Shadows on the Silk Road Finding omens of American decline on a long walk across Asia. ........ toxic polarization, mobocracy and global retreat ......... I have spent the entire Trump administration stepping over the rubble of another once dynamic but collapsed experiment in multilateralism: the Silk Road. ......... the Silk Road, a fabled 2,000-year-old trade nexus connecting the markets and minds of Asia, Europe and Africa through a complex web of commercial trails ........... the United States, under its most polarizing leader in generations, experiences extreme polarization over race and identity, the rise of white supremacist militias and an autocratic president assaulting the national institutions till his very last days in office. .............. Seen from afar, my home country is ......withdrawing into a fetal position. ............ homicidal traffic on the 2,500-year-old Grand Trunk Road in India — probably the oldest overland trade route still in bustling use. ........... made the Silk Road a conduit of human innovation .......... Chinese paper — an invention crucial, like computers, for transmitting knowledge cheaply and quickly — traveled westward into medieval Arabia and Europe. ............ “For centuries before the early modern era, the intellectual centers of excellence of the world, the Oxfords and Cambridges, the Harvards and Yales, were not located in Europe or the west, but in Baghdad and Balkh, Bukhara and Samarkand” .............. “A thousand years ago we had world-class astronomers, mathematicians and many other scientists here,” said Inessa Yuvakaeva, a cultural guide in the town’s walled old city. “We were more advanced than Europe.” ............... Ms. Yuvakaeva ticked off some homegrown Einsteins. Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, a ninth-century genius who helped formulate the precepts of algebra, has lent his name to the word “algorithm.” A century later, the brilliant polymathic Abu Rayhan Muhammad al-Biruni wrote more than 140 manuscripts on everything from pharmaceuticals to the anthropology of India. (A typical al-Biruni title: “The Exhaustive Treatise on Shadows.”) ................... Probably the most celebrated Silk Road sage of all was Abu Ali al-Hussein ibn Sina, revered in the West as Avicenna, who in the 11th century compiled an encyclopedia of healing that was still in use by European doctors as late as the 18th century. Avicenna’s “Canon of Medicine” accurately diagnosed diabetes by tasting sweetness in urine. Its pharmacopoeia cataloged more than 800 remedies. A millennium ago, Avicenna advocated quarantines to control epidemics. ................... Pacing off continents is an exercise in humility. You inhabit the limit of your daily strides. To the next tree shade. To the next horizon. ........... Back in the United States, the country seems to have U-turned into mustier Uzbek terrain. The government has erected its own fearmongering ads: Immigration and Customs Enforcement billboards in Pennsylvania featured mug shots of undocumented migrants charged with crimes. Federal agents interrogated American citizens for speaking Spanish in Montana. And a departing president with his own huge personality cult reportedly suggested shooting migrants in the legs at the Rio Grande. Mr. Trump’s mainstreaming of racism, xenophobia and science denialism doesn’t look very temporary. More than 74 million American voters endorsed it. And some even answered his call for insurrection. ..................... The Silk Road made our world. Ten centuries ago, incredibly diverse societies spanning a hemisphere extended an open hand — true enough, one holding the coin of commerce — and not a closed fist. Humanity’s capacity for curiosity grew. So, for a while, did intellectual achievement and open-mindedness. But by the 1600s, it had faded. .................. blames Mongol invasions, shriveling patronage by wealthy sultans, rising European maritime competition and even climate change as factors of collapse. But he emphasizes a phenomenon that seems scraped from today’s social media: extreme polarization. ................ “By the late 11th century a full-blown cultural war was underway,” writes Mr. Starr. It was Muslim against Muslim, with “Sunni watchdogs of the faith making sure that no thinker strayed beyond the strict bounds of tradition, and Shiite watchdogs of the faith responding in kind. Free inquiry was caught in the crossfire.” .................. on the morning of Feb. 10, 1258: Mongol invaders breached the walls of Baghdad, massacred its civilian population and dumped the wisdom gathered across centuries — thousands of priceless manuscripts looted from 36 city libraries — into the Tigris. .......... A poll conducted over the summer revealed that almost a third of the American electorate would accept “a strong incumbent leader who does not have to bother with Congress and elections.” .................. And the ground slopes east toward an Asian century. ......... India, yet another democracy cartwheeling into an abyss of right-wing populism. Riding a wave of Hindu nationalism, one Indian state all but criminalized marriages between Hindu and Muslim citizens.
Biden’s Covid-19 Plan Is Maddeningly Obvious It is infuriating that the Trump administration left so many of these things undone. ....... But vaccines don’t save people; vaccinations do. And vaccinating more than 300 million people, at breakneck speed, is a challenge that only the federal government has the resources to meet. ............ broke the plan down into four buckets. Loosen the restrictions on who can get vaccinated (and when). Set up many more sites where vaccinations can take place. Mobilize more medical personnel to deliver the vaccinations. And use the might of the federal government to increase the vaccine supply by manufacturing whatever is needed, whenever it is needed, to accelerate the effort. ............ Biden’s team members intend to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up thousands of vaccination sites in gyms, sports stadiums and community centers, and to deploy mobile vaccination options to reach those who can’t travel or who live in remote places. They want to mobilize the National Guard to staff the effort and ensure that strapped states don’t have to bear the cost. They want to expand who can deliver the vaccine and call up retired medical personnel to aid the campaign. They want to launch a massive public education blitz, aimed at communities skeptical of the vaccine. They’re evaluating how to eke out more doses from the existing supply — there is, for instance, a particular vial that will get you six doses out of a given quantity of Pfizer’s vaccine rather than five, and they are looking at whether the Defense Production Act could accelerate production of that particular vial and other, similarly useful goods. ......... people who could’ve been saved by simple competence and foresight will die instead. ............... Even on the most optimistic timetable, it will take until well into the summer for America to reach herd immunity. ........... the coronavirus death toll in America will pass 500,000 by the end of February. And it will not end there. ............. Back in May, I wrote that we were operating, in effect, without a president and without a national plan. It is January, and that remains true.
Yellen Readies Big Changes for Treasury From financial regulation to minority lending, Biden’s pick is poised to change course sharply from the policies of Secretary Steven Mnuchin. ........... Ms. Yellen’s plans to revive a pandemic-stricken economy. .......... emphasized the need to create “equitable growth,” using the tools of the Treasury Department to combat climate change and rebuild regulatory institutions like the F.S.O.C. .............. She called last year for a “new Dodd-Frank,” arguing at a Brookings Institution event that existing laws were insufficient for dealing with problems in the “shadow” banking sector that emerged when the pandemic caused severe market turmoil. ............ “This is the worst economic crisis in 100 years, and nobody is better qualified than Secretary-designate Yellen to lead an economic recovery”