Nickeled and Dimed

Nickeled and Dimed

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America is following in the footsteps of ancient Rome. But the dollar’s value is falling far faster than the denarius ever did.
From the May 2012 Trumpet Print Edition

The U.S. Mint is facing a big problem. It is the same problem faced by the Roman Empire as it headed toward collapse.

It now costs the government more money to mint pennies and nickels than the coins are worth!

Consequently, the Obama administration has asked Congress for permission to debase the coinage. It smacks of Diocletian ordering the silver out of Roman money so the decaying empire could pay its bills and fight its wars for a little longer. But once Rome started devaluing its money, it set off economic effects that doomed it to fail.

Could America Be Nearing Collapse?

Here is the situation: America loses more than $100 million a year minting pennies and nickels. It costs the Mint 2.4 cents to make a penny and 11.2 cents to make a nickel.

But the metal composition of the penny and nickel has not changed in more than 30 years. So what has happened? The value of America’s money is being destroyed.

In 1935, one U.S. dollar would buy 1/20th of an ounce of gold. By 1968, it was down to 1/35th of an ounce. Today, one dollar will buy you only 1/1,650th of an ounce. The same thing happened against silver: In 1968, one dollar would buy an ounce; today it will only buy you 1/32nd of an ounce.

The dollar hasn’t plunged just against precious metals. It is also in free fall against copper, nickel and zinc—the metals found in pennies and nickels. In fact, the dollar has plummeted against orange juice, whiskey, beans, bullets, pork bellies, single family houses, automobiles, coal, oil, good suits, health care, tuition, labor costs—and virtually every measurable commodity. If you can name it, it probably costs more today than it did 30, 10 or 5 years ago—even last year.

The Mint reports that if it replaced the copper-coated zinc penny (it took the copper out of the penny in 1982 because it was too expensive) with a steel one, it would still not be profitable. What’s cheaper than steel? Tin? Nope—a penny’s weight of tin would cost more than a nickel. A penny’s weight of aluminum would cost 2 cents. Lead is little cheaper. Anyone for a plastic penny? Clay? Asbestos?

Calls to just get rid of the penny altogether are growing louder. But that will only hide the danger to the dollar for a little longer.

The Dollar Is in Grave Danger

Millions of people, especially retirees, are seeing their life savings devalued. Each year their money buys less and less. Even if they don’t spend a dime, inflation steals it from them.

And since the Federal Reserve is artificially keeping interest rates low (designed to increase big bank profitability, promote consumer borrowing, and thus stimulate the economy), the Fed is driving America’s most vulnerable investors into riskier assets (such as the stock market) in an effort to make their retirement money last longer. A crisis is looming.

During his State of the Union address this past January, President Barack Obama barely mentioned America’s debt and deficit problems. He hardly touched on the massive, society-changing cuts that would be required to balance the budget—or the massive money-printing binge (and money-debasing spree) the Federal Reserve would have to undertake to finance government spending.

By far, the biggest economic issue threatening America’s livelihood is its addiction to debt. This year, America’s federal debt exceeded its gross domestic product; confidence in the dollar is dying; people are seeing their life savings wiped out—and still the president gave the issue no more than a rhetorical nod. Instead, he talked about taxing billionaires. The truth is, the government could take 100 percent of billionaires’ assets (not just income), and America still wouldn’t be able to pay its bills! That’s how big just the nation’s yearly deficit is—let alone its debt.

Rome’s Example

When ancient Rome started having trouble paying its bills, it did essentially the same thing the Federal Reserve is doing today: Progressive governments reduced the silver content of each coin so they could make more coins to pay the bills. And each time, the empire seemed to prosper—for a while.

But each time, once the temporary stimulus wore off, economic conditions worsened. And politicians, rather than adopt the harsh economic reforms needed to stabilize conditions, resorted to further currency debasement. This vicious cycle was made worse by political infighting and greed.

For Rome, the currency collapse occurred over centuries before Rome collapsed. Early in the first century, the denarius had been essentially pure silver. By the time of Nero, in a.d. 54, the coin’s silver content had slipped to 94 percent; by a.d. 68, it was 81 percent; by a.d. 218, only 43 percent was silver. In a.d. 244, Philip had the silver content reduced to 0.5 percent. At the time of Rome’s fall, the silver content of the denarius was 0.02 percent, and pretty much everyone refused to accept it as payment for anything.

For America—in an age of paper money, printing presses and rapid information dissemination—the currency devaluation has been much quicker. The dollar has lost more than 95 percent of its purchasing power since the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

It is a well-charted route to disaster, but central banks and governments are poor students of history.

Abandoning pennies and nickels is only a start. It will get far worse. Dollar bills will soon come to resemble quarters—and quarters, dimes. Eventually wads of bills will resemble worthless newspaper.

When Rome destroyed its money to pay its bills, it destroyed two of the pillars of its existence: its economy and the faith in its political system. These are the exact two things that America seems to be doing its best to destroy today.

A World Without Video Games—What Would It Be Like?

A World Without Video Games—What Would It Be Like?

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From the May 2012 Trumpet Print Edition

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 was the best-selling movie in the United States last year. But did you know that another fantasy world made almost twice as much money in its first month of release, as Harry Potter did for the whole year?

It’s called Skyrim, and it took in $650 million last November alone. How come many of us have never heard of it?

Skyrim is a video game. It is about a dragon god prophesied to destroy the world. It is the player’s job to become a thief, a warrior or a wizard and battle him in an open-ended game with quests and journeys that allow players to “explore richly textured worlds filled with choice” for hours a day, or whole days and weekends at a time, or if they choose—continually (Christian Science Monitor, March 18).

One look at Skyrim’s earnings proves that video games have become a forceful—even dominant—part of American culture. They are America’s new national pastime. Yet most of us are probably unaware of how prevalent and influential video games are in society.

A Nation of Addicts

A staggering 183 million Americans play video games at least an hour a day. Virtually all Americans (97 percent) ages 12 to 17 play video games. And almost 5 million Americans play at least 40 hours a week—the equivalent of a full-time job.

The industry rakes in tens of billions of dollars per year. It thrives on hooking and addicting users.

Millions of people live, breathe and play in virtual worlds—and not only young people. Atari hit it big in the early 1970s. Today, one quarter of all gamers are over the age of 50.

Why are so many people, of all ages, enthralled with video games? Speaking as the featured presenter at a conference in Las Vegas where his product was named the “game of the year,” industry legend and Skyrim director Todd Howard offered an explanation. “What can games give you that nothing else can?” he asked. The answer: Pride. “Pride in something you did,” he said.

Are we really so desperate? Are people so lacking in aspirations and accomplishment that this is what it has come to for so many Americans?

Experts in Futility

By the time the average American youth turns 21, he will have spent 10,000 hours playing video games over more than a decade.

Consider that number. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000-hour rule. To achieve mastery in any field of expertise, he explained, takes about 10,000 hours of practice over the course of about 10 years. Experts become experts because they abide by this rule. “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good,” Gladwell writes. “It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

Imagine what those 5 million Americans who spend 40 hours a week playing video games could accomplish if they instead devoted that much work to something useful. In just five years, this country would have 5 million more master designers, craftsmen, engineers, pilots, scientists, builders, artists, architects, painters, geologists, farmers, inventors, orators, poets, writers, singers, violinists, gymnasts. Imagine how different America could be if the 183 million Americans who spend at least one hour a day playing video games did the same thing.

And now imagine the world we might live in if all these people took just a portion of that time and spent it with their families, teaching their children how to become experts at productive pursuits. What a different, more prosperous, more inspiring, more beautiful world we would live in!

Are video games a dominating force in your home? Are you willing to change the course of your child’s life?

Real-World Needs

Many people look at America and decry its deficiencies: its collapsing economy, its waning influence, its growing list of enemies, its political fighting, its dysfunctional leadership. They see a house divided, and a people of eroding morals and common decency.

And they wonder, Why are these things happening, and why doesn’t someone stand up and put this nation back on course?

The book of Isaiah aptly describes society today. “For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah … the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator. And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them” (Isaiah 3:1-3).

More than at any time in America’s history, this nation needs strong leadership. It needs masters in all the fields of arts and sciences to rejuvenate its broken economy. It needs skilled orators who inspire people in the right ways. It needs wise experts to offer counsel. It needs Galileos and Thomas Edisons. It needs Rembrandts and Edwin Hubbles. And it needs Churchills and Roosevelts.

It needs a people who can accumulate real-life accomplishments—not take pride in fantasy world achievements.

Instead, it has a new national pastime of dubious value, and millions of under-skilled adults, increasingly reliant on government welfare, acting like children.

Do you want to break away from such habits and put your life on a more productive path? Order a free copy of our booklet The Seven Laws of Success.

A Young Man’s Glory

A Young Man’s Glory

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A valuable, and often underused, asset.
From the May 2012 Trumpet Print Edition

What is the greatest thing about being a young man? What defining quality sets young men apart from everyone else—young women, children, older men—and makes them special?

Proverbs 20:29 tells us: “The glory of young men is their strength.”

The word strength means firmness, vigor and force. It’s referring to a young man’s physical capacity and ability, the might and power of his young body. God gave young men a potential for unmatched physical strength—and for an important reason.

Though this is generally less true today than in the past, life often demands hard physical effort. It can be helpful to have a strong young man around to get things done.

One book I read recently said masculinity is “the collection of all those characteristics which flow from delighting in sacrificing bodily strength for goodness.” That is an incomplete definition, but it contains an important kernel of truth. God built men to bear life’s heavy burdens. A young man with strength, who delights in sacrificing that strength for goodness—lugging that load so women don’t have to—is internalizing important lessons in manliness.

Many boys seem predisposed to want to demonstrate strength. My son, 4 years old, loves to wrestle me in a way my daughters never did. He glories in using his little muscles.

Of course, God gives young men the potential for useful, glorious physical strength—but that strength doesn’t develop automatically. It requires hard work. Lots of it. Those young men who put in the work are rewarded for it: With their God-given capacity, they see faster gains in strength and stamina, and recover faster, than anyone.

God says strength is their glory. But our world today has a lot of young men you could not say that about. Poor diets, sedentary lives, too much screen time, not enough vigorous exercise and work—all have conspired to produce hordes of young men who are soft and weak. Many are self-indulgent in every way, and do not delight in sacrificing anything for anything.

We must encourage our sons to build their strength. God wants them to be strong. He wants their strength to be their glory! He has given them that capacity—but they must develop it. We can help them.

Work!

First, our sons should be accustomed to hard work.

“It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). A young man needs to be taught to embrace physical challenges, to exert himself rigorously to get a job done.

I remember working with my dad each summer growing up doing yard work, landscaping and home repairs, and his example made a huge impression on me. He would give me a task—perhaps digging or removing roof shingles—and I would start into it. He would watch for a moment, then step in and demonstrate with forceful, even violent effort. I instantly got the picture that sometimes work required real muscle.

It is good for young men to work outside, digging and hauling, using and building brawn. We fathers should work with them around the house and yard; include them in doing jobs for widows or other needy folks. When our sons are old enough to get a job, we should encourage them to consider something that will challenge them physically over something easy.

We have to be conscientious to ensure our sons learn how to work. “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” (Proverbs 10:4-5).

Exercise!

A second way a young man can build strength is through exercise. Running and sports are important for conditioning, but building strength generally requires specific exercises.

Pushups require no gear. Pull-ups are excellent, and you can find a pull-up bar to mount in a doorframe for $25. Certain gymnastics movements build extraordinary strength and require no special equipment. Weightlifting is great for strength-building, and a used set of weights can be quite inexpensive. (It is important to get instruction on how to do exercises like dead-lifts, squats and presses correctly and safely.)

Building strength through such exercise has many benefits, including reducing the risk of injuries and dramatically increasing a young man’s capacity in other activities. In addition, it clears the mind and builds confidence.

Most importantly, we must encourage our young men to develop spiritual strength. That means teaching them to remain clean from the world, to build good habits, to master their passions, to resist negative pressures and stand up for what’s right, to earn a reputation for dependability, to consistently make the little decisions that strengthen character.

Our sons need strong faith, strong character, strong will. They need to build and shape the bold, masculine qualities that will enable them to succeed as leaders.

With our help and God’s, our sons will grow to inspire those who come into contact with them to agree, in admiration, with the proverb: that the glory of young men truly is their strength.

Teach Your Teen to Say Hello

Teach Your Teen to Say Hello

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Young people need to learn to talk as well as they can text!
From the May 2012 Trumpet Print Edition

Most people love social networking. The technology of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter is stupendous, keeping us in contact on our computers and our cell phones. Yet, there can be real problems with these technologies—especially for young people. Why? Because it can lure them into a culture of isolation.

Don’t let this happen to your son or daughter.

In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that young teens have great difficulty talking one-on-one with each other, yet will send more than 300 text messages back and forth every day. Parents should be alarmed!

Texting has become an integral part of life. Just go into a restaurant and notice how many people are texting—and not talking. You may be shocked.

Why is it that so many of our youth do not know how to say hello, or relate one-on-one with others? The answer is simple: They are not being taught these important skills. This kind of education must begin early in life, and parents must be the educators.

Here is how to ensure your teen will say hello!

Go Against the Flow

Children, tweens (adolescents) and teens need to have a strong relationship with their parents, founded on emotional warmth, touching and verbal communication. That’s far more involved than shoving a cell phone into their hands and saying, “I’ll text you later.”

In March, Good Housekeeping reported that recent medical studies show “the more hours teenagers spend using a computer or watching tv, the weaker their emotional bonds with their parents.” Quoting a 2010 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the article reported that most adolescents average 25 to 30 hours per week watching tv and using computers. Many parents insist they limit screen time, but even their children disagree.

We no longer live in the age when restricting media use means simply turning off the tv in the den. Most tweens and teens have smartphones, laptops, tablets, and iPods with them 24/7. It is growing more difficult to even measure the screen time tweens and teens are getting. Adding up the total time young people spend on their electronic devices, experts believe the numbers are staggering. The average American ages 8 to 18 spends over seven hours a day looking at some kind of screen, a Kaiser Family Foundation study reports. Five years ago, when that same study was conducted, its coauthor Donald Roberts believed children’s screen time couldn’t rise any higher. “But it just keeps going up and up,” he now says.

Don’t let television and gadgets bring up your children.

Your children need your love. They need you to be deeply involved in their lives. This is the first and most important step in the social education process: Children learn how to relate to others from parents who spend a lot of time with them.

If you provide all the latest computer gadgets for your child, you will limit valuable companionship time with your child.

Youths Need Activities

Parents should take the responsibility to provide an affordable, exciting and interesting social life for their children. Youth need to be actively involved with other young people and adults. During a child’s infant years, his or her social life is very simple: playtime with Dad and Mom. When parents play frequently with their children—having fun, laughing, talking and teaching—children develop a positive outlook, social confidence and competence. Children who experience consistent parental involvement are warm and friendly to other children and adults, making the establishment of future relationships easy.

As a child grows through the adolescent years, parents must widen his social experience. This means getting your child involved with other children. What are some of the best social activities to provide your child? Team sporting activities top the list. It is becoming uncommon for many children to be out of doors playing, let alone doing team sports. Too many children are indoors playing computer games, texting their friends or watching television. This is one of the major reasons why so many of our young people are unhealthy and overweight—and why their social lives are equally unhealthy.

Of course, if you want your children to be active, you need to be active yourself.

Encourage your child to participate in team sports. This will open up many practical opportunities for developing social skills. Team sports teach, emphasize and reinforce vital social skills such as cooperation, following directions, leadership, sharing and teamwork, skills that greatly enhance a child’s success in life. When learned early, they are even more valuable.

Other group activities will also help your child socially: marching band, orchestra, chess club, scouting—the possibilities are just about endless.

Choose Friends Wisely

Getting your child involved in social activities does not mean that you can step out of the picture. In fact, when your child gets involved with other children, you will need to be even more involved. This becomes most important in the teen years. When your teen interacts with other teens, challenges and difficulties are sure to arise.

There is no one better for your child to talk things over with than you. All youth, especially teenagers, need to know that their parents have a special interest in them. Give your son or daughter ample time to talk with you about what is going on in his or her life. Give constructive guidance on how to get along with others. Be sure to discuss with your child the personal weaknesses he must overcome in himself. Above all, show him his strengths and how he can build on them. When you show this kind of real interest in your teen, you may be surprised how readily he will turn to you when he needs help.

When teens are actively involved with other teens, parents must provide guidance on how to choose friends wisely. This is so much better when your child knows them in person: Making new friends on the Internet is really a dangerous activity—especially for children, tweens and teenagers. Who has not been thoroughly disgusted by news reports of young people being kidnapped, abused and murdered by a sexual predator posing as another child on the Internet? Parents must monitor carefully all online chatting. Insist that your teenager only make friends with those young people you both know.

Fully involved parents not only know their children, they know their children’s friends. In fact, involved parents help their children choose their friends.

Besides attending your child’s activities, the best way to get to know your child’s friends is to have them into your home for an activity. As you get to know your child’s friends, be sure to teach your child to associate only with teens who have high goals and good character. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33; English Standard Version). Another teen’s bad character could do significant harm to your teen.

Sponsor Coed Activities

One enjoyable in-home activity you could sponsor is a board-game night. If you plan a game night for your tween or teen, provide a mixture of boys and girls. This will ensure that your child learns how to communicate with, relate to and respect members of the opposite sex.

When choosing a game, look for one that will get all the players actively involved. Find a game that challenges the participants to think, to exchange ideas—in other words, to talk. Make sure all cell phones, smartphones, iPods and iPads are turned off and out of sight.

Be sure to give your full attention to any activities involving mixed company. Allowing a group of teenagers to hold activities on their own can lead to real trouble. Drinking, abusing drugs and illicit sex can do far worse than mar an evening—they can ruin an entire life.

During these group activities, take the time to notice how your child relates to his or her peers. Then be sure to talk about the activity when it has ended. If your child was shy, tell her so. If he was domineering, discuss that as well. If your child did not work to get along with everyone present, show how that impacted the other teens. Teach him how to be loving and giving to others. Make it your goal to have your children be respected and liked by their peers—for all the right reasons.

Practice Inside Family

It is important that parents teach their tweens and teens how to greet and converse with adults. Young people must be taught how to be warm and friendly with adults. Many teens today will hardly look at an adult, let alone talk with one.

Your children can practice conversation skills with adults they feel most comfortable with. Sadly, because there is such a criminal element in our society, the safest way to do this is to begin the education process with grandparents, aunts and uncles—adults you know well.

Besides talking about their day with you, your children should be able to discuss the events of their day with other adults. When asked, “How was your day?” your child should be able to respond with more than a one-word sentence. He should be able to engage in small talk, telling what happened to him at school or at a sporting event. He should feel at ease telling another adult what he is excited about. You should encourage your child to talk with other adults often.

Such conversation skills are more valuable than most people realize. They will greatly add to your children’s success in their future careers. They will develop their character and help them grow to become contributing members of society. The stability of any culture hinges on the ability of its people to relate to one another in mature, responsible ways.

The best environment for teaching social skills to children is inside the family. Children cannot learn these vital skills on their own. God charges all parents to nurture their children to become successful members of society (Proverbs 22:6). To become successful, your child has to know how to say hello.

Russia’s Dark Rider

Russia’s Dark Rider

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images

The stage is set for Vladimir Putin to take on a new role.
From the May 2012 Trumpet Print Edition

The final count had Vladimir Putin crushing all his rivals with 63.6 percent of the March 4 vote for Russia’s president. Yes, he rigged the elections a little. After all, it is Russia. There, even if a strongman’s victory is certain, he still pulls some levers behind the scenes, if only out of political tradition. But monitoring agencies agree that, even without cheating, Putin would still have garnered about 53 percent of the vote—placing him head and shoulders above the second-place contender’s 17 percent.

Thus, Mr. Putin has made his rule of Russia official once again, and Russians, by and large, are happy about it. But that doesn’t mean that Putin is returning to the Kremlin exactly as he left it.

At his victory rally in Moscow Square, Putin gently wept (his spokesman insisted his tears were the result of wind, not emotion) as he spoke to multitudes of flag-waving citizens. He said their decision to reelect him was “a sign of Russia’s growing political maturity.” A few days earlier, Dmitry Medvedev—still Russia’s official president until May—had said Russian society is growing up.”

Is the Russian bear maturing? Certainly, change is under way in Russia.

A ‘White Rider’ Resurrects a Dead Empire

When Putin took the reins in 2000, Russia had fallen into chaos after the Soviet collapse and resulting financial crisis; the nation was threatened internally and externally. But the former kgb agent aggressively consolidated the country socially, politically and, above all, economically. During Putin’s eight years in the Kremlin, Russia’s industry increased by 76 percent and investments grew by 125 percent. Real incomes of Russian citizens grew by over 100 percent, and the average salary increased from $80 per month to $640, a staggering sevenfold. The middle class swelled from 8 million to more than 55 million, and the percentage of Russians living below the poverty line fell from 30 percent to 14 percent. Moscow’s oil exports steadily climbed throughout Putin’s presidency, and in 2009, Russia overtook Saudi Arabia to become the world’s top energy exporter.

The advancements were stark, and the nation rallied around Putin as Russia’s “savior,” with many even espousing the belief that he is the heartbeat of Russia.

Constitutional term limits mandated that Putin leave office in 2008, and he officially handed the reins to Medvedev. But he assumed the position of prime minister and remained Russia’s de facto ruler throughout Medvedev’s term. Though most facets of Russian life continued to improve, dissatisfaction with Moscow’s leadership began to emerge in some circles. The dissatisfaction gave way to some dissent, and many pundits have regarded it as evidence that the “savior Putin” days are over.

Is a ‘Slavic Spring’ Under Way?

The dissent became stark in September of last year when Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev somewhat casually announced that, come election time, they would swap places, returning the presidency to Putin. The anti-democratic nature of the announcement soured the mood of some Russians, and the popularity of Putin’s United Russia party slid. In the December 2011 parliamentary election, United Russia lost its supermajority in the Duma. The week after the vote, demonstrations against alleged election rigging started stirring and coalesced in a December 24 rally of over 80,000 protesters.

Some nations, especially the United States, strive to paint this uproar as evidence that Putin and the Russian bear are weakening. Western groups have openly supported the anti-Kremlin movements, and Western journalists have rushed to interview Russia’s minority of smart, English-speaking, self-confident opposition supporters—while ignoring the less-affluent majority. In one instance revealing the Western media’s exaggeration of Russia’s protests, Fox News “accidentally” aired video footage of fierce riots in Athens, Greece, while reporting on what was actually a peaceful rally in Moscow.

The truth is that the various anti-Kremlin protest groups have never blended into a unified force that could threaten Putin’s reelection. The demonstrators—everything from free-market reformers and radical feminists to unapologetic Communists and far-right ultranationalists—are not at all linked in their ideologies or goals. Despite Western hopes that Russia’s protest movements are signs of a “Slavic Spring,” the hodgepodge is far less like the effectual Middle Eastern uprisings than it is like the flaccid Occupy Wall Street movement.

The Russians who hate Putin are mostly from among the urban elite in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and they loudly criticize him from atop their ivory towers. But the average low-income Russians in Omsk, Dagestan and Chechnya and beyond continue to view Putin as Russia’s savior. They are the silent majority who made their support inescapably clear during the March elections. These politically silent masses have seen their incomes dramatically increase since 2000, and they can’t but attribute their improved standard of living to Putin’s leadership.

Russia is still overwhelmingly supportive of the white rider who lifted the nation from the doldrums of the Soviet collapse. But has that white rider now served his purpose?

The Russian Cycle

A look back through the annals of Russian history reveal that the country operates on a four-phase cycle. First comes a national calamity—usually the result of foreign invasion or poor internal planning. Second, from out of the ruins emerges an idealistic “white rider” ushering in an era of the thing Russians crave most: national stability. Third, after the white rider succumbs to political frustration, he hands the reins of rulership to a dark rider—bent on internal control and external aggression. The dark rider ruthlessly quashes domestic opposition and expands Russia’s unsecurable borders until the overextended empire collapses into the final phase: stagnation and decline. It declines until finally collapsing into the first phase of calamity once again, and so the cycle goes.

Where is Russia in this cycle now?

In the 1990s, Russia suffered great national calamity with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then, Putin emerged as the heroic white rider to resuscitate the dying bear. But Russia’s changing landscape indicates that the white rider phase is rapidly nearing its end.

Does this mean White Rider Putin is soon to be replaced by another Russian ruler—a dark rider? Or does Mr. Putin have something else in mind?

In 2007, as it became clear that Putin would install a puppet ruler in the Kremlin while he plotted his return to official rule, Stratfor wrote this about the Russian cycle: “Russia’s current white horse period is coming to an end. Putin’s efforts to stabilize Russia have succeeded, but his dreams of Westernizing Russia are dead. The darkness is about to set in. … In particularly gloomy periods in Russia’s past (which is saying something) the white rider himself actually has shed his idealism and become the dark rider.”

These were sobering words in 2007, and much more so now that Putin has confirmed all suspicions that his departure from the Kremlin was temporary and largely artificial.

Even during Putin’s white rider days, his economic sunshine often cast dark political shadows. He restructured Russia’s political architecture to amass his personal power, he created policies whereby the Kremlin can prevent whomever it pleases from participating in politics, and he altered the constitution to expand presidential terms from four years to six—just in time for his next term. Putin is no stranger to corruption, and now the stage is set for him to exchange his white robes for black.

Putin is well aware of Russia’s changing political landscape. It may not be “maturing” as he and Medvedev recently said it is, but it is changing, and he will use the change to his advantage.

In February, Stratfor wrote this of the shift under way in Russia: “[M]uch of the generation now coming of age was not raised under the Soviet Union or during the chaotic years immediately following its collapse. An extremist brand of nationalism has also risen across the country, leading more Russians to have no interest in a balanced government. … Now [Putin] is beginning to form a strategy to deal with the crises in the short term and formulate long-term political and social policies to take into account the shifts in Russia” (February 1).

In 2004, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry explained that the most significant aspect of Russia’s resurgence would be its catalytic effect on European unification: “A more dictatorial Russian government is coming fast …. That power will be able to challenge Europe when nobody else can, including the U.S. … Russian elections have recently moved President Vladimir Putin much closer to becoming a dictator. This strikes intense fear in Europe. The Europeans still remember how violent Russia was in World War ii, and Russia is a close neighbor with massive piles of nuclear weapons. … The Russian election is triggering a fear that will hasten the uniting of the European Union. The Russian election will cause Germany and other European nations to want a stronger leader. Throughout history, Germany has often sought a strong leader. Bible prophecy says it will do so again—for the last time!” (January 2004).

As Vladimir Putin enters into the Kremlin once again, he does so with more power than any Russian since the collapse of communism. And the stage is set for him to take on a new and much more dictatorial role.

History proves that once a dark rider becomes Russia’s ruler, he uses every possible measure to secure the nation: Domestic challengers are crushed, economic life is completely subjugated to Moscow’s needs, and Russia’s military is built up with the goal of securing and expanding the nation’s borders. Putin has long been working to rebuild Russia’s influence in its former Soviet periphery, and analysts believe his reelection will intensify these efforts. Such moves in Moscow will frighten Russia’s European neighbors and hasten their unification.

Although these trends have sobering implications for the short term, biblical prophecy makes plain that they immediately precede the most hope-filled event ever to occur: the return of Jesus Christ! To understand how today’s headlines about Russia intricately connect to this awesome future, order a free copy of our booklet Russia and China in Prophecy.

Beheading Mexico

Beheading Mexico

JESUS ALCAZAR/AFP/Getty Images

Decapitation. Rape. Murder. Mass corruption. National chaos and destruction. If only America’s illicit drug users knew the cost of their love for getting high.
From the May 2012 Trumpet Print Edition

Imagine. You’re sitting on a bus, listening to music, staring sleepily out at the Mexican countryside. Suddenly, the bus screeches to a halt, and there follows a lot of shouting and some random gunshots. Seconds later, gun-wielding gangsters board the bus and demand the passengers get off.

The terrified travelers are divided into groups. The elderly are promptly executed, shot in the head in full view of the onlookers. Next, select women are pried from the arms of their children and one another and dragged kicking and screaming behind the bus. Everyone knows their fate. The old are gone, the women and children are dead or paralyzed with shock. Attention turns to the able-bodied males.

The men are herded into a group and surrounded by smirking, laughing cartel members. Each man is given a weapon: a rusty old knife, a machete, a framer’s hammer; the unlucky are handed a stick or rock. Now armed, the bewildered men are told to fight. Not the monsters from the cartel—one another.

Their hands tremble with fear. They hesitate to kill an innocent man, someone they were chatting with only minutes earlier. But the men quickly realize that the only way to survive is to kill. Soon these normal men—husbands and fathers, farmers, bricklayers and factory workers—become callous gladiators. Unskilled in the act of murder, their arms flail wildly. Chunks of human flesh fly, the dust turns deep red, and hemorrhaging bodies begin to collapse. Thirty minutes later, all that remains is a handful of blood-soaked, exhausted, hollow-eyed men. The victims are now victors.

The criminals, members of Mexico’s deadliest cartel, Los Zetas, whoop and holler and sing Mexican folk songs as they pile the corpses in the ditch beside the road. They’re elated. They’ve grown a little richer, satiated their lusts, and now they’ve stolen some new recruits. In the coming days, each male captive will be given a mission: infiltrate enemy cartel territory, assassinate rival cartel members, go to war with the Mexican Army, or get saddled with drugs and dispatched across the border into America. No matter the assignment, each will meet the same end: death.

Tierra de Horror

The above scenario is not fictional. It happened, and was recounted to U.S. authorities last year by a drug trafficker. As difficult as it might be to imagine, horrific acts like this are occurring regularly. Not in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Zimbabwe, but right across America’s southern border, in a nation adored by Americans for its cheap beer and enticing beach resorts. This is Mexico’s ugly side: extreme barbarity, kidnappings, rape, torture, deep-rooted corruption, and a total breakdown of civilization.

It’s the Mexico most Americans rarely see and seldom think about—even though America is causing it!

Over the past six years, more than 47,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico. In 2006, there were 2,119 cartel-related murders. In 2010, it was 15,273. The 2011 total is expected to add up to somewhere around 17,000. Between the cartel-versus-cartel bloodbaths and the cartels-versus-Mexican military battles, Stratfor says, “Some parts of Mexico can credibly be described as a war zone” (March 5).

The violence exists in every corner of Mexico and runs the gamut of sadistic. Murder victims who are shot once or twice and die quickly are considered lucky. Some of the favored forms of murder among the cartels include decapitation (after which the victims’ heads are often paraded in public spaces as a warning), disfigurement and dismemberment (including cutting open the victim’s chest and ripping out his heart), and burying the victim alive head-first.

Some cartels kill so many victims that they have a department devoted to corpse removal. For the Tijuana Cartel, dealing with dead bodies was the job of Santiago Meza López, until he was arrested in 2009. Known as “The Stewmaker,” López was famous for the thoroughness with which he performed his job. He’d fill a 55-gallon drum with water, dump in two sacks of caustic soda, bring it to a boil over an open fire and then dump in dead bodies one after another. Within eight hours the only remains left were teeth and bones. He disposed of hundreds of bodies this way.

Victims of these horror stories include local, state and federal government employees, law enforcement officers, uncooperative businessmen and informants and witnesses—not to mention drug dealers and cartel rivals. Beyond the intentional killings, thousands of innocent Mexicans in towns and cities across the nation have been caught in the crossfire, wounded and killed. The cartels are fearless and have no regard for authority. They start gun battles in broad daylight in downtown areas of cities, or in neighborhoods filled with elderly and children. Drug-related violence is so common, many schools have drills in which children are taught to dive to the floor in order to dodge flying bullets.

The violence is all the worse because of the cartels’ weapons: tons of high-powered ak-47s, ar-15s and .50 caliber rifles. Oftentimes even the lowliest gangster has access to assault rifles, high-tech telescopes, infrared goggles, grenades, grenade launchers and high-caliber ammunition. According to stats released by both the U.S. and Mexican governments, 80 to 90 percent of the weapons used by Mexico’s drug cartels come from the U.S. Providing cartels with weapons is a multimillion-dollar racket, and U.S. residents are purchasing state-of-the-art weapons and selling them to the cartels, which then smuggle them into Mexico.

Mexico a Failed State

This is a grave situation that is bringing destruction, suffering and death to Mexicans everywhere—and maybe the nation itself. By definition, a successful sovereign government must be able to maintain control over its territory, and preserve the general peace in states and towns and cities. In Mexico, enormous chunks of territory are basically controlled by drug cartels, while countless local and federal government departments have either been infiltrated by cartel members, or are on the payroll of one or more cartels. In some regions and cities, Mexican authorities flat-out lack the loyal manpower, judicial control or simply the courage to administer justice and uphold the rule of law.

Take Mexico’s justice system. It is so out of hand that even if a cartel member is actually arrested, brought before a judge not on the payroll of the cartel, sentenced by a judge who doesn’t fear reprisal, and put in jail, he still has no reason to stop. Why? Because as Pedro Arellani, an expert on Mexico’s prisons, explained, “The authorities no longer control the prisons—the drug lords do.”

Last February, inmates at a state prison in Apodaca rioted and broke free. It turns out the riot was initiated by members of the Los Zetas cartel. During the melee, Zetas inmates killed more than 40 members of a rival cartel before escaping. When authorities investigated the prison break, they found that the prison guards had been bought off by the drug cartel. In a 2009 prison break, security cameras caught 53 prisoners belonging to Los Zetas literally strolling from prison as the guards stood by and watched.

In July 2010, it was discovered that guards at a prison in Durango were allowing cartel members to leave jail temporarily so they could carry out hit jobs commissioned by their employers. After murdering their victim, inmates would return to the sanctuary of their cell. For cartel members, Mexico’s prisons are more like hotels than jails. Should they end up in jail, cartel members, especially high-ranking leaders, are allowed to wear designer clothing, given access to cell phones and the Internet, and enjoy perks such as fine food, alcohol, flat-screen televisions, and regular visits from wives, girlfriends and prostitutes.

Ted Galen Carpenter suggests that “Mexico’s notoriously corrupt prison system … is now totally out of control. Whichever drug cartel is ascendant in any given region appears to exercise far more power than the Mexican government in those institutions” (National Interest, March 5; emphasis added throughout). If you belong to a cartel, the threat of jail time isn’t even the slightest incentive to give up criminal activity.

Mexico’s prisons aren’t punishment, they are sanctuaries.

What do you call a nation in which drug cartels have infiltrated the justice system and run the prisons, the very institutions created to suppress criminal activity?

A failed state.

Coming to América

If you live in America, there’s a chance you’ve heard a little about Mexico’s drug wars. But what you probably haven’t heard much about is the fact that Mexico’s cartels—including Los Zetas, which hijacked the busload of innocent Mexicans—are deeply entrenched in the United States.

It’s not your fault if you don’t know. The U.S. government and mainstream media have been astonishingly silent about this issue. This is an angle to this story perhaps as significant as the cartel violence and infiltration itself.

In 2008, the U.S. Justice Department warned that “Mexican dtos [drug trafficking organizations] are the most pervasive organizational threat to the United States. They are active in every region of the country and dominate the illicit drug trade in every area ….”

That was four years ago.

Today, Mexican drug cartels have established a foothold in every U.S. state. They are active in more than one thousand American cities.

In a 2009 interview with a local cnn station in Atlanta, William Newell, the special agent in charge of the Phoenix branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (atf), explained the ultimate ambition of the cartels. This warning, from an official stationed on the front lines of the drug war, ought to have deeply alarmed the U.S. government and made prime-time national news. The goal of the cartels, Newell warned, “is to come to the United States and take over.”

Why aren’t Americans being told about this by the White House and the media?

The way these cartels take over “is very violent,” Newell said. “We’re seeing signs of people being tortured and brutally beaten all across the U.S.,not just along the southwest border.” In August 2008, five bodies were discovered in an apartment in an affluent neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama. The victims had been tortured before being murdered by cartel members. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Gregory Borland worked the case and told reporters the violence was at a “level we’ve never seen before.”

“People make themselves feel better by saying, that’s not really a part of my world,” Borland said. “[O]ne of my jobs is to say, ‘No, it is a part of your world.’”

The number of cartel-related deaths inside America isn’t high—yet. But this isn’t a crisis of numbers—it’s about the presence of exceptionally violent drug cartels inside America and their goal to “take over.” They aren’t hanging people from bridges or decapitating Americans by the hundreds, but all of Mexico’s largest cartels—the Sinaloa Federation, Los Zetas, La Familia Michoacana, the Gulf Cartel, the Juarez Cartel, the Tijuana Cartel—are operating in America’s major cities, from Phoenix to New York City, Boise to Anchorage.

Large cities such as Dallas, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Miami, New York, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Antonio and San Diego are drug hubs. Cartels transport bulk loads of cocaine, marijuana and meth to warehouses in these cities where they re-process, re-package and dispatch the drugs to smaller markets. “The same folks who are rolling heads in the streets of Ciudad Juarez are operating in Atlanta,” warned Jack Killorin, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In America, “they are just better behaved.”

For now.

In Cartel, Sylvia Longmire gives an eye-opening glimpse into this crisis: “[F]or [Americans] living in or near a decent-sized metropolitan area, chances are pretty high that their hometown is infested with drugs being managed by one of the Mexican cartels.” If you live in a decent-size American city, chances are you’re sharing roads and stores and restaurants with Los Zetas and the other cartels!

In many cities, the cartels have teamed up with local gangs and criminal organizations. The gangs provide the cartels with storage and transportation, and the cartels supply the gangs with a wholesale supply of drugs. These are deadly relationships. In an interview with Lou Dobbs, Stratfor intelligence expert Fred Burton warned, “Street violence in Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, New York City or Washington, d.c., is directly attributable to the violence that’s taking place in Mexico. Meaning, the cartels are working with criminal gangs inside the United States,and they’re carrying out these violent murders and crimes on the streets of America.”

That’s quite a headline: “Mexican Drug Cartels Operating on America’s Streets.”

So why haven’t we seen it from the White House, or the New York Times or Fox News?

So far, cartel-related violence tends to be worse in regions and cities close to the southern border. Some areas of U.S. territory along the border are actually controlled by the cartels. In these areas, cartel gunmen are stationed on hills and ridges, monitoring the border with high-tech binoculars and shooting dead any illegals who dare to cross onto U.S. soil without cartel approval.

Is this America’s strategy for dealing with illegal immigration—subcontracting border control to the drug cartels?

This also raises the question of American sovereignty. Can a nation that cedes control of its border and territory to an outside power really be considered sovereign?

Right now, it’s in the best interest of cartels operating in the U.S. to lie low. With so much money at stake, they try to avoid local and federal authorities, resorting to violence only when absolutely necessary. But how long can we expect it to remain like this?

Think about the deadly concoction festering in hundreds of U.S. cities: growing unemployment, especially among the youth; gang violence and organized crime; racial tension; rising food prices; political animosity and ideological division. Now, add to that mix some of the most vicious organizations on the planet.

It’s another horrific crisis waiting to explode.

It’s likely to be okay as long as the cartels inside the U.S. are left to ply their trade. But what happens when they want to expand, or the gangs get testy, or another cartel pushes in on their territory—or state or federal authorities decide to crack down? In Mexico, the violence began to intensify in 2006, when President Felipe Calderón decided to confront the cartels. Over the past six years, Calderón has employed tens of thousands of soldiers to combat the cartels. But instead of solving the problem, Calderón’s commendable attempt at justice has resulted in more chaos, more murders, more kidnappings, and more mass graves.

Imagine the anarchy and violence if the U.S. government decided to take on the cartels.

Then again, imagine the inevitable violence if America continues to cede its southern border, inner cities and leafy neighborhoods to Mexico’s drug lords.

Americans Get High, Mexicans Die

Meet Billy. He’s an American college student who likes to get together with his buddies and smoke a little weed, or on occasion, snort a little cocaine. Billy doesn’t go “overboard.” He never sells drugs, or steals cars, or robs the elderly to support his hobby. In his mind—and the minds of many Americans—his drug use is simple, cheap fun, and mostly harmless.

Truth is, Billy is an ignorant, selfish fool whose actions are killing people. Neither Billy nor the millions of Americans like him give any thought to the poor Mexican farmers forced at gunpoint to grow marijuana or poppy crops. Or the barbaric cartels that supply him with this dope. Or the wreckage these cartels are causing in Mexico: collapsed businesses, abandoned towns and cities, countless mothers who fear letting their children play in the front yard. Or the tens of thousands who have been killed, kidnapped or wounded in drug-related violence. Or the brave U.S. border agents doing battle with drug cartels.

Obsessed with his own gratification, Billy the American doesn’t realize he’s the cause of so many of Mexico’s dire problems.

This crisis exists because there are tens of millions of Billys in the U.S. About 119 million Americans have used an illicit substance at least once. That’s 47 percent of Americans over the age of 13. In its 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services discovered that roughly 22 million Americans over the age of 12 were regular drug users, meaning they’d consumed an illicit drug in the previous month.

Nearly 9 percent of Americans use illicit drugs regularly.

The study found that 17 million people abuse marijuana, an increase of about 7 percent since 2007. The survey also found that drug use among teens and college-age students is increasing. About 22 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds use drugs, along with 10 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds. Whether it’s folks like Billy looking to get high only occasionally or hardcore Skid Row addicts craving their daily fix, America’s appetite for drugs like marijuana, cocaine and meth is almost beyond imagination.

For Mexico’s drug cartels, this is one colossal opportunity.

In 2006, the National Drug Intelligence Center estimated that the cartels take anywhere from $8 to $35 billion per year from American customers. With billions of dollars up for grabs, there’s nothing these cartels won’t do: take over prime agricultural regions; import massive armories of high-powered U.S. weapons; battle rival cartels; war against the Mexican army; bribe or murder thousands of Mexican government employees; destroy entire towns and cities; claim parts of an international border; even set up camp right inside every major American city. They’re prepared to wreck a sovereign nation of 112 million people.

All so Americans can get high!

Ending the Drug War

It can be easy to look at Mexico’s drug trade and its corollary problems and be utterly overwhelmed and discouraged. Today, many experts generally agree with Sylvia Longmire, an expert on the subject, who believes Mexico’s drug war “cannot be won.” It “must be viewed as a conflict that can only be managed,” she writes.

Pragmatic. Understandable. Hopeless.

She and others are advocating a strategy that will only ever deal with the effects of the problem, and never address the cause. Granted, solving the cause of Mexico’s drug wars—quenching America’s appetite for illicit drugs—is a Mt. Everest-sized challenge. But it is the only permanent solution.

America has tried to cure itself of its addiction to illicit drugs for years. It has tossed billions of dollars at the problem. It has created all sorts of new agencies to discourage drug use. It has trained a small army of doctors, nurses and counselors to specialize in drug abuse. It has produced countless anti-drug ads and handed out millions of pamphlets in schools and universities.

Yet Americans still love their drugs.

Why? First, every attempt at stopping drug use is undermined by a culture that glamorizes drugs. The government can prattle on all it wants, but the message coming from the true authorities in American life—Hollywood stars, tv personalities, pop music icons—is that recreational drug use is hot and hip. Drug use is rampant in high schools and colleges because many parents and teachers and professors—themselves ex-hippies and recreational drug users—accept and embrace it as a rite of passage for the teenager and college student.

The government can throw trillions of dollars at the problem, but America’s desire for drugs will never be quenched as long as its culture considers drug use trendy and sophisticated!

Most importantly, America’s cultural acceptance of illicit drugs is a function of its overall rejection of absolute law and morality.

The laws and values that once formed the foundation of American justice and morality—laws rooted in the Bible and embraced by most Americans—are now considered irrelevant and passé. In modern America, there’s no absolute authority on morality, no broadly accepted body of laws to govern human conduct. No person or government or Higher Being is thought to have the authority to define right and wrong in human behavior. Modern America is an amoral, government-hating, lawless society.

When it comes to morality, to right and wrong, Americans believe that each individual has the inalienable right to form his own opinion. He can define right and wrong. Self-mastery, restraint, moral uprightness, integrity, lawfulness—values that would prevent drug use—have been pushed aside or destroyed. These fundamentally Christian virtues have been replaced with new-age “values” of permissiveness, tolerance and instant self-gratification.

For most Americans, recreational drug use simply isn’t morally or spiritually wrong.

America’s appetite for drugs is the result of a spiritual sickness. This sickness is detailed in the first chapter of Isaiah, among many other prophecies. God likens Israel (the prophetic term for America) to an ox or donkey. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord has spoken. Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3; Revised Standard Version). Modern America is dumber than an ox, which at least knows that it must rely on its master for nourishment and protection.

There was a time America recognized the existence of God and embraced many of the principles and laws outlined in the Bible. As a result, many had purpose and a certain clarity in their lives. Most people didn’t need illicit drugs! They had a moral compass that directed them away from such activity.

That time is over. America has rejected God’s laws and the morality that once underpinned American culture, families and institutions. The result of this rejection of God and His law is obvious. “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. … The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds” (verses 4-6; rsv).

America’s exile from God has left it morally and spiritually sick!

Lacking guidance and nourishment from a Supreme Authority, modern America is aimlessly seeking happiness by groveling in its vices, including drug use. Because you’ve left me, God continues in Isaiah, “Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by aliens” (verse 7). “Aliens” means strangers, foreigners.

God warned 2,500 years ago that foreigners—like Mexico’s drug cartels—would prey on America if it forsook Him!

As you watch the travesties prophesied in Isaiah 1 unfold, don’t forget why they are happening. The most important part of Isaiah 1 is verses 2 and 3, which explain why America is sick and suffering these horrible plagues. The reason this nation is morally, spiritually and even physically sick is that it is cut off from God!

To those willing to accept this reality, the cure is simple. God gives it in Joel 2: “Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (verses 12-13).

That’s it! That is the solution to America’s drug addiction, and to Mexico’s drug wars. That is how we can stop Mexico’s collapse, how we can eradicate the cartels from American cities, how we can stop the torture, the rape, the beheading, the mass murder. That’s how we can ensure busloads of people are no longer terrorized by sadistic thugs.

If we would only turn to God, to His laws and truth, to His pure, wholesome, happy lifestyle—and away from fleeting drug-induced moments of euphoria—then the chaos and anarchy and violence would end. In Mexico, in the United States—and across the world!