Guns and The Fragility of Our Egos

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The news flashed across my phone’s screen a few hours ago. 14 children and a teacher were killed in a Texas elementary school.
What? Wasn’t it just 10 days ago that 10 African Americans were killed at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York?
Yes. And still it happened again. And it will keep happening.
Voices in support of the right to bear arms will roar in defense of their freedoms.
Voices in favor of gun control will rise too, with equal conviction.
And then the shootings will die down for a few weeks, only to start again.
It will happen anywhere. There’s no one state, city or town that is immune to it.
No age, sex or race that will be spared.
And so America, our dear nation, will bleed and keep bleeding. Senselessly.
Gun control would help and civil liberties are essential. But there’s something more basic at stake here.
The fragility of our egos. And how we are choosing to hide behind guns.
To address this we must learn to speak in the language of emotions.
Why are we so scared of each other?
Why can’t we pause when we have differences and attempt to dialogue?
What are we missing in our emotional learning that makes us so likely to feel threatened?
Why does discourse on critical issues quickly move to hostile remarks?
Something is festering in us and it has to do with the fragility of our egos.
We mustn’t ignore it because we are bleeding.
Hiding behind guns doesn’t help.
All lives are precious. Our problems on this earth are daunting. We need everybody’s contributions.
And so we must get to work on using the language of emotions.
We should be willing to speak of our fears, our anger, our envy, for they are with us every single day of our lives. We should be able to speak of those emotions without shame.
As we grow more comfortable with acknowledging our feelings we will become less paranoid, more confident and personally secure, more willing to listen to each other, perchance to understand and, soon enough, may not be so quick to hide behind guns.
It will take some time – maybe decades – but we have to get started. It is a matter of national urgency.
Immersing ourselves in the language of emotions is essential to our future wellbeing.
I will send this letter to president Biden in the hope it may spark some initiative, if it is not already afoot.
Ultimately, though, it is up to each and every one of us to make the effort.
Help stop the bleeding. Speak of your emotions. Let us strive to not hide behind guns.

Oscar Valdes is the author of Letters to a Shooter. Available in my website and on youtube.
Oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts.

The Butcher of Moscow

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He was sitting at his desk in his bunker when the call came in. The general he had summoned had arrived. Putin reached over to the photo of Josef Stalin he kept on his desk and put it in one of the drawers.
The general stepped in. Putin signaled for him to take a seat across. The general did.
Putin – Good to see you.
General – Pleasure as always, Mr President.
Putin – Wanted to hear from you directly how are things on the front.
General – There has been much resistance as I detailed on my report from yesterday but I’m confident we will prevail.
Putin – How long?
General – That’s a hard question to answer.
Putin – A guess…
General – It could go on for months… with the West providing so much equipment.

Putin looks off as he nods.

General – Their morale is high… they’re good fighters. It’s their land we’re taking over…
Putin – No, General, it’s our land.
General – I meant they’ve been there for a long time… and they’ve been able to put up with a lot of killing.

Putin leans forward, intertwines his hands.

Putin – Do I look like I’m having trouble sleeping?
General (scrutinizing briefly Putin’s face) – Mr President, your expression looks fresh and healthy.
Putin – You know why?
General – You’re convinced you’re doing the right thing?
Putin – Yes… God is on my side.

The General nods.

Putin – The Russian orthodox church says I’m in the right and that’s good enough for me.
Are you a believer?
General – I am.

He had prepared himself for the question.

Putin – I don’t want to keep losing Russian soldiers… so I may have to use nuclear weapons.

The General flinches, surprised by the statement.

Putin – Even though I think that a long war will eventually work to our benefit… carefully placed nuclear weapons would make a big difference. The war is raising energy prices, fueling inflation, creating food shortages, lowering morale throughout the West. Do you follow the capital markets in the West?
General – Not regularly, Mr President.
Putin – They’re panicking, selling and selling, the likelihood being that they will go into a recession… even a depression… which would erode support for Biden and his people. All of which makes it more likely that America will see more political divisions and increase the possibility that Trump will be reelected in 2024.
General – That would be good for us?
Putin – Of course. He’ll agree to the superpowers carving out spheres of influence and we’ll all live happily ever after. I will do everything possible to see him reelected… but I can’t wait that long. Nuclear bombs in Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa… will send a clear message. Surrender immediately. Or else… more will be on the way.

The General looks down at the ground for a moment, gathering his thoughts.

General – Wouldn’t that be killing a lot of innocent people?
Putin – Innocent? If they’re collaborating with the enemy they’re not innocents.
General – But don’t you think the West will figure out you’re planning a strike and do something about it?
Putin – Maybe. But they have a lot of people to consult before they make a decision. I can make my choice quickly.
General – They may have a plan ready to go…
Putin – Perhaps. But I’ll take my chances.
General – That would be a big chance you’d be taking. It would change the history of the world.

Putin nods as he narrows his eyes.

Putin – I hadn’t thought about it that way… but it definitely would. Still, the Japanese were able to rebuild.
General – Too many innocent people would be killed or burned.
Putin – There are no innocent people in this war…
General – The children…

Putin shakes his head as he looks directly at the general. Why is he having to repeat himself?

Putin – Do you think the West will give planes to Ukrainians?
General – I’m sure they’re thinking about it. The Czechs already send in helicopters and are repairing them too. With planes they could hurt us badly.
Putin – Another reason to drop the nuclear weapons.
General – But the West may respond by using nuclear weapons on our troops and that would be it.
Putin – I don’t think they would. They would think it inhumane… or wrestle with their conscience. Advantage Putin. For I would not hesitate to fire on Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam…

The General looks off for a moment,

Putin – A lot of killing, you think?
General (now looking at Putin) – That’s… destroying the world as we know it…

Putin is struck by the statement.

Putin – The world as we know it…? Interesting. General, I detect a certain pro-Western bias…
General (puzzled) – How so?
Putin – What about China, India, Africa, South America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia… aren’t they important engines of growth?
General – Of course, but the cities you mentioned are at the cutting edge…
Putin – No, general… they’re decaying cities, filled with corruption, greed, moral decay and perversion… but you don’t seem to get that.
General – I do… but there’s a vitality there that enriches our world…

The general catches himself. He had forgot caution.

Putin (eyeing the general carefully, speaking deliberately) – I’m not just fighting for Russia, general, though I’ve warned them… said it again and again… do not encircle me with NATO. I must have my Ukraine. How many times do I have to repeat it?
I’m fighting for a new world order… so the nations of the East and South can emerge… and shake off the shackles of unrestrained capitalism…

The general nods uncertainly.

General – If we attack… wouldn’t they destroy Moscow, St Petersburg… so much life, so much history?
Putin – I would get to them before they get to us.
General – How can you be sure of that?
Putin – I am sure. That’s why I have ruled this nation as long as I have. That’s why people believe in me.
But rest assured, general, it won’t come to that. If the West chooses to use nuclear weapons against our troops in retaliation, then there will be nothing left in Ukraine… and I will take it over and rebuild.

Putin sits back in his chair, taking his time.

Putin – General… your pro-Western bias worries me… I believe that’s made you less effective on the battlefield.
General (quickly, emphatically) – I assure you it has not. What I said is simply an acknowledgement that the cities you mentioned are creative centers… I believe in Russia’s importance in the world, Mr President…
Putin (ignoring him) – Which may be why we’ve not gained more territory.
General (urgently) – Mr President, I have given the war effort and our conquest of Ukraine all of my energies, day and night…
Putin – But your attitude would easily lead to a lack of conviction… in ways not easily detected…
so be quiet, please.

Pause.

Putin – I hate to do this, dear sir… how long have you been in the armed forces?
General – Thirty five years, sir… and proud of it.
Putin – It may be time for you to retire.

The general’s heart sinks. He closes his eyes.

Putin – You have been obedient and loyal… but maybe it’s time for you to spend more time with your family.
General – But why, sir?
Putin – I don’t think you have the commitment I need to have my orders followed unquestioningly. I don’t get that you’re hungry for victory.
General – That is not true.
Putin – Be quiet.

Leaning forward, the general rubs his face. His eyes now moistened.

General (choosing to fight) – Don’t you think it’s good for Russia that you hear different opinions? For instance, our soldiers’ morale has been low, that has affected performance on the battlefield.
Putin – And what have you done about it?
General – I’ve told them that we must sacrifice for a greater Russia. I’ve joined them in the front lines… stood side by side with them… they just don’t believe me. I’ve proposed they be given bonuses…
Putin (firmly) – The morale of our troops has been low because you lack commitment, general. That is why.

The General looks off, feeling defeated.

Putin (softly, almost caringly) – You’ll be placed under house arrest effective immediately. Return directly to your home. A security detail will follow you. You may leave now.
General (pleading) – I don’t deserve this, Mr President.
Putin – That is my final decision.
General – Will you please reconsider?
Putin – Didn’t I just say my decision was final?

The General stands, salutes energetically and exits.

On the way out, he thinks to himself, ‘And what do I tell my children that I did for mother Russia?’

Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

Changing Thoughts on the War

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The war is settling into a slow, painful grind. Russia is concentrating in the East but have made gains in the southern border.

A protracted war is likely to end with an advantage for Russia, since they have access to more fighting materiel.

Which brings up the matter of how much more assistance to give Ukraine.

So far the West has been careful to not provide Ukrainians with more sophisticated weaponry, the kind capable of inflicting more serious damage to Russia.

One of the worries has been that the aid provided not be of such quantity or quality to put the West in the category of co combatant.

But that’s a definition that Putin came up with and imposed on us.

The undisputed pluck of the Ukrainian people have done all they can with what they have.

Can they have more?

Can they have planes?

Providing them would give Ukraine a chance of beating the Russians more quickly.

The war would escalate but the chances of Ukraine booting the Russians completely out of their territory would increase.

The big question is what would Putin do?

There’s no question that he’s fully committed to the conquest of their neighbor, but would he follow through with the threat of using nuclear weapons?
I think the time has come when we must confront him on this.

The atrocities committed by Russians give the West the higher moral ground.

I recall Biden stating that he would draw a line on the use of chemical weapons. So too with nuclear weapons.

I think Putin’s threats must be confronted.

And we should make it clear too that, should there be a nuclear confrontation, China would be a target of ours also.

This would make China intercede with Putin to dissuade him from using the nuclear weapons.

Ukraine’s resolve will not last forever. For all the help they’re getting from the West they have limited manpower, much less than Russia, which has recently raised the age for enlistment in their army.

We should make it clear that our objectives are not regime change in Russia. That’s for Russians to do. But they should leave Ukraine entirely.

Will congress approve that stance?

Chances are they will. Mitch McConnell and company has supported the 40 billion package aid recently passed.

Russia is becoming more and more isolated. They’re lacking parts for their weaponry that need to come from the West and that will hurt.

Here in America we’re struggling with inflation and supply chain constraints, but the war looms large over everything.

One other point. I agree that it should be up to Ukrainians if they wish to negotiate a cease fire.

It’s their blood being shed, their land being ravaged and they have limits.

Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

Turkey, NATO and Biden

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A recent article in the WSJ coauthored by former senator Joe Liebermann, addressed the matter. Here I add my thoughts.
Recep Erdogan, Turkey’s president, has been in power for years but could not get his nation into the European Union. His governing style has not measured up to their standards. But now that Finland and Sweden have asked to be part of NATO, he has become the one party in the entire organization to block the two nations’ desires.
Erdogan has not applied the sanctions against Russia most of the EU – except for Hungary – have enforced. Yet he likes to see himself as a mediator that could deliver the deal that will put an end to the war.
He won’t.
As an autocrat, convinced that he should reign in Turkey until his death, he shares much with Putin. So he has no clue as to what freedom is.
He was useful to the EU in stemming the flow of Syrian refugees at the start of that nation’s civil war and got paid for it. Yet, now and then, he threatens to open the borders and let everyone through. Which puts the burden on the EU to find better solutions.
One of Erdogan’s objections to Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, is that there are Kurdish terrorist groups in both countries who are enemies of his regime.
That is a good point. Why should any NATO nation host any terrorist group against another member nation?
But does Erdogan and Turkey bear responsibility for creating the conditions that led to the formation of such groups?
Turkey has a troubled history dealing with adversaries. At the start of WWI they killed thousands of Armenians, which president Biden, in 2021, on the 106th anniversary of the massacre, pronounced a genocide.
The Kurds have been American allies in the war against ISIS in Syria, and that must be recognized.
Still, support for any terrorist organization is a bad idea.
Erdogan not only wants the Kurdish groups in Finland and Sweden expelled, but also wants to be allowed to buy American planes, a deal that has been held back because a few years ago, against NATO’s wishes, Turkey purchased a Russian missile system which raised concerns that sensitive information from the aircraft would end up in Russia’s hands.
In spite of all of this, Turkey’s membership in NATO has continued.
But now the invasion of Ukraine and the strong response of the West has changed everything.
Erdogan never imagined that Biden and Europe would pull together into a solid bloc, except for Hungary.
Russia’s atrocious invasion and disregard for human life have created a new power alignment.
Finland and Sweden want to join it, but Turkey says no unless their conditions are met.
However, in this new power alignment, as in any other, priorities are needed. And while Turkey’s concern about terrorist groups deserves full attention, it should not be enough to block Finland and Sweden’s admission.
Turkey’s history of silencing the opposition is not compatible with a democracy. Thus, I agree with the view that it should not have the privilege of barring democracies from joining and expanding NATO.

Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

The War and the Language of Emotions

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The massive loss of life that Putin has unleashed has its roots in a set of emotional perceptions.
Yet I am almost sure, that none of the heads of state who have attempted to mediate with the Russian, have asked him, ‘why are you afraid?’ or ‘are you envious of the West?’
Putin would deny he was.
Acknowledging our emotions is not easy but the cost of not doing so is enormous.
Putin has said that NATO is threatening Russia although NATO’s reason for being is to protect against Russian attacks. And there have been plenty of those.
It was Russia, or the Soviet Union before it, that invaded Ukraine in 2014 (annexing Crimea), Georgia in 2008, Chechnya in the 1990s and again in the first decade of this century, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Hungary in 1956.
To justify the present invasion, Putin has insisted that Ukraine is a threat to him and to Russia.
He did not have the personal strength to say, ‘I am afraid that if Ukrainians leave my world and take up the customs of the West – with their ways of thinking and behaving – they will set a bad example for all the peoples I have intimidated into submission. And because I am afraid, I must kill the wayward Ukrainians.’
But what is there to be afraid of?
Freedom.
Freedom is central to the language of emotions.
If there is no freedom or if it is restricted, so are the emotions we can express.
We read, go to the theatre, watch movies, so we can see other ranges of emotional expression and help expand ours.
Under political repression, only the outward expression of emotions and ideas are restricted. Inside our minds we can still think and feel what we wish. But over time, the restricted possibilities of outward expression end up constricting our thoughts and feelings.
Fear does that. And so life is diminished and devalued.
Which is how autocrats and dictators rule.
It is happening In Russia, in China, in Myanmar, in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Egypt. They restrict the freedom of others so those doing the intimidation can have more privileges than the rest.
Restriction of freedom leads to the narrowing of our emotional world.
The fact that Putin rules Russia and its subordinate territories (the word nation does not currently fit Belarus) does not mean that he is doing so with the consent of the people. If there isn’t freedom of expression in a nation, then such rule lacks legitimacy.
Legitimacy is not earned by force of arms or intimidation.
Thus, Putin is not the legitimate leader of Russia.
Instead, he is the expression of a people who has lost its voice and so become emotionally crippled because of not exercising their political freedoms.
I predict that soon there will be a revolution in Russia. There will be because of the following:
One – Russians are an educated and capable people who, in comparison to the rest of the world, are underperforming. They know it and it hurts.
Two – the incongruency between their level of sophistication and the brutality they’re being asked to carry out in Ukraine is too large.
Three – they will come to acknowledge that their political passivity is what made possible a despot like Putin.
Four – Russians will recognize that they allowed Putin to numb their emotional world and so gave themselves permission to live in fear of the tyrant.
The wholesale destruction of lives and property currently under way in Ukraine, is happening in a world that is the most interconnected there has ever been.
Everything is on display. Nothing can be hidden that won’t surface shortly thereafter.
In consequence, our emotions are heightened.
Such richness is essential to freedom.
Putin can hide from Russians the atrocities in Ukraine for only so long.
Soon enough, all the details of the carnage will be known to everyone.
And then Russians will come to accept that, in their passivity, they became Putin’s accomplices.
Which is why they will revolt.
With the continued support of the West, and Russians’ challenge of Putin from within, Ukraine will push Russia out of their territory.
And the two nations will be good neighbors and prosper.
In this day, when talks of mediation between warrying parties take place, the matter of freedom should be on the table.

Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

Reflections on the War

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What to do about Hungary?
They’re ruled by an autocrat, Viktor Orban, who they just reelected easily.
They also like Putin. Which helps explain their choice.
They refuse to join in the West’s vigorous support of Ukraine.
They just told the president of the European Commission, Ursula Von Leyen, that they had no interest in joining the EU’s embargo of Russian oil. The only way they’d do it, is if the EU provided them with ‘billions and billions’ to upgrade their energy grid to make them self reliant.
Any hint of sacrificing themselves a little to assist Ukraine is off the table.
No blurred positions. They are clear about what they want.
But they like the protection that NATO offers. And the subsidies that come from the EU. Plus the free borders with the rest of Europe.
The perks, yes, the responsibilities, no.
So the EU should look for a way to boot Hungary out of the union. Mr Orban has been doing this dance for a while so I’m sure that option is being debated.
Geography offers Hungary some protection. If their location were a bit different, as for instance between Belarus and Ukraine, rather than near the center of Europe, they would be a good candidate for a swap. As in the EU saying to Mr Orban, ‘Why don’t you go over to Putin’s side, we’ll take Ukraine instead. We’ll withdraw you from NATO so you can apply for the benevolent protection of Vladimir Putin’. Although I suspect Mr Orban might not like the idea. He seems to prefer playing both sides to see how much he can get.
But there is good news from the war front also.
Finland is about to apply for membership in NATO and Sweden is expected to follow.
Putin must be kicking himself since he told us he must invade Ukraine to push NATO away, and instead now has two nearby nations wanting their protection.
Something about his messaging is not getting through.
This morning I read that Erdogan in Turkey, is opposed to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. He plays both sides, also. Sends drones to Ukraine, then seeks to ingratiate himself with Putin.
But gradually we have discovered that the Russian leader is not an imposing figure at all.
He overestimated the power of his armed forces, underestimated the resolve of Ukrainians and the West, sacrificed thousands of people in the pursuit of his folly and has become an object of scorn to most of the world.
I’m sure he’s even strained his relationship with China since he probably promised a quick victory, not the messy and lengthy affair the invasion has turned out to be.
Although we haven’t seen clear signs of it yet, I believe he’s under pressure from within Russia, from sectors in industry, commerce and the military, which upon taking stock of the damage done by their leader are asking, ‘isn’t it time to get rid of him?’
The magnitude of that internal force is the wild card in this war.
Let’s hope we get to see it play out as soon as possible.
And no, Crimea would not be a retirement option.

Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

The Deification of Elon Musk

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Dear Elon:
You are being deified and you’re loving it. Which worries me.
Here are statements I read earlier in an Associated Press article published today.
‘You have a guy who probably has an unmeasurable IQ…’ said a professor in Michigan referring to you.
C’mon, man, don’t believe a word of it. Your IQ is measurable.
Here’s another, from a venture capitalist who worked with you at PayPal. ‘Elon, on his worst day, is probably 100 times more effective than anybody else in America.’
I had to pause to swallow that one.
Look around, Elon, all kinds of creative people are making contributions to mankind every day.
And non creative people, too. Who keeps the lights on?
Another praise from a few days ago, ‘Tesla is Musk.’
Really? If so, what happened to all the engineers and mathematicians, designers, technicians and craftspeople who actually make the vehicles you sell, or the rockets Space X launches?
One more. An acquaintance who is dazzled by your aura, said to me the other day, ‘If we lose Musk, what’re we doing to do?’
Bizarre. Will the world come to an end if we lose you?
No, Elon, it will not.
So, please, it’s not good for you to believe those who wish to deify you.
It’s not good for TSLA stock, either.
Particularly now that you’re off on the quest to making Twitter the paragon of free speech.
Actually, you’ve not had a good start because to say like you did recently, that to ban Trump from Twitter was ‘morally wrong,’ is a big mistake.
Mr Trump was banned because he was inciting violence. Inciting violence is not free speech. It is a crime.
That you don’t get that, or don’t have people around you with enough sense to tell you that, is most worrisome.
The deification of others is a peculiarly human phenomenon. Highly intelligent people fall into it. I think it’s associated with an urge to surrender, to worship, to not accept that it’s all of us together who decide our fate. Every day. All of us – together – collaborating in ways small and large. Accepting such truth is hard, so it must be easier to surrender instead.
So please, try to keep yourself from being seduced by praise, for it will lead you to making mistakes. Guaranteed.
Here are a few suggestions: 1) take the reins. Remind people who adore you that you’re human. Not superhuman. You are very ambitious and capable, so thank you for that, but you have limitations also.
2) Stop smoking marijuana. It dulls your brain cells. 3) Recognize the work of others in bringing your ideas to market.
Hang in there, Elon. You can do it. Best.

Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

Why There Won’t Be A Nuclear War

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There’s much talk about the possibility of a nuclear war if Putin is pushed too hard in Ukraine.
Particularly now that his army has underperformed and the quick victory he imagined, with Ukrainians bowing reverentially to his majesty as he made his triumphant journey to Kyiv, has been shown to be a fantasy.
In his despair, Putin has been tempted to unleash nuclear weapons, but he will not because China will have something to say about it.
China will do whatever they can to support Putin from the punishing effect of the sanctions the West has imposed. But they know, that should Putin give in to the itch to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, then China itself would be a target of retaliation from the West.
The West is clear that China is aiming for world supremacy. The Chinese have stated they are a ‘no limits’ ally to Russia.
In the face of a nuclear attack from Russia, the West has no option but to target China also as they do Russia.
If not, then a weakened West would be exposed to a predatory China.
Putin knows he has been damaged by his invasion of Ukraine which, in turn, has pushed him closer to China and thus more susceptible to their influence.
He is also likely facing pressures from within Russia, with influential people expressing their doubts as to the path he’s charted, the pain he’s inflicted and the profound loss of prestige that Russia has incurred.
Two and a half months have passed since the start of the war, and every day we hear of more atrocities committed by the Russian army.
China has not been critical of their ally. But they will draw a line when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons.
Shortly after he became president, Joe Biden made the decision to pull out of Afghanistan.
He was widely criticized for it but he was right to do so.
He understood that, after 20 years, the war against the Taliban was unwinnable since the enemy had found shelter and support in neighboring Pakistan.
Furthermore, he understood he needed to clear the deck because Mr Trump, his predecessor, had dangerously damaged America’s relationship with its allies and become too friendly with Putin.
Biden, like no other, saw the problem and its implications.
The resolve he showed then led to the resolve he’s shown now.
The war is not over but Biden has performed gallantly and deserves the nation’s respect and admiration.
The West today is more united than it has been in years. Our sense of purpose sharp.
This would have been impossible under Trump.
And yet, because of the problems with inflation, mostly arising from Biden’s effort to protect us from the pandemic, an electorate dissatisfied with higher prices may vote for the opposition in the upcoming mid term elections, and so reject his sound proposals to strengthen the country.

There is still time for the Democratic party to make clear to the voters, the magnitude of Mr Biden’s leadership performance.

Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts.

A Chinese and a Cuban Talk Politics. Part I

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C is Cuban. Chi is Chinese.

C – It’s amazing what you’ve done with your country in such short time.
Chi – Thank you.
C – You are now a rival to the United States.
Chi – And pretty soon we will be the most powerful economy in the entire world.
C – Wow. And to think we both started out as communists. I can’t help but wonder why you’ve grown so much and we haven’t. I mean, are you even communists anymore? I know you started as such, but it seems you then took a turn.
Chi – We did. We had that whole Mao experience as you know… lots of years of being very regimented… deprived, in fact… very traumatic the whole thing… had to read Mao’s little Red Book, again and again… I could recite it in my sleep… but slowly we came to realize that we needed to produce more and to do that, we needed creative and enterprising people. And we needed markets.
C – So you let the creative and enterprising people come out and do their thing?
Chi – Yes. We began to allow people to have their own businesses… and when you do that, then people with those abilities get to work. Up till then, the system was burying them… and they weren’t making money and no one else was making money, and we could say we were all equal… but what’s the point of being equally poor?
C – I get you. That’s what’s happening in Cuba. We can all say that we’re brothers and sisters and we’re all equal but we’re not. Not really. And those people with ideas for commerce and other things, they’re held back.
Chi – Right. Finally, we realized we had to try something different.
When we did, we began to see how new hierarchies began to form. Hierarchies of talent and ability, in all fields, hierarchies that have always been there, no point in denying them. They were there during Mao. The Chairman got to have all the girlfriends he wanted.
C – Same with our leaders. They eat and dress and live better than the rest of us.
Chi – Right. So we said to ourselves, that’s the way the world is. Some people have more than others because nature gave them more. In the jungle, you’ve got the lions and the tigers and the gazelles and the rabbits and the pigs, and the stronger gets to eat the weaker. That’s how nature works.
C – But we’re humans…
Chi – Sure, but we’re not all created equal.
C – Under the law we are.
Chi – Right. And that’s about it. Men and women are at their best when they have the chance to exercise their differences. And the better systems let you do that.
C – Exercise your difference?
Chi – Yes. Of course, you have to show some restraint so the stronger human doesn’t eat the weaker one.
C – But isn’t that what Capitalism has been doing?
Chi – Unchecked Capitalism, sure. But I’m talking of Regulated Capitalism. Regulated Capitalism gives us a safety net, allowing for workers to have rights, pensions, education, health care, days off and so on. And to do that the system taxes the people who make the money. The more money you make, the more we tax you. Regulated Capitalism – we call it State capitalism – needs to keep improving but we’re moving in the right direction.
C – You’re not against billionaires?
Chi – Not at all. We love billionaires. But they have to be accountable and pay their taxes. The communist party sends an emissary to be part of their governing board.
C – In Cuba we hate billionaires, or pretend to, when in reality we would like to have a chance at it.
Chi – Why the hate?
C – Our leaders believe a person can only become a billionaire if they corrupt others, so to allow billionaires would mean they’ve allowed corruption.
Chi – Corruption is a big issue, everywhere. We have it in China. The Chairman has been working on rooting it out. But some people can make a lot of money without corrupting others. They can make money just with their ideas, their creativity and hard work.
C – You really believe that?
Chi – I do. Of course, becoming a billionaire doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a fair or good person. They can be assholes, too. You have some and we do, too, but if they create jobs then that’s great. It’s up to government to make sure they pay their fair share.
C – There was an American presidential candidate recently who said billionaires shouldn’t exist.
Chi – Right. And what happened to him?
C – He lost. And there are famous economists who think the same.
Chi – I think they’re envious of billionaires.
C – Hmm. Interesting. Let’s go back to the issue of equality.
Chi – We’re not equal. Some people will always have more than others, be it brains, muscular power, beauty, musical ability, anything. If a system is wise, however, it will allow those with the greater gifts to rise. Then the system will work to make sure the benefits are spread out.
But it gets tricky when you start spreading the benefits. You don’t want to give out too much that it dampens the desire to work. Of course, there will be those who look at the billionaire and say, life is not fair, why can’t I do those things the billionaire does? The answer is there is a hierarchy.
Good governments ought to make that clear. And remind people that if they keep trying, well, who knows, something might happen and they, too, will become wealthy.
C – That’s like promising something that will never happen.
Chi – You never know, if you keep trying. Anyway, that’s the trick of governing, always give hope.
C – You’ve heard of the expression, ‘pie in the sky?’
Chi – There is hope that is realistic and hope that is false. Autocratic leaders preach false hope. In State Capitalism we give realistic hope, like we’re doing in China.
For an instance of false hope, take what’s happening in Venezuela. That regime has persuaded the people that government will lift them to a comfortable and satisfactory life. But it won’t happen unless people work hard. But work hard for the betterment of humanity? No. That’s too abstract. You work hard because you have incentives, because you can make money.
The Venezuelan government is not letting people make money, and are scared that if they do, those people will undermine them. So they prefer to keep everyone poor. Except the rulers, of course. They always eat and dress well and get to travel.
C – The government can’t create enough jobs but then it doesn’t let those who can create them do so.
Chi – And they have the guns to intimidate everyone. Guns to tell everyone that the real meaning of life is to work for the betterment of humanity, without worrying about material rewards. They’re delusional. Man is simply not like that. We are part of the animal kingdom. Not of the celestial one. We’re not angels. We love our money and what it can do for us.
C – You don’t have to go to Venezuela for that one. That’s what’s going on in Cuba too.
Chi – It’s very sad. And we both know there are lots of very talented Cubans and Venezuelans.
C – Our governments are afraid of them, afraid of what they can create.

They pause for a moment.

C – We’re not equal… I get it.
Chi – We should treat everyone with respect and encourage them to do their best. Everyone should get that. That’s how equality should be viewed. Equality under the law. Not equality of results or pay or position. Hierarchies are part of life.
C – What do you think of the economic embargo the United States has on Cuba?
Chi – We know how it started. The Castro brothers nationalized American businesses that were making big money in Cuba.
C – Right.
Chi – That could’ve been done a lot differently so as not to piss off the Americans.
C – True.
Chi – Terms to repay could have been set… and the likelihood is that would’ve allowed business between the two nations to continue.
C – Maybe. Anyway, it didn’t happen. The Castro brothers couldn’t think that far.
Chi – But they sure have got a lot of political capital out of the embargo.
C – They have. They keep blaming the embargo for the misery Cubans live in.
Chi – Get someone else to blame for your own inadequacies.

They pause.

C – Going back to China, do you think you’ll ever become a democracy?
Chi – That’s a good one.
C – Or are you getting comfortable with being ruled by the Party and its State Capitalism?
Chi – I think that eventually we will become a democracy. Eventually. The more and more successful we become economically, the more we will want to have political power also.
C – It is a unique phenomenon in history, what you’ve done.
Chi – It is. We’re very proud. Even with the restrictions we live under. We are wary, though, that democracy carries with it some risks, corruption of course, and the possibility that some leaders will emerge that will not care for maintaining the unity of the nation.
We see what is happening in the United States with Trump and realize it could happen to us, too. So, yes, one day we will want to become a democracy, but not anytime soon.
Before we do that, we will want to become the most powerful nation in the world.
We are getting closer to that.
C – How much intimidation do you live with in your country?
Chi – A good bit. We don’t like it, but the government lets us make money, and lots of it.
C – So long as you can make money…
Chi – Yes… we love to make money. Wouldn’t you?
C – Yes, I would.

They pause again.

C – One thing, though, I admit that if Cubans were allowed to make money things would be different… but the embargo has hurt.
Chi – You are right. If it hadn’t been for the American market and all those companies that came to China to make their products, we would not be this far along. So we are thankful to the Americans, although they made a pile of money, too.
C – And you stole and copied the technology, and spied to get whatever else… did you not?
Chi – We did. But… we worked with what we stole and copied, and then improved it. Let me give you an example. We asked America to let us in on the Space program. They said no. Well, we gathered what we had to gather, and our scientists landed us on the other side of the Moon, the dark side. No one had done that. We did it. So, the fact that we have stolen and copied does not mean we’re not creative and have vast brain power.
C – Good point. And as far as Cuba is concerned… even with the embargo… if we created something to trade… we could do business with the rest of the world.
Chi – Yes.
C – But first we have to figure a way of allowing ourselves more incentives.
Chi – True.

They pause.

C – We have talked about the importance of incentives… to make money… but make money for what?
Chi – Ah, yes. Good question. I can think of a two part answer to it. But let’s take it up next time we meet.
C – Deal.

To be continued. This article was written on 9/14/2020

Oscar Valdes Oscarvaldes.net. medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts

Putin’s Nightmare

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He woke up, startled. The windowless room was dark.
His girlfriend who’d stayed with him the evening before didn’t spend the night because she had some matters to address early the next morning.
At first he didn’t remember anything that had disturbed his sleep but he knew something had.
His body was sweaty and he didn’t feel right.
He swung his legs off the bed, turned on the lamp on the nightstand and stood up.
He checked the time. It was 2:50 AM. Which meant he’d slept about three hours.
He crossed to the table at the center of the room and sat down.
Leaning forward, he put his face in his hands. Whatever it was that was disturbing him, would soon come back. That’s how it was with him. Upon awakening he wouldn’t remember his dreams but after a short while some trace of them would come back and then he would be able to reconstruct it.
Now he thought of America. Next the sanctions they had been imposing on him. Then of Zelensky. And it hit him. He had lost Ukraine.
He shuddered. He straightened up in his chair and put his arms around himself.
‘Fuckers!’ ‘Goddamn fuckers!’ He said loudly.
Ukrainian forces had killed 12 of his generals. They were using intelligence from the West to find and kill them. ‘Bastards!’
He had never, not even once, imagined that Ukrainians would have it in them to fight as they had. Not just to fight but to raise the hope that they might push back the mighty Russian army. The mighty force he’d used to threaten the world.
Now Finland was thinking of joining NATO.
Sweden might follow.
‘Assholes!’
Worst of all was that he had lost the respect of the West.
He’d talked of his nuclear arms, always threatening with firing them… and now the West wasn’t scared anymore. They had gone from the wary and respectful, ‘we don’t want to use the weapons because it will be Armageddon’, to the impudent ‘screw you, Putin, if you use them, we’ll use them. We’re on to you, sucker! We won’t put up with your intimidation and bullying behavior. We’re fed up with it!’
‘Bastards!’
And nowhere was it more evident than in their invigorated push to arm Ukraine.
The turning point had been Ukraine’s pluck. It was their moxie, their determination, that had convinced the West that they were worth betting on, that they could be used to get to him, because that’s all what it was, getting to him. All the talk about freedom was bullshit. All they wanted was to unseat him, so they could get some puppet of their own in power and so expand their markets. That’s all it was.
He sat up in his chair. He didn’t like losing.
And yet… maybe… Ukrainians were really fighting for their freedom and he had not got it. He was so used to intimidating his fellow Russians that he thought he could intimidate everyone.
And why not? He had got away with intimidating Donald Trump, the American president. It had been a subtle job but he had done it. He was proud of it.
But then this two bit Senator from Delaware came in to mess up his plans. A nothing senator from a nothing state who had been Obama’s vice president only because Obama needed a white face to persuade Americans that the institution of the White House wasn’t going to the dogs.
And where the hell did Biden get his gumption? To call, him – Vladimir Putin – a killer on national television. To accuse him of being a war criminal. To have the confidence to rally a divided Europe. To convince Germany to give up its neutral stance. Was that really Biden, or was it some cabal of billionaires telling him what to do?
‘Fuck them all!’
He shook his head disconsolately as he felt very sad.
He was losing Ukraine… Ukraine… a dear part of the great Russia… losing it to the West.
His eyes moistened and he felt like crying.
He had had his mind set on conquering the whole of Ukraine. Annexing Crimea in 2014 had been the start. Followed by his support of the separatists in the Donbas area and in Transnistria in Moldova. And now he was in danger of losing it all. And everything had begun with Zelensky. Which reminded him, he had to talk to Lavrov, his foreign minister. That hadn’t been wise, to call Zelensky a Hitler. A Nazi, yes, that was part of the plan, but a Hitler? It was too much.
He was feeling a little better now. Thinking about things had helped.
All was not lost… not yet. He could still… if he really wanted… use tactical nuclear weapons… drop them on Kyiv… wipe out 100,000 residents, including Zelensky and company. Xi Jinping in China would understand. And so would Narendra Modi in India. Retaining power calls for drastic actions.
He was not stepping down, that was certain.
He had Russians by the throat. He liked it that way.
But the movement to go to the West had to stop.
Belarus would not be next. It would not. If Lukashenko couldn’t hold the fort, then he’d invade Belarus and squash the resistance, do whatever he had to do.
And he now worried that as the bodies of dead Russians returned home from Ukraine, the support of the people would start to weaken.
He didn’t know how the war would end. But whereas before he had been unwilling to compromise, now he was. Still, he needed to show something for his effort… for all those generals and soldiers killed… all those tanks and planes and equipment destroyed. But he had to show something.
Unless he chose to nuke Kyiv.
But where in the world could he go after that?
And what would the West do in retaliation?
He rubbed his face and paused. Then, as he opened his eyes slowly, he saw in his mind’s eye an image of Kyiv after being rebuilt by the West. And the city looked so modern and resplendent. And then he saw a new Mariupol, a new Kherson, Kharkiv, Irpin… all brilliantly redone, because the West wanted to shame him, to entice the rest of his Russia to turn away from him.

Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts.