In a recent webinar on the Muslim Brotherhood, I was asked to speak about the future of this organisation nearly nine decades after its birth. Naturally, I focused on the Muslim Brotherhood’s origins and ideological formation before turning to how it interacted with the Arab Spring upheavals that led to civil warfare and strife, collapsed states and other disasters during the past 10 years. There are any number of ideological, social and economic perspectives from which to broach this subject. I chose the political because, as important as the other perspectives are in shedding light on the Muslim Brotherhood, when all is said and done the movement is a consummately political phenomenon.
Anything would have been better than the first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. So, Wednesday night s vice presidential debate, in some respects, had a lower bar to clear.But from the perspective of a debate coach (which I am) evaluating how well the candidates accomplished this, there was still a lot to work with here. I ll take Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence one at a time using two main categories: defending the top of your ticket while attacking the other and proving your capability to lead our nation. I ll close with a grade for moderator Susan Page. ----- Kamala Harris Defending the top of your ticket, attacking the top of theirs: A- Harris let Pence get her off track too often by taking his bait and talking about topics he, not the moderator, originated. I coach my teams to always debate on our ground, not the other team s. While Harris adequately defended Biden (actually better than he defended himself in many of the primary debates) -- on climate change and his economic plan, for example -- she still lost focus a bit too often. However, this was the only major flaw in her performance. For a debate coach, there was much to love in her speech about foreign policy being like relationships. I teach interpersonal communication and I use the inverse analogy: that the international relations concept of "threat construction" is true in interpersonal communication. That is, if you treat someone like an enemy, they often become that enemy, causing a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fact that Harris used a similar analogy to attack Trump s foreign policy was gratifying -- and an effective passage in her answer to a question on the role of the US in global leadership. Harris asserted that in relationships you should be loyal to your friends, but that Trump has "betrayed our friends and embraced dictators." Her example of our own allies respecting China s Xi Jinping more than they do the Commander in Chief of the United States was a breathtakingly potent argument against the President. Proving your capability to become president: A In a long campaign season, this was Harris best debate yet. Last year, she gained attention by attacking Biden in an early primary debate, but that multi-candidate encounter didn t have the depth of a two-person affair. Plus, Harris was unable to sustain the bounce for her primary campaign after that one excellent performance.Last night, time and again, I thought Harris conveyed an absolutely presidential form in her answers and her demeanor. As a speech teacher, I gave her points for personality and appreciated how she showed complex emotions in her expressions while bringing a dignified deportment. Beyond that, Harris actually answered most of the questions. In this, the contrast with Pence was sharp. Harris didn t shy away from her record as the Attorney General of California (in fact, she came back strongly at her adversary when he challenged her on this), her readiness as a leader or her foreign policy experience. Overall grade for Harris: A- ----- Mike Pence: Defending the top of your ticket, attacking the top of theirs D Pence did a nice job of hitting Biden on issues important to Trump s base. The President s Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, his moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani on his watch and Pence s law enforcement remarks were all right down the middle for Trump s supporters. Over and over, he painted Biden as someone who will raise taxes with his social programs, dismantle the country s energy-producing infrastructure (and associated jobs) and support taxpayer funding of abortion, so overall Pence was above average in this category. However, his defense of Trump on topics like the coronavirus and international relationships left a lot on the table. But it was mostly Pence s failure to answer the questions that really hurt him in this category. Pence sounded exactly like Trump s physicians this week evading reporters questions outside Walter Reed National Medical Center on the President s Covid-19 infection. Like the President s doctor Dr. Sean Conley, Pence did a poor job of answering a direct question. Proving your capability to become president: F This was part of the framing of the second topic of the evening brought up by the moderator. And Pence never answered the part of the question about how he is qualified and ready to lead the country, particularly when the inevitable issue of the President s age and affliction with coronavirus was raised. It was unbelievable for a sitting vice president to whiff on such an easy question. But he never answered it. Ironically, I gave Pence much higher marks four years ago in this very category.Let me make this clear: You cannot lie and win debates. This fact "trumps" all other categories. That Pence had blatantly lied about issues like Trump s so-far nonexistent health care plan and protections for preexisting conditions and then breathlessly followed his own falsehood with a version of the famous quote, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts," was outrageous. Indeed, that quote is from the late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, who is currently rolling over in his grave. "Stop playing politics with people s lives" when talking about the pandemic was another line Pence took straight from the upside-down world. Debate is not about telling "believable sounding" lies. You fail a debate if you lie, no matter how well you deliver the stolen goods. Overall grade for Pence: F ------ Moderator Susan Page: F Just because the debate didn t create chaos doesn t mean it was a success. Page had an easier job with these two than Chris Wallace had moderating the first presidential debate, but she failed in it nonetheless. She committed three basic Moderating 101 mistakes: First, Page failed to make Pence answer the questions she asked. Second, Page failed in her main job: truth seeking. Make the debaters prove their claims. Asking simple follow up questions, such as "can you list examples to prove your point" or "what proof do you have for that claim," is so easy. Not even the most partisan viewer should have a reasonable objection to that line of questioning. Finally, Page let Pence interrupt too much (while ignoring her entreaties to stop) and turn the questions onto different topics, sometimes ending his responses by asking Harris a question himself. If a moderator is going to sit out her duties for the entire debate, then it always advantages the person who excessively talks, lies, interrupts and changes the topic.
The United States has faced an extraordinary set of challenges in 2020. Foreign election interference, an impeachment trial, a global health pandemic, natural disasters, economic instability, mass protests and civil unrest have plagued the country. Against this backdrop, President Donald Trump has intensified his rhetoric undermining the electoral process, stating that "the only way we re going to lose this election is if this election is rigged." Add a dose of intense political polarization and a potentially close election and we have a recipe for yet another disaster before the end of the year. No wonder a majority of Americans do not have confidence the election will be conducted fairly, according to recent polling from NBC/Survey Monkey.Although former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead in the polls, slightly more voters believe that President Trump will win a second term, according to Gallup poll data published in August. Memories of Trump s surprise victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are undoubtedly on the minds of many voters. Trump s 2016 victory reminded many Americans that the Electoral College process, not the overall popular vote, determines who wins or loses a presidential election. Although Clinton garnered nearly three million more votes than Trump, he was able to claim slim margins of victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which was enough to obtain an Electoral College majority. If fewer than 40,000 voters in those states (just 0.0028% of all votes cast among these states) had changed their minds, Hillary Clinton would have won the presidency. Given that as many as 13% made their minds up the day of the election or planned to vote for a third-party candidate, such a scenario is not farfetched. This underscores just how close the election was. In reality, most presidential elections are close. In fact, half of all elections have come down to a change in 75,000 votes or less scattered across the country; 40% of elections have come down to a change in 30,000 votes or less; and one-in-five elections have come down to a change in just 10,000 votes or less. Consider that in any election, around 4% of voters make their mind up the day of the election and one can see how many presidential outcomes could have turned out quite differently. Close elections are the rule, not the exception. As bizarre as this election cycle has been, we should consider a scenario that, while unlikely, is one we should be prepared to encounter, especially in the current environment of distrust and polarization: an electoral vote tie. The only tie in the Electoral College occurred in 1800, after which the 12th Amendment was added to the Constitution. The tie arose from the unforeseen establishment of party tickets. Originally, electors cast two votes and did not distinguish between a presidential and a vice presidential candidate. In 1800, electors supporting Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr cast one ballot for each of them, resulting in a tie. Consequently, the winner was decided by the House of Representatives in our first contingent election. The 12th Amendment was adopted prior to the 1804 election and it required electors to cast one vote for president and one vote for vice president. Close observers of presidential elections recognize that there have been many cases where a tie was narrowly averted. Based on election data, we estimate that the US has been within a hairbreadth of an Electoral College tie in over 20% of the last 18 presidential elections.It does not take much imagination to envision a map where a tie could happen this November, and given the current state of affairs, the country is ill-prepared for such an occurrence. A quick glance at the electoral map shows that if everything remains the same as 2016 with the exception of Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona going blue, the result would be a 269-269 tie. Alternatively, if the parties were to claim the exact same states as four years ago, but Biden wins the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and the one electoral vote of Nebraska s Second Congressional District, the 2020 election would also end in a deadlock. It would also be the first election settled by the US Congress since the election of 1876. Although this is a remote possibility, it is useful -- and quite unsettling -- to examine what would likely happen next. When Americans vote for the presidential and vice presidential candidate of their choice, either by mail or in-person, this November, they will actually be casting a vote for a slate of electors, equal to the number of a state s electoral votes, who will cast a vote on their behalf in their respective state capitals on December 14. This process hinges on presidential electors remaining faithful to their pledged candidates. The Supreme Court sought to avoid chaos caused by so-called "faithless electors" (electors who do not cast their electoral vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged) in their ruling earlier this summer in Chiafalo v. Washington. The Court found that states that had "binding laws" that either punished or removed electors who did not vote as anticipated were indeed constitutional. For many, this was heralded as the end of faithless electors. However, while 33 states and the District of Columbia require pledges of electors, only 14 states have consequences which actually result in the removal of a faithless elector. These 14 states account for just 121 electoral votes, meaning that there is no legal means to bind the remaining 417 electoral votes. Research on electors finds that a surprisingly large number often consider casting rogue votes and an Electoral College tie could create great incentives for them to do so. Although few go rogue, a record number cast faithless votes in 2016, including five Democratic and two Republican electors. In the event of an Electoral College tie between Biden and Trump, a faithless elector could decide to vote for the other candidate, thus giving that candidate 270 electoral votes and potentially ending the election in a wave of controversy. However, on January 6 in a joint session of Congress, all electoral votes received from the states are read aloud and tabulated. At that point, it is likely that the faithless vote would be challenged and debated among members of Congress. Notably, all previous faithless votes have been counted by Congress in the manner they were received. The Court s ruling in Chiafalo could provide support to nullify a rogue vote if one were cast, but that outcome is uncertain.Supposing all electors vote as expected and no candidate receives a majority of Electoral College votes, the election would move to the contingency process, which has been utilized three times in American history, all in the 19th century. In a contingent election, the House of Representatives is charged with determining the winner of the presidency while the Senate selects the vice president. Potentially adding further intrigue, there is also nothing in the Constitution requiring members of the House or Senate to hold their deliberations or cast their votes in public. During the 1825 contingent election, votes were cast in secret. In the House, members must choose among the top three candidates who won electoral votes for the presidency. Each state delegation gets one vote, regardless of the size of their delegation. This process emphasizes the power of statehood and small states have as much say regarding the next president as the most populated ones. Thus, Wyoming (population, 580,000) and California (population, 40 million) have equal clout in this process. Currently, 26 state U.S. House delegations are majority Republican, 23 states are majority Democrat, and 1 state has divided party control. We won t know until after Election Day, and perhaps considerably long after, how many state House delegations are controlled by which parties in the incoming 117th Congress. If delegation control were to remain unchanged, it may well be that Joe Biden could win the popular vote by millions and have the House controlled by his own party only to lose the presidency because Republicans controlled more House delegations. While this all may seem far-fetched, Donald Trump has floated the idea that he could win the presidency in a contingent election. In response, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi urged her fellow Democratic members of the House to redouble their efforts to ensure Democrats win a majority of House delegations. Clearly, scenarios of this sort are on the minds of our nation s leaders. The choice of the vice president falls to the Senate and each senator would have a single vote. Senators would choose among the top two candidates who won electoral votes for the vice presidency. While Republicans may hold on to their majority in the Senate, it is quite possible that Democrats could have a slim majority in the 117th Congress. Thus, in a contingency scenario, it is entirely possible that Donald Trump could win reelection and Kamala Harris would be his vice president.And if that is not bizarre enough, if the House is unable to agree on a winner by January 20, 2021, at noon, the vice president would become acting president provided the Senate could agree on a vice president. If neither body can decide on a winner by the January 20 deadline, the Presidential Succession Act would kick in and Pelosi, once she resigned her seat in Congress, would act as president until the election were finally resolved. Though this outcome may appear improbable, if 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected and prepare for any and all scenarios. Should an electoral vote tie occur, we believe that America, and the world, will not be prepared for the bedlam which would ensue.
Throughout this star-crossed year, Donald Trump has routinely misled the country about the coronavirus. He stood on a debate stage Tuesday and mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask. Now it has to be asked: Did Trump hope to cover up his own Covid-19 infection?It s a harsh question as the President received treatment in the Walter Reed military medical center. Yet it is begged by his own dubious track record of disclosure and the White House s characteristically murky handling of facts surrounding his illness. In the first public briefing on Trump s condition Saturday, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley offered general assurances that the President is doing well. (His upbeat assessment was quickly disputed by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, sowing confusion about the President s condition.) But despite his tortured efforts to avoid answering specific questions, which continued at a second briefing Sunday, Conley said just enough to provoke a controversy that would have been inconceivable at any other time and with any other President.Conley pointedly and without explanation refused to discuss when the President s last negative Covid test occurred. But his assertion on Saturday -- later walked back -- that Trump had begun treatment for the virus 72 hours earlier set off alarms. That timetable would mean that Trump lied to a national TV audience late Thursday when he concealed that he had already had a positive test (The Wall Street Journal reported late Sunday that Trump had, indeed, withheld his first positive Covid test during that interview). It could mean he was contagious at the presidential debate on Tuesday. Most disturbingly, it would mean he knowingly attended a fundraising event Thursday with donors at his Bedminster Golf Club after testing positive for Covid. Understanding the explosive nature of that timeline, the White House later issued a brief statement from Conley saying he had spoken "incorrectly" and that the President, indeed, was diagnosed on Thursday. But questions have abounded since Thursday afternoon, when it was disclosed by Bloomberg News -- not the White House -- that Hope Hicks, one of the President s closest aides, had tested positive for Covid-19. Hicks had traveled with Trump to Tuesday s debate in Cleveland and a rally Wednesday night in Minnesota, where she fell ill. She was said to have been quarantined on Air Force One on the trip home. So, the White House knew of Hicks Covid-19 infection before the President left for the fundraiser Thursday morning. He had been exposed, yet he went anyway.If Hicks illness had not been outed by Bloomberg, and Trump had not developed symptoms, would the White House even have shared news of his positive test? Or would they have simply tried to ride it out, hoping he could continue as usual. The 74-year-old President has been about as forthcoming with his medical records as he has his tax returns and there are many reasons he would have wanted to stifle his Covid test in the final weeks of a tough reelection campaign. To admit he had Covid-19 would undermine Trump s downplaying of the virus, dismissal of masks and expose as irresponsible his insistence on holding large in-person events. To admit he tested positive would sideline him and force him off the campaign trail in the final, critical weeks of the campaign. To admit he had the virus would spoil the caricature of the race he has tried so hard to draw: Trump, the relentless, indefatigable warrior versus Biden, an enfeebled and malleable shut-in. To admit he was sick would make a mockery of his mockery of Biden for wearing a mask in public and for following the guidance of Trump s own coronavirus task force -- guidance that Trump, himself, has routinely flouted. Trump s candidacy was already in deep jeopardy because of his deceptions from the start about the severity of the virus. He famously told author Bob Woodward in February that the virus was deadly and highly contagious, even as he downplayed it in public as no more threatening than the flu.The President, who was counting on a strong economy as the lynchpin of his reelection campaign, resisted until he could resist no more the partial shutdown required to try and stop the spread of the virus. And he pushed too soon and too fast for a reopening that led to a new spike of cases in states where Republican governors followed his lead. He has routinely undermined the public health experts on his own coronavirus task force, and placed communications on the virus in the hands of his political apparatchiks who worked to water down the guidance backed by science. Now more than 209,850 Americans are dead, with projections that the toll could nearly double within months. The US, with just 4% of the world s population, has more than 20% of the Covid deaths. That sorry record and the President s malfeasance has justly cost him in his reelection campaign. It is a major reason why he has been unable to close the significant edge Biden continues to enjoy in national polls. It is the record Trump was hoping to outrun in the closing weeks. Now he is facing a serious battle with the very virus he has downplayed for so long.If the White House is proven to have engaged in a grotesque and dangerous cover-up by delaying news of Trump s positive Covid test, the only concern the President should focus on right now is his health.
Viruses are ancient. They predate the divergence of life, thus infecting our last universal common ancestor. Viruses are deadly. They kill twice as many people as cancer does — around 15 million people every year. Viruses are simple. They are made of an outer shell of protein which carries the virus DNA (or RNA), the genetic protein code with instructions for making new copies of the virus.
President Donald Trump has had a lot to say about the coronavirus, a great deal of it misleading or simply false, and he has also modeled and even encouraged irresponsible behavior, all of which has surely contributed to the spread of the virus, since the President has the most powerful megaphone in the United States.Now all Trump s delusional thinking has finally caught up with him. Of course, Americans and people around the world wish the President a speedy recovery, which he is likely to have since he is getting some of the best medical treatment available.But it would be a huge service if Trump spent some of his time at Walter Reed hospital reflecting on how he ended up there. He should also think about the more than 208,000 Americans who have already died from Covid-19 and start formulating a real plan about how to mitigate the spread of this scourge. A key to such a plan would be an effort to erase all the misinformation Trump has spread since the early days of the pandemic. First, in February, Trump said that cases would go down to zero "within a couple of days." Second, Trump said that come Easter Sunday, the US should be "opened up" because he "just thought it was a beautiful time." Third, Trump claimed that the coronavirus was no more dangerous than the seasonal flu. Fourth, Trump said in March that "anybody that wants a test can get a test," when tests were actually hard to get at the time. Even this summer, many patients had to wait several days for results, which meant that their tests were essentially useless in helping stop the spread of the virus. Fifth, Trump suggested that injecting bleach might prove to be a treatment for the virus. (The president later said he was being "sarcastic.") Sixth, Trump said that hydroxychloroquine was likely a "game changer" and that he was even taking the drug himself. In June, the Food and Drug Administration revoked "emergency use" of hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 patients, in part, because it could cause heart problems.Seventh, Trump said the virus could take a summer vacation once the weather warmed up. It didn t. Eighth, Trump publicly denigrated his top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci as an alarmist. Ninth, Trump claimed that the only reason coronavirus cases were rising in the US was because there was more testing. Tenth, Trump has repeatedly asserted that an effective vaccine is just around the corner, while top scientists in his own administration say that such a vaccine will likely only be widely available by the middle of next year. Eleventh, Trump has repeatedly failed to wear a mask in public, while he has publicly ridiculed those who do wear masks as a routine matter. On Tuesday, for instance, when Trump debated former Vice President Joe Biden, the President mocked his opponent, saying, "Every time you see him, he s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I ve ever seen." Twelfth, Trump has insisted on holding a series of campaign rallies around the US with thousands of attendees, many of them unmasked. He has also hosted events at the White House with large numbers of attendees socializing without masks as if they were at a pre-Covid-19 party, such as the announcement of the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court a week ago. Trump s falsehoods and cavalier behavior have had real impacts. A Cornell University study released last week found that that mentions of "Trump within the context of different misinformation topics made up 37% of the overall misinformation conversation, " based on a sample analysis of 38 million articles in English from around the world.An Axios/Ipsos poll in July found that more than three quarters of Democrats said they wore a mask at all times outside the house, while only under half of Republicans said they did so. Also, eight in 10 Americans polled said they would not get a vaccine if President Trump said it was safe, but most would trust their doctor. Trump still can use his bully pulpit to reverse some of these damaging trends.
Till last January, the United Nations and the international community had a roadmap to settle the question of Palestine according to various UN resolutions inspired by and based on Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967. The Oslo Accords of 13 September 1993 (signed at the White House under the Clinton administration) were reached with this resolution in mind. The two-state solution adopted by the Security Council in 2003 became an objective that commanded international support as well as wide Arab and Palestinian backing. From 2003 onwards, various US administrations — under two Democrats and one Republican — had lent their backing to this political plan to resolve the Palestinian question. With the present US administration, the international legal framework for the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict faded, at least temporarily, and was replaced by a political blueprint that is based on Israeli long-term expansionism at the expense of occupied West Bank territories, thus scuttling the prospects of implementing the two-state solution. The US administration in the last four years has systematically, and in cahoots with the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, made sure that all final status issues that should be settled in the framework of a final peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question have been dealt with unilaterally by the United States, and in a blatant violation of international law, on the one hand, and in utter disregard for previous official positions adopted and defended by all US administrations since 1967, on the other. On 28 January, the administration of President Donald Trump revealed a peace plan that ignores all Security Council resolutions that have governed American and international efforts to come to grips with the basic issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In essence, these resolutions have meant, if implemented, the final and fair resolution of a conflict that has remained unsolved for more than 70 years. The Trump plan will not put an end to this conflict if not revised to take into account the national aspirations of the Palestinians. The problem with the Trump deal is not only its complete disregard for UN resolutions but it is inspired by the destabilising Israeli formula of “peace for peace”. In fact, this what happened on Tuesday, 15 September, at the White House, when two Gulf countries — the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — signed “normalisation” accords with Israel. The signatories spoke of peace between the Arabs and the Jewish State, decoupling this imaginary “peace” from the question of Palestine, which has been the primary cause of instability between the Arabs and the Israelis since 1948, spurring five wars. According to the Trump administration, more “normalisation” agreements are on their way between other Arab countries and Israel. The odds are that Sudan and the Sultanate of Oman could be next. The president of the Interim Presidential Council of Sudan flew to the United Arab Emirates 10 days ago to hold talks with American officials on the steps to be taken to sweeten such a decision before Sudanese public opinion. For all practical purposes, the Arab Peace Plan of 2002, which was based on the principle of land for peace, has been shelved, despite the lip service by some Arab states and the Arab League to this plan. Never before in the annals of the Arab-Israeli conflict has the Palestinian question has been challenged so strongly. The Palestinians today are in very delicate situation. Either they go along with the Trump peace plan and their destiny becomes a question mark, or they reject it with all its consequences on the ground, and find themselves without necessary Arab cover and necessary support. Furthermore, the Palestinians, under all circumstances, cannot deal with the latest developments in Arab-Israeli relations if they do not put their own house in order. The regrettable split between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas should come to an end. Moreover, the present political leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been in power for more than a decade without holding either presidential or legislative elections. I believe the time has come for paving the way for new younger leaders to take the reins of power in the framework of a united Palestinian political authority and one legitimate government for both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These steps, with a more flexible approach to the new winds blowing in the Middle East, would consolidate the negotiating position of the Palestinians and give great impetus to international support for the “Question of Palestine” — much-needed to confront present uncertainties, especially if President Trump is re-elected for another four years. This eventuality should be uppermost on the minds of Palestinian leaders and, accordingly, they should be prepared to deal with such an outcome on 3 November. Last week, Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, met at the Palestinian consulate in Istanbul and agreed to hold elections in the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza) in the next six months as a prelude to ending the split between the two. They even talked about bringing Hamas and the Islamic Jihad under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). In this respect, a joint committee set up by Palestinian factions should finish a report on inter-Palestinian reconciliation and political partnership five weeks from now. The largest Palestinian organisation wants to hold elections as soon as possible, with common understanding with Hamas that whoever carries the elections would govern in both the West Bank and Gaza. The next logical step is for this elected-Palestinian government to announce that it is ready to resume negotiations with Israel on the basis of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (commonly known as the Oslo Accords). As a reminder, these accords stipulate that Palestinian rule was to last for a five-year interim period, effective after the signing of the accords, during which “permanent status negotiations” would commence no later than May 1996, in order to reach a final settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Both sides missed their rendez-vous with history by 24 years. If this understanding materialises on the ground, I believe the Palestinians would be in a strong position, relatively speaking, to deal with what comes next in the Middle East. And most importantly, to keep the “Question of Palestine” alive, and relevant to peace and security issues in the Middle East. You cannot ostracise more than seven million Palestinians for good and still speak of peace in the region. It is like squaring the circle.
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.
I was shocked to receive news about the decision of Father Paula Foad, priest of St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Al-Mataria to run for the elections of the House of Representatives. I see this as a catastrophe that threatens all our efforts to establish a modern secular democratic state, and also threatens the image of the national church and prove its involvement in politics. This clumsy act of this priest r