The power of mute and block…

In spite of myself, I like Twitter. Maybe it’s just the least awful of the big social media sites, but I check myself scrolling around over there far more often than I do on Facebook these days. That said, Twitter is still a cesspit of users who are ill informed, under informed, and some who are downright obsessed with whatever propaganda they’re drowning in at the moment.

I’ve found over the last year that Twitter is a much more useful and interesting place when you avail yourself of the block and mute functions quite liberally. I’ve recently started muting or outright blocking anyone who showed up in my feed spouting Russian propaganda. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even look past the individual tweet to determine if there’s any residual value to what these people are saying on any other topic. If you’re a mouthpiece of Putin, there’s really nothing you can say that I’m going to have any interest in hearing at this point. 

All people everywhere are free to speak out in support of whatever it is that gets their motor running. Their right to speak, however, doesn’t negate my right not to listen to them… or call them blathering cockwombles and then not listen to them. I’ve never had much of a tolerance for fools – particularly for the special breed of fool who are convinced they alone have the One True Answer. The older I get the less inclination I have to suffer fools gladly or otherwise. I owe them nothing… least of all the attention they seem to so badly crave. 

I don’t have the time or inclination to be part of whatever echo chamber they deeply want to be living in. The best I can do is smash that mute or block button and move on without laying out in extreme detail why they’re quite simply dumber than dog shit.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The United Nations. According to reports, the UN press office has instructed staff not to call the current Russian war against Ukraine a “war” or “conflict.” I’m sure somewhere, somehow the UN manages to do something useful, but I’m equally sure this ain’t it. Having spent the last two decades in the belly of one of the world’s great bureaucracies, I know ass covering when I see it. It’s not surprising from an organization that continues to allow Russia to chair the Security Council while simultaneously committing countless war crimes against clear and obvious civilian targets. It’s not surprising, but it’s damned well disappointing. 

2. Our Arab allies. Leaders of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have refused phone calls from the President of the United States in recent weeks. These “allies” of ours are quick enough to pick up the receiver whenever the need to re-up an order of military hardware or need a big bad superpower to keep their neighbor in line. When the issue is opening up the spigot and pumping some more oil, tough, we’re met with a deafening silence. If we had any sense as a country it’s the kind of thing we’d remember and exact a price for the next time our allies need spare parts for their fancy American fighter jets.

3. Off ramps. The Twitter space is filled with voices calling for the world to find an “off ramp” for Vlad the Invader. The world, they say, needs to give Vlad a way to back away without smelling like he’s fallen directly through the outhouse floor. I’m sorry. No. Vlad needs to put his tail between his legs and slink back to Moscow having been bled militarily by a country he assumed would roll over and crippled financially by a resolute western alliance. The world will get far better terms once he squeals than if he’s allowed to thump his chest and claim some sort of victory no matter how pyric. Treat him like North Korea’s glorious leaders – put him in a box and mostly ignore him. 

Funding both sides…

Europe gets a metric shit ton of its oil and natural gas from Russia. It’s a simple, unfortunate truth.  No matter how bad the Russian attack on Ukraine gets in the short term, convincing the European Union to embargo their own fuel supply is probably too heavy a lift. That doesn’t mean as spring arrives, they shouldn’t be putting plans in place to cut out Russian oil for next heating season. It’s in their collective best interest to disentangle from Russia as quickly as possible. Either they do it on their own terms or it can be forced on them whenever Vlad the Invader decides to choke off their supply of his own accord.

Sources I’ve seen indicate that only somewhere between 1 and 8% of the petroleum products we consume here in the United States originate in Russia. I’m sure there’s a reason for that wide a variance in the numbers, but the bottom line doesn’t really change – there’s absolutely no reason the US needs to import oil products from Russia. Other, more reliable trading partners – I’m looking at you, Canada and Mexico – would probably be thrilled to pick up the slack.

The game we’re playing now, of airlifting arms and armaments to the Ukrainian resistance while simultaneously providing hard dollars to Russia by way of payments for petroleum, needs to stop. Funding both sides of the war is just plain stupid. Every lever of economic power we can throw to bring pain to the Russian economy is an effort worth making… and more importantly, once we’re off Russian oil we can focus on helping Europe get themselves clean, too. 

If we’re serious about not wanting to get into a shooting war with Russia ourselves, tightening the economic stranglehold we’ve got them in as quickly as possible feels like the last, best option. Otherwise, we’re just giving Putin more time and funding to hold on in hopes that the currently unified world begins to show some cracks at the margins. Our historically short attention span is working against us here, but this is important and it needs to get done.

A needed pause…

I’ve been swallowing news in big gulps since Vlad the Invader sent his wanna-be Red Army across the Ukrainian boarder. Cable, streaming, social media, and blogs, I’ve been trolling all of them for snippets of new and interesting information. 

That’s one of the dangers of being a history guy… and one that’s spent a fair amount of his time concentrating on a combination of general war in Europe and the cold war. Throw in a hefty dollop of defense policy and global strategy and, well, it can be downright hard to tear your eyes away, for fear of missing whatever news happens to break while you’re looking somewhere else.

I won’t deny being keyed up by the flow of information available in the open-source environment. I’ve lost track of the number of “holy shit” moments. It would be entirely too easy to follow the rabbit hole down into something not entirely healthy. 

Knowing that about myself, I’m going to try to step away a bit – even if it’s just for tonight. I’ll be doing my best to stay the hell off Facebook and Twitter and all the other sites and slip into a comfy chair with a good book. It’s 100% an effort to blow out a week’s worth of accumulated gunk from the darker corners of my head. 

Taking a night off from the war is a luxury our friends in Ukraine don’t have. I might be tuning out the news for a few hours, but I’m sure it, and the overall state of this old, beshitted world of ours, won’t be out of my thoughts for very long. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sanctions. There’s a small chorus out there arguing that the fairly dramatic sanctions regime imposed on Russia is only hurting Russian civilians, that it’s somehow “unfair,” or that it’s somehow an escalation of this conflict. I tend to come at it from a much different perspective. Russia’s wholesale invasion of Ukraine is a clear and present threat to the post-World War II free and democratic order in Europe. Under the circumstances, marshalling the full economic might of Western Civilization and arming the Ukrainian resistance with as much material as they can carry feels like the very least America and western Europe can do in response. I can assure you, a President Tharp would be far less ginger in how he approached the whole damned mess.

2. Saber rattling. The nuclear option. Vlad the Invader has put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert. Feels like the good old days of the Cold War when Soviet leaders threatened nuclear apocalypse any time world events didn’t go their way. If you didn’t live through those times, it happened a lot. Like all the time. If we caved in to Russian nuclear threats every time they stomped their feet in a fit of not getting their way, there would still be a wall in Berlin and an Iron Curtain across continental Europe. As the poet said, there are worse things in life than being dead.

3. Propaganda value. I’ve loaded down my social media feeds with images, memes, videos, and commentary on Russia’s war-making over the last week. One thing I’ve refrained and will continue to refrain from doing is posting any of the images of surrendered Russian soldiers. I instinctively recoil every time I’ve ever seen pictures posted of American troops in the hands of the enemy… and seeing what are almost inevitably young conscripts on what must be the absolute worst day of their life being put on display, while it may have a certain propaganda value, doesn’t sit well with me. Better to just march them off to confinement and confirm through the Red Cross that Ukraine is committed to treating its POWs with dignity and in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

Mother Russia…

Russia rattling its nuclear saber and its foibles being the butt of jokes is honestly just more fuel for the way back machine. If you didn’t listen too carefully to the news over the last few days, I think you could be forgiven for wondering if you woke up sometime in 1985. New faces, new flag, but the same old, worn playbook of threats played out against the backdrop of an economy teetering on the brink of collapse. The only difference this time is in the internet age, the entire world can see the rot and dysfunction in Russia when back then it was largely hidden behind the iron curtain and a wall of silence.

For all his bluster, Mr. Putin can’t hide that his country is a shambles if not an outright sham. Seventy years of Soviet policies followed by 30 years of kleptocracy apparently don’t build up a productive and vibrant system. Who would have guessed, right? I, of course, mean aside from anyone who was alive to watch the Soviet Union collapse under the weight of its misguided and misbegotten policies.

I don’t in any way intend for this to sound triumphant, because I know well enough that even a tired, sick, and old elephant hurts if it happens to fall on you. The takeaway, though, is that we need a full reevaluation of how we think about Russia and Russian power in the future. We should also use this brief period of western democratic ascendency and unity to put as much of our own house in order as we can while it lasts. Putin or no Putin the world is a dangerous place that’s markedly more well ordered when its great democracies aren’t busy bickering among themselves.

Back to the future…

I grew up in the 80s… not so very long ago in geo-political terms. Back there and back then, the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire run by faceless party bosses and apparatchiks in far off, shadowy Moscow. As a cold war kid, having Russia back as the Big Bad feels like the most natural thing in the world. It’s the way things ought to be.

Russia, in the guise of “first among equals” in the USSR, had a long history of intimidating, invading, and occupying its neighbor states if they strayed too far from the edicts issued from Moscow. The old countries of the Warsaw Pact and former Soviet republics, spent half a century or more under the heel of or at least under threat from the Red Army.

My Point? It’s mostly just a way of saying that the ongoing invasion of Ukraine doesn’t represent anything new under the sun. It’s Russia being true to form and returning to old patterns from the 20th century. The difference now is that the Warsaw Pact is long dead and the former Soviet republics have been independent for decades – many joining NATO as they are well aware the threat that an expansionist Russia represents,

Even as the United States and the USSR postured across the German plains, the post World War II global order kept the peace in Europe for the better part of three generations. Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has known an almost unprecedented period of peace. If history is a guide, that’s not necessarily the natural state of things in the region. Today, it seems, we’re closer to a general war in Europe than at any time since 1945… driven almost entirely by one man’s obsession to restore an empire that hasn’t existed in over thirty years.

It seems that we’ve gone back to the future in the worst possible way.

AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.