Archive for April, 2024

Here’s a story of triumph to go with the Shot Heard Round The World.

Monday, April 15th, 2024

Today is the 15th of April, and a lot is happening from sea to shining sea.

Here in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts, the sun is bright, and all’s right with the world. Except perhaps for you procrastinators who haven’t finished your taxes as the seconds tiptoe by with their index fingers wagging.

In other news, events are unfolding in New York City where a certain former President is…well, we don’t have to mention that today, because today is also the celebration of the anniversary of “the shot heard round the world,” an event of infinitely more importance than anything even remotely connected to he who shall not be named.

On a date four days from now in 1775, the American Revolutionary War began with battles in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Those two battles were the scene of the first American revolutionary casualties: 49 died, 39 were wounded, and five went missing. Consequently, we celebrate Patriots Day, a Massachusetts state holiday. It’s also a holiday in five other states: Connecticut, Florida, Maine, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Personally, I think the other 44 should join the party.

In Massachusetts, from 1897 until 1968, Patriots Day was celebrated on the actual date of the first battles, 19 April. Since then, it’s been observed on the 3rd Monday of April. The Town of Lexington holds a full-fledged reenactment first thing in the morning every Patriots Day. This morning was no different.

And, since 1897, Patriots Day has been the day runners from around the world compete in the Boston Marathon.

Marathon History

The first celebration of the modern Olympic Games took place in its ancient birthplace — Greece. The Games attracted athletes from 14 nations, with the largest delegations coming from Greece, Germany, France and Great Britain. America sent 14 competitors.

On 6 April 1896, the American James Connolly won the inaugural event, the triple jump, to become the first Olympic champion in more than 1,500 years. He also finished second in the high jump and third in the long jump.

Due to its historical significance, the Greek hosts wanted to win the marathon above all else. Spyridon Louis set off from the city of Marathon and took the lead four kilometers from the finish line and, to the joy of 100,000 spectators, won the race by more than seven minutes.

After the success of the Olympiad of 1896, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) decided to host a marathon competition in Boston the following year, 1897. And that was when the Boston Marathon was born, the first annual marathon in the world. John J. McDermott of New York, emerged from a 15-member starting field and won that first B.A.A. Marathon in 2 hours, 55 minutes, 10 seconds. With that win, McDermott secured his name in sports history.

That first Boston Marathon was 24.5 miles. In 1924, the course was lengthened to 26 miles, 385 yards to conform to the Olympic standard, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.

This morning, more than 30,000 runners took off from the Town of Hopkinton, all setting their sights on completing the ordeal and finishing on Boylston Street in downtown Boston. Some will be arriving well into the evening. Five groups competed at staggered starting times: Men’s and women’s wheelchair; Elite men and women runners; and everyone else who qualified (plus a few who didn’t, but jumped in to run it, anyway).

This morning, a record fell when Marcel Hug, of Switzerland, won the Men’s Wheelchair race in 1 hour, 15 minutes, 33 seconds. That’s less than three minutes per mile—up and down hills. One of the hills, 21 miles into the race, is aptly named “Heartbreak Hill.” It’s broken many a leader. It was the 7th Boston win for Hug. His record is even more impressive an achievement when one considers that in the middle of the race he crashed into a stone wall, tipped over, yet managed to somehow get his wheelchair upright again and continue on.

Great Britain’s Eden Rainbow Cooper won the women’s wheelchair division in her first Boston marathon. She did everything on her own with no sponsors or team to prepare her. Rainbow will likely have sponsors by tonight.

Sisay Lemma, of Ethiopia, set a blistering pace for the elite men and held on to win in 2 hours, 6 minutes, 17 seconds — the 10th fastest time in the race’s 128-year history.

Hellen Obiri  outsprinted fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi down Boylston Street to win by eight seconds. Obiri is the first woman to win back-to-back Boston marathons since 2005. She finished in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 37 seconds.

The passion and dedication of world class athletes is awesome to see. The sacrifices made to reach for perfection, and occasionally hold it in the palm of one’s hand, should inspire us all.

And on this Patriot’s Day, we should also remember with pride and gratitude the sacrifices made by America’s Founding Fathers, our original Patriots, each of whom knew if Great Britain won the war he’d be wearing a hangman’s noose.

This is why, rather than write anything today the first trial of Donald Trump, I choose to salute Hug and Cooper and Lemma and Obiri and the tens of thousands who ran after them, as well as the those in 1775 who, risking life and limb, stood up to the mightiest army in the world for the fundamental truths a Virginian would espouse the following year in what became our Declaration of Independence.

Bravo to all, then and now.

Update to yesterday’s Letter – Ukraine on the brink

Friday, April 12th, 2024

“They are now being outshot by the Russian side five to one. So the Russians fire five times as many artillery shells at the Ukrainians than the Ukrainians are able to fire back. That will immediately go to 10 to one in a matter of weeks. We’re not talking about months. We’re not talking hypothetically.”
Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli, head of U.S. European Command

On Wednesday, General Cavoli and Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, testifying before the House Committee on Armed Services, urged lawmakers to approve the $95 billion supplemental defense bill passed by the Senate two months ago, but languishing since then in the House. The bill would provide $60 billion in funding for Ukraine armaments with the rest targeted for aid to Taiwan and Israel.

General Cavoli emphasized the need for 155mm artillery shells, saying, “The biggest killer on the battlefield is artillery. In most conflicts, but in this one definitely. And should Ukraine run out, they would run out because we stopped supplying — because we supply the lion’s share of that.”

Later in the day, U.S. Army leaders echoed the warnings to the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “The side that can’t shoot back, loses, and at this point Ukraine is really starting to be pressed to be able to shoot back. So I am very concerned,” said Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. “We saw Ukraine lose some territory a couple of months ago. And I think there is a real danger…that the Russians could have a breakthrough somewhere in the line.”

Air defense capacity is particularly urgent. To illustrate that point, consider that yesterday Russia fired 82 missiles and drones into the Kyiv region, a huge attack. Ukraine’s air force said it shot down 57 of them, leaving 25 that got through, including six hypersonic Kinzhal missiles.

The attack totally destroyed the Trypilska Thermal Power Plant (TPP), the largest supplier of electricity to Kyiv, Cherkasy and Zhytomyr regions, according to the plant’s owner, the energy company Centrenergo. The company has now lost 100% of its power generation across its three plants, which have all been destroyed or occupied by Russia.

Over more than two years of war, Russia has systematically targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in an attempt to break the country’s power grid and, with it, the Ukrainian people’s spirit, by depriving them of electricity, heat, water and other essential services. I find it beyond inspirational that the morale of Ukraine’s citizens remains high. They remember what it was like being a Soviet Republic prior to 1992. They remember democracy and true independence taking root with the Orange Revolution of 2004. They remember and refuse to go back to subservience.

Following yesterday’s attack, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy accused the West of “turning a blind eye” to the air defense needs of his country.

The man certainly has a point. The House continues to seem willing to let Russia, with aid from Iran and North Korea, get nearer and nearer to breaking through Ukrainian defensive lines. And Speaker Johnson appears much more interested in keeping his job by kowtowing to the far right elements in the House. And then there’s Donald Trump to please.  Today, the Speaker was in Mar-a-Lago genuflecting and kissing the ring, a true love story in the making.

Meanwhile, an unescapable fact remains — Ukraine cannot win if it can’t shoot back.

 

The Congressional echo chamber continues to swallow any action on Ukraine aid

Thursday, April 11th, 2024

“If the Congress doesn’t help Ukraine, Ukraine will lose the war.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 8 April 2024

That’s about as stark a statement as you’ll see. And he means it. Ukraine faces no bigger disaster than losing its war with Russia, a war it did not start. Russia invaded this sovereign, independent democracy in February, 2022, because its egomaniacal dictator hungered to resurrect Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, and capturing Ukraine was the first step in his plan.

Tens of thousands of innocent Ukrainians have died. And with the continued help of Iran and North Korea, Russian forces are now better armed than Ukraine’s troops, especially with respect to artillery shells. Everything Ukraine needs to repel the invaders is in short supply, and its soldiers are bone-tired. Russia’s success in taking the city of Avdiivka in February, along with its territorial gains since, have caused many to reassess the potential for Ukraine to prevail in this hellish war.

Of course, that reassessment might not be as dark as it appears to be if the U.S. House of Representatives would provide the $60 billion in Ukraine aid it has bottled up for two months. This failure to act is even more perplexing when one realizes most of the needed funds would be spent in the U.S., because American workers at American companies would be making the weapons so desperately needed.

None of this seems to matter to a few rabidly ambitious and self-centered members of the House who, on Donald Trump’s orders, have prevented a vote on the bill passed by the Senate in February. And Speaker Mike Johnson, a seemingly mild-mannered, deeply Christian, but very sly, backbencher, who woke up one day to find himself in the third highest position in government, is now trying to walk down the edge of a political razor blade while searching for some way to advance Ukraine funding without losing his new cushy job. He is not emerging as a “profile in courage.”

Meanwhile, back in Ukraine, it’s seat-squirming time, as losses mount despite the heroic  efforts of so many to save their land. As Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) puts it:

The IISS assesses that Russia can sustain its campaign for some time. Moscow has been able to bring on enough contract soldiers to sustain its force structure and should be able to replenish tank losses on the battlefield for two or more years. It also has put its economy in a war setting, with total military spending now representing one-third of its national budget and reaching about 7.5% of GDP. Supply of artillery ammunition, loitering munitions and ballistic missiles from Iran and North Korea also shifts the balance of firepower against Ukraine. That means that over the coming year Russia will probably be able to generate sufficient missiles and drones to maintain its recent level of pressure on Ukraine’s air defences, attack its defence industry and attempt to erode Ukrainian civilian and military moral.

Without American aid what this means is that, at best, Ukraine will be in a defensive posture for some time; at worst, it will need to withdraw and cede valuable territory to the aggressor. The dilemma for Ukraine’s army becomes choosing between a forward-defense posture to keep Russian forces from cities and towns at the cost of higher casualties, or pulling back to conserve troops. To prove that last point, President Zelenskyy said at the Munich Security Conference last month that the Avdiivka withdrawal was aimed at “preserving soldiers’ lives.”

And if that’s not enough, into this latest mess parachutes Donald Trump.

Last Sunday, Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey, and Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post reported that Trump has privately said that after winning the upcoming election he could end Russia’s war in Ukraine by pressuring Ukraine to give up some territory, according to people familiar with the plan. Trump’s proposal consists of pushing Ukraine to cede Crimea and the Donbas border region to Russia, according to people who discussed it with Trump or his advisers and spoke on the condition of anonymity. This plan may or may not be true, because in what passes for Donald Trump’s mind, pigs really can fly.

You will recall Mr. Trump and President Zelenskyy, three months into his new job, had an interesting phone call on 25 July 2019, during which Trump pressured Zelenskyy to open investigations that could damage former Vice President Joe Biden heading into the 2020 election. At that time, long before the current conflagration, all the former comedian and newly-elected Ukrainian president could do was smile.

A lot of flotsam has floated down the political river since then, but it seems to me if President Zelenskyy, who has grown to become Ukraine’s George Washington, was ever asked to respond to Trump’s brilliant diplomatic proposal, he might do so with no smile and two, well-chosen words, which Mr. Trump would have no trouble understanding.

When innocents die – just because they’re there

Monday, April 8th, 2024

“War is hell.” — Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, in a speech to graduates of the Michigan Military Academy in 1879.

Sherman was right, and at this moment his three-word phrase is ringing true, especially in Ukraine and Gaza. Inhumanity is on full display.

When wars end, somebody has to pick up the pieces — in more ways than one. First, there is the massive rebuilding that will confront the survivors whenever the bullets and bombs stop flying. I’ve written about what Ukrainians face when that longed-for day comes. Palestinians will require the same kind of herculean effort in Gaza when that horror stops, if it ever does.

Second, and not as well recognized, is the peril of unexploded ordinance and landmines that survive the battle to lie in wait for some poor innocent to take the wrong step into the hereafter.

More than 700 million artillery and mortar rounds were fired on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918, of which an estimated 15 percent failed to explode. Every year these leftover shells kill people — 36 in 1991 alone, for instance, when France excavated the track bed for a new high-speed rail line. Dotted throughout the region are patches of uncleared forest or scrub surrounded by yellow danger signs in French and English warning hikers away. The French government employs teams of démineurs, roving bomb-disposal specialists, who respond to calls when villagers discover shells; they collect and destroy 900 tons of unexploded munitions each year. More than 630 French démineurs have died in the line of duty since 1946.¹

When those 36 French people Adam Hochschild cited in his masterful history, To End All Wars, died in 1991 laying a track bed for a rail line, World War I had been over for 73 years.

Many of the First World War’s live explosives dotting the French landscape lie in the Zone Rouge, the Red Zone encompassing much of the territory of the Battle of the Somme, which took place from 1 July to 18 November 1916. This was one of the bloodiest battles in history, with over a million casualties. On the first day, alone, Britain saw 57,470 of its soldiers killed — you read that right, 57,470 soldiers killed — in one day. During the entire battle, the British and Germans fired more than 37 million artillery shells, 1.7 million in the first week.

At the end of the nearly five-month Battle of the Somme, the British had managed to gain a grand total of six miles of territory. It might not seem like much, but the losses Germany incurred forced its troops to retreat to the Hindenburg line in early 1917.

Today, a potentially worse problem than unexploded shells faces Ukrainians, because not only do they have that problem, they also face the nearly impossible task of finding and neutralizing more than a million anti-personnel land mines Russia laid in Eastern Ukraine before its troops pulled out in 2023. These land mines are killing and maiming people every day.

Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (or Mine Ban Convention), adopted in 1997. More than 150 countries have joined this treaty. Russia is not one of them. Neither is Israel. Or Iran. Or China.

Nearly 1,000 civilians in Ukraine have been killed by mines since the war began, according to aid groups. Most of those civilian casualties were caused by anti-vehicle mines planted in areas Ukrainians were trying to return to in order to revive their farms. But a bigger problem now is the anti-personnel variety, the ones that are strewn over field after field. The ones people step on. Most Ukrainians who step on mines and survive face foot and leg amputations. Clearing these is heroic work.

Last night, Scott Pelley, of CBS’s 60 Minutes, reported on the anti-personnel land mine horror facing Ukraine now. It was compelling, even hard to watch, because it showed what land mines are doing to innocent civilian Ukrainians whose only crime appears to be being Ukrainian. Like the French, who continue to be bedeviled by bombs from 73 years ago, Ukrainians will be dying from these Russian gifts for generations.

The anti-personnel land mines are an obvious war crime. That’s easy for me to say. What do you think? Why not watch Pelley’s award-worthy (and dangerous) reporting and decide for yourself?

Now what do you think?

______________

¹HochschildAdam, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

An extraordinary woman who could teach us all a lot

Thursday, April 4th, 2024

Yesterday, Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan rejected Donald Trump’s bid to delay his April 15 hush money criminal trial until the Supreme Court rules on presidential immunity claims he raised. Consequently, the wheels of justice continue to grind slowly, but exceedingly fine, and the trial will begin in eleven days.

And what of Trump’s claims of immunity? Writing in The Conversation this morning, Professor Wayne Unger, who teaches constitutional law at Quinnipiac University, said, “If a student of mine had submitted a brief making the arguments that Trump and his lawyers assert in their Supreme Court filing, I would have given them an F.”

Professor Unger writes that, in an attempt to cozy up to Supreme Court Justices, especially the ones he nominated, the Trump Brief cites a 2009 law review article by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and claims it showed Kavanaugh supported his position. Kavanaugh wrote, “[A] President who is concerned about an ongoing criminal investigation is almost inevitably going to do a worse job as President,” and Trump relies on that sentence as evidence of support for the position that a president requires absolute immunity.

But according to Unger, the article concludes the exact opposite. According to Unger:

But even a cursory reading of Kavanaugh’s article reveals that Kavanaugh argued only for a deferral of a criminal prosecution until after a president leaves office.

As Kavanaugh states, “The point is not to put the President above the law or to eliminate checks on the President, but simply to defer litigation and investigations until the President is out of office.”

And that is exactly what is happening right now with Trump out of office.

It would be interesting to know Justice Kavanaugh’s opinion of Trump’s lawyers trying to mislead the Court by referencing a law review article of his.

The legal maneuvering of Donald Trump, the born-on-third-base, but-everyone-knows-I-hit-a-triple man, made me think of something that happened on this date 151 years ago in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For that was the day in 1871 that 33-year-old Carrie Burnham, a woman with more legal acuity in her little finger than all of Donald Trump’s high-priced lawyers put together, finished her masterful two-day, 90-page argument before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court advocating that election officials in Philadelphia’s Ward 14 had illegally refused to accept her ballot.

A lower court had first ruled against her suit by claiming the Pennsylvania Constitution only allowed “freemen” the right to vote. This was its entire and only position. The court had written:

Carrie Burnham’s entire case rested on the meaning of the word, freeman. 

In 90 pages of legal erudition, rarely, if ever, seen in that, or any other court, she eviscerated the lower court’s position, beginning with the Teutonic origin of the word—frei mann. Citing Greek and Roman history, the Magna Carta, a wealth of English Common Law, the U.S. Constitution (particularly the 14th Amendment), as well as the Constitutions and court cases of various American states (particularly New Jersey, where women had the right to vote from 1790 until 1807), Burnham conclusively proved the word freeman was always intended to be generic, referring to both genders.

Well, as you’d expect, the lady lost her case. Although, two of the court’s judges asked her for copies of her brief, and one sent it along to Harvard Law School, where it continues to be taught to this day.

But Carrie Burnham was much more than is told in this story.

She wasn’t even a lawyer when she appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She was able to do that, because the state had a law that allowed supplicants to plead their own cases.

She studied law privately, because no law school would admit her. When she requested taking the bar exam in 1873 and 1874, she was denied. After a decade of lobbying, however, she became the first woman admitted to Penn’s law school, in 1881. After graduating, Carrie Burnham was the first female lawyer in the city of Philadelphia, and first woman admitted to the Bar in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Today, a residence hall at Penn is named for her.

Extraordinarily, at a time when few women worked outside the home, she managed to become not only a lawyer, but, after an extended legal battle, also a medical doctor, making her an early and dynamic leader in the struggle for women’s rights in America.

She got her medical degree from New York’s Bellevue Hospital, one of only 30 women in a class of 500.

The women faced harassment from the men, including at least one professor who “repeatedly exposed” patients, both male and female, in front of the women, in hopes of shocking them into quitting the program. After these classes, the male students would line the hallways, forcing the women to walk an intimidating gauntlet to leave the building. But, she wrote, “[W]e continued our studies without noticing apparently any of the insults heaped upon us.”

She earned her degree of Doctor of Medicine and worked as an assistant physician at a medical institute in Boston. There she helped a male doctor prepare a book on physiology, but received no credit when it was published.

She continued to practice law for 21 years after her admittance to the Bar, and died in 1909.

Her 1871 argument in support of her right to vote apparently alarmed some men, because the next year, a state convention amended Pennsylvania’s constitution to say that only “every white male citizen” could vote.

That is praise, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Empathy on display? Not really.

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024

In 2005, the late Thomas Crombie Schelling won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economic science for “having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game theory analysis.”

Schelling is also known for his 1961 article Dispersal, Deterrence, and Damage, in which he coined the term “collateral damage.”

Militarily, collateral damage has been a constant since the dawn of humanity. I saw it on a couple of occasions during my time in Vietnam, and, to this day, there is still a never-to-be-healed tear in the fabric of my soul because of it.

Yesterday, collateral damage was on full display in Gaza when Israel launched an airstrike on a convoy of World Central Kitchen (WCK) trucks delivering 240 tons of aid to Gazans in desperate need of it.

The attack killed seven WCK staffers, as heroic a group as you’ll ever see. Six of the killed are from Australia, Poland, the United Kingdom, Palestine, and one was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada.

Founded by noted Chef José Andrés in 2010 in response to a devastating earthquake in Haiti, World Central Kitchen has gone on to feed millions around the world when disaster has struck, which is why the organization has been laboring in Gaza where food has all but disappeared.

“This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable,” said World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore.

World Central Kitchen said that its convoy had “coordinated movements with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), that they were traveling in a deconflicted zone, and that their vehicles were clearly branded.”

One shell tore straight through WCK’s logo on top of one of the vehicles, put there so military aircraft could see it.

Two other convoy vehicles were incinerated and mangled, indicating multiple hits.

According to Israel, its IDF suspected an armed man of being a terrorist and hiding in the convoy. Consequently, its Air Force fired three consecutive missiles at the multi-car convoy — even as the aid workers in the vehicles tried to move cars and send messages that they’d been attacked following the first hit. In the end, the armed man wasn’t even in the convoy; he’d stayed back in the food warehouse.

Yesterday’s strike on the aid workers came hours after a new delivery with some 400 additional tons of food and supplies organized by World Central Kitchen and the United Arab Emirates arrived in three ships from Cyprus, following a pilot run last month.

Around 100 tons were unloaded before the charity suspended operations, and the rest was being taken back to Cyprus, Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesman Theodoros Gotsis said.

Additionally, the United Arab Emirates has suspended its aid that travels the same route, pending assurances from Israel that its convoys won’t suffer the same fate.

Finally, Anera, a Washington-based aid group that has been operating in the Palestinian territories for decades, said that in the wake of the strike it was taking the “unprecedented” step of pausing its own operations in Gaza, where it had been helping to provide around 150,000 meals daily.

The strike on the WCK convoy wasn’t the only instance of collateral damage caused by Israel’s IDF yesterday.

Two other Israeli strikes late in the day killed at least 16 Palestinians, including eight children, in Rafah, where Israel has vowed to expand its ground operation despite the presence of some 1.4 million Palestinians, most of whom have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.

One of the strikes hit a family home, killing 10 people, including five children, according to hospital records. Another hit a gathering near a mosque, killing at least six people, including three children.

Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said the strike on the WCK convoy was “not an isolated incident,” noting that around 200 humanitarian workers have been killed thus far in the war.

Early this morning, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the WCK incident moments after being released from hospital following hernia surgery.

Addressing the media, Netanyahu said, “Unfortunately, on the last day, there was a tragic event of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip. This happens in war; we are checking thoroughly, we are in contact with the governments, and we will do everything to prevent this from happening again. I would also like to thank you, the multitudes of citizens of Israel, for sending your wishes for recovery.”

Then he went on to thank his doctors for their great work.

Let’s think about all that for a moment.

“Unintentionally hitting innocent people?” Not quite accurate. There were three trucks. The IDF suspected one armed man, who might (or might not) have been a terrorist, of being in the convoy. So, aircraft fired three missiles that destroyed all the trucks in an attempt to kill everyone.

“This happens in war?” Netanyahu’s right. It does. But it doesn’t have to with a little care. The World Central Kitchen folks had done everything right, and seven of them died.

And thanks for all the good wishes? No words are necessary.

The frigid lack of empathy is breathtaking. I doubt there’s much of a tear in the fabric of that man’s soul, presuming he has one.