As US COVID-19 deaths grow, blaming China helps Trump politically

So much news over the weekend, particularly on the US-China story. Let's talk about why. Numbers that we're talking about in the United States are changing. I think everybody heard when Dr. Fauci came out and said, we probably can do under 100,000 total deaths if we all socially distance.

Then you heard the 60,000 number and okay, 60,000. Let's do 60,000.

President Trump wants to be the most optimistic possible cheerleader of any topic at any time, whether it's how far the Dow can go up, how great the economy can be, we can have 4% growth this year, all of it. How quickly you can get the deficit down despite expanding it. And now how few deaths we could have - he oriented towards that 60,000 figure. Even though at the time, five significant and respected modelers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the United States, 60,000 was always the most optimistic. But that's where they anchored. Now we're at about 70,000, with a couple thousand more a day. And even though New York City, and the New York metropolitan area, after all of this lockdown, Connecticut, New Jersey, you're getting a significant reduction in case transmissions. We can feel better, at least with this first wave, that we have it, I wouldn't say under control, but it's a much more optimistic trajectory. And you feel like you could start to, in a controlled way, open bits of the economy to a greater degree.

But so many of the states that are now opening, and keep in mind, President Trump and the CDC have supported phase one, phase two, phase three in how you would go about opening. They're not making the orders, the governors are the ones responsible, but they created the baseline to go against. Many of the states that are now opening across the country have not actually hit those metrics. If you've got conditions that are set out by the Trump administration and you're not actually adhering to them, then expect much more significant numbers of cases. And that's keeping in mind that if you look at the New York metro area, we're seeing a reduction in cases and deaths numbers every day. But if you look at the rest of the country, the numbers are going up. Not as fast as they were in New York and not as many as you've had in New York, but still going up. And not just cases because they are testing more, but hospitalizations and deaths too.

Some of those states are rural and the case numbers are small. So, if it gets bad, you still have time to change your path and maybe it won't. But in many states, that's not the case at all. I think our expectation now is without changing the expectation for US GDP all that much, you're probably going to be closer to 100,000 or more over the coming month, two months. And that's going to be much harder for Trump to sell. He will do his best. He will reorient it towards, well, if I hadn't done anything, we would have a million or 2.2 million deaths. That's what they originally said and of course, I'm the guy that shut down the border with China and all of that. But, for those that have heard him in the last four-eight weeks, say not 100,000, hopefully 60,000, and now back to 100,000 or more, that's going to hurt.

Trump was at his highest level of approval, inching 46%-47%, blended rate. Hard to see that he's going to be doing that well going forward. You expect in the next few weeks, months, it's going to take a beating. Why am I saying all this, first of all, it's relevant in what's happened to US, but secondly, that's why you are seeing the Trump administration going much harder against China. If you're going to be blamed for much worse case load and death count in the United States, and if the very formulation that your administration put forward in terms of how you're supposed to reopen the economy is not actually being adhered to by your own governors, your own red state governors, it's making it hard for you to blame internally. You'll try. But it's much better to have an external bogey man that everyone can't stand. And China is that bogey man.

Especially because the Chinese are actually responsible. We know that the original virus came from Wuhan. And we know that they covered it up for a month. And while they were covering it up, people were traveling from Wuhan. Five million Chinese left the region, 400 plus thousand left China. And that's what got you the original cases, not in New York, turns out those came from Italy, though those cases from Europe had originally come from Wuhan. But from in Washington State, California, originally came from China. Also Iran. Also Europe. So, without that level of cover up, the chances you could avoid a pandemic and certainly avoid this kind of crisis, very and very much higher.

Now you're seeing people starting to say, we want to litigate against the Chinese, they should pay reparations for the economic damage being done. Of course, that's not going to happen. But they are going to take a fair amount of blame. And Trump sees that as an opportunity. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, over the weekend most dramatically said that they have conclusive evidence that this originally came not from a wet market, but from a bio lab. Not intentionally. Not that the Chinese were trying to cause bioterror with a new virus, but rather that their security was inadequate. They were experimenting on these viruses and they got out.

If it turns out that that's true and the Chinese lied about that, even though I view the cover up as by far the more significant issue, that is going to drive an enormous amount of bad will from the United States towards China. It makes a cold war with the Chinese much more likely. Of course, we haven't yet seen that evidence. And demanding that the Chinese provide us access to the lab to ensure there isn't any is very different than saying, we have a smoking gun. If it's the former, it's going to be partisan, just Trump supporters. If they have real evidence, the whole damn country is going to be baying for blood on this issue.

And at that point, you would expect the phase one trade deal to fall apart. You'll see higher tariffs. It will have a much bigger negative effect on the American markets this year. But will give the Trump administration a much juicier target for not taking accountability and blame for the for the pandemic.

Having said all of this, let us keep something very simple in mind, which is that China lied, they covered it up; but everyone else in the world, including the Chinese people, found out about it at the same time. Given that, there are a lot of countries around the world that have managed the COVID crisis much better than the United States, much better than Trump administration. There are a bunch of small countries like Iceland and New Zealand that are isolated. But there are also some big countries like South Korea and Germany. And the big issue I have is that, for all that we should appropriately blame the Chinese and want them to take accountability for not handling this, we also need to ask why the Trump administration was incapable of having a response befitting the world's greatest superpower. Why couldn't we look more like South Korea or Germany? I wouldn't expect us to look like Taiwan or New Zealand. These are tiny, tiny states. It's much easier to close your borders. They are much more homogeneous. It's much easier to get everyone to listen to what the government says. The US federal system, it's a lot harder. But you know what? Germany is a federal system, too, and they had a hell of a lot more willingness to go along with authority and they had a much more scientifically oriented approach. They weren't cheerleading from day one saying, everything will be awesome. And an everything will be awesome Presidency, without much focus on science, ultimately is likely to get us more than 100,000 deaths here in the United States.

A blue graphic using 1's and 0's to form an image of roads leading into a city

Governments, civil society and industry are beginning to understand the value of data to society in much the same way they considered the importance of thoroughfares 200 years ago. Just as these roads ushered in a new era of physical infrastructure that helped society thrive then, today we are beginning to understand the need to invest in modern approaches to our data infrastructure that will enhance economic growth and innovation, support individual empowerment and protect us from harm. Just as our physical infrastructure of roads and highways needs to be used appropriately, maintained and protected, so does our data infrastructure.

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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