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Thursday, December 30, 2021

December 30: Afghanistan, China, TikTok, Omicron, India, Michigan

Ultra-leftist voices are making themselves heard in China, but at what cost? Bloggers and commentators are riding a wave of nationalism by attacking intellectuals and corporate targets in China as well as emblems of the West ...... Observer predicts the radicals are convenient while Xi Jinping seeks a successful 20th party congress but their usefulness will expire once he consolidates power .......... First, China’s ultra-left opinion leaders battled outspoken media, liberal intellectuals and NGOs, then foreign governments, corporations and moderate liberals. But lately they have found new ideological opponents to take on. Leftist bloggers are targeting private tech firms, entrepreneurs and capital markets, as well as misbehaving celebrities, in combative essays pushing a socialist agenda in the name of patriotism. Ultra-leftist sentiment riding on the rising tide of nationalism is gaining popularity on the Chinese internet. However, analysts warn that

leftist tendencies that build on irrational and misguided policy interpretation could threaten China’s progress of reform and opening up if left unchecked



ASTRONAUT BARBER MEANS WELL, GIVES TERRIBLE HAIRCUT IN SPACE HE WAS DOING HIS BEST. ...... the thought of being surrounded by a floating cloud of hair clippings is horrid.



China warns of grave terror risks from Afghan chaos Isis, al-Qaeda and Xinjiang-related militant outfits are regrouping and also targeting cyberspace, Chinese minister tells counterterrorism seminar ...... Solidarity and cooperation are the most powerful anti-terror weapons, Wu Jianghao says as he seeks international support against ETIM ..... The resurgence of international militant groups emboldened by the chaos in post-war Afghanistan is posing serious threats to anti-terror work, China has warned. ........ Terrorist groups including Islamic State (Isis), al-Qaeda and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are taking advantage of the drastically changed situation in Afghanistan this year to expand their presence and stir up trouble ..........

Emerging new technologies are being abused by terrorist forces. The use of cyberspace has made terrorist activities more covert and unchecked, and pushed terrorism closer to organised crime

.......... heightened alert against potential terror attacks amid risks of the instability in Afghanistan spilling over into Xinjiang in western China .......... Beijing has previously blamed the ETIM for separatist attacks in its Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. ......... Western troop withdrawals from Afghanistan have been followed by a fast-escalating wave of terrorist attacks by the regional chapter of Isis, including in neighbouring Pakistan. ....... a bus blast in July, which killed 13 people including nine Chinese workers in northern Pakistan, was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella movement of militant groups linked to al-Qaeda and Isis .......... Representatives from both Afghanistan and Pakistan attended the seminar via video link, as did those from Russia and the United Arab Emirates. China and Russia, along with several neighbouring Central Asian nations, have stepped up cooperation in view of the Afghan crisis and the risk of terror spillovers. .......... “Counterterrorism should not become a tool of major-country rivalry or a leverage in geopolitics, still less an excuse to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.” ........ “We need to support the counterterrorism and deradicalisation efforts of all countries and build a global united front against terrorism” ........... Nabeel Munir, additional secretary at the Pakistani foreign ministry, said “immediate attention” is required in the face of new and emerging forms of terrorism, as

“no country has made more sacrifices in this fight than Pakistan”

. ........... a different kind of risk for Afghanistan’s neighbours – a new wave of Afghan refugees fleeing humanitarian and economic crisis in the middle of a pandemic and resurgent terror activities.


Beijing defends ‘democracy with Hong Kong characteristics’ model as white paper released a day after Legco election cites end goal of universal suffrage Within hours of Legco election closing, central government publishes strategy on developing Hong Kong-style democracy ....... White paper is only the second covering Hong Kong political reforms to be released by Beijing in seven years ......... Beijing has renewed its pledge to pursue the

ultimate goal of electing Hong Kong’s leader and legislature by universal suffrage

, releasing a white paper on Monday to mount a robust defence of its strategy of developing democracy for the city “in line with its realities” and putting “patriots” in charge.


TikTok surpassed Google as the most popular site in 2021 Video-sharing platform TikTok rose to massive popularity in 2021. Surpassing mammoths like Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix in web traffic shows the speed and power of the ascent. TikTok rose from No. 7 to spot No. 1 on Cloudflare's ranking of top domains in 2021, and also beat out Facebook this year in social media domains, taking its No. 1 spot.

A new coronavirus vaccine heading to India was developed by a small team in Texas. It expects nothing in return. For some vaccine developers, the coronavirus pandemic has had a silver lining in billions of dollars in profits. But a new vaccine rolling out soon in India is taking the opposite approach: Its developers are getting zilch. ......... Unlike big-name vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the Texas Children’s Hospital vaccine, which is called Corbevax, is being shared patent-free. ....... The ambition is to create a low-cost, open-source alternative to expensive and limited supply mRNA vaccines for developing and under-vaccinated countries. And it wouldn’t stop at India: Hotez and Bottazzi are talking to other manufacturers around the world and have consulted with the World Health Organization to see how they can share the vaccine globally. ........... “Texas Children’s Hospital’s commitment to sharing technology is a challenge to the pharma giants and the false narrative that vaccine production and medical innovation thrive through secrecy and exclusivity,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of the advocacy group Public Citizen.

“If Texas Children’s Hospital can do it, why can’t Pfizer and Moderna?”

.............. Operation Warp Speed invested $4.1 billion in Moderna alone. Instead, the Texas Children’s Hospital vaccine was developed with $7 million from mostly private investors. ............

“If we had even a fraction of the support that Moderna had, who knows, maybe the world would be vaccinated by now. We wouldn’t be having a discussion about omicron”

........... The aim is to quickly scale up to manufacturing over 100 million doses a month — a potentially significant amount even in India, a giant country where only 40 percent of its 1.38 billion population is reported to be fully vaccinated. ......... Corbevax doses may be as low as $2.50 — which would make it not only the cheapest coronavirus vaccine in India but one of the cheapest in the world. Doses from Pfizer and Moderna sometimes cost almost 10 times that ......... In terms of unvaccinated people, he continued, “you’ve got a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa, almost 2 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean, another billion in the smaller, low-income countries of Southeast Asia. That’s 3 billion people.” ........ “You’re going to need 6 to 9 billion doses of vaccine. So you know, when the president stands up a couple of weeks ago and says the U.S. government is the largest donor of vaccines, 275 million doses,” Hotez said. “I’m looking at that and saying: That’s not something to boast about.”




India reckons with the possibility of a third wave of the virus. At least 61 percent of Indians have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine, and 43 percent have received two ......... Voting is scheduled to begin next month in five states including Uttar Pradesh, the most populous in the country, and massive crowds attended rallies held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and opposition parties on Thursday. .......... The police in Mumbai, the country’s financial nerve center, banned gatherings of four or more people until Jan. 7 after new infections there nearly tripled in recent days. ......... Satyendar Jain, Delhi’s health minister, said on Thursday that genome sequencing suggests that

nearly half of the city’s new infections were of Omicron

, adding that the variant was spreading fast and infecting people regardless of their travel history.


A.O.C. and Manchin Are in the Same Party. No Wonder Democrats Are Struggling. After the latest twist by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia in the Build Back Better drama, Democrats are weathering a storm of accusations of being plain bad at politics. ........ the disconnect between the party’s ability to assemble a broad coalition at the ballot box and the struggles it faces in legislating ........ several structural problems at once: the counter-majoritarian institutions in American government; the fuzzy balance of power among different forces within the party; and the difficulty of energizing a diverse set of interests around common goals. ....... Roosevelt had to deal with several conservative Southern Democrats. Today, Mr. Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are actually in line with many recent Democratic proposals, but they can still extract concessions that don’t necessarily reflect the bulk of the party’s priorities. ........... the emergence of a strong and cohesive left wing within the Democratic Party. ............ The so-called Squad and the rest of the Progressive Caucus bring both a more economically left perspective and a different vision on issues like race and criminal-justice reform. ........ Democrats might be doomed to more cycles of lengthy negotiations and under-delivering on progressive promises ............. One route is to strengthen social movements, which could both keep progressive issues like green energy and student debt on the public agenda and possibly help to elect more progressive Democrats. Such movements could also help to mobilize different groups of voters around shared priorities like health care and economic insecurity. ...........

institutional reform

........ reforming the rules of governance to allow a party that already regularly wins national elections to wield proportionate influence in governing .......... filibuster reform and making Congress more proportional. ........ these changes would ease the veto power that less populated and more conservative areas of the country hold over the majority. .........

The persistent inability of a majority party to enact policies that reflect the opinions of its constituents means that we ought to look at the forces at work.

......... Mr. Manchin is an especially good example of this dynamic — powerful voices in West Virginia have come out in support of Build Back Better, but the senator has serious ties to the fossil-fuel industry. Ms. Sinema’s hesitance to support party priorities has also been linked to her ties to powerful industries rather than any ideology or what Arizona voters want............... These problems also require structural solutions — tightening regulations over conflicts of interest for members of Congress and enacting lobbying reform. The party’s survival may depend on its ability to represent its own voters and not the corporate interests that still have a powerful veto in the legislative process. ........ Democratic leaders will need to think differently about how power flows through their coalition if they want to see their successes in electoral politics turn into policy achievements.




New Variants Could Be ‘Fully Resistant’ Against Current Vaccines Or Previous Infection, WHO Director Says concern about the spread of omicron and delta variants causing a “tsunami” of new Covid cases. ........ His comments came as 4.99 million new virus cases were reported globally between December 20-26, up 11% from the previous week, according to the WHO. ........ As of Wednesday morning, the U.S. shattered its seven-day average of new infections, which totaled around 282,000, surpassing the previous record set in January ......... The WHO chief said nearly half of its member nations missed the target due to a “combination of limited supply going to low-income countries” and “vaccines arriving close to expiry and without key parts” such as syringes. ........

and last week Israel became the first country to greenlight a fourth dose

......... the WHO chief called on governments to make it their “new year’s resolution” to support the agency’s campaign to vaccinate 70% of the population in every country by the beginning of July 2022.


Ungerrymandered: Michigan’s Maps, Independently Drawn, Set Up Fair Fight A citizen ballot initiative took redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislators. The result:

competitive political districts — and an example of how to push back against hyperpartisanship

. .......... One of the country’s most gerrymandered political maps has suddenly been replaced by one of the fairest. ............ districts so competitive that Democrats have a fighting chance of recapturing the State Senate for the first time since 1984. ......... The work of the new commission, which includes Democrats, Republicans and independents and was established through a citizen ballot initiative, stands in sharp contrast to the type of hyperpartisan extreme gerrymandering that has swept much of the country, exacerbating political polarization — and it may highlight a potential path to undoing such gerrymandering. ........ The commission’s three new maps — for Congress, the State House and the State Senate — restore a degree of fairness ........ All of the maps still have a slight Republican advantage, in part because Democratic voters in the state are mostly concentrated in densely populated areas. ........ Detroit’s State Senate delegation will jump to nine members from five, and its State House delegation to 15 representatives from nine. ....... a lawsuit in 2018 unearthed emails in which Republicans boasted about packing “Dem garbage” into fewer districts and ensuring Republican advantages “in 2012 and beyond.” ..........

The path to an independent redistricting commission in Michigan began with a Facebook post days after the 2016 election from a woman with no political experience.

........... That post started a movement. Soon, a 5,000-member volunteer organization, Voters Not Politicians, was coordinating online through Facebook messages and Google documents, organizing a ballot initiative campaign and crisscrossing the state to gin up support. Members wrote folk songs and dressed up in costumes as gerrymandered districts to draw attention to the effort. ........... Republicans sued to block the ballot initiative but were denied by the state Supreme Court in August 2018. That November, the measure passed overwhelmingly, with more than 61 percent of Michigan voters approving the creation of an independent redistricting commission. ........... In Virginia, a commission deadlocked and failed to produce maps, punting the process to the state Supreme Court, which approved new maps this week. In Ohio, the Republican-led legislature ignored the state’s redistricting commission and drew an aggressively gerrymandered map all but certain to cement G.O.P. control for a decade.


Saturday, December 25, 2021

December 25: Putin, India, China, Prashant Kishor

Texas Is Winnable. Beto’s the Candidate to Do It. A Beto gubernatorial win isn’t only very possible—it could permanently reshape the national political landscape. ........ As Texas trends blue in coming years, it can flip its Senate seats and create a Texas-sized hole in the electoral college math necessary for any Republican seeking the White House. .......

The notion that Texas is a “red state” is incorrect.

.......... Latinos and African Americans are now the majority of the state’s population, and the popular perception of Texas as a place filled primarily with Stetson-wearing white men is fundamentally anachronistic. When you think Texas, you should now think of Selena, Beyoncé, and Megan Thee Stallion. Those Texas-born and raised cultural icons came from the communities that increasingly define the state. ........... four years ago when Beto first ran statewide and came within 214,921 votes of winning ....... Nearly 300,000 people of color in Texas turn 18 every year ........ By the time ballots are cast in November 2022, 1.2 million more young Texans of color will be eligible to vote than was the case four years ago. .......... In 2018, 5.4 million people of color didn’t vote. What we learned in Georgia is that victory depends on massive turnout, and massive turnout requires strong organizational infrastructure working to find and mobilize every possible supporter. ........... He drove to all 254 counties in the state in 2017 and ’18, and was probably the only candidate to do so. ......... If 2021 has proved anything, it’s that mobilizing voters of color in the South and Southwest is the progressive revolution we need


China and Russia pledge to step up efforts to build independent trade network to reduce reliance on US-led financial system Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin agree to accelerate attempts to create a system that cannot be influenced by ‘third parties’ ....... The two leaders also want to increase the number of deals settled in their own currencies as sanctions threaten to limit US dollar transactions .......... China and Russia have pledged to speed up their efforts to set up an independent trade network to reduce their reliance on the US-led international financial system.

India, Russia have more than weapons to celebrate after Putin’s state visit Despite India’s steady drift into the US orbit, Russia remains a vital relationship for New Delhi as it seeks arms sales and strategic balance ....... Agreements on trade, investment and security cooperation in addition to arms deals show the relationship still has room for growth ...... the first “two-plus-two” dialogue involving the defence and foreign ministers of the two states. ......... India has sought to diversify its sources of weapons acquisitions in the past two decades. To that end, it has purchased a range of military equipment from the United States and France. ......... the two sides completed another weapons deal involving the manufacture of 600,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles for the Indian Army. ......... many in Delhi fear the US cannot always be counted on to provide India with high technology military hardware without preconditions. Moscow, on the other hand, has few such qualms and stands ready to transfer almost any military equipment India seeks – for a price. .......... they remain loath to wholly dispense with what they deem to be a tried-and-true strategic relationship with Russia, the principal successor state to the Soviet Union. All four factors, in tandem, ensure Delhi continues to hold a candle for Moscow. ........... it ensures Russia has a reliable and substantial market for its weapons industries. This is far from a trivial consideration because unlike during the Cold War, when the arms transfer relationship was based upon barter or rupee-rouble transactions, today it is based on hard currency sales. .......... Putin is also keen on reassuring his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that the Indo-Russian relationship is not about to atrophy despite Russia’s growing closeness to China, India’s principal long-term adversary. .... the two sides agreed to boost annual trade to US$30 billion by 2025, signed some 28 investment pacts and agreed they could not allow Afghanistan to once again emerge as a safe haven for terrorists.



Teachers all over the US are burnt out, but parents’ compassion has gone

Saturday, December 11, 2021

December 11: Nagaland, Putin, China, Hydrogen, Afghanistan



China-Japan tension: Abe’s comments on Taiwan prompt Beijing threat to ‘reconsider’ bilateral relations Relationship challenged by former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s remarks that neither Japan nor the US could stand by if island was attacked by mainland ...... Japan’s chief cabinet secretary says ‘there is a need for China to understand that there are such thoughts within Japan’

What is green hydrogen and can it help China meet its carbon goals? Most of the element used in industry is produced using fossil fuels ..... The country’s western regions are shaping up to be hubs of an industrial transformation ....... Hydrogen is the lightest and most common element in the universe. When used as fuel, it produces no direct emissions of greenhouse gases or pollutants. ........ Grey hydrogen is the most common form and is generated from fossil fuels. About 96 per cent of the hydrogen produced around the world falls into this category. ....... Green hydrogen is generated entirely by renewable energy such as solar and wind power and accounts for just 4 per cent of the total. ........ Green hydrogen has the potential to be used as a replacement fuel for coal in smelting and steelmaking, or as a raw material for petrochemical products in the decarbonisation of the industry. .......

hydrogen’s contribution to China’s energy mix is expected to increase from about 3 per cent in 2018 to 20 per cent in 2060

. ....... China is aiming to reach peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 ........... by 2050, green hydrogen could be the cheapest production method for steel ....... Chinese iron and steel manufacturing conglomerate HBIS Group said last year that it would operate the world’s first direct reduced iron production plant powered by hydrogen-enriched gas. .......... hydrogen from renewables would fall as low as US$1.3 per kg by 2030 in regions with high-quality renewable resources, making it comparable with the cost of hydrogen from natural gas with carbon capture and storage ...... to be used in sectors where electrification is difficult to implement, including long-haul transport, shipping, aviation and buildings. ........... Ningxia Baofeng Energy Group says its overall cost of producing green hydrogen is about 0.7 yuan (11 US cents) per standard cubic metre. It is comparable with hydrogen production from fossil fuels in China, which cost about 0.6 yuan per standard cubic metre.


As the U.S. withdrawal approached, analysts thought it would be months before the Taliban brought the fight to Kabul. Over the years, the capital’s elite had retreated deeper behind concrete walls topped with concertina wire; sometimes they even added a layer of Hesco barriers on the sidewalk, forcing me into the street as I passed. .......... Should we stay or should we go? Afghans had endured the agony of displacement and exile for 40 years ......... She majored in women’s studies and religion at the University of Virginia and considered herself a proud feminist; that was also when she chose to start wearing the hijab, which strengthened her connection to her faith. ........ her father became Kandahar’s mayor as the streets filled with American soldiers and the war intensified. In 2011, he was assassinated by a suicide bomber. ........ After a couple of years, the school’s success had attracted the capital’s elite. That, she believed, was why she received a call last year from the president. She thought Ghani wanted to know about Mezan’s online learning programs for the pandemic; instead, he asked her to become his minister of education. ......... Until then, Rangina had resisted joining the Afghan government; it was dominated by warlords who, she believed, were responsible for killing her father, more so than the Taliban. ........... Those who took part became corrupt themselves, or else were hounded into leaving. ........ she became Afghanistan’s first female education minister since the Communists, who brought radical new opportunities for women to go to school and work in the cities, gains that were wiped out after they were overthrown by American-backed Islamists in 1992. ............. He proposed a caretaker government and new elections overseen by himself, a nonstarter for the Taliban. ...... the Islamists were simply running out the clock until the U.S. forces left. .......

In the West, Ghani was hailed by many as an educated reformer, co-author of the book “Fixing Failed States.”

.......... “Young, educated, well-spoken, corrupt” ...... a 40-year civil war fueled by foreign superpowers, malignant corruption and the Pakistani military’s covert support for the Taliban. ......... the U.S. occupation had created a state dependent on American troops and foreign money. .......... Another initiative was the creation of thousands of fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter dedicated to promoting the government and attacking its critics, work known by the Pashto term Facebookchalawonky. ......... Afghanistan’s vibrant cyberspace must have been attractive to officials cloistered within blast walls and armored cars, but it failed to capture the reality of the countryside, where only a fraction of the population had access to the internet. ..........

many working for the council clung to the belief that the United States would never leave Afghanistan

........

The U.S. military had spent billions to train and equip a force in its own image, heavily dependent on foreign contractors and air support.

........ But the Afghan Army’s notoriously corrupt generals stole their men’s ammunition, food and wages .......... while security forces were supposed to total 300,000, the real number was likely less than a third of that ........ “Latest Report: 98% of Government Officials’ Families Live Outside Afghanistan.” ........... the president — whose children grew up in the United States ......... Out of 27 cabinet ministers, it claimed, only two had families who resided in Afghanistan full time. ...... Torture had long been common in the republic’s prisons, as documented since 2011 by the United Nations. ........ included waterboarding and sexual assault, much of it carried out by the N.D.S., which was advised by the C.I.A. and British intelligence (both agencies have denied any involvement with torture). ..........

But as much as Kabul’s journalists feared violence at the hands of the government, some worried that if the republic fell, worse would follow.

........ Criticism, like objectivity, made sense only within a shared set of values. “If we’re talking political philosophy, and the question of a republic versus an emirate, well, that’s different,” he told me. “We’re liberals. We believe in freedom and democracy.” ......... Zaki feared that freedom of the press and women’s rights would be the first areas of compromise. ......... “I said that things are falling apart, the chain of command is broken and people are not telling the truth to you,” Nadery told me. “He answered, ‘Yes, it will take another six months for us to turn it around.’” Stunned, Nadery left the palace wondering what kind of information the president was getting. ............. There were increasingly strident assertions about what a Taliban takeover would mean: stories about the forced marriage of young girls and widows to their fighters, even sex slavery. .............. It would mean a return to the brutal days when men without beards were flogged in the streets, when women were not allowed to leave the home without a guardian, of public executions in soccer stadiums, of stoning and amputations, a massacre for everyone who had worked for the foreigners, a genocide for Afghanistan’s Hazara minority. .......... Even after the last troops left on Aug. 31, a 650-strong security force was supposed to remain behind to protect the massive embassy complex. ............. But now the rebels were advancing as fast as their motorcycles could carry them. ......... On Thursday, Biden ordered the embassy to shut down, and diplomats began destroying classified materials and shifting operations to the airport, where 3,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines were being flown in to evacuate American citizens and their allies. ..........

People from neighboring districts were pouring into the capital, fleeing ahead of the Taliban, who the U.S. Embassy had warned were committing war crimes.

.......... he knew how vicious the Taliban had been with their opponents in the 1990s. He was ready to give his life to protect his wife and daughter; he also knew that might not be enough. ......... Many of the foreign nationals based in Kabul left the country during the pandemic to work remotely, but the few who remained had been

as surprised as everyone by the sudden collapse of the government

. ............ The decision of the U.S. Embassy to pull out meant that most other Western organizations were evacuating, too, although the embassies of Iran, Russia and China — America’s rivals — were going to remain. .......... “They’re rational. They have advisers from Pakistan, from China, from Russia. You think these guys with the long beards are making decisions?” ......... Jim and I stockpiled everything from canned goods to buckshot. ........ The former president, Hamid Karzai, sat in a semicircle with leaders of the mujahedeen, former Communists, contracting barons — men who were handed power by the Americans in 2001, when their enemies, the Taliban, seemed utterly defeated.

They had presided over two decades of plenty, when a rain of billions from abroad had enriched a minority, even as poverty among the people had grown.

Now they faced the ruin of the republic. ............ The republic’s forces, utterly demoralized, were simply laying down their arms, allowing the rebels, after their long, lean years in the mountains, to take possession of billions of dollars worth of vehicles and weapons bought by the United States and its allies. ......... By now, cities were falling without a fight, surrendering after a mere phone call. ............ Saleh, the vice president who had run security meetings for the capital, had secretly escaped to his home province of Panjshir, which helped throw the chain of command in Kabul into disarray. Local criminal gangs — many of them connected to the police — were waiting for their chance to start looting. ........... Shortly before 10 o’clock that morning, the president sat in the shade of a courtyard at the palace, reading a book. ...........

Ghani’s frequent reading breaks had become a joke between him and his friends.

............ but they’d still been waiting for years to go to America under the Special Immigrant Visa program for local employees. There was a backlog of some 20,000 applications. ..........

The Taliban were as surprised as everyone else by their lightning success

; they weren’t prepared to take control of the capital and feared a confrontation with the Americans at the airport. ......... I had a sudden sense of the fragility of the social contract that bound us; our shared reality was melting into air. I was as worried about being robbed or shot by them as I was about the Taliban. .......... “Remember, this is not Saigon,” the secretary of state would say on television later that day. .......... Earlier that day, the guards at the main prison in the city had fled, and the prisoners had broken loose — the same thing happened at the detention center in Bagram, north of the capital. ........... Jim and I had looped the whole Green Zone: the ugly concrete maws of its compounds stood open, the barriers upraised. Across the city, soldiers and police officers took off their uniforms, laid down their weapons and walked off into the evening light. ..........

by lunchtime many of Kabul’s police stations had been abandoned, becoming targets of large, organized groups of looters.

............ Khalilzad and the Taliban had been getting messages from Afghan politicians in Kabul, begging for someone to take charge of security before the looting and violence got worse. Everyone feared what might happen come nightfall............. The police had the giddiness of condemned men granted a reprieve; they crowded shyly around the Talib, who seemed annoyed by his duty but not in the least concerned about being surrounded by armed men who would have shot him a day ago. ............ After flying for more than an hour, the three presidential helicopters arrived at the Uzbekistan border and landed; confusion ensued at the Termez airport as they were surrounded by soldiers —

the Uzbek government had apparently not been informed of their arrival.

Eventually, the president, his wife, Mohib and several aides were taken to the governor’s guesthouse, but the rest of the 50 or so people on board spent a miserable night out in the open by the helicopters, relieving themselves on the tarmac. The next day, a charter flight arrived and took them all to Abu Dhabi. .................. The U.A.E., which had deep business ties with Kabul’s elite, was a close ally of Ghani’s; according to three sources within the administration, Abu Dhabi had secretly helped fund his election campaigns. ......... … Mujahedeen are not allowed to enter anyone’s home, or harass anyone.” .......... The sudden fall of the city had caught the Taliban leadership without adequate forces on hand. ........ In all, according to one senior Taliban commander’s estimate, the rebels took command of Kabul with well under a thousand men — less than the number of Marines at the airport, let alone the tens of thousands of Afghan security forces who had deserted their posts. ...............

There was a widespread belief that if you could only get inside the airport, you’d make it to Germany or Canada

, and in fact, many had gotten out in the chaos of the first night, when, in order to clear the runway, people were bundled onto planes indiscriminately and flown to Doha. ............... some of the jeans reappeared, while the Taliban donned a patchwork of uniforms that had belonged to the republic. ........ Ghani was in Abu Dhabi writing a book, a follow-up to “Fixing Failed States,” perhaps. ....... Ramin and his wife were given an artist’s residency in a French farmhouse, where he was writing of his longing for his city, a Kabul that now lived on in the imagination of a new diaspora. .......... The farther we traveled from Kabul, the less nostalgia people seemed to have for the republic. In Panjwai, outside Kandahar City, the farmers had dug up the I.E.D.s and were planting crops. Everywhere, white flags fluttered above the graves of young men. ......... For ordinary people in the countryside, the fall of the republic had at least brought an end to the fighting. ......... In Kandahar, I was told about a quiet campaign of kidnappings and assassinations of former police and intelligence officers by Taliban fighters — which their leaders denied — some driven by local disputes, others by revenge. ....... The economy was in free fall, the banks were out of cash; it had been a drought year,

and everyone feared the hunger that winter would bring

. .......... I thought about my visits there, when the runway was crowded with jets, and tried to remember the brash generals who’d explained, year after year, how they were winning — they just needed more troops, more money, more time. .......... We kept driving to Nimruz and reached the Iranian border. Here the desert began. A great exodus was underway. We watched as the migrants crowded onto trucks, heading west.




Friday, December 10, 2021

December 10: Elon Musk, 2022



29 Big Ideas that will change our world in 2022 as of 2020, employees stayed with their employers for an average of 4.1 years. Look for that number to drop below 4.0 in the future. ........ career counseling as a profession that’s ready to boom ....... even faster vaccine development ....... Scientists and politicians are already targeting a 100-day timeline from “lab to jab” ....... But Farrar thinks even that is too long. He foresees cutting the timeline from genome to vaccine to just seven days, with a global rollout within 30 days. How? By identifying the 20 to 50 virus families in the animal kingdom with the greatest pandemic potential and building “a library of advanced vaccines” that can be ready with only minor alterations. .......... Tech giants like Meta (Facebook), Google, Amazon and Alibaba are increasingly acting as sovereigns, rivaling states for influence over our lives. ........ Think about what happened on January 6. After rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, it was social media companies — not law enforcement, Congress or the judiciary — that sprang into action to punish those responsible. ........... There’s a metaverse land grab afoot ....... The next iteration of the web is arriving, and it’s leaping off of our screens. It’s the metaverse, a term that describes the 3D immersive and collaborative experiences that are already making their way into our lives. ........ blockchain, which will allow metaverse participants to build and use decentralized technology, rather than rely on Big Tech players alone. The second is the artists and technologists who are laying the initial groundwork for the metaverse aren’t beholden to Big Tech in the ways they once were. Thanks to blockchain, they have a decentralized means to make money. This version of the web holds the potential to be open; one that rewards individual creators for their contributions. ............. Life may be normalizing, but many people are still grappling with grief, depression and anxiety. .......... After years of enduring stagnant pay and dreary working conditions, the world’s front-line workers in fields such as retail, hospitality and customer service could be heading into better times. ......... a strong 2022 economy in which the U.S. unemployment rate could shrink to 3.5%, from the current 4.8%. ......... “The power dynamic will shift from employers and leave them pining for talent like never before” ......... Mayor Hillary Schieve of Reno, Nevada has proposed a plan that includes selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to support public art and using decentralized autonomous organizations to sell crypto-based stakes of city-owned properties to investors. .......... What’s the benefit of adopting a blockchain approach to government? It puts transactions into public view, boosting transparency. And its automation of most processes can reduce red tape and the likelihood of errors. ............ “Integrating blockchain-based organization formats ... will allow institutions to manage public goods in a much more efficient and transparent way, reduce coordination costs and can drastically speed up the decision making process” .......... “The number of organizations that will adopt crypto to address public challenges will grow exponentially.” ......... From Microsoft Japan to Semco in Brazil and the government of Iceland to Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand, organizations are figuring out how to make the 4-day work week work. ........ Every workplace has a gravitational field. Leaders who take the 4-day work week seriously will draw stars into their orbit. ......... “Blue foods” — fish, aquatic plants, mussels and algae — may offer a key solution. ...........

Algae’s protein content, for example, is higher than conventional sources such as meat, poultry and dairy products; and it can be cultivated without freshwater or arable land.

........... Pay rates were once an opaque internal mystery at offices and the subject of much speculation, gossip and resentment. But as the push for equity at work gains momentum, pay transparency will begin to go mainstream ...........

the current impetus for pay transparency stems from growing momentum around addressing gender and racial pay inequities

........... “Organizations have an advantage in being ahead of legislation and demonstrating to employees they're about equity and inclusion.” ........... More retailers will embrace virtual and augmented reality in 2022, allowing customers to interact with products in environments that go far beyond digital replications of a store. ......... “The metaverse may do more to change retail than anything since the physical store” ........... “It's not about creating virtual interpretations of the store. It's about uncoupling retail from the store and reimagining it entirely.” .......... Last year, some 75% of companies said that they were reshoring operations to their home bases or to neighboring countries .......... more companies will start building “smart factories,” with an emphasis on automation, cloud platforms and other technologies .......... In 2021 — in the wake of the 2020 murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — companies promised to take diverse hiring seriously. .......... Some 96% of U.S. companies report the gender representation of their employees at all levels, and 90% report representation at senior levels, according to LeanIn and McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report. But only 54% of companies track gender and race/ethnicity — i.e. Black or Latina women in senior leadership. This renders women of color “invisible” ............ The rise of the “hybrid workday” — in which we work from home and the office — means we’re not all commuting at the same time anymore. ............. Flexible work is now a fact of life: 93% of knowledge workers globally want the freedom to decide where and when they do their job. ......... Perhaps we should discard the commute as we know it altogether? "To improve quality of life, we need to become less dependent on mobility and more committed to local proximity." Making work — even in an office — just a walk or short bike ride away may be in store for more of us. .......... Just 2.2% of venture capital funding went to female-founded companies in the first eight months of 2021 ......... Black entrepreneurs only received a small fraction — just over 1% — of U.S. venture capital funding. .......... a paradigm shift in funding, as “technologies that democratize wealth-building opportunities and fix our broken distribution system of capital become the default option.” .......... More VCs may turn to AI to identify promising startups, placing an emphasis on business fundamentals over founder demographics .........
29 Big Ideas that will change our world in 2022 as of 2020, employees stayed with their employers for an average of 4.1 years. Look for that number to drop below 4.0 in the future. ........ career counseling as a profession that’s ready to boom ....... even faster vaccine development ....... Scientists and politicians are already targeting a 100-day timeline from “lab to jab” ....... But Farrar thinks even that is too long. He foresees cutting the timeline from genome to vaccine to just seven days, with a global rollout within 30 days. How? By identifying the 20 to 50 virus families in the animal kingdom with the greatest pandemic potential and building “a library of advanced vaccines” that can be ready with only minor alterations. .......... Tech giants like Meta (Facebook), Google, Amazon and Alibaba are increasingly acting as sovereigns, rivaling states for influence over our lives. ........ Think about what happened on January 6. After rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, it was social media companies — not law enforcement, Congress or the judiciary — that sprang into action to punish those responsible. ........... There’s a metaverse land grab afoot ....... The next iteration of the web is arriving, and it’s leaping off of our screens. It’s the metaverse, a term that describes the 3D immersive and collaborative experiences that are already making their way into our lives. ........ blockchain, which will allow metaverse participants to build and use decentralized technology, rather than rely on Big Tech players alone. The second is the artists and technologists who are laying the initial groundwork for the metaverse aren’t beholden to Big Tech in the ways they once were. Thanks to blockchain, they have a decentralized means to make money. This version of the web holds the potential to be open; one that rewards individual creators for their contributions. ............. Life may be normalizing, but many people are still grappling with grief, depression and anxiety. .......... After years of enduring stagnant pay and dreary working conditions, the world’s front-line workers in fields such as retail, hospitality and customer service could be heading into better times. ......... a strong 2022 economy in which the U.S. unemployment rate could shrink to 3.5%, from the current 4.8%. ......... “The power dynamic will shift from employers and leave them pining for talent like never before” ......... Mayor Hillary Schieve of Reno, Nevada has proposed a plan that includes selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to support public art and using decentralized autonomous organizations to sell crypto-based stakes of city-owned properties to investors. .......... What’s the benefit of adopting a blockchain approach to government? It puts transactions into public view, boosting transparency. And its automation of most processes can reduce red tape and the likelihood of errors. ............ “Integrating blockchain-based organization formats ... will allow institutions to manage public goods in a much more efficient and transparent way, reduce coordination costs and can drastically speed up the decision making process” .......... “The number of organizations that will adopt crypto to address public challenges will grow exponentially.” ......... From Microsoft Japan to Semco in Brazil and the government of Iceland to Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand, organizations are figuring out how to make the 4-day work week work. ........ Every workplace has a gravitational field. Leaders who take the 4-day work week seriously will draw stars into their orbit. ......... “Blue foods” — fish, aquatic plants, mussels and algae — may offer a key solution. ...........

Algae’s protein content, for example, is higher than conventional sources such as meat, poultry and dairy products; and it can be cultivated without freshwater or arable land.

........... Pay rates were once an opaque internal mystery at offices and the subject of much speculation, gossip and resentment. But as the push for equity at work gains momentum, pay transparency will begin to go mainstream ...........

the current impetus for pay transparency stems from growing momentum around addressing gender and racial pay inequities

........... “Organizations have an advantage in being ahead of legislation and demonstrating to employees they're about equity and inclusion.” ........... More retailers will embrace virtual and augmented reality in 2022, allowing customers to interact with products in environments that go far beyond digital replications of a store. ......... “The metaverse may do more to change retail than anything since the physical store” ........... “It's not about creating virtual interpretations of the store. It's about uncoupling retail from the store and reimagining it entirely.” .......... Last year, some 75% of companies said that they were reshoring operations to their home bases or to neighboring countries .......... more companies will start building “smart factories,” with an emphasis on automation, cloud platforms and other technologies .......... In 2021 — in the wake of the 2020 murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — companies promised to take diverse hiring seriously. .......... Some 96% of U.S. companies report the gender representation of their employees at all levels, and 90% report representation at senior levels, according to LeanIn and McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report. But only 54% of companies track gender and race/ethnicity — i.e. Black or Latina women in senior leadership. This renders women of color “invisible” ............ The rise of the “hybrid workday” — in which we work from home and the office — means we’re not all commuting at the same time anymore. ............. Flexible work is now a fact of life: 93% of knowledge workers globally want the freedom to decide where and when they do their job. ......... Perhaps we should discard the commute as we know it altogether? "To improve quality of life, we need to become less dependent on mobility and more committed to local proximity." Making work — even in an office — just a walk or short bike ride away may be in store for more of us. .......... Just 2.2% of venture capital funding went to female-founded companies in the first eight months of 2021 ......... Black entrepreneurs only received a small fraction — just over 1% — of U.S. venture capital funding. .......... a paradigm shift in funding, as “technologies that democratize wealth-building opportunities and fix our broken distribution system of capital become the default option.” .......... More VCs may turn to AI to identify promising startups, placing an emphasis on business fundamentals over founder demographics ......... We may soon see the rise of “self-sufficient hotel guests” ........ where guests are in charge of making their beds, washing their cutlery and more — perhaps in exchange for hotel vouchers or discounts. ........... “America’s teacher shortage will outlast the pandemic” ............ Black families in particular are showing the greatest interest in homeschooling ......... when students were driven into various forms of homeschooling during pandemic lockdowns, learning rates actually increased. ......... Lucrative television deals have translated into seismic pay increases for top athletes. And social media has offered athletes a direct line to fans. ............. NBA players put the Black Lives Matter movement in the spotlight in 2020 at the Orlando basketball bubble. Euro 2020 soccer players effectively banished soft drinks from news conferences at the championship. .......... The electric car has become a green badge of honor, driving Tesla’s market value above a trillion dollars. But for some of us, electrifying our home would reduce our greenhouse gases even more than electrifying our cars .......... Electrifying a home would immediately reduce its emissions by 45% and by 82% over time, as electricity grids get cleaner. .......... In the 1950s, U.S. homes switched en masse from being powered by coal and wood to natural gas. .......... Many of the world’s billionaires — who saw a $5 trillion dollar increase in wealth this year — are shielding their wealth from taxes by establishing residency abroad. ..........

You may like it, you may hate it, but our work culture still places high value on those who want to #CrushIt.

.......... We’ll drive on plastic roads ............. One of the world’s biggest environmental thorns — plastic — may help roads weather the coming storms. ........ “Plastic roads can store around 300 liters of water per square meter, a multiple of most asphalt roads.” ......... Plastic roads last longer, are easier to repair and are, unlike asphalt, easy to recycle. It would also put the world’s surplus of plastics to good use ........... “I believe plastic roads, if created at scale, will offer an opportunity to absorb hundreds of thousands of tons [of plastic], almost overnight.” ........... Hong Kong has long been the crown jewel of finance and technology in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly for international companies looking to expand into high-growth markets like China and India. Singapore held a similar role for firms with an interest in southeast Asia. ............ In 2010, there were 6.1 multinational firms for every Chinese company in Hong Kong. That ratio narrowed to 3.1 in 2020 ............ don’t expect a major drop in home values. Long after the price of most other assets comes back down to earth, home prices will be way above pre-pandemic levels. The world just doesn't have enough houses, or enough home-building capacity. .............. In 2021, home prices rose by more than 40% year-over-year in cities like Austin, Texas and Boise, Idaho .......... A family moving from California to Idaho suddenly feels richer, regardless of whether their new home costs $550,000 or $400,000. But that price jump makes the rest of Idaho feel poorer. And not everyone buying one home is putting another up for sale. The trend that initially set off the pandemic housing boom, relocation, is being overtaken by an increase in second-home demand, now 50% to 100% above pre-pandemic levels. .......... NFTs — digital tokens that represent ownership of assets and can be traded on blockchain exchanges — are set to infiltrate many more areas of our lives and shake up our understanding of ownership. .......... Decentralized mortgage lender Bacon Protocol recently issued its first seven mortgages as NFTs, collectively worth $1.5 million, offering investors and borrowers a new entry into the housing market. ......... In 2022, Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) will become a formidable challenger — even a replacement — to credit cards among consumers. ........ “Investors will increasingly be able to construct comparable metrics on carbon footprints, throughout the entire value chain and across a whole portfolio.” ............. In a post-pandemic world, employees will be moved more by meaning. Right now, many organizations aren’t keeping up, as they continue to focus on short-sighted, bottom-line outcomes at the expense of human connection. This has led to a rising tide of “organizational cynicism” — employees’ sense that their workplace is competitive, individualistic and greedy. Cynicism does pervasive damage to the workplace, stifling collaboration, dissolving cohesive cultures and killing creativity and drive.




Google’s top 2021 searches revealed 1. Australia vs. India 2. India vs. England 3. IPL 4. NBA 5. Euro 2021 6. Copa América 7. India vs New Zealand 8. T20 World Cup 9. Squid Game 10. DMX

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

The US Is Making A Major Mistake In Afghanistan

The US going in as a response to the 9/11 attacks that were orchestrated by the Al Qaeda who were hosted by the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan can make some sense, although it must be noted the Taliban kept asking for "proof." The US did have proof. The Al Qaeda did not keep the Taliban in confidence before the 9/11 attacks. They maintained utmost secrecy for understandable logistical reasons. The word might have leaked out. The operation might have failed.

The Taliban said, give us proof Bin Laden did it, and we will hand him over to you. The US refused. That was hubris. That was arrogance. That was not the democratic spirit. That was the attitude of an empire. The US could have privately provided proof while keeping the military option open all along.

At one point Condi Rice said, "Iraq is not Iran." The Taliban and the Al Qaeda are two separate organizations.

Afghanistan was a country like Nepal before the two superpowers took turns going in. Expats (the term for white immigrants) would write glowingly about the wonderful hospitality of the Afghan people, like they still say about the people in Nepal.

The right response would have been for the US to give the proof it had, privately, and then ask the Taliban to deliver. The Taliban did have the option to deliver Bin Laden at that point. They knew exactly where he was. They controlled the territory all around Bin Laden. They controlled the ground on which Bin Laden stood.

But the US figured, why waste a chance to make a movie out of the situation? Zero Dark Thirty.



After the US did go in, not long after the Taliban offered to surrender. The US refused the offer. That is mystifying to me. A puny military power under massive attack by an uncomparably larger military power offered to surrender. Why not take that surrender?

The corruption money from the military misadventure in Afghanistan is buying houses all across the US right now to park the money. That is why. The trillions wasted in Afghanistan could have paid to solve every "intractable" social problem America has. It could have ended homelessness. It could have rebuilt every public school. It could have rebuilt the country's infrastructure. But instead an average person can't even buy a house in America today.

And the corrupt Afghans who ran the puppet regime for the US took their money to Dubai. Cashloads of helicopters would land in Kabul and then, an hour later, fly off to Dubai.

The US did not stay a long time to win the war in Afghanistan. It won the war within weeks of going in.

I see no serious efforts of democracy building in Afghanistan. Plenty of outrageously expensive efforts yes, but no serious efforts. You can not build democracy in a country where you will not listen to the local population.

Finally the US gave up. It threw its hands in the air and walked out. Fine. Sometimes you cut your losses and move.

Except now the strategy seems to be to starve the population into revolting against the Taliban. Give me a break. You want starving Afghans to do what well-fed, well-trained, well-armed, well-financed Americans were not able to do?

The US needs to release Afghan funds that can feed the hungry Afghans. Maybe some sort of a deal can be cut that will allow for funds to be released for specified humanitarian purposes.

America did not go into Afghanistan to build democracy. It went in to get Bin Laden who it could have had by engaging the Taliban in dialogue. And offering the proof that it had that the Taliban asked for.

And it stayed long after Bin Laden was killed.

Several trillion dollars later, hundreds of thousands of lives later, when you have nothing to show for it, it is a shame.

It would have been better for the US to stay one more year, or two more years than to do what it is doing now. This economic strangulation is punishing a people who did not put the Taliban into power. The US did. This is wrong.



Facing Economic Collapse, Afghanistan Is Gripped by Starvation An estimated 22.8 million people — more than half the country’s population — are expected to face potentially life-threatening food insecurity this winter. Many are already on the brink of catastrophe. ....... Nearly four months since the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan is on the brink of a mass starvation that aid groups say threatens to kill a million children this winter — a toll that would dwarf the total number of Afghan civilians estimated to have been killed as a direct result of the war over the past 20 years. .......... While Afghanistan has suffered from malnutrition for decades, the country’s hunger crisis has drastically worsened in recent months. This winter, an estimated 22.8 million people — more than half the population — are expected to face potentially life-threatening levels of food insecurity, according to an analysis by the United Nations World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization. Of those, 8.7 million people are nearing famine — the worst stage of a food crisis. ......... Such widespread hunger is the most devastating sign of the economic crash that has crippled Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power.

Practically overnight, billions of dollars in foreign aid that propped up the previous Western-backed government vanished and U.S. sanctions on the Taliban isolated the country from the global financial system, paralyzing Afghan banks and impeding relief work by humanitarian organizations.

....... Across the country, millions of Afghans — from day laborers to doctors and teachers — have gone months without steady or any incomes. The prices of food and other basic goods have soared beyond the reach of many families. Emaciated children and anemic mothers have flooded into the malnutrition wards of hospitals, many of those facilities bereft of medical supplies that donor aid once provided. ...... Now, as freezing winter weather sets in, with humanitarian organizations warning that

a million children could die, the crisis is potentially damning to both the new Taliban government and to the United States, which is facing mounting pressure to ease the economic restrictions that are worsening the crisis.