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This newsletter is about America and the World. If you are fed up with pundits who have only inhabited one postal code or rip-and-read broadcasters as shallow as a Kardashian, then my style is for you. I’ve been around the block, covered news around the world, connect the dots, and will offer unique perspectives on the news and newsmakers. I have residences in New York, Toronto, and Paris.
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Why Russia Must Lose
June 9, 2022
History will show that Vladimir Putin lost the war against Ukraine before it began when he published “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” in July 2021 which denied the legitimacy of the Ukrainian nation. It was a declaration of genocide, not war, and after the invasion, faced with extermination, Ukrainians immediately mobilized. Millions of women, children and elderly evacuated and the remaining millions joined the war effort. This is because people threatened with extermination may not be the best soldiers, but they are willing to do anything to protect themselves and their nation. This is Ukraine’s strategic advantage against a superpower, and the civilized world increasingly realizes that the barbaric Russian regime must be defeated.
Before the invasion, a Ukrainian general accurately warned that “every window will shoot” once Russians crossed the border. That is exactly what happened. As their cities are reduced to rubble, and schools and children blown up, they continue to overwhelmingly support pushing Russian troops completely out of their land. In fact Putin’s declaration of genocide, aimed at terrifying them into submission, has backfired and with every catastrophe, war crime, or attack on civilian targets Ukrainian resolve strengthens. “We will fight to the end,” says Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, a exceptional communicator who has won the “infowar” against Russia and garnered the full support of the European Union, NATO and the United States.
As the country of 42 million pushes back against a military superpower, its allies have provided weapons, aid, financing and sanctions that are damaging Russia’s economy, its oil revenues and war machine. Unfortunately, there are appeasers such as President Emmanuel Macron of France and Putin patsy Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, who have stated that Ukraine should consider territorial concessions because “Putin must not be humiliated”. But given Putin’s atrocities, such remarks are unconscionable.
Putin’s army must be defeated and his diabolical regime destroyed — not only for Ukraine’s sake but for the region’s and the world’s. As Peter Wallison, former White House Council in the Reagan administration, recently wrote: “Obviously, the United States has no way of removing Putin from his command of Russia and its military. The only realistic means to achieve this is to drive him out of Ukraine – depriving him of any semblance of a victory – and thus embolden those forces in Russia, whatever they are, that can somehow remove him from power. It is not clear, of course, that any group in Russia can accomplish this, but if Putin wins the smallest of victories in Ukraine, even this possibility will be erased.”
Put another way, any territorial gain by Russia in Ukraine would represent a Russian victory and guarantee Putin’s continuing tenure as its dictator, thus threatening Europe forever and emboldening China or other autocracies to ride roughshod over international laws. The only solution is to kick Russia out of Ukraine altogether to undermine his support at home and to rid the world of a dangerous dictator.
Unfortunately, calls for appeasement will multiply as the conflict continues and appears to be turning into a war of attrition. Moscow retreated from Kyiv and now its army inches along in the east and south by bombing areas indiscriminately with long-range artillery in order to slowly advance. In four months, it has increased its occupation from 7.5 percent of the country (acquired in 2014) to 20 percent, the size of West Virginia. But Ukraine’s armed forces and militias have held the line heroically and effectively used unconventional warfare to damage their enemy.
A campaign of assassinations of Russian generals has created chaos within its ranks, and Ukraine has harnessed technology in creative ways. The Starlink satellite network quickly replaced the country’s telecoms system destroyed by the Russians. Drones have successfully counterattacked. Ukraine has also repurposed its sophisticated government app or “chatbot” — launched before the war to link all citizens to government services — by converting it into a “tip line” that allows Ukrainians to report to their military the locations and movements of Russian tanks, supplies, or troops. Once identified, these enemy strongholds are destroyed by guerrillas, drones, and short-range artillery, resulting in sizeable Russian casualties. In June, President Zelensky said more than 30,000 Russian servicemen had died which is “more than the Soviet Union lost in 10 years of the war in Afghanistan”. By contrast, outgunned and outmanned Ukraine is losing between 60 and 100 soldiers a day.
Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist and author of books on Putin and Eastern Europe, believes Russia cannot win because its military is in disarray, because Putin is isolated and because he has not formulated a heroic or worthy goal to justify his war to the Russian people. “He has not carried out mass mobilization and is unlikely to do so, because that would hit the sons of the middle class in the big cities, who would be politicized against Putin. Few contract soldiers or mercenaries want to fight. Meanwhile at least a dozen military registration offices have been set on fire and there are steady reports of small-scale mutinies,” he added. “And the Russian economy struggles. The standard forecasts are a GDP decline of 10 to 15 percent this year. I would guess 15 to 20 percent. At some point, the Russian people may protest.”
Military and geopolitical expert Pavel Baev, a Russian-Norwegian, says Russia cannot beat Ukraine. “Neither Russia’s gradually degrading economy, nor the badly damaged military machine can sustain the protracted war of attrition, and this is the course Putin is committed to. His only hope is that Ukraine will break under the pain of bombing, but he seems unable to understand the unbreakable will of the Ukrainians to uphold their state.”
The new long-range American and British weapons en route to Ukraine will represent an even greater challenge for the Russians. Professor of Military History Frederick W. Kagan wrote in Time Magazine: “The Russian military certainly cannot sustain the current offensive long enough and far enough to destroy the Ukrainian military or seize other major cities…If Ukrainians retain their will to fight and their justified confidence in their ability to liberate much if not all of their occupied territory, and if the West holds to the commitment that President Joe Biden recently articulated in his New York Times op-ed to support Ukraine in that aim and to refrain from pushing Kyiv to make concessions, then there is every reason for hope.”
Some believe a turning point is nigh because Ukraine will capitalize on its new cache of weaponry and the ongoing sanctions will increase unrest inside Russia. Some four million Russians have left the country since the invasion, according to official figures; protests continue there with thousands jailed and Putin will be unable to replenish his forces with conscription or replace equipment due to tech export bans against Moscow. Aslund also believes reports that Putin is ill and believes that it’s possible that disgruntled security, military and intelligence elites may one day stage a coup d’etat.
It’s also interesting to note that Putin shows signs of weakness. He has established two red lines that have been ignored by NATO members without repercussion such as providing lethal weapons to Ukraine and letting Finland join. The next test will be the delivery of American and British long-range artillery, which will neutralize Russia’s only military advantage. To pre-emptively placate Putin, the U.S. made Ukraine promise these will not be used to bomb targets inside Russia. But the reality is that they will do so when necessary.
Besides, as Aslund points out: “It is incomprehensible how the U.S. and other Western nations can insist on Ukrainian forces not attacking the scores of bases in Russia, from which the Russians bomb Ukraine. Ukraine must have the full right to defend itself against its attacker. The United Nations Charter (Article 51) states: `Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.’”
Frankly, the plucky Ukrainians will do whatever is necessary to survive and vanquish Russia and the civilized world will continue to help. Apart from a handful of Chamberlains, everyone agrees that Russia must lose the war it began without justification.
Trillion Dollar Twit
May 26, 2022
Elon Musk is a great businessman and was named Time Magazine’s “2021 Person of the Year” but he’s also a strangely adolescent 50-year-old man who is becoming a one-man train wreck. On April 25, he announced he will buy social media “megaphone” Twitter for $44 billion, or $54.20 a share but then proceeded to unleash a tirade of tweets that’s driven the stock into the ditch, now around $35.80 a share — and Tesla’s stock price along with it. Shareholders are nervous because Musk is borrowing billions against Tesla shares (he owns 15 percent of the company) to buy Twitter and because he persists in damaging share prices and brand value with his reckless and intemperate torrent of tweets.
Musk invites trouble because of his twitchy fingers. He wants to buy Twitter — a case of he-loved-the-tweet-so-much-he-decided-to-buy-the-company. But it’s the handgun of communication and dangerous in the hands of impulsive and erratic people, especially CEOs. The Wall Street Journal wrote that Musk posted 4,925 Tweets in 2018 and the pace hasn’t slowed despite the fact that he is preoccupied also with running Tesla Inc., SpaceX, The Boring Company, Neuralink Company, and OpenAI. These five public and private enterprises are worth well north of $1 trillion collectively and now he wants to run Twitter.
His tweeting has already gotten him into hot water. He is currently enmeshed in ongoing skirmishes concerning past tweets with securities regulators. He goes out of his way to generate political controversy. But he also faces a potentially ruinous online run-in that involves allegations of sexual harassment by a former SpaceX flight attendant. On May 19, the sex scandal’s details were published in Business Insider, and on May 20 Tesla fell by 10 percent.
Even industry Bible TechCrunch has taken him to task over all his shenanigans and wrote: “He has peddled vaccine skepticism to his 92.8 million Twitter followers and said that panic around COVID-19 was “dumb,” his companies have been routinely cited for union-busting, for covering up working injuries, for poor working conditions, and for racist treatment. He allegedly paid an employee $250,000 to sign an NDA to keep her quiet after he sexually harassed her. Overall, he’s pretty insufferable.”
Musk, like many Silicon Valley geniuses, lives in an eccentric tech bubble of his own creation. He’s the Thomas Edison of the 22nd Century but his suitability as CEO of public companies is questionable due to his tweeting mania. But it has resulted in 94 million followers so far.
Musk’s followers enjoy the fact that he scorns authorities and disrupts markets, but his investors and others do not. In August 2018, he lost the Chairmanship of Tesla by tweeting that he might take the company private, thus breaking disclosure requirements. In 2021, his tweets about GameStop singlehandedly created a rush into “meme” stocks, triggering a securities investigation. He then created a surge in the price of bitcoin by announcing Tesla would accept it as payment for cars. After being immediately called out as a hypocrite, because of the negative environmental impact of bitcoin mining, he stopped Tesla from accepting bitcoin. But he still owns a chunk of the cryptocurrency. And last year, he disclosed that Tesla had enough money to go private and was charged with securities fraud, then was acquitted this April. Capping it all off, Tesla's stock plummeted a day after he announced his Twitter deal and lost $126 billion in market value.
It’s laughable that a person this erratic, and sketchy, would profess to want to buy Twitter in order to turn it Twitter into the “town square” of the Internet, without censorship. Given his own track record of licentiousness on the platform, this surely poses a risk beyond financial. Then there is the #MeToo allegation leveled against him. He tweeted that the claims "are utterly untrue" and the article in Business Insider was a “politically motivated hit piece”.
That allegation aside, judge for yourself whether the following tweets should disqualify him as the future arbiter of the “town square” of the Internet. They’re outrageous and are self-described “jokes” but they were hardly a laughing matter to the investors and corporations and markets that were bruised.
Or this one:
Other netizens object to Musk’s goal to buy Twitter to save the “public square”. For instance, critics in India, Twitter’s fourth-largest market, said less content moderation will open the door for more hate speech. Others have noted that Musk may use the social media template to reward allies and punish rivals or to pander to regimes like China where he does big business and where social media is strictly censored.
Members of the newly formed Integrity Institute, a non-profit organization, suggested in a letter that Musk carefully thinks about how to provide a forum for “free expression”. “We all agree that social media is pretty broken, and we share your concern in protecting people’s ability to express themselves freely and has out disagreements without fear of censorship or harassment. But a forum for ‘free expression’ requires more than giving everyone the mic. It also requires clear processes, a culture of transparency, and a product that guides people toward best practices and behavior.”
Frankly speaking, Musk’s first step in saving or shoring up the “public square” should be to personally exit from the site and remove anyone who flouts securities regulations and makes jokes that financially damage others as well as those who are unfactual, spew hate, or generate violence. It would also be important, in the interests of disclosure to investors and the public, that he spell out exactly how he intends to make Twitter more responsible? What is his business model? Or is this takeover all about ego or attention or political ambition?
“I don’t see a viable business model where anyone makes back $44 billion,” said an esteemed analyst. “But in terms of politics, culture, and the economy, Twitter is an incredibly influential space — and the value of that may be priceless.”
Without a doubt, Elon Musk is an incredible achiever who has built world-class companies against all odds. He also had the courage in February to courageously provide Ukrainians with StarLink “modems” right after Russia’s invasion which has made all the difference by replacing the country’s Internet service that had been destroyed by Russian bombing. Then he tweeted: “I hereby challenge Vladimir Putin to single combat. Do you agree to fight?”
That was vintage Musk: Bold. Innovative. Helpful. But stuck in an adolescent world.
Nuke or no nuke?
May 2, 2022
President Joe Biden asked Congress for $33-billion to help Ukraine and stock markets tanked because the allocation indicates that Russia’s war will last at least another year. The notion of a protracted war has also led to the resurgence of fear about nuclear conflict, stoked by Putin who claimed in February to have put his nuclear deterrence forces on “high alert”. In March, he tested two hypersonic missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads at speeds fast enough to elude conventional anti-missile defenses. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that “all of the countries of the world” should be prepared for the possibility that Putin could use “tactical nuclear weapons” in Ukraine. So the question is will Putin use nukes or won’t he?
Decades of negotiations to create arms control agreements have slowly reduced the number of intercontinental nukes, or “strategic nuclear weapons”, capable of destroying cities and countries. But the world has become awash in so-called “tactical nuclear weapons” because they are exempt from nuclear arms control agreements due to their size and the claim they are “non-strategic”. “Tactical nuclear weapons are designed to be on a battlefield in a military situation, mostly with friendly forces in proximity and perhaps even on contested friendly territory,” reads one definition.
This is rubbish, a loophole has made the world more dangerous than ever. It means that using a nuke inside a nation you are at “war” with is okay but not an intercontinental one. Besides that, these weapons, collectively and individually, have become more lethal. Not only are they portable — and can be fired from moving targets such as artillery, ships, aircraft, or conventional missiles — but are as powerful as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. “Tactical nuclear weapons” range in size from 1 kiloton to 100 kilotons: the atom bomb in Hiroshima was 15-kilotons and killed 146,000 people, created a fireball radius of about 100 meters and destroyed everything inside a 1.6-kilometer radius. Estimates are that Russia has 1,500 of these while the U.S. has several hundred.
The print on the table above is tiny but here are the salient facts: The Federation of American Scientists estimates that the total nuclear warhead inventories of 13,000 in 2022 “include stockpiled warheads for use by military forces as well retired warheads in the queue for dismantlement. Of the 9,440 warheads in the military stockpiles, about 3,730 are deployed on ballistic missiles and bomber bases [“tactical” nukes]. Approximately, 2,000 warheads on ballistic missiles are on alert and can be launched on short notice.” Put another way, some 3,730 warheads represent the world’s unregulated stash of “tactical nuclear weapons”.
Below is a “conflict” map of Europe which shows the extent of nuclear capability on the continent. Locations include NATO countries —nuclearized and not — that host U.S. nuclear facilities in undisclosed, and likely changing, locations. NATO’s two other nuclear powers, France and Britain, also have formidable nuclear forces. Then there’s Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Hundreds of these nukes are located on submarines, ships, missile bases, and bomber aircraft. Their locations are top secret but monitored by one another’s intelligence operations. For instance, after Putin scared everyone that he had put his nuclear forces on “high alert”, U.S. and NATO intelligence spokesmen later said there was no indication that had happened.
Obviously, taking on NATO would be suicidal, but NATO has stood on the sidelines as Ukraine was invaded and is being destroyed and may do so even if a bomb is dropped. Unfortunately, the same pattern emerges concerning a Russian nuclear threat — NATO and America scold but don’t pointedly threaten him with specific, commensurate, and horrific attacks or violence. This is why tactics must shift: NATO’s three nuclear powers – the U.S., France, and Britain – must heighten their rhetoric and shift away from shaming Russia as “irresponsible for talking about nuclear escalation” or from Biden’s opaque, nuanced and polite veiled threat that “we are prepared for whatever they do”. Their message should be, in private, “Mr. Putin if you drop a nuke on Ukraine or NATO soil, we will respond in kind” or better yet a blunt Russian-style threat — “if you drop a nuke on Ukraine we will vaporize your Black Sea and Arctic fleets in 15 minutes”.
Perhaps that has happened, but anxiety remains, and the failure to do so publicly represents another “deterrence and assurance gap” that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley has referred to. Scolding and shaming did not frighten Putin away from invading Ukraine in February when Biden spoke of “swift and severe” consequences. And NATO squabbling doesn’t help either. As one military expert told me “the three NATO powers [U.S., Britain, France] are the only adults in the NATO room and they have to make the call. Perhaps any nuclear attack in Ukraine should be matched by a nuclear attack on a Russian city or by attacks on Putin’s tactical nuclear capability everywhere”.
Retired U.S. General Barry McCaffrey said recently that he doesn’t believe that Putin will drop a nuke on Ukraine. “I cannot imagine a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Air Force telling Mr. Putin this is a good idea. We have tactical nuclear weapons sitting on submarines of the U.S. Navy that, within 15 minutes, could respond to a tactical attack. No one in their right mind thinks you can win a nuclear conflict,” he said.
But what if Putin is not in his right mind or if a frustrated Putin decides to use a single tactical nuke in Ukraine as the war grinds down his forces and patience to bring the country to its knees – as happened in 1945 when Japan surrendered after the nuclear attacks. Of this, McCaffrey points out that Ukraine is “not Japan in 1945. Ukrainians would fight even harder if he used a tactical nuclear weapon.”
All evidence points to the fact that Putin is rational which is why he hasn’t dropped a bomb or two already to end the conflict. A red line, with ruinous consequences for Russia, must be delineated publicly if Putin uses chemical or nuclear weapons or bombs a nuclear facility in Ukraine. NATO’s big three must pre-emptively provide blanket nuclear protection to prevent Putin from speeding up his genocidal war with weapons of mass destruction. Shaming, scolding, and gentlemanly threats are pointless. Only a stern ultimatum will fortify Ukraine’s heroic struggle to survive and protect Europe’s future.
A Turning Point
April 28, 2022
This week, Russia’s war against Ukraine became Russia’s war against Europe and NATO. America declared unequivocal support and major allocations for Ukraine’s military; a good electoral outcome in France boosted NATO and European Union solidarity; Germany gave Kyiv a blank check for armaments; the IMF pledged to cover Ukraine’s $5-billion-a-month deficit; Britain blessed Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil, and Russia cut off gas shipments to Poland and Bulgaria as a warning to Europe and set off bombs in Moldova. To cap off a momentous few days, the United Nations returned from Moscow empty-handed. Apparently, no one told the Secretary-General that Putin considered genocide and war crimes non-negotiable.
The world’s biggest crisis has dramatically shifted to the battlefield for two overriding reasons. Europe and America are horrified by Russia’s cruelties and have decided to step up, and Ukraine is willing to keep fighting. After Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin met with NATO leaders, he announced: “Ukraine clearly believes that it can win and so does everyone here.” He added that NATO would hold monthly meetings as part of a joint Ukraine-European war effort which means, in essence, Ukraine has been deputized as a de facto member of NATO. This is ironic given that Russia’s pretext for mobilizing and invading Ukraine was to prevent Ukraine from being part of NATO and now it’s come to pass.
Unfortunately, weapons, not protection, are what’s being given, and these have already come too late for millions of homeless, tens of thousands of victims, and cities like Mariupol that have been razed. It’s a welcome development, but to me, there’s something unseemly and exploitative about this alliance: That NATO members would arm to the teeth a poor country facing extinction against a superpower without providing commensurate sacrifice. I also find General Austin’s metaphor about “winning” unfortunate and insensitive because there are no winners or losers in wars. Everybody loses.
Orphaned Ukraine has no choice but to fight on, and NATO cannot intervene directly even if its members wanted to, which they don’t, given Putin’s threat to deploy nuclear weapons if they did. But no one should be surprised if this arrangement doesn’t result in a serious escalation by Moscow against all involved. Already Poland and Bulgaria and Moldova have been “attacked”.
This week Ukrainian and Russian forces were amassed for a critical confrontation in Ukraine’s east and south, and there have been mixed reviews about the results. Ukraine conceded that Russian forces had pushed deeper into the country's east and captured several villages. But there were also reports that the big offensive expected in the south had become a stalemate. If true, that would be a hopeful sign, given that if evenly matched already, the Ukrainians would gain an advantage as Western heavy equipment, anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, and artillery begins to steadily arrive.
Ukraine is finally receiving its first purely offensive weapons which may turn the tide. But Moscow, on the other hand, has been unleashing hundreds of missiles daily across the country, targeting civilians, railways, logistical hubs, and large caches of weapons from the West with depressing success. The skies are not fully protected yet but are getting there, thanks to some NATO members.
Such grim conditions are why gloating by American commentators about Russia’s failure to capture Kyiv, the sinking of its flagship, or that Putin never dreamed the West would unite are not helpful. Putin may not have foreseen setbacks, but make no mistake he’s “winning” thus far, dismantling and devouring Ukraine, then doubling down. Putin is also following his playbook: In Chechnya and Syria, he attacked civilians to bring about pressure, terror, and a refugee crisis and “won”. In Syria, he used chemical weapons despite warnings by President Barack Obama and got away with it. And his strategy of “escalate to de-escalate” means that he will undertake any action, or use any weapon, to overwhelm his enemy and force it to withdraw or desist.
Putin’s other weapons are his persistence and patience. Russia’s war in Europe began with the 2014 invasion of Ukraine and has never stopped. Now involved in a full-blown conflict and heavily sanctioned, Putin knows that economic damage to Russia will be difficult, but he also knows that Western democracies and their publics will suffer economic hardships and may tire of warfare as the war continues. There can be little doubt that a serious recession looms, stock markets and economic growth will fall, financial sanctions plus food and energy inflation will hit pocketbooks, and the Germans and others may eventually balk at the cost of decoupling from Russian energy or of perpetuating financial sanctions. They are “hooked” on Putin’s energy.
It’s also important to note that developing nations are indifferent toward this European slaughter because they were victims of European colonialization and conquest. They are also upset at the economic costs this war is creating for them in the form of food and energy inflation. And the news cycle will eventually shift. Coverage may begin to ebb due to costs and falling audiences, then Americans and Europeans will return to sports or action figure movies.
Throughout this ordeal, however, Ukrainians will remain heroic and are clear-eyed as to what must be done. “We are bleeding, morally, militarily, economically, physically, but we are fighting. And we will not stop until we win. We have no other choice but to win this war because if we lose, there will be no Ukraine. Winning is much closer if we get heavy weapons and if there are no restrictions on the sanctions that have to be imposed on Russia – oil, gas, banks. The sooner these are done, the sooner we’ll win. We will pay the price for the safety of the world,” said Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, considers NATO’s involvement a dangerous escalation. “NATO is, in essence, going to war with Russia through a proxy,” he said, invoking the danger of nuclear conflict. “The risk is serious. It should not be underestimated.”
This “nuke” card is played by Russia routinely. Putin notified the world before his invasion that his nuclear forces had been put on high alert. It’s a bluff, but a scary one. The Pentagon’s Austin dismissed this as “dangerous and unhelpful” and said helping Ukraine is not an existential threat to Russia, but NATO is arming an ally to fend off its neighboring bully by “degrading” or weakening its military forces.
“We’re all here because of Ukraine’s courage, because of the innocent civilians who have been killed, and because of the suffering that your people still endure,” Austin told Kuleba. “And so they [Russians] are, in terms of military capability, weaker than when it started. It will be harder for them to replace some of this capability as they go forward because of the sanctions and the trade restrictions that have been placed on them. So we would like to make sure, again, that they don’t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the outset of this conflict.”
Tragically, the cost of success will also be catastrophic for Ukrainians. On April 27, following the West’s alliance behind Ukraine, Putin raised the nuclear option again. In March, Russia tested two hypersonic missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads, boasting that these are impossible to shoot down even with the sophisticated defense systems that Germany, America, and others are finally starting to deliver to Ukraine. More recently, Russians fired Cruise missiles at low altitudes over the Chornobyl nuclear site, a reckless act that’s renewed concerns about nuclear blackmail.
Fortunately, the West’s economic warfare of sanctions on exports, technology, energy, and banking is taking a toll. So are U.S. dollar sanctions, or “America’s money nuke”, that block Russia’s exporters from being paid in U.S. dollars. Moscow now insists payments for energy be made in unstable Roubles, and when customers balk, like in Poland and Bulgaria, they are cut off. Other restrictions hurt its war effort. For instance, precision-guided missiles that rely on foreign semiconductor chips cannot be replaced once supplies are exhausted and tank production at two Russian plants has stopped because of a lack of foreign parts.
What’s most worrisome, however, is that it’s hard to imagine either side winning or losing or negotiating. It’s also difficult to conceive that the West will stay the course and make the immense sacrifices required in order to defeat Putin once and for all. These include increasing their militaries and burying Russia by removing it from energy supply chains wherever possible. Germany, for instance, should re-commission its shuttered nuclear plants, and America, Canada, Norway, and resource-rich allies should open their spigots to flood Europe, China, and India with oil and liquefied natural gas to bankrupt Putin’s war machine.
This week represents a turning point and hopefully, the world understands that this is not about winning or losing a war. This is not a blood feud between two nations. This is about another time-worn struggle waged between civilization and barbarity that is occurring in the heart of the richest, most developed region on the planet. Losing to Putin is not an option, and neither is allowing him to remain in power.
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David and Goliath
April 21, 2022Diane Francis
This week Russia launched its full-scale offensive to take the portions of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region that it didn’t conquer in 2014. Both sides have geared up for a do-or-die contest involving thousands of tanks, trenches, artillery, and more than 100,000 troops that will fight for control of an industrial and coal mining heartland the size of New Hampshire. A “very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address. “No matter how many Russian troops they send there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves.” But win, lose, or “quagmire”, this is Ukraine’s “Alamo” and the world will now witness the heroic struggle by outnumbered patriots fighting for independence against a monolithic wall of woe.
On February 24, Russia invaded to steal the rest of the Donbas and all of Ukraine. After Putin’s army failed to capture Kyiv, it is concentrating efforts on the Battle for Donbas in order to claim a victory of sorts. In response, Ukraine’s army is concentrated there, and a deluge of weapons — including some fighter jets — are flooding into Ukraine in recent days from the U.S., Britain, and other NATO members. By so doing, President Joe Biden and his alliance ignore warnings by Putin to stop supplying lethal weapons or face possible nuclear escalation. This is a pivotal moment and Russia must be stopped.
It would be naïve to think that Ukraine can quickly win this battle – much less the war -- but it’s also naive to think that Ukraine will lose. Motivated by the need to survive, Ukraine’s defenses already repelled Russia’s 40-kilometer convoy of death machines and tens of thousands of troops headed toward Kyiv. This failure forced a shift in strategy by Russia to the eastern region. Now the Battle for Donbas is joined and “is important and could influence the course of the war”, said Zelensky.
For Putin, winning here is essential. Experts say he wants to pronounce victory over Donbas on April 24 (Orthodox Easter) or May 9 (Russia’s anniversary of the defeat of Germany in 1945). “He needs a symbol of success,” explained a U.S. military official. That comment, in itself, is telling: that the murder of thousands of Orthodox Ukrainians by Easter would be considered a cause for celebration is incomprehensible. But so is Putin’s belief that Ukraine’s defeat would be equivalent to Hitler’s. Such twisted history ignores the fact that as many Ukrainians, Belorussians and Polish died fighting Germany in World War II as died from the rest of the former Soviet Union’s republics combined. Putin’s narrative that Russians defeated Nazism and saved the world from Hitler, is fantasy.
Ironically, this Battle of Donbas will be fought where one of the bloodiest and most protracted World War II clashes took place, resulting in the defeat of an entrenched German army that had occupied the Donbas region for 22 months. Now Ukrainians fight the marauder from the east, a struggle which may also last months. Fortunately, Ukraine’s advantages today are its morale, mobility, knowledge of the terrain, mastery of innovations such as Turkey’s killer drones, a mountain of new weaponry, and ongoing intelligence provided by the U.S. and NATO. “Never underestimate the impact of morale in execution,” commented retired U.S. Major General Paul Eaton. “The Ukrainians want a piece of the Russians. My bet is on the Ukrainian defense of the region.”
What also helps is that as Russia bombs Ukraine, the West is saturation bombing Russia’s economy, corporations, institutions, exports, imports, oligarchs, people, and reputation. Every day the war continues, Russia loses financial staying power: Its assault costs $1 billion a day, and energy exports earn $1 billion a day and are dropping. European countries scramble to find alternative energy supplies and huge pressure is being applied on Germany, Hungary, and Austria, in particular, to step up and cut off all energy exports soon even though this will bring about recessions in their economies. Russian imports are now considered “blood money” and once imports abate, all bets are off in terms of Russia’s future.
But at present Russia remains Goliath. Its advantages are size and airpower. “The plan of the Russians is to bring pincer movements down from the north and up from the south in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces and get beyond the line of contact,” said a Pentagon official. Russia’s numerical advantage of heavy military equipment, tanks, armored vehicles, and air power will help, but Ukraine has never been a walk in the park.
Despite the asymmetry, the military outcome is far from certain. And the political outcome is also uncertain. If Ukrainian forces prevent Russia from capturing its east, it would strengthen Kyiv’s hand in negotiations – if Russia ever agrees to talk. But if Russia gains ground, it will use newly occupied land to trade for concessions in order to end the conflict and stop the economic pain. However, Russian chess master and political activist Garry Kasparov believes that unless Russia obtains a “decisive win by May 9”, Ukraine will start a counter-offensive to get the country back which will threaten Putin’s regime. “Putin needs a win. He can’t look weak.”
Some worry that a Russian loss could anger a desperate Putin and result in a further escalation in the form of weapons of mass destruction. Already, he fired off a warning intercontinental missile this week at the outset of the Donbas struggle as a “test” and a warning. But Kasparov discounts this and said “it’s not up to him [Putin] only to decide on whether to push the button. There are generals and admirals involved too, and if Ukraine begins to restore its territorial integrity, it’s all over for Putin…a collapse of his dictatorial rule.”
What’s interesting is that some conclude that even if Russia wins the battle in Donbas it will lose the war. “No matter what happens in the Donbas, the costs are likely to be so high that the Russian military will be a spent force,” said a retired U.S. General. Already, Russia falters: Its casualties are double those of Ukraine’s, and its army has failed to advance dramatically anywhere. Capturing Kyiv was impossible, Putin gave up on taking Mariupol, and the Russian navy’s flagship, Moskva, was sunk by Ukrainian missiles and, along with it, hopes of an amphibious invasion along the Black Sea coast.
Even so, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expects the conflict to last for years. “I think it’s measured in years. I don’t know about a decade, but at least years for sure. This is a very extended conflict that Russia has initiated and I think that NATO, the United States, Ukraine, and all of the allies and partners supporting Ukraine will be involved in this for quite some time.”
A protracted conflict in Ukraine would be bad news for Putin because it will bring about dire circumstances for Russians who may become restive as well as for the world economy, triggering a global slump and recession in some regions. Growth rate estimates were slashed by the World Bank Organization from 4.1 percent to 2.8 percent because of the war. And if Ukraine is unable to harvest the grains it has just planted, the food price and supply crisis will worsen contributing to starvation and inflation.
The best outcome for the world is if Ukrainians stop Putin in Donbas. Only if Goliath cannot beat David, is a regime change possible in Moscow. What began in 2014 in Donbas has now become the Cold War 2.0. Ukraine is both a victim and the West’s protagonist. This is why in the coming weeks and months, Ukraine must receive more help in order to prevail or the world faces the unimaginable.
The Great De-Globalization
April 14, 2022
Russia’s war has mobilized the West. Military equipment floods Ukraine, draconian sanctions crater Putin’s economy, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen yesterday warned China against remaining neutral. Hers was a shot heard ‘round the world: Not only has Russia’s invasion redrawn the world’s political map but the economic war of sanctions has accelerated the economic de-globalization that began with the pandemic. The war interrupts the flow of goods and services, changing the world’s multilateral trade system. These realities will be dealt with at an upcoming summit next week in Washington of world finance ministers plus institutions, such as the IMF or World Bank. Some speculate that a bipolar system (the US versus China) may evolve or new trade alliances may form based on political affinity, security requirements, and currencies. One expert suggested that “a great unwinding” is underway while another stated that the world moves “back to the Dark Ages”.
De-globalization began after COVID-19 disrupted economies and supply chains. New suppliers were sought to avoid shortages of food and energy or to protect national security. The pandemic has also caused inflation as governments printed gobs more money to support businesses and workers damaged as a result of lockdowns. And now the war affects inflation and commodity prices such as food and energy because Russia and Ukraine are large suppliers.
The economic consensus is that if the war drags on for months, global trade will plummet, interest rates will rise and economic growth will slow. The best solution to this fracturing and disruption, suggested one Wall Street Journal reader in jest, would be “to split the global economy into two closed systems that do not cross, interact or trade with one another, like an East-West iron curtain. One based on the US system, one on the Chinese system and let each decide its own path. This would eliminate squabbling.”
While whimsical, research firm Capital Economics took a look at this notion and published its results in the South China Morning News, read by Beijing. Its study found that of the world’s 218 economies, 114 would fall into the U.S. bloc, and 90 into the China bloc. The U.S. bloc would represent 68 percent of global GDP and over half of trade, and the China bloc would include the majority of the world’s population. Of course, the problem with such a “solution” is that the efficiencies of global trade would evaporate and in such a divided world, corporations of all sizes and consumers would pay higher prices for fewer choices.
And the article’s “kicker” aimed at China was: “If the decoupling between the world’s two largest economies were to continue gradually – with supply chains rearranged rather than completely severed – the consequences would be much more disruptive to the China bloc than to the United States bloc,” wrote Capital Economics.
As clouds form over China, Russia’s future is darkness. Putin’s atrocities have fortified global opinion, and America’s sanctions weaponry represents major financial warfare. The Western nations have essentially confiscated Russia's central bank reserves and intend to implode its economy, despite the fact that it is an essential commodity producer of global proportions. For the time being the West has given China a pass, but that may change too. At present, China does not appear wobbly in terms of its support for Russia even though it should do so in order to please its anti-Russia customers and retain its living standards.
The Europeans have joined the Americans in China-bashing. On March 17, French President Emmanuel Macron outlined a new industrial policy for his country aimed at reducing its reliance on China. On March 19, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner stated that China represented an opposed ideology that had become an “enormous risk” to Europe and the rest of the developed world. He went on to be more specific. “Our trade relationship with China is almost a concentration risk for our economy. It may be a trading partner, but it’s also a systemic rival,” he said.
This you-must-pick-a-side mentality will be inflationary because the world depends on cheap Chinese “everything”. China has been the biggest beneficiary of global trade, and its coziness with Vlad has resulted in a massive flight of capital. This was already underway before its controversial collaboration but has sped up recently. And wartime conditions — and alliances — will be front and center at the summit of world financial gurus which will include anti-war sanctions architect Janet Yellen. They will decide how to fix the world’s over-stressed financial and trade architecture.
“I hope we don’t end up with a bipolar system,” said Yellen at an Atlantic Council event on April 13. “We need to work very hard with China to avert such an outcome. The big picture is that China has benefitted enormously from being part of a global system, rules-based, and this has promoted Chinese economic growth. We ought to try to preserve the best features of that system which has also benefitted the US and allies.”
But her warning to China was that it must help to stop Russia’s aggression and that Beijing must not sit on the fence or else it will risk having severe sanctions imposed on its economy by the Western alliance. Besides Russia, China’s problem has been that its state-owned enterprises, and intrusive government edicts, have resulted in practices that have damaged the national security interests of its customers. She said such problems can be overcome within a global economy by “friend shoring”, as opposed to off-shoring. “Friend shoring is about trading with partners we feel comfortable with, can count on, rather than take a domestic [bring jobs back home] approach. This would extend the benefits of continued efficiencies.”
Problems exist beyond the war: U.S. inflation (which began with massive COVID-19 relief allocations by Washington last year), the drop in European consumption due to excessive energy prices, and new lockdowns in China. When interest rates eventually rise, further drops in consumer spending and investments may lead to a recession everywhere. But there will also be winners. Energy inflation caused by the war will hugely benefit energy-producing nations in the Middle East or energy-producing regions in North America to the detriment of energy-impoverished nations. Ironically, U.S. producers will benefit the most, as the world’s biggest oil and gas industry, but American consumers will be disadvantaged.
China, and developing nations, reel from high energy and food prices. China’s growth has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years. “It’s the end of one era and the beginning of another, which is a less complete form of globalization than we had ambitions for in the immediate post-Cold War era,” said Michael Smart, managing director of Rock Creek Global Advisors. “We have to think differently about what we mean by the global trading system. There are certain requirements that, if you don’t meet them, you’re not part of it. You can’t be in the club.”
A ”China Club” isn’t necessarily in the cards either, nor is an invasion of Taiwan, given the world’s reaction to the Ukrainian invasion. China is also running out of resources, its productivity is declining, its economy has been slowing for years, and its population is rapidly aging. Then there’s China’s hideous real estate bubble, which has put the government severely in debt to shore up its banks and hundreds of millions of homeowners. And the pandemic lab secrecy in Wuhan has alienated many nations as has its pact with Russia.
Internally, China has problems as Beijing cracks down severely on its entrepreneurs and most innovative corporations. Its state-owned enterprises have also cheated in terms of accounting practices. The result is that the U.S. intends to more dramatically reduce access to U.S. capital markets for Chinese corporations and they are being gradually booted off its stock exchanges.
Next week it’s likely that the world’s sharp minds, and pencils, who meet to reshape the global economy and trade will end up merely tweaking, not dismantling. However, the caveat clearly is that if China provides Russia with military assistance, all bets are off. Its economy will be in major trouble as customers, investors, and former partners head for the exits.
TIME TO DOUBLE DOWN
March 31, 2022
“You wanna know how to get Al Capone? Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife; you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital; you send one of his to the morgue … Now, do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?” – The Untouchables
Russia is a criminal enterprise run by a leader who is a zealot and intends to steal a chunk of Ukraine formerly called “Novorossiya” and leave the country landlocked and dependent on the European Union. Narratives that Russia is losing, has miscalculated Ukrainian resistance, or that President Vladimir Putin is angry because he has been misled by his generals are irrelevant. What’s critical to know is that Russia participates in negotiations not to end this war, but to buy time. It deceives and lies. For instance, Russia pledged on March 28, before talks with Ukraine, to “drastically reduce” attacks in Kyiv and nearby Chernihiv, then immediately bombed more everywhere. And the war’s effects spread globally which is why the West must now provide more weapons and systems to close Ukraine’s skies before he obliterates the entire country.
The West fails to understand that Putin has been influenced by a “Rasputin-like” character named Aleksander Dugin, who believes that Russia belongs at the center of a New World Order because of its innate superiority. Called “Eurasianism”, Dugin’s ideas are creepily similar to Hitler’s “super race” lunacy complete with a desire for worldwide domination. Putin’s other influence is an obscure Soviet-era ethnologist named Lev Gumilyov who believed in “passionarity” – a weird concept that Putin cited last year in a speech: “Russia has not reached its peak. We are on the march, on the march of development. … We have an infinite genetic code. It is based on the mixing of blood."
Even worse, Putin has fused church and state, as did Russia’s Czars, and enlisted Patriarch Kirill, the current head of the Russian Orthodox Church, to assist this war effort. The cleric recently described military service as a "manifestation of evangelical love for neighbors." This unseemly collaboration took on more importance when the Russian Orthodox Church lost supervisory control over the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in January 2019 following centuries of being in charge. Coincidentally, this occurred just before the election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as Ukraine’s President, a liberal Ukrainian of Jewish descent who was elected to rid the country of corruption and Russian influence. It was the first unrigged election since independence in 1991.
This is a war conducted in the name of Russian glory and God. Charged with “divine” entitlement, Putin will continue to bomb until he conquers the Black Sea coastline and all of the resource-rich Donbas and then some. He is reviled globally but does not search for an “exit ramp”. He deludes and doubles down. On March 29, his mouthpiece equivocated that there were “positive developments” from talks with Ukraine in Turkey only to have another say “we can’t report anything very promising, no breakthroughs.” And insidiously, his spokesmen have hinted at Russia's right to use nuclear weapons, mostly to frighten the West away from sending more sophisticated weapons and jets to help Ukraine.
But Eliot Cohen argues, a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies argues that America’s “hand-wringing over [nuclear] escalation” is illogical. This “fear of escalation”, as articulated by American leaders, has handed Russia a psychological edge. Russia knows that when it escalates in Ukraine, the West will respond with anxiety, not military reciprocity. This has impeded the West from sending planes and sophisticated systems to create a no-fly zone. After all, he added, Javelins and Stingers now being sent to Ukraine kill Russian soldiers and a MiG-29 jet fighter is just another weapon that will kill Russian pilots and soldiers. “Having already hinted that the United States would supply more sophisticated surface-to-air weapons to Ukraine, the notion that transferring fighter planes would escalate the conflict is simply preposterous,” he concluded.
“As for the nuclear question: We should not signal to the Russians that they have a trump card they can always play to stop us from doing pretty much anything. Nuclear weapons are why the United States should refrain from attacking Russia directly, not why it should fear fighting Russians in a country they invaded,” he said.
The dominant perception in Western military circles is that Putin has what’s known as “escalation dominance” because Ukraine matters more to him than it does to the West. This means he is prepared to escalate to chemical or tactical nuclear weapons, knowing that NATO members won’t reciprocate. David Ignatius of the Washington Post put this problem of asymmetry best: “a nuclear power [Russia] can engage in vicious regional aggression without paying the most severe price. America and its NATO allies are deterred in this conflict, but Russia isn’t. The paradox of our restraint is that it enables the unrestrained. Somehow, the balance of deterrence must be restored.”
Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, weighed into the debate about “escalation dominance” by pointing out that the West has dramatically stepped up weapons support, and intelligence sharing, without retaliation. He also believes Russia’s announced nuclear high alert was a bluff because there’s no evidence this happened. He agreed that Western support must include more anti-aircraft systems and fighter aircraft so Ukraine can create its own no-fly zone.
Another negotiation is scheduled for April 1 to deal with Ukraine’s proposal that it would not seek NATO membership if Russian troops withdraw and it obtains iron-clad security guarantees from a few countries so that the “horrors that the Russians have brought to the Ukrainian people” are never repeated. The U.S., Germany, Israel, Turkey, and others have been approached as guarantors but only Germany has acceded, with conditions attached. In return, however, Russia has proposed nothing and continues its rampage.
Clearly, it’s time for the West to up the ante in terms of punishment as this war is weeks away from causing famine in the unstable Middle East and economic destabilization across Europe. More sanctions should be placed on its banks, energy trade must end as soon as possible and shippers and insurers must be sanctioned to shut down all trade with Russia. Every Russian with a visa and passport must be deported, and Russia must be booted out of the United Nations, World Trade Organization, and G20.
Further, the West must state that the $500-billion of Russian Central Bank foreign currency reserve assets that the G7 countries have frozen belongs to Ukraine as reparations for damages to its cities, people, and industries. Russia must be reduced to economic rubble and driven back to the Stone Age, technologically, in the hopes that the fanatic and war criminals in the Kremlin are removed.
Tragically, the greatest injustice of all is that stopping Putin should be solely left to Ukrainians. They are fierce, valiant, and willing to fight but, at the very least, deserve proportionate weaponry to fight Moscow, no matter the risk. This is war with a gangster posing as a savior and cannot be won as long as the West holds back. As Prussian military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz famously said: “If one side uses force without compunction, undeterred by the bloodshed it involves, while the other side refrains, the first will gain the upper hand.”
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Ukraine 1, Goliath 0
March 28, 2022
Last week, a Russian soldier surrendered a tank to Ukrainian military forces after his team fled, in return for $10,000 and a lenient jail sentence. “He could not return home because his commander said he would shoot him and write it off as combat losses," said a Ukrainian official. “He said the command of the troops was chaotic and practically absent. The demoralization was enormous.” Another mutiny occurred when Russian soldiers killed their commanding officer near Kyiv after half their comrades died. As Russian desertions increase, Ukraine offers $1 million to any Russian pilot who delivers a jet and $500,000 for a combat helicopter. NATO estimates that 40,000 out of Russia’s 190,000 troops in Ukraine have been killed, wounded, captured, or have gone missing in the first month of the war. So it’s not surprising that on March 25, Russia’s generals announced a retreat from Kyiv to the east and south.
Unfortunately, it is wishful thinking that Ukraine, or even Russia for that matter, can win this war. Hopefully, negotiations this week will yield a ceasefire. But Ukraine’s military gains led to Russia’s strategic shift. “The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas,” said Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate.
This so-called “shift” may be a “head feint”, an attempt to camouflage failure in Kyiv or consolidation in order to grab the east and south to landlock and divide the country. Estimates are that one-fifth of Russian forces are no longer combat-effective — good news for Ukraine — but this is also bad news because Russia may shift to saturation bombing to flatten the entire place. This is why a no-fly zone must be erected and why Ukraine has stepped up calls for help, for a “mere” one percent of NATO’s missiles and anti-tank weapons, jets, attack helicopters, tanks, and advanced anti-aircraft systems.
These military successes are due to the fact that Ukraine has turned itself into the world’s biggest “citizen army”. Nearly four million of its women, children, and elderly have evacuated thus far but left behind tens of millions more to fight. Consider the numbers: Russia’s invasion force totals 190,000, mostly young conscripts with lousy equipment compared to Ukraine’s army of 250,000 plus up to 700,000 more veterans and reserve forces who have been called up and have combat experience. Add to that, 34 million Ukrainians, 18 years of age or more, male and female, who are contributing to the cause. Of this, 10 million are more than 60 years old and many are healthy enough to bear arms, care for children and the disabled, or make meals and Molotov cocktails. Since the war began, thousands of foreign volunteers plus 250,000 Ukrainian men have returned from abroad to join the war effort. Even the country’s farmers have gotten into the fray, towing away Russian tanks, debris, and wounded soldiers.
Russia is now the butt of Internet jokes, even at home. Russian chess master and exiled Russian politician Garry Kasparov repeated one gag line making the rounds: “We are now entering day 24 of the special military operation to take Kyiv in two days.”
Ukraine has defeated Russia’s initial campaign to take over the country from three sides, but the war is stalemated not over, caution experts at the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute. Russia’s done best in the south and is close to establishing a “land bridge” between Crimea and Russian-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine. That mission will be accomplished if Mariupol falls, which hasn’t happened despite a barbaric siege and humanitarian disaster; if Mykolaiv falls but Ukrainians have counterattacked and are trying to drive the Russians out, and if Kherson falls but there’s still fighting there too. All three cities stand in the way of an attack on Odesa which, if successful, will landlock and economically cripple Ukraine.
Ukraine's intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov explained Russia’s shift in strategy: "After a failure to capture Kyiv and remove Ukraine's government, Putin is changing his main operational directions. These are south and east. It will be an attempt to set up South and North Koreas in Ukraine.”
Reports today are that Ukraine is prepared to accede to the Russian demand of neutrality — providing Russia withdraws all its troops — in advance of talks between the two countries, to be held in Turkey this week. But military success, tougher sanctions, and an energy embargo are essential to take into talks, said Yuriy Vitrenko, a member of President Zelenskyy’s inner circle, in an interview with me in the Atlantic Council today. “We have to be winning militarily, and crippling his economy, for Putin to be reasonable in negotiations,” he explained.
Zelenskyy asks NATO to give Ukraine one percent of its aircraft and tanks. “It cannot be acceptable for everyone on the continent if the Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia, and the whole of Eastern Europe are at risk of a clash with the Russian invaders only because they left only one percent of all NATO aircraft and one percent of all NATO tanks somewhere in their hangars. One percent! And we do not ask for more. And we have already been waiting 31 days!”
It’s little wonder why Putin censored the lengthy interview Zelenskyy gave on March 27 to Russian media outlets, or why Putin sent mercenaries to assassinate Zelenskyy at the outset of the war. He’s the inspirational leader of a country, a fledgling democracy that has been abused for decades by Russia but that has weaponized itself to remain independent. Nearly 90 percent of Ukrainians believe they can win the war, but the reality is that this will happen only if they close their skies, continue to outmaneuver and outman the Russian army, succeed at the negotiating table, and get much, much more from the West.
March 14, 2022
Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, was an attack in November 1938 by Nazi paramilitaries against Germany’s Jewish people whose stores, schools, synagogues, hospitals, and homes were demolished. Some 30,000 men were put into concentration camps. German authorities and citizens did not intervene, mostly out of fear, nor did other nations become involved even though foreign journalists working there drew worldwide attention to the outrage. The world sat on the sidelines until it was sucked into Hitler’s Gotterdammerung or near-destruction of the world. Today, as Ukrainians and their nation are being exterminated by Putin’s war machine, the world is outraged but sits on the sidelines even though it is next. As Ukraine’s Jewish President Volodymyr Zelensky warned this week: “Today we are fighting to prevent war in Poland and the Baltic States.”
The Kristallnacht underway in Ukraine will inevitably lead to the recapture of all Soviet Union republics, the Eastern Bloc countries plus Finland and the Balkan states. Putin is undeterred by sanctions and rhetoric because he believes his enemies are weak, co-opted, or cowardly. This is why his war against Europe’s "Jews”, or Ukrainians, is turning into a holocaust. Two cities — Mariupol and Melipotol — have become the equivalent of Warsaw Ghettoes, where Russians bomb and encircle populations and deny them food, heat, water, and medicines. Elsewhere, he doubles down by purposely mass murdering civilians, targetting schools, hospitals, and destroying cities. And the West does what Germans and Europeans did in 1938 — watches and fails to intervene except indirectly. This is morally reprehensible and dangerous.
Putin doesn’t believe U.S. President Joe Biden’s pledge “we will defend every inch of NATO territory”. He considers this as simply another “red line” like Biden’s warning not to cross Ukraine’s border or face “swift and severe sanctions”. He invaded and sanctions were neither “swift” nor “severe” enough. Weeks later, the removal of Russia’s banks from the Swift transaction system includes only 70 percent of transactions, and bans against Russian oil and gas to bring the country “to its knees” haven’t been announced but may never happen.
Europe is pathologically dependent on Russian oil and gas, and won’t, or cannot, bite the hand that heats it. Even allies with plenty of oil and gas that could replace Russian supplies — such as timid Canada and Norway — have made it clear they won’t turn on the taps because their virtue-signaling politicians are more concerned with “climate change commitments” than with stopping the next Hitler from plunging humanity into World War 3.
In essence, Putin’s war machine is subsidized by its foes – and future victims – who are unlikely to defend “every square inch”. NATO cannot even lend a few used fighter jets to Ukraine to stop the carnage and most of its members are laggards that have failed to meet their 2 percent of GDP military commitments. The worst culprit was wealthy Germany which finally announced it would double its defense budget, and change its pacifist constitution so that it can pull its weight in NATO. For decades, its military has been a glorified police department that cannot leave the country. And Canada, a huge nation with more ocean frontage than any country in the world, has an army that could fit into a football stadium and a navy with a few dozen ships, no large icebreakers, and four used submarines bought from Britain 20 years ago incapable of patrolling undersea for more than short bursts of time.
Putin realized what Hitler did which is that his enemies are weak-kneed. Given the degree of genocide underway, it’s unconscionable that Western institutions and governments and corporations have so lamely responded. McDonald’s and Starbucks announced that they will “temporarily halt” operations in Russia, a country now dedicated to murdering innocent women and children in Ukraine. Others have been dragged into leaving behind their oil or retail or manufacturing operations. Countries like Germany or Londongrad – cozy for decades with Putin and his thugs – have only now started to root out their Russia rot, cancer that should never have been allowed to metastasize in the first place. And those places to which they flee — Venezuela, Israel, Dubai, the Emirates — must take note that they must not harbor such persons.
The United Nations is useless — allowing five countries to veto any action against their predations no matter how atrocious. And the 35 nations that abstained from condemning Russia at the United Nations — notably China — should be challenged to stop the carnage or pay a swift and severe price in the form of sanctions, tariffs, and the removal of trade status. And NATO and the West can do more without sparking escalation by providing more armed drones, anti-aircraft or anti-missile systems, and jamming equipment to impede Putin’s onslaught. Armed forces must accompany humanitarian convoys headed to besieged cities to save lives and an immediate no-fly zone over western Ukraine for humanitarian purposes is essential, along with more sanctions on anything or anyone Russian. Period. No excuses.
Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who stood up to Putin and went to a gulag for years, believes there are only two ways to defeat him: fully block Putin’s bankers and energy exports. He also agrees that an immediate no-fly zone must be put in place. China must also prove it deserves to be considered a civilized nation by intervening and special forces and mercenaries must be dispatched to help Ukrainians who — like the Jews of Germany in the 1930s — face extermination from a Russia that is no longer a member of the civilized world.
Diplomacy doesn’t work. Putin will only stop when he is militarily and economically destroyed. This means costs and sacrifices but is the lesson of Kristallnacht that must be heeded: Everyone is next.
March 3, 2022
Putin expected his invasion of Ukraine would be successful in two days with the capture of Kyiv. But his army faces enormous resistance which he didn’t anticipate but which was his own doing: Putin made it clear in his speech that he was launching a genocidal attack against Ukraine and Ukrainians. Faced with “extinction”, Ukrainians believe they have nothing to lose which is why a significant number are putting their lives on the line to defeat Russia. This defiance, in turn, has brought world opinion onto their side but simply infuriates Putin further. Now, it is impossible to imagine how either Russia or Ukraine can win. Or the world. But Putin will triumph.
Where this is going is anyone’s guess. What follows are scenarios by astute observers, starting with an “optimistic one — bordering on wishful thinking without basis — put forth in a televised interview with former U.S. General David Petraeus. He believes Russia will be bogged down for a long time because of the courage and cunning of Ukraine’s resistance and said “I don’t think this is a war that Putin can win. He can take a city or two but cannot hold it and urban warfare is intensive and requires more manpower. They hate the Russians.”
If that becomes reality, a deal could be struck. The trade-off would be that in return for a cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian troops, Ukraine would agree to let Putin keep the Donbas region and Crimea, never join NATO or the EU and the West would withdraw its sanctions.
More likely, Russia will continue. Some believe his endgame is merely to capture a major city – Kyiv or Kharkiv – and hold it hostage to end the conflict and dictate terms. Alternatively, he may push all the way and install a puppet regime, but he will be embroiled in an interminable insurrection. Russia would need tens of thousands of troops to control Ukraine and people would be shooting at them every day and every night, almost everywhere.
The most pessimistic scenario is that he will accelerate his invasion by unleashing more artillery attacks, and possibly chemical ones, on the population as he did in Aleppo and in Chechnya. “He won’t hesitate to destroy a city but the difference is this time the world is watching. It wasn’t before,” said a British chemical warfare expert who also speculated that Putin could but won’t do so.
Aleppo Syria had twice the population of Kyiv and was reduced to rubble after terrible attacks by Russia and Iran. The country essentially disappeared. In total, five million Syrians fled their country during this civil war and flooded into Europe and millions more ended up in refugee camps. There was an international outcry, but Russia was not crushed by sanctions, as were Iran and the Syrian governments. Putin hid its misdeeds behind his Wagner Group mercenaries but this time he boldly uses his own military to repeat the history he was never properly punished for.
As he escalates in Ukraine, NATO will have to engage no matter the risk because Aleppo-style attacks will trigger another humanitarian and refugee tsunami so sizeable that it would shake the security of Europe’s nation-states. In anticipation of pushback by NATO, Putin has frightened the entire world with his heightened nuclear alert and past barbarity. He is already attacking civilians and has weaponized another mass refugee crisis, but a direct confrontation with NATO would bring about a clash between the two nuclear superpowers.
The West’s serial weakness concerning Putin’s predations raises another possibility. If he conquers Ukraine, he will attack a NATO nation or two. He has already demanded that NATO withdraw its forces and equipment from Bulgaria and Rumania and has positioned forces and missiles and airbases in Belarus, now occupied by Russia, next to Poland and the three Baltic states. He may launch cyber attacks (he brought down Estonia in 2007, again without incurring sanctions) or pick off this one or that. Putin has, like his speech about Ukraine, made it very clear he wants to destroy NATO on his periphery. He has also threatened Finland and Sweden who are suddenly scurrying to join NATO, saying they will “face some military and political consequences” if they join.
The only hopeful scenario — also wishful thinking — is that the “Russian street”, or his own Russian elite, rises up and ousts Putin from office as their living standards and futures completely collapse. However, that’s about as likely as Ukraine routing the Russian army and pushing it back across the border. Another beneficial outcome would be that, because he sits atop a kleptocracy of thugs and sociopaths, some may decide to bump him off and cut a deal so they can continue to rob the Russian people blind and won’t have Imperial ambitions.
But Putin has made them all rich and doesn’t let anyone get within 25 feet of him. He is sentient and knows exactly what he is doing. This is bloodlust, rooted in animus based on fake history and concocted grievances. This is the continuation of Putin’s War against Europe that I wrote about on November 11, Armistice Day. The only solution in the short term is if Ukraine and Russia can negotiate seriously — with the help of China or India or both ideally – to end this current internecine “mutual shared destruction”. If not, the world will be pulled slowly into Putin’s version of Gotterdamerung, or the downfall of the world as we know it.
This is genocide not war
February 24, 2022
The significance of Russia’s missile attacks overnight and invasion of Ukraine cannot be overstated: The world order has been completely upended and another genocide unfolds. February 24, 2022, will go down in history as a dark day, as was February 24, 1920, when the German Nazi Party was founded. And the context matters: Putin's invasion is where his hero, Josef Stalin, starved to death at least 3.5 million Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933 for the crime of refusing to give up their farms to move into his communist collectives. Soldiers murdered farmers, village leaders, and priests then confiscated all harvests and livestock. This is known as “The Holodomor”, or mass extermination by starvation, and was declared by dozens of nations, the Vatican, and the European Union as “genocide”, or the destruction of a group or a nation. Putin’s unprovoked attack against a peaceful country, and denial of its right to exist, is not war. This is another Russian despot bent on destroying the Ukrainian people and eventually others.
Ukraine left the Soviet Union in 1991 but in 2014 Putin recaptured Crimea and some portions of Luhansk and Donetsk in the eastern part of the country. He said as attacks began that he doesn’t want to occupy the entire place, only to “demilitarize” and “de-Nazify” it — statements based on two delusions: that the country is predatory and is “fascist, antisemitic, and intolerant toward its Russian-speaking citizens”. But one need only look at 2019 when Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for their current President, Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, was born in Eastern Ukraine and was raised by Russian-speaking parents. On the night of his election, Zelensky, an entertainer known throughout the Russian-speaking world, said: “To all the peoples of the former Soviet Union. See what we’ve done here tonight. Anything is possible.”
To Putin, this was a declaration of war, especially coming from a celebrity. So was Ukraine’s refusal to accept the capture of Crimea and Donbas. Everything began to shift and another famous observer, Garry Kasparov, chess master and former Presidential candidate in Russia, recently noted. “Don’t believe anything the government says but take Putin’s words seriously … he’s sick. This is the end of the post-war WW2 order. We need to reconsider the idea of international security infrastructure against Putin, not involving him.”
This is an outrage against another one of history’s most victimized groups. Putin questions Ukraine’s legitimacy but Ukrainians have been there for centuries even after The Holodomor killed millions. In 1939, they were once again decimated after Stalin joined forces with Adolph Hitler – in the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – to partition Poland. Shortly after they started their murderous spree, Hitler double-crossed Stalin and invaded Ukraine to conquer Moscow. The result was that millions more Ukrainians died – 1.4 million soldiers; 7 million civilians; and 500,000 Ukrainian Jews. Putin likes to tell the world that Russia lost the most people in World War II, but the brunt was borne by its colonies. Belarus lost 25 percent of its population; Ukraine roughly 17 percent of its population, and Latvia and Lithuania lost 14 or 15 percent respectively.
Now Belarus has been recaptured by Russia and an assault is underway in Ukraine, and possibly beyond. Bombing raids last night began the onslaught, designed to knock out military infrastructure across the country and demoralize the populace in order to bring about a speedy surrender. There is panic already and estimates are that full engagement with Ukraine’s force of 250,000 combat troops could result in horrendous casualties. Putin has a “hit list” of leaders, journalists, and activists who will be assassinated or sent to gulags after occupation. The country’s economy — and Russia’s — are cratering. Sanctions and diplomacy are now pointless.
The world will now watch, in real-time, the destruction of an innocent, democratic nation, abandoned by the West as a result of 30 years of appeasement and collaboration with Russia by Europeans. And once Ukraine’s government caves, Putin will hold Europe hostage by stopping natural gas supplies, that now flow through Ukraine’s pipeline system. He will demand that his NordStream 2 pipeline be put into operation; that NATO withdraws from Eastern Europe and that the West drop all sanctions against Russia and its elite.
Slow-motion carnage will unfold on television if there is no quick surrender. Bombs will rain down on beautiful cities, apartment blocks, schools, hospitals, churches, and squares. Footage will once more show European families fleeing, children orphaned, defenseless elderly people, and a culture torn asunder. Casualties could be catastrophic and it’s more likely that 10 million, not 5 million, Ukrainians will flee to Europe, creating a humanitarian disaster lasting years.
There is no justification for the invasion, and no excuse for the United States and the United Kingdom to have reneged on defending Ukraine from the Kremlin as promised. I happened to be in Kyiv in 1993 when Ukrainians, under pressure from the Clinton Administration, were debating whether to give up their nukes or not. At the time, its military leaders argued that this would make the country a sitting duck again. So a deal was struck: The Russians promised to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and the Americans and British promised funds and protection. None kept their word.
The world has permanently changed. Markets crash. The United Nations, with Russia as a member with a veto, is no longer functional if it ever was. The European Union without an army and cohesion cannot last, nor can NATO. An America without strong alliances is unsustainable and a nuclear Russia run by Putin — hellbent to destroy ethnic groups and nations and the international order — represents the greatest threat in the history of the world.
Cripple Russia Now
February 21, 2022
If Russia was a dog -- circling, biting, snarling, and baring its teeth at a cornered victim -- the best recourse would be to injure it to avert an attack. Merely threatening to shoot it would be pointless. Doing nothing would simply embolden the beast and immobilize the victim. And yet this is what the West is doing: threatening to injure Russia with “swift and severe” sanctions only after it invades and destroys its prey. That’s not only irrational but a sign of weakness that has given Vladimir Putin a green light to stay his destructive course. Now Russia must be injured before, not after, it attacks. Each and every act of war it perpetuates — escalation, cyberattacks, intimidation, shelling, bombing, and other provocations — must be punished. Cripple Russia now.
The press coverage and information war waged by Western governments have played into Putin’s hands, becoming part of his toolbox. One day, President Joe Biden predicts an “imminent” invasion of Ukraine, then shifts to “Putin has decided to invade” and is followed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims Russia “plans the biggest war in Europe since 1945”. Warnings serve his purpose of intimidation by amplifying anxiety and destroying markets, economies, and morale. Putin is already winning, as I wrote days ago, without firing a shot.
The media is unhelpful because it faithfully regurgitates Russian disinformation even though it is fiction: “Separatists” in Eastern Ukraine are battling a predatory Kyiv which is why people must “flee” Eastern Ukraine for Russia. The fact is that the separatists are Russian-paid mercenaries who have occupied that territory since it was illegally seized by Moscow in 2014. Even so, the media calls them “separatists” and hosts continuous will-he-or-won’t-he-invade panel discussions. All this allows Putin to wreak havoc on his foes.
Fortunately, Biden has unified NATO and Europe — a task akin to herding cats — but the failure to counter punch is why the world is now watching this slow-motion geopolitical train wreck. The West must make firm demands, tied to deadlines that, if unmet, will immediately result in disastrous punishments. As Ukraine’s distraught President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded last week at the Munich Security Conference “What are you waiting for?...with a crushing national currency, capital leaving, how can you live and have stability?”
Instead, Biden once again today offered Putin another summit if he doesn’t invade. But this is what should have been announced: Putin has 24 hours to de-escalate and provide evidence he has done so. If not, the first “leg” must be shot: Russia’s banking system must be banned from using US dollars and the Swift electronic payments system. Then shelling, shooting, and bombing in the occupied area of Ukraine, staged by Russian mercenaries, must cease, or if these do not, the other “leg” will be shot and sanctions will be imposed on all Russian corporations followed by massive tariffs imposed on all Russian exports.
Furthermore, any more territorial incursions, naval blockades, cyberattacks, sabotage schemes, or assassinations in Ukraine or Europe will result in personal sanctions against Putin and his inner circle as well as bans preventing all Russians from traveling or obtaining visas, to America, European countries, and NATO member nations, for any purpose. And Ukraine, Washington, and the European Union should immediately ask the United Nations General Assembly to expel Russia for persistently violating the Charter. Even if this unlikely request is denied, the attempt is needed to isolate, contain and forever stain Russia. Some believe he should be prosecuted as a war criminal.
“Already he’s behaving like a war criminal,” said retired General Wesley Clark recently. “He faces no threats and what he’s doing is totally illegal. No one should offer any concessions or off-ramps because Putin fabricated this crisis and it’s all his fault.”
The West’s reluctance, and NATO’s, is why the world is at this dramatic inflection point. Putin’s marauded for years and created so-called “frozen conflicts” or illegal occupations that damage and destabilize Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. Ironically, Putin is correct that NATO represents a threat to European security — but not because it threatens Russia but because it doesn’t and has never forcefully protected Europe from Russia.
Significantly, Russia’s comrade-of-convenience, China weighed in as the Olympics was coming to an end, in contrast to its limp and vague support for Russia at the outset of the Olympics. This is because China is not a marauder, needs a functioning global economy, and does enormous business with the United States and Europe. It also has invested heavily in Ukraine where it is building infrastructure and buying agricultural and other commodities. So it was not surprising, and hugely telling, when China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi dialed into last week’s Munich Security Conference and said: “The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of any country should be respected and safeguarded. Ukraine is no exception.”
That pulls the rug out from under Russia and is all the more reason why countermeasures to punish and stop Russia must be launched immediately. Shooting the legs out from under Putin will stop him cold, not cause a nuclear war. He will simply say he never intended to invade and that his military exercises are over and his troops will return to base. He will suffer no loss of face at home but be celebrated among his cronies for the damage he has already inflicted. And the Russian people, who are as brainwashed and abused as are Russian figure skaters, will do nothing.
If America and Europe had retaliated after every single Russian escalation, dating back to the June summit, the world would not be in this situation. Last summer, Biden told Putin to stop cyberattacks, but they continued and remained unchallenged. Then in August, when Russia began weaponizing energy and driving prices sky-high, Biden should have reversed his decision to waive US sanctions against Russia’s gas pipeline to Germany. He didn’t.
By pulling punches, the West has handed control over to Putin. Now united, and with China onside, Russia must be stopped. It is a rabid dog, not a country, that must be grievously injured and eventually destroyed. Starting now.
February 7, 2022
As the world holds its breath about Ukraine, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin met during the Beijing Winter Olympics and issued a 6,000-word joint statement denouncing NATO’s expansion. Xi did not hand out a blank check endorsement to Putin but participated mostly to keep his malevolent neighbor, and customer, onside. The two announced a $117.5-billion future energy deal, which Putin desperately needs, and there certainly was no mention of the elephant in the room: Siberia, a region bigger and richer than any place on earth with resources that underpin Putin’s economy. It is Asian, not European, and one day will mostly fall into China’s hands.
A Chinese takeover of Siberia may seem preposterous. But Putin’s warfare against the West weakens Russia and accelerates the probability that the Russian Federation itself will dissolve. Sanctions since Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine still hobble Russia’s economy, creating hardship at home and making Putin more dependent than ever on China, once a hated rival. Besides, using Putin’s and China’s logic: If Ukraine belongs to Russia, and Taiwan belongs to China, then most or all of Siberia belongs to China.
This is the unspoken subtext behind the Russia-China relationship. But for the present, the two joined to sign a joint agreement that is significant in large measure due to its omissions: it did not attack the US, China’s largest trading partner, or Ukraine (another significant trade partner) or mention Taiwan. It assailed “US hegemony” and, notably, the coverage was tame in China’s own media mouthpiece The Global Times. Its headline read: “Unprecedented China-Russia ties to start a new era of international relations not defined by the US” and was followed by a sub-head that the “joint statement highlights close coordination, rejects US hegemony”.
The platitudinous statement went on to say “China and Russia opposed the further expansion of NATO and called on the organization to respect the sovereignty, security, and interests of other countries…and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other states.” That was rich, given the stated intention by each to forcefully occupy Ukraine and Taiwan, countries that want to peacefully develop.
But the loss of Siberia — the entire northern Asia continent — would upend the global world order, not a tame joint statement. And Putin’s trajectory imperils his country. Even if he pulls back his invasion forces, Russia will be increasingly isolated. If he doesn’t climb down, Russia will be crippled. Either way, Russia will implode from within, due to restive provinces with secession movements and people upset with Putin, who will bolt if Moscow’s militarized center does not hold.
Kazimierz Wujcicki, a lecturer in Eastern European Studies at the University of Warsaw, recently posited six scenarios for Russia before the recent brinkmanship at Ukraine’s borders: “the fall of Russia under the influence of China”, “balkanization”, “territorial disintegration”, a “gradual but peaceful disintegration”, an “imperial” boom resulting from high oil and gas prices for years, or “modernization” in cooperation with the West.
Cooperation is not in Putin’s DNA. Instead, he heads toward Gotterdammerung, or the type of complete collapse that happened in 1991-92 after the Soviet Union dissolved due to decades of similarly militaristic and dictatorial leadership. Navalny and critics were stilled last year in a crackdown but remain. On February 4, a courageous letter signed by hundreds of Russian scientists, academics, politicians, and human rights activists, appealed to Putin to end his predations: “Our position is simple: Russia does not a war with Ukraine and the West. Such a war is devoid of legitimacy and has no moral basis. Russian citizens are becoming de facto hostages of reckless adventurism that has come to typify Russia’s foreign policy. Not only must Russians live with the uncertainty of whether a large-scale war will begin, but they are also experiencing a sharp rise in prices and a devaluation of their currency. Is this the sort of policy Russians need? Do they want war—and are they ready to bear the brunt of it? Have they authorized the authorities to play with their lives in this way?”
Then there are many nascent secessionist movements:
These independence movements are fault lines and in jurisdictions that were cohesive political or cultural entities for centuries. Siberia, on the other hand, was nomadic until the 19th century when Russia moved in militarily. In ancient times, it was populated by nomadic Turkic and Mongol tribes then governed by the Mongols in the 13th Century until fur traders came in the 16th century. A hundred years later, Russia extended its reach by building forts to defend migrants and as a buffer from China.
In 1860, the Czar solidified his grip and grabbed Chinese territory in the Far East, annexing 350,000 square miles of Manchurian China (the size of Nigeria) with its verdant climate and strategic Pacific coastline, including Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan. It did so by capitalizing on a series of unjust treaties that became known as the Amur Annexation, which was foisted on the Qing Dynasty by the West to settle the hideous Opium Wars. (These treaties also handed over Hong Kong to the British.) These are resented today by China.
Following this, Russia tightened its hold by building the Trans-Siberian Railway. This led to colonization and by 1917, half a million Russians lived in Siberia and a number of industrial towns – and a chain of penal camps, or gulags – followed, built by Josef Stalin.
Today, 33.7 million out of 145.8 million Russians live there, but Russia’s economy is dependent on Siberian resources. About 80 percent of its oil resources, 85 percent of its natural gas, 80 percent of its coal and similar amounts of precious metals and diamonds, and about 40 percent of the nation's timber resources are scattered across Siberia. Despite this endowment, Russia’s economy remains peanut-sized compared to America’s and China’s. Its GDP (and living standards) have fallen since 2014 sanctions were imposed and today its GDP is smaller than New York City’s or China’s industrialized Province of Guangdong. This is because Putin’s reign has looted the wealth of the Russian people through a combination of costly military misadventures and control of the country’s corporations and assets by his oligarchy.
China need not send in armies of conquest to acquire some or all of Siberia. Its mercantilist strategies are doing the trick, as is the case with its $1-trillion Belt and Road Initiative. By building and financing infrastructure and buying gobs of energy, as in this case, Beijing “buys” trade relationships and creates bi-national financial and economic “dependencies”. By contrast, Russia’s elite remains corrupt and incompetent, capital leaves, a brain drain continues and investment dries up.
In reality, Russia’s real “existential threat” is Vladimir Putin – not America or NATO or China – because his rapacity orphans Russia from Europe, where 75 percent of its exports go. President Joe Biden has orchestrated oil and LNG (Liquified natural gas) “workarounds” designed to replace Russian energy in Europe. Even LNG contract holders like South Korea, Japan, and China, and their suppliers, have signaled their willingness to redirect cargoes to Europe if a further cutback in Russian exports creates a supply crisis. And Russia’s OPEC “partners” such as Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, and others have agreed to re-route oil to Europe to replace Russian shipments and are doing so already.
Putin’s latest stunts shoot Russia in the foot, but China’s culture of hard work, technology, and business smarts has already launched an organic, slow-motion takeover of Siberia. There are only 500,000 Chinese living there, but Chinese cities with millions of people sprout along the Russo-Siberian borders, building economies and businesses that provide goods and services that Russians are uninterested or incapable of producing. For those who doubt China can ever subsume part or all of Siberia, consider the tale of two cities: Russia’s Blagoveshchensk and China’s Heihe, its “sister city” across the Amur River.
In 1891, a famous Imperial Arch was built to greet Crown Prince Nicholas to Blagoveshchensk, a sleepy Siberian town that now has a population of 211,000. In 2015, the Arch was restored with the declaration: “The earth along the Amur [River] was, is and always will be Russian”. Missing was the fact that the region only became Russian 150 years ago as part of the hated Amur Annexation.
Across the river, Heihe booms. The city has a population of 1.673 million and is in the province of Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province, with a total population larger than Siberia’s. Many other cities are spread across the province which is also geographically bigger than Japan, Germany, Belarus, or South Korea and is a significant producer of agricultural crops and raw materials such as timber, oil, and coal. Chinese-owned factories exist there and also inside Siberia, churning out manufactured goods and sprouting high rises as though Siberia was already part of the Middle Kingdom.
To the victors belong the spoils, which is why this and other examples illustrate why China combined with Russia’s rotten political elite will eventually destroy the Russian Federation. Xi knows this, so should the West and its Asian allies. The Kremlin’s demise will upend the world order in the coming years, hopefully for the better if it removes Putin.
Mr. Putin: Every "Window" Will Shoot
January 24, 2022
In winter 2014, Ukrainians protested for weeks against corruption and Russian influence. Surrounded by police with shields, they stood their ground, singing, speechifying, and defying. When snipers from Russia were finally brought in and killed 100, millions flooded the streets, Putin’s puppet President fled, and Russian tanks and troops rolled into eastern Ukraine. But volunteers held off a full-scale invasion and now Ukraine has a huge army and a civil society that is more united against Russia than ever. They are digging in and preparing for a guerilla war by distributing weapons to citizens. Said one official: “Our people are ready to fight. Every window will shoot if [Russians] go [in]."
This is not bravado. Ukrainians know how to handle Russia. They have survived wars, communist terror, starvation, poverty, political treachery, Russia’s disdain for their culture, and its desire to reconquer them. Notably, the country’s anthem, written 30 years ago, describes the national DNA, rooted in sacrifice: “Body and soul we will lay down for our freedom. And we will show that we are people of Cossack heritage.”
Russia has been flirting with, but not fully committed, to invasion. Putin squeezes energy prices to cause pain across Europe. He moves his troops and tanks here and there, then distributes this intel to heighten anxiety and to yield hoped-for concessions. As the Beijing Olympics approaches, fears heighten because he invaded Georgia and Ukraine during two Olympic Games. Europeans realize what Ukrainians have always known about the Kremlin and reports are that President Joe Biden may send another 50,000 U.S. troops to Eastern Europe and the Baltics. It’s about time.
This is a “European crisis”, but America fronts the negotiations with Putin and has worked to corral NATO and European nations into some form of consensus. It has taken the lead because of its military superiority and because Europe’s two largest countries, Germany and France, have been co-opted by Russia. France’s trade with Russia has boomed in recent years and Germany’s nearly-completed pipeline with Russia has been opposed by the European Union and Washington for years due to fear that the security crisis happening now would happen.
Here’s the state of play:
The United States – Biden upped the stakes this week by hinting at troop deployments. Congress has passed tough sanctions against Putin’s pipeline to Germany and in December, the White House quietly sent another $200 million worth of military equipment to Ukraine on top of the $2.9 billion worth of military aid provided since 2014.
NATO – The 30-member organization has sent military trainers, missiles, and over 200,000 pounds of lethal aid to Ukraine so far. During the recent summit with Russian officials, all 30 members voiced their commitment to its “open door” policy that would admit Ukraine and Georgia if they met entry requirements, in defiance of Russia’s request to stop enlarging. Individually, NATO members have stepped up: the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have sent to Ukraine Stinger air defense systems and Javelins (with American permission). The Netherlands and Spain have deployed warplanes and warships to the Eastern European region. The Czechs and Dutch have sent armaments and Turkey is furnishing drones and weapons to Ukraine, has kept the Black Sea open to allied navies, and has signed a high-level Defense Agreement with Ukraine.
The United Kingdom – In search of identity since Brexit, Britain has aggressively asserted itself into the melee in its new role as a strong, principled Middle Power. Britain was the first Western nation to send warships into the Black Sea off Ukraine’s coast where a Russian fleet resides, the first to send troops to Poland and Ukraine plus weaponry, and has publicly debunked historical lies told by Moscow about Ukraine. Over the weekend, Britain’s intelligence officialdom detailed Russian plans to overthrow Ukraine’s government, cause chaos, and use this as a pretext to invade. It has vociferously condemned Putin on behalf of the West.
Poland and all former Soviet Satellites – These nations have warned and fought against Putin’s pipeline to Germany because of the security threat to Europe. They have provided weapons and diplomatic pressure, including, most recently, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Greece.
Sweden and Finland – These countries are now considering joining NATO to protect themselves against a belligerent Russia for the first time.
Germany -- Germany has distinguished itself as a self-absorbed nation that is not in sync with the all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality that both the European Union and NATO require. Germany pushed its pipeline with Russia over the objections of the rest of the EU, is a laggard in NATO contributions, and has used its veto to keep Ukraine out of NATO as well as to try and block weapons shipments to Ukraine by other EU members, most recently Estonia. Under fire from allies, its new government recently warned Putin that if he invades Ukraine, his new pipeline will never be commissioned.
France -- France has supported NATO and sent armaments to Ukraine, but President Emmanuel Macron has also broken ranks with the notion of U.S.-led discussions. He now faces a re-election challenge by Putin-backed fascist Marine Le Pen.
Italy -- In late December, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi played down the risk of Russia invading Ukraine, saying Moscow’s behavior indicates its desire to explore diplomacy. Italy is currently negotiating a comprehensive trade deal with Ukraine.
Europe’s overwhelming concern about the Russian threat, and Biden’s hint at 50,000 American boots on the ground, are important backdrops to the “diplomacy” underway. In my opinion, Russia has no intention of invading, and its “invasion gambit” has been about destabilizing the West and forcing Ukraine to let Russia’s separatist-controlled region in Donbas rejoin Ukraine and send representatives to its parliament. But this is a non-starter, a “Trojan-Horse” strategy that would be used to sabotage the country’s democracy and reforms. Instead, allies should insist Russia pay $32 billion reparations for damages, deaths, and the dislocation of two million Ukrainians caused by its occupation since 2014. It should also expel the 300,000 armed Russian operatives who have colonized the place.
Thus far, President Joe Biden has been biding his time through “diplomacy” which means endless meetings that result in more meetings. But as Putin digs in and his “invasion season” nears — the Olympics — the White House has realized that an American show of force is needed. This raises the stakes dramatically and will likely extend talks until the spring when the weather will warm, relieving the European energy crisis and thawing the ground which would make an invasion impossible.
That is why now the tables must be turned. Putin should be given seven days to pull his troops back 100 miles from Ukraine’s borders or be hit with severe sanctions damaging to his economy, corporations, and cronies. He should be told that such sanctions will remain until Russia withdraws its troops from all Ukrainian territory invaded in 2014, Donbas and Crimea. Next Russia should be declared a terrorist nation by the United Nations, G7, and G20 and a scorched-earth policy of diplomatic and economic isolation must be undertaken. No imports from, and no exports of technology or capital to, Russia.
Is war inevitable because Putin has gone too far to pull back and save face? Clearly, he has but that’s irrelevant. He has already “lost” because Ukrainians remain resolute and Europeans realize they must diversify away from investing or trading with Russia, leaving it poorer and more dependent on China, its potentially dangerous “ally”.
So far, the lesson to be learned is best expressed by Ukrainian physician Marta Yuzkiv, who is training to kill Russians in order to defend her country. "I would like to say that we are in danger now, and not just danger for Ukraine, but the danger for the whole democratic world. So I hope altogether we can stop Putin."
Is Civil War Near?
January 6, 2022
On this first anniversary after the odious Capitol Building riot, the question being posed is whether the US heads toward civil war? And the answer is no because America never finished its first one. In April 1865, the Deep South surrendered to the North, but African Americans continued to be landless and treated like slaves. It took nearly a century before effective civil rights legislation was signed into law in July 1964 and that same year the Republican Party (the so-called “Party of Abraham Lincoln”) merged with George Wallace’s Dixiecrats and the Klu Klux Klan’s poisonous beliefs went national. Today, thanks to the weaponization of unbridled social media harnessed by a highly functioning sociopath named Donald Trump, the Republican Party is a powerful coalition of disgruntled Americans that is stoking and tapping into the nation’s underlying fascist, anarchist, and racist pathologies.
Brigades of bigots proliferate and their ranks are swollen by tens of millions outside the Deep South who are variously anti-government, anti-federalist, and anti-immigrant or religious zealots and conspiracy lunatics. This disparate cohort of disgruntled whites with grievances found common cause with Trump. He became the Rodney Dangerfield of politics, a tough guy who spoke for those who believed they “don’t-get-no-respect”.
America’s civil war builds because the Democrats are too left-wing, and advocate “stupid ideas” and attitudes, said James Carville, a southern Democrat, and former Bill Clinton chief advisor. He excoriated, for instance, a “smug” New York Times writer for “patronizing” US citizens in the South and middle of the country by making 'snarky' comments about Louisiana State University. “We can’t win by looking down on people.”
Carville also criticized Bernie Sanders’ agenda – a Scandinavian playbook of huge social benefits for the disadvantaged -- which has driven down President Joe Biden’s popularity. This is because what works in Sweden or Canada, doesn’t fly in America — not because Americans are stupid but because they simply don’t trust governments, unlike Euros or Canadians.
Last year’s insurrection in Washington occurred because of America’s proclivity for violence. Now forty percent of Republicans believe that violence against the government is sometimes justified, a view shared by 23 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of independents. About 68 percent believe that the events of Jan. 6 represent an increasing danger of political violence, compared with 32 percent who regard it as an isolated incident. Finally, 62 percent expect violence to occur by the losing side in a future presidential election.
A gaping divide afflicts the body politic and never the twain shall meet. At one extreme are Progressives who want open borders, hearing aids for grandpa, specs for grandma, free university and daycare for all, subsidies for yuppies in California who want to drive electric vehicles, and exorbitant taxes on millionaires and billionaires. “What I can tell you is that people all over this country worked their way through school, sent their kids to school, paid off student loans. They don't want to hear this s**t,” said Carville.
At the other extreme are right-wing home-rulers, who believe individual liberty is paramount and fiercely guard state’s rights, to keep Washington off their backs and out of their pockets and schools and laws. Their Republican Party has been busily gerrymandering and passing legislation to impede Democrats from voting and to take over Washington again.
The divide has become so vast that the country’s two solitudes now have different facts and definitions of truth, treason, and ethics. This makes reconciliation increasingly impossible. America’s aggrieved disrupt school boards, emergency rooms, city halls, legislatures, churches, mask mandates, vaccination initiatives, union halls, workplaces, military barracks, police forces, airports, and polling stations.
In America, dissent — the lifeblood of democracy — is morphing into domestic terrorism because the nation is armed to the teeth. Consider this: If Washington DC’s gun control laws had not been strictly enforced, the Capitol Building insurrection would have turned into a bloodbath and hostage-taking exercise. Mike Pence would have been captured and forced at gunpoint to discredit the federal election. The country and its economy would have been paralyzed and Trump would have continued to govern under martial law.
Despite such a near-miss, one year later Congress still investigates and 700 arrests have been made of the foot soldiers. But terrorist groups now hide in the shadows preparing for more onslaughts. A worrisome study by former military and FBI expert Clint Watts says they will re-surface locally, not nationally, and published two charts of their status and social media networks in his substack this week:
Watts concludes: “Extremist activity has moved from the nation’s capital to state capitals, from the National Mall to local vaccine distribution centers, and from Congressional meetings to school board meetings. attorneys general, sheriffs, and thousands of electoral adjudicators —- from those who serve on election commissions to lower-level officials who supervise polling operations such as voter identification procedures, balloting processes, appeals, and recounts. This is in preparation for the 2022 mid-terms and beyond. The next coup will be local, not national.”
Nobody knows exactly how big America’s anti-democracy coalition is, but Trump got 74 million votes in 2020 and there are more guns in the United States than people. Fortunately, polls show that a large majority of Americans hold Trump responsible for the January 6 attack; only 23 percent of Americans believe he actually won the presidency, but one-third approve of the use of violence to achieve political goals.
Most Americans now believe that the current system doesn’t work for ordinary people. That in itself is a crisis, no matter the party affiliation. To blame is the fact that America is becoming an oligarchy and undemocratic because dark money and George Wallace’s Deep South are in charge. Politicians are corrupted by campaign contributions and the South controls 32 Senate seats while California, a state larger in population than Canada, has only two. The South controls the Republican Party: roughly 38.3 percent of America’s population resides in its 16 Southern states but Southern Republicans control 57 percent of the Republican vote in the House and 52 percent of the Republican vote in the Senate. Not all are fascist and racist and opponents of programs designed to benefit ordinary people, but most are. And money still talks. These are the tails that wag the American dog and alienate the rest.
The danger of outright civil warfare is minimal unless the armed right escalates the violence and the left retaliates. That’s unlikely, but already American police must dress like special forces combatants. Congress is gridlocked and politicians disdained. Dark money controls the political agenda. The Russians meddle. The Fourth Estate has been virtually dismantled, with traditional outlets biased towards the left and the rest uncurated and spewing hate, conspiracies, and lies. Little wonder that American pride ebbs, along with the American Dream, and technology, remote work, and social isolation will simply continue to exaggerate divisions.
There are ways out of this predicament. Tighten up laws, clean up campaign contributions, protect the vote, regulate social media and make it liable for publishing damaging or hateful material, establish a counter-terrorism force, and ensure that America’s well-respected military remains apolitical. If not, the future rests on whether or not Trump ends up in jail or atop the garbage heap of history. His takeover and weaponization of a weak Republican Party are why the Republic is endangered and he still pulls the strings.
That’s the bad news. But the good news is that, as one commentator said, there is only one Trump and he won’t be around forever. “And I wouldn’t follow Ted Cruz into an elevator”.
Hallelujah for that.
January 7, 2022
Yesterday, Vladimir Putin sent 2,500 troops into Kazakhstan, a Central Asian giant and resource-rich country that is the ninth largest nation in the world. Early reports were that Russia was sending “peacekeeping forces” to quell unrest there. But the truth is that this is likely the beginning of another Russian coup d’etat — one year after the Belarus riots and its takeover by Moscow. This is not about peacekeeping. It’s more likely the beginning of another “occupation”.
The media reported that the protests were riots about high fuel prices. But that’s only partially true. Demonstrations were also about poverty, tyranny, and systemic corruption. As an activist website, Open Democracy noted: “As Kazakhstan burns over inequality, the elite’s wealth is safe and sound in London. London is home to some £530 million in luxury property owned by the country’s ruling class [mostly the family of former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev].”
In days, the government resigned, former leader Nazarbayev was removed as chairman of the country’s Security Council, and protesters stormed government administration buildings and took over the capitol’s airport. Kazakh police refused to fire on their civilian population — perhaps out of sympathy — which allegedly led to a request by its President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev for Russian troops.
This is clearly another burgeoning pro-democracy movement attempting to remove another corrupt Kremlin puppet, as happened in Ukraine and Belarus. Kazakh protesters wanted lower fuel prices but also demanded free elections and the release of all political prisoners. Also included in their list of demands was that the government condemn military aggression against Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
This got Putin’s attention. He cannot afford for Kazakhs to demonstrate to his own Russian people that they can aspire to democracy or reform or justice. He’s also concerned about China’s interest in the country. About 80 percent of Kazakhstan’s populace are Central Asian and only 20 percent Russian. So he sent in armed forces. Some 3,000 are in jail, untold numbers have been shot, and the airport is open again. Its President claims that “law and order” had been restored. If true that means Kazakhstan, for the moment anyway, remains firmly in the hands of the Kremlin.
The mRNA Revolution
December 20, 2021
Concern about the Omicron variant has seized headlines, threatening to spoil the holiday season for millions globally. People are fatigued and wonder if travel bans and inconveniences will ever end. But the good news going forward is that the vaccines work and, even better, the scientists who formulated the first COVID vaccine are about to rock the world of medicine again by applying their biotech platform to attack cancer in all its many forms. They are at the forefront of the mRNA Revolution which will prove to be as significant to humanity as was the invention of antibiotics decades ago.
In April, I wrote “The Miracle in Mainz” about Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin, and their company BioNTech. This newsletter is partly a reprise, for those who don’t know their incredible story, and, for those who do, an update as to what they are up to now.
They invented the first and most effective vaccine against COVID, in partnership with Pfizer, just six weeks after the Chinese published COVID’s genetic code in January 2020. But they have never strayed from their life’s passion which is to apply their technology and talent toward the prevention and treatment of the world’s biggest epidemic: cancer. “We are cancer doctors,” Sahin said in a recent newspaper interview. “We are really passionate about that. What we want to accomplish is to provide really better treatments.”
Dr. Sahin was born in 1965 in Iskenderun on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and came to Germany four years later when his father was recruited to work at a Ford factory near Cologne, part of a policy to rebuild postwar Germany with foreign labor. Dr. Türeci’s father, a surgeon, came to Germany around the same time to work at a Catholic hospital in the small town of Lastrup. Both became physicians and met at a hospital.
To find a “cure” for cancer was a pledge they made when they fell in love as interns. “We realized that with standard therapy we would quickly come to a point where we didn’t have anything to offer to patients,” Dr. Türeci said. “It was a formative experience.”
The two migrated from medical practice to medical research and worked at the University of Mainz in Germany. In 2001, they co-founded Ganymed Pharmaceuticals to research antibodies, then in 2008, they co-founded BioNTech to expand their research into mRNA. Ganymed eventually developed an effective antibody used against esophageal and gastrointestinal cancer and was sold in 2016 for $1.6 billion. And BioNTech, with its COVID vaccine home-run, has a current market value of $69.3 billion — which makes it more valuable than German pharma giant Bayer AG and one of the 250 most valuable public companies in the world.
“The success of Ugur and Özlem is a fantastic combination of two people who complement each other,” said Rolf Zinkernagel in an interview, a Swiss Nobel Prize laureate who once employed Dr. Sahin in his Zurich lab. “He is an innovative scientist, and she is an amazing clinician with a great sense for running a business.”
Dr. Sahin and others believe mRNA technology will be used for everything from vaccines for HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis to applications in heart and central nervous system diseases. Moderna is another pioneer in this “space” but BioNTech is reinvesting billions made from its COVID vaccine into bringing mRNA-based and other cancer treatments to market. Currently, they have 11 potential medicines involved in clinical trials around the world.
Their story is a spectacular business achievement as well as a scientific one. The couple’s earliest and most important backers were Andreas and Thomas Strüngmann, twin brothers and billionaire investors who have provided unfailing support. For example, on the morning of January 25, 2020, Dr. Sahin read a medical journal and realized that COVID would engulf the world and that their platform could address this crisis. He immediately worked on his laptop designing possible coronavirus vaccines and by afternoon, he called his backers and said BioNTech must pivot. They gave the nod.
BioNTech is, unlike Moderna, strictly a research company. With the COVID vaccine, as with its other drugs, it formed a 50-50 joint venture partnership with an integrated pharmaceutical company, in this case, Pfizer, to manufacture, distribute, and market. Now it’s formed partnerships with several other pharma companies to apply its mRNA technology to fighting cancer. But, unlike COVID, these drugs will require years of testing and clinical trials.
Already, however, in November BioNTech received fast-track designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for BNT111, a cancer immunotherapy product. “With the Fast Track status and support by the FDA, we aim to expedite the further development of the BNT111 program to provide a new therapeutic option for patients with life-threatening, hard-to-treat melanoma,” Dr. Türeci said in a statement.
Cancer is the world’s biggest health challenge in large measure due to longer lifespans. It is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020. One out of every two people will get some form of cancer and while diagnoses, treatment, and “cures” have steadily improved, the mRNA solution promises to prevent, mitigate and possibly eradicate most cancers one day.
BioNTech’s concept — known as “individualized immunotherapy” — is to take immune cells, called T-cells, from each patient, then genetically alter them to target that patient’s cancer and reinfuse them back into the patient. This targeted approach of inserting a tailor-made mRNA molecule into a vaccine alerts the patient’s immune system to attack the cancer cells, then scours the body on a search-and-destroy mission looking for similar cells. Without getting too technical, this molecule has been studied for decades but finally -- through the use of new digital technologies -- is able to trick our bodies into accepting snippets of genetic material that trigger an immune response and will “usher in a whole new category of medicines,” said Dr. Sahin.
In preliminary animal testing, results have been promising. For instance, BioNTech’s mRNA “cocktail” administered into colon and melanoma tumors in 20 mice stopped tumor growth and resulted in total regression in 17 of the 20. The company has formulated candidate drugs for prostate cancer, colorectal, ovarian, and other cancers.
The billionaire scientists, with laboratories in Mainz and Cambridge Massachusetts, work as hard as ever. They live in a modest apartment in Mainz and ride bicycles to work. When Dr. Sahin was recently asked if he thought it was absurd or appropriate that BioNTech is worth more than Bayer, he said: “A company’s share price primarily reflects its long-term potential. We believe we are only at the beginning with what we have achieved so far.”
December 23, 2021
The “plague”, or Black Death, reached Europe in 1348, and half of the population of Eurasia died within four years. It was spread by fleas and rats and unsanitary conditions. When it recurred in the 1600s in London, primitive health “controls” consisted of barricading the diseased inside their houses to stop the spread and marking each with a red cross as well as a “Lord Have Mercy Upon Us” warning. The initial plague died out literally, but became endemic, recurring over centuries regularly in specific regions or cultures wherever health practices were non-existent. Major epidemics occurred in the 17th century, then in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today’s plague, the COVID pandemic, sweeps across the world even though there are vaccines that prevent death and hospitalization. But the scourge grows because the new variant, Omicron, is highly contagious and because the number of unvaccinated people vastly outnumbers the vaccinated, both globally and in many regions. This guarantees that the virus will continue to decimate the populations of undeveloped countries for months or years, and will continue to attack “subcultures” inside developed countries where jabs are available for free but where millions refuse vaccines, masks, or both. In a word, the unvaccinated are the problem. As writer Fran Lebowitz says “the vaccine is an IQ test. We should take all the unvaccinated people in America, give them to Jeff Bezos and let him take them into outer space and drop them off.”
Sending the afflicted into space or nailing the doors of the unvaccinated won’t cut it anymore, given individual “rights” that, apparently, includes the right to infect others and use up all the hospital beds so that cancer and heart patients cannot get treatment. The result is that Omicron has caused partial lockdowns and medical emergencies in hospitals again, except in countries with excellent healthcare and draconian public health measures.
Unruly America remains incorrigible. The Republicans have politicized science which is why vaccination rates are disgracefully low, around 60 percent nationally, among the world’s educated, developed nations. This is because vaccine or mask mandates — like gun controls — are fiercely fought in courts as unconstitutional breaches. But public health curbs are not assaults against liberty any more than are speeding signs or police forces.
The result is that some American governments have had to resort to paying people to get vaxed or had to fight in court to get them to comply with what’s in their best interests. This lunacy is why the United States is top of the planetary heap when it comes to having the most guns, most gun violence, most COVID deaths, most COVID infections, and the worst healthcare system among rich nations. Its vax rate lags all G7 countries and most G20 nations.
Frankly, high vaccination rates and sound public health care policies should be recognized as competitive and economic advantages then made a priority. In early December, Singapore, for instance, made a gutsy move by announcing it will continue publicly-funded medical benefits for vaccinated people and for those who are not eligible for vaccination such as children under the age of 12 or those with medical exemptions. But it would not continue medical benefits for those who refuse to get vaccinated. They will have to seek help elsewhere or pay out of pocket. The goal is to get everyone to get their needles.
Singapore also announced it will cover the medical costs of non-citizens who are permanent residents or those with long-term visas but not if they travel and return with COVID. Singaporean authorities explained that unvaccinated people “make up a sizeable majority of those who require intensive in-patient care and disproportionately contribute to the strain on our healthcare resources”.
New Zealand took tough action from the start. It imposed a no-jab-no-job policy and continued to ban foreigners coming into the country, or Kiwis going out then returning. The result is the world’s lowest death rate or only 49 people out of a population of 5 million. In Taiwan, its Vice President is an epidemiologist and immediately identified China’s COVID outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019 and instituted quarantine, tracing, and other measures. The island nation has had only 850 deaths despite a population of 23.88 million. By contrast, the U.S. casualties are the worst, roughly 830,000, equivalent to the population of San Francisco, and climbing rapidly.
In America, only one tactic has worked which is the “get vaccinated or get fired”. This is because America’s unaffordable healthcare is partially paid for by employers. This summer, United Airlines imposed this requirement and by November reported that 100 percent of their customer-facing employees were vaccinated and only about 200 of their 67,000 employees had chosen termination rather than vaccination. Such workplace mandates are needed everywhere to provide protection for workers and customers and to limit the economic damage. Interestingly, during the Black Death, markets and vendors survived by offering services with some protection. They designated their sequestered buildings or market areas with a “plague cross”.
But today’s pandemic won’t end until everyone is jabbed or, hopefully, the newly approved Pfizer pill works. It’s a promising treatment that aims to keep the un-vaxed out of hospital after they have become newly infected. Failing that, Omicron will continue to wreak havoc on hospitals and the vaccinated. For instance, The Guardian just reported that 57,000 lifesaving surgeries had to be postponed across London hospitals to make room for 57,000 serious COVID cases. For this reason alone, governments should impose fines and self-quarantine restrictions on anyone who refuses vaccination. No one should have the right to infect or economically damage others.
The Omicron setback has forced people to cull their guest lists out of safety concerns and change their travel plans to avoid COVID hotspots. This is prudent. America remains a patchwork quilt of vaccination rates, and the map available here is a way to fine-tune your search for safety, down to the county level, as well as at the state level.
The Omicron relapse has been jarring because our lives were returning to normal. All we can do now is duck unvaccinated people, stay safe, and travel carefully. Happy holidays.
December 16, 2021
Dec 16, 2021
The once-venerable Time Magazine has snacked for decades off its “Man of the Year” franchise, but this year it’s outdone itself in terms of controversy by naming loopy genius, Elon Musk, as its “Person of the Year”. Some suggested that a vaccine scientist or a philanthropist would have been more deserving, not the richest private individual in history, worth $251 billion or as much as is socked away in the California State Teachers Pension Fund. But Musk is a worthy recipient because he has overcome grave personal adversities, developed formidable intellectual gifts, and worked harder than most human beings.
Elon is not Rockefeller nor Wall Street manipulator rich. He’s Thomas Edison and Henry Ford embodied in one person and has packed more life, success, and controversy into his 50 years than has happened historically in most nation-states. To date, he has launched and runs four incredible companies that are engaged at the leading-edge of everything from Tesla’s electric cars and solar power systems, to SpaceX’s rocket ships, Neuralink’s biotech implants, and the Boring Company which can burrow tunnels in record time in order to replace traditional road and rail transit systems.
Tesla is a stock market darling, worth roughly $1 trillion, but he’s far from Central Casting’s version of the powerful Chief Executive Officer of a publicly-listed corporation. He’s crude and immature at times, overcame a hideous childhood of abuse and bullying, and infamously smoked dope and talked nonsense on a popular podcast. To wit, he’s sometimes deliciously irreverent.
Even so, Time explained why he was their choice: "For creating solutions to an existential [climate] crisis, for embodying the possibilities and the perils of the age of tech titans, for driving society’s most daring and disruptive transformations, Elon Musk is Time's 2021 Person of the Year."
Hard to dispute. This fellow’s not only staggeringly rich because he’s invented stuff that people buy, but his enterprises are thoroughly unique. Through Tesla, he was the first to create high-performance electrified vehicles that were essentially computers on wheels run by software that was continuously upgraded. The company is worth more than the top five automakers in the world combined and still leads the pack. Through SpaceX, he reinvented rocket engines then recycled the rockets after they were used to dramatically bring down costs. He’s now replaced NASA as the transporter of astronauts and leads the space race hands-down. He’s also behind zillions of other inventions such as batteries, solar panels, the hyperloop, flying vehicles, and humanoid robots, to name just a few.
He grew up in Pretoria South Africa, a shy boy with Asberger Syndrome who was bullied at school and raised by a single parent, his father, who was a brilliant engineer but abusive. They haven’t spoken in years. By 12, he began to “escape” and coded a video game then sold it to a computer magazine for $500. Other ventures followed. Then, as a teenager, he fled to Canada, where his mother’s family lived, to avoid military service in South Africa and picked up a Canadian passport, thanks to his mother’s citizenship. This enabled him to get into the United States easily where he attended the University of Pennsylvania, then Stanford, studying physics and economics.
He and his brother Kimbal headed to Stanford and Silicon Valley. Elon dropped out of grad school, and the brothers rented a tiny office in Palo Alto, slept on the floor, showered at the YMCA, pirated an Internet line from a neighbor, and lived on fast food. Kimbal drummed up business and money while Elon wrote code nonstop. The two scored in 1999 when they sold to Compaq their mapping start-up, called Zip2, for $22 million. Then, a handful of years later, Elon sold a company to PayPal for stock and netted $180 million when PayPal was bought later by eBay. This entire grubstake was invested in SpaceX and Tesla and ever since he has worked at least 100 hours per week, often sleeping in his factories.
Personally, Musk is a one-man innovation who moves on a dime. This summer, he suddenly asked his 67 million Twitter followers to vote on whether he should cash in 10 percent of his Tesla shares after Democrats proposed a tax on billionaires. They voted yes and he sold off the stock. He then announced he would move Tesla’s head office to Texas for tax purposes because California’s taxes were too high. He quickly sold seven California mansions he owned and moved into a 375-square foot portable, foldable Boxabl “casita” in Boca Chica, where Musk's SpaceX is headquartered. Months before, he had declared his life plan was to “own no house” and to “sell almost all [of his] physical possessions”. Then he did.
Elon also skirts authorities and orderly markets. He lost the Chairmanship of Tesla in August 2018 by Tweeting that he might take the company private, contrary to disclosure requirements. This year, his Tweets about GameStop singlehandedly created a rush into “meme” stocks, triggering a securities investigation. He then created a surge in the price of bitcoin by announcing Tesla would accept it as payment for cars. He was immediately called out as a hypocrite because of the negative environmental impact of bitcoin mining so Tesla stopped accepting bitcoin. But he personally owns a chunk of the cryptocurrency.
Musk’s companies have occasionally been criticized for poor working conditions and fined for regulatory violations. Of recent concern, however, is that Tesla’s Autopilot software is being investigated by officials since it has been involved in many crashes that have caused injuries or deaths. He’s also run afoul of some organizations for expanding in China due to its human rights violations. Concerning these and other criticisms, his brother Kimbal says only that “he is a savant when it comes to business, but his gift is not empathy with people.”
Elon hates taxes and government subsidies even though Tesla was propped up in 2010 with a $465 million federal loan, and its vehicles have been heavily subsidized for years with tax write-offs. Besides, SpaceX has obtained millions in research money from Washington and now enjoys major government contracts. Undaunted, Musk resents taxation and took on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposed “billionaire’s tax” which resulted in an entertaining Tweet spat. Her Tweet:
His Tweet in response:
Besides a sense of humor, Musk’s can-do attitude and work ethic are his most admirable traits. He’s already immersed in the next big things: space colonization and humanoid robots. “The goal overall has been to make life multi-planetary and enable humanity to become a spacefaring civilization. And the next really big thing is to build a self-sustaining city on Mars and bring the animals and creatures of Earth there. Sort of like a futuristic Noah’s ark. We’ll bring more than two, though—it’s a little weird if there’s only two.”
Meanwhile on Earth, he’s creating a five-foot, eight-inch robot that will replicate human workers and their labor. “Tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics company because cars are semi-sentient robots on wheels,” said Musk. “It kind of makes sense to put that into a humanoid form.” He wants his robots to “be friendly” and capable of performing regular tasks such as fastening bolts on a vehicle with a wrench or picking up groceries from markets and believes this will improve life because it will give real humans the option of doing physical work or not.
At only 50, Musk is just beginning an Edison-like journey of innovation. He’s already bashed and crashed his way to substantial achievement, ruffling feathers along the way. But on balance, Elon Musk has contributed more to society than just creating jobs, inventing technologies, and generating GDP. He’s changing human existence for the better. When asked by Time who he admired the most, he said simply: “anyone who makes a contribution to humanity.”
December 6, 2021
A week from Hell begins. On Tuesday, December 7, Putin will meet virtually with President Joe Biden concerning Russia’s enormous invasion force now surrounding Ukraine, Europe’s largest country. This superpower conversation will be held the day before the darkest date in Vladimir Putin’s calendar – December 8 which is the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – an event Putin describes as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. Then the day after, on December 9 Biden is to host a two-day Summit on Democracy to focus on challenges and opportunities facing the world’s 111 democracies.
Putin's last invasion of Ukraine was in 2014. His Ukrainian puppet dictator had fled, leaving behind an ill-equipped armed force of only 6,000 regular combat troops. That year, Ukrainians mounted a grass-roots defense equivalent to the Dunkirk evacuation of the British army in 1940. Men left their jobs to join the war effort. Volunteer engineers built radar systems. Others raised money on crowdfunding sites to buy medicines, weapons, first aid kits, or repair old tanks. Some drove supplies and ambulances to the front.
A year after that, I interviewed a 16-year-old Ukrainian, nicknamed Maley, in a Kyiv hospital. In 2014, he had watched on television the Euromaidan Revolution against the Ukrainian dictator, then saw the Russians invade. He contacted his local army recruitment office to sign up. His calls went unanswered, so he took a train from the Carpathian Mountains to the front, armed with his grandfather’s hunting rifle and a brass plate bought by his mother taped to his chest as protection. He joined a volunteer militia.
“I went to save my country,” he told me. He was wounded after the army medic behind him stepped on a landmine and lost both her legs. “She wasn’t paying attention. I’m going back.”
If it wasn’t for these Ukrainian farm boys, retirees, doctors, IT experts, nurses, veterans, and grandfathers, the Russians would have swallowed at least half of Ukraine. This was the plan — to reconquer the eastern half of the country and replace its government. Instead, Putin only ended up with Crimea (now annexed to Russia) and the industrial heartland of the Donbas region. Some 2 million fled, 14,000 died, and today about one million live in its wartorn ruins. The area’s assets were plundered and it’s now “governed” by Russian mercenaries and mobsters.
In eight years, cease-fire agreements along the border between Ukraine and Russia have failed, as have efforts by Germany and France to get Russia to back off Donbas so that it can return to Ukraine, without strings attached.
And that’s what this latest mobilization is about. Putin wants to get out from under the burden of occupying a territory whose infrastructure and industries have been destroyed. He wants to turn the Donbas region into his “Trojan Horse” within Ukraine. It would become part of Ukraine again, to tap into Western aid, but would send Kremlin-controlled representatives to Ukraine’s Parliament. Naturally, Ukrainians reject this completely. Such a scheme would amount to the slow-motion destruction of its democracy and block its membership in NATO or the European Union. Ukrainians want it returned without strings attached or left as is.
And Ukraine is stronger than before. It has modernized its army and now has the biggest force in Europe, with 400,000 combat veterans and state-of-the-art weaponry and logistics. And Ukraine is now a functioning democracy whose 40 million people have overwhelmingly opted to join Europe and rid the country of Soviet-style institutions and corruption.
Putin’s bluff must be called, wrote Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense in the Atlantic Council article last week headlined “Europe’s Future Will Be Decided In Ukraine.” “Nobody in Ukraine underestimates the seriousness of the present situation, but we have been forced to live with the possibility of a major escalation for many years. Ukrainians know what we will do if confronted by the worst-case scenario of a full-scale Russian invasion. We will fight. We will defend our land,” he said.
“Today, the Ukrainian army is one of the strongest ground forces in Europe with more than 400,000 combat veterans. We have the resources and the resolve to stand up to the enemy. And Russia knows it. The only real uncertainty is whether Europe fully appreciates what a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine would mean for the rest of the continent,” he added.
Europe would be devastated and flooded with three to five million Ukrainians fleeing an invasion, he wrote. Europe would have food security problems because of its dependency on Ukrainian food imports. “An attack would mark a definitive end to the rules-based international order,” he wrote.
The West must be firm, he said. “In June, US President Joe Biden announced [after his first summit with Putin] that he would be watching Moscow’s actions closely during the next six months. Since then, the Kremlin has effectively completed the Anschluss of Belarus, mounted a hybrid attack against NATO and EU member states by funneling migrants towards their borders, and blatantly weaponized energy supplies, which, coincidentally, Western leaders [US and Germany] had pledged to prevent. Russia is now conducting a fresh military build-up on the Ukrainian border. If the response to these actions is limited to expressions of concern and calls for a new round of talks, Russia will regard this as an invitation for further aggression.”
Arguably, Putin has already achieved success with his latest aggressions. He has dominated world headlines, played the righteous strong man to his people, scored another prestigious superpower summit with Biden, and, whatever happens, overshadowed Biden’s Democracy Summit.
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