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Guest Post: Underneath Their Autocratic Rulers, Russia And U.S. On Diverging Societal Paths | Zero Hedge
Submitted by L. Todd Wood, a former special operations helicopter pilot and bond trader.
Underneath Their Autocratic Rulers, Russia and U.S. on Diverging Societal Paths
As the State of the Union address highlighted, both the Russia Federation and the United States have leaders that lean toward various degrees of autocratic government to achieve their agendas. President Putin rules with an iron fist and treats the legislative branch as an afterthought to use as needed but otherwise ignores. President Obama declares he will use executive action to get what he wants and quietly uses government agencies to intimidate and stifle his opposition in flagrant abuses of power. Putin has dismantled the Russian free press and imprisoned vocal opponents. The majority of the American press does Obama’s bidding for him while the administration puts movie makers in jail.
Underneath the tyrannical policies of the two Presidents, American and Russian society are diverging. First let’s look at welfare – it really doesn’t exist in Russia. If you’re a single mother raising your child alone, the state will pay you less than $50 a month. Unemployment insurance is also miniscule. The minimum wage is around $200 a month. I recently asked a Russian friend what they would receive if they lost their job. Her answer was, “It’s my problem, why should the government pay?” Health care is free but of very low quality. Russians with money typically choose private care and buy their own private health insurance.
In the United States, we are seeing an obscene explosion of the nanny-state. Obamacare has been exposed as a huge wealth redistribution scheme. The CBO states that the ACA is a disincentive to work. Disability payments are skyrocketing. The number of Americans receiving food stamps has doubled and is spiraling out of control. Welfare work requirements have been weakened. The left continuously pushes to add more immigrants to the government dole and refuses to enforce current immigration law.
The difference in the tax code between the two countries is also striking. If you live in New York, the combined government tax bite is above sixty percent. It is a safe bet that any Democratic state government will continue to try and raise taxes. Obama raised rates on the top earners in America and would boost them across the board if he could. In Russia, the individual tax rate is a flat thirteen percent. There is an eighteen percent VAT and the corporate rate is twenty-four percent. If Russia could remove her corrupt barriers to entry, her economy would explode higher.
The difference between the two nations when approaching geopolitical challenges cannot be more extreme. The United States has shown a willingness to abandon long standing allies time and time again on the global chessboard. Whether it be Israel, Poland, or Saudi Arabia, the Obama administration has shrank from global leadership and left a gigantic vacuum for President Putin to happily fill. Russia has shown a willingness to ignore Western political correctness and stand up for Russian long-term interests. One only has to look to the Iranian nuclear issue, the Syrian situation, or the Snowden embarrassment to see evidence of Putin schooling the American government. The American position seems to consist of avoiding conflict and appeasing adversaries rather than standing up for historical American values, our allies, and our way of life.
One of the most interesting differences that has been inconveniently obvious in the international press is the Russian refusal to embrace the religion of global warming. While the American government strives to shut down energy economic engines of power, Russia uses energy to achieve its national goals. Putin has been quoted as describing the climate change alarmist agenda as a marketing scheme. Putin has not bought into the madness of crowds to the benefit of Russia.
Perhaps the most curious cavern between the United States and Russia is their approach to religion. The church was effectively shut down during the Soviet experiment. However, in the last few decades, the Russian Orthodox Church has roared back to favor in Russian government opinion. President Putin has even felt emboldened enough to accuse the West of being morally decadent. The Democratic Party in the United States has largely morphed into an atheistic, anything goes, hedonist entity. One only has to look at the refusal of the Obama administration to enforce marijuana laws in America to find evidence of this fact.
I recently had a conversation with a young urban professional in Moscow. Their comment to me was that most young Russians were embarrassed of the communist revolution in Russia. “They killed our best people,” this person commented. I find it curious that the Rolling Stone recently published an article extolling the benefits of the teachings of Karl Marx and echoing the mindset of many of the current millennial generation in America. When the youth of American are yearning for communism, I fear America must relearn the very harsh lessons of the past. If Russia can ever deal with the specter of corruption, her society may leap to the future.
A few short months after Putin cornered the US state department into a disastrous foreign relations dead end with the false flag Syrian escalation which achieved none of the predetermined nat-gas-to-Europe pipeline ambitions, instead alieanting the US from both staunch allies Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Russian president has just managed to inflict yet more pain on US foreign policy this time by infuriating (even more) a core US ally in Europe – Angela Merkel. Just two days after the phone recording of Victoria Nuland emerged in which she not only made it explicitly clear it was the US who was the puppetmaster behind the Ukranian opposition with the traditional CIA tractics as was expected all along, but also explained just how the US freels toward the EU with the now infamous “Fuck the EU” comment, Angela Merkel called the obscene remark “absolutely unacceptable.”
And then, Nuland not knowing when to stop, proceeded to insert foot in mouth just a little deeper: “”I am not going to comment on private diplomatic conversations. But it was pretty impressive tradecraft. The audio was extremely clear,” she told reporters during a visit to Kiev.”
At least she indirectly complemented Putin on being smart enough to not only intercept what appears to have been an unencrypted phone call, but to release it at just the right time as the entire world’s attention turns to Russia and by extension, the Ukraine.
Because in retrospect Putin does deserve praise: having won the Ukraine over Europe’s cries of horror, he has also managed, in the past year, to alienate the US from Israel, Saudi Arabia and now, Germany. And all this without saying a single word, let along firing a shot.
So now that we know the apriori winner, the loser has no choice but to engage major damage control, which is borderline delusional. From Reuters:
[Nuland] said she did not foresee damage to relations with opposition leaders, saying they “know exactly where we stand in respect of a non-violent solution to the problem.”
Of relations with Russia, she said Washington and Moscow had “very deep, very broad and complex” discussions on a range of international issues including Iran and “frank and comradely discussions” on Ukraine.
U.S. officials did not deny the authenticity of the recording and said Nuland apologized to EU colleagues for the comment.
Angela Merkel, already furious with Washington for several months over reports that U.S. officials bugged her own phone, found Nuland’s remarks “totally unacceptable”, a spokeswoman for the German chancellor said.
Yet, it’s one thing to delude oneself that the US is still the undisputed world’s superpower, it is far worse to express the kind of hubris that Nuland did, when she communicated and discussedconfidential US geopolitical strategy on an unencrypted phone line – traditionally a fireable offense, if not worse.
In Washington, U.S. officials said Nuland and Pyatt apparently used unencrypted cellphones, which are easy to monitor. The officials said smart phones issued to State Department officials had data encryption but not voice encryption.
In Nuland’s call, apparently recorded about 12 days ago when Ukrainian opposition leaders were considering an offer from Yanukovich to join his cabinet, she suggested that one of three leading figures might accept a post but two others should stay out. In the end, all three rejected the offer.
The biggest loser here, however, continues to be the Ukraine, whose people are facing a cold winter without assurances they will have Russian nat gas, and a government that is a chess piece in an ongoing power play between Europe and Russia, now that the CIA has taken a back seat. Incidentally, Russia made it quite clear that it demands Ukraine’s full allegiance and as Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov told reporters overnight, Russia would withold its second loan payment to the troubled nation unless the Ukraine, which owes a “not insignificant” sum for natgas, makes the payment.
In other words, just like Greece has become a money “tolling” intermediary for the ECB and German banks, in which Europe pretends to bail out the crushed country when in reality it is just funding debt payments to its own banks, so the Ukraine has now become an intermediary, in which loan payments from Russia go to pay… Russia’s Gazprom. And in the process Russia pulls the Ukraine from the European sphere of influence and back into that of the New Normal USSR.
Game, set, match Putin. Again.
But wait, there’s more. Because Putin, unsatisfied with simple making a mockery of the US State Department, decided to rub it in some more. The Hill reports:
Rising animosity between the former Cold War powers was on full display Friday when Russia chose a former figure skater who tweeted out a racially charged picture of President Obama for the symbolic lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hoped hosting the first Games since the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which the U.S. boycotted, would showcase a “new Russia” emerging from the ashes of the Soviet Union as he enters his 15th year in power.
Instead the U.S. and its western allies have consistently painted the picture of a corrupt autocracy.
The media’s focus on the persecution of gays in Russia, terrorism and Russia’s lackluster infrastructure – many hotels don’t have potable water even though the Games are estimated to have cost more than $50 billion, the most ever – have further infuriated the Kremlin.
“I understand how the press here works. They need hot issues in order to be read, to have high circulation,” Sergey Kislyak, Putin’s envoy to Washington, told The Washington Diplomat last month.
That’s ok – as long as the US population can keep itself distracted from the sheer implosion of US standing internationally by looking at tweeted images of decrepit toilets and busted Sochi plumbing from a self-indulgent US press corps, and continue feeling good about itself, then all is well. After all, that’s just what Putin wants.
Wondering who will take over the mantle of Treasury bond buyer now that the Fed is stepping away? Curious of the government’s next steps towards repression and control of wealth? Wait no longer. As the AP reports, President Obama will unveil a new retirement savings plan tonight that allows first-time savers to buy US Treasury bonds tax-deferred for retirement. Of course, this is not the mandatory IRA that remains somewhat inevitable (as the muddle-through fails) but is certainly a step in the direction we alerted readers to a year ago by which the government generously offers to help manage your retirement savings. Two words spring to mind… remember Poland.
Eager not to be limited by legislative gridlock, Obama is also expected to announce executive actions on job training, retirement security and help for the long-term unemployed in finding work.
Among those actions is a new retirement savings plan geared toward workers whose employers don’t currently offer such plans.
The program would allow first-time savers to start building up savings in Treasury bonds that eventually could be converted into a traditional IRAs, according to two people who have discussed the proposal with the administration. Those people weren’t authorized to discuss it ahead of the announcement and insisted on anonymity.
Of course, this is not what the CFPB suggested a year ago… We’re sure the government is just trying to protect your retirement account from terrorists. From Bloomberg:
The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is weighing whether it should take on a role in helping Americans manage the $19.4 trillion they have put into retirement savings, a move that would be the agency’s first foray into consumer investments.
That’s one of the things we’ve been exploring and are interested in in terms of whether and what authority we have,” bureau director Richard Cordray said in an interview. He didn’t provide additional details.
The bureau’s core concern is that many Americans, notably those from the retiring Baby Boom generation, may fall prey to financial scams, according to three people briefed on the CFPB’s deliberations who asked not to be named because the matter is still under discussion.
But it’s getting close.