Attacking the Soviet Union. | Books

Just a small announcement here on Talk & Politics – we’ve recently started a separate blog to write about books and history! Check it out here:
https://bookreviewsandcommentary.wordpress.com

Our current reading is “Stalingrad” by Antony Beevor, from the Eastern Front in Europe in WWII. The numbers and scale of things involved are just staggering.

https://bookreviewsandcommentary.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/attacking-the-soviet-union/

This whole attack on the Soviet Union is still boggling.. also as it seems so poorly thought through, as many German generals pointed out at the time.

The numbers are staggering too, with the Germans sending in over 4 million troops to the Union, divided in three parts. After some struggles in the south the middle part thrust towards Moscow is stalled/diverted for a while – with angry protests from the commanders – and when winter then arrives in November they are all slowly starting to freeze to death.

Turkish President Declares Lawrence of Arabia a Bigger Enemy than ISIS

The collapse of the British Empire is coming back.. things were not done right back then.. but Turkey/The Ottoman Empire as the losing part in WW1 might have some extra emotional components in this issue..
And, the current developments in the region are not a fruitful approach to solving these problems..

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/13/turkish-president-declares-lawrence-of-arabia-a-bigger-enemy-than-isis.html

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took on the iconic Lawrence of Arabia Monday in a furious anti-Western diatribe. The Turkish president compared the outside meddling in the region now to the role the renowned British army officer played during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans during World War I. And Western diplomats here say the tirade bears a rather striking resemblance to some of the propaganda that has come out of the so-called Islamic State, widely known by the acronym ISIS or ISIL. (..)

But on one very important point of history and geography it now appears there’s a serious convergence of views between ISIS and Erdoğan. In his speech Monday at a university in Istanbul, the Turkish president blasted the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret understanding (signed behind Lawrence’s back) that divided up the Middle East after World War I between British and French spheres of influence. That deal opened the way for a British vow to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine and led to borders drawn by the European powers that created modern Syrian and Iraq. Historian David Fromkin summed up the mess that resulted in the title of his book The Peace to End All Peace.

“Each conflict in this region has been designed a century ago,” said Erdoğan. “It is our duty to stop this.”

Mideast Risks Warlord Era as Jihadists Rise, Nations Fail

The legacy of nation-states after western occupation 100 yrs ago might not be the natural state of organizing territory and societies in that region… given the degree of complexity of cultural, religious and ethnic blends and differences.. and many thousands of years of history..

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-10-02/islamic-state-leads-mideast-into-warlord-era-as-nations-dissolve.html

The Middle East may be sliding toward a warlord era, with nation-states increasingly struggling to control all their territory and millions living under the rule of emergent local chiefs and movements
.

Armed irregular forces hold effective power over growing areas of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya where central government authority barely reaches. Motivated by religious ideology or regional separatism, they have grabbed oil facilities and weapons, imposed taxes or changed school curriculums, and fought each other as well as national armies.

“It is almost like the whole regional order that was built in the 20th century is collapsing,”
Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London, said in an interview. “Non-state actors are filling the vacuum.”

The breakdown, in a region that holds more than half the world’s oil, has allowed extremist groups to thrive and drawn in external powers bent on stopping them.

The Obama Paradox – Politico

This piece has the full rearview mirror perspective on Obama.. and it might remain a strange time in American history and politics for posterity..
In the end it seems like factors like lack of practical experience and aversion of conflicts hampered too much of the whole thing… even if health care, which might be a step forward, and scaling back the military are two big and important achievements.
Other things like inequality and the corruption of private money into politics have become a lot worse, and a bigger job for the next one to confront…

The Obama Paradox
http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/the-obama-paradox-107304.html

The ritual started in earnest last fall in the midst of the biggest humiliation of Barack Obama’s presidency, the failure of the health care website. Anytime he heard a sliver of good news, the president reacted the same way: He knocked on the polished cherry wood table in the Roosevelt Room.

It’s a small thing, almost a nervous tic, but Obama’s habit of knocking on wood during Obamacare meetings had become notable, something that close advisers talked and even joked about among themselves.

Taking On Adam Smith (and Karl Marx) – NYTimes.com

Having read the first part of the book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” – it seems well founded and thorough.. and in part pointing to some obvious dynamics of concentration of wealth and power..
But an important thing is how he connects economics to other fields like history and social sciences.. something economists often avoid to do..As they prefer numbers and equations and to avoid analyzing or commenting on the bigger forces in society and politics that heavily influence economic developments..
He addresses this dynamic in particular:

“It is long since past the time when we should have put the question of inequality back at the center of economic analysis and begun asking questions first raised in the nineteenth century. For far too long, economists have neglected the distribution of wealth, partly because of Kuznets’s optimistic conclusions and partly because of the profession’s undue enthusiasm for simplistic mathematical models based on so-called representative agents.”

And more directly:

“To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.
Economists are all too often preoccupied with petty mathematical problems of interest only to themselves. This obsession with mathematics is an easy way of acquiring the appearance of scientificity without having to answer the far more complex questions posed by the world we live in. There is one great advantage to being an academic economist in France: here, economists are not highly respected in the academic and intellectual world or by political and financial elites. Hence they must set aside their contempt for other disciplines and their absurd claim to greater scientific legitimacy, despite the fact that they know almost nothing about anything.”

His thesis is also simple..
That fortunes tend to grow faster than the general economy.. thus grabbing an ever larger share..
H
e then underpins it with data..

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/business/international/taking-on-adam-smith-and-karl-marx.html

PARIS — Thomas Piketty turned 18 in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, so he was spared the tortured, decades-long French intellectual debate about the virtues and vices of communism. Even more telling, he remembers, was a trip he took with a close friend to Romania in early 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet empire.

“This sort of vaccinated me for life against lazy, anticapitalist rhetoric, because when you see these empty shops, you see these people queuing for nothing in the street,” he said, “it became clear to me that we need private property and market institutions, not just for economic efficiency but for personal freedom.”

But his disenchantment with communism doesn’t mean that Mr. Piketty has turned his back on the intellectual heritage of Karl Marx, who sought to explain the “iron laws” of capitalism. Like Marx, he is fiercely critical of the economic and social inequalities that untrammeled capitalism produces — and, he concludes, will continue to worsen. “I belong to a generation that never had any temptation with the Communist Party; I was too young for that,” Mr. Piketty said, in a long interview in his small, airless office here at the Paris School of Economics. “So it’s easier in a way to reopen these big issues about capitalism and inequality with a fresh eye, because I was too young for that fight. I don’t have to justify myself as being pro-communist or pro-capitalist.”

In his new book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (Harvard University Press), Mr. Piketty, 42, has written a blockbuster, at least in the world of economics. His book punctures earlier assumptions about the benevolence of advanced capitalism and forecasts sharply increasing inequality of wealth in industrialized countries, with deep and deleterious impact on democratic values of justice and fairness.

To Hit Back at Kochs, Democrats Revive Tactic That Hurt Romney

One could add that this is not only a symbolic attack on private wealth buying democracy, but it is also a very real attack on the main corrupting force in politics at the moment.. which feeds into the larger dynamic of concentration of wealth in industrial countries…
A presidential campaign costs $1 bn, the Koch brothers made $12 bn just last year..
And all the limits to campaign funding are slowly being dismantled…
The US in the hands of a couple of businessmen would yield enormous profits for their companies and huge losses of freedom for the rest…
This looks very much like the defining issue in this era of US history.. and the right time to scale it back… like TR did a 115 years ago…

To Hit Back at Kochs, Democrats Revive Tactic That Hurt Romney
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/us/politics/to-hit-back-at-kochs-democrats-revive-tactic-that-hurt-romney.html

WASHINGTON — After months of wincing in the face of negative ads funded by the industrialists David and Charles Koch, Democrats believe they have finally found a way to fight back: attacking the brothers’ sprawling business conglomerate as callous and indifferent to the lives of ordinary people while pursuing profit and power.

By drawing public attention to layoffs by subsidiaries of Koch Industries across the country — a chemical plant in North Carolina, an oil refinery in Alaska, a lumber operation in Arkansas — Democrats are seeking to make villains of the reclusive billionaires, whose political organizations have spent more than $30 million on ads so far to help Republicans win control of the Senate.

Vladimir Putin Is Right Out Of A Russian Novel : The Protojournalist : NPR

Some Russian friends and acquaintances have tried earlier to explain the strength of certain Russian “ideas” that trump reality and rational thinking..

This piece expands on this concept and gives great food for thought on what might influence the thinking of President Putin..

It’s no excuse.. but it might be helpful to understand this in order to manage the relations best possible and avoid playing into the enemy role constructed in parts of Russian literature and culture..

http://www.npr.org/blogs/theprotojournalist/2014/03/29/294807461/vladimir-putin-is-right-out-of-a-russian-novel

Russia is a hypothetical culture. Ruled by despots for most of our history, we are used to living in fiction rather than reality,” writes Nina L. Khrushcheva, who teaches international affairs at The New School. She is also the great granddaughter of the late communist leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev.

(..) The political — and very real and serious — drama unfolding in Ukraine right now “isn’t merely geopolitical,” says Andrew D. Kaufman. “It’s a deep-seated drama of the Russian soul that’s been around for centuries. And Russian literature is the place we see it in full flower.” Andy is a Russian literature at the and author of the upcoming Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times.

The question Putin is grappling with, Andy says, “is one that recurs throughout the nineteenth-century Russian classics: What is the source of our national greatness?”

Nineteenth-century writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, for instance, believed that Russia’s mission was to establish a widespread Christian empire — with Russia at its epicenter, Andy says, pointing to The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov as exemplary novels. Dostoevsky’s contemporary, Leo Tolstoy, on the other hand, believed that every nation is unique and worthwhile — none better or worse than others.

(..) In certain works by Dostoevsky, says Laura Goering, professor of Russian at , “the West is depicted as something seductive, yet soulless, a temptation to be resisted at all costs.”

Russia says there is still a chance for peace in Syria | Reuters

And thus Russia has become in charge of current world events.. as Obama has left the wheel.. strange days..

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a press conference after a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moualem in Moscow, September 9, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/12/us-syria-crisis-russia-idUSBRE98B09920130912?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews

(Reuters) – There is a still a chance for peace in Syria and the world must not let it pass, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Speaking to students in Kazakhstan, Lavrov welcomed the Syrian government’s acceptance of Russia’s proposal that Damascus place its chemical weapons under international control.

"I am certain that there’s a chance for peace in Syria," he said, adding a warning that military intervention would further destabilize Syria and the region, Interfax news agency reported.