Showing posts with label omicron. Show all posts
Showing posts with label omicron. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

New York Times: February 16: Hong Kong, Omicron, Trump, Bhutan

U.S. caseloads fall below the Delta peak. Deaths remain high at around 2,328 per day. ....... the organizers of the outdoor music festivals Coachella and Stagecoach said on Tuesday that they would not require attendees to be masked, vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus.

Hong Kong Can’t Live With the Virus. It Can’t Stop It, Either. An Omicron surge has exposed the weaknesses of a system that was once a world leader in containing the coronavirus. ......... As Hong Kong sinks under its worst wave yet of the coronavirus, overwhelmed hospitals have left patients waiting on sidewalks. People have stood in testing lines that wind across parks and soccer fields. Cases are still growing exponentially, as officials opt for targeted lockdowns rather than a citywide one. Researchers have warned that by summer the latest wave could kill nearly 1,000 people — more than four times the number that have died of Covid in Hong Kong over the past two years. .......... Until this wave, Hong Kong kept the coronavirus largely in check. The city’s combination of tight social distancing rules and aggressive contact tracing meant that the previous four waves of infection were curbed relatively quickly. For much of 2021, the city recorded no local cases. But the highly transmissible Omicron variant assaulted the cracks in the city’s defenses. ......... Hong Kongers could also prove fiercely resistant to a citywide lockdown. When Mrs. Lam visited a locked-down housing estate last month, residents showered her with insults from their windows — a display of public dissent rarely seen since the imposition of the security law.

P.J. O’Rourke Wrote With High, Cranky Style in a Shrinking Tradition O’Rourke, who died on Tuesday at 74, was a sharp-toothed satirist whose conservatism wasn’t doctrinaire. ...... He was well-read; he was, it often seemed, the only funny Republican alive. ....... Some of his best writing was about the open road. ..... For many years O’Rourke was Rolling Stone’s foreign-affairs desk chief. He was a detector of dichotomies, when he wasn’t camped out like Graham Greene in a hotel bar. “Each American embassy comes with two permanent features,” he wrote: “a giant anti-American demonstration and a giant line for American visas.” ........... “By loudly denouncing all bad things — war and hunger and date rape — liberals testify to their own terrific goodness,” he wrote. He added: “It’s a kind of natural aristocracy, and the wonderful thing about this aristocracy is that you don’t have to be brave, smart, strong or even lucky to join it, you just have to be liberal.” ......... Yet he voted for Hillary Clinton. “She’s wrong about absolutely everything,” he said, “but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” About Trump he said, “This man just can’t be president. They’ve got this button, you know, in the briefcase. He’s going to find it.” ............ “Aren’t we pro-life?” he asked. “Aren’t refugees life?” ........ “The weirder you’re going to behave, the more normal you should look. It works in reverse, too. When I see a kid with three or four rings in his nose, I know there is absolutely nothing extraordinary about that person.” ...... O’Rourke was a charmer, not a haranguer. Each of his essays, I’d guess, won more converts to conservatism than a lifetime of columns by Charles Krauthammer or Michelle Malkin. ...... When my wife is anxious about our tax debt but I badly want to go out to dinner, I remind her, as O’Rourke wrote, that it’s “better to spend money like there’s no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there’s no money.”

Late Night Dunks on Trump for Getting Dumped During Tax Season “It’s like getting divorced on Christmas Eve,” Jimmy Kimmel joked. ...... Last week, Donald Trump’s longtime accounting firm Mazars USA cut ties with the former president and his family, saying financial statements they prepared for him from 2011 to 2020 should “no longer be relied upon.” ....... “If there’s any karma in this world, they dropped him for a younger, hotter client.” — STEPHEN COLBERT ........ “She tested positive for three substances that can be used to treat heart problems. Imagine how devastating that must be: You train your whole life to be in the Olympics, follow all the rules, put in all the hours, eat the right things. Last minute, you accidentally take your grandfather’s heart medicine.” — JIMMY KIMMEL ........ “But again, I’m not saying Russia did it on purpose; I’m not saying that. I’m just saying don’t be shocked when later this week they use 15-year-olds to invade Ukraine.” — TREVOR NOAH ......... “Her lawyer said maybe her grandfather drank something from a glass, saliva got in and this glass was somehow later used by the athlete. Ah, the old ‘must be from Grandpa’s saliva’ defense, huh?’” — JIMMY KIMMEL

‘Improbable Journey’: How a Movie From Tiny Bhutan Got an Oscar Nod “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” was filmed on a shoestring budget in a remote Himalayan village. It’s now an Academy Award nominee, a first for Bhutan. ......... The valley had no electricity. It could only be reached by walking eight days from the nearest village. And the schoolchildren who were expected to star in the film knew nothing about acting or cinema. ....... tells the story of a young teacher from Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, who is assigned to work at a remote mountain school against his will. He dreams of quitting his government job, emigrating to Australia and pursuing a career as a singer. ....... But the teacher, Ugyen, is fascinated by the people he meets in Lunana — particularly 9-year-old Pem Zam, a radiant student with a difficult home life. ........ young Bhutanese increasingly believe that true happiness lies abroad, in places like Australia, Europe or New York City. ......... There was just enough solar power to shoot the movie on a single camera, but not enough for Mr. Dorji to review his footage each night after shooting, as most directors do. So he had to go by his instincts and hope for the best. .... “The camera in front of them could have been a yak, for all they cared,” Mr. Dorji said........ In a scene where Ugyen teaches his students how to use a toothbrush, they aren’t acting; they really didn’t know. ....... the film was made on a $300,000 budget — “peanuts when it comes to filmmaking” ....... “When I was in front of the camera, I wasn’t that excited,” said Mr. Dorji, the schoolteacher, who appeared in the film as an extra. “But after watching it and listening to the children’s dialogue, I realized how much hardship our community has had to overcome.”

Friday, January 28, 2022

January 28: Omicron, Krugman, Afghanistan, Pakistan

Omicron’s Radical Evolution Thirteen of Omicron’s mutations should have hurt the variant’s chances of survival. Instead, they worked together to make it thrive...... Whereas earlier variants had differed from the original Wuhan version of the coronavirus by a dozen or two mutations, Omicron had 53 — a shockingly large jump in viral evolution. ......... 13 of those mutations were rarely, if ever, found in other coronaviruses, suggesting they should have been harmful to Omicron. Instead, when acting in concert, these mutations appear to be key to some of Omicron’s most essential functions. ............... In December 2020, British researchers were jolted to discover a new variant in England carrying 23 mutations not found in the original coronavirus isolated in Wuhan a year before. That variant, later named Alpha, soon swept to dominance worldwide. Over the course of 2021, other fast-spreading variants emerged. While some remained limited to certain countries or continents, the Delta variant, with 20 distinctive mutations, ousted Alpha and became dominant over the summer. And then came Omicron, with over twice as many mutations. .................. Two of the clusters change the spike near its tip, making it harder for human antibodies to stick to the virus and keep it out of cells. As a result, Omicron is good at infecting even people who have antibodies from vaccinations or a previous Covid infection. ................ Because an immunocompromised host doesn’t produce a lot of antibodies, many viruses are left to propagate. And new mutant viruses that resist the antibodies can multiply.

Wonking Out: Are We in Another Housing Bubble? . people have been building houses for thousands of years; what could justify those extraordinary prices? ......... ........ Anyway, the bubble eventually burst, taking a large part of the financial system down with it. That is a worrying precedent, because housing prices have once again been rising rapidly. In fact, the average real price of housing in major markets is now higher than it was at its 2006 peak ......... America was effectively divided between Flatland — places where it was easy to increase the housing supply — and the Zoned Zone, where “a combination of high population density and land-use restrictions” made it hard to build new houses. And the big price increases took place only in the latter. ....... By the mid-2000s, real home prices at a national level were up by “only” about 50 percent, a number you could, with painful intellectual contortions, try to justify on the basis of low interest rates. But there was no way to justify the 100 percent or more increases we were seeing in places like Miami and San Diego. ........ the reason the national average is so high is that prices are surging everywhere — even in small towns that used to be bargains. ........ This time, however, record home prices haven’t led to a boom in housing construction ......... It’s the supply chain, stupid. Look at what is happening to the price of building materials ........ Real estate people I know tell me that there’s still a feeling of unhealthy frenzy, and people who paid high prices for small-town houses may regret it once supply chains get unsnarled and more houses get built.

Let Innocent Afghans Have Their Money . The Afghan government had been heavily dependent on foreign aid, which was largely cut off when the Taliban took power. .........

International assistance made up 45 percent of Afghanistan’s gross national product and funded 75 percent of the government’s budget.

Doctors, nurses, teachers and other essential government workers haven’t been paid in months, and it’s not clear when they will ever be. The Taliban remain on the U.S. sanctions list, so the international community has refused to give them money. .......... Right now the entire financial system in Afghanistan risks collapse. Ordinary people who have nothing to do with the Taliban have been largely cut off from the international banking system, simply because they live in Afghanistan. Even though U.S. Treasury Department officials say that the central bank of Afghanistan is not under sanctions, financial institutions around the world are treating it as if was. Foreign banks are refusing to wire money to Afghanistan, not only because they don’t want to deal with the reputational risk, but also because they fear that the long arm of the U.S. Treasury might one day punish them for it. Many banks say it is not worth the hassle. As a result, it has been difficult to get cash into the country. .......... If the formal banking system in Afghanistan collapses, then the entire economy could be driven into the shadows, where illicit activities like kidnapping and drug trafficking would play an even bigger role than they do now. Entrepreneurs who could be a counterweight to the Taliban would struggle to survive. ......... The Biden administration was right to offer aid to stave off the immediate humanitarian crisis caused by hunger, drought and a harsh winter. The administration has also issued a flurry of licenses to allow personal remittances and humanitarian aid to pass through banks unmolested. But the very existence of those licenses implies that the rest of Afghanistan’s economy is off limits. That means shopkeepers can’t open lines of credit to import goods, and farmers can’t receive payment for their crops through international banks. Aid is not enough. Commercial activity is what feeds a nation. .........

“The economy is not just in free fall; it’s being strangled”

......... The entire banking system could fall apart. ....... Since commercial banks in Afghanistan are required to keep some reserves in the central bank, hundreds of millions of dollars in the frozen overseas accounts are part of the life savings of Afghan citizens, which should not be rendered inaccessible because the Taliban took over the country. ......... the world will be treated to the spectacle of Americans and Europeans paying to mitigate a humanitarian disaster caused, in part, by the fact that many Afghans have been cut off from their own money. ......... When banks splinter and fail, they exacerbate crises, as happened in Yemen ...... Small efforts now could avoid big problems later — such as another mass migration in Europe. They could also preserve a toehold in the country. The war has been lost, but that doesn’t mean every institution that Americans worked with is destined to disappear. There’s still time to save Afghanistan’s central bank.

The U.S. Needs a Reset With Pakistan . For decades, U.S. policy toward Pakistan has been predicated on America’s goals in Afghanistan. Pakistan both helped and hindered the U.S. war on terror, making for a notoriously dysfunctional relationship. .......... The United States must treat Pakistan as a country in its own right, not as a fulcrum for U.S. policy on Afghanistan. That starts with America disentangling itself from the close military relationship with Pakistan. ......... Resentment is rife. America sees Pakistan’s support for the Taliban as one reason it lost in Afghanistan; Pakistan sees the Taliban insurgency it faced at home as blowback for partnering with America next door. In Washington the grim mood has led to talk of disengagement and sanctions. Neither approach will work or be satisfactory in the long run. ........ Pakistan, meanwhile, wants a broad-based relationship with the U.S. focused on geoeconomics — which is not realistic. ........ a repetition of the old, failed cycle, missing the opportunity to steer Pakistan away from its own harmful overreliance on the military to a more productive future. ........ It would be smarter and safer for the United States to pivot to a multidimensional approach that acknowledges the realities of the country and its neighborhood. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country with a population of more than 220 million, neighboring not just Afghanistan but also Iran and Pakistan’s close friend China and nuclear-armed rival India. Pakistan faces immense domestic challenges, including with governance and terrorism. It also has unrealized economic potential. ........... military spending accounts for about 16 percent of Pakistan’s annual expenditures. (U.S. military spending accounts for 11 percent.) .........

Pakistan’s dominant military has kept active the specter of potential conflict with India, and its intelligence services have cultivated relationships with an array of dangerous nonstate armed actors.

......... Once America’s reliance on Pakistan’s military is explicitly and clearly reduced, U.S. policy toward Pakistan can be steered toward economic and other forms of engagement. ....... The United States is Pakistan’s top export destination .......... Mr. Biden’s focus is on the Indo-Pacific. ....... Pakistan is simultaneously important and complicated.

Four critical ingredients that Pakistan needs to rev up its economy and realize its potential Pakistanis working abroad sent home about $18.5 billion in FY2014/15 which contributed to financing the trade deficit. ........ The share of investment to GDP remains minimal at 15%, about half of the South Asian average at 30% and one of the lowest in the world. This means not that enough infrastructure is being built, people don’t have access to sufficient levels of energy and water, the quality of schools and hospitals are not optimal. ........... One of Pakistan’s biggest assets is its large and young labor force. But this young population will contribute to higher and sustainable growth only if it’s healthy and well educated. .

Afghanistan Is in Meltdown, and the U.S. Is Helping to Speed It Up . The United States should swallow the bitter pill of working with the Taliban-led government in order to prevent a failed state in Afghanistan. Kneecapping the government through sanctions and frozen aid won’t change the fact that the Taliban are now in charge, but it will ensure that ordinary public services collapse, the economy decays and Afghans’ livelihoods shrink even further. ....... Afghans are already on a countdown to calamity. Their cash-based economy is starved of currency, hunger and malnutrition are growing, civil servants are largely unpaid, and essential services are in tatters. ......... It’s no surprise that the United States and its allies responded to the Taliban takeover with punitive measures: halting the flow of aid that had been paying for three-fourths of public spending, freezing Afghan state assets abroad, cutting the country off from the global financial system and maintaining sanctions on the Taliban — which now penalize the entire government they head. That playbook is how Washington typically tries to punish objectionable regimes. But the result has been catastrophic for civilians. ....... Devastating droughts, the pandemic and the Taliban’s incompetence in governing have all played roles in creating what may be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But the West’s immediate steps to isolate the new regime triggered Afghanistan’s meltdown. This was especially the case because the countries that shut off the aid spigot had, over 20 years, enabled the Afghan state’s dependency on it. ......... I’ve seen over the past two decades how Western powers have consistently overestimated their ability to get Afghan authorities — whoever they are — to acquiesce to their demands.

Governments that were utterly dependent on U.S. security and financial support brushed off pressure to adopt Washington’s preferred peacemaking, war-fighting and anti-corruption strategies.

......... The Taliban are never going to have a policy on women’s rights that accords with Western values. They show no signs of embracing even limited forms of democratic governance. Nor is it likely they will ever take active measures to destroy or hand over remnants of Al Qaeda

Sunday, January 16, 2022

January 16: Republican Party, Omicron, Penélope Cruz

The Republican Party Is Succeeding Because We Are Not a True Democracy The Jan. 6 attack would not have happened in a genuine democracy. ........ the roots of the crisis run deep into the undemocratic features of our constitutional system. ......... In a simple system of majority rule, Mr.

Biden’s thumping margin of more than seven million votes

would have been the last word. For that matter, so would Hillary Clinton’s national margin of nearly three million votes in 2016: Mr. Trump would not have had a 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address in which to barricade himself in 2020. ............... today’s Republican Party succeeds only because the Electoral College, the Senate and the Supreme Court all tilt in its favor ........... That system has handed conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, despite the fact that only one Republican has won the presidential popular vote after 1988. ......... A party doesn’t have to persuade majorities that it has the best vision for the country. It only has to persuade a selective minority that the other side is a mortal threat. ............. Its grasp on power may be too tenuous for the party to govern effectively, but it has offered conservatives a fine perch to weaken economic and environmental regulation, appoint conservative judges and launch attacks on the democratic system itself. ......... In a more democratic system, the Republican Party’s extreme elements would have been sent packing long before they stormed the Capitol because they couldn’t muster enough votes to win a national election. Instead, they have perfected minority rule as a path to political success.

An antidemocratic system has bred an antidemocratic party. The remedy is to democratize our so-called democracy.

................. James Madison boasted that the Constitution achieved “the total exclusion of the people, in their collective capacity.” Its elaborate political mechanics reflect the elite dislike and mistrust of majority rule that Madison voiced when he wrote, “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” Madison’s condescension has never gone away. Walter Lippmann, perhaps the most prominent intellectual of the short American Century, reckoned that citizens were ignorant, confused and emotional. Democracy brought “an intensification of feeling and a degradation of significance” to whatever it touched. If Madison and Lippmann could have seen the “QAnon Shaman” break into the Capitol, then meander around like a tourist whose phone has lost its signal, they would have muttered, “This is what democracy looks like.” ................ Jan. 6 and the four years before it were a forcible reminder that democracy is a task, not a birthright. ............

Majorities of the people, not the Electoral College, should be able to pick the president and decide who controls the House and Senate. All who make their lives in the United States — including the incarcerated, people convicted of felonies and noncitizens — should be allowed to vote.

................ in a working democracy, there are no permanent majorities or minorities. Forging partnerships in a truly democratic system, inland conservatives would soon find new allies — just not ones determined to break democracy itself. ........... Shortly before World War I, activists successfully pressed state legislatures to ratify an amendment giving up their power to choose U.S. senators. Maybe we can revive mass movements for amendments, starting with one that would make the amendment process itself more democratic. .......... If the public supports a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics, restrict gerrymandering or enshrine a core abortion right, a committed majority should be able to say what our fundamental law is by popular vote, rather than having to go through the current, complicated process of ratifying amendments through state legislatures or dozens of constitutional conventions. ............ Even our terribly flawed legacy is rich in examples of majoritarian emancipation: New Deal programs, the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting Rights Act and Medicare. Majorities can change the world for the better, when they have the chance. Giving one another that chance, over and over, is how equals share a country. .............. Majorities should be able to choose parties and leaders to improve their everyday lives, starting with child care, family leave, health care and the dignified work that still evades many even at a time when employers are complaining of difficulty hiring workers and there is upward pressure on wages after decades of stagnation. ............ If we don’t claim that power, the market, a court or a minority government will always be pleased to take it off our hands. .......... If Jan. 6 was a symptom of a crisis of democracy, the best answer we can give is more democracy.

We might not be capable of that, in which case the future is bleak.

But the only way to find out is by trying. .......... Democracy’s vitality is not handed down from on high. It comes from actually ruling and being ruled in turn and learning to live with both. It comes from the constant search for new majorities, new coalitions, new ways to avoid disaster and even make life better.

My Dinner With Sidney Poitier But Poitier wasn’t just a star, he was a legend, a lion, an almost mythical figure in Black culture and the culture at large. He was Black royalty. ......... before one civil rights march in Mississippi in the 1960s, the singer Sammy Davis Jr., “who avoided the Deep South, swallowed his fear and flew to Jackson. He remembered feeling safe around Belafonte and Poitier,” calling them “two Black knights.” .......... As I approached the table, Poitier greeted me with a blinding smile, the kind that beacons and beguiles, the kind that makes you feel that you have known a complete stranger your whole life. He insisted that I sit next to him. ............ From beginning to end that evening, Poitier whispered slick, salty jokes to me with the devilish satisfaction of a schoolboy. He was 87 at the time. .......... I now knew, at close range, what star power was. His enchantment settled on you, like a soft sweater. Cashmere, of course. .......... He had learned that sometimes, when people say something can’t happen, they simply haven’t tried hard enough. Sometimes, can’ts are soft. ..........

When Poitier arrived in New York, he did odd jobs until, as he wrote in his memoir, he said, “What the hell,” and tried his hand at acting.

...... “I had no training in acting. I could barely read! And to top it off, I had a thick singsong Bahamian accent.” ........ Undeterred, Poitier would will himself into becoming one of the greatest actors America has ever known. .......... For people like Poitier, who have lived a life in which, by sheer grit and determination, they turned noes into yeses, noes lack finality. .........

He was the epitome of Black dignity, Black beauty, Black pride and Black power.

He was the epitome of Black dignity, Black beauty, Black pride and Black power. For a year, activists have been screaming and pleading and begging and getting arrested, trying to get the White House to put the full weight of the presidency behind protecting voting rights, only to be met by silence or soft-pedaling. ........... When Biden fully entered the battle, the other warriors were already bloody, bruised and exhausted. ......... Biden has been dillydallying on getting rid of the filibuster to protect voting rights for essentially his whole administration, until this week. ........ Even a cursory reading of American history reveals a long legacy of extremely effective voter suppression and intimidation. ............

McConnell is an accomplice to the crime of voter suppression

......... States like Texas, with new voter suppression laws and new racially gerrymandered maps, begin early voting in February. ......... During Biden’s victory speech he said, “Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me,” and he continued, “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” Well, if voting protections fail, many in the Black community will feel like they have been stabbed in the back.

Here’s When We Expect Omicron to Peak The Omicron variant is spreading widely and infecting large numbers of people, including the vaccinated and those previously infected with the virus. While spikes in cases have been the norm for the past two years, there are clear indications this wave will differ substantially from previous ones. ............ it’s less common for people infected with Omicron to experience severe disease and end up in the hospital ......... Our models project that the United States is likely to document more Covid-19 cases in January than in any previous month of the pandemic, but a smaller fraction of those cases will require hospitalization. ........ Our projections depict a rapid surge of cases nationally that peaks at record high numbers during the first one to three weeks of January. ..........

New York City is projected to peak during the first week of January; other locations peak later.

........... whether the steep rise of Omicron cases is followed by a rapid decline, as has been seen in South Africa. This would make the Omicron wave intense but short-lived ......... While Omicron is causing record numbers of infections, the hope is that vaccinations, booster shots and prior infections by other variants will still protect most people from the worst effects of the virus. Early evidence supports this conclusion. ........ The long-term implications of Omicron remain unknown, but in the near term, everyone should expect an intense month of disruption. Still, the familiar advice remains the best: get vaccinated, get booster shots and prepare for a bumpy January.

We Must Stop Showering the Military With Money the nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars that we are spending this year on a military that has become the epitome of governmental dysfunction, self-dealing and overspending. ............ Right around the time he was bayoneting Build Back Better, Manchin joined 87 other senators — Democrats and Republicans — in rubber-stamping another gargantuan budget for the Pentagon. They allocated $768 billion for the military in 2022, roughly $24 billion more than the White House requested from Congress. ............

The Pentagon has never passed an audit and says it may not be able to until 2028.

.............. In 2020 the U.S. military’s budget accounted for almost 40 percent of the world’s military expenditures. This level of spending has long been excessive, but after a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more Americans than any war we fought, continuing to throw money at the military is an act of willful disregard for the most urgent threats we face. ........... Congress is projected to spend about $8.5 trillion for the military over the next decade — about half a trillion more than is budgeted for all nonmilitary discretionary programs combined (a category that includes federal spending on education, public health, scientific research, infrastructure, national parks and forests, environmental protection, law enforcement, courts, tax collection, foreign aid, homeland security and health care for veterans). .................. When we face so many other major challenges — from climate disasters to political instability and insurrection — shouldn’t we ask whether it remains wise to keep handing the military what is effectively a blank check? ...........

might the Pentagon’s near-bottomless access to funds have encouraged a culture of waste and indulgence that made it easier to blunder into Iraq and contributed to its failures in Afghanistan?

............. why should we keep building aircraft carriers — each of which costs about $1.5 billion a year to operate — when we’ve already got most of the world’s fleet of active aircraft carriers? ............ it could save $125 billion a year by, among other measures, reducing overstaffing through retirements and attrition. ............

The military-industrial complex is every bit as politically powerful as Dwight Eisenhower warned it would be.

............... “Who Won in Afghanistan? Private Contractors.” ......... “It’s going to take members of Congress to really step up,” she said. That seems about as likely as pigs flying — or, more aptly, F-35s.

This Presidency Isn’t Turning Out as Planned The Obama administration was bedeviled by crises of demand. The Biden administration is struggling with crises of supply. ........... The 2009 stimulus was too small, and while we avoided a second Great Depression, we sank into an achingly slow recovery. .......... Wages are high, new businesses are forming at record rates, and poverty has fallen below its prepandemic levels. ............ Since March 2020, Americans saved at least $2 trillion more than expected. ......... we met the pandemic with tremendous, perhaps excessive, fiscal force. We fought the recession and won. The problems we do have shouldn’t obscure the problems we don’t. ............ Year-on-year inflation is running at 7 percent, its highest rate in decades, and Omicron has shown that the Biden administration wasted months of possible preparation. It is not to blame for the new variant, but it is to blame for the paucity of tests, effective masks and ventilation upgrades. ............. many of the delays and shortages reflect unexpectedly strong demand, not a pandemic-induced breakdown in production .............

How about building the vaccine production capacity needed to vaccinate the world and prevent future strains from emerging?

............ Biden’s task now is clear: to build a government that can create supply, not just demand.

The Economic Case for Goldilocks
Ukraine Is Only One Small Part of Putin’s Plans A call between Mr. Putin and President Biden on Dec. 30, where the leaders traded threats, did little to take the sting out of the situation. Any incident along the Russian-Ukrainian border could bring an inferno......... Mr. Putin’s design is grand: to refashion the post-Cold War settlement, in the process guaranteeing the survival of Russia’s personalized power system. And judging from the West’s awkward, anguished response so far, he might be close to getting what he wants. ......... No longer content with upsetting the West, Mr. Putin is now trying to force it to agree to a new global dispensation, with Russia restored to eminence. ............ the West, by accepting Russia’s geopolitical position, would effectively underwrite its domestic agenda, too .........

confrontation is not the Kremlin’s goal. The escalation is about peace on Russia’s terms.

............. One success is already clear: The West has been forced to reward Russia — through outreach, diplomacy and, above all, attention — for the charitable act of not invading Ukraine. .......... Mr. Putin’s method is tried and tested: He ratchets up the tensions and then demands “binding agreements,” which he does not take seriously. The aim, really, is a Hobbesian world order, built on disruption and readiness for surprise breakthroughs. ........... This order has nothing in common with those fashioned at the Yalta Conference in 1945, say, or the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Their architects followed the rules. The Kremlin is suggesting something very different: the irrelevance of rules. The norms by which the world has been governed for the past three decades would be thrown out, in favor of creative interpretation of the possible. In this free-for-all, Mr. Putin — mercurial master of suspense and the sudden move — can pursue his fusion of geopolitical power and personal rule............. By forcing the world to guess what Russia is up to and pursuing mutually contradictory policy lines simultaneously, the Kremlin keeps the West disoriented. Accustomed to functioning in rational, risk-averse ways, the West doesn’t know how to react to such “organized chaos.” ......... Any bargain that would allow the Kremlin to interpret the global rules of the game would undermine Western principles. Yet rejecting the bargain could incite the Kremlin to wreck the whole shop. The world’s liberal democracies are hardly ready for a clash with a nuclear opponent.

A Library the Internet Can’t Get Enough Of Why does this image keep resurfacing on social media? ......... “For me, I think that photo is as stunning as a sunset. I could spend days and days locked in that library examining each book.” He noted that there’s something comforting about the image, since “it’s a room you could happily get lost in.” ............ Dr. Macksey’s book collection clocked in at 51,000 titles, according to his son, Alan, excluding magazines and other ephemera. ........... Several first editions by 20th-century poets and novelists sat on a shelf in the laundry room. .......... the “satisfying” sense of organized chaos, and the awe inspired by the high ceilings.

The Visions of Penélope Cruz She already felt a mystical connection with the director Pedro Almodóvar. For their seventh collaboration, “Parallel Mothers,” she gave her all, even collapsing after one scene. ........... Their latest, “Parallel Mothers,” is also one of their greatest, starring Cruz as a mother wrestling with a terrible secret. ........... it may also earn the 47-year-old Cruz, an Oscar winner for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” her fourth Academy Award nomination. ......... “Penélope has a blind faith in me,” Almodóvar wrote in a lengthy email. “She is convinced that I am a better director and writer than I really am. This blind faith fills me with the confidence to request anything of her, while the trust that she deposits in me allows her to do things during filming that she might not dare try with other directors because she knows I am watching her as if through a thousand eyes.” ........... Cruz asked for an unusually long rehearsal process of a few months, trying to reach the core of a character who’s in constant conflict with her own feelings. ............. playing this woman brought Cruz further from herself than she ever could have anticipated ......... it wasn’t until she reteamed with Almodóvar for “Volver” in 2006 that she earned her first Oscar nomination and truly showed Hollywood what kind of full-bodied lead performance she was capable of. ......... And every few years, she reunites with Almodóvar, who is always eager to push her to the next level. ........ but I cannot look back and judge them only by their result, or the awards or reviews. Every step counts.” ........ “Nature gives you a few months to prepare, but from the second you see your son or your daughter, it changes everything,” Cruz said. “It even changes your ego. It immediately puts it in a more healthy place.”

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.