Archive for the ‘International relations’ Category

Thursday Thoughts

Thursday, March 10th, 2022

Is there any hope for Ukraine?

Years ago, when I was a young man starting down life’s bumpy road, I had a difficult decision to make. Should I take the right-hand fork, or the left? So, I went to my mother for advice. I described the issue and the choices. She let me talk, heard me out. Then, after pausing for a moment, she said, “Tommy, pick very carefully the barricade upon which you are prepared to die.”

I made my decision, didn’t look back, and, to quote Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.” It helps to have a mother a lot smarter than you are.

Right now, we are now witnessing the wanton, senseless, cruel-beyond-imagining death of innocents and innocence in Ukraine. Ukrainian twenty-somethings, all born after their country achieved freedom from Soviet domination in 1992, have no memory of life in the Soviet Union, the USSR. They’ve studied it in school, their parents told them stories, but they haven’t lived it. It’s like a different galaxy, spinning its own way in the cosmic beyond.

Now, they and all Ukrainians who manage to survive this living nightmare, are faced with the prospect of being sucked back into that distant galaxy, which has turned and is now quickly spinning toward them. Their heroic defense, their country’s patriotic self-sacrifice, their refusal to lose, their you-shall-not-pass attitude, all of this inspires awe in the rest of us. But at the same time, one cannot help asking, “Is it worth it?” Is it better to save lives by surrendering, even though by surrendering you lose your country and maybe your soul? The Ukrainians say “No” to that. What do the rest of us say, though?

This problem is made no easier by Russia’s obvious war crimes as its military amps up its indiscriminate shelling and cluster bombing of civilians. Yesterday, they killed three and wounded 17 by bombing a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol. The Russian government justified this by claiming the hospital was held by “local radical militias.” Wonder what kind of weapons the babies were firing?

I think of that now with profound sadness, as I contemplate the choice facing the U.S., its NATO allies and the European Union. Given that Ukraine will not surrender, do they keep playing the long game by continuing to tighten the screws of economic sanctions on Russia and its oligarchs, hoping  to cause sense to return to formerly (maybe) sensible people and bring an end to the suffering? Or, do they (we) tiptoe toward what might be Armageddon by becoming just a wee bit more militarily involved? Do we do whatever it takes to lickety-split get those Polish MIGS to Ukrainian pilots? Do we take the right-hand fork, or the left?

This is not a Hobson’s Choice.

By the way, Putin has already said he considers economic sanctions, and probably anything else we do, “akin to an act of war.” That is precious, indeed.

Real Earnings Release: Inflation is taking a heavy toll on the middle class and the poor

As the story goes, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald is supposed to have once said to fellow novelist Ernest Hemingway, “You know, the rich are different from you and me.” Hemingway supposedly replied, “Yes. They’ve got more money.”

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its monthly report on inflation and Real Average Earnings, which are earnings after inflation is factored in. The news is not good.

Real average earnings for all employees decreased 0.8 percent from January to February 2022, seasonally adjusted. This result stems from essentially no change in average hourly earnings combined with an increase of 0.8 percent in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

Real average hourly earnings decreased 2.6 percent, seasonally adjusted, from February 2021 to February 2022. The change in real average hourly earnings combined with an increase of 0.3 percent in the average workweek resulted in a 2.3 percent decrease in real average weekly earnings over this period.

Now, this announcement hits the middle and lower classes where they live, literally. The rich may have to put off buying the new Bentley, but the average Joe just got a cut in pay of 2.3%.

For the Republican Party, this is the most beautiful political fodder imaginable — they have someone to blame, Joe Biden. It’s all his fault. It’s a simple message, easy to deliver, and it will stick.

Of course, it’s not simple. It’s terribly complicated. We are at the center of a confluence of unfortunate events, global in nature, that have set the entire world back on its heels. This will get worse, especially when the Federal Reserve begins raising interest rates, which is momentary.

I, like most of you I think, fervently wish our elected officials could put their political opportunism and hypocrisy  aside, marshal their collective brains (such as they are), and work together to do what they can to help soften the blow that is gobsmacking so many vulnerable people. Is that too much to ask?

Right, and pigs will soon be seen flying past my great big third floor window.

 


 

Zelenskyy’s Heroism, Women’s Long March To Equality, And Then There’s Ron DeSantis

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” — William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Ukraine update

Last night, Ukriane’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, posted a nine-minute video from the Presidential Office Building on Bankova Street in central Kyiv.

Zelenskyy opened from a window looking out over Kyiv at night (a nice way to show everyone he was really there), and then selfied his way down corridors to his office where he sat at his desk to address the world, as well as the people of Ukraine. His fierce determination not only to defend Ukraine, but, more than that, prevail against a barbaric enemy was on full display. Speaking for all Ukrainians, he said, “I’m here, it’s mine, and I won’t give it away. My city, my community, my Ukraine.”

He closed his address by letting the nation know he had earlier in the day bestowed medals for bravery on 96 “heroes.” He then singled out five and described what they had done to earn the medals. Brilliant stuff.

Zelenskyy continues to unite his country and keep its spine stiff. His leadership, his rhetoric, his example are sharp enough to slice bread. He must be setting Putin’s hair on fire.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, and The Economst has released it’s annual glass-ceiling index, which measures the role and influence of women in the workforce across the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and  Development (OECD).

According to The Economist:

A country’s performance on the index is measured along ten metrics, including the gender pay gap, parental leave, the cost of childcare, educational attainment and representation in senior management and political jobs.

We give more weight to the indicators which affect all women (such as labour-force participation) and less to those which affect only some (such as maternity pay). Paternity pay is also included. Studies show that where fathers take parental leave, mothers tend to return to the labour market (emphasis added), female employment is higher and the earnings gap between men and women is lower.

That “return to the labour market” point is important, given the tremendous difficulty American women are having right now in returning to the labor market due to the ridiculous cost of child care.

It is unfortunate that, in this year’s glass-ceiling index, the United States continues to rank lower in how it treats its women than the OECD average, 20th out of 29 countries.

You may notice the top four countries in the rankings, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway, are Nordic countries so often ridiculed by conservatives as prime examples of “totalitarian socialism.” Actually, these countries have combined successful capitalism with, yes, welfare state benefits that allow their citizens to have a high standard of living, universal health care, and life expectancies higher than most other countries, certainly higher than the U.S.

But all is not Panglossian with the Nordic Model. These countries have large challenges, most notably what to do about an aging population and an influx of immigrants. Time will tell whether they’ll be able to marshal the political will to deal successfully with these significant headwinds.

That said, on International Women’s Day it seems fitting to suggest that, due to the collective culture the Nordics have fostered, their women are much better positioned for success than their peers in America. It pains me to write that.

DeSantis continues to be…well, DeSantis

Yesterday, at the conclusion of a 90-minute virtual video forum (make that show) in West Palm Beach, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and his Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced a new state policy that will recommend against giving a coronavirus vaccine to healthy children, regardless of their age.

Sitting in front of what could have been mistaken for an IMAX screen where hundreds of forum participants were pictured, Ladapo enthusiastically proclaimed, “Florida is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the covid-19 vaccination for healthy children.”

Let’s hope it’s the last one, too. National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show more than 40 Florida children, from birth to age 17, have died from COVID-19. Nationally, the number is nearly1,600.

In an interview reported in today’s Washington Post, Peter Hotez, a professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine and a leading expert on the virus, said, “To be at such distinct variance from the hundreds of physicians and scientists at the CDC and the FDA is reckless at best and dangerous at worst.”

Look, we get it that Governor DeSantis features himself as the next president of the United States and that he’ll say or do just about anything to get there. This is the man who just last week bullied a group of high school students for wearing masks at an event at the University of South Florida. “You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. This is ridiculous,” he told the teens just before slamming his folder on a lectern.

These folks are playing with kids’ lives, all for their own opportunistic and hypocritical ends. I can only hope there’s a special place in hell reserved for such people.

I’ll leave you today with this question: How do you think DeSantis would do in Zelenskyy’s chair on Bankova Street? Or, would he have skedaddled to safety before the fun began?

Just a thought.

 

 

Stories I Was Planning To Address. They’ll Have To Wait.

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022

The life and death stories coming out of Ukraine, as its people continue to exhibit fierce and inspirational resistance to Vlad the Invader’s barbaric onslaught, tend to suck the air out of any room. Somehow, Joe Biden’s approval ratings, or America’s vitriolic partisan divide, or who will prevail in the midterms or the desperate state of our infrastructure, or the future of our newest Supreme Court nominee, while important at any other time, just cannot compete with Putin’s intentional and indiscriminate killing of anyone, man, woman, child, beloved pet, anyone in the way of his rapacious army. This is causing the most momentous change on the European continent and throughout the geopolitical world in nearly 80 years. And it’s taken only a week.

So, here are some quick takes of the things I would have written about, and maybe will in the future in more depth, were it not for the blackhole-like gravity of what’s happening in Ukraine.

Tuesday night’s State of the Union

Joe Biden’s speech to the Congress and the nation came in two chapters. Chapter One: Ukraine. Chapter Two: His domestic agenda.

Chapter One was riveting, and it appeared nearly everyone sitting on the floor and in the gallery of the House of Representatives was united in support of the West’s monumental pushback to  Vlad the Villain. I thought it ironic they were all sitting in a sacred building where, just 14 months ago fellow citizens tried to steal American democracy, and nearly did. Ironic, indeed, when one considers so many who were sitting on the R side of the aisle now want to look the other way and pretend it never happened.

Chapter Two was pretty much what you’d expect from any State of the Union speech — until the heckling. Representatives Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga, put on a disgusting display of crass and boorish incivility. These two ladies have never demonstrated having had an original idea in their lives. Why should they? They’re both travelling on borrowed gas, and inferior gas, at that. Boebert, especially, raised poor taste to a new level when she screamed out accusing Biden of killing 13 soldiers during the evacuation of Afghanistan as he was describing the death of his beloved son, Beau, from cancer attributable to burn pits in wartime. These two, both of whom have about as much empathy as a New Jersey loan shark, would be rejected from Dante’s Inferno for giving the place a bad name. (Pity the poor fellow sitting between them  wishing he were anywhere else on earth — except maybe Ukraine)

Why can’t Medicare negotiate drug prices?

When you insure more than 61.2 million beneficiaries you’d think you’d have tremendous leverage to negotiate the lowest drug prices on earth. But that is not the case in the USA.

The Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003, the one that created the unfunded Part D drug program along with the infamous “doughnut hole,” specifically forbids Medicare from negotiating prices with drug companies, giving that responsibility, instead, to for-profit insurers and Pharmacy Benefit Managers. Health policy Guru John C. Goodman calls the MMA, “arguably the worst domestic policy decision in the history of the country.” At the time of enactment, the Social Security and Medicare Trustees estimated the long-term (75 years) unfunded liability of the MMA’s Part D program to be $17 trillion. The Trustees project that cost growth over the next 5 years will average 7.3 percent for Part D, significantly faster than the projected average annual GDP growth rate of 4.3 percent over the period.

And, still, Medicare cannot negotiate prices.  Result? High drug prices for Medicare and its beneficiaries.

By contrast, the VA is able to negotiate for its nine million veterans enrolled in its health care program, yours truly being one of them. Result? Low cost drugs.

Since passage of the MMA, there have been repeated attempts to introduce and pass legislation that would allow Medicare to bring the full weight of its considerable power to the price of pharmaceuticals. Two things have prevented any success in these endeavors. First, the bottomless well of pharmaceutical industry cash, and, second, members of congress who are the beneficiaries of that bottomless well of cash.

To quote that eminent American philosopher, Mark Twain, “We have the best government that money can buy.”

Federally Qualified Health Centers. Now there’s a well kept secret!

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) are community-based health care providers that receive funds from the Health Center Program of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to provide primary care services in underserved areas. They must meet stringent requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on a patient’s ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients. Specifically, at least 51% of their Boards must be patients.

By law, FQHCs must treat anyone, regardless of the ability to pay.

There are 1,368 FQHCs in the country. Most have a number of locations, called Service Sites, bringing the total health care locations to 14,200. They welcome people with insurance, but their main targets are poor people who could otherwise not afford health care.

In addition to FQHCs, the Health Center Program also funds Rural Health Centers (RHCs), whose mission is to increase access to primary care services for patients in rural communities.

FQHCs and RHCs are funded annually by congressional approval. Additionally, Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act provides grant awards to eligible health centers and outlines the requirements the centers must meet to be eligible .

Taken together, FQHCs and RHCs are Community Health Centers. They are ubiquitous throughout the country. For example, in my home state of Massachusetts, there are 52 community health center organizations providing high quality health care to some one million state residents through more than 300 sites statewide. For perspective, there are 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

Given the woeful state of our nation’s public health system, as was amply demonstrated by our response to COVID-19, it might not be a bad idea to consider the Community Health Center model as we attempt to re-engineer how we deliver health care to all of us.

Just a thought.

 

 

 

Ukraine, Day Six. Which Way To The Exit?

Tuesday, March 1st, 2022

In May, 1944, Jean-Paul Sartre’s one-act play No Exit premiered at Paris’s Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier. It tells the story of three people in Hell and how they deal with that particular calamity. It is a play about the “devouring” gaze of the other and how that restricts one’s freedom. I thought of No Exit and one of its famous lines as I watched from afar Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s all out attempt to devour a sovereign country, its people, and its leadership. The line that came to mind was, “Life begins on the other side of despair.”

For Sartre and his followers, life may have begun on the other side of despair, but for Ukraine, life began on the other side of Russia.

Today’s Ukraine was born with independence from the Soviet Union on 24 August 1991. Since then, Ukrainians have been building a nation state with all the mistakes that come with it. Ukraine is still a developing democracy going through birthing pains, just as America did. Think about where the U.S. was after just thirty years of independence. For Ukraine, democracy will be a generational thing, just like America’s was.

In case you haven’t noticed this last week, Ukrainians are optimistic. They have what the eminent Russian and Ukrainian scholar Uri Ra’anan called in his writings a “national personality” based on optimism. They’ve always thought: Life begins on the other side of Russia.

Now, Ukrainians are doing what no one thought possible. They are fighting off Putin with bravery, skill, and determination. And they’re holding their own — at least for now. Not a lot of countries would have been as committed to freedom and democracy as Ukraine is demonstrating it is right now.

Yesterday, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy signed an application for his country to join the European Union, and today the EU moved Ukraine to Candidate status, a necessary part of the vetting process for new members. European Union membership will take time; there are many steps. One hopes the EU will move as swiftly as possible in its consideration, which, if it leads to approval would be another rigidly straight and upright middle finger offered to Vladimir Putin.

After submitting Ukraine’s application for membership, Zelenskyy addressed the European Parliament from his headquarters in Kyiv explaining in vivid terms how his country is fighting for “its very survival.” After he spoke, the EU Parliament’s President Roberta Metsola delivered a hard-hitting and on-point speech highlighting Europe’s unity in the face of Russian aggression and laying out four Principles to guide Europe’s future, all aimed at isolating and crippling the momentarily underperforming Bear to the east. The Principles were easy to say, but will certainly be monumentally difficult to carry out.  She said:

  1. “Europe can no longer remain reliant on Kremlin gas.”
  2. “Europe can no longer welcome (Russian) Oligarchs’ cash and pretend there are no strings attached.”
  3. “Investment in our defense must match our rhetoric.”
  4. “We must fight the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign. Tech companies must take their responsibilities seriously. There is no being neutral between the fire and the fire brigade.”

In addition to Ukraine’s unanticipated, heroic, and, for the moment, successful, resistance, a unified and strong European Union must have been a complete surprise to Putin. After all, in 2008 he invaded Georgia and in 2014 it was Crimea, both with barely a ripple of response, except for some rhetorical hand-wringing and wimpy economic sanctions, and both for the same strategic and political reasons he gave for the current invasion in his rambling, wrong-headed, televised speech to the Russian people last Monday, 21 February. He maintains these former cogs in the Soviet Union’s wheel, Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia, historically belong to Russia and are integral to maintaining  its “sphere of influence.”

“Russia perceives itself as entitled to a historical sphere of influence, the so-called ‘near-abroad’, and doesn’t allow anyone else to infringe on it,” said Nicoló Fasola, an expert in Russian military strategy at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

“Russia is always anxious about foreign penetration – not only in terms of military involvement and political engagement but also in cultural terms,” Fasola told FRANCE 24 on the first day of the invasion.

Whatever his reasons, it appears being stymied by an army one-fifth the size of his has thrown a demonic, electrical  switch in Putin’s brain. Yesterday’s illegal and inhumane cluster bombs, leveling neighborhoods, a shopping center and a school in Kharkiv, demonstrate he will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals regardless of consequences from the West. The indiscriminate and wanton killing of innocents is now part of the strategy going forward.

Realizing what an unhinged Putin could now unleash, European and American leaders are searching for ways to accomplish two contradictory objectives:

  1. How to end the bloodshed, avoid a Third World War and guarantee an independent, European-based, Ukrainian democracy, while,
  2. Providing some kind of minimally face-saving off-ramp for the Moscow megalomaniac who is quickly on his way to becoming a bona fide war criminal,

In his Art of War, Sun Tzu called the second objective, “Giving the enemy the Golden Bridge upon which to retreat.”

Does Vladimir Putin deserve any kind of Golden Bridge? If not, how does this end?

Which way to the exit?

 

 

Ukraine, Still Standing Against All Odds

Monday, February 28th, 2022

Frustrated by his inability to conquer the people of Ukraine thus far, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin reportedly resorted today to carpet bombing and cluster munitions in Kharkiv in the east of the country. Russian forces have been attacking Kharkiv since he gave the order for the invasion, but have been repeatedly repulsed.

Carpet bombing of cities, towns, villages, or other areas containing a concentration of civilians is considered a war crime as of Article 51 of the 1977 Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions. Cluster munitions were banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008. After ratification by 130 countries, including Russia, the Convention became International law in 2010.

A shopping center in Kharkiv and a school in Okhtyrka were destroyed indiscriminately, leaving dozens killed and hundreds wounded at the shopping center and three dead at the school.

According to reporters for the Daily Mail, the bombs were fired using the Bm-21 Grad Rocket system, which is a multiple launch weapon. If carpet bombing and/or cluster munitions were used on Ukraine’s civilian population Vladimir Putin has committed a war crime, and, according to ABC News, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at the Hague says he plans to open an investigation “as rapidly as possible” into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

Nearly the entire world is united in opposition to Putin’s monstrous invasion. It seems the Russian Federation President has done the one thing all observers thought impossible: He has united Europe, North America and Australia as never before. The economic sanctions leveled over the weekend, which I feared would be no more than a slap on the wrist, have turned out to be a kick in the gut and a punch to the side of the head. The Russian stock market was ordered to remain closed today, the value of the Rubel dropped by more than 30%, and there were long lines at ATMs.

Putin’s only ally appears to be Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus, which sits on Ukraine’s northern border. In the invasion, a third of Russia’s forces attacked from Belarus, and today Belarussian forces joined the Russians in bombing and attacking Kharkiv. Lapdog Luka continues in power because of his fawning willingness to serve his lord and master, Vlad the Invader. One hopes he will also pay a heavy price for the devastation he is helping to wreak on the innocent citizens of innocent Ukraine.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Republicans (most of whom were their own kind of lapdog to Putin’s good friend and admirer, Donald Trump) have been keen to say how awful the whole situation is, and, by the way, it never would have happened on their watch, and isn’t it terrible that Joe Biden is rolling over for European leaders. Some have excoriated him, because he is letting Europe have too much of the credit for the world’s response. He’s not America First enough. These Republicans, of course, are the same people who voted to deny Ukraine the weapons so necessary for its defense. Those would be the Javelins that are now destroying so many Russian tanks and armored vehicles. Like the ever-expanding universe, there seems to be no limit to opportunistic hypocrisy.

And what can we say about Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky, Ukraine’s President? This is a man who was trivialized and mocked by many after his election in 2019. This is a man who had to suffer the indignity of being on the other end of the line for Donald Trump’s “perfect call.” This is a man who, more than anyone else, has shamed Europe into uniting to combat Putin’s horrific, criminal, and inhumane invasion. A man, no, a leader, who leads by example in the face of near certain death if he is captured.

A man who has now become the George Washington of his country.

And My Guitar Gently Weeps

Friday, February 25th, 2022

I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps.
-George Harrison

If the great George Harrison were alive today, his guitar would be weeping over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s troops have blitzed their way to the major cities and, as of this morning, have encircled and shelled Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. Resistance has been strong. Reports suggest the invasion isn’t going as smoothly as Putin imagined it would. Ukrainian troops are fighting valiantly, as did so many in Hitler’s way in 1939, but, as with those long ago heroic defenders, they fight alone and their cause is hopeless. True, they will make Putin pay a high cost in Russian blood, but it seems inevitable that Kyiv will fall. Putin will decapitate the government, assassinate the leaders he can find, install a puppet regime, declare Ukraine restored to its rightful place in the arms of Mother Russia, and that will be that.

Russian heavy troop presence will remain, and a “leader” like lapdog Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will sit at the head of government. Maybe Putin’s friend Viktor Yanukovych, thrown out in 2014’s Revolution of Dignity will return. It’ll be easy to reach him; he’s been living in Moscow ever since. That will be irony, indeed.

It certainly seems Putin has outfoxed America and the rest of NATO and the European Union.

How can I say that?

First, as I reminded readers yesterday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted in a New York Times Guest Essay that Putin is a planner and plays the strategic long game. Right now, it’s becoming obvious that the current invasion has been in the planning for more than eight years, perhaps going all the way back to the early 21st century when he first took power. Since then, everything he has done has been geared toward a return of Imperial Russia. Remember, as far back as 2005, he called  the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

Second, in keeping with that, I urge you to read a brilliant column in today’s Washington Post by Sebastian Mallaby, the Paul A. Volcker senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing columnist. Mallaby’s point is that by forcing Russians to sacrifice since prior to 2014’s invasion of Crimea, Putin has built up a tremendous economic reserve, much like the Bible’s Joseph in ancient Egypt preparing for seven years of famine. In contrast, Mallaby describes how the West has sacrificed nothing in response.

Perhaps a couple of excerpts would help:

1. As Matthew C. Klein observes in the Overshoot newsletter, Russia has used the past eight years to reduce its vulnerability to sanctions. The Russian people have accepted a drop in living standards, cutting their consumption of imports by more than a quarter. Russian businesses have paid off overseas creditors, reducing their foreign debt by one-third. The Russian state has tightened its belt, allowing it to build up its reserves of gold and foreign currency.

2. By embracing these sacrifices, Russia has fortified itself against the West’s economic weapons. The central bank has a $630 billion rainy-day fund. Even if sanctions blocked 100 percent of Russian exports for an entire year, the country could continue to import at its current pace and have foreign-exchange reserves left over. President Biden’s initial response to Putin’s incursions was to bar U.S. investors from buying Russian bonds. But Russia has no need to borrow from Americans.

So, as a good friend suggested to me yesterday, is our big song and dance about levelling crippling sanctions in unity with NATO and the European Union nothing more than Kabuki Theatre? Have we dug into the armory of our considerable weapons and unleashed a pack of snarling paper tigers? In the march to the takeover of Ukraine, will Vlad the Invader stare into the eyes of our paper tigers and then simply shrug and move on?

This is all so very sad.

My guitar gently weeps.