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Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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What Could Go Right? Peace is the norm

Ukraine, Russia, and the big-picture decline of war and conquest; bipartisan agreement in the US; and more

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

This is our weekly newsletter, What Could Go Right? Sign up here to receive it in your inbox every Thursday at 6am ET. You can read past issues here.

Don’t take anti-war attitudes for granted
Another week of war. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, goes the song, and in this day and age most people agree. But they didn’t always. Pre 19th century, Vox’s Dylan Matthews writes, “prevailing norms around war . . . were not just permissive but actively sympathetic to wars of conquest.” This is in stark contrast to attitudes today, something we should not take for granted. Our assessment of Russia’s actions as shocking and abhorrent is precisely because we have collectively agreed that war is unacceptable.

Matthews traces the history of this attitudinal change to the aftermath of the world wars. In 1928, for instance, the world outlawed war for the first time with the Treaty for Renunciation of War. (Wikipedia tells us that this treaty served as the basis for Nazi leaders to be tried and persecuted in 1946.) After World War II, the anti-war norm became so strong that, when combined with other factors, the odds of a country “being conquered fell by over 87 percent.” This period after WWII, which has been marked by the unprecedented absence of major war, is what many refer to as the Long Peace. 

While the tragedy in Ukraine continues to unfold, we can find reassurance in the fact that our commitment to this norm has held fast. “The war in Ukraine,” Matthews says, “is not evidence that this norm has gone away. If anything, the current crisis is an example of the norm working as intended: Once it was violated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, he faced overwhelming (but non-military) punishment from the international community for that violation.” It may be helpful to remember this when you hear statements along the lines of “times like these.” Buried within them is an unconscious re-commitment to peace as the world’s status quo—bad times are only considered unusual when the times are usually good.

A popular line right now is that China is watching Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in order to launch their own invasion of Taiwan soon. Not so, says Eurasia Group analyst Neil Thomas. There are no signs of an imminent invasion, and he thinks that China is years or decades away from being able to execute such a move. They are watching, though, and a failure on Russia’s part could be a deterrent to future plans. “Keep in mind,” Thomas says, “that crossing the 100-mile Taiwan Strait would be much more challenging than Russia crossing its land border with Ukraine.”

And a few shorter Ukraine updates:

  • Russia and the United States are talking to one another in order to avoid mistaken escalation. Last week they established “a direct communication link, known as a deconfliction line,” to avoid accidental conflict or misunderstandings. 
  • The war has been a strange boost to renewable energy efforts. The European Commission has published a plan to reduce the European Union’s energy dependency on Russia 80% by the end of September. The plan includes putting renewable energy projects on the fast track.
  • There is a new public database, ukrainefacts.org, that brings together 120 organizations to debunk false stories about Ukraine that are circulating on social media. On the site, you can also see which countries have a high prevalence of disinformation. (Any Indian, Turkish, or Spanish readers, watch out!) 
  • The Ukrainian guy who tried to sink his Russian boss’ yacht—we shared his story last week—has been released from custody and went back to his homeland to fight
  • We learned a lot from language learning app Duolingo’s great explainer of the relationship between Ukrainian and Russian.

American unity
We mentioned last week that there’s a high level of bipartisan agreement on what actions to take related to Ukraine. It’s not the only thing uniting American politics right now, believe it or not. 

What laws protect you if an ex shares nude photos of you online without your consent? The answer is a patchwork of state laws with lots of loopholes and gaps. On International Women’s Day, which was on Tuesday, two Democrat and two Republican lawmakers reintroduced the SHIELD Act, which would establish federal criminal liability for individuals who distribute intimate images without consent.

We have written about the worldwide winds blowing away from capital punishment. In the US, some Republicans are getting on board with what historically has been a progressive issue. Legislation to end the death penalty in Ohio, introduced by a bipartisan coalition, is expected to pass in the next year. And, “Republicans are leading or cosponsoring efforts to repeal or limit the death penalty,” writes Marin Cogan for Vox, “in Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, and Pennsylvania.” (At the federal level, a moratorium on executions has been in place since July 2021.)

Most Americans, says Axios, are normal, nice people whose brains haven’t been rotted by toxic politics. They give to charities and don’t spend time on Twitter. The silent majority identifies as neither Democrat nor Republican, and only a small fraction watches inflammatory, partisan coverage on TV.

And this unity isn’t good, but it is interesting. Writer Simon Montlake for Christian Science Monitor asks why Democrats and Republicans have abandoned visions of a bright future to instead galvanize voters based on prophecies of decline.

Before we go
Substantive global energy around combatting plastic waste is emerging. Last week, 175 countries agreed to settle a legally binding treaty to address the issue by 2024 through recycling, sustainable packaging, and cutting down on plastic production. “That’s an extremely fast timeline,” the Bloomberg Green newsletter noted. “Most global treaties take five to 10 years.”

Speaking of things taking a long time, after over a century of efforts, the anti-lynching bill we highlighted last week has officially passed Congress and is waiting for President Biden’s signature. The Progress Network Member Theodore R. Johnson on why this is so significant here.

In February we shared the story of South Africa-based biotechnology company Afrigen Biologics, which developed its own mRNA vaccine for Covid-19 based on Moderna’s sequencing of the virus, bringing mRNA technology to the African continent for the first time. Moderna has now announced that it will not enforce its patents against that vaccine or ones developed by other countries that are members, like Afrigen, of the World Health Organization initiative for mRNA technology sharing. While Moderna still won’t help that initiative directly, the company is setting up an mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility in Kenya. And in pandemic prevention and preparedness good news, it is also focusing on developing vaccines for “15 of the world’s most worrisome pathogens.”

The road of progress is never linear. The first man to receive a transplant from an animal, a pig heart, has died after two months. Doctors have not released the cause of death. The question now is whether the Food and Drug Administration will allow a clinical trial with gene-edited pig organs to go forward. (Thanks to reader Jody for alerting us to this update.)

Below in the links section, Delaware reduces cancer disparities, Egypt gets its first female judge, and more.


“Four Nordic countries—Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway—top the index as the best places for working women,” The Economist says. “Japan and South Korea, where women must still choose between a family or a career, fill the bottom two places.”

Cycling Away Elderly Loneliness

With manpower from volunteer locals and funds from the Scottish government, Cycling Without Age Scotland is one project fortifying the mental health of those at high risk of loneliness: elder care residents. | Read more 

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Alec Stapp is the co-founder and co-CEO of the Institute for Progress. Previously, Alec was the director of technology policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, a research fellow at the International Center for Law and Economics, a technology policy fellow at the Niskanen Center, and a graduate research fellow at the Mercatus Center.

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Read Caleb’s essay on how tech clusters develop, and how can we use them to replicate past successes.



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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.