Biden Takes Charge

Who’s up, who’s down? Who hit whom? Who looked the best? That’s one way of viewing the Biden-Putin summit, the media way. An alternative way is to credit Biden with relieving tensions that have built up between the U.S.and Russia and proposing a practical way out that’s also relevant to the rest of the world. We must take the world as it is, he says, and do businss with it on that basis. High flown rhetoric and moralizing are not needed. We’re all in this together.

It was vintage Biden. As Vice President, he was about the only adviser who argued against President Obama’s dubious wars and drone attacks. As President, he has  been prone to fumble on domestic issues or not altogether understand them. With foreign affairs he is on familiar ground. After his meeting with Putin, he spoke clearly and decisively with words that reflected firm belief.

Photo by (Mikhail Metzel/Pool Photo via AP)

What he accomplished, of course, was to stop the panicky talk about war with Russia. War is hardly possible when the leaders of the two countries are so cozily and publicly communicating. For Biden the key issue, ignored in the clamor over minor matters, is the nuclear deadlock. He and Putin agreed on steps toward a Strategic Stability Dialogue to reduce the chances of a nuclear exchange beyond which all other issues pale.

He scoffed at the notion of trusting Putin to behave the way we want. He might have mentioned President Franklin Roosevelt’s fatal error in World War Two of earnestly trying to inspire trust in Soviet Dictator Stalin, who couldn’t have cared less. He relentlessly pursued his own self-interest, as all rulers do, says Biden. Let’s deal with what we’ve got.

Biden’s summit also stopped the mindless drive to push Russa and China together by denouncing and threatening both nuclear powers, even envisioning a two-front war, a danger understood and averted by Nixon and Kissinger in their Cold War opening to communist China. Biden didn’t mention Iran, a key link in the China-Russia chain. He wants to remove it by renewing the nuclear agreement rejected by President Trump. Iran is emotional politics in the U.S. because of its rivalry with Israel. To Biden it’s geopolitics.

Will Biden be able to implement his policy in view of the opposition to such  realism? It’s anathema to the war-minded neocons, in particular, who see no trace of their influence in what Biden proposes. They have basically run foreign policy under four Presidents with the eventual goal of removing the present Russian regime and replacing it with one of their own choosing or maybe even themselves, Bolshevik style.

This they accomplished in Russia’s neighbor Ukraine by supporting a timely revolution. With followers throughout the media, they have already gone on the offensive against Biden. He is vulnerable on some grounds like the over run Mexican Border and the White Supremacy fantasy. Foreign policy is his strong point. Stick with it.

Marathon Magic

The snowbirds in Florida are apprently not going back home to snow, cold, rain and remaining masks. They are staying in Florida not only bacause of sun, sea and beaches but also, they say, because the state is more open and better governed than others as it proved during the pandemic. Hotel managers report full occupancy during the uusually abandoned summer if only they could find enough help to handle it.

A must-see for newcomers is Marathon in the Florida Keys where two sets of impassioned staffers are working to reduce the mosquito population and rescue the ever endangered sea turtles. They require far different techniques that continue to evolve for the benefit of human health and the survival of creatures that share the planet.

Marathon Turtle Hospital Photo: Bonnie Gross

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is not on view. Despite striped legs, he’s not very photogenic. But he can cause a world of trouble; that is, she can. Her bite can be poisonous while the male is harmless. To deal with this distinction, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is releasing tens of thousands of genetically modified males who will mate with unsuspectng females. The result: when their eggs hatch, only males willl survive to the benefit of human health.

This species accounts for four per cent of the mosquito population but is responsible for most of the disease. Dengue fever, which is highly debilitating but infequently fatal, has been increasing around the world with up to 100 million cases a year and some 20 thousand deaths. It’s rare in the U.S., though there was an outbreak of 70 cases recently in Key Largo. Whereever water is left around – flower pots, trash cans, drainage ditches – mosquitos thrive.

(Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, published under the GNU free documentation license)

Genetically engineered crops are commonplace today, while similarly modified insects are new on the scene. Pesticides remain essential. Skeptics note that mosquitos are ingeniously elusive in avoiding peril. We will have to wait to see, but the Marathon modifiers are confident.

Sea turtles are much on view at their hospital. They come in various sizes, species and ages as they float in various pools for repair from injury largely inflicted by human behavior. They get entangled in fishing nets that may cost them a flipper. They devour the waste plastics that litter the sea and get trapped in their stomachs. Boats are a special hazard with propellers that easily slice through a shell. Turtle ambulances are kept busy picking up the injured when they’re spotted. People are alerted to look out for them.

The surgeons at the hospital operate with human care as they cut away bulbous tumors caused by a special turtle virus. Cures are routine. But if nothing can be done, a permanently disabled turtle can retire to a 100,000 gallon salt water pool that formerly served as a swimming pool for human guests at a motel now converted to the hospital.  

Considered living dinosaurs headed to extinction, the turtles have been given a reprieve by the hosptal. Its proudest moment comes when the turtles, now restored and fit, can be returned to the sea where of course they belong.

Let’s Make a Monster

In 1818 Karl Marx was born and Mary Shelley wrote her novel “Frankenstein.” This was no coincidence, writes Russian-American scholar Vadislav (George) Krasnov in his collected essays “From the East To the West.” It was fate.

The pair helped usher in and embodied the romantic era that assumed all possibilities in an uncertain world. Just listen to your inner voice and follow its dictates to the paradise awaiting you. Appropriately, both were aspiring poets of some invention, but their voices led them in unexpected directions, a romantic reverse.

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The wife of major romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary at 19 decided to write a ghost story about a Dr. Frankenstein who succeeded in bringing a dead body to life – monstrous life, as it turned out and despite his best intentions, enourmously destructive. That is how he has come down through the generations, the epitome of evil in contrast to the uplifting verse of Percy .

The young Marx revered Percy and imitated him. We don’t know if he read Frankenstein, but an early poem is suggestive:

“With disdain I will throw my gauntlet
Full in the face of the world
And see the collapse of this pigmy giant
Whose fall will not stifle my ardour.
Then I will wander godlike and victorious
Through the ruins of the world,
And giving my words an active force
I will be equal to the creator.”

Ten tears later, Marx produced the Communist Manifesto, which came close to remaking the world. Marx had found his calling and it wasn’t poetry. But would it have been possible without the poetry? Krasnov writes: “Unlke Frankenstein, Marx went in the direction of not animating a single human corpse but aiming at the creation of a totally new mankind.”

Dr. Frankenstein was appalled at the monster he had created and tried unsuccessfully to make him lifeless again. Krasnov thinks Marx, too, would have been revulsed by the monster Communism created in his name in Russia. And it couldn’t be undone, at least not for seventy-five years.

Krasnov writes admiringly of the great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn whose life of grim hardship under Stalinist rule was the opposite of romantic. Yet through his writings about the suffering of millions in Soviet labor camps he was able to contribute significantly to the removal of that beast. It can be done.

Elections Under Fire

It’s dangerous just to live in Mexico these days. It’s more dangerous to run for political office in Mexico and still more dangerous to criticize the drug cartels while campaigning. This is what Alma Barragan discovered when she was a candidate for mayor of the small town of Moroleon in the central state of Guanajuato.

Photo – Alma Barragan Facebook

Open and winsome, she had just posted a notice on Facebook when a group of armed thugs appeared and gunned her down. She became the estimated 86th candidate for local elections on June 6 to be murdered by the drug cartels that rule Mexico. Understandably, more than eighty candidates for mayor have withdrawn from the race. Others have made their accommodation with the gangsters, and some have hired one gang to offset another.

It would seem surprising that the cartels would take an interest in a town as small as Moroleon. But no part of Mexico escapes their watchful eye. Any sign of dissent is quickly, ruthlessly suppressed. They are equal opportunity killers. No discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion or whatever is practiced. Just obey or die.

What is also suprising is that Mexicans still have the courage to defy the cartels. There are more murders than ever in Mexico, and they show no sign of slowing. The cartels are financed by Americans who buy their drugs in ever increasing number with deaths by overdose also rising in the U.S. The current uproar over border crossings from Mexico disguises the drugs that continue to pour across.


One Mexican congressional candidate has clearly campaigned on the issue. On a bridge connecting Juarez (‘Murder Capital of the World”) with El Paso, Carlos Mayorga appears in an open coffin followed by aides bearing flowers. Unlike other Mexicans, he is not permanently confined there – at least not yet.

How Stalin Did It

The book is hefty, 666 pages with weighty material on the key role that Stalin played in World War Two. It’s worth every page. Drawing on Russian archives that have been opened in recent years along with a vast number of other souces, author Sean McKeekin describes in “Stalin’s War” the master strategy of a dictator who combined singularity of purpose wth the utmost brutality to achieve his ends, and it worked. At one point, his ally Winston Churchill proposed a toast: “God was on the side of the allies.” To which Stalin replied, not entirely in jest: “And the devil’s on my side.” Know thyself, we are told. He did.

Russian Premier Joseph Stalin, President Franklin Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Yalta Conference 1945. Picture by Corbis/Getty Images

Stalin got World War Two off to a good start from his point of view. Forsaking his communism much to the horror of true believers, he made a pact with that other  devil Hitler to divide Poland. At the same time Stalin was ceded control of the rest of Eastern Europe. When Hitler attacked, Stalin held back temporarily, thus letting the German take the blame for dismembering Poland. Britain and France declared war on Hitler, and Stalin was off the hook.

But he ran into trouble when he advanced on his smaller neighbor Finland. The Finns fought bravely against an unprepared Red Army. Suddenly, world opinion turned against the over-reaching dictator, presenting him, says McKeekin, with the greatest crisis of his career. He rose to the occasion by suing for a moderate peace with Finland, and all was forgotten. Too bad, writes McKeenin, since at that time both totalitarian regimes were vulnerable to an allied strike that could have changed history.

In his expansion plans for the Soviet Union in both Europe and Asia, Stalin received critical aid from an unexpected quarter, a gift that kept on giving. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, a consummate politician at home was at sea abroad. Somehow he was convinced of the good intentions of Stalin whom he liked to call “Uncle Joe.” He gathered a tight clique around hm that shunned anyone even mildly critical of Stalin, including Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Russia expert George Kennan, who later defned the Cold War.

Stalin waged a successful subversive war against friends as well as enemies. The Russian archives reveal that hundreds of his agents honeycombed the U.S Government with often a decisive influence on policy. Harry Dexte r White, top aide to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morganthau, was alerted to a possible agreement that might stop the pending war between the U.S. and Japan. This was contrary to Stalin’s interest of having all the other powers fighting among themselves. White managed to release an official paper subverting the effort, and the attack on Pearl Harbor followed. Later seven agents in Treasury (seven!) collaborated on the so-called Morganthau Plan that would have reduced post war Germany to impoverishment. News of the Plan, later scuttled, intensified German resistance at the cost of many more American lives.

Drawing on a range of statistics, McKeekin concludes that the Nazi invasion of Russia would have succeeded without the enormous U.S. aid to Stalin, which is not fully acknowleged to this day. The Russian troops who turned the war at Stalingrad fought valiently with overwhelming casualties to reach Berlin. But still their boss had his doubts. He sent along punitive battalions to execute any who malingered or retreated. Nowhere to go but ahead.

At war’s end, Stalin conquered and occupied Eastern Europe, including Poland where the war began. McKeekin writes that he had an all-consuming hatred of Poles akin to Hitler’s antisemitism. It’s only fitting that forty-five years later an uprising in Poland contributed significantly to the collapse of his amazing but short-lived empire.

Deporting a Journalist to His Death

Since more journalists are murdered in Mexico than anywhere else on eartth – 125 in the last ten years – it seemed reasonable for newsman Emilio Gutierrez-Soto to seek asylum in the U.S when his life had been threatened. He had committed the offense of writing about corrupt police practices in a small town in northern Mexico. For that he was warned he was about to die.

Photo by NPR

But when he reached the New Mexico border with his son Oscar in 2008, he found U.S. officials unimpressed. What was he so excited about? he was asked. The pair were placed in detention – a kind of prison while their request was leisurely considered. Eventually, a U.S. immigration judge turned them down, saying they had nothing to fear back in Mexico. They had even been promised bodyguards.

The ignorance displayed is breathtaking. It’s as if the judge, while next door to Mexico, had no idea of what was going on there. Perhaps he gets all his news from the mainstream media which mostly ignores the  murdered journalists and treats neighboring Mexico as just another normal state instead of the criminal enterprise it actually is. The judge may be a casualty of the media.

The bodyguards he recommended are under drug cartel control and would make quick work of the offending journalist unless torture were also involved. Gutierrez-Soto remarked: “I’d like to see the judge spend a weekend in Ciudad Juarez (a border town once known as the murder capital of the world) without protection.” Apparently, the judge has not taken him up on that, though it must be said that Americans who visit the border towns briefly and carefully are spared the kind of violence inflicted on Mexicans. That would be bad for business.

Released from detention after six months, Gutierrez-Soto worked on a food truck while awaiting the decision on asylum. Various groups came to his defense as the years went by, and in 2017 the National Press Club gave him an award. That seemed to speed things up but in the wrong direction. Father and son were ordered deported and in handcuffs they approached the border when an emergency injunction kept them in the U.S. and back in detention.

Thanks to pressure from the National Press Club and others, they are now living freely in Ann Harbor, Michigan, where Gutierrez received a fellowship from the University of Michigan. His treatment as an endangered journalist seeking help in the U.S. is truly extraordinary. It’s as if the U.S. sides with the drug cartels in wanting him to go back home to face “justice” in Mexico, e.g., certain death.

The case is indicative of a strange permissiveness toward the criminal rulers. They continue to pour their lethal drugs into the U.S. through a porous border that enrich Americans along with Mexicans. U.S. Immigration continues to withhold documents in this case, suggesting there’s something to hide. What could it be?

The Putin Problem

In an interview President Biden called Russian leader Vladimir Putin a “killer.” What does that mean exactly? Does Putin randomly kill people the way, say, the Mexican cartels do south of the U.S. border? Has he killed more people abroad than the U.S. has in its numerous wars since 9/11? Or is Biden speaking in a more metaphorical way about killing hopes amd dreams? In that case the President is rather imprecise, a risky behavior among heads of state with control of nuclear weapons that can end the world.

Putin laughed it off by challenging Biden to a debate. The American media was more serious and seemed to back the President. This contrasts with the media of the Stalinist years which tended to lavish praise on one of the world’s worst mass murderers during the 1930’s and wartime ’40’s. Acclaimed leftwing writer Max Eastman couldn’t get published anywhere because he supported Communist leader Leon Trotsky over Stalin – the cancel culture of the time.

In comparison to Stalin Putin is a minor impediment to U.S. and indeed global interests. Shorn of Stalin’s acquisitions in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, he seems intent on preserving what’s left in a reinvigorated Russia. That means he is a familiar figure, a nationalist leader both autocratic and skillful. U. S. policy can be tailored to that situation. Unlike Stalin, and some would say the U.S. today, he has not embarked on expansion, just holding his own.

He has some grounds for complaint. As the Soviet Union dissolved in 1989, then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker made a trade with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev: Russia would surrender control of East Gernany to a reunited Germany in exchange for a U.S pledge not to extend the NATO alliance eastward toward Russia. That was violated during the Clinton Presidency, and ever since NATO has been expanding and contemplates adding still more small countries on Russia’s border.

At the height of the Cold War the fervently anticommunist Reagan Administration made sure economic sanctions affecting the Soviet Uinion were limited and carefully targeted because of international opposition. In today’s more permissive environment, the U.S. has freely resorted to their routine use. President Trump, in particular, made them a substitute for an outright war he pledged not to start. In fact, by crippling an economy, they are injurious to the people, not to the leadership who rarely change their policies. It’s really a feel-good effort on the part of the sanctioners.

There’s no doubt the other two great nuclear powers – China and Russia – will continue to compete with the U.S. and look for advantages where they can. For this the U.S. must stay geopolitically alert with minds up to the job, but military action should be a last resort and threats issued with care. There has been one helpful change. Today the U.S rivals are rational exercisers of power with their own interests clearly in view, not the feverish unpredictable ideologues that wrecked the world in the last century.