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.
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.
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.
When I was in grade school, at 10:30 in the morning on the first Tuesday of every month, every air raid siren in the city of Chicago went off. It was a regular test of the warning system. Our job, as third graders, was to duck under our wooden desks and cover in place. After a few minutes, the “all clear” sounded and we went back to our studies. I may not have known what “geopolitics” even meant in those days. But I do remember wondering, if the nuclear bombs were as dangerous as everybody said they were, how much protection would those wooden desks provide?
By the time I got to high school, the Cold War was simply an unpleasant fact. A substantial portion of the wonderful Promontory Point Park just a block from our apartment building, where I used to walk my Scottish terrier, had been taken over and surrounded by a fence. On the fence were intimidating notices to stay out. And inside were several towers, each one a couple of stories tall. At the top of the towers were antennas. This was part of the early warning system, designed to detect Soviet bombers coming over the North Pole, down from Canada.
There is perhaps nothing more shocking than the lies Donald Trump and his surrogates on the campaign trail tell about the administration’s disastrous response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus has crippled the nation and killed at this writing 230,000 Americans. For the latest in the death toll, check the site of Johns Hopkins University Medicine.
The Covid Disinformation Campaign
On March 26, 2020, Trump said, “Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened.” But the record shows he was warned repeatedly, first about the generic pandemic threat and then about this specific threat itself. You can watch his string of denials as they happened for yourself.
Trump was handed a pandemic game plan by the Obama national security team titled, “Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents.” The Obamas even staged a crisis management exercise as part of the transition. Trump ignored the drill and the plan. Trump disbanded the national security team in place to handle just this kind of crisis. Trump withdrew American epidemiologists already on the ground in China who could have provided early intelligence on the spread of the virus. Trump ignored a 2017 Pentagon report on the impact a pandemic could have on American military readiness.
How do you feel?
Frightened? Anxious? Confused? All of the above? Join the club.
Oh, “The Impossible Dream”. How were we to know that David Brooks, a true compassionate conservative torn asunder by the Trump led takeover of the Republican agenda, is a Luddite at heart?
New York Times columnist Brooks is one of my favorite writers. I never miss a column. And I never miss his Friday joint appearances with liberal syndicated writer Mark Shields on the PBS NewsHour. Brooks usually writes from a unique perspective, but his recent effort branding Medicare for All “The Impossible Dream” seems to have been written from the Twilight Zone.
The Blank Slate
“If America were a Blank Slate,” Brooks writes, “Medicare for all would be a plausible policy, but we are not a blank slate.” The problem, Brooks goes on to explain in detail, is that Medicare for all would require vast segments of America to “transition”, and that would, according to Brooks, be unacceptably disruptive.
The devil is in the details and in truth, as Brooks admits, we don’t know just what Medicare for all means or how we would plan to get there. He tends to cherry pick the proposals to focus on the most disruptive versions. But there is nothing in the history of this great nation to suggest that we will be unable to face whatever challenges the endeavor might raise.