Category Archives: Stephen Golub

Benicia author Stephen Golub: He’s Back: The Terminator Takes a Star Turn in the Ukraine Information Wars

It’s the role of a lifetime

A Promised Land, by Stephen Golub, March 19, 2022

Let’s talk

Your lives, your limbs, your futures…

In the 1984 film, The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger played a robot sent from the future to the (then) present, to try to condemn the human race to a horrible fate. In its 1991 sequel, he reversed the role, seeking to save the world. His iconic line from both movies was, “I’ll be back.”

In 2022, Arnold’s in fact back again. This time, to try to help save us in real life.

As part of the information war raging in connection with the actual combat in Ukraine, on March 17 Schwarzenegger released a stunning anti-invasion video, aimed at Russians and with Russian subtitles.

His core message: “Your lives, your limbs, your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world.”

He brilliantly prefaces that by starting with praise for a Russian weightlifter whom he idolized as a boy. He highlights Russians’ heroic defense of Leningrad in World War 2 against a Nazi force that included Arnold’s own father, turning what would seem to be a counterproductive fact into a very personal, very persuasive point.

He ridicules Russian President Vladimir Putin’s absurd claim that his country’s so-called “special military operation” seeks to unseat a cabal of neo-Nazis in Kyiv. Arnold emphasizes that the supposed head of that supposed cabal, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a Jew who lost three uncles to the Holocaust.

And he says so much more, so splendidly, with words for Russia’s people, soldiers, leaders and protestors.

But please see for yourself. It’s absolutely worth nine minutes of your time:

Will it matter?

The crucial question, of course, is whether Russians consider it worth their time. Will many see the video?

It seems so. Within a day of the clip’s appearance, it was viewed more than 28 million times globally on Twitter and shared more than 669,000 times on Telegram, an encrypted social media platform that’s one of the only ways for Russians to get uncensored information.

Though Twitter is engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with the Russian government, which is trying to restrict its citizens’ access to the platform, at least one Russian may have used it to view the video: Putin himself. Schwarzenegger’s Twitter account is one of only 22 followed by the President of Russia’s account.

Even if they see it, though, will many Russians’ believe it? Maybe.

Certainly, here in America we know something about people clinging to the lies they want to believe, a problem compounded in Russia by Putin’s crushing of public and media dissent. But Schwarzenegger’s movies – including 1988’s Red Heat, partly filmed in Moscow – established him as a star in the former Soviet Union. He also visited there in 2010, as California’s governor. The head of a U.S. center that studies political extremism and national security claims that the he has significant credibility and popularity in Russia, particularly with the older generation there.

What a war, what a world

Schwarzenegger’s talk to the Russians comes on the heels of Zelensky’s virtual address to the U.S. Congress the previous day, persuasively seeking sustained and even increased support. Neither the translation of his Ukrainian words nor his own English coda will count as Churchillian. But he got the message across:

The video Zelensky presented toward the end of his talk was even more powerful. The title might as well have been, “War is hell.” It’s that disturbing. But again, it’s well worth viewing to grasp in a gut way what the Ukrainians are enduring: [video above, at minute 11:23]

What a 21st century war, when a leader broadcasts to our Congress from a bombarded, besieged capital, wielding a video as an astoundingly effective weapon. More than ever before, an information war is a key part of a literal war. It’s something defenders of democracy everywhere will hopefully keep in mind in the looming political, and hopefully non-lethal, struggles ahead.

And what a world, where an Austrian former bodybuilder brilliantly backs a Ukrainian former comedian against a Russian former spy praised by an American former TV host, all of them elevated at various points to be presidents or a governor.

I’ll close with something else to keep in mind, another line from the Terminator franchise: “The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

Benicia author Stephen Golub: If the Russians Love Their Children Too

If the Russians Love Their Children Too

Sting’s 1985 masterpiece proves tragically appropriate in 2022.

One of the most moving, powerful songs I’ve ever heard – yes, for those who know me, powerful even in comparison with Springsteen’s stuff – is Sting’s 1985 composition, “Russians.” Released as part of his first solo album, near the height of the Cold War, it’s a plea for peace at a time of intense international tension.

Here’s the original version, with lyrics:

As we enter a new/old era, a Great Leap Backward in geopolitical relations, “Russians” haunts me yet again. Not all of the tune’s lyrics resonate quite the same way these days. It was, after all, a pacifist appeal, whereas today we applaud Ukrainians’ heroic fight against Putin’s horrific onslaught.

But the underlying, overwhelming message remains the same. As Sting puts it in his introduction to a beautiful, stripped-down version in his March 5 video, “I’ve only rarely sung this song in the many years since it was written, because I never thought it would be relevant again. But in the light of one man’s bloody and woefully misguided decision to invade a peaceful, unthreatening neighbor, the song is once again a plea for our common humanity.”

His introductory words in the video are as eloquent as the song itself:

These are indeed worrisome times, to put it mildly. Whatever the flaws of the Soviet Union’s Cold War leaders, they displayed a degree of rationality in their cold calculations. Until recently, Putin too had a reputation as an icily rational ruler. Now, his “woefully misguided decision to invade” couples with other actions and words to make a former U.S. ambassador to Russiaa former U.S. director of national intelligence and many other analysts worry about his becoming unhinged – though some speculate that this is just a negotiating ploy on Putin’s part.

But there’s good news as well, amidst this horror. One foreign policy analyst may be speaking for many of us when he proclaims, “I’m not a praying man, but if I were, I would be on my hands and knees thanking the Almighty that during the worst crisis in Europe since 1945, the United States is led by Joe Biden, not Donald Trump,” adding that he has been “masterful in his handling of the Ukraine war.”

Indeed, in leading NATO, mobilizing massive military aid for Ukraine, uniting with our allies on stringent economic sanctions against Russia, refraining from trading inflammatory nuclear rhetoric with Putin, and dozens of other ways, Biden is handling this incredibly complex crisis astutely. The contrast between his invasion response and that of his predecessor, Putin’s poodle, is like day and night.

Many factors may sway how this catastrophe plays out. Ukraine’s resilience and resistance. Our allies’ determination. Whether Putin’s generals and oligarchs keep backing him. How his country’s populace reacts to the sanctions’ bite. Whether the brave anti-war demonstrators among them can spur more opposition to Putin’s folly. Whether Americans weather the storms of sanctions-induced inflation and other harms that vastly pale in comparison with what the Ukrainians face, but that will test us nonetheless.

But one key consideration may be, as Sting’s song says, “if the Russians love their children too.”

We know they do. Let’s hope their love makes a difference.

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

Benicia author Stephen Golub: Ukraine: It’s the End of the World as We Know It. Here’s Why I Feel (Kinda Sorta) Fine.

Yes, despair at Ukrainians’ suffering. But their struggles, and ours, do not end here.

Tough, horrifying, unprecedented times indeed. Especially for Ukraine, but also for the world. But not all is lost.

Through my international development consulting and research, I’ve had sporadic contact with Ukraine and a smattering of its citizens over the years. Here are a few scattered recollections and impressions, followed by some speculation on where we go from here.

Bling and blandness in a newly independent state

First visiting the country in 1996, when it was still a newly independent state in the wake of the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, I joined a U.S. Government-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) delegation looking to build contacts with and democracy-oriented training for political party personnel there. I was just an observer, along for the ride to learn about how the NDI operates and to advise it on how to evaluate those operations.

My main memories include a dinner meeting in a swank post-Soviet restaurant, ablaze with bling, at which an NDI official conversed with a party leader through an interpreter. Meanwhile, limited to English, I sat wordlessly across from a bulky, far younger fellow, whom I took to be the leader’s bodyguard. The establishment, a destination for the country’s newly (and in many cases corruptly) enriched elite, was quite the departure from the bland eateries we otherwise frequented on the trip, which were remarkable only for their dismal food and surly service.

I stayed in a sterile, Soviet-style hotel where each floor had an officious matron stationed both to monitor its guests activities and, I suppose as a sideline, offer them young ladies as companions for the evening. (I declined.) I also recall some sleepless nights there, due to the difficulty of obtaining even over-the-counter cough medicine.

Grounds for hope

My other visit, more than a decade later, took me to the capital, Kyiv, for a meeting of legal aid lawyers from former Soviet states and satellites. It was facilitated by the U.N. Development Program and the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), a branch of the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations. The purpose was to discuss the attorneys’ progress and problems in setting up programs in societies where the law historically had been a tool of government control and oppression. Though Vladimir Putin was already in charge of Russia and there had been backsliding in some of those other states, there were still signs of progress and grounds for hope in Ukraine and many other nations.

The city was equally experiencing transformation. The changes were from complete and far from ideal, as is the case to this day. But my glimpses of street life offered a far more vibrant environment, with shops, restaurants and other signs of an opening economy in evidence. I stopped by a café with a great view. I was struck by the friendliness of the wait staff, in contrast with the typically dour attitudes of their counterparts from my previous visit, and how that more upbeat approach was far more typical of other Ukrainians I encountered this time around.

Building access to justice

As part of a multi-country consultancy for OSJI a couple of years ago, I had a series of phone conversations/interviews with the nation’s leading legal services attorney. We discussed his nongovernmental group’s work setting up legal aid clinics across the country, with support of both OSJI and (crucially, for long-term sustainability) the country’s government. You never know for sure in such discussions whether you’re getting an honest self-assessment of an organization’s work and impact. But he made a thoughtful case for the accomplishments he’d previously claimed in written reports and for the strategies pursued in getting government buy-in, as well as acknowledging the challenges his organization faced.

More than that, the consultancy reminded me of the progress sometimes achieved in some post-Soviet states and elsewhere, below the level of the headlines, in making life better and more just for some citizens. It offered a glimpse of how, whatever else was going on in Ukraine then, there was cause for cautious optimism in at least certain regards. Access to justice is something many Americans take granted, as flawed as such access admittedly is here. This fellow’s group had been starting to make it a reality for fellow Ukrainians.

Revisiting a nightmare

Early this morning, I received a message from an old friend, an American, whose entrepreneurial son had moved to Kyiv and built a small information technology business there over the past several years. The young man had recently moved the enterprise to the western part of the country, taking a few of his employees with him, on the off chance that a Russian assault would not seize that part of the nation. With those plans now apparently shattered, he’s fled to the Polish border. Last I heard, he was walking toward a NATO checkpoint there. Reluctantly and painfully, he’s had to leave those employees behind.

The irony of this last anecdote is that this old friend and I have discussed and debated no end of issues over the years, not least Soviet intentions toward Western Europe back in the 1970s and whether the Red Army ever could or would invade another country not already under its sway. It’s a topic we’d long since left behind since the Soviet Union’s collapse 30 years ago. To see it revived is like revisiting a nightmare.

The horror

Of course, the real nightmare is what Ukraine is going through. Hope has turned to horror. Creation to destruction. And for some today and many to come, life to death.

Here at home, we have the horror of a Donald Trump declaring the invasion a “genius” move – not exactly a shock after his previous kowtowing to Putin. And we have the top-rated host on Fox News, Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson (yes, that’s the full name of this voice of the people) dismissing the pre-invasion tensions as a mere “border dispute” and countering criticism of Russia’s president. It spurs comparisons to the infamous, pro-Nazi radio broadcasts of Charles Coughlin in the 1930s.

Where do we go from here?

So where do we go from here, as Putin launches his Great Leap Backward into an era we’d thought we’d seen the end of? The answer partly hinges on why he took this drastic, disastrous step, something we can speculate but not be certain about. To preclude possible (though unlikely) NATO expansion? To crush a neighbor whose potential democratic and economic success could shine a harsh light on his own failures at home? To revive part of the Soviet empire? To nurse his grievances over real or imagined historic harms against Russia? In hopes that, come 2025, he’ll have his toady Trump back in office to remove sanctions against the occupation?

Of perhaps greatest concern, to indulge his own irrational impulses, as a man long assumed to be cold and calculating may instead be revealing a more erratic nature?

Much will of course hinge on how Ukrainians respond to this onslaught. As the United States learned in Iraq, and as both we and Russia learned in Afghanistan, it’s easier to secure a military victory than to maintain domination in the face of resistance. Nearly the size of Texas, with 44 million people, the country may not remain subdued even if the invasion initially crushes opposition.

Putin may control most Russian reporting on Ukraine. But it will be harder to hide soldiers coming back in body bags or without limbs. Given the historical and family ties between the two countries, suppressing bad news may prove all the more difficult. He will pay economic, political and diplomatic prices for this misadventure, which even influential, retired Russian generals had warned against.

In some ways, Putin has already lost. He’s solidified what was a drifting, unmoored NATO, as well as American leadership of the alliance. He’s pushed Ukrainian sentiments even further toward the West, regardless of what a puppet government may say. He’s shredded what remains of his own tattered international credibility. He’s set himself up for many struggles ahead.

Our own struggles

Much will also hinge on what America and our allies do. On balance, Biden is off to a very good start. He’s rallied NATO and other allies, organized sanctions and used intelligence to telegraph Putin’s moves before he’s made them. We may well see various kinds of support for a Ukrainian resistance.

The political fallout for Biden might be severe, given the short-term economic consequences and concerns about global instability. But he also might conceivably be bolstered by the clear line being drawn between himself and the invasion apologists on the Right (and in fairness, on the Left).

And who knows? Perhaps the harsh reality of European reliance on Putin’s oil and gas might add to the already significant arguments against energy dependence on petrostates such as Russia. Maybe it will bolster national security considerations in favor of alternative energy sources, here or abroad. I’m not exactly optimistic, but one can hope.

We also can hope but not yet know for sure how Ukrainians will handle the invasion’s aftermath, whether and to what extent they put up long-term resistance. But right now, their fight can  inspire admiration, even as Russian aggression spurs despair.

That inspiration can be for our own fight, here at home, against the fascists and their allies in our midst. Ukraine makes our battle lines clearer than ever. And unlike the Ukrainians, with their freedom, homes, livelihoods and lives on the line, we have the privilege of battling with our advocacy, mobilization, persuasion, donations and votes.

I believe we’re up for it if we accept, like the Ukrainians may, that the fight does not end with one invasion, battle or election. The struggles are ceaseless. The alternative is unacceptable.

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

BENICIA AUTHOR STEPHEN GOLUB: Springsteen, Faith and Looking Up in 2022

Springsteen, Faith and Looking Up in 2022

Facing the storms ahead.

Happy New Year?

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

If you haven’t yet rung in 2022 by seeing the Netflix film Don’t Look Up, consider doing so asap.

Directed, co-produced and co-written by Adam McKay, who also gave us The Big Short and Vice, it’s an over-the-top, hilarious, heartbreaking and bang on critique of our times…in a giant-comet-is-going-to-smash-into-the-earth-and-wipe-out-humanity sort of way.

Some summaries of the movie call it an attack on climate change denialism. True enough.

But it’s also about Trump, politics, pop culture, social media, commercial media, Covid, corporate greed, Silicon Valley and Americans. Its brilliance flows partly from the fact that so many scenes are both ridiculous and realistic.

Despite my praise for Don’t Look Up, the point of this post is not to pull the plug on hope. Quite the contrary. Yes, we can’t deny the many exhausting, daunting messes we’re in, simultaneously skewered and spotlit by the flick. But let’s take all that as a starting rather than end point for how we respond to them.

Which brings us to Springsteen

You need not be a Bruce Springsteen fan to appreciate that some of his music rings true these days. I named this blog after one such song, “The Promised Land,” for that reason.

I’ve probably seen him play the song in about 20 concerts over the years. But back in 2002, at his Tacoma Dome show, it hit me harder than ever. The anthem’s refrain, “And I believe in a promised land,” punched with particular power in an America still reeling from 9/11.

Twenty years later, these lyrics from the song are also hitting home:

Well there’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor

I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm

Gonna be a twister to blow everything down

That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground

For years, I mistakenly thought Bruce sang “strength” rather than “faith” in that verse’s closing line. But I now see how faith makes much more sense. So much of his music is about that. Not blind or religious faith. But faith in the face of death, denial and despair. Without it, we lose track of life, truth and hope.

Which brings us to 2022

A year ago, we said good riddance to 2020, with the notion that 2021 would be much better. A demagogue had been defeated. His insurrectionist mob shocked us. But January 6 seemed like something temporarily rabid, rather than the reflection of machinations we now know to be far more systematic, sustained and sinister.

Even as recently as the hopeful, halcyon days of last July, “only” 250 Americans were dying daily from Covid (as opposed to five times that today). We assumed so many folks would welcome vaccinations that we might achieve herd immunity and pulverize the pandemic. We imagined that, come 2022, America could pretty much leave Covid behind, that we could face life without facemasks.

July now seems like ages ago.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the challenges ahead. But choosing despair is no choice at all.

Which brings us back to faith

From Covid to democracy to weather to whatever, 2022 will be a tempestuous year for the United States and the world. I’ll discuss details, as well as some rays of hope, in posts to come.

For now, I’ll leave it at this: Whether we can stand our ground in the face of America’s coming storms could well hinge on our retaining or regaining faith.

Faith in ourselves. Faith in the power of looking up rather than down. And perhaps most of all, faith in the promise of this land.

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.