This piece is unusual in that it is either going to end up as a fiasco or a scoop. If the latter, then, as they say … remember you read it here first.
The possible venues floated by the White House include places like Sweden and Switzerland. But we all know Mr. Kim Jong-un has a chronic phobia of flying, so places not easily accessible by his personal train are out of the question. Train travel to these two European nations would take both unduly long and include journeying through countries not particularly friendly to the PDRK.
Then there is Southeast Asia, principally Thailand and Vietnam though Singapore has also been suggested. Thailand is at present under a military dictatorship, and Mr. Kim might like to go there just to prove a point — countries in the western orbit can be dictatorships too. There is another issue: Does Mr. Trump mind if he appears to be endorsing a dictatorship?
Vietnam is interesting as another divided country that eventually unified. It has also enjoyed strong growth under a capitalistic economic regime while retaining its communist political system — probably what Mr. Kim might be aiming for in North Korea. Travel, however, requires his train winding its way south to a country with not the best relations with China — Mr. Kim’s principal support.
Singapore is a successful, dynamic city state steeped in the capitalist model. A democratically elected government notwithstanding, officials can be autocratic. It has also had diplomatic relations with North Korea since the 1970s. But there is one big problem. To travel by train from North Korea Mr. Kim would have to go through Malaysia … the place where his agents killed the playboy brother.
Mongolia has also been suggested. It is an old friend to North Korea and provided some assistance during the Korean war. Would that mean though that Mr. Trump is going too close to the Kim home base and appearing a supplicant as he would were he meeting in Pyongyang or Beijing or even Moscow.
So, what’s left?
Well, Kazakhstan has a lot going for it. In the first place, it has extremely good relations with South Korea, while its government by contrast has its roots in the Soviet system. Effusive congratulatory messages from its Foreign Minister were in order recently just prior to the North-South Korean summit. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president, invited by Trump for a state visit in January 2018, volunteered his country’s help as a role model for North Korea — Kazakhhstan, having disposed of its own nuclear weapons after leaving the Soviet Union, has become an advocate for a nuclear-free world.
The Kazakhs will do everything to please their South Korean friends. Kazakhstan benefits from trade and South Korean investment. It is its largest trading partner in Central Asia after Uzbekistan.
By an odd quirk of fate, the Soviet Union deported thousands of resident Koreans to Central Asia. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule at the time, and the Soviets feared there would be spies among them. They call themselves Koryo–saram — Koryo being a word for Korea and saram meaning people — and are estimated to number about 100,000. They are also a link drawing the two countries together.
Given Kim Jong-un’s penchant for secrecy, it is not surprising there is no mention of Kazakhstan. He would want it that way. The train journey is straight across China where Kim feels safe. And Kazakhstan’s relative neutrality means Trump is not giving much away in meeting there … he will not appear to be a suppliant.
There is one other very big reason why Kazakhstan is the likely venue. John Mappin is said to thinks so, and is probably betting on it. Who is John Mappin? He is the man who was sure as early as 2015 that Donald Trump would win the election. His $3,000 bet spread among different bookmakers earned him almost $110,000.
Who would want to bet against this guy?
Brazil does not give up: Culture and Creativity, Solidarity and Lives
Paraphrasing Jorge Amado, a famous Brazilian literary writer of the twentieth century, in his popular novel ‘The country of carnival’: “… Sometimes we understand that something is missing in our lives. What is missing? We don’t know.”
Today, what we do know is that the C-19 event has destabilized the world in a multi-dimensional way. Everything is upside-down. In every corner, we have experienced a shift in human behaviour and daily attitudes.
Suddenly, the world has moved from globalization to isolation. From hugs and kisses to social distancing. From physical touch to virtual chats. From high-consumerism towards a world with a greater environmental conscience. From egocentrism towards a human-centred approach. Against this controversial background – culture, creativity and connectivity have become the backbone of society – keeping people who are physically apart, tied together.
One example of the importance of culture to Brazilian identity is Carnival, which creates not just joy but revenue, tourism and jobs. Carnival 2020 was held in February, just before the start of the pandemic, which hit Brazil in mid-March. During Carnival, the country explodes with creativity and dancing for three consecutive days. This year it injected R$8 billion into the national economy and offered 25 thousand temporary jobs. This income has helped to partially mitigate the cumulative losses so far estimated to be R$62 billion resulting from COVID-19 crisis, which is deeply affecting culture and the creative industries, destroying over a million jobs in these sectors. In contrast to the celebrations just a few months ago, tourism, culture and the creative economy, now integrated into the same Ministry, are having to join forces to overcome the current difficulties, trying to preserve jobs and anxiously preparing for post-crisis.
The economic, social and cultural consequences of this pandemic are far-reaching. The COVID-19 crisis has not only robbed us of over half million lives around the world but it is exacerbating inequality, knocking-down the global economy, re-shaping global governance and free trade, destroying national health systems and urban life and aggravating social instability. Nevertheless, probably the most profound positive legacy of this chaotic situation is the growing sense of solidarity and citizenship that is encouraging people to do better, to engage and to act.
In Brazil, the pandemic has made inequality more visible. Creative and digital industries, in particular the audiovisual sector, social media, online news and press and communications services, have been powerful in showing the cruel reality of poverty at the current time. For the most vulnerable, social isolation is considered a luxury. It is difficult to be at home to avoid contagion when there is no money to be able to afford to eat. It is difficult to be confined in social isolation when a big family lives in a small room in a shanty town. It is difficult to wash your hands several times a day and have hygienic practices when there is no water and proper sanitary conditions at home. Under these circumstances, the Brazilian government has allocated 4.6 per cent of national public budget to implement the COVID-19 emergency package that also includes fiscal and monetary measures to assist small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), micro businesses and the self-employed. The COVID-19 voucher scheme has wide coverage; 65 million beneficiaries have followed instructions for digital eligibility and are receiving financial assistance for three months as compensation for their revenue losses. At the end of June, the government decided to extend the emergency salary for two additional months until August 2020, bringing total governmental expenditures to mitigate the continuous spread of the pandemic during the first semester to nearly R$1 trillion.
It is noteworthy that digitalization and creative services (in the form of an official mobile app) have made it possible for the government of a continental-sized country to put in place in a relatively short time a massive outreach programme. It not only captures nearly 13 million unemployed people, plus 3.7 million informal workers, but also the self-employed who are left with no income and those who were previously completely invisible (even from the family poverty reduction scheme which covers 15 million families). Hopefully, in the future this big data will be used to design appropriate public policies and more effective educational, training and cultural programmes to address the lack of economic and social inclusion. In this context, creative activities, especially those associated with arts and cultural festivities, are conducive to the inclusion of usually excluded minorities and marginalized youth.
Solidarity and citizenship
In parallel to digital innovation, a feeling of solidarity has emerged and civil society has been mobilized. Citizens have started to act in a collective manner in response to the needs of vulnerable communities. Private sector companies of all sizes have become more engaged with social responsibility. Enterprises are more committed not only to meet customers’ demand but also to be more sensitive to the socio-economic impact of their activities locally. Aid packages including basic food baskets, hygiene products and masks are being widely distributed by firms, non-profit organisations and individuals.
On a daily basis, the TV news presents a list of projects, campaigns and new creative initiatives to assist those who need them. An example is the Table Brazil SESC-RJ project (SESC) which is engaged in fighting hunger and reducing food waste. The project collects food donations for the poorest while educating them on how to prepare healthier food. There is also a link here between these efforts and cultural institutions, public audiences for theatrical performances and shows presented in SESC’s theatres (before and after social isolation) can get cheaper ticket prices if they bring food for donation. This project, which already existed, was expanded on during the COVID-19 period. Another SESC project is #MesaSemFome through which well-known personalities donate their time, knowledge and experience to support solidarity in many different ways; by calling elderly people for story-telling and shopping for them, by giving musical instrument lessons, and by improving bakery skills. Every week many activities are offered through Instagram’s Lives Solidarias.
Artificial intelligence and robotics are also playing a role in fighting the pandemic. With a population of 217 million people, Brazil does not have an adequate number of COVID-19 medical tests for all of its inhabitants. In order to cope with this deficit situation, the Health Ministry is using robots to call elderly people with high risk of contagion for a brief diagnosis by phone. The TeleSUS platform started in early April monitoring the flux of contagion with the aim to reach millions of people through an active search by phone and consultations by tele-medicine. Though this initiative has not been sufficient, it has been positive for enhancing a feeling of citizenship.
Cultural policy responses
In terms of culture, all cultural spaces such as cinemas, theatres and museums have been closed and events including artistic shows, festivals and exhibitions were suspended in mid-March 2020, to comply with social distance measurese. Art and culture brings about R$170 billion annually to the Brazilian economy providing jobs to five million people accounting for nearly six per cent of the national workforce. Artists, cultural producers, technicians and creative professionals were the first to stop their activities as a consequence of the pandemic and will probably be the last to restart, making them one of the most affected categories. Thus, a Law for Cultural Emergency (Lei Aldir Blanc) was finally approved by Congress allowing the use of resources from the Federal Cultural Fund (R$3 billion) to provide emergency aid for three months to help compensate for the loss of revenue and to provide tax exemption for up to six months for the cultural industry and creative businesses.
Guidelines for implementation of cultural projects during the COVID-19 pandemic have now been revisited. Projects should be well documented and producers should provide evidence for every action taken, in particular for projects financed by the Law for Stimulating Culture (Lei Roanet). Three measures were designed to alleviate the pandemic’s impact and guide the execution of projects:
1. Projects will be allowed to use up to 20 per cent of the estimated capital
2. The project can now be modified at any time (previously, there was a limit)
3. Project evaluation will be more flexible in the form and use of resources.
Furthermore, special measures were adopted related to the cancellation of services and events in the areas of tourism and culture during the pandemic. The measures cover cinemas, theatres, digital platforms, artists and all professionals contracted to work in cultural events and shows. Those affected by the lock-down who were unable to perform, will have up to one year to provide the services already contracted.
For the State of São Paulo, cultural and creative industries account for 4 per cent of GDP. This year, the loss in the state caused by COVID-19 is estimated at R$34.5 billion and over 650 thousand people have been left with no revenue. A credit line of R$500 million for SMEs and R$150 million for microcredit was offered with special conditions for micro, small and medium business in the cultural and creative sectors. In addition, Festival #CulturaemCasa is a platform launched by the Secretary of Culture and Creative Economy of São Paulo to stimulate social distancing while improving the access to virtual cultural contents from public cultural institutions. Through the platform the public can visit shows, concerts, museums, talks, conferences, read books, see films, watch theatre and plays. There are many different options for a range of ages and interests, and content is freely available and updated daily. This streaming platform was successful in reaching 850 thousand views in two months from 107 countries. All cultural content will remain available for the extent of the COVID-19 lock-down.
The Secretary for Culture and Creative Economy of Brasilia formalized a financing scheme of R$750,000 to assist local artists and cultural creative professionals affected by the cancellation of festivals and cultural shows. The scheme provides three differentiated credit lines for micro business, self-employed artists, as well as loans and investments to support cultural and creative SMEs. The Secretary of Culture and Creative Economy in the State of Rio de Janeiro launched an official bid for online cultural production projects. #culturapresente will receive R$3.7 million from the State Fund for Culture. It will cover music, literature, visual arts, audiovisual, dance, theatre, circus, fashion, museums, typical cultural food and new cultural popular expressions. Another project “Story-telling by phone” called volunteers to contact elderly and people who live alone to tell stories, as a way to minimize the feeling of solitude. This allows poets, musicians and story-tellers to be engaged by offering hope and solidarity to lonely people.
Cultural experiences in the digital age
Creative initiatives by artists and institutions have also emerged, and some are likely to remain post COVID-19. Two strong trends from these initiatives have been solidarity and live streaming media. These two trends may end up dominating culture in the “new normal” – the combination of live streaming and solidarity has already resulted in the “Lives Solidarias”. In Brazil, more than 120 shows online raised R$17.6 million in donations to fight COVID-19 in poor communities. The mobilization of artists brought about innovation and is a way to engage celebrities and individuals in social causes.
Livestreaming concerts like #tamojunto became the Saturday night fever during the pandemic. Top Brazilian singers (particularly country music singers), are performing at home, attracting a huge virtual audience and millions of ‘likes’ on YouTube and Instagram. Among the top 10 most attended live concerts worldwide, seven are from Brazilian artists. Marilia Mendonça, who received 3,31 million ‘likes’, was ranked number one globally, followed by Jorge & Mateus with 3,24 million. This is partially explained by the fact that 70 per cent of the music consumed in Brazil is locally produced. Moreover, the country ranks thrid among the major producers of creative digital content and as consumers of digital services.
During confinement, online festivals like Festival EuFicoEmCasa are bringing entertainment to people through social networks. As shows and concerts have been cancelled, musicians and visual artists are working virtually to provide entertainment and expand their audience and network via Instagram and YouTube. The first festival gathered 78 artists, providing over 40 hours of music during the first weekend at home. Thanks to its success, the same format is being used for festivals which now take place every weekend.
In summary, after more than 100 days of social distancing, the cultural sector and creative industries without day-to-day activity are re-inventing themselves in their struggle for survival. Paradoxically, online cultural consumption and creative production are escalating. Music is leading innovative models with live concerts but theatre companies are also producing plays for web performances with no public audience. Drive-in cinemas are back. Virtual short-film festivals are attracting newcomers. E-books and a new generation of smart video games are in high demand. Auctions of visual and street art are attracting culture lovers, and TV audiences have increased with re-runs of older broadcasts and small format productions.
Web channels, podcasts, live streaming, film series, conscious donations, hybrid collaborative creative productions, crowd funding and virtual public are emerging alternatives. Certainly, there are more questions than answers. As live streamers are using social platforms that were designed to be ephemera, will live cultural experiences survive? How do we ensure that online cultural productions will resist the continuous search for novelty? If a social platform closes, will its whole cultural content disappear? Famous artists are finding big sponsors but a great majority of artists are offering their services for free or small fees. How do we ensure that artists and cultural institutions will be able to survive in the long-run?
More than ever, creativity is needed to optimize digitalization and find feasible monetization and sustainable solutions. The present circumstances are a challenge and the future is uncertain but art and culture will always find its way in contemporary society.
Trump Moves to Pull US out of WHO: A Devastating Blow to Global Health
The US has officially notified the World Health Organization it will withdraw from one of the UN’s agencies owing to its close ties with China and a sluggish response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Experts from around the world warn that the move will hamper the universal struggle against the COVID-19 and sap the US of global influence. In the same vein, the move was praised by conservatives who had defendant WHO of harboring pro-China bias and contended that WHO was not a fruitful use of funds.
The WHO is the leading international body with a decree to support global public health. Since the establishment, the WHO implemented various projects to prevent, control, and treat many grave diseases like Ebola, Measles, HIV, AIDS, Malaria, and the current COVID-19. Since Trump administrations came into power, the US has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council, UN cultural agency UNESCO, and the global climate accord and now the WHO.
The US is the single largest contributor to the WHO, provided more than $400 million in 2019. The question is, after the US halt funding to the WHO, what will the consequences be? Moreover, will China or the EU will fill the vacuum? The EU, by all means, convinced President Trump to take back the verdict to reinstate funding to the body for effectual effort against the global plague. Meanwhile, President Trump says he will continue to fund global health through its health agencies and aid groups as a substitute for the WHO. In fact, the US administration might be observing for replacements to fund global health organizations, and it stated that the US States Department is circulating a proposal for $2.5 billion to fund overseas health agencies to fight, control and treat pandemics.
Throughout WHO’s 72 years of history, the US has been the leading player and the biggest sponsor. Owing to the WHO funding cycle, the US contributed approximately $892 million more than twice as much as other states. Consequently, such vast sponsorship and closer affiliation with the WHO put the US at the center of the world’s most significant public’s well-being considerate state. The US has a large number of medical doctors, scientists, medicinal drug developers, epidemiologists, and other related people who are working day and night to fight against pandemic and come up with updated countermeasures. Consequently, US divergence from WHO means the exclusion of all endowed staff, and more than the money, the world will lose unity and collaboration as well, which will undoubtedly damage the WHO by all means.
When it is come to funding, for the 2016-2107 period, the US generously invested more than US $945.5 million, in which 76% came from volunteer funding. The main areas where the US invested, polio, HIV hepatitis, tuberculosis, emergency operation, vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as access to health and other management. The graph below shows that the US is the most significant contributor in terms of both assessed and volunteer contributions.
Source: World Health Organization
Unlike the assessed contribution, assessed dollars or payment means, regular payment to the WHO, which is directly going to the WHO treasure and are consumed at the agency’s decision. The volunteer contribution is the contribution of some states to fight and control specific issues; the volunteer funds are given for exact use. If combined, the US is spending more than any other country; it is estimated that between 2018-2019 the US voluntarily spent almost $165 million for the eradication of polio worldwide.
Henceforward halting funds to the WHO will affect the efficiency of the organization, and it is clear that the organization may not be able to come up with updated countermeasures for any new plague. However, it is worthy of keeping in mind that the US cannot sever the relation by snapping the fingers; under US law, the country must give a year’s warning, and necessity meets the monetary responsibility, which means nothing would change until mid-2021.
Leaving A Power Vacuum Behind
What has changed in the last two decades, the world has never experienced previously, the political, social, economics, and every aspect of life is changing. The power is shifting, and the world order is gradually declining, the influential states are swaying the rest of the states by different means. Meanwhile, the shape of the world is changing, and every state is trying to adjust itselfso as to survive. In the intervening time, this year brought numerous challenges to almost everyone as well; thousands of people died due to the current pandemic, millions are suffered, and the waves continue.
As the world failed to fight the pandemic, the US moving away from one of the top organizations the WHO, leaving a power vacuum behind. China, on the other hand, is trying to fill the gap, in current harsh circumstances, the WHO need funds to fight the pandemic. An estimate shows that China’s WHO contributions have grown by almost 52% since 2015 to roughly $86 million. In the same vein, volunteer contribution rose from $8.7 million in 2014 to $10.2 million in 2019.
For the time being, when the Trump administration halted funding to the WHO, Beijing pledged an additional $30 million to cover the necessity, in the same vein President Xi in May announced that Beijing would donate $2 billion to rheostat the pandemic, which high spot that Beijing is equipped to fill in the US’s position and raise the subsidy. If this happened, the WHO would become a battleground for the two superpowers; the US will move away, and China ought to effort to become the most crucial part of the WHO in terms of funding and active participation.
Covid-19 And The Self-Sacrifice Of Nurses And First Responders
A civilized society enjoys an element of courtesy in its social interactions, although this courtesy can now mean a measure of self-sacrifice. If such altruistic behavior is a characteristic of humans (and other social creatures in the animal kingdom) it holds us in awe, as at present during the covid-19 epidemic when first responders and hospital staff are taking the chances and sometimes paying the ultimate price.
How many are contracting the coronavirus because of their duty? How many are dying? How many are having to sacrifice personal contact with their loved ones to ensure their safety?
As can be expected, many have lost their lives. In Los Angeles County for example, nearly 4,300 healthcare workers and first responders had tested positive for the virus and 26 had died by mid-May. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has some incomplete but more up to date figures. They report 96,882 cases and 515 deaths as of July 10, 2020 for healthcare personnel — death status was only available for 66 percent (63,929) of the cases. If the death rate is lower than for the general population, it is an indicator of their alertness to the illness and of accessing proper care promptly. Some of their stories are tragic:
Celia Yap-Banago died after caring for a Covid-19 patient at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., a week before she was due to retire. She was a nurse for 40 years, and at age 69, a mother figure for the nurses around her, finding it necessary thus to raise concerns about the lack of protective equipment. There are of course many, many others who have lost their lives. Moreover, the disaster for health workers is not confined to the US.
In Swansea, UK, Liz Spooner, who had worked at Singleton Hospital for 41 years also passed away, a victim of the virus. She was a valued, experienced member of the coronary care unit. In the UK, over a hundred employees of the NHS (national health service) have lost their lives.
Back in the US, National Nurses United felt obliged to write (July 1, 2020) to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus report on a critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals across the country. A 100,000-plus nurses and healthcare workers have become sick as a result and 950 have died including 144 registered nurses.
Due to a shortage of single-use N95 respirators, the nurses offer a better alternative. They recommend reusable respirators like Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) and also elastomeric respirators like the P100 which provide better protection. They call for an increase in the production and distribution of PAPR and P100 respirators to protect both nurses and the public.
What is appalling is that a survey of the nurses conducted by them showed that 85 percent of nurses are being asked to reuse single-use PPE putting them at risk of exposure if the outside of the equipment comes in contact with them or their clothing. All of this is due to a shortage leaving no other alternative.
The largest and wealthiest hospital system in America is HCA (Hospital Corporation of America). Its stock is quoted on the New York Stock Exchange. During this crisis instead of equipping nurses to perform their tasks in safety, HCA is forcing them to reuse their single-use N95 masks. In non-covid 19 units, nurses are only provided surgical masks, and as could have been foreseen, covid 19 outbreaks have occurred among these unprotected care givers. HCA claims, however, that it has an adequate supply chain catering to the PPE requirements of their staff.
Trump’s moribund Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) needs a wake-up call. Shouldn’t congress be holding their feet to the fire?
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