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Daily Archives: February 9, 2022

Humour: News in Cartoons

In Beijing, Olympic Ideals Coexist with Authoritarian Rule

Tim Sullivan wrote . . . . . . . . .

His collar turned up against the cold, the head of the International Olympic Committee looked out over the stadium and spoke of the ideals that had brought together athletes from all over the world.

“In our fragile world, where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise, we show the world that it is possible to be fierce rivals while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together,” Thomas Bach, a gold-medalist fencer nearly 40 years ago, said Friday at the Winter Games’ opening ceremony.

The Olympic mission is clear, he said: “Always building bridges, never erecting walls.”

Critics of Bach and the IOC say those ideals are nonsense, and talk of respect and bridge-building is overshadowed by Olympic officials cozying up to some of the world’s most powerful authoritarian rulers. Starting with holding this year’s Games in a country accused of widespread human rights violations.

The IOC knows that Beijing has locked up hundreds of thousands of minority Uyghur Muslims, those critics say, and arrested countless people who dared voice criticism of the government.

The IOC’s “failure to publicly confront Beijing’s serious human rights violations makes a mockery of its own commitments and claims that the Olympics are a ‘force for good,’” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said shortly before the Games opened.

Some rights activists are calling these Olympics the “Genocide Games,” and leaders of a string of democratic nations, including the U.S., Great Britain, Australia and Canada, are avoiding the Games, citing either Beijing’s human rights violations or its sweeping coronavirus restrictions.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping is hosting a parade of fellow strongman leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who met Friday with Xi before attending the opening ceremony, as well as the leaders of Egypt and Serbia, who were meeting with China’s leader on Saturday.

The Games come at a time when democracy can look like it’s in retreat.

Over the past year there was a military takeover in Myanmar, Beijing’s tightening grip over Hong Kong and a brutal political crackdown in Nicaragua. There are authoritarian rulers from Turkey to the Philippines.

The IOC rarely mentions any of this.

Bach, for his part, has studiously steered around talk of human rights in China. He did say he would meet Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who largely dropped from sight after accusing a former top Communist Party official of sexual assault, then later insisted she’d been misunderstood. Bach said she’d told IOC officials that she “that she can move freely, that she’s spending time with her family and friends.”

He said he’d support Peng if she wants an investigation. “But it’s her life, it’s her allegations,” he added.

Avoiding controversy has long been Bach’s rule.

“Sport must be politically neutral, but sport cannot be apolitical,” he once wrote, threading the phrasing needle so carefully his actual meaning is unclear.

But he knows it’s a gamble to make a stand on issues like human rights.

“If we are getting in the middle of tensions, disputes and confrontations of the political powers then we are putting the Games at risk,” he told reporters at a Beijing press conference.

Olympic organizers have a long history with authoritarian rulers, from Adolf Hitler in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin to Vladimir Putin and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“There’s not a glorious history to look back on,” said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who has extensively studied the Olympics.

Take those Berlin Games. By 1936, Nazi antisemitism was blatantly clear, with laws that excluded German Jews from citizenship and banned marriage or sex between Jews and “citizens of German or kindred blood.”

Yet the Games went ahead. And two Jewish runners on the U.S. team, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, were pulled from the 4-X-100 meter relay squad one day before the race. U.S. officials insisted it had been done to bring in faster runners, but Glickman saw it differently.

“Here were two rather obscure Jewish athletes who could be kept off the podium so to not embarrass Adolf Hitler,” he said years later in an interview.

Zimbalist says the Olympic Committee is so risk-averse that it’s tarnishing its reputation.

“They pretend that they’re apolitical even though they make choices that are inherently political,” he said in an interview. They are “giving a level of approval to the Chinese by hosting the Games there. That’s a statement.”

He said the IOC can look for ways to speak out on issues like human rights while being careful not to spark a political firestorm.

“They’ve been working with the Chinese Olympic Committee. They know the limits (of speaking out) better than you or I,” he said. “I’d like to see the IOC testing some of those limits.”

Instead, the committee remains silent, and not just about China.

Putin, for instance, attended the Games’ opening even though sports sanctions mean the country’s team must play as the “Russian Olympic Committee” because of a sophisticated doping scheme.

Putin and Xi used their meeting to project themselves as a counterweight to the United States and its allies. China has also been showing growing support for Moscow in its dispute with Ukraine, which has an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed along its border, a predicament Washington fears could lead to all-out war.

With billions of dollars at stake for the host country, not to mention TV rights and sponsorships, the Olympics can seem as much about money as sports. The IOC is desperate for the Games to remain “brand safe,” so that sponsors, some of whom have reportedly paid hundreds of millions of dollars, don’t see those investments backfire. These include some of the world’s best-known brands, from Coca-Cola to Visa to Toyota. The last thing they want is for their products to be associated with Chinese human rights abuses.

But Christopher Magee, a professor at Bucknell University, noted that the IOC is just one of many players in China’s immense economy.

“It’s fair to criticize them for prioritizing money over humanitarian concerns,” he said. “But a lot of firms and countries do that. It’s hard not to.”

The economies of nearly every nation in the world – including those whose leaders are boycotting these Games – are deeply intertwined with Beijing’s.

And every once in awhile, the IOC does speak up.

Maybe.

Some observers say Bach appeared to make an oblique reference to Ukraine in his opening speech, urging political leaders to “observe your commitment to this Olympic truth: Give peace a chance.”

But if it was a Ukraine reference, it was so oblique that many political and Olympic analysts didn’t even notice.


Source : AP

Infographic: US Debt Visualized in $100 Bills

Source : Demonocracy.info

How Well Can Omicron Evade Immunity from COVID Vaccines?

Sara Reardon wrote . . . . . . . . .

People who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 after three doses of COVID-19 vaccine are much more likely to have the Omicron variant than the Delta variant, owing to Omicron’s ability to evade the immune system, according to US data.

One way in which viral variants can become dominant is by increasing their transmissibility, through faster replication or an enhanced ability to spread outside the body. Another route to dominance uses an increased ability to escape from immune systems that have learnt — through infection or vaccination — to recognize the virus.

Delta achieved its dominance with the former method: the virus could replicate much faster and to higher levels than could previous variants. “Delta did a lot of things through brute force,” says Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut. Omicron seems to replicate even more quickly than Delta, but the number of virus particles in the body never reaches the same level, suggesting that the variant’s advantage lies elsewhere.

Delta vs Omicron

Grubaugh and his colleagues studied the results of 37,877 polymerase chain reaction tests on samples collected in Connecticut over two weeks in mid-December 2021, when Delta and Omicron each made up about 50% of COVID-19 cases in the area. The team determined which variant each test had detected, and correlated those data with the infected person’s vaccination status.

In a preprint1 posted on 25 January, the researchers reported that infected people who either were unvaccinated or had received only one dose of a vaccine were more likely to have Delta than Omicron. But infected people who had received two vaccine doses had almost two times higher odds of having Omicron than Delta, and those who had received three doses had three times higher odds of having Omicron.

That suggests that the Omicron variant is much better than Delta at breaking through the immunity conferred by vaccines. However, the team says that a third, booster shot still cuts the risk of Omicron infection by 50%. The findings have not yet been peer reviewed.

Unpublished work from Grubaugh’s lab suggests that the virus circulating in the bodies of vaccinated people has less genetic diversity than that in unvaccinated people, which implies that vaccines are not promoting new mutations. But as more people acquire immunity through infection or vaccination, viral strains that can evade the immune response will have an increasing advantage over others.

Nathaniel Landau, a microbiologist at New York University Grossman School of Medicine in New York City, says the work supports the idea that an Omicron-specific vaccine would be useful, although he adds that there is always the possibility of a very different strain becoming dominant in the future. A key remaining question, Landau says, is whether something about the biology of the virus makes it more transmissible, as well as better able to evade the immune system. For example, the virus’s propensity to live in the upper airways instead of in the lungs could cause it to spread more easily than Delta.

Vaughn Cooper, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, adds that the function of mutations in Omicron’s spike protein has been a particularly vexing question. “We don’t understand how this weird combination of mutations found in the Omicron spike interacts to escape immunity,” he says. “The sheer number of new mutations makes it hard to pinpoint which combination is the cause.”


Source : Nature

IMF Called China for Continued Appropriate Policies that Support the Economy

The International Monetary Fund called on Beijing to step up fiscal support to bolster an economy that has been slowed by weakening consumption amid the Covid-19 pandemic and a property market plunge.

The policy recommendation came as the fund cut its 2022 growth forecast for China to 4.8% from a previous projection of 5.7%. The economy expanded 8.1% last year.

“China’s recovery is well advanced, but it lacks balance, and momentum has slowed,” the IMF said in a report issued Friday following a consultation with China.

Read the full report . . . . .