2021 Already Has A Long To-Do List
January 4, 2021
Did you miss us? Were two weeks enough to finish processing all the news from 2020 and prepare yourself for a whole new year? We hope so, because the Daily Pnut is back and better than ever for 2021!
The Good News
- COVID-19 Vaccine Will Be Free for All Across India, Says Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan (Yahoo)
- Free grocery store opens in school district with high number of economically disadvantaged students (NBC)
“National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.” — Carl Sagan
“So it is the human condition that to wish for the greatness of one’s fatherland is to wish evil to one’s neighbors. The citizen of the universe would be the man who wishes his country never to be either greater or smaller, richer or poorer.” — Voltaire
“If the future remains uncertain, we know the past history of nationalism. And that should be sufficient to encourage a habit of watchful suspicion.” — Michael Billig
2021 Already Has A Long To-Do List
(Kena Betancur via Getty Images)
For a nation’s leader to embrace isolationism isn’t exactly like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted, but it’s close. Alongside his assaults on domestic institutions and norms, President Trump’s nationalistic agenda saw the US retract from numerous international agreements, obligations, alliances, and economic partnerships. Trump profoundly changed the face of geopolitics, leaving President-elect Joe Biden the task of rebuilding America’s reputation and engagement abroad beginning January 20, 2021.
Biden promised his top priorities are to defeat Covid, and to aggressively confront the climate crisis, including rejoining the Paris accord. Tuesday’s special elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats will decide which party controls the Senate, and undoubtedly determine just how successful the new president will be at dealing with these issues and others.
2021 will see richer countries gaining access to vaccines sooner rather than later, while other countries will face long waits to get them, and need help paying for them. Rebuilding Covid-shattered economies will be slow; even countries that managed to contain the pandemic have taken a hit, from Vietnam to New Zealand. Meanwhile, the world will see more wildfires and extreme weather as the path to cut emissions and prevent catastrophic global warming narrows. A key climate summit delayed for a year meets this November in Glasgow, Scotland, with mounting pressure for participants to agree to significant new containment steps.
Biden’s administration will also focus on US ties with Beijing, which deteriorated rapidly under Trump. There is still resentment in many countries over China’s handling of the pandemic early on, and its apparent reluctance to allow an independent international investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Mounting evidence suggests the government will continue its authoritarian moves on ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, and its expansionist activities in border areas. Huge numbers of people are expected to leave Hong Kong for resettlement or asylum in the UK, Europe, Australia, and nearby Taiwan, where many have already fled. Biden promises to remain tough on the Communist leadership, but there is no sense that Beijing is backing down, and its economy remains attractive to global investors, as evidenced by its trade deal with the EU in late December.
Germany will likely be preoccupied this year with Angela Merkel’s departure and the choice of her successor. Elections are in September and could mean months of coalition talks afterward. Unfortunately, the divide between many western EU member states and the governments of Poland and Hungary continues to widen.
In Africa, both Covid and environmental crises have had devastating impacts on communities and economies, and rulers in countries from Tanzania to Guinea have cracked down on dissenters. 2021 is shaping up to be a year of intense politics and protests across the continent as new leaders assert themselves and older ones try to hang on to power.
In Brazil, only about 37% of the electorate approve of their polarizing, far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. Many observers believe that as public anger swells, severe economic, political and social turbulence lie ahead. Bolsonaro enters 2021 without the support of his most important foreign ally, Donald Trump.
Did Crypto Values Go Up This Week? Well, Just A Bit.
(Ozan Kose via Getty Images)
- Bitcoin is the world’s leading cryptocurrency. Last year its value rose 300%, and for the first time on Sunday the price surged above $34,000. The value of other digital currencies is also rising sharply, with Ethereum, the second-biggest cryptocurrency, gaining 465% in 2020. Some analysts believe Bitcoin could rise even higher as the value of the US dollar drops.
- Digital currencies are traded in much the same way as real currencies like the dollar or pound sterling; PayPal recently adopted cryptocurrencies as a form of online payment. Investors should be reminded, however, that the price of digital currencies is extremely volatile. In the past three years, Bitcoin’s value has twice collapsed after a heated bull run. (BBC)
Unfortunately, Poor Reporting Doesn’t Change Reality
- Fewer COVID-19 deaths have been registered in all 54 African countries than in France, and not because people aren’t dying from it. Governments in Africa grossly underreport Covid-related deaths, as they do deaths from other causes. Some epidemiologists thought that the coronavirus largely bypassed the continent, but as with other diseases, Covid’s true toll may never be known.
- Not having reliable data on a country’s deaths and their causes means governments can miss emerging health threats — whether Ebola or the coronavirus — and often formulate health policy blindly. In 2017, only 10 percent of deaths were registered in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest country by far. Many families simply bury loved ones in their yard at home, where they don’t need a burial permit, much less a death certificate. (NYT)
Additional World News
- Coronavirus News: What We Know About the Latest Mutation in the UK (WaPo, $)
- U.S., Iran tensions simmer as thousands protest Soleimani killing in Iraq (NBC)
- After Decades-Long Push, It’s Not Clear Who Will Bid In Arctic Refuge Oil Lease Sale (NPR)
- What will Cuba’s new single currency mean for the island? (Aljazeera)
- Iran Tells U.N. Agency It Will Enrich Uranium Back To Pre-Nuclear Deal Level Of 20% (NPR)
- As Israel Leads In COVID-19 Vaccines Per Capita, Palestinians Still Await Shots (NPR)
- Fifth Afghan journalist killed in two months (Aljazeera)
- How the war on the virus attacked freedom in Asia (BBC)
- Julian Assange faces decision in US extradition case (WaPo, $)
- Polar bears and Arctic isolation: A Russian opposition activist describes military service as ‘political exile’ (WaPo, $)
- Israeli prosecutors spell out allegations against Netanyahu (AP)
Everyone’s Got Georgia On Their Mind
- Stakes in the outcome of Georgia’s special elections on Tuesday are as high as they come. Two Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock — are opposing incumbent Senate Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. While Democrat Joe Biden narrowly carried Georgia in November, no Senate candidate got above 50 percent of the vote, forcing the top two vote-getters from each party into a runoff.
- The special elections will not only decide the state’s direction, but could strike a blow to Biden’s presidency before it even starts. If Republicans win one or both of the Georgia seats, they’ll retain a slim majority and can stonewall Biden’s legislative goals and judicial nominees. Democrats need to win both seats to have a 50/50 split in the 100-member chamber, which then gives Biden’s vice-president Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.
- Georgia has a long history of racial segregation and voter suppression, and hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992. Both Loeffler and Perdue are unabashed supporters of the president, with Loeffler bragging she has a “100 percent Trump voting record” and that she is “more conservative than Attila the Hun.” Dems are counting on African American turnout to cross the finish line. (Guardian)
Senate Republicans Aren’t Much For Tradition
- On Saturday Vice President Mike Pence gave his support to a group of Republican Senators planning to challenge the January 6 vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. The move won’t alter Biden’s path to assuming the presidency, but will draw out a normally routine process.
- The group had announced their plans to reject presidential electors from states they consider disputed (i.e. states that voted for Biden) if Congress doesn’t create a commission to investigate their wild and baseless allegations of voter fraud. Among the group are Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and Mike Braun of Indiana. Joining them are incoming Senators-elect Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
- More than 30 members of Congress said they will challenge November’s election results, although none has provided a shred of evidence to back up their claims. Scores of lawsuits challenging the election have been thrown out of court. Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah harshly condemned the effort, calling it an “egregious ploy” that “dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic.” (NPR)
Additional USA News
- A COVID-19 Relief Fund Was Only for Black Residents. Some Left Out Sued. (NYT, $)
- US officials promised 20 million vaccinated against coronavirus by the end of the year. It’s going slower than that (CNN)
- BlackRock ties pose challenges for incoming Biden team as two top officials will recuse themselves (WaPo, $)
- Pandemic Safety Net Falls Short For Seniors (NPR)
- As Understanding of Russian Hacking Grows, So Does Alarm (NYT, $)
- Former Walmart Pharmacists Say Company Ignored Red Flags As Opioid Sales Boomed (NPR)
- Biden set to supercharge clean energy push with $40B stash (Politico)
- Drilling and mining companies got a holiday gift from Trump (Grist)
- Congress Swearing-In: A Look At The Incoming Freshman Class (NPR)
- Feds may cut Moderna vaccine doses in half so more people get shots, Warp Speed adviser says (Politico)
- Wall Street Eyes Billions in the Colorado’s Water (NYT, $)
- Prisons present a dilemma for state leaders allotting limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccine (WaPo, $)
Biggest Roadblock to Driverless Future: Humans
- By the start of 2021, driverless cars were supposed to be crisscrossing US and British highways, and robotaxis lined up for passengers in London. Now experts are admitting the autonomous vehicle challenge is bigger than they imagined.
- In fact, instead of a “driverless revolution,” one of the industry’s biggest players, Uber, decided to park its plans for self-driving taxis and sell off its autonomous division to Aurora in a deal worth about $4 billion, roughly half of what it was valued in 2019.
- The hype was at its peak about five years ago, but since then “perspectives have changed,” according to transport consultant Nick Reed, who ran the UK self-driving trials. “Reality is setting in about the challenges and complexity,” he added. Autonomous vehicles are supposed to be safer, more efficient, and reduce congestion. And it’s true that human error is the cause of more than 90 percent of road accidents involving self-driving cars.
- Reed says “the technology worked … it does the right thing most of the time, we are 90 percent of the way there. But it is that last bit which is the toughest. Being able reliably to do the right thing every single time, whether it’s raining, snowing, fog, is a bigger challenge than anticipated.” Reed thinks automated driving could still happen in the next five years — on highways with clearly marked lanes, limited to motorized vehicles all going in the same direction. Widespread usage in urban areas is probably going to take a lot longer. (Guardian)
- The New History of the Milky Way (Wired)
- The Problem With Problem Sharks (NYT, $)
- ‘Where Are The Women?’: Uncovering The Lost Works Of Female Renaissance Artists (NPR)
- 74 of Our Favorite Facts for 2020 (NYT, $)
- When memes fail anatomy: The scale of a blue whale’s butthole (Ars Technica)
- How a Victorian-era disease detective can help a fractured US (Grist)
- Dungeons, Dragons, and Diversity (Wired)
- Wild crops could save our food system — if we don’t destroy them first (Grist)
- Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano Eruption Creates New Lava Lake : The Picture Show (NPR)
- After 50 years, hippies welcome in an Indiana county (AP)
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