Any Means Necessary.
News Items covers four subjects: (1) World in Disarray, (2) Financialization of Everything, (3) Advances in Science and Technology, and (4) Electoral politics, foreign and domestic. Six days a week, not Sundays. Weekdays by ~6:45am ET. Saturdays: sometime in the morning, usually. Tom Smith, who heads up research, contributes to these reports.
1. For two years, coronavirus variants emerged, one by one, sweeping the globe. But this fall and winter are expected to be different: Instead of a single ominous variant lurking on the horizon, experts are nervously eyeing a swarm of viruses — and a new evolutionary phase in the pandemic. This time, it’s unlikely we will be barraged with a new collection of Greek alphabet variants. Instead, one or more of the multiple versions of the omicron variant that keep popping up could drive the next wave. They are different flavors of omicron, but eerily alike — adorned with a similar combination of mutations. Each new subvariant seems to outdo the last in its ability to dodge immune defenses. “It is this constant evolutionary arms race we’re having with this virus,” said Jonathan Abraham, an assistant professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School. The pace of evolution is so fast that many scientists depend on Twitter to keep up. (Source: washingtonpost.com)
2. Jeremy Wallace:
There were indications at the beginning of the year that the Chinese leadership could be on the verge of relaxing its zero-COVID approach. That changed with the emergence of the very contagious Omicron variant: an explosive outbreak in Shanghai killed hundreds of residents, leading the government to mandate an eight-week lockdown that left many households without food or access to medical care. This nightmare led mayors around the country to mandate lockdowns at the first signs of exposure in their cities. Economic activity flatlined, producing essentially zero growth in the second quarter of 2022. In essence, China’s zero-COVID measures have been a catastrophic success, protecting millions of lives but wrecking the country’s economic engine in the process.
Exiting zero COVID will be neither simple nor costless. With low levels of inoculation and the questionable efficacy of Chinese vaccines, opening up will bring significant health consequences. The scale of death could be vast; over a million people could succumb to the virus in just a few months. There will be political fallout as well. Consider the public outcry after Li Wenliang—the doctor who issued an early alarm online about COVID-19 in December 2019, drawing the ire of Chinese authorities—died of COVID in February 2020. The Chinese government’s success in keeping the case count low while deaths skyrocketed abroad helped quell the outrage. If Chinese leaders were to adopt looser policies and hundreds of thousands were to die as a consequence, the Chinese public is likely to again erupt in anger, particularly given that most other countries seem to have settled into a post-COVID-19 new normal.
Similarly, the Chinese real estate slowdown is partially the result of a policy choice. The government is trying to bring housing prices down to affordable levels and simultaneously preserve the valuations of assets that are the core of Chinese household wealth. This requires delicate balancing of a $50 trillion market where expectations play a huge role. The need for prompt action, however, is evident. Tens of millions of housing units stand empty. Millions more remain unbuilt. Many would-be home buyers paid for units before their construction, and developers have squandered these funds, leading a growing number of buyers to stop mortgage payments on homes that may never be completed. Xi has indicated his desire to see property taxes play a key role in transforming the complicated nexus of local government finances and speculative investments, but strong resistance has kept its expansion beyond a few pilot cities. (Sources: government.cornell.edu, foreignaffairs.com)
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