Putin on The Way It Is

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The war rages on – almost 4 months now – inflation is hurting the world economy – food shortages are forecast – while Putin gloats in Moscow, ‘I made this happen,’ he says proudly.
‘I command the world’s attention. This is my moment. I have killed and killed Ukrainians and still millions and millions of people adore me and hold me up as a model. People in China, in India and all those smaller, peripheral countries destined to never amount to anything.
All the while China and I have a lock on the United Nations. Interesting organization… yes… and toothless, too. A place where every country can come in and blah blah blah until they run out of spit but where Russia and my great ally China hold veto power in the security council. So if we say no, then it is no. Never mind the secretary general. Without us he’s nothing.
The West talked about sanctions. I laugh. I have worked around them. I keep selling my oil and gas and our profits are growing.
And I have done it all because I know how to scare people.
I say I have nuclear weapons and most leaders pee in their pants, run around in circles crying, oh no, he will fire his nuclear weapons!
Don’t confront him, he’s dangerous, please, he cannot be humiliated!
Poor things. Afraid of a little inflation. Afraid of protests because the price of gasoline has gone up. I laugh. I would send the fire department with their water cannons to hose them down and wash them off the street and into the gutters, and those who insist on protesting I’d throw in a dungeon. That’s how you govern. And to be sure, Russians love my style. The want to be like me. Ha!
On this war, America started out with enthusiasm, with determination, but now they’ve lost their oomph. Now they’re back to their citizens complaining about the price of gas and how they don’t know any Ukrainians and how they’re so far away and what’s in it for them.
Of course, that’s when true leaders come in and set the record straight. Tell the complainers what needs to be done and why and enough with the whimpering. But they can’t do it. So it’s my game, all the way until I conquer all of Ukraine. All of it, damn it. All of it. And I’ll have Zelensky tried on charges of crimes again humanity. I’ll do it because no one will stand in my way.
What a joke the West is. Promising missiles and this and the other. But it takes them forever to deliver. Meanwhile I gain more and more ground. I love it. Before long I’ll have all of Ukraine’s eastern region under my foot. Beautiful. Then we’ll finish off occupying all their coast. Then back to Kyiv. Then push West, all the way to the borders with Poland and Rumania, scare them and their NATO bullshit.
I’m making the world my world. Slowly. This is the start of Putin’s world. And I’ve done it not with diplomacy but with bravado. With daring. With guts. With flair.
While the mighty West shits in their pants.’

He laughs.

Now, if I were them… from the very start I would’ve said, Putin, you can’t do it. Don’t do it. You’ll be sorry. Look, we have intelligence telling us you’re going to invade. We’re going to give planes and missiles to Ukrainians so they can defend themselves. We won’t let you slaughter them. Don’t do it.
But I can see how Ukrainians had not yet proven themselves on the battlefield. But they have now, so what’s the excuse to not give them all they need to fight me?
What’s amazing in their story, is they’re willing to fight so hard for what they believe. That’s what’s amazing. I would love to have them on my side instead.
The reason Ukraine is so important today is just that… the show of commitment in defense of what you believe.
But the world is not getting it. The French and Germans are not getting it.
The Poles, on the other hand, have got it. From the very start.
In fact the French and Germans seem to be in a hurry to sit down to negotiate a deal to cease hostilities. And Macron wants France to be the mediator. Works for me, since Macron doesn’t want me to be ‘humiliated’ but if I were Zelensky, I’d choose the Poles to be the negotiators. Doesn’t matter to me that much who it is because in the end, if it’s not going my way, I’ll get up and leave and start shooting and bombing again.
One of my greatest achievements, of course, is to have convinced Europe that they could rely on me for all their energy needs. Convinced them that I was not just a nice bear, but a teddy bear. And they fell for it. Mind you, all this time I have been teaming up with Assad in Syria to slaughter their opposition, so it’s not like I was hiding anything. We’re Europeans, not Syrians, it won’t happen to us, they told themselves. We’re so chic. Oh, so cultured. So distinguished. So unique. Oh, dear, you name it. Until it happened. Denial is the word for it.

He laughs.

I was born for this moment. As far as China is concerned, they’re stuck with me. Who else are they going to turn to? India? No. They can’t stand each other. China doesn’t have anywhere near the nuclear warheads I have, and I’ll keep close tabs on them. I’m going to keep building even more, and if they start to pile them up, too, I’ll give Xi a courtesy call, say Xi, you can’t keep building so many warheads. Look, we’ve been good friends but you got a whole lot more people than I have… so you could run me over… but so long as I have more weapons, you’ll have to chill. So please stall on the building of nuclear weapons. I know your politburo designated you a ‘historical figure’, but that’s the way it is.
And they will do as I say because, in a confrontation between the two of us, they don’t have a chance. I have the upper hand and will keep it that way’
Life is beautiful… yes, indeed.
As to the next American elections, haven’t made up my mind whom to campaign for, using my team of cyber experts. Not Trump, though. I think his time has passed. I liked him. But now I need someone with even deeper isolationist sentiments. Someone who wants to isolate into oblivion. Build a wall in the South, in the North, East and West. The more chances for Russia and my buddy Xi, to go deeper into Africa, South America, the Middle East, the rest of Asia.


But what could America do to counter me at this time’
Give planes to Ukraine? More missiles? Sure. But what they should do yet I know they won’t because they don’t have the nerve, is to make a commitment to Ukraine and say, we will give you anything you need, planes, missiles, anything – except troops, of course – because we want you to win. And if in the end you don’t win, we’ll settle for whatever land you were able to defend, and we’ll help with negotiations, even the lifting of sanctions on Russia and so on, and we’ll do what we say we will, because with your heroism, you have behaved like no other nation in recent history… and so earned a place in our hearts and minds. Forever.’

Please see Ifw-Kiel.de. Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Ukraine Tracker

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

More Shootings. A Proposal

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The other day, in the wake of the Tulsa killings, I stop to chat to an acquaintance sitting on a low brick wall in front of our building.
I bring up the recent shootings and then ask, ‘What do you think of gun control?’
The person replies, ‘I believe in the second amendment… I listen to such and such podcast and I believe in that. We have to deal with the mentally ill.’
To which I reply, ‘The mentally ill are responsible for some of it but far from all of it.’
The person returns, ‘We have to go to church…’
And I say, ‘I’m not a church going person.’
Seemingly annoyed, he stood up as he readied to leave and added, ‘Go to church.’
End of conversation.
I wish the gunman in Buffalo, NY, the one in Uvalde, Texas, and the one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to name only the more recent ones, had found solace and peace of mind in church. But they didn’t. And if the almighty was looking over them as we’re taught he/she does, then, somehow they got away.
So much for being all mighty and all seeing and what not, because we’re bleeding down here.
It is up to us to come up with solutions because the church isn’t doing it.
The men in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa – it’s men, overwhelmingly, not women who like to shoot innocent people – obviously needed to talk to someone. They did not.
Never mind the second amendment for that won’t be repealed. But we need to find some ways to let people channel their grief and resentment.
Government can help. Maybe churches can, too.
Here’s an idea for government to consider. Create a public website or phone line that does not identify the user, so it won’t be seen as a trap. Encourage those in pain to reach out. If tied to a team of helpers that can quickly go to the assistance of the person, should they so desire, it may add to it.
One possible name for the service is ‘Talk. Save your Life.’ Or ‘Crime on My Mind’. Other names may be more effective.
Start a pilot program somewhere.
I wrote a booklet some years ago titled ‘Letters to a Shooter’ where I try to talk a person out of such ghastly action. I will gladly donate the book to the effort. You don’t have to keep my name on it, either. Take it off and modify the contents as you wish, so long as it facilitates assisting the person in pain.
But we have to do something because we are bleeding.
The defenders of the second amendment won’t budge, bills proposing background checks before purchasing guns will keep being defeated in congress, and we’ll continue to shake our heads as we reflect on the latest shooting, muttering under our breaths, ‘Oh God.’
To the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, will you please step up and remind us of how much are the mentally ill responsible for the madness that afflicts the nation?
Thank you
And let’s get ready for the next one. It could be in my neighborhood or yours.

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

Biden and MBS, the Saudi Prince

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It is hard for me to write this blog, having learned that Biden has agreed to a trip to Saudi Arabia later this month to ‘reset’ the relationship with the kingdom.
Reset implying we ignore what has happened before and start anew.
MBS, Mohammed Bin Salman, has been less than princely, having ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the regime, a Saudi national and a distinguished Washington Post contributor. The murder took place in 2018 as concluded by our intelligence services.
Biden was rightly outraged by such behavior at the time and spoke openly about it during his campaign for president, but now he’s changed his position.
The advocates of realpolitik are delighted. I am disappointed.
Do resets help at all?
Obama called for a reset after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. It did nothing, for Putin invaded Crimea in 2014 and has been ravaging the Ukrainian nation for the past three months plus.
One can argue that the relationship with the Saudis is different. It is. But so should be the standards we hold them to.
With this planned reset, however, the prince gets away with the assassination of Khashoggi.
Authorizing such act took planning on the part of the prince. It took thinking of the consequences. It was not a rash act. And the prince concluded he could get away with it. His nation has oil and the world needs it. Thus, the world will come to him. The world will give him a pass. He was right.
Biden was outraged enough by such behavior that at one point he called the Saudi nation a pariah nation.
Then the war in Ukraine happened, prices at the pump rose sharply, Americans complained and are now expected to punish democrats at the polls this November.
In making the choice of doing a reset, little thought was given to the idea of speaking directly to all of us and saying, ‘the war in Ukraine is requiring major sacrifices from us, and one is the high prices at the pump. But we are working on it. As your president, I will keep doing all I can to lower such prices. But we should not negotiate with those who have shown a profound disregard for human rights.’
At no point has the Saudi prince gone before the world and said, ‘I take responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi for it happened while I was the de facto ruler of this kingdom.’
Don’t expect it, either.
Somehow, the leaders of our world believe it is simply too much to ask from one of their own. Impunity comes with the high positions.
I am disappointed that Mr Biden, having done an exemplary job at leading the western nations against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, did not trust that most Americans would appreciate his effort.
It is not that Mr Biden lacks persuasive abilities, but somehow he didn’t trust himself on this one.
Saudi Arabia has been an ally. They can play a role in defusing tensions in the Middle East, but the behavior of the prince is and remains unacceptable. It should not be whitewashed. Giving him a pass can be seen as real politik but it ends up being bad politik for it devalues us.
Our stance in Ukraine has been most decorous. The morality of the cause of the defense of freedom in Ukraine has been invoked to marshal greater and greater efforts from other nations and it has been paying off.
Allowing the Saudi prince to get away with murder does not square with that stance.
I read also that the Saudis are miffed that America is placing much emphasis on the development of renewable energy. While good for the environment it does not fit with the Saudi business model.
When Biden goes to Saudi Arabia he will shake hands with the prince but something will be lost. And what is lost may even have repercussions in our stance on the war with Ukraine and it could weaken it.
Is staying in power, at any cost, worth the effort? I say no.
The Saudi prince felt threatened by Jamal Khashoggi. Democrats feel threatened by oil scarcity and higher prices.
The vaunted reset is akin to saying, when scared we compromise, and we don’t mind coming down a peg or two in our moral standing.
Finally, here’s my personal request to Mr Biden as he gets ready to meet with the prince and the Saudi Royal family. Make it clear that there will be no exchange of gifts between the two.
And please, though they see themselves as kingly, do not bow to them.

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

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.


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

God Talks to Putin

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He’s sitting in his bunker, facing a row of telephones and a wall covered with TV monitors showing scenes of his troops’ movements and the devastation of the war.
But he is restless. The war is not going the way he wanted.
Now all lights go off and the windowless room turns pitch black.
He is startled. This has never happened before.
He presses the emergency button to call for help but there’s no response.
Is he under attack?
He gets up, cautiously, and finds his way to the door.
It’s locked.
Furious, he calls out for assistance as he turns the knob, repeatedly, but nothing gives.
‘I have to be calm,’ he says to himself. ‘Where’s my gun?’
In the darkness, he moves slowly back in the direction of his desk and after a moment reaches it.
He opens a drawer to his right and finds the gun.
He takes it out and lays it on the desk.
‘The power should come back any moment,’ he tells himself.
Now the faint glimmer of a light appears behind him. He quickly turns around and points the gun at it.
The light emanates from a small golden colored orb that dims and brightens as it grows in size.
Putin holds the gun with both his hands, aiming it directly at the orb.
‘Stop!’ he cries out.
But the orb keeps enlarging slowly, while dimming and brightening.
Putin fires a shot directly into it. The orb is not altered.
‘Vladimir…’ says the orb with a soft, gentle voice.
Putin is frightened.
‘Why are you killing?’
Putin fires again, to no avail.
‘Men, women and children who have done nothing to you…’
Putin fires another round.
Now the luminous orb starts to rise slowly, suspended in the air.
Putin quickly gets out of his chair and goes under his desk, the gun pointed at the orb.
The orb advances slightly and Putin fires another round.
But nothing stops the orb.
Panicking, he fires off the rest of his bullets, and when there are no more rounds he tries to get out from under the desk but finds that he cannot. Something is blocking him. Something he cannot see.
The orb advances as it enlarges its size, the golden light dimming and brightening.
Then the orb stops.
‘Why, Vladimir?’ asks the orb.
‘They were threatening me, they were threatening Russia!’
‘No, they were not… you made that up… made that up to build yourself up… build yourself up because your country has been failing.’
‘We are not failing!’ cries out Putin in desperation as he tries to free himself from something invisible that is keeping him pinned under the desk.
‘Yes, you are. Sadly, what you’re best at is making guns, weapons, rockets… to kill people… don’t you think Russians are much better than that?’
‘Yes, we are! This is all part of a plan to rebuild the great Russian empire. This is the first step to then conquer the world!’
‘You mean to destroy the world…’ answers the orb, ‘because all you leave in your path is death and destruction, Vladimir, nothing else.’
‘Who are you?’ asks Putin, crouched under his desk.
‘Who do you think I am?’ replies the orb.
‘My conscience?’
‘I am God, Vladimir.’
Putin laughs, derisively. ‘God, you say, what hogwash.’
‘I get that all the time…’ returns the orb.
‘Prove it to me!’ cries an emboldened Putin.
‘I don’t play those games but suffice it to say you’re not going anywhere until I say so.’
Putin tries again to free himself from the invisible binds holding him under the desk but cannot.
‘Fuck you!’ shouts Putin.
The orb says nothing for a moment, then, ‘there’s nothing musical about that word… try something else…’
‘If you were really God, then why did you let the war happen? Why did you let all those people get killed?’
‘Good point,’ says the orb. ‘I’m not all powerful as some believe… I can’t stop human beings from killing each other… but what I can do, is remind everyone that hope and kindness are the only way forward… for that is the fountain of our creativity… of human beings’ capacity to improve the world.’
‘Hogwash!’ says, Putin. ‘You’re an impostor. I don’t know what tricks you’re using but I’ll figure it out and deal with you.’
‘Vladimir…’ starts the orb patiently…
‘President Putin to you! Blasphemer! Idiot!’
‘Vladimir…’ trying again… ‘I have come to help you. You’ve already made yourself an outcast… your cruelty has already branded you…’
‘You can’t send me to hell?’ responds Putin, mockingly.
‘You are in hell, already… because that’s what Ukraine is now, a living hell that you created.’
‘Get out! I don’t want to talk to you! Charlatan!’
‘I come…’ resumes the orb, patiently, ‘because you are losing the war and may want to use nuclear weapons. That’s why I’m here. Please listen to me… the world will not let you use nuclear or chemical weapons on Ukrainians without responding. And between America and Europe, they have enough to wipe you out.’
‘Ha! I have my rockets pointed at Washington and London and Los Angeles and Houston and Dallas and New York. I’ll obliterate them! I may not destroy everything but I’ll get most of it. And that’ll be enough for me.’
‘You think you’ll survive?’
‘I don’t care.’
‘That’s a lot of cities, you mentioned… but they’ll fire back and aim directly at Moscow and St Petersburg… so there’ll be nothing left. And if you survive, what will you tell your followers, as they stand in rags before you, burnt from radioactivity? You’ll tell them that’s the first step to building the new Russian empire? Vladimir, they’ll grab you and cut you into little pieces.’
‘At least I’ll have the satisfaction that I destroyed the West. And I will have opened the path for China to be number one in the world.’
‘Small consolation for a man who wanted to build the Russian empire. I hear a desperate man, envious of the West and afraid…’ says the orb, patiently.
Putin again tries to free himself but cannot. ‘Let me out!’
‘Settle down, you little prick!’ snaps the orb impatiently.
Putin laughs. ‘You’re not God.’
‘I lose my temper, too. Now listen to me, there’s still a way out for you. And you can save your skin. Your wounded pride you’ll have to lick for the rest of your life but you can at least, live.’
‘Which way out?’ says Putin, showing interest.
‘Walk away.’
Putin is silent.
‘Admit your mistake and walk away.’
‘And give up Ukraine?’
‘It was never yours. They don’t want you there.’
‘What about Crimea, the new republics in Donbas?’
‘Let them decide their fate democratically, with the vote.’
‘I’ll never do that,’ says Putin as he looks away, shaking his head, glumly.

Silence follows.

Putin again, ‘You think Russians will forgive me?’
‘Yes… if you stop making mistakes. Sanctions will be lifted and you’ll have another try at building a nation.’
‘I think I’ve gone too far, already.’
‘The mothers of those soldiers who return alive will be forever grateful.’
‘I’ll still get a chance to go to Heaven?’ asks Putin.
The orb thinks about it for a moment. ‘Vladimir… I’ve been God for a while now, and I still can’t find where Heaven is. I think it’s right here on earth. It’s here every day of our lives… you see it in human beings’ kindness, generosity, eternal hope… and undying quest for excellence.’
‘And hell?’
‘Right here, too. In illness, violence, poverty… in innocent people serving sentences in prison… and what you’re doing in Ukraine.’
Putin, dejected, shaking his head slowly. ‘You think I fucked up?’
‘You did. But really big men recognize their flaws.’

The orb and Putin look at each other for a moment.

‘I’ve said my piece… you’re free to go now,’ says the orb.

Putin finds he’s no longer bound and is able to get out from under the desk. He stands facing the orb.

‘Do I get to see you again?’ asks Putin.
‘You never know,’ replies the orb.
And then it disappears.
The lights in the room come up and all the equipment is back working.

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

The Funeral

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I got there when people were already gathered at the burial site, a bright green hill filled with rows of tombs and their identifying plaques.
The deceased would be getting one soon too.
Prior to arriving, I had in mind that there would be a viewing of the corpse preceding the interment but there was not.
Instead, the viewing was limited to seeing the coffin, properly set up to being lowered into the pit below at a later time. Two funeral home workers stood nearby.
I met a friend whom I knew would be there, once again expressed my sympathy to the daughter of the deceased who, courteously, had come to greet us, chatted with another person who joined us and whom I hadn’t seen in years, and before long we were instructed to leave the cemetery and head out to attend the repast. That was the schedule.
Before parting, I stepped up to the coffin, stood next to it and thought about the deceased. I patted the coffin. It was metal. Shiny reddish brown.
Had the deceased heard my pat?
I had known him for many years but weren’t close friends. Still, I had enjoyed his camaraderie and was very sad to hear of his death. I had sent in a floral arrangement in his honor and there it stood.
While next to the coffin I said something to the deceased, thinking perhaps that he might take notice, that his senses were not completely gone. I imagined his face, his demeanor and thanked him for the moments we had shared.
He had been ill for a while before dying and I had tried to see him but it was not possible.
I asked my friend to take a photo of me next to the coffin.
The attendees had mostly left by now, as instructed.
I felt a bit rushed, as if wishing I be allowed to see the body being lowered into its final resting place. But that was what the family wanted.
So my friend and I headed out in our separate vehicles to join the repast.

The event was held at a community center a short distance away. It was well attended. At the front of the room, a collection of photos of the deceased and his family showed in a video, to the soulful sounds of a saxophone.
The organizer stepped up next to the screen, said a few words in the deceased’s honor and then told us of the manner in which the repast would be served. Start at the end of this row of tables, up this way, down the other and so forth, until all are served.
After the meal, a time for the sharing of remembrances would follow.
My friend and the acquaintance we had met at the burial site had got a table to ourselves.
We ate and chatted a little, not just about the deceased.
I spotted a man who looked much like the deceased, approached him and found out he was one of his several brothers. I shared some memories with him.
Right after the meal, my friend said she wanted to leave and I decided to go too. I went up to the daughter of the deceased to say goodbye, thanked her and offered my assistance, should she need it in the future.
As I made my way out I thought I was probably missing something but left anyway.
Then on the drive back I started to feel grumpy. Uncomfortable. Sad. Impotent. My deceased friend had done what he had done and now it was all over.
But there was something else that I couldn’t pin down.
Was it about me? After all, time was running out. I was getting older. Life didn’t go on and on.
The sight of the coffin, the chatting and the repast, the mournful air that hung over the whole affair had all been steps leading up to it.
I got home but I was still feeling uncomfortable, so I went out for a walk. The unease lingered.
Then I sat down to write.

At the funeral home’s entrance, I was handed a map showing me where to go. At the burial site there had been sad sentiments expressed. Memories exchanged. All nicely arranged and moving like clockwork.
On the way home I had told myself that I would not be attending any more funerals, that I had had it. Maybe I would just donate my body to science and do away with the whole ceremony.
Then I thought of the war in Ukraine.
It was now 7 weeks long and there still was no clear sense of when it would end. People were dying every day. People of all ages, men, women and children.
But had I grieved for them?
Those war victims were physically far away but my friend’s funeral had brought them much closer.
And as I wrote these words the emotions flowed and I wanted to cry for them, too, just as I had wanted to cry for my deceased friend.
My friend had died at his home, surrounded by people who loved him. He had not died violently.
And yet he reminded me of the plight of Ukraine and its countless victims.
I could not separate the emotions. They just came.
I have written many blogs about the war in Ukraine and, at times, I have been teary eyed as I wrote.
But this time, as I cried for my friend, I cried for Ukraine, too.

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

Zelensky and Putin Talk

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They sit across a long table, each at one end. They both have their arms resting on the table.

Z – We will not surrender.
P – How many more people you think will be killed?
Z – That’s up to you, isn’t it?
P – If you put down your arms, there will be no more deaths.
Z – But there will be no freedom.
P – Explain to me what that means.
Z – Letting people be who they wish to be.

Putin smiles dismissively.

Z – By your reaction I can tell you’ve never known it yourself.
P – I can have what I want when I want.
Z – At the expense of others. Others who have been too intimidated to revolt against you.
P – They don’t revolt because they like what I give them.
Z – Thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead? Cities destroyed? Millions of people displaced? Is that your gift to your people? It will take us years to rebuild. I don’t think Russians are stupid.
P – I see you spend much time reading American propaganda.
Z – The Americans and you fought a long war against Nazi Germany. Now you say America is supporting a Nazi government in Ukraine and that I am a Nazi. Who do you really think believes that?
Those who choose to believe such lies have no minds. So you, sir, have managed to make them dumb politically. It happens to people when they are not free to express themselves. When they’re not free to think.
But all is not lost. I am sure one day there will be freedom in Russia. Just not under you.

Putin laughs.

P – But maybe under Alexei Navalny?
Z – Yes. And you don’t have the guts to let him out of prison and run against you in free elections because he will beat you soundly.
P (amused) – I have a very high approval rating…
Z – From non thinking people, but Navalny is another matter. You’re so afraid of him that you tried to kill him.
P – More American propaganda…
Z – German doctors established you used a nerve agent against Navalny, nearly killing him.
P – I did nothing of the kind. Navalny is in prison because of fraud he committed. And he will stay in prison. But let us not waste time on that. How is it that you think you can win a war against our superior army?
Z – We will beat you because we are fighting for our lives.
P – All of you?
Z – The great majority of us.
P – It is very sad… and very grandiose of you, to think you can stand up against me.
Z – Is it sad and grandiose to fight for what you believe?
P – There is still time… I can guarantee your safety and your family’s… but you must leave now. If not, I cannot promise anything.
Z – We will not surrender.
P – You say you are a comedian… but where is your sense of humor? Makes me wonder if you were any good.
Z – Excuse me. I am the president of a nation at war. A nation that will beat your army and boot you out of our territory.

Putin shakes his head slowly, growing irritation barely disguised.

P – You are sadly mistaken to think I will let you win. Listen carefully. I do not like wasting my time. I cannot lose this war. My whole existence depends on it. And I have the guns for it. I have the planes. I have the bombs. I have my people willing to sacrifice for a greater Russia.
Z – A greater Russia?
P – Do not interrupt me.

They stare at each other for an instant.

P – So far, out of a sense of compassion for your people…
Z – Compassion?
P – Yes…
Z – Compassion in Bucha? In Mariupol? In the bombing of a theater sheltering children, with clear markings saying so?
P (angrily) – What is the matter with you? Can you not listen? Do you not understand how much more brutal I can be?
Z – Oh, yes, I can. There is no end to how brutal you can be.
P (Pausing briefly as he restrains himself) – Mr Zelensky, I am a patient man, but you are pushing me.
Z – And you do not understand me. We will not surrender.
P (more calmly) – I will do whatever it takes to win this war.
Z – Whatever?
P – Yes.
Z – You will use nuclear weapons?
P – If you force me to.
Z – Force you to?
P (frustrated) – Do you want me to flatten Kyiv… leave it uninhabitable from radioactivity? Do you want the same for Lviv… Kharkiv…? Do you want to have that on your conscience for the rest of your life?
Z – My conscience but not yours?
P – Not mine… for I have a great union to rebuild, a union of republics destroyed by careless leaders… and the task to build a greater Russia is worth every sacrifice. I have been planning for this a long time. And now is the moment, now that the Americans are in decline and that China is on the rise. And we will rise like them, too.

They stare silently at each other for an instant.

Z – I grant that Russia has a distinguished history in all fields of endeavors… except one…
P – Which one?
Z – Politics. In that area it’s been all about terror, misery, control and enslavement. You gave us the Czars… serfdom… then followed with communism, a form of systematized dehumanization and poverty. So, what is it you’re trying to rebuild?
P (impatiently) – A union of republics to be feared by all in the world…
Z – Feared… but not respected?
P (sharply) – Stop being insolent!
Z – You’re speaking to the president of a free nation. I am not one of your many puppets.

Tense pause.

Z – One thing is to have rockets, another to have economic development. You mention China. Just when do you plan to catch up?
You have almost three times the population of South Korea but about the same GDP. Even though you are the 2nd largest oil producer in the world. What has gone wrong?
P – We are distributing the wealth from our oil and gas and our wheat and aluminum and nickel…
Z – Amongst your favorites… whom you have made ultrarich, but there’s not enough initiative in your people… not because they’re not talented, but because you have squashed it with your political and economic repression.

Putin frowns, a little lost.

Z – There’s no freedom in your land… and the lack of it has atrophied something in the Russian spirit. You set out to tame your people and you have won.
P – Russians like having one leader… like the Chinese…
Z – No, they don’t like it, they’re being forced to like it. But unlike you, the Chinese have had enough economic freedom to make their markets appealing to the west, although that is now changing.
In your zeal to control others, you have damaged the development of Russian minds and hearts. With all your natural riches, your people have been underperforming in the world stage… and you like it that way.
Now you want to do it to us.

Putin eyes Zelensky with disdain.

P – Do you think that the Americans will come to your aid if I drop nuclear bombs on you?
Z – I do not know.
P – They won’t.
Z – You don’t know that.
P – I have made it clear to them that I’m ready for a nuclear confrontation.
Z – Yes, and president Biden made it clear to you that you cannot use chemical weapons on our people. Who knows what he’ll do if you do.
P – His generals won’t let him. The business sector won’t let him. Congress won’t let him.
Z – You don’t know that. With Taiwan they have a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity,’ to keep the Chinese guessing. So maybe with you they’re being deliberately ambiguous also.
P – They wouldn’t dare.
Z – I wouldn’t challenge them.
P – Do you not see that they’re using you?
Z – Using us?
P – Of course. Using you to try and overcome their differences. And America wants Europe to buy oil from them instead of us. It’s all about the dollar. About expanding their markets and reducing ours. They don’t give a damn about you. It’s all a show. That’s what they’re good at. Deception. Show business. When the time comes, they’ll stab you in the back and hand you over to me. But I’m giving you a chance right now to surrender and come to our side and spare the lives of thousands of your people.
Z (a faint smile) – If our defense of freedom has helped the west be more unified, I am proud of that. I am not naïve. The west has its problems, its contradictions, its injustices, but I can do battle with those so long as I have freedom. With you, I will be a slave.
P – Idiot! How dare you! You are nothing! Ukraine is nothing! You mean nothing to the world and I will destroy you.
Z (looking Putin in the eye, calmly) – Why are you so bent on our destruction if we mean so little? Why are you sacrificing so many Russian lives, if we are nothing?

Putin drops his face in his hand and rubs it slowly. He’s reached his limit. He looks up at Zelensky.

P – I’m giving you one last chance. You’ve been brainwashed by the west. I’m trying to help you. The future is ours… here in the east. And you can be part of it. America is dying and I can smell the stench. And so can China.
We are extending our reach all over the world, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East… they like us in those countries. America’s corruption is massive. They talk about freedom but it’s all bogus. They just care about themselves…
Z – And you care about Ukrainians?
P (angrily) – Do not interrupt me! This is my last offer. Surrender now or you’ll pay with your life!
Z – I do not believe a word you say. Sir, you are not a free man… you have never been one… for if you had, you wouldn’t have ordered your troops to come and slaughter us, you wouldn’t have asked young Russians to die because you felt threatened by having a democratic nation so close to you.
And I do believe the west has welcomed us to their side. I know it in my heart.
P – How naïve you are.
I am sad to say that there will be no more peace negotiations.
Ours is a fight to the death.
Z – It’s been that way from the start.
P- This is the last time we meet, Mr Zelensky, for you will pay with your life.
Z – You may pay with yours.
P (shaking his head, frustrated) – Still believing in those fairy tales about what the Americans and Europeans will do for you. Brainwashed you is what they’ve done.
Z – Perhaps, but remember, just as we’re having to bury our brothers and sisters fallen in combat, so will your soldiers be returning to Russia in body bags.
(and leaning forward on the desk)
History, sir, will be kinder to me than to you.
Good night.

They both rise and exit the room by separate entrances.

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

Wake Up Russia!

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Your leader is massacring Ukrainians.
By choosing to invade their country he has given license to kill innocent people.
Men, women and children.

Your country was not being threatened but your leader, who does as he pleases because few object, came up with the idea that he was being threatened and so he thought he must give the order to kill Ukrainians.
He could do so because most Russians have been silenced.
Silenced by fear.
All of us pay a price when we allow others to intimidate us.
That is why it is so important to respect free speech. To hold free elections.

But year after year of your leader being in power – since 1999 – the Russian majority has chosen to be quiet.
And now all of us pay the price. Not just you but Ukrainians and the rest of the world.
You are not alone in your passivity.
In China, a section of the country has cheered on the invaders, celebrating the killing of Ukrainians by your leader.
They too, like you, have yielded to fear for they have neither free speech nor free elections, but they cheer on invading Russian troops in the belief that by doing so they get to turn fear into courage.

Ukrainians know better. They know their freedom has a price. And in refusing to be governed by Moscow – refusing to have to answer to your boss – have put up an heroic resistance against a superior army and vowed not to yield.
Their president, Volodymyr Zelensky has been leading the effort. If he were ever to doubt that he had the strength to do so, he need only look to his grandfather who was a soldier in the Russian Army in World War II.
Ukrainians’ valor has marked this moment in history and the nation has become the pride of our world.

Because the murderous invasion of Ukraine has not gone according to plan and their people are fighting back, now your leader speaks of setting your nuclear forces in high alert.
But the West will not be intimidated. We will not stop sending arms to the Ukrainian resistance and one day they will be proud NATO members.
The pain inflicted by your leader will not be forgotten.

I know there is a core of dissenters in your country. That men and women with enormous courage have chosen to defy your leader and have suffered or have been killed or exiled because of it.
But the number of dissenters must grow. The protests have to increase.
The abuses of a man who does not listen to his people must be challenged.

For a nation to thrive there must be an open dialogue with its leaders.
You need to fight to have that dialogue.
Look at Germany. Until a day ago it was unwilling to send arms to Ukraine. But protests mounted and they have now changed course. They have committed to aid brave Ukraine.
That dialogue has died in Russia and so your leader is free to do as he wishes.

Dear Russians, you could have that dialogue, too, but you must demand it.
So why don’t you stand up and joins us?
We welcome your contributions to humanity’s grand project – men and women’s eternal struggle to have a voice of their own and live with dignity.

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

Getting Closer

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Putin keeps circling Ukraine, amassing troops around it and tightening his grip. Ukrainians are running out of air. They have started to have trouble breathing.

Putin is loving the world’s attention. This is what he’s always dreamed of. Americans rushing frantically, here and there, trying to convince allies that the time is now and some allies saying, ‘Well… I’m not sure.’

Putin laughs. And he thinks, you have to be doing like the ostrich does, to not see what’s in front of you.

But of course he will invade.

The West is divided. Beautiful. Just Beautiful.

Trucker protests in Canada are now spreading to America and France and affecting commerce, rattling nerves. ‘We need freedom!’ they chant as they blare their horns for hours on end stressing everybody else. ‘Pay attention to me!’ ‘I count too!’ ‘No vaccine mandates!’ they say.

And in their minds, they must be convinced that if they keep it up, they will be able to bend the arm of government and boost the chances of a nationalist party rising to the top and finally putting an end to that nasty immigration problem they have and can’t solve, plus the worrying about other countries far, far away. Too far.

Long live Trump!

And when Putin runs over Ukraine and crushes them, shamelessly making the country a province of the greater Russia, the protesters in the West will simply say, ‘Putin needs his space. So long as he respects ours, we’ll be okay. He’s one of us, a devoted nationalist.’

Meanwhile, to aid their case, business interests in Germany are saying that the talk of economic sanctions on Russia when they invade, would affect them as much as the Russians and that prices would go up for all. So no sanctions, please. We cannot afford it. How about a slap on the wrist, instead? If Putin wants a little bit more of Ukraine to feel less anxious about his hold on power, why not give it to him? It’s just Ukraine, so relax. Anyway, the man won’t live forever. And we need to keep an eye on our bottom line, that’s number one.’

And Putin will be smiling. He could kiss the truckers and their rants and the businessmen fretting over the bottom line being above everything else.

‘You are lovely, thank you’ Putin will say. ‘I agree with you, some people need to be sacrificed sometimes. We all know that. The Germans knew it. They just went about it the wrong way. You won’t see me making that same mistake again. I promise. So long as I live.’

If divisions in America are not enough, then there’s inflation.

Supply chains have not got back to normal, demand is driving up prices and traders and investors are panicking. Stocks are dropping like lead in water – straight down – investors  worrying that the new interest rates the Federal Reserve will set in March will be either too high or too low. The Federal Reserve won’t be able to do enough to calm the nerves. If the new rate increase is 0.5 bps investors will sell because the central bank is too aggressive. If the new rate increase is 0.25 bps then the Feds don’t know what they’re doing and are avoiding reality. Either way, value will drain out of the markets.

Putin will be salivating.

‘Oh, I never imagined it would look this good. In congress, Republicans and Democrats can barely agree on anything. Republicans have Biden checked. The poor guy, a lifetime waiting to govern and then he gets blocked. And Republicans will squash him in November. No, not squash but stomp on him. And Kamala Harris can forget about it. The two houses will be Republican and my good friend Donald Trump will win in November 2024. It will be great to see him again. He and I can talk. We can divide Europe according to our wishes. He can keep Britain – I’ve never been fond of those rascals. But Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Baltic nations, they will come my way. A new era dawns. Thank you, Donald, for planting the seeds. Thank you for inspiring the Capitol assault on 1/6/2020and the way that has influenced the imagination of Americans. Thank you, you are the greatest. I wouldn’t be on the brink of invading Ukraine and making it a province of Mother Russia if it weren’t for the way you set things up. The way you showed Americans that there is indeed a place for totalitarian government, for the rule of the majority. I’ll be forever grateful. And maybe, you can change the constitution so you can get elected a 3rd time. I promise you all the help I can possibly give.  I’ll keep you out of it, of course, so as not to compromise you. What are good friends for.’

And Putin has one final thought.

It has occurred to him to contact some groups and urge them to stage another assault on the Capitol… and even the White House itself. But it might be too obvious. But there are people willing. Still, he will tread carefully. He knows the field. He was once a trusted KGB man. So he knows that world. In and out. And how some spies will work for both sides.

Feeling like he’s on top of the world, he smiles confidently and says, ‘I’ve got them.’

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