Chilled Yet???

Back in February, Russia’s dictator aka ‘President’ Vladimir Putin apparently thought he could launch an attack on neighboring Ukraine and that the Ukrainians were so weak or so stupid that they would simply lie down and turn over their country to him.  Well, he had another think coming!  Ukrainian President Zelenskyy stood firm and the Ukrainian people basically gave Putin the middle finger.  Despite their losses, they continue to stand firm today and with only help in military hardware resources, not human resources, from other nations, Ukraine has made Putin’s life significantly harder, has turned the tides just a bit.  Where Putin expected an easy victory 7 months ago, he is now facing the very real possibility of defeat.

However, if you thought Putin would back off, leave well enough alone and go home to lick his wounds, you’ll need to rethink that.  For starters, he has mobilized some 300,000 ‘military reservists’.  If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 65 years of age, you are now forbidden to leave the country.  Most other people are trying their best to get the hell out, and all flights out of Russia are filled to capacity through at least Friday.

Given that most Russians are not in favour of the war against Ukraine … most have family members living in Ukraine … there have been anti-war protests in a number of cities across Russia.  Just in the last few days, over 1,200 such protestors were arrested for no crime more serious than simply disagreeing with Putin’s goal of destroying another nation.

Last night, Putin gave a rare address to his nation … although it seemed to be intended for others, such as leaders of western nations.  In his speech, he warned that …

“NATO is conducting reconnaissance across the south of Russia. Washington, London and Brussels are directly pushing Kyiv to move military action to our country. They are openly saying that Russia should be defeated on the battlefield by any means.

Nuclear blackmail has also been used. We are talking not only about the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – encouraged by the West – which threatens to cause a nuclear catastrophe but also about statements from senior representatives of NATO countries about the possibility and permissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia: nuclear weapons.

I would like to remind those who make such statements about Russia that our country also possesses various means of destruction, and in some cases, they are more modern than those of NATO countries. When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we, of course, will use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.

This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.”

Foolish talk?  Sure.  But a cornered rat is a dangerous creature.  Vladimir Putin is a calculating madman who would see the world destroyed rather than admit he lost (does that remind you of anyone closer to home?)  U.S. President Biden responded while giving a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last night …

“This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and [Ukrainians’] right to exist as a people. Wherever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should make your blood run cold.

The United States wants this war to end on just terms, on terms we’re all signed up for – that you cannot seize a nation’s territory by force. The only country standing in the way of that is Russia. But no one threatened Russia and no one other than Russia sought conflict.”

Most of you are old enough to remember the Cold War between the USSR and the U.S. that began in 1947 and did not end until 1991 when the Soviet Union was dissolved.  I well remember air raid drills in school when we were made to crouch under our desks and put our hands over our heads … as if that was actually going to protect us in the event of a nuclear bomb!  Frankly, I never want to return to those days, but … it damn sure sounds to me as if that is where we are heading.  In the words of Roger Cohen, a New York Times bureau chief who has observed international affairs for more than 30 years …

“Perhaps not since the Cuban missile crisis six decades ago have American and Russian leaders confronted each other so explicitly and sharply on the danger of nuclear war.”

What is the solution?  IS there a solution?  Wiser heads than mine will have to answer that question.  Let us hope there are some who can.

A Dangerous Shrug …

Roger Cohen has been a writer for the New York Times since 1990.  This morning, an OpEd he wrote titled Truth, Lies and Numbness caught my eye and I would like to share parts of it with you today, for it makes an important statement.

roger-cohenYou grow numb. You grow weary. I recall discovering a few weeks back that President Trump had lied about two phone calls, one from the president of Mexico and one from the head of the Boy Scouts. The calls, supposedly to congratulate him, did not exist. They never happened. They were pure inventions. Asked if Trump had lied, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, “I wouldn’t say it was a lie.”

I actually remember shrugging. The shrug was terrifying. This is how autocrats — or would-be autocrats — cement their power. They wear you down with their lies. They distract you. They want you to believe that 2+2=5. They want you to forget that freedom withers when the distinction between truth and falsehood dies. In a dictatorship there is a single font of “truth”: the voice of the dictator. Remember Trump at the Republican National Convention a little over a year ago: “I am your voice.” And now his voice is everywhere.

There’s the scripted Trump voice, which is fake. There’s the unscripted voice, which is genuine. The two tend to alternate; call this the choreography of disorientation. It’s confusing, like having a president who isn’t really a president but instead acts like the leader of a rabble-rousing movement. The Oval Office is a useful prop, no more than that. He’s held eight rallies since becoming president in January. The latest was in Phoenix, where he called the media “very dishonest people.” He led the crowd in a chant of “CNN sucks.” He attacked the “failing New York Times.”

I read this before I was even out of bed this morning and it gave me a chill.  I easily recognized Mr. Cohen’s response … a shrug … because more and more of late I have found myself having the same response.  I shrug, roll my eyes, shake my head, and say something akin to “Whatever … so what’s new?”  It is not because his lies and hateful rhetoric no longer offend, but because I am becoming desensitized.  It is old news.  Trump lies. Trump cannot speak in complete sentences. Trump criticizes everyone who does not agree with him.  Nothing new to see here, folks … shrug your shoulders and move along.

That which, as recently as five months ago, stirred my ire, offended my sensibilities and incensed me, now earns a shrug or an eyeroll.  How did we (I speak for myself, but I use ‘we’, for I believe I am not alone in this) come to this point?  How?  Rather the same way a human body becomes immune to disease after numerous or prolonged periods of exposure.  Rather like that annoying rattle in your car that, after a few weeks, you no longer hear it.  The rattle is still there, it is ominous in that it indicates something is not right, but you have become desensitized, immune, and you no longer hear the rattle, no longer heed the warning signs.

Long ago I opined that Trump did not wish to be a president, but rather an autocrat.  Nothing that has happened in the past seven months has changed my opinion.  I was told months ago that I should not worry too much, for the system of checks and balances that is built into our foundation, the U.S. Constitution, would keep Trump from realizing his goal of supremacy.  But those checks and balances only work if we remain focused enough to force them to work, and I fear that we are growing weary, we are losing our focus. I was told that the American people would never allow Trump to gain too much power, but the American people are divided, disheartened, and tired after only seven short/long months of the freak show we have been watching.

I wish I had easy answers, but I do not.  I do not know how we remain vigilant … I only know that we must.  We must continue to call Trump out on every lie, no matter how minor.  We must continue to fight, to resist, those things that we know in our hearts are wrong.  We must somehow find renewed energy to fight against the abomination sitting in the Oval Office. We must continue to remind our elected representatives that they work for We The People, that they are independent of the executive branch and that we expect them to act in OUR best interests, not their own.  In fact, we must remind them that at the end of the day, their own best interests are closely tied to ours.

We must continue, fruitless though it may seem, trying to maintain a dialog with those with whom we disagree, continue trying to understand them and help them to understand us.  In the end, we are all in this together. Last weekend I drove 500 miles on Friday and again on Monday.  The highway became tiresome, mile after mile of sameness, and I grew weary, more than once felt my eyes slowly closing.  The danger was real that I would drive into an obstacle and be injured or die, so I stopped, walked around a bit, got fresh coffee, and renewed my energy.  This is what we must do today and for as long as it takes, for the danger is real and we must find ways to renew ourselves so that we can keep fighting.  We cannot afford to shrug.