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Monday, November 9, 2009


Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, built, not at the end of the second world war, but in 1961, by the Soviet-controlled East Germany, encircling West Berlin. The Wall was 87 miles long, first with a wire fence, then from 1965 to 1975 with that concrete wall, symbolizing the split between East and West. This left in parallel a death strip of about a 100 meters between the fence and wall. From 1975 to 1980 came another set of barriers 12 feet high and nearly 4 feet thick, alone costing nearly half a billion 2009 dollars.

Berlin City Map with Berlin Wall

The white portion above represents East Germany, so West Berlin was an island in Soviet territory. Prior to this blockade, 3.5 million East Germans emigrated to the West. After the Wall was built, 5,000 or so succeeded in scaling the wall, and possibly several hundred were killed. In 1987 President Ronald Reagan made his famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate.

There was, of course, a rail/autobahn corridor linking West Berlin to West Germany. In 1988 I was with a group that attended the World Hydrogen Energy Conference in Moscow, then flew to Schonefeld Airport in East Berlin on Aeroflot. If you've never been in a World War II cargo ship, well, this was one with seats. We had to cross the checkpoint into West Berlin, where the difference was between brownish gray and a lot of green, yellow, red, oranges and pink. Then, we drove through the Berlin Corridor to West Germany, and made three mistakes. We got stopped by the same police car for making a wrong turn of the road and, at a rest stop, parking in a space for busses. We envisioned getting tossed in jail. We somehow got through, only after misplacing a passport, which I had dropped on the floor of the car.

Then on August 23, 1989, Hungary catalyzed the fall by removing restrictions with Austria, resulting in 13,000 East Germans escaping. More left through a tolerant Czechoslovakia, The pressure built to the point where a mob of East Germans gathered at the Wall on November 9, and the authorities just watched as the group rushed into the West. There was no official declaration until much later.

You can watch a slideshow of the Berlin celebration today. Yes, Mikhail Gorbachev and Angela Merkel were there. Hillary Clinton and Dmitry Medvedev also made the scene, Obama by video. Was the Fall of the Berlin Wall the single most important event to preserve the future of humanity?

To quote from the Epilogue of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

American actor Ronald Reagan played the most important role of his life as the 40th president of the USA, and is sometimes credited for ending the Cold War, as his purposeful confrontational defense budget beginning in 1981, particularly Star Wars, fundamentally terrified the Soviet Union into overspending on defense, leading to ultimate bankruptcy. But, should Edward Teller, who convinced Reagan about this strategy, be the hero? Or one of his staff members I earlier talked about at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory? It had to start somewhere, and inevitably this would be at some primary, if not lower, staff level. Remember, presidents, governors and legislators almost never have the time to think out simple solutions. You have to do it for them. Charlie, though, might have done it himself.

When Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in 1985, his response to Reagan was glasnost (openness to public debate) and perestroika (restructuring) policies, followed by summit offers to reduce their nuclear arms stockpile. This initiative set the mechanism in motion for arms reduction, and also to the disestablishment of the Soviet Union. Cowed, inspired, whatever, Gorbachev in 1990 won the Nobel Peace Prize. Who in Russia had the ear and mind of Gorbachev?

November 9, 1989 might not have been the end of the Cold War, as the Soviet Union did not fracture until two years later, but this date was probably the peak point for mutually assured destruction, well known in those days as MAD. Iran and North Korea don’t have any potential to trigger a nuclear winter. Israel could well be in danger, but, then, they are well positioned to exorcise those nuclear demons. So why has the Doomsday Clock decreased from 10 minutes to midnight in 1990 to 5 minutes today? Well, this is not as precarious as 2 minutes in 1953, but, nevertheless uncomfortably short, probably because the environment today is now also being threatened by global warming.


What is happening to the stock market. Last week 10.2% unemployment, today, the Dow Jones Industrials were up 204 to 10,227, a 13 month high. Historically, unemployment always lags recovery, so single digit unemployment could well now return as soon as this year, and certainly by early next. The Japan Nikkei is at 9809, as world markets all rose, save for Sweden. Gold pierced the $1100 barrier, up $7/toz to $1104, yes, the highest ever, and crude oil is at $79/barrel. You would think that health care stocks would take a hit from the House Saturday night action, but, no, they almost all went up, too.


A weakening Tropical Storm Ida is at 70 MPH and already bringing rain to Louisiana. She should make landfall in the Florida Panhandle tonight, then turn east with a lot of moisture. There is a tropical cyclone heading for the west side of India.


Just another sunset in Hawaii:


1 comment:

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