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

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.
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!’
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.

Zelensky, Trump and Biden

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It wasn’t that long ago that Trump, while president, was suspected of putting pressure on Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s leader, to provide information on Biden’s son Hunter, who had held a senior position in a Ukrainian energy company. Trump was suspected of dangling before Zelensky, the promise of arms shipments, so Ukraine could hold off the better armed Russian separatists in the Donbas area – a fight being waged since Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, when he annexed Crimea.
The matter led to the first impeachment of Trump.
Trump had feared, correctly, that Biden would end up being his adversary in the 2020 elections and he wanted something he could hold against him.
It wasn’t long ago either, that in a television show, Biden was asked by the host, ‘Do you think Putin is a killer?’ And Biden answered, ‘He’s a killer.’
Contrast that response with the one Trump gave to a reporter on July 16th 2018, in Helsinki, Finland, when asked about Russian interference in the US elections in 2016.
Reporter Jonathan Lemire asked, ‘Every US intelligence has concluded that Russia did (interfere). Who do you believe? Would you now, with the whole world watching, tell president Putin… would you denounce what happened in 2016, and would you warn him to never do it again.’
To which Trump answered, as Putin stood a few feet away behind another lectern,
‘My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and others, they said they think it’s Russia… I have president Putin… he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this… I don’t see any reason why it would be… I have confidence in both parties… I have great confidence in my intelligence people… but I will tell you that president Putin was extremely strong in his denial today.’
(Questions and answers as reported by the New York Times and The Washington Post)
Ah, yes, the beauty of previously recorded statements. You can’t hide from them.
So much has happened since then, and so much has made clear that Trump didn’t have a clue as to who Putin is.
Putin played him.
The majority of the American people saw the dysfunction, and in November 2020, chose Biden as president by a comfortable majority. It took Democrats and enlightened Republicans to put Biden in the White House.
But Trump still couldn’t believe it, so he egged on his faithful into the abhorrent assault on the Capitol on Jan 6th 2021, and on democracy itself, claiming the election had been stolen from him.
It led to a second impeachment, which also failed, given the slavish followers he still keeps in Congress.
In a short period of time, Volodymyr Zelensky has become an admired world figure while Trump’s image has tarnished and is fast eroding. And yet he still has Senators and Representatives begging for his endorsement.
But where would we be if Trump had been reelected?
Putin would have invaded Ukraine and taken it over completely. Putin might have had the audacity to invite Trump to his coronation in Kyiv.
There would have been no strong American leadership to unite the West in opposing Putin and
no arms shipments would have flowed to the Ukrainian resistance.
Fox News would have carried on about how far away those people are, and that Russia needs their sphere of influence, and what business is it of ours, anyway.
Brave Ukraine would still have resisted but they would have been slaughtered.
China would have nodded in approval and accelerated their plans to invade Taiwan, since it had become clear that America had lost its nerve.
And the world would not be what it is today.
Knowledge of character matters. Clear eyed leadership matters. Building alliances make a difference.
Because Biden and his team, saw through Putin, he was not fooled by the Russian.
His leadership of the West is now ushering in a new era.
Ukraine’s heroic resistance, with the support of the West, have exposed Russia’s military flaws.
The prospect of Russia’s defeat in this war is now more likely than ever.
Ukraine will be rebuilt, become a sterling example of democracy and a member of the EU and NATO.
Russians will have to reexamine why they supported a despot for as long as they did.
And yet, here at home, despite Biden’s extraordinary triumph in the world arena, the democratic party is expected to lose the mid term elections this November. Go figure.
Inflation and immigration are touted as the main reasons.
Republicans are rushing to blame inflation on Biden, saying that the covid assistance he provided was too large and arguing that inflation will not be tamed anytime soon.
I disagree. Inflation was inevitable, considering the dimensions of the pandemic. And I don’t think it will dampen growth significantly or for as long as others predict.
Meanwhile, our status in the world has jumped and with that comes an economic boost.
As to immigration, it has been a recurring issue in our nation. Its benefits are clear to most of us. Keeping ourselves open to the world is essential. The task ahead is to empower Americans who feel they’re being left behind. And the only way to do that is to motivate and assist them in becoming more productive and to earn more.
The war in Europe will likely be over by the end of the year if not before and I’m betting the West will win.
It will be a great triumph.
Biden and the democrats need to sell it to the voters because it is a remarkable accomplishment.
The fact that the majority in the Republican party continues to praise Donald Trump, is a sign of how destructive blind following is.
Holding on to the House and Senate in November is still possible.
And Biden and the democrats deserve a victory.

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

Mariupol. Alive in Their Tomb

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The video they posted is sad and alarming. Under a dim light, a group of children looked straight into the camera, and spoke of how they wanted to see the sunshine again. Their eyes wide open – their expression signaling quiet resignation – they pled for help without saying the word.
Some have been trapped under the steel plant of the port city for six weeks while Russian bombs keep falling on the structure. Their living space is likely to crumble any moment, burying them all.
Russian forces in control of the city have demanded their surrender but the trapped Ukrainians fear for their lives if they fall into their hands. Instead, they have asked the world to help create a human corridor to allow them to exit to a third party country.
A mother spoke of how they were running out of food, the despair evident in her voice, and one could feel the weight of her regret. Why had she sought shelter there, instead of elsewhere? Why had she led her family into what is becoming their tomb.
The UN’s general secretary has advocated for the human corridor but there they remain.
I suppose Putin may be waiting to extract some concession for sparing their lives.
And if he doesn’t, then those men, women and children, defiant till the end, will be buried alive, a testament to a man’s cruelty.
How was it that Russians gave so much power to a man?
Gradually. Day after day. Slowly.
You can read this but not that, came the instruction. You can see this but not that, said the next. And fear slipped in making it easier to praise than to criticize.

Soon enough, a government official comes knocking on the door. ‘We need your son and your daughter.’
‘Why?’ said their mother.
‘We have a special military operation to Ukraine. Fighting for the good of Russia.’
And the woman’s heart cringes. ‘For the good of Russia?’
‘What will they be doing?’
‘Building a greater Russia.’
‘Will they come back?’ asks the mother, the plaintive tone already in her voice.
‘Hard to say at this time. But the decadent West is supporting a Nazi government in Ukraine and we have to make sacrifices.’
‘Who says so?’
‘Could he be wrong?’
‘No. Putin is never wrong.’
‘I used to have friends in Ukraine…’ laments the woman.
‘Where?’ asks the government official.
‘In Mariupol, by the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. Lovely place.’
‘It is no more, madam… the city has been destroyed.’
‘It was filled with fascists, financed by the West, plotting to harm us.’
‘They had a big steel plant, right by the water…’
‘It is no more.’
‘Sorry to hear that,’ says the woman as she looks off.
‘Where are your son and daughter?’
‘They went out on an errand. They will be back later this afternoon.’
The official takes a card out of his pocket and hands it to the woman.
‘Tell them to call me as soon as they get back.’
‘I will.’
The official gives the woman a hard look. ‘I need to hear from them today.’
‘Of course.’
‘It’s a direct order from Putin.’
‘I understand.’
‘You will be punished if they don’t call me.’
‘I will make sure they call you. I’ll dial the phone myself.’
The official narrows his eyes, now suspicious of the woman.
‘Do not fail. This is your patriotic duty.’
The official steps back, turns to go out the door as he glances back over his shoulder.

Hours later, both son and daughter return. Their mother relates the details of the official’s visit.
The son and daughter, both eligible for serving in the armed forces, look at each other.
‘Mother,’ starts the daughter, ‘We have seen videos of what’s happening in Ukraine.’
Her mother looks back at her, suspecting the worst.
‘It’s horrible. We cannot go there. We should leave.’
‘Leave the country?’
‘Where will you go?’
‘You remember Olga?’
‘The dentist?’
‘Yes. She’s now living in St Petersburg. I called her. She told us she can take us near the border with Finland… and from there we can take our chances.’
‘It will be dangerous.’
‘We know, mother.’
‘You’re all I have.’
‘We’ll be fine.’
‘When will you be leaving?’
‘Right now.’
Mother lowers her head as her eyes grow misty. Then she looks up at them again.
‘I wonder… if I had spoken up earlier…’
They sit next to her, one on each side, and put their arms around her.
‘We shall return,’ says her son, reassuringly.
And both son and daughter smile at her.

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

China. The Failed Project. Musk.

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In the early 1970’s, with the Nixon-Kissinger overture to China, we opened the doors for them to break out of their isolation and offer their markets.
Our interest was economical but political, too, for a friendlier China would help counter the then Soviet menace.
Money began to pour into China and, by virtue of their tenacity and industry, the nation now stands as an economic superpower.
We expected their political maturation to follow. It did not. And that has been the great disappointment for the West.
Whereas Japan, after fiercely fighting the West during WWII, turned around and rebuilt itself as both an economic superpower and a democracy, China instead avoided political growth and settled for remaining a dictatorship.
That has been their choice. The influence of Mao Ze Dong runs deep.
China’s economic rise has been fueled by enormous investment from the West. The Chinese have worked with and improved on it, so they deserve credit. But they also should acknowledge that they have stolen much intellectual property from the rest of the world.
Not only have they not acknowledged it, but to this day their efforts to steal more information are rampant, i.e., through cyberattacks.
When there is an imbalance between the political and economic development of a nation, or even of an individual, there is reason to worry.
And so it has come as no great surprise that China has chosen to side with Russia in their cruelty toward Ukrainians.
The Chinese have been doing the same thing with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. And they did it, too, with Hongkongers.
All that economic investment did not modify their political disposition to repress and brutalize.
The Chinese people have no freedom of speech and are constantly being monitored by the State, which is afraid of what freedom of thought can ignite.
I have no doubt, they want to spread their system to the rest of the world. If it’s working for us, why shouldn’t it work for others.
So what are western business interests in China to do about all this?
Do they ignore the political side of China and concentrate only on business?
They cannot. And they cannot because the profits from their businesses are helping support a repressive regime, a regime that is set on invading Taiwan and killing whoever stands in their way to accomplish their goal.
To the extent that western business interests in China continue to fuel their growth, to that extent they are accomplices in the rise of China’s military and their dreams of world conquest.

Enter Elon Musk, Tesla and Twitter.
Mr Musk has praised China. The Tesla factory in Shanghai is the company’s largest. China’s customers buy the greatest number of Tesla vehicles.
So far, China has been friendly to him. And why not? He’s a symbol of the businessman they want. Pliant. Someone who will applaud them, regardless of their political record. And, of course, the Chinese government will make some concessions. There has to be a bait.
The political record of a nation matters. If not today, then tomorrow. But it matters.
Mr Musk has now bought Twitter. From what I read, Twitter has gone to great lengths to stop access to their platforms by governments and extreme factions pushing their agenda. There is an Integrity Team at work in keeping the messaging clear of such meddling, including from bots.
Mr Musk talks of promoting free speech, anyone can say anything and if you have a better argument you will prevail in the end. But Twitter insiders, familiar with the subtlety of messaging, warn us of how crafty those pushing their agenda can be.
Judging by Musk’s record in China, I have no doubt that sooner or later, Chinese influencers will work their way into Twitter with whatever they wish to say.
‘No, there is no genocide in Xinjiang. We love Uyghurs. All those reports you have read are false.’ Alongside a photo of an Uyghur hugging and kissing an ethnic Chinese.
Little by little and before you know it, people will be saying, ‘well, if they committed genocide, maybe it was just a little. Not a lot’.
For all of Mr Musk’s talents, he will not control China’s influencers. Instead, they will control him. And he won’t even know it.
‘We want you to sell more Teslas in China. We love Tesla. Now here is something we need…”
And Mr Musk will say, ‘Only that?’
‘Only that,’ the Chinese official will reply, with a sly smile.
China’s record is clear. Standing in support of Russia in Ukraine makes it an accomplice.
To think that we can talk the Chinese government out of their style is madness.
It will be up to the Chinese people to revolt and affirm themselves. That is their developmental task as a nation.
As for us, we should start to pull out of China. We can do it. China isolated itself from the world for centuries. And the rest of the world still prospered.
Growing dependence on them is a bad idea.

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.

Ukraine is Becoming a NATO Nation

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By virtue of its courage, its tenacity in the battlefield,
Ukraine is becoming a NATO nation.
The men, women and children who have died in their heroic quest
Are clear testament that the proud nation
Is becoming a NATO nation.
As the world witnesses the atrocities committed by Russians,
Day after day,
Ukraine, with its valiant stand for their right to choose their destiny
Is becoming a NATO nation.
We will not be conquered! They cry out confidently.
We will not surrender! They affirm with vigor,
Even as the Russian missiles fly into their residences, their schools, their hospitals,
While Putin, comfortably in Moscow,
Reviews the damage.
‘Not enough!’ he says, ‘we need more. More dead, more wounded, more destruction,
Until they come begging to me, kneel before me and plead for relief.’
But Ukrainians are not asking for an audience with the murderous man,
They are asking for more and more weapons and support from the West,
So they can fight on,
So they can defend their land,
A land which has now transformed itself into a symbol of freedom
For the rest of the world,
A symbol of freedom for all those peoples who now tolerate
The repressive rule of their dictators,
Nations like China and wherever else autocrats and despots live.
Ukraine’s quest is for victory or death,
And as they struggle on against the brutality that Russia embodies,
They cover themselves with glory
While Russia debases itself with shame.
No more talk of neutrality!
A nation that has bled so much cannot settle for a silent voice.
They are risking it all, everything, for their right to be who they are.
While in Russia, millions of people,
Watching sheepishly on TV the version that Putin chooses to feed them,
Afraid to question,
Become accomplices in a grand massacre of fellow Slavs.
Sooner or later, Putin, as he is defeated in the battlefield,
Will choose to use chemical or nuclear weapons on the Ukrainian people,
To exterminate them,
With the consent of China – who has practice with genocide – and all the autocrats of this world,
And the West will say NO!
For Ukraine, with its grand affirmation of their right to be free,
With all the death and damage they have endured,
With all the valor they have shown,
Has now become a NATO nation.

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

Russia Threatens Nuclear War

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This threat has been made often since the start of the invasion, with Putin arguing that the West is using Ukraine as a proxy against him and his people.
But it is Putin and Russia, who in assaulting Ukraine, are assaulting the West.
If Ukraine had meekly said, ‘Oh yes, we really want to be like Russians, we love how you live, how you bow daily to your great leader, so go ahead Putin, we gladly surrender to you, too,’ then we wouldn’t be having this problem.
But they did not.
Instead, Ukrainians have sacrificed thousands of lives, endured immense destruction of what they have built, all for the sake of a future different than life under the Russian boot.
Russia, except for those who have had the courage of dissenting, has become a symbol of brutality to the world.
Whatever your contributions to the world, they now pale next to the pain and suffering you are willfully inflicting on others.
How can you erase that from the conscience of our civilization?
You cannot. And so it becomes your curse. Russia’s curse.
If Putin or his foreign minister or whatever other stooge, repeats the threat that they may be forced to use nuclear weapons if the West continues to arm Ukraine, then we will deal with it.
Because giving in to Russia in Ukraine is giving in to Russia anywhere.
So the threat to use nuclear weapons becomes worthless.
Knowing the intensity of Russia’s cruelty is good enough for us. We see it every day.
We know you are capable of anything and that you don’t give a damn.
We know you will fire those nuclear weapons and kill hundreds of thousands of people.
All of Russia, exception made of those who have had the courage to dissent, are now part of an assault on the West and the rest of the world.
Somehow, you, along with the Chinese, have come to believe that you are a gift to the rest of us.
You are not. We have no desire to be like you. You are an example to no one.
If you want the war to stop, you need to pull back into your territory. Rest assured that we will not go after you.
But if you don’t, we will keep arming Ukraine, and whoever else is willing to resist you.
And we will provide better weapons, even start sending planes, whatever it takes to defeat you.
Because we don’t think your brutality will ever stop. It appears to not be in you to do so.
The rest of the world will have to learn how to live without your oil and gas and other commodities. So we will invent. We will create.
By now we know that if we give up in Ukraine, we will give up in Poland, or in Rumania or in Finland or Sweden or wherever else.
So go ahead and make all the threats you want.
We are ready for them. For we will keep arming Ukraine until we win this war.

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