Troubling Times

Alan Zendell, May 18, 2022

Sometimes, it pays to take a step back and widen our perspective. Recent polls indicate a majority of Americans, especially those who didn’t live through Watergate, Vietnam, or the Cold War, are seriously concerned about the direction the country is moving. a CNN poll published today put that number at 65% with another 23% reporting that they are scared for our future. Why? While most people in the poll cited the economy, the border with Mexico, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and losing focus on combating climate change, three of those things have been with us for decades, and Russia’s belligerent stance internationally has been a reality since 2014. We’ve experienced them before, and none of them send shivers down my spine the way Trumpism and what has been dubbed “Christian Nationalism” do.

What worries me is the nationwide push to restrict voting to favor right-wing candidates, the rise of evangelistic politics, the enabling if not outright encouragement of White Nationalist groups and hate crimes, and the brazen misrepresentation (which many characterize as perjury) of ideological views and intentions by Trump’s three Supreme Court justices during their confirmation hearings. Whether you view these issues as a re-fighting of states’ rights battles that began 250 years ago, or a deliberate attempt to undermine our Constitution, if the Trumpers and evangelists win, America will soon bear very little resemblance to the country I grew up in.

Blaming an incumbent president and Congress for rising inflation, supply chain problems, and energy and food shortages is standard fare approaching midterm elections. But negative campaigning is exacerbated by news and social networks that spread lies and misinformation, and enable bad foreign actors to manipulate our domestic politics. The failure of platforms like Facebook to responsibly manage their content and the impunity with which Fox News, Newsmax, and America One disregard the rules of professional journalism are the real threat to our future.

Today, Twitter estimated that one in five of its accounts are fake. The constant din of negativity and outright lies combined with a growing trend among Americans toward intellectual laziness makes it nearly impossible to imagine a way out of America’s political gridlock. It’s even more difficult to imagine our government functioning at all if it continues.

I am shocked that Americans disapprove of President Biden’s administration at the same rate they disapproved of Trump’s. That is proof positive of the toxic effect of hate politics and irresponsible reporting. While his intentions in withdrawing from Afghanistan were good, and he was boxed in by agreements with the Taliban signed by President Trump, Biden must own the intelligence failures that made the withdrawal resemble a clown show. The death of thirteen American servicepeople in a terrorist attack that should have been stopped nullified the positive end of our misguided military involvement and the successful evacuation of more than 100,000 civilians from a perpetual war zone.

Unfortunately, in the minds of American voters, it also nullified Biden’s economic stimulus plan which put money in the pockets of millions of Americans who were left destitute by the COVID pandemic. Almost every dollar went straight back into our retail economy, reducing unemployment to fifty-year lows, beginning a new trend of rising wages, and sparking an unprecedented boom in financial markets.

The right-wing noise has blinded Americans to President Biden’s success rebuilding NATO, which history will likely show was the only thing standing in the way of Vladimir Putin’s attempt to reconstruct the Soviet Union and preventing his war in Ukraine from engulfing all of Europe and probably the world. The deafening chaos has also made it difficult for Americans to realize the importance of Biden’s stance on isolating Russia, particularly extracting Europe from dependence on Russia’s oil and natural gas. Both Europe and the United States have announced ambitious plans to expand the use of wind, solar and hydro power, which coould ultimately result in complete energy independence. Not incidentally, they are also the most effective ways to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Upset about inflation and shortages of critical items on store shelves? Recall that during the worldwide COVID lockdowns, farmers and ranchers could not bring products to market, resulting in crops and herds being destroyed. Agricultural spokespersons warned that although prices plummeted during the pandemic, there would be a huge price to pay when herds and crop productivity needed to be rebuilt. The sole cause of the inflation in the cost of energy is Russia’s attack on Ukraine is, and as it disrupts the production and export of food, the entire world will pay more to feed families and many countries are at risk of famine. That’s the reality, no matter what you see and hear in the media.

Trumpism’s most dangerous impact on our lives may have been encouraging hate and racism. Trump himself, far from exerting any trace of moral leadership, turned our nation into a selfish, uncaring parody of what it once was. You may disagree with Biden’s policies, but to my mind, having a decent, moral leader in the White House was the most important change resulting from the 2020 election.

As the midterms approach, will Americans succumb to hate rhetoric or wake up to the danger of enabling Trump’s candidates to dominate Congress?

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Servant of the People

Alan Zendell, May 9, 2022

By now, most of us know the remarkable story of Ukrainian President Володимир Зеленський (Volodymyr Zelensky) and how he found himself at the fulcrum of history. But knowing isn’t the same as seeing and feeling. Thus, as our nation continues to mobilize resources and inch ever closer to what could become a much wider conflict, helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression, I urge every American to watch the Netflix series, Servant of the People.

I thought nothing would make feel more certain that defending Ukraine was right and necessary. I even bought four Ukrainian flags and my friends and I display them proudly. But this Netflix series gave me an entirely new and greater commitment to saving Ukraine, no matter the risk. What is at stake is all of our futures if we allow Ukraine to fall.

If you’re not aware of Zelensky’s history, I’ll summarize it briefly. The media enjoy the irony that Russian President Putin characterizes his invasion as the denazification of Ukraine, ignoring the fact that Zelensky is Jewish. But Zelensky’s religion, while it may have shaped his values and his heroic character, is only part of who he is. During the Bush and Obama years, Zelensky was one of the most popular and beloved comedian/actors in Ukraine. From 2015 to 2017, he starred in Servant of the People, playing the role of a Ukrainian high school teacher who loved his students and was equally loved by them. The show is not a Hollywood production; it was made in Ukraine in Russian, by and for Ukrainians and their neighbors.

During the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, Ukraine was still a country struggling to become a successful democracy following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. But the young nation suffered under the yoke of corruption, as powerful oligarchs lived high on the backs of its citizens, driving the country deeply into debt.

As fictional history teacher Vasyl Petrovich Holoborodko, Zelensky is outraged by the corruption and the neglect of public education. One day, he loses his cool in a profane rant against the system, not realizing that one of his students is filming him. The video is uploaded to You Tube, where it gets nine million views. Vasya (вася) Petrovich is an instant national hero who is drafted to run for president. Though he appears to have no chance to win, his students begin a nationwide campaign on social media that carries him to victory.

All that occurs in episode one, and there are fifty more in which Vasya fights corruption and the oligarchs. The series was intended as a dark comedy, and it’s very funny, but viewed in the light of current events, it’s amazingly portentous. It was so successful, and Zelensky was so convincing in the role, that life followed art. He was drafted to run for president, and in 2019 he defeated his corrupt opposition convincingly.

Americans saw him for the first time when Trump attempted to extort him into destroying the reputation of President Biden’s son Hunter. Our first view of him was a reflection of the character he played, as he stood up to and defied Trump. Watching Servant, I was first struck by the magnificent beauty of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. One look at this city, which is on display constantly, and all of the grand history and majesty of Ukrainian culture is obvious. Seeing life go on in this capital before Putin attempted to destroy it added a powerful emotional component to my support for Ukraine. And hearing the fictional Vasya voice the same sentiments and love for his country that the real President Zelensky does every day is inspiring in a way that’s difficult to describe. Vasya is incredibly courageous, taking on the entire system single-handedly, and the viewer is struck by how diminutive he is physically.

Zelensky is only five feet seven inches tall, and everyone else towers over him, but nothing stops him. It’s an apt metaphor for the real Zelensky, whose courage has stunned the world, as his relatively small nation fights off monolithic Russia.

Almost as an aside, it’s interesting to see how Ukrainians perceived other countries and world leaders in 2015. Servant was not made for American audiences, but it’s clear that our country dominated Ukrainians’ view of the world, when they weren’t consumed with hating Russia. Six episodes in, the world leaders who appear prominently are Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, and Chinese President Xi. Putin shows up, clearly the object of scorn and hatred, but by far, the most popular foreigner is Michelle Obama. That says as much about Ukrainian values as anything I could express.

If you’re not sure why Ukraine must be defended, watching this film will convince you.

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The Unraveling of Democracy

Alan Zendell, May 5, 2022

The heart of any democratic society is its judicial system and free elections. The extreme right wing of the Republican party has made it clear that it has no respect for either as democratic institutions. In their view, courts and elections are things to be manipulated for their own benefit. It’s perfectly clear that the vast majority of Americans want free, fair elections. It’s equally clear that they demand justice and integrity from our courts. Yet, we find ourselves in the very nasty situation that a venal minority who care only about their own power and wealth may soon be in full control of our future unless we awaken as a nation and fight back.

The battle between those who believe in our constitution and those who see it as a malleable thing that can be twisted and distorted into something unrecognizable for personal gain and ideologies began as the founders were drafting it. Throughout our history, there has always been a pattern of swinging toward one extreme or another as different voices arose and the needs of our country evolved. But there was always enough balance that before one group of extremists on either side could achieve ascendancy, the tide turned back the other way as dependably as the swing of a pendulum.

Americans of my generation who were born in the 1940s and 50s were raised to believe in the American dream of equal opportunity and fairness. We grew up in the shadow of Fascism and the Communist ideology of Joseph Stalin and the cultural revolution of Communist China. We grew up believing we were the good guys fighting the forces of oppression that ruled everywhere else. We more moral, we were better educated, and we were stronger – in the 1950s, the most prominent symbol of our culture was the fictional Superman who fought for “truth, justice, and the American way.”

In school, we were taught about how Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, but somehow our textbooks and teachers failed to underline the moral horror and degradation of our society that slavery represented. We were taught about the brave pioneers who settled our country and moved west, and how their lives were constantly threatened by savage Indian tribes, but our textbooks somehow forgot about our national sin of genocide as we systematically destroyed entire nations of native Americans and their beautiful cultural values. Oh, the self-righteous bullshit we grew up believing!

Most of us know better now. We are not the good guys of the world, and our relatively affluent way of life and freedoms that we took for granted are neither sacrosanct nor indestructible. We got lazy and fat as we turned from the need to defend our freedom to our fancy cars and ever more expensive toys. We thought we were special when we passed civil rights and social security laws. What a wonderful country we lived in, at least until Vietnam exposed a very dark side as dangerously narrow ideologies and greed guided our national policies.

How did we get here? It’s really pretty simple. America has become a nation characterized by intellectual laziness. Remember when we used to characterize other countries’ elections as rigged and their judicial systems as kangaroo courts? Of course, that could never happen here. When Barack Obama was elected, most Americans thought we had finally matured as a nation, putting our petty bigotries and prejudices behind us, but that too was merely illusion, as the forces of hate and ignorance went underground waiting for a leader who was as venal and immoral as they were to come along and release them.

And then Donald Trump entered the scene. Never in American history have we had someone come to power based almost entirely on being willing to pander to anyone, anywhere as long as they voted for him. A man without a shred of personal integrity, with no meaningful ideology of his own other than lust for power and greed managed to unite the most unholy coalition of racists, religious fanatics, and people down on their luck who were easily convinced by the lie that all their problems stemmed from a progressive agenda based on freedom and equal opportunity.

Those of us, especially those who grew up in or near New York, who understood what Trump was long before he turned to politics, knew the day he was elected where this was leading. We tried to warn everyone else, but our country had already slid too far into ennui and indifference – nothing mattered as long as we had our social media and fancy playthings.

We’re paying the price for that indifference now. Like any authoritarian, Trump has consistently attacked the integrity of our elections and our judiciary. Half our states are passing laws to restrict the ability of non-whites’ and the poor’s right to vote, and now we see proof of what we feared most. All three of Trump’s Supreme Court Justices lied to the Senators who confirmed them under oath, and those, like Susan Collins, who let her desperate need to be re-elected in a purple state silence whatever judgment she still possessed, let it happen.

That’s perjury, folks. Three supreme court justices very likely committed felonies in order to be confirmed by a corrupt Senate. It’s unlikely that the political will to impeach them exists in the Congress, but we have to take a stand somewhere, and that looks like a great place to start. The fight for our democracy is every bit as vital as the fight being waged by Ukrainians who are all putting their lives on the line to defend what we Americans have taken for granted far too long.

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The New Reality of Confronting Russia

Alan Zendell, April 29, 2022,

Today, CNN journalist Stephen Collinson published a compelling analysis of the current status of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It boiled down to two essential conclusions. One is that the fighting between Russian invaders and Ukrainian defenders could go on for many months, even years. It already has. Ever since Russia occupied Crimea and encouraged Russian-leaning agitators in the eastern Ukrainian provinces in the Donetsk Region to declare independence from Kyiv in 2014, a guerilla war has simmered in those regions.

Collinson’s other major point is that the Biden administration in concert with NATO and the EU has dropped its apparently cautious diplomatic approach to the invasion. During February and March, Biden resisted Ukrainian President Zelensky’s appeals for aircraft, sophisticated air defense weapons, and the imposition of a no-fly zone policed by NATO forces, because the risk of nuclear war that might result from direct confrontations between NATO and Russian forces was too great. A no-fly zone is still not in the cards, but virtually every other request for arms and training willow now be granted.

President Biden has had nearly fifty years of involvement in arms control, foreign policy and NATO matters. He understands full well that appeasing dictators is the worst possible response to aggression, and on Thursday, he dropped all pretense of caution. “Throughout our history, we’ve learned that when dictators do not pay the price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and engage in more aggression…And the costs, the threats to America and the world, keep rising. We can’t let this happen.”

There was ever little doubt after the debacle of allowing Russia to occupy and annex Crimea, that Russian President Putin was obsessed with securing the Black Sea ports along Ukraine’s southern coast and controlling a land bridge from southwestern Russian to Crimea. Whether or not the Obama administration’s reaction in 2014, relying on relatively mild sanctions and eschewing military assistance was a mistake, Biden, as Obama’s vice president had a front-row seat to the slowly metastasizing disaster it led to. He wasn’t about to make the same error on his watch, and as Putin has made it clear to the world that he will not cease his efforts to destroy Ukraine until he’s stopped by a united western alliance, it was time to take off the diplomatic gloves.

When Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at a NATO military summit in Germany this week, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” diplomats around the world gasped. What was that, a senior official of the United States government telling the truth about our objective, even though it seemed to open the door to a conflict that might involve nuclear weapons? When the gap between what is said in the confines of the War Room and what is stated openly to the American people and the world is reduced to zero, something cataclysmic must have occurred.

The Biden administration has declared that it will do whatever is necessary to stop Russia from destroying Ukraine and discourage any further ambitions Putin has to rebuild the Soviet Union. With the exception of a few politicians looking to improve relations with their bases and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul making a fool of himself trying to explain that Putin’s ambitions make sense in the light of history in the region, that position has support from all over the political spectrum. Republicans eyeing the midterm elections will not desist in blaming Biden for the runaway inflation that is an unavoidable consequence of defending Ukraine, but that’s what politics in America has become.

Still, it’s worth noting that America and NATO’s position, while it is absolutely correct, is also shockingly bold. Because it is based in hard reality, it is quite different from the inflammatory rhetoric Donald Trump used in addressing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (before they fell in love.) Hardly anyone took the threats by either Trump or Kim seriously – it was all theater. But not this time. The world is now involved in a potentially deadly game of Truth or Dare.

Or is it? People like Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley are extremely conservative. When they speak publicly, they choose their words carefully. For Austin to proclaim to the world that NATO’s intent goes beyond Ukraine to dealing a major blow to Russia’s military, they must be working from information the rest of us don’t have. My guess is that US and British intelligence believe Putin is on extremely shaky ground at home, and when it becomes clear to the rest of Russia’s military and political leaders that he may be leading them down the path to financial and physical ruin, they will take him down themselves.

Fantasy, you say? Perhaps, but I find it difficult to believe that they would throw down so deadly a gauntlet if they didn’t know Putin was in an extremely vulnerable position.

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Trump’s Election Conspiracy

Alan Zendell, April 27, 2022

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the events of January 6th, 2021 was Vice President Mike Pence’s courage and integrity in standing up to the barrage of attacks from Donald Trump’s election team. Pence’s stance, that he had no power to reject electors designated by the states, was legal and correct, and a critical defense of our Constitution and our democracy. Pence got it right, in part, because he was being advised by a retired federal appellate judge, J. Michael Luttig. Luttig is a Republican who was appointed to the federal bench by President George H. W. Bush.

Judge Luttig published an OpEd on the CNN website this morning that addressed the wider issue of what the Trump-dominated Republicans were really after. While he did not say anything many of us didn’t either already know or suspect, he put it all together in a succinct package that ought to send a chill through anyone who believes in our Constitution, say, those three “originalist” justices appointed to the Supreme Court by Trump.

Luttig explained that “January 6 was never about a stolen election or even about actual voting fraud.” It was all about state legislatures that passed or changed voting rules to expand the ways people could cast votes in response to the COVID lockdown and subsequent concerns about averting super-spreader events. He describes Trumpers’ claims that Trump lost due to election fraud as false and disingenuous. In fact, everything that occurred between Election Day, November 3, 2020, and January 6th, 2021 was part of a conspiracy to circumvent the Constitution that began long before the election. More ominous was Luttig’s warning that it was all a dry run of a process they intend to refine and use again in 2024.

The intent is to rewrite election rules based on their contention that the swing states that gave the election to Biden violated the Independent State Legislature Doctrine. They believe that will ultimately allow them to control the outcome of all future presidential elections in favor of Republican candidates. That’s an important reason that traditional Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have not completely broken with Trump. The conspiracy would benefit the party, independent of the internal struggle over who controls it. The fact that it would blatantly undermine the intent of the voting clauses in the Constitution isn’t even a consideration.

The Doctrine grants exclusive power to state legislatures over how to conduct elections and select electors, which Trump’s people favor because Republicans control a majority of state legislatures. They contend that it is therefore illegal for state courts or election officials to interfere with that process, even in emergency situations like the COVID pandemic. Thus, by expanding early and absentee voting rules, which Trump contends favored Democrats, the election was thrown to Biden. It’s a position that even the Supreme Court including Trump’s three appointees seemed to have rejected, last month, when they refused to block state courts’ actions in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that changed grossly gerrymandered district boundaries set by the states’ legislatures.

The conspiracy to undermine the 2020 election began months before Election Day when it was becoming clear that Trump’s refusal to accept the advice of his COVID policy task force, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths, would likely cause him to lose. It was perhaps ironic that every case brought before the Supreme Court challenging the election result was rejected based on the same Doctrine. Trump’s justices ruled that federal intervention in state-run elections would not be constitutional.

Judge Luttig’s warning not only casts a spotlight on what we can expect from a Trump-dominated Republican Party in future presidential elections. It also provides a meaningful context for the work of the House January 6th Committee, which is now in possession of thousands of text messages, emails, and telephone records describing the actions of Trump’s team and family members during the transition period prior to January 6th. All of the attempts by Trump’s people claiming lack of knowledge, poor memories, or innocent intent fly out the window when viewed against the judge’s rendering of events.

It couldn’t be clearer that Mark Meadows, at the direction of President Trump, was the focal point of the conspiracy, and that all the usual suspects, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Donald Trump, Jr, as well as all the House members who beat the drum falsely over election fraud were part of the cynical attempt to undermine the Constitution.

It’s time for all Americans to wake up to the very real threat to our democracy. Stop believing what you read on Facebook and look at the facts, or your children may not have one.

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A Ray of Hope?

Alan Zendell, April 25, 2022

The second world war ended with the nuclear destruction of two Japanese industrial cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nazis had been forced to abandon their atomic weapons development program during the war, and Russia’s program was still a few years from producing an atomic bomb. But even amid the euphoria produced by ending the most destructive war in human history, the people who best understood the implications of America’s use of its only two nuclear weapons knew the world had entered a potentially new phase of self-destruction.

In 1947, the world’s leading atomic scientists, led by Albert Einstein, established the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic indicator of how close they believed the world was to total annihilation, which was represented by Midnight. The Clock was initially set to seven minutes to Midnight, but in 1949, when Russia exploded its first A-bomb, it was reset to three minutes to Midnight. The Timeline produced by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists shows how the clock’s minute hand moved in response to world events – wars, nuclear proliferation, climate change, pandemics, and political climates.

The Clock was moved to two minutes before Midnight in 1953 when the Soviet Union successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, and it stayed there throughout the 1950s as the Cold War ramped up. The election of John Kennedy and the anticipated thaw in the relationship between NATO and the Soviets created a wave of optimism sufficient to set it back to seven minutes to Midnight. The resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the signing of a limited nuclear test ban treaty moved us to twelve minutes from complete destruction in 1963, but the Vietnam conflict edged it back to seven minutes. The 1972 SALT agreement limiting the number of nuclear weapons allowed by both sides, which the Bulletin described as “the greatest step toward world peace since the Sermon on the Mount” reset the clock to twelve minutes before Midnight.

The Clock hovered in that range until it was moved a full seven minutes further from the brink in 1991 when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev mutually reduced their nuclear readiness, effectively ending the Cold War. Sadly, seventeen minutes to Midnight was the most optimistic view of the future ever expressed by the Doomsday Clock. The rise of ISIS, radical Islam in Iran, two attacks on the world trade center in New York, our failed military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ineffectiveness of the Paris Climate Accords, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the ascendency of autocratic governments throughout the world caused the Clock to be reset at two minutes to midnight by the time Donald Trump began dismantling the western alliance, disrupting world trade, and declaring war on science in the midst of a pandemic.

In 2020, the use of cyber-wars and the inability or unwillingness of national governments to show restraint in their use, combined with rises in nationalism and the gradual disintegration of international relations, caused the atomic scientists’ review board to set the Doomsday Clock to its most pessimistic reading ever – 100 minutes to Midnight. In 2021, the disruptions caused by COVID kept it there, and as 2022 began, the conclusion of the Board was that while the change in leadership in America by the Biden administration was a positive influence in reducing world tensions, the use of disinformation throughout the internet and attacks on democratic institutions around the world created a standoff in the Clock setting.

On March 7, 2022, the Bulletin released a special statement in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It had long warned that the greatest threat to the world was the likelihood that any military confrontation between Russia and NATO would escalate to the use of nuclear and biological weapons. It did not move the Clock closer to Midnight, but kept it at 100 minutes from catastrophe. We have all tried to ignore the frightening possibilities, but with tensions building around the world and the attacks on democracy in our own country worsening, it was becoming difficult to remain optimistic.

As the possibility that Marinne Le Pen might defeat Emmanuel Macron in yesterday’s runoff election, and thus plunge a dagger into the unity NATO has shown in the face of Russian aggression reared its head, it looked as though things might quickly become immeasurably worse. But no, voters in France re-elected Macron by a seventeen-point margin. The world badly needed that injection of hope for the future, despite the fact that more voters abstained in the French election than actually cast votes for Le Pen – an ominous warning that people everywhere are fed up with governmental dysfunction.

It’s not much, but any ray of hope must be seized these days. Macron’s re-election may signal that the populist anger that made Trumpism such a dangerous, destructive force in America may be waning.

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Judgment Day

Alan Zendell, April 22, 2022

Whether you favor the Judeo-Christian concept of God, the Quran’s vision of Allah, the philosophy of Gautama Buddha, or nothing of the kind, consider that there’s clearly a lot more to our universe than can be grasped by human intelligence or perceptions. Whether we got here by divine creation or a Big Bang, the reality of the forces that govern our universe are unknown to us.

Imagine for a moment that we humans are neither unique nor alone in this universe. Scientific evidence suggests that there may be millions of star systems that contain planets capable of supporting intelligent life, and that much of it may have been around far longer than we have. There may be countless beings among the stars who are far smarter and wiser than us. That idea has been the basis of a common science fiction trope – that somewhere out there in the void is a council of alien judges watching and evaluating us.

Billions of humans believe that their deity of choice sees and hears everything they do and metes out rewards and punishments. The concept of sin versus virtue is so deeply rooted in their psyches, it dominates their thoughts and actions. We can debate whether that’s a rational belief system some other time, but for right now, I ask if it is any less rational to believe we are being judged as a species by beings so far advanced in thought and technology as to be nearly godlike themselves.

In The Day the Earth Stood Still, the alien Klaatu comes to deliver a message to the people of Earth, telling them they have been found deficient in the eyes of those whose responsibility is to maintain peace and tranquility in the universe. His message to the nations of Earth, in the midst of the Cold War, is change your ways or you will be destroyed. As billions of us believe we are judged by our chosen God, I prefer to imagine how we would behave if we believed humanity as a whole were being judged with its future existence in the balance.

Imagine how some inter-galactic tribunal of wise old, very powerful aliens might view us today. Conventional wisdom tells us daily that the forces of autocracy (darkness) are attempting to snuff out democracy (light) all over the world. We have evidence this very weekend that one of the world’s longest-lived democracies may be on the verge of electing a right-wing president who favors autocratic government. Incumbent president Emmanuel Macron will face off tomorrow against Marinne Le Pen, a devotee of Vladimir Putin, in a runoff election to determine who will lead France. At a time when Russia has determined it must change the balance of power in Europe and the world, Macron has been one of the loudest voices of reason, one of NATO’s most prominent statesmen, and a staunch ally of the United States.

Macron casts his bid for re-election in the same light as what Democrats will face against the Donald Trump-dominated Republican party, both this year and in 2024, when Trump is expected to try to regain the White House. The only thing restraining Russia in its war of annihilation against the people of Ukraine has been NATO’s solidarity. Should Le Pen, who is currently trailing Macron in French polls pull off an upset, that unity could be shattered. What happens then, if nuclear-armed Putin continues to attempt to reconstruct the Soviet Union and undermine the western alliance? What happens if our own political landscape continues to be dominated by lies and misinformation, enabling Trump and his rabid supporters to undermine the Biden administration’s attempt to steer a strong course in defense of democracy?

What if our right to exist as a species were actually at stake right now, if instead of a worldwide tribunal attempting to make a largely symbolic case that Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a war of genocide and destruction, in effect a two-month long war crime against humanity, we were actually being judged by beings capable of enforcing their will on us? What if the very real threat of nuclear holocaust were to increase every day as a result of actions taken by leaders who have lost sight of morality and common decency, and there was a day of reckoning in our near future?

I like to imagine that as our leaders contemplate their next moves, as those of us who can do so exercise our rights to choose who will govern us and how we want them to behave in office, that we act as if we will be held accountable in some universal court empowered to evaluate right and wrong. Failing that, how can we expect our grandchildren to thrive, even to survive the next round of conflict as freedom and decency fight for their survival?

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Playing Chicken

Alan Zendell, April 20, 2022,

Remember the crazy things we did as teenagers and some still do as adults? How many times have you driven on a two-lane road behind a vehicle going well below the speed limit until you were frustrated enough to pass it despite limited sight lines? Did you let the risk stop you? The driver you were passing might suddenly speed up just as a vehicle appears in the passing lane coming toward you. Did you floor your accelerator, knowing you probably had enough time to pull back in your lane ahead of that slowpoke, but not entirely sure? Two cars rushing toward each other, waiting to see who flinches first is the ultimate game of chicken.

I see two games of chicken in our future, one immediate and extremely dangerous, one a year or two away, but possibly even more dangerous to our democracy. First is the strategic chess game between NATO and Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine. NATO requires unanimity in its military decisions, yet its leaders have struck a balance. Europe allowed, in fact wanted the United States to take the lead, while President Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pledged to respect Europe’s need to veto some sanctions, like immediately banning all Russian oil and gas imports. NATO’s unity, helped greatly by Ukraine’s amazing grit in the fight against superior Russian forces, is vital.

Russia and Vladimir Putin do not need unanimity or unity. Putin is completely in charge in Russia, at least until those around him decide he isn’t. He and his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, defined their vision in terms of perceived “existential threats to Russia’s homeland.” They would have NATO believe that if they viewed Ukraine, us, or anyone else as such an existential threat, they would escalate the fight as far as necessary, including the use of nuclear weapons. After threatening that NATO continuing to arm Ukraine might pose such a threat, Putin symbolically moved tactical nukes into Crimea this week.

As the nominal leaders of NATO’s defense of Ukraine, Biden and Blinken have been clear that their decisions to arm and train the Ukrainian military would be measured, always cognizant of what Russia might perceive as a direct NATO threat. For weeks, they argued that supplying Ukraine with Soviet-era MIG fighter planes was off the table because it might result in a direct confrontation that could trigger Article 5 of the NATO treaty which could spark World War III.

On the other side was the example of Europe appeasing Hitler in the 1930s rather than confronting him, and similar examples throughout history that all lead to the same conclusion. Appeasing autocrats, displaying fear and weakness rather than strength, is far more dangerous than strongly defending our allies’ borders. Biden, et al, understand that, but their posture in the world media had to be understated and subtle. Now, as Russia has begun a massive assault on the southeastern provinces of Ukraine in which they “must be victorious,” NATO must decide how seriously to take the implied threat that Putin will use every available weapon if his military continues to falter.

Today, we see that NATO has been planning its own escalation on a carefully measured time scale in reaction to Russia’s campaign of total destruction and utter disregard for what we naively regard as the “rules of war.” In addition to the attack helicopters announced last week, Ukraine is apparently going to receive those MIGs after all, and Biden has dropped the pretense that Americans will not train Ukrainian fighters in the use of the weapons we give them. Our experts will train a select number of Ukrainians in NATO countries, who will then go home to train their own forces.

As always, the ultimate question is who will blink first. My money is on Putin, unless he has truly lost his mind. Biden and his NATO counterparts understand blinking first would likely lead to a sequence of military adventures by Putin that will ultimately force the confrontation no one wants.

The second developing game of chicken hasn’t begun yet, but it’s coming. Republicans Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney broke with the pro-Trump wing of the Republican party, voted to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial, and chose to participate in the January 6th Committee’s investigation of Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election. But then Kinzinger announced he would leave Congress at the end of this term. What was that about?

Now it’s becoming clear, as Kinzinger announced he might challenge Trump in the 2024 primaries. Kinzinger knows he’ll probably be crushed by the party Trump now seems to almost own, but he relishes the opportunity to have a national stage supported by big money interests that he can use to broadcast the truth about who Trump is, what he has done, and what he will try to do if he returns to power. This chicken fight is likely to result in a head on collision that rivals the most explosive crash ever seen on the NASCAR circuit.

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The Nuclear Endgame

Alan Zendell, April 14, 2022

As a fan and writer of science fiction, I have read several apocalyptic/dystopian novels and published one myself (The Portal, https://https://www.amazon.com/Portal-Alan-Zendell/dp/1523721049.) As reader and writer, I have always been fascinated by the authors’ conceptions of how modern civilization destroys itself. In The Portal, the world is not destroyed, but the economies of America and other major nations crash due to military adventurism triggered by the terrorist attacks on nine-eleven.

The better-known dystopian novels have their own scenarios. Neville Shute Norway’s On the Beach, (1958,) published as the Cold War was ramping up, imagined a nuclear war that begins when Albania sparks an Arab-Israeli conflict that escalates into war between NATO and the Soviet Union. Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz, (1959,) doesn’t tell us how the nuclear war starts, but posits that the mutually assured destruction that has kept us from destroying the world is a merely an illusion, and that armed with nuclear weapons, civilizations will inevitably use them and re-use them in millennia-long cycles of destruction.

In David Wingrove’s twenty book series, Chung Kuo, (1988-1999,) the end of western civilization begins with a war in the Middle East, after which China swoops in and occupies all the surviving nations. The Mad Max films (1979 and later) blamed the destruction of the world on running out of oil. There are many others, David Brin’s The Postman, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Pat Frank’s Alas Babylon, dozens in all, but none of them imagined the apocalypse beginning when a paranoid Russian autocrat invades Ukraine.

That has occupied the mind of every leader in the NATO alliance in the seven weeks since Russia began its invasion. As Ukrainian forces bolstered by militia volunteers and armed civilians beat back the Russian offensive, leaving mountains of junk (former Russian military equipment) and carnage in its wake, the free world cheered. Vladimir Putin expected to seize and occupy Kyiv, decapitate the national government, and install his own puppets in a matter of days.

Had that occurred we would now be facing a nation of forty-four million people occupied by Russia with the rest of the world in shock trying to devise a negotiating strategy and four NATO nations bordering occupied Ukraine. That would not be an enviable position for either NATO or the world, but the question must be asked: is the world’s prognosis better off as a result of Ukraine defending itself so impressively against a Russian military that showed itself to be substandard in many ways?

Two things are now clear. Ukraine will defend itself as long as one Ukrainian still has life and a weapon, and reluctantly or not, the West is now committed to supporting Ukraine with ever more powerful and sophisticated weapons until the fighting ends. Russia will suffer a huge price economically, and its citizens will wonder if they are back in the 1960s, as store shelves which used to be filled with western goods are now empty.

But we already see that the sanctions imposed on Russia have significant limits. Countries like France and Germany, which depend heavily on Russian oil and natural gas are not willing to cut off those imports and the billions of dollars that flow to Russia every week. Many countries that depend on Russian and Ukrainian wheat will face serious food shortages, and Putin seems determined to continue the fight until someone or something stops him.

The question on every military and political leader’s mind is whether we are writing our own apocalyptic scenario. With someone like Putin securely in control of Russia, this confrontation was inevitable. Potential conflict between NATO and Russia, with the always-present threat of nuclear war, has been on the table since Russia fired its first missile. President Biden and EU leaders have cautiously danced around sending Ukraine weapons that might spark such a crisis, but the fifty days of war and the deaths of thousands of targeted civilians and the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II have placed us all on a path from which we cannot turn.

The risk of a greater conflagration will exist as long as Russia is governed by someone like Putin, whose people have been long-indoctrinated with his paranoid propaganda. We’re going to have to face it head on one day no matter what we do, and the Ukrainian people have, in effect, thrown down a gauntlet to the rest of us. That, and the consistent lessons of history that the only way to defeat powerful autocrats and bullies is to stand against them with equal force, means that we may be on the verge of the end game of nuclear confrontation.

Putin knows the use of nuclear or biological weapons will spell the end of Russia and his regime. Is he sane enough to impose limits on his own ambitions, or failing that, will the people around him force him to? We don’t know, but we have no choice but to see the conflict in Ukraine through to its end.

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Ukraine Phase 2

Alan Zendell, April 10, 2022

There’s nothing subtle about what is about to happen in Ukraine. Russia is openly preparing a brutal attack on Ukraine’s eastern provinces that will continue the systematic destruction of once beautiful cities and the targeting of innocent civilians. It will be nothing less than a massive terrorist attack ordered by Vladimir Putin and directed by his favorite war criminal general, Aleksandr Dvornikov.

While he has never been brought before a war crimes tribunal, The Guardian reports that in Syria, “forces under [Dvornikov’s] command were responsible for widespread abuses against the civilian population and were frequently accused of committing crimes against humanity. [He] has been described as an ‘old school’ general and a ‘blood and soil nationalist’ trained in Soviet military doctrines that view obliterating civilian targets as a means of gaining battlefield momentum.”

Dvornikov will lead the second phase of the Russian invasion of Ukraine after Putin claimed Phase 1 achieved its objective. Yet, we all saw massively outnumbered Ukrainian defenders beat back the two-pronged Russian siege on Kyiv, and then force Russian forces to retreat, leaving behind countless wrecked tanks, support vehicles and downed aircraft. Russian forces left behind thousands of weapons, and by some accounts, up to 20,000 dead soldiers and officers, with thousands having surrendered, been captured, or simply deserted. One can only conclude that Russia’s objective must have been the wanton reduction of cities and towns to rubble and rape, torture, and murder of unarmed civilians.

Phase 2 will be different from Phase 1 in several ways, which should convince President Biden and the EU to drop their reluctance to arm Ukraine with what it needs:
• the Russian attack will focus entirely on the eastern and southeastern provinces that border Russia and Crimea, which the U. S. and NATO permitted Russia to annex in 2014. Future historians will argue whether that miscalculation is what brought the world to where it is now, but it is clear that we cannot afford another;
• by focuing his efforts on obliterating eastern Ukraine, Putin has moved the war hundreds of miles from the border of any NATO country;
• this time, there will be no retreat by Russian forces until they have destroyed and occupied every part of Ukraine from the Donbas Region in the east to Mykolaiv in the south, which Russia has already leveled with missiles launched from ships and aircraft. No doubt, they would like to occupy Odesa, Ukraine’s most important Black Sea port, as well.

If Russia is allowed to control all that territory, NATO will be in the impossible position of negotiating the withdrawal of an occupying force in the midst of what will surely be a nonstop guerilla war. That would undoubtedly lead to the very confrontation Biden has sworn to avert – the possibility of direct hostilities between Russia and NATO forces with the threat of nuclear war always in the background.

We must face up to that in the decisions we make in the coming weeks. The only alternative is to follow the course of Neville Chamberlain who kept appeasing Adolf Hitler until the entire world was at war. If we haven’t learned that lesson, we’re doomed to the same fate.

How do we minimize the risk? By giving Ukraine what its president, Volodomyr Zelensky, has been begging for. He needs MIG fighters, helicopters, and sophisticated anti-aircraft weapon systems. With the war now centered far from NATO borders, and Ukrainian forces having proved their mettle, arming them with what they need to destroy Russia’s ability to feed and supply it’s forces is clearly the best way to avoid winding up in an untenable negotiating position when the fighting finally ends.

The Russian military, while retaining the ability to cause mass destruction, has shown itself to be far from the unstoppable fighting machine Putin thought he was putting in the field. Taking away Russia’s domination of the skies and giving Ukraine the ability, using western intelligence, to destroy Russian supply convoys and further weaken morale among Russian conscriptees is the best chance to stop Russia in its tracks.

No strategy is without risk, but even Vladimir Putin cannot survive continued military and leadership failures when thousands of body bags start showing up in cities and towns all over Russia. It’s possible that Putin will attempt something desperate to save himself, but it’s more likely that at some point those around him, seeing their personal fortunes and Russia’s economic future being destroyed, will take him down.
Now is the time to move what Ukraine needs to where they can use it. President Biden and his NATO counterparts must come together without delay before the bombing starts. The only way to minimize the risk of a worldwide conflagration is to engage Russia on its own borders rather than ours, with willing Ukrainians doing the bulk of the fighting using weapons supplied by us.

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