Sensemaker: Transition problems

Tuesday 17 November 2020

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Hurricane Iota, the most intense Atlantic storm so far this year, made landfall in Nicaragua with winds of 155mph.
  • For the first time, the International Space Station crew has been ferried up by a commercial operator, SpaceX.
  • An Islamist group in Pakistan claims that the country’s government has endorsed a boycott of France, in response to the French president’s comments on “Islamist separatism” and defence of the right to offend.

Transition problems

The return of the coronavirus in the northern hemisphere as temperatures drop remains an alarming problem. Even Sweden has banned gatherings of more than eight people. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said: “Don’t go to gyms, don’t go to libraries, don’t host dinners. Cancel.” In the UK, two weeks into a lockdown, the reproduction rate (R) remains a little above 1.

Long stories short

  • Hurricane Iota, the most intense Atlantic storm so far this year, made landfall in Nicaragua with winds of 155mph.
  • For the first time, the International Space Station crew has been ferried up by a commercial operator, SpaceX.
  • An Islamist group in Pakistan claims that the country’s government has endorsed a boycott of France, in response to the French president’s comments on “Islamist separatism” and defence of the right to offend.

Transition problems

The return of the coronavirus in the northern hemisphere as temperatures drop remains an alarming problem. Even Sweden has banned gatherings of more than eight people. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said: “Don’t go to gyms, don’t go to libraries, don’t host dinners. Cancel.” In the UK, two weeks into a lockdown, the reproduction rate (R) remains a little above 1.

The US government has a particular issue, however: 167,000 cases were found yesterday – an 82 per cent rise on two weeks ago. Hospitals are treating more Covid-19 patients than ever before. But there is no strong centre able to direct and help the response. Joe Biden, the president-elect, remains marooned as a spectator. Meanwhile, the still-government in DC has attacked state governors introducing lockdowns.

Biden has criticised Donald Trump for this attitude. The caseload means that a large wave of deaths is already to be expected in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Trump is still refusing to acknowledge his impending job change: the government in Washington has not started the transition process. Given how fast the Biden team might need to oversee the roll-out of vaccines, this is potentially a very serious oversight.

The Bush-Obama handover happened in the grip of the financial crisis: Lehman Brothers collapsed two months before the election. In December 2008, well after the election, George W. Bush was having to issue executive orders to permit the US Treasury to make sweeping new interventions. But that was a very smooth transition involving two men who understood the gravity of the moment and made sure that people knew someone was taking responsibility.


New things technology, science, engineering

Another vaccine
Moderna has announced results for its coronavirus vaccine: 95 per cent effectiveness. That is a remarkable outcome. We are, as the UK’s deputy chief medical officer put it, two goals up in a penalty shoot-out. This vaccine is similar to the Pfizer vaccine in terms of how it works inside the body, but it requires quite different technology in production and distribution. This, too, is excellent news: it permits supply chain diversification. Hopefully, we will get a few options on all fronts.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

The Scottish play
Speaking to Tory MPs yesterday, Boris Johnson said devolution to Scotland had been a “disaster”. The idea that the problem with Scotland is too much self-determination is hard to swallow – and tone deaf. Next year, Scots are expected to return a majority of pro-secession members to its parliament, who will vote to hold a second referendum on leaving the United Kingdom. The UK may already have had its last general election with its current borders.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public policy

Transition
The NYT ($) runs a story today on a young Florida man with Down’s syndrome who completed an Ironman race – a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles on a bike, and then a marathon – in under 17 hours. Chris Nikic is 21 years old – and proof of how we are only now finding out what people with Down’s can do if they are given the care and support they need. It remains heartbreaking that in the 1940s the life expectancy of an American-born person with Down’s was 12 years. Closing the institutions and supporting families to care for their children means we now have a lot of people with the syndrome living into their 60s – something new to medical science.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

The future of the EU
Hungary and Poland have used their vetoes to halt the EU’s agreement of a €1.8 trillion package, including a €750 billion post-pandemic recovery package – because they dislike accompanying language on respecting the rule of law and European values. They remain problematic members: Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, has previously talked hypothetically about whether there is a future for the EU without these two members. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is expected to step in to negotiate them into line.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Fire testing
Another horrific detail has emerged from the Grenfell Tower inquiry: a former employee at Saint-Gobain, the company that made the flammable insulation strapped to the tower, admitted that the product failed some of its fire safety tests. It was not safe for use in some settings. But this fact was never released to the public because the law permits manufacturers to run these tests – which take place in government-licensed labs – in secret. If the products pass the tests, they can use the results to get stuff onto buildings. If they fail, they bury them. They only need to get lucky enough to pass once.

Stay safe, wash your hands.

Chris Cook
@xtophercook