Quick Take: When "alternative facts" kill

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody, Ian Bremmer here and I have a quick take, what's going on in the world. I mean, here in the United States, it is nearing 200,000 deaths from coronavirus. Trump doesn't want to talk about the pandemic. And I understand that certainly to the extent that in the next 50 days, if we're talking mostly about the pandemic, that means Trump is losing. But so far that strategy is starting to pan out for him. I mean, not in the polls yet in the sense that he's still down, but if you poll Republicans, they say they're much more concerned about law and order than they are the pandemic, and Democrats are much more concerned about the pandemic than they are law and order. This plays out in a bunch of different ways, first, in terms of how you're going to vote, which is really important. What I've seen is astonishing statistics about overwhelming numbers of Democrats say they're going to vote by mail, overwhelming numbers of Republicans say they're going to vote on the day in person.


First of all, that means it's a lot easier for both sides to say this election has been stolen, it's been mishandled, and they are intending to do that. It's also a lot easier for Trump on the day to say, I won because the votes cast on the day are going to be more in favor of Trump. And as you start counting those ballots, it swings to the Dems. We've seen that historically in other states, but this is going to be far greater given the pandemic. I'm going to be fascinating to see how Facebook responds to Trump's posts that say he won when he hasn't yet. Also fascinated to see what happens on the ground in a number of the states. I'm willing to make the call that this election will be seen as illegitimate by a large piece of the population, certainly something I've never said before in terms of a US presidential election. I say it all the time in terms of elections in other countries, particularly developing countries around the world. The US is not that.

Then there's also the question of how much is fake news starting to affect the overall narrative. I'm sure many of you have seen that QAnon is starting to get serious traffic on Facebook, for example, and among people saying that they believe in some of these conspiracy theories. Look, I understand why they're being promoted. I mean, if you have a question of whether you're going to vote for Trump or vote for cannibal pedophiles, I would vote for Trump over a cannibal pedophile, and I think most people probably would. Some people wouldn't. Don't tell me who you are. I don't really care. But the fact that there's that level conspiracy theory, the sort of thing that you would usually see in places where free media is completely underdeveloped, in the Middle East, for example, many states there. Less Lebanon, less Israel, but more others where the state really controls the whole media, or in Russia, for example, you'd expect to see a lot more conspiracy theory there.

You do, but in the United States, you're starting to see really disturbing levels. I've experienced this in the last two weeks. I would say over the last six months, when I opine publicly about coronavirus and I use numbers from the CDC or from Johns Hopkins or any of the other scientific sites that all are within 1% of each other in terms of numbers of cases and hospitalizations and deaths, overall levels and per capita, people might disagree with my analysis, but they don't disagree with the basic numbers, right? That is now changing. I am now seeing consistently that if you say 200,000 people have died of coronavirus, a significant subset of followers are saying, that's not true. That's fake news. That's a hoax. That actually, it's only 6% of that group has died of coronavirus and the other 94% all had co-morbidities. So they're lying to you.

If you have morbid obesity and you get coronavirus and then you died, you died from coronavirus, not from your morbid obesity. And in fact, one of the easiest way to look at these numbers is to see the excess number of deaths that have occurred in the United States in the last six months compared to what you would normally get, given the size of population. You can do that in different countries around the world and you get a number that's a little bit larger than the total death numbers for coronavirus. I've seen 220,000, 240,000, something around there. Now, to be clear, in a coronavirus environment with lockdowns, people will die from other things like the lockdown. I mean, if you're scared to go into a hospital because everyone there has coronavirus and you've got a serious heart condition, you might have a heart attack and die. No coronavirus, but you were scared to go into the hospital. That kind of thing happens.

People with severe levels of depression who lose their job, sort of become addicted or worsen their addiction on a drug that's dangerous for them, those people will die in larger numbers too. So it's not only about that, but the point is it ain't 6%. When the doctors and scientists are saying 200,000 people have died from coronavirus in advanced industrial economy, you know what? 200,000 people have died of coronavirus. And I understand that Trump wants to change the narrative. I understand that there is a legitimate debate between how fast you reopen the economy and how much you lock down.

Of course, it is a debate that should be had about whether or not you should lock down versus live with the virus, and to what degree. I mean, the lockdowns always in the United States should have been about, we need to buy some time to learn more about the virus, to ensure that hospitals won't get overwhelmed, to improve treatment. And now that you've done those things and you also know a lot more, it makes sense that you should reassess your lockdown. You should reassess what conditions you might put for letting people go back to restaurants and schools and work in the office and all of those things, and I understand that. That is very different from trying to convince people the coronavirus doesn't exist, or is a hoax, or that only 6% of the 200,000 people have actually died from coronavirus.

That is a horrible thing. And when I see more Americans than in many countries saying they're not going to wear a mask for socially distance because it's no big deal, when I see the president of the United States going to Nevada and flouting the rules of the state of Nevada on how many people can congregate in a closed location, indoor location, that blows my mind because it's going to lead to more people getting sick and dying, and that's reprehensible. That's irresponsible. That's what we need not to do. A lot of more people in the United States are going to refuse to take vaccines if they believe the coronavirus is a hoax, because why would you vaccinate yourself or your kids from a hoax. So we need, we need, whether you believe we should stop the lockdowns and stop quarantining and get back to work, I mean, there are lots of real debate you should have about that.

Red state versus blue state, poor versus wealthy, knowledge economy versus service worker versus manufacturing worker, real conversations. But there is no dialogue to be had as to whether or not we need science to inform us on the disease itself. Yes, we do. We need to understand the contours of coronavirus from the doctors, from the epidemiologist, from the scientist, the political decisions we want to take on the back of that, completely different story. But the fact that we have this fake news and that social media, particularly Facebook, but others as well are propagating this and people are believing it is not a place we need to be in the United States, it's not a place we need to be in France right now, they're not a place we need to be as a society. It's going to endanger a lot more people and it's a little sad.

That is your Quick Take for this week. I'll talk to you all again soon.


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To maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of our data use, we need privacy regulations to serve as our global rules of the road that preserve our ability to use and share data across borders, supported by innovative tools and solutions that protect privacy and empower individuals. As we reframe our focus to support data use, let’s examine the regulatory approaches that have been working, and develop new approaches where needed to enable the responsible use and sharing of data. To read more about Microsoft’s approach to protecting data infrastructure, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, our parent company, has opened this year’s GZERO Summit with a provocative speech on the near future of international politics. Here are the highlights.

Are the United States and China now locked in a new form of Cold War? Their governments behave as if they are.

But Bremmer isn’t buying it. He’s not predicting that Washington and Beijing will become more cooperative with one another, but that both will be too preoccupied with historic challenges at home in coming years to wage a full-time international struggle.

In Washington, the main worry will be for America’s broken political system. US politics is becoming even more tribalized as TV and online media target politically like-minded consumers with hyperpartisan news coverage. Widening wealth inequality fuels the fire by separating white and non-white, urban and rural, and the more educated from the less educated. Deepening public mistrust of political institutions will fuel future fights over the legitimacy of US elections.

Beijing’s burden centers on how to extend decades of economic gains while moving away from a growth model that no longer works, as higher wages in China and more automation in factories elsewhere cut deeply into China’s manufacturing advantages. China is still a middle-income country. To reach the prosperity level of wealthy nations, it needs 6-7 percent growth for another 20 years.

But China must spend less in coming years to keep giant, deeply indebted companies afloat and more to care for the largest population of elderly people in history. And its leaders must accomplish this at a time when China’s people expect ever-rising levels of prosperity from their government.

The domestic distraction of US and Chinese leaders will create new opportunities for European, Japanese, Canadian, Indian and other political and business leaders to contribute toward international problem-solving. But other governments aren’t the only new players stepping into this power vacuum.

Technology companies are fast becoming important geopolitical actors. We’re entering a world in which economic winners and losers, election outcomes, and national security will depend on choices made by both governments and by the world’s big tech firms.

Bremmer calls this a “techno-polar moment.”

The idea is simple but transformative: Just as governments make the laws that determine what can happen in the physical world, tech companies have final authority in a digital world that’s becoming both more expansive and more immersive.

The biggest tech companies will establish sovereignty by defining the digital space and its boundaries, the algorithms that determine what happens within that space, and the “terms and conditions” that decide who gets to operate in this world.

For skeptics, Bremmer poses this question: Who will do more to influence the outcome of next year’s US midterm congressional elections: The president of the United States or the CEO of Meta? According to Bremmer, since the vote will be influenced by both real-world rules changes and the online flow of information, the answer isn’t obvious.

How will tech companies try to expand their power? Some will behave as “globalists” by trying to reach consumers and influence politics everywhere.

Others will act as “national champions” by aligning with individual governments and their goals.

Still, others will behave as “techno-utopians,” companies that expect historical forces and tech innovations to help them replace governments in important ways.

The relative success of these models over the next decade will decide how government and tech companies share power over the longer-term and whether democracy or autocracy will have the upper hand.

What’s to be done? “Think adaptation, not surrender,” says Bremmer. Steps can be taken to limit the sometimes negative influence of tech companies in the political lives of democracies. But just as climate change can be limited but not avoided, so we must understand and adapt to a world in which governments and tech companies compete for influence over our lives.

Japan, the world's third-largest economy, has long been a bastion of modern capitalism. But newly-minted PM Fumio Kishida thinks it's time for a rethink of the neoliberal model.
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The Graphic Truth: French presidential frontrunners

France's presidential election is only three months away, and it’ll be no snoozer. Although barely one-quarter of French voters back current president Emmanuel Macron, he’s heavily favored to win re-election because he’d almost certainly beat far-right hopefuls Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour in a runoff. But the center-right French president now faces an unexpected challenge from the old establishment right: Valerie Pécresse, the nominee of the Les Republicains party, could give Macron a run for his money if she makes it to the second round. We take a look at how the top four French presidential candidates have polled over the past six months.

What We’re Watching: Biden vs Putin, Rohingya vs Facebook, Peruvian congress vs president

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agree to disagree. But what a disagreement it is…. From what we know, during their Tuesday video call, the Russian president made clear that NATO’s flirtations with Ukraine are a red line, and that Moscow is prepared to defend its sphere of influence. The Kremlin also wants to see movement on the 2015 Minsk peace plan, which would give Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine broad autonomy. Biden meanwhile stressed that if Russia stirs up fresh trouble in Ukraine, the US is prepared to impose more severe economic sanctions. The US president also told Putin that Washington doesn’t accept the idea that Ukraine’s interests are subordinate to Russia’s. All of that leaves us more or less where we were before the call: Russia with 70,000 troops camped out on the Ukrainian border, and the US sounding the alarm about a possible invasion.

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How is China able to control their tech giants without suppressing innovation?

For Ian Bremmer, one important reason is that there's a big difference between Jack Ma questioning Chinese regulators and Elon Musk doing the same to the SEC.

"In the United States you've got fanboys if you do that; in China, they cut you down," Bremmer told CNN anchor Julia Chatterley in an interview following his annual State of the World Speech.

Still, he says China knows it cannot kill its private sector because it needs to keep growing and competing with American tech firms.

So, who's winning the global battle for tech primacy?

Right now, Bremmer believes the US and China are at tech parity — thanks to their tech giants.

"When we're talking about tech supremacy, we can't just talk about governments anymore."

Hard Numbers: Japanese WW2 shrine visit, UAE shortens workweek, Ethiopian vigilantes, no vax no vote in Latvia

100: Some 100 Japanese lawmakers and cabinet members visited on Tuesday the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo for the first time in two years. The visit was met with the usual outrage from China and South Korea because Japanese World War II war criminals are buried there.

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The French election is getting hot

Germany has been the European center of political attention in recent months, as punk-rock god Angela Merkel exits the stage after almost two decades at the helm. But there’s another big election heating up in Europe. The French will head to the polls in just twelve weeks, and the race has started to get very interesting.

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