Category: USSR (Former) Minus Russia

Other Former USSR

Barack Obama: Two Time Nobelist?

You’ll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this — and here I’ll agree — premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being “not Bush”.

Six years later and I think it’s time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he’s kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting “Obama bad, BRAWK!” Continue reading

Explaining Life Insurance

In our capitalist economy, it is assumed you are going to spend your working-life saving or investing, or otherwise accumulating “wealth” before you quit working or die. It is assumed you will accumulate enough of the wealth-stuff to become secure–so secure that you won’t need life insurance anymore.

Did you know that?

Let me back up and explain.

I was 53 yrs old before a financial planner actually explained insurance to me in this light, but by then it was too late. Lord knows insurance agents never said so clearly. I had already spent thousands for life, AD&D and Disability Income policies in my early working years. I needlessly spent thousands out of fear (or at least “high anxiety” of the Mel Brooks order).  And guess what? The financial planner sold me some more life insurance!

So it recently came to pass, as I was sorting through my remaining policies, that noticed their expiration dates. I realized before my son graduates from college, I will have no significant life insurance coverage unless I “convert” them to some unknown fixed price policy.  Although I haven’t asked an insurance agent about it, I suspect the conversion I will be able to afford will be nothing more than a burial policy of between $3,000 and $5,000.  I also realized this: sometime between now and then, I am going to have to explain life insurance to my son.  When I do, I want to relieve him of the “high anxiety” issues he might unconsciously be inheriting from me in the same way I inherited them from my parents. Trouble is: that might be hard to do.

So here is how I intend to explain life insurance to my son.

There is an old adage says: “When you buy life insurance, you’re betting the insurance company you are going to die before they get all your money, but they are betting you’ll live.”  You have fear (“high anxiety”). They have actuaries–odds makers. Their actuarial tables represent the odds of The House winning the bet. They are pretty sure they will win most of the time, or at least enough of the time to keep their companies afloat and pay off whatever they agreed to if you should die prematurely, at least according to their tables.

Their actuarial theory is that your life is like a bell-curve. When you are young, you don’t have much, but you don’t need as much either, so your obligations are low. You get older, get married, get a house and kids–you get into your prime earning period and you fear your death or disability would seriously leave your dependents strapped with long term mortgage payments, no money for college, etc., so you run out and buy bigger insurance coverage. Toward the end of your life, the theory continues, your kids go out on their own, the house is paid for, you start spending your savings, your IRA money, living off investments—who needs insurance then, right?

But if you are convinced you will not complete the full ride on the curve, you may have a willingness to choose policies with higher benefits and higher premiums—and live to make all the payments! Insurance companies can stack the odds in their favor by increasing your fear-factor and prompt higher payments for bigger or more elaborate coverage.

All-in-all, it is a wonderful theory but I think it is predicated on undependable premises given the modern age of the 1% vs the 99%. The 99% do not accumulate wealth simply because they can’t. And that, dear friend, is why insurance has become so perplexing because it more-and-more resembles how my parents viewed the world through the lens of the Great Depression.

My father and mother came from a generation that did not–could not–think this way. They came up in the Great Depression, so everyone from millionaires to mineworkers suddenly found themselves with absolutely nothing as a result of failed capitalism. And in a time of despair, they could not envision a future that might be any better.  Sure they hoped it would get better and eventually it did; however, they were knocked off-balance hard enough never to fully recover–at least my parents were.  They came to see insurance as a legacy (a “just-in-case it happens again” cushion) for their kids. More–they thought of it as an obligation. And we kids grew up thinking that way too.  The hazard is conceiving of life insurance as a legacy, a gift, or inheritance. Insurance companies love to sell it to you with that gloss and shine, but their actuaries still don’t rate your fears as highly.

From this simple premise have come a myriad of slick life insurance policies weighted in favor of the insurance company. Term Life, Universal Life, Whole Life policies–annuities, premiums, “surrendering” your policy, “converting” your policy, “exclusions”, “annuities”—all the jargon that goes with insurance is really confusing and intimidating. But the final analysis is the same: they have designed policies which minimize their risk of losing money on the bet you will die before they think you will, and maximizing the amount of money you will pay over term of the policy.

So you have to ask yourself: why am I buying life insurance anyway?

Well, mainly it is out of fear. You fear your loved ones will be without some money if you die, and the more they depend on you, the more you have a responsibility to provide a cushion at your death. “Burial policies” are a kind of minimum—policies that basically pay the undertaker to put your rotting corpse decently into the ground or an urn.  And they are “cheap” as insurance policies go. About the rest of them, I am not so sure.  I do know that it is harder to accumulate “wealth” in an era when wages have not kept up with inflation and jobs are scarce, and becoming scarcer. I do know the cost of education and health care are going up. And I know your social security is not going to be as generous as your father’s .  Who knows? Maybe your father’s high anxiety was just ahead of its time.


US to Deploy Six National Guard Companies to Ukraine This Week

US 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander Michael Foster said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC said the US would deploy personnel by the end of this week to train the Ukrainian national guard.

Sputnik News, March 3

Washington – The United States will deploy personnel by the end of this week to train the Ukrainian national guard, US 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander Colonel Michael Foster said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC on Monday.

“Before this week is up, we’ll be deploying a battalion minus… to the Ukraine to train Ukrainian forces for the fight that’s taking place,” Foster stated. “What we’ve got laid out is six United States companies that will be training six Ukrainian companies throughout the summer.”

The training will take place at the level of US and Ukrainian national guard companies, Foster explained, adding that “we have nothing above battalion staff level” engaged in the military training.

The current plan is for US forces to stay six months, he said, and noted there have been discussions about how to increase the duration and the scope of the training mission.
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Russia Will Only Get Worse. Maybe.

Putin is on the horns of a dilemna. For the first time since the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Russia faces a severe economic crisis – after enjoying years of relative prosperity – and she has a warmongering chief executive. This is a nexus of events that will shape and define Russia for at least the next decade.

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Open Source: Latest Updates on Malaysian Plane Crash in Ukraine

NYT – On Friday, Open Source continues to follow the aftermath of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in rebel-held eastern Ukraine to supplement the latest coverage of New York Times reporters on the ground.

Updates below mix breaking news reports with new information on the investigation into the disaster and the reaction to the tragedy gleaned from social networks.

NYT crowd sourcing   or the ultimate  blog- whatever. Continuous updates also from the   BBC.
The rush to judgment is on…

Russia launches large-scale naval drill in Black Sea same day as NATO

RT, July 4

Some 20 warships, over 20 airplanes and helicopters, as well as the marines and coast artillery are taking part in the Black Sea Fleet exercise, Russian Defense Ministry reported. The war games launched the same day as NATO’s military drill in the area.

Starting from July 4, the scheduled training maneuvers are conducted in the whole of the Black Sea, the Ministry told journalists on Friday, adding the drill is being carried out according to international standards.

Former German Chancellor Celebrates 70th Birthday with Putin

Given the current Ukraine crisis, former German chancellor Schröder felt it was inappropriate to invite Putin to his official 70th birthday bash in Germany.  So instead he opted for yet another birthday party with his friend in Saint Petersburg (link to German news article).

Putin, who is fluent in German, hugs his friend Schröder as he arrives to his birthday party in Saint Petersburg.


The Great Expectancy

Pax Americana continues to crumble before our eyes. The belief that the United States has a divinely-inspired obligation to police the entire world has always been most strongly held among Americans themselves; some of the beneficiaries of this largesse, such as the Vietnamese and most recently the Iraqis, never quite showed the gratitude America felt it had earned by bringing them liberty, freedom, justice, and a Starbucks Grandé Mocha every morning on their way to work. Of course, it takes a lot of effort to keep Americans invested in the Pax Americana dream, especially since to make the dream mean anything the U.S. has to have “boots on the ground” in strange places that seem to have little to do with American security. Continue reading

Ukraine prime minister resigns; parliament cancels anti-protest laws

LATimes – Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov tended his resignation Tuesday, as the country’s opposition celebrated its first major victory in an ongoing standoff with the government.

Azarov’s resignation comes after two months of mass protests across the country and a week of violent clashes in Kiev in which at least four activists were killed, dozens arrested and hundreds injured on both sides — the worst street violence in the history of post-Soviet Ukraine.

The announcement came after four days of negotiations between opposition leaders and President Victor Yanukovich.

In a statement published on the Cabinet’s official website, Azarov said he resigned to create a possibility for a political compromise.

Putin On The Fritz

Well, we’re literally days away from the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics, and Vladimir Putin is starting to see his chickens come home to roost:

The Olympic teams of Germany, Hungary and Italy said Wednesday that they had received emails threatening attacks at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, adding to mounting security fears two weeks before competition begins.

The International Olympic Committee told NBC News that it did not consider the threats credible and said that they appeared to be “a random message from a member of the public.”

Still, the threats arrived as Russian security forces were hunting for at least five suspected terrorists who may be plotting attacks against the Olympic torch relay or the games themselves, according to noticed posted in Sochi.

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The Adult In The Room

The interesting dynamic that is the relationship between Obama and Putin has a new twist, and it’s one we should welcome:

On Wednesday evening, when U.S. President Obama cancelled his upcoming visit to Moscow, the Russian reaction was perhaps most clear in the way that Vesti, the state’s main propaganda TV channel, conveyed it on the channel’s website. Buried about half way down on the page, underneath a story about Russian tourists in Turkey, Vesti announced: “The invitation for Obama stands.” Beside that was the somewhat diversionary headline: “Barack Obama will travel to St. Petersburg for the G20 summit.” The actual news — that Obama had decided not to meet with his Russian counterpart before, after or during the G20 summit in St. Petersburg next month — was clearly not something the official spin doctors wanted to advertise.

After a year spent honing their anti-American rhetoric — on issues ranging from the adoption of Russian children to missile defense in Europe and the civil war in Syria — the Kremlin message makers were suddenly eager to claim that President Vladimir Putin didn’t really mean for things to go this far. “Sure, Putin uses this rhetoric, but it’s not so much anti-American as anti-Euro-Atlantic,” says Evgeny Minchenko, a Kremlin-connected political strategist. “And keep in mind that he has tried to stop short of a head-on collision.”

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Declaring war on the unemployed: So that’s what “Compassionate Conservatism” looks like


In a recession whose genesis can largely be laid at their feet, Republicans have decided to own up to their responsibility by…wait for it…blaming the victims. Instead of determining how they might lessen the burden on the unemployed- especially the long-term jobless- Republicans have declared war on them.

It’s difficult to understand, much less explain, how Republican-dominated North Carolina could sharply cut unemployment insurance benefits. Republicans in the Tar Heel state were so committed to pulling the rug out from under the unemployed that they reduced both the duration of benefits AND the average weekly payment. Because of that, North Carolina is no longer eligible for $700 in federal assistance to the long-term unemployed.

Hey, how else are you going to get those lazy “takers” off their asses and convince them to get a job? Never mind the fact that North Carolina has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates (8.8%). Add in the fact that there are three unemployed Americans for every open job, and a reasonable person would have to ask Republicans where the jobs are. Long-term unemployment remains at historically high levels, but Congress (read: Republicans) long ago allowed extended unemployment benefits to expire.

Ah, so THAT’S how the GOP plans to broaden their appeal to their middle class….

(Read the full post at What Would Jack Do?)