Unless we act now, the US could be in for a long, hard, deadly winter. Covid-19 cases have ticked up in 21 states. In New York City, positive Covid-19 tests have increased so significantly that they ve driven the city s positive rate above 3% -- lower than in other parts of the US, but still the highest daily rate New York has seen since June. And Europe is already in its second wave, with the UK and France recording the most cases since the beginning of the pandemic and sobering signs from other countries such as the Czech Republic and Spain, where the health minister said Friday his government has recommended a total lockdown in Madrid.A perfect storm for a major Covid-19 resurgence looms in many parts of the world. With rates down and life returning to something resembling normal, a false sense of security seems to have taken hold, especially in the United States. Masks are coming off. Gatherings are getting bigger and personal safety protocols looser. Schools, gyms, salons and indoor restaurants are reopening. Many students have returned to college campuses, where they are already socializing in groups and spreading the virus. Temperatures outdoors are dropping, which will inevitably push many more people inside to dine, exercise, celebrate and socialize. Cases in some parts of Brooklyn and Queens "continue to grow at an alarming rate," said the New York City health department Monday. Part-time in-person learning just began Tuesday for New York City schools, which as of a week ago had already seen Covid-19 cases in 100 buildings, according to The New York Times. Infections are particularly high in some Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City and in the suburbs, where, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo seemed to acknowledge in a Tuesday briefing (with his repeated insistence that his appeal for stricter anti-Covid-19 measures was about public health and not religion), resistance to government intervention can be strong. But the most worrying part is that some of these communities just gathered for the recent religious holidays -- and that s just one example of what s coming in other communities across the city if Americans are planning to get together inside for Thanksgiving and any other upcoming autumn and winter holidays and events.The question, experts say, isn t whether a second wave is coming; it s how devastating a second wave will be. The timing for that question couldn t be more somber, as the world has passed the grim mark of 1 million deaths from Covid-19. Which is why we need to act now. Unfortunately, our feckless President has made clear he has little interest in listening to scientists, epidemiologists and experts -- or seriously supporting the fight to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The White House pressured Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials to downplay the risks of school reopening. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield is concerned that one of President Donald Trump s hand-picked coronavirus task force members, frequent Fox News talking head Dr. Scott Atlas, is giving the President false and dangerous information -- which is exactly what the President, who recently said the virus "affects virtually nobody," has sought out. Trump has been resistant to basic safety measures such as masks, and gathered more than 1,500 supporters to his RNC speech, where few people wore masks and social distancing rules were unenforced.In the absence of genuine presidential leadership, Americans desperately need state and local leaders (who aren t desperately seeking reelection, like Trump) to step up beyond the same half-measures taken in the spring and implement full common-sense preventative measures. Mandate mask-wearing. Ban large gatherings, including indoor gatherings of people who do not live together -- and be prepared to equitably mete out aggressive fines to those who break the rules and put all of our lives at risk. Order colleges to go remote, with accommodations only for students who need to live on campus (international students, those with unstable home lives, those without internet at home). Prioritize in-person education for special education students who need it and the small children who are unlikely to contract Covid-19, have the hardest time with online learning and cannot be safely left alone. Move older middle and high school students online and focus immediately on getting them the equipment they need to succeed -- laptops or tablets and reliable Wi-Fi. Instead of dedicating resources to, say, ensuring that restaurants are serving food with drinks, perform public health inspections (and shutdowns) where they re most urgently needed, including in the under-regulated private schools, community organizations and event spaces that have opened illegally or without proper protocols. Absolutely ensure that law enforcement wear masks at all times when on the job -- something that, according to the New York Times, many members of the NYPD still, shockingly, refuse to do.All of this is preferable to a full shutdown, which, let s be honest, isn t even feasible in the US -- a short but truly total shutdown could, experts have told us, actually get this thing under control, but would have to be implemented as a nationwide effort (with big spending to match) in order to work. The current leader of our nation will never allow that. Our Congress can t even pass stimulus measures for millions of Americans who desperately need them. In an ideal world, everyone would follow basic precautions that reflect what we know about how this disease is spread. Avoid large groups; wear a mask whenever you re outside of your own home and especially if you re indoors; to the extent possible, limit indoor time (aside from in your own home) to essential errands like grocery shopping. But we also know that people are not all rational, that conspiracy theories have taken hold the world over, that a whole lot of people are low-information or don t have the time and ability to sort through all of the noise for best practices, and that even among those who believe in science and expertise, no one makes the best choices 100% of the time.That s why we need our government -- at whatever level is most willing, which in the age of Trump, let s face it, is local or state at best -- to step in with clear guidelines and rational enforcement. It s already too late to prevent a second wave. But if we take action now, we could see a manageable swell instead of a tsunami.
"The beauty of me is that I m very rich." Donald Trump said that in 2011, when he was talking about a White House run. In 2015 he took his ride down a golden escalator and made his super-patriot s promise to use his unmatched business skills to make America great again, as great as he was. Enough people believed it to win him the Electoral College (losing the popular vote) and the Oval Office. Now that The New York Times has exposed 20 years worth of Trump tax records, the world knows that he is not quite so beautifully rich. And the patriotic part? Instead of contributing a fair share of taxes to the country -- money that built the roads for his limo and keeps the skies safe for his jet, Trump paid nothing from 2010 to 2014, the Times reported. In 2015, as he was declaring he was worth more than $8 billion, he actually paid almost $642,000 in income taxes. But then in the year he gained office, the bottom line was $750. You read that right. In 2016, Donald Trump threw $750 into the $1.7 trillion income tax pot that covered things like Head Start pre-schools and the salaries of soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. That amount would have covered two weeks of base pay for the lowest-ranked enlisted man or woman with $25 left over. No wonder Trump, according to a recent article in The Atlantic, once allegedly said that those who die fighting for America are "suckers." (The writer, Jeffrey Goldberg, cited "four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day.") Trump has denied making the statement. Trump long ago decided the world was divided into the suckers who lose and the smart guys who win. As the Times report on his taxes confirms, Trump and his team have invested enormous effort into making him at least appear to be a winner as, year after year, the businesses that he operated racked up great losses. Sometimes these deficits were offset by revenues from his television performances and shares in businesses operated by others. But by 2012, according to the Times, he was awash in red ink. The paper s sprawling article can be hard to follow, especially as the Times team describes the way Trump used depreciation and losses to offset his liability. And after the report published, he called it "totally fake news," and "made up." The Trump Organization s lawyer, Alan Garten, told the Times that "most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate" and claimed that Trump s paid "tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government" over the past decade." Even so, certain facts and incidents the Times reported are illuminating because they cut through the myth Trump has promoted about his business prowess. Most noteworthy is a Manhattan development run by someone else -- the giant Vornado Realty Trust. The 30% share he secured in two office buildings after his partner sold Trump s stake to Vornado, over Trump s objection, nonetheless earned him reliable income year after year, according to the Times account. In comparison, much of what Trump has touched has turned into, well, the opposite of gold. His golf courses have lost him more than $300 million, the Times notes. The Trump hotel in Washington lost $55.5 million in two years of operation. Altogether, the Trump who emerges from his tax records is the very same man who became notorious for not paying his bills and whose companies have declared bankruptcy multiple times. Trump has never seemed capable of running complex businesses -- witness his failures with a Trump branded airline and many casinos -- and the record should have caused the country to doubt his ability to run something as vast at the United States government. But he kept saying he was winner, and he had played one on his TV show "The Apprentice" for so long that nearly 63 million Americans expressed their confidence in him, with their votes. What happens now that the man who seems to hate the masks that protect us from the coronavirus has been thoroughly unmasked for what he is? Those who long suspected the truth about Trump will find in this news an explanation for his tragic mishandling of the pandemic. For them, the over 7 million cases and more than 205,000 Covid-19 deaths are proof that Trump s only talent is for self-promotion. Trump will likely ask the faithful, who apparently accepted his 2016 argument that his bankruptcies proved that he was a smart exploiter of the system, to accept something similar in 2020. I expect the President to say that his tax avoidance shows he s a brilliant businessman who gamed the system. He may even say that as a champion tax avoider, he s best positioned to fix the tax code for good. Trump s base should abandon him now, and his re-election campaign should crash and burn. But does anyone expect that to happen? What if his fans have already factored in his huckster qualities? What if they like him precisely because he s a con man and they are more interested in throwing a wrench into politics than fixing it? The true Trumpers adore him over regular politicians whom they suspect are equally untrustworthy but not as amusing. As long as he is in office, the President will keep complaining about the "fake news" and keep insisting that his bankruptcies and tax avoidance only prove that he s smart. The problem for Trump is that last time around he squeaked into office while losing the popular vote by nearly three million. The Times report could push some fence sitters and yes, some who voted for him last time around, to deny him a win in November. Then Trump will face the reckoning with federal and state tax authorities, which he surely dreads more than Joe Biden.
I used to think the pressure going into Tuesday s presidential debate would be squarely on Joe Biden. With President Donald Trump and his amen corner at Fox News and various portals of the right so persistently attacking Biden s stamina and mental acuity, I anticipated that this could be the most crucial test for the former vice president.While that still is true, Trump and his apparatchiks have so lowered the bar with their cartoon caricatures of Biden that they have done him an enormous favor. Biden doesn t need a perfect performance Tuesday night. He just needs a reasonably coherent and energetic one. Trump, on the other hand, enters this debate as an embattled incumbent, nine points behind in a race in which Americans already have begun voting. The clock is ticking, and this debate is the President s best -- if not his last -- chance to change the structure of a race that has been locked in against him throughout the year. In belittling Biden, Trump has complicated his own debate prospects by promoting a presumption that he will mop the floor with "Sleepy Joe." For the President, a close battle won t do. He needs a knockout. Without question, the stakes are high for both men, but the pressure to deliver weighs more heavily on Trump.There are two approaches the President can take to shake up the race. One is out of character. The other is familiar. The first would be to turn in a modulated and thoughtful performance that would cause the relatively small number of voters still up for grabs to look at him anew. Trump will certainly try to change minds by stressing -- and, most likely, greatly inflating -- his accomplishments. While Biden leads in most categories, Trump retains a polling edge on who is best equipped to lead the economy. He might try to burnish this advantage. But Trump s approval rating has been mired in the low- to mid-40s throughout his presidency, and his mishandling of the raging pandemic that has claimed more than 200,000 American lives hangs from his neck like the anchor from USS John S. McCain. Voters were more willing before the virus to credit Trump with a strong economy and forgive his daily tweetstorms and squabbles. Now the cost of the President s character flaws has been made clear by his chaotic response to a virus he would sooner deny than confront. And the idea that for 90 minutes Trump can contain his instincts to strike out wildly seems wildly improbable. So assume that Trump s mission Tuesday night will be more to sow doubt about Biden than to remove doubts about himself. Don t expect a lot of new material. Trump is basically a worn-out stand-up act. The lines are familiar.He will try to bait the former vice president by calling him soft on China, and an aged and addled tool of a mob-coddling, police-hating, immigrant-loving left. Though he is the incumbent, Trump will try to portray himself as a force for change and Biden as an exemplar of a failed status quo in Washington. He may try to goad and unsettle Biden by talking about the business dealings of his son Hunter. (It s noteworthy that a report issued by GOP-led Senate committees last week, for the obvious purpose of helping Trump, failed to support charges of corruption against Joe Biden.) For Biden, the considerable challenge will be to avoid chasing Trump down every rabbit hole or the urge to correct every falsehood. Instead, he should want to force Trump to respond and defend. The case against the incumbent is well known and widely accepted. Biden simply needs to hammer it and offer a vision of a better path forward. Expect him to return again and again to the President s mishandling of Covid-19 and efforts to scuttle the Affordable Care Act, with its protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This will take on added meaning after Trump s nomination to the Supreme Court of Amy Coney Barrett, who has expressed skepticism about the constitutionality of the ACA and may become a vote to dismantle it in a case currently before the court.Having lost ground with college-educated white voters, Trump s hope for victory is to crank up his base among non-college whites who delivered overwhelming margins for him over Hillary Clinton in 2016. But Biden, an Irish-Catholic man from working-class Scranton, Pennsylvania, has proven himself a culturally inconvenient target and polls suggest he could capture a significantly higher portion of that vote than did Clinton. In recent weeks, Biden has intensified a class-based argument against Trump. "I view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue," Biden said at a recent CNN Town Hall. Expect more of that in the debate, with a populist critique of Trump s record and an emphasis on economic plans Biden says will boost working-class Americans. In a perfect world, Biden would, at times, turn Trump s negative energy against him and, rather than engaging, address the country: "This is exactly what we ve seen for the past four years, and we have paid a terrible price for it. The question you have to ask yourselves is, do you believe the next four would be different or better? That he will change? That he will grow?" He may come armed with kiss-off lines in response to Trump s attacks, similar to one a smiling Ronald Reagan deployed against President Jimmy Carter in their one 1980 debate: "There you go again."But, as we saw in his last primary debate against Bernie Sanders, Biden s debate engine can run hot and, challenged by Trump, he may not want to give the President any quarter. If what results is a verbal brawl from start to finish, that might suit Biden just fine. Elevated moments in contrast to Trump could pay big dividends and win critical acclaim. But feisty exchanges from the start to finish would definitively answer questions about energy and stamina and remove what is perhaps the only barrier left for Biden to clear..
When protesters armed with semi-automatic weapons stormed the Michigan state capitol in May to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer s stay-at-home orders during the height of the pandemic, it was a sign of things to come.As vivid images of the protest spread, the country saw just how rabid the opposition to common sense public health interventions had become. As the President goads his supporters on by taunting people who wear masks and decrying lockdowns, we ve watched as temper tantrums over mask ordinances and conspiracy theories minimizing the risks of the pandemic have gone viral. Lost in the political theater is the fact that these lockdown orders—indeed all public health interventions--were intended to protect people against the Covid-19 pandemic. And they were effective. A study conducted by researchers in the UK found states that were best able to reduce mobility saved more lives—and mobility rates decreased more in Michigan under Whitmer s stay-at-home orders than most states in the US. And yet the opposition to Whitmer s bold, life-saving action hasn t let up. Though Michigan s capitol may no longer be the site of armed siege, her opponents are pursuing other means of revenge. They ve launched Unlock Michigan, a campaign to strip her of the emergency powers she has used to close schools and businesses as well as issue mandates on masks and social distancing. The campaign in Michigan threatens all of our safety and shows just how far anti-science political activists might go to get their way.Michigan has one of the country s most permissive ballot initiative processes, which allows citizens -- as long as they manage to collect a sufficient number of signatures -- to either force the legislature to take up an initiative in a veto-proof up or down vote, or refer it to a vote of the people in the next general election. For the most part, this ballot process has yielded some of the state s most important progressive policies, including legalizing cannabis and passing a comprehensive package to reform voting laws to include no-reason absentee voting and same-day voter registration. But Unlock Michigan is using the process far more cynically. Although 72% of Michiganders said they approve of Whitmer s handling of the pandemic, according to a Washington Post / Ipsos poll in May, Unlock Michigan is using the ballot process to strip her of the very emergency powers she used to keep people safe. Rather than empowering citizens, Unlock Michigan is conducting an end-around on democracy. In question here is the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, which grants the governor the power to extend a state of emergency indefinitely. If 340,047 of the signatures garnered by Unlock Michigan are deemed valid, and the ballot initiative is approved by the GOP-controlled legislature, the 1945 law would likely be repealed. That would leave a 1976 emergency powers law in place, which requires the legislature to approve any extensions to the state of emergency beyond 28 days. Given that GOP legislators have sued Whitmer in state courts over the issue, it s unlikely they would support Whitmer in approving any extensions if the 1945 law were indeed struck down. Judges in two lower courts have twice ruled in the governor s favor and the case is now being heard by the Michigan Supreme Court.As we head into the fall, many epidemiologists are forecasting a potential upswing in Covid-19 cases. In the face of a second wave, swift executive action may be necessary to save lives. But given the efforts of Unlock Michigan, and the opposition from a GOP legislature tilting toward Trump-style pandemic denialism, Whitmer may lack the capacity to do so. The initiative has already collected more than 500,000 signatures, although they still need to be certified by the Board of Canvassers. One company that collected signatures for the ballot initiative has been accused of misleading people into signing petitions in the past, and a leaked recording revealed a trainer from another company advising signature-collectors on illegal tactics. If the signatures are certified and the legislature repeals the 1945 law, the governor will be effectively stripped of her emergency powers. Beyond the potential loss of life in Michigan, the reverberations could spill across our borders. Similar groups could exploit citizen initiative processes in other states with Democratic governors like Oregon and California. In Oregon, for example, a recall effort against Gov. Kate Brown, bolstered by frustrations over her public health interventions in response to Covid-19, already failed. But success in Michigan could rekindle these efforts or inspire them elsewhere. Worse, because of Unlock Michigan s cynical misuse of the citizen s initiative process to subvert democracy rather than promote it, success of this kind lends a veneer of "people power" to these groups.What is clear is that even if Donald Trump is removed from office this November, the cynical and undemocratic politicization of this pandemic he unleashed could last far beyond his tenure. And all of us could be the worse off for it.
American democracy has been defined by the peaceful transfer of power. Donald Trump seems to have other ideas. This is not a drill. This is not a game. Because the President of the United States just told us that he would not commit to peacefully turning over the government to a new administration if he loses the election. Forty-one days before the election, Donald Trump failed to affirm on Wednesday the most basic civic question any president could get. "Will you commit to making sure that there is a peaceful transferal of power after the election?" "Well, we re going to have to see what happens," Trump said from the White House press room podium. "I ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster ... get rid of the ballots and you ll have a very ... there won t be a transfer, frankly. There ll be a continuation."This is a threat. This is a warning. And anyone who ever called themselves a patriot or a defender of the Constitution ought to condemn it immediately. But instead I expect that we will hear Republicans try to rationalize it with any of the reflexive lines they lately bleat when asked to defend the indefensible when it comes from Trump. They ll say "that s just how he talks" or "he s just trying to get a rise out of the press," or they ll call it fake news and pivot to whataboutism and somehow blame the Democrats. Exhibit A is Attorney General Bill Barr s comments to the Chicago Tribune earlier this month. "You know liberals project," Barr said. "All this bulls**t about how the president is going to stay in office and seize power? I ve never heard of any of that crap. I mean, I m the attorney general. I would think I would have heard about it. They are projecting. They are creating an incendiary situation where there will be loss of confidence in the vote." Projection is a helluva drug when you re living in a hall of mirrors. Because Trump has been building this case, brick by rhetorical brick, in plain sight for months -- railing without proof against an allegedly rigged election system (with Barr s help) and citing fictional fraud from mail-in ballots in tweet after tweet.In May, during a congressional special election in California (that Republican Mike Garcia ultimately won), Trump tweeted, "They are trying to steal another election. It s all rigged out there. These votes must not count. SCAM!" This spurred one of the country s best election law experts, Rick Hasen, to tell The Guardian, "The comments are very worrisome because they increase the chances that the president s supporters would not accept the election results as legitimate should he lose in November." In July, Fox News Chris Wallace asked the president if he would accept the election results: Trump replied "I have to see. No, I m not going to just say yes. I m not going to say no." In August, at the Republican National Convention, Trump said, "The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election." He was telling his supporters very clearly the only way he can lose is if the election is stolen. That s setting up a pretext for chaos. Some of the people who know Trump best have been warning about this for more than a year -- notably, his one-time consigliere, Michael Cohen, who told Congress in February of 2019: "I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power." Until recently, I was willing to believe this was hyperbole. After all, no president could have such contempt for the country he presumably loves and the Constitution he took an oath to uphold. But Trump s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power comes the same day that a sobering analysis by Barton Gellman was published in The Atlantic. His article is called "The Election That Could Break America" and it should be required reading. Gellman focuses on the chaos that could come in the 79 days between the election and January 20th, when a president s term ends at noon, according to the Constitution. He lays out how much of our democratic norms can be broken by a president who refuses to respect them, backed by political appointees who have been caught trying to put their thumb on the scale (the Postal Service raising questions about whether ballots could be delivered on time and DHS allegedly withholding evidence of Russia spreading disinformation against Biden come to mind) and compliant hyper-partisans in Congress who have removed all guardrails in their protection of the president. In August, Gellman convincingly connected Trump s anti-mail-in-voting obsession to a strategic effort to delegitimize votes that are counted somewhat later than the first results. "There are many legitimate votes that are not counted immediately every election year," Gellman wrote. "For reasons that are not totally understood by election observers, these votes tend to be heavily Democratic, leading results to tilt toward Democrats as more of them are counted, in what has become known as the blue shift. In most cases, the blue shift is relatively inconsequential, changing final vote counts but not results. But in others, as in 2018, it can materially change the outcome." In his new piece, Gellman interviews a Trump campaign legal adviser -- who requested anonymity -- who laid it all out: "There will be a count on Election Night, that count will shift over time, and the results when the final count is given will be challenged as being inaccurate, fraudulent -- pick your word."That is the scenario that is being prepared by President Trump. We have never faced anything like it in the United States. Barring an election night blowout -- which no one expects -- we are in for days if not weeks of counting votes, given the pandemic s drive toward mail-in ballots. And that creates a context for maximum chaos and civil discord if the president is willing to do literally anything to stay in power. And Trump just told us -- again -- that he is. At this point, it would be naïve to think that Trump would accept the legitimacy of the election if he loses. "Trump s behavior and declared intent leave no room to suppose that he will accept the public s verdict if the vote is going against him," Gellman writes. "We know this man. We cannot afford to pretend." Or, as Maya Angelou once said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them."
More than 80 years ago, the American salesman extraordinaire, Elmer Wheeler, introduced his "Five Wheeler Points" to help his brethren boost sales of whatever it was they were selling. The first Point, later immortalized by an episode of Seinfeld , was this: "don t sell the steak -- sell the sizzle." This adage seems to have been adopted by the some in the Trump administration as they still, seven months in, try to find their footing on the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have seen a lot of sizzle -- lots of happy talk about game-changers and breakthroughs and miracle treatments. The zenith thus far has been the recent rise and fall of a touted natural cure from a plant (Nerium oleander) that was cheap and available, and pushed very strongly by Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO. In early September, it was brought to light that the FDA had recommended against approval of the product as a dietary supplement ingredient weeks prior. The August 14 FDA letter said the agency had "significant concerns" about safety evidence concerning oleandrin s use as a supplement. The Nerium oleander "cure" -- like so many other just-around-the-corner Covid fixes, such as hydroxychloroquine and warm weather -- is all sizzle. The goal of pushing theories of their effectiveness seemed less related to trying to cure someone than to generate a good feeling, an excitement, some buzz, good ratings. As for the steak itself... let the buyer beware, at least till after the election. Which brings us to our current sizzlemanship (a Wheeler term) for the greatest vaccine ever (specific vaccine to be named later), something the President continues to suggest might be ready for the public by election day. He has even suggested his director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Robert Redfield, was "confused" when he indicated otherwise. Never mind that some of the steak-seekers, those sober scientists, have pointed out that there is little chance that an approved pandemic-flattening vaccine will be near readiness for wide use in 2020 -- much less an approved pandemic-flattening vaccine that most Americans would willingly take so that lives might be saved and herd immunity established. The admonishment to not cut corners in vaccine development is founded on several concerns. A few years ago, CanSinoBIO, a company in China, received global kudos for moving an Ebola vaccine from first idea to approval in just over 3 years. Among vaccinaologists, this is a blistering pace -- and the time is not spent making claims and pushing headlines but rather on seemingly endless arduous work. All this activity is necessary in assuring safety and appropriate production of an immune response first in small animals then, usually, in primates, then in a few human volunteers.Any early volunteers are monitored stringently for side effects and toxicities, as well as for a lab test-based signal that the vaccine is interacting with the immune system as hoped. Then months later come more volunteers and testing. Only then -- if everything looks good -- they proceed on to the large Phase 3 trial that a handful of Covid-19 candidate vaccines currently have reached. Running a study across dozens of sites with 30,000 patients who must be monitored for safety with serial blood tests and examinations, as well as longer term follow-up to make certain there are no unexpected problems, all while demonstrating a detectable health benefit, is a high-wire act that simply cannot be hurried, lest the acrobat crash to the ground. Nevertheless, the administration persists -- perhaps because of jealousy. After all, leaders in Russia (Vladimir Putin)and China (Xi Jinping) have already gotten their sizzle. Their vaccines are being actively administered. Who knows if they work or are safe -- as per Elmer Wheeler, that isn t the point. Of course, misleading salesmanship or at least its gentler relative, selective emphasis, is part of everyday life -- and nowhere more so than in politics. We expect it. The Wheeler Word Laboratory was the prototype not just for the Don Draper generation but the entire semi-hidden universe of political consultants. Its intrusion into the world of vaccines, however, creates a major problem, well beyond the usual minor distrust and eye-rolling at a sales pitch. No one enjoys receiving vaccines, either for themselves or their family members -- they hurt, they can make your arm sore the next day, they can cause fever. But they can prevent death and paralysis and some cancers so the decision to take the vaccine is easy -- for most people. Still, there has been a strong anti-vaccination movement that dates back to the moment Sir Edward Jenner lanced the first cowpox pustule. Then, there was a concern, which proved unfounded, that somehow, live cowpox injected into a human would result in cow-like features, literally and figuratively. Now the concerns range from autism to weakened "natural immunity" and much else. The CDC, the World Health Organization and various independent groups have debunked such fears multiple times. Worse, for many people, the attitude against vaccination is not vaccine-specific but rather an all or none proposition. A concern about measles vaccine may lead to rejection of the vaccine against hepatitis or influenza.So, the public health consequences of a hurried, poorly studied vaccine -- even against a disease as feared as Covid-19 -- likely will result in a grimmer situation than simple confusion about the impact on the target infection. If indeed people develop side effects after their injection, the vaccine program it also runs the risk that those just barely accepting of the American vaccine program will be scared away from other already safe vaccines that that have saved countless lives. We could come out of the Covid-19 experience an even less healthy and less sensible nation than we are today. Thus far, the Trump administration has created just one memorable "product" in the fight against Covid19 -- the term "Warp Speed" to indicate the resolute, forward-thinking, take-no-prisoners focus of the American scientific efforts against the pandemic. The additional promises are just hot air distractions and unpleasant noise. In other words, they have prepared one first-rate sizzle. It is the steak however that will save lives -- but thus far, our plate remains empty.
To build back a more resilient economy post COVID-19, Egypt’s Ministry of International Cooperation is pushing the frontiers of collaboration with multilateral and bilateral partners through strengthened public private partnerships in designing financing initiatives through a common platform supporting Egypt’s inclusive growth, in line with the National 2030 Agenda and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The role of renewed, inclusive multilateralism is key to move ahead in unity to harness the po-tential of the private sector and civil society and direct them towards achieving national goals. In this case, it is connecting Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ambitions with support to Egypt’s private sector, where there is a greater focus on enablement rather than just delivery. It aims to cultivate the right conditions to unleash the domestic workforce through an ad-equate legal and regulatory framework, effective infrastructure and services, and reliable and clean energy supplies. To enhance its effectiveness in forging this new social compact, International Cooperation is centered on a “nexus” between improving human lives and implementing projects that are in line with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Partnerships to Achieve the Goals The Ministry of International Cooperation is collaborating with multilateral and bilateral part-ners to develop segments of the economy in line with its Global Partnerships Narrative, People at the core & Projects in action & Purpose as the driver (P&P&P). Egypt is a founding member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) which have invested over €6.5 billion in 116 projects that cover all sectors of the economy, from infrastructure to manufacturing and services, and from agribusiness to banking and capital markets. With the Ministry of International Cooperation, EBRD is also supporting the Government of Egypt to unleash the economic potential of the country via fundamental and sustainable re-forms. EBRD has been investing in the Egyptian economy for over eight years, aiming to improve the lives of the Egyptian people. The Bank is applying an expertise it has built up over 30 years in the development of market economies driven by the private sector. Decent Work and Economic Growth Rethinking goal 8 of the SDGs on Decent Work and Economic Growth, it is seen to have wider impacts that cover social, economic and environmental dimensions. Thereby, the goal of the private sector does not just generate wealth or create jobs, but can also ensure social inclusion, food security, environmental conservation, and most importantly, reduce poverty. The country has potential to achieve wider public goals by leveraging on the synergies of its businesses. For example, small businesses, which are considered to be the backbone of the Egyptian economy, are too often held back by lack of access to finance, and regulations. The EBRD has made small business support as one of their key priorities via investment and advisory support funded by the European Union. Recently, the bank signed substantial loan agreements of US$ 850 million with local banks for on lending to domestic enterprises and to support trade transactions. The financing was extended as part of the EBRD’s response and recovery “Solidarity Package” which is helping countries across its regions deal with the impact of the pandemic. Under the response package, the EBRD is providing urgently needed liquidity, working capital, balance sheet restructuring, trade finance and infrastructure support. A financial package to lo-cal banks in support of local enterprises under the Solidarity Package provided to Egypt, to mit-igate the impact of the sharp slowdown in economic growth because of Covid-19 but which, according to latest forecasts, is expected to avoid a recession. Supporting small businesses was also carried out through the Star Venture programme to help accelerators embrace innovation, entrepreneurship and business development. Youspital lately joined the programme, which is a booking platform for discounted healthcare that targets un-derserved or uninsured citizens. During this pandemic, Youspital launched a free hotline for medical consultations on Covid-19, as well as home visits for laboratory tests that will help re-duce the spread of the disease. To tap on the potential of future generations, which is part of the Ministry’s strategy to invest in human capital, the bank also rolled out a youth employment programme that provides voca-tional training, addresses skills mismatch and creates jobs. The bank started a technical cooper-ation project supported by SECO to enhance skills standards with the El Sewedy Technical Acad-emy (STA) in Cairo. Gender Equality Centering human rights in development, Egypt’s Ministry of International Cooperation launched the “Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator” with the World Economic Forum and the National Council for Women, the first in the Middle East and Africa. The accelerator serves as a public private multi-stakeholder platform that streamlines efforts and mobilizes financing to construc-tively address the Gender Agenda in Egypt. It has also been keen in working with EBRD to re-duce gender gaps in the labor market. In 2015, EBRD launched its Women in Business programme in Egypt, where it has become an important driver of growth for a more inclusive and sustainable society. Thirty four percent of small Egyptian businesses accessing their advisory projects were women-led and since the be-ginning of this year, ten female entrepreneurs were the first to finish a Women Corporate Di-rectors’ Certification Programme after following an in-depth training organised by the bank and funded by the EU on the key duties, roles and legal responsibilities of board directors. Egypt has recently won the EBRD 2020 Sustainability Award for Gender and Inclusion; for the Egyptian National Railways (ENR) contribution to safe transport, which is essential for women’s economic inclusion, enabling them to access education as well as economic opportunities. It was also recognized in the “EBRD-Women 20 Gender and Crisis Recovery: Building Back Better” webinar as an exemplar can, for being the first country to issue a policy paper on women. Affordable and Clean Energy Affordable energy for households is critical to not only safeguard people’s lives, but also their livelihoods as it is interlinked with education, transport, health and jobs. Egypt’s successful progress in achieving affordable and clean energy was achieved collectively with its bilateral and multilateral partners. Almost half of EBRD’s investments have been in sus-tainable infrastructure, including its financing for the 1.5 GW Benban Solar Park. The park is providing renewable energy to more than one million homes, and is expected to reduce car-bon dioxide emissions by 900,000 tonnes a year. The EBRD was the largest investor in this pro-ject and has worked closely with the Egyptian authorities to create the right conditions for pri-vate sector investment in the renewables industry. Egypt was also awarded by the EBRD Sustainability Awards for Sustainable Energy; for the com-mitment of the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company (EETC) to innovation, promoting equal opportunities and “green skills” for women in the country’ renewable energy sector. In 2019, the EBRD with the Ministry of International Cooperation supported EECT with a sover-eign loan of €183 million to develop a more resilient and robust electricity grid across Egypt, through the integration of 1.3 GW of new renewable energy, as well as reducing electricity losses, thus saving 77,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Pushing the Frontiers of Economic Diplomacy The Ministry of International Cooperation launched Multi-Stakeholder Platforms, consultation meetings, in coordination with sectoral line ministers to operationalize “Global Partnerships for Effective Development Cooperation”. These platforms provide the priority list of projects that the country needs in the period ahead, across various sectors. The platforms include all multi-lateral and bilateral development partners to ensure alignment, harmonization and comple-mentarity of interventions to maximize impact and achieve sustainability. A new approach to scaling up development efforts in Egypt, led by collaboration and innovation to advance a “green and inclusive” recovery. By working together, we can rebuild better. And now is the time. We are not only thinking about returning to a world we once had, but creating and advancing to the world we want to live in.
In the course of my 50 plus years of writing, commentary and analysis, there has never been a time that wasn’t filled with change. The change was always powerful, because people were changing, the forces of production were changing, international balances of powers kept shifting and some countries rose while others fell. There were moments of anxiety and anticipation, often at major crossroads when it was hard to know who would turn left or right, or who would leave the road altogether and take a totally unexpected path. This year’s US presidential elections is a case in point. We do not have much more to go before we know the victor in this amazing race which is all the more remarkable because in many ways it seems like an extension of the 2016 elections, or as though the 2016 campaigns are still in progress. Were the US not such an important world power, few would care about the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. But the information keeps pouring in, the analyses abound and these make the waiting fraught with uncertainty. If there is a general unanimity that Biden is in the lead in the opinion polls, voices here and there are quick to question the value of such polls in light of past experiences in which Republican respondents hid their real opinions from the pollsters. Commentaries in the US media analyse the state of play on the basis of the popular vote and then, in the next minute, they revise their calculations on the basis of possible Electoral College outcomes. As to the actual difference between Biden and Trump, this is a question we, outside of the US, rarely ponder for long, because it’s the American people who will ultimately decide whether they need another four years of Trump or whether the experience of his first term was a disaster that has to end. On the other hand, how much change will Biden bring if elected? After all, he has worked for more than 40 years in the US political establishment, as a senator and vice president moreover. For those outside the US, perhaps it is best to approach the elections from their own particular perspectives, first identifying what they want from the US whether under this president or that, and gauging their optimism or pessimism accordingly. Another question that has us on tenterhooks these days is the question as to whether the world is heading towards military conflagrations or, instead, will continue the trend towards fewer conflicts. Apart from the Middle East, the world has been relatively calm for the past two decades. Nevertheless, as we know from recent history, the Chinese-Indian border can be troublesome. About six decades ago the two countries went to war, but the conflict subsided into “peaceful coexistence” that helped stimulate both their economic booms. Still, the borders remained tense and the question of Tibet constantly raises its head. This summer, violence erupted again in skirmishes and currently diplomatic efforts are in progress to bridge the differences between Beijing and New Delhi. In our region, another clash erupted between two neighbours — Greece and Turkey, which have a history of conflict that dates back centuries if not millennia. In this case, too, there were troop amassments, raucous sabre rattling, and while there were not actual skirmishes, they came close to the brink. Will the moratorium on old and ingrained conflicts break down and release their violent potential but in the 21st century this time? Is it really the case that what is happening today in the Middle East is an extension of the Arab-Persian and Arab-Ottoman struggles? Is it only a question of time until what remains of the Arab-Israeli conflict will erupt again in some form or other? Or has it already, in the form of Israeli strikes against Syria, Lebanon and Iraq? One lesson from history is that entrenched historic conflicts will continue to emit sparks capable of igniting fires unless the disputants resolve on peaceful coexistence and another mode of life. Unfortunately, that option does not sit well with many parties. China continues to keep everyone at the edge of their seat in a number of ways. Is it truly on its way to becoming a super power? What will it do if it does become one? Will a new Cold War erupt or just intense competition between two countries with extraordinary capacities? There’s a big difference between these two modes. Whatever the case, with regard to us, it wouldn’t work to revert to the old policies of nonalignment or positive neutrality. But how should we conduct our relations with the US and China? For their part, the Chinese must be waiting with bated breath to see who will be the winner in the US presidential elections. After all, China’s rise to superpower status is not only a product of its own efforts but also a product of US-driven globalisation and the encouragement it received from Washington to join the World Trade Organisation. All these factors enabled China to surge forward as the production and supply chain hub of the global factory and, more recently, as a high-tech pioneer on earth and in space. Meanwhile, all must be holding their breath as their attention turns to the other side of the Pacific where questions hover over possible responses to Beijing’s actions towards Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea, some of which Washington may be able to live with and others of which could spark dangerously soaring tensions. Fortunately, another formula for Sino-US relations could steer away from the inevitable collision course and the eruption of a cold war similar to that which had prevailed between the US and the USSR before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The alternative to conflict in this case is intense economic and technological competition. This, as mentioned above, is another mode. With conflict, polarisation is acute, there is no common ground with others; it is either “with us or against us”. In competition mode, positions and “sides” are determined by the issues at hand, countries’ diverse geopolitical perspectives and their ability to build hard or soft regional alliances. The sense of anticipation in this mode focuses on gains whereas in conflict mode calculations have to factor in potentially grievous losses. But there are bigger enigmas involving still evolving entities with uncertain futures. One of these is Russia which, after emerging from the Cold War era, has neither moved in the direction of Chinese prosperity or in the direction of American might. Russia is a strong country with powerful military assets, including nuclear muscle. But it has nothing to offer world markets apart from arms. The EU is another major puzzle. Brexit has shaken the EU from certitude in the EU’s existence. Germany sometimes seems to lead it, but France makes enough noise as to give the impression that it holds the European rudder. Until only recently the EU was on its way to become a world power. Now it has set its sights on becoming a Mediterranean power. These and other questions are keeping us waiting. In international relations, waiting has material costs. It can be nerve racking and it taxes our patience as long as the waiting lasts.
Demonstrations have allegedly flooded Ramses Square and several others erupted in many governorates both in the southern and northern parts of Egypt. Photos accompanying this news have dominating the screens, and as part of my work, I have to determine the facts, or rather differentiate between illusion and reality. So, I called for an emergency meeting with most department heads at the newspaper. The reporters and photographers were assigned to go down and dig deep for facts. Moreover, I called several security and administrative officials in Cairo and several other governorates. I received a stream of calls denying the existence of small groups in the streets. The more valuable calls came from our reporters on the streets – be it in Cairo or other governorates – where the Muslim Brotherhood claimed the existence of huge demonstrations. All the reporters simply reported back: “there is nothing.” The truth was simple. Earlier, the government had launched a campaign against those who constructed on agricultural lands. The procedure was difficult and harsh, especially for those who built their homes and mosques on some of our most fertile areas. They usually start by levelling the agricultural land to make bricks. Workshops all along the borders and on agricultural land were obvious because of the chimneys making bricks out of fertilised soil. The Nile Delta is known as one of the most fertile lands worldwide due to the accumulation of Nile slit for thousands of years. However, people started to level the land, make bricks and then built houses for them and their children. Later, they would go as far as building a mosque, which would make it harder for any official to change the de-facto situation. The mere presence of a mosque practically means that the government has to supply the area with pipelines of water and electricity, and no one would ever think of demolishing the holy building. Unfortunately, local authorities contributed to the ongoing destruction of the limited fertile lands around the Nile with their silence, and the fertile land turned into a heath. When the 2011 revolution erupted, this mafia seized this rare opportunity and doubled their efforts on an unprecedented level. The area of land that had been turned upside down and used for making bricks and buildings reached a dangerous stage, and this practice has to stop. Kemet, or the fertile land, which later became known as Egypt, has been threatened in so many ways to become the uncultivated land of the Nile. Despite the fact that demolishing all the big and violating buildings was difficult, the government struck a deal for the violators to pay a fine to compensate the country for its lost lands. Such procedures would secure enough revenue for the government to reclaim lands in the desert and at the same time draw a red line for those intending to exercise the same practice in the future. However, this would never have gone unnoticed by the Brotherhood. Putting an end to a malicious practice and securing the rights of future generations to Kemet was dubbed by the Muslim Brother as illegal taxing. What they are looking for is not construction, but destruction. Therefore, the videos on the screens that showed demonstrations were meant to instigate disturbance, chaos, and panic. One of our journalists assigned to find out the truth behind these “demonstrations” found that these were old videos showing the demolition of buildings and houses that took place years ago, and in some cases were in the West bank, not even in Egypt. The scenes were professionally interconnected to enhance the impact. The demolition of illegal structures should have taken place long ago, and the current government should be praised for tackling the issue now. However, if there are some cases where demolition has negative human consequences, the government should be looking for different solutions. It is true that violators should bear the consequences, but the government should also not rush into executing the order without first searching for solutions. All parties involved in this dilemma should bear the consequences, starting with officials at the local administrations, to the constructors, the owners and the residents. Our fertile land should be as sacred as the Nile, whose water we are now fighting to preserve. The demolition process was a good opportunity for the Muslim Brothers to create what they are best at, “victimisation” issues. However, this issue was not enough, they have to launch a campaign against the army, which has been involved in the construction process all over the country, targeting the strong bond between the people and the army. One should look around and consider the difficult environment this government has been through. COVID-19 disrupted the economies of most countries around the world. Turkey’s economy has been a pain and its currency is set to crash. The United States, which has single-handedly ruled the world for decades, has to borrow $6 trillion to cope with the negative impact of the virus, which has infected almost 7 million Americans and led to the death of 200,000. In Egypt, we have 100,000 infections, which is almost 1.5 percent of the US. The unprecedented unemployment rate has disrupted the most powerful economies. But, in Egypt, with the peoples’ support and the government’s efforts, this country has been through the difficult time of the virus with minimal negative impact. The Muslim Brotherhood is looking at the “straw,” or the negative effects of the harsh construction procedures taking place in Egypt, but unable to see the strong and blinding sticks in the eyes of their sponsors in Turkey and Qatar. They have never uttered a word about Turkey’s malicious and colonial plans in the region, nothing was said about Ankara’s failing economy and its international isolation. They evaded the talk about Turkey’s ailing membership in NATO and its close ties with Israel. Nothing was also said about Qatar’s alliance with terrorist groups around the world, but the Brothers’ media machine, funded by Qatar and Turkey, played old records of the past. The problem in Egypt is not with the helpless, divided and divisive Brotherhood. The issue lies with those who fund the group, especially Turkey, which has had an eye on Egypt’s unlimited natural resources, which will make this country one of the leading economies worldwide. We recognise the intentions of the two sides and therefore we are making our army ready. But, is it not better to spend the money on the poor instead of purchasing weapons to avoid demolitions and taxing? We believe that they want this country to be weak, unable to confront the Ottoman’s malicious plans, because when Turkey spends a lot on its military stockpiles despite its economic hardships, the Brotherhood’s media machine hails such efforts, which would make their sponsor able to destroy their own country. The fact is that the colonial policies have never changed… they have always been putting limitations on the size, type of weapons and the training of the armed forces. But this time, they cover up their policies in the context of the poor economic situation. They have been looking forward to breaking up this country, which is an unattainable goal.
Amidst the different factors causing turbulence in the Eastern Mediterranean, observers ought to know where to look. Five factors merit thinking about, for they will shape the Eastern Mediterranean in the foreseeable future. IRAN IN SYRIA AND LEBANON? It is not certain that at the core of the confrontation between, on the one hand, the US and Israel, and on the other hand, Iran, it is not just Iran s nuclear capability, but also its strong presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, that the former see as threatening Israel s national security. Other players, such as the large Sunni Arab countries (most notably Saudi Arabia), as well as institutions such as the Maronite Church in Lebanon, see in Iran s strong presence in the region a major disruption of the traditional balance of power between the different sects. For Iran, however, building this strong presence transcends projecting power and gaining prestige. It is compelled by its history as well as by geo-politics to look east. And the undying spark of empire in its soul, as well as elements from Shia history, have always ignited in Iran a desire to have and to exert influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. There will not be a US-Iran confrontation anytime soon. But the war of wills between the two sides on ejecting Iran from, versus entrenching it in, the Eastern Mediterranean will be crucial to the evolution of the region in the coming years. ISRAEL AND IRANIAN PRESENCE: Israel has been bombing Iranian targets in the Eastern Mediterranean for several years now, but these strikes have so far been surgical. This is because Israel has been waiting for (and trying to influence) the outcome of the war of wills between the US and Iran. But if the outcome turns out to be an entrenched Iranian presence, anchored in enhanced military capabilities (directly in Syria and indirectly through the Shia group Hizbullah in Lebanon), Israel will not tolerate it. A strong line of thinking within Israel s security establishment sees any enhanced Iranian presence as a threat to its national security. Thus, Israel will escalate its strikes, targeting key military nodes of the Iranian architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean. This could result in a major war with exacting costs for Syria, Lebanon and Israel and far-reaching consequences for the region. SYRIA S FUTURE: The regime led by Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad has won the war to topple it. But a major international power, Russia, has also now entrenched its position in Syria, and this has consequences. Russia now sees its military bases in northern Syria as crucial to its interests in Eastern Mediterranean gas, to its stemming of the threat of militant Islamism in the region (all the way to its southern borders), and to its ability to influence the interests of others (the US, Europe and Turkey). All this means Russia wants a stable Syria in which the costs of its presence in the country are limited. Russia will likely orchestrate the emergence of a new political order in Syria that is a continuation of the nationalist idea that the Al-Assad (Baath Party) regime has always put forward. But it will also be an order that is more congruent with the demographic realities of the Syrian population, so as to avoid future flare-ups, especially given the immense amount of blood that has been spilled in Syria over the past decade. A key milestone here would be a political transition aiming to balance the power of president Al-Assad with that of an elected parliament. In this case, Syria would undergo a process not only of reconstruction, but also, and crucially, of reconciliation. This would be of the utmost importance to the future of the Eastern Mediterranean because Syria is the biggest demographic concentration in the region, the historical and cultural seat of Sunni Islam in the Levant, and the centre of gravity of important constituencies, such as the Sunnis of Lebanon as well as various Palestinian groups, which are naturally attracted to it. EGYPT AND THE LEVANT: From the early 19th century and until the early 1970s, Egypt had a major political presence in the Levant. Since then, Egypt has been missing from the Levant s socio- and geo-politics. However, as Egypt seems to be resuscitating its older engagements in different parts of its neighbourhood, the Levant will increasingly feature more prominently in its thinking. This is because whereas Egypt s interests have historically extended south (to Africa, especially to where the Nile originates) and west (to Tunisia and Morocco, from which some of the most influential Islamic movements in Egypt s history have come), its most compelling interests have always been in the east (the Levant). Whether during Pharaonic, Christian, early Islamic, Ayyubid, Mameluke or modern times from Mohamed Ali and his son Ibrahim Pasha in the early 19th century, Egypt has seen and pursued opportunities as well as threats in the Levant. Today, there are forces in the region that miss Egypt and want it to return to the Levant – for example, many Lebanese who believe in the centrality of an Arab identity to the idea and identity of Lebanon. Other forces, however, do not want Egypt in the region, either fearing its potential influence, or seeing the Levant as already too crowded for another regional behemoth to enter. Yet, if indeed the Levant exerts its traditional pull on Egypt, the country s return will change many power dynamics there. TURKEY S AMBITIONS IN THE LEVANT: Turkey is an established power in the Eastern Mediterranean. But since the late 19th century, its reach has been primarily maritime in the areas around its southern shores. Its decisive influence in Levantine politics came to an end when Egypt s Ibrahim Pasha chased its army out of the Eastern Mediterranean in the 1830s, and Turkey has never showed any real interest in returning to the region since. In the second half of the 19th century, the Ottomans effectively ceded control of the Levant to Britain and France. In the 20th century, the Turkey of Ataturk and his followers never looked south. Even under the currently ruling AKP Party, Turkey has primarily focused on ideological struggles in the Arab world, especially for and against Islamism. However, Turkey has now begun to establish a land presence in the north of the Eastern Mediterranean, and it seems interested in expanding that presence southwards, at least through political influence, especially within some Sunni Muslim communities. This remains a nascent trend, however, and it might be linked to security concerns as opposed to a strategic drive. But if it turns out to be the latter, it will affect all the previous four factors. One elderly commentator from the region once remarked that “la terre” – the land, or the earth – in this part of the world has absorbed much love, joy and creativity, as well as much blood. For the sake of generating more joy and creativity, and avoiding more bloodshed, the people of the region will need to navigate the tricky dynamics that will arise from a combination of the five factors above.
The upcoming presidential debates promise to be a watershed moment in this election. Democratic challenger Joe Biden has been preparing to debate sitting Republican President Donald Trump. By contrast, according to NBC News, the President has reportedly eschewed formal preparation, arguing that debate "isn t something you have to practice." That may be so. But since presidential candidates began appearing on televised debates in 1960, incumbents who don t properly prepare have a decidedly mixed record in the November elections. At the same time, presidential challengers who come out swinging need to be sure they don t miss their mark -- or else face political implosion.Conventional wisdom is that prior preparation prevents poor performance. Yet the history of presidential debates reminds us that other factors, such as a winning personality and the ability to think on your feet, matter equally, if not more. With the whole world watching, presidential debates are equal parts landing jabs and taking punishment, as much as sticking to the script and exploiting opportunities to score points. No magic formula exists to predict their outcome, but one thing seems clear in retrospect: just one dramatic exchange can change public perception of the debates, and by extension, the result of the presidential election. Looking back on the history of presidential debates, these four contests may give us a preview of what s to come:The election of 1976 brought the return of the presidential debate, since both Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon had previously refused them. Gerald Ford was eager to secure a term as president in his own right (following Nixon s resignation post-Watergate), and his team of advisers spent weeks preparing their candidate, including by running him through an exhaustive "murder board." By contrast, an overly confident Carter bombed his first answer on how he would end the ongoing economic recession, when he failed to provide a clear plan of action. The focus of the second debate turned to foreign policy, an area where Ford was expected to shine. Thirty minutes into the evening, however, Max Frankel of the New York Times asked Ford about the Soviet influence in Eastern Europe (an area Churchill described in 1946 as being behind an "iron curtain"). Incredibly, Ford answered: "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration." All that preparation for nothing. When given a chance to clarify, Ford refused. Carter seized the opportunity to underline Ford s error: "I would like to see Mr. Ford convince the Polish-Americans and the Czech-Americans and the Hungarian-Americans in this country that those countries don t live under the domination and supervision of the Soviet Union." Advantage Carter. Following the second debate, Carter enjoyed a 4-point bump in the polls. Even as the race narrowed, Ford could not bring home electoral victory that November.In 1984, the Democrats turned to a beloved former vice president to take on an entrenched Republican incumbent. Sound familiar? Back then, it was Walter Mondale challenging Ronald Reagan, and like Biden, Mondale needed to formulate an effective strategy to debate his charismatic opponent. It would not be an easy task. During the 1980 presidential debates, Reagan had effectively negated Carter s attack on Reagan s previous opposition to Medicare with a one-liner that resonates across American history: "There you go again." With the roles now reversed, Mondale came out strong in the first debate, firing against Reagan s record as president. "You can t wish it away," Mondale charged, in reference to the country s large deficit. Caught flat-footed, even Reagan admitted that he had "flopped." But in the second debate, Reagan rebounded and delivered yet another of the most memorable lines in American political history. When asked about age as factor in the election (he was 73), Reagan replied: "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent s youth and inexperience." The audience erupted into laughter, and even Mondale, in his mid-50s at the time, couldn t help himself from doing the same. Mondale simply could not make his criticisms of Reagan stick during the debates. Reagan, already comfortably ahead in the polls, cruised to a landslide in November.Moderator Carole Simpson presides over the presidential debate between Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, Independent candidate Ross Perot and Republican candidate, President George H.W. Bush, at the University of Richmond, Virginia, in 1992. With three major candidates, the 1992 election attracted widespread popular interest. Both Bill Clinton, the charismatic Democratic governor of Arkansas, and independent candidate Ross Perot, a Texas billionaire, looked to unseat Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush. The first debate went predictably enough, with the three candidates cordially answering questions from the moderators. But, in the second debate, with its new "town hall" format, Bush self-destructed on stage. As audience members asked questions, the President appeared to look at his watch at several points, giving the air of being bored or perhaps uninterested (Bush later said that he was thinking, "Only 10 more minutes of this crap.") When asked a question about the national debt, Bush waffled. By contrast, Clinton hit a home run, replying compassionately in what has been described as an "I feel your pain" moment. "Well, I ve been governor of a small state for 12 years," Clinton said, "I ll tell you how it s affected me ... When a factory closes, I know the people who ran it. When the businesses go bankrupt, I know them." With his emotional style, Clinton had won the battle for the public s heart. In comparison, Bush s poor performance in the debates foreshadowed his loss at the polls.Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer questions during a town hall style debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, in 2012. The election of 2012 demonstrated the continued vulnerability of a sitting president to a challenger s attack. Building up to the debates, Republican challenger Mitt Romney scored points on President Barack Obama s "you didn t build that" line in connection to small business owners. National polls showed the race to be nearly tied leading into the fall. During the first debate, Obama appeared underprepared and overconfident, even contemptuous, and pundits awarded the contest to Romney. But at the second debate, Romney fell victim to unforced errors of his own. Speaking about the terrorist attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Romney went on a veritable tirade that spiraled into near incomprehension. Obama coolly remarked: "Please proceed, governor." Later in the debate, Romney again goofed when he declared that his staff had brought him "binders full of women" to work for him as governor of Massachusetts.On election night, Obama s reelection rankled incredulous conservatives (George W. Bush s former campaign adviser Karl Rove s Fox News meltdown is legendary), but they should not have been surprised. Romney s lackluster performance at the presidential debates pointed to the November outcome. Presidential debates are won and lost on a mixture of preparation, personality and performance. While preparation can help a lot and personality can save the day, a candidate s performance ultimately matters most. May the best debater win.
Venus is the brightest object in the night sky after the moon and has intrigued humans for thousands of years. The discovery of phosphine gas in Venus atmosphere has just upped the planet s appeal.I was a member of the multinational research team that announced the finding in Nature Astronomy on Monday, and my takeaway is that it indicates there is something highly unusual going on to produce phosphine -- either some completely unknown chemistry, or possibly some kind of microbial-type life. Each explanation, somehow, seems equally crazy. Phosphine is a gas made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms. Phosphine is toxic to any life on Earth that uses oxygen, including humans. It was used as a chemical warfare agent in World War I and is associated only with human industry (e.g. pesticides) or with life in oxygen-free environments. Phosphine is found coming from swamps and marshes and sludges. It is also found in animal guts and excrement -- for example in relatively high concentrations over penguin colonies. Phosphine has also been measured in the lab as coming from complex mixtures of bacteria. The finding is so astonishing because phosphine should not be present in Venus atmosphere. Phosphine needs lots of hydrogen and the right temperatures and pressures to form -- conditions found on Jupiter and Saturn but not at all on Venus. My team at MIT exhaustively searched all known chemistry and did not find any way for phosphine gas to be easily produced on Venus. Planetary processes including volcanoes, lightning, meteorites entering Venus atmosphere are also "no goes" in that some might produce the tiniest amount of phosphine but not nearly enough to match the observations.Does this mean Venus has alien life in its atmosphere producing phosphine gas? Not necessarily. Venus is a very hostile place for any kind of life as we know it. The surface is scorchingly hot -- far too hot for complex molecules needed to make up life. High above the surface, the atmosphere becomes colder and colder. On Venus there is a sweet spot at 48 to 60 km (30 to 37 miles) above Venus surface, in the clouds, where the temperature is not too hot, not too cold, but just right for life. Even so, the environment is harsh. The atmosphere is, for example, 50 times drier than the driest places on Earth. The cloud droplets are made not of liquid water but of concentrated sulfuric acid. The acid environment is billions of times more acidic than the most acidic environments on Earth. Earth-life components including DNA, proteins, and amino acids would be instantly destroyed in sulfuric acid. Any life in the Venusian clouds would have to be made up of building blocks different than Earth life, or be protected inside a shell made up of sulfuric acid-resistant material such as wax, graphite, sulfur, or something else. People have been speculating about the presence of life in the clouds of Venus for over 50 years, starting with Carl Sagan. Scientists are sometimes reluctant to openly admit their interest in such a fringe topic.Yet our team lead Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in the UK purposely decided to search for signs of life on Venus by way of phosphine gas. She proposed to use the James Clerk Maxwell radio telescope (JCMT) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to observe phosphine at radio wavelengths. By coincidence, my team at MIT had also been working on phosphine gas as part of a larger project trying to understand which gases on exoplanets -- planets orbiting stars other than the sun -- might indicate the presence of life. A mutual contact connected us. When I first learned of Jane s finding I simply didn t believe it. Nonetheless, my MIT team worked with Jane s team on a proposal to use the more powerful Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). When the data came back and was analyzed, the phosphine signal was even stronger than before. I was still so shocked, so astonished, but we now had to accept that the finding was real. We diligently pressed on to support our detection, continuing to work through and rule out chemical processes as the phosphine source, and double and triple-checking that no other gas could mimic the presence of phosphine gas.Our solar system has a growing number of bodies of interest in the search for life. NASA s Mars Perseverance rover is on its way to Mars to search for signs of ancient life. Jupiter s moon Europa, Saturn s moons Enceladus and Titan are each fascinating potential targets. Our finding of phosphine gas now raises Venus as just one more place to take seriously in the search for life beyond Earth -- maybe not so crazy after all.
The most important thing most voters need to know for this fall s election can be expressed in three words: Vote in person. That includes early in-person voting, as well as Election Day voting. That should be the message to voters who are not in unusually high-risk health categories. No doubt that will sound surprising, after all the fights to expand mail-in and absentee ballot options. Yet no action is more critical to avoiding an election nightmare. Like every aspect of this year s election, the way people plan to vote has become politicized and polarized. Once President Donald Trump turned his Twitter account to inflaming opposition to mail-in voting, the way one votes became an expression of political identity. Voters sorted themselves accordingly. In an August Monmouth University poll, 75% of Republicans said they will likely vote in person, no doubt as a sign of solidarity with the President. The inverse is true for Democrats: nearly 75% are "very" or "somewhat likely" to vote by mail, in part because Democrats and their allies led the charge to expand absentee voting during the pandemic. We need to cut through that politicization to be clear-eyed about the biggest threat to the election and how to minimize it. That threat arises from the risk that the election outcome could turn on millions of absentee ballots that cannot be counted until after Election Night. Even if everything else about the absentee voting process goes smoothly -- which is unlikely -- a potentially decisive number of absentee ballots that cannot be counted until after Election Night could trigger an explosive situation. Indeed, most "election nightmare" scenarios are based on this single issue. Yet the laws in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania currently make it inevitable that those states will face this situation: Those states preclude election officials from even beginning the time-consuming processing of absentee ballots until Election Day or later. (Like me, voices across the political spectrum, including Republican political consultant Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal s Editorial Board have called for those laws to be changed.) To make this concrete, consider these numbers: In 2016, nearly 14 million people voted in those three states. If 60% vote absentee, which is within the range of the latest estimates, that s more than eight million ballots -- in just these three key states -- that election officials currently will not be able to start processing, much less count, until Election Day. In Michigan and Pennsylvania, governors and legislators are currently fighting over even modest changes to these policies -- in Michigan, whether to permit processing of these ballots one day before Election Day, and in Pennsylvania, several days in advance (Wisconsin election officials say they will be able to finish counting absentees by "the middle of election night," even if they can t start the process before Election Day). Those changes would help, if they happen, but would still not eliminate the prospect of potentially decisive absentee ballots that will not be counted after Election Night. Many absentee ballots will not arrive until Election Day or days after; potential battleground arenas, such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio permit absentees to be received six to 10 days after Election Day and still be valid. If the election is close, we can predict how such a situation will play out. Because Republicans say they will disproportionately vote in person, Donald Trump could well lead the vote tallies on election night, when most voters are glued to their screens and in-person vote totals are released. If Democrats disproportionately take the absentee route, as anticipated, Joe Biden might begin to overtake Trump slowly, as those ballots get counted in the following days. The mainstream media will preach patience, as they should. But they will be preaching only to the choir. Trump will likely try to proclaim that the vote is being stolen; cable and social media allies will quickly amplify that message; efforts to stop the counting of absentee ballots will erupt in election offices and courts; and the scenarios could only get worse from there. Whichever side of the country loses will struggle to accept the outcome as legitimate. And all that assumes the absentee process goes perfectly. Yet that s unlikely, and because Biden supporters may disproportionately vote absentee, they will bear the brunt of any problems that emerge with the absentee process. In recent primaries, for example, nearly 4% of absentees were rejected in Philadelphia; 8% in Kentucky; and 20% in parts of New York City. Those rejections result, in part, from voters having trouble complying with the unique procedural requirements absentee voting entails. Those voting absentee for the first time -- which is expected to be most absentee voters this fall -- are more likely to run into these problems. Studies also show that absentee ballots cast by voters who are younger or from racial and ethnic minority groups are rejected at higher rates than other absentee ballots. Imagine if the outcome in Michigan is close, and 75% of Biden supporters vote absentee, yet 10% or more of those ballots are rejected. Or that tens of thousands of absentee ballots mailed back do not get delivered in time to be valid. Biden supporters will surely erupt in fury, viewing the election as illegitimate. Even now, before more than a few votes have been cast, 79% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans believe it is very or somewhat likely the other side will "cheat" to win the election. Any problems in the process, however innocent, will be seen as sinister by voters already primed to believe the worst. The higher the percentage of people who vote in person, the more the potential sting is taken out of every one of these potentially divisive scenarios. Voting in person is the single most effective action voters can take to reduce the risk of election turmoil. To be sure, we will still have unprecedented levels of absentee voting, but the difference between 35% and 60% of the vote being cast absentee could be the difference between an outcome broadly accepted as legitimate and one that portions of the country never accept. Democrats and their allies might feel uncomfortable turning around and now urging voters to vote in person. They might fear sounding as if they are legitimating Trump s views. They might feel awkward, having fought hard for the right to vote by mail. Those feelings need to be put aside so that leaders of all stripes drive a message encouraging voting in person. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public-health experts now assure us that, with the protocols that will be in place, in-person voting will be safe (the absentee option remains important for those who fear they face exceptional health risks). For the health of American democracy, the message needs to go out: the more people who vote in person, the better.
Turkey’s expansionism in the Eastern Mediterranean and the wider Middle East is coming to an end on all fronts. After a decade of interference in other countries and military operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya, a new regional balance is gradually taking shape, with Turkey’s influence slowly but steadily receding. Turkey’s maximalist aspirations have become empty rhetoric. One of the reasons for this is Greek-Egyptian cooperation. Greece and Egypt have been working closely over recent years on all levels. In early August, the two countries signed a deal for the partial demarcation of their respective exclusive economic zones (EEZs) southeast of Crete and northeast of the Matrouh governorate in Egypt. The deal is a necessary first step that needs to be supplemented by a tripartite Greece-Egypt-Cyprus deal according to international law provisions, especially the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Turkish reactions to the Greek-Egyptian EEZ deal have been awkward and hostile in a sign of Turkey’s increased anxiety over the realigning regional balance. Both Egypt and Greece have witnessed considerable upgrades in their military capability. Egypt under the leadership of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has expanded its military and now ranks ninth on a global level. Greece is currently upgrading its military arsenal by spending some 10 billion Euros over the next few years, obtaining 18 4.5-generation Dassault Rafale jets and at least four frigates. Greece has also requested that it be included in the US F-35 fighter-jet programme from which Turkey has been expelled. These initiatives will offer Greece a considerable advantage over Turkey in air power in the Mediterranean by the end of the 2020s. Meanwhile, Turkey has attempted to exert pressure on Greece on both the land and the sea. In March 2020, Turkey used migration as a weapon against Greek territorial sovereignty, but to no avail. Now Greece has deployed both military and police formations, and it is completing an extended fence on its land borders. The renewal of demographic pressure on Greece through strategically engineered migration remains an option for Turkey, but this failed in March and it will not succeed today, especially as the EU fully supports Greece’s actions. After its failure on land, Turkey has attempted to relocate the tension with Greece on the sea. But there it has met with a double failure, both diplomatic and military. On the diplomatic level, the Greek-Egyptian EEZ deal rendered the memorandum between the Al-Sarraj government in Libya and Turkey void. On the military level, the steady presence of the Greek naval fleet and air force has halted Turkish aggression. Now the EU is considering implementing extended sanctions against Turkey at its upcoming Special European Council meeting to be held on 24-25 September dedicated solely to Turkish provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is probable that Turkey will be subjected to a series of sanctions in the fields of shipping and energy. The EU sanctions will also not just target individuals, but will also be aimed at whole sectors of the Turkish economy. As its economy crumbles and the Turkish lira plunges, the EU sanctions could seriously undermine the ability of Ankara to maintain its presence in Libya and its attempts to impose its ideas in the wider region. France has been preeminent among the EU states in halting Turkish aggression. French President Emmanuel Macron has declared that “enforcing red lines” is the only language Turkey understands, and the expansion of French-Greek military cooperation will be announced in September. France is thus acting as an external stabilising force, and its energetic diplomacy is not objected to by the US, which potentially views France as a counter-balance in the wider region. France has excellent relations with Egypt and Greece, and together these three countries could form an alternative defence structure that would complement or even replace NATO activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Finally, the US has lifted a 33-year embargo on the sale of non-lethal security equipment to Cyprus. The US is thus changing its stance in the Eastern Mediterranean, realising that Turkey has become an unstable actor and one prone to maximalist notions of regional hegemony that undermine both NATO’s stability and regional peace. Time is not on the side of Turkey either in the Mediterranean or in North Africa. In the Mediterranean, the decisive stance of Greece and Egypt has halted Turkish plans. In Libya, the advance of Government of National Accord (GNA) forces into the east of the country has been halted as a result of the stance taken by Egypt that has declared the Sirte-Jufra axis to be a red line that must not be crossed. The military theatrics of the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seem by now to be both self-repeating and tiresome. Even its playing of the Islamist card with the conversion of the Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul and other Christian monuments in Turkey into mosques has backfired. Turkey has lost virtually all its sympathisers in moderate Western circles, and its religious diplomacy seems patronising and arrogant to the Islamic community. Despite the emerging balance, Turkey will likely continue to act provocatively against the interests of major Mediterranean actors, however. Only this time round it is not facing individual actors or war-torn states such as Iraq, Syria or Libya. Instead, Turkey is up against powerful states with considerable military power, such as Egypt and Greece, and it is also confronted by France, a European nuclear power that is determined to halt Turkey’s neo-Ottoman dreams. What this goes to show is that once again Turkey is on the wrong side of history.
France has never been absent from the Middle East theatre since the Napoleonic campaigns and the ill-fated invasion of Egypt and Syria by France between 1798 and 1801. For the two centuries that have followed France has remained a major player positively or negatively in the fate of many countries in the region. Through its colonial presence in the North African Maghreb countries or in the Levantine ones such as Syria and Lebanon, France has left an undeniable mark on the region s politics, language and culture. French is still widely spoken in many countries around the Middle East and North Africa region as a first or main language. The French role in the region diminished after the end of the cold war and with the United States dominating the scene after the first Gulf War. But over the past few years, the French role has been getting larger and stronger under French President Emmanuel Macron s leadership. Macron may still suffer from some domestic economic and social troubles in France and possibly some loss of popularity, but the opposite can be felt across the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East. France has been a key player in recent events in the face of the Neo-Ottoman expansionist ambitions of the present Turkish regime. Turkey has been involved militarily in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and it has been supporting terrorist organisations in Libya as well as in Yemen and Somalia. France wants to see an end to the Libyan Civil War and a reduction in the Islamist influence in the country, with the latter being supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The French believe that an Islamist-dominated government in Libya backed by terrorist militias that include Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS) group, and Muslim Brotherhood elements could jeopardise North Africa as a whole and have negative impacts on some of its closest allies such as Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. All of these countries have long-standing ties with France, including economic and military cooperation as well as sizeable French investments. Moreover, an Islamist-ruled Libya would endanger the outcome of the French war on terrorism in Africa, represented by Operation Barkhane which was launched in 2014 and is still ongoing. About 5,000 French troops are stationed mainly in Chad as the Operation targets IS and Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups in the African Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. One of the aims of the operation is to nip terrorist-group activities in the bud and prevent them from reaching the North African countries and from there finding their way to southern Europe and eventually France. If the state of lawlessness in large parts of Libya continues thanks to Turkish support for terrorist activities, the country will continue to be a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the European continent and France cannot accept that. Macron conducted two visits to Lebanon following the horrific explosions that took place in Beirut on 4 August killing over 200 civilians and injuring thousands of others as well as destroying significant parts of the city. In his first visit to Lebanon after the explosions, Macron received a hero s welcome from the public, though he was perhaps not received with the same enthusiasm by the country s political elite. Macron expressed his county s intention to stand firmly behind Lebanon in its present crisis, which was preceded by an economic collapse as well as widespread social and security concerns. However, Macron has placed conditions on French help for Lebanon, and these include the formation of a new cabinet and the introduction of far-reaching economic reforms. In his second visit to Lebanon in September, Macron reiterated his support and demanded that the new Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab swiftly form a new government. His second visit included meetings with Lebanese cultural icons such as the legendary singers Fairuz and Magda Al-Rumi, with these being ways of winning the battle for Lebanese hearts and minds. He awarded Fairuz the French Legion of Honour, the country s highest award, after paying her a visit at her house. For the Lebanese nation, Fairuz is a unifying symbol, and the award manifested Macron s policy of seeking unity in the politically torn county. Some Lebanese politicians, such as former Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, are wary of French interference in Lebanese affairs. However, Macron has wide public backing from Lebanese citizens, with many saying that if he ran for political office in the country he would win. Macron s visit to Iraq was also a landmark and came at a time when the Iraqi state is facing all sorts of challenges, including the Turkish incursions in the Kurdish region of the country, the impacts of the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis and the power shortages that have plagued the country. Macron reasserted Iraq s sovereignty during his visit in what was a clear message to Turkey and Iran about their interference in Iraq over the past decade. He also offered to assist in the country s power crisis by offering to construct a French nuclear power station. Iraqi officials viewed the visit positively and believe that France may be a counterweight to Iranian and Turkish ambitions in the country. Macron s visit to Iraq represented a major step forward in curbing Erdogan s ambitions to control the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq on the pretext of fighting terrorism. It will also open the door to a bigger French role in the country through economic cooperation. France is also assuming a leading role in Europe and projecting its diplomatic power in the Middle East as well as its military power in the Mediterranean. The country s unbending support for Greece and Cyprus against Turkish threats has not been just empty words. France has deployed naval units, including its powerful Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier, and a number of fighter jets to Greece and Cyprus in a message that Macron will not only protect French interests and French allies by diplomatic means, but that he will also use military ones should the need arise. Aside from the Greek and Cypriot leaders, Macron remains the most outspoken EU leader against Turkish aggression in the region. All this is taking place as German Chancellor Angela Merkel s political role recedes, and Macron is stepping up to fill the void. France is gaining the kind of role that Germany has managed to play for years in the Middle East, and it is wielding military force to back it. France may also play more of a role in countries such as Lebanon and Iraq where the US role is no longer desired by the public or politicians. Time will tell whether that role will be met with success or not. As a member of the NATO alliance, a nuclear power, and one of the world s top ten leading economies, France has been displaying a more hands-on attitude in dealing with some of the region s long-standing problems by diplomatic or military means. Macron s friendly ties with many of the region s leaders have enabled him to play a role that most European countries no longer desire to play, and should success be on his side he will change his country s political course towards assuming a larger and more dynamic role in world affairs. France has never been absent from the Middle East theatre since the Napoleonic campaigns and the ill-fated invasion of Egypt and Syria by France between 1798 and 1801. For the two centuries that have followed France has remained a major player positively or negatively in the fate of many countries in the region. Through its colonial presence in the North African Maghreb countries or in the Levantine ones such as Syria and Lebanon, France has left an undeniable mark on the region s politics, language and culture. French is still widely spoken in many countries around the Middle East and North Africa region as a first or main language. The French role in the region diminished after the end of the cold war and with the United States dominating the scene after the first Gulf War. But over the past few years, the French role has been getting larger and stronger under French President Emmanuel Macron s leadership. Macron may still suffer from some domestic economic and social troubles in France and possibly some loss of popularity, but the opposite can be felt across the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East. France has been a key player in recent events in the face of the Neo-Ottoman expansionist ambitions of the present Turkish regime. Turkey has been involved militarily in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and it has been supporting terrorist organisations in Libya as well as in Yemen and Somalia. France wants to see an end to the Libyan Civil War and a reduction in the Islamist influence in the country, with the latter being supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The French believe that an Islamist-dominated government in Libya backed by terrorist militias that include Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS) group, and Muslim Brotherhood elements could jeopardise North Africa as a whole and have negative impacts on some of its closest allies such as Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. All of these countries have long-standing ties with France, including economic and military cooperation as well as sizeable French investments. Moreover, an Islamist-ruled Libya would endanger the outcome of the French war on terrorism in Africa, represented by Operation Barkhane which was launched in 2014 and is still ongoing. About 5,000 French troops are stationed mainly in Chad as the Operation targets IS and Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups in the African Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. One of the aims of the operation is to nip terrorist-group activities in the bud and prevent them from reaching the North African countries and from there finding their way to southern Europe and eventually France. If the state of lawlessness in large parts of Libya continues thanks to Turkish support for terrorist activities, the country will continue to be a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the European continent and France cannot accept that. Macron conducted two visits to Lebanon following the horrific explosions that took place in Beirut on 4 August killing over 200 civilians and injuring thousands of others as well as destroying significant parts of the city. In his first visit to Lebanon after the explosions, Macron received a hero s welcome from the public, though he was perhaps not received with the same enthusiasm by the country s political elite. Macron expressed his county s intention to stand firmly behind Lebanon in its present crisis, which was preceded by an economic collapse as well as widespread social and security concerns. However, Macron has placed conditions on French help for Lebanon, and these include the formation of a new cabinet and the introduction of far-reaching economic reforms. In his second visit to Lebanon in September, Macron reiterated his support and demanded that the new Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab swiftly form a new government. His second visit included meetings with Lebanese cultural icons such as the legendary singers Fairuz and Magda Al-Rumi, with these being ways of winning the battle for Lebanese hearts and minds. He awarded Fairuz the French Legion of Honour, the country s highest award, after paying her a visit at her house. For the Lebanese nation, Fairuz is a unifying symbol, and the award manifested Macron s policy of seeking unity in the politically torn county. Some Lebanese politicians, such as former Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, are wary of French interference in Lebanese affairs. However, Macron has wide public backing from Lebanese citizens, with many saying that if he ran for political office in the country he would win. Macron s visit to Iraq was also a landmark and came at a time when the Iraqi state is facing all sorts of challenges, including the Turkish incursions in the Kurdish region of the country, the impacts of the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis and the power shortages that have plagued the country. Macron reasserted Iraq s sovereignty during his visit in what was a clear message to Turkey and Iran about their interference in Iraq over the past decade. He also offered to assist in the country s power crisis by offering to construct a French nuclear power station. Iraqi officials viewed the visit positively and believe that France may be a counterweight to Iranian and Turkish ambitions in the country. Macron s visit to Iraq represented a major step forward in curbing Erdogan s ambitions to control the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq on the pretext of fighting terrorism. It will also open the door to a bigger French role in the country through economic cooperation. France is also assuming a leading role in Europe and projecting its diplomatic power in the Middle East as well as its military power in the Mediterranean. The country s unbending support for Greece and Cyprus against Turkish threats has not been just empty words. France has deployed naval units, including its powerful Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier, and a number of fighter jets to Greece and Cyprus in a message that Macron will not only protect French interests and French allies by diplomatic means, but that he will also use military ones should the need arise. Aside from the Greek and Cypriot leaders, Macron remains the most outspoken EU leader against Turkish aggression in the region. All this is taking place as German Chancellor Angela Merkel s political role recedes, and Macron is stepping up to fill the void. France is gaining the kind of role that Germany has managed to play for years in the Middle East, and it is wielding military force to back it. France may also play more of a role in countries such as Lebanon and Iraq where the US role is no longer desired by the public or politicians. Time will tell whether that role will be met with success or not. As a member of the NATO alliance, a nuclear power, and one of the world s top ten leading economies, France has been displaying a more hands-on attitude in dealing with some of the region s long-standing problems by diplomatic or military means. Macron s friendly ties with many of the region s leaders have enabled him to play a role that most European countries no longer desire to play, and should success be on his side he will change his country s political course towards assuming a larger and more dynamic role in world affairs.
Rebuilding a country and enshrining it in the ranks of developed nations after years of turmoil and economic crises is no easy feat. Doing so, while surrounded by conflict not only along all borders, but also within the country, is almost a miracle. Since 2014, Egypt has set itself on a path to implement major changes to its economy, infrastructure, and society in the hope of eventually guaranteeing growth and a better future for its young population. In doing so, the government set itself a roadmap with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 in mind. Initially called the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) 2030 (also known as Vision 2030), the strategy finalised in 2015 was to put Egypt on a rigorous path for change. Drafting a list of goals to be reached in different phases, the plan used 2020 as a major milestone year to evaluate its progress. The SDS was divided into three main dimensions: Economic, Environmental, and Social. Each of the dimensions encompassed a list of targets for short and long-term plans that would ultimately advance Egypt in world rankings, namely in the following categories: Quality of Life, Anti-Corruption, Size of the Economy (measured by the Gross Domestic Product -GDP-), Market Competitiveness, and Human Development. Even though it was taken into account in many projects since its drafting, the SDS proved it had much room for improvement in later years. The strategy was thus reassigned to a team of specialists in sustainable development in order to evaluate how it can be further improved to fit Egypt’s unique circumstances. That said, many of the projects mapped out in the SDS were completed and its plans for major economic reforms were followed. Among the measures that Egypt took to achieve its economic goals were the opening of the Tahya Misr fund to gather national contributions to the country’s economy and the procurement of a number of external loans. Among those loans were the $12bn loan in 2016 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement its economic reform plan. As well as, a loan from the World Bank acquired between the years 2015 and 2017 “called the Fiscal Consolidation, Sustainable Energy, and Competitiveness Development Policy Financing loans - worth a total of US$3.15 billion.” These loans entailed applying hard and stringent economic reforms in order to achieve the set goals which included reducing government spending, and increasing revenue (i.e., by floating the Egyptian Pound, removing fuel subsidies, etc.). As a result, Egypt has improved its ranking in many fields, most notably in road safety and infrastructure, becoming 2nd in Africa and 28th in the world in 2020 after it ranked 108th in 2016. It also rose in Global Competitiveness ranking, going from 116 in 2016 to 93 in 2019. In fact, according to an assessment by US News, Egypt ranks #36 Best Country in the world, this ranking takes into account Egypt’s culture, tourism, heritage, and above all, Egypt’s development speed, ranking it #4 in the “Movers” category. The Movers subranking “represents a version of [a] metric predictive of a country’s future growth in terms of per capita purchasing power parity gross domestic product.” In total, Egypt has “carried out national projects worth 4.5 trillion Egyptian pound ($284 billion) over the past six years.” Many of these projects had both sustainability and growth as their baseline, including what is projected to be the world’s biggest solar park in Benban, Aswan. Following Egypt’s Sustainable Energy Strategy 2035, this project is part of the country’s plan to produce “20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2022.” Egypt further implemented its plan to modernise its irrigation system in the Delta region, installing drip irrigation systems in an area of over 7,476 feddans. This project (among others) equips Egypt against its current water crisis which includes a deficit of 30 billion cubic meters in meeting its citizens’ water needs and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis which threatens Egypt Rebuilding a country and enshrining it in the ranks of developed nations after years of turmoil and economic crises is no easy feat. Doing so, while surrounded by conflict not only along all borders, but also within the country, is almost a miracle. Since 2014, Egypt has set itself on a path to implement major changes to its economy, infrastructure, and society in the hope of eventually guaranteeing growth and a better future for its young population. In doing so, the government set itself a roadmap with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 in mind. Initially called the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) 2030 (also known as Vision 2030), the strategy finalised in 2015 was to put Egypt on a rigorous path for change. Drafting a list of goals to be reached in different phases, the plan used 2020 as a major milestone year to evaluate its progress. The SDS was divided into three main dimensions: Economic, Environmental, and Social. Each of the dimensions encompassed a list of targets for short and long-term plans that would ultimately advance Egypt in world rankings, namely in the following categories: Quality of Life, Anti-Corruption, Size of the Economy (measured by the Gross Domestic Product -GDP-), Market Competitiveness, and Human Development. Even though it was taken into account in many projects since its drafting, the SDS proved it had much room for improvement in later years. The strategy was thus reassigned to a team of specialists in sustainable development in order to evaluate how it can be further improved to fit Egypt’s unique circumstances. That said, many of the projects mapped out in the SDS were completed and its plans for major economic reforms were followed. Among the measures that Egypt took to achieve its economic goals were the opening of the Tahya Misr fund to gather national contributions to the country’s economy and the procurement of a number of external loans. Among those loans were the $12bn loan in 2016 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement its economic reform plan. As well as, a loan from the World Bank acquired between the years 2015 and 2017 “called the Fiscal Consolidation, Sustainable Energy, and Competitiveness Development Policy Financing loans - worth a total of US$3.15 billion.” These loans entailed applying hard and stringent economic reforms in order to achieve the set goals which included reducing government spending, and increasing revenue (i.e., by floating the Egyptian Pound, removing fuel subsidies, etc.). As a result, Egypt has improved its ranking in many fields, most notably in road safety and infrastructure, becoming 2nd in Africa and 28th in the world in 2020 after it ranked 108th in 2016. It also rose in Global Competitiveness ranking, going from 116 in 2016 to 93 in 2019. In fact, according to an assessment by US News, Egypt ranks #36 Best Country in the world, this ranking takes into account Egypt’s culture, tourism, heritage, and above all, Egypt’s development speed, ranking it #4 in the “Movers” category. The Movers subranking “represents a version of [a] metric predictive of a country’s future growth in terms of per capita purchasing power parity gross domestic product.” In total, Egypt has “carried out national projects worth 4.5 trillion Egyptian pound ($284 billion) over the past six years.” Many of these projects had both sustainability and growth as their baseline, including what is projected to be the world’s biggest solar park in Benban, Aswan. Following Egypt’s Sustainable Energy Strategy 2035, this project is part of the country’s plan to produce “20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2022.” Egypt further implemented its plan to modernise its irrigation system in the Delta region, installing drip irrigation systems in an area of over 7,476 feddans. This project (among others) equips Egypt against its current water crisis which includes a deficit of 30 billion cubic meters in meeting its citizens’ water needs and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis which threatens Egypt s future water supplies. All in all, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Egypt seemed to be on the right track towards achieving many of the milestones it had set for 2020. Yet, much like the rest of the world, Egypt was shaken by the pandemic and the partial lockdown it had to impose. Egypt’s robust economic reforms, however, are projected to have equipped it well enough to weather the storm and come out better than most. In fact, taking into account its resilient structure, the IMF has projected that Egypt will be the only country in the Middle East and North Africa region to have a predicted growth rate in its GDP in the years 2020/2021. Despite the generally positive indicators, the rise in ranking, and obvious developments in the country, many are still concerned about the rising external debt and its long-term implications on the country’s economy. The IMF and the World Bank have both granted Egypt emergency funds to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. A double-edged sword, these loans prove that Egypt has managed its economy relatively well so far, and that its repayment strategy is robust enough. Nevertheless, the increased debt puts additional pressure on the country’s production sector, its society, and its struggling currency. Rising further amidst a global economic crisis might also prove very difficult, especially if the world is hit with a second wave of the pandemic. On the same wavelength the SDGs, already severely affected by global political apathy, are now under a stronger and more palpable threat as the crisis makes it highly unlikely the goals will be achieved by 2030. Economic concerns and political protectionism have all increased the risk of forgetting or overlooking the SDGs while attempting global economic revival. Yet, as much as the pandemic has shown that the world is now supremely interconnected and that this may have grave global consequences, it has also proved that global responses are essential for survival. The SDGs thus, now more than ever, would require a global action. Similar to many countries, Egypt’s main target remains growth and rising to the ranks of the most developed states. While capitalism and sustainability do not necessarily go hand in hand, especially in times of crises, 60% of Egypt’s population is under the age of 30. Therefore, it remains imperative that while building the nation, sustainability is not forgotten. Fortunately, there continues to be a palpable effort in the political discourse in Egypt to keep sustainability in mind. Integrating efforts in all sectors is essential in guaranteeing a green and sustainable economy, and the new plans seem to be taking this into consideration in almost all the new projects. In fact, President Abdel Fatah alSisi ratified the new sustainable development plan for the 2020/2021 fiscal year, keeping the fight against poverty at the forefront of the discussion. There is no one size fits all for the creation of a sustainable nation. The SDGs, as set by the UN, have been written in a manner that allows them to be malleable to all national contexts. The discussion surrounding sustainable development in Egypt, despite its many hiccups, has thus far proved positive enough. Nonetheless, it has yet to reach the country’s citizens. Communicating the importance of creating a sustainable nation to the masses is vital in order to truly implement and integrate sustainable projects in day-to-day life. The discussion should not be a nominal top-down conversation among the political elite, but an integral part of a citizen’s general behaviour in all sectors of society. Egypt’s young population deserves to have a sustainable and green economy that would open up the job market and allow for positive growth for generations to come. While we still have a long and challenging road ahead, the fact that the conversation around growth and sustainability continues and that attempts at implementation are still moving forward, is a very positive omen for Egypt.s future water supplies. All in all, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Egypt seemed to be on the right track towards achieving many of the milestones it had set for 2020. Yet, much like the rest of the world, Egypt was shaken by the pandemic and the partial lockdown it had to impose. Egypt’s robust economic reforms, however, are projected to have equipped it well enough to weather the storm and come out better than most. In fact, taking into account its resilient structure, the IMF has projected that Egypt will be the only country in the Middle East and North Africa region to have a predicted growth rate in its GDP in the years 2020/2021. Despite the generally positive indicators, the rise in ranking, and obvious developments in the country, many are still concerned about the rising external debt and its long-term implications on the country’s economy. The IMF and the World Bank have both granted Egypt emergency funds to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. A double-edged sword, these loans prove that Egypt has managed its economy relatively well so far, and that its repayment strategy is robust enough. Nevertheless, the increased debt puts additional pressure on the country’s production sector, its society, and its struggling currency. Rising further amidst a global economic crisis might also prove very difficult, especially if the world is hit with a second wave of the pandemic. On the same wavelength the SDGs, already severely affected by global political apathy, are now under a stronger and more palpable threat as the crisis makes it highly unlikely the goals will be achieved by 2030. Economic concerns and political protectionism have all increased the risk of forgetting or overlooking the SDGs while attempting global economic revival. Yet, as much as the pandemic has shown that the world is now supremely interconnected and that this may have grave global consequences, it has also proved that global responses are essential for survival. The SDGs thus, now more than ever, would require a global action. Similar to many countries, Egypt’s main target remains growth and rising to the ranks of the most developed states. While capitalism and sustainability do not necessarily go hand in hand, especially in times of crises, 60% of Egypt’s population is under the age of 30. Therefore, it remains imperative that while building the nation, sustainability is not forgotten. Fortunately, there continues to be a palpable effort in the political discourse in Egypt to keep sustainability in mind. Integrating efforts in all sectors is essential in guaranteeing a green and sustainable economy, and the new plans seem to be taking this into consideration in almost all the new projects. In fact, President Abdel Fatah alSisi ratified the new sustainable development plan for the 2020/2021 fiscal year, keeping the fight against poverty at the forefront of the discussion. There is no one size fits all for the creation of a sustainable nation. The SDGs, as set by the UN, have been written in a manner that allows them to be malleable to all national contexts. The discussion surrounding sustainable development in Egypt, despite its many hiccups, has thus far proved positive enough. Nonetheless, it has yet to reach the country’s citizens. Communicating the importance of creating a sustainable nation to the masses is vital in order to truly implement and integrate sustainable projects in day-to-day life. The discussion should not be a nominal top-down conversation among the political elite, but an integral part of a citizen’s general behaviour in all sectors of society. Egypt’s young population deserves to have a sustainable and green economy that would open up the job market and allow for positive growth for generations to come. While we still have a long and challenging road ahead, the fact that the conversation around growth and sustainability continues and that attempts at implementation are still moving forward, is a very positive omen for Egypt.
The news about Jessica Krug, disgraced George Washington University history professor who has been asked to resign by her department, came fast and furious on Thursday. In a post on Medium, she confessed to having masqueraded as an African descendant, "gaslighted those whom I love," and asked to be "canceled" for having lived a "violent, anti-Black lie."The irony to Krug s revelation is that she was apparently discovered because several Black Latina scholars questioned Krug s identity after a group discussion about the late novelist H.G. Carrillo, who, after his death this year, was revealed not to be Afro-Cuban, but African-American by his sister. But it was the violence that Krug, who said in her post that she had grown up as a White, Jewish child in Kansas City, had done to her colleagues, peers and students that hurt the most. The depth of the damage was most poignantly called out by Yomaira C. Figueroa, associate professor at Michigan State who comes from a "working poor" background growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey. In a Washington Post interview, Figueroa said it was "disgusting," and asserted that many in the academic world are "aghast that (Krug) would perpetuate these lies and gain access to the spaces in the academy, the resources." Hunter College professor Yarimar Bonilla, who was a fellow at New York s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture with Krug, said on Twitter that Krug employed gross racial stereotypes to build her claim to authenticity, "claiming to be a child of addicts from the hood," and harangued colleagues through a "woker-than-thou" rhetoric that made Bonilla feel like she was "trafficking in respectability politics when I cringed at her MINSTREL SHOW." What got to me most about the Krug "performance" was a video that surfaced of a talk she did at Harlem s Studio Museum about her involvement with a community-led police monitoring group called Harlem Cop Watch. As someone who actually grew up in the Bronx and actively reported on police violence in the 1990s, I was repulsed when I watched her self-righteous rant about her youth in the Bronx constantly witnessing acts of police brutality, describing one against her brother, and even alluding to the horrific police shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999, which she claimed happened "around the corner from my home."A number of local New York activists like Andrew J. Padilla and Ed García Conde shared their brief, puzzling encounters with Krug online and traces of her involvement with Revolutionary Fitness, a left-oriented fitness center, emerged. Shawn Garcia, founder of Revolutionary Fitness, told me in an email message that Krug tried to "gain some clout by affiliating herself with us and other community organizations like Harlem Cop Watch," but stopped hanging around "because she claimed we weren t hard enough on gentrifiers." Apart from all the self-searching of this moment, there is a danger that conservatives might use this to discredit ethnic and Black studies as an invalid field to research. Just Saturday, as the New York Post plastered a mocking headline alongside a photo of Krug on its cover the Trump administration released a memo blocking some race-related training sessions for federal agencies, with Trump himself attacking "critical race theory" as a "sickness" on Twitter. Still, the question remains, does this 21st-century race-anxiety horror show invalidate Krug s work? Her book, "Fugitive Modernities," was published by the prestigious Duke University Press and had been a 2019 finalist for the Harriet Tubman Prize and the Frederick Douglass Book Prize. Even Professor Figueroa admits that it was considered an "amazing," "field-changing" book. "Fugitive Modernities" focuses on the 16th-century history of the Kisama region of Angola, whose status as a refugee site for Africans escaping Portuguese slave traders influenced the creation of escaped slave towns in New World countries like Colombia and Brazil. Historian Toby Green, who teaches at King s College in London, wrote a review of it in the Hispanic American Historical Review, praising Krug for "moving beyond Eurocentric concepts to ideas derived from African languages." In an email, Green told me that he had a few exchanges with Krug because "there are not many historians of precolonial West/West Central Africa out there!" He insisted the book was "based on solid research," and that he "found it one of the best kinds of history, taking a sledgehammer to state power of all kinds... So for many reasons, I found the revelations (about Krug) saddening."Perhaps a clue to Krug s motivation could be seen as an overzealous interpretation on her research on Latin America and Africa. In "Fugitive Modernities," she cites an article called "The Jíbaro Masquerade and the Subaltern Politics of Creole Identity Formation in Puerto Rico 1745-1823," written by University of Wisconsin Professor Francisco Scarano. In the article, Scarano describes how elite Puerto Rican intellectuals used to disguise themselves by writing in the coarse language of rural peasants to make more effective political arguments against Spanish colonialism without endangering their own privileges. Krug took advantage of the willingness of many urban Puerto Ricans to embrace their African ancestors to claim Blackness -- "Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness," as she describes in her Medium post, even though she was visibly light-skinned. I m haunted by what one of Krug s GWU students said to a reporter at New York magazine s The Cut: "She would have been fine if she was just a white woman. I have taken several African Studies courses at GW taught by white professors who were just as passionate and just as knowledgeable. The things that she taught me could have been done without this whole minstrel show of a persona." Why Krug did what she did will be debated by psychologists, pundits and historians for years to come. "To say that I clearly have been battling some unaddressed mental health demons for my entire life, as both an adult and child, is obvious," she wrote in her Medium post. "Mental health issues likely explain why I assumed a false identity initially, as a youth, and why I continued and developed it for so long."Krug says she is "belatedly seeking help" for these issues. While she does that, we can t lose sight of how now, more than ever, our university system must support Black and brown scholars and fields of study, as well as enhance opportunities for the growth of its faculty and prestige of the field.
Scientists across the world are working around the clock to supply a vaccine that could halt this devastating pandemic. Yet this deadly virus has once again highlighted how we also desperately need a cure for a completely different disease -- one which will sadly outlive Covid-19. For many terrified women, the fear of a silent virus may pass, but the screams, the beatings and the ever-present threat of violence will remain. Forced coexistence and economic pressures have resulted in domestic violence increasing at alarmingly high rates since the virus entered our lives. Distress calls to domestic violence helplines have risen by up to 300% in some countries, while domestic homicide rates are higher than normal, a pattern playing out across the world.I have listened to the heartbreaking stories of so many victims over the years in my role as the Commonwealth Secretary-General. They are often asked: "Why did you not leave?" While it may appear that they have a choice to do so, the path to freedom is precarious. Besides physical, emotional and financial abuse, perpetrators often use coercive tactics to control behavior, isolating victims from family and friends, enforcing restrictions on basic necessities and threatening harm if there is any indication of a desire to leave. Victims often find it hard to recognize the abuse until they are in dangerous situations. Their agency is continually eroded under this pressure, leaving them with the feeling that they have no choice but to stay. Even in normal times, the layers of bureaucracy can also act as barriers to freedom. Victims find themselves asking: "Will the police believe me? How can I attend court? Where will I sleep? Will reporting the abuse make my partner more dangerous? Will I get the custody of my children?" Lockdown and social distancing restrictions have further intensified these anxieties. So, it is important for our institutions and service providers to create conditions which respond appropriately and sympathetically to the different circumstances of all women before it is too late. Innovations introduced during the pandemic, such as virtual courts, online protection orders, pop-up counseling centers and makeshift shelters, must be shared around the world. And that s exactly what we plan to do -- flattening the curve of violence in Commonwealth countries. In partnership with the NO MORE Foundation, the Commonwealth Secretariat has developed a digital portal, featuring easy-to-use tools and resources for governments, community-based organizations and people from our 54 member countries to bring down cases of domestic and sexual violence.Governments, particularly those with more limited resources, can download toolkits to establish local campaigns which tackle domestic and sexual violence, support victims and those at risk and train community leaders on the ground. The digital portal is specifically designed to help victims understand and recognize violence and give them one-stop access to critical information, including local hotlines, shelters, safety plans and legal guidance. We have developed guidelines to support citizens in speaking up when they see violence occurring in their circles of family and friends or local communities. The portal will also feature good practice guides for preventing abuse, delivering services and protecting survivors -- including model laws on criminalizing coercive control in relationships so that a full history of abuse is investigated rather than as one-off incidents. We recognize abuse does not stop when women are removed from their abusive homes. Victims need constant support to recover from the trauma and rebuild their lives. Their children also need counseling to change attitudes and behavior developed as a result of witnessing violence between parents. Perpetrators need to participate in special programs to help prevent them from reoffending in the future. This is why we are accelerating our ongoing work on several fronts in the Commonwealth. We are making a financial case for addressing violence against women by helping countries measure the economic cost if we fail to act -- a figure that in 2016 was estimated globally to be some $1.5 trillion. This modeling encourages countries to direct more resources towards preventing violence rather than intervening once it starts. It s a more cost-effective approach with immediate and long-term benefits at both individual and societal levels.Additionally, while many countries have laws specifically designed to protect women who are abused, these are not always compliant with international standards. Working with partners, including UN Women, we are providing support for countries to reform such legislation and laws which discriminate unjustly on grounds of gender so that women have equal rights to leave their abusive partners and seek justice. Violence is never justified. Domestic abuse is the betrayal of love and trust. We are working with some member countries to ensure that all victims are protected against domestic violence in all possible ways, including separation, restitution, compensation and even court mandated alimony. Our homes should be sanctuaries, not prisons. We do not need the gift of seeing into the future to be aware of what is happening in front of us right now. It is time for all of us to stand up, to say NO MORE and to work with resolve and a sense of purpose towards building safer homes and communities in a more just, equal and peaceful world.
More than 185,000 people have already died from the coronavirus in the US. If you ve checked the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 dashboard as frequently as I have for the last several months, the growing death toll may have started to look like numbers on a broken digital scale counting up to some interminable figure. Its persistent climb demonstrates the eerie psychological trick large numbers play on our minds: "If only one man dies ... that is a tragedy. If millions die, that s only statistics."That quote, attributed to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, has been made all too real by President Donald Trump in the context of the pandemic in 2020. What initially appeared to be the Trump administration s ineptitude when it came to responding to the country s worst public health crisis in a century has since morphed into something far more sinister — a seemingly purposeful effort to turn the Covid-19 pandemic into white noise as Trump amplifies the clatter of his own fearmongering with unfounded or distorted claims about crime and lawlessness. Trump continues to put his political aims ahead of the public health crisis, contributing to projections that show the US death toll from coronavirus could exceed 315,000 by December 2020. Several events in the past few weeks reveal Trump s problematic approach to this pandemic. First, he appointed Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist, a doctor who specializes in imaging the brain, as a Covid-19 adviser. That s like appointing a plumber to build your roof because, well, plumbers and roofers both work on houses. Atlas is not an infectious disease expert and has little relevant experience in this space. His top qualification for the job in the Trump administration s eyes seems to be that he s appeared on conservative cable news shows in praise of the President s "handling" of the pandemic. Despite scientific consensus to the contrary, Atlas has questioned the use of masks and said that children cannot spread the virus. Most astoundingly, he s argued that the country would reach herd immunity more quickly if more people are infected, and that death counts could be limited if protective measures focus on the most vulnerable. In a Fox News interview in June, he said, "The reality is that when a population has enough people who have had the infection, and since these people don t have a problem with the infection, that s not a problem. That s not a bad thing."But thousands of young people under the age of 45 have died from the coronavirus in the US, and that strategy failed in Sweden, where less than 10% of the population has tested positive for antibodies — well below the 70-90% required for herd immunity. In advocating for such an idea, Atlas is essentially shrugging at the risk that thousands potentially die from the virus (On Saturday, Atlas said, "I have never advised the President to push a herd immunity strategy. I have never told the task force that I advocated a herd immunity strategy." He went on to clarify that he supported social distancing measures and protecting the vulnerable, adding, "I am advocating opening things, but opening safely, with mitigation ... We must understand something: prolonging a lockdown is enormously harmful.") Atlas is one of the few doctors willing to oppose the scientific and medical consensus on the public health failure of the administration s inaction, while covering it with the fig leaf of his medical school degree — and this may be precisely why Trump is such a fan. But it gets worse. Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidelines arguing that people who are not experiencing Covid-19 symptoms should not get tested for the virus, even if they have been exposed. But the virus can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers. Indeed, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country s leading infectious disease expert, estimated that about 40% of people who carry Covid-19 do not exhibit symptoms — yet they can still spread it. These recommendations aren t just unfounded; they run directly in opposition to the science. We need more testing, not less. So why the new guidelines? The White House pressured the CDC to issue them, according to a federal health official who told CNN, "It s coming from the top down." In exerting this pressure, the Trump administration may have created the perfect excuse for its failure to ramp up testing to levels necessary to mitigate the virus. Rather than increasing testing capacity to meet the needs of Americans, the administration seems to have persuaded the CDC to revise down the need for testing to meet the current testing capacity.Finally, US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn is under scrutiny for rushing through an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma under pressure from the White House and against the public advice of experts at the National Institutes of Health. But Hahn s own comments this week seem to show the full extent of his politicization in the role. He said that his agency would consider emergency use authorization or approval for a Covid-19 vaccine before Phase III clinical trials are complete, practically inviting pharmaceutical companies to apply for FDA authorization or approval. Already, observers worry that safeguards will be cast aside to accelerate the timeline for a vaccine to produce an "October Surprise" for Trump just before Election Day. Trump himself has lent credence to that worry, saying he expects a vaccine could be ready before November 3. It should go without saying that vaccine development should be dictated by science s timeline, not a politician s. The issue is one of trust: According to a recent Gallup poll, approximately one-third of Americans say they would not get a vaccine if it were available today. But to reach the immunity we need to end the spread of the coronavirus, epidemiologists estimate that between 70-90% of the population will need to be immune. With a third of Americans already uneasy about a vaccine, there s little room for error. And if Americans lose trust in the process used to create that vaccine, it could bring the number willing to be vaccinated below that critical threshold. Hahn s words could further fuel this skepticism. Trump has done something worse than give up; he s prioritized electoral politics above public health — and at the potential expense of American lives. Meanwhile, as his administration has forced its political agenda upon apolitical agencies that are supposed to be leading with science, Trump himself seems to be doing everything he can this week to divert attention away from the pandemic.On Tuesday, he went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times in the back by the police. Trump did not meet with Blake s family during his trip, and said during a roundtable event that systemic racism is not a problem in the US — and that journalists should be focused on the "tremendous violence" in cities like Portland instead. Trump s betting on former President Richard Nixon s 1968 strategy by stoking racist fears among White people in the suburbs. But Nixon wasn t an incumbent running against the record of his own administration. Trump is. Whether he likes it or not, this is Trump s America — the "American carnage" he warned the country about in his inauguration. And the death toll is more than 185,000 and counting.
The number of inflammatory and threatening statements made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over recent months has been escalating at a meteoric rate, and due to their hollow nature, they have become a source of ridicule across the globe. Hardly a day passes without a new threatening statement made by Erdogan towards Greece, the EU or countries in the Middle East. The tone of Erdogan’s latest wave of threats reveals a state of despair as a result of recent events that have brought his megalomaniacal ambitions of restoring the so-called “glories” of the former Ottoman Empire to reality, however. Among these was the recent signing of the historic Egyptian-Greek naval demarcation agreement that set the maritime and economic borders of the two countries. The agreement has been ratified by both the Egyptian and Greek parliaments despite the objections of the Turkish regime. France has also entered the fray as Erdogan has become a menace in the Eastern Mediterranean region and has threatened French allies as well as the French state in its efforts to carry out the war on terrorism in Africa, notably in Libya. French President Emmanuel Macron stated earlier this week that enforcing red lines was the only language that the Turkish regime understands in his explanation of his country’s involvement in the region. Macron said he had set out red lines to Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean that were backed by military force. France has been a strong backer of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt in their feud with the Turkish regime. Macron has backed Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s position on Libya and has shown his understanding of Egypt’s concerns regarding the Turkish intervention in that country. France has also deployed several warships as well as a number of fighter jets to Cyprus in support of the Republic of Cyprus against Turkish threats. Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus have also conducted naval drills in the region as a message to Erdogan that his ambitions will be met with military force if necessary. However, these actions have not deterred the Turkish president and his Islamist regime from issuing more threats. One of Erdogan’s lieutenants, Metin Külünk, has called for the establishment of a “Greater Turkey” that would include parts of Greece, half of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Armenia and parts of Syria and Iraq. In doing so, Külünk, a member of Erdogan’s Islamist AKP Party, has simply expressed the expansionist ambitions of the Turkish regime. Fortunately, of course, Turkey is capable neither militarily nor economically of carrying out even a fraction of such neo-Ottoman threats or ambitions. Why attempt to provoke the animosity of almost every country in the region with such unbalanced statements? The answer lies in the domestic politics of Turkey. The AKP has long rallied Islamist and neo-Ottoman Turks who still believe in the expansionist ambitions of Erdogan. It is this deluded and radical constituency that Erdogan and the AKP are counting on to stay in power and to quell the protests of traditional republicans and secularists in Turkey. However, the signs of Erdogan and his regime being able to maintain this sort of politics are dim, and with every statement he and his followers make more and more countries are rallying against the Turkish state and what were once simple diplomatic spats have been approaching fully-fledged war. Turkey’s disregard of the sovereignty of other nations will have severe consequences, and Erdogan’s attempt to play the NATO card, relying on Turkey’s membership of the alliance, is no longer working since he has made just as many enemies inside NATO as he has among his regional neighbours. Should matters continue as they have thus far, an unprecedented war or at least a military skirmish between members of the NATO alliance could occur at any moment. The usually indecisive EU is mulling major economic and political sanctions against Turkey as a result of Erdogan’s military and political aggression in the region. Should these sanctions be approved, they will be a major blow against the already bleeding Turkish economy, which has witnessed the freefall of the Turkish lira against the US dollar and other currencies along with contractions in both GDP and international ratings. According to the latest Finch Ratings report on the Turkish economy, it has seen a “depletion of foreign-exchange reserves, weak monetary policy credibility, negative real interest rates and a sizeable current account deficit partly fuelled by a strong credit stimulus… exacerbating external financing risks.” These and other factors have led the international credit-ratings agency to give Turkey the dismal rating of BB-. To counter such economic and political pressures, which have been merged with a wave of domestic disapproval owing to his impetuous policies, Erdogan’s domestic media machine has gone into overdrive to inflate his supposed achievements, such as the unethical conversion of the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul into a mosque so that he can proclaim himself a pious Muslim leader. Lacking any tangible economic achievements in recent years, Erdogan has been attempting to distract the Turkish population with the announcement of the discovery of a major natural gas field in the Black Sea. The announcement was made using the usual theatrical methods of Erdogan’s speeches. However, experts have other opinions about the discovery, and opposition analysts such as Abdullah Bozkurt have questioned the reality of the new discovery. Erdogan has proclaimed such discoveries before, they point out, the last time being in 2019, and they have given rise to no real outcomes or developments. The Russian news outlet Russia Today has questioned the credibility of the recent Turkish discovery, for example, said to hold 320 billion cubic metres of natural gas, which is modest compared to Egypt’s Al-Zohr gas field in the Mediterranean, for example. Russian experts have said that the alleged Turkish field lies 2,100 metres underwater and would require a hefty investment to exploit efficiently. The Russian media has concluded that the alleged discovery would be hard to exploit economically, given the steep costs of extraction and the growing supply glut in the market. As the noose tightens around the neck of the Turkish president, Erdogan’s reckless behaviour is becoming more aggressive and unpredictable. Time is not on his side, and with every waking hour the Turkish economy is bleeding more. More and more of Erdogan’s opponents are rallying their forces to curb his megalomaniacal and neo-Ottoman ambitions. Egypt, France and Greece have the military means to stop any Turkish aggression should Erdogan resort to this as his final card. The Turkish regime will face overwhelming odds should it attempt military action, and neither its membership of NATO nor its recent attempts to appease the Russians will be able to assist it in an effective way.
The founding fathers of the US built the country on the bases of freedom and justice. The majority of US presidents respected these values and promoted them internationally. This is what made the US a leading country respected the world over. We, in the Middle East, fondly remember the noble actions of president Dwight Eisenhower during the tripartite aggression of England, France and Israel in 1956 when they invaded Egypt and sent their troops to occupy Sinai, a very dear part of Egypt. Eisenhower intervened, giving the three countries an ultimatum to withdraw their troops from Egypt. They left. This is what the world expects from the US to support justice and condemn aggressions and occupation of other countries. The Middle East believes the US should restore its status. I am referring here to two international issues that threaten world peace and security. The first is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile. The dam will deprive River Nile downstream countries Egypt and Sudan, that are friends of the US, of their share of Nile waters and endanger the lives of millions of people who shall suffer from thirst and hunger. The Nile is about the only source of water for Egyptians. Ethiopia is water-rich, often referred to as the Fountain of Africa. A young diplomat, Marwa Salem, conducted a study about water in Africa. Salem said 14 water basins flow through Ethiopia, including the Nile Basin. Its total water surface is about 122 BCM, nearly 90 BCM of which – coming from national rivers – are under Ethiopia s control. Moreover, there are about 20 BCM of groundwater near the surface, which are renewable due to the heavy rainfall, which averages 1250 mm per year. Consequently, Ethiopia belongs in the category of “water abundance.” In the 1960s, the US agricultural Department conducted an extensive study on water in Ethiopia. The four-year research identified 33 locations in Ethiopia for building a dam. Nevertheless, the Ethiopian government chose the most controversial of them to build dam. The US, realising the critical GERD crisis, has sponsored tripartite negotiations to reach a deal that safeguards the rights of the three countries. When an agreement was already reached in Washington, Ethiopia didn t show up to sign it, showing disrespect to the negotiating parties including the US that brokered the talks. Ethiopia should have honoured its word, if not for the $8 billion the US grants Ethiopia each year, then at least for the sake of respecting the diplomatic codes and proper behaviour. We are all well aware that Ethiopia s aggressive attitude is a flagrant violation of all international agreements and the Helsinki principles that safeguard the rights of all countries sharing international rivers and ensures their good relations. The US Treasury has recently withheld $200 million from its aid to Ethiopia, sending a message to Addis Ababa it will not get away with this extreme violation of international laws. The whole world expects the US to continue its efforts to support the rights of millions of Egyptians and Sudanese people who cannot survive without water. The second issue is Turkish President Recep Tayyip s Erdogan s invasion of Libya and his establishment of military bases west of the Egyptian borders. It is well known that he is a strong supporter of terrorist organisations, providing them with funds, arms and mercenaries. He even recruits Turkish Kurds to fight in Libya under the pretext of reviving the Ottoman empire. He flagrantly announced that he intends to occupy Austria, Rome and even the Vatican itself as well. The dictator had the audacity to turn the Aya Sofia church and museum into a mosque where the preacher gave his sermon holding a sword, claiming that this is the way to spread Islam and restore the Ottoman glory -- although the teachings of Islam call for peace and coexistence of all peoples of all religions. Erdogan also attacked some oil wells in the Mediterranean that belong to Greece and Cypress. His actions constitute a threat to peace and security, not only in the Middle East but in Europe and the world at large. Dear US friends of Egypt, the US is now preparing for a major political event, namely the Congress and presidential elections. Get in touch with your candidates, the senators, the governors, and the mayors. Demand they listen to your requests. Ask your family, friends and colleagues to create a strong public opinion. Tell them the US should restore its status as a major power that supports world peace, security, and human rights. Encourage them to support justice.
What is happening now in Egyptian society is a regrettable matter that we have not seen before, whether in social, political or even religious circles. Some people tend to track the mistakes of others and publish them without verification, just to expose and defame them. Therefore, more liars, conspirators, and ignorant people claiming knowledge appeared. Many people talk about faith, but never knew God, and many are