Timbuktu sites under attack by religious extremists

Posted in , Society at 11:40 by RjZ

I haven’t seen the site in person, and I may never be able to. The mosques, shrines, and monuments of famous Timbuktu are under attack by an al Qaida-linked group of militants.

I do not blame my religious friends for the heinous acts of extremists, but this attack is on nothing less than human culture itself and requires a response. Those who share religion with the extremists have an even greater responsibility forced upon them. They must demonstrate with their response why their belief system is not the same as those perpetrating this crime.

Actions will always speak louder than words.

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The light at the end of the tunnel might be an oncoming train

Posted in Society at 14:38 by RjZ

I’m all for public transport. I’ve traveled around Europe and Japan where population density makes public transport both economical and a joy to use (even if it’s not necessarily cheaper than owning a car). Actually, everyone loves public transport and so when Colorado’s FasTrack went before voters in 2004 it’s not surprising that it won and folks volunteered to have taxes raised to pay for it. Except they didn’t collect nearly enough.

I was opposed to that measure then, but I knew, judging from the my well traveled, equally public transport loving circle of friends that it was going to pass and that everyone thought I was being a jerk. However, the most recent “stunning news” is that rails will cost an estimated $469 million more than expected. FasTrack authorities we’re only off by some 710%, so, you know, no big deal.

Bigger communities suffer bigger cost overruns. Boston’s “Big Dig” is still being paid off and estimated to cost about 4x its original (inflation adjusted) $6 billion. Seattle’s downtown Sound Transit Light Rail tunnel similarly was off by 100% and that’s after cutting back on the project.

The problem is that there is no incentive to avoid cost over-runs. Like many things in business and policy, sandbagging on the expected costs means that those in charge have jobs, create jobs, and generally look and feel good, but it doesn’t mean we’ll actually have trains that carry us to and from Denver from outlying areas. As Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg points out, big projects almost always suffer from cost overruns and the reasons are simple. Authorities are lying about the costs and we all want to believe them.

Folks aren’t lying out of malice alone, but rather because these big infrastructure projects are things that everyone really wants! How can you be against your city getting a sleek new train or a traffic mitigating tunnel? Less green-house gasses, better lifestyle, and maybe even tourism dollars to witness your world leading technology? What kind of anti-social luddite is against that?

Really, though, that no one could be against it ought to have been a warning. Here in Colorado, a state with a population density of 19 people per square km, we’re hoping to be able to justify rapid transit just as nice as what we might have seen during a visit to Amsterdam (Dutch population density = 491/km2 or more than 20 times!) [data from Wolfram Alpha]How could we be surprised that there costs estimates of rapid transit weren’t altogether honest? Would anyone have been willing to pay if we we’re told, that even after taxes, we’d have to pay around 20 times as much for a ticket to ride?

Today, Denver metro residents are like poker players facing another buy-in after they’ve lost their first stake. Do we throw good money after bad in the hopes we’ll at least get something for it, or do we step back from the table and accept our losses. Remember, everyone wants sleek efficient public transport, but that doesn’t change the economics of how we pay for it.

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Unintended consequence of employer provided health care

Posted in , Society at 17:33 by RjZ

Have you been reading how various state and federal legislatures are trying various strategies to limit access to birth control? Missouri, for example, recently voted that employers shouldn’t be forced to offer insurance that covers birth control (or abortions) if their religious convictions oppose such activities. Check out that article, but read the comments too.

Folks are pretty angry that conservative legislators are waging a war on every other religion and women are the casualties. According to the article Rep. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo says “This is about sending a message to the federal government that we don’t like things rammed down our throat,” which is interesting, because, most people reading this think that’s exactly what they’re doing: forcing others to tolerate an essentially Christian notion of when and how birth control should be used.

I don’t see this as a volley in the so-called war on Christianity, but rather a response to big government ideals and how conservatives see those manifest in Obama-care. It’s a bizarre response, because it seems to insert government into yet another private decision, but, to be fair, the claim is that employers aren’t required to do something (even if it’s fair) and not that they’re being subjected to an increased burden. Employees remain free to gain insurance in some other way that covers their needs.

The real problem here, is our horrible system of employer provided health care. Companies with moral convictions shouldn’t be obligated to offer health care that is abhorrent to them; and the rest of us should feel free to condemn their antiquated beliefs and stop patronizing them or working for them. Unfortunately, freeing employers up to pick and choose which health care requirements they will meet and which ones they don’t like results in people with very scattered coverage, because they have no where affordable they can turn.

Imagine, if instead of trying to fix the existing system of employer provided health-care (which Obama-Care settled upon as a solution) we actually cut the employers out of the picture completely. Such unintended consequences as these silly bills wouldn’t even be on the table and personal choice might be available for all.

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Children of capitalists

Posted in Liberty, Society at 16:52 by RjZ

Ask your average American about communism and, after they’re done spitting on the ground, you’re likely to hear a smug: “Communism isn’t such a bad idea… it’s just that it doesn’t account for human nature.” They may like the idea that everyone could benefit in a fair an equitable society, but they know human nature will throw a wrench in the works. Some will take more than their fair share without contributing themselves, or people won’t work if they’re not incentivized.

Ask your average American about U.S. politics and, after they’re done pulling out their hair in disgust, you’re likely to hear how “politicians are in the pocket of special interests. They care more about raising money and getting re-elected than doing what is right.” Folks are dissatisfied with politicians but, even after inadvertently hinting at the problem, and here I mean money, they miss the connection.

Society’s ills don’t stem, as some will claim, from elitists out of touch with average Americans. The Founding Fathers were absolutely elites of society. And it’s not just the wealthy. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, a few lucky individuals fell into success, but the majority of our historic captains of industry rose to prominence through sweat and savvy. Back then, the free market system naturally separated the wheat from the chaff; the cream from the milk.

No, elitism is part of what made this great country. Smart, hard working Founding Fathers went out of their way to install a system that protected the rights of people they would likely never meet let alone deign to associate with. Ruthless elitism, the notion that one’s ideas are better than everyone else’s, drove early industrialists to invent products and even whole business models that have (and often continue to have) vast, and usually positive, influence over our lives.

But lately, we’ve started to see a problem or two with “the system”. To see what it is, let’s look at an exception.

Peter Buffet describes himself as a “composer, author, and philanthropist” He’s also the son of one of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffet. Peter Buffet tried working in his father’s firm but it wasn’t for him. Like the rest of the Buffet children, he received Berkshire Hathaway stock valued at $90,000 when he was 18 years old. He decided to invest that tidy sum into his own happiness and pursue his career as a musician. Today, Peter Buffet is 53 years old and that $90,000 would have been worth $70 million had he simply left it where it was but, he says he “would much rather have invested in [himself]…as opposed to having a pile of money that essentially belongs to someone else’s success.”

Peter Buffet is happy and down to earth but almost as rare as his father. Warren Buffet describes the problem that results from what happens to the offspring of many wealthy, successful people as “the ovarian lottery.” “The odds of having a son or daughter, who is as passionate and excited and driven as the founder of a business was…are incredibly small.”

The odds of your daughter being the best person to run your successful company are tiny, but the list of companies run by children of founders is long and uninspiring. Successful people give their children every opportunity they can and often bequeath large amounts of money on them as well. The problem is that there is no reason to believe that these children will be the most efficient recipients of the capital. Paris Hilton is merely a celebrity example of wealth being squandered significantly less productive children, but she’s hardly alone.

It’s not only the kids of rich industrialists. Politicians do their best to pass influence and power on to their descendants. Just look at the George Bush Sr. and Junior, (not to mention brother Jeb), George and Mitt Romney, or the Kennedy’s. After the first generation, little has changed since the days of royalty; people pass power and influence on to their children who have done nothing to earn this opportunity beyond being born of powerful parents.

None of this is how capitalism is intended to function. The free market is about having a level playing field where the best will be rewarded for their genius and effort. (Note: even in this purest form, it’s still just an “ovarian lottery” where those fortunate enough to have been born smart and ambitious will be more successful. Few will likely have much problem with that, but I digress.) It’s just human nature to pass on the fruits of our labor to the most treasured people in our lives, our children. Unfortunately, it’s no good for capitalism. Remove this incentive to pass on our empires and you take away a critical motivator for success. Unfortunately, the power that wealth brings no longer remains in the hands of elites, born with skills and abilities beyond the masses. Instead, that power is handed down, to the next generation, regardless of worth, who may squander it, or worse, misguide our economy, even our democracy to despair.

Loyal readers will know I am a strong supporter of markets and individual freedoms. Capitalism may be the best of the flawed systems available to us. Still, I’d like to hear from readers if they agree and what they suggest as a solution to this problem.

Meanwhile. I find myself imagining a parallel universe where smug, successful, soviet intelligentsia are sitting around the kitchen table ticking off their thoughts about alternative economic systems. “Capitalism,” they opine, “isn’t such a bad idea. It’s just that it doesn’t account for human nature.”

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Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you

Posted in Society, Travel at 15:58 by RjZ

“When we were young,” my Israeli colleague told me “we lived in an apartment with both Jews and Arabs.” This is around 1993, after the first intifada in Israel and my colleague was about 9 or 10 years old at the time. He told me that the house superintendent was an Arab and, for the most part, an amiable friend to the families living in the apartment together. One day, alone with my colleague, the older man told the boy “if this were my country, I would kill you.”

Regardless of what you think of the the ham-handed responses of the Israeli government, even if you’re sure the Israeli army has waged war on innocents in southern Lebanon, and although Israeli’s themselves will admit that Arabs in their tiny nation are not always treated fairly, one thing remains clear. It’s easy to criticize, without having to experience living there.

Has Israel treated the Palestinians with fairness and respect? Perhaps not, but imagine living within rocket firing distance from the Gaza Strip. Israel is slightly smaller than New Jersey. What happens at the borders is local news! Even rioters in the streets of Los Angeles aren’t equipped with rocket propelled grenades or suicide bombing vests. Can you imagine an American, brought up with American exceptionalism and rugged individualism, not to mention liberal freedoms to possess guns, even considering just leaving things up to the government? Who knew? The average Israeli is the picture of moderation!

I’ve sometimes wondered why Israel doesn’t exercise its superior military power to simply eradicate its neighbors. Of course this would make them an international pariah for some time, but couldn’t the country, arguing it’s very existence, justify such a vehement reaction to the threats that surround them? I put this question to my colleague. He brushed it aside. In Israel, military service is obligatory. “We don’t want more war. People will die on both sides.” “But, Israel is certainly stronger than its neighbors,” I protested. “No one wants more people to die” he simply insisted.

Remember, this is the same man who, as a boy, was threatened by his neighbor. Can you imagine yourself reacting with so much restraint?

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Same Bible, different views

Posted in , Society at 13:45 by RjZ

Obama brought gay marriage right back to the forefront of U.S. political discourse when he took a stand and admitted favorable opinion. As I’ve written before, I am no more for homosexual marriages than heterosexual ones. The government ought to get out of the marriage-business as it is a religious construct which has no place in a government which separates belief from state.

During the Bush II era, I had believed that the focus on homosexuals was simply a ploy by the religious right and conservatives to gin up support for their politicians. It is almost surprising we’re still talking about this issue, after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Limiting the rights and privileges of legal marriages only to heterosexual couples is unfair prejudice and the president is particularly brave to stand up to those who would force their religious opinions on everyone else. Still, the president has suggested no policy changes to accompany his admission. North Carolina has banned the practice and Colorado is working on passing same-sex partnerships, all unperturbed by the president or the presidential race.

There is no denying that, even in the face of an ongoing war, thwarted terrorist attacks, a failing Euro, and struggling U.S. economy, that gay marriage is still a hot-button issue. For me it is merely further proof of how useless the Bible is when governing a country and a brilliant example of the value of church-state separation. Christians, many of whom are the most angered by Mr. Obama’s statements, can’t even agree among themselves. “When you read the Bible, you can find justification for almost anything, including slavery, the subjection of women and an argument that the sun actually revolves around the earth” vs. “the Bible continues to have authority, and [that] we are obligated to submit ourselves, our wills and our desires to it”

Let me know when they get their story straight. In the mean time, let’s keep expanding freedoms where ever possible. Seems to me, that’s how Jesus would have wanted it.

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University handouts

Posted in Society at 14:58 by RjZ

It costs more than it ought to go to university, and it’s getting more expensive every year. Tuition has nearly doubled in just ten years at state schools like the one I attended (you may have to search, but CSUF went from $2300 to $4600).

President Obama visited CU Boulder yesterday seeking support to extend the Stafford program which maintains low interest on student loans. Low interest loans allow students to delay the painful investment it takes to get a degree until it is more easily paid off when they’re finally earning money. For many, it’s the difference between reaching their potential and never getting an education.

By spreading out payments, the real cost of education is shielded from the consumer. Students take a risk that the money they invest will generate greater incomes in the future, but, as today’s stagnant world economy has shown, there is no guarantee. The government finances that risk with lower guaranteed interest rates. According to Colorado representative Scott Tipton, “It costs roughly $6 billion a year for more than 7 million students to keep the lower rate.” Students are told throughout their lives that a degree equals opportunity and statistics continue to support that, but what is the rate of return on investment and who’s making the strongest pitch?

In an arms race to outdo each other for customers students, universities must constantly add amenities and degree programs. Did you know you can get a degree in Leadership and Organizations? This masters level program ($23,184) from University of Denver will enable to the student to lead a non-profit organization. Unquestionably an admirable aspiration, but how many non-profit leaders do we need and how many of them will be that different from the for-profit leaders in other organizations (or even should be)?

What about for-profit leaders? With MBA’s costing upwards of $100,000 it’s pretty easy to wonder what students are getting for their money. MBA graduates will tell you it’s all about connections, which it may very well be, but that sure is some very expensive networking. I’ll bet just as many students will become the next Jobs and Gates (both, along with many others, lacking degrees) if they invested their $100K in a business idea and had a four year head start over their college-attending competition.

In terms of return on investment, low interest loans to future leaders of our nation is probably a pretty good deal, but as long as we’re engaging in social engineering, shouldn’t we consider a thing or two to ensure we’re getting something for our money? (And is this the slippery slope we want to start sliding on?) Somehow, we ought to be sure that universities, the ultimate beneficiaries of this subsidy, are somehow free to pursue academic excellence in whatever way they (and the market) decide is best, but are simultaneously focused on the their student’s customer’s real needs. Those needs are training, experience and education; and not just new customer acquisition with perks such as stadiums, multi-media classrooms, and an ever increasing range of customized degree programs.

If we’re struggling to keep costs down for students, then perhaps, until the economy improves, we might skip the slightly less critical degree program in Oriental herbology. OK, fine, who knows what wonders Oriental herbology has waiting for the west. How about Campbell University’s Sports Ministry degree “preparing [students] to teach sport in a Christian environment and under the eyes of God.” (Actually, I couldn’t find that degree on their website, but then I could find their Bachelors or Business Adminstration in PGA Golf Management, so you get the idea.) All this and more is paid for with student loans.

I agree with President Obama: “college isn’t just the best investment you can make in your future, it’s the best investment you can make in your country’s future.” If we’re going to keep offering subsidies to universities in the form of cheap loans to their customers, how can we make sure that, at least, the money is spent on their education?

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What happened before they went to church

Posted in Society at 9:44 by RjZ

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley loves her parents. She’s proud of how they raised her and what she’s become thanks to them and she believes that even though she converted to Christianity that her Sikh parents aren’t, as some suggest, going to hell. Speaking on National Public Radio (NPR) about Mitt Romney, she said “I don’t think we should focus on what church a person walks into…I think we need to on what they do when they walk out of church.”

Now I have a double standard. I think it’s just fine for someone with socially liberal views to be accepting of a variety of behavior which she doesn’t personally practice or support. It’s actually rather normal for straight people to have no problem with homosexuality even if they’re not interested in it themselves, (and vice-versa!) It’s quite common for women who have no interest in ever having an abortion to support a woman’s choice to decide when to have a family. You don’t have to share a view to accept it. I have a double standard, because I submit that it’s just fine to have these views regardless of your own behavior, but it’s not acceptable when your view states quite clearly, denying what you’re taught in Sunday school is wrong and will result eternal punishment by the almighty. It’s not OK to preach, as many of our conservative religious and political leaders do, about family values and attack others for their perceived lack of morality while sleeping around with same-sex drug using prostitutes.

Governor Haley’s cafeteria religion, choosing a little of this and a little of that from the menu of faith, creates an all too convenient world-view, which, while hopefully kind and accepting, is impossible when it comes to predicting what her beliefs are. She’s Methodist and that’s OK, but her parents are Siks and that’s just fine too? Apparently the part in her Methodist faith which says that the only way to heaven is through Jesus applies to mean people and political opponents, not her parents.

I have a double standard because those who make strong claims are obligated to live up to them. I might agree with Governor Haley’s words if someone else had said them. Coming from a self-identified person of faith, I am not sure what to think. Religion plays such an important role in U.S. politics because many actually imagine they can know a candidate by which church she steps into. A few weeks ago, Mitt Romney was questioned about whether he believes inter-racial marriage is a sin. Mormonism has accepted inter-racial marriage for a few decades now, so his snippy “no” was no stretch, but Evangelicals and agnostics alike will wonder this election year how much of a person’s heart we can know based on what they claim their religion to be.

What kind of God do Romney and Haley believe in? A God who loves each of its creations, regardless of what they do, or one who demands certain standards and will punish those who do not live up to these expectations? For if it doesn’t really matter which church you go to, but only what you do once you leave, then why would it matter if our politicians are Christian, Mormon, Muslim, or Jewish? How would it make any difference if they were theist, deist, agnostic, or atheist? Shouldn’t we be able to judge them by their actions and not by their proclamations.

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Time to read teen-fiction

Posted in Reviews, Society at 12:21 by RjZ

I recently read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game after a friend was surprised to discover I hadn’t yet. I borrowed the book from the library, and it was a little difficult to find there, because it was in the young adult section. Once I’d located it in the card catalog, I had to creep into a sectioned off room, passing teenagers lounging on been bags and quickly escape with my book.

I needn’t have been embarrassed. Reading teen fiction is all the rage these days—for adults. Adults were as enthralled with Harry Potter as kids. Moms gobble up the Twilight series as fast as their daughters. The Hunger Games is repeating the book turned box office phenomenon as I write this. And Ender’s Game was good. Simple, like a Hollywood movie, (there may be a connection here) but good.

‘Young Adult’ fiction doesn’t exist

Educated adults are so captivated by vampires and wizards may simply be down to a good story, well written and direct, in such a way as is all but required to capture the attention of our distracted society. A good book is worth reading. The age group of its intended audience is irrelevant. This has always been true, evidence by the wide range of books transforming with time from children’s story, to literature. Pity the highbrow who hasn’t found time for Lord of the Rings, and Watership Down, not to mention other ‘children’s books‘ like The Adventures of Tom Sawer оr <еm>Catcher in the Rye.

Reading bad teen fiction is no better than reading bad adult fiction. Perhaps what we’re really seeing here is a confirmation bias. it’s not that adults are reading so many teen novels, but rather that good books, with riveting stories are popular and book publishers are following the money and marketing them as teen novels because it’s effective. Of course plenty of teen books are published that no self-respecting adult is reading. Fortunately, we simply don’t hear much about them.

Or, people are stupid and lazy

Or maybe, while a young adult can be forgiven for not appreciating the complexity of character and story that a jaded adult requires to interest a more developed intellect; any adult still stuck in this over-simplified block-buster story telling must be stunted in some way. We can all be happy that, in spite of the vast array of entertainment options available to the modern citizen, that some of us still enjoy the rich, decidedly non-passive pleasure of reading. Reading requires you to engage your brain in a way that even interactive video games still do not achieve. But if the only reading anyone does is carefully conceived by talented authors to tell a story without the use of “big words” or nagging gray area details of the real world, aren’t they missing out?

Perhaps, in response to the overwhelming detail and information flux in our lives, we retreat to the stories where there’s no guessing at deeper levels of meaning. In that case, pity the lowbrow who hasn’t made the effort to decipher Shakespear’s and Chaucer’s olde English, or waded through David Foster Wallace and Henry Miller with no idea what plot was even supposed to be yet still so satisfyingly enveloped in their vivid, evocative language.

Brain candy causes cavities

I teased a friend recently for her excitement about The Hunger Games film opening. Another intelligent adult caught up by the sweet allure of brain candy? Then I read some reviews of the film and book, which I had all too quickly judged on its young adult label alone. I haven’t read it, but, like Ender’s Game, it sounds pretty good, no matter who it was written for.

I retracted my reproach, but I am still concerned. Not because The Hunger Games or Harry Potter aren’t excellent stories, well told, or because we should all be reading great literature all the time, whatever that is. Instead, I’m worried that exactly because our lives are filled with so much distraction, so little time may be left over for those activities that require more effort to yield their rarefied rewards.

It’s ridiculous to judge how erudite is your seat mate on a brief airplane ride and from single choice of reading material, but if we’re all really as busy as we claim to be, couldn’t we have the wisdom to prune and curate our entertainment enough that we’re not only entertained but perhaps improved from the experience? Every book need not to be literature, nor every movie an important documentary, but I think folks would have much more to talk about on Facebook if at least some of them were.

Highbrow or lowbrow? Speak out proud in your defense in the comments.

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How Romney helps Putin

Posted in Society at 12:04 by RjZ

Russia has never really been the place we thought it was. When I was growing up, I would often have nuclear holocaust themed nightmares that someone in the Kremlin finally got nervous enough from Ronald Reagan’s “We begin bombing in five minutes” threats that they decided to push their nuclear button first. Our fear was not completely misguided. The Soviet Union and its nuclear build-up really was a threat to peace, just as the United State’s build-up was. Since then, Reagan’s version of the Evil Empire has become an oft repeated trope in politics. A strategy that could be called ‘create fear, gain votes’. Take for example, Mitt Romney recent response to President Obama’s “hot” microphone gaffe that Russia is the United States’ “number one geopolitical foe.

In grade school teachers instructed us to duck-and-cover under our desks in case of an H-bomb attach. It all added to my nightmares, even though I always thought it was a silly idea. What good would a wooden desk do to block the heat of a nuclear sun and giant shockwave blowing down the school? Didn’t these teachers watch movies?

While I has having nightmares and hiding under my desk little Russian kids were dreaming of Levi’s jeans and bubble gum. Russians I’ve spoken to tell me they ignored stories of evil capitalists coming from their government. “What would they want from us?” they thought, “would they really want to join us standing on line for bread?” If the West had all the good stuff and Russians we’re rationing wheat and vodka, why, they rightfully reasoned, would Americans even bother? The big difference between Russian propaganda and U.S. propaganda isn’t the quantity, it’s that Americans actually believe it.

Today, Romney and Gingrich and the rest of the conservatives want to demonstrate that they are the strong ones who will defend us from evil all around us. This sort of pandering is probably more effective at strengthening our enemies and destabilizing the world. Outgoing Russian president Medvedev insightfully characterizes Romney’s remarks as “Hollywood.” He suggests “they check the time – it is now 2012, not the mid-1970s.”

Did I mention outgoing Russian president? And who is replacing him? Well, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, of course. Recently, Muscovites did something completely out of character for them. They protested voting fraud in sizable numbers on Moscow streets. These brave protesters were unhappy about voting corruption and manipulation by Putin’s political party. Yet, in spite of rising frustration, some months later, Putin was chosen to be president in what outside observers conceded was at least a mostly fair election. His strategy to get re-elected? Pretty similar to Romney’s actually: fear mongering.

I noticed something unexpected when I visited Moscow last year. I thought I was visiting a European nation, with European architecture, European food (more or less), and European clothes. Most western observers see Russia as more closely affiliated with the West than the East. Russia is different and it really is just as close to China as it is to Europe. Spanning ten time zones, you can see Russia from Alaskan islands. Kids in the 70s we’re dreaming about jeans and bubblegum, and not rice and karate. Even though big city Russians probably don’t see themselves as part of Asia, regardless of geography, they are told every day in their media that they are also not part of the West. Battles over natural gas pipelines, and supporting Syria or Iran are justified as standing up to Western encroachment. Putin was able to venture outside Moscow and easily rally support to make up for what may have been lost in the cities, and he did so with vigorous anti-western rhetoric. A short train-ride away and provincial Russians easily buy into the us vs. them mentality.

While the cosmopolitan Muscovites might have their doubts about the Western threat, inflammatory statements by potentially future American presidents, are just what Putin needed to remain firmly in power. Gingrich, Romney and other conservatives may be all over Obama’s apparent weakness, “this is no time to be pulling punches” Romney said, but diplomacy is a delicate thing. It’s very easy, as a mere candidate, to resort to bellicose claims without having to back them up. Romney and others are actually employing the same ploy as Putin, claiming they’ll protect us from a dangerous threat from the outside. The good news, I suppose, is that if Romney elected, he and Putin we’ll probably get along just fine. After all, conservative speeches in the United States, ended up helping Putin get the votes he needed to win overwhelmingly and avoid a “Russian Spring” uprising. I just hope, for Romney’s sake, that the microphone isn’t on when Putin thanks him.

Instead of bullying our potential partners, maybe today’s conservatives ought to consider who’s side they’re really on. Are they for peace and greater democracy around the world, or just getting into office anyway they can? Which of these two strategies will really leave us safer?

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