Follow the Swedish model? Are you nuts?

I COULDN’T believe what a columnist here wrote that Sweden’s performance in addressing the pandemic – no lockdowns, no health and social protocols – was “salutary.” He even, comically I think, pats himself at the back that he is the “heretic” that has been proven right in espousing the Swedish model in dealing with the pandemic.

Is he nuts? Sweden has been one of the worst-hit countries in the world. Its herd-immunity belief, that the virus will go away after much of the population are infected and would have developed natural immunity has been totally proven wrong. In a rare public appearance. the Swedish King Carl 16th Gustaf said several months ago: “I think we have failed. We have a large number who have died, and that is terrible.”

A huge 11 percent, 1.1 million, of Sweden’s population were Covid-19 infected, among the highest rates in the world. In our case only 1.7 percent got sick of the virus. Some 14,634 of Swedes died from Covid, much more than the 8,793 killed in Metro Manila whose 13.5 million population is bigger than Sweden’s 10.1 million. Sweden is the stark outlier among four Scandinavian countries (see accompanying table), with the other three having cases at most of 340,567 (for Denmark).

If those Swedish rates of cases and deaths per population, the result of their it-will-just-go-away-stance, were converted to our population of 111.2 million, there would have been 12.2 million Filipinos infected, more than seven times the actual figure now of 1.9 million infected.

Source: worlddometers.info/coronavirus
Source: worlddometers.info/coronavirus
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Covid-19 here: How bad is it?

THE past week, especially the other day when the number of new Covid-19 cases hit a record high of 18,332, I felt a bit panicky: Is Covid-19 overwhelming us?

Indeed, in the past months, the country’s slot in worldometers.info/coronavirus’ statistics had been worsening. Its ranking in the Worldometers listing of 222 countries had slowly dropped in the last two months from the 25th slot (No. 1, the US with the largest number of cases) to the 21st the other day.

However, a rational way to determine how bad the situation here is would be to compare our pandemic stats with those of others. The caveat though is that we have the 13th largest population in the world, and therefore, we should be in the top slots of Covid stats if unadjusted for population.

My tabulation is in the accompanying table.

*On August 23. Source: Worldometers.info
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Lessons from Kabul, especially for us

THE most serious consequence of Kabul’s fall for us is that it could strengthen Islamic jihadism globally and that includes our part of the world. The Taliban flag says what the al-Qaeda flag also declares, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is God’s messenger.” Indeed, two years ago, the battle of Marawi had reportedly some members of the Taliban fighting with our local jihadists.

Most worrisome is the fact that the stupid, bungling Americans left tens of thousands of arms and ammunition, not to say tanks and Humvees, with the Taliban. I have no doubt these will end up in Muslim Mindanao one of these days. Afghanistan could become the arms depot for Islamic jihadists worldwide.

We, Filipinos, should learn lessons from the fall of Afghanistan.

1. President Rodrigo Duterte was totally right in charting an independent foreign policy away from the country’s vassalage to the US since its formal independence. Even as the US had spent an astronomical $2.3 trillion in its war in Afghanistan – essentially history’s most expensive manhunt for Osama bin Laden – lost 5,694 in American lives, a new administration suddenly decided to leave with the Taliban capturing it in just seven days. The US cannot be relied on.

We actually have had a “mini-Kabul” in 2012.

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Stop ganging up on Duque for politicking, not at this time

I FIND it despicable for Sen. Richard Gordon and the Yellow stragglers in the Senate to be ganging up on the Health department and its secretary for allegedly mismanaging funds intended to fight the pandemic.

For chrissakes, not at this time, guys, when we are moving toward the darkest night of the pandemic, with daily infections of at least 10,000 in the past two weeks and likely to get worse as the new, more communicable Delta variant spreads.

Don’t these senators know that whether they like its secretary Francisco Duque 3rd or not, the Department of Health (DoH) is our vanguard fighting Covid-19?

Don’t they understand by now that President Duterte is not one to be swayed by the Senate and even by public opinion? Duque will be there until the end of Duterte’s term, so no way for the pharma syndicates you might know he stopped DoH from dealing with, to return.

What Gordon and his gang have been doing is like summoning generals to the Senate during a battle, say with jihadists in Marawi, accusing them of corruption, that they hadn’t bought enough bullets fast enough, or worse, that they’re overpricing bullets.

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Afghanistan, now the global beacon for Islamic jihad?

THAT certainly seems to be the chilling ramifications of what Taliban commander Muhammed Arif Mustafa told CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward when the Islamists were at the gates of Kabul: “One day, mujahedeen will have victory and Islamic law will come not just to Afghanistan, but all over the world. We are not in a hurry. We believe it will come one day.

Jihad will not end until the last day.”

With the takeover by the Taliban of Afghanistan, Islamic jihad worldwide could regain momentum since it is the game changer for Islamists to control an entire government apparatus. We could be a target. Indeed, the military has identified 32 foreign fighters, said to be affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – officially known as the Islamic State or IS – among the militants killed in the battle of Marawi that lasted from May to October in 2017.

Why ISIL at that time? For a time it controlled parts of Iraq and Syria, and with the former’s oil revenues, had $1 billion in its war chest. With their capture of Afghanistan, the Taliban will have access to the huge resources a government of any territory has.

The Taliban, 30 years ago, had largely consisted of students (Talib is the singular form) who joined the Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation that ended in 1989. Al-Qaeda, organized by the infamous Osama bin Laden, the architect of the World Trade Center attack in 2011, initially raised funds and recruited fighters from all over the world for them and all Afghan groups to fight the Soviets.

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Why do we have a puny opposition?

LAST week, I asked readers for their thoughts on why for the first time since our independence we have such a pathetic group of puny politicians or would-be politicians for an opposition. Here are some of their responses:

“It’s our broken system. Our bastardized American presidential system depends on personalities and candidates’ individual traits. I say bastardized because we eliminated the proper check and balance that makes the American system work such as the Electoral College and the vice president being voted together with the president.

“We have to change our system to a parliamentary (ideally Westminster-type of parliamentary) system so we can shift our focus from the candidate’s personality and charisma to the political party’s agenda. Our current presidential system breeds and nurtures nincompoops. Our current politicians have free rein to muddle the issues in the media without being challenged while in the parliamentary system, politicians have to clash every week in parliamentary debates, thus frequently exposing who’s a fool and who’s bright. In the parliamentary system, erring leaders could easily be replaced via a vote of no-confidence, and good leaders can be reelected indefinitely. Look at Angela Merkel.

“Our presidential system requires a divisive, tedious and expensive impeachment process to remove a bad leader and deprives us of continuity of good policies by limiting a good leader with term limits. It’s been more than 30 years since we’ve been trying to make this broken system work to no avail. It’s been more than 30 years since we keep on saying ‘Vote wisely’ and we still cannot find Mr./Mrs. Wisely. It’s in our system, sir, we have to change it.” – B.R.

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Philippine democracy is in trouble

BUT nope, our democracy is in trouble not because President Rodrigo Duterte has proven to be a skillful authoritarian preparing to launch his dynasty. Our democracy is threatened by the fact that what we have now is the most feeble, most stupid opposition ever in our history, which democracy wasn’t supposed to create.

I can list a dozen things Duterte should have done by now if he were really an authoritarian.

He could have had the Indonesian magnate turn over to him on a silver platter his Philippine Star and the biggest media conglomerate it is a member of with a simple threat. He could have told that Indonesian tycoon that he’ll be ordering the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue a simple memorandum, declaring that “voting preferred shares” is a legal abomination and can’t be used to conceal foreign ownership in media and public utilities.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer continues its pathetic nitpicking against Duterte with all its fatuous columnists, open or secret members of the anti-Duterte Yellow Cult. Burdened by huge debts and the high salaries of its top people, Rappler should have died with a thousand cuts, if you believe its CEO’s claims, yet it’s still there with its inane anti-Duterte articles by unthinking, never-heard “thought leaders.”

Nope, our democracy is not threatened by an authoritarian even if his political DNA is likely to be passed on to the next administration.

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It’s media’s fault, not OCTA’s

IF not for the seriousness of the topic, it would be hilarious. The Philippine Daily Inquirer seems to delight in OCTA Research’s pessimistic forecasts on the course of the pandemic that it bannered several times that outfit’s dire reports.

When OCTA reported that its polls showed that Sara Duterte-Carpio and her father would be unbeatable 10 months to the May 22 elections, the paper bannered a few unthinking representatives’ resolution for the House to investigate the qualifications of the research group. They’d better be prepared to investigate Social Weather Stations, Pulse Asia and the slew of “pollsters” that appear every election season.

Haven’t these silly congressmen read the Constitution or just hear about what all democratic societies value – the principle of freedom of expression? While officially, the Constitution is addressing the state, that it cannot pass “any law abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press,” it is an injunction to everyone.

OCTA may just issue another report claiming that we will all die of Covid by the end of the month or that there’s been a major change in people’s views that its survey shows that Antonio Trillanes 4th will be our next president. Congress though would have no business at all calling for an investigation of OCTA.

The problem is media. As I have pointed out in several columns, it is media that gives value to any event, report or claim through the structure of the newspaper, in the case of print, and the lead stories and the duration of their reports in broadcast. A newspaper gives a report (or a quote by some personality) a huge value when it is used as a banner headline or put above-the-fold. There is a biological or psychological reason for this: a headline will likely be retained in the reader’s mind, even if he doesn’t read the story.

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Pandemic reveals US and West’s callousness and selfishness

IT looks like the Covid-19 pandemic will be like the February 1918 to April 1920 flu pandemic (the deadliest in the modern era), at least in its two-year duration, with its two waves, the last occurring just when the world thought it was over. Let’s brace for it, and hope it goes away by the latest by March 2022, two years after it emerged here.

Mask-wearing and the other precautions will still have to be suffered. That or die in the horrible feeling you’d have, as victims have reported, when you drown – gasping for air.

At least Covid-19 has taken only – pardon that adverb – 4.2 million lives globally and 28,000 here. The 1918 to 1920 pandemic killed at least 50 million worldwide; 80,000 in the Philippines.

We have one thing going for us though that humanity didn’t have during that 1918 plague: the exponential rise of science, in humanity’s knowledge of nature, which made possible the amazing formulation and mass production of at least six major vaccines, each of a different type. The science of microbiology and epidemiology, in fact, had been given a rocket booster because of the 1918 epidemic as the US and the West poured in vast resources scrambling in panic to find an effective vaccine against that flu, which, however, was discovered only in 1945.

An amazing but hardly quoted measure for humongous increase in scientific knowledge in a matter of several decades is the number of articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, which totaled, believe it or not, to 2.6 million in a single year alone, 2018. How many in the 1920s? Fifty thousand.

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