Saturday, the 20th of March

Talking Points

In the same week Minneapolis settled with the family for $27m. PHOTO: Nicholas Pfosi / Reuters
  1. The trial of George Floyd's killer absorbed America's attention
  2. The humanitarian crisis on the US-Mexico border worsened
  3. The global middle class shrunk for the first time in decades
  4. After all that, AstraZeneca was put back in Europe's good books
  5. Spain became the fourth European country to legalise euthanasia
  6. The Vatican rebuffed a plea to bless same-sex unions
  7. Japan's non-recognition of same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional
  8. Myanmar ratcheted up extralegal pressure and street violence
  9. Sri Lanka banned Muslims from wearing burqas or niqabs
  10. China blocked access to encrypted messaging app Signal

Dive deeper

Taking on The Firm. PHOTO: AP

After a year of growing unrest, a shocking mass-shooting in Atlanta has struck America's Asian community. In post-Trump America, the links between racist rhetoric and hate crimes are becoming devastatingly clear.

The parlous massage

On Tuesday afternoon, a resident in the city of Woodstock, Georgia (population 33,000) legally purchased a 9mm pistol in a Canton gun shop . That evening, the now-armed 21-year-old walked into Young's Asian Massage and murdered four people . An hour later, in the inner-northern suburbs of Atlanta he shot and killed four more at two venues on either side of a street. When police finally identified the killer, Robert Aaron Long, he was on his way south to Florida with yet more venues in mind. He was knocked off the road by a patrol car and taken into custody without a fight. He has since been charged with eight murders.

Seven of Long's eight victims were women – six of them, Asian-American. Why did he kill them? In the words of an officer from the Sheriff's Office, "he apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction , and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it's a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate". "These places" was a reference to the massage parlours Long frequented to visit sex workers. He had also been thrown out of his family home recently for spending hours each day viewing pornography. But in lieu of a professional opinion, such anecdotal evidence must be taken with a grain of salt – Long is hardly the first violent individual to claim sex addiction.

Regardless of what Long's intent was, the killings represent a bloody point plotted on a rising line of anti-Asian hate crimes . For many Asian-American women, racism and misogyny are two sides of the same coin. There were 3,800 attacks ranging from verbal abuse to murder in 2020; 503 so far in 2021. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are increasingly targeted in some of the largest and most-diverse cities in the country. Attacks, particularly against elderly Asian Americans, are not uncommon in Manhattan. In San Francisco, the grassroots SF Peace Collective patrols neighbourhoods to deter Asian bashings.

The body(bag) politic

In a twist of fate, a Congressional committee meeting had been scheduled for Thursday this week on exactly this subject. In the wake of the Atlanta mass-shooting, lawmakers and scholars testified to the swelling public hatred directed at Asian Americans. Blame, or at least a fair measure of it, was laid at the feet of the Republican members on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. A clear line was established between the racist verbiage of ex-president Donald Trump towards China and this attack. One Democrat stated, "For over a year Asian Americans have been fighting an additional virus of hate and bigotry. Anti-Asian rhetoric like 'China virus' and 'kung flu' misinformation, racism have left Asian Americans traumatised and fearful for their lives".

For a long time America's libertarian nature would have led a mass-shooting like this to be viewed through a prism of individual responsibility. Now, in many circles there is growing acceptance that people and their actions are shaped by their environment. Race, class, gender, sexuality, ideology, media consumption and even language – shed light on motives that are often misunderstood. For example, the anti-gay motive almost instantly ascribed to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting was eventually called into question when more evidence was gathered.

This was the first mass-shooting under the current administration. So how does a first-term Democrat handle and describe an attack like this? Carefully, so far – and unwilling to prejudge motive. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were due to visit Atlanta on Friday to pay their respects. But even as his vaunted capacity for empathy and consolation is called upon at home, Biden is wielding unvarnished power abroad. Can he wage diplomatic war against Chinese power that is slowly forcing America out of East Asia while also easing the suffering of Asian Americans at home? In so many ways he remains bound by the decisions of his predecessor who sullied the definitions of countries and races, friends and foes.

Trump lashed his political opponents with all manner of racist epithets, lies, and accusations . No one did more to fabricate a link of causation between the Chinese government and the global coronavirus pandemic. That bellicose language has outlived him. In Congress on Thursday a GOP representative outlined his response to China's pandemic mismanagement, "find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree". It is precisely this kind of rhetoric that Asian Americans across the aisle were decrying in the first place.


Global vaccine boost too late for Brazil. PHOTO: Matthew Horwood / GettyPA

Tough gig? A little less so

If you live in the United Kingdom, every Chicken Tikka Masala you've ordered was delivered by someone with no pension, holiday pay, or guarantee of making a minimum (let alone liveable) wage. The next one might not be. This week marked a watershed moment in the effort to improve the working conditions of the UK's five and a half million 'gig workers' . In late February the Supreme Court sided with 35 Uber drivers who challenged their status as 'self-employed'. In acknowledgement of this, Uber has reclassified its 70,000 drivers as 'workers' – according them all three of the benefits listed above. And they've done it on the cheap too: it's estimated to represent just a 2% drag – £260m – on their results next year.

Uber has spun this as a 'change of heart' – a novel reinterpretation of what the layperson might know to be a good old-fashion rinsing in London's Supreme Court. There is, to the chagrin of feckless corporations everywhere, a service ceiling to public relations consultancy. Uber lost, and is now quibbling over the fine-print (does it need to pay a minimum-wage guarantee while drivers are waiting for an order?) In a swift pirouette from defendant to activist, the ride-hailing giant has now thrown down the gauntlet to other companies utilising the 'self-employed' model in Britain. Deliveroo, which has this far kept regulators at bay, let slip in its IPO filings that, "ongoing success in defending our model cannot be guaranteed".

The ripples may be felt far beyond the isles. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi argued, "the future of work is too big of an issue for a one-size-fits-all solution, and that's OK". Indeed, there are many solutions available, but it's easy to see why drivers in other countries might be honking their horns for what the Brits have.

Eastern Australia is just emerging from years of drought. PHOTO: David Gray / Reuters

Displacement theory

A quick refresher on how rapidly our world is changing. Let's survey the number of humans who were displaced by climate change in the six months to February, and the disasters that ejected them.

In California, the August and Mendocino Fire Complexes incinerated earlier records for the state's largest fires. In the Atlantic, there were 30 named storms in the most recent hurricane season – including the monsters Eta and Iota. In Asia, hundreds of thousands were displaced in China by the worst Yangtze flooding in two decades. 13 consecutive storms in October and November inundated Cambodia and Vietnam and Typhoon Goni careened into the Philippines. So too in Bangladesh where the government struggled to rehouse those affected by Cyclone Amphan. Already this year, South Kalimantan (Indonesia) has endured its worst flooding in a decade. A glacier has burst spectacularly in Uttarakhand (India). And millions of Americans have been plunged into darkness by Winter Storm Uri. The drought in Europe – ongoing since 2014 – is the worst in 2,000 years .

So, how many people were displaced by these droughts, floods, and storms? If you guessed 10.3 million – give yourself a sombre pat on the back.

There is not much that we can do to stop another 10 million people from being forced out of their homes every six months in the short term. We can, however, ensure that that number doesn't turn into hundreds of millions, by hitting a net-zero target by 2050 or before.

The cost of action continues to rise – precisely as scientists have been telling us for decades – now the estimated total expenditure needs to be lifted by 30% to $131 trillion by 2050. What we shouldn't do is allow global oil demand to creep up above pre-pandemic levels, which is an increasingly unlikely and unsavoury situation.

The best of times

A natural brew. PHOTO: Greg Campher

Coffee without the consequences

A remote Peruvian community has developed a better way to grow coffee: under shade. The significance of this story lies in the fact that it doesn’t require vast amounts of land to be cleared. As a result, the area's ecosystem can remain fully intact. Additionally, the method stores more carbon in a soil that isn’t depleted and encourages more nitrogen-fixing trees to grow. Plus, it can be sold for a higher price — so communities can improve their living conditions. We haven’t tasted the end result, but the whiff is wonderful.

Food-powered flights

Last week, we explained how our food consumption and waste is damaging the planet. This week, scientists found a way to alleviate some of that harm: turn the scraps into biofuel . The process works by extracting excess water from waste before isolating the materials needed to make jet fuel. The final product has the potential to cut aviation emissions drastically — and can be produced for $2.50/gallon. Plus, food is saved from landfill. And flight shaming will end. Great news all around.

The worst of times

This but in your lungs. PHOTO: Input

Plastic, plastic everywhere

Not only are microfibers harming the environment, they’re also harming us. New research has found that nylon and polyester textiles can interfere with lung development and growth. Not only that, they can also impede recovery of our air-filled organs — affecting those with pre-existing lung conditions. Worryingly, the textiles become airborne through washing or even wearing clothes — whether they’re thrifted or not. And so, not only do we need to change clothing’s unethical production, we also need to change what they’re made of.

Tigray's suffering continues

Months after Ethiopia’s government took control of Tigray’s capital, its residents are still suffering. Eritrean troops have destroyed the region’s health care : just 13 facilities are left to treat a population of six million. As a result, few women are receiving ante- and post-natal care, and children aren’t being vaccinated. This is on top of the more than two million people who have been displaced since the conflict began. Though international recognition of the conflict is rising, governments are yet to provide meaningful help.

Weekend Reading

The image

Aquadynamics at play. Team New Zealand soundly beat the Italian Luna Rosso 7-3 in the best of 13 America's Cup yacht race. Photograph supplied by Reuters.

The quote

“I remember in my childhood, when we argued in the court yard with each other we used to say: it takes one to know one.”

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Joe Biden describing him as 'a killer'. The response was labelled 'sensational' and 'chilling' in various news reports.

“I want to offer President Biden to continue our discussion but on the condition that we do it live, online, without any delays but in an open, direct discussion.”

– The rest of Putin's quote: some newspapers omitted this offer entirely.

The numbers

2,100,000,000 pints

- The estimated drop in UK beer sales during the pandemic. We'll put a tenner on the fact that this'll be made up within six months of Britain beating the coronavirus.


- Now here's a story. The Jesuit order that ran Georgetown University in 1838 sold 272 slaves to a Louisiana plantation owner. Today the order has pledged to pay nine figures in reparations to the descendants of the enslaved men and women.

The headline

"Wall Street Looks to Quietly Reopen Wallets for Politicians" Bloomberg . A return to normal transmission.

The special mention

The 150 or so young Taiwanese people who legally changed their name to Gui Yu – the Chinese characters for 'salmon' – to avail themselves of a free all-you-can-eat sushi dinner promotion for anyone with that name.

A few choice long-reads

  • How important is it to get along with your siblings? Let this be a lesson. Bloomberg Businessweek on the brothers who might destroy America;s Covid swab supply?
  • Britain's parliament is the mother of all democracies – so why is it trying to make democratic protest illegal? The Economist on the dangerous dalliance of UK law.
  • Why would you win an election when you can just destroy the vote of the opposition? Financial Times on the voter rights fight that will shape the future of America.

Tom Wharton @trwinwriting