A Weekly Political News Magazine
Issue 1834, Friday, Ja nua r y8, 2020
Issue 1834- January- 08/01/2021
Changed What TV is For www.majalla.com
Gulf Reconciliation Strengthens Arab Alliance Against Iran Unrest Rocks Washington
Children Under Lockdown
When Will Life Return to Normal?
A Weekly Political News Magazine
A three and a half year embargo imposed on Qatar came to an end this week in the Saudi town of Al Ula where leaders of the GCC and Egypt signed a reconciliation agreement. Saudi Arabia led a coalition of an Arab quartet including the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt that cut ties and transport links with Qatar in June 2017, charging that it was too close to Iran and backed terrorist groups, allegations Doha has always denied. The move was seen as a united effort in the face of an intensifying threat posed by Iran on the region. Tensions have been building since the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. This week we examine how this act of solidarity comes at a critical time and what lies ahead for the countries involved. “The final terrible, indelible legacy of the 45th president of the United States,” came the denouncement of the soon-to-be Majority Leader Senator Schumer after the shocking actions of hardliner Trump supporters at the Capitol building. President-elect Biden appeared shortly after on TV to point out that ‘the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America and do not represent who we are’. This week Joseph Barude discusses the fact that remains: The riots stand as testimony to the deep divides afflicting the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted children and adolescents by the abrupt withdrawal from school, social life and outdoor activities. The stress they are subjected to directly impacts their mental health due to increased anxiety, fear, changes in their diets and in school dynamics. This week we look at the immediate effects the pandemic has had on young people as well as the long term impact, while focusing on those most vulnerable and what can be done to help fight back.
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A Weekly Political News Magazine
Biden Must Prioritize Missile Defense
Issue 1834- January- 08/01/2021
24 COVID - 19 Could Undo Decades
of Womenâ€™s Progress
42 What to Expect After COVID 3
How U.S. Pandemic Restrictions Became a Constitutional Battlefield
Death Penalty for Rape: An Ineffective Lethal Lottery in South Asia
When Will Life Return to Normal ?
The Year That Changed the Internet
A young woman takes a selfie with an ice sculpture depicting a bull, the symbol of 2021 set up in Lviv, Ukraine, 03 January 2021, as part of the New Year celebrations. The Year of the Ox in the Chinese zodiac represents the year 2021. / EPA Photos
A handout photograph taken and released by the Moscow transport department shows female train drivers posing for a picture at a train depot in Moscow on January 1, 2021. - The Moscow metro said on January 3, 2021 it had hired female drivers for the first time in its recent history, following recent changes in controversial Russian legislation prohibiting women from many professions. The ban on access for women to many professions was widely criticised and a labour ministry decree in September last year cut the number of exclusively male professions from 456 to around 100. (Photo by Handout / Moscow transport department / AFP Photos
ridors as tens of thousands gathered outside in support of the president’s false claims of election fraud. Congressmen who had gathered to certify the election results were forced to flee under escort as law enforcement lost control of the situation. Four people have died and 52 people have been arrested. Despite these events, however, the US Congress has confirmed Joe Biden will become the next President of the United States of America, after they certified 270 Electoral College votes this Thursday, Jan 7. After Congress approved Vermont’s votes, Mr Biden has reached the number of Electoral College votes needed to become the President of America. He has, therefore, defeated Don-
Arab States Agree to End Three-year on Tuesday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, stressed the need for Arab unity to Boycott of Qatar A three-year boycott of Qatar by four other Middle Eastern countries has come to a stuttering close. “The kingdom is happy to welcome you,” Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said as he greeted Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, on the tarmac of the airport in Al-Ula, north of Medina, on Tuesday. The boycott had begun in June 2017, when the four countries accused Qatar of supporting Islamist groups in the region and of having warm ties with Iran. The summit agreed a solidarity statement in which all sides agreed to respect the principle of non interference in one another’s affairs whilst retaining the freedom to conduct their own foreign policy. In his remarks to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit
confront Iran. “We are today in need of such unity to counter the threats against our region represented in the Iranian regime’s nuclear programme, its ballistic missiles and agenda of sabotage adopted by its sectarian proxies,” he said. “This demands that the international community work seriously to stand against these harmful practices that threaten the peace of the region and world.”
ald Trump by 306-232. Following these events,
Four Dead in US Capitol Riot After Donald Donald Trump committed to a peaceful transition of power for the first time. In a statement Trump’s Supporters Storm Washington A mob of Donald Trump’s supporters has stormed the US Capitol in a bid to overthrow November’s election result. Dozens of protesters broke into the building and roamed the cor-
from the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, Mr Trump announced he “totally disagreed with the outcome of the election” but confirmed, “there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.”
Iran Steps Up Nuclear Plans as Tensions Rise on Anniversary of Suleimani’s Killing Iran has announced plans to enrich uranium up to 20% purity, just a step away from weaponsgrade levels, as tensions with the US ratchet up during the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed it had been notified of Iran’s decision to increase enrichment at the Fordow facility, buried in a mountainside to protect it from military strikes, although Tehran did not say when the process would begin. The
weekend also marked the first anniversary of a US drone strike that killed top general Qassem Suleimani, with Washington apparently bracing for possible retaliation. After the US stepped up military deployments and threatening language, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, accused it on New Year’s Eve of trying to set up a “pretext for war”. In an apparent attempt at de-escalation the Pentagon has abruptly withdrawn the aircraft carrier Nimitz from the region, the New York Times reported.
Europe at Tipping Point with Covid Running Rampant, says WHO Europe is at a tipping point in the course of the pandemic, the World Health Organization has said, warning that the coronavirus is spreading very fast across the continent and the arrival of a new variant has created an “alarming situation”. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, said that while the arrival of vaccines offered “new tools” to fight the virus, almost half the 53 countries in the region were reporting a seven-day incidence rate of more than 150 new cases per 100,000 people, while a quarter had recorded a more than 10% surge in cases over the past week. Kluge said countries rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine could be flexible
on the gap between first and second doses, saying a balance should be struck between making the most of limited supplies and protecting as many people as possible. Some countries including Britain are seeking to counter low vaccine supplies by extending the gap between first and second doses to up to 12 weeks, and by considering lower volume doses of some shots.
senior Oxford immunologist Professor John Bell — who helped create the prestigious university’s vaccine — said there was a “big question mark” over whether the current versions of vaccines would work on the South African variant. He said it was “unlikely” the mutation would make the vaccines ineffective, but that they might need tweaks to provide as much protection against the strain as they do against the others already in wide circulation elsewhere.
The US Lost Control’: America Records‘ its Most Ever Covid-19 Deaths in a Day
COVID Vaccines “Might Not” Work as Well on South African Strain, Scientists Warn The new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa poses even more of a risk than the strain discovered several weeks ago in England, Britain’s top health official warned on Monday. His alarm came as scientists warned that the new strain sweeping through South African coastal communities could be resistant to the COVID-19 vaccines approved or awaiting approval in the U.S. and Europe. “I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio. “This is a very, very significant problem... it’s even more of a problem than the U.K. new variant.” As the first doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine outside of medical trials were administered at an Oxford hospital on Monday,
Even as the US registered more coronavirus deaths in a single day than ever before – nearly 3,900 – on Wednesday, the mob attack on the US Capitol was laying bare some of the same political divisions that have hampered the fight against the pandemic. The virus is surging in almost every state, with California particularly hard hit. Skyrocketing deaths and infections in the state are threatening to force hospitals to ration care and essentially decide who lives and who dies. “Folks are gasping for breath. Folks look like they’re drowning when they are in bed right in front of us,” said Dr Jeffrey Chien, an emergency room physician at Santa Clara Valley regional medical center. He urged people to do their part to help slow the spread. “I’m begging everyone to help us out because we aren’t the frontline. We’re the last line,” he said. About 1.9 million people around the world have died of the coronavirus, more than 360,000 in the US alone, the highest national death toll on Earth by far, with also the world’s highest number of cases, at more than 21m, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus research center.
Gulf Reconciliation Strengthens Arab Alliance Against Iran The Harmonising of Relations Offers a United Front in the Face of a Recent Spike in Iranian Hostility Majalla - London In a diplomatic breakthrough, Saudi Arabia and its three Arab allies agreed to restore full ties with
Doha at a summit in the kingdom on Tuesday. Qatarâ€şs Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was met in the historic city of Al-Ula by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two
men, wearing face masks, embraced on the tarmac. The meeting came a day after Kuwait, another GCC member, announced a Saudi decision to open its airspace and borders to Qatar. With Egypt also signing a reconciliation agreement with Qatar, a blockade on the peninsular Arab state lasting three and a half years has ended. The harmonising of relations between U.S allies offers a united front in the face of a recent spike in Iranian hostility just days before Presidentelect Joe Biden takes office.
A UNITED FRONT Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism. The tiny, gas- and oil-rich state denied the accusation and rejected the conditions for ending the partial blockade. At the core of the crisis are Qatar’s ties with Iran. Cutting off ties with Iran and with the Islamists as well as shutting down Al Jazeera were among Saudi Arabia’s 13 demands over the blockade.
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad alThani (L) is welcomed by Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (R) ahead of the 41st Summit of Gulf Cooperation Council in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on January 2021 ,05. (Getty)
The lifting of the embargo on Qatar has taken months of patient, painstaking diplomacy, mostly by Kuwait. There efforts appeared to make little progress until late last year, when the Trump administration intensified pressure on all sides for an end to the stand-off that he believes prevented an alliance of Sunni-led states to counter Iran and its proxies, empowering the Islamic Republic. At Tuesday›s summit, leaders of the six GCC member states signed an agreement that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said affirmed «our Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability». «There is a desperate need today to unite our efforts to promote our region and to confront challenges that surround us, especially the threats posed by the Iranian regime›s nuclear and ballistic missile programme and its plans for sabotage and destruction,» he added.
Iran resumed enriching uranium up to 20 percent in the country›s biggest breach yet of its landmark nuclear deal with world powers in an escalation of tensions in the last days of President Donald Trump›s administration, just two days before the GCC summit. influence and that of since-deposed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. “Given that Iran supported Qatar after the blockade and tried to take advantage of the feud among the Arab countries of the region, I think this rapprochement will come as bad news for Iran, which increasingly sees itself isolated and under pressure. Just recently, both the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations with its adversary, Israel. A united GCC will not be to Iran’s benefit,” said Sina Azodi, nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs.
PERFECT TIMING Iran resumed enriching uranium up to 20 percent in the country›s biggest breach yet of its landmark nuclear deal with world powers in an escalation of tensions in the last days of President Donald Trump›s administration, just two days before the GCC summit.
Raising enrichment puts Iran a technical step away from enriching at 90 percent, the level needed to produce a nuclear warhead. Before the announcement, Iran was enriching uranium at While the communique contained no detailed around 4.5 percent, in violation of the nuclear pact confirmation of a deal, analysts say that GCC but at a significantly lower level. unity, especially in coordination with Washington, is a major setback for Iran. After all, the GCC Also Monday, Iran›s Revolutionary Guard seized itself, established in 1981 shortly after Iran’s 1979 a South Korean-flagged ship carrying thousands revolution, was partly founded to counter Iranian of tons of ethanol in the Persian Gulf, according
to the state-linked news agencies IRIB and FARS News. Iran subsequently demanded that Seoul supply 7$ billion in funds limited by the Trump administration›s sanctions but which Iran considers to be held «hostage.» Hostility escalated once again on Tuesday with the announcement that Iran had begun large-scale combat drills, including «the widespread use of suicide drones to destroy vital targets» – a clear message to the U.S. ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden this month. Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, setting off a series of escalating incidents that culminated in the killing of a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq on January. 2020 ,3. Days after Soleimani›s assassination, Iran launched a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and allied troops, with Trump refraining from any further military response. Thousands of people took to the streets in Iraq to protest his death Sunday. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami had vowed the day before to respond to any “action the enemy takes,” on the eve of the first anniversary of his killing. Tensions had been building in the run-up to the anniversary of Soleimani›s killing, with two US B52- bombers recently flying over the region. The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has also been patrolling Gulf waters since late November,
While the communique contained no detailed confirmation of a deal, analysts say that GCC unity, especially in coordination with Washington, is a major setback for Iran.
but US media reported this week that acting US defence secretary Christopher C. Miller had ordered the vessel to return home. The New York Times, quoting US officials, said the move was a «de-escalatory» signal to Tehran to avoid conflict in Trump›s last days in office. Trump oversaw a sharp toughening of US policy, abandoning a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018 and re-imposing crippling unilateral sanctions. The two countries have twice come to the brink of war since June 2019. Trump leaned into Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during his tenure, while his predecessor, Barack Obama, sought
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani marking National Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran in 2018. (AFP)
to normalize relations with Iran and create the nuclear deal. Trump’s exit from the JCPOA was applauded by America’s allies in the Gulf, and was widely seen as a shift in U.S. policy in the region. There is talk that a renegotiated pact could be on the cards, with more pressure on Iran over missile programs and other regional issues. A new agreement has been touted as a “JCPOA+” — that is, like the original deal but with more conditions attached. Saudi Arabia says it should be a part of any potential negotiations between the incoming
U.S. administration and Iran on a new nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud told CNBC in November. Such an agreement could go even further, AlSaud believes, saying that a “JCPOA++” deal could also seek to address Iran’s reported “arming of militias, whether it’s the Houthis in Yemen, or certain groups in Iraq or in Syria, or Lebanon, and even beyond.” “And, of course, its ballistic missile programs and other arms programs, which (it) continues to use to spread havoc around the region,” Al-Saud added.
Unrest Rocks Washington
Capitol Riots Stand as Testimony to the Deep divides Afflicting the US by Joseph Braude
cipient schism within the Republican party.
The typically staid transfer of power in Washington was subjected to a historic disruption by a series of bomb threats, violent protests outside the Capitol, and the storming of the legislative chamber as Congress attempted to ratify Joe Biden’s victory some two months ago. Although the protests were quickly cleared, and the ratification ultimately completed, the event stands as testimony to the deep divides afflicting Washington and highlighted the outlines of an in-
DEMOCRATS DENOUNCE PROTESTERS Shortly after pro-Trump protesters stormed Congress in an attempt to interrupt the ratification of Biden’s victory, Democrats united in denouncing the effort and laying blame squarely on President Trump’s shoulders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement saying, “Today’s shameful assault on our democracy — anointed at the highest level of govern-
The display appears to have instigated the first substantive divides between Congressional Republican leadership and the White House. chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.” He concluded by challenging President Trump to “go on national television now” to “demand an end to this siege,” noting that “At their best the words of a president can inspire, at their worst they can incite.”
REPUBLICANS SHOW INCREASING DISTANCE FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP For their part, the display appears to have instigated the first substantive divides between Congressional Republican leadership and the White House. Senator Lindsey Graham, one of President Trump’s staunchest supporters in the Senate, said: “I could not agree more with President-elect Biden’s statement to the nation. [It is] time to retake the Capitol, end the violence, and stop the madness. Time to move forward in governing our nation. Our differences are real but the love of our nation overwhelms our differences.”
Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including member of the QAnon conspiracy group Jake A, aka Yellowstone Wolf (C), enter the US Capitol on January ,6 2021, in Washington, DC. (Getty)
ment — must not deter us from our responsibility to the Constitution. Tonight, we will move forward with the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election.” In the Senate, soon-to-be Majority Leader Senator Schumer denounced the protesters, saying “This will be a stain on our country, not so easily washed away.” Schumer described the mobilization on the Capitol “the final terrible, indelible legacy of the 45th president of the United States,” asserting that it “did not happen spontaneously” but at the instigation of President Trump. “This temple to democracy was desecrated, it’s windows smashed, our offices vandalized,” Schumer added, claiming the violence would stand as the President’s “everlasting shame.” Moving to meet the moment, President-elect Biden gave an ad hoc television address where he said that “At this hour our democracy is under unprecedented assault unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” calling the protesters on the Capitol steps “an assault on the rule of law like few times we have ever seen it.” Returning to a tried campaign theme of restoring trans-partisan unity, Biden added that “the scenes of
For his part, without denouncing the President by name, Senator McConnell castigated the “sweeping conspiracy theories” which have led many of President Trump’s supporters to believe the election was lost as a result of widespread election fraud. He added: “Congress will either override the voters, overrule them — the voters, the states, and the courts — for the first time ever, or honor the people’s decision. We’ll either guarantee Democrats’ delegitimizing efforts of 2016 become a permanent new routine for both sides, or declare that our nation deserves a lot better than this.” Most scathing of all was Senator Mitt Romney, whose outsized stature in the body has only grown in recent months. In a caustic statement, Romney lay blame for the violence directly at the President’s door, saying: “We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States. Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.”
How U.S. Pandemic Restrictions Became a Constitutional Battlefield After 100 Years, Public Health Controls Are Under Attack by John Fabian Witt, Kiki Manzur In November, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down emergency limits that New York State had placed on religious gatherings because of the COVID19- pandemic.
Such restrictions, the Court ruled, unconstitutionally prohibited New Yorkers from freely exercising their religions. It was the first time in history that the nationâ€™s highest court has intervened to strike down similar regulations during a public health crisis.
The justices in the majority pointed to history to support their ruling. Justice Neil Gorsuch characterized public health measures put in place during previous pandemics as “relatively modest,” while Justice Brett Kavanaugh called current COVID19- regulations “severe.” In a recent speech to the Federalist Society, Justice Samuel Alito explained that states’ emergency restrictions during the COVID19- pandemic were “more severe, extensive, and prolonged” than any that had been previously promulgated. But this story is plainly untrue. A century ago, states and cities took aggressive regulatory action to prevent the spread of the influenza pandemic. They placed limits on public gatherings, mandated masks, and forced businesses and schools to close. Disgruntled parties only rarely questioned the constitutionality of such measures, and judges almost never struck them down. Today, by contrast, judges are striking down state public health rules in states across the country, arguing that they violate federal and state constitutions. Why are emergency public health regulations suddenly facing a raft of constitutional challenges? And why are more judges looking favorably on such challenges than did so during the 19–1918 flu pandemic? The answers to these questions shed light on how U.S.legal institutions have changed over the last 100 years—and how that change affects the United States’ ability to respond to public health crises now and in the future. Kirk A protester sporting a message on her protective mask and holding the U.S. Constitution poster, sends a message to Gov. (Getty)
A LESS LITIGIOUS TIME Between 1918 and 1919, approximately 675,000 Americans died of influenza. To stem the spread of infection, local governments around the country implemented intrusive public health measures: San Francisco banned public meetings, closed public and private schools, and issued mask mandates; Philadelphia shuttered schools, churches, saloons, hotels, club bars, and cafés; and Chicago banned public dancing and public funerals and arrested “persistent sneezers and coughers” who did not cover their faces with handkerchiefs. Many Americans disagreed with such measures. Limits on in-person religious services, for example, frustrated many churchgoers and church leaders. Some mounted protests against the regulations. But such limits created little constitutional controversy, and few attempted to challenge their constitutionality in the courtroom. In Washington, D.C., for instance, ministers and religious leaders showed unified support for a directive to close places of worship, at least initially. Even after they began
With few exceptions, the unprecedented constitutional challenges of this pandemic are part of an effort led by jurists affiliated with the Republican Party seeking to disable age-old and once bipartisan public health powers of state and local governments. to disagree with city leaders, churches continued to comply with the order. In San Francisco, most complied with the mask mandate, and for a time, wearing a mask became a symbol of patriotism. To be sure, there were some legal challenges, but most of them were technical rather than constitutional in nature. For instance, a lower court in California allowed the Christian Science Church in Pasadena an exception to the city’s ban on public gatherings on the grounds that California’s order had never been properly issued. Similar procedural challenges arose in New Jersey, Arizona, Kansas, and elsewhere, though most failed. Constitutional challenges, however, were rare and mostly unsuccessful. The Christian Science Church in Los Angeles attempted to challenge the constitutionality of a Californiastate order to close churches, but the state supreme court denied the petition. Only one case from the flu pandemic era produced a written opinion reported in law books on the constitutionality of influenza constraints. The opinion, issued three years after the start of the pandemic by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, upheld a North Carolinacounty’s ban on traveling shows as “a matter clearly within the police power of the State.”
POWER TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC One hundred years ago, there was little question that state and local governments had the constitutional authority to restrict people’s behavior in the name of public health. This far-reaching constitutional power, recognized again and again by the courts, included the ability to enact regulations designed to stop the spread of disease, even if those regulations incidentally interfered with some individuals’ private rights. In the 1824 landmark case
Gibbons v. Ogden, for instance, Chief Justice John Marshall recognized that states have the power to pass an “immense mass of legislation,” including “inspection laws, quarantine laws, [and] health laws of every description.” Eighty-one years later, the Supreme Court decided what is still the foundational public health case in U.S. law. A pastor named Henning Jacobson—who had suffered a bad experience with vaccines as a child—had refused to comply with a Cambridge, Massachusetts, smallpox vaccination mandate and been fined 5$. Jacobson challenged the law on the grounds that it unconstitutionally interfered with his liberty. But Justice John Marshall Harlan ruled that states had the power to mandate vaccination to protect the safety of the general public. The “rights of the individual,” he wrote, may “be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.”
CHALLENGING THE LIMITS The parallels between the 19–1918 influenza pandemic and the COVID19- pandemic are striking. COVID19has already killed over 300,000 people in the United States—and widespread access to vaccines is still months away. States have taken action, as they did a century ago, to slow the spread of the virus—issuing mask mandates and stay-at-home orders; banning public gatherings; closing schools, businesses, and churches; limiting commercial activity; and restricting travel. Unlike in 1918, however, today people, businesses, and organizations are aggressively challenging the constitutionality of such orders. By one count, Americans have filed more than 400 constitutional challenges to pandemic regulations. Judges have produced dozens of judicial opinions—many of them
Making matters worse, the adjudication of constitutional questions in the United States has also come to reflect more clearly the country’s partisan polarization.
sympathetic to the challengers. Legal efforts to overturn public health measures started early in the pandemic. In April, a Kansas district court allowed churches to temporarily hold in-person worship services, citing the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause. A month later, a divided Supreme Court of Wisconsin struck down the state’s stay-at-home and business-closure orders, concluding that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services had exceeded its statutory authority. The court also pointed to underlying constitutional concerns: “This comprehensive claim to control virtually every aspect of a person’s life is something we normally associate with a prison, not a free society governed by the rule of law,” WisconsinChief Justice Patience Roggensack wrote. Successful challenges continued as the pandemic raged on in the fall. In September, a federal district judge in Pennsylvania held that gathering limits, stay-at-home orders, and business closures violated the assembly, due process, and equal protection rights guaranteed by the First and 14th Amendments. And in Michigan, four judges in the state supreme court struck down the state’s
Protestors demonstrate against new safer-athome orders during the End the Lockdown Now rally at the Colorado Capital in Denver, Colorado on April ,26 2020. (Getty)
measures instituted a century ago. There are better explanations for today’s newfound pandemic litigiousness. Modern medicine’s triumphs over disease have allowed Americans to lose sight of lessons their forebears once understood well: people are vulnerable to infection, and often the only solutions to such vulnerability are collective. As the Massachusetts Sanitary Commissionput it in 1850, “No family, no person liveth to himself alone.” One person’s conduct affects other people’s infection risk, and vice versa. Fifty years of relative safety from infectious disease have given rise to a libertarian hubris that now expresses itself in judicial decisions. Making matters worse, the adjudication of constitutional questions in the United States has also come to reflect more clearly the country’s partisan polarization. Courts have often been political. But as studies have shown, courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court, have rarely been as partisan as they are today. During the COVID19- pandemic, time and time again, Republican-appointed or Republicanelected judges have challenged measures enacted by Democrats in local or state governments.
Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which had been in place since 1945, on the grounds that it violated the Michigan constitution. Many of the challenges to local public health regulations have come from religious leaders and religious institutions. Plaintiffs have contested local measures and sought judicial relief on religious grounds in states across the country: in California, New York, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Colorado, and elsewhere. Unlike in 1918 and 1919, over the past year courts have ruled in favor of such challenges. The U.S. Supreme Courtjoined the fray on the night before Thanksgiving, issuing its injunction in the New York case on rules for religious gatherings.
A PARTISAN AGE The sudden spike in constitutional challenges to pandemic restrictions—and the courts’ sudden willingness to hear them—cannot be explained by the restrictions themselves. As noted above, the measures put in place by state and local governments to contain COVID19- are virtually indistinguishable from the
In the Kansas case, a federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump overturned an emergency directive issued by the defendant, Governor Laura Kelly, who is a Democrat. In the Wisconsin case, the four judges who struck down the state’s stay-at-home and businessclosure orders are closely connected to the Republican Party; Andrea Palm, the secretary-designee who issued the orders, is a Democrat. In Pennsylvania, the governor, Tom Wolf, is a Democrat while the federal judge who overturned his public health order was appointed by Trump. Three of the five justices who voted to prevent New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, from enforcing occupancy limits in houses of worship were appointed by Trump, while the other two justices were appointed by previous Republican presidents. And on and on it goes. With few exceptions, the unprecedented constitutional challenges of this pandemic are part of an effort led by jurists affiliated with the Republican Party seeking to disable age-old and once bipartisan public health powers of state and local governments. The new cases dream up a tradition of rugged American individualism in the face of epidemics. But Justice Harlan’s opinion continues to offer the definitive rejoinder to this fantasy: “Real liberty for all,” he observed, does not exist if people act “regardless of the injury that may be done to others.” A century on, his words still ring true.
Biden Must Prioritize Missile Defense
The New President Will be Pressed to Choose Between Short- and LongTerm Improvements. The Rise in Threats Mean he Must Pursue Both by Rebeccah L. Heinrichs Missile threats from rogue nations have increased over the last few years, and the new administration
will inherit plans for bolstering homeland defense. President-elect Biden might be tempted to deemphasize this area in favor of other priorities, as President Obamadid when he entered office. That
would be a mistake. The outgoing administration had high ambitions for missile defense, some of which President Trump outlined as he rolled out the 2019 Missile Defense Review. And the administration oversaw two major missile defense tests that proved increased capability: the first GroundBased Interceptor salvo intercept of a complex ICBM target and the unprecedented SM-3 Block IIA intercept of an ICBM target. But the most forward-leaning parts of Trump’s speech remain aspirational, and other Pentagon leaders scrapped systems and initiatives prescribed by the Review, citing technical hurdles. These decisions derailed major plans, including Trump’s request to quickly add 20 GBIs to Fort Greely, Alaska, to protect Americans at home from North Korean missiles. As he leaves office, the completed silos remain empty.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fire a Shahab-2 long-range ballistic missile during the first phase of military manoeuvres in the central desert outside the holy city of Qom, 02 November 2006. /Getty
The new plan to develop a Next Generation Interceptor promises necessary improvements in the ability to intercept much more complex missile threats, but the first one is expected no earlier than 2028. Like all new major weapons, it must have bi-partisan, cross-administration support to see it through to completion. In the interim, the Pentagon laid out a plan in February to add “layers” to the homeland defense architecture, using the THAAD and Aegis SM-3 Block IIA systems. But Congress is unsatisfied with the Pentagon’s plans. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act — recently passed with veto-proof margins — requires the Pentagon to provide information such as “the number of locations required for deployment and the production numbers of such systems and interceptors.” These are fair questions. Pressing them will likely lead to sticker shock. It will also reveal political challenges as states vie to host the many sites. It makes sense to pursue a course that might be only partially satisfying. Rather than insisting on an ideal solution that requires these systems, originally designed for regional engage-
On Sept. 21, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Iran, including upon the Shahid Haj Ali Movahed Research Centre, which it said “has played a key role in Iranian-North Korean missile co-operation.” ments, to add layers that include full coverage of the U.S. homeland, they should be considered for a “surge” capability. For example, the Aegis SM-3IIA option could initially remain sea-based, rather than deploy it ashore. An interim plan could also include restarting the production line for GBIs as well as the Capability EnhancementII kill vehicle line to fill the empty silos and offer a third, possibly mobile GBI site. These solutions are not home runs; more like doubles. But they do offer the possibility of bolstering homeland defense more quickly, providing an increased capacity, and with the addition of interceptor locations, a shoot-look-shoot opportunity. The danger is that because the plans are in flux, the Biden team might be tempted to scrap the plans to improve homeland defense altogether. When President Obama entered the White House, he made steep cuts to missile defense and discarded Bush’s plan to add 14 GBIs to Fort Greely. Then in 2013, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that in response to the threat from North Korea, the United States would indeed deploy those 14 GBIs. It was welcome news, but those missiles should have already been ready to go. Defense Undersecretary Jim Miller added that the Pentagon was beginning to look at GBI sites: “These studies will allow us to shorten the timeline to build a new missile field on the East Coast or to add interceptors in Alaska, should either approach become necessary due to further future
increases in the threat from Iran and North Korea.” Both countries have since added more and better missiles. Although Trump’s outreach toward North Korea’s leader did cool the heated rhetoric and North Korea paused its long-range missile tests, there is no reason to believe it stopped producing missiles or improving its nuclear capabilities. Discussions about dismantling North Korea’s nuclear missile program stalled shortly after the second summit, and the North Korean military ceased communication with the U.S. military. Amid the silence, Pyongyang occasionally fired short-range missiles towards Japan in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. As Trump leaves the White House, sanctions remain in place but not a single component of North Korea’s nuclear missile program has been dismantled. Meanwhile, Iran has been providing a primer in the coercive potential of missiles. Once again, the regime is threatening to launch attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. Recall that in early January, Iran retaliated for the U.S. killing
Iran’s willingness to take greater risks against the United States, though in the regional context, should be kept in mind when assessing Tehran’s determination to make gains in its intercontinental ballistic missile program.
of the Quds Force commander by launching 16 ballistic missiles at the al-Asad and Irbil air bases. Mercifully, no U.S. or coalition forces were hit or killed. But many did suffer concussions. Iran’s willingness to take greater risks against the United States, though in the regional context, should be kept in mind when assessing Tehran’s determination to make gains in its intercontinental ballistic missile program. This spring, the IRGC launched a satellite into orbit. Uzi Rubin, the founder and first director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, wrote that “the space program is not an appendix of the missile program, but a crucial building block
In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, U.S. Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) firing a missile into the East Sea during a South KoreaU.S. joint missile drill aimed to counter North Korea’s ICBM test on July 29, 2017 in East Coast, South Korea. )(Getty
of its own in establishing a global range nuclear missile force as befits a global power.” We compartmentalize the various aspects of Iran’s efforts to achieve hegemony, as focusing narrowly on the nuclear component to the exclusion of its space and missile programs does, at our peril.
co-operation on a long-range missile project, including the transfer of critical parts.” Elliott Abrams, the U.S. envoy for Iran, confirmed the concern about the missile cooperation. On Sept. 21, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Iran, including upon the Shahid Haj Ali Movahed Research Centre, which it said “has played a key role in Iranian-North Korean missile co-operation.”
Just last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tehran is working to build a missile to reach the United States: “It’s developing ICBMs which it wants to tip with the nuclear The Biden administration will inherit the Trump payload, because you don’t use ICBMs for any- administration’s dilemma: the need to quickly thing else, to reach America, any American city.” improve homeland missile defense while also committing to programs like the Next GeneraIn September, an anonymous U.S. official told re- tion Interceptor to ward off increasingly complex porters that “Iran and North Koreahave resumed missile attacks. The way out is clear, if politi-
COVID - 19 Could Undo Decades of Women’s Progress How to Counter the Pandemic’s Gender-Regressive Shock by Jamille Bigio, Kweilin Ellingrud, Mekala Krishnan, Anu Madgavkar, Rachel Vogelstein
the world to take drastic action—both to protect public health and to mitigate the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic on national economies and Over the past nine months, the global spread of COV- citizens’ finances. Bold new fiscal packages and corID-19 has forced governments and businesses around porate policies, many of which would have seemed
unthinkable before the crisis, have been enacted with remarkable speed. While these initiatives have helped to stabilize the global economy during a oncein-a-lifetime emergency, far too many of them have failed to sufficiently consider the half of the world’s population that is arguably more critical to a full economic recovery: women. Though men are more likely to become severely ill or to die from the novel coronavirus, the economic effects of COVID-19 have hit women harder. Worldwide, the pandemic has devastated female-dominated fields, while increasing the unpaid caregiving responsibilities that women disproportionately shoulder. If policymakers and corporate leaders do not make women’s economic participation central to their post-pandemic recovery planning, even the modest economic gains that women have made in recent decades will be lost—and the world’s economic prospects will significantly weaken as a result.
A SETBACK FOR GENDER EQUALITY
A pregnant woman wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure walks past a street mural in Hong Kong, on March 23, 2020. (Getty)
In many countries, women are more likely to work in sectors—including hospitality, education, food service, and retail—that have proved especially vulnerable during the crisis. In the developing world, women typically work in the informal economy—as domestic workers or market vendors, for example—and thus have little protection against sudden unemployment. Though women make up just 39 percent of the global labor force, an analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute in July found that they accounted for 54 percent of pandemic-related job losses. Since March, when lockdowns forced schools and daycare centers in many countries to close, the lion’s share of the unexpected homeschooling and childcare has fallen to women. Whether or not they are employed, and in economies of every size, women’s unpaid care obligations have multiplied. In May, the global consulting firm Dalberg estimated that COVID-19 had increased the time women in India spend on family responsibilities by 30 percent. The following month, a report by Oxfam and Promundo found that women in the United States were spending ten to 15 hours more per week on caregiving responsibilities than they had before the pandemic. Unequal access to financial and digital services has
Worldwide, the pandemic has devastated female-dominated fields, while increasing the unpaid caregiving responsibilities that women disproportionately shoulder. further increased women’s vulnerability during the crisis. Globally, women have 77 percent of the access to financial services that men do and as a result are less likely than men to benefit from stimulus support from their governments. A November 2019 analysis by the International Telecommunication Union found that, globally, women are 17 percent less likely than men to have access to the Internet—a gap that has grown more burdensome during the pandemic, now that many businesses, essential services, and children’s classes have gone online. These inequities not only affect the daily lives of women worldwide but also undermine prospects for a global economic recovery. If the gendered effects of the pandemic remain unaddressed, McKinsey found, global GDP could be $1 trillion lower by 2030 than it would have been if the impact of COVID-19 were gender-neutral. Conversely, taking immediate action to counter COVID-19’s gender-regressive effects would result in $13 trillion in global GDP gains by 2030. These figures almost certainly underestimate the impact that COVID-19’s gender-regressive effects will have on the global economy. Since McKinsey’s report was released in July, the gendered costs of the pandemic have increased in many countries. In the United States, 80 percent of the 1.1 million people who dropped out of the labor force in September were women. In October, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy reported that women in India were withdrawing from the workforce at a rate 2.5 times as fast as that of men. Even in wealthy European countries—where, thanks to targeted government stimulus spending and strong
employment protections, women were less likely to outright lose their jobs than they were elsewhere in the world—female workers saw their wages decline faster than those of their male counterparts. A December analysis by the International Labor Organization found that in Germany, women’s wages had declined by 8.6 percent, nearly double the drop of men. A recent report by UN Women found that as a direct result of pandemic-related unemployment and lost earnings, women’s poverty rates have increased by 9.1 percent worldwide, and the poverty gap between men and women is widening after years of steady decline.
CLOSING THE GAP As the United States and other countries rebuild after the pandemic, they can chart a new course that is both fairer for women and better for the global economy as a whole. To do so, policymakers must invest in the care economy and close gender gaps in digital and financial services. COVID-19 has made it clear that childcare is not a “women’s issue”—it is a core element of the economy. While some countries spend a significant percentage of GDP on childcare—1.1 percent in Sweden and 0.7 percent in Norway, for instance—most countries do not. The share is only 0.01 percent in Mexico and 0.05 percent in the United States. Governments can address this gap. They can adopt tax policies that encourage spouses to work—for ex- better-compensated childcare industry, thereby stimuample, tax deductions to help defray childcare costs. lating the economy by helping more women to go back They can help finance a more professionalized and to work and creating more jobs in childcare. They can also encourage employers to strengthen familyfriendly policies, including flexible and part-time programs, in order to support workers experiencing an increased childcare burden during the pandemic and beyond. Such reforms would reflect the societal and economic value of caregiving and generate trillions in global GDP growth.
Recovering from the worst economic disruption since World War II will require drawing on the economic potential of 100 percent of the population.
Though the gendered effects of the COVID-19 crisis are being felt in advanced and developing economies alike, they have not been distributed evenly across countries. In Australia, Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom, for example, the employment gap
Waiting for a cash subsidy outside Manila, Philippines, August 2020. (Reuters)
between men and women has actually narrowed over the course of the pandemic. What set these countries apart was the fact that their governments took bold action, early in the pandemic, creating childcare programs to support working parents through school and daycare closures.
that inhibit women’s access to mobile phones and focus on women-owned enterprises in stimulusspending programs.
Women’s economic participation is not simply a matter of fairness—it is an economic imperative that governments and businesses need to elevate to improve To close gender gaps in digital and financial ser- growth and standards of living around the world. Revices, there are a number of actions that govern- covering from the worst economic disruption since ments can take. They can invest in digital infra- World War II will require drawing on the economic structure, particularly in emerging economies. potential of 100 percent of the population. Doing so India’s government, for example, delivered emer- will also ensure that we can create maximum growth gency payments directly to 200 million women in the post-pandemic world. on the back of its earlier large-scale investments in digital identification and financial inclusion. This article was originally published on ForeignAfGovernments can also address gender stereotypes fairs.com.
Death Penalty for Rape: An Ineffective Lethal Lottery in South Asia Instead of Instituting Capital Punishment, Governments Need to Address the Social and Legal Problems Underpinning the Regionâ€™s Epidemic of Sexual Violence 28
Many studies have found no conclusive evidence that the threat of capital punishment curbs crimes, leading activists to question if it is worth the excessive costs, risks of error and the uncertainty of completion. capital punishment curbs crimes, leading activists to question if it is worth the excessive costs, risks of error, the uncertainty of completion, and other problems inherent to the death penalty. In some instances, the death penalty even deters convictions and reporting. Conviction rates for sexual violence already remain abysmally low in most South Asian countries. Among Bangladeshi men who admitted to committing rape, 88 percent of rural respondents and 95 percent of urban respondents said they faced no legal consequences, according to one United Nations survey.
Demonstrators during a protest at Vijay Chowk, following a brutal gang rape of 23 year Para medical student in a moving bus on December 22, 2012 in New Delhi, India. (Getty)
by Bansari Kamdar Despite the severe punishments meted out in many South Asian countries, sexual violence is endemic in the region. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan all have capital punishment for some forms of rape, such as raping a minor or gang rape. The last few months have seen widespread protests against rape in India, the Maldives, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. In October 2020, the Bangladesh government approved measures to allow the death penalty for rape convictions, after weeks of protests. Lawmakers in Nepal are contemplating the same after renewed public calls for “Hanging the Rapist.” However, the death penalty may not be effective in deterring sexual violence. Many studies have found no conclusive evidence that the threat of
Earlier this year, IndiaSpend found that there was a 53 percent rise in death penalty sentences in India, from 121 in 2017 to 186 in 2018. A large portion of these sentences were for murder involving sexual offenses – nearly 53 percent in 2019. Nevertheless, overall conviction rates for rape crimes have been on a steady decline since 2007 and reached a historic low of 18.9 percent in 2016, down from 27 percent in 2006, according to one study. This is despite a rise in the reporting and registering of rape cases over the same period. Who is to stop the arbitrary and misogynistic use of this law? Can we really expect judicial courts that push victims of sexual violence to marry their perpetrators or tie them rakhis (a thread symbolizing a brother-sister relationship) for bail to act in the victims’ best interests? In Pakistan and Bangladesh, accused have walked free due to “insufficient evidence” or because the police were hesitant to even register cases of gang rape, given that it would mean the death penalty for a group of men, reports the BBC.
The underreporting of rape cases is ubiquitous in the region, largely owing to the dual social stigma of “shame” and “dishonor” associated with rape victims across the subcontinent. In some cases, family members go so far as murdering the survivor to alleviate the ‘‘shame’’ associated with rape. Capital punishment could reduce reporting of sexual violence even further due to the “added burden” on the victim of knowingly sending someone to their death, especially because in the majority of cases the accused is often known to the victim. In 94.6 percent of rape cases registered in India, the rapist was known to the survivor, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. In South Asian societies where family honor is paramount, families may pressure survivors to not report violence perpetrated against them. Capital punishment could also prove lethal for the survivors. Fear of a death sentence may lead perpetrators to kill the victims or leave them unable to recognize the perpetrator, destroying all evidence of their crime. Awarding death penalty to rapists reinforces many of these patriarchal notions of sexual purity, “honor,” and the idea that rape is a fate worse than death. Victim-blaming is widespread across the subcontinent. Just recently, Lahore’s senior most police officer was quick to blame the rape victim, a mother who was gang raped on the motorway in front of her two children after her car broke down, for not taking a busier road and being out at night. Lastly, criminal systems often reflect a society’s biases. There is considerable evidence that such laws may disproportionately target the weaker sections of society while providing impunity for the rich and politically connected.
Simply put – and echoing countless feminists before me – the certainty of punishment is a much better deterrent to rape than the severity of punishment
As seen in countries like the United States, men from minority communities make up a disproportionate number of death row inmates. In India, one study found that three out of every four death row prisoners are from religious minorities or lower castes and nearly 75 percent were considered economically vulnerable populations based on their occupations and landholding. This impunity of the ruling class and caste privilege was in full display in India a few weeks ago when a political leader and former member of the state legislative assembly from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded justice for the upper-caste men accused of gang rape and murder of a Dalit woman
Demonstrators during a protest at Vijay Chowk, following a brutal gang rape of 23 year Para medical student in a moving bus on December 2012 ,22 in New Delhi, India. (Getty)
in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath also painted the horrific incident as an “international conspiracy,” and other political leaders from Hindu nationalist gropus including Bajrang Dal, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and Karni Sena, as well as the BJP, organized a rally in support of perpetrators accused of the brutal gang rape. Meanwhile, the victim’s family was surrounded by police for days and the victim’s body burnt in the middle of the night by the police without her family’s consent. After the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s leading investigative agency, took over
the case, it found the four upper-caste men guilty of gang rape and murder. The death penalty is merely short-term vengeance masquerading as justice. It diverts attention away from the failure of society and institutions that allows the epidemic of rape to persist in the region. It distracts from the low reporting of sexual violence, low conviction rates, impunity of sexual perpetrators, and misogyny of regional judicial systems. Simply put – and echoing countless feminists before me – the certainty of punishment is a much better deterrent to rape than the severity of punishment.
When Will Life Return to Normal ?
Welcome to 2021, aka Purgatory by Graham Lawton, Michael Le Page, Donna Lu, Clare Wilson and Adam Vaughan IF 2020 felt hellish, be warned that we aren›t out of the fire yet, even if we are moving in the right direction. Welcome to 2021, aka purgatory. There is little doubt that vaccines hold the key to ending the pandemic. A recent modelling study predicted that vaccinating just 40 per cent of US adults over the course of 2021 would reduce the coronavirus infection rate by around 75 per cent and cuthospitalisations and deaths from covid19- by more than 80 per cent. But all this is still some way off. In the meantime, we will have to adapt to a middle ground where some people are protected but not others. As Adam Kleczkowski, a mathematical biologist at the University of Strathclyde, UK, points out, supplies of the various vaccines are limited, distributing them is challenging, immunity takes a few weeks to develop and the protection they offer isn›t 100 per cent. In the northern hemisphere, he says, the most likely scenario is a third wave of covid19- in the new year, requiring further lockdowns and restrictions for up to five months. «Realistically, we›re in for a longer ride than we hope for,» he says.
Tim Spector at King›s College London, who leads the Covid19- Symptom Study inthe UK, also predicts a third wave. But if lots of healthcare workers and vulnerable people have been vaccinated, the mortality rate will be lower and the pressure on the healthcare system lessened, he said at a recent Royal Society of Medicine seminar. The upsides of ever-widening vaccination will kick in around April, he said: «I›m optimistic that if we can just get our mental state together until Easter, we can hang on in there.» There are still many things we don›t understand about this virus, however (see»Unanswered questions», page 10), andwe may well be in for some surprises in the coming year that throw that trajectory off course. As this magazine went to press, for example, there was widespread speculation about the impact of a new variant of the SARS-CoV2- coronavirus circulating in the UK that may be more highly transmissible. In Australia, the goal will be to keep the virus from resurging as the summer fades into autumn, says epidemiologist Catherine Bennett at Deakin University in Melbourne. A recent outbreak in Sydney has led to newrestrictions. Nobody says purgatory is fun, but it does end. In the meantime, these are some of the big issues we face in the months ahead.
People enjoy the sun while social distancing in Melbourne, Australia, in October 2020 after restrictions eased. (Getty)
Now we have covid19- vaccines that seem towork, the conversation has turned to whowill get a vaccine, and when. A huge challenge will be ensuring that poorer countries can access doses. In 67 low and lower-middle income countries, nine out of 10 people are set to miss out on a vaccine this year, according toan analysis from the People›s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition spearheaded by Oxfam. High-income countries have already snapped up more than half of the total of around 8 billion doses of vaccines that have been allotted to date. If these were evenly distributed, it would be enough to immunise more than half the world›s population, given that most of the vaccines in development require two doses. The UK has pre-ordered 357 million doses of vaccines from seven developers, all at various stages of development. If they were all green-lit, and all needed two doses, this would be more than enough to immunise its residents twice. It also has options to buy 152 million more doses. The European Union has secured 1.3billion doses, while Canada has bought enough doses to vaccinate five times its population. COVAX, a vaccine allocation coalition co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), is aiming to distribute 2 billion doses to 92 low and middle-income countries by the end of 2021 at a maximum price of 3$ per dose. This is enough to vaccinate all health and social care workers by the middle of 2021 in participating countries that have asked for doses in that time frame, and would cover 20 per cent of people in the other countries – those most vulnerable. To achieve this, COVAX still needs a further 6.8$ billion by the end of 2021. It has no supplies of the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech that is already being rolled out in some countries, including the UK and US. The US has ordered enough doses of the vaccines created by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna to immunise 150 million people – less than half the population – by the end ofJune. It recently asked Pfizer for doses to immunise an additional 50 million people, but the firm has already promised all of the doses it can feasibly produce by mid2021- toother countries. Even in wealthy countries with adequate doses of covid19vaccines, immunising the entire population will take time. In the UK, it will take nearly a year, according to Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome and amember of the UK government›s SAGE advisory committee. «1000 vaccination centres each vaccinating 500 people a day for 5 days a week, without interruptions of supply or delivery, would take almost a year to provide two doses to the UK population,» he wrote in the journal Anaesthesia. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses bought by the UK are produced in Belgium and a no-deal Brexit could result in import delays at Channel crossings. The UK government has a contingency plan to airlift vaccines into the country if necessary.
In the northern hemisphere, he says, the most likely scenario is a third wave of covid19- in the new year, requiring further lockdowns and restrictions for up to five months. Canada has bought enough coronavirus vaccine doses to vaccinate its population five times over
RESTRICTIONS AND MEASURES Places that have effectively eliminated the virus, such as New Zealand and some parts of Australia, have already been able to end almost all restrictions within their borders for long periods of time. They may decide toaim for herd immunity before relaxing all coronavirus-related border controls. «Wewon›t be out of this until we have a nation which has had a full vaccination programme,» Australian health minister Greg Hunt said in November 2020. Protecting an entire population – achieving herd immunity – might require vaccinating anywhere from 60 to 100 per cent of people depending on how effective the vaccines are at preventing severe disease and transmission. In countries thatfailed to contain the virus, the aim is tovaccinate the most vulnerable before easing restrictions. In the UK, this means vaccinating the 20 million people who are aged over 50, are at risk for other health reasons or work in healthcare or care homes. The hope isthis could be done by spring. In practice, many countries may decide toease restrictions as soon as the number of people dying or in hospital with severe covid19- begins to fall, even if case numbers remain high. This could start to happen once a significant proportion of older and vulnerable people have been vaccinated. In the meantime, lockdowns are likely to continue to be part of life. And measures with minimal economic impact could continue well into 2021. Lynne Williams, apsychologist at the University of Strathclyde, says that vaccination should bethought of as just one of many layers of defence that we will need to use for at least the next six months. The others include handwashing, mask wearing and social distancing. This is becoming known as the Swiss cheese model of pandemic defence: each layer has holes, but stack them up andit is much harder for a virus tosneak through.
HOW LONG IMMUNITY LASTS As vaccine trials only began a few months ago and this
coronavirus is new to humankind, we don›t know how long immunity lasts, whether from infection or from a vaccine. But it is a good sign that the number of people who have been infected twice seems to be small so far. «Immunity works most of the time,» says Tim Cook at the University of Bristol, UK. Studies of people infected with the virus suggest that while antibodies produced in response wane relatively quickly, measures of longer lasting immunity, such as levels ofmemory B-cells and T-cells, do persist for more than six months. The initial protection from vaccination is likely to taper off over time, says Al Edwards at the University of Reading, UK. «The trouble is, we need to know how long that curve is,» he says. As larger numbers of people are vaccinated, it is also possible thatthe virus will evolve and regular vaccinations will be required, like with seasonal flu.
IMMUNITY PASSPORTS The question of immunity is intricately tiedto the idea of vaccination certificates. Organisers of entertainment events, forinstance, might enforce proof of vaccination to make sure the virus isn›t spreading through the crowd. Airlines could do the same to try to prevent spread into countries that have infection under control. Indeed, the CEO of Australian airline Qantas, Alan Joyce, has said he envisages this becoming necessary for all passengers on the airline›s long haul flights. The main problem with the idea is that we don›t yet know how long a vaccine confers immunity for, nor whether it stops people from incubating the virus and passing it on. Assuming that answers begin to emerge, it could be helpful for people to have certificates showing they have been vaccinated and when, as well as which product they received, as different vaccines may give different lengths of protection. This wouldn›t be unprecedented. Some countries require visitors to show evidence of vaccination against yellow fever on entry. And some hospitals require healthcare workers to have been vaccinated against hepatitis B, a blood-borne virus
The upsides of ever-widening vaccination will kick in around April, he said: «I›m optimistic that if we can just get our mental state together until Easter, we can hang on in there.»
that causes liver disease. Vaccines against those viruses aren›t in short supply, however. So until everyone who wants a coronavirus vaccine has had one – which could take many years– placing restrictions on people who lack such a certificate would be impractical. «I don›t think [vaccination certificates] are as much of a new concept as they mightappear,» says Edwards. «But depending on what you want to do, it›sgreyer than it seems.» MANDATORY VACCINATION Many of us are eager to get vaccinated against covid19-. But what if you aren›t? Will governments force you to do so? «I think all of us who work in public health would rather avoid that as a means ofgetting people vaccinated,» Michael Ryan of the WHO said at a briefing last month. Policies worldwide are already diverging. For instance, President-elect Joe Biden has said people in the US won›t be forced to have the vaccine. The UK has no plans to make itmandatory but hasn›t ruled it out, while the state of São Paulo in Brazil has said coronavirus vaccination will be required bylaw. Australia already withholds some benefits from parents whose children don›t receive vaccines for other illnesses. Even where vaccination isn›t required bygovernments, people might still end upfeeling obliged to get vaccinated. For example, in some countries, workplaces, schools, sports arenas or entertainment venues might demand proof of vaccination. Care homes, in particular, might insist that workers and visitors have had a shot, as even if all residents have been
established. In the US, just half of adults say they will get vaccinated. Another quarter are unsure and the remaining quarter say they won›t take it, according to a recent survey. Patrick Vallance, the UK›s chief scientific adviser, says hesitancy falls into several groups. «The vast majority of people want to get vaccination. There›s then a group witha legitimate set of questions: how do I know it›s safe, is it right for me? Many of the people labelled as vaccine hesitant actually just have a series of questions that need to be addressed,» he says. «Then there›s a third group, of anti-vaxxers, and you›re never going to persuade them come what may, but they are a very, very small group.»
RETURN TO NORMALITY
vaccinated there is still a risk a few of them could get covid19because the vaccines are not 100per cent effective. Could health insurers refuse to pay for treatment if people who refuse vaccination develop covid19-? Lawrence Gostin at Georgetown University in Washington DC doesn›t think so. «The fact that an individual refused a vaccine does not affect the legal obligations of the health insurer to pay covid-related treatment bills,» he says. «I also think this is the ethically right decision.» In some countries, workplaces, schools, sports arenas or entertainment venues might demand proof of vaccination
VACCINE HESITANCY About a quarter of the UK population is hesitant about getting a covid19- vaccine. A recent paper by Daniel Freeman at the University of Oxford and his colleagues shows that hesitancy covers a wide range ofviews. In a poll of 5000 UK adults, 6.1 per cent said they definitely wouldn›t take a covid19- vaccine, 5.7 per cent that they probably wouldn›t, 12.7 per cent may or may not take it and 1.6 per cent don›t know. «What I find concerning is there›s a substantial minority of people where there seems to be a divide with mainstream medical scientific opinion,» says Freeman. For example, 1 in 5 people think safety and efficacy data has been made up. The two drivers for hesitancy seem be the misplaced ideas that covid19- is no worse than the flu, and that vaccine safety isn›t
After the first results showing the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine to be effective, John Bell at the University of Oxford predicted «with some confidence» that life in the UK would return to normal by the spring. His view is a very optimistic one. Most think something resembling normality, with widespread social mixing in public places, homes and workplaces, will come later. Depending on vaccine supply, that will come later still in other parts of the world. Even these forecasts may yet change. As Farrar tweeted on 19 December in response to the news of the new SARS-CoV2variant in the UK: «Since Jan 2020 much of this pandemic has been very predictable... We may be entering a less predictable phase.»
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS Back in March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a document setting out the known unknowns about the SARS-CoV2- coronavirus and covid19-, which alsoserved as a global road map for research. A spokesperson for the WHO told New Scientist that while good progress has been made sofar, «urgent questions remain». These include: ** The origin of the virus, and exactly how it spreads ** The strength and duration of naturally acquired immunity ** How best to treat people, and the development of highly effective treatments ** How to win public acceptance for restrictive control measures ** Development of low-cost, high-volume, rapid diagnostics for infection and immunity ** Making absolutely certain the vaccines really are as effective in the real world as they have been in trials New questions have also arisen since March, especially around the long-term effects of the virus, and the evolution of new strains. Scientists will urgently seek to answer all these in 2021.
Children Under Lockdown
COVID19- Prevention Measures Pose a Serious Threat To Young People
By Majalla-London The impact of COVID-19 on the lives of people around the world, particularly children and adolescents, is unprecedented. Throughout the world, the principal method of prevention from COVID- 19 infection has been isolation and social distancing strategies and one of the main measures taken during lockdown has been closure of schools, educational institutes and activity areas. This has caused a disproportionate and damaging effect on the lives, mental health and wellâ€?being of young people globally.
During the lockdown, children and adolescents experience physical isolation from their classmates, teachers, friends and other important adults such as their grandparents. This might not only cause feelings of loneliness, but could potentially lead to dangerous situations for children from unsafe domestic situations, due to a lack of escape possibilities. In addition, children and adolescents may experience mental health problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic itself, such as increased anxiety, as they might fear for themselves or their loved ones getting infected or they might worry about the future of the world.
Loneliness is as damaging as obesity and smoking in terms of long term health effects and is a significant risk factor for suicidal behaviour their reading performance over the holidays, while poorer families tend to suffer greater losses, since their resources are limited over that period. Home schooling is actively promoted by governments. However, it requires a good computer and steady internet connection to be able to access the school’s resources, and a quiet room to study. It is equally important that the parents themselves are sufficiently educated and time rich, to be able to help with the lessons. A recent study from the UK found that children from richer families are spending about 30% more time on home learning than those from poorer families. Children of first-generation immigrants may be disproportionately disaffected, since they probably have fewer opportunities to learn and practice their second language outside of the home. “Access to distance learning through digital technologies is highly unequal (…) especially for marginalised communities.” says Richard Armitage, in the division of public health and epidemiology at the University of Nottingham. (The Week) Research at the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London, UK, shows that poorer families are more reluctant to allow their children back to education, “We know from the evidence that’s coming out, on who’s been most affected healthwise by the coronavirus, that individuals from poorer backgrounds are more likely to have been exposed,” says Alison Andrew. “And this might be increasing concern among individuals in poorer households.’’ (IFS)
A kid plays at their home amid covid19lockdown at Jabalia camp, northern Gaza (Getty)
LIVING WITH LONELINESS
THE WIDENING GAP The nature and extent of impact on this age group depends on many factors such as the developmental age, current educational status, having special needs, pre-existing mental health condition and being economically under-privileged. The latter leading some experts to fear that this will widen the gap in educational achievement between richer and poorer families. It is now established that the loss in learning during the US summer vacations varies on the child’s background. According to studies, richer children improve
Almost 25% of children living under COVID-19 lockdowns, social restrictions and school closures are dealing with feelings of anxiety, with many at risk of permanent psychological distress, including depression. In surveys by Save the Children of over 6000 children and parents in the US, Germany, Finland, Spain and the UK, up to 65 per cent of the children struggled with boredom and feelings of isolation. From the start of the lockdown, researchers working in
self harm, mental health and suicide were worried about the effects of social isolation. Loneliness is as damaging as obesity and smoking in terms of long term health effects and is a significant risk factor for suicidal behaviour. Research from the University of Oxford shows that young people have been feeling lonely in lockdown, and lonelier than their parents. An important new study from Cambridge indicates that ‘increases in stress across the
Almost %25 of children living under COVID19- lockdowns, social restrictions and school closures are dealing with feelings of anxiety, with many at risk of permanent psychological distress, including depression.
entire population due to the coronavirus lockdown could cause far more young people to be at risk of suicide than can be detected through evidence of psychiatric disorders’. Suicide is the leading cause of death in England in 5–19 year olds and it is worth remembering that more young people will die from suicide and road traffic accidents than COVID‐19 this year. Such obvious facts have been curiously missing in policy making throughout this crisis, which has angered many academics who understand and work with risk.
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL Evidence increasingly shows that the lockdown has had a profound influence on the wellbeing and mental health of many of youngsters compared to adults and this impact will be long term, lasting for many years. University of Bath research indicates that loneliness is linked to mental health problems up to nine years later. As leading developmental psychologist and neuroscientist Professor Uta Frith put it recently, “Education changes the way we perceive the world and behave in relation to others and this affects our brain directly.” (reachwell.org) The consequences for child development in the years to come could be vast, with impacts likely on self control, social
One online security company has claimed that cyber bullying incidents increased by 70% between March and April this year (Getty)
Year 2 public school student, completing her daily home work during home schooling in Sydney, Australia (Getty)
competence and logical deduction. Selected studies published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry prove that lonely children and young people might be as much as three times more likely to develop depression in the future, and that the impact of loneliness on mental health outcomes like depressive symptoms could last for years. There was also evidence that the duration of loneliness may play a more important role, than the intensity of loneliness, in increasing the risk of future depression among young people. For many young people, loneliness will decrease as they re-establish social contacts and connections as lockdown eases. For some a sense of loneliness may persist as they struggle to resume social life, particularly for those who were more vulnerable to being socially isolated before lockdown.
FIGHTING BACK Aside from doing what we can to mitigate the effects of loneliness and re-establish social connections, we also need to prepare for an increase in mental health problems, in part due to loneliness, and also due to the other consequences
of lockdown, such as a lack of structure, physical inactivity and social and/separation anxiety that might be triggered when resuming social interactions outside of the home. There are many levels at which we can prepare for the increased demand: - Take a universal approach to promoting wellbeing through public messaging, and by schools doing activities to promote wellbeing in children and young people as they resume normal activities. - Identify those who are struggling with loneliness as early as possible and do so by targeted interventions to help them overcome their struggles. This may be through providing extra support in schools, helping them overcome anxieties about returning to school, or giving them an extra hand with reconnecting socially with peers. - For those who continue to struggle over time, and canâ€™t get back to doing the things they normally do as a result of their struggles, we need to ensure that they are made aware that services are available, and can provide specialist help, and to make sure that they know how to access this help and are supported to do so.
A Weekly Political News Magazine
Issue 1834- January- 08/01/2021
Changed What TV is For www.majalla.com
What to Expect After COVID While There are Many Unknowns About Long-term COVID Effects, it›s Hoped That More Information Will be Available Soon
effects -- which is not surprising, as scarring may occur and cause permanent impairment -- and also A growing number of people have now experienced of neurological, cardio¬vascular, and kidney effects,» a bout of COVID19-, and doctors are only just says Dr. David Christiani, a professor of medicine at beginning to learn more about the aftereffects of the Harvard Medical School and a pulmonary physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. infection. «Reports are coming out describing long-term lung
Some people, now referred to as long-haulers, are also
reporting that their COVID symptoms keep dragging on for weeks or months from the time they were initially infected. These symptoms include everything from headaches and cognitive problems to mood changes, fatigue, decreased exercise tolerance, and body ache. «We are learning more about the consequences of COVID19- as the months pass and our experience grows,» says Dr. Christiani, who is also director of the Environmental and Occupational Medicine and Epidemiology Program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. «There do seem to be longterm consequences; it will require more study to determine, for example, if some of these long-term effects are the result of long ICU stays with severe illness of any kind, versus specific features of this viral infection.»
POST-COVID EFFECTS While much is still unknown about post-infection symptoms related to COVID, long-term effects appear to be more likely in people with certain risk factors (such as high blood pressure and obesity) and in older adults, according to the World Health Organization. People may also be more likely to experience lasting symptoms if they had more severe illness caused by the virus. However, while many people who experience lasting symptoms have underlying risk factors, people who are younger and healthier can also be affected. The World Health Organization reported that in a phone survey of adults who had symptomatic COVID, %20 of -18 to -34year-olds reported feeling lasting effects from the virus.
MANY UNKNOWNS REMAIN This may have you wondering what the potential consequences will be if you are infected, and what you can or should do after the fact to protect your long-term health. The truth is that because the virus is so new, doctors don›t fully understand why some people aren›t fully recovering from COVID, how many people are actually affected long-term, or whether these problems will resolve over time. «There is little published information on recovery after COVID19-,» says Dr. Eric Rubin, professor of
If your symptoms are ongoing, there are no specific guidelines yet to follow, says Dr. Rubin. «Most patients are likely to fully recover even though that might take a while.» immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. So, at this point it›s hard to give people specific guidelines to follow or even to truly know what to expect. «Since this is a new disease, we have little experience with what recovery will look like. How widespread and severe this is, we don›t really know yet,» he says. That said, there are some things doctors do feel confident about, even at this early stage. Recovery may take time. Many people who get the flu or any type of severe respiratory infection don›t bounce back instantly. Recovery is a process, and this has already been true of COVID as well. «In general, the more severe the initial infection, the more difficult and prolonged the recovery can be,» says Dr. Rubin. People with the most severe kind of lung illness, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), no matter what the cause, often face long recovery times. «This appears to be true for patients who develop ARDS as a consequence of COVID19-. Part of this is because of slow or limited recovery of lung function, so shortness of breath, especially with exertion, is common,» says Dr. Rubin. Hospitalization may lead to a longer recovery. Some of the struggle to get back to normal for many people who experienced severe disease might be due to the muscle wasting that occurs when people are bedridden in the hospital fighting the virus. So, in addition to recovering from the illness, they also need to regain all that lost strength, says Dr. Rubin. Complications may need tailored follow-up. For patients who experienced certain complications, follow-up monitoring and treatment may be needed.
What makes the new coronavirus different from other respiratory viruses is that it not only affects the lungs, but may also lead to damaging blood clots that can cause strokes as well as damage to the heart and other organs, says Dr. Rubin. «Some patients might have developed kidney damage during their illness,» he says. «Any patient with damage to organs might require continuing medication and specific follow-up screening depending on the particular complication.»
HOW TO PROCEED People with more severe symptoms from COVID are more likely to experience persistent symptoms. However, even infected individuals with mild symptoms may not get back to normal for weeks or even months. «Since there are no specific treatments for long-term adverse health effects of COVID, it would not be justified at this point to do screening for lung or heart disease with specialists. However, it may be worthwhile to follow up with your primary care physician -by telemedicine or in person after recovery -- and discuss some basic surveillance, which may include blood tests for inflammatory markers, lung function testing, or a heart test called an echocardiogram,» says Dr. Christiani. «I will note that at this point, there is as yet no specific recommendation to do this in all recovering COVID patients, so it would be important to discuss personal medical management with your doctor.»
People with the most severe kind of lung illness, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), no matter what the cause, often face long recovery times.
If your symptoms are ongoing, there are no specific guidelines yet to follow, says Dr. Rubin. «Most patients are likely to fully recover even though that might take a while.» However, people who have continued symptoms should be evaluated as they would for any persistent illness. Keep in mind that while some symptoms may be related to COVID, they also might be unrelated, so it›s worth investigating for an underlying cause with your doctor.
PROTECTING YOURSELF GOING FORWARD
is particularly important to not gather indoors in small or large groups. «Also, get a flu shot. Your lungs do not need another insult; not to mention In the meantime, if you›ve recovered from COVID, that flu itself can be severe, even fatal, and impairs practice good health habits, just as you would if you immunity temporarily, making one susceptible to bacterial pneumonia or maybe even another round of were trying to avoid infection in the first place. COVID,» he says. «Reinfection, though rare, may still occur. Hence, strict practice of physical distancing, wearing a As research continues to reveal new findings about mask when in public, and frequent hand washing COVID, more information will likely become remain key,» says Dr. Christiani. In the winter, it available in coming months.
What TV is For Viewers Didn’t Care About “Good” or “Bad” Television this Year. Maybe the Distinction Never Mattered by Megan Garber “When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers— nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse.” Nearly 60 years ago, the FCC chair Newton
Minow delivered an excoriation of television that was officially titled “Television and the Public Interest” but would be remembered, among the broader American public, as the “vast wasteland” speech. Minow’s indictment of TV—its perky game shows, its formulaic sitcoms, its violent dramas—was cutting (one of his accusations against the newish
For me, during this dark year, television was a lifeline to other people: friends, family, strangers. in ways both specific and sweeping, wrong. It was also hugely popular—an anxious omen, the criticism went, of how happy Americans were to interact with fictions rather than fellow humans. TV, for a long time, operated as a paradox: a medium so intimate that it kept people separate from one another. Those fusty ideas have been in decline for a while; 2020 proved how wrong they were all along. For me, during this dark year, television was a lifeline to other people: friends, family, strangers. It was valuable to me not just in the way it’s always been valuable, as a source of entertainment and education, but also as, simply, a source of connection. Minow, in his “wasteland” speech, made a point of distinguishing between “good” TV and “bad,” and you can see echoes of those divisions in terms such as prestige TV and junk TV. But when I think about my own year of television watching, what strikes me is how little those distinctions mattered. Was a given show “good”? Was it “bad”? I didn’t care, really. Instead, I craved a slightly different definition of quality. I wanted shows that made me feel just a bit better about the world, through their kindness or their zaniness or their offering of nostalgia—shows that made me, physically isolated from so many of the people I love, feel a little less alone. medium was that it channeled “sadism”). And the radiant impact of his criticism helped shape the conventional wisdom that was dominant as I was growing up in the ’80s and ’90s: the notion that television was something to be a little bit embarrassed about. It was the “boob tube.” It was the “idiot box.” It was the vast wasteland. It was,
In that desire, I think, I had company. This year’s best-of TV lists are awash with the language of comfort. “These aren’t just very good TV shows. These were our escapes from despair,” Vulture noted in its overview of its selections. It was one of several outlets to talk about its list in such a way. Many of this year’s most laudable TV shows, whether Selling Sunset or Ted Lasso or The Great
British Baking Show, were good, the critics suggested, precisely because they provided distraction and escapism—a kind of soothing forgetfulness, rendered in real time. TV doubled as a balm. In the process, “good” TV took on a slightly different valence. Prestige implies a certain antagonism between a show’s creators and its viewers: a challenge, a provocation, a Red Wedding–style shock to entertainment’s typical transactions. But that kind of defiance reads differently when reality is so shocking on its own. When the world is providing all the antagonism people can bear, TV that demands little is TV that offers a lot. That’s how the familiar old criticisms of TV—its vacuity, its low stakes, its familiar formulas—can work, now, as terms of critical praise.
widely derided now as such. Still, the Aeon essay efficiently explains how dualism’s myths continue to resurface: in ideas about food, sex, and pleasure itself. Dualism, Baggini wrote,betrays a false view of human nature, which sees our intellectual or spiritual aspects as being what truly makes us human, and our bodies as embarrassing vehicles to carry them. When we learn how to take pleasure in bodily things in ways that engage our hearts and minds as well as our five senses, we give up the illusion that we are souls trapped in mortal coils, and we learn how to be fully human. We are neither angels above bodily pleasures nor crude beasts slavishly following them, but psychosomatic wholes who bring heart, mind, body and soul to everything we do.
Americans tend to be a bit suspicious of pleasure. In 2018, the philosopher Julian Baggini wrote an essay for the magazine Aeon. “Is there any real distinction,” its title asked, “between ‘high’ and ‘low’ pleasures?” In answering the question, Baggini explored the history of mind-body dualism: the idea, inherited from Plato and Descartes and Mill and many others, that the human body can be meaningfully distinguished from the human mind. Dualism this blunt is a fallacy, and
You could apply that observation to the universe of entertainment too—and, in particular, to television and its garden of earthly delights. The ghosts of dualism are there in imposed divisions between “quality” television and less worthy fare. They’re there when I find myself, watching the latest episode of Below Deck, beset mostly with delight but also a bit of shame.
We were watching the same thing, reacting to the same thing. We were together, that way, even though we weren’t. This year, even more than in others, that was enough.
But the ghosts float away when I remember how many other people—people I know, people I don’t—are watching, and delighting in, the same show. The “vast wasteland” paradigm didn’t quite foresee how TV might help people to bind and bond. My colleague Hannah Giorgis observed that 2020, for her and for many others, was the year of the project-watch: the visiting or revisiting of shows with huge back catalogs. The watching was an accomplishment. It was also, however, a social event: something to talk about with others, to share with fellow viewers. It was distraction that doubled as
Valerie Cloke, sits in an armchair in her living room watching television as Britain›s Queen Elizabeth II delivers a special address in the village of Hartley Wintney, west of London, on April 5, 2020 during the nationwide lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic. /Getty
communion—escapism, made all the more meaningful because it is experienced with other people. Pain has a way of cutting through pretense. And in a year of heartache, distinctions of “good” and “bad,” always arbitrary, seem even less like the point. I watched and loved new shows this year, definitely; but I’ll remember 2020 as the year that I sought the warm familiarity of The Office and Friends. I’ll remember it as the year I got really, really into Love It or List It and the other offerings of the HGTV Cinematic Universe. Those shows asked so little of me. But they gave so much in return. One weekend early on in the pandemic, my
sister and I discovered that we’d both been bingeing the same show on Amazon Prime Video (Making the Cut, the Project Runway pseudo-reboot). Was this particular series good, in a critical sense? I mean, sure! It was well produced and compelling, and does what any decent show of the Project Runway genre will do: It celebrates the magic that can happen when talent and hard work collide. But I didn’t really need Making the Cut to be good. I just needed it to be there. For me, the value of the show—its goodness, big and small—was that it connected my sister and me, over the distance. We were watching the same thing, reacting to the same thing. We were together, that way, even though we weren’t. This year, even more than in others, that was enough.
The Year That Changed the Internet
In 2020, the Need to Contain Misinformation About COVID- 19 Pushed Facebook and Twitter into a Role They Never Wanted - Arbiters of the Truth by Evelyn Douek
changed their minds.
For years, social-media platforms had held firm: Just because a post was false didnâ€™t mean it was their place to do anything about it. But 2020
At the end of May, Twitter for the first time labeled a tweet from the president of the United States as potentially misleading. After Donald Trump falsely
insisted that mail-in voting would rig the November election, the platform added a message telling users to “get the facts.” Within a day, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, had appeared on Fox News to reassure viewers that Facebook had “a different policy” and believed strongly that tech companies shouldn’t be arbiters of truth of what people say online. But come November, between the time polls closed and the race was called for Biden, much of Trump’s Facebook page, as well as more than a third of Trump’s Twitter feed, was plastered with warning labels and fact-checks, a striking visual manifestation of the way that 2020 has transformed the internet. Seven months ago, that first label on a Trump tweet was a watershed event. Now it’s entirely unremarkable. Among the many facets of life transformed by the coronavirus pandemic was the internet itself. In the face of a public-health crisis unprecedented in the social-media age, platforms were unusually bold in taking down COVID19- misinformation. Instead of their usual reluctance to remove a post just because it was false, they were loudly touting their aggressive and sweeping actions. They were rewarded for it: For about a week in March, some of the companies’ usual critics cheered their newfound sense of responsibility. Some suggested that the “techlash” against powerful internet giants was over. That enthusiasm didn’t last, but mainstream platforms learned their lesson, accepting that they should intervene aggressively in more and more cases when users post content that might cause social harm. During the wildfires in the American West in September, Facebook and Twitter took down false claims about their cause, even though the platforms had not done the same when large parts of Australia were engulfed in flames at the start of the year. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube cracked down on QAnon, a sprawling, incoherent, and constantly evolving conspiracy theory, even though its borders are hard to delineate. These actions had a domino effect, as podcast platforms, on-demand fitness companies, and other websites banned QAnon postings. Content moderation comes to every content platform eventually, and platforms are starting to realize this faster than ever. As if to make clear how far things had come since
In the face of a public-health crisis unprecedented in the social-media age, platforms were unusually bold in taking down COVID19- misinformation. 2016, Facebook and Twitter both took unusually swift action to limit the spread of a New York Post article about Hunter Bidenmere weeks before the election. By stepping in to limit the story’s spread before it had even been evaluated by any third-party fact-checker, these gatekeepers trumped the editorial judgment of a major media outlet with their own. Gone is the naive optimism of social-media platforms’ early days, when—in keeping with an overly simplified and arguably self-serving understanding of the First Amendment tradition— executives routinely insisted that more speech was always the answer to troublesome speech. Our tech overlords have been doing some soul-searching. As Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said, when doing a PR tour about an overhaul of his platform’s policies in June, “I have to admit that I’ve struggled with balancing my values as an American, and around free speech and free expression, with my values and the company’s values around common human decency.” Nothing symbolizes this shift as neatly as Facebook’s decision in October (and Twitter’sshortly after) to start banning Holocaust denial. Almost exactly a year earlier, Zuckerberg had proudly tied himself to the First Amendment in a widely publicized “stand for free expression” at Georgetown University. The strong protection of even literal Nazism is the most famous emblem of America’s free-speech exceptionalism. But one year and one pandemic later, Zuckerberg’s thinking, and, with it, the policy of one of the biggest speech platforms in the world, had “evolved.” The evolution continues. Facebook announced earlier this month that it will join platforms such as YouTube and TikTok in removing, not merely labeling or downranking, false claims about COVID19- vaccines. This might seem an obvious move; the virus has
killed more than 315,000 people in the U.S. alone, and widespread misinformation about vaccines could be one of the most harmful forms of online speech ever. But until now, Facebook, wary of any political blowback, had previously refused to remove antivaccination content. However, the pandemic also showed that complete neutrality is impossible. Even though it’s not clear that removing content outright is the best way to correct misperceptions, Facebook and other platforms plainly want to signal that, at least in the current crisis, they don’t want to be seen as feeding people information that might kill them. As platforms grow more comfortable with their power, they are recognizing that they have options beyond taking posts down or leaving them up. In addition to warning labels, Facebook implemented other “break glass” measures to stem misinformation as the election approached. It tweaked its algorithm to boost authoritative sources in the news feed and turned off recommendations to join groups based around political or social issues. Facebook is reversing some of these steps now, but it cannot make people forget this toolbox exists in the future. Twitter is keeping, and even expanding, a number of election-related changes meant to encourage more thoughtful sharing. Even before the pandemic, YouTube had begun adjusting its recommendation algorithm to reduce the spread of borderline and harmful content, and is introducing pop-up nudges to encourage users to think before posting comments that might be offensive. U.S.-based platforms have long been even more
And if 2020 finally made clear to platforms the need for greater content moderation, it also exposed the inevitable limits of content moderation.
likely to neglect the by-products of their presence in global markets. But that trend also began to reverse in 2020. Twitter removed tweets from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for violating its COVID19- policies. Facebook rolled out a suite of election-specific policies in Myanmar for its election, including labeling disputed claims of voting fraud. (It turns out that expressing frustration in all caps at being labeled is a reaction that crosses cultures.) In early December, Twitter put a warning label for the first time on a tweet of a prominent Indian politician whom BuzzFeed described as “notorious for posting
they could and shoulddo more about misinformation, but higher-ups vetoed their ideas. YouTube barely acted to stem the flood of misinformation about election results on its platform. The fundamental opacity of these complex systems remains. When internet platforms announce new policies, assessing whether they can and will enforce them consistently has always been difficult. In essence, the companies are grading their own work. But too often what can be gleaned from the outside suggests that they’re failing. Platforms have increased the number of people working on content moderation in the past few years, but these overworked contractors were heavily outgunned even before many were sent homeat the start of the pandemic and unable to work at full capacity. Platforms also use AI to catch content that breaks their rules, and the transparency reports they release boast of an ever higher “proactive detection rate,” but these tools are brittle and err often.
misinformation.” The bar is low enough that steps like these can be considered progress. Platforms don’t deserve praise for belatedly noticing dumpster fires that they helped create and affixing unobtrusive labels to them. Social-media companies still devote far too little attention and resources to markets outside the United States and languages other than English. Warning labels for misinformation might make some commentators feel a little better, but whether labels actually do much to contain the spread of false information is still unknown. News reporting suggests that insiders at Facebook knew
And if 2020 finally made clear to platforms the need for greater content moderation, it also exposed the inevitable limits of content moderation. As some platforms cracked down on harmful content, others saw this as an opportunity and marketed themselves as “free speech” refuges for aggrieved users. Sure enough, content removed by some platforms started to overflow and spread onto these others. Downranking, labeling, or deleting content on an internet platform does not address the social or political circumstances that caused it to be posted in the first place. And even the most powerful platform will never be able to fully compensate for the failures of other governing institutions or be able to stop the leader of the free world from constructing an alternative reality when a whole media ecosystem is ready and willing to enable him. As Renée DiResta wrote in The Atlantic last month, “reducing the supply of misinformation doesn’t eliminate the demand.” Even so, this year’s events showed that nothing is innate, inevitable, or immutable about platforms as they currently exist. The possibilities for what they might become—and what role they will play in society—are limited more by imagination than any fixed technological constraint, and the companies appear more willing to experiment than ever.