Category Archives: commentary

We Had This Beat

More than one million Americans have died of complications of Covid-19. Can you wrap your arms around that number? Does it seem possible? Everyone I know has been touched by Covid one way or another. I lost my mother-in-law. And it didn’t have to be this way.

American is in many ways like Australia. As reported by the New York Times (the link is probably behind the Times’ paywall, but it is excellent and worthy of credit), both countries are English-speaking democracies with similar demographic profiles. In Australia and in the United States, the median age is thirty-eight. Roughly 86 percent of Australians live in urban areas, compared with 83 percent of Americans. Yet Australia’s Covid death rate sits at one-tenth of America’s, putting the nation of twenty-five million people (with around 7,500 deaths) near the top of global rankings in the protection of life.

The difference is in the stupidity factor. As in America is stupid and Australia is not. Americans have shown they lack trust in science and institutions, but especially in one another. When the pandemic began, 76 percent of Australians said they trusted the health care system (compared with around 34 percent of Americans), and 93 percent of Australians reported being able to get support in times of crisis from people living outside their household.

One day after learning about the new virus reported in China, Australia’s chief medical office began acting. Border, isolation, surveillance, and case tracing mechanisms were put in place. A few days later Australia reported its first Covid case. Less than 24 hours later, on Feb. 1, 2020, Australia closed its border with China, its largest trading partner. On Feb. 3, 241 Australians were evacuated from China and placed in government quarantine for 14 days.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first human transmission of the virus in the United States, President Donald J. Trump downplayed the risk. “We think it’s going to have a very good ending for us,” he said.

The Australian response to Covid was not perfect. But the contrast with America is shocking. At a time when the Australians began handing out started N95 masks, which are more protective, to workers exposed to Covid patients supplied came from federal and state stockpiles, with guidelines for how distribution should be prioritized, in America hospital executives were lining up third-party vendors for clandestine meetings in distant parking lots.

Australians lined up to get tested, wore masks without question, turned their phones into virus trackers with check-in apps, set up food services for the old, infirm, or poor in lockdowns, or offered a place to stay to women who had been trapped in their homes with abusive husbands.

The Trump-Republicans from the Oval Office on down the ranks disputed the science, made fun of those who took seriously the need to wear masks, isolate, and avoid close contact, demonstrating contempt for those who did. Their syncopates on Fox and other cable news fell right into line disparaging the depth of the crisis. The federal government refused to get involved with the setting of nationwide standards or the procurement of personal protective gear. About the only thing Trump supported that was of any value was the decision to fund the development of multiple vaccines. Perhaps he was out on the golf course the day that one was put into place. Then once the vaccines were ready, the states had to create their own programs to administer the medication.

Today more than 95 percent of Australian adults are fully vaccinated — with 85 percent of the total population having received two doses. In the United States, that figure is only 66 percent.

And if the number of fatalities due to Covid in the United States had tracked the number in Australia? That would be 100,000 souls lost. A terrible number. But far lower than the one million and rising number of deaths of Americans. Americans who were either stupid themselves or were the innocent victims of others who were stupid and did not care what havoc they caused. I count my mother-in-law among the innocents. She was a victim of a state government which failed to put into place any meaningful controls on its healthcare facilities. A state where the court system failed to protect its seniors and guarantee their basic rights. She died before her time in Florida.

First Amendment Hypocrites

It was the end of the term, 2014, when the headlines blared, “Supreme Court Strikes Down Abortion Clinic ‘Buffer Zone’ Law. At issue was a Massachusetts law requiring a 35-foot zone around clinics that provided abortion services. Both supporters and opponents of abortion rights were not allowed within that buffer zone, where some were harassing women going in and coming out while others tried to shield and protect them.

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Why the Surprise?

The news broke overnight. The online publication Politico published an exclusive, what it believed to be a draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito which, speaking for the majority, overturns the seminal 1973 abortion decision Roe v. Wade. The text says, “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” referring also to a subsequent 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.”

In pledging to investigate the leak, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed it is the authentic first draft. It is standard procedure for a vote on a case to be taken after oral argument, and if there is a clear majority, the chief justice assigns the writing of an initial draft opinion if he is voting with the majority, or the assignment is made by the senior associate justice in the majority if the chief is not.

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The Truth is Out There

This is the 21st century. The Russians deny they are responsible for the slaughter of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, claiming corpses were planted on the streets after Russian soldiers had left the scene. Satellite pictures clearly show bodies on the ground and Russian troops still on the scene.

There is a fiction making the rounds that says the average Russian does not know what their country is doing in Ukraine. Don’t buy it for a minute. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union worked hard to keep the truth out of their territory. Western news media were blocked, jammed, and banned. But the truth leaked in, and when the USSR fell in an economic collapse, the truth flowed in with a vengeance.

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Zelinsky Speaks to the Swiss

I can’t think of a better use of this space this week than to post the following words, an address by the President of Ukraine to the people of Switzerland. We should all take notice. Everyone who values their freedom must be willing to fight for it.

My greetings to all Swiss friends of Ukraine! To all your beautiful people, the people of Switzerland!

I am grateful to you for supporting our people.

Thank you for defending freedom together with all those who value it.

This is very important now. Nowadays. At a special time period.

And especially important – from you.

When terror became the national idea of one of the largest nations in the world. The basis of their foreign policy.

When the crimes of terrorism are committed not by some outcast or group of persons and not by an organization, but by the state. Which has a nuclear arsenal.

When a permanent member of the UN Security Council deliberately destroys everything for which the UN was built. Having unleashed a cruel, bloody, senseless war against us.

But we now have a chance. A chance to show not only to Russia, but also to any aggressor in the world, any terrorist state, that war will destroy not the victim, but the one who came with it.

And, perhaps, this is the last chance for humanity – to stop the wars. Stop the state terror.

And I’m telling you now. Switzerland. A state that has a very long history of peace. And an even longer history of influence. In many areas – a decisive influence on the world.

Even before I became President, I was thinking what life of our beloved Ukrainians I would like to see.

I have often been to your country. And I know very well how you live. And one day, standing near Chillon Castle, I asked my friends – we were one company – why can’t we live like this?

To have such a standard of living. A high level. And with the same freedom. In such friendly communities. And with such confidence in our own strength.

And I sincerely wanted the Ukrainians to live like the Swiss. So that we can jointly decide everything about our own lives. About our land. Not expecting anything from politicians, unnecessary words, but voting in a referendum.

So that we can be sure, despite all the financial crises in the world, that our state will withstand and remain a leader. A leader of trust, a leader of stability. A dream for all people. Successful, not very successful – no matter what level, just for all people.

So that the Ukrainians, like the Swiss, can feel that they live in real communities that care about what is common to all – for the good of all.

Maybe these are all ordinary things to you. For us, these are reforms. And this is the path we are taking and we wanted to take.

And we passed the relevant laws. For all this to work. We gave opportunities. Opportunities for our people.

So that we gradually reach your standard of living.

And we did it until the black day. February 24. The day of the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of our land, Ukraine.

And then everything changed.

It has changed for each of us, Ukrainians. I’m sure it has changed for all Europeans. And it has changed for all world democracies.

It has changed for you, too.

I am grateful to you and your state for supporting us in such a difficult time. I am thankful that you did not stay away, didn’t say that it wasn’t related to you at all

Because, in fact, it is impossible to stay away from the fact that in the 21st century, in the heart of Europe, hundreds of rockets and bombs are flying at peaceful cities.

It is impossible to stay away when the army of the world’s largest state, albeit only in size, directs all its deadly potential to destroy us, to destroy hospitals, ordinary schools, churches, universities, maternity hospitals, residential areas.

It is impossible to be indifferent when children are killed. As of this morning, the Russian army has killed 112 Ukrainian children.

And just as I wanted the Ukrainians to live like the Swiss… I also want you to be and become like the Ukrainians. In the fight against evil.

So that there is no question about banks. About your banks. Where the money of all those who started this war is kept.

It’s painful and it’s hard. But it is also a struggle against evil.

It is necessary to completely freeze all the assets of these people and their accounts. It’s a big fight, and you can do it.

I want you to become Ukrainians who feel what it is like when whole cities are destroyed, peaceful cities. Destroyed on the orders of those who like to live in communities – different, European, in your communities, in beautiful Swiss communities.

Who enjoys real estate in your country.

And it would be fair to deprive them of this privilege. To deprive of what they are taking from us.

And I want you to be as Ukrainians in the issue of business. Business that works in Russia in spite of everything. Despite this war.

Despite all our murdered children. Despite the people killed. Despite the destroyed cities. Like our city of Mariupol, heroic Mariupol, which has been under complete blockade for weeks. Imagine – no food, no water, no electricity. Just under the bombs.

“Good food. Good life.” This is the slogan of Nestlé. Your company that refuses to leave Russia. Even now – when there are threats from Russia to other European countries. Not only to us. When there is even nuclear blackmail from Russia.

And I want all of you, Swiss people, to become like all of us, Ukrainians. I want us not to lose our common chance now.

A chance to restore peace, a chance to stop any wars in the world. Because when Switzerland is with you, you are definitely successful. Because when Ukraine is with you, you are definitely strong.

Last year we agreed on a big conference with the President of your country. Conference in Lugano. For the sake of economic transformation, for the sake of Ukraine’s reforms.

It was to take place this July. As well as the next summit of the first ladies and gentlemen.

And I believe, I know we can hold them. This year. On your land.

For the restoration and development of Ukraine. So that you have the opportunity to show again and again all the best that is in your hearts. In our hearts.

In the hearts of all those people who are fighting for freedom and fighting for life.

I am grateful to you. I am grateful to Switzerland!

Glory to Ukraine!

Office of the President of Ukraine

Miscalculations

How many synonyms for “miscalculate” can you think of?

Now how many do you think Vladimir Putin knows, in Russian or Ukrainian?

And it is not just a question for Putin. American intelligence, which got most of the story of Russia’s invasion into neighboring Ukraine right, did expect the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to surrender to Russian forces within days. First lesson to be learned, never underestimate the Ukrainian people.

Ukrainian men of fighting age were told they had to stay while everyone else was encouraged to flee the Russian invasion. But on that score even the Ukrainians miscalculated. Many Ukranian women, especially those without children, elected to stay. And some with children took their sons and daughters to safety and then returned. Older men and women are volunteering for duty in the resistance.

And if Vladimir Putin figured the Ukrainians would surrender in the face of his blitzkrieg, that was only the first of the Russian dictator’s many miscalculations. He rained missiles down on the general population of Georgia for twelve days in 2008 before that nation surrendered control of two territories, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. He used soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms to stage a fake revolution that took Crimea away from Ukraine in 2014. And he obtained a de facto takeover of Belarus in 2020. But this time Ukraine is fighting back with everything it has. Ukraine estimates deaths among Russian soldiers are approaching 10,000. It has stood up against superior forces in the air and on the ground. The full-scale invasion began February 24, 2022, and it shows no sign of ending anytime soon.

Putin may also have miscalculated, first believing he could deliver reelection to his useful idiot, Donald Trump, in 2020 as he did in 2016. And second, once that failed, by believing that even without Trump in the White House, ready and willing to hold open the door at Ukraine’s border so the Russian invaders could march right in, Trump was right when he promised during his secret talks with the Russian dictator that NATO was a dead issue which no longer had the support of the American people. Trump, remember, withdrew American forces from Syria and Afghanistan, handing over American bases to the Russians. Trump had also promised to withdraw America from NATO during his second term in office.


Not only are the American people today voicing support for NATO‘s involvement in Ukraine, but NATO itself seems to have awakened from a long slumber. Members who have been reluctant to spend the 2 percent of GDP the organization demands on defense have suddenly declared they will increase their budgets. That includes Germany, which has dependably walked several feet behind the NATO consensus since the end of the Second World War. Germany has also joined in the economic sanctions against Russia, even at the risk of creating energy shortages for its people.

While not required to send military aid to Ukraine, which is not a member, NATO has been sending a wide range of increasingly lethal weapons to the besieged nation. They have warned Putin that an attack on any of their member nations will be met with a defense mounted by the entire organization. And they have been taking in Ukrainian refugees by the millions in what is the most dramatic movement of innocent civilians fleeing an onslaught since the German invasions so many years ago.

Finland and Sweden are talking about joining the alliance. The forever neutral, independent Swiss, with their incredibly opaque banking rules, imposed some new sanctions on Russia.

The reaction of the United Nations itself was miscalculated by most. The UN was never empowered to act militarily unless the action was agreeable to all five of the permanent members of the Security Council. On the subject of Ukraine, Russia therefore blocked any action. But the meeting did allow for high drama when the Ukrainian ambassador warned the Russian that war criminals “go straight to hell.”

But the UN General Assembly surprised observers by taking up the matter in an emergency session. Its votes are merely advisory, but the delegates still sent a clear message to Moscow, a total of 141 countries voted in favor of a resolution, reaffirming Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. 

The resolution demands that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

It was sponsored by more than ninety countries and needed a two-thirds majority in the Assembly to pass. Five countries – Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (more commonly known as North Korea) Eritrea, Russia, and Syria – voted against it, while thirty-five abstained.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump and his fellow travelers are throwing miscalculation after miscalculation. Trump calls Putin a “genius,” “smart,” and “savvy.” Trump’s former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, adds, “talented” and a “capable statesman.” Trump acolyte Tucker Carlson asks, “It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?” Carlson has been joined by Fox hosts Laura Ingraham and Maria Bartiromo, among others praising Putin.

Thirty-one senators of the Trump-GOP voted against emergency humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine. Republicans, of course, have hated Ukraine since that country refused to give in to Trump’s extortion threat to withhold aid unless the embattled nation investigated Hunter Biden, the cause of his first impeachment.

This GOP miscalculation could prove costly in the 2022 midterm election. Sanctions, even economic sanctions that may increase inflation in the United States, are popular with voters anxious to help Ukraine but understandably concerned about being drawn into a wider war with Russia.

It is not a time for miscalculations. But these appear to be mostly what we have.

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