Russia

I planned to examine Russia last on my tour through Asia as presented in my novel, Chita Quest, but the events of the past couple months are simply breathtaking, almost unprecedented, and simply cannot be ignored any longer.

Okay, I’ll say it….Vladimir Putin is a Stalinist thug. There, it’s out on the table. My opinion. Perhaps it is fitting for me to post about Putin right after writing about Genghis Khan. The difference is that I admire Genghis.

So, I’ll start with the most recent atrocities committed by Russian leaders in the Crimea and Ukraine. Most of this post will be a re-hash of articles you have seen in the media. I will address the geographical, historical, and economics in later posts.

Russia is on the move, asserting itself and expanding. Surprise. An interesting tie in with my previous post is that the Rus, the forebears of today’s Russians, have been on the move expanding since the death of Genghis. His armies reached what is now Ukraine and pushed the Rus back towards their capital at Kiev. After the demise of Genghis, his empire began to shrink around the edges. In the early 1800s, the Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, compared the attitudes of the Rus expanding east and the Anglo-Americans expanding westward, both cultures creating a myth of expansion into their frontiers as they strove towards their destinies. http://www.bartleby.com/73/2045.html

So now, Putin is on the move. First in Georgia, now in Ukraine. By using surrogates and “rebels,” Putin is playing a risky game and may lose control of his puppets. He will be blamed for their propensity to commit atrocities. Not to mention breaking the fragile ceasefire. Nobody knows how this will play out but Putin has certainly changed the world’s perception of Russia. How the West holds up will be a function of leadership. In my not-so-humble opinion, Germany’s Angela Merkel has shown herself to be the most courageous and outspoken of Western leaders. http://theweek.com/speedreads/index/257259/speedreads-germanys-merkel-vladimir-putin-is-living-in-another-world

Here is what’s happening on the sanctions front:

http://news.yahoo.com/ruble-plunges-sharply-against-euro-dollar-110647010.html

Another finger in Putin’s eye, the approval of the trade agreement of Ukraine with the EU that started this whole invasion…

http://www.thewire.com/global/2014/09/ukraine-approves-eu-pact-that-set-off-the-whole-crisis-with-russia/380273/

And now, even some of the Russian people are starting to object to Putin’s (mis)adventures:

http://news.yahoo.com/thousands-march-moscow-against-kremlin-role-ukraine-strife-134404129.html

This in from our English friends:

http://www.inquisitr.com/1479376/vladimir-putin-as-dangerous-as-stalin-and-bigger-threat-than-isis-claims-former-defence-secretary/

NATO knows what it will do but does Putin understand?

http://www.businessinsider.com/estonian-colonel-putin-wants-to-dominate-europe-2014-9

Why is Putin doing this?

http://www.inquisitr.com/1487210/russian-bombers-fly-within-30-miles-of-canadian-coast-as-vladimir-putin-threatens-wider-war/

Given Putin’s actions, here is a potpurri of opinions, both pro-West and pro-Russia:

http://perspectives.carnegie.org/us-russia/?utm_source=googlepaid&utm_medium=AdWords&utm_content=mobile&utm_campaign=USRussia082014

http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2014/0918/Why-Ukraine-speaks-of-civilization-to-Americans

And finally, once again, the media does its best to make matters worse:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/09/17/the-media-has-swallowed-five-russian-myths-that-have-helped-putin-win-in-ukraine/

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Mongolia

Not your run-of-the-mill country. I have long been fascinated by Mongolia and actually routed my characters in my latest thriller, Chita Quest, through Mongolia in order to justify all the research that I wanted to do. This will be only the first of several posts about Mongolia.

Why should you be even the slightest bit interested in Mongolia? Well for one, there is a high probability that nobody you know has any idea about the country—more likely, what they do “know” is wrong. Imagine how you could make major points in a trivia contest…For example, the name of the capital is a Jeopardy question (Ulaan Bataar)…

Here’s a map:

http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/asia/lgcolor/mncolor.htm

I have never been to Mongolia but it is high on my bucket list. In the meantime, I trolled the internet, interviewed (grilled, actually) the few people I could find who had been there, and read several books, the most notable is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford http://www.amazon.com/Genghis-Khan-Making-Modern-World/dp/0609809644

A couple tidbits about the great Genghis directly from Professor Weatherford: In twenty five years, the Mongols conquered more territory than the Romans managed in four hundred; whether measured by the number of people defeated, the number of countries annexed, or the total area of land, Genghis conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history. From Mongolia and on a horse, which he apparently hardly ever dismounted, being busy conquering and all…His empire lasted over 150 years—Kublai Khan of Marco Polo fame was his grandson. His blood line was nearly obliterated by the Soviets—yes those Soviets—in the 1920s, nearly 700 years later. His contributions to today’s world are clearly laid out in Weatherford’s wonderful book, which by the way, reads like a novel. And, yes, I realize Genghis was not Mr. Congeniality. 

Mongolia is a large landlocked country between two larger countries—Russia and China. A tad smaller than Alaska, it’s located on mountains and plateaus and is one of the world’s highest countries with an average elevation of 1,580 meters (5,180 feet). Mongolia suffers temperature extremes (Ulaan Bataar is the coldest capital city in the world…the only one with an average temperature of less than 32 degrees F—another Jeopardy question), and southern Mongolia is dominated by the Gobi desert.

Apart from all the history associated with Mongolia and the Mongols, what is crucial to us today is what is going on in this undeveloped country of just less than three million people. Mongolia is the site of probably the last great mineral rush in history. It is jammed packed with oil, gas, copper, gold, silver, coal, you name it. It is estimated that Mongolia’s economy will be the second fastest growing economy in the world in 2014. Not surprising, the surge of investment money threatens the agrarian, nomadic culture and landscape with corruption and pollution, not to mention the chaos from the influx of foreigners. Nearly half the nation’s people have moved to Ulaan Bataar in order to join the rush to riches, effectively de-populating the rest of the already sparsely populated country. http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/03/23/mongolias-economic-prospects-and-challenges/

As usual, the National Geographic has a wonderful site on Mongolia:

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/mongolia-photos/

Here’s another with more pictures of Ulaan Bataar: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/ulaanbaatar/leong-photography#/01-models-child-acrobat-concert-670.jpg 

I’ll get back to Mongolia in a future post, after I take a swing around the other Asian countries featured in Chita Quest.

Florida Authors and Publishers Association thinks I’m swell

FAPA Award Chita Quest won silver medals in two categories, Adult Fiction Action/Suspense and Book Cover Design!

Memorial Day with Joe Galloway

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For ceremonies on Memorial Day Weekend 2014, the New Mexico Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park’s guest speaker was Joe Galloway. Joe was a war correspondent in Vietnam who accompanied the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry Regiment into Ia Drang for what became one of the most savage battles of the Vietnam War. He co-authored the best-selling books We Were Soldiers Once…And Young and We Are Soldiers Still with the commander of the 1st Battalion, LGEN Harold Moore.

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Joe is a dynamic personality, completely at ease speaking his mind on Vietnam, foreign policy, the VA, and just about any other subject that might come up. His speech was unscripted and came from the heart. His words resonated with the audience, made up mostly of vets and their families, who interrupted him many times with applause, laughter and even several standing ovations. The line was long for veterans wanting a handshake and book signed by Joe Galloway.

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Last year, we hosted Jack McLean, a former Marine rifleman and author of Loon, A Marine Story. He had the same kind of connection and reception from an appreciative audience. Jack and Joe have set the bar pretty high for speakers at this particular Memorial!

Joe is kept busy with speaking engagements. He is also one of the driving forces behind the national commemoration 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War which will take place in small towns and villages across the nation next year. The Vietnam vets will, at long last, be getting the parades they deserved years ago. http://www.vietnamwar50th.com/

A couple things that I picked up from Joe. He is proud of his association with the military of the United States. He loves service members. He wears his cavalry hat and Bronze Star with  a V device (the only civilian so honored by the Army) with pride. At the same time, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone more vociferously anti-war than Joe Galloway. And I think that those two positions are linked.IMG_1017

I do not presume to put words in his mouth so read his books for yourself. His website is http://www.lzxray.com

As an aside, there is a great article in the Vietnam Veterans of America Magazine at http://vvaveteran.org/34-3/34-3_angelfire.html about this Memorial, the first Vietnam Memorial in the United States.

Brazil

This will be my last scheduled post on Latin America for a while. I am shifting my gaze towards Asia where most of the action of my second book, Chita Quest, takes place. In passing I want to mention that Venezuelan President Maduro continues his search for a scapegoat for his country’s economic woes. Today he launched an attack on the national television stations, saying that the telenovellas so dear to the hearts of Venezuelans were eroding the country’s moral fiber.  No mention was made of his destructive economic policies.

Brazil. Roughly the same size as the continental United States, Brazil has a population of some 200 million people, about half of whom are classified as middle class.

A few decades ago, Brazil did some smart things and conquered hyperinflation. For more than twenty years, Brazil’s economy sizzled, reducing poverty by two thirds and virtually creating a huge middle class. Then government largess inflated the public debt with a large public sector and the accompanying large pension requirements. The increased bureaucracy had to justify its existence so spun out all sorts of business-unfriendly regulations. The tax system became byzantine and taxes soared. Infrastructure issues were not addressed. For example, air travel has doubled in the past two decades but airports have not kept pace—something that will bite the country in the butt during the upcoming FIFA World Cup this summer followed by the Summer Olympics in 2016. Productivity has suffered. Unit costs have doubled due to raising the minimum wage—in dollar terms, they have tripled, making it difficult to export manufactured goods. The education system is terrible—most spending is on university-level schools. The internal transportation system is shaky. And there are still millions of really poor people dragging down the social services.

The discovery of tremendous deep-water offshore oil reserves could bail Brazil out if managed properly. Already politicians are screaming to increase spending on social programs. Brazil needs to refocus public spending on infrastructure, education, public health and to reduce its tax structure. The question is whether Brazil will follow in the footsteps of Norway and, to a lesser extent, the U.K., or will it fritter away its oil opportunity like Mexico.

I used to fly to the Bolivian city of Puerto Suarez on business with the Bolivian Air Force. Puerto Suarez is right on the border with Brazil. We would stay in Corumba, Brazil where the food was wonderful and the night life extraordinary. John Grisham captured the essence of rural Brazil in his novel The Testament. Brazilians are fun-loving and semi-crazy. Great people and lots of fun to be around. I hope Brazil works out its problems and regains its economic momentum.

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/brazil/

As always, here’s a different view from across the pond. Amazing how stories involving World Cup preparations dominate the British press…just sayin’…http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/brazil/

For those of you who prefer their news delivered via video, here is a brilliant discussion the state of the economy and future opportunities from The Economist magazine:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2013/09/special-report-brazil#

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/30/world/americas/brazil-forging-economic-ties-with-cuba-while-hiring-its-doctors.html?_r=0

The CIA World Book points out that brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and borders every country in South America except Ecuador and Chile. http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=CIA+world+book+brazil&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Edward Snowden has made quite a splash in Brazil. He has recently requested asylum there. The Brazilian president is particularly incensed at his revelations. Don’t be surprised if he ends up in Brazil, a major improvement to living conditions and life style–compared to chilly Russia.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/18/world/americas/snowden-offers-to-help-brazil-in-nsa-inquiry.html

Here’s the latest summary of the preparations for the World Cup:

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/Latin-America-Monitor/2014/0121/World-Cup-prep-or-welfare-help-Sao-Paulo-razes-centrally-located-shantytown

http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/10/3863470/brazil-has-long-way-to-go-before.html

Here is an update about the situation with the creaky Brazilian air traffic system:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304732804579425360166993226

Many of you probably remember this disaster last November when a crane collapsed onto a stadium being built for the World Cup.

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/sports/2013/11/30/sao-paulo-stadium-collapse-only-one-problem-in-brazil-world-cup-construction/

For more news about the Brazilian sports scene, try

http://www.foxnews.com/topics/brazil.htm

And just for grins, here’s a recent Op-Ed on the economies of the BRIC countries vis-à-vis the United States which paints a brighter picture for the U.S. and a bleaker one for the BRICs.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-an-emerging-market-problem/2014/01/22/173a984c-82f3-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html?hpid=z3