As Economic Concerns Rise, Executives Are Reporting Record High Stress and Defaulting To Old Office Habits

Future Forum’s latest report, which surveyed more than 10,000 workers during August, found that overall work satisfaction scores dropped 15% for executives, who also reported work-life balance scores that were 20% worse and work-related stress and anxiety scores that were 40% higher....getty

For months, the pandemic has driven an upswing in burnout among workers, focused attention on employees’ mental health concerns and fueled a wave of departures known as the Great Resignation, most noticeably on the front lines.

But the latest quarterly survey released Thursday from Future Forum, a consortium backed by the messaging platform Slack, finds that now, even senior executives’ sentiments about their jobs are declining—and it appears to be prompting them to fall back on old norms about where and when people work.

Future Forum’s latest report, which surveyed more than 10,000 workers during August, found that overall work satisfaction scores dropped 15% for executives, who also reported work-life balance scores that were 20% worse and work-related stress and anxiety scores that were 40% higher. While the sentiment and experience scores for executives dropped precipitously—particularly among those who work for large companies—those for non-executives remained flat or rose slightly, the report said.

While that might elicit little pity from employees who’ve felt overworked and underpaid over the past two years—and who are also worried about the economic slowdown—the added economic stress for executives can have an impact on the people who work for them, says Slack’s Brian Elliott, the executive leader for Future Forum.

“On top of that set of changes and challenges [from the pandemic], you’re facing a lot of economic pressures too,” says Elliott. “That kind of stress is leading people to go back to what’s familiar and comfortable for them. Executives are saying things like ‘I need my finger on the pulse of the organization’”—otherwise known as monitoring people in the office. “This is the first time we’re seeing this kind of jump and increase in stress in executives.”

Elliott says that whenever he talks to senior leaders—Future Forum does research but also convenes executives to swap ideas—the issues of productivity and culture come up as concerns. But the new data suggests employees work more productively if they have flexibility—and that concerns about culture erosion may be overblown.

Future Forum’s report—released by Slack, which makes tools it hopes will serve as a “digital HQ” for hybrid workers—found that workers who have full flexibility with their schedules say they are 29% more productive and 53% more able to focus than those who have no schedule flexibility.

Meanwhile, remote and hybrid workers were 52% more likely to say company culture has improved over the past two years, compared with those who work onsite daily, even though 25% of executives said “team culture is negatively impacted” by not being together in the office.

“I get why the stress is there on executives, but it’s driving a set of behaviors that are actually contrary to what they want to accomplish,” Elliott says. The report, for instance, also found that 60% of executives surveyed said they are designing policies with little direct input from employees.

He says that could lead organizations to be less competitive when it comes to recruiting talented employees. “If, as a senior leadership team, you’re still basing most of your decisions on the discussions that are happening at this level and not really getting in and understanding it,” Elliott says, “then you’re at risk of going backwards.”


I am a Senior Editor at Forbes, leading our coverage of the workplace, careers and leadership issues. Before joining Forbes, I wrote for the Washington Post for more than a decade covering

Source: As Economic Concerns Rise, Executives Are Reporting Record-High Stress—And Defaulting To Old Office Habits


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Increased Physical Activity Reduces Breast Cancer Risk, International Study Suggests

Increasing physical activity and reducing time spent sedentary is likely to decrease the risk of breast cancer, a study of more than 100,000 women suggests. An international team including researchers from Australia, the UK and US have used genetic analysis to establish a causal relationship between overall activity levels and cancer risk.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, included data from 130,957 women, 76,505 of whom had breast cancer. While previous research has shown a correlation between physical activity and lowered risk of breast cancer, proving causation has been difficult.

“There has always been a little bit of uncertainty as to whether physical activity truly causes a lower rate of breast cancer or whether that relationship is confounded by other factors,” said Associate Prof Brigid Lynch of Cancer Council Victoria, the study’s senior author.

“For example, women who tend to be more physically active might have healthier lifestyles in other ways as well.”Lynch said the new study “suggests that it is certainly a causal effect: physical activity does reduce your risk of developing breast cancer”.“We saw a risk reduction across all breast cancer types,” she said.

The researchers used a technique known as Mendelian randomisation to establish causality, which uses genetic variants as proxies for particular traits – in this case, physical activity and time spent sitting or reclining.They found that a higher level of physical activity, or general movement, was associated with a 41% reduction in invasive breast cancer risk.

In pre- and perimenopausal women, vigorous physical activity at least three days per week was linked to a 38% lower risk of breast cancer compared to no vigorous activity.“For every 100 odd minutes [of sedentary time] per day we observed a 20% risk increase in breast cancer overall, and a doubling of risk for triple-negative breast cancer [which is more aggressive and difficult to treat],” Lynch said.

Physical activity is thought to lower breast cancer risk because it decreases the amount of both oestrogen and androgen hormones circulating in the bloodstream. A reduction in inflammation may also be a factor.“There’s always been a lot of focus on other health behaviours like healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol intake,” Lynch said. “There’s a big role for physical activity in preventing cancer.”

The research drew data from the UK Biobank as well as 76 other studies conducted as part of the Breast Cancer Association Consortium.One limitation of the study was that it only included data from women of European ancestry.“We can’t say for sure that these genetic instruments are applicable across different racial backgrounds,” Lynch said.

But she added that large observational studies in Asia and for women of different ethnicities in the US have found correlations between physical activity and reduced risk.“We do already recommend that physical activity is one of things you can do to reduce your breast cancer risk,” said Associate Prof Wendy Ingman of the University of Adelaide, who was not involved in the study.

Other factors associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer include minimising alcohol intake, and breastfeeding. “The longer a woman breastfeeds for, the less breast cancer risk she has,” Ingman said.

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Source: Increased physical activity reduces breast cancer risk, international study suggests | Australia news | The Guardian

Critics by Vanessa B. Sheppard, PhD, Kepher Makambi, PhD, Teletia Taylor, PhD, Sherrie Flynt Wallington, PhD, Jennifer Sween, MS, and Lucile Adams-Campbell, PhD

A population-based case-control study was conducted with 199 women (97 cases and 102 controls) from the Washington, DC metro area. A self-report physical activity questionnaire elicited responses on walking for exercise and vigorous physical activity (e.g., running, aerobics, etc.) in the past year. Responses were used to calculate a metabolic equivalent (MET) score [MET-hours/week = hours/week vigorous activity×7+ hours/week walking ×3]. The MET score was categorized into low, medium and high tertiles. Multivariate logistic regression examined the association between physical activity and breast cancer.

African American women who engaged in vigorous physical activity (> 2 hours/week in the past year) had a 64% reduced risk of breast cancer compared to those who did not participate in any vigorous activity (odds ratio, OR = 0.36; 95% confidence interval, CI = 0.17–0.75). We also found a 64% reduced breast cancer risk in women with a high versus low tertile of total activity (OR = 0.36; 95% CI = 0.16–0.79). For postmenopausal women, vigorous physical activity and total activity (high versus low tertile) also had an inverse relationship with breast cancer (p<.05).

Data regarding the association of physical activity and breast cancer has been equivocal and lacking for African American women. This study found that modest levels of physical activity reduced breast cancer risk in this group. Targeted efforts are needed to encourage more African American women to engage in physical activity.

Breast cancer is the leading cancer diagnosed in US women. With more than 190,000 cases diagnosed each year, there are few prevention strategies. Known risk factors, such as genetic mutations and family history of cancer, account for only 30% of a woman’s risk for being diagnosed with breast cancer. Thus, lifestyle changes may reduce a woman’s breast cancer risk.

Research suggests that an increase in physical activity, in particular, among sedentary, post-menopausal women changes their hormone levels to reflect a lower risk of breast cancer diagnosis. Therefore, physical activity may be one of the best approaches towards the primary prevention of breast cancer.

The relationship between physical activity and breast risk is complex and may be explained by certain molecular mechanisms. It is plausible that physical activity could affect breast cancer risk because it also affects other risk factors, such as menstrual cycle, body mass, immune system, and hormones such as IGF. It is well accepted that physical inactivity increases one’s risk of obesity. Obesity has separately been considered a breast cancer risk factor and there is an inverse relationship between obesity and physical activity.

How physical activity and obesity might confound each other is unknown; obesity is positively associated with breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women but inversely associated with risk in premenopausal women. Further, some data suggests that adult weight gain, rather than BMI, affects breast cancer risk, especially among non users of hormonal replacement therapy.

Studies have shown a relationship between obesity and risk of breast cancer but in samples of mostly Caucasian women.Research, although equivocal, suggest that physical activity is inversely related to breast cancer risk in both pre- and postmenopausal women. Considering African American women have higher rates of being overweight or obese, limited physical activity may be a significant breast cancer risk factor in this population. Some data in African American women suggests that breast cancer risk is reduced with increased physical activity.

In a study by Adams-Campbell et al, strenuous physical activity was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer in African American women. This study, however, focused only on strenuous physical activity levels. Bernstein et al also found that increased physical activity reduces breast cancer risk in African-American women. However, this study also lacked data on the effect of moderate intensity exercise in this population. More research is needed to determine whether moderate levels of physical activity can also reduce breast cancer risk in this population.

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What Are The Benefits of Working For a Private Blockchain Development Company

Blockchain technology is a relatively new development that has the potential to be a game-changer. Some even promote blockchain technology as being the next technological revolution. A lot of businesses are excited about the possibilities that exist with blockchain and are trying to get in on the game early.

Over the last few years, blockchain technology has made a lot of progress. This is one of the most talked-about trends in the technology sector. With the potential to change everything from institutions to platforms, there is no doubt blockchain technology is here to stay. While it is still in the early days, we have a long way to go before we see it being used by most people and businesses.

This blog looks at some of the biggest benefits of working for a private blockchain development company.

 What is a private blockchain?

A private blockchain is a blockchain that is not open to the public and can only be joined by invitation. These blockchains are usually controlled by a single entity, organization, or group of people. There are also consortium blockchains that are controlled by a pre-selected set of nodes or miners. In the case of a public blockchain, the transactions are openly validated by a network of miners. On the other hand, in a private blockchain, transactions are validated by either a single entity or a group of people.

There are several benefits of working for a private blockchain development company, depending on the business you’re in. Private blockchains are a good option if you want to keep your transaction data private. It is also great if you want to carry out multiple transactions per second. However, a private blockchain is not a decentralized system and is usually used by a single entity.

 How is private blockchain development better than public blockchain?

You might have heard about public blockchain and private blockchain, but what is the difference between them? Let’s see what the difference between private and public blockchains is.

A public blockchain is a decentralized ledger that is open to everyone on the network. Anyone can download the software and join the network. All transactions are transparent and the miners’ identities are public. Anyone on the network can participate in the consensus mechanism.

A private blockchain is a private version of the public blockchain. It is behind a firewall, so only those who are granted access can join the network. So, it is permissioned. A private blockchain can be permissioned by a single entity or by a consortium of companies. A private blockchain is used for enterprise solutions. It is centralized, but it is not controlled by a single entity. It is controlled by a group of companies.

 Benefits of hiring a  private blockchain development company

Today, Blockchain technology is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, and there are a lot of Private Blockchain development companies that you can hire to help you with your project. But you must know them. Blockchain has been in the news a lot lately, with many companies making headlines by using the technology.

Bitcoin, which is a digital currency, was the first application of Blockchain technology. Bitcoin was developed in 2009, and in that same year, Blockchain technology started to gain popularity. Today, Blockchain technology is used in a variety of different industries and has a large number of applications.

When you work for a private blockchain development company, you get to work on some really interesting projects. You also get to learn new information and technologies. These are just a couple of the benefits of working for a private blockchain development company, but they are also some of the most important. You will also be able to apply your knowledge to a wide variety of different projects.


The benefits of working for a private blockchain development company are about the same as for any other IT job. You get access to new technologies, you get to learn new skills and you get to work with other talented people. The main difference is that you are working for a company that is using blockchain technology, so you are sure to be working on something new and exciting.

By: John.V

Source: What are the benefits of working for a private blockchain development company?

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How Germany Got Hooked on Russian Energy

On Sunday 1 February 1970, senior politicians and gas executives from Germany and the Soviet Union gathered at the upmarket Hotel Kaiserhof in Essen. They were there to celebrate the signing of a contract for the first major Russia-Germany gas pipeline, which was to run from Siberia to the West German border at Marktredwitz in Bavaria. The contract was the result of nine months of intense bargaining over the price of the gas, the cost of 1.2m tonnes of German pipes to be sold to Russia, and the credit terms offered to Moscow by a consortium of 17 German banks.

Aware of the risk of Russia defaulting, the German banks’ chief financial negotiator, Friedrich Wilhelm Christians, took the precaution of asking for a loan from the federal government, explaining: “I don’t do any somersaults without a net, especially not on a trapeze.”

The relationship would benefit both sides: Germany would supply the machines and high-quality industrial goods; Russia would provide the raw material to fuel German industry. High-pressure pipelines and their supporting infrastructure hold the potential to bind countries together, since they require trust, cooperation and mutual dependence. But this was not just a commercial deal, as the presence at the hotel of the German economic minister Karl Schiller showed.

For the advocates of Ostpolitik – the new “eastern policy” of rapprochement towards the Soviet Union and its allies including East Germany, launched the previous year under chancellor Willy Brandt – this was a moment of supreme political consequence. Schiller, an economist by training, was to describe it as part of an effort at “political and human normalisation with our Eastern neighbours”.

The sentiment was laudable, but for some observers it was a potentially dangerous move. Before the signing, Nato had discreetly written to the German economics ministry to inquire about the security implications. Norbert Plesser, head of the gas department at the ministry, had assured Nato that there was no cause for alarm: Germany would never rely on Russia for even 10% of its gas supplies.

Half a century later, in 2020, Russia would supply more than half of Germany’s natural gas and about a third of all the oil that Germans burned to heat homes, power factories and fuel vehicles. Roughly half of Germany’s coal imports, which are essential to its steel manufacturing, came from Russia.

An arrangement that began as a peacetime opening to a former foe has turned into an instrument of aggression. Germany is now funding Russia’s war. In the first two months after the start of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, Germany is estimated to have paid nearly €8.3bn for Russian energy – money used by Moscow to prop up the rouble and buy the artillery shells firing at Ukrainian positions in Donetsk.

In that time, EU countries are estimated to have paid a total of €39bn for Russian energy, more than double the sum they have given to help Ukraine defend itself. The irony is painful. “For thirty years, Germans lectured Ukrainians about fascism,” the historian Timothy Snyder wrote recently. “When fascism actually arrived, Germans funded it, and Ukrainians died fighting it.”

When Putin invaded Ukraine in February, Germany faced a particular problem. Its rejection of nuclear power and its transition away from coal meant that Germany had very few alternatives to Russian gas. Berlin has been forced to accept that it was a cataclysmic error to have made itself so dependent on Russian energy – whatever the motives behind it. The foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, says Germany failed to listen to the warnings from countries that had once suffered under Russia’s occupation, such as Poland and the Baltic states. For Norbert Röttgen, a former environment minister and member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU), the German government bowed to industry forces pressing for cheap gas “all too easily”, while “completely ignoring the geopolitical risks”.

In February this year, German Green economic affairs and climate action minister Robert Habeck said that gas storage facilities owned by Gazprom in Germany had been “systematically emptied” over the winter, to drive up prices and exert political pressure. It was a staggering admission of Russia’s power to disrupt energy supplies.“I was wrong,” the former German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, says, simply. “We were all wrong.”

In recent weeks even Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president, a totemic figure of the Social Democrats and greatest German advocate of the trade “bridge” between east and west, has recanted. He admits he misread Russia’s intentions as he pursued the construction of a new undersea gas pipeline. “My adherence to Nord Stream 2 was clearly a mistake,” he told German media in April. “We held on to bridges that Russia no longer believed in, and that our partners warned us about.”

This is an extraordinary admission for a man who acted as chief of staff to Gerhard Schröder, the Social Democratic chancellor from 1998 to 2005 and thereafter a lavishly rewarded, and much reviled, lobbyist for Vladimir Putin. Steinmeier was also foreign minister under Chancellor Merkel, and a great evangelist for Wandel durch Handel, the concept that trade and dialogue can bring about social and political change.

How did Germany end up making such a blunder? Some argue that Merkel should have seen that Putin was taking Russia in an authoritarian direction when he announced his return to the presidency in 2011. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Germany made no move to stop importing Russian gas, and although Merkel threatened to introduce crippling trade sanctions, German industry convinced her to hold back. But some blame a more persistent misjudgment stretching back 50 years, based on a fallacy that authoritarian countries can be transformed through trade.

The Social Democrats have now set up a review into whether the policy of Ostpolitik – first laid out in a landmark speech in July 1963 by Egon Bahr, then the closest adviser to West Berlin’s mayor and chancellor-to-be, Willy Brandt – became deformed over time, especially after securing its great achievement, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What is extraordinary, retracing the history through memoirs and contemporary records, is how frequently and determinedly Germany was warned, by everyone from Henry Kissinger onwards, that it was making a pact it might live to regret. Kissinger wrote to Richard Nixon on 9 April 1970: “Few people, either inside Germany or abroad, see Brandt as selling out to the East; what worries people is whether he can control what he has started.” Over 50 years, Germany fought numerous battles with a series of US presidents over its growing dependence on Russian energy. In the process, Germany’s foreign office developed a view of American anti-communism as naive, and a belief that only Germany truly understood the Soviet Union.

From the late 1960s, the Federal Republic of Germany tried to open its own direct line of communication with the Soviet leadership, even though its interest in reunification created tensions with the US. When it faced criticism from the US, Germany was wont to cite its unique status. “I cannot imagine there is anyone more interested in being allowed to continue working for detente and balance in Europe than the German people who are forced to live in two states,” Hans-Dietrich Genscher, then the foreign minister, told the German Bundestag in January 1980, to great applause.

But after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, why was Germany still so reluctant to listen to others? A sense of guilt for the atrocities committed against the Soviet Union during the second world war may have played a role. Pride, too, that – through Ostpolitik – it had mended its relations with Moscow. Germany, in a sense, became a double prisoner of its past – bound both to the horrors it had committed, and to its belief that its response to those horrors was correct.

The conflicts between Germany and the US in the 70s and 80s, involving two very different presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, were some of the most rancorous transatlantic battles since the second world war. “The disputes were all part of West Germany showing independence in foreign policy during the cold war, and that became uncomfortable for some American leaders,” the historian Mary Elise Sarotte said to me.

Carter and the German chancellor Helmut Schmidt had little respect for each other. Carter found Schmidt moody, while the chancellor, in his autobiography, dismissed Carter as an idealistic preacher, who knew nothing of Europe and was “just not big enough for the game”. The two leaders did not just grate personally, they disagreed on issues of substance – including how to protect human rights in Russia. In 1979 Schmidt and Carter came together to jointly adopt the so-called dual track decision, by which Nato would upgrade its nuclear weapons based in Europe, while actively seeking an arms control agreement with Russia. But in other ways their approach was very different.

Schmidt never lacked self-confidence, but like many Germans of that era he carried a deep sense of shame arising from painful war memories. He also believed that the stability of the eastern bloc was in the interest of West Germany, given Russia’s nuclear capability. In his autobiography he wrote that he had wanted to develop trading relations with Russia, in order to foster “a greater Soviet dependence upon European supplies”, in turn leading to “more European influence” on Moscow’s policies. And following the 1973 oil crisis, Schmidt became convinced that the Soviet Union represented a more reliable supplier of energy for Germany than the Gulf states.

Carter, by contrast, saw withholding trade as the better way to influence the Soviets. In July 1978, responding to Moscow’s imprisonment of two Soviet dissidents, Aleksandr Ginzburg and Anatoly Shcharansky, Carter restricted US exports of technology for the exploration and development of the Soviet oil and natural-gas industries.

Yet, collectively, European business went in the opposite direction. Even after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, a large German business delegation went ahead with a visit to Moscow. The Soviets (Soyuzgazexport) and western Europeans (chiefly Ruhrgas and Gaz de France) completed negotiations on a new giant gas project, a 4,500km dedicated pipeline from the giant Urengoy field in West Siberia in late 1980. This deal was projected to increase Germany’s dependence on Russian gas from 15% to 30%. When German ministers reviewed the security implications, they concluded there was no danger of Russia misusing its potential stranglehold. Their reasoning was simple. “Long-term disruption would be against the self-interest of the Soviet Union,” the ministry decided.

In a phone call with Carter on 5 March, Schmidt explained his support for the pipeline by telling the US president, “Those engaging in trade with each other do not shoot at one another.” It was a restatement of Norman Angell’s famous pre-first world war theory that the new interdependence of economies made war unprofitable and thus irrational. According to a note in his diary, Carter responded: “It is not beneficial for the Europeans to expect us to provide the stick and for them to compete with one another about providing the biggest carrot.”

In 1980, Schmidt wrote: “To speak of the Federal Republic’s economic dependence on Moscow to a degree large enough to affect foreign policy indicates ignorance or malice.” Given Germany’s plight now, those words look hopelessly misjudged.

Schmidt faced a more challenging opponent in Carter’s successor, the traditional anti-communist Ronald Reagan. In Reagan’s eyes, German trade with Russia was in direct conflict with western security. Reagan’s view was informed by a CIA assessment submitted in July 1981, which noted a clear trend: from 1970 to 1980, Soviet gas exports to western Europe had risen from 1 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year to 26.5bcm annually.

The CIA warned Reagan that the Urengoy gas project would not only accelerate Soviet economic growth, but provide the Soviets with $8bn in hard currency, facilitating a further military buildup. Far from giving Germany sway over Soviet thinking, “it would provide the Soviets one additional pressure point they could use as part of a broader diplomatic offensive to persuade the West Europeans to accept their viewpoint on East-West issues”.

In arguments that echo today’s debates, the US ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, complained: “We consistently find in our talks the allies are already significantly dependent: France for 15% [of its] gas, Germany for 30%.” Schmidt assured the Americans that Germany “can go six months in the event of a Soviet cut-off”. The forecast now is that, in such an eventuality, Germany would have to go straight to a form of energy rationing.

Despite various US efforts to persuade Europe to adopt a voluntary ban, including offering alternative sources of energy, in 1981 Ruhrgas AG and Soyusgazexport went ahead and signed a contract for annual imports of 10.5bcm of Soviet gas over a 25-year period. Unemployment in Europe was close to 9% at the time, and European industry needed to boost its energy supplies. At the same time, the US argument about security was dismissed as a veiled way of promoting the US oil industry.

When Moscow backed the imposition of martial law in Poland on 13 December 1981, Reagan thought such a shocking event might persuade Germany to put the pipeline on hold. In a private note to Margaret Thatcher, sent on 19 December 1981, he urged her to back tough sanctions against the Soviets, stating that “this may well be a watershed in the history of mankind. A challenge to tyranny from within.” Unusually for her, Thatcher vacillated, advising Reagan that the Germans “cannot and will not give up the gas pipeline project”.

The US responded to the Soviet intervention by banning US companies from helping with the pipeline. In the summer of 1982 Reagan tried to force European firms to stop working on the pipeline by imposing secondary sanctions on them. Such sanctions are now a commonplace in the US foreign policy armoury, particularly over Iran, but then, they were seen as an incursion into European sovereignty. Thatcher bridled, telling the Commons “it is wrong” for “one very powerful nation [to] prevent existing contracts being fulfilled”.

By November, Reagan had abandoned the attempt to impose sanctions. In a trial of strength in which Europe sided with Germany, the world’s superpower had lost. The new pipeline started pumping on 1 January 1984.

The German advocates of change through trade had won. The US position on Russia was further weakened when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The peaceful collapse of communism was trumpeted as a vindication for those that had championed dialogue, and engagement through trade. In a speech to the Brandt Foundation in March 2008, Steinmeier gave full vent to this view: “What Ostpolitik in fact achieved – as is now recognised also by those who criticised it at the time,” he said, “was to make peace in Europe, despite the difficulties, a degree more secure. For the democracy movements in eastern Europe it created new possibilities, new scope for action. It was a key factor, too, in finally ending the confrontation between the two blocs.”

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s current chancellor, remains an adherent of this view, arguing last year that it contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and laid the basis for democracy and EU membership for much of eastern Europe. The SPD co-leader, Lars Klingbeil, has also insisted that Ostpolitik “was the basis for reunification and the end of the cold war. As a result, there has been a consensus in the federal republic for decades that conflicts can be defused through dialogue. We won’t let that be bad-mouthed.”

Yet a number of historians and writers believe that this rosy picture of Ostpolitik is misleading. “The idea that Willy Brandt’s policy of detente towards Moscow led in a straight line to the fall of the iron curtain and German unity is at least an over-simplification,” says the historian Jan Behrends. German journalist Thomas Urban, author of a new book critiquing Ostpolitik, believes its role in the fall of the wall and German reunification has been exaggerated:

“It was military buildup by Reagan and the flooding of the market with cheap oil that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he told me. The Russian government budget had grown so dependent on energy for its revenue, he said, that when the price of oil plummeted in the mid-1980s, Russia’s lifeline to external capital dried up. “Gorbachev could no longer fund the overseas wars and the Soviet Republics,” he said. “But this argument was entirely missing in the German debate, especially on the left.”

Urban argued that Ostpolitik’s theory of change suffered from two basic misconceptions: the belief that political change in eastern Europe could only come from engaging with the elite in power, rather than from civilian movements, and second, that “security must be the key to everything”. By the turn of the century, the advocates of change through trade were in their pomp. Chancellor Schröder, with growing confidence, promoted the idea of a strategic partnership with Russia. He invited the new Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to address the Bundestag in 2001, where he won over his audience by giving the speech in fluent German and declaring “the cold war is over”.

Schröder, at the time of Putin’s address, saw a perfect confluence of interests between Europe, Germany and Russia: peace, stability, multilateralism and economic growth. Putin, Schröder was convinced, “wants to transform Russia into a democracy”.

In this favourable political climate, pro-Russian German lobbyists such as Klaus Mangold, chairman of the powerful German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, pursued the construction of yet another gas pipeline, this time taking gas from Vyborg under the Baltic Sea to Germany – the first Nord Stream. The scheme was especially controversial since it would bypass Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, reducing those countries’ incomes, weakening their bargaining power and depriving them of badly needed transit fees. The €7.4bn pipeline construction costs were to be borne by the private German companies BASF and E.ON, and the majority Russian state-owned Gazprom.

This time, protests against the pipeline did not just come from the US, but from the states that had recently emerged from Soviet rule, such as Poland and Lithuania. Radosław Sikorski, then Poland’s defence minister, notoriously compared the plan to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which paved the way for the invasion of Poland.

Yet on 8 September 2005, 10 days before the election in which Schröder’s Social Democrats lost to Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the Nord Stream 1 contract was signed in Berlin by representatives of Gazprom, E.ON and BASF. Putin stood alongside Schröder at the signing ceremony.

Schröder has since been singled out for his role in creating Germany’s dependence on Russian energy, and getting very rich in the process. But the distinguished former German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger recently argued that Schröder should not take the blame for giving the go-ahead to Nord Stream 20 years ago: most German politicians, he told the New York Times in April, did not question whether they were getting into an unhealthy dependence on Russian energy. In the article, Schröder made the same case: “It never occurred to anyone that this could become a problem. It was just a way of procuring gas for Germans, for Germany’s heavy industry, and also for the chemical industry, with fewer problems and disruptions.”

Thereafter it seemed, whatever the setbacks in German-Russian relations, nothing could shift the faith in trade – not Russia’s “peace enforcement operation” in Georgia in August 2008, not the Russian disruption of the gas pipelines in a dispute with Ukraine in January 2009, nor the news that Putin was planning to return to the presidency in 2012, replacing Dmitry Medvedev, in whom Frank-Walter Steinmeier had placed his faith. In 2011, the year Nord Stream finally opened, German total trade exports to Russia rose 34% to €27bn.

Then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2014. Initially, Russia’s incursion seemed to mark a turning point. Merkel’s condemnation was clear: the annexation of Crimea was contrary to international law. Sanctions were duly imposed, and German exports to Russia fell.

Following the 2014 invasion, serious German media such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published lengthy articles looking at the options for how Germany could wean itself off its dangerous dependency on Russian energy. Many of the proposals, such as new liquid gas terminals to allow Germany to import gas from other countries such as Qatar and the US, are the same ones under discussion now, which shows how little actual diversification was achieved. When I spoke to a Qatari energy official last month, he recounted how they spent five years trying to break into the German energy market, only to find their route blocked at every turn.

Some German sanctions on Russia continued for many years, but the advocates of change through trade gradually re-established their ground. It seemed nothing Russia could do would shake their confidence. On 4 September 2015, at the Vladivostok economic forum, with Putin in attendance, an agreement was signed for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on the Baltic seabed, which would vastly increase Germany’s reliance on Russian natural gas. Gazprom would also take over Germany’s gas storage business, thereby handing control of German energy reserves to a foreign power.

Various theories – some grubby, some metaphysical – have been proposed to explain Germany’s dogged refusal to see the dangers in its dependency on Russia. One argument places the blame on SPD politicians and civil servants who were allowed to move seamlessly between public office and Putin’s employment, and worked hard to manipulate the EU and German regulatory environment to suit Gazprom.

Then there is the question of the German-Russian industrial lobby, as symbolised by the German-Russian Forum, which was closely linked with, and partly funded by, German companies active in Russia. (The Forum was suspended after the invasion of Ukraine.) Its board of trustees consisted mainly of business people, often with economic interests in Russia. Its chairman, Matthias Platzeck, the former SPD minister president of Brandenburg, seemed genuinely shocked by Putin’s invasion: “I was wrong because until recently I thought what happened was unthinkable.”

The historian Sarotte said there is no clear evidence that business had exerted greater influence in politics in Germany than in other countries. Nevertheless, over the years, Russia showed an ability to suborn, and in some cases corrupt, the German political class. The Polish foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, on a visit to Berlin in late May, called German Ostpolitik a “fiasco”. German rhetoric around the political value of interdependence, he said, crudely boiled down to gaining a competitive advantage through cheap energy.

Thomas Urban, examining the psychological roots of Ostpolitik, pinpoints two emotions in Germany’s relationship with Russia: nostalgia and guilt. He described to me “the memory of Bismarck, who saw the alliance with Russia as an anchor of stability in Europe. But then there was also the feeling of guilt because of the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, with millions of dead. It meant it was difficult to criticise the Red Army or the Soviet repression since to do so means you do not recognise the greatest crimes in history. It makes Germany blind to the black side of the Soviet Union. It also permits Putin’s propaganda by talking only of the Russian war dead, and not those that were killed in Ukraine and Belarus.”

Much of Germany’s belief in trade with Russia was born of wishful thinking. It led Steinmeier as foreign minister, for instance, to look constantly for signs of reform, ignoring foreign office advice that he needed a plan B in case Germany’s faith in Russia turned out to be ill-founded. In 2016, Steinmeier gave a deeply sincere, almost elegiac speech at Yekaterinburg University asking whether Germany and Russia were still capable of listening to one another. He admitted the annexation of Crimea had been a low point, but hoped dialogue was still possible, urging both sides not to turn their backs on one another.

It was the speech of a man who sensed the tide was going out, and who feared his belief in dialogue no longer matched the spirit of harsher times: “In political discussions, we sometimes hear opinions expressed by people who are not interested in the slightest in understanding others; people who have already made up their minds about the other side; people who don’t even bother reading because they think they already know the answer.” What he described as the “supposed antagonism” between the west and Russia, he feared was becoming entrenched and ideologically driven, running counter to the pursuit of diplomacy and peace.

Now, as Germany’s president and head of state, Steinmeier has been told by Ukrainian officials that his record as the promoter of Russian interests in Germany means he is not welcome in Kyiv at this time. It seems a shame. There would be no need for him to fall to his knees – as Willy Brandt did in Warsaw in 1970, apologising for his nation’s wartime crimes – but he could give a sober reflection on what precisely went wrong with Germany’s eastern policy for so long. For, one way or another, a reckoning is still needed.


Source: ‘We were all wrong’: how Germany got hooked on Russian energy | Germany | The Guardian

How Many Cases and Deaths Could The Covid-19 Omicron Variant Bring In The US

Covid-19 cases are surging upward again in the United States, and public health experts are warning the fast-spreading omicron variant may push the number of infections to their highest level yet. Whether this surge will be followed by an unprecedented level of hospitalization and death is uncertain, but researchers say it’s possible the most devastating phase of the pandemic is yet to come.

Already, countries like South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Denmark have seen sharp spikes in new Covid-19 cases, with some areas reaching record highs. South Africa has reported far fewer hospitalizations from omicron compared to previous waves, but the UK is is in the midst of a sharp rise in hospitalizations, about 30 percent higher week over week.

The big reason is that omicron appears to spread far more readily than the delta variant that has been dominant worldwide since the summer — omicron is 25 to 50 percent more transmissible, according to some UK estimates.

The current moment is an eerie echo of December 2020, when the first major variant of Covid-19 began infecting people around the world. But a key difference now is that there are effective vaccines that have been widely deployed in some countries. In the US, more than 70 percent of the population have had at least one dose of a vaccine and 30 percent of those vaccinated have received two doses and a booster, which should absorb some of the impact of omicron.

Yet epidemiologists and health officials are sounding the alarm about another tsunami of infections — in hopes people will take more precautions, and to help hospitals and health workers prepare to care for the sickest patients. “Omicron could be just as deadly as delta even if it causes milder disease,” Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist who has advised the White House, told reporters this week. Considering the potential impact on the health care system is also crucial as decision-makers weigh another round of restrictions — closing schools, banning large gatherings, reimposing mask mandates.

In one of the most comprehensive forecasts to date, researchers from the Covid-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin on Friday chalked out 18 different scenarios for omicron. Their study was not peer-reviewed, but the findings show that the US is facing yet another dangerous variant while the conditions for spreading it — the holiday season — are at their most favorable.

The most optimistic pathway in the study would lead to more than 50 percent fewer deaths compared to last year — the six-month period spanning December 1, 2020, to May 1, 2021 — while the most pessimistic route would end with 20 percent more fatalities than that grim period last winter and spring.

“Everything we’ve seen so far — growth in Denmark, growth we’re seeing in the United States, in Canada, in the UK — suggests that these scenarios are actually very plausible … for our country,” said Spencer Fox, associate director of the UT Covid-19 Modeling Consortium.

A lot depends on the mutated virus itself, particularly how badly it sickens unvaccinated (and vaccinated) people. While some early reports have hinted that omicron causes a lower rate of severe Covid-19 illness compared to prior variants, there’s still not enough data to be sure. “It’s too uncertain right now to say that,” Fox said. (The UT model currently assumes that omicron’s severity is the same as with delta in unvaccinated people with no prior infection, and that protection against severe illness from prior infection and vaccines may be similar or reduced.)

Getting a booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is the most effective action an already-vaccinated individual can take to protect against the variant, and if enough people get an extra shot, thousands of deaths could be averted this winter, according to the models.

However, communities around the US have so far responded in drastically different ways to the Covid-19 pandemic — some imposing policies that have slowed transmission, and others rejecting those policies and suffering terrible consequences in the form of overwhelmed hospitals and thousands of preventable deaths. So it’s likely that both the best and worst scenarios could play out in parallel over the coming months, in different places.

Omicron is set to become the dominant Covid-19 variant in the US

As people head indoors to warm up from the cold and celebrate the winter holidays, omicron will find ample opportunities to jump from lung to lung. In addition to its greater transmissibility, early results also show omicron can better evade the shielding provided by the immune system that’s built up from vaccines or from prior infections. One recent study suggests that antibodies produced to counter past versions of the virus are far less effective at curbing omicron, which could make the variant more likely to cause a breakthrough infection or reinfection.

At the same time, the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is continuing to wreak havoc, having recently pushed the US death toll above 800,000. Flu could come roaring back this winter, as well, generating a fresh wave of hospitalizations among the most vulnerable to that infection, too. The combined threats of all these respiratory illnesses could push some hospitals to horrific new levels of overcapacity — especially those already stretched thin from staffing shortages and other strains after two years of crisis.

Specifically, experts worry that hospitals will have to ration care or turn patients who need life-saving care away — something many hospitals had to do in earlier Covid-19 surges — if a a lot of new severely ill patients come flooding through the doors.

“Besides the toll of suffering and death which will inevitably go up if, in fact, we have that convergence in the winter months of flu and omicron and delta, we could get our hospital systems overwhelmed,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said Thursday. But how bad, exactly, could it get?

Fox and his colleagues modeled Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths through the winter and into May 2022. For their 18 scenarios, they tweaked factors like the transmissibility of omicron, differing degrees of severity of the virus, the level of immunity in the US population, the likelihood of reinfection among Covid-19 survivors and breakthrough infections among those vaccinated, and the number of people who topped up their vaccine doses with a booster.

Under all the scenarios they modeled, omicron supplanted delta and became the main driver of Covid-19 infections, pushing case counts higher. “The first key finding is that unless significant transmission reduction happens in our communities, we’re likely to see an omicron surge that rivals the previous peak that we saw in January 2021,” Fox said.

The most optimistic scenario emerged in the researchers’ model when omicron was 50 percent more transmissible than delta and 10 percent better at eluding immunity from vaccines and previous infections, yet led to equally severe illnesses. That scenario also presumed many people will get boosters — at 80 percent uptake by March 2022 — but that no other policy or behavior changes are made to reduce transmission.

It predicted a Covid-19 peak in mid-January 2022, but with 8 percent fewer cases and 43 percent fewer hospitalizations than the same six-month period the year before. It also led to 54 percent fewer deaths, totaling 152,000 (still a grim result).

The worst outcome arose when the model assumed omicron was just as transmissible as delta, but far more evasive of prior immunity and much more likely to cause severe disease. In this scenario, prior immunity was 85 percent less effective at preventing infection from omicron, and protection against death was 22 percent lower. In this worst case, vaccine booster uptake remained fairly low, reaching only 57 percent by the end of March 2022. This resulted in Covid-19 cases peaking in early February 2022 and 342,000 deaths over six months, a 20 percent increase from 2021.

That Covid-19’s devastation could be even worse in an era of vaccines and treatments is tragic, a stark consequence of failing to get the pandemic under control across the country.

However, if the booster uptake rate increased to 80 percent, Covid-19 cases in this scenario dropped by 5 percent, hospitalizations by 12 percent, and deaths by 13 percent. That translates to 1.3 million averted infections and 39,000 lives saved between December 2021 and May 2022.

The scenarios show that there is a bit of luck involved in how harsh the next few months will be, but specific actions like getting booster doses of vaccines rolled out can vastly improve the outlook.

The US is not united when it comes to Covid-19

For millions of Americans, now two years into the pandemic, omicron is triggering an exasperating episode of déjà vu.

However, the question of the variant’s severity is still unclear. And researchers warn that even if omicron turns out to be less dangerous for individuals, it could still cause widespread damage if it continues to spread out of control.

The context for the omicron surge also varies throughout the country, something not accounted for in the UT Austin simulation. “This analysis is really just looking at an average across the whole country,” said Fox.

There are things it doesn’t factor in: the rate of preexisting health conditions, access to health care, exposure to prior waves of infection, adherence to mask-wearing, and vaccine uptake — which can be radically different around the country. Around 72 percent of the US population have received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, but in states like Idaho and Mississippi, only half have gotten it.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, is above 90 percent. There are around 90 million people who are unvaccinated against Covid-19 throughout the country, but many are concentrated in distinct regions, often aligned with political views.

That means omicron could play out quite differently in different parts of the country, with some places facing far more hospitalizations and deaths than others with high vaccination rates. And given how readily omicron can spread, the regions with lower vaccination rates that have so far lucked out of previous waves may now be vulnerable.

This is definitely not the time to let our guard down

People who have not been previously infected or immunized against Covid-19 face the greatest risk of omicron infection. But omicron has also shown that vaccinations are not an impermeable shield against infection.

Many omicron cases have been detected in people who completed their course of Covid-19 vaccines, even in some people who received booster doses. It’s a disheartening prospect for people who have rigorously followed public health advice throughout the pandemic, eager for it to be over.

“I share the frustration,” said Justin Feldman, a research fellow and social epidemiologist at Harvard University. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that [the coming omicron wave is] something that individuals can solve with their own personal behaviors.”

The most impactful measures for dealing with Covid-19 have to happen at the policy level, according to Feldman. That includes easily accessible widespread testing for Covid-19 to detect infections early so people can isolate from others and seek treatment, something the US is still struggling to do.

It also includes mandates for vaccines, quarantine and isolation rules for workers, regulations for indoor ventilation, making high-quality masks widely available, and training a corps of pandemic responders to administer tests, treatments, and vaccines.

“These are things Biden should have been trying to build since January 20, but largely hasn’t because the administration went with a very vaccine-centric approach,” Feldman said.

The pandemic playbook of maintaining social distancing, rigorous hand-washing, wearing face coverings, getting tested for Covid-19 after a possible exposure, and getting vaccinated remains useful, even if it doesn’t completely solve the problem.

With omicron, there are some tweaks to this; namely, for eligible vaccinated people to get boosters, and for people to ditch cloth face masks for higher-quality options like N95 respirators and KN95 masks.

Regardless of what course omicron takes throughout the country, health officials are bracing for a situation that will get far worse before it gets better. “I think we really do need to anticipate there probably will be a surge and increase in hospitalizations over the coming months,” Gounder said. Just how dangerous it will be is partly in our hands.

Umair Irfan

Source: How many cases and deaths could the Covid-19 omicron variant bring in the US? – Vox


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