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GeekWire Podcast: How science and politics are influencing the debate over post-pandemic life – GeekWire



Here’s what we’re talking about this week on the GeekWire Podcast:

As numbers on COVID-19 improve, the debate begins over when and how Seattle, Washington state and the country will return to normal life. Gov. Jay Inslee and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have some thoughts. Washington’s attorney general sues Facebook for violating the state’s law on political ads. Microsoft says Amazon has only itself to blame for losing the Defense Departments JEDI cloud contract. And the return of our Random Channel! We’ll talk about the finale of Lego Masters (spoiler alert) and see what else is ringing our bell this week.

As Washington state COVID cases keep falling, here’s the data driving the ongoing ‘stay home’ order

  • Washington state had its lowest daily total of new cases in a month on Wednesday, 89, but has since seen cases rise again.
  • If we relax social distancing now, projections show new cases could jump to 300 daily by mid-May, Inslee says. Deaths could also jump. The projections are from the two Seattle-area groups: the Institute for Disease Modeling and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, or IHME, which has come under criticism for its approach.
  • We need more testing before we can begin to gradually reopen, Inslee says. He says it’s “unknowable” if he’ll be able to lift the stay-at-home order on May 4.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos calls for regular COVID-19 testing ‘on a global scale across all industries’

  • In his annual investor letter, Bezos says that regular testing of everyone globally (not just at Amazon) is the key to returning to normal.
  • He pointed to Amazon’s efforts to build its own testing capability and other efforts to protect workers’ safety.
  • First known COVID-19 death among Amazon’s workforce took place two weeks ago, company announced Tuesday.
  • Amazon’s stock hit an all-time high this week, reflecting increased demand for its products and services.
  • Can Amazon keep its huge and growing workforce safe?

Gates Foundation’s CEO worries about pandemic politics — and says ‘we have nothing to hide’

  • Gates Foundation is allotting $150 million more to fight the pandemic, $250 million total.
  • Critics claim the foundation is stoking fears and pushing vaccines as part of a “Big Pharma” agenda.
  • Bill Gates decried Trump’s stated intention this week to stop U.S. funding of the WHO, saying blocking funds right now would be “as dangerous as it sounds.”

In other news … 

And in our Random Channel discussion … 

On the show with me this week are Kurt Schlosser, Taylor Soper, Monica Nickelsberg and podcast producer Curt Milton. Our theme music is by Daniel L.K. Caldwell.

Listen above or subscribe to GeekWire in your favorite podcast app.

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“It’s Spiraling Out of Control”: Confronting a Failed Presidency, Trump Plays Politics With the Protests – Vanity Fair



Confronting a failed presidency after 100,000-plus COVID deaths and the protests that are still convulsing the nation this week, Donald Trump is venting to West Wing officials that Democratic governors are allowing civil unrest to rage in American cities to damage his reelection campaign. “He feels the blue-state governors are letting it burn because it hurts him. It’s a lot like how he sees coronavirus,” an outside White House adviser told me yesterday, shortly after audio leaked of Trump berating governors on a conference call about quelling the riots.

Trump’s sense of victimhood, and his view that the crisis ignited by George Floyd’s gruesome death is largely a political problem, have resulted in a shambolic White House response, veering from Trump’s retreat to the bunker as the protests neared the White House to the culmination of police using teargas on peaceful protestors so that he could walk through a park to stage a photo op in front of St. John’s Church. “He’s paralyzed,” a former West Wing official told me.

In private, Trump has told people the street violence would subside if the other three Minnesota police officers were charged with murder, a person who spoke with Trump told me. But, always worried about seeming weak, he made no mention of the officers or police brutality during yesterday’s Rose Garden speech. “When things get dicey and hairy, it usually means he relies on his instincts,” a former West Wing official said. “And he’s decided law and order is going to win the day.”

(The White House declined to comment.)

Trump was already struggling to reboot his campaign when the gruesome Memorial Day video leaked, showing officer Derek Chauvin driving his knee into George Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as Floyd pleaded for his life. A day after Floyd’s death, Trump promoted two operatives into senior campaign roles, moves that were largely seen as a demotion for Trump’s embattled campaign manager, Brad Parscale. As protests and riots intensified last week, Karl Rove visited the White House to offer advice on appealing to African American voters, a source briefed on the conversation said. Rove’s new role as an unofficial adviser on Trump’s team rankled some in the West Wing and on the campaign. “People aren’t happy about Rove. He’s a Bushie,” the source said. “What’s he going to tell Trump? He’s stale.”

Trump at first seemed to ignore the protests. He didn’t mention Floyd’s name for two days. But by Friday, Trump grasped the scale of the crisis when Secret Service agents rushed him into the White House bunker as hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the White House gates. “The agents came in and weren’t messing around. It was serious,” Trump later told a friend. “Those guys aren’t going to take any shit.” That night Trump sent out an incendiary tweet threatening that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” and another on Saturday about “vicious dogs.” “Trump is pissed that they’re rioting. That’s just the old guy from Queens who’s offended by this. That’s the Archie Bunker in him,” a Trump friend told me.

Around Trump in the West Wing was a fierce debate over how to respond. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, opposed chief of staff Mark Meadows’s advice that Trump needed to give an Oval Office address to unify the country. “Meadows was close friends with Elijah Cummings. He wanted a different approach,” a former West Wing official said. Kushner argued that Trump hasn’t been successful when he’s spoken from the Oval Office in the past, a source briefed on Kushner’s thinking told me, an assessment Trump didn’t disagree with. “Trump doesn’t like giving Oval Office addresses,” a prominent Republican told me.

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The Politics of Pandemic in Southeast Asia – The Diplomat



COVID-19 hit Southeast Asia earlier than most regions of the world, and today the region has over 90,000 cases, with more than 2,700 confirmed deaths. The low levels of testing in all states, bar Singapore, however, should give rise to skepticism. The virus is likely far more prevalent than what governments are admitting, and anecdotal evidence suggests that there are far more deaths than what has been officially reported.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economies of Southeast Asia, which are dependent on tourism and exports. The IMF is predicting a global economic contraction of 3 percent, and all evidence suggests that the globalized economies of Southeast Asia will be deeply impacted, with recessions in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.  

How will COVID-19 impact politics in the region?

On the surface, we see little change. There are only three countries that have scheduled elections or routine political transitions coming months. With a new COVID-19 election bill passed earlier this month, Singapore is moving ahead with elections as soon as infections drop; Myanmar announced that elections will proceed as planned by year’s end, but is introducing a series of administrative changes due to limitations posed by the virus. Vietnam will hold its quinquennial Party Congress in January 2021 and will be sure to capitalize on its COVID-19 management success

The pandemic response in Indonesia has exposed Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s weakness, but with elections just held in 2019 it’s not going to change the government. In Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines, the response to COVID-19 has simply accelerated the authoritarian trends of the leadership. In fact, COVID-19 has strengthened incumbents, giving them space to capitalize on fear and displace challengers. 

This does not mean that all leaders are safe or the trend will last. Weak leaders are more exposed. COVID-19 has constrained patronage to appease challengers, resources have contracted as economies have shrunk ,and the costs of responding to the virus have increased. 

Ultra-royalist elites in Thailand have questioned Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s competence for a while, and there has been a growing push to replace him and key cabinet members, though leaving the military-backed coalition in place. Despite reopening the economy, the Emergency Decree remains in place.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s attempt to dodge a vote of no confidence has done him no favors. Leaders who lack broad public mandates and face elite challengers are vulnerable and beholden to their allies. They have to spend time politicking rather than focusing on crisis response. 

All that said, we’re not predicting any immediate political COVID casualties. The intensity of the economic crisis tied to COVID-19 will be more determinant than the public health challenges.

We see five distinct political trends that will impact politics in the medium term.

The first is an abject failure in governance in many countries. States have basic obligations to provide security, education, public health, and a legal system to their electorates. In country after country, public health systems were exposed to be underfunded and poorly staffed. Governments were caught flat-footed despite seeing the crisis unfold in China and experiencing other public health scares since the 2003 SARS outbreak.

With the exceptions of Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia, governments in the region were slow to respond to COVID-19, sent mixed and confusing messages, peddled quackery, were largely in denial, and proved unwilling to defer to medical and public health advice. 

In a region that is based on notions of paternalistic leadership, including the region’s few democracies, where people are not supposed to question the state, there is now a growing realization that government does not know best. Revered politicians have fallen off their pedestals. 

Demands for greater competence and embrace of science-based approaches, especially among the younger generations, is sowing the seeds of new political forces. Civic-mindedness has already sustained mobilization at local levels and it is only a matter of time until such sentiments translate into greater demands for accountability and political movements. In Indonesia, the hashtag “Whatever Indonesia” is trending; an expression of frustration with the government’s chaotic response.

It is telling that in Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines the governments immediately adopted emergency decrees. Indonesia’s president considered adopting one. Governments were unable to cope with the pandemic with existing institutions and authorities and aimed for extended power, but these emergency powers, in all cases, were used to go after dissent first.

Second, the weakness exposed by COVID-19 has caused militaries to gain more prominence

In Indonesia and the Philippines, the weakness of the government response has forced the presidents to rely on militaries and security forces to backstop their flailing responses. 

In Indonesia, this has been welcome news for the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI), which has sought to claw back many of the civil-administrative powers that it lost following the collapse of the New Order regime in 1998. Jokowi’s entire COVID-19 response team is staffed by acting and retired generals who are responding with an insurgency-based approach, an abject failure as the pandemic continues to spiral out of control.

We have seen the same thing in the Philippines, where Duterte’s COVID-response team is comprised of retired and acting generals, not medical professionals. The result has been a militarized response not informed by public health. Meanwhile, Duterte has called security forces to shoot people who violate quarantine orders on sight.  

In Myanmar, the military has assumed a role in crisis-management, pitting itself against Aung San Sui Kyi’s National League for Democracy during an election year and at the same time using the distraction of the crisis to ratchet up fighting in ethnic conflict areas. 

While regional militaries are providing order and using the crisis to accumulate power (and money), they are also exposing their poor capacity to manage public health problems. 

Third, the greater role that security forces are playing accentuates authoritarianism. Many governments are adopting securitization to address the crisis and simultaneously cracking down on critics of the crisis response. This is worryingly happening in the region’s more open regimes.

In Malaysia, we’ve seen a shocking attack on the free press, which for the past two years had seen the most notable improvements in the region. A journalist was summoned to police headquarters for her reporting on the roundup of migrant workers. While there is no evidence of an overall shift in government policy to reverse the positive trajectory on press freedoms, such incidents point to increased intolerance of alternative views.

In Indonesia, circumstances surrounding the charges against researcher Ravio Patra, who raised questions about Jokowi’s COVID-19 response, raise even further questions.

COVID-19 is being used to curb discussion and necessary criticism – often dismissed and framed as “disinformation.” Thailand, Singapore, and Cambodia have all wielded their “fake news” laws to that effect, while Duterte has increased his use of the cyber crime law to target dissenters. This comes at a time where governments are breaking down the boundaries of privacy via the centrally controlled use of applications to track and trace citizens. 

Fourth, the pandemic has exposed the glaring inequities around the region. Singapore, which received accolades as being the “gold standard” of pandemic responses, has seen the largest number of cases in the region. An overwhelming majority of the more than 35,000 cases (as of June 1), have been in the crowded dormitories for the 324,000 migrant workers who make the country’s first world living standards possible.  

Thailand, whose excellent public health and medical systems have responded well to the crisis, has been unable and unwilling to address the large numbers of poor that can ill-afford a prolonged shutdown. COVID-19 has seen a rise in other health problems, as well as hunger and helplessness. In Thailand the number of suicides has soared.

Thailand, according to a the 2018 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, is the most inequitable society in the world, a trend that has been exacerbated since the 2006 coup d’etat. The military and ultra-royalist elites simply do not care about the underclass, and as such the government has done little to support them. Thai government official are now predicting that some 14 million workers could be unemployed in the second and third quarters of 2020.

But inequality is rife around the region, and all countries have rising Gini coefficients. A prolonged economic recession will further exacerbate existing inequalities. The region’s social safety nets have serious holes and do not provide broad cover for those who need them. 

In the Philippines, Duterte has tried to direct COVID-19 relief funding to the poorest segments of society, but simply doesn’t have the resources to do so in a meaningful way. The Indonesian and Malaysian governments are in a similar predicament – although in Malaysia’s case the former Najib government decimated the country’s finances in the 1MDB scandal.

COVID-19 spread through globalization, but it is a stark reminder that what made the rapid economic growth in Southeast Asia possible has been distributed inequitably. Unless the poorest and most marginalized of a society have adequate protections, then no one does. 

The final trend is the growth of polarizing, identity politics, exacerbated by a vociferous religious fringe and rising xenophobic nationalism. This is not new. We’ve seen extremists Buddhist monks in Myanmar fan the flames of a genocide, the sudden reassertion of chauvinist identity politics in Malaysia, and the wielding of Islamist politics in Indonesia.  

Both governments and the people have already proven quick to scapegoat certain communities for the spread of the pandemic. Thai leaders blamed Western tourists, ignoring community transmission. In Singapore and Malaysia, the blame quickly fell on migrant workers. In Indonesia, Islamists immediately resorted to their default position: blaming the Chinese community

In any crisis, there is an innate response to scapegoating, but what is so telling in COVID-19 is that governments are not stepping in to counter those destructive narratives, instead often using them to distract from their own responsibility and their lackluster responses.

Extremist religious groups are poised to take advantage of both the emotions of COVID-19 – fear and insecurity – and well as government weaknesses; they will capitalize on the inequities of society and to try to mobilize their constituents through scapegoating out-groups. 

Despite these trends that should cause alarm for governments and the elites who back them, they have several things in their favor. First, the weakness of the political oppositions. While we have seen the Thai and Philippine presidents further consolidate their authoritarian grips and go to lengths to crush the free press, the reality is that they have sustained a long-term assault on the political opposition.  

Duterte has jailed political opponents on trumped-up charges, marginalized his vice president (who hails from the opposition party), and trounced opposition figures in the midterm elections. With a stacked parliament and supreme court, Duterte has wielded the police as a hit squad in his war on drugs, without any due process, oversight, or accountability. COVID-19 has seen even greater attacks on the opposition and the shuttering of the largest media conglomerate

In Thailand, the military-backed government has used the courts to dissolve political parties and bring legal cases against opposition figures, already having stolen an election in March 2019. The government wields enormous coercive legal powers through its arbitrarily applied Computer Crimes Act and lese majeste provisions of its criminal code.

In Indonesia, the opposition was largely co-opted by Jokowi when he brought his long-time political rival Prabowo Subianto into government as the minister of defense. The remainder of the opposition is a very loose coalition of parties that have little ideological or policy affinity for one another. 

In Malaysia, the recently ousted Pakatan Harapan faces divisions over leadership and grapples with winning a new national base, especially among Malays, and among its own base who are dissatisfied with their slow record of implementing reforms while in office from 2018 until February of this year. 

In Singapore, an expanded opposition has yet to resolve internal differences. While people may cast votes for the opposition, it is usually only a way to signal displeasure with the ruling People’s Action Party rather than voting for an alternative.

In short, political oppositions across the region are weak, divided, and largely unable to work together. In several cases, they are simply not up to the task of governing at all.

The second thing in favor of governments is the ability to distract. Governments can manufacture security incidents and political crises. As no country in Southeast Asia has a truly free press, governments can use mainstream media to push certain narratives. They have more resources at their disposal to rent a mob or an army of cyber trolls to shape opinions on social media. While there may be opposition and dissent, the government has greater coercive power as well as the ability to mobilize. COVID-19 at least in the short term limits the ability for mass protests, forcing criticism to be localized or online.

The third tool at their disposal is patronage. While traditional patronage has shrunk in COVID-19, we will likely see the fire sale of government assets to cronies or potential political rivals as governments face soaring budget deficits amidst recession. Increasingly, as has happened in earlier crises, regimes will shore up oligarchs as policies move toward protecting elites over ordinary citizens.  

While no government is likely to fall in the short term as a result of its COVID-19 response, the impact on politics is significant. The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in governance capacity, weak leadership, and rising inequalities, to which governments have responded with an overreliance on security forces and onslaughts on critics. At the same time, they have tried to buy off challengers through patronage, keeping the political opposition weak and allowed distracting scapegoating narratives to take root — exposing their own fragility. In the short term COVID-19 has been a political opportunity for many governments, but as the crisis deepens with contracting economies the pathogens within these regimes may also spread.

Zachary Abuza is a professor at the National War College, Washington, DC and an adjunct at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program. The views are his personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of the National War College or the U.S. Department of Defense. 

Bridget Welsh is Honorary Research Associate, UNoARI, University of Nottingham Malaysia and a lead author of the Asia Barometer Surveys.

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'Politics in a Time of Pandemic' focus of three-part lecture series – OrilliaMatters



Third Age Barrie Lifelong Learning Association is excited that Dr. Michael Johns, a political scientist and professor from Laurentian University, will present a three-part series, Politics in a Time of Pandemic onTuesdays June 9, 16 and 23, from 1:30 to 3:30, livestreamed directly to your home.  

June 9       A Presidential Election Unlike Anything We Have Seen Before
June 16    The Erosion of Trust in 21st Century Politics
June 23    Globalization and World Politics

To access the Zoom webinar, which you will find very user-friendly, all you need is a computer with speakers, and an internet connection. Third Age Barrie will send simple directions beforehand, and a link that you click on to start the presentation on the day.  It will prompt you to download the Zoom application.

The cost for the series is $30. To register go to and click on ‘Buy Tickets’.

Dr. Michael Johns is a long-time friend of Third Age Barrie, and a Barrie resident. Currently the Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at Laurentian University, he has held various positions at the University.

He received his PhD from the University of Maryland, and holds a Master’s degree of Arts in Government and Politics from Maryland, and a Master’s degree of Science from the London School of Economics in Comparative Politics.

Dr. Johns teaches, researches and works in areas such as International Relations, Comparative Politics, European and American Politics, as well as Federalism and Electoral Systems.

Please join us on our new online journey … it will be worth it to hear Dr. Michael Johns tackle some of the most challenging political issues of our time, in this time of pandemic!


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