A Weekly Political News Magazine
Issue 1836- January- 22/01/2021
Antony Blinken: America’s Top Diplomat has a Sharp Eye on the Middle East
Issue 1836- January- 22/01/2021
How the Middle East Will Fare Under US President Joe Biden politics
What to Expect During President Biden’s First 100 Days
The Volunteers Feeding Those Quarantined in Egypt www.majalla.com
The Deep Sadness of Marvel’s WandaVision
A Weekly Political News Magazine
www.majalla.com/eng Now that Joe Biden is officially the 46th president of the United States, the main question for many Middle East watchers and policy makers, is not how his policy will differ from Trump’s maximum pressure policy, but whether he will repeat Barak Obama’s Middle East policy or create his own version, building on both Trump and Obama’s undertakings. From his inauguration speech on Wednesday, it was clear that Biden’s main priority will be domestic – to unite the nation after the vast divisions of the past four years, and to help the US overcome the Covid-19 health and economic repercussions. But that doesn’t mean that Foreign Policy will not take a front seat, with the Iranian nuclear issue will be the main question preoccupying the debate in Washington and the Middle East. In this week’s cover story, Hanin Ghaddar writes that while it is still too early to tell how these issues will unfold as Biden starts implementing his policies, there are some signs, however, of how the major challenges could be dealt with President Joe Biden stepped into the White House in the midst of the worst public health disaster in a century. The turbulence has been political and social, too, with a presidential election in which the losing candidate was impeached for a second time after being accused of inciting the US Capitol riots and faces a political trial in the Senate. Over the past several weeks, Biden has laid out several things he wants to do in his first days in office. We take a look at the Biden’s proposals, including tackling the worsening Covid-19 crisis, reviving a pandemicstricken economy, addressing criminal justice reform and reversing some of his predecessors more controversial politics such as the immigration ban. As the coronavirus deaths in Egypt continue to rise, a group of volunteers have set up a Facebook group to serve as an emergency food operation, delivering meals to help those quarantined make it through tough times. The multi-faceted initiative aims to mitigate the sufferings of people who need support while easing the pressures facing the government during the pandemic. Hatem Khedr spoke to several of the volunteers cooking and delivering food, as well as providing healthcare supplies to the most vulnerable.
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A Weekly Political News Magazine
Treat the Attack on the Capitol as Terrorism
Issue 1836- January- 22/01/2021
18 Biden Doesn’t Need a New Middle
Wealthy Countries Should Share Vaccine Doses Before It Is Too Late
32 We Don’t Know How Many People
Have Recovered From COVID- 19
Do Your Neighbors Want to 56 Get Vaccinated ? 3
New Customer Demands Require Technology and Deep Knowledge of Banking
Reset Your Schedule, Reset Your Health
Kurdish women take part in a cycling marathon for women in the northeastern Syrian town of Amuda in Hasakeh province, on January 16, 2021. - The marathon, under the slogan â€œI want a bicycle,â€? was organised by activists who said it aims to encourage women to cycle and to empower them in societyas well as reduce envoronmental pollution in the region. /AFP Photos
Dorothea Wierer of Italy prepares for shooting during the womenâ€™s 12.5km mass start race at the Biathlon World Cup in Oberhof, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021 /AP Photos
Biden Assume Presidency After Trump Departs White House
ter 8 a.m. and went by helicopter to a sendoff event at Joint Air Force Base Andrews, where he promised supporters “we’ll be back in some form” and extolled his administration’s successes before flying off to Florida. With only a small number of attendees present, Biden took the oath of office before U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, placing his hand on an heirloom Bible that has been in the Biden family for more than a century.
Joe Biden became president on Wednesday, taking over a country battered by the coronavirus pandemic and to put an end to a tumultuous four years under President Donald Trump. Democrat Biden, 78, became the oldest U.S. president in history at a scaled-back ceremony in Washington that has been largely stripped of its usual pomp and circumstance, due both to the coronavirus and security concerns follow- Palestinians Announce First Elecing the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by tions in 15 Years Trump supporters. Trump, a Republican, left the White House with his wife Melania just af- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an-
nounced parliamentary and presidential elections on Friday, the first in 15 years, in an effort to heal long-standing internal divisions. The move is widely seen as a response to criticism of the democratic legitimacy of Palestinian political institutions, including Abbas’s presidency. It came days before the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, with whom the Palestinians want to reset relations after they reached a low under Donald Trump. According to a decree issued by Abbas’s office, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31. “The President instructed the election committee and all state apparatuses to launch a democratic election process in all cities of the homeland,” the decree said, referring to
the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Palestinian factions have renewed reconciliation efforts to try and present a united front since Israel reached diplomatic agreements last year with four Arab countries.
Egypt and Qatar Agree to Resume Diplomatic Relations Egypt and Qatar have agreed to resume diplomatic relations, the Egyptian foreign ministry said on Wednesday. The move follows an agreement between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt earlier this month to end their boycott of Qatar - which began in 2017 over allegations it supported terrorism, a charge that Doha denies. “The Arab Republic of Egypt and the State of Qatar exchanged, today, January 20, 2021, two official memoranda,
in virtue of which the two countries agreed to resume diplomatic relations,” a foreign ministry statement said. While steps have been taken to rebuild the relationships between Qatar and the three Gulf countries, Egypt is the first to make such a move officially. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said the kingdom expects to reopen its embassy in Qatar within days, and full diplomatic relations between the two would resume.
Tunisian Protesters Revive ‘Arab Spring’ Chant, Riots Continue Violent clashes erupted for a fifth night on Tuesday between police and protesters in several Tunisian cities, including the capital Tunis and Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings, as anger and frustration mount over economic hardship. Earlier in the day, protesters rallied in Tunis, reviving the chant that rang a decade ago in a revolution that ushered in democracy: “The people want the fall of the regime.” In Sidi Bouzid, where the 2011 revolution began, witnesses told Reuters that police fired gas to disperse protesters who were
raising slogans against rulers and demanding an end to decades of marginalisation. Clashes also broke out in poor areas of Tunis, including Ettadamen and Sijoumi, as hundreds of angry youths burned tires and blocked roads. Daytime protests in recent days demanding jobs, dignity and the release of detainees have been followed by night time violence, with COVID-19 restrictions compounding a wider economic malaise.
Iran Army Commandos Start Drills Near Mouth of Gulf Iranian army commandos and paratroopers started exercises near the mouth of the Gulf on Tuesday, the last full day of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. State television showed paratroopers landing behind mock enemy lines near the port of Jask on the Gulf of Oman and preparing attacks with missile launchers. “The recent war games show to enemies the Iranian nation’s will to defend its independence and territorial integrity,” Revolutionary Guards com-
mander General Hossein Salami told state TV. “Our fingers are on the trigger on behalf of the nation.” Last week, the Revolutionary Guards fired long-range ballistic missiles at mock enemy warships in the Indian Ocean and tested domestically manufactured drones in Iran’s central desert region. Last Wednesday, Iran tested short-range naval missiles in the Gulf, and exercises earlier this month featured a wide array of domestically produced drones.
WHO: Just 25 Covid Vaccine Doses Administered in Low-Income Countries The world is on the edge of a “catastrophic moral failure” in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, with just 25 doses administered across all poor countries compared with 39m in wealthier ones, the head of the World Health Organization has said. It was the sharpest warning so far from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus about the dangers of vaccine hoarding since inoculations started being administered in 49 mostly high-income countries. Guinea is the sole low-income country to have delivered any shots so far, last week providing doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine to a mere 25 people, including its president. Tedros told an annual meeting of the WHO’s executive board on Monday that it was wrong to see people at low risk in wealthy countries being vaccinated while most of the world still did not have access to the jabs. A global vaccine-sharing fund, Covax, says it is preparing to deliver its first doses in February but is competing with nations striking their own, often more lucrative deals with manufacturers to secure limited supplies of vaccines.
How the Middle East Will Fare Under US President Joe Biden The Iranian regime’s Wishful Thinking That the New Administration is Going to Rush into the Nuclear Deal is Dead by Hanin Ghaddar Now that Joe Biden is officially the 46th president of the United States, the main question for
many Middle East watchers and policy makers, is not how his policy will differ from Trump’s maximum pressure policy, but whether he will repeat Barak Obama’s Middle East policy or cre-
ate his own version, building on both Trump and Obama’s undertakings. From his inauguration speech on Wednesday, it was clear that Biden’s main priority will be domestic – to unite the nation after the vast divisions of the past four years, and to help the US overcome the Covid-19 health and economic repercussions. But that doesn’t mean that Foreign Policy will not take a front seat. Although China and Russia seem to be the main two challenges his administration will deal with, the Middle East will also be present.
MAIN MIDDLE EAST ISSUES The Iranian nuclear issue will be the main question preoccupying the debate in Washington and the Middle East. Biden has already declared his intention to go back to the nuclear agreement with Iran, but he also made it clear that the one signed by Obama will be a starting point, not the objective. He also reassured the US allies in the Middle East – mainly Israel and the Gulf – that they will be part of the process.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden arrive at his Biden›s inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January ,20 2021 in Washington, DC. (Getty)
Biden and his foreign policy team do realize that the Middle East has substantially changed since the previous nuclear deal was signed, and that there will be different challenges and opportunities that his administration will face during any upcoming negotiations to reach a new deal. He doesn’t want to alienate partners, but he will also need to take advantage of the leverage created by sanctions and pressure on the Iranian regime. It’s a very think line that he will have to walk. On different, but certainly related issues, it still needs to be seen how regional issues will fare in his Iran policy. How will Biden deal with Assad in Syria, Iran’s militias in the region – mainly Lebanese Hezbollah, Houthis in Yemen, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the peace agreements with Israel, and human rights issues in the region as a whole? In addition, as Trump’s US pursued to withdraw from the region, both Russia and Turkey found a very bountiful gap to fill, militarily in Syria and Libya, and economically in other countries such as Egypt and many Arab countries. Biden will have to deal with that as well, if he
Biden and his foreign policy team do realize that the Middle East has substantially changed since the previous nuclear deal was signed, and that there will be different challenges and opportunities that his administration will face. really wants the US to regain its position in the region and the world.
SOME SIGNS It is still too early to tell how these issues will unfold as Biden starts implementing his policies. However, there have been some signs of how the major challenges could be dealt with. At his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden’s pick for Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that countering the Iranian regime would be on Biden’s agenda. He said that the US was a long way from joining the nuclear deal with Iran, and that it is “vitally important” for the US to consult with Israel and the Gulf states before re-entering the Iran nuclear deal. Blinkin also stated that he believes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that he will commit to keep the US Embassy in Jerusalem. He also stressed Biden›s commitment to making sure Iran does not aquire a nuclear weapon, adding that the U.S. and its allies would seek a «longer and stronger» agreement. President Biden “believes that if Iran comes back into compliance, we would use that as a platform with our allies and partners, who would once again be on the same side with us, to seek a longer and stronger agreement. I think we›re a long way from there, we would have to see once the president-elect is in office. What steps Iran actually takes, we would then have to evaluate whether they were actually making good if they
say they›re coming back into compliance with their obligations,” Blinken added. He also applauded the U.S.-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and a number of Arab states, and stressed his support for a twostate-solution. In another confirmation hearing, Biden’s nominee for US Director for National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines also said that the US is “a long way” from joining the Iran nuclear deal. She added that the president has also indicated that he would “have a look at the ballistic missiles” and the destabilizing activities that Iran engages in.
LOOKING FORWARD Concerns regarding a return to the nuclear deal are still valid, but it seems that Biden and his team understand how things have changed, and that rushing back into the deal is not a good idea. Things have changed in the region since 2015, and no country is the same, specifically Iran, which has been weakened and thinned out throughout the region. Iran is today ready to make more compromises than it did in 2015 – due to its dire financial and economic crisis, and rushing into the deal would only strengthen the regime. The Biden’s administration could very well force Iran to make these compromises before signing any deal. Even European countries’ stances on Iran has changed, and European leader are today more aware of the dangers that the Iranian regime pos-
Biden’s willingness to strengthen the US relations with all its traditional allies in the region, it seems Iran’s expectations of this new administration are changing.
es on Europe and the region, due to a number of terrorism attacks and security operations that Iran has conducted in Europe during the last couple of years. Biden’s Middle East policy should take this into consideration. Regarding Russia, the competition over the Middle East will probably the main challenge, especially that Russia has supported the US main opponents in the Middle East. Russia’s role in the Middle East will certainly be challenged, in addition to Russia’s economic deals with European and Arab countries. Russia will try to push back,
U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden attend a Pass in Review ceremony, hosted by the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol after the 59th Presidential Inauguration on January 2021 ,20 in Washington, DC. (Getty)
through its allies in the region and try to protect its interests, but it seems that the Biden administration is keen on facing this challenge. Syria could be the main playing field for Russia as it challenges or at least tests the new US administration and its redlines. That is why it is important to maintain US troops in Syria at this point, and maybe increase the US presence and projection of power in the region. Russia could only understand the new reality by some show of power, which is not necessarily a military confrontation of any kind.
In any case, with the American-European relations enhancing, Arab-Israeli rapprochement, and Biden’s willingness to strengthen the US relations with all its traditional allies in the region, it seems Iran’s expectations of this new administration are changing. The Iranian regime’s wishful thinking that Biden is going to rush into the nuclear deal is now completely dead. They can only hope to negotiate, and avoid making too many compromises. Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Fellow at The Washington Institute›s Geduld Program on Arab
What to Expect During President Bidenâ€™s First 100 Days Biden has Lofty Goals, Including the Tackling the Covid- 19 Crisis, Reviving the Economy, and Addressing Criminal Justice and Immigration Reform Majalla â€“ London President Joe Biden stepped into the White House on Wednesday in the midst of the worst public health
disaster in a century. The turbulence has been political and social, too, with a presidential election in which the losing candidate was impeached for a second time after being accused of inciting the US Capitol riots and faces
a political trial in the Senate. Ever since Franklin D Roosevelt coined the term in 1933, ‹the first 100 days› have been seen as a vital benchmark for how a president will run their administration. Over the past several weeks, Biden has laid out several things he wants to do in his first days in office. The proposals include tackling the worsening Covid19- crisis, reviving a pandemic-stricken economy, addressing criminal justice reform and reversing some of his predecessors more controversial politics such as the immigration ban.
$ 1.9TN CORONAVIRUS AND ECO NOM� IC STIMULUS PLAN The overriding priority for the 46th US president is to deal with the covid19- crisis. He has unveiled a 1.9$ trillion economic stimulus package to a country battered by a year-long pandemic which has killed more than 400,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus, and left nearly 11 million Americans receiving unemployment benefits.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden delivers his acceptance speech on the fourth night of the Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center on August 2020 ,20 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Getty)
The proposal dedicates 400$ billion to be used for the vaccines, slowing the virus›s spread and reopening schools by his 100th day in office. The plan includes 20$ billion toward a national vaccination program, 50$ billion for testing and contact tracing, and 30$ billion for supplies and protective equipment. He is also seeking money to provide paid sick leave to encourage people to stay home if they are feeling ill, and he called for hiring 100,000 public health workers, nearly tripling the current number. Biden has also asked Americans to commit to 100 days of mask-wearing from his first day on the job. While the President can›t unilaterally require every American to wear a mask, under the law Biden said he could require masks in places like federal buildings and on planes, trains and buses for interstate travel. The Trump administration left distribution to the states, but Biden plans to broaden the federal government›s role. Biden›s team plans to set up federal sites for mass distribution, along with mobile vaccination centers for people in rural areas. Members of Biden’s task force include respected scientists and public health experts, who have served both Republican and Democrat administrations, and its three co-chairs have a range of political and scientific
The largest element of the economic relief proposal is, by far, approximately 1$ trillion in direct payments and other measures meant to support struggling individuals and families experience. He will prioritise seeking advice from Dr Fauci, and make him a pivotal figure in the response. Dr Fauci has had an at times fractious relationship with Donald Trump, but is trusted by a very high proportion of Americans. The largest element of the economic relief proposal is, by far, approximately 1$ trillion in direct payments and other measures meant to support struggling individuals and families. It would see every American receive a cheque of 1,400$ and would increase and lengthen the duration of unemployment benefits. Another flag ship policy includes raising the federal minimum wage to 15$ per hour, protect renters from eviction, and provide increased food aid to the needy. Biden’s plan also calls for 440$ billion in direct aid to small businesses and state, local, and tribal governments, which have seen tax revenues plummet during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic Touting his plan, Biden said «the return on these investment in jobs, racial equity will prevent long-term economic damage, and the benefits will far surpass the cost». Biden has also pledged to wipe out corporate tax cuts where possible, while doubling the levies US firms pay on foreign profits.
CLIMATE CHANGE While climate plans may no longer be at the top of the to-do list, Biden has promised to reverse some of Trump›s most controversial policies. He has indicated that he will re-join the Paris Climate Accord and will take other steps to make the United States a global leader in the effort to reduce climate change. This will include efforts to undo the Trump administration’s relaxation of regulations on the extraction and burning
of fossil fuels and fuel efficiency of cars and trucks. The president has announced executive action to formulate a plan to achieve %100 clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050. He will also enact an executive order «to conserve %30 of America›s lands and waters by 2030» in line with other «%30 by 2030» pledges made by 50 countries at a One Planet Summit in Paris earlier this month. He has also indicated that he will organize a «climate world summit» to push world leaders to more aggressively tackle climate change, specifically addressing global shipping and aviation emissions. The new president also promised to «pressure» China to stop subsidizing coal and «outsourcing» pollution. IMMIGRATION Biden promised during the campaign that he would make immigration reform a priority as president, aiming to end some of the hardline policies of the previous administration. He has pledged to provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants who came to the US illegally as children. He has also vowed to rescind the Trump administration›s travel ban on those from several majority-Muslim countries, which were issued by executive actions and could be easily undone, according to policy experts. At the same time, however, a Biden official cautioned to NBC that did not mean the next administration would grant entry to all asylum seekers coming to the country. In laying out his agenda, Biden has worked to frame it as more of a moment for the nation to rally and forget partisan divides. “It’s not hard to see that we’re in the middle of a once-in-several-generations economic crisis with a once-in-several-generations public health crisis,”
Ever since Franklin D Roosevelt coined the term in 1933, ‹the first 100 days› have been seen as a vital benchmark for how a president will run their administration.
Biden said during a press conference over the weekend. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris recently described the immigration plan in an interview with Univision. «It will be about creating a pathway for people to earn citizenship. We›re going to reduce the time from what is now has been currently 13 years to eight years. We are going to expand protections for Dreamers and DACA recipients. «These are some of the things that we›re going to do on our immigration bill. And we believe it is a smarter and a more humane way of approaching immigration.» The likelihood of a sweeping immigration bill passing Congress is an open question. Previous attempts, like the concerted pushed to pass an immigration bill in 2013, failed, and the Republican Party now includes more immigration hardliners after four years under Trump. This immigration plan will not be Biden›s only action taken on the issue at the outset of his administration. Incoming chief of staff Ron Klain wrote in a memo over the weekend that Biden will begin the process of
A face mask is seen in front of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on May ,26 2020 at Wall Street in New York City. (Getty)
reunifying the families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border within his first ten days in office, and sources familiar with Biden›s plans anticipate he will also issue an executive order aimed at halting the construction of Trump›s border wall and reinstating the DACA program.
100 days, Biden is asked immigration reform advocates for patience, cautioning that his administration and Congress may not be able to pass a large-scale immigration overhaul in the first 100 days of his term, according to three participants in a meeting the Biden team held with Latino leaders last week.
But Ramiro Cavazos, the president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he and other participants stressed to Biden›s team that they still expect action on immigration, despite the other challenges. «We made it very clear, all of us collectively, that because it›s a new administration and the Senate and the House will be under the control of the same party, that they need to tackle immigration,» Cavazos told CBS News. «We missed that opportunity under President Obama and clearly, over the last four years, Latinos have been under attack.»
Biden has repeatedly vowed to fight for racial justice in response to public outrage over a rash of police killings of unarmed African American men. He has pledged, in his first 100 days, to establish a new police oversight body to address institutional racism by creating a police oversight commission to help de-escalate tensions between law enforcement and the communities they serve. He also backs comprehensive sentencing reform and programs to reduce continued criminal activity by those released from jail. In an early indication that the president’s bold layers of reforms might take much longer to implement than
A bill is expected be drawn up to end gun background check loopholes.
Biden Doesn’t Need a New Middle East Policy The Trump Administration Got the Region Right by James F. Jeffrey
repeatedly drawn the United States back to the region.
As with the past eight U.S. presidents, much of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy was dominated by the broader Middle East. Despite talk of ending “forever wars” and pivoting to Asia, core national interests have
In many ways, Trump’s priorities in the Middle East differed little from those of his two predecessors: eliminating weapons of mass destruction, supporting U.S. partners, fighting terror, and facilitating the
export of hydrocarbons. In other ways, however, his administration—in which I served as envoy for both Syria and the coalition to counter ISIS oversaw a notable paradigm shift in the U.S. approach to the region. Both U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama pursued transformational campaigns in the Middle East based on the erroneous belief that by burrowing politically and militarily into states there, the United States could address the underlying causes of Islamist terror and perpetual regional instability. Although Trump’s real policy views were often difficult to divine, his administration took a different tack, with clear results. By keeping American aims limited, responding to imminent regional threats but otherwise working primarily through partners on the ground, Trump avoided the pitfalls encountered by his predecessors while still advancing American interests. For all the partisan rancor in debates about foreign policy today, this new paradigm should—and likely will—continue to define U.S. policy. It offers the best option for containing challenges in the Middle East and prioritizing geopolitical challenges elsewhere.
A NEW STRATEGY
AN Iraqi soldiers stands guard in front US military air carrier at the Qayyarah air base, where US-led troops in 2017 had helped Iraqis plan out the fight against the Islamic State in nearby Mosul in northern Iraq, before a planned US pullout on March 2020 ,26. (Getty)
Most new administrations issue a National Security Strategy and then quickly shelve it. But the 2017 document drafted by the White House offered a novel blueprint for U.S. policy in the Middle East and one that the Trump administration generally followed. Overall, the strategy called for shifting focus from so-called endless wars to great-power competition, primarily with China and Russia. For the Middle East, that first principle meant avoiding entanglement in local issues while still pushing back on near-peer and regional dangers. In practice, this amounted to containing Iran and Russia while smashing serious terrorist threats. The next principle—working alongside allies and partners in the region rather than, usually, taking unilateral action—was more complex. It was a means, not an end. Driven by this goal, Trump aimed to end the United States’ central involvement in the counter-ISIS campaign after Raqqa, the group’s capital in Syria, fell in 2017 and reduce U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, handing both missions off to local allies. His military advisers wanted the United States to remain committed, while other civilian leaders sought to embed U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq in Trump’s broader effort to contain Iran. Much of the administration’s internal conflict was the product of these competing objectives: pull out and prioritize counterterrorism or focus on both terrorists and Iran. In the end, it settled on a reasonable
At present, many regional allies want continued U.S. pressure on Iran’s economy and regional adventurism more than an immediate return to the deal. compromise—major troop withdrawals, with the remaining forces dedicated solely to counterterrorism and Iran-focused missions. As part of that second principle, Trump also made clear that he would support Israeli and Turkish military actions against Iran and Russia in Syria and would rely primarily on the Gulf states, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel to stand up to Tehran. The United States would in turn complement these efforts militarily when necessary, selling weapons, targeting terrorists, or punishing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Nevertheless, the administration was generally cautious about using military power, especially when no American lives were lost. But when it did decide to act, U.S. forces effectively targeted Assad, terrorist groups, Russian mercenaries, and Iranian-backed militias.
THE IRANIAN CHALLENGE The task of containing Iran put the Trump administration’s new paradigm to the test. Trump believed that the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement brokered by the Obama administration was a bad deal; its duration was limited, and regional allies complained that it failed to address Iran’s destabilizing behavior. Eventually, after seeking tougher terms from Iran for 18 months, the United States left the agreement. Although Tehran retaliated by rapidly increasing its enrichment activity, it did not leave the agreement entirely. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the administration’s subsequent policy was not regime change, although some policymakers eyed that possibility. Instead, Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign was designed to compel Iran to negotiate a broader deal that encompassed its nuclear activities, missile program, and regional behavior. U.S. policy had a real effect on both the Iranian economy and its regional adventurism. Although Tehran continued to smuggle oil and gas out of the country at discount prices, sanctions limited the financial assistance it could provide to its allies in Iraq,
Lebanon, and Syria. Neither Chinan or Russia was willing to bail Iran out, and the Europeans could do little to retaliate, despite their opposition. Although the administration’s opponents argued that Iran would never make expansive concessions, Trump’s demands differed little from those of the early Obama administration. In both cases, they were maximalist initial negotiating positions. Trump, like Obama, wanted to negotiate a deal, but with a fundamental difference: Trump’s central priority was to deter Iran’s regional adventurism and limit its nuclear capabilities as much as possible—regardless of diplomatic limitations. If a deal was possible within those parameters, then so be it. Unlike the Obama administration, which prioritized achieving an agreement, Trump saw Iran as a holistic threat and subordinated all specific policies, including the nuclear file, to that reality. He thus turned the screw, either to compel favorable terms or if not, seriously weaken Iran. The verdict is still out on whether the policy worked. Time, and the Biden administration’s own decision-making, will decide whether “maximum pressure” opens the door for future accommodation or merely pushes Iran closer to nuclear breakout and further from any negotiated compromise.
SYRIA AND IRAQ Trump paired his sanctions campaign with an effort to counter Iran’s regional expansion—especially in Syria and Iraq. In the former, his administration inherited a confused policy from Obama, one that even the former president’s advisers later criticized: one part overthrowing Assad via armed opposition, one part seeking a UN-brokered political settlement, and another part defeating ISIS. By late 2017, the Trump administration had developed its own Syria policy, again based on the principles
Trump managed to reduce direct U.S. commitments and expenses, all while working closely with regional allies.
of countering regional threats while working with allies and partners: pushing Iran out, defeating ISIS permanently, and resolving the country’s civil conflict. Although the U.S. military resisted straying beyond its counter-ISIS mission, it eventually dual-purposed its forces in the northeast and the south to further broaden Syria policy by denying terrain and resources to the Assad government and its allies. By 2020, the United States had built a resilient coalition even as it sought to reduce its direct commitment. Turkey and armed opposition elements in Syria worked with the United States to deny Assad a decisive military victory, and U.S-supported Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in the country further limited the regime’s military options. Meanwhile, the United States led a large international
US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 2020 ,15. (Getty)
Russian military and mercenary activity in northeast Syria and helped Turkeyfend off joint Syrian-Russian incursions in the country’s northwest. But Turkey’s opposition to the United States’ local Syrian-Kurdish partner in the northeast, the Syrian Democratic Forces—linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK—complicated that relationship. This tension led to a brief military and diplomatic incident in October 2019. Although Washingtonand Ankara managed to resolve the crisis, it illustrated the difficulty of working through partners—be it the SDF or the Turks—whose agendas may go beyond what Washingtoncan support. In Iraq, the United States tried to isolate its anti-ISIS military effort from the larger struggle against Iran. Local militias loyal to Tehran, however, began stepping up their campaign against U.S. forces. Trump eventually retaliated, killing Iran’s irreplaceable regional paladin, Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. Iran responded by launching a ballistic missile strike on a U.S. base but failed to inflict serious casualties. The result was a clear, although not final, victory for the United States. U.S. troops remain in Iraq, but militias like Kataib Hezbollah are still a threat. Iraq remains the most volatile front between Washington and Tehran.
A MODEL FOR THE FUTURE
diplomatic coalition that supported the political efforts of the UN to resolve the conflict, diplomatically isolated Damascus, and crushed the country’s economy through sanctions. Much like the wider policy toward Iran within which Syria fits, however, the result is a stalemate. Absent a negotiated solution, the messy war of attrition will likely continue, but that is what worked against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the next administration will need to weigh these advantages against other risks, including the cost to civilians. Unsurprisingly, U.S. policy placed Washington at odds with Moscow, which saw Syriaas the primary venue in which to reengage diplomatically and militarily in the Middle East. In line with its goal of countering regional peer threats, the United States repeatedly responded to
Over the last four years, the Trump administration scored two major successes in the Middle East— the Abraham Accords and the destruction of ISIS’s territorial caliphate in Iraqand Syria. It also managed to counter Russia’s further expansion in Syria and elsewhere, grasp Iran’s enduring and multifaceted threat to regional stability, and mobilize a coalition to counter Tehran’s malign behavior. Although Trump did not solve the Iranian nuclear challenge, neither did Obama. The original nuclear agreement’s limits on unrestricted Iranian enrichment would have faded rapidly in just over five years. By recent Middle East standards all this together is a respectable policy outcome. Trump managed to reduce direct U.S. commitments and expenses, all while working closely with regional allies. Still, it may be difficult for the next administration to maintain that approach while refocusing on the Iran nuclear deal. At present, many regional allies want continued U.S. pressure on Iran’s economy and regional adventurism more than an immediate return to the deal. Biden will need to balance those priorities carefully. This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.
The Volunteers Feeding Those Quarantined in Egypt This Initiative Aims Help Those Most in Need While Easing the Pressures Facing the Government by Hatem Khedr A group of volunteers in Cairo, one of the most densely-populated cities in the world, have set
up a Facebook groups to serve as an emergency food operation, delivering meals to help those quarantined make it through tough times. This multi-faceted initiative aims to mitigate the
sufferings of people who need support while easing the pressures facing the government during the pandemic. The groups’ moderators have created several teams that cook and deliver food, as well as provide healthcare supplies to the most vulnerable. The pages quickly became popular among those self-isolating at home across Greater Cairo. The moderators, in coordination with the volunteers, match up those in need with the nearest volunteers. “Anyone is at risk of contracting any disease,” Rasha, one of the many volunteers who responded the campaign, told Majalla. “If we don’t lend a hand to those infected with the virus, one day we may face the same situation,” she said enthusiastically.
The Great pyramid of Kheops in Giza, Egypt. (Getty)
She noted that all the volunteers follow health and safety guidance, using appropriate measures to ensure food deliveries are being made safely. Rasha recalls an incident involving a pregnant lady whose husband was abroad and didn’t know anyone nearby that could help. Her husband reached out to the group and several volunteers quickly came forward to offer their assistance. She noted that several young had people developed a low-cost gas cylinder regulator for those in urgent need of oxygen concentrators to treat coronavirus at home. Ahmad Talaat, 30, said he was motivated to volunteer to help those infected after he had faced a difficult situation. “My cousin and my brother-in-law were infected with COVID19- and urgently needed oxygen. I quickly searched for help everything and thankfully found people to help me install oxygen cylinders to my relatives,” he told Majalla. After this situation, he said, he decided to help others in similar circumstances by delivering
The pages quickly became popular among those self-isolating at home across Greater Cairo. The moderators, in coordination with the volunteers, match up those in need with the nearest volunteers. meals to them. “It is a duty to help people who are in distress. The patients order meal through an app on the group, and we contact him via phone and deliver food to their home,” he said. He reiterated that he adheres to the safety measures set by the Ministry of Health, such as wearing facemask and using hand sanitizer. Volunteers preparing meals rely on donations of essentials such vegetables, fruits, sugar and oil. Talaat noted that many meals are provided for free and others at a low price of around 2 or 3 USD dollars. He expressed that he has gained sense of gratification from giving his time to people who need it and that his religious faith motivates his volunteering. Several volunteers spoke to me condition of anonymity. One volunteer explained that the initiative is a coordinated effort with volunteers located in different tasked with to assessing the urgent needs to of the community. This information is then relayed to their teams to ensure that the right help if provided. Notably, she also lamented the increasing needs of patients and the shortage of resources. A pharmacist I spoke to told me that he in working alongside his colleagues to provide medicine such as Panadol and antibiotics to poorer people using money that has been donated to the campaign.
Wealthy Countries Should Share Vaccine Doses Before It Is Too Late
The Greater Good Depends on Ending the Pandemic Everywhere by Lawrence O. Gostin The world is on the brink of failing a critical test: the one measuring whether the international community is willing or able to end a global pandemic without leaving anyone behind. Wealthy countries have bought up vast vaccine supplies, leaving poorer ones to cope with extreme scar-
city. An international initiative known as the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) aims to distribute vaccines widely and equitably, but it is short of funds. At best, COVAX will reach only a small portion of the populations of low-income countries this year. The South African government has aptly warned of a coming global â€œvaccine apartheid.â€?
There is still time to manage this differently. Wealthy countries have a moral duty to help distribute vaccines. It is also in their economic interest. Instead of hoarding supplies, these countries should reallocate doses to low- and middle-income countries and provide funding to ensure that the most vulnerable populations—including minorities and stateless people—and, ultimately, entire populations are immunized, regardless of income.
A SMART SACRIFICE Political leaders face strong pressures to prioritize vaccinating their own populations. The impulse to care first for one’s own people can be morally justified but only within limits. All people have equal worth, with similar aspirations for health and productivity. The equitable distribution of vaccines—as well as tests and therapies—is an ethical and humanitarian imperative. It is also the most efficient way to address or reverse the crises that the coronavirus pandemic has set in motion, many of which will soon enough affect all nations, whether they have vaccine supplies or not.
A healthcare worker wearing a protective face mask, left, receives a dose of the Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Covid-19 vaccine at Bogor Regional Public Hospital in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Getty)
While the pandemic persists, progress in other areas of global health, such as immunizing children and eradicating polio, sharply reverses. Because of COVID-19, some 1.5 million more people were projected to die from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in 2020. That number approaches that of the world’s COVID-19 deaths in the same period. The number of people experiencing or at risk of acute hunger has roughly doubled in the last year, and the World Bank estimates that the pandemic has thrust 100 million people into extreme poverty, a fate another 50 million are expected to suffer by the end of this year. Women and girls confront a greater risk of gender-based violence, including rape, child marriage, and sex slavery, during the pandemic. And school closings and inaccessible remote learning have left 463 million children without formal education. Only by vaccinating the world’s population can these destabilizing and immiserating trends be reversed or brought to heel. Large clusters of disease in low-income countries risk reseeding the pandemic in high-income countries—and such unchecked spread will hinder the global economic recovery and undermine the security of governments worldwide. To distribute enough vaccines, drugs, and tests to developing countries will cost an estimated $24 billion in 2021. That is a significant sum at a time when even high-income economies have been battered. But the investment will bring benefits that far outstrip the cost. The International Monetary Fund has projected that worldwide vaccination would add nearly $9 trillion to the global economy by
The world’s major economies should not only commit some of their pandemic relief spending to countries with low incomes but also extend a debt service moratorium through 2022 and cancel many of the poorest countries’ debts. 2025—conversely, the RAND Corporation has projected that for each year that low-income countries cannot access vaccines, the combined GDP of high-income countries would fall by $100 billion. The leaders of wealthy democracies must look beyond today, or their decisions will haunt them tomorrow.
REALLOCATING RIGHT True justice would require all high-income countries to relinquish their separately purchased vaccines and instead participate in COVAX. Doing so would ensure that vaccines were allocated on an equitable basis and that the most vulnerable everywhere were protected first, regardless of the ability to pay. But such a solution is politically implausible, given that wealthy countries have already begun to distribute the doses that they have purchased for themselves. Remarkably, even some COVAX participants have become part of the problem. Australia, Canada, and the European Union, for instance, have entered separate purchase agreements with vaccine makers, buying scarce supplies directly from producers and starving COVAX of doses. These countries seek to have it both ways, and current rules do not appear to impede them: they can join the global effort for equitable vaccine distribution and still secure early access for themselves. But the two efforts are in tension. The more supplies rich nations procure, the fewer doses remain for those who rely on COVAX. An equitable and truly effective worldwide vaccination program requires wealthy nations to reallocate their vaccine supplies. Canada, the EU, and the United States have all signaled some willingness to share doses that exceed their national needs. But sharing on the margins is insuf-
ficient. The EU, the United States, and COVAX should instead devise a plan that commits all countries that have secured doses to reallocating them. High-income countries are already vaccinating their vulnerable populations. But the doses that will be procured later this year—which are expected to be used for the general, low-risk populations of these high-income countries—can still be reallocated to COVAX. COVAX set an initial goal of covering the most vulnerable 20 percent of participating countries’ populations in 2021. This goal is far below the threshold needed for herd immunity and much lower than what high-income countries would tolerate for themselves. Reallocation would enable the facility to exceed that target, jump-start economies, and save lives. At the same time, all countries should increase their funding for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator), a global collaboration spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 testing and drugs. Doing so could raise the $24 billion that will be needed this year to secure global access not only to vaccines but also to testing, personal protective equipment, and therapies that can aid countries when vaccine access lags. These technologies would allow specialists to track and control the virus’s evolution and spread.
A SMALL PRICE TO PAY Wealthy countries will have to shoulder the greater part of the global burden of ending the pandemic. Funding obligations should be proportional to population size and income, as is the case with UN dues. Wealthy countries have already injected approximately $13 trillion into their own economies. But they have increased their social protection assistance—programs meeting people’s basic needs,
Wealthy countries have a moral duty to help distribute vaccines. It is also in their economic interest.
such as for food and unemployment support—to low- and middle-income countries only by less than $6 billion as of last October. Wealthy countries should commit at least two percent of their COVID-19 spending to response and recovery measures in low- and middle-income countries. Doing so meets not only a moral obligation but also a legal one, under international human rights law. According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, wealthy countries have an obligation to “take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation” to realize every person’s human rights. Moreover, helping other countries fight the pandemic can boost global markets and stabilize governments, strengthening the economic recovery and national security interests of wealthy countries, as well. President Joe Biden has promised a major COVID-19 recovery package early in his administration. If the United States and other wealthy nations were to commit two percent of such spending abroad, they would release some $260 billion in funds. That amount could cover the needs of the ACT-Accelerator and more. The sum would also
Kenyan students from Our Lady of Mercy Primary School Nairobi South have their temperature measured as they resume in-class learning after a nine-month disruption caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Nairobi on January 4, 2021. (Getty)
LOOKING INWARD Countries should aim to equitably distribute resources not only around the world but also within their borders. They must steward their vaccine supplies transparently and equitably, including to undocumented immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized communities hard hit by the pandemic, such as people of color in the United States, migrant workers in Singapore, and indigenous peoples in Brazil. Doing so will require policymakers to set ethical priorities but also to undertake community outreach efforts that aim at ensuring inclusion. Even as the wealthy countries undertake the hard work of looking inward, they must not neglect the most vulnerable global populations, some of whom reside within their borders. These include refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, and stateless people. Such communities are often crowded together, which puts them at particular risk of infection, and their lack of citizenship in their countries of residence makes them especially likely to be left out of health care and vaccination campaigns. Ensuring the immunization of such communities is a matter not only of fairness but also of prevention of further spread. All countries should prioritize these populations, and COVAX should require recipient countries to cover them. In fact, the facility should increase its 2021 vaccination goal to include the 80 million forcibly displaced people and at least 10 million stateless people. allow the UN World Food Program to meet the needs of more than 270 million people facing or at direct risk of acute food insecurity. It would further help the UN meet the needs of the 235 million people requiring humanitarian aid, such as emergency medical assistance or rescue from natural disasters or political persecution—a figure that has dramatically increased because of the pandemic. The funds could help strengthen social safety nets in lowincome countries and bolster grassroots organizations with access to marginalized populations. The world’s major economies should not only commit some of their pandemic relief spending to countries with low incomes but also extend a debt service moratorium through 2022 and cancel many of the poorest countries’ debts. They should support the International Monetary Fund in creating Special Drawing Rights, an asset added to countries’ foreign reserves that can be converted into currency. The sooner the world jump-starts the economies of low- and middle-income countries, the sooner those countries will be able to finance their own vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic tests when the next pandemic hits.
The world will almost certainly face another pandemic. The next novel outbreak may or may not compare to COVID-19 in magnitude and severity; but to anticipate its eventuality, the WHO, with full support from the world’s governments, should set up a standing fund to cover vaccine research, development, and allocation. The G-7 or G-20, for example, could spearhead this fund. All countries should further agree upon binding rules for the equitable distribution of vaccines, therapeutics, and testing by, for instance, adopting a separate global health treaty that includes these rules or reforming the International Health Regulations, which address the obligations of countries and of the WHO to public health emergencies. The equity action agenda we have proposed will not only save lives and propel economic recovery but also demonstrate that today’s fractured world can come together for a common purpose. Such cooperation will ultimately serve a host of global priorities—from climate change to future global health security—that require shared endeavor and a commitment to justice. This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.
Treat the Attack on the Capitol as Terrorism Failing to do So Simply Because Most of the Rioters Were White and Regard Themselves as “Patriots” Would be Deeply Unjust by Michel Paradis Public officials from Vice President Mike Pence on down have sung a consistent refrain since a mob attacked the Capitol on January 6: Those involved should be prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law.”
For those implicated in the murder of the Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, the penalties are obviously severe. Murdering a federal official carries a life sentence and, depending on what is proven at trial, could carry the death penalty.
For the others who swarmed the Capitol, though, the standard penalties could be underwhelming. The federal statute most on point, which is often used against protesters who disrupt congressional hearings, carries a maximum six-month sentence. The government-property statute has been used when protests get violent, but under that law, those who vandalized the Capitol would also face, at most, ten years’ imprisonment. Even those who physically clashed with Capitol Police face a maximum punishment of only eight years, so long as they didn’t use a weapon.
Limiting the definition of terrorism to the actions of people from “over there,” particularly the Muslim over there, has been a feature of right-wing politics since terrorism first entered federal law.
Many of these punishments, well below the mandatory minimum someone would typically face in federal court for growing a small plot of marijuana, are out of step with the gravity of what transpired in Washington, D.C. Evidence is still coming in, but what we know shows that the attack on the Capitol was not a mere disruption of government business. It was a coordinated siege on the heart of our democracy.
Flags and a podium are in place as preparations are made ahead of Presidentelect Joe Biden›s inauguration ceremony at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 16, 2021. (Getty)
When a white supremacist mounted an ISIS–style car attack on civil-rights protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, for example, many politicians denounced what happened as “domestic terrorism.” President Donald Trump’s response was at best cagey. “Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, The acting U.S. attorney general for D.C. has his family and his country. And that is—you can call suggested that his office is exploring sedition charges. it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it But if prosecutors are truly serious about punishing whatever you want.” This equanimity contrasted those who attacked the Capitol to the fullest extent of with his lack of hesitation two days later in calling a the law, they will treat the attack as an act of terrorism. similar car attack in Barcelona, this time by a Muslim, a “terror attack.” Although “domestic terrorism” is not a standalone federal crime, the United States Federal Sentencing It would be tempting to chalk up Trump’s allergy to Guidelines allow prosecutors to apply a “terrorism using the word terrorism to describe violent nationalists enhancement” to nearly every federal crime. to his inability to criticize anyone who supports him. Prosecutors have used this enhancement and the But limiting the definition of terrorism to the actions extraordinarily severe penalties it carries against any of people from “over there,” particularly the Muslim number of ethnic, religious, and political minorities over there, has been a feature of right-wing politics over the past 25 years. Failing to apply it to those who since terrorism first entered federal law. In fact, one stormed the Capitol in an effort to violently disrupt of the only times Republicans wax eloquent on the the peaceful transition of power simply because most danger that the concept of terrorism poses to civil are white and regard themselves as “patriots” would liberties is when terrorism has threatened to curtail their constituents’ gun rights. be deeply unjust. Chuck Schumer called the attack on the Capitol “domestic terrorism” as soon as he retook the floor of the Senate, and Joe Biden echoed the point the following day when he announced his nomination of Merrick Garland as attorney general. Thus far, however, many in the outgoing Trump administration have been notably reluctant to use those words, a reticence that has troubling echoes of the past four years.
The first modern anti-terrorism laws were passed in the 1980s in response to the hijackings of TWA Flight 847 and the cruise liner MS Achille Lauro. Since that time, they have grown in scope and severity, but have always been limited to international terrorism. This constraint was challenged during the Clinton administration when the federal government found itself in routine confrontation with self-styled militias. The 1995 bombingof the Alfred P. Murrah Federal
Building in Oklahoma City, in which 168 people were killed, including 19 children in a day care, was a watershed tragedy and prompted the enactmentof the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. But AEDPA—a still-controversial law due to a number of its “tough-on-crime” provisions—did little to address domestic terrorism directly and created no domestic-terrorism crime. cSome have argued that the attack on the Capitol shows that it is necessary to make domestic terrorism a standalone federal crime, supported by all of the national-security tools currently used to combat international terrorism. But no new laws are needed for prosecutors to treat the attack on the Capitol as the act of terrorism that it was. Although Congress assiduously avoided creating a standalone domesticterrorism crime in 1996, AEDPA made terrorism of any kind one of the most significant enhancements in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The enhancement applies to anyone who commits any one of a list of more than 50 federal crimes with the intent “to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” That list includes crimes that nearly everyone who stormed the Capitol either committed, attempted to commit, or conspired to commit. And crucially for those who might have helped incite or orchestrate the attack on the Capitol from afar, it also applies to anyone who commits any other serious federal crime with the intent to “promote” such terrorism. In the 25 years that the terrorism enhancement has been on the books, federal prosecutors have used it to add decades to the sentences of Occupy protesters, anti-abortion-rights activists, militant environmentalists, self-styled militia members, and, in the large majority of cases, Muslims who often did far less than those who attacked the Capitol.
As a matter of law and rhetoric, terrorism fits the kind of political violence seen in the nation’s Capitol, violence whose intent and effect is to leave an indelible trauma on the collective memory.
As a matter of law and rhetoric, terrorism fits the kind of political violence seen in the nation’s Capitol, violence whose intent and effect is to leave an indelible trauma on the collective memory. With the terrorism enhancement, the potential sentences faced by nearly everyone who had a role in the attack on the Capitol are astronomical. Where someone convicted
Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 2021 ,6, in Washington, DC. (Getty)
of destroying government property would ordinarily face up to ten years, the terrorism enhancement raises the minimum sentence to more than 17 years. Anyone who physically pushed their way past a Capitol Police officer could be looking at a minimum of 20 years. Anyone even indirectly implicated in the murder of Officer Sicknick faces life. If that sounds harsh, that is the cold reality of the nation’s terrorism laws.
mistake and found themselves swept up in the day’s events, the prospect of more than 17 years in prison will be a strong incentive to help prosecutors build their cases against those members of the mob who were truly attempting to orchestrate an insurrection or implicated in murder.
The ultimate decision on whether to treat the attack on the Capitol as terrorism will fall to the incoming In practical terms, most of these cases are likely to attorney general, Merrick Garland. Garland made his plead out. Because the application of the terrorism bones leading the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh for enhancement when bringing charges is largely left to the Oklahoma City bombing. Whether he decides to prosecutorial discretion, its most significant role will use that event’s most significant legal legacy remains likely be in leveraging cooperation from potential to be seen. But doing so would be to prosecute to the witnesses. For those who feel that they made a “fullest extent of the law.”
We Don’t Know How Many People Have Recovered From COVID- 19
Varying Reporting Metrics Paint an Inaccurate Picture By Amanda French and Quang P. Nguyen though not all, of the state-level “recovered” In November, The Covid Tracking Project stopped reporting recovery figures for the United States as a whole, and yesterday we also removed many,
values from our website. We want, above all, to provide accurate and meaningful information. Unfortunately, when it comes to recovery data at both the national and state levels, accurate and
meaningful information is hard to come by. There are several reasons to remove these data from our website. First, several states and territories, including large states like California and Florida, don’t report any kind of recovery data, and it doesn’t make sense to report a national total that excludes so much of the country. A second and crucial reason is that “recovered” has no standard definition, and states report it in many different ways. Just as important, many people who have had COVID19- and have lived to tell the tale—and many of whom are categorized as “recovered”—don’t consider themselves to have actually recovered.
Total cases nubmer in the U.S. seen on a smartphone screen in front of the US map on the COVID19coronavirus dashboard (Getty)
COVID19- can have many long-term health consequences, and none of the definitions for counting people who have “recovered” from COVID19- accounts for latent or ongoing health issues that can be caused by COVID19-. Children who develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome because of COVID19- and “long-haulers,” who continue to suffer worrying symptoms months after first falling ill with COVID19-, are often wrongfully included in recovery statistics, since not all pandemic-burdened public-health departments have the resources to do the individual followup investigations that they would ordinarily do for an infectious disease. Moreover, when public-health offices do conduct individual case investigations, many COVID19- patients do not respond to inquiries, leaving case investigators in the dark about the process of convalescence—the sometimes slow and always individual voyage back to health. Determining how many people have recovered from COVID19-, then, is currently more like trawling with a net than fishing with a pole: Every attempt dredges up a lot of scaly things we don’t want. The CDC has not provided an official definition of what it means for a COVID19- patient to recover, in the sense of returning to a pre-COVID19- state of health, but it does provide some guidance on when COVID19- patients no longer need to be isolated. In its guidance for “discontinuation of Transmission-Based Precautions” for persons with COVID19-, the CDC recommends using a “symptom-based strategy,” which calls for releasing people with mild cases of COVID19-
One study found that people with severe cases of COVID19- continued to suffer related health problems three months after being discharged from the hospital from isolation 10 days after their illness began, if and only if their symptoms have improved without the need of medication. Those who are asymptomatic or immunocompromised should still be tested to see if they have any remaining virus in their system, but they should consult with local health experts instead of relying only on negative test results. A key aspect of these CDC guidelines is that they are aimed at controlling infection, not at judging health. This is an important distinction, especially given the demonstrable long-term health effects of COVID19- that extend beyond the respiratory symptoms stated in the guideline. Many states use these CDC definitions to inform their own reported data of how many people have “recovered” from COVID19-, which means that states are really reporting the number of people who are no longer infectious, not the number of people who have returned to a pre-COVID state of health. In the absence of federal guidance, and as with many other COVID19- metrics, different U.S. jurisdictions rely on different definitions for reporting recoveries. Some states and territories have still not adopted the CDC’s mid-July recommendation to primarily take symptom improvement into consideration when estimating how many people are no longer infectious, some states have begun tracking recovery data for “probable” cases of COVID19- identified by rapid antigen tests, and several states that once reported recovery data have recently stopped. Among the 48 jurisdictions that have reported
a version of a “recovered” value, available definitions generally fall into one of four categories: days since diagnosis/onset; symptom improvement; hospital discharged; or definitions that are unclear. The first category bases “recovery” on a certain number of days—generally between 14 and 30—after a positive test result or symptom onset where the patient has not died. This is the most common type of recovery definition among U.S. states and territories; 18 jurisdictions have provided definitions that include similar criteria. Definitions in the second resemble the CDC’s multilevel guidance for releasing patients from isolation and include information about whether a patient’s COVID19- symptoms have improved. The third category simply refers to people diagnosed with COVID19-, hospitalized, and then discharged from the hospital; it does not include the majority of people who contract COVID19-, because most people with COVID19are never hospitalized. States in the final category report a “recovery” figure but do not provide any publicly available definitions. Unfortunately, all of these definitions still do not capture the complete spectrum of health issues experienced by COVID19- patients. Six states that once reported recovery statistics have stopped, many citing their difficulties with collecting complete or reliable data. And eight jurisdictions have never provided any recovery statistics. This could be due to many factors, including a lack of understanding of the disease
States are really reporting the number of people who are no longer infectious, not the number of people who have returned to a pre-COVID state of health
or the difficulty of collecting relevant data, as many cases experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Washington, for example, has never reported recovery data, and according to The Seattle Times, the Washington Department of Health “doesn’t track how many people have recovered … because so little is known about what recovery looks like.” Similarly, Rhode Island estimates recovery figures but does not publish them, due to the lack of a standard definition. The state also attributes difficulties in reporting this figure to the fact that many of those who were infected were not tested. It became clear to us months ago that reporting this incomplete patchwork of unlike statistics at the national level would be a distortion. We believe that under the current lack of standardization and complete reporting, the total number of people in the U.S. who have actually recovered from COVID19- cannot reasonably be inferred.
People wait for 15 minutes after receiving their COVID19vaccine at Gillette Stadium on January ,15 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts (Getty)
While we collect thousands of data points about COVID19-, these numbers cannot capture the varied experiences of the more than 22 million people who have tested positive in the U.S. to date. Since March, more than 371,000 people have died, and different individuals who are said to have “recovered” based on states’ definitions may be in dramatically different states of health. One study found that people with severe cases of COVID19- continued to suffer related health problems three months after being discharged from the hospital. Most or even all such cases would likely be considered recovered by CDC and U.S. state definitions. Similarly, the impressive group of researchers born out of the Body Politic support group for “long COVID” patients points out in a summary of its patient-led research that “recovery is volatile, includes relapses, and can take six or more weeks.” The group asked people who had
tested positive for COVID19- to define “recovery” for themselves—partly because of the lack of a clinical definition, and partly as a way to honor the lived experience of people who actually got the disease. In their report, “What Does COVID19Recovery Actually Look Like?,” the researchers wrote that in the future, they hope to create a standardized definition of recovery based on the types of symptoms and the severity of the illness. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the first COVID19- diagnoses in the United States, few public-health departments have had the capacity to follow up on each case and assemble an accurate picture of how many people in a given jurisdiction have genuinely recovered. Good recovery data for the first year of the U.S. pandemic are—and will likely remain— impossible to produce. This article was originally published in The Atlantic
India Has a Fake-Jobs Problem Employment Fraud in the Country is Neither New nor Small, but its Prospects Have Never Looked Brighter by Snigdha Poonam On July 1, a few days after a woman in India registered for an account on the careers site Naukri.com and uploaded a resume, a recruiter called her: One of the country’s leading real-estate companies was hiring for a senior position, and more details would follow soon. The woman had posted her details on the site, whose name means “job” in Hindi, because she feared losing her current role as a mechanical engineer. The coronavirus pandemic was in full swing, and India’s caseload was increasing fast. A brutal weeks-long lockdown had hammered businesses, throwing huge numbers
of people out of work, with data later showing that in the three months immediately preceding the recruiter’s phone call, India’s economy had contracted by 23.9 percent. The national capital, New Delhi, where she lived, had been particularly badly affected. Later that week, a human-resources manager at the real-estate company called, as promised. The job was hers, if she wanted it, and would begin the following month. All that was required was a show of commitment in the form of a security fee, which would be refunded once she started in her new role. The initial sum was 680,000 rupees, or about $9,200. Though such demands are rare in India, she was worried about losing her job, so she agreed,
An Indian man wearing a protective mask sits on a bench, as India remains under an unprecedented lockdown over the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID19-) on April 2020 ,10 in New Delhi, India. (Getty)
transferring the funds. Over the following days, the company asked for another deposit, to professionally verify her credentials and arrange for top-grade work equipment. This time it was 2.2 million rupees, or nearly $30,000. Throughout the conversation, she was assured that the money would be refunded. Once again, she paid. Then the calls stopped. The HR manager could not be reached. The company was unresponsive. August, when she should have been starting, came and went, as did September. By this point it was clear that she had been scammed. Finally, on October 6, she went to the nearest police station. Officers there, who shared the details of the case with me (the woman declined to be identified or interviewed), were sympathetic, but had few leads. Calls from the purported HR manager had been made over the internet, using a virtual private network to disguise their original source. The scammers had been impersonating executives at Naukri.com and the real-estate company and could not be found. By following the bank-account transfers, the police were able to trace where the money had been sent, but again the answer was confounding. According to Ajit Kumar, an officer in the Delhi police department’s cybercrimes unit, the recipient bank account belonged to a 28-year-old security guard at a housing complex on the outskirts of New Delhi. When he was questioned by police, Kumar and other officers told me, the guard confessed that two years before, he had been approached by a man who had offered him a lucrative deal: All the guard had to do was lend his identity details for several new bank accounts to be opened in his name, and, for every withdrawal, he would get 10 percent of the amount taken. Kumar and his colleagues arrested the guard; he remains in custody but has yet to identify the person who made him the offer. To some extent, the details of the incident are typical in a place like India: A raft of qualified and educated young people hop between companies in search of better pay and benefits, using sites like Naukri.com to advertise their talents, and some are scammed along the way, their only safety net an overburdened and underresourced police force. Yet the case also points to something else. India has been badly hit by COVID-19, with more confirmed cases than in any country besides the United States, and the economic impact has been severe. With large numbers of people who are reliant on daily labor to survive, and the persistent demands of an expanding middle class, the pressure for growth was enormous even before the pandemic began. COVID-19 has turned back the clock, reversing years of progress. One sector has withstood the onslaught: the fake-jobs economy, a vicious wheel of desperation in which each human spoke—from those who make the calls offering nonexistent work, to those whose identities are stolen, to those who are bilked of their savings—is a tale of hardship. Entering India’s professional class isn’t easy. The barriers are both diverse—caste, family background, gender, language, and religion, to name a few—and deep-rooted. The country’s education system is famously rigid and competitive, with top universi-
Entering India’s professional class isn’t easy The barriers are both diverse- caste, family background, gender, language, and religion, to name a few- and deep-rooted. ties setting absurdly high entrance requirements, confident that they will still have an abundance of qualified applicants. Even those who make it that far have no guarantee of high-paying employment: India’s economy must generate millions of new jobs every year for its young and expanding population, but it perennially falls short. And there is no respite once people are gainfully employed, because a plethora of new job seekers are always on the way. Still, since India’s economic liberalization in 1991, millions have managed to beat the odds, becoming sales executives and hotel supervisors, engineers and doctors, project managers and airline pilots. These individuals embody the tale the country likes to tell the world about its economic expansion over the past 30 years. The coronavirus has dealt an enormous blow, however. India’s first lockdown, which began in late March, lasted several weeks and effectively shut down swaths of its economy. Hordes of informal workers rushed back to their home towns and villages, fleeing cities where there was no work left, and where they had no savings or assets to rely on. Many more state and local lockdowns would follow, each inflicting more economic damage. As those restrictions have eased, and the economy has begun to open back up, poorer Indians in the informal economy are getting back to work at shops, factories, and restaurants. But the damage to the country’s formal sector, affecting nearly a third of nonfarmworkers, is significant. The mechanical engineer in New Delhi held on to her existing job, despite her worries. Between April and August, 21 million salaried workers did become unemployed, however, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a Mumbai-based research firm. There have been widespread reports of unemployed white-collar workers having to shift to worse-paid manual labor just to make ends meet. There appears to be little respite on the horizon: The International Monetary Fund has projected a 10.3 percent decline in the economy in the 2020–21 fiscal year. India’s own official estimates forecast a 7.7 percent contraction in gross domestic product, the biggest annual shrinkage since 1952. According to CMIE, even by the end of December, nearly 15 million fewer people were employed than at the start of the first lockdown. “Those who lost their jobs were concentrated in urban regions, among women, among the relatively younger workers, the graduates and post-graduates and the salaried employees,” Mahesh Vyas, CMIE’s managing director, wrote in a recent col-
umn for Business Standard. India’s economy was on precarious footing before the pandemic struck, with growth failing to spur sufficient job creation or keep pace with developing what remains in parts a poor country. The pandemic has worsened that reality, unraveling dreams even for those lucky few who have made it through the gamut of the country’s education and employment demands. This has left many people chasing employment wherever they can find it. Yet while real openings are hard to find, fake offers await them at every turn. India’s job-fraud industry is neither new nor small, but its prospects have never looked brighter. I first reported on employment scams for the Hindustan Times several years ago, and have regularly followed up on new developments ever since. As part of this routine, I speak with scammers, victims, and investigators, survey employment ads and recruitment agencies, track down fake-job centers, follow complaint and confession forums, monitor socialmedia networks in which the scammers trade notes, and trace news reports. (Most of the fraudsters and victims request anonymity, either wanting to shield themselves from the authorities or fearing the embarrassment that comes from revealing that they have been preyed upon.) In 2017, a colleague and I put together a nationwide database of cases reported in news publications. In total, we compiled reported scams ensnaring 30,000 Indians in a single year—and that was just the number we found in Englishlanguage media. The variety was mind-boggling: from scams run by five people to those run across five cities; from uneducated workers conned out of $50 to elite professionals who lost a hundred times that; from fake jobs promised at nameless call centers to those being “sold” at India’s biggest tech companies. I haven’t updated the database in a while, but over the past couple of years, job fraud has become a phenomenon I no longer find just in the news. Victims range from my own colleagues to complete strangers I meet on reporting trips. The methods keep changing, but the patterns remain the same: The harder it becomes to find real work, the easier it is to sell fake offers. Right now, the conditions are ideal. Nonexistent jobs are being advertised across the Indian internet—on websites, messaging apps, social media, and even e-commerce portals. There is a fake job out there for everyone who is looking, from chief executives to clerks. Spotting one isn’t hard: The clues often lie in the ads themselves. Many of them stress “mass openings” and require “immediate joining,” offer lavish salaries and quick incentives, provide sketchy contact information, and contain no verifiable details. Some can be cleared up once a phone call is made, which usually ends up with the “employer” asking the job seeker to send money to secure the job. Others require a physical visit to an actual office where an applicant is faced with serious interviewers and, if they pass, an official contract. But again, they can’t show up to work until they have paid a security deposit. Of course,
once they send the money, everything vanishes: people, phone numbers, physical addresses. The official numbers for reported job frauds in 2020 won’t be known for months, but many police departments are recording a spurt. In Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern state of Kerala, police registered 27 cases through July, and the police commissioner, Balram Kumar Upadhyaya, told reporters the scammers were specifically targeting those who had lost their jobs during the pandemic. The victims included one person who paid about $1,300 to secure a management job in Canada. According to Assistant Police Commissioner G. Shekhar, one police force in Hyderabad, in the center of India, recorded 69 cases through September, compared to 59 in all of 2019. Among them was a woman who paid more than $5,000 for a job at a multinational company, lured by a scammer who ran a fake-job website called Careersyte. In Delhi, police officers are confronting an explosion in fake-job portals and scam centers. In South Delhi, where the mechanical engineer taken for thousands of dollars lives, dozens of cases have come in since June, the assistant police commissioner, Eish Singhal, told me. In July, the capital’s police shut down several websites that faked government credentials to offer unemployment grants to the newly jobless under a state program that doesn’t exist. Of course, these numbers are an underestimate. Only a fraction of schemes are covered by the press, and not every victim files a police complaint—many told me they were loath to spend long periods in police stations, and, thinking of the corruption-stained
An Indian labourer drinks tea as he has a break from work in the old quarters of New Delhi on January ,31 2019. (Getty)
There is a fake job out there for everyone who is looking, from chief executives to clerks. Spotting one isn’t hard: The clues often lie in the ads themselves.
reputation of many of India’s forces, were worried that they would have to pay further bribes to try to get their original money back; officers, meanwhile, argued that they lacked even a fraction of the resources necessary to chase tip-offs, many of which led only to the arrest of relative small fry, such as the village security guard Kumar nabbed. Instead, many of the victims post their experiences online, joining a community that exchanges tips, alerts, cautionary tales, and sob stories in YouTube comments and Quoraanswers. After Akanksha Panwar posted a YouTube video in May describing her sister-in-law’s job-fraud ordeal, dozens of people commented. “Only some of them are thanking me for alerting them to this scam,” she told me. “Most of them are saying that the same thing has already happened to them.” Others recount stories from the other side, within the employment-fraud industry. In one YouTube video posted in July, highschool graduate Suhel Khan described the two months he spent right out of high school as a job scammer. For a little more than $100 a month, Khan posted dozens of fake-job ads every day on OLX, an Indian equivalent of eBay, from an office in Delhi. (He initially agreed to an interview, but later canceled, apparently fearful of being investigated by the authorities. His video, however, remains up.) Khan told viewers about how colleagues in a different room would answer calls from prospective job seekers, claiming to be HR managers for top-tier Indian companies such as the e-commerce giant Flipkart or the automotive behemoth
Tata Motors and conducting interviews for nonexistent jobs. “No one failed these interviews regardless of the answers they gave,” he said. “Everyone got a job.” What followed were requests for security deposits, made more real by the dispatch of letters using fake letterhead and stamps of the companies in question, and then more requests for money, this time to pay for equipment. Khan said he quit after grasping the scale of the fraud, cautioning his viewers to heed his every word. There are certainly malicious actors in this whole mess—people who know full well what role they are playing in defrauding others—and even those who have made peace with working in the overall industry, offering up nonexistent jobs to secure their own paycheck. Yet in the years I have covered these scams, the persistent theme has been one of desperation: the desperation of the person who, offered an opportunity that is likely too good to be true, hands over their savings anyway, hoping to make a little more money; the desperation of the person who rents out his or her name and address for a tidy commission, looking to supplement an otherwise meager wage; the desperation of the call-center staffer hawking fake jobs, aiming to fulfill a white-collar dream. The scam jobs multiply so fast that few recruits stick to one beyond a few months. Some move on from selling fake jobs to selling fake loans within a week. All of these people have been failed by a system that, at multiple turns, has been found wanting. In November, I called a phone number listed in a payment receipt distributed by the same Delhi placement agency, and asked the person at the other end of the line about its association with employment-fraud schemes. The man who responded introduced himself as Madhav Singh and told me he had recently left the agency (the number I had dialed was a cellphone). “What you are saying is news to me,” Singh said, claiming that he had only worked at the agency for a couple months. Depressingly, he himself had fallen prey to multiple job scams, thereby losing thousands of rupees as he sought work during the pandemic. “I really needed the money.” In speaking to Singh, the overriding theme of desperation came up once again. The frustration in his voice was evident—at one point, he said if I really cared about the issue, I should start an NGO to spread awareness, rather than just writing an article. Then, before I hung up, he asked if I knew of any jobs available.
Banks Need to Strike the Right Balance for Digital Transformation
New Customer Demands Require Technology and Deep Knowledge of Banking By Martha Leib Every financial institution is looking to digital transformation to meet rising customer expectations for speed and convenience, lower
its operating cost, and fend off competition, including from tech companies moving into financial services. Some are spending over %10 of yearly revenue on technology investments, according to Bloomberg. â€œThis is a huge
investment and most financial institutions cannot support this for the long term,” says Michael Fei, SME banking CEO at OneConnect Financial Technology, an associate of Ping An Insurance. The covid19- pandemic has revealed how even financial institutions that considered themselves digitally advanced are, in reality, still wedded to analog processes along the chain of processing. “For many financial institutions, this has been a wake-up call,” says Fei. “In the past, many had thought that if they have an online portal and a mobile application then that’s enough. But now they’ve realized it’s not. Some banks have online portals and mobile apps where you can apply for loans, but they still need to send items to the customer and carry out on-site inspection before they can process the loans, which hasn’t been possible during covid. Banks have had to reshape and redesign the whole process of their lending products.” Banks have also realized their lack of truly deep customer knowledge, which is crucial to inform responsible and flexible decisions during an economic downturn as customer needs rapidly change.
The first in.clusion Fintech conference was held on 24th September, 2020 in Shanghai,China (Getty)
“Now that everything is digital, financial institutions are realizing how little they knew their customers,” says Tan Bin Ru, chief executive officer for Southeast Asiaat OneConnect Financial Technology. “Customer hyper-personalization tools, to understand what products to offer, have been acknowledged conceptually for a long time but not implemented—now banks are moving towards it and really getting tools to do it.” Traditional banks that were not previously utilizing alternative datasets now want to integrate them more into secure lending, Tan says.
THE POWER OF PARTNERSHIPS
OneConnect solves both problems by offering a broad sweep of turnkey solutions, with the commercial scale and security that customers can rely on customers want things immediately. This has put huge pressure on these financial institutions to build agile operations and systems to be able to respond to the needs of their customers.” But the number of tech companies pushing into financial services can be overwhelming and not all of them have domain expertise, which can lead to misguided attempts to apply new technologies everywhere. Without experience of financial services, tech companies may also underestimate the trade-offs involved in deploying certain digital tools. OneConnect combines expertise in digital technology with deep knowledge of banking. Fei, who has past experience working at HSBC China and Bank of Langfang, a Chinese commercial bank, describes one partnership with a Chinese national bank to reimagine its customer service center as an illustration of why banking experience matters in digital reform. The lender was looking to transform a -6,000person call center toward a more intelligent, AI-enabled approach with greater use of automation. But automating customer services must be done carefully; customers will not appreciate being handed off to a robot for certain sensitive or urgent inquiries where a human counterpart is desired.
OneConnect built a knowledge map with the Banks have increasingly understood they need bank, to understand and anticipate what problem outside help to execute their digital transformation a customer is trying to solve with a given query, agenda. “Banks usually have very rigid systems and then understanding when and where to apply and procedures,” says Fei. “For instance, if you automation versus human support. “This required want to launch a new product you have to follow extensive understanding of the business and the the process, and it takes at least six months. In industry, which many technology companies do the age of digitalization, this doesn’t work, as not have,” he says. “You need that, to know when to intervene, what should be done by robotics
and what should be a human being. Many tech companies cannot offer this.” Rather than advocating digital transformation across the board, OneConnect works to get the right balance between customization and integration, and to appreciate that banks are looking for a blend, or omnichannel approach. “Our banking customers, and their customers, want to be offline for certain things, and online for others; they want that flexibility,” says Tan. A second partnership problem banks face is the sheer number of technology vendors and startups, which can be overwhelming and complicate their digital transformation journey. It is unclear which fintechs will survive and which will not; startups might offer an appealing technology, but if their underlying business model proves unviable, or they cannot raise sufficient funding to support their expansion, or they pivot to a new direction, a bank is exposed. In many cases, banks take on many different fintechs because no single startup can manage the breadth of their needs, or because the bank wants to diversify its risk. “Since the digital journey is such a long process, a lot of banks feel they need to look at 15 to 20 fintechs to piece together their journey, but the more players they have, the more risk there is,” says Tan. OneConnect solves both problems—an overly
The number of tech companies pushing into financial services can be overwhelming and not all of them have domain expertise
complicated vendor network and the risk of working with fledgling tech companies—by offering a broad sweep of turnkey solutions, with the commercial scale and security that customers can rely on. Typically, a bank will chart its desired journey and up to %80 of those solutions can be provided by OneConnect, says Tan. The company, publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, also draws on over 30 years of experience in financial services of its parent
Ping An Bank logo seen at one of its branches (Getty)
serving all of its major banks, %99 of its city commercial banks, and %53 of insurance companies. But its footprint is increasingly global, with over 50 international customers in more than 15 markets, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Abu Dhabi. The company has built new technology solutions to enhance pricing accuracy, such as an alternative data, AI-based credit scoring model for a credit bureau in Indonesia, and supported Malaysian banks to develop user-friendly apps, digital portals, and onboarding. It is leveraging image recognition, a core enabler of “insur-tech” that allows insurers to quickly assess damage claims and pay out to eligible beneficiaries. OneConnect has partnered with Swiss Re, a European insurer, to develop a digital end-toend solution for motor claims handling, based on AI-based image recognition and advanced data analytics. The tool can analyze photos of vehicle damage, identify repair needs and costs within minutes, offer cash payments, and even offer value-added services, like directing drivers to a repair garage. OneConnect is also helping build the fintech ecosystem by working with governments, regulators, and stakeholders. It is working with Singapore’s blockchain association to build the skills, literacy, and talent pool needed to enable innovation and has partnered with Abu Dhabi Global Market, a financial center in the United Arab Emirates, to support the development of a “digital lab,” a sandbox for fintechs to collaborate and develop their innovations. company, Ping An, described by The Economist as a window into the future of finance. “No other traditional financial-services group in the world comes close to rivaling Ping An’s ability to develop technologies and deploy them at such a scale,” the magazine recently wrote.
ONECONNECT: THE JOURNEY SO FAR OneConnect has built a broad business in China,
Working closely with its partners at home and abroad, OneConnect is helping the finance industry move swiftly into the digital era by leveraging the right tools at the right time, benefiting customers and finance institutions alike by widening access to services and lowering costs. This article was originally published on MIT Technology Review.
A Weekly Political News Magazine
Issue 1836- January- 22/01/2021
Antony Blinken: Americaâ€™s Top Diplomat has a Sharp Eye on the Middle East www.majalla.com
The Deep Sadness of Marvel’s WandaVision
So Far, the Disney+ Show is Telling a Story Not About an Epic Struggle to Save Humanity, But About One Woman’s Efforts to Save Herself from Grief by Shirley Li
their regularly scheduled programming.
This story contains mild spoilers for the first three episodes of WandaVision.
Except nothing about WandaVision is regular, even in Marvel terms. It tells the story of a telepathic, telekinetic, and reality-bending superhero and her android lover—who, by the way, died in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. The two are living as TV characters in an idyllic small town for mysterious reasons that probably have to do with her abilities. It’s a superhero series remixed as a sitcom, by way of The Twilight Zone. Each episode jumps forward by a decade, letting the duo riff on the tropes of each era. Wanda and Vision appear to exist as the stars of a Truman Show–style show within a show, performing the life of a happy couple who happen to be able to levitate objects with a thought. (It’s all a little confusing and very meta. Just go with it.)
After 23 films, even a casual Marvel fan knows what it means to be an Avenger: fighting for those who can’t, against any threat, be it corporate greed or the surveillance state or a purple alien. Yet, in the series WandaVision, which premiered yesterday on Disney+, one of these storied Avengers rejects her duty in the second episode. When a mysterious man in a beekeeper outfit clambers out of a sewer and gazes menacingly at Wanda (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and her husband, Vision (Paul Bettany), she doesn’t raise her hands, flick her wrists, and wiggle her fingers to produce her signature red energy. “No,” she says quietly, dismissing the threat. The scene then rewinds to the moments before she and Vision went outside. She changes their dialogue so that they stay indoors. Back to
For a project that’s been touted as a “big swing” for the franchise, the characters
This show suggests that dwelling on what could have been to avoid a reality that hurts is the kind of human instinct that can ensnare even a superhero. appearance of normalcy. It’s unclear how much control she has in shaping this reality, but her need for stability prevents her from acknowledging that anything’s amiss. She likes playing house with Vision, hitting relationship milestones they never got the chance to reach in the films. She magically creates wedding rings, flaunts their bond at a local talent show, and births twins by the third episode. Without a Big Bad in sight, Wanda is the warden of the world they’ve found themselves in, and whether she knows it or not, the show’s antagonist is her grief.
marvel wandavision poster disney plus
haven’t actually taken any big swings so far. Vision and Wanda are a literal (super)power couple, but neither is working on saving the world. The three episodes screened for critics contain no major set pieces, and no clear villains. Red flags pop up consistently— an incident at a dinner party, a colorful toy helicopter in a black-and-white bush, a woman named Agnes (an excellent Kathryn Hahn) who’s a tad too interested in their lives. But Wanda pays them little mind, brushing them off and forcing her environment into an
That’s a deeply satisfying twist for a character who, in the comics, typically drives maximalist story lines. Wanda’s abilities and intricate family history invite farfetched plots with calamitous consequences, often those that involve rewriting realities. Given Vision’s death, Olsen’s on-screen version of the character could have easily been used to fuel a more dramatic and action-heavy story of vengeance. But WandaVision, at least for now, is instead opting for a close examination of Wanda’s psyche as she copes with her loss. It’s a choice that brings to mind the work of the comic-book writer Tom King, whose celebrated graphic novel about Vision transplanted Wanda’s spouse into suburbia to observe his inner struggle with control, normalcy, and the fact that he isn’t, well, human. Transplanting Wanda into a sitcom world serves her story the same way, interrogating
her state of mind rather than testing her powers. Everything is so meticulously designed to look fake, from the spotless sets to the hanging backdrops to the wire-controlled special effects. The dialogue is over the top; the laugh track—and, in the first episode, a live studio audience—is intrusive. Each of the self-contained sitcom story lines forces Wanda to keep a straight face, smiling as if nothing has hurt her. The obviously strange nature of the situation makes Wanda’s plight both more painful and more intense. She’s ignoring it all to see what she wants to see—a feat that doesn’t require any magic, just the kind of extraordinary will, denial, and mental compartmentalizing a person musters in mourning. Fantasizing about a life one didn’t get to lead—a marriage, a pregnancy, a cute suburban community to call home—can hold that anguish at bay. The show is inevitably going to fold into the larger Marvel story. Off-screen (or rather, off-off-screen), the series also carries the Marvel Cinematic Universe into “Phase Four”—the franchise’s post–Endgame saga of stories that’s expected to introduce the multiverseand feature far-flung characters from throughout the galaxy and beyond. Due to the pandemic, WandaVision is the first project to feature characters from the MCU films released in almost two years, and fans who’ve been itching for something
The typical superhero story challenges the limits of a character’s physical abilities, but Wanda’s plight tests her emotional strength.
mind-blowing to make up for the wait will delight in the Easter eggs and connections to the films. The character of Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), who appeared as a little girl in Captain Marvel, arrives in Episode 2. A voice on the radio calling to Wanda sounds suspiciously like that of the actor Randall Park, who played the FBI agent Jimmy Woo in Ant-Man and the Wasp and is confirmed to be in the show’s cast. Any comic-book fan probably has a theory or two about the identity of Wanda and Vision’s children. And the show-within-a-show format teases the existence of a world outside of Wanda’s, indicating something more ambitious to come. But so far, WandaVision is telling a story
not about an epic struggle to save humanity, but about one woman’s efforts to save herself from her sadness. She’s not the first superhero to be affected acutely by emotional pain; everyone knows that quote about great power and great responsibility. Yet for an MCU project, the choice to focus on Wanda’s inner life is revolutionary. In the films, characters don’t get much time to grieve. The Avengers had one scene in Endgame to mourn the death of a teammate, followed by a cameo-filled (but dialoguefree) funeral to say goodbye to another. Superheroes also rarely sit still in the face of loss: Significant deaths usually motivate them into action. All of Endgame is about characters who refuse to accept the deaths from the preceding film, going so far as to
travel through time to revive their friends. The typical superhero story challenges the limits of a character’s physical abilities, but Wanda’s plight tests her emotional strength. Her powers, after all, seem to have already helped her revive Vision, but her wishful thinking fuels the daydream they’re in. This show suggests that dwelling on what could have been to avoid a reality that hurts is the kind of human instinct that can ensnare even a superhero. “Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?” a disembodied voice asks her in Episode 2, interrupting a radio playing ’60s tunes. Wanda doesn’t respond, and only looks unsettled by the question. Perhaps she doesn’t know the answer. Or perhaps, deep down, she knows she’s the one doing this to herself.
Antony Blinken: America’s Top Diplomat has a Sharp Eye on the Middle East Majalla - London Newly inaugurated U.S. President Joe Biden has chosen his long-time aid, Anthony Blinken to serve as America’s new top diplomat in his cabinet. He must still be approved by a majority of US senators but after nearly two decades of working closely with Biden, he has been described as his “brain trust” on foreign policy. Blinken has held senior foreign policy positions in two administrations over three decades, including Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration, the nation’s number two diplomat. In that capacity, the Harvard College and Columbia Law School graduate chaired the inter-agency Deputies Committee, the administration’s principal forum for formulating foreign policy. He helped to lead diplomacy in the fight against ISIS by building a coalition of dozens of countries that worked to counter ISIS in the region. He also helped lead the rebalance to Asia, and the global refugee crisis, while building bridges to the innovation community. Before that, during the first term of the Obama Administration, he was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President. Blinken served for six years on Capitol Hill from 2002 to 2008 as Democratic Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was a member of President Clinton’s National Security Council staff from 1994 to 2001. Prior to joining the Clinton Administration, Blinken practiced law in New York and Paris and
was a reporter for The New Republic magazine and has written widely about foreign policy. He is the author of Ally Versus Ally: America, Europe, and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis. More recently, worked as a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and a global affairs analyst for CNN.
takes and regrets of the Obama era. On the decision not to intervene in any significant way in Syria (a decision Blinken opposed), he told CBS News: “We failed to prevent a horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement … something I will take with me for the rest of my days.”
Blinken has a long to-do list of foreign policy challenges that Biden wants to tackle, but some officials say he has the characteristics to be successful and there is little doubt that he will be on the same page as the president, having been at the his side for nearly two decades.
Regarding the JCPOA negotiated by President Barack Obama and abandoned by Trump, Blinken has defended the deal despite its weaknesses, which include failing to tackle Iran’s and malign activities across the region.
“He is a superb choice. He is an accomplished and experienced foreign policy expert,” said Colin Powell, President George W. Bush’s secretary of state who endorsed Biden in the 2020 campaign. “I know him well. He is a balanced diplomat with a superb reputation and will represent the United States with skill and professionalism.” Blinken has a sharp focus on the Middle East, which he says began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and again during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. When Biden was in the Senate, Blinken helped him craft a plan to address divisions in Iraq. He advocated for trying to divide Iraqis by their ethnic or sectarian identities in order to create three zones that would have the ability to govern themselves. The idea, however, was widely rejected, including by Iraq’s prime minister at the time. In recent interviews he has acknowledged the mis-
“In an ideal world, we would have negotiated every misbehaviour that Iran conducts both at home and around the world,” he wrote in The New York Times. “But we live in the real world, not an ideal world. The only issue that our partners were prepared to negotiate, including the Europeans, including China, Russia, not to mention Iran, was the nuclear programme.” Speaking to the Aspen Institute earlier this year, Blinken said Biden would recommit to the JCPOA and use diplomacy to address the broader issues with Iran. “[Biden] would seek to build on the nuclear deal to make it longer and stronger if Iran returns to strict compliance,” Blinken said. “And then we would be in a position to use our renewed commitment to diplomacy to work with our allies to strengthen and lengthen it, but also we’d be in a much better position to effectively push back against Iran’s destabilising activities.”
Reset Your Schedule, Reset Your Health
Schedule Shifts Can Hurt your Health. The New Year is a Great Time to Hit the Reset Button Harvard Health Throughout most of human history, the pattern of daily life was regular. Dreary for many, but regular. In recent centuries, ÂŤmodernÂť life has introduced many
irregularities, including changing work schedules. Advances in information technology mean that many of us are always connected -- and that we spend time connecting at all hours. And the COVID19- pandemic has introduced whole new irregularities into daily life.
One thing is certain: «When your schedule changes, you can lose the regular self-care routines that kept you active, eating right, and managing stress -- things we need to control weight and inflammation and fight disease,» says Dr. Monique Tello, a primary care physician and healthy lifestyle specialist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
SLEEP SCHEDULES Are you recently retired and reveling in newfound freedom to go to sleep and wake up at different times each day? Or are you working, often putting off bedtime to write one more email? An inconsistent sleep schedule throws off your circadian rhythm, the body›s internal clock. «If you go to bed before your circadian sleep time, you will have difficulty falling asleep. Stay up too late, and you will likely wake up before you are fully refreshed. Either way, an irregular schedule leads to difficulty getting sufficient sleep, causing chronic sleep deprivation, mood and thinking skills problems, and an increased risk for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes,» says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, associate physician with the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women›s Hospital.
MEAL SCHEDULES Circadian rhythm also affects hunger and metabolism (your body›s process of expending energy and burning calories). Ignore your circadian rhythm, and you could experience more hunger and slower metabolism (an impaired ability to burn calories). Being at home all the time can disrupt daily meal schedules, particularly for working people. «When you›re home, you›re closer to the kitchen and it›s easy to get a snack. Eating throughout the day means your blood sugar levels and insulin will be up all the time, and it›s impossible for the body to burn fat. That can lead to weight gain. You need periods of time when you›re not eating to allow your body to burn fat stores,» Dr. Tello says.
Eating throughout the day means your blood sugar levels and insulin will be up all the time, and it›s impossible for the body to burn fat. That can lead to weight gain. workout routine gets disrupted and they may not form a new one,» Dr. Tello says. If you›re working more hours, you may feel you don›t have the time to exercise. One result: «We›ve been seeing more people complaining of back pain and pain radiating down the leg,» Dr. Tello says. «It›s from too much sitting, which leads to weak core muscles and pain.» A lack of daily moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking) also hurts sleep, digestion, mood, thinking skills, mobility, stress management, and weight control, while increasing the risk for heart disease, diabetes, depression, and several types of cancer, particularly breast and colon cancers. Too much sitting is linked to premature death.
MEDICATION SCHEDULES A change in your activities may affect your ability to stick to a medication schedule. «I understand -- things happen. You may get caught up in an activity and forget to take your medication,» Dr. Tello says. «Or maybe you›ve been prescribed a new medication with four doses per day, and you›re not sure how to make it work with the rest of your regimen.» But sometimes skipping even one dose poses health risks. For example, if you have Parkinson›s disease and forget to take your pill, you may experience muscle freezing and be unable to move.
EXERCISE SCHEDULES Exercise habits often fall by the wayside when there are schedule changes. «Sometimes when people retire, their
Downtime is often lost with changes in work or family responsibilities. «This happens to a lot of caregivers. They recognize that they need time to relax, but they
don›t have time or they feel like they don›t deserve it,» Dr. Tello says. But downtime is considered part of self-care. Doing activities that keep you centered helps ward off stress. «Stress creates a cascade of events in the body leading to inflammation, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. It can lead to cardiovascular disease and depression and other mental health disorders,» Dr. Tello notes. Conversely, retiring can leave you with so much time on your hands you can›t figure out how to use it in a meaningful way, which can also be stressful.
WHAT YOU CAN DO Take action when you recognize imbalance in your schedule. Reschedule your sleep. «You sleep best when the time you sleep matches your circadian rhythm,» Dr. Epstein says. «Some people are born night owls, and others are born early risers. Figure out which you are, then go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day so it works with your rhythm. You need seven to eight hours of sleep per night.» A regular wake time and exposure to morning sunlight will help your body adjust. At night, turn off electronic screens at least 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime -- light from monitors and devices can disrupt your circadian rhythm.
At night, turn off electronic screens at least 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime -- light from monitors and devices can disrupt your circadian rhythm.
Set a meal schedule. Aim for three healthy meals per day, and two healthy snacks if you need them. Choose meal times in advance and stick to them. If it›s hard to make the switch, keep a food journal to identify patterns and figure out where you›re going wrong, especially if you›ve gained weight. Recommit to an exercise regimen. Having activity scheduled into your day will make you more likely to do it. You don›t have to go to a gym. Try a home workout video, go for a walk, take regular activity breaks, or get
a standing desk if you work from home. Reconsider your medication plan. «Take medications when you do other daily activities, like brushing your teeth,» Dr. Tello suggests. «Use a pillbox. Set an alarm on your smartphone. And ask your doctor if any of your medications can be prescribed in fewer doses.» Set work boundaries. If possible, come up with a set of times when you›re available, even after hours--such as
between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. -- and let your co-workers know this is when they can reach you. Resist the temptation to break the rules. Manage stress. «A solid stress management regimen is essential,» Dr. Tello says. «It can be meditation, yoga, prayer, sitting outside in nature, or anything that helps you disconnect from stressful events or activities, pause, and reflect. It should be something you do daily, even just for 10 minutes. Before you know it, it will become a habit.»
Do Your Neighbors Want to Get Vaccinated? Reluctance Stands in the Way of Returning to Normal By Karen Hao As the coronavirus vaccines have rolled out across the US, the process has been confusing and disastrous. States, left by the
federal government to fend for themselves, have struggled to get a handle on the logistics of distribution. Many, including Georgia, Virginia, and California, have fallen woefully behind schedule.
But even if there were a perfect supply chain, there’s another obstacle: Not all Americans want the vaccine. Survey data gathered through Facebook by Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi Lab, one of the nation’s best flu-forecasting teams, showed that more than a quarter of the country’s population would not get vaccinated if it were available to them today. How people feel about receiving vaccinations varies widely by state and county. The percentage of respondents who would accept a vaccine falls as low as %48 in Terrebonne parish, Louisiana, and peaks as high as %92 in Arlington county, Virginia. The findings are extremely worrying. The fewer people who are vaccinated, the longer the virus will continue to ravage the country, and prevent us from returning to normal. “It’s one of those things that probably shouldn’t have surprised me,” says Alex Reinhart, an assistant teaching professor in statistics & data science, who was part of the research. “But when you look at the map, it’s still surprising to see.”
A supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump holds an antivaccine sign while protesting at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., U.S
The good news—and there is some good news—is that this data could also help fight public hesitancy. The Delphi Lab has been helping the CDC to track and understand the spread of covid infections since the beginning of the pandemic. The latest survey will help the agency identify where to perform more targeted education campaigns. The research group is also working with several countylevel health departments to inform local outreach. The Delphi researchers collected the data via a large-scale survey that it has been operating through Facebook since April 2019. It works with the social media giant to reach as wide a cross-section of the US population as possible, and surfaces daily questions to a statistically representative sample of Facebook users. An average of
The Delphi researchers collected the data via a largescale survey that it has been operating through Facebook since April 2019. 56,000 people participate daily, and the company itself never sees the results. During the pandemic, the survey has included a variety of questions to understand people’s covid-related behaviors, including mask adherence, social distancing, and their mental health. Some of the results are fed into the lab’s coronavirus forecasting model, while others are summarized and given directly to public health officials and other academic researchers. The questions are regularly updated, and the vaccine acceptance question was added at the start of January—after the first vaccines had been authorized by the US government. The map visualizes each county’s polling average from January 1 to January 14. For counties with too few daily respondents— less than 100—the Delphi researchers grouped the data from neighboring counties. This is reflected in our map above, which is why various clusters of counties show up with the same percentage. The researchers also independently verified their results with some of the CDC’s own surveys and Pew Research. Next, the researchers plan to expand their survey to understand why people are reticent about the vaccine. They’re also exploring questions that could help identify what blocks people from accessing vaccines, especially for at-risk populations. This article was originally published in MIT Technology Review