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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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Is Civil War Near?

January 6, 2022

Diane Francis

Jan 6

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.

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Kazakhstan Captured?

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.

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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.”

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Plagued Again

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.

King Elon

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.”

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Vladistan

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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