My review on Goodreads: 4 stars – really liked it!
I approached this book with some diffidence – in my opinion, the Nobel in Literature is often oddly chosen, picking out writers that in fact, you wouldn’t read, and then when you do (just because they won the prize and you want to know why), you’re (predictably) disappointed. I won’t name names here because when I don’t like authors I never write about them, I just retreat in a (diplomatic) silence and that’s that.
Well, you’ve guessed it, this time was different. Totally different, I loved it! This is a remarkable memoir that captures the anxiety and deep inner contradictions of our society – indeed, as the book cover blurb claims (but justifiably so), it has universal appeal. It’s short, fast-paced, written in a sober style, the author herself defines it as a “flat style”. Flat or not, it’s very effective, it will keep you riveted as it depicts in an unforgettable way the rise of the middle class in the 1950s following World War II, and what it did to those left behind.
In this case, poignantly, it’s the daughter who rises (Annie Ernaux, the author) and the person left behind is her father.
The world is in a mess with the war in Ukraine causing a double crisis – in food and energy – while America is falling back fifty years with the Supreme Court repeal of Roe vs. Wade, not to mention the gun situation, with Congress taking a timid step forward and the Supreme Court (again!) taking a big step back. Expect the Supreme Court to deal a death blow to LGBTQ rights and to environmental protection next.
And this morning, when I woke up, I knew I had to write about it – either the disaster in America or the consequences of the war which are being felt worldwide. Already, the rising cost of living has led to 12 days of protest in Ecuador, and that’s just the start of many more similar protests around the world. So I decided that the most pressing and catastrophic issue was the war in Ukraine that is impacting all of us, here in Europe, in America, everywhere.
Something needs to be done about it, and something that works, not like sanctions: They don’t work, they simply act as a boomerang. Indeed, so far, Putin has been the ultimate beneficiary of sanctions as they have raised oil prices, enabling him to fill up his coffers and wage the war unimpeded.
So here is what I wrote and that was published by Impakter today:
How to Address the World Food and Energy Crisis and Putin’s Threats of Nuclear War
The G7 starting today is likely to recommend better “coordination of sanctions” but that is not the solution, a different policy response is needed
The G7 started this morning in a castle in Bavaria and the Ukraine war and sanctions are obviously on its agenda. In advance of this meeting of western leaders to which Russia is no longer invited since 2014 as retaliation for annexing Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would be “in the coming months” transferring missiles to Belarus capable of transporting tactical nuclear weapons.
To be noted: That country headed by Lukashenko, a long-time friend of Putin’s, located on the northern border of Ukraine, is uniquely well placed to launch missiles on Ukraine’s major northern cities, Kyiv and Lviv. His announcement was punctually followed by bombs falling on Kyiv last night and damaging two buildings, causing two wounded.
In other words: Putin is telling the G7 that he means business. The implied meaning: Once Russia has taken the Donbas, it will turn to the rest of Ukraine, and will take Kyiv, no matter what – even if it takes a nuclear attack.
Does he really mean it? Who knows, opinions differ, but one should clearly take him seriously, more seriously than Merkel and other western leaders, including Trump, have ever done. In that case, what is the solution, and how to move forward?
The expectation is the G7 will make recommendations for better “coordination of the sanctions against Russia”. That would include, of course, the 6th package of EU sanctions, the one especially aimed at Russian oil exports. Because, as we all know, sanctions don’t work unless they are watertight – certainly not the case with this last set of European sanctions that – under pressure from Hungary’s Orban, another one of Putin’s friends – is anything but watertight. In fact, it will become fully applicable only two years from now.
Why the G7 should stop talking about sanctions
Any call from the G7 for “better coordination of sanctions” is pure nonsense, pap to pacify an increasingly angry public.
Because anger is palpable, we are all angry at the rise in energy and food prices, here in Europe, in America and elsewhere – see the problems in Ecuador where indigenous people have protested the rise in the cost of living by putting the capital under siege for 12 days. The situation there has turned into a government crisis and the president is likely to be deposed by the parliament.
And that is only the start. Watch what happens when the food crisis gets in full swing, as some 27 million tons of grain planned for export is stuck in Ukraine. It is believed that up to 4 million tons of grain and oilseeds are in the terminals and on ships stranded in ports, in particular in Odessa, Ukraine’s main port on the Black Sea. And nobody knows quite how to unblock that situation, with the Russian navy camped in front of Odessa and the sea full of Ukrainian mines.
And then there’s the energy crisis. With the spike in oil and gas prices, the biggest winner has been Putin despite the sanctions, whether coming from the US or Europe.
I have deliberately bolded the above sentence because that is the main point here: Sanctions have created a situation that has benefited Putin, filling Russia’s coffers with money and permitting him to happily go on waging his war.
In fact, the ruble has never been stronger – hitting the highest level in 7 years despite the sanctions – whereas the normal expectation would be that a country at war sees its currency weakened. Nothing like that happened because Russia is a petro-state, and if the price of petrol goes up, it gains. And that’s it, pure and simple.
Khodorkovsky, a Russian oil tycoon and former Putin friend, now one of his staunchest critics, has no doubts: As he recently told Politico, sanctions don’t work, “Europe is sabotaging itself”.
What should the EU have done? In his view, it should have secured alternative supplies before moving ahead with an embargo, or even taken another approach entirely, simply imposing tariffs on Russian energy rather than an outright ban.
He’s not the only one who argues like this: several experts from the Bruegel think tank have pointed out that it would have been smarter to impose tariffs since redirecting oil to other countries with the infrastructure currently in place would have been difficult for Moscow. This would have forced Russian energy companies to absorb the higher export costs to Europe, reducing their margins and ultimately cutting into Moscow’s military budget.
The point is this: By “drilling a hole in its own finances”, Europe has become weaker and less able to finance the purchase of more weapons for Ukraine.
Khodorkovsky has no doubts: “The problem is that current Western politicians have never held talks with a gangster,” he said, referring to Putin. “You can only start negotiating with him when he feels like he’s in a weaker position.”
And the sanctions have been a clear boomerang. “How much has the West lost in revenue by introducing all kinds of energy sanctions? $100 billion, $200 billion?” he said. “Had Ukraine got at least $50 billion worth of weapons instead of $10 billion, the situation would be completely different now — without any energy sanctions being introduced.”
The EU revised downward its growth predictions for this year by around 1 percent in April as a consequence of the war in Ukraine that has so far cost some €160 billion, according to recent GDP estimates from the International Monetary Fund. Meanwhile, the EU has set up several tranches of financial aid, now amounting to €2 billion toward the purchase of arms for Ukraine.
Those numbers speak for themselves: One has to wonder what our political leaders were thinking.
If not more sanctions, what should be done?
Go to Impakter to read the rest, but I’ll give you a hint: We should use market forces against Putin, flood the oil market to lower energy prices. To find out more about this simple solution, click here.
My dear friends and followers, I worry about the outcome of the vote tomorrow: France could well elect Marine Le Pen to the presidency and that would be a catastrophe for both France and Europe.
Such an unfortunate outcome would be the direct result of absenteeism, of a rising number of French people, turned off by the choice presented, and choosing not to exercise their right to vote. Thereby helping to bring to the Elysée the most dangerous and ill-adapted candidate in recent history: Marine Le Pen. The only person who would benefit from such an outcome is Russia’s Putin.
The problem is absenteeism and I examined in an article published on Impakter the day after the TV debate between the two contenders (April 20) why it’s such a risk this time:
French Presidential Elections: Why Absenteeism is a Dangerous Choice
If absenteeism is high, Macron could lose to Marine Le Pen who would become the first Euroskeptic, anti-climate French President with a worrisome dependence on Putin and no government experience
The duel between President Macron and extreme-right Marine Le Pen does not mobilize the French electorate as had happened in a similar situation 20 years ago when President Chirac was challenged by Le Pen’s father. Last night, the one and only debate between the two candidates during the second round of elections took place, a two-and-a-half-hour marathon that was universally viewed as too long, and in fact drew a slightly smaller audience than the last one in 2017, some 15.6 million viewers.
It was a better show back then as both candidates were fresh in the eyes of the public and there was interest to see them up close. This time, it wasn’t the case; Marine Le Pen did not collapse in confusion like the last time and remained serene, almost aloof, while Macron was more offensive, scoring points, highlighting her climate skepticism, her anti-Islamism (she would ban the hijab in public spaces), her anti-Europe stance (the only “sovereignty” that exists, she says, is France’s), her lack of government experience (she is vague about the role of government, what can and cannot be done, and simplistic in her approach to state debt management), and her dependence on Putin as a direct result of the $9 million loan her party took from a Russian bank close to Putin and still hasn’t finished paying back.
Will this duel on television change anything, move indecisive voters to go to the voting booths? Most observers think it is unlikely, by now most people have made up their minds. Macron supporters feel Macron won the duel, and Marine Le Pen supporters say the same about their candidate. Following the debate, a snap survey by Elabe for BFM TV found that59% of polled viewers found Macron more convincing than Le Pen. In 2017, the same polling firm found that 63% of those surveyed found Macron more convincing.
So Macron is doing better than Le Pen as he has all along, with the latest polls of voting intentions showing that Macron is set to win with around 55.5% of the vote. Again, that is less than in 2017 when he beat Le Pen with 66.1% of the vote. His present margin, 5.5%, is not that comfortable if you consider that this is three times less than it was in 2017marking a considerable drop in consensus for the President.
Under the circumstances, with such a small margin between Macron and Le pen, everyone agrees that the level of absenteeism could determine the outcome. Absenteeism can be very dangerous and prevent democracy from functioning correctly. In this case, it could lead to the victory of Marine Le Pen, putting France in the hands of a notorious Euro-skeptic and anti-climate, anti-Islam, anti-German and pro-Putin President.
This is exactly what Europe and the world do not need while the war rages in Ukraine. Not a happy prospect.
Why absenteeism in the French presidential election is so dangerous
The danger of absenteeism on Sunday in France should not be underestimated. There are numerous historic examples of absenteeism leading to deeply undesirable results, not reflecting the will of the majority – on the contrary, disregarding the majority will and leading to a breakdown in the functioning of democracy.
Read the rest on Impakter, where I compare the Brexit referendum with what could happen tomorrow if too many French people stay at home and don’t vote: Click here to read.
This week I’ve been pretty busy! A couple of days ago, I co-authored an article on Odessa with my friend Richard Seifman, an American diplomat and World Bank health expert, you can find the article here: Odessa: A City Crucial Now and Not Just for Ukraine
And now I just published a new article on Impakter, all the truth about sanctions, exploring why they don’t work as expected:
How Russia is Financing the War in Ukraine
With the hike in fuel prices caused by the war, Russia has been the main beneficiary, able to finance its war with an extra $100 billion earned from oil and gas exports
Historically, sanctions have rarely if ever worked. US history of sanctions is an eye-opener and shows that most have never achieved their intended goal. Countries hit by sanctions have always found roundabout ways to mitigate sanctions or even cancel their impact with clever countermoves. And, unsurprisingly, it’s beginning to look like this umpteenth round of sanctions against Russia – we are up to round number five of EU sanctions now, the latest target being coal imports from Russia – is unlikely to help stop the war.
Bloomberg Economics experts have found that, as they put it, despite multiple rounds of sanctions, there are “plenty of signs that Russia is finding ways to prop up its economy”. Russia, they have calculated, will earn about $320 billion from energy exports this year, up by more than a third from 2021. Russian oil is snapped up in Asia and the ruble is back to the level it was before the start of the war in Ukraine.
At the same time, Russian coal exports banned in Europe are finding their way in China: Reportedly there are several Chinese firms buying Russian coal with local currency.
In other words, from an economic standpoint, Russia is the great beneficiary of the war, having earned an extra $100 billion in just one month, enough to carry on with the invasion. At least, so far but things could change if the West changes its policies and reviews its approach to sanctions. Because the evidence is now in:
Sanctions do not work. Putin’s wily war plans: A clever way to finance the regardless of sanctions
One may well wonder what exactly were Putin’s real aims when he invaded the whole of Ukraine six weeks ago.
The “rare” interview in the title of this post is one done by Shanaz Radjy and it’s about me. I normally don’t like to talk about myself but this time I must. Because the person who interviewed me did a superb job, it’s actually much more than an interview, it’s a full portrait of my life as a writer.
Shanaz, who describes herself as “an adventurer, foodie, bookworm, and horse-lover” is an incredibly talented writer, based in Portugal; with her husband, she has cofounded what she calls “an eco-tourism project” – it’s actually a lovely “eco-lodge” opened to nature lovers, a restored stone farm in a beautiful, wild mountainous setting, “off-the-grid”, as she says, with plenty of animals and fruits and home-grown vegetables.
Appropriately called Casa Beatrix, you can find all about it here.
Disclosure: I met Shanaz a few years ago and we happily worked together when I reported on the wonderful Women’s Brain Project and had a long and fascinating talk with founder Maria Teresa Ferretti who’s an Alzheimer specialist. The aim of their project is to generate scientific evidence to understand how sex and gender difference impact brain and mental disease. If you’re curious about that article, click here.
And here is the opening of that interview:
Reconnecting with Claude Forthomme
Claude Forthomme and I crossed paths when I was the Head of Communications for the Women’s Brain Project, and we collaborated on a piece on brain health for Impakter, where she is a Senior Editor. A few years later, after I finally read her book “Crimson Clouds” (yes, I have a monster TBR pile), I reached out to interview her.
One of the things I find fascinating about her is that she has done so many different things, and yet one of the red threads throughout the years has been her love of the written word.
Once a Writer, Always a Writer
Technically, Claude started her writing career when she was eight years old. She published a newsletter for her parents, an 8-10 page booklet complete with clippings, drawings, and articles on what she considered the big news of the day.
By the time she was 15, she had written her first novel: a murder story set in Colombia, among the mountain rebels. It’s one of many pieces that sit in literal or digital drawers, gathering dust.
A Citizen of the World
Born in Brussels, Claude’s father was a diplomat. She spent her childhood in Sweden, Egypt, Columbia, and Russia before graduating from Columbia University with a degree in Economics. After graduation, she worked in banking and publishing before teaching at the college level.
In 1979, Claude joined the United Nations, stationed at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy.
Claude went on to direct the UN/FAO Office for Europe and Central Asia, with US$ 35 million in aid projects aimed at aiding the transition of Eastern Europe to a free market system. She also put food safety on the global agenda, organizing 48 countries at a transcontinental meeting in Budapest.
What’s in a (Pen) Name
In 2009, when she started her blog, Claude decided to publish under the pen name “Claude Nougat.” It was an inside joke, dating back to her teenage years. One day, her father mused aloud about nougat, wondering why it existed in two such extremes: soft and gooey and dry and crisp. Claude said she had the answer. Then, she explained that eggs were integrated differently in each – an explanation she’d made up on the spot.
Since that day, whenever she offered up one of her theories to explain something, Claude was told she “nougatized” it. An appropriate pseudonym, therefore, for a fiction writer.
Read the rest on Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog, click here.
Climate change and environmental issues still do not hit the news like the war in Ukraine or a billionaire’s trip to space but climate reporting is changing to meet the challenge
Not enough time is given to reporting on climate change compared to other news, and that’s a fact. Newsrooms around the world are currently in the grips of Ukraine war news, as they should be, yet climate change will not go away and still requires our attention: After all, it concerns our very existence on this planet.
As German media DW recently pointed out: On any given day of the average 38 stories on their home page, only one or two are about climate change. What is true for DW is true for any other major media outlet – and DW is no climate denier, far from it, it actively supports the fight against climate change, including through a special series of videos available on Youtube, the Planet A series focused on sustainability and climate change issues.
A couple of days ago, DW released its latest video in that series: It carries the provoking title “it’s hard to care about climate change”. To drive the point home, the video opens with an arresting calculation: When Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos went up in space last year, US news networks dedicated212 minutes to the event in one day while climate change for the whole year occupied 267 minutes. In short, climate change’s coverage was about 350 times less than what Bezos got for his pleasure trip in space.
So, yes, we have a very big problem with climate reporting: Climate change is simply not getting the attention it should.
John Mecklin, the editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists made that point forcefully in an interview last week with Covering Climate Now (CCN) “Yes, other issues are important, but if we don’t pay attention to the existential issues first, there won’t be a civilization for those other issues to play themselves out in.” (bold added)
Want to know how this plays out? Read the rest on Impakter, click here.
What makes the Ukraine war unique is…No, not its brutality, that, alas, is nothing new. It’s horrendous and criminal on the part of Putin, but he’s done this before, in Chechnya and in Syria. What is new and unique about this war is Zelinsky, an extraordinary leader who’s using communication means in a way never used before by any leader at war (at least as far as I know!)
Check out my latest article, just published on Impakter:
Ukraine War: Unlike Any Other Thanks To Zelinsky
Ukraine’s President Zelinsky has embarked on a virtual tour of all the major parliaments in the West, further isolating Russia in public opinion
The sanctions are doing their work, more are being prepared in Europe and the Biden administration is reportedly preparing sanctions targeting more than 300 members of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament as soon as tomorrow. But the impact of sanctions is slow and carries a price: The blowback is inevitable, as Russia’s economy collapses and major trading partners, especially in Europe, are hurt. By contrast, the political work of Ukraine President Zelinsky is highly visible, hurts no one and probably contributes far more effectively than sanctions in isolating Russia in public opinion and turning it into a pariah state.
It is in fact extraordinary to see how the war in Ukraine is unfolding. On the ground, we are witnessing the tragedies of war that we hadn’t seen in Europe since Sarajevo and the Balkan War – in particular, the atrocities against civilians. They are so extensive that one might well speak of genocide: For that is what is happening now in Mariupol, the southern port city bombed for weeks, unable to evacuate its inhabitants because of Russian shelling.
Today, as I write, 100,000 people are trapped there, in a city that is now 80% destroyed, and left without food, water, heating, as per Putin’s ruthless and brutal model of invasion that aims at the civilian population since his army is unable to win outright by military means. The Ukrainians are trying to negotiate safe passage to evacuate Mariupol’s people, but for now, with little success, only 7,000 were evacuated yesterday. That something like this could happen in the 21st century in Europe is both astonishing and unconscionable. It’s a throwback to the darkest moments of World War II.
Yet, on another level, we are witnessing something that is entirely new in warfare. I cannot recall in recent History anything like what Zelinsky is doing, a leader engaged in an ongoing war, and talking to parliamentarians around the world.
Zelinsky’s tour of parliaments
Today, Zelinsky spoke to the Japanese Diet and the French parliament.
He used his address to Japan this morning to make two major points:
He slammed the United Nations, saying the UN had failed over the conflict in his country and reforms were needed, calling for Japan to put more pressure on Russia. He told the lawmakers via video: “Neither the United Nations nor the UN Security Council have functioned. Reforms are needed. We need a tool to preemptively ensure global security. Existing international organizations are not functioning for this purpose, so we need to develop a new, preemptive tool that can actually stop invasions.”
Recalling the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster that haunts the Japanese, he warned of the dangers his own country is facing from Russian attacks on nuclear plants and the site of the Chernobyl meltdown; Russia turned that into a war zone,” he said, warning that years would be needed to assess possible environmental effects of Russia’s occupation of Chernobyl; indeed, this is the first time that a country like Ukraine that depends on 15 nuclear reactors to produce its electricity has become a theater of war, raising concerns about world nuclear safety.
Curious about what he said to the French parliament and where all this is leading? Read the rest on Impakter, click here
I apologize to all my readers: For four months now I have stopped reposting my articles here and I’ve been swept up in work, following news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – what future historians will no doubt call the Ukraine War.
To be honest, the war was no surprise, I saw it coming for several months now – as no doubt did the Pentagon and all the world’s military experts: the long build-up of Russian forces around Ukraine – fully 150,000 troops – could only mean Putin intended the invasion; in fact, he’s been very clear about it: He wants nothing else but the eradication of the state of Ukraine! Leaving forty-four million people with no choice but war.
I had written several articles about the coming war, you can find them here along with other articles I wrote over the last four months. My latest is an article on the impact of the war on Ukraine and Russian wheat exports, written in collaboration with Richard Seifman, an American diplomat and former World Bank senior health adviser; he wrote for us numerous articles about the Covid pandemic – we are both on the One Health Initiative Advisory Board.
And now I’m closely watching the news and updating the following article every day and whenever something important happens. Check it out regularly for the latest updates, here it is, for today March 8:
BREAKING NEWS ALERT As Russia launched a blitzkrieg against Ukraine on Feb. 24 and the situation fast turned into a full-blown war – the “Ukraine War” as future historians will no doubt call it – Impakter highlighted the most important breaking news from major sources (Reuters, AP, and others) over the first 2 days and will continue to update every morning here.
UPDATEDMarch 8,2022 – Bullet point summary of major developments in the war TODAY as of 9 am CET:
Russian offensive “slows” say Ukraine authorities; Kyiv still expecting imminent attack and Mariupol continues under siege and resisting; conditions in Mariupol increasingly dire, with no food, water, heating or electricity. Attempts to evacuate people have failed for the 4th day in a row as Russians did not respect their own cease-fire; attack on Odessa awaited;
Russia’s promises of humanitarian corridors met with skepticism; recent Russian offer of corridors rejected by Ukraine as they led directly to Russia and Belarus;
IAEA reports second nuclear plant damaged by Russian invasion (near Kharkiv)
Refugees: Over 2 million Ukrainians have fled, including 1 million children, 4 million total expected by tomorrow; over one million in Poland (Un sources) READ MORE about refugees and the response of the EU and UK…Scandal developing around UK frosty reception to Ukrainian refugees, in stark contrast with rest of Europe: 250 thrown back yesterday; of over 5,500 online visa applications, only 50 accepted UK Guardian
The third round of peace talks held yesterday led to no results
In other news: Russia warns it could turn off gas pipeline to Germany; oil prices rise as US considers Russian oil import ban but no decision taken yet as Germany continues to object to a ban; Canada imposes new sanctions and EU getting ready to do same
Go to Impakter for the rest of the article and the latest news, click here.
Hope to see you often on Impakter – check it out every day for updates and new articles, click here.
Biden’s first trip was to Europe – significantly so, and I wanted to take a step back and try to evaluate what he set out to do and what he achieved. Here’s the result of my analysis, published on Impakter:
President Biden significantly chose Europe as his first trip abroad. As he boarded the plane to attend the G7 Summit in the U.K., he announced that “the U.S. is back”. And that is in fact the biggest result of his “week of summits”. The week began on Thursday 10 June with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a 90-minute meeting that resulted in reconfirmation of the “special relationship”, a term first used by Winston Churchill in a 1946 speech and a feature of US-UK relations since then.
Beyond a series of memorable photo ops, the Biden trip produced results that were often not in line with what the public expected. Notably, the hype around his meeting with Putin at the close of his trip was intense while the results were thin. By contrast, little attention was paid to the EU-US Summit, yet that meeting was, in many ways, the most notable one, with more concrete “key deliverables” than any of the other two summits, the G7 and NATO.
The EU-US Summit was arguably a “historic” event, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen put it, marking the acknowledgment by a U.S. President that the EU – a regional group that is still mostly an economic union though it has federal ambitions – is in fact a major partner and ally of the United States.
Here’s a breakdown of what was achieved and what we can look forward to in the future. Because, in a very real way, what President Biden has done – and done very successfully – is lay down the groundwork to build back up the kind of strong relationship the U.S. had always maintained with its European allies since the war and that Trump had destroyed. And at the same time, he has left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who America’s biggest adversary is: China.
US-UK Special Relationship: Coming Together on China
…Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Let me know what you think!
“The secret IRS files” is a trove of never-seen-before tax records showing how the 0.01%, billionaires like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and Mark Zuckerberg, actually get away with paying nearly no taxes. Just obtained from the US tax authorities by ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom that investigates the abuses of power, it is the first result of an ongoing investigation with assuredly more revelations to come. For the first time, we have indisputable evidence that the ultra-rich do not pay taxes that could be remotely considered as commensurate with their wealth or fair to the rest of the taxpayers.
This is all the more shocking if you confront the ProPublica finding with a report from Oxfam, published in September last year, that showed how the lifestyle of the rich destroys the environment: The One Percent – just 63 million people out of the planet’s total 7.9 billion – are responsible for 15% of the carbon emissions.