The Spirit Of Diplomacy
August 6, 2021
The Kaiser Family Foundation released a study this week that showed the differences in behavior between vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans, and it got us thinking about our readers and how they’re handling this new, strange era of the pandemic. So, we’re conducting a brief survey to see how everyone is feeling about the new variant. If you’re interested, fill out the survey about vaccines, and feel free to share with your friends and family! We’ll share the results next week.
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” — Harry S. Truman
The Cost Of Conviction
Young Asian revolutionaries advocating for democracy and civil liberties face repressive governments as dangerous as the Delta variant of Covid, either of which can abruptly end their future plans.
For well over a year, Thailand’s youth activists have been demonstrating against the power of the monarchy and demanding the resignation of the prime minister, a former military ruler, largely for his mishandling of the pandemic. Police brutally cracked down on protesters, and activist leaders have been arrested and jailed under the country’s lèse-majesté law, which forbids any insult to the monarchy. In January, a 63-year-old woman was sentenced to 43 years in prison for ‘criticizing’ the royal family. That same month, a 21-year-old university student named Benja Apan stood in a Bangkok shopping mall holding a sign reading: “You monopolized the vaccine so the monarchy could take the credit.” She was quickly surrounded by security guards, one of whom snatched the sign away and slapped her. Apan had hoped to study engineering in the U.S. and get a job with Elon Musk. She’s now facing six decades in prison for insulting the king.
Ei Thinzar Maung was president of her university’s student union with dreams of winning a seat in Myanmar’s parliament and championing the rights of women and ethnic minorities. But her continued activism got her arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for more than a year. Since being released in 2016 she’s been hiding out, moving every few days to stay ahead of Myanmar’s military junta that’s killed and imprisoned thousands of her peers. She continues her activism and journalistic pursuits, but such dedication comes with a great price. “I fear for my life. And I know they will kill me if I ever get arrested,” she said. “Everyone is fearful … because security troops are killing wantonly day and night, on the streets or inside residential homes.” The 26-year-old is on the military regime’s most wanted list of activists.
Ivan Choi, 22, was in his second year at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic College studying chemistry when protests erupted in spring 2019 over a law giving mainland China more power. Clashes between demonstrators and police grew more violent. On July 1, Choi was among dozens of students who stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, ransacking the building, smashing portraits of pro-Beijing politicians, and spray-painting slogans on walls. As police drove them out, Choi’s leg was injured by a bean bag projectile. He made it home, but fearing an arrest, he booked a flight to Taiwan. He told his mother he was going to do research, but he knew he likely wouldn’t be back. He’s now settled in Taiwan, but even that island’s future could be imperiled. China’s President Xi Jinping has vowed to take the island by force if necessary, risking potential confrontation with the U.S.
Much of Asia’s youth is coming of age at a time when civil liberties are in retreat. Many are jailed, tortured, killed, or ‘disappeared.’ In Thailand, Hong Kong, and Myanmar, open dissent is outlawed and protests are violently put down. Cambodia’s long-standing dictator Hun Sen has abolished his political rivals; Laos remains a one-party communist state; and Vietnam, regardless of all its financial developments, has stifled freedoms. (LA Times, Reuters, BBC, Coconuts Bangkok, Women in Journalism, News Robin)
- The Mexican government filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts Wednesday against U.S. gun manufacturers Smith & Wesson, Colt, and Barrett Firearms, among others. The suit claims the companies knew they were causing “massive damage … by actively facilitating the unlawful trafficking of their guns to drug cartels and other criminals in Mexico.” The suit alleges the companies consciously used “marketing strategies to promote weapons that are ever more lethal, without mechanisms of security or traceability.”
- Mexico has strict rules regulating weapons’ sales; they can only be purchased legally at one shop located on an army base in the capital. Criminal organizations have reportedly bought thousands of pistols, rifles, assault weapons, and ammunition in supermarkets, on the internet, and at arms fairs in the U.S., which are then used to commit crimes in Mexico.
- Officials said some of the guns made by Colt appeared to especially target the Mexican market, such as a pistol engraved with the face and name of Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives found that 70% of firearms recovered in Mexico between 2014 and 2018 that were submitted for tracing had come from America. In 2019 alone, more than 17,000 murders in Mexico were linked to trafficked weapons. Mexico is seeking damages of up to $10 billion. The gun companies have yet to comment. (BBC)
- Canada Beef, a national marketing organization, says Canada ranks among the top 10 beef exporting countries in the world. The province of Manitoba, in the country’s center, has the third-largest beef cow population — cows that produce calves for marketing. Almost all of Manitoba’s operations are cow-calf farms.
- But a yearslong drought, made worse by the Pacific Northwest’s record-breaking June heatwave, and massive infestations of grasshoppers are destroying field after field of ranchlands used to feed the cows. Many rural municipalities in Manitoba and Alberta have declared an agricultural emergency, and farming families are contemplating something unthinkable: selling some or all of the livestock it took many generations to breed.
- Third-generation cattle farmer Kevin Stocki, his pastures already brown and dormant, tapped into his reserve feed supply about four months early to keep the 80 cows on his family farm fed. “Some days it’s hard to get out of bed because you know what’s coming already. It just turns your stomach.” (NYT)
Additional World News
- Israel Reimposes Covid Restrictions In Hopes of Avoiding a Lockdown (NYT, $)
- Euro 2020 racism: 11 arrests for social media abuse of Black England football stars (WaPo, $)
- Israel launches airstrikes on Lebanon in response to rockets (AP)
- Ignoring WHO call, major nations stick to vaccine booster plans (Reuters)
- Australia to pay hundreds of millions in reparations to Indigenous ‘stolen generations’ (WaPo, $)
- Belarus migrant arrivals could reach 10,000 in weeks, warns Lithuanian minister (Politico)
- Site of ancient Olympics saved as Greece battles wildfires (NBC)
An Unhealthy System
- When it comes to healthcare, “American Exceptionalism” is an inauthentic trope. A study by the Commonwealth Fund, which conducts independent research on healthcare issues, shows that among 11 high-income countries, the U.S. not only has the worst healthcare system overall, but spends the highest proportion of its gross domestic product on health care.
- Researchers compared the healthcare systems of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S. According to the study’s lead author: “[The U.S. has] set up a system where we spend quite a bit of money on health care but we have significant financial barriers, which tend to dissuade people from getting care.” No country was at the top in all 71 performance measures, but Norway, the Netherlands, and Australia were the top-performing countries overall.
- The high performers stand apart from the U.S. in providing universal coverage and removing cost barriers, investing in primary care systems to reduce inequities, minimizing administrative burdens, and investing in social services among children and working-age adults. The Last Place U.S. ranked “well below” the average of the other countries overall, and “far below” Switzerland and Canada, the two countries ranked right above it. The U.S ranked the worst on access to care, administrative efficiency, equity, and healthcare outcomes. (WaPo)
The Virus Takes Its Toll
- And then, there are those individuals who refuse to take advantage of available health care, like the Texas GOP official who made fun of COVID-19 and constantly railed against masks and vaccines on social media. 45-year-old H. Scott Apley was a member of the Galveston County Republican Party and the Dickinson City council. A rabid anti-vaxxer, Apley supported mask-burning and called incentives to encourage vaccinations “disgusting.”
- On July 30, he shared a Twitter post mocking the virus on his Facebook page. Two days later, Apley was admitted to a Galveston hospital with pneumonia-like symptoms; he tested positive for coronavirus and was put on a ventilator. Three days later, he died. A GoFundMe page, which said nothing about Apley dying from COVID, raised $28,000 from 300 donors for funeral costs.
- The Galveston County GOP chairman, who also neglected to mention the cause of Apley’s death, remembered his colleague as “an advocate for liberty, limited government and the highest ideal of American Exceptionalism.” So far, there have been over 615,500 deaths from coronavirus in the U.S., but even that staggering number is underreported. We know that because in at least one county in one state a coroner has admitted omitting COVID-19 as the cause of death on death certificates if the family requests that he do so. (WaPo, The Hill)
Additional USA News
- Hillsong Church founder charged with concealing child sex abuse (LAT, $)
- Kaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate (The Hill)
- Dixie Fire leaves Rich Bar, a Gold Rush-era ghost town, in ashes (SF Chronicle)
- ‘The Pied Piper leading us off a cliff’: Florida governor condemned as Covid surges (Guardian)
- Biden told White House chief to seek Harvard legal scholar’s guidance, leading to reversal on evictions (WaPo, $)
- Sturgis bike rally revs back bigger, despite virus variant (NBC)
- How Biden’s Supreme Court throwdown could backfire (Politico)
The Spirit Of Diplomacy
- Federal employees are not supposed to accept pricey gifts from foreign governments. If they do receive a gift or gifts, federal law says they have to report anything received over a minimal value, which in June 2019 was considered to be $390.
- At that particular time, Mike Pompeo was President Trump’s Secretary of State. While serving in that capacity, Pompeo was gifted with a $5,800 bottle of whisky from the government of Japan, presumably when he was visiting the country that month for a Group of 20 Summit also attended by Trump.
- The State Department’s Office of Protocol is required to record gifts given to U.S. officials and keep track of their disposition. Recipients have the option of turning gifts of a certain value over to the National Archives or another government entity, or purchasing them for personal use by reimbursing the Treasury Department for their value.
- On Wednesday, in a notice posted in the Federal Register, the State Department said the whiskey’s whereabouts are unknown and “it’s looking into the matter and has an ongoing inquiry.” No additional details were offered. Pompeo’s attorney said the former secretary of state doesn’t know what became of the gift. “Pompeo has no idea what the disposition was of this bottle of whiskey.” We can make a pretty good guess. (NBC News)
- ‘Spacecraft emergency’ on International Space Station worse than previously thought (The Hill)
- Slashed infrastructure funding for communities hurt by highways disappoints advocates (NBC)
- As Hikers Vanish, These Mountains Hold Tight to Their Mysteries (NYT, $)
- What Rat Empathy May Reveal About Human Compassion (Wired)
- Holding a mirror to life’s key molecules (Ars Technica)
- Climate Change Could Shut Down A Vital Ocean Current, Study Finds (HuffPost)
- NASA Curiosity rover snaps ‘whimsical’ rock arch on Mars that’s defying wind and dust (CNET)
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