed West Virginia 50th among the states in life evaluation, environmental health, physical health and healthy behaviors and 14th in work environment.

Last year, West Virginia scored 47th in obesity, 49th in smoking and 50th in diabetes.

All the numbers are not bad.  In the last five years, the number of children in poverty has gone from 24% to 19%.  (That’s still 19% too damn many, and no, “The poor will be with you always” quote from Jesus of Nazareth has nothing to do with saying poverty is ok.  That is the most obnoxious and self-serving misinterpretation of the Bible that I  know of.)

The cost of living in West Virginia is very favorable.  What $100 buys you to live in America on average takes only $86 in West Virginia.

We are 28th in high school dropouts, with a rate of 13.6%.  There, too, that’s 13.6% too high - 80% of children who drop out of school will be put in jail or prison during their lives.

OK, the song bill is harmless and evades Judge Gideon Tucker’s curse, "No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session."

But there are more important things to do and a whoop-de-doo over something silly like this is embarassing.

In life, in government, in work, we have to keep our eye on the ball.