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Covid-19 Outbreak in U.S: A Tale of Errors

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Authors: Illashree Singh and Utkarsh Dixit*

When the world is transiting through a phase of lockdowns and economic turmoil, a few days ago the WHO Director-General Tedros A. Ghebreyesus created turbulence across the globe while observing that “the worst is yet to come”. The entire world is within the clutches of the Covid- 19 pandemic which has infected more than 4.6 million people and has caused the death of around 3,06,000 people in 213 countries and 2 international conveyances. The Covid- 19 outbreak confronted the world with one of the first truly global threats of the 21st century. The Secretary-General of the United Nations Organisation Antonio Guterres termed it as “the gravest test since the founding of this organization”.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security and the Economist Intelligence Unit in October 2019 published a Global Health Security Index which stated that the United States is the most prepared nation to handle an epidemic or a pandemic in future. The US healthcare system is considered to be the best in the world, but despite that, the US has been worst affected by the Covid- 19 pandemic. The official figures states that around 1.43 million people have been affected by the Covid- 19 virus and around 87,000 people have lost their lives in the US alone. However, according to the New York Times, the US coronavirus death toll is far higher than officially reported.

Therefore, it becomes obligatory to raise a question that what went wrong that one-third of the total Covid-19 victims in the world are from the United States of America only?

A variety of factors can be held responsible like the desire for not letting the economy to halt, not grasping the severity of the situation, deep cracks in the strategy to prevent the virus from spreading, and most importantly the lackadaisical attitude and inability of the US President Donald Trump to recognize the warnings and shifting his focus in the killing of Iran’s security mastermind Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, or pushing for an initial trade deal with China, and his Senate impeachment trial, etc.  while the Covid-19 virus was spreading its tentacles in the US.

The first covid-19 patient was reported in China in November 2019, and since the first week of January 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) has tried to warn every country about the spreading virus. On January 22, the Director-General of WHO said that “we have a window of opportunity to stop this virus. But that window is rapidly closing.” However, in the midst of trade deal negotiations with China, President Trump appreciated China on January 24 by tweeting that “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency.”

On the contrary, Dr. Carter Mecher, a Senior Medical Adviser at the Department of Veterans Affairs, US, in an email to a group of public health experts on January 28, urged the public health bureaucrats in the US to wake up and prepare for the possibility of far drastic action. The authorities repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, even after it was alarmed by officers inside the government. According to Mr. Trump, the W.H.O. “fought” the United States after he put travel restrictions from China on January 31. Though WHO did not criticize the US, but the organisation has historically opposed border closings and travel bans during such outbreaks, as they never stop transmissible diseases and cause panic and widespread economic damage.

However, before the harshest criticism of President Trump’s inaction, he praised the efforts of WHO in a tweet on February 25 saying that, “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart, Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

But soon when the things started going off the rails, President Trump started spreading incorrect information, sowing false hope, re-inventing history, re-imagining science, boasting about his supposed heroism and martyrdom and savaging anyone who questions his infallibility.

President Trump started holding daily press conferences since March 9 which includes self-congratulations, audacious re-writing of the recent history in which he cast himself as the hero, and credit-taking which are often predicated on exaggerations and falsehoods. For the catastrophic situation in the US, except himself, he has put the blames on everyone including WHO, China, Democrats, Congressmen, Former President Barack Obama, administrative staff, Governors and the media etc.

Despite earlier appreciating the WHO, President Trump ordered his administration to halt the funding of WHO and again blamed the organization for this devastation by alleging that “so much death has been caused by their mistakes”. The biennial budget for the W.H.O. is about $6 billion, which comes from member countries around the world. In 2019, the United States contributed about $553 million. Later, UN Secretary-General António Guterres defended WHO and said that “it is also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus”.

In lieu of the upcoming Presidential Elections, the Trump administration is using the press conferences to promote their policies, occupying the television screens, fending off the critics and attacking the political rivals furiously. Therefore, in continuation of his modus operandi, US President recently signed an executive order to halt the issuing of green cards and suspending the entry of immigrants who present a risk to the US labour market during the economic recovery following the Covid-19 outbreak, which according to his critics, is precisely the kind of base-coddling measure that he resorts to when things feel out of control. On Friday, the Trump administration issued new rules barring Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, and its suppliers from using U.S. technology. It can pe perceived that President Trump is making his contest with Beijing a theme of his re-election campaign.

A few days ago, President Trump again stunned the world by suggesting that doctors might treat people infected with the coronavirus by shining ultraviolet light inside their bodies, or with injections of household disinfectant. After the fierce criticism, he sought to play down his statement and defended himself that he was being “sarcastic”. His overconfidence, disdain for expert opinion and an obsession to stop the bad news from hitting the stock market, in order to portray a hunky-dory picture before the upcoming presidential elections in November 2020, made the crises worst in the US.

But despite his pufferies, as per the latest updates, more than 36 million workers have filed for unemployment in the last few weeks. Even next year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast calls for an unemployment rate averaging above 10%. According to the latest jobs report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs in April alone, pushing the unemployment rate to 14.7%. However, as per Goldman Sachs, a higher unemployment rate of 25% for the month May can be predicted due to the pandemic.

Moreover, the US GDP fell at a 4.8% annual rate in the first quarter of the year; factually it is the first decline since 2014. Economists expect from the current quarter to show GDP contracting at an annual rate of 30% or more.

So the Trump administration needs to change its strategies otherwise it is going to have a long detrimental effect on life and economy of the US. Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the previous assertion of policies unleashed national interests, and more assertive dependency of world on China, the intensifying and dawdling dissatisfaction among governments with international organisations does not portend well for the future. The incredulous way of governments and inevitable global problems with long-term implications will not wither away. It can only be resolved through global cooperative efforts.

*The authors are lawyers at Supreme Court of India and Allahabad High Court

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Fakhrizadeh’s Assassination Could Endangers Biden’s Diplomacy

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Image source: Wikipedia

The international political situation heats up, especially in the Middle East, after the killing of Iran’s leading nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Apart from Mohsen, several other Iranian nuclear scientists have also been killed in the past decade.

Mohsen was attacked in eastern Tehran on Friday (27/11). He was ambushed by an armed group and the target of a Nissan car explosion before a gun battle broke out. He was rushed to the hospital, but his life could not be helped.

Iranian political and military officials have blamed Israel and US as the masterminds behind Mohsen’s assassination and attack. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for retaliation for Mohsen’s death. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also said he would retaliate and appoint Israel as the mastermind behind the attack.

Iran and Hezbollah are currently said to be targeting Israelis and Jews around the world. Places owned by Israel and Jews will be the main targets of their retaliation for Mohsen’s death. Israel is also raising its guard. The Israeli government is reportedly on standby and is tightening the security of its embassies around the world. Jewish communities around the world are also asked to be on high alert. The Israeli military has also increased its vigilance along the country’s borders.

What is interesting is that the US secretly deployed the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier to the Arabian Gulf region last Wednesday. Although US Navy Fifth Fleet Spokesperson, Rebecca Rebarich, denied the movement of the fleet was unrelated to Mohsen’s assassination, the international public interpreted the aircraft carrier in order to anticipate the escalation of threats that might arise after the murder case.

There is not much information about Mohsen. Mohsen is the head of the research and innovation organization at the Iranian Ministry of Defense. He’s the main figure behind Iran’s secret nuclear development.

In April 2018, PM Netanyahu mentioned Mohsen’s name when uncovering a nuclear file which he said had been smuggled by Israeli agents from Iran. He named Mohsen as the head of a secret nuclear project called the Amad Project.

In its 2011 report, the UN nuclear weapons watchdog also identified Mohsen as the mastermind behind Iran’s nuclear technology. He was considered to have the ability to do so and at that time it was suspected that he still had an important role in these activities.

Mohsen’s assassination is certain to provoke a new confrontation between Iran and its enemies, including the United States and Israel, in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Mohsen’s assassination is considered as the culmination of the US and Israel’s strategic plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, various parties consider Mohsen’s killing to be the culmination of Israel’s long-term plan.

Mohsen has long been the target of several Israeli prime ministers as well as several directors of the Mossad spy agency. This murder was also predicted to aim at uprooting Iran as a country of nuclear knowledge.

However, some international observers have speculated that the main purpose of the assassination was actually to obstruct the US administration in the era of President-elect Joe Biden who will dialogue to find a diplomatic solution to end the conflict with Iran.

What’s more, President Biden has expressed his intention to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which has been largely devastated since President Donald Trump left the deal in 2018.

Statement from Amos Yadlin, former head of Israel’s military intelligence and head of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Amos said whoever makes the decision to assassinate Mohsen should know that there are still 55 days left in which the White House has someone who sees the Iranian threat as they do. In fact, Amos says Biden is a different story. Amos’ statement certainly points to President Trump who is still in power in the White House.

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Biden’s victory: An Opportunity for Transatlantic Reconciliation after Trump and Brexit?

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Joe Biden’s victory Last November came at a critical point during the Brexit negotiations between The European Union and the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether a change in the American presidency will substantially affect the talks between Europe and Britain. Realistically speaking, the effect the Democrats’ victory in the US will have, at least on Brexit talks before the end of this year, will be minimal.

On a positive note, now that Donald Trump has been defeated, this leaves very little room for the UK to use the threat of a quicker and better deal with the US to try to subdue the EU and make them accept a more pro British agenda. The UK has no longer the US is an alternative to fall back onto if no deal is the result of the negotiations by December 31st.

Since the 2016 British referendum, the decision to leave the EU was enthusiastically greeted by Donald Trump. In very simplistic terms, Trump saw The British “Yes” vote as an act that vaguely resembled his campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.” The long standing, more loyal foreign policy ally of the US in Europe, was slowly showing signs to move away from the multilateralism Donald Trump greatly despised.

Ever since the outcome of the Brexit referendum became official, Donald Trump voiced his strong support for the UK to pursue a hard Brexit, and even enticed the British government with the prospect of a robust trade deal between the US and the UK, to convince the UK to drop out of the EU without a deal. In reality, none of those big American promises ever materialised. From 2016 to 2020, Donald Trump did absolutely nothing to support the UK. Biden’s victory last November, makes any past promises made by Trump impossible to fulfil.

Biden will, in principle, follow a diametrically opposed foreign policy to Trump’s. He sees the EU, and not the UK, ask the key actor that will help him advance American interests in the European continent. While there have been mutual expressions of willingness to strengthen the relationship between the Americans and the British, Joe Biden has always been skeptical of Brexit, and has made it clear from the start that one of his priorities in foreign policy will be to rebuild the relationship with the EU rather than pursuing a trade deal with the UK.

Ideally, should the UK try to have some sort of leverage to negotiate with the incoming American administration, they need to aim to strike a workable deal between with the EU before the end of this year. That, however, seems unlikely to happen. From an American perspective, it is highly probable that the Biden’s administration will not prioritise any UK-US trade deal in the foreseeable future. There is a strong possibility that Joe Biden will focus on domestic and close neighbours (Canada and Mexico) Issues during his first year in the presidency.

While this is understandable, considering the legacy of the Trump, Biden also has to be careful enough to avoid the temptation to play hardball with the UK because of Brexit. If he does, this could prove to be a fatal mistake with long lasting consequences, specially in a moment when the West is struggling with its own internal weaknesses and the rise of external threats to its unity.

One aspect that both Europe and the US have to acknowledge is that the importance of the UK goes beyond striking a trade deal with the EU. Looking at the rise of more geographically widespread authoritarian and antidemocratic pressures from central, Eastern Europe, China and Russia, the UK is still plays an important role on the continent’s security. Talks on further cooperation on how the EU and the UK will cooperate on foreign and security policy once the transition period ends on 31st of December 2020 have not yet been held. The UK, unfortunately, is likely to remain a crucial partner on such topics especially due to its role as a prominent and active member of NATO, and therefore, talks on this issues should not be left unaddressed.

The UK is aware of its importance militarily, and this explains the £24.1 billion investment announced by the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, this year. This is the largest investment since the end of the Cold War and it aims to modernise the armed forces, as well as to expand the Royal Navy to turn it into the largest fleet in Europe.

This move will enhance the UK’s status as Europe’s leading military power. The UK has also been among the first respondents to recent security crisis in Ukraine and Belarus. Not engaging with the UK altogether in security and foreign policy issues may prove to be detrimental in the long run for the security in the EU, especially considering the rising tensions and instability in the Ring of Fire, from Belarus to Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) allow for intergovernmental cooperation, this means that  states can pursue their own policies and coordinate them only when they align with the EU’s. The CSDP also allows EU member states to intervene when NATO as an alliance chooses not to. To date, there are 17 of such interventions, in all of these, the UK has been the biggest contributor.

Security is an area of opportunity for Europe and the US, Biden could potentially push for the Europeans to grant the UK an observer role in the Political and Security Committee, or the Foreign Policy Council to advance a common security and foreign policy for the region that wouldn’t only benefit Europe, but also the US interests in the wider European area.

Recently, the UK has been an advocate of what is called a “Global Britain” that echoes the times of the great British Empire’s prominence as a global player. How this will be achieved is still unclear. This grand strategy may fare impossible under current economic and political conditions in the UK and in the world, as well as with the uncertainty surrounding the future relationship of the UK with its neighbours after Brexit.

Anything can happen, the UK could pursue a close, special relationship with Europe where cooperation is prioritised, or there could be a more profound break between the two, where the UK sets its own agenda against the EU’s. For decades, the terms Europe and the EU have been used interchangeably. Now that one of the major European players is out of the organisation, both sides have not yet worked out how the future relationship will be. If it continues to be antagonistic this could send the whole continent into a spiral of chaos, reduced capabilities an increased volatility.

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Exit the Clowns: Post-Trump America

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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

As America emerges from the election in grindingly slow fashion, with the soon-to-be-ex-President constantly tweeting frivolous accusations of voter fraud and threats about legal action, it is worthwhile to take stock currently as to just where America sits and what it faces over the next two months before the official Biden inauguration (and yes, there will indeed be a Biden inauguration, have no doubt about that). The following is simply a list of points that should continue to be considered and analyzed as the United States moves away from this four-year experiment with political nihilism:

Perhaps the only thing even remotely positive to emerge from the global pandemic known as COVID-19 is the fact that it clearly allowed the United States to get over some of its traditional political institutional inertia when it comes to encouraging and motivating voter participation. While America has always had mechanisms to allow absentee voting for those overseas and regulations permitting early voting in every single state, these tools have always been extremely minor when compared to the overall voter turnout. America has by and large always been a “turn out on election day” people. This year was clearly different, where the Biden-Harris team literally emphasized early voting for two main reasons: first, to get people to stay motivated even in the face of increasingly disturbing pandemic numbers and cases of new infections all across the country; second, to countermand the varied strategies local Republican officials in the modern day have come to constantly use to depress voter turnout amongst registered Democrats on election day (like voter ID initiatives that are confusing and/or outright illegal). This strategy, in the end, will be seen as crucially important to the Biden-Harris victory as it was the counting of early voting in the wee hours of election day that turned the tide in key states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia while solidifying crucial leads in places like Arizona and Nevada. Eventually, this pandemic must end. So, it will be fascinating to see if the United States treats all the ways it gave voters the chance to vote in 2020 as a one-off never to be repeated or as a new approach to democratic participation that becomes a cherished new political tradition.

In my adult lifetime, most people in America celebrated breaking the 50% barrier when it came to voter turnout. This is a depressingly low number when it represents the oldest and most stable democracy in the world. 2020 saw eligible voter turnout at about the 65% level. To be sure, this is still not earth-shattering. But it is without doubt a significant increase for a population that tends to always find reasons to not participate, rather than finding inspiration to get out and vote. The physical numbers overall – over 80 million for Biden-Harris and roughly 75 million for Trump-Pence – reveal a true divide in American society that is likely to remain long after Trump’s departure from the White House. Which is entirely appropriate when you consider the fact that there is no such thing as Trumpism. The wave of voter dissatisfaction with Washington DC, that portion of the population that is largely white and non-affluent and feeling disenfranchised by elites, this phenomenon began long before Trump ever made a decision to run for President back in 2014. What Trump did, brilliantly it must be said, was position himself to become the figurehead of this dissatisfaction, tapping into the anger and frustration and elevating his own persona as its leader. The fact that some astute political experts are now even using the term “Trumpism” is a perfect analogy to how Trump has spent most of his business career: catching the tail-end of trends and using deft PR and brand management expertise to usurp the trend entirely. This is why people on the Left of the political spectrum in America need to be vigilant about what the 2020 election truly means. It is a worthy achievement to have won the Presidency, but most current analyses show something of a slight regression in the House of Representatives (so that Democrats’ control has slightly dwindled) and the Senate is going to remain in control of Republicans. This means the classic adage of cutting the head off the snake is irrelevant: this hydra has many heads and getting rid of the symbolic alpha head is not going to reduce the passion of the other side. In fact, given the advanced age of Biden making it unlikely that he can pursue a legitimate second term in 2024, it is far more likely America will see a resurgence of radically right conservatism by  the next electoral cycle to make sure there is no President Harris taking over after one term of Biden.

There are definitely voter trends that emerged new from 2020 that will be analyzed for years to come in terms of their long-term impact on future elections. First, it is clear the Republican cliché that only the extreme coasts of America are liberal and all the rest is conservative is dead. Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia all going blue prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Efforts made in the major urban cities of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia show that ethnic minority turnout is not just becoming increasingly important, but it literally decides the fate of these given states for future elections. Not every data point, however, spelled positivity for liberals in 2020. The delivery of Florida for Trump but Arizona for Biden shows there is a sharpening divide between the political leanings of Cuban Latinx in FLA and Mexican Latinx in AZ. Also, while it was once considered a crucial part of Democrats’ presidential strategies and then became a critical “purple” state that could go either way, it seems clear that Ohio is now de facto a part of the Deep South politically, leaning solidly red with no real strategy to unhook it from Republican devotion. Finally, it will be interesting to see if the relatively unimportant states of Maine and Nebraska lead the way to a new proportional approach to electoral college votes. Both of these states actually saw a single vote out of their overall low electoral college vote counts split off and go against the overall will of the state. One EC vote in Nebraska went to Biden while the rest went to Trump. In Maine, the reverse happened: one went to Trump while the rest went to Biden. After the uproar in 2016, where Clinton defeated Trump in the popular vote by a secure margin but actually lost the electoral college handily, it would be interesting to see if Maine and Nebraska represent a new way to adapt the electoral college without actually getting rid of it.

Good-bye to the Nihilist CEO as President trend. One of the things I was most interested in seeing in the 2020 election was a reversal of the “Nihilist CEO” trend. I call it this because it basically came to be the overriding zeitgeist of the Trump presidency. Initially, Trump was interested in simply governing as a conservative President, but with a real agenda and goals. As mentioned before with the term “Trumpism,” this more traditional approach did not sit well with the radical conservatives that felt responsible for putting him in office. For them, ‘draining the swamp’ was not a process of replacing liberals with conservatives: it meant literally and figuratively razing the Washington DC establishment to the ground and salting over the earth so that nothing could ever politically grow again. This is why so many Trump appointments to the Cabinet and to major agencies were given to people who had literally spent their professional careers working against those very agencies. So, we had anti-environmentalists in charge of the EPA; an Education secretary who wanted to dismantle public education; energy appointments wedded to fossil fuels and wholly disinterested in new energy resources. The list goes on and on. In each case, what became obvious, was that those who were the most fervent for Trump were de facto anarchists about Washington, so deep-rooted was their hatred for DC. With Biden’s clear victory and his own long career in politics, it is obvious this approach will get jettisoned to the wayside. It is a return to expertise. A return to experience and traditionalism. The Trump clowns are exiting. Time will tell if they are simply replaced by Biden clowns or by true experts looking to work hard for the nation.

Ironic justice: the Electoral College Vote Count. Finally, it is deeply ironic that, in the end, the electoral college vote for Biden vs. Trump in 2020 will almost be a perfect inverse mirror of Trump vs. Clinton in 2016. Trump may have lost the popular vote in 2016, but he was always adamant that his electoral college win (304 to 227) was so “lopsided” that it meant he was sent to the White House with a decided mandate. Well, when all the votes are finally counted and verified in 2020, the electoral count will most likely be Biden 303 to Trump 228. This is why his claims of election fraud or malfeasance are so empty and ridiculous. Not only did Trump once again lose the popular vote (by a wider margin this time), he lost the electoral college vote by the same margin he claimed brought him so much political legitimacy in 2016. Ironic justice, indeed.

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