Tag Archives: Politics

Authoritarian governments are using coronavirus as an excuse to crush freedom of speech

Stop those non-humans who are writing and provoking our people,” says Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in an Instagram video. The non-humans he objects to are journalists who criticise the Chechen authorities for mishandling their response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

Given Kadyrov has faced allegations of torturing and disappearing critics (which the leader denies), he leaves nobody in any doubt about how unwelcome journalistic questions should be dealt with.

The cause of his rage was an article in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta by investigative journalist Elena Milashina, who cited Kadyrov as saying that people who spread the coronavirus are “worse than terrorists” and “should be killed”. As a result of these threats, Milashina wrote that people in Chechnya with Covid-19 were hiding their symptoms because they were too frightened to seek medical help.

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Posted by on May 25, 2020 in Uncategorized


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‘We can’t go back to normal’: how will coronavirus change the world?

Everything feels new, unbelievable, overwhelming. At the same time, it feels as if we’ve walked into an old recurring dream. In a way, we have. We’ve seen it before, on TV and in blockbusters. We knew roughly what it would be like, and somehow this makes the encounter not less strange, but more so.

Every day brings news of developments that, as recently as February, would have felt impossible – the work of years, not mere days. We refresh the news not because of a civic sense that following the news is important, but because so much may have happened since the last refresh. These developments are coming so fast that it’s hard to remember just how radical they are.

Cast your mind back a few weeks and imagine someone telling you the following: within a month, schools will be closed. Almost all public gatherings will be cancelled. Hundreds of millions of people around the world will be out of work. Governments will be throwing together some of the largest economic stimulus packages in history. In certain places, landlords will not be collecting rent, or banks collecting mortgage payments, and the homeless will be allowed to stay in hotels free of charge. Experiments will be underway in the direct government provision of basic income. Large swathes of the world will be collaborating – with various degrees of coercion and nudging – on a shared project of keeping at least two metres between each other whenever possible. Would you have believed what you were hearing?

It’s not just the size and speed of what is happening that’s dizzying. It’s the fact that we have grown accustomed to hearing that democracies are incapable of making big moves like this quickly, or at all. But here we are. Any glance at history reveals that crises and disasters have continually set the stage for change, often for the better. The global flu epidemic of 1918 helped create national health services in many European countries. The twinned crises of the Great Depression and the second world war set the stage for the modern welfare state.

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Posted by on April 23, 2020 in Reportages


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The Normal Economy Is Never Coming Back

As the coronavirus lockdown began, the first impulse was to search for historical analogies—1914, 1929, 1941? As the weeks have ground on, what has come ever more to the fore is the historical novelty of the shock that we are living through. The economy is currently in something akin to free fall. If it were to continue to contract at its current pace, 12 months from now GDP would be one-third lower than at the beginning of 2020. That is a rate of shrinkage four times faster than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. There has never been a crash landing like this before. There is something new under the sun. And it is horrifying.

As recently as five weeks ago, at the beginning of March, U.S. unemployment was at record lows. By the end of March, it had surged to somewhere around 13 percent. That is the highest number recorded since World War II. We don’t know the precise figure because our system of unemployment registration was not built to track an increase at this speed. On successive Thursdays, the number of those making initial filings for unemployment insurance has surged first to 3.3 million, then 6.6 million, and now by another 6.6 million. At the current rate, as the economist Justin Wolfers pointed out in the New York Times, U.S. unemployment is rising at nearly 0.5 percent per day. It is no longer unimaginable that the overall unemployment rate could reach 30 percent by the summer.

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Posted by on April 23, 2020 in Economy


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Trump, Erdogan, Modi, Orban, Bolsonaro – populist nationalists have met their match in coronavirus

“Where does incompetence end and crime begin?” asked an appalled German chancellor in the First World War on learning that his chief military commander planned to renew his bloody but futile attacks on the western front.

President Trump is showing a similar disastrous inability during the coronavirus pandemic to shift away from his well-tried tactics of claiming non-existent successes and blaming everybody for his blunders except for himself. It is his first true crisis in his three years in the White House and, like that German general, he is visibly incapable of changing the way he deals with it.

Much virtual ink has been spilled over the last three years about the ineptitude and isolationism of the Trump presidency, and how far it will erode American hegemony. The pandemic has posed the question more starkly than ever before, but it has also provided something of an answer. Crudely put, the US will not remain the one single superpower if the rest of the world sees evidence day after day that the country is run by a crackpot who cannot cope with a global calamity.

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Posted by on April 20, 2020 in Uncategorized


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COVID-19: Confucius is Winning the Coronavirus War

As the Raging Twenties unleash a radical reconfiguration of the planet, coronavirus (literally “crowned poison”) has for all practical purposes served a poisoned chalice of fear and panic to myriad, mostly Western, latitudes.

Berlin-based, South Korean-born philosopher Byung-Chul Han has forcefully argued the victors are the “Asian states like Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Singapore that have an authoritarian mentality which comes from their cultural tradition [of] Confucianism.”

Han added: “People are less rebellious and more obedient than in Europe. They trust the state more. Daily life is much more organized. Above all, to confront the virus Asians are strongly committed to digital surveillance. The epidemics in Asia are fought not only by virologists and epidemiologists, but also by computer scientists and big data specialists.”

That’s a reductionist view and plenty of nuances should apply. Take South Korea, which is not “authoritarian.” It’s as democratic as top Western liberal powers. What we had in a nutshell was the civic-mindedness of the overwhelming majority of the population reacting to sound, competent government policies.

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Posted by on April 20, 2020 in Asia


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I have lost count​ of the days since I went into quarantine, after losing my sense of smell. Camus writes that in a plague there’s ‘nothing to do but mark time’ but marking time is harder than it sounds. Is it Monday or Tuesday? (Does it matter?) Lately the most reliable method of counting the passage of time has been not in days or weeks but in deaths. In New York City, more than seven thousand people have died, more than twice as many as were killed in the 11 September attacks.

Most of my friends aren’t leaving their flats. Since recovering my sense of smell, I’ve been taking a walk each morning. The other day I sat in an empty park near the Brooklyn Navy Yard when a city worker came up to tell me it was closing immediately. The next day a makeshift fence surrounded it. ‘Baudelaire loved solitude,’ Walter Benjamin wrote, ‘but he wanted it in a crowd.’ Today any area that might attract a crowd has shut down and Governor Cuomo frowns on walks. You can still find ‘crowds’, but they’re made up of people you already know but can’t risk seeing ‘in real life’, brought to you by Zoom or FaceTime.

This is my second experience of quarantine this year. In late December I visited Beirut. Shortly after my arrival, the US government assassinated Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike at Baghdad airport. American citizens in the Middle East were advised to leave; taxi drivers warned me to conceal my American identity. I spent most of my time reading, writing and cooking – pretty much what I’m doing now. Among the books I read was an essay by Amin Maalouf, Le Naufrage des civilisations (‘The Shipwreck of Civilisations’), published in 2019. Maalouf is a Lebanese-Christian novelist who, for the last two decades, has been warning of the threat posed by ‘identitarian’ political movements. Le Naufrage is both an elegy for the Levant in which he grew up, and a reflection on the violent fragmentation and political malaise of globalised capitalism. It begins:

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Posted by on April 15, 2020 in Reportages


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L’Organizzazione mondiale della sanità nell’occhio del ciclone

È davvero il caso di chiudere l’Organizzazione mondiale della sanità (Oms)? La domanda può sembrare strana, considerando che il mondo sta affrontando una pandemia senza precedenti da un secolo a questa parte, tra l’altro proprio nel settore di competenza dell’Oms.

Eppure il 7 aprile Donald Trump ha annunciato di voler tagliare i finanziamenti statunitensi all’Oms, prima di fare marcia indietro e trasformare questa decisone in semplice minaccia. La ragione? Il presidente statunitense accusa l’organizzazione di essere eccessivamente legata alla Cina e di avere contribuito al tentativo di Pechino di minimizzare la portata dell’epidemia all’inizio dell’anno, ritardando quindi il momento in cui è stato possibile comprendere la gravità della situazione.

Il vero problema con Trump è che ogni sua presa di posizione diventa automaticamente sospetta. Ma in questo caso il presidente degli Stati Uniti solleva un problema reale, già posto da numerosi esperti molto critici riguardo al ruolo dell’Oms in questa crisi. Ma è davvero il momento adatto?

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Posted by on April 9, 2020 in Uncategorized


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How the Pandemic Will End

Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”

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Posted by on April 6, 2020 in Reportages


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Do it now. Right away

When this tragedy is over, will everything just go back to the way it was? For 30 years each new crisis has raised unreasonable hopes that the world would return to reason, come to its senses, end the madness. We have dreamed of containing, then reversing, a sociopolitical dynamic whose deadlocks and dangers were finally understood (1). We hoped that the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987 would end runaway privatisation, and that the financial crises of 1997 and 2007-08 would halt happy globalisation. They didn’t.

The 9/11 attacks led to criticism of US hubris and distraught questions like ‘Why do they hate us?’ Those didn’t last either. Even when they are heading in the right direction, ideas alone are never enough to get things done. That needs people. But it’s best not to rely on the politicians who were responsible for the disaster in the first place, even if those pyromaniacs are skilled at making sacrifices for the greater good and pretending they have changed, especially when their lives are at risk, as are ours today.

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Posted by on April 2, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Confusione sanitaria

Il dio mercato e i suoi adoratori bussano impazienti alle porte della politica perché l’emergenza coronavirus sia dichiarata superata, il lockdown finisca e l’economia riparta. Ma francamente non si capisce il perché di tanta precipitosità. L’epidemia è ancora in pieno dispiegamento: da qualche giorno c’è qualche segnale incoraggiante di un lento appiattimento della curva, ma in compenso nel sud i casi crescono, sia pure non esponenzialmente, e qualche focolaio minaccia di peggiorare la situazione. Siamo ancora in piena carestia di mascherine e tamponi, il minimo che servirebbe per parlare di prevenzione di ulteriori disastri. E soprattutto c’è ancora troppa confusione nella politica sanitaria, ed è di questa che è urgente parlare, anche da incompetenti, intanto perché la sanità è un diritto fondamentale e dunque la politica sanitaria ci riguarda tutti e tutti ci autorizza alla presa di parola: del resto, la riforma sanitaria che nel 1978 istituì il servizio sanitario nazionale fu l’esito di un processo che coinvolse la società, non solo i politici e gli esperti. E poi perché guardando a ritroso il film dell’ultimo mese è evidente che sono state le strategie sanitarie ed epidemiologiche a determinare quelle istituzionali e politiche (Conte: “Abbiamo sempre operato seguendo le indicazioni del nostro comitato scientifico”), il che significa che non si può valutare l’efficacia delle seconde senza entrare nel merito delle prime.

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Posted by on April 1, 2020 in European Union


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