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No, Mr. Putin, liberalism is not dead
Когда рак на горе свистнет.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin recently stated that liberalism has "outlived its purpose."
- Research suggests, however, that liberal ideals — among them, democracy, individual agency, and economic freedom — are not only on the rise but improve the wellbeing of people living in countries that support them.
- Recent challenges to liberalism are serious but have not overpowered the liberal tradition.
During an interview with the Financial Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed liberalism dead:
"What is the reason for the Trump phenomenon, as you said in the United States? What is happening in Europe as well? The ruling elites have broken away from the people. There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable."
He later doubled-down, saying that liberals "cannot simply dictate anything to anyone" and liberalism "presupposes that nothing needs to be done."
A gander at recent headlines may suggest Putin has read liberalism's fate correctly: white supremacists and nationalists marching in the streets; Europe's upsurge of support for populists parties; and President Donald Trump touting military might at a Fourth of July parade that critics said reeked of rinky-dink Soviet propaganda. It can certainly seem like we are living in a strange dream.
While these recent trends are disturbing, and offer a challenge to liberal ideals, the data shows that liberalism remains alive and well in the world today.
Not your American-style liberalism
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump shake hands at the 2017 G-20 Summit, Hamburg. (Photo: The Kremlin/Wikimedia Commons)
First, let's clarify what we mean by "liberalism." For Americans, the term has drifted to become a catchall for political ideologies that lean left (and an epithet for those who lean right).
This is how President Trump understood it when asked about Putin's comments: "I guess you look at what's happening in Los Angeles, where it's so sad to look, and what's happening in San Francisco, and a couple other cities which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people, I don't know what they're thinking but [Putin] does see things that are happening in the United States that would probably preclude him from saying how wonderful it is."
To be fair to Trump, "liberalism" is a slippery term spread out across an expansive historical lineage — and that's before we start qualifying it with prefixes (e.g., neoliberalism) and adjectives (cultural, social, classical, and muscular liberalism). But Putin meant "liberalism" in its more traditional and European sense.
For our purposes, we can hew the term to mean an ideology that puts primacy on individual rights and human agency. Under liberalism, all people should be free to pursue their dreams, be able to compete in an open market, and be allowed to decide for themselves — all offered with equal opportunity under the law and free of government coercion.
In other words, liberalism provides the foundation of modern liberal democracies that stand in opposition to Putin's own ideology, an old Soviet-era belief in the primacy of the state and the nobility found in sacrificing individuality for its glory. (Dulce et decorum est pro Putin mori, as it were.)
As Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist, whose book The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia won the 2017 National Book Award, reminds us:
"Putin is a bloody dictator who jails and kills his opponents and has waged several illegal wars to the tune of hundreds of thousands of lives [and] has presided over the near complete destruction of [the Russian] public sphere."
A graph showing the number of democracies and autocracies in the world over time. Image source: Our World in Data
Putin may ardently wish for liberalism's death, but the facts of history aren't on his side.
In an article disputing Putin, Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator for the Financial Times, combined the World Bank's measure of "voice and accountability" in governance and the Heritage Foundation's "index of economic freedom." He found that liberal societies perform better economically than repressive ones. Furthermore, post-communist states that have transitioned into liberal democracy — such as Poland, Romania, and Lithuania — have all economically outpaced Putin's Russia.
"Mr. Putin's posturing on the world stage is a way of turning the attention of the Russian people away from his regime's corruption and its failure to give them a better life," Wolf writes.
It isn't just by economic success by which we can measure liberalism's success. We can measure the number of countries that have made the transition into liberal democracies.
Starting in the 20th century, worldwide autocracies began to dwindle in tandem with democratic growth. According to the Varieties of Democracy Project, by 2001, the world held a roughly even number of both. Ever since, democracies have outnumbered autocracies, while the latter continue to lose ground.
Of course, political anocracies don't fall neatly in the democratic vs. autocratic binary, leading to some differentiation in absolute numbers. But the trend lines remain consistent: countries are becoming more democratic than autocratic.
Why? Because by almost any measure of human happiness, liberal democracies provide better for their citizens. They are less corrupt than other forms of governance. They score significantly higher on metrics looking at happiness, life satisfaction, human development, and protecting human rights. And though public perception in the U.S. is that violence is at an all-time high, the opposite is true. Rates of homicide in Europe are at historic lows, and the United States has seen its homicide rate fall sharply in the last quarter century.
Can liberalism meet the challenges ahead?
Putin's claim of liberalism's death isn't an analysis off the world stage based on data and well-reasoned argument. It's old-school agitprop courtesy an international troll. Liberalism is not only alive but making the lives for billions of people better the world over.
Of course, to say liberalism is alive and well is not to say that it does not face challenges. It does, and it always has.
Some originate from Putin himself. The Muller Report found the Kremlin exploited security gaps in the United States' election security to mount an online campaign in support of populist Donald Trump. Russian agencies have used similar tactics in European campaigns, in addition to providing European populists with loans.
"The goal here is bigger than any one election," Daniel Jones, a former FBI analyst, told the New York Times. "It is to constantly divide, increase distrust and undermine our faith in institutions and democracy itself. They're working to destroy everything that was built post-World War II."
But as Masha Gessen reminds us, Putin isn't some Bond villain (though he styles himself as one). Any influence he achieved over American and European elections originated with discontent and disinformation already metastasizing within liberal countries.
"Russian attempts to sow discord — first of all, they're predictable. Second of all, they're ridiculous," Gessen told The Atlantic. "They've been doing pretty much the same thing for at least 50 years. American political reality has moved a lot closer to the Russian perception — what used to be a really distorted perception, it used to be a total caricature — which I think is a little disturbing."
This discontent centers on issues as complex as immigration, economic equity, social mobility, and political polarization. In response, conservatives have sacrificed their liberal heritage in favor of strongman populists and promises of returning to a halcyon, if ill-defined, past. On the left, progressives have grown to mistrust the liberal experiment, having seen its boons disseminated unevenly or, in some cases, entirely pass over those who have been historically disenfranchised.
But as Martin Wolf reminds us, liberalism is not a "Utopian project." It is a "work in perpetual progress" that "requires constant adaption and adjustment." Such progress requires good data, an honest assessment of the problem, a willingness for political compromise, and an understanding that a perfect solution is the enemy of a good one.
In other words, the opinion of a wannabe-SPECTRE autocrat may not be the one we should listen to.
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The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2021.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
- One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.
How to deal with "epistemic exhaustion."