Tag Archives: commentary

In Memoriam

Memorial Day, along with Veterans Day, are the days on which we honor the men and women in uniform who have given their lives to defend our nation. I have always had respect for those who wear the uniform. And I wonder if I would have been able to show their courage and dedication had I been called to do so.

I mean no disrespect, and I certainly hope our soldiers and veterans will not think ill of me, but I find myself moved to commandeer their day to mark another memorial and to write, for what seems the umpteenth time, about a mass killing in America. The twenty-one souls whose faces appear at the top of this columns died at the hands of an eighteen-year-old killer at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

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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 NestlĂ©. 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

A Breath of Fresh Air

It some ways it was certainly unusual. But mostly its normalcy made it a breath of fresh air. For more than an hour President Joe Biden delivered a report to Congress, the nation, and the world on the state of the state one hundred days into his administration. He laid out the achievements already accomplished, the programs now under way, and the proposals he is sending to Congress for enactment into law.

One way the speech was unusual was that there were two women behind the president. Presiding over the joint session of Congress were Vice-President Kamala Harris, who is President of the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That was a historic first. Another way was that the chamber, which normally holds 1,600 people for these events, was limited to 200 by pandemic protocols. The audience members were socially distanced and most were masked.

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Helicoptering on Mars – Really

A team of very smart humans flew a helicopter by remote control off the surface of Mars on April 19, 2021. It is easier to type that sentence than it is to truly appreciate the accomplishment.

The Mars Helicopter, named Ingenuity, weighs just four pounds. It is a proof of concept demonstration. That means it’s mission is just to prove that it works. It did. And it was the first time humans have achieved powered and controlled flight on another planet.

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Infrastructure for the 21st century

I long for the days when I could have a rational discussion with someone I disagree on the serious issues of the day without that person spouting a stream of totally unsubstantiated falsehoods. In other words lies. I’m pointing my finger at you, Republicans, almost without exception.

Discussions with Democrats are also often frustrating. But that is because the Democrats include a wide range of differing views and the disagreements are generally over strategy. I’m thinking of you Joe Manchin. Not over the role of government in attempting to solve problems or denying that problems even exist. And Democrats are not inclined to interrupt a serious discussion with a rude critique of your mother’s footwear. I still remember being told, “Your mother wears army boots.” I was on the first grade playground at recess at the time.

Republicans will call you every name in the book at the drop of a hat. They will insult your relatives, living and dead. And charge you with a wide variety of crimes without the slightest bit of evidence. They also live in an alternate universe where up is down, down is up, and things you can see right before your own eyes are somehow not true. They revere the framers who wrote our Constitution, except when they ignore it.

Republican hypocrisy knows no bounds:

  • Senate rules are sacrosanct unless they need to be broken to thwart a Democratic proposal.
  • Deficits are bad but only if there is a Democrat in the White House.
  • The purpose of the federal government is to “provide for the common defense,” quoting the magnificent preamble to our Constitution, ignoring the fact that the phrase is part of a list and imminently following are the words, “promote the general welfare.”
  • Infrastructure means roads. That’s it. Roads.

Let’s put the debt debate aside for now except for to state that the evidence is clear, economics is an art, not a science. We really don’t understand what it is going on. Starting with Ronald Reagan, Republican, yes, Republican presidents have greatly increased the national debt by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending. Yet the inflation that was predicted by my college economics teacher (we used Paul Samuelson’s Principles of Economics) did not really appear. Go figure. For more right now I refer you to a great piece by John Oliver.

What this means is, while we should be watchful, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell seems to be, we do not have to be afraid of some Covid related economic stimulus. Republicans opposed the latest round of Covid economic payments even when Donald Trump asked for them. We also do not need to be afraid of a big infrastructure program. The Republicans are outraged at the infrastructure program, arguing that it will increase the debt and complaining that Democrats are extending the traditional definition of infrastructure.

Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with repairing the nation’s highways and bridges. Republican Dwight Eisenhower signed the legislation that created the Interstate Highway System in 1956 after all. But Republicans like highways that connect towns in rural America. Transportation projects that benefit urban areas do not get their approval. I take the New Jersey Transit train under the Hudson to Manhattan and always wonder if the crumbling tunnel, built in 1910, is going to cave in on the 200,000 people who use it every day. In 2012 the tunnel was inundated with millions of gallons of salt water during Super Storm Sandy. The water left behind corrosive chlorides, which continue to damage the already aged concrete and wiring. A Republican New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, and a Republican President, Donald Trump, each killed a project to build a replacement.

But where the Republicans most throw up the roadblocks is where it comes to infrastructure they claim is outside of the “traditional” definition of the word. I disagree. But I also don’t care. We do not live in a stagnant word. We can be respectful of our traditions but should not be afraid to change them for the public good.

So I am on board with what some analysts are calling “Social Infrastructure”:

Social infrastructure can be broadly defined as the construction and maintenance of facilities that support social services. Types of social infrastructure include healthcare (hospitals), education (schools and universities), public facilities (community housing and prisons) and transportation (railways and roads).

Aberdeen Standard Investments

I do not understand why people cannot see that the nation depends on the health of its people, and the safety, and quality of its schools. We also need a 21st century power grid and high-speed rail would be nice. Child care for working parents is an economic necessity. In an information driven society, broadband connections for the entire population are essential. Faced with tremendous world-wide competition education, research and development are all that stands between America and second-class status.

The public seems to understand this even if the Republicans do not. A Quinnipiac University National Poll finds the Infrastructure Plan is popular with the public:


Q46 Do you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?

—–

Support

Oppose

DK/NA

Total

44%

38

19

Republicans

14%

71

14

Democrats

81%

5

15


And even more popular if corporate taxes fund it as President Biden has proposed:

Q47 As you may know, President Biden has proposed funding his infrastructure plan by raising taxes on corporations. If it was funded by raising taxes on corporations, would you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?

—–

Support

Oppose

DK/NA

Total

53%

39

9

Republicans

22%

70

8

Democrats

92%

6

2

Last but not least, expenditures on infrastructure, traditional and 21st century alike, have a large multiplier factor. Put simply, they pay off many times over. The benefits spread throughout the economy. The Eisenhower creation of the Interstate Highway System is credited with creating the long post-war expansion of the American economy. Studies show tax cuts for rich people and fiscal policies which benefit Wall Street do not have this positive effect. The proposed infrastructure projects should be seen as an investment in America’s future.

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Updates and tidbits

Back from Space

SpaceX’s Dragon Demo-2 flight has ended with the successful return to earth of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley after spending more than two months on the International Space Station. As I wrote at the time of their launch, this flight marks the return to America of the ability to send humans into space.

After the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2000, Americans who wanted to go the the ISS had to buy a seat on a Russian rocket. NASA began, during the Obama-Biden administration, what is called the “Commercial Crew” program effectively outsourcing this task to private industry. SpaceX is the first to successfully demonstrate this capability. This flight was named “Demo-2.” The first regularly contracted flight of the Crew Dragon is set to take four astronauts, three Americans and one Japanese, to the space station later this year.

As they left the capsule Behnken and Hurley thanks the SpaceX team. The SpaceX communicator said, “Thanks for riding SpaceX.” For America’s space program, a new day has begun.

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apple 1 – eu 0

It was a win for Apple. A loss for the European Union. And a case study for the rest of us.

The news story itself is simple. In 2016, the European Commission ordered Apple to pay Ireland 13 billion euros ($14.9 billion) for ten years of back taxes. The Commission claimed Apple benefited from illegal state aid via two Irish tax rulings that artificially reduced its tax burden for over two decades, to as low as 0.005% in 2014.

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