Letters

Archives

The Way Forward for Belarus

by John Brian Shannon

All people who live in democracies have the right to be governed in a way that the majority approves — that’s the foundation of the thing we call “democracy”.

And so it is in Belarus, a country that professes to be “democratic” and is a country that boasts a “democratic constitution” that guarantees the rights and responsibilities of citizens, government, the judiciary and the military. Therefore, no one could seriously argue that Belarus isn’t a democracy.

However, even in the best democracies, disputes can arise and sometimes those disputes relate to ‘who really won’ the most recent election.

Sometimes, it’s merely a case of ‘sour grapes’ where the losing side in the election won’t accept the results and subsequently mobilize their base to protest the loss, or to keep its base ‘fired-up’ until the next election, or they use the uprising to embarrass the governing party to induce it to submit to certain political demands. Which seems a bit sketchy, but it happens.

So, who won?

Thus far, no one has proven that the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, fraudulently won the August 9th election — nor has anyone proven that the opposition party led by Svetlana Tikhanouskaya lost the election, although tens of thousands of her supporters have been protesting every day since the election results were announced.

Which could be everything, or it could be nothing.

Therefore, what we need is an international effort, perhaps led by the UN, to investigate allegations that President Lukashenko stole the election and is refusing to step down, and have the UN publicly announce their findings.

Then, and only then, will we know who has won the Belarusian election.


How to Build Enough Momentum to Find the Truth of the Matter

1: Telephone Diplomacy Works

In 1990, then-U.S. President, George H. W. Bush’s telephone diplomacy worked wonders when Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, invaded the tiny country next door to Iraq on 2 August 1990. President H.W. Bush subsequently telephoned almost every world leader and convinced them that it was necessary for the world to deal with the murderous Iraqi dictator and to evict Iraq’s military from Kuwait.

It took only one weekend for H.W. to create a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ with the noble goal of evicting the Iraqi Republican Guard from peaceful Kuwait. And HW’s plan worked magnificently. In a matter of weeks, Kuwait was liberated with the help of several countries.

2: “How Many Divisions Has the Pope?”

In 1981, Poland’s new Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law (to purportedly) crush a rapidly growing pro-democracy trade union movement known as Solidarity which threatened his (autocratic at best, and dictatorial at worst) leadership of Poland.

America’s President Reagan quickly conferred with the Pontiff of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II (who was shot in a failed assassination attempt two weeks after that phone call in 1981) to ask what help the Church could offer to the people of Poland, most of whom were Christians of either Catholic or Russian Orthodox Church persuasion.

The quote above; “How many divisions has the Pope?” was uttered by former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin commenting on how much military power the Catholic Church didn’t have in comparison to the dozens of military units (divisions) that the former Soviet Union did have during Stalin’s time in power.

As it turned out, the fall of Soviet communism had much to do with the Catholic Church and its (even more powerful in Russia) brethren, the Russian Orthodox Church. So much so, that the Western attempt to engineer the fall of Soviet communism, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and end the Cold War would’ve failed without the help of tens of millions of Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the former Soviet Union.

How many divisions, indeed.

In today’s Belarus, most of the population there profess Christian belief and attend some kind of church, although, as in 1980’s Poland, most would be adherents of the Russian Orthodox Church, not Catholic. Still, there are many more Christians than Belarusian soldiers were you to count them by division strength.

In 1980’s Poland when (Christian) Polish soldiers were ordered to fire on (Christian) Solidarity movement supporters to end the many street protests, the soldiers refused to shoot their (Christian) brethren. And when the soldiers and police refuse orders to shoot, the largest majority wins.

Let’s hope that the situation in Belarus doesn’t ever approach that level of danger and drama, but it could be that if a fair and transparent body finds the Belarus leader has illegally held onto power after losing the recent election, that the threat of mobilization of millions of Belarusians by the Churches combined with the present level of citizen protests could provide the impetus for President Lukashenko to step down before things get out of hand.

That’s called a ‘leveraged exit’ in the diplomatic world where the leader will lose if world leaders proceed one way, but lose by a much wider margin if world leaders proceed another way regarding Belarus.

3: The UN ‘Soft Power’ Option

Of course, the United Nations has plenty of powers that it can bring to bear for a successful conclusion in Belarus, but only if it decides to do so. Unless a UN member proposes (basically sponsors) such an action, it usually doesn’t happen.

But the situation in Belarus is practically crying out for UN involvement — to at the very least! — have the UN independently verify which side won the August 9 election.

  • The UN General Assembly could convene to discuss the matter and create a UN Resolution calling on President Lukashenko to step down if the evidence proves there’s been major fraud committed by the government or its agents.
  • Further steps could be employed by the UN Security Council if it feels regional stability could be affected, employing a wide array of options against the Lukashenko regime if the evidence proves major fraud was committed by the government or its agents.

Such Security Council resolutions could involve trade restrictions against Belarus, ‘No Entry’ to any UN member country by Belarusian government officials, closing of Belarusian embassies and consulates around the world, and all airline traffic to and from Belarus could be cancelled until further notice, oil and gas shipments to Belarus could be diverted or delayed, and other options could be employed besides that very short list.

Life would quickly become very difficult for the present leader of Belarus if he’s found to have engaged in some kind of major election fraud.


Which to Choose?

It seems the first order of business is to ascertain whether the election was fraudulent or whether the results are merely unpopular with a vocal minority of voters.

Second, some kind of diplomacy must be employed to convince the Belarusian leader that it’s a fight he can’t win (if there has been election fraud) and that he must step down immediately in exchange for minimal prosecution.

Third, pressure must be brought to bear in a unified fashion, where the lightest punishment is first employed (the powerful Christian demographic added to the existing protest pool) and punishments are increased every 14-days (UN General Assembly resolution) followed by UN Security resolutions (closing Belarusian embassies and consulates) followed by curtailment of oil and gas to Belarus, and finally closing the airspace of Belarus to civilian airlines and closing of land borders especially to passenger trains — all designed to increase the pressure on President Lukashenko to step down for the good of the country.

At no time (assuming he’s guilty, which hasn’t been proven yet) should he feel that he could win, and he must be made to realize that every subsequent 14-days his life will be worse than in the previous 14-days.

So, let’s find out if there indeed has been election fraud — before we proceed! — because it’s astonishingly easy to depose a world leader when the facts become known in such cases. And then the UN, the Churches, and the citizens of that country can all work together to build a better future for their people no matter what has occurred.

Historically speaking, deposing a leader is the one thing that works every time that we actually try — but please! — let’s get our facts straight before we proceed further.

Affordable Daycare for Working Parents in the Post-COVID Era

by John Brian Shannon

Most people who work in Britain’s National Health Service have children — whether those NHS workers are Doctors, Surgeons or other professionals, or are Hospital maintenance staff — the vast majority of them have children who live at home.

Which isn’t a problem when there’s no Coronavirus going ’round.

But during the first wave of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, many parents were forced to choose between going to work so they can pay their mortgage, or staying at home to care for their children. A terrifying choice for parents. And it created a terrifying problem for the NHS because at the time the national healthcare service needed the maximum number of staff — NHS staff were booking time off work to stay at home with their kids.

Fortunately, the NHS has a list of former employees and another list of people who had applied to work for the NHS but hadn’t yet been selected. This worked as a kind of pressure relief valve, although it couldn’t replace the vast number of Moms or Dads who took leave to care for their youngsters.

And that, friends, isn’t the best way to run a railroad!


Daycare Located Near the Workplace for Working Parents

Now that the second COVID-19 wave is starting, some jurisdictions in Canada, the U.S. and Australia are telling parents that school opening dates will be delayed, perhaps indefinitely. And I expect the same will happen in the UK over the coming weeks as the second wave hits with even greater impact than the first wave.

And again the NHS will have parents taking time off work to take care of their suddenly school-less children. Of course, as I wrote above, there are some, repeat some former NHS people and some future hires that the health service can access to alleviate staffing shortages during the second wave, but it won’t be enough to cover the shortfall.

It’s no wonder that healthcare workers were posting images of themselves on social media earlier this year to show us what it looks like to work 12-15 hours per day in a Hospital while wearing uncomfortable PPE and working in unusually crowded conditions with overtired co-workers. Not the ideal situation for healthcare outcomes.

What the NHS needs to do is to offer free daycare for parents and locate it within one block of the Hospital where one or both of the parents work.

Mom (or Dad) who works at the Hospital simply drops junior off at the daycare facility located across the street from the Hospital, and then picks up the child on the way home — for as many days as school remains closed. So obvious!

This should’ve started in the 1950’s when women began working away from home. And not only the NHS should’ve been doing this since then, but the National Healthcare Service serves as a poignant example for this discussion.

All medium-to-large companies should offer free daycare within one block of their factory, office tower, or retail shopping mall: It would be a major benefit to working parents, it would be a benefit to companies so they don’t have workers taking time off work to look after their kids, and it would be a benefit to society.

That’s why it should be mandated by legislation, backed by educators of preschool and school age children, and backed by companies.

Perhaps a tax break for companies that purchase and operate an appropriately-sized daycare centre across the street from their location is the way to get it done — Pronto!

Rethinking the UK Education System in the Coronavirus Era

by John Brian Shannon

It turns out that Coronavirus didn’t magically disappear during 3-months of lockdown, in fact, it seems to be back with a vengeance. And while treatment has improved, those already hit with the nasty virus may have permanent heart damage according to experts who now say that 2/3rds of all COVID-19 survivors suffer from decreased heart function.

Heart Damage Even After COVID-19 ‘Recovery’ Evokes Specter of Later Heart Failure (MedScape.com)

Yes, the miracle drug (hopefully!) Remdesivir may turn COVID-19 from a killer disease into a week or two of self-isolation and flu-like symptoms (which is bad enough, but it beats dying from the Novel Coronavirus) however it doesn’t stop people from catching it. Remdesivir helps patients recover more quickly from the disease — especially the very ill — but nowhere in the literature that accompanies the medicine does it say that it prevents COVID-19.

Coronavirus drug remdesivir to cost $2,340 per patient in the U.S. (GlobalNews.ca)

And (you’ll hate this part) the present Coronavirus strain is merely one version of the larger Coronavirus family with newer versions appearing at irregular intervals. So my bet is that there will be another COVID crisis — perhaps with a more serious variant than the present SARS-CoV-2 (which most people know by the name COVID-19, or the Novel Coronavirus)

Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it (WHO.int)

And now, cats, dogs and ferrets are dying from Coronavirus. Which is not great, as they roam everywhere and like to lick their friends and family to greet them — making pets potential carriers of the disease to unsuspecting humans and to other pets.

Exclusive: ‘Buddy’ first dog to test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. has died (NationalGeographic.com)

So, it looks like Coronavirus is going to be around for a long time; Yes, the treatment is improving, but it’s still a serious disease even with presently available treatments. And a vaccine seems like it will be ‘only a year or two away’ for the next five years — if you take my meaning.


With the “R Rate” Increasing and School Openings Looming, Now’s the Time to Rethink the UK Education System

According to Cambridge University, the R-rate (the rate at which a virus is retransmitted to others) is over 1 to 1, and may be as high as 1 to 1.04 in some parts of the UK.

And that means the UK is (temporarily) losing the battle against COVID-19 — no doubt due to the recently relaxed lockdown and with thousands of people visiting beaches, packed pubs, and other public spaces without the dual disciplines of mask-wearing and regular handwashing.

Coronavirus R rate ‘above one’ in some parts of UK amid second wave fears (TheMirror.co.uk)

So, people, let’s get real. Coronavirus is here to stay. Which means it’s time to make some decisions. These aren’t the kinds of decisions that we can chew on for months;

These are ‘August decisions’ — which means these decisions must be made in August 2020. And these may well turn out to be life and death decisions so don’t shirk your responsibilities to your family and community.


In the Quest for Efficiency, Schools Have Been Getting Larger Every Decade (which is great for efficiency!) But it’s Also Great for Virus Retransmission

Maybe now is the time to reverse the economic efficiency mandate and do what’s best for children’s health, for family health, and for pet health as it may turn out that pets are major retransmitters of Coronavirus.

Think of a school system where all children in Grade I and Grade II attend their classes in one building, while Grades III and IV attend their school in a different location (maybe only blocks away for the convenience of parents who drop-off and pick-up their different-aged kids from school) and Grades V and VI in a different school — again, not too far apart; just let’s have them not breathing the same air.

  • None of those proposed schools should have more than 100 pupils per location.
  • Grades I and II (for example) plus teachers and vice-principal shouldn’t total more than 120 people.
  • That keeps the cohort of potential COVID-19 infections to a small number of people.
  • And similar applies for other grades; III and IV in another school, V and VI in another location, and grades VII and VIII in another building, etc.,
  • Gymnasiums could be in a 5th (nearby) location, and employ a reservation system.

YES! Schools would become more numerous, much smaller and more quickly built!

If China can build two Coronavirus hospitals in one week, the UK should be able to build two 100-pupil schools per county, per week, in the UK.

How China Built Two Coronavirus Hospitals in Just Over a Week (WallStreetJournal.com)

All that needs doing is to source the land and plunk some fast-build structures in place designed to hold 120-people.

If you know anything about construction challenges — that’s about the smallest challenge ever offered to large construction firms! — especially if they decide to use ‘modular’ design, and much of the construction could be done in factories that already produce construction-site oriented buildings or other temporary buildings.

Companies all over the UK could be building these structures during August and deliver them in time for the beginning of the school year. ‘On-time and On-budget’ please!

High School kids might need to wait a few weeks for their buildings to be delivered, but nothing that would stop them from completing their studies by June 2021.


Parents, School Districts and Various Levels of Government: Now is NOT the Time to be Timid; Now is the Time to Leap Forward to a Decentralized School Buildings Model!

There are some great school buildings in the UK — some with a brilliant history. Sir Isaac Newton was schooled in the UK, for example.

And there’s no doubt that special buildings should be preserved as an entire generation switches over to small cohort school buildings. Such valuable buildings could become museums, City Hall office spaces, office space for MP’s and doctors/dentists, etc., or be carefully preserved and listed — but leased to companies for office space.

But for now, keeping kids safe should be the main concern.

Decentralizing the present school buildings/location model might be the way to dramatically lower the R-rate and simultaneously prevent the UK economy from failing during future waves of Coronavirus (or other virus) infections throughout the country.

And we can do that by keeping cohort sizes small among school-aged children by educating them in small, relatively inexpensive, modular school buildings, in handy locations for parents and kids in each and every neighbourhood throughout the UK.

As COVID-19 appears to be with us indefinitely, it’s time to build new and smaller schools and thereby reduce future retransmission of infectious diseases.