Facing the modern KGB: What we can learn from Natan Sharanksy

Fear No Evil, by Natan Sharansky, 1998 edition (Public Affairs)

What would you do if you were arrested as a result of actions you’d taken on behalf of your religious and/or political beliefs, threatened with execution or long imprisonment, but offered leniency if you confessed and testified against your colleagues? Most of us would automatically say we’d resist, but consider the kind of pressure levied by Robert Mueller and his team of investigators against Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who as a result of being accused of lying to the FBI, lost his job, had his life and that of his family destroyed, and has been facing prison time for two years while Mueller and the boys (there are no girls on that team as far as I know) pressured him into naming names. In other words, he was punished before he was convicted. But this is America, you are probably saying. Nothing like that could happen in America. Wrong.

If Robert Mueller hasn’t personally studied the methods of the KGB, I’ll bet someone on his team has. The KGB was masterful in their methods. Torture, you’re imagining, but would it surprise you to learn that physical torture, such as beatings and waterboarding, were not used in the case of political prisoners like Natan Sharansky, the Jewish refusnik who spent nine years in the Soviet prison system many of them in the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s desolate Siberian territory.

The KBG specialized in psychological torture, such as threats to imprison one’s family and loved ones; isolation in punishment cells where you were not allowed to lie down during the day; promises of better treatment and shorter sentences if you only name names––these methods it turns out were effective on 99% of those sucked into the system. Sharansky was the one percent who successfully resisted.

How you ask? By refusing to cooperate on any level with the KGB. He refused all offers and all threats. He accepted long stays in punishment cells even though he knew he might die as a result. He lost so much body weight that he had severe heart problems that required long prison hospital stays. He went on hunger strikes over principled issues, including demanding his copy of Psalms be returned to him or demanding that his letters home be released to his family. He protested when other prisoners were mistreated even though it meant more stays in punishment or prison cells, but he knew from day one that only by having nothing to do with the KGB could he survive his ordeal without selling out his soul.

What gave him the courage to stand up to the KGB when almost no one else could? A combination of factors, including a sharp mind that he used to become a child chess prodigy, a relationship with the woman he married only days before being arrested in 1977 whose garnered support from thousands including world leaders like France’s Mitterand and the U.S.’s Ronald Reagan, and the fact that his commitment to Judaism allowed him to separate himself from anything and everything that had to do with the Soviet Union.

Anyone wanting to strengthen their own system of belief––religious or secular––can benefit from reading Sharansky’s memoir which was first published two years after he was released in a prisoner exchange in 1986, which brings us back to 2018 and the Mueller investigation.

Hampered by one’s belief that the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice are incorruptible, and that KGB methods would never be applied in this country, good men such as Mike Flynn when arrested by Robert Mueller naively assume they can tell the truth and not be victimized. Of course, I wasn’t present at any of those interviews. So, I must speculate on the basis of what is known, and it is clear that Mueller’s methods of exacting cooperation and confessions out of people whose deeds were not criminal must be modeled on the techniques perfected in the Soviet Union. How else can one explain what has been done to Mike Flynn despite the fact that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did so under false pretense while he was still an official of the Trump White House and who did not believe he lied. His failure to understand that others were out to get him and the President at any cost would allow them to undertake such nefarious methods is what led to his downfall. Hence, his recent confession must be understand as that offered by a man who has undergone two years of psychological torture and who has confessed as part of a deal that might keep him out of prison and save his family further suffering.

I doubt Mike Flynn will be writing about his experience with America’s version of the KGB. His plea deal will probably require him to swear he’ll never reveal the details of how they got him to confess. Natan Sharansky withstood nine years of psychological warfare on his character. How long this country must wait for the American KGB to be brought down is anybody’s guess.

Why I’m Closing My Twitter Account and Why You Should Also

An inevitable phenomenon has happened in the aftermath of the explosion of Internet-related technologies: the monopolization of service and social media providers, echoing the monopolization of heavy industry that occurred at the end of the 19th century which led to major anti-trust legislation in the early 20th century.

Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter dominate their unique industries to the extent that they can get away with monopolistic practices such as undercutting or buying out potential competitors.

The leaders of today’s Internet and social media monopolies are conscious of the danger of anti-trust oversight and thus are using their financial and other resources to keep potential enforcers off their backs.

One example of how they do this is to lend their services to those in power. A prime example is Facebook’s aiding the Obama Administration target potential supporters in the 2012 election. It’s reported they even had an office at the White House. (See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/17/obama-digital-data-machine-facebook-election)

Use of Facebook’s database to target potential Obama supporters was not challenged either by anti-trust enforcers or by the mainstream media until they learned that Cambridge Analytica had been able to access the same technology on behalf of conservative causes. As a result, Mark Zuckerberg had to be brought back in line by Congressional hearings and a public wrist-slapping.

The lesson of Facebook has been clear to the other giants. Support for left-liberal politicians and causes is acceptable; support for conservatives is not.

Today it’s not uncommon to hear conservative Facebook users report that they had been censored––that their accounts had been shut down and they had been unable to post or repost. Facebook claims it is unbiased in these efforts, but the evidence is overwhelming that any hint of “alt-right” leanings puts one on the watch list. (see https://www.foxnews.com/tech/dozens-of-facebook-employees-challenge-intolerant-liberal-culture)

Twitter is one of the less important, less celebrated services, but it has aggressively engaged in censoring of conservative viewpoints. The most eggregious example is the recent censoring of Laura Loomer, a conservative activist who called out Ilhan Omar, the Muslim woman recently-elected to Congress from Minnesota.

Loomer tweeted “Isn’t it ironic how the twitter moment used to celebrate ‘women, LGBTQ, and minorities’ is a picture of Ilhan Omar? Ilhan is pro-Sharia, Ilhan is pro-FGM (female genital mutilation). Under Sharia, homosexuals are oppressed & killed. Women are abused & forced to wear the hijab. Ilan is anti-Jewish.”

For that tweet, Loomer was permanently banned from Twitter. She had to chain herself to the entrance of Twitter headquarters in New York City to obtain any press coverage of her situation. While legal action is underway to rectify the double-standard censorship by Facebook, Twitter and Google, there is another way to deal with the situation. Remove one’s presence from those organizations.

Listen to Michelle Malkin’s CRTV analysis of the way that Twitter censored Loomer while applauding a leftist hater at (https://www.facebook.com/MichelleMalkinCRTV/videos/346201796156790/UzpfSTE1MzgzMTIxMzc6MTAyMTc2NzEwNzkzMTg5NDI/) and then if you agree Twitter is a place you no longer can support, follow my example. Close your Twitter account.

The Reality of Life in Rural America: Why People Voted for Donald Trump

I recently overheard a woman who I know is otherwise a decent person speak about people who voted for Donald Trump in bigoted terms. I didn’t speak up because it wouldn’t have been polite for me to interrupt the conversation, but it’s been on my mind that I owe some insights to people who don’t understand Trump supporters.

Liberals rarely understand why rural America is burdened today with the opioid crisis, high unemployment, failed marriages, single parent families, and other social maladies. If you have the time, pick up a copy of J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. If not, here’s a summary based on my own experience.

I grew up in a small city in upstate New York where after World War II the industry that had supported the local economy began to decline largely due to overseas competition. That pattern was repeated all across America. Post-WWII, economic forces drew millions into large cities, which combined with short-sighted social policies, left rural America under-resourced and increasingly impoverished.

Today, my former home town is a contradiction given it still has streets of large, well-built single family homes as well as neighborhoods dominated by unemployment, poverty and drug use. My generation took advantage of the opportunities offered by a growing economy. Few stayed in the city where they grew up after getting an education or a head-start via a career in the military.

Why do I say social policies made matters worse? Vance documents several, including the conditions underlying opioid use, but here’s a NYS example. In upstate New York, the public sector sucks so much money out of the economy that it’s extremely difficult to keep or attract businesses. As a result, many people who have skills and/or resources move out of state leaving behind people with greater needs and fewer resources. Further, much of the tax burden goes to support a state bureaucracy that underserves rural upstate. Take for example, the NYS Public Service Commission.

There is little or no competition for electricity, telephone, Internet, or TV services in rural upstate New York. This results in poor quality, over-priced services. Making matters worse residents tax dollars pay for bureaucrats who seem more favorably disposed towards the utilities than the customers.

Last year, when I opened my summer home, I discovered I had no phone service. It took two weeks to get service restored, requiring me to drive five miles into a small village to make repeated phone calls appealing for help.

When I called the Public Service Commission to complain, they took the information but never got back to me. It was a waste of effort. This year the pattern repeated with Internet.

It took three phone calls to restart my Internet service because the nice people who work for Frontier Communications are not given the tools needed to do their jobs. In one instance a customer service person had to use chat to find another customer service person who she hoped could do what needed to be done. Lack of competition means Frontier doesn’t have to modernize or be responsive to consumers.

Public sector salaries and pension benefits strap localities to the point where many municipalities are unable to afford basic services. High taxation further allows the Democrat Party in New York to bribe union workers to keep them in office year after year. New York City with its larger population dominates the State Legislature, which as a result underserves upstate.

Politically, rural America is underrepresented in many state legislatures and in Congress, resulting in the election of people who either lack an understanding of the problems of rural America or lack the political muscle to do much about the problems.

Donald Trump represented a solution for rural and small town Americans and he has rewarded rural America’s support by lowering federal taxes, by taking on the opioid crisis, by advocating for the return of manufacturing jobs, by shrinking the federal bureaucracy, by helping veterans, and by supporting local first responders.

People in rural America rationally put their needs above the liberal media’s focus on Trump’s personal story. They are likely to do so again in 2018.

Letter to the (Albany) Times Union re: the Paris Accord

The following letter appeared (slightly edited) in the Albany Times Union Thursday, June 15.

The Times Union ignores reality in its response to President Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord (“Mr. Trump Defies Reality,” 6/2/2017).

Instead of accepting the president’s rationale as stated in his press conference, the TU makes up its own motive: climate denial. Instead of trying to refute the president’s arguments that the Paris Accord would be harmful to the American economy costing us tens of thousands of jobs and increasing energy costs to the average householder by thousands of dollars annually, the TU is worried that our withdrawal will hurt our image and “good name,” lead scientists to leave the country, and harm our economic competitiveness.

The TU ignores the reality that the U.S. is the world leader in environmental stewardship and that our businesses are committed to the best practices to reduce pollution and conserve energy and resources.

The President’s withdrawing from Paris was not accompanied by a plan to change any of that. To the contrary. What led Mr. Trump to withdraw was that Paris would be bad for the U.S. Not only does it fail to accomplish the goal of reducing green-house gases significantly but it allows polluters like China and India to keep polluting while forcing the U.S. to pay.

Like NATO, where the member nations assume the U.S.––like Daddy Warbucks––is ready to finance their every request, Paris was written on the assumption that the U.S. needs to be punished for being the world’s most prosperous and powerful nation. The reality is it’s time for the rest of the world to step up to the plate and show us their commitment to the environment. We’re already doing our share.

The high cost of the $15/hour minimum wage

Leftists led by America’s labor unions are winning support in major cities from Seattle to New York to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour. Their rationale is the living wage theory, claiming people can’t live on less and therefore government needs to step in. Compassion is nice except when it harms the targeted recipients, which is the case here, but we shouldn’t be surprised that the Left and Labor Unions are doing damage to the very people they claim to care about. This is not the first time they have betrayed the “working class.”

People hold minimum wage jobs for a reason––some work part-time while going to school or to supplement a primary job; others hold a minimum wage job while looking for something better, while still others are entry level workers gaining experience with the promise of moving up in a company, and some simply fail to qualify for higher paying jobs. The $15/hour movement hurts all of the above.

Evidence is starting to roll in on the impact of the minimum wage raises passed in Seattle, San Francisco, and L.A. (See “A Post-Labor Day, Minimum Wage Hangover,” by Andy Puzder, WSJ, 9/7/2015.) While a few get higher pay, thousands are losing their jobs as the higher wages have lead to businesses closings, employers investing in labor saving technology or making do with fewer workers.

The sad part of the job loss caused by the $15/hour movement is that it has the greatest negative impact on young people and minority workers. With the labor participation rate already in the low 60% range and 6.5 million Americans working part-time because they can’t find fulltime work, a $15/hour minimum will make it that much harder for young minority job applicants to find work.

Leftists are prone to attribute job loss to business owners, but that’s like blaming car manufacturers for charging customers the cost of government imposed fuel standards. Many employers facing a $15/hour minimum will have no choice but to lay people off or go out of business.

Unfortunately, the average person has little understanding about how businesses work. They have been led to believe business owners can afford the raises, but are greedy. The truth is just the opposite.

Consider the restaurant industry. As anyone who watches the popular Food Network show Restaurant Impossible can tell you, people open restaurants without sufficient management experience. They’ve been taught by the media (movies and sit-coms are the worst offenders) all you have to do is open your doors and the profits will roll in. The restaurant industry is highly competitive, which means anyone saddled with high labor costs is automatically in trouble.

I blame liberalism (or progressivism, if you prefer) for the public’s lack of knowledge about small business economics. Typical is the Labor Day column that appeared in the Albany Times Union, written by a retired SUNY professor who undoubtedly never had to meet a payroll, which described today’s business owners as Robber Barons. The reality is rapid, continuous changes in technology and the world economy have made it extremely difficult for large corporations to meet their goals. Top executives often pay the price, as few last more than a few years. Nor is it much easier to run a restaurant, print shop, laundry, construction company, or any other of the hundreds of businesses that employ fewer than 50 people.

A small business with 50 employees would have an annual payroll in excess of two million dollars if the lowest paid workers earned $15/hour. Labor costs for small businesses can range from one third to two-thirds of expenses, and when business is slow, many an owner has to forego pay and/or take out a home loan to tide their business over.

Labor costs depend on each worker producing value in excess of his or her wage and, if labor costs increase, it’s not always possible to raise prices. To do so, may cost customers, which is the beginning of a death spiral for that business.

By definition, minimum wage jobs add minimum value to the bottom line. Although the workers may have skills they aren’t using, the job may not require those skills; hence the employer can only pay what workers brings in, not what they potentially could produce in another job or what they need at home.

Historically, labor unions take no responsibility for the consequences of their demands. The car, chemical, and steel unions nearly destroyed their industries by pushing up costs, while undercutting innovation and quality. Remember Ralph Nadar’s expose of the Chevy Corvair? The UAW took no responsibility for that death trap, but they were as responsible as GM management.

For years, unions won concessions from managers who should have acted more like robber barons, but instead gave in to union demands in hope that future revenues would cover future costs. That resulted in deteriorating product quality and opened the door to foreign competition from which we never recovered.

There is only one solution to the problems of Americans who need higher wages to meet today’s living costs––an expanding economy that produces more higher paying jobs. The steps that need to be taken to achieve that are outside the scope of this essay, but it has to be noted that there are always plenty of job openings for skilled people. Yet, those jobs require candidates possess specific credentials, which puts the burden on young people still in school to study subjects that can lead to employment and on the unemployed to take advantage of job training programs. Some of today’s minimum wage workers are where they are as a result of personal life choices, such as drug abuse, dropping out of school, and other self-inflicted wounds.

Compassion is not the sole province of Union leaders and Leftists, nor is it compassionate to advocate policies that harm those you claim to support. What sounds good needs to be subjected to rationale empirical-based analysis. The $15 minimum wage is simply bad policy because it will cost people jobs, and force businesses to close or to fire current employees. It should be vigorously opposed.