Talking Points

Who will be the Laika to the 'Sputnik V' vaccine? PHOTO: Anadolu
  1. Russia's claim of a coronavirus vaccine was met with scepticism
  2. The UAE formally recognised Israel, halting Tel Aviv's annexation plan
  3. 400 Taliban prisoners were released to expedite Afghan peace talks
  4. Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai was detained under new security laws
  5. Thai students took on the country's draconian lese-majeste laws
  6. Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa dynasty firmed control over the Cabinet
  7. Britain plunged into its deepest recession on record
  8. Uber, Lyft were ordered to reclassify drivers as employees in California
  9. Europe was tantalised by emerging Champions League semi-finals
  10. Just as Americans were by the NBA playoffs matchups

Deep Dive

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. PHOTO: AFP

Biden's VP pick has breathed some much needed energy into the strangest election in a generation. But as the energy builds ahead of the conventions and debates, questions are growing as to how Americans will actually cast their votes on November 8.

Election 2020: Is anyone awake?

Take a step back in time to August 2016. It's been a big news year...

Britain is still processing the post-traumatic shock of kicking itself out of the European Union. The Zika virus has spread to become a threat to global health. There's been a failed military coup in Turkey and a successful administrative coup in Brazil. Russian power is on the rise after a decisive intervention in Syria. And yet, despite all these tectonic shifts in our world, and indeed because of them, your attention is glued on the 2016 US presidential election. Fewer than 100 days remain before election day and, despite Hillary Clinton's healthy post-convention numbers, the media continues to obsess over (and feed) the unlikely political force of Donald Trump. Election fever has descended on America.

Now let's return to the present, where a deadlier fever awaits, as do two of the most featureless and lacklustre presidential campaigns in living memory.

There are several factors that have contributed to this year's race feeling like the election of the local dog-catcher. Chief amongst them is the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has denied both Donald Trump and Joe Biden in-person campaign appearances. This has been doubly taxing for a Trump campaign that relied heavily on rowdy stadium addresses in the previous go-round. This absence has deprived the media of both the aesthetics and substance that are used to build round-the-clock coverage and competitive programming. On top of this – as an obvious risk minimisation strategy – the Biden campaign is carefully managing their candidate's appearances (read: keeping him as far from probing interviewers as possible).

But there is one final explanation for this dour election: the quality of the candidates. President Trump's mystique as a political outsider has been shattered by his numerous and well-documented failures, not least the horrifying US response to Covid-19. Joe Biden, on the other hand, is campaigning on contradistinction (56% of Biden voters are voting for him because he is not Trump). Both men are in their twilight, pushing the boundary of what the public can expect in terms of energy and cognitive function. Which is why the entrance of Kamala Harris has injected so much verve and vigour into the race.

Enter the lotus (Kamala, in Hindi)

The junior senator from California (and former District Attorney) has shaken off a disastrous performance in the primary race (and her trenchant criticism of Biden ) to join the Democratic ticket. Harris will claim a number of firsts for South Asians in US political history, let alone South Asian women. In a country riven by racial injustice, Harris's lineage (her Indian mother and Jamaican father met at Berkley) cannot be ignored. But what is a boon for Indian- and Caribbean-Americans is a target for Trump. Already the president has reprised his role of racial inquisitor by suggesting that Harris may not meet the "requirements" for the role . The Obama 'birther' conspiracy that Trump fuelled over a decade ago has simply been retargeted. Not that it has scared off donors; the Democrats received $26m in 24 hours after the announcement.

And so, what does this new arrival mean for the lay of the land? Even prior to the entrance of Harris it appeared that Biden's message of making America great again (by returning dignity to the presidency) was ringing some bells. Despite entering the race late, Biden has been catching up on Trump's fundraising lead. For those of you with risk-taking personalities, the latest poll aggregation shows Biden leading Trump 50-41 , with the rest undecided. This would equate to the Democrats claiming 300+ votes in the Electoral College: a decisive victory. This poll estimates the likelihood of a Democratic victory at 71% . Of course, this is all predicated on the idea that Americans will actually find out how many votes both candidates received on election night, and the days after.

Signed, sealed, discounted

Right now there is a great deal of scrutiny on the United States Postal Service . An ally of the president has been appointed Postmaster General and operations are being trimmed in the name of efficiency . At the same time, Trump has been muddying the waters for months, claiming spuriously that voter fraud is a common problem with postal votes (it is not). It's expected that as many as 80 million Americans will vote by post this election – double the number in 2016. This of course will require substantial resource allocation, and this week Trump laid it all out on the table :

"They [Democrats] want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent, that's election money basically. They want $25 billion, billion, for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all these millions and millions of ballots. Now, if we don't make a deal, that means they don't get the money. That means they can't have universal mail-in voting, they just can't have it."

So, with the USPS budget being held hostage, how will those 80 million or so votes get counted? Can the tactic of voter suppression wielded so ably by Republican statehouses actually be taken to the national electorate? What happens if the result is disputed, à la Bush-Gore 2000? Dark questions for America to ponder in the coming weeks.


Worldlywise

Would you believe this guy stole an election? PHOTO: ABC

Lukashenko cracks down

The predictable results of Sunday's sham election in Belarus has provoked an unpredictable response from the electorate. Five-time incumbent Alexsander Lukashenko was so enthusiastic about a sixth term that he disqualified other candidates from running. He even threw popular opposition figure Sergei Tikhanovsky in jail for good measure. Lukashenko went on to win 80% of the popular vote, or at least that's the number that his electoral officials landed on. The European Union described the election as "neither free nor fair", which, translated from Brussels-speak, is "stolen". Belarusians know the fix is in, and have spent all week on the streets in protest.

This week we've seen night after night of violent demonstrations - a stern rebuke of Lukashenko's 26-year reign (he's often described as 'Europe's last dictator' but we think that is selling Viktor Orbán short). The first protests coalesced around Svetlana Tikhanovskaya , wife of Sergei, who was a late entrant to stand against Lukashenko. However, after officially challenging the result, she was detained for several hours by security services and hightailed it out of the country upon release. She posted a video explaining that she was exiling herself for the safety of her children (and jailed husband) which speaks volumes for how Belarusian authorities operate. Deprived of a figurehead, the people marched anyway. At least two, and possibly many more protesters have died at police hands in bitter clashes.

The police arrested 6,700 protesters to Friday, many of whom have reported being beaten and tortured .

An eastern black rhino. PHOTO: AP

And now for something completely different

Pachyderms . We've barely been able to keep up with all the rhinoceros and elephants news this week (sorry, hippopotamuses). Size before beauty: new research out of Kenya shows that its elephant population doubled between 1989 and 2018. Those poachers who make it to court face a death sentence but a good deal are killed in advance, by the country's heavily-armed anti-poaching rangers.

At inkl we usually give celebrity news a pass, but will make an exception for Seyia. This critically-endangered eastern black rhino is pregnant. She is due any day now at her home in Cincinnati Zoo – she's far from her natural pastures but that distance allows the species to recuperate. Despite the accelerating habitat loss across southern and eastern Africa, these precious black rhinos are slowly trudging their way back from the brink . Their numbers rose from an all-time low of 4,845 in 2012 to 5,630 in 2018. And in Namibia, home to the second-largest population of white rhinos, the introduction of tougher punishments has seen poaching collapsed 63% year-on-year . The fines have been increased by 12,400%!

Meanwhile, in Malaysia, scientists are hoping to pull the local variant of the Sumatran rhinoceros out of extinction using DNA. Sperm and egg cells were extracted from the last breeding pair before they died, opening the door for a university team to create test-tube rhinos and implant them in the womb of a similar species. This could mark the end of major species extinctions.

And last but not least, we can all let out a sigh of relief: humans are not responsible for hunting the ancient woolly rhinoceros to extinction! It was the climate changing at the end of the last Ice Age that got 'em.


The Best of Times

Some wind turbines soaking up the rays. PHOTO: AFP

Onwards to the inflection point

Wind and solar energy accounted for a full tenth of the global energy mix in 2019. The cratering viability of the world's coal assets (coal generators worldwide ran at just half their capacity last year) is providing the perfect foil to our increasingly green power generation. More of this!

Here's an idea

Paid period leave. Implicitly requiring half the population of the planet to grin through sharp – if not debilitating – pain on a regular basis is a perfect example of gendered workplace standards. Follow this lead and end them.


The Worst of Times

Anger in the countryside. PHOTO: Getty

How long is an interim?

Bolivia's constitutionally-dubious interim president has designs on extending her term indefinitely. Since the ejection of Evo Morales from the presidency last year, the right-wing Jeanine Áñez has postponed the election three times. The most recent occasion was this week, and Morales supporters from across the regions have once again blockaded major transport arteries. Áñez has threatened to clear the roadblocks with force, but will face a union-led general strike in La Paz if she does.

Bee updated

They are getting sicker, flying slower, and dying younger . This is your semi-regular reminder that when they go, we go.


Weekend Reading

The image

An oil spill just off the coast of Mauritius. The crystalline waters of the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve have been stained black by 1,000 tonnes of crude spilt from a stranded oil tanker. Photograph supplied by Bloomberg.

The quote

"This story that the Amazon is going up in flames is a lie and we must combat it with real numbers."

– Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lies about the state of forest fires in the Amazon. 10,000 were recorded by his own government in the first 10 days of August – up 17% on last year.

The numbers

$2 trillion

- Apple is on the cusp of reaching an absurd new market capitalisation. As it moves from strength to strength, Cupertino signalled a four-way stock split to bring it's shares down from their current price of $450 to $113.

30%

- The cut that Apple takes from any transactions on the App Store. This is an extremely high fee – possibly an anti-competitive one. But where most companies (including inkl) have had to swallow the loss of 30c on the dollar of their subscriptions, Fortnite creator Epic Games is taking a stand. This week the studio created a loophole to circumvent the App Store, was promptly kicked off it, and then sued Apple in response. This is a fascinating test case for measuring the extent of monopoly power in the digital era.

The headline

"Nearly half of British public have little or no sympathy for migrants crossing Channel from France, survey finds" The Independent . Have there been any surveys on how much sympathy the indigenous populations of Ireland, Uganda, America, Samoa, Nigeria, Australia, Brunei, New Zealand, Mauritius, Canada, Burma, Cameroon, India, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Gambia, Cyprus, Malaysia, Fiji, Kenya, Bahamas, Egypt, Singapore, Sudan, Zanzibar, South Africa, Malta, Guiana, Seychelles, Barbados and many more had for English migrants arriving by gunboat?

The special mention

The governments of Turkey and Greece who are providing Classical Studies teachers the world over with bountiful proof that the past is never really past us. This time it's oil that is launching a thousand ships.

A few choice long-reads

Tom Wharton

@trwinwriting