Second time as farce: Russia, America’s economy and the Presidential “debate”

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by Rich Broderick • 9/27/08 • Maybe it’s the time of year – the cusp of October, the approach of yet another anniversary of the Bolshevik’s 1917 coup d’etat — but Friday night’s surreal “debate” between Barack Obama and John McCain reminded me of _A People’s Tragedy, The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924_, Orlando Figes’s magisterial history of Russia’s epic revolutionary era.

_A People’s Tragedy_ is a sobering tome that every American should read, and not only as a cautionary tale of what happens when a country is chronically misgoverned – and ultimately bankrupted — by a callous, sclerotic, and incompetent ruling class that conflates its own self-interest with the welfare of the nation.

Over the past 120 years, the Russians have been to hell-and-back so many times that there might as well be a direct line between the Moscow metro and the ninth-circle of Hades. This is a country that has faced one existential threat after another and paid a fearsome price in lives lost in its fight for survival. Four million dead in WWI. Another 1 million to 2 million during the Civil War, perhaps 10 million dead during the manmade famine in the Ukraine, 20 million to 25 million lost during WWII, a few million more to assorted purges, show trials, forced migrations, and to the Gulag’s system of slave labor.

To think that the United States can now blithely provoke Russia, which sits on vast oil and natural gas reserves as well as several thousand nuclear warheads, with little risk to ourselves borders on the suicidal.

Yet that seems to be precisely what McCain and Obama propose. Their descriptions Friday evening of the recent dustup between Russia and Georgia were nothing short of hallucinatory: an innocent but doughty ally suffering an unprovoked invasion at the hands of Vladimir Putin. Can the candidates truly be unaware that the ethnically Russian South Ossetia province of Georgia wanted to secede for exactly the same reasons we cited to justify Kosovo’s separation from Serbia only a year ago? Or that Russia’s intervention was a response to Georgia’s sneak attack on South Ossetia’s capital city – a nightime air strike in which some 2,000 civilians were killed?

Of course they are not unaware. Nor can they honestly believe (I hope) that we can ring the borders of such a deeply nationalistic, understandably paranoid country with new members of NATO drawn from a pool of such traditionally maritime, long-standing Western partners (!) like Georgia and Ukraine. In 1962, we nearly went to war with the USSR over the introduction of Soviet ICBM’s into Cuba, implicitly invoking the Monroe Doctrine as justification for our cause. Do we seriously think there is no Russian version of the Monroe Doctrine covering its immediate borders?

Meanwhile, the discourse during the debate about America’s financial crisis was equally farcical.

At $14.5 trillion (and shrinking) the American economy may indeed be the “largest” in the world. But at the moment, the entire industrial sector makes up a grand total of about 15 percent of our vaunted GDP. Almost all the rest consists of a sector that goes by the apt acronym of FIRE, for finance, insurance, and real estate.

America, in other words, produces almost nothing anyone really wants or needs. Nonetheless, we continue to include the non-productive, even parasitic growth of FIRE in our swelling GDP without bothering to subtract the much larger societal costs hidden within those figures. Is the price of health care going up by double-digits year-in, year-out? Why, let’s just factor that cancer-like metastasis into GDP! How many billions will be shelled out trying to rebuild – partially – New Orleans? Don’t forget to add the price of “reconstruction” to GDP, too.

And so on. And so forth. Communist China used to refer to the United States as a “paper tiger.” Today, it would be more accurate to describe the U.S. as a “paper asset” – much of it owned, incidentally, by Communist China.

But you’d never know any of this from listening to Barack Obama and John McCain. Both represent parties completely beholden to the very interests that have brought us to the brink of ruin. Small wonder that, to listen to these two ventriloquist dummies prattle on about “experience” and “judgment,” you would be excused for believing that the only issues that matter is whether Obama has the chops and McCain the temperament to continue our unchallenged domination of the world, a glorious Pax Americana that’s being paid for, essentially, with a Visa card and a smile.

I mentioned a little earlier the astonishing dysfunction of Russia’s ruling class leading up to 1917. Also astonishing is the way a corrupt two-party duopoly has come to dominate the United States, a country whose founders explicitly wanted to avoid the development of political parties of _any_ kind; imagine what they would make of the Republicrat Party that now not only receives tens of millions of dollars in federal funding – our tax money – to mount its idiotic national conventions, but whose functionaries also staff the very commission that determines who will be allowed to participate in the presidential debates. Imagine, too, their dismay over the inane analysis of the debate’s inanities by the mainstream press, itself another head of the hydra currently devouring the country.

Oh, what I would have given to have seen Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and Bob Barr sharing the stage Friday night. Think of the critique they might have provided to the farce that is our political and economic system!