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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Monday 05th of October 2020

Melting Antarctic Ice Exposes 800-Year-Old Penguins That Still Look Fresh @Gizmodo
Food, Climate & Agriculture


A biologist working off the Ross Sea in Antarctica has stumbled upon an assortment of Adélie penguin remains, some of which appeared to have died only recently. Turns out these dead penguins are actually quite ancient, having been newly exposed by the effects of global warming.

Four years ago, biologist Steven Emslie was perusing the Antarctic coastline on Cape Irizar of the Ross Sea when he came across the remains of Adélie penguins. He recognized them as such not from their appearance but by the unusual number of pebbles piled onto the area, which these penguins use to make nests. Many of the penguin carcasses, most of them chicks, appeared to be degraded and quite old, but a few looked as though they had died recently.

That the remains of freshly deceased Adélie penguins could be found at Cape Irizar didn’t seem possible to Emslie. Today, the Ross Sea hosts nearly 1 million breeding pairs of Adélie penguins, but no active penguin colony has ever been observed on this spot since it was first explored by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott in the early 20th century.

As he continued to explore the area, Emslie found jumbles of penguin bones strewn across the surface, but also chick carcasses still covered in feathers. The degree of degradation seen on these chicks were consistent with what one might expect from carcasses found at the sites of modern colonies. He also found guano stains, which once again pointed to a recent occupation.

Figuring he found something important, Emslie summoned his colleagues to the site, where they extracted samples from the pebble mounds. As he explained in a statement issued by the Geological Society of America, his team “excavated into three of these mounds, using methods similar to archaeologists, to recover preserved tissues of penguin bone, feather, and eggshell, as well as hard parts of prey from the guano.” Emslie said the soil was “very dry and dusty, just as I’ve found at other very old sites I’ve worked on in the Ross Sea,” which also yielded abundant numbers of penguin remains.

Radiocarbon dating of the remains affirmed Emslie’s suspicions—that the remains must be very old, despite their fresh appearance. What he didn’t expect was just how old.

Results showed that “the remains are actually ancient and that three periods of occupation by Adélie penguins are represented,” the oldest of which date back some 5,000 years ago, while the most recent occupation ended around 800 years ago, according to the paper published in the journal Geology.

“In all the years I have been doing this research in Antarctica, I’ve never seen a site quite like this,” said Emslie in the statement.

Emslie said conditions for the penguins were ideal between 4,000 to 2,000 years ago, as it was a warm period of “enhanced marine productivity.” Eventually, however, each of the three documented occupations ended, likely due to increased snow cover over the cape or encroaching sea ice caused by cooling temperatures. Penguins caught at the very tail-end of their occupations left corpses behind that became covered in snow and ice, preserving them until now.

These ancient dead penguins have only recently poked through the snow and ice, which explains their fresh appearance. Unsurprisingly, Emslie, the lone author of the paper, said this can be attributed to climate change. As the paper points out, the annual temperature in the Ross Sea has increased 2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius) since the 1980s, while satellite images of the area taken since 2013 show that the rocky cape is increasingly coming into view as the snow and ice melt.

Climate change has resulted in some interesting scientific discoveries of late, but the grim reality is that all this warming is poised to do more harm than good when it comes to studying the past.


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.@WhiteHouse history of lying makes it difficult to assess the truth of Trump’s condition. But allies are bracing for an election blowout, and at least one G-7 nation is predicting president @IvankaTrump @VanityFair
Law & Politics


After spending months denying the dangers of COVID-19, Trump is expressing an emotion aides have rarely seen: fear. On Friday, Trump grew visibly anxious as his fever spiked to 103 fahrenheit and he was administered oxygen at the White House, according to three Republicans close to the White House. Two sources told me Trump experienced heart palpitations on Friday night—possible side effects of the experimental antibody treatment he received. Trump has wondered aloud if he could defeat the disease. “Am I going out like Stan Chera?” Trump has asked aides, referring to his friend, New York real-estate developer Stan Chera, who died of COVID in April.

Meanwhile, America’s closest allies are entertaining wild scenarios as well. An outside White House adviser told me that a high-level government official from a G-7 country asked him if Trump would try to appoint Ivanka president instead of Mike Pence. “He’s broken every norm so far, so they think anything is possible,” the source said.

The White House declined a request for comment.


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Commentary: Who could make this up? Why ‘The Trump Show’ is such a crazy-making script @latimes
Law & Politics


Narrative is humanity’s defense against the randomness of existence. We tell ourselves stories not to sink into chaos. 

Would-be authors of our time on Earth, we impose order onto our lives by drawing connections between events, underscoring thematic trends, fleshing out character psychology and shoehorning our years into plots with beginnings, middles and ends.

Packaging experience in this way doesn’t simply protect us from the possibility of meaninglessness. 

It helps foster the illusion that the future is predictable and that, whatever else might happen to us, anarchy will not mow us down.

Among the many catastrophes we can lay at Donald Trump’s feet, his long-shot presidency has plunged the nation into a narrative crisis

The tale of his four years in office cannot be contained within discrete genres. He lacks the dignified gravitas required of tragedy. And as commander in chief, he possesses too much lethal power to be laughed off as a comic buffoon.

Trump’s political drama is unlike anything we’ve seen before. No one can figure out the rules of the script. Just when you think the action is building to a climax — the Mueller report, impeachment, more than 200,000 dead from a pandemic — a different calamity usurps our attention.

The latest development — positive COVID-19 test results for the president and first lady — comes on the heels of a week of bombshells. 

On Sunday, the New York Times, having obtained more than two decades of Trump’s secret tax-return data, revealed that the billionaire emperor has no clothes.

This puncturing of the successful businessman myth that Trump rode to the White House came one day before Trump announced he had nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose death Sept. 18 was said to have upended a presidential race that had already just been turned upside down when Trump refused to guarantee a peaceful transition of power.

The New York Times tax story was nearly all anyone could talk about until Tuesday when Trump and Joe Biden had their first presidential debate. 

Trump’s belligerent hijacking of the stage, a performance better suited to the professional wrestling ring than electoral politics, had pundits riffling through a stack of dumpster fire metaphors.

On Wednesday, the chattering class was preoccupied by the horrific realization that Trump at the debate had in fact directed the Proud Boys, a far-right group, to “stand by” in case he needs help in strong-arming an electoral victory. 

This explosive headline was still dominating on Thursday, even as tapes of Melania Trump emerged in which she’s heard bad-mouthing Christmas and complaining that the kids in detention centers at the border who are cruelly separated from their parents never had it so good.

But naturally the plot turned. In the evening, Hope Hicks, a senior aide who had been traveling with the president, was revealed to have tested positive for coronavirus. 

The president tweeted that the first lady and he would quarantine themselves as required. The media’s fried synapses sizzled into action. 

Speculation about Trump’s health and what COVID-19 might mean for a 74-year-old obese man with cardiac risk factors was rife across news channels not owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Remembering that it was only Oct. 1, I tweeted, “31 days of October surprises. Night one: Hope Hicks get Covid!” And then, for the sake of my mental health, I turned away from the news for 45 minutes. When I next peeked at my phone, I saw that my waggish tweet was already obsolete. A bigger October surprise had arrived: The president himself was infected.

Twitter erupted in a strange form of dramaturgical glee. Had a dramatic pattern finally solidified? Thoughts and prayer were dispatched from both ends of the political spectrum, but the shift in plot was making people giddy. 

For many this development marked what Shakespeare would have called a turning of the wheel, that moment in drama when a villain’s streak of luck runs out and the light of justice peeks out from behind pitch-black clouds.

The word “karma” was being bandied about on social media not so much in a spirit of schadenfreude as in relief that a traditional storytelling arc was at long last asserting itself. 

The bad guy has a habit of stealing the show, but if there’s no comeuppance, if the transgressor continues to get away with murder, exhaustion is inevitable. Reckonings can be postponed but only for so long.

But how could anyone be sure that we’re in the last act of a single play and not in a multipart epic? Or might this be a tragicomedy à la Chekhov, where a gun glimpsed early on is eventually used to settle a score but doesn’t actually hit its target? 

In this scenario, Trump, who expresses derision for public health safety measure like masks, is infected with the virus but only gets mildly ill and then uses his bully pulpit to espouse the notion that the pandemic has been a Democratic hoax designed to unseat him.

Nothing changes because we’re in a genre that is comfortable ending on a note of mournful irony. Yet political entities with nuclear arsenals at their disposal aren’t usually characters in Chekhovian plots. 

Their lives are too consequential. Best to leave the existential musing to those with nothing to do all day but ruminate on missed chances.

Television, the medium that launched Trump’s political trajectory and temporarily replenished his broken bank accounts, would seem to be a more obvious source of dramatic templates. 

The only problem is that his presidential series has been “jumping the shark” from Day 1. 

This hyperactive drama, with a cast that includes a brainy porn star, an unhinged ex-mayor, spoiled brat children and a rogues’ gallery of felons, would be considered too much by even Netflix’s freewheeling standards.

Realism, a dramatic style that coincided with the rise of middle-class audiences eager to see reflections of themselves onstage, has conditioned us to expect behavior to fall within reasonable norms. 

This is why Trump comes across as such an unrealistic character. Biden called him a “clown” at the debate, and whatever you might think of the former vice president’s flash of impatience, a circus would have been a more plausible context for Trump’s act.

The president was born for extremity, making it difficult to place him in the correct dramatic universe. I’ve looked to Shakespeare and Sophocles for answers. Among friends, I’ve traded comparisons with “The Sopranos.” Reality TV has been the default analogy.

But the truth is that we have been living the last four years on the metabolism of Twitter.

The state of alarm has been continual since Trump took office. Structural limits have proved to be as flimsy as his border wall. Anything can happen at any time. 

The only mode that can be discerned is accretion, a flooding of the zone so that nothing can be properly weighed or valued. With sensation mainlined into our veins through our phones and laptops, art has little chance of keeping pace.

Our attention spans are shattered. As soon as we learned that Trump has COVID-19, we were waiting for the other shoe to drop. Was this a ruse? Would he be incapacitated? What about Vice President Mike Pence and Biden and Coney Barrett’s confirmation? 

More, more, more, more, more. As exhausted as we are, we’re still hitting refresh. We’re addicted, but I think if Trump loses it will be because fewer Americans have the stamina for “The Donald Trump Show.” A sober Biden rerun is just what the rehab doctor ordered.


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Whoever Controls The Narrative Controls The World
World Of Finance


We know exist in a stream of consciousness World which is constantly accelerating at a dizzying speed

The Battlespace was not the Battlefield IT WAS THE INFORMATION BATTLESPACE

“One of the defining bifurcations of the future will be the conflict between information masters and information victims.”

This information warfare will not be couched in the rationale of geopolitics, the author suggests, but will be “spawned” - like any Hollywood drama - out of raw emotions. “Hatred, jealousy, and greed - emotions, rather than strategy - will set the terms of [information warfare] struggles”.


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If one of America’s adversaries wanted to spring a more conventional October surprise, in the Middle East, for example, or the South China Sea, now might be an opportunistic moment. @FT. @EdwardGLuce
Law & Politics


It has been seven months since Mr Trump predicted the virus would disappear “like a miracle”. 

The US had fewer than 20 infections and no deaths when he said that. Since then, Mr Trump has called virus warnings a “hoax”, likened it to the flu, said it would be “gone by Easter”, and most recently forecast that “the end is in sight”. 

Now America has 7.5m infections, including the president and the first lady, Melania Trump, and more than 207,000 dead.

But politics does not always move in straight lines. There are caveats to the expectation that this is bad for Mr Trump’s campaign. 

The first is we do not know how severely his health will be affected. The White House says the president has “mild symptoms”. Perhaps it will stay that way. 

The mortality rate for his age group is 5 per cent in countries with good medical systems, which means he has a very high chance of surviving.

The example of Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, should give anyone pause. He was hospitalised with Covid-19 in March after having boasted of shaking people’s hands in hospitals. 

His battle with the disease brought a wave of public sympathy which boosted his poll numbers for several weeks. He appeared to pay no price for having ignored social distancing advice.

Second, Mr Trump’s fate could bring back the focus on Mr Biden’s age, who, at 77, is just in a higher risk category than Mr Trump (74).

If nothing else, the timing of this twist underlines that US politics nowadays often feels scripted by Netflix screen writers. 

A lot of things could happen. Mr Trump could recover quickly and attribute it to some magical cure. 

He could fall more seriously ill and temporarily hand over the reins to Mike Pence, the vice-president. 

Or this presidential election could continue to march grimly towards the conclusion that polls have been predicting for months — a Biden victory amid dangerous claims of fraudulent mail-in ballots.

My own bet is still on the latter. It is hard to believe Mr Biden’s lead is about to miraculously disappear.


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Thursday night President Trump told people at a dinner: “The end of the pandemic is in sight.” @Yamiche
Law & Politics

Now, we are 31 days from the election and there is a literal coronavirus outbreak at the White House that has the president in Walter Reed and his campaign manager in quarantine.

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Trump Enters Hospital With Covid, Jolting White House, Campaign @bpolitics
Law & Politics


President Donald Trump remains in a U.S. military hospital outside Washington after contracting the coronavirus, a development that unnerved the White House and shook his struggling re-election campaign.

The White House said his symptoms were mild and that he would continue to work from a suite at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, but his hospitalization heightened fears that his condition was more serious.

The president’s physician, Sean Conley, said late Friday night that Trump was being treated with the antiviral drug Remdesivir and did not require oxygen.

Trump spoke Friday evening in a video he tweeted out to thank Americans for their well-wishes. “I think I’m doing very well but we’re going to make sure that things work out,” he said.

But as the day wore on, more and more prominent people in political circles revolving around Trump tested positive for the virus

They included his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, two Republican senators and a former top White House aide, Kellyanne Conway.

That Trump, who is wary of doctors, agreed to go to Walter Reed is a sign of concern about his condition, several people familiar with the matter said. 

Within the White House, several aides said they had received no more information about Trump’s condition than the public.

There will be no transfer of power from Trump to Vice President Mike Pence while the president is in the hospital, White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

The helicopter flight to Walter Reed was the most dramatic moment in a day of dizzying developments in Washington sparked by the president’s disclosure of his illness just a month before Election Day. 

As the Trump campaign was scrapping most of its planned events, the president’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, was campaigning in the battleground state of Michigan, where he delivered a speech while wearing a face mask.

Biden, who took part in a chaotic debate with Trump on Tuesday, expressed wishes for a speedy recovery for both Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, who also tested positive for the coronavirus, and said the diagnosis was a “bracing reminder” to take the disease seriously.

Fresh anxiety over the virus continued to reverberate into Friday night. Stepien, who was promoted to run the campaign this summer to help revive Trump’s re-election bid, has been infected, a campaign spokesman said.

Conway, who managed Trump’s 2016 campaign before joining the administration, said she had tested positive. 

“My symptoms are mild (light cough) and I’m feeling fine. I have begun a quarantine process in consultation with physicians,” Conway, who left the White House in August, wrote on Twitter.

The two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina said that they, too, had tested positive. 

Both sit on the Judiciary Committee, which is preparing for hearings on Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. 

The senators and Conway attended the Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday in which Trump announced Barrett’s selection.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, who said he had tested negative, insisted that the confirmation hearings would begin as scheduled on Oct. 12, but Democrats expressed alarm that Republicans still weren’t taking enough precautions against Covid-19 on Capitol Hill.

On Friday evening, several top staffers gathered outside to see the president off, wearing masks. Trump and the Marine who saluted him as he boarded Marine One also wore masks.

Face coverings had not been commonplace at the White House before Friday.

“Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts, the president will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days,” Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.

Her statement wasn’t issued until after financial markets closed in the U.S.

The drug that Trump received at Walter Reed, Remdesivir, has been authorized to fight the virus in a number of countries. 

It was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration May 1 for emergency use after research showed that the medicine, made by Gilead Sciences Inc., helped hospitalized patients recover from Covid-19 more quickly than standard care alone.

Earlier, the White House physician issued a statement saying Trump had been treated with a Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. “antibody cocktail.”

Regeneron shares spiked in late trading, rising more than 3% after the market closed in New York. The company’s experimental treatment for Covid-19 hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but Regeneron confirmed in a statement that it had provided a single dose of the medicine for Trump’s use after receiving a “compassionate use” request from the president’s doctors.

Trump and the first lady had been in isolation at the White House since his diagnosis, which he announced after Bloomberg News reported that one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks, had tested positive for coronavirus infection.

Trump learned of Hicks’s positive test Thursday morning but continued with his planned schedule for the day, including a fundraiser at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort that raised $5 million for his campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump and Hicks had been in close contact in the days before her diagnosis. She traveled with him to the debate in Cleveland on Tuesday and to campaign events in Minnesota on Wednesday.


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06-APR-2020 :: The Way We Live Now
World Of Finance


One feels one must tread more carefully now, with a lot of circumspection, that not just my purchase but all of ours is a lot more precarious now and that there is something Karmic in this #COVID19.

The COVID19 is invisible but it has already defeated the most expensive Aircraft carriers, it lurks everywhere and in silence and has shut down Mecca, St. Peters Square and the Vatican, Qom and everywhere else that we congregate and ask for succour.

It is not to be trifled with. Boris dismissed it and now speaks to the Nation like a disembodied voice from a Bunker. [I wrote this before the news about Boris Johnson's hospitalisation I wish him a speedy recovery]

Trump too thinks its another Trade and his luck which took him all the way to the Presidency will hold out and watching his always surreal White House Briefing has an added frisson of the waiting for him to turn yellow.

Don DeLillo wrote "Everything is barely weeks. Everything is days. We have minutes to live."

And it certainly feels like we are pirouetting at the precipice and our Leaders are saying Don't Panic and I want to say ''look Chum You are not Merkel and just a few days ago You were telling me its all cool its just the Flu. Others might take you seriously on what basis I know not but I don't.''


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04-NOV-2019 :: At the Moment of Vision, the Eyes See Nothing
World Of Finance


Pollice verso or verso pollice is a Latin phrase, meaning “with a turned thumb”, that is used in the context of gladiatorial combat.

The Republican Party will be making a hard nosed political calculation this weekend

Vice President Pence who is an evangelical Christian is the coming Man and this could happen real quick.


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An estimated 750 million, or 10 per cent of the world’s population, have been infected by Covid-19, @WHO @DrMikeRyan said @IrishTimes


An estimated 750 million, or 10 per cent of the world’s population, have been infected by Covid-19, World Health Organisation (WHO) official Dr Mike Ryan has said.

He estimated 10 per cent as “our best guess” in relation to the global rate of infection to date and those who have antibodies for the virus.

“The problem is there is more than six billion left. Therein lies our problem,” he told webinar hosted by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) entitled Learning from Pandemics: a Century of Experience.

Dr Ryan predicted the world is in “for a hell of a ride for the next eight or nine months” as it awaits a vaccine, but he cautioned that a vaccine will “not be a silver bullet, but an additional tool that should be added to a comprehensive strategy to fight this disease”.

He stressed though that the response to Covid-19 around the world had been “unprecedented”.

However, he criticised the lack of a global response to plans to raise some €25.6 billion (US$32 billion) for the Covid-19 accelerator programme to produce diagnostic tools and vaccines when they are available to deal with the virus. Just €3.24 billion has been raised to date.

“For $32 billion we can develop a vaccine equitably for everyone in the world. Compare that to the trillions of dollars poured into economic mitigation. We are 10 per cent funded for a Marshall Plan like you wouldn’t believe. Yet the cavalry isn’t coming in terms of funding. Governance and global leadership has been a major issue in this response.”

He exempted German chancellor Angela Merkel and New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Arden from the criticism.

“Some of the best political leadership I have seen in the last nine months have come from women. We need to think and reflect on that and what is that leadership style that brings society together during a crisis.”

Dr Ryan said developed countries had become “entirely complacent of infectious diseases” and associated them with poorer countries.

Africa was perceived to be doing better as a result of the pandemic both because it had a much younger age profile, but also because African countries are used to epidemics and know how to manage them by dealing with them at a community level first instead of looking for medical solutions. Even during recent Ebola epidemics life continued on as normal in west Africa, he explained.

“I wonder what would happen if there were 2,500 cases of Ebola in New York?” he asked.

“If you look at any metric of resilience, the industrial world has not demonstrated a lot of that over the last couple of months whereas African countries because of dint of the crisis they face day-to-day, they just get on with it. I know that sounds simplistic, but that is why they have been perceived to have done better.”

Lessons not learned

Dr Ryan said a lot of lessons that could have been learned from the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak 10 years ago, but they were not.

“It should have scared us a hell of a lot more into putting in place the systems that address those issues all the way along from the animal kingdom right to how we deal with epidemics as they occur,” he said.

Dr Ryan said he was “somewhat cynical or at least depressed at the prospect of whether the world will wake up and we will actually see that epidemics are yet another consequence of our poor planetary and ecosystem management.

“In the end we will be putting out these fires again and again.”

He pointed out that health reports on the threat of emerging diseases from 1993 which were ignored by countries.

“We have put almost no defence up against the Earth-killing things that are there such as climate change and infectious diseases.”


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The rise of Mrs Europe A new EU is emerging. Will Ursula von der Leyen lead it to triumph or failure? @TheCriticMag @b_judah
Law & Politics


The first thing that strikes you about Ursula von der Leyen is a kind of absence — that there is something false or inauthentic about this immaculate politician; something which is strangely hard to place. 

Cryptic and opaque like the glass fronts of her Berlaymont headquarters that promise openness but give nothing away.

It would be a mistake to look straight through her. You cannot understand Europe without understanding Ursula von der Leyen. B

orn in Brussels, a second-generation Eurocrat, she is the embodiment of the class whose decisions will decide whether the Union evolves into a United States of Europe or begins to disintegrate. 

Her politics is the Rosetta Stone that unlocks how the Merkel system really works. Her life reveals the German journey through Europe and whether its direction still makes any sense. 

From Brussels, where she was born, to Berlin and now back to the Berlaymont, from father to daughter, this is a journey from supplication to power, from idealism to angst.

German ministers tend to be constantly in motion: the Brussels ministerials, weekends in the Länder, the endless joint cabinet meetings with a dozen allies. They are creatures of sleep snatched on planes, of constant exhaustion. 

It was 2009, in Warsaw, that Jacek Rostowski, the Polish finance minister sat down next to “this small, rather handsome woman” at the biannual joint Polish-German cabinet meeting. 

Rostowski glanced at her. He didn’t recognise this minister. “But somehow, somewhere, I had this feeling I knew her.” She introduced herself: Ursula von der Leyen, minister for labour and social affairs. Still nothing. The name didn’t ring a bell.

Conferences. Panels. Circles. The elite who run Europe are never not in the same room for long. About six months later, at Davos, the Polish minister found himself sitting next to this same German minister. 

They shook hands, said how nice it was to see each other. Rostowski flew back to Warsaw. “Then, three days later, I had this feeling come down from above and hit me in the back of the head.” Everything came flooding back.

Earls Court, London, 1978. Still the dreary London of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, bedsits and the occasional bombsite; where Rostowski, a young lecturer and the son of Polish exiles, lived in a house his mother had divided up into flats. 

She had rented out the top floor to Erich Stromeyer, a German banker on the other side of a divorce.

One day he informed them that his brother-in-law was a prominent politician in Germany and that the Baader-Meinhof gang were threatening to kidnap and murder his daughter. 

The situation was rather serious: would the Rostowskis mind if she moved in with him, to study at the LSE, until the crisis passed?

She moved in with an alias: Rose Ladson. “She had this puppy fat,” Rostowski remembers. “She was very bouncy, very nice and always out.” 

Her real name was Ursula Gertrud Albrecht, and the Rostowskis quickly noticed she liked staying out late, only coming back to Philbeach Gardens after one o’clock in the morning. 

“But when she came back she never bothered to close the front door properly. I thought this slightly lighthearted, given people were supposedly trying to kidnap and kill her.”

The LSE at the time was not yet the City feeder school — all international students with little esprit de corps — that it would become: but still the school of Ralf Dahrendorf, student occupations, the faint ghosts of Sidney and Beatrice Webb still hovering over its politics. 

But “Rose Ladson” would hardly have known this as she was hardly there.

Obsessed by punk in a London where The Clash were playing at the Hammersmith Palais, she spent more time in Soho pubs and Camden record stores than the LSE library. 

She earned herself a reputation as a girl who “liked to go crazy in discos”. She herself has said: “I lived much more than I studied.”

London was everything provincial Germany was not. “London,” she told Die Zeit, “was for me then the epitome of modernity: freedom, the joy of life, trying everything.” 

This love of London explains the particular bitterness and pain of much of Europe’s elite, which continues to identify with, or retweet, Britain’s Remain campaigners to this day. 

Eight former EU ministers are LSE alumni; while Jacek Rostowksi would later stand for the European Parliament for the curious blip that was Change UK. London, not Paris, was where they became “European”.

Albrecht’s Europe was an end in itself: but it was also the pursuit of national interest

‘‘Europe is the story of generations,” said Ursula von der Leyen to the European Parliament. Like George W. Bush or Justin Trudeau, the Commission’s head cannot be understood without understanding her father. But even he was not merely a man but also a name. 

That special joy the 20-year-old Ursula took in the alias “Rose Ladson” came from the weight of being an Albrecht. The baronial connections of the top-floor flat in Philbeach Gardens were no fluke. 

Twelve generations of prominence — pastors, esteemed doctors, state councillors, grand merchants — looked down on her through that name from the Hanseatic trading elites of Bremen, the kingdom of Hanover and the electorate of Cologne. 

The Albrecht family even had its own entry in Deutsches Geschlechterbuch, the closest German equivalent to Burke’s Landed Gentry.

By the nineteenth century the Albrechts were merchant princes of Bremen, cotton importers who married into the slave- and plantation-owning Ladson family of South Carolina (hence Ursula’s London surname) — the kind of German trading houses which did far more to build the colonial world under English or American flags than is often realised. 

They were the sort of men lampooned by Thomas Mann, himself from old Hanseatic Lubeck, in The Magic Mountain, as “obstinately convinced of the right of the aristocracy to govern”.

In 1945, out of the wreckage of two world wars, Ernst Albrecht emerged. Bremen had been almost completely destroyed. But Ernst was in love and he was intelligent and ambitious. 

He needed the best degrees and he wanted to marry the daughter of the family friends with whom he had hidden from the RAF: Heidi Adele Stromeyer.

He left for university at Tübingen, in the American occupation zone, to study philosophy and theology before winning a scholarship to Cornell. A new German elite was being made, by American hands, and he was determined to be in it. 

To Heidi Adele, he confessed his love before crossing the Atlantic: he would always be “Percy” to her.  Returning to Europe, Ernst was drawn to Bonn, Konrad Adenauer’s new capital, whose university was fast emerging as the Balliol for the emerging state. 

His graduate thesis was entitled Is monetary union a prerequisite for economic union? It would prove a shrewd choice; and he knew it.

Appointments and promotions came fast. At 24, he was made attaché to the European Coal and Steel Community in Luxembourg: the nascent European project in its very infancy. He rose further. 

In a photograph taken in a palazzo in Rome in 1957 — faded, the faces slightly obscure — a long line of leaders sit, signing a document. Renaissance paintings hang behind them. 

They are the men (and they are all men) behind the Treaty of Rome, the founding act of the European Economic Community and the most important treaty in Europe since the treaty of Westphalia. Behind Adenauer is Ernst Albrecht.

Whilst German officials made sure to genuflect towards the Italians and the French in public, Ernst was little affected by postwar guilt. 

“Dear people,” he said, “either you want to build Europe with us or not. We are a new generation. The old histories should be dealt with by the old. I am as impartial a representative of my country as the French.”

Albrecht’s Europe was an end in itself: but it was also the pursuit of national interest. His ultimate boss, Walter Hallstein, the first president of the Commission, captured what might at first seem like a contradiction. 

“The forgotten European”, like Adenauer himself, he refused to accept the new western Polish border on the Oder-Neisse line and gave his name to the Hallstein Doctrine: that Bonn would neither establish nor maintain diplomatic relations with anybody that recognised East Germany except the Soviet Union. 

West Germany was too weak to stand its ground alone geopolitically. Adenauer and Hallstein needed a stronger Europe.

The Brussels the Albrechts moved to after the Treaty of Rome was a very different place from the Eurostar city of today. Ernst was made chef de cabinet to the first German Commissioner. English was hardly spoken. 

The working language was French and the modest quarters of “the six” had a smaller Carolingian feel. It was a world only of men, who worked late and stayed out later, drinking or politicking.

When she worked out she was pregnant with their third child, Heidi Adele put a child’s chair in front of Ernst’s office door to trip him up and announce it. 

Ursula Gertrud was born on 8 October, 1958, in Brussels, just 18 months after the Treaty of Rome. 

“You are a sensational baby,” wrote her mother in her diary. “The first that does not come screaming into life.” Her nickname was Röschen, the diminutive for Rose.

From her father Ursula would get her politics; from her mother the purpose of her politics. Heidi Adele was from the stifled generation of women, after the opening of education but before the opening of the professions. 

She was a graduate of Heidelberg, held a doctorate from Freiburg, and could have, in the family telling, been a gifted writer or famous journalist. But she was only ever to be her husband’s shadow, her energies channelled into theatrical diary entries.

Little Röschen was already Ernst’s favourite: “The showpiece of the house is Ursula Gertrud, just two years old,” her mother wrote in the diary. 

Her six children grew up Europeans: Ursula was sent to the new European School, where the children of the machinery that was landing in Brussels — the EEC, Nato, Euratom — were raised trilingually, self-consciously as an elite. 

It was the very same school in the suburb of Uccle that Boris Johnson briefly attended, when his father worked as a more jobbing Eurocrat, a few years later.

The Berlaymont took frostily to von der Leyen and her two  spin doctors she brought with her from Berlin

They had everything they needed, a genteel, well-paid life. But the longer they stayed in Brussels the less happy the Albrechts became. Having since his twenties been in the room hovering behind the great men of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Ernst was impatient to become one. 

“I was 37 years old and at the peak of a European bureaucrat’s career. Was I going to stay director general for competition until my sixty-fifth birthday? I couldn’t imagine it.” 

The 1960s was not a happy time to be a German Eurocrat. De Gaulle was saying no: his strong France would not permit a more federal, presidential commission, to overshadow it. And Ernst began to actively court politicians.

A short walk from the Charlemagne building in Brussels today, the plaques and flags above its doors reveal as much about Germany as they do about Europe. Bavaria. Baden-Wurttemburg

Every German Land has its own EU delegation: better outfitted and housed than those of many threadbare member states. The plush interiors reveal why Germany, constantly negotiating with itself, for most of its political history a part of the checkerboard Holy Roman Empire, is so comfortable in the European Union. Federalism is its natural form.

Albrecht’s Land was Lower Saxony on the North Sea: roughly, the Kingdom of Hanover where his grandfather was director general of customs. 

Ernst fixed his eyes on the prize: the party arranged him a sinecure at a biscuit manufacturer in Hanover while he found a seat. 

He moved in 1970, leaving his family behind. They followed after their daughter Benita died of spinal cancer in January 1971. She was 11 years old. Ursula was now the only daughter.

The family was at odds, almost in defiance, of the waves of ’68 reshaping Germany. Prayers were said before dinner. The Albrecht seat, an old farmhouse in Ilten, outside Hanover, ringed by an enormous blackberry bush, was decorated in a manorial style. 

Family life was filled with horses, home concerts and weighty, self-improving tomes handed out from the library: War and Peace or Dr Zhivago.

It was here Ursula’s personality began to form: her love of music, animals and most of all, attention. Her main activities consisted of showjumping and dutifully greeting the many famous people who came to the family home to meet her father. 

Unlike some of her siblings, she liked presenting herself. Yet, her biographers Ulrike Demmer and Daniel Goffart note, her father never took her seriously. “The conservative Albrecht stood in reserved rejection as regards the women’s question,” remembered Rolf Zick, his journalistic contemporary.

A shock vote, on the back of three defectors from the ruling coalition, in the state assembly made Ernst Albrecht minister-president of Lower Saxony in 1976. 

This was more, back then, than being a state governor. Right-wing politics in the 1970s was a game of little kings, regional strongmen, and pockets of deeply conservative, reactionary holdovers, still unsure of their Western vocation. Lower Saxony was his.

The lives of his children changed even further. Rank-and-file members of the Lower Saxony CDU were expected to admire the minister-president’s gifted daughter. Hans-Gert Pöttering, later president of the European Parliament, recalled such talk of the first daughter as a youthful activist: 

“As a member of the party without knowing her personally, we got to know about her as this extraordinary girl and the politicians spoke about her as ‘Röschen’ … and she was already seen as this extraordinary person.”

Her mother, “the first lady” of Lower Saxony, arranged the spectacle. Like something Victorian, or out of Little Women, plays written by Mrs Albrecht would be performed by the children at family reunions. 

At Christmas or Easter, roles would be allocated to a larger cast: the other children in the village. The family performance, or rather the performance of family, was for Ernst Albrecht inseparable from his politics.

Like a cross between a provincial German Joseph Kennedy and the von Trapp family he not only invited the cameras to film his bucolic home but had his wife and children perform as a family choir on a local TV station. 

As David Bowie was performing Heroes in West Berlin in 1978, where two lovers from east and west could “beat them, just for one day”, the Albrecht family even released a single, “Well in God’s Beautiful World”. But it wasn’t: polarised, divided, terror-marred, her brothers driven to school in police cars — this was the unhappy Germany Ursula felt so free of in Camden Market.

Most political careers hang on one encounter: hers was with Christian Wulff, in 1999, when she was at a horse auction

The low point in Ursula’s life came at Stanford. It was the early 1990s and she was a frustrated housewife: a travelling spouse. History was repeating herself: not her father’s but her mother’s. 

After six semesters in London, the Baader-Meinhof threat judged eliminated, “Rose Ladson” had to become Ursula Albrecht again. 

She felt isolated and unhappy back at Göttingen University, until she met Heiko von der Leyen in the university choir. She was 24 years old. He was a scientist, and the issue of a long line of noble silk merchants; she followed him to California.

Hers was the frustrated generation: women for whom education and the professions were open. But nothing had been done to make them compatible with families, no attitudes about a man’s role really changed. 

“Static hierarchies of power” was what Ursula felt she hit. Graduating from Hanover Medical School in 1992 she practised as a doctor but found herself dismissed as “too lazy to work” by a superior when she was pregnant. 

Heiko, according to her biographers, was “unable to help her” with the daily tasks raising the kids. Instead, like so many women, she was left juggling. 

When Heiko won a faculty position at Stanford, she stopped working completely. “That was the way it was at the time,” her friend Sabine Cramer has recalled. “When a husband pursued a career we didn’t complain.”

It all looked so different 15 years later. “I never expected the end of the patriarchy to look like this,” said Rebecca Harms, then a Green MEP for Lower Saxony. 

“I never expected it to be dismantled by the CDU.” In 2005, Angela Merkel had been elected Chancellor and von der Leyen had been plucked from the government of Lower Saxony to be her minister of family and social affairs. 

Harms was astonished: the daughter of the reactionary “who did the most to force me into politics” was now the campaigning face of gender equality.

Returning to Germany in 1996, von der Leyen had thrown herself into her father’s footsteps. Most political careers hang on one encounter: hers was with Christian Wulff, in 1999, when she was a show rider at a horse auction. 

The future minister-president was impressed: not only was she a great rider, she was six months pregnant with her seventh child. He saw ambition and determination. He saw grit.

What made Ursula such good television was that she was Ernst Albrecht’s daughter and she had seven children

With heavy armchairs and deep sofas, talk shows are a key part of German political life. They have been central to von der Leyen’s ascent, first as the campaigning face of Wulff’s government in Lower Saxony, winning the attention of Angela Merkel, Mutti herself. 

This is where von der Leyen excelled: evening after evening, making the case, Angela’s microphone, for a family-friendly CDU.

What made Ursula such good television was that everybody in Germany knew two things about her: that she was Ernst Albrecht’s daughter and that she had seven children. 

Von der Leyen was really another alias, and, even better for the viewers, the message was simple: this was not her father’s sexist party any more, but one the urban bourgeoisie could be comfortable with. 

First as minister of family affairs and youth, then as minister of labour and social affairs, this was von der Leyen at her best, pushing for childcare, pushing for paid parental leave, pushing even when her party was against it. 

“It’s no secret this made her unpopular in her own party,” said one CDU source.

This was the Merkel system at work, always using outriders, pushing to win the centre ground, calculating, then dialling back, never allowing anyone to get too strong. “Kneecapping those needing to know their place,” to quote one source. 

Merkel is too precise a politician to ever let anyone think something by mistake. But for a few heady days in 2010 she allowed Ursula to think she would be the next president of the federal republic, to the extent that stories started appearing about Heiko as the “first man”. 

Instead, she chose her old boss, Christian Wulff. Crushed, thinking she and Merkel had a special relationship, Ursula emerged scarred. Mutti later explained: such is politics.

For almost 15 years, like a Thomas Cromwell figure, this East German-born outsider, this GDR physicist, with a portrait of Catherine the Great on her desk, has been the master of German politics. 

With reunification, her generation’s historical task, complete, Merkel has approached it like a scientist, not an idealist, taking pleasure in plotting a course, for Germany, for herself, between these different oscillating and colliding forces, not advancing programmatically towards a goal. 

Ursula von der Leyen: this name, a tool not a friend, to maintain the centre quo.

The lounge in Brussels airport. British politicians think of Brussels as a Eurostar city but for most Europeans it is reached by plane. Germans and Italians; Germans and Swedes; Germans and Poles; this lounge is where much of Europe’s discreet diplomacy goes on. 

In 2011, as Greece drifted towards default, Jacek Rostowski found himself with Ursula von der Leyen in the lounge discussing the euro crisis. 

“I told her that it’s not a Greek crisis, this is a eurozone crisis,” he remembered. “She had no idea.” It is a telling anecdote about von der Leyen. But it also reveals that by 2011 the German journey through Europe no longer made sense.

Von der Leyen moved into the Defence Ministry in 2013. The arc of history had bent towards Berlin and this was where it would be seen most clearly. 

Whereas her father’s Germany — the country of Willy Brandt and the Red Army Faction — had been polarised and ashamed, Ursula’s Germany was the great consensus, morally confident, almost smug. Berlin had become what London had been in the 1970s: a city of grungy clubs, artists and runaways.

But inside the ministries something European had gone. Whereas in Bonn they had been programmatic, in Berlin they were happy to let things drift. 

Reunification complete, strategic depth achieved, trade with China booming; there were no geopolitical goals which Germany needed to accomplish that it could only achieve through a stronger Commission. 

The logic of national interest that made Bonn accept the euro — reunification — was gone for the the eurobonds necessary to make the euro work. 

Building a deeper union was no longer on the minds of the German ruling class.

All her life Ursula has been the daughter, the successor, the chancellor in reserve — never her own person

Ursula had pushed for the defence ministry, that most male of the roles, and perhaps the hardest job in Berlin, one that had become the graveyard of German ministers. It was a media sensation. But what followed was von der Leyen at her worst. Run-down after decades of neglect, the army was in despair, unable to fulfil even its most basic international commitments. It was a swamp of corruption, procurement scandals, mismanagement and festering far-right pockets in the barracks. Determined to make a difference, von der Leyen turned to the most fashionable tools of the day: the revolution promised by management consultants and McKinsey contracts. “She ran the defence ministry with a small team of outsiders,” said Carlo Masala, a professor of international politics at the university of the Bundeswehr, who frequently worked for the ministry. “She likes to disrupt existing structures,” said one former consultant.

The result was not a success. Like Merkel’s austerity decade of German leadership in Europe it was all flashy statements, scandals, unhappy officers and little to show for it. 

At the defence ministry she became the face of Germany’s substance problem: a yawning gap between her slogans, like support for “a European Army”, and actual investment in European defence. 

“The ministry was killing her,” said one source. By 2019, the defence minister her biography tried to promote as The Chancellor In Reserve was a busted flush. Her career was sundowning.

There is a joke in the Bundestag. How do you abbreviate von der Leyen? I-c-h, or me. But what does von der Leyen believe? This is a question that often draws a blank with European officials. 

Few can sketch out her worldview. Her reputation in Berlin, especially among journalists, is one for PR. But insiders are more generous. 

“She strongly believes in female equality,” said one official, “being pro-European and in transatlanticism.” 

That the German defence minister was the European in cabinet, a throwback to her father’s party idealism, was not lost on Paris.

Emmanuel Macron was returning from Brussels in July 2019 when he had an idea. Negotiations for a new president of the Commission were blocked. 

The Spitzenkandidat system, where the blocs in the European Parliament ran their own campaigns to propose heads of the Commission, had broken down, he thought. 

The European People’s Party, really the CDU and its allies, had proposed Manfred Weber, in Macron’s mind a politically diminutive, Bavarian figure, better suited to the Munich arena and simply unacceptable. 

But the EPP was barring Frans Timmermans, the social democrats’ man and a Dutch figure of stature. The process was blocked.

This is when the name von der Leyen came up. Merkel had mentioned her to French officials before: first, some time ago, as a potential secretary general of Nato, then as a possible EU high representative, to be the bloc’s lead on foreign affairs in Brussels. 

Macron thought she was credible, he knew Merkel liked her, and he knew she was CDU. “That’s how we ended up at the end with a result that would never have happened had we proposed it first,” said a senior official. Von der Leyen not only had not been expecting it: her career itself had been saved by Macron.

The mood in Brussels is now one of triumphalism. Talk of von der Leyen is effusive

Now Merkel and von der Leyen text every day, the chancellor filling in the president on Berlin, Ursula briefing Angela on Brussels

They phone constantly: it’s as if von der Leyen never left the cabinet. Theirs is a political generation: this cohort of European women, for whom being in power is no longer the exception, but not quite the norm. 

Yet this back and forth between two German women is Macron’s plan working. For a decade, France, its economy shaky, its exports to Asia lagging, has needed a stronger Commission to borrow German power.

But Germany, aware of this, has been blocking French proposals, increasingly seeing the Commission as a lawyer for the debtor states. Putting the Merkel system inside the Berlaymont, Macron gambled, would unlock Berlin’s trust of the institutions, granting them more power. 

He bet that having a German in the Commission would interest the Chancellor too: for more than a decade a strategy has existed to put more German senior officials in place to better steer the Commission towards German interests. Von der Leyen would be its culmination.

But it was not a happy return to Brussels. That intimate, Francophone, Commission of her father was gone. The Berlaymont today is a place of global English, an internationalese, which de Gaulle once mocked as a “some kind of Esperanto or Volapük”. 

This bubble took frostily to von der Leyen and her two senior advisers, rather spin doctors, she brought with her from Berlin. 

“She’s relying too much on Germans,” said one source. “She’s paranoid,” said another. It reflected a consensus: that von der Leyen, still stuck in appearances on late-night German talk shows, was failing.

But so too, went the old Brussels conventional wisdom, was the Commission. “Juncker believes that von der Leyen is letting the Commission become a directorate-general for the Council,” said one former official — not a supranational government-in-becoming but merely a civil service. 

The Commission, it was said, had been in decline at the expense of the national leaders in the European Council since France and the Netherlands voted to reject the European Constitution in 2005. 

Nobody expected this new president to do any more than manage these small expectations.

The coronavirus changed everything. At first, it looked as if von der Leyen, maybe even the European Union itself, might be one of its victims. 

As social distancing orders went into effect, warning drones patrolled the streets of Brussels and the Eurocrats emptied out of the Berlaymont, fear gripped those working remotely from their laptops.

This was not only a medical crisis. The coronavirus was also a political crisis and inevitably a euro crisis. As it became clear that the costs of the lockdown could push Italy into a doom loop of debt, austerity and populism, anger flared towards the EU across the weaker southern economies. 

“I’ve never seen such a dangerous rise in Euroscepticism,” said one EU minister. As multiple polls showed roughly half of Italians in favour of leaving the bloc, up from less than a third less than two years ago, a complex game started to play out between Paris and Berlin, over how to pay for the crisis. 

It was clear the only answer was a huge increase in debt. But would it be mutualised? Would the bond-purchasing programme run by the European Central Bank continue its limited stealth mutualisation itself or be struck down by the German constitutional court in Karlsruhe? Few expected von der Leyen to provide the answers.

Suddenly there is no Mutti, no Vati, to lead the way. Now it’s all up to her

Macron had her right where he wanted her. But at first it looked as if he might fail. As the pandemic raged in France, Italy and Spain the Élysée stunned Berlin by calling for a common debt instrument to pay for the crisis with Rome, Madrid and six other eurozone countries. 

Otherwise, they made clear behind closed doors in Brussels, several members risked insolvency. Merkel flatly refused. Mutualised debt was, as ever, a German red line.

But then, as the worst of the coronavirus seemed to spare Germany, something changed. A proposal, first conceived of in the Berlaymont its supporters claim, was picked up by both finance ministers and civil servants in Spain and France. 

It was to let the Commission borrow massively in its own name and then distribute a one-off package of loans and grants to the worst-affected member states. Berlin suddenly liked it.

The Élysée gamble had paid off. This was a Commission Merkel could do business with: von der Leyen, unlike Juncker, unlike Prodi, was someone she could trust. Macron and Merkel shook hands on it: von der Leyen was not in the photograph. But it didn’t matter, as it wasn’t about her. 

France and Germany had decided that a financially empowered Commission was in their interest. 

“We’ve now got a chance to achieve more than anyone since Jacques Delors,” said one Commission official. 

German leadership in Europe has suddenly found direction again, corralling “the frugals” onside. 

Von der Leyen, in a tag-team of calls with Macron, Merkel, and the bumbling Charles Michel, president of the European Council, is suddenly its unexpected face.

The breakthrough is historical, but so far mostly because of the history it could portend. The list of wins the pandemic has unlocked for the Commission — billions in common debt, common expenditure and the door to real common taxation — were all unimaginable a few months ago. 

But despite the EU budget roughly doubling, the sums are still not enough: Italy’s grants might well come to as little as 0.6 per cent of annualised GDP over the next three years. 

This is because what struck was not altruism but the national interest: to save Germany’s EU export markets Merkel chose yet again to do what was necessary to save, but not the maximum necessary to overhaul, the euro. 

For all the squabbles with “the frugals” these are not full eurobonds. Only a share of the crisis, not the full European debt itself, which would unburden the south, has been mutualised.

The mood in Brussels is now one of triumphalism. Talk of von der Leyen is effusive, unrecognisable from March. “She listens,” said one Commisson official. “She pays incredible attention to speeches,” said another. 

“We’ve seen more of her in four months than we saw of Juncker in four years,” said another. 

Her Berlaymont bedroom, installed like a Napoleonic camp bed by her office so she can be at work in minutes, is no longer ridiculed. 

This elation comes not from the fiscal numbers themselves. It comes from an augury: that though the Macrons and Merkels may come and go a new super-Commision, now Europe’s treasurer of last resort, is here to stay. 

With the Rubicon crossed, this assumption goes, the button for common debt will keep on getting pressed at crisis summits until the Berlaymont sits at the heart of a fiscal union.

But will it? In three years’ time will Europeans really see this new power as having driven their recovery? 

After von der Leyen was confirmed by the European Parliament, the chamber burst into rapturous applause, before MEPs made their way to gladhand their new president. 

Suddenly in front of her, the beaming David McAllister, the former minister-president of Lower Saxony, hugged her and said: “You know what? Your father can see you now!”

Von der Leyen smiled. Towards the end of his life, Ernst Albrecht was asked if he had ever failed at something. 

The old man replied: “Every person fails somewhere in life. I worked with all my might for 17 years towards the unification of Europe. I would find today I failed in this.”

All her life Ursula has been the daughter, the successor, the chancellor in reserve — never her own person. 

For her whole life in politics, Europe has been stuck, in crisis, the work of her father’s generation at risk. 

Now the wheels of history have turned: for her, for the Commission she heads, this is an occasion to assert powers which might not come again.

France and Germany are both saying yes; the European Council, the rival in the Europa building, is headed by a uniquely risible Belgian figure; the coronavirus rescue package, if von der Leyen can implement it, could hand power to the Berlaymont that has been seeping away since Delors; but only if she can hold onto it. 

Suddenly there is no Mutti, no Vati, to lead the way. Now it’s all up to her. If she fails, if the Commission fails, it’s all up to her. There are few moments in politics as exhilarating, as terrifying, as that.


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Currency Markets At A Glance (WSJ)
World Currencies

Euro 1.17295
Dollar Index 93.737
Japan Yen 105.5495
Swiss Franc 0.916900
Pound 1.294000
Aussie 0.718000
India Rupee 73.1925
South Korea Won 1162.43
Brazil Real 5.6854
Egypt Pound 15.729100
South Africa Rand 16.45610

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$EURUSD: As of the close today, Friday Oct 2nd 2020. See Chart @FXPIPTITAN [My Target remains 1.25] 1.17295
World Currencies

There's a chance Euro will move lower (1.1702/1.1691) and fall outside the aqua and blue channel early next wk then bounce up, back into trend.

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#Remittances—the money which overseas workers send back home—are a crucial source of funding for many low-income families. #COVID19 #IMFBlog
World Of Finance

#Remittances—the money which overseas workers send back home—are a crucial source of funding for many low-income families.  Against the background of the pandemic, the need for that money is acute. #COVID19 #IMFBlog

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Sweet deal: President Ouattara announcing the price paid to Ivorian farmers per kilo of raw cocoa for the 2020-2021 harvest, equivalent to $1.79. is up 21% on last year @thecontinent_

Sweet deal: President Ouattara announcing the new cocoa price on Thursday1,000 CFA The price paid to Ivorian farmers per kilo of raw cocoa for the 2020-2021 harvest, equivalent to $1.79. The price is set by the government, and is up 21% on last year

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We forecast a global recession of -4.1% in 2020, much worse than the global financial crisis (lhs). @RobinBrooksIIF
World Of Finance

2 countries explain the difference: (i) lack of China infrastructure stimulus like in 2009 (rhs, red); (ii) deep recession in India (rhs, orange). This is weighing on broader EM...

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Is the pandemic really receding in the poorest countries? @fibke5.
Frontier Markets

Note: IDA = 59 poorest countries that qualify for interest-free loans from World Bank; Blend = 15 others who can also access WB non-concessional loans (including Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan).

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Active cases of #Covid19 in #Africa stood at around 220,000 on Thursday, roughly unchanged from last week @NKCAfrica

Active cases of #Covid19 in #Africa stood at around 220,000 on Thursday, roughly unchanged from last week; big declines in #SouthAfrica and #Egypt were outweighed by increases in #Tunisia (more than 5,000 or 62%), #Morocco and #Libya.

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Zambia’s president is planning to rig the election. This is how. @thecontinent_ @ssishuwa
Law & Politics


Common election-rigging strategies across Africa include: ballot-box stuffing, electoral bribery, violence against political opponents and the emasculation of the independent media. 

Other tactics involve putting dead voters on the electoral register, creating irregularities to obstruct voters and, more recently, using fake news to sway the electoral outcome.

These strategies have been used to varying success, but they are not as common as they once were. 

For once thing, judiciaries have wised up – just ask the judges in Kenya in 2017 and Malawi in 2020 who annulled their country’s votes.

This has prompted presidents to devise more sophisticated and subtle ways of guaranteeing they stay in power. 

A clear example is Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu. Ahead of the general election in August 2021, he is implementing a twofold strategy that would make it  nearly impossible to vote him out of office.

Step 1: Amend the Constitution

Lungu barely scraped a victory in the last general election in 2016, winning by 50.3%. This time, he is not taking any chances. His governing Patriotic Front (PF) party has taken a Constitutional amendment to parliament. which proposes another stage to Zambia’s election between the first vote and a potential run-off.

In this stage, if no presidential candidate has won more than 50% of the vote, the leading candidate could propose a coalition with a losing candidate of their choice – as long as together their votes add up to more than 50%.

This suggests Lungu is anticipating another close election where he may emerge with more votes than his rivals but fall short of the required 50% + 1 vote threshold. 

In this instance, just an extra 2% or 3% may be needed to form a winning majority. This will probably come from smaller, Lungu-friendly parties that are in opposition in name only. Their votes total may be tiny, but this amendment could turn them into kingmakers.

Step 2: Abolish the voter’s roll

Lungu is reported to have exerted considerable pressure on the electoral commission to abolish the current voters’ register, which numbers 6-million voters. In June, the electoral commission announced that it would do exactly that.

Instead of updating the voters’ register, the electoral commission will draw up an entirely new one. This means that current voting cards will not be accepted at polling stations next year. Every voter is required to register again, and they must do so in a 30-day window that begins on October 28.

This risks disenfranchising millions of voters who are not able to re-register in the allotted time. The majority of these are likely to be opposition voters. Three of the four provinces in which Lungu’s main opponent Hakainde Hichilema retains huge support are predominantly rural areas. 

Limited publicity about the commission’s plans to abolish the existing register, the long distances to the nearest administrative centres, the onset of the rainy season (which starts in late October), and the limited time available to complete the exercise will undermine the capacity of voters in these areas to take part in the voter registration. 

Moreover, the commission has admitted that the government has not provided it with sufficient funds for the exercise.

Taken together, these developments suggest that Lungu is, in effect, establishing the administrative, legal and constitutional mechanism for perpetuating his stay in office. 

Should his two main strategies fail, he is reported to have another card up his sleeve: to strike a major blow against the opposition using electoral exclusion. 

Recent weeks have seen intense speculation in local media that Lungu harbours plans to arrest Hichilema on a trumped-up charge. 

If there is substance to this allegation, the objective would presumably be to secure a dubious conviction that would disqualify his main rival from the 2021 race.

By undermining elections, the Constitution and the judiciary, Lungu is weakening the very institutions that offer long-term hope for democratic consolidation – and increasing the threat of popular protests against his rule.

Zambia was once highly regarded as a model of democracy in Africa. It is now deep into a slide, not so much into dictatorship as chaos. 

Many people within and beyond have yet to come to terms with the country’s changing political character. By the time they do, it might be too late. 


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The rise and fall of sanitiser and face mask business in Tanzania from COVID-19 @LSEnews


Measures by the Tanzanian government to control the COVID-19 epidemic in early 2020 led to large-scale economic disruption, and a proliferation of new business around safety and hygiene. Reporting from Dar es Salaam, Halfan Hashim Magani describes the rise and fall of such enterprise in response to government announcements.

The emergence of COVID-19 in Tanzania on 16 March 2020 marked the beginning of economic changes throughout the country. While some were deeply impacted by a loss of profit in marketplaces, others saw business opportunities in new areas: selling face masks and sanitisers. I chart the rise and fall of this business in response to events, looking specifically at the ways in which this unfolded in the capital Dar es Salaam.

On the one hand, the new mask and sanitiser business exposed the dynamism, adaptability and indeed resilience of the city and its inhabitants. On the other, it reveals the sheer hard work and responsiveness that urban dwellers must practice to make a living – often without much choice. Moreover, it exposes the city’s income differentials, shaping who is able to access high quality protective equipment and who is not.

Following the official announcement by the Tanzanian government that one person had contracted COVID-19 in the city of Arusha, statements and campaigns on how to control the disease from spreading began. On 23 March the Chief Physician of the state, Professor Abel Makubi, insisted that people should take precautions such as washing their hands, using sanitisers, avoiding overcrowding, observing social distancing and wearing face masks, especially those locally made by pieces of cloth. The same campaign was echoed by the Regional Commissioner of Kigoma, the retired Brigadier General Emanuel Maganga, who urged all people of the region, both rural and urban dwellers, to wear face masks. The Ilala Municipal Mayor, Omary Kumbilamoto, said that people should wear the masks and carry hand sanitiser: whoever goes against the order will be arrested.

The use of face masks and sanitiser has proliferated across the globe, supported by the World Health Organization, among other public health institutions.

The mask and sanitiser business spread rapidly across Dar es Salaam from late March 2020 and gained momentum from April to May. Business flourished in areas such as markets (Kariakoo, Tandale, Kisutu, Temeke Sterio, Mbagala), bus stops, small shops and hospital entrances. In many bus stops, such as Ubungo, Makumbusho, Gerezani Kariakoo and Mbagala, one could find street hawkers, famously known as ‘wamachinga’ in Swahili, selling locally-produced masks. With no long-term specific goods to sell, the wamachinga respond closely to changing demands in the market. For example, around December and January – the preparatory months for primary and secondary students – they engage in selling school uniforms, exercise books and other necessary school equipment. The emergence of COVID-19 posed an opportunity. As one street hawker said:

‘We look at what the market needs and then we get into the business. That’s how we always operate. COVID-19 gave us another business to deal with by then.’

Apart from street hawkers, small business owners were also drawn to these items. Unlike the wamachinga, who have no specific goods for sale, these businesspersons own permanent small shops known as ‘kiosks’, which often sell domestic and consumable goods, such as cooking oil, cigarettes, soft drinks, bites, tissues, match boxes and water, to mention a few. This group added masks and sanitisers to their selection. One informant at Posta Mpya bus stop said:

‘I have been here selling small things to the passengers like water, chewing gum, handkerchief, sweets, and biscuits. When COVID-19 emerged I have to add face masks to my business. At that time I was selling up to 50 face masks per day.’

Most of these face masks were locally made by tailors who, scattered everywhere throughout the city, sew clothes, dresses, skirts and suits. Some of the cloth was sourced from textiles industries within the country, while others were sourced outside Tanzania. Pharmacies, on other hand, have sold imported face masks – mostly surgical masks from India and China.

Institutions such as the University of Dar es Salaam, through the college of Engineering and Technology (CoET), also manufactured face masks, retailing at Tsh. 3,5000/= [GBP £1.16]. The University entered into this business in support of government efforts to combat COVID-19. Some masks were distributed to the University of Dar es Salaam staff freely and others were sold to other government institutions. The National Museum of Tanzania made an order of face masks for their staff.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the sanitisers were made in the country, with few imported. A medical doctor working in a private hospital in Dar es Salaam revealed to me that in the months from March to June there was a scarcity of imported sanitiser, because exporting countries had high demands of sanitisers internally. The locally made sanitisers, made by companies and individuals in their homes, dominated those used in the hospitals, health centres and pharmacies.

The quality of these products differed significantly. In most cases, the imported face masks were of good quality, verified by the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) to meet international standards, as were those produced by the University of Dar es Salaam. But face masks made locally, especially by individuals, were of low quality and went unverified, lacking the three layers of required filter, as regarded as necessary according to Winthrop Wong, the Director of Wellchem Pharmaceuticals. The quality of hand sanitisers also varied, some verified by the Tanzania Medicines & Medical Devices Authority (TMMDA), while others were not.

The prices of face masks and sanitisers varied depending on the originality of its design and quality. For example, most of the face masks locally made by individual tailors were sold at 1,000/= Tanzanian Shillings. Those manufactured by the University of Dar es salaam were sold at 3,500/= while for imported masks the price ranged from 2,500/= to 15,000/= Tsh.

Many people in the city preferred to buy locally made masks due to their low income. Indeed, an interview with three informants at Makumbusho Bus stop revealed that, due to high prices, many local communities who sustain their livelihood through a hand-to-mouth economy could not afford to buy imported products. Instead, they opted to buy those produced locally which, by contrast, were reusable.

Imported masks were bought by those who have permanent employment in the government or private sectors, as well as businesspersons with large capital. One of the informants said:

‘The imported face masks are for those who have money. For people like me, we will continue to use the locally made masks because that the only thing we can do.’

The government also allowed the individuals to engage in the manufacturing of hand sanitisers, although some abused the opportunity, creating low quality hand sanitisers and others sold them at higher prices.

The prices of hand sanitisers also differed depending on the size of the bottle. Prices ranged from 1,000/= [GBP £0.30] for small bottles to 20,000/= [GBP £6.69] for large bottles, making some products affordable for all groups.

The masks and sanitiser business peaked from March to May 2020 and started to decline from June following government announcements that the number of cases was decreasing, alongside encouragement to return to normal daily activities. Speaking to workers and the general public at Nkonze Health Centre in Dodoma on 9 June 2020, the Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ummy Mwalimu, said that the 15 regions affected by COVID-19 were virus free. Since then, people returned to normal activities, without taking precautions. I learnt from a conversation with tailors at Mwenge shopping centre that the decreased demand meant they no longer produced the masks, returning to sewing the clothes popular before the virus’ emergence.

In June I observed at Kariakoo market that very few people were wearing face masks. One informant at the market explained:

‘Currently the business has perished. No one is asking for masks anymore. We have switched to another business.’

Street hawkers and small shop owners have also abandoned the mask and sanitiser business. Moreover, there is no longer water nor sanitisers for washing hands at shop entrances, as in previous months.

While short-lived, the mask and sanitiser business has reinforced in the city the importance of daily hygiene measures. However, the most compelling insight, we might argue, is the reality of a city marked by significant inequalities in access to health care and facilities.

The government has not released official statistics on COVID-19 since May 2010. However, during the opening of the general election campaign on 29 August 2020, President John Magufuli, standing again as the presidential candidate for the dominant ruling CCM party, declared the country free from the virus. This is in contrast to nearby Kenya where by September 2020 the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients reached 36,500. In the absence of official or reliable data in Tanzania, it becomes difficult to gauge the status of the pandemic in the country. Nevertheless, the decline of face mask and sanitiser business indicates a shift in public perception. Given the expected general election on 28 October 2020, electoral campaigns will bring together thousands of people, and the coming two months may offer new challenges for Dar es Salaam and the country at large


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This study estimated seroprevalence in Kenya at 5 in 100 between April 30 and June 16. H/T @fibke


Official data would put the number of per capita cases mid-June at 7 in 100,000.


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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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October 2020

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