A Picture is Worth Thousands of Broken Hearts

I wanted to reshare this photo because it was very personal to me. My wife and I have a bed very similar to this in the bedroom where our four-year-old granddaughter sleeps peacefully when she comes to visit, and I can imagine that the child who owned this bed was sleeping peacefully in it before she was senselessly slaughtered this past weekend. And what had the child done to deserve such a violent and militaristic execution? She was alive, and that was it. For thousands of years people have killed millions of Jews simply because they existed, and many of these genocides have been largely ignored by unsympathetic historians because the victims were Jews and no one seemed to care about their suffering. This is racism at its worst, and it must stop.

Hamas Kills Innocent Babies

Over the past few decades, I have also heard much about the plight of the Palestinians, and if I'm being honest, I have to agree with some of the arguments that I have heard in their favor. I believe that Palestinians should have an independent state where they can live in peace, and if you study your history, you'll see that on multiple occasions Israel offered huge swaths of land with which the Palestinians could have created a free state for themselves. But the Palestinians refused these offers, because the terrorists the Palestinians voted into power, namely Hamas, do not want to peacefully coexist with Israel. Hamas has been very vocal over the years about its intentions to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, which is what lead to Saturday's surprise attack and the deaths of hundreds of innocent Jewish people for the simple crime of not being dead already.

I occasionally see people driving around with the "COEXIST" bumper sticker that is fashioned from the iconography of several major religions. While this is a noble-sounding sentiment, it reveals much about the naiveté of the person who emblazoned their vehicle with such innocent absurdity. The problem with preaching this particular message of coexistence is that it completely ignores the actions and emotions of people who do not share a common sense of right and wrong. Americans had a difficult time understanding this disparity when 9/11 happened; the thousands of innocent lives who died in the Twin Towers and Washington DC hadn't done anything to warrant their tragic deaths at the hands of Al Qaeda terrorists, but the enemy we faced was so blinded by hatred that it could not be reasoned with. Sadly, this is where Israel finds itself today. Hamas cannot be reasoned with. Hamas doesn't want to coexist. Hamas only wants to hate Jews and kidnap families and rape women and kill innocent people - like the child who owned the bed in this photo. Being ex-military, I am angered by this image. I am repulsed by what it depicts. I want vengeance for what Hamas has done. But that's not my place, and if I'm not careful, I may find myself so consumed by hatred for Hamas that I'm no better than they are.

College Loans and Debt Forgiveness

The United States government made it far too easy for students to take loans, and colleges pounced on students' willingness to take loans and jacked up tuition costs disproportionately to the rest of society - knowing full well that students would eventually bear the full financial weight of their poor choices and the government would be forced to make good on those loans one way or other. With that in mind, it doesn't matter whether you label the US government's current meddling in the college tuition debacle "overcharge reimbursement" or "loan forgiveness," because at the end of the day either way you choose to title such a program is little more than playing games with semantics.

Student-Debt-Crisis-Solved

In my opinion, what should be happening is these same colleges should be forced to eat part of the costs; some office of the government should take each college individually and review their tuition costs back to 1970 and compare the rise in tuition with inflation in the rest of society and determine whether each college rose their tuition costs more than inflation, and that's the part of the costs that the colleges should be forced to absorb - WITH NO GOVERNMENT BAILOUTS. If a college has to layoff workers to balance their books, then so be it, because there are ample studies available about colleges hiring an exponential number of non-educators with the increased fees they were charging, so that should take care of itself.

Once the colleges' culpability has been taken care of, the remaining costs are the financial obligations of the students - WITH NO GOVERNMENT BAILOUTS, either. While I realize that colleges were offering easy money to students at a time when most students were too stupid to realize the ill-effects of staggering debt (which is also why credit cards set up shop in student unions across the country), I have zero tolerance for students who claim to be a "victim" when no one was holding a gun to their collective heads. At any time the students could have said no. Instead of a loan for exorbitant tuition, students could have:

  1. Gone to a different colleges (which would have encouraged colleges to be competitive).
  2. Pursued their base courses through a cheaper, two-year college to save costs (which would have also forced four-year colleges to re-examine tuition costs to attract newer students).
  3. Spent more time researching the millions of dollars that are available each year as grants and scholarships (which most students ignored since those involved doing some "work" to discover and apply for, and loans only required a signature).
  4. Taken time off between high school and college to save up for school (which MIGHT have encouraged colleges to create more attractive entry-level pricing).
  5. Join the military to earn money for college (which is what I personally did).

In addition, students could have chosen a different major, or a different school, or a different career path, or refused to go to college, or myriad other options that were available to them. However, most students took the easy route and chose to sign a loan for their education - AND THAT'S TOTALLY ON THEM. Regardless of whether the school was charging too much, at the end of the day each student made a conscious choice to enter into debt unwisely; the same choice that people make when they sign up for a 33% credit card, or take a loan for a vehicular lemon, or pay too much for a property without doing the requisite market research, etc.

As I said earlier, no on held a gun to students' collective heads. If students signed up for massive amounts of debt, that is entirely on them - the rest of the country should not be forced to pay for their collective stupidity through taxation. On the contrary, the colleges themselves should be forced to reset tuition levels to reasonable rates and backdate loan amounts accordingly, and students should be required to pay off the remainder.

PS - If something like this proposal was rolled out, I would also suggest that whichever office of government went through the books to synchronize college tuition rates with inflation over the past several decades should also be able to force schools to adopt realistic tuition rates going forward, too. If a school is caught trying to jack up tuition rates, they should be penalized in some way.

For more things to think about, see Why is College So Expensive?, New Rule: The College Scam, Is College Worth It?, and Game of Loans.

Brittney Griner vs the World

If I might be so bold as to weigh in on the subject, the following illustration hits home with what has been my biggest complaint with the entire media circus that surrounded the entirety of Brittney Griner's arrest and subsequent incarceration: she's nothing but a celebrity, and a minor one at that, so I failed to understand the constant hype around "getting her home."

Brittney-Griner-PR-Stunt

Despite the Vice President's comments about Griner being "wrongfully detained", at the end of the day - Griner broke Russia's laws, and as such she deserved to be punished according to their laws. We might not like those laws, but our nation would do the same if a foreign national broke our laws while on our soil. Do I think Griner's prison sentence was considerably longer than it should have been? Heck yes, and diplomacy should have been used to reduce Griner's sentence to something a little more reasonable.

Of course, in hindsight we see the ulterior purpose behind Griner's sentence - it was a poker move. Putin knew that if the punishment was far too excessive for Griner's minor crime, he could force the United States to do something unreasonable in order to rectify what was clearly an unjust situation - which we did. The United States traded a major criminal, who will undoubtedly return to his prior life of crime, in order to free a celebrity whom most people couldn't pick out of a lineup.

Adding insult to injury, however, is the fact that the United States attempted to free retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan or schoolteacher Marc Fogel as part of this prisoner exchange, and rather than forcing the Russians back to the negotiating table, the US acquiesced to Russia's terms. There are SOOOO many things wrong with what happened here.

First of all, Putin stared down the USA, and the USA blinked. The key takeaway for everyone around the globe who opposes the USA is: the USA is weak and easily manipulated. From a statecraft perspective, the Brittney Griner prisoner exchange was an utter failure from the point of view that matters most; e.g. foreign perceptions of the USA.

What's more, however, is the USA has shown once again how anyone who ISN'T a celebrity doesn't matter. If the USA could have traded for just one prisoner, that ABSOLUTELY SHOULD have been Paul Whelan, who has been held by Russia for four years, or Marc Fogel, whose crime and sentence were nearly identical to Griner's. Instead, the weak-minded and weak-kneed imbeciles who headed up this political debacle threw the non-celebrities to the wolves, and opted to bring home the prisoner who would get them on the 6 o'clock news.

In the end, that's the part that hurts the worst: this administration has demonstrated, once again, that the common man has less worth than canine feces to those who could make a difference. This entire affair has been nothing but a cheap public relations stunt for the Biden administration; let everyone else and the country be damned.

Anti-vaxxers are Paranoid, Illogical, and Unscientific

There is an old saying that goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Likewise, there is a variant of that saying that has evolved over the years as, "You can lead a man to knowledge, but you can't make him think." This is especially true within the realms of Social Media, where any number of ill-informed rabble now have a platform to publicly spew complete nonsense, while remaining incapable of being able to see anything beyond their warped points of view. Even when presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, these ideological miscreants cling to their fallacies with a religious fervor that would fill zealots with envy. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, few topics have generated such levels of misplaced devotion as the anti-vaxx crowds, which gained tens of thousands of new converts during the recent COVID19 pandemic as paranoia fueled by conspiracy theories devolved into a quagmire of unscientific, politically-charged drivel. It is usually best to ignore the ridiculous offerings proffered by those who are incapable of understanding simple logic, because nothing you can say will budge them from their comfortable, little echo chambers.

Well-Thought-Arguments

That being said, I occasionally see something so ludicrous that I cannot remain silent, and though I know that my actions will do no good, I cannot resist the temptation to speak up, which brings me to the subject of today's blog. Despite 2½ years of a global pandemic that has resulted in millions of deaths around the planet, there are thousands of paranoid, uneducated saps who deny its existence or distrust the government's motivations where the pandemic is concerned. The following conversation details just one example of this type of mentality at work.

ANTI-VAXXER:
"The unvaccinated aren't dying. Just saying..."
 
REBUTTAL:
Literally millions of unvaccinated people have died around the globe... though apparently no one you know (but some people I know). That said, far less people died in the USA because we have some of the best medical care in the world. Thankfully, however, global fatality rates have decreased because the Omicron variants - while still easily transmissible - have much lower mortality rates than predecessor variants.
 
Current numbers indicate that roughly 8% of the world's population has contracted COVID19, and the numbers will probably increase this winter as in the past couple years, and COVID19 will likely become an annual scourge like the normal flu season.
 
ANTI-VAXXER:
"The normal flu season also results in the death of 10s of thousands every year, except, it seems, when COVID was raging. Interesting how the head shed in dc has never been as rabid about normal flu season deaths as they are about COVID. Apparently, there's no political advantage to being fired up about deaths from flu."
 
REBUTTAL:
You've apparently missed the point that flu deaths were reduced during the COVID pandemic because millions of people across the globe wore masks, used hand sanitizer, practiced social distancing, quarantined people who were infected, stayed home as much as possible, closed businesses, etc. Personally, I think that some of those measures were an overreaction, but the reason why people were overreacting is that even though the flu typically results in the deaths of tens of thousands of people each year, from the outset of the COVID outbreak it was easy to project that millions were going to die from that disease when it was still at its worst. If we hadn't done anything, the number of COVID deaths would have been far greater - in other words, even though some governments overreacted, their results were nevertheless effective. The number of people infected with COVID were far less than they would have been, and flu cases were reduced as a by-product of the heightened awareness and preventative measures.
 
To put things in perspective, the average number of annual flu cases in the USA from 2010 to 2020 was around 28 million, versus 97 million cases of COVID in the USA alone since its initial outbreak (and 628 million cases globally). However, the total number of deaths in the USA due to the flu for that same decade of 2010 to 2020 was 347 thousand, versus 1.1 million deaths in the USA due to COVID in two years alone (and 6.7 million deaths globally). In other words, the annual flu season results in an average of 32 thousand deaths per year, which is no small number, but COVID has resulted in an average of 440 thousand deaths per year. Putting that in layman's terms, despite all the preventative and/or over-reactive measures that were enacted, COVID still infected the population with a transmission rate that was several times greater than annual flu seasons, and COVID was considerably more fatal.
 
But here's another interesting tidbit about diseases - as most people are aware, diseases mutate into new variants, and as a result, they often become less toxic with each new mutation. When you study the pathology for diseases that have rampaged humanity, they are especially heinous when they mutate and initially cross over the barrier from plants or animals to humans, which is when we sometimes see the highest mortality rates. But as some diseases continue to mutate, their lethality decreases as they are transmitted from human to human (though sometimes diseases mutate in the opposite direction and become more pernicious before eventually withering out).
 
The history of diseases is replete with nasty outbreaks that eventually contain themselves, though to be clear - that sometimes takes decades (e.g. the Black Plague) or centuries (e.g. Yellow Fever), during which millions could perish. However, following the introduction of germ theory for disease in the 18th century and its global acceptance in the 19th century, we now know for the most part how diseases work - and we have spent the past two centuries building up our defenses and chronicling our discoveries, which helps us fight off major pandemics like the one we just encountered. That being said, make no mistake - if COVID had struck 100 years ago, the results would have been far more devastating than the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.
 
To sum up, there's no conspiracy here - it's simple science: if you take drastic measures to prevent the spread of one disease, you will more than likely prevent the spread of other diseases.
 
ANTI-VAXXER:
"Regardless, flu deaths were essentially ignored by the political agenda for COVID."
 
REBUTTAL:
Once again, that's completely untrue. Anyone working in any of the combined fields of science that were fighting COVID knew that anything that was done to prevent the spread of COVID would ALSO prevent the spread of other diseases like the flu, and anyone with a grasp of basic science - to include politicians - understood that simple concept. So the flu wasn't "ignored" during the pandemic - everyone knew that it would be contained better than ever before, which it was.
 
However, the question that you MIGHT want to ask yourself is, "Why is the flu ignored when there ISN'T a pandemic?" Given the numbers that I shared earlier, the annual flu season resulted in an average of 32 thousand deaths per year in the decade prior to the COVID outbreak, so why isn't anyone paying attention to THOSE deaths? And once again, the answer is simple: they are. The CDC is actively fighting the flu, and does its best to predict the flu variant each year, and millions of flu vaccines are shipped around the country/globe to fight off the flu as a result. Some years the CDC does a better job of predicting the flu variant, and infection rates decrease as a result.
 
However, according to the CDC, if you REALLY wanted to reduce the numbers of flu cases and/or deaths each year, you could... wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, practice social distancing, quarantine people who are infected, and even - [gasp!] - wear a mask. Of course, many people refused to follow any of those recommendations during the pandemic, so there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that they'll follow any of those guidances for the flu season. That being said, I've carried a mask in my laptop bag for years when traveling, and I've had no problems pulling that out and wearing it when someone seated next to me is horribly ill (and probably shouldn't have been traveling).
 
In other words, despite your beliefs to the contrary, the flu wasn't ignored during the pandemic. On the contrary, the effects of the flu were greatly marginalized due to the extraordinary measures that were enacted to combat the pandemic. However, even when there isn't a pandemic, the flu is still in the cross-hairs of the people we have who fight diseases.
 
ANTI-VAXXER:
"From my observation of the political 'used car' salesmen during the COVID panic, it is completely true. Never once heard one of them mention anything in reference to the annual flu season."
 
REBUTTAL:
There was no need to mention anything in reference to the annual flu season during the COVID pandemic, because - as I just said - everyone knew that the annual flu season would be contained better than ever before because of the extraordinary measures that were enacted to combat COVID. There's no need to mention something that has been totally negated, which - for all intents and purposes - the the flu was.
 
Flu deaths in the USA for 2020 were so small that the CDC has no real numbers to report, and flu deaths for 2021 were around 5 thousand - which was 85% below the annual national average. However, in that same time frame, COVID deaths were literally 220 times greater (e.g. 5,000 deaths for the flu vs 1.1 million deaths for COVID). So, yeah - you didn't hear about flu deaths during the pandemic because it was essentially a non-entity statistically, but you heard a LOT about COVID deaths because COVID was killing people at numbers that were exponentially higher than the flu. And you didn't hear anything about trying to prevent the flu during the pandemic because - as I have said several times now - everything that was done to prevent COVID was ALSO preventing the flu.
 
ANTI-VAXXER:
"We will have to agree to disagree."

As I said earlier, this discussion typifies the point that I was trying to make; despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, this anti-vaxxer was incapable of seeing anything beyond his paranoid, unscientific, and illogical perspective.

What a sad indictment of the quality of scientific thought in the 21st century.

Sad smile


UPDATE: This post was edited to fix a small math error that was in the original.

Unionism, Socialism, Capitalism, and Communism

A few years ago, Ben Shapiro (like him or hate him) was speaking at a university, and a young Socialist stepped up to the microphone during a Q&A session to promote the related ideas of Unionization, Market Socialism (as opposed to political), and worker-owned businesses. The Socialist kept pressing the point that Capitalism is unfair to workers because workers provide all the labor for lower wages than business owners receive, which is classical Marxism at its best (or worst, as the case may be). The Socialist kept espousing what he thinks is "fair" with regard to wage gaps between the common worker and the CEO. Though to be clear, the young Socialist doesn't use the word "fair." Instead, he obscures that notion through a never-ending barrage of Socialist jargon. Nevertheless, that is his implication: Capitalism is "unfair" because workers do not earn as much as business owners.

However, Shapiro's answer provides one of the best explanations for why there is a logical reason for wage disparity, and I highly suggest that you watch it. There are two versions of this video: a shorter version (≈3:30) with just the highlights at https://youtu.be/3xq-q6a9tCM, and the full version (≈12:50) with the entire conversation at https://youtu.be/NUauABEnTZI. Unions are not a bad thing conceptually; the problem is that they often devolve into a bad thing in reality.

I have seen several situations where unions keep round-tripping back to the negotiating table again and again asking for benefits that are unnecessary (and I can cite examples), and the unions in these situations eventually force their parent businesses to become unprofitable (which is what has led to more robots on factory floors, self-checkout lines in supermarkets, jobs headed overseas, and self-service kiosks at fast-food restaurants). When unions demand higher wages for skills that are easy-to-train and therefore more or less expendable, businesses will do away with expendable laborers. (Either by outsourcing or automation, as I have just mentioned.) In a like manner, when unions demand benefits with significant costs from businesses like paid college tuition for workers' family members, six months of paid maternity leave, etc., these unions may force companies into bankruptcy. Don't get me wrong, paid college tuition and paid maternity leave are wonderful benefits to have, but when labor demands these types of things and profits cannot keep up with the increased expenditures, businesses are doomed to fail and everyone is out of work.

There was a greater need for unions a century ago, when modern labor laws had yet to be written and factories routinely abused their laborers. Times have changed, and everyone in the United States is in the top 1% of the world with regard to health, housing, employment, wages, etc. The quality of life in North America exceeds that of nearly the entire planet, and yet people still find room to complain - because people delude themselves into thinking that life is somehow "unfair" to them, which is typically because someone else has something that they want; either a higher salary, or a better job, a better house, a better car, a better spouse, etc. People want what they don't have, and that's what led to the "99%" riots a few years ago, and also to thousands of misguided Socialists and/or Unionists who decry their elevated global conditions as some form of suffering. Don't get me wrong, nothing is perfect and laborers still need representation to prevent potential abuse, but the irresponsible claims emanating from the mouths of most Unionists sound ludicrous when you take into account just how blessed some of the people doing the complaining really are.

As for Socialism, which typically goes hand in hand with Unionism and eventually devolves into Communism, let me take a moment to briefly editorialize. I have witnessed first-hand the many evils of Communism, which is why I cannot support anyone who is espousing either a Communist or Socialist system of government. While a logical argument can be made for socializing specific programs - such as healthcare - both Communism and Socialism are doomed to failure from their inception, because they seek to forcibly create "equality of outcome" instead of "equality of opportunity."

Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to qualify for the job they desire, and an equal opportunity to seek advancement within their respective places of employment. However, people deserve to be rewarded for their efforts, and if one person chooses to outperform their peers, they should be compensated for their efforts. Likewise, if someone chooses to accept greater responsibility within their company, or to step out as an entrepreneur and found their own company, they should also be compensated for their efforts. In a Capitalist society, they will be. However, in a Communist or Socialist society, everyone is forced into categories - often from which they cannot escape - and the outcome is dictated by the state. If Person A outperforms Person B, that doesn't matter; compensation must be the same for both people, for that is "equality" under Communism and Socialism. Of course, this system is untenable for those who are forced to suffer under it, which is why millions of people have fled Communist or Socialist societies over the past century, and millions more have been put to death or imprisoned when trying to protest their oppressive regimes. This is why most countries that adopt Communism or Socialism are forced to do so at gunpoint.

Most people who deride Capitalism do so because they have a misguided view of "fairness," which is generally an untrustworthy worldview. What is "fair" for Person A seldom seems "fair" to Person B if Person A has more than Person B, and therein lies the problem. In an equality of opportunity scenario, both Person A and Person B have the same chance to make more or less based on their personal participation, which is the ideal way of conducting society. However, in an equality of outcome scenario, if Person A has acquired more than Person B, that is forbidden by the state, and the government must intervene and force both persons to be "equal," which is not an ideal way to conduct a society.

This is what we have seen time and again with Communist or Socialist societies; they actively seek equality of outcome, and millions are forced to suffer as a result. The former Soviet Union, North Korea, China, the Warsaw Pact, and Cuba are just a few examples from the 20th century of what happens in an equality of outcome society. Even though barely a generation has gone by since the demise of the Soviet Union, there are thousands of gullible individuals who would gratefully embrace Communism and Socialism because they think that some part of their lives isn't "fair." These people are - as the Communists called them - "Useful Idiots." Such people hasten their own demise by failing to understand what they are promoting; as the old adage says, "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it."

I will now step down off my soapbox and back quietly away.

Auschwitz and Contemporary Politics

A blogger who publishes his content using the moniker of The Catholic Traveler recently shared his observations on social media about his recent trip to the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. I visited the former concentration camp of Dachau when I was stationed in Germany back in the late 1980s, so I read his post with interest. After reading his post, I made an observation that I thought was worth sharing, but first - I have to put things in perspective. To do so, I will repost the full contents of his original blog, with full credit given to Mountain Butorac (aka "The Catholic Traveler") as its author.

I visited Auschwitz for the first time the other day. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's one of the most awful places in the world, yet they sell donuts at the snack bar.

Many people traveling with me posted things like "no words." That's how I felt at first too. It's why I often wait a while before commenting on things - to be sure I have the right words, rather than just emotions.

During our visit the sky was grey and there was a steady cold rain. We trudged through thick mud to get from barracks to gas chambers to crematoriums. Everything about the visit was uncomfortable, even the guide.

She spoke English with a heavy German accent and an even heavier lisp. She showed no emotion at all, even when saying...

"These people are being separated from their families. They are told they are going to shower after the long journey, but they are being sent to die. Their family will never see them again."

"Kids and the elderly couldn't work. They were stripped naked and sent to the gas chambers to die. Here's their hair."

"Pregnant women and twins were used in medical experiments. Their screams could be heard across this courtyard."

She was great, I would use her again, but it was all very creepy. As it should be, I suppose.

Two things that struck me...

How often the guide stressed the proof of what happened there. I've heard of Holocaust deniers, but assumed it was a small group of people like those who think Elvis is alive.

I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden.

In interviews with SS guards after the war, they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat.

When asked how they could do such horrid experiments on people, they responded that it was essential for improving their medical system. Doctors and nurses felt it was completely ethical to drown newborn babies and inject all sorts of things into people to further their science.

Just incredible. I'm still processing it.

I think it's a place you must visit. But don't get the donuts.

 

-- Copyright 2022 by The Catholic Traveler.

My personal experiences at Dachau evoked the same emotions that Butorac tried his best to explain, but words failed me as they did for him. When you are standing in a place where unspeakable evil was committed on a daily basis, it is hard to fathom how someone / anyone could allow themselves to torture and kill their fellow human beings without so much as a second thought.

And yet, as I considered recent political events in the United States and re-examined some of Butorac's statements after I removed his references to World War II, I was left with the following excerpt:

"I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden. In interviews ... they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat [to their way of life]."

The remaining verbiage that we are left with is just as incredible - and just as creepy - when compared to the arguments that I hear in sound bites on the daily news. The devaluation of innocent lives whom people regard as an inconvenience, or a burden, or a threat to the way of life to which they have grown accustomed has apparently not been limited to history or geography.

I Wonder If History Was Like This

I love studying history, and I must admit that the majority of books I typically read are on that subject. That said, I recently stumbled across the following video from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, which an amusing look at the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia. Even though I know this video is meant humorously, there are times when I wonder how historically accurate events like this might have been.

Winking smile

We Have Plenty of Evidence

As I watch the news and listen to politicians discuss the ongoing investigation into the treasonous actions of the people who stormed the Nation's Capital, they begin to repeat the same old story that they have told many times in the past: "we have plenty of evidence, but we won't prosecute."

Like many of you, I've grown weary of this same "we have plenty of evidence, but we won't prosecute" excuse. For the people who want to see someone (like Trump) go down in flames, such a statement is vindication of their existing hatred even though nothing actually happens. But when no one is ever prosecuted, Washington's "we have plenty of evidence" statements mean nothing. As someone I know pointed out: either you prosecute because you have evidence, or you exonerate because you don't.

This continued tendency of politicians to say whatever they want about someone's presumptive guilt without demonstrable evidence to support their claims borders on slander and/or libel from a legal perspective, while from a personal perspective I disregard the entire fetid mass of political anal fissures currently in office as useless appendages of society. In a related matter, I distrust news sources that will print or broadcast anything as publicly and loudly as possible without verifying the facts when it suits their agenda, and then quietly print a retraction when their duplicitousness is discovered, while at the same time demonstrating their hypocrisy when they demand ridiculous levels of authentication for stories that do not fit the message they want to promote. (But I digress...)

This current situation with Trump isn't the first time we've heard Washington troglodytes claim they have plenty of evidence. We heard the same thing about Hillary Clinton's destruction of government equipment that had been subpoenaed; you might recall the FBI saying, "we have enough evidence, but we won't prosecute," so the AG dismissed the investigation. So was she actually guilty of crimes or not? We'll never know. There was "plenty of evidence" that the Obama administration used the IRS to punish political rivals, but no one was prosecuted. On more than one occasion we heard that someone had plenty of evidence on Bill Clinton for one crime or other; but he was never prosecuted and nothing was ever brought to light. Apart from being a serial predator, was Slick Willie guilty of actual crimes? Once again, we'll never know.

Jumping forward to today, the Washington Post presented ample evidence, and the New York Times has begrudgingly verified, that the Bidens appear to be guilty of some truly nefarious money changing prior to Joe's election to office, which isn't surprising given the fact that Joe and his son built both of their careers upon a steaming pile of dishonesty and lies (see Politics, Plagiarism and the Press and Laptop from Hell, among others). But will these undisputed facts ever see the light of day in a court room? I think not, and it will probably be the same situation with Trump and whomever serves in office after the Bidens leave town.

Despite their mutual loathing and hatred for each other, both sides of the political aisle know this to be true: once Washington finally gets around to prosecuting someone who truly deserves it, the gloves will come off, everyone will be fair game for prosecution, and the entire house of cards will come tumbling down. In other words, the Dems and GOP have détente right now... and neither side wants to cause Mutually Assured Political Destruction.

I Cannot Take Putin's Side in Ukraine

A well-intentioned veteran with whom I served in the military several years ago presented a challenge on social media: he asked everyone to consider information from all sides before deciding how to personally react with regard to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. To that end, he brought up a philosophy that we were taught in military intelligence: if you want to defeat your enemy, you must first understand him. This piece of wisdom can be traced back to the writings of Sun Tzu, and it is solid doctrine. My friend went further to say that listening to false intelligence about your enemy was worse than having no intelligence, because it could lead to fatal decision making. Once again, this is a solid piece of advice when considering world affairs.

Combining these two outlooks, my colleague shared the following video of a speech by Vladimir Putin, in which Putin asserts that his military aggressions over past two decades have been a reaction to NATO's eastward expansion. To paraphrase my former comrade's beliefs about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he felt that Russia has just cause to feel threatened by the West because of NATO's continued expansion; therefore Putin's actions were acceptable - and somewhat inevitable - given the situation described by Putin in his speech.

However, I do not - and cannot - share my former colleague's opinion of this invasion. While my friend made a valid point that everyone should look at any given situation from all sides, that does not mean that every position has equal worth. With that in mind, here are some additional thoughts for everyone to ponder.

I watched Putin's speech in the above video some time ago, and I've heard when Putin expressed similar sentiments at other times. It's wonderful propaganda, to be sure, and Putin has outdone himself as a former member of the KGB with regard to his ability to spin his military aggressions as some sort of defensive posturing. However, his actions do not line up with the lies that he is telling. If you re-watch the above video and listen to Putin's version of events, he claims to be a peace loving individual minding his own business, while the West has been slowly threatening him. But if you ignore all the excess noise about NATO and the USA, what has Putin been doing for decades? He's been rolling his military into neighboring countries and grabbing up land and resources when neither NATO nor the USA have had anything to do with the situation. In other words, if some hypothetical person listened to Putin and believed his warped version of reality, that person is being played. Although to that hypothetical person's credit, they're being played by one of the most-skilled political manipulators to emerge onto the world stage. Putin is the kind of bully that will punch you in the face and then convince you that you need to apologize for it.

Here is something else to consider: does Putin actually care about the reasons that he is citing for his military aggression (like NATO expansion), or has Putin simply been given the opportunity of a lifetime to do as he pleases because he has a somewhat plausible reason for blaming everything he does on someone else? Consider the following PBS documentary from seven years ago, which documents Putin's rise to power from a lowly KGB agent through decades of corruption, embezzlement, and ruthlessness to become President of Russia.

Throughout Putin's ascendency, he formed powerful alliances with other corrupt politicians and oligarchs, from which Putin has personally profited handsomely. In addition, you might recall from recent years that Putin has no qualms about imprisoning or poisoning his political opponents in order to preserve his autocracy.

Like any good Soviet, Putin does a masterful job of committing atrocities and then blaming it on others. Here are a few recent cases in point:

  • Putin accused Ukraine of hurting Russian separatists in the Donbas region, which provided him with his "justification" for attacking Ukraine.
  • Putin has accused Ukraine of using chemical weapons, which - despite a lack of evidence - could provide Putin with his "justification" for using chemical weapons in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces infamously bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, then blamed Ukraine for using the hospital to house neo-Nazis.

Putin is clearly using the same playbook that the Soviet Union used during the Cold War: the Soviets would accuse the West of doing something bad, which provided the Soviets with their "justification" for doing something bad themselves.

Harkening back to one of my opening statements about understanding one's enemy, there is a part of the collective Russian psyche that warrants examination: decades of post-WWII Russian fears about being invaded from the West - as Germany did during WWII - are not easily forgotten. This state of fear provides Putin with an excellent pretext to mobilize public sentiment behind any political or militaristic whim that he might concoct. In other words, Putin can claim, "I need to attack Govnovia because our security is threatened by the West," which he can use to conceal any actual intentions.

If you watch the following documentary, it describes how over the past few decades, Ukraine has continuously threatened Russia's profits from oil and natural gas, and sales of these fuel resources comprise 50% of Russia's GDP. Since Putin has made a career out of skimming billions of dollars from Russia, Ukraine's reduction of Russia's profits hurts Putin's pocketbook. Ergo - the true cause of Putin's actions is profits, and all his rhetoric about NATO and tapping into Russia's history of paranoia where the West is concerned is nothing but a smoke screen.

In summary, there was a grain truth to what my former colleague was saying when he pointed out that NATO has advanced eastward over the years. However, countries that have been recently added to NATO were not invaded militarily by the West. On the contrary, those nations asked to join NATO in order to avoid the exact scenario that is happening with Ukraine right now. However, let's set that aside for a moment, and consider the person who is claiming that NATO expansion is somehow a problem. As I said earlier, does Putin actually care? Or has the West inadvertently given Putin the ammunition that he needs to use military aggression to achieve his personal ambitions?

In the end, my colleague was correct when he said that one must understand his enemy and avoid false intelligence, and yet he has failed in both of those capacities: by accepting Putin's propaganda at face value, my former comrade has chose to base his worldview on false intelligence, and as a result he has failed to understand his enemy.


POSTSCRIPT:

In an ironic twist, Putin has become the same sort of dictator that Russia has feared; all of Putin's speeches about Russia needing to annex Ukraine sound just like Hitler's proclamations of needing "Lebensraum" prior to WWII. From my perspective, history is repeating itself in one of two ways: either Putin is attempting to rebuild the Soviet Union like his Communist predecessors (while personally profiting as a Capitalist), or Putin is making a land grab like the other infamous despot that I just named (and is therefore using the memory of Nazism to behave like a Nazi).

The Inevitable Demise of Dictators

Today is the 69th anniversary of Josef Stalin's long overdue demise, which means it's time to re-watch one of my favorite dark comedies: The Death Of Stalin. However, given recent events in Ukraine, it's nice to have a reminder that Russian dictators - like all dictators - will eventually wither and die and become nothing more than worm food.

The Death of Stalin Movie Poster