Tag: fiscal issues

Why Putin Is Less Dangerous Now


shutterstock_96507811Many commentators have expressed the belief that Russia is more dangerous now that their economy has collapsed because Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has his back against the wall and may react unpredictably. Perhaps. But I have one question for these prognosticators: with what soldiers will he react?

I ask this question because one of the great sources of Russia’s recent military revival has been the comprehensive military reforms begun in 2008, transforming the Russian military from a large and ponderous conscript army to a modern professional army, like those of the United States or United Kingdom. Because of these reforms, the number of soldiers in the Russian army has dropped to 300,000. For the first time ever, the Russian Army is smaller than its American counterpart.

Though smaller, it is much more capable than before. A large conscript army may be good for repelling a general invasion, but it a poor tool for fighting an expeditionary war such as an invasion of Ukraine. This is because long-serving professionals are more competent and motivated at warcraft than are two-year conscripts,  something the US discovered in Vietnam. The proportion of conscripts in the Russian military is at an all-time low. In addition, the period of conscription has been reduced to one year from the traditional two.

Breaking Promises: A Political Reality


shutterstock_238234630After McCain was defeated in 2008, I thought it was time to lend myself to the local Republican Legislative District and I became a precinct captain; I simply filled out a form, volunteered, and began attending monthly meetings. At first, I simply watched and listened to all the would-be politicians who were visiting, looking for support and contemplating election, re-election or a possible run for the next step in a political career. I must tell you, it was underwhelming. Not to say that the folks I met were not glib and earnest — they were — but there was also something a little desperate about them, perhaps too much of a need for validation. Whether they were running for constable or governor, it all seemed a little too cloying and shallow. Local politics was something of a racket, and everyone seemed to have an eye on Washington as the likely final, unimpeded road to perpetual ego validation and decent money.

Those in the game all pretty much said the same thing: governing is hard. But it’s not really hard. Tedious perhaps. What is hard is keeping promises made with other people’s money. Promises are easily made, but as Lady Thatcher once so eloquently put it, eventually you run out of other peoples’ money when it’s time to keep them.

When Bernie Madoff’s investment scam started to crumble, running his so-called investment group was hard. Things got really tough at Enron when their investment schemes started to unravel. Ask any investment bank with third-tier tranche investments in 2008 if life was easy and you’d get a resounding “no!” Imagine what it was like at Smith Barney when management found out they’d overvalued billions of dollars in strips and stripped treasuries. Once the envy of Wall Street, Jack Welsh shut down the entire investment bank and they all got fired. Or how’d you like to be the risk manager at AIG when you found out that all those annuities you purchased were actually credit default swaps, guarantees of underlying corporate debt and mortgage portfolios and you had to make good on billions of potential defaults?

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Our government’s unfunded liabilities outstrip the combined wealth of the entire world. Yet, every day, politicians in Washington fret over millions here while spending billions there. They talk of bringing little programs in line while exploding the budgets of larger programs. Do you believe they are sincere when politicians propose “saving money” by reducing student […]

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The New Paul Ryan Budget Plan: A Brief Review


The annual House of Representatives budget resolution – you may know it as the “Ryan plan” or perhaps as the “Path to Prosperity” — has turned into a weird Washington phenomenon, one that combines analysis fiscal, political, and psychological. Do the numbers really add up? Will it hurt or help GOP election odds? Does it signal that Roman Catholic Paul Ryan or Randian Paul Ryan is the fellow running the budget committee? And, of course: does the budget suggest Ryan will run for president  2016?

Of those questions, I’m confident only in answering the first. (Alert: CNBC and MSNBC bookers. Ignore that last sentence. I am supremely confident in answering any and all possible questions about the Ryan budget, as well as the 2016 presidential race, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the Yellowstone earthquakes, and the new Captain America film. I also know a thing or two about nanotech.)