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An Account of the Geopolitics of Pandemics, Reviewed – The New Yorker

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Wars migrations and environmental factors were driving a resurgence of infectious disease even before COVID19 appeared.
Wars, migrations, and environmental factors were driving a resurgence of infectious disease even before COVID-19 appeared.Illustration by Anson Chan

“Just a few years ago, many of us in the global health policy community were thrilled at the prospect of eliminating catastrophic infectious and tropical diseases,” Peter Hotez writes in his new book, “Preventing the Next Pandemic” (Johns Hopkins). He dates this high point of optimism to the start of 2015, when the success of vaccination campaigns had become dramatically evident. Polio, once endemic in more than a hundred countries, had been limited to three—Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Measles deaths were down by eighty per cent, from half a million children worldwide in 2000 to a fifth of that number. Vaccination campaigns achieved similar reductions in mortality with diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, and a type of bacterial meningitis.

As the world nervously watches the rollout of the various COVID-19 vaccines and surveys the human and economic cost of the pandemic, this period of optimism is hard to imagine. Yet Hotez, a pediatrician and a specialist in tropical infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine who co-directs a vaccine-development center at the Texas Children’s Hospital, shows that pandemics had been rebounding well before the first COVID-19 cases emerged in Wuhan. His book draws lessons from the field of tropical infectious diseases, and also from his international work as a science envoy—a position created jointly by the State Department and the White House—during Barack Obama’s Presidency. Hotez is perhaps uniquely positioned to expound a broad vision that marries science with geopolitics. (In the past year, he has been a prominent TV expert on the pandemic.) We learn not only about familiar scourges such as polio and diphtheria but also about a host of so-called neglected tropical diseases, including dengue, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, and Chagas. He melds an account of their biology with documentation of the social and political factors that enable them to spread, and passionately insists that we cannot prevent pandemics in isolation from wider global currents. He identifies a cluster of non-medical drivers of deadly outbreaks—war, political instability, human migration, poverty, urbanization, anti-science and nationalist sentiment, and climate change—and maintains that advances in biomedicine must be accompanied by concerted action on these geopolitical matters.

The message comes at a time when the Biden Administration has done much both to stem the pandemic in the United States and to reverse the deleterious approach of the Trump White House. Biden has facilitated widespread distribution of vaccines, recently announcing that all adult Americans would be eligible for shots by the beginning of May, and he has instituted public-health measures, such as mandatory masks on trains and planes, that should have been in place a year ago. He has reaffirmed U.S. membership in the World Health Organization, appointing Anthony Fauci as the head delegate. And the Administration has withdrawn numerous budget-cut requests that Trump sent to Congress, including one that would have cancelled four billion dollars of funding for Gavi, a public-private partnership that provides vaccinations in low-income countries.

As welcome as all this is, any hope of containing future outbreaks will require tackling deeply rooted global problems. President Biden’s belief in the power of revitalized American diplomacy will be tested not only in such areas as trade agreements and nuclear-arms control but also in the fight against epidemics that occur far from American soil.

War and Pestilence ride together as two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and there is no shortage of historical precedent to demonstrate the aptness of the allegory. The great influenza pandemic that began in 1918 was propelled, in part, by troop movements and population shifts at the end of the First World War. Both the First and the Second World Wars produced typhus epidemics. Armed conflicts cause malnutrition, poor pest control, and sanitation problems; even the soil often becomes contaminated. Medical facilities are destroyed; doctors and nurses, diverted to combat duty, are unable to provide care, and vaccination and other mass-treatment programs usually falter.

The first two decades of this century have furnished many fresh examples. The ongoing conflict in Yemen has produced the largest cholera outbreak in history, which has infected two and a half million people since it began, in 2016. Wars in Syria and Iraq led to a resurgence of measles and polio. The collapse of insect-control programs sparked the spread of cutaneous leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that results in disfiguring skin ulcers. Known as “Baghdad boil” or “Aleppo evil,” it is transmitted through the bite of blood-feeding sand flies, which flourish in uncollected garbage. By 2016, the destruction of infrastructure in conflict zones had brought about a tenfold increase in such cases in Syria, some two hundred and seventy thousand a year, with another hundred thousand a year recorded in Iraq.

Hotez writes that wars in the Middle East have made the region “a new global hot zone of emerging and neglected tropical diseases.” The news elsewhere is scarcely better. During conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan, measles returned, along with kala-azar, another type of leishmaniasis, which attacks internal organs and is frequently fatal. The 2018 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo left more than two thousand dead. In northeastern Nigeria, attacks by Boko Haram have destroyed as much as three-quarters of the infrastructure required for vaccinations, and there has been a corresponding rise in cases of polio, measles, whooping cough, bacterial meningitis, and yellow fever. A 2019 study cited by Hotez found that a child born within six miles of the conflict zone is half as likely to receive any vaccine as other Nigerian children.

Even in the absence of war, political instability can produce comparable results. Hotez discusses Venezuela, which, under Nicolás Maduro, has suffered a level of economic collapse and social chaos that has led to the unravelling of the country’s health-care system. Measles had been eradicated, but it reëmerged in 2017. As public-hygiene infrastructure has deteriorated, there has been a spread of schistosomiasis, a disease transmitted by freshwater snails and typically contracted when people bathe or wash laundry in infested rivers. (The snails are vectors for a microscopic parasite whose eggs end up in the liver and gut, causing inflammation and tissue damage.) A breakdown in pest-control measures fuelled a rise in mosquito-borne illnesses, including the Zika virus, chikungunya, and dengue. Of course, once infectious diseases take hold in one country they easily spread to others. A diphtheria outbreak in Venezuela’s illegal mining camps crossed the border into Brazil. A flareup of dengue recently reported on the Portuguese island of Madeira, off the coast of Africa, may well have originated in Venezuela.

It is estimated that ten per cent of Venezuela’s population—more than three million people—has emigrated, joining the ranks of the world’s refugees. In war-torn countries, people flee at even greater rates, whether within the country or outside it. As Hotez points out, refugees often lack adequate food and shelter, as well as access to health care. In makeshift camps, malnutrition, crowding, and lack of vaccination or medical care increase exposure to insects and microbes. Sexual violence spreads viruses like H.I.V.

As refugees from African and Middle Eastern wars have fled to Europe, diseases long thought eliminated have begun reappearing: chikungunya and dengue have surfaced in Italy, Spain, and Portugal; malaria in Greece and Italy. The island of Corsica has experienced its first-ever cases of schistosomiasis. Hotez is rightly careful not to attribute these infections strictly to the migration of refugees, noting that warming temperatures in Southern Europe, owing to climate change, and recessions in Italy and Greece may also be factors. Another factor is that refugees tend to flee to urban areas: in Syria, thousands have crowded into slums in Aleppo; in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa has become a major hub.

Migration aside, dense urbanization leads to the spread of infectious disease, too, because burgeoning populations quickly outstrip sanitation infrastructure. The coming decade, Hotez writes, will witness “the unprecedented creation of new megacities,” heavily populated urban centers with at least ten million inhabitants. Some forty megacities are predicted to emerge by 2030, many of them in low-income nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Hotez paints an alarming picture of megacities incapable of providing safe water and adequate sanitation, leading to typhoid fever and cholera, as well as leptospirosis, which festers in the kidneys of urban rats and dogs and can be passed to people through contaminated drinking water.

To complete this dystopian vision, Hotez highlights how climate change will further inflame contagious disease. Unprecedented heat waves in the Middle East have produced droughts that create food insecurity and fierce competition for water supplies, driving rural populations to already overcrowded urban centers. Warming temperatures also shift insect ecosystems. West Nile virus is now common in Southern Europe. Mosquito-transmitted viruses have swept across South and Central America into the Caribbean and then into Texas and Florida. Hotez cites a recent study, led by the epidemiologist Simon Hay, which predicts that by 2050 dengue infections will have made further inroads into the United States.

Most of Hotez’s infection-boosting factors have clear physical manifestations. The exception, “anti-science and nationalism,” is in many ways the most exasperating. How can it be that we are threatened not only by insects and filth and the frailties of our own bodies but also by something as intangible as our beliefs? For Hotez, the rise of anti-science ideology—most particularly, the anti-vaccine movement—is highly personal. His previous book centered on his daughter Rachel, now in her twenties, and bore the title “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism” (2018). He now updates us on the results of his efforts to dispel claims that vaccines cause autism-spectrum disorders. Noting that these claims were producing “steep declines in the numbers of kids vaccinated,” he attempted to publicize the “massive evidence refuting any link, or even plausibility, given what we have learned about the genetics, natural history, and developmental pathways of autism.” For his pains, he was pursued online by anti-vaxxers who propagate specious accusations that he personally profited from vaccines.

Hotez observes that there are some five hundred Web sites spreading anti-vaccine misinformation, whose assertions are further disseminated on social media and on e-commerce platforms. “The largest e-commerce platform of them all, Amazon, is now the most active promoter of fake anti-vaccine books,” he writes. “Go to Amazon books, click on ‘Health, Fitness, and Dieting’ on the scroll down menu at the left, and then click on ‘Vaccinations’ to see how legitimate books on vaccines are pushed behind by the fake ones.” He finds that the online sensorium is so clogged with misinformation that it is now hard for concerned parents to find trustworthy data: “Serious and meaningful information regarding this topic resembles a lost message in a bottle floating aimlessly in the Atlantic Ocean.” Action is urgently needed; measles cases are spiking in Europe, and the W.H.O. has identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the world’s most urgent health issues.

Hotez goes on to survey the political power of the anti-vaccine camp. In the United States and Europe, anti-vaxxers have joined forces with populist and libertarian movements, and American groups aligned with the Tea Party invoke “medical freedom,” “health freedom,” or “choice” to justify withholding vaccines from children. Anti-vaxxer political-action committees lobby state legislatures to allow parents to opt out of school vaccine requirements. Under the Trump Administration, more than eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars in loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program went to five major anti-vaccine groups—including such deceptively named entities as the National Vaccine Information Center and Children’s Health Defense. In January, when COVID-19 vaccines were being administered at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, far-right and anti-vaxxer groups blocked the entrance to the site, forcing the police to temporarily shut it down.

Hotez examines how this obscurantist ideology circulates, and offers three case studies. Starting in around 2008, the Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis was offered “town hall meetings” touting the vaccine-autism link, and by 2017 the same community was in the throes of a measles outbreak. In 2019, the Orthodox Jewish community in New York was treated to ads with “fake Holocaust imagery, including yellow stars, to compare vaccines to the Holocaust.” The result was “one of America’s worst measles epidemics in decades.” The third target was the African-American community in Harlem, which received propaganda in which vaccines were compared to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study. Probing the motivation of the groups that spread such lies, Hotez follows the money and concludes that the perpetrators are often just “monetizing the Internet by selling phony autism therapies (including bleach enemas) and nutritional supplements, fake books, or advertising.”

His suggested remedy is to pressure social-media and e-commerce sites to take down misleading content. This is already happening, to some extent. In December, Facebook at last banned misinformation about the COVID vaccines—a rule that was expanded, in February, to cover vaccines of any kind—and it has since suspended groups like the National Vaccine Information Center and Stop Mandatory Vaccination. Nonetheless, anti-vaccine accounts on social media continue to flourish, having gained more than ten million new followers since 2019.

Hotez admits that there is no easy way to put “the anti-vaccine genie back in the bottle,” but feels that scientists must “fight back through public engagement.” Two other recent books suggest alternative avenues. In “Viral BS” (Johns Hopkins), Seema Yasmin, a public-health specialist at Stanford, frames the dilemma as one integral to tribal identity. “False beliefs are very much a social and cultural phenomenon,” she writes. “Shared beliefs are the glue of community; they confirm our place, our membership, and belonging. And because belonging is deeply important to humans, beliefs can feel like life or death.” She uses the metaphor of vaccinating society against disinformation—“preemptively exposing people to weakened rumors so that they build up mental immunity against attempts to deceive them.” She terms this tactic “prebunking,” but it’s not entirely clear what this would entail in practice. One possibility is described in “Think Again” (Viking), by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton. In a chapter about “vaccine whisperers” in Quebec, he details a nonjudgmental approach based on open-ended questioning. Presenting categorical scientific information typically only hardens resistance, so the whisperers don’t aim to persuade, exactly, but rather to encourage anti-vaxxer parents to see changing their minds as a journey of “self-discovery,” and something that affirms their agency. Grant reports that promising results have led Quebec to fund implementation of this one-on-one approach in neonatal units.

Early in his book, Hotez pays tribute to his “role model,” the American virologist Albert Sabin, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who, in the mid-nineteen-fifties, forged a partnership with Soviet scientists to test an oral vaccine for polio. Sabin had developed a vaccine based on live polio strains, but was unable to test it in the United States, where much of the population had already received an intramuscular vaccine. Beginning in 1959, the oral version was given to some hundred million children and young adults in the Soviet bloc, and the results were so encouraging that the United States tested and approved the new vaccine in the early sixties. For Hotez, this collaboration, occurring during the most frigid years of the Cold War, represents “the gold standard for how scientists of different ideologies can overcome diplomatic tensions or even overt conflict in order to advance science for humanitarian purposes.”

Sabin’s example inspires Hotez’s advocacy of so-called vaccine diplomacy, in which countries that have developed vaccines make them available to countries that lack them. The impulse is both humanitarian and, following Joseph Nye’s doctrine of “soft power,” strategic—an attempt to increase international influence by fostering good will. Hotez sketches in a prehistory of the phenomenon, starting in 1806, when the British physician Edward Jenner, who had created the world’s first vaccine, against smallpox, was able to trade on his international reputation to secure the release of English prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon, who had had his troops inoculated, is said to have exclaimed, “Jenner—we can’t refuse that man anything.” Hotez also regards Louis Pasteur as a vaccine diplomat, on the basis of the Pasteur Institutes he founded across the Francophone world, including outposts in North Africa and Southeast Asia, which produced the first rabies vaccine.

Hotez describes a speech by President Obama at Cairo University in 2009 as initiating America’s return to vaccine diplomacy. Obama spoke of “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” He pledged to provide Muslim-majority countries with a polio-eradication campaign, funding for technological development, and science envoys to disseminate expertise in such areas as agriculture, energy, and medicine. At the time, the Middle East and North Africa largely lacked the technology to create their own vaccines, and commercial pharmaceutical firms had little financial incentive to combat the region’s emerging infectious diseases.

When Hotez became one of Obama’s science envoys, in 2015, he worked mainly in Saudi Arabia and was impressed with the receptiveness of officials there, many of whom had attended American or European universities. Together they assessed the kingdom’s particular vulnerabilities. Diseases spread from war zones in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, and also entered the country during the two great pilgrimages to Mecca, the hajj and the umrah, each of which annually attracts more than a million non-Saudis. Developing vaccines, essential to the country’s security, could also, by boosting the biotech industry, help it achieve its goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy by 2030. As a result of these conversations, Saudi Arabia set up a center for neglected tropical diseases, and Saudi scientists came to Hotez’s vaccine-development laboratory in Texas for training.

The approach that Hotez articulates is both pragmatic and humanitarian. Still, one can’t help wondering whether his faith in vaccine diplomacy makes him sometimes insufficiently mindful of its limitations. His work as a science envoy in Saudi Arabia concluded a year before the rise of Mohammed bin Salman, but it’s still jarring that the book contains no mention of the kingdom’s new autocrat—let alone of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist whose murder he ordered. The kingdom’s role in sponsoring wars that have brought disease to its borders is mostly downplayed. There is only a single reference to Saudi bombings in Yemen, and we are told that, “by 2015, the Kingdom found itself situated between two major conflict zones on the Arabian Peninsula.” Indeed.

This is not to invalidate vaccine diplomacy: a life saved is a life saved. But the approach is subject to the same ethical quandaries that bedevil other forms of engagement and soft power. Exporting vaccines and exporting values are two very different things, and there’s no reason to suppose that medical achievements will translate into political ones. Even the vaccination project that Albert Sabin and his Soviet counterparts undertook in the U.S.S.R., historic as it was, had no effect on the Cold War. The project had wrapped up by the end of 1961; the next year, the Cuban missile crisis erupted.

When Sabin and his Soviet colleagues were collaborating, the United States had a virtual monopoly on biomedical technology. Things are different now, with American, British, German, Chinese, Russian, and Indian vaccines all vying for customers. The chance to wield soft power in developing nations has been particularly attractive to America’s rivals. Russia, hoping to make its Sputnik V vaccine the preferred option in Latin America, has spread disinformation about competitors. For China, the vaccine is an extension of its “Belt and Road” infrastructure investments around the world, and it has pledged millions of doses to Indonesia, Turkey, Ethiopia, Serbia, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq, among others. As more and more countries embrace vaccine diplomacy, shots are coming to resemble a kind of tradable currency.

Medically speaking, the fact that many countries around the world now have the capacity to create reliable vaccines so quickly is cause for rejoicing. Viruses don’t recognize borders or political rivalries, but a peculiarity of the COVID crisis is that, though inherently global, it has also been intensely national—a time of international collaboration and shared experience but also of travel bans and closed borders. It’s too early to say how the politics of this new era will play out, and Hotez may be right to focus on medical problems rather than getting overwhelmed by political ones. In his previous book, he wrote that he cherishes the rabbinic concept of tikkun olam, “repairing the world through good deeds and actions.” In an article published in 2017, he extended this concept to include “science tikkun”—that is, improving the human condition through “science, science diplomacy, and public engagement.” His engagement with the daunting geopolitical drivers of pandemic disease recalls another famous rabbinic concept: “You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” ♦

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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