This is going to be a long, hot summer that none of us is likely to forget any time soon. Coming into this year, we knew that societal tensions would be running high because 2020 is an election year. Many are convinced that this is the most important election in modern American history, and I expect for there to be some extremely shocking surprises as we draw closer to November. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to surge to new heights, and the restrictions that authorities have instituted to fight this pandemic have created a huge backlash.
So many people have such extreme emotions about COVID-19, and unfortunately it appears that this crisis is not going away any time soon. Of course the civil unrest that erupted in the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd took societal tensions to an entirely new level that we have never seen before. There was rioting, looting and violence all over the nation, and more chaos could literally break out at any moment.
So to say that our national mood is “fragile” right now would be a major understatement. I have never seen so much anger and frustration in this country in my entire lifetime, tens of millions of Americans have already lost their jobs, and a lot of people are not even able to pay their most basic bills at this point. In fact, one recent survey found that nearly a third of all Americans have not even made “their full housing payments for July”…
As the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues, almost one-third of U.S. households, 32%, have not made their full housing payments for July yet, according to a survey by Apartment List, an online rental platform.
And now, on top of everything else, here comes the heat.
On Sunday, high temperatures were above 100 degrees all over the western half of the country…
Heat alerts are in effect from California to Alabama as high temperatures will be 10-15 degrees above average on Sunday.
Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson will all see high temperatures of at least 110 degrees, and all three are likely to tie or break their daily record high temperatures. In Texas, cities including Dallas, San Antonio, and Lubbock will all exceed 100 degrees.
Unfortunately, Sunday is just the beginning. A “heat dome” has formed over the middle of the country, and that is likely to mean high temperatures of 90 degrees or greater for approximately 80 percent of the nation “for the next few weeks”…
A PERFECT STORM of crises is forming across the United States. Above our heads, a “heat dome” of high pressure could blast 80 percent of the continental US with temperatures over 90 degrees for the next few weeks. This coming in a summer when the Covid-19 lockdown has trapped people indoors, many without air-conditioning—and mass unemployment may mean that residents with AC units can’t afford to run them.
Needless to say, this is not coming at a good time. Crime rates are absolutely soaring and the streets of many of our major cities already resemble war zones.
And during these very hot summer months, many Americans will have to wait in exceedingly long lines for one reason or another. I have written numerous articles about the massive lines that we have seen at food banks around the country, and lines at COVID-19 testing sites have gotten extremely long as well…
Food banks in Vermont and Arizona have miles-long queues of cars. At testing sites in Florida, motorists show up with full gas tanks to keep air conditioning pumping all day. Travel to Europe is off, with America waiting behind other nations to re-enter someday. Even the electronic realm is tied up: Amid 11% unemployment, people applying for benefits report frozen computer screens and abrupt phone disconnections. Sometimes, the reward waiting at the end is simply a chance to try again tomorrow.
I couldn’t imagine waiting “all day” to get tested for COVID-19, but apparently there are a lot of people that are so desperate to get tested that they are willing to do this.
On top of everything else, a wide variety of products are becoming increasingly scarce at our local grocery stores.
This isn’t a major national crisis yet, but you may have noticed that your local grocery store is having a much more difficult time keeping certain products in stock than usual. This is happening because COVID-19 and the accompanying economic slowdown have created serious problems for many key supply chains.
Tony Koretz is the host of “A Minute To Midnite”, and he is also a really good guy that I know personally. Just a few days ago he received an email from “a supply chain analyst for a large grocery chain”, and what this supply chain analyst had to share was extremely chilling. The following is a short excerpt from that email…
— the meeting of store demand — which is a proxy for actual consumer demand — from company-owned central warehouses has steadily declined over the last 4 months; from a 98% pre-COVID fulfillment rate to 58% as of yesterday. Key point: STEADY decline; yes some blips upward from time to time, but overall steady decline to be sure
— what this impacts is the presentation on the shelves; for example: do we have some or no toilet paper, tomato paste, rice and noodles, etc., etc.; you will also see new and unknown brands coming in to substitute for a product, but that is only going to be a temporary stop-gap as these are from 2nd and 3rd tier vendors who may not carry as much clout in getting their own raw-material supply chains filled…these too will dry up and go away over the next 3-6 months (not to mention the effect of absenteeism in their own ranks, leading to an inability to produce said 2nd/3rd tier products)…
— there is also a trend to see less variations on products; for example, we only have 3 variations on tomato paste to put on shelves as-opposed to the 15 we had pre-COVID
— to the folks in the industry, this is known as the presentation and the service level at the shelf in the store; service levels on some harder-hit commodities are near 10% at-best, averaging in the 70% level on an aggregate across all stores/commodities when you carve-out bath tissue, paper towels, baby wipes, disinfectant wipes; comparatively during pre-COVID service levels were in the very high 90’s for all products (sans SEASONAL)…
— Additional contributing factors: in addition to waning vendor fulfilment, we are also seeing more-and-more absenteeism in our warehouses due to COVID cases, fear, exhaustion.
You can read the rest of the email right here. Of course none of this information should surprise us, because it is obvious that grocery stores are having a very difficult time keeping their shelves stocked. But getting this sort of inside information does help us to understand exactly why it is happening.
If you are anticipating that the end of this year and the beginning of next year will be chaotic, the next couple of months will be your best chance to get stocked up.
My suggestion would be to take advantage of this window of opportunity while we have it.
America has entered a time of great upheaval, and much of the country is simply not going to be able to handle the major national nightmares that are ahead of us.
Despite one of the US military’s greatest fiascoes, American troops are still in Somalia fighting an endless war
Thirty years after the Battle of Mogadishu, the US continues waging war in Somalia, with little public knowledge, scrutiny or constructive results.
Nearly 30 years after the infamous Battle of Mogadishu, the U.S. military is still conducting operations in Somalia.
Popularized in the U.S. by the 2001 film “Black Hawk Down,” the Battle of Mogadishu occurred on Oct. 3, 1993, and saw the downing of two U.S. helicopters and the deaths of 18 American soldiers. Some of their bodies were dragged along city streets by Somali militants.
The battle was considered one of the worst fiascoes in U.S. military history.
Since then, the U.S has waged economic and military warfare in Somalia to first eliminate the Union of Islamic Courts, a grassroots legal and political group, and most recently to attack the militant group al-Shabaab. There have been at least 282 U.S. counterterrorism operations in Somalia, including drone strikes and other aerial bombardments.
But its my belief as a scholar of contemporary U.S.-Somali relations that the U.S. efforts to develop political stability and eliminate terrorism has achieved the very opposite and not brought an end to political violence in the war-torn country.
In fact, al-Shabaab is still waging one of the largest and deadliest insurgencies in the world.
To meet the latest threat, President Joe Biden has increased military assaults in Somalia that target al-Shabaab insurgents, conducting dozens of airstrikes so far in 2023. In May 2022, Biden also agreed to send about 500 U.S. troops to Somalia.
But the question remains: Why are U.S. forces still intervening in Somalia?
The cost of US involvement in Somalia
Between 2007 and 2020, the U.S. spent at least US$2.5 billion on counterterrorism operations in Somalia, according to Costs of War, a 2023 Brown University study. This amount was largely spent by the U.S. Department of State and does not include the unknown expenditures of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Defense Department.
For comparison, between 2001 and 2022 the U.S. spent approximately $2.3 trillion, or nearly 1,000 times more, on “counterterrorism” wars in Afghanistan.
The U.S. spends time and money training the Somali National Army, assisting in surveillance and drone strike operations. Many of their activities are not publicly traceable. According to one U.S. congressional staffer who wished to remain anonymous, “even the U.S. government’s own officials do not know the total amount that has, and continues to be, spent on counterterrorism in Somalia.”
Understanding the crisis in Somalia
Located in East Africa on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Decades of civil war coupled with extreme droughts have caused the roughly 17 million people to exist in dire living conditions.
In 2022, about 43,000 people died from drought, while more than one million have been displaced so far just in 2023 by drought, famine and ongoing violent attacks. The nexus of climate chaos and political violence poses significant challenges for the Somali government. And yet, the counterterrorism and climate policies enacted by the Somali government continually exacerbate these problems.
In 2005, under the Bush administration, the CIA backed an unpopular and violent attempt to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts. The group comprised about a dozen local Islamic courts in southern Somalia that solved social disputes, reopened schools and ended roadblocks erected by violent warlords.
The Union of Islamic Courts was generally popular among the Somali people living within their jurisdiction and seen by many residents as a welcomed alternative to the prior decade of civil war that decimated the region.
The US global war on terrorism
In the post-9/11 era, U.S. government officials were wary of an Islamic government coming to power in Somalia and were fearful of the Union of Islamic Courts. When the CIA’s effort failed to topple the group, the U.S. government then backed an Ethiopian military invasion of Somalia in late 2006.
During this brutal two-year invasion, many members of the Union of Islamic Courts were killed or chased out of Mogadishu, and a small group of youth began a recruitment campaign using the slogan “al-Shabaab,” or “the youth” in Arabic.
In my view, this U.S.-supported Ethiopian invasion was largely responsible for creating the conditions of political uncertainty and violence that prevail today.
Al-Shabaab portrayed the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion in religious and nationalist terms and painted the U.S. and Ethiopia as Christian invaders of a Muslim country.
After two years of war, Ethiopia withdrew its troops, claiming their mission to rid the extremist threat was accomplished.
This assertion proved to be false, as al-Shabaab insurgents recaptured nearly all territory lost by the UIC.
Time for a US reckoning on Somalia?
The economic harm and social devastation caused by the U.S. government is extensive, and there is little reason to believe the U.S. approach to Somalia will change in the near future.
On Sept. 6, 2023, for instance, the U.S. military reportedly provided “remote assistance” to an aerial strike operation conducted by the Somali government that killed five civilians.
Besides devastating the families left behind in the wake of violence, the lack of transparency and accountability has created an enduring tragedy for the Somali victims of the U.S.’s covert activities.
The U.S. role in Somalia does not absolve al-Shabaab of its crimes, as the militant group continues to recruit from socially and economically disenfranchised communities in Somalia. Among those crimes are bombings of civilian targets throughout Africa and the Middle East, resulting in hundreds of deaths.
But in my view, a demand for reparations from the Somali government before an international tribunal may force a U.S. reckoning on its global war against terrorism that nevertheless still rages on in Somalia.
Jason C. Mueller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.army extremist africa
Why are some Chinese women still looking to the West for love?
Their desire to pursue marriage abroad not only reveals their longing for a better life but also reveals the pervasive gender, age and class inequalities…
Robert, an American truck driver in his 50s, lived in a trailer park in the Deep South. After divorcing his wife, who had cheated on him, he joined an online dating agency that connected Western men with Chinese women through translator-assisted email exchanges.
Robert told me he had become frustrated with American women, whom he felt were overly materialistic and had lost their “traditional family values.” (To protect the identities of my interviewees, I’ve used pseudonyms.) Yet Robert could barely afford to travel to China to meet the women with whom he exchanged emails. To save up, he often ate just a few dumplings for dinner, sometimes skipping the meal altogether.
Across the ocean, several Chinese women had gathered at their local dating agency, waiting to speak with their translator. Among them was Ruby, a former businesswoman in her mid-40s who had received a generous divorce settlement from her wealthy Chinese ex-husband and had retired in leisure. Next to Ruby stood another divorcee in her 40s, Daisy, who struggled to make ends meet as a department store sales clerk.
Despite their immense class differences, both women shared the same hope of marrying a Western man and moving abroad.
Commercial dating agencies like the one described here facilitate email exchanges and marriages between women from developing countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, China or Colombia, and men from economically advanced Western countries, such as the U.S., U.K., Canada or Australia. It’s a US$2 billion global business. From 2008 to 2019, I conducted research for my book “Seeking Western Men: Email-Order Brides under China’s Global Rise” at three international dating agencies in China, interviewing 61 Chinese female clients.
I wanted to know why, despite China’s meteoric economic and cultural rise, so many women – especially those who were financially well-off – were still looking to the West for love and companionship.
Options narrow with age
Despite China’s staggering male-female gender imbalance – where single men outnumber women by more than 30 million – middle-aged divorced women still face significant struggles.
There’s the stereotypical Western media representation of “mail-order brides” – young women who marry older Western men to escape poverty. This dynamic persists. But contrary to this stereotype, the majority of women enrolled at the dating agencies where I conducted research were middle-aged and divorced.
None of them felt coerced, and they cited age discrimination in China as their No. 1 reason for seeking Western men.
As Ruby confided, “Here, rich men want a young girl who is 20 to show off.”
Although it’s no secret that divorced or widowed men in many countries remarry younger women, the pressure to do so is particularly acute in China, where women as young as 27 years old are stigmatized as “leftover.”
Adding to the complexity, women with children from previous marriages – especially those with sons instead of daughters – face even more challenges in the local marriage market. Chinese women attribute this to societal norms that expect young men to own a home or have made a down payment before tying the knot. This means that parents are expected to financially assist their sons with mortgages, and many single men don’t want to assume this financial responsibility when marrying a woman with a son.
Infidelity also ranks among the top concerns for women, in large part due to the country’s post-1978 economic reforms, which spawned a new capitalist upper class. Many newly wealthy men – even those who were already married – started seeking younger, more sexualized women.
Ruby told me that her affluent ex-husband, who had a number of extramarital affairs, once quipped that “men are like teapots, each teapot should be matched with multiple teacups.”
It wasn’t just China’s newly wealthy class of men who started seeking romance outside of their marriages. Women told me of husbands who had lost their jobs and then turned to drinking, gambling and infidelity to cope with their newfound financial struggles.
While many female clients sought Western men as a tonic against Chinese men’s infidelity, this was hardly a concern for women who were mistresses to wealthy businessmen.
One former mistress, Jennifer, said, “I believe in patriarchy.” She preferred the company of rich men with multiple partners over faithful but less prosperous men.
As these mistresses aged, however, their wealthy paramours abandoned them for younger women. But they were unwilling to settle for lower-status, less successful men in China. After years of being out of the workforce, their lavish consumption habits were at odds with their weakened labor market prospects.
As a result, they turned to marriage migration as an option for escape.
Spurned by the service sector
Meanwhile, my interviews with sales clerks and nannies shed light on the challenges faced by middle-aged women without college degrees. Many of them had been laid off from state-owned factories in the 1990s, when over 30 million workers lost their jobs.
These women struggled to find new work in China’s service sector, which prioritizes hiring young, good-looking women. Daisy, a 43-year-old, felt fortunate to have secured a job at a luxury department store, but she feared for her future job prospects.
Meanwhile, less attractive women often had to work in less desirable positions: as nannies helping mothers take care of newborns, or street vendors who earned less than $5 per day. Without access to health insurance, retirement benefits or other social safety net programs, many of these women were desperate to leave China.
Finally, many struggling single mothers marry Western men so their children can study overseas.
Some of them want their children to escape China’s exam-driven education system that can burden students with excessive schoolwork and no playtime. Others feel that the Chinese job market favors social connections over qualification.
Joanne, a retail manager with dreams of sending her teenage son to the U.S. for college, pointed out, “Unlike in the U.S., a lot of good jobs in China depend on ‘hou tai’” – the Chinese term for “social background” or “lineage.”
“Having a degree is not enough,” she added.
Mixed marriage experiences
Interestingly, of the 30 women in my study who were financially secure, only 12 ended up marrying Western men. By comparison, 26 of the 31 financially struggling women married and moved abroad.
This is because many financially secure women were used to dating wealthy Chinese businessmen and politicians, so they often rejected their working-class Western suitors. After meeting these men face to face, they realized that they lacked the refined taste, lifestyle and sexual experience of their Chinese lovers.
By contrast, the financially struggling women held a different perspective. Daisy, who married a French mechanic, eventually grew to appreciate her husband for being kind and caring to her, even though she was not initially attracted to him and called him “foolish and clumsy, like someone from the peasant class.”
Moreover, Daisy valued the opportunity to work as a waitress and earn $1,500 per month, which enabled her to send some money home to her daughter in China.
Likewise, Robert, the truck driver, eventually found love with a Chinese woman. She moved into his trailer and worked as a masseuse on the side to send money back to her sons in China.
While some brides felt content in their new marriages, others suffered. For example, Joanne found herself in a toxic relationship with a controlling American man. Yet she stayed with her husband because her older age, limited English skills and her son’s need for financial support as a college student in the U.S. left her with few other options.
As Joanne’s experience shows, given the gender, age and class inequalities that continue to plague modern-day China, single Chinese women can find themselves choosing between a rock and a hard place.
Monica Liu does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.canada russia ukraine china
China’s WeChat is all-encompassing but low-key − a Chinese media scholar explains the Taoist philosophy behind the everything app’s design
The design philosophy of the everything app WeChat may seem paradoxical, being simultaneously pervasive and inconspicuous. But this idea of “everythingness”…
Elon Musk’s vision of Twitter, now rebranded as X, as an “everything app” is no secret. When the X logo replaced Twitter’s blue bird, the internet buzzed with heated discussions about just what it would mean for X to be an everything app.
Musk promoted his super app project by referring to the Chinese all-in-one app WeChat. But for many American users unfamiliar with WeChat, a train of questions followed. What’s it like to use WeChat? How has WeChat become “everything” in China? Would it be possible to replicate the app’s success in the U.S.?
I’m a Chinese digital media scholar, and I’ve used WeChat since 2012. But, in contrast to Musk’s enthusiasm, I don’t think WeChat is something to write home about. I believe it’s ordinary rather than special, lacking distinctive features compared with the other popular apps I studied for my current book project about Chinese touchscreen media.
WeChat’s inconspicuousness on my phone screen is no accident. Although WeChat is an everything app in the sense of being a digital hub for over a billion users, the app’s design is intentionally grounded in a more nuanced and philosophical meaning of the word “everything” than you might expect.
WeChat is an all-inclusive media ecosystem
Launched in 2011, WeChat has become an all-in-one app that offers services covering most aspects of everyday life, from instant messaging and mobile payments to photo- and video-sharing social networking. It has become a staple of daily activities for 1.3 billion Chinese mobile users.
WeChat is also the app that China-bound travelers can download if they want to install only one app. WeChat can help you fill out customs declaration forms, call a taxi, pay for your hotel room and order food. Without WeChat, a traveler in China would be like a fish out of water, since everything in China now runs through smartphone screens and mobile payment platforms.
In this sense, WeChat is indeed an everything app. Its “everythingness” refers to its near omnipresence and omnipotence in everyday life. The app creates an all-encompassing and ever-expanding media ecosystem that influences users’ daily activities. It forms a gigantic digital hub that, as German philosopher and media theorist Peter Sloterdijk once described, “has drawn inwards everything that was once on the outside.”
This “everythingness” leaves little room for rival companies to achieve similar dominance and turns every tap or swipe on a user’s smartphone into something a big tech company can profit from. This dream of an internet empire is perhaps what is so enticing for tech leaders like Musk.
A counterintuitive design philosophy
Despite WeChat’s status as an everything app, it’s one of the least notable and attractive apps on my smartphone. WeChat rarely changes its logo to celebrate holidays or sends admin notifications to users. The app forms a relatively closed social space, since WeChat users can see only what their contacts post, unlike apps like Weibo or TikTok, where celebrities amass millions of followers.
But the lack of flashy, attention-grabbing features is actually one of WeChat’s intentional design philosophies, as WeChat’s founder and chief developer Allen Xiaolong Zhang made clear in his annual public speeches in 2019 and 2020. Zhang emphasized that one of WeChat’s design principles is to “get users out of the app as fast as possible,” meaning to reduce the amount of time users spend in WeChat.
This might seem paradoxical – if WeChat is trying to get its users to leave the app as fast as possible, how can it maintain its internet empire? Typically an app’s popularity is assessed based on how long users spend in the app, and users’ attention is the scarce resource various digital platforms fight for.
But Zhang claims that in order to sustain users’ daily engagement with the app in the long run, it’s important to let them leave the app as fast as possible. A low demand for time and effort is key to bringing users back into the app without exhausting them.
A Taoist message behind WeChat’s design
The design of WeChat miniprograms makes Zhang’s idea clear. Miniprograms are embedded into WeChat as third-party developed sub-applications, and they provide users with easy access to a large range of services – like hailing a taxi, ordering food, buying train tickets and playing games – without leaving WeChat. Users can simply search in the app or scan a QR code to open a miniprogram, skipping the cumbersome processes of installing and uninstalling new apps.
Miniprograms are stored in a hidden panel at the top of the screen. They can be opened by swiping down the screen. These miniprograms appear to be ephemeral, diffusive and almost atmospheric. They give users the feeling that WeChat has disappeared or merged into the environment.
WeChat is what media scholars call “elemental”: inconspicuous and nonintrusive, yet pervasive and as fundamental as the natural elements, just like air, water and clouds.
This environment of pervasiveness and unobtrusiveness resonates with the ancient Chinese Taoist philosophy that understands nothing (wu 无, or “not-being”) as that which forms the basis of all things (wanwu 万物 or “ten thousand things”). As Tao Te Ching states, “Dao begets One (or nothingness), One begets Two (yin and yang), Two begets Three (Heaven, Earth and Man; or yin, yang and breath qi), Three begets all things.” For Taoist thinkers, not-being determines how all things within the cosmos come into being, evolve and disappear.
Although the depth of these sagely texts is unfathomable, the Taoist thoughts from the past help people appreciate the interplay of everything and nothing. This perspective adds another layer of meaning to “everything” and opens up alternative visions of what an everything app can be.
Perhaps WeChat’s interpretation of the word “everything” – as simultaneously pervasive and inconspicuous – is the secret to its success over the past 10 years. I believe many tech leaders could benefit from a more sophisticated understanding of “everything” when envisioning the everything app, and not just equate “everything” simply with big and comprehensive.
Jianqing Chen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.china
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