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June 10, 2020 -

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May 28, 2020 -

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Steve Bannon, of Breitbart fame and former advisor to US President Donald Trump, has some strong views on China’s decision to introduce a controversial national security law in Hong Kong. He says the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, passed last year by the US senate to put sanctions on anyone in Mainland China or Hong Kong that participate in the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

From The Wire China:

Obviously, [the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act] can’t be certified now. This breaks all potential for certification. My strong recommendation is [for the U.S.] to go as hard-core as possible. You pull that immediately. Pull all the underlying trade arrangements we have. Also we stop and limit any activity with the [state-owned] Bank of China, or any mainland Chinese banks. The Bank of China is right there [in Hong Kong]. You restrict all activity with their money centered banks and the United States. Additionally, you go to immediate sanctions; you sanction the individuals, including the Foreign Ministry guys. And if the Politburo passes this, you go to immediate sanctions on those individuals too.

We should call a [UN] Security Council meeting immediately and dare China, as a permanent member, to block it. The world community ought to do this. On Monday morning, a holiday, the President’s got to call a Security Council meeting and dare China to fight it. This is exactly like [what happened to] Czechoslovakia and Austria. We’re in 1938. For Hong Kong, this is that moment. If we blink, we’re heading on a path to war, to a kinetic war, if we don’t stop it right now. The elites are going the wrong way. This is not a cold war. This is a hot information and economic war, and we’re sliding rapidly. We are inexorably going to be drawn into an armed conflict if we don’t stop this now. Now, I’m all for using multilateral institutions.  But the United States has to stand up here. Yesterday, the Canadians, British and Australians put out a joint statement. It’s now time to take it to the UN Security Council. This is an abrogation of a treaty that was signed, and essentially ratified by the United States Senate.

It’s remarkable the speed at which the US-China relationship is deteriorating.

It’s heartbreaking that Hong Kong will suffer the most.

May 8, 2020 -

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One of the best podcasts out there right now is the Ezra Klein Show, particularly if you love getting lost in a deep, thought-provoking discussion on issues like political polarization or social media-driven anxiety. He’s even had some episodes on things like loneliness and how to be persuasive that are excellent. 

One of Klein’s most recent episodes fits that bill, too. He welcomed New York Times reporter Charlie Warzel to talk about how the media has covered the coronavirus, which is widely seen as problematic. Particularly in the US, reporters wrote articles in January that downplayed the risk of the virus, and then published countless stories pushing the foolish belief that wearing masks doesn’t offer any protection (which, if true, raises questions over why doctors and nurses wear them in emergency wards and the ICU).

The big question is why? How did journalists get it so wrong, what role do healthcare “experts” play, and what can be done about it?

From Vox:

The questions raised in this interview are hard, and go to one of the trickiest issues in journalism: How does a profession that prides itself on reporting truth cover the world probabilistically? What do we do when we simply can’t know what’s true, and when some of what we think we know might become untrue?

This is one of the most open and honest critiques of news coverage I’ve heard, particularly as any admission of failure by journalists is often construed by conspiracy theorists as proof the media should never be trusted, ever. (An idea addressed directly on the show). 

The discussion doesn’t provide too many answers, but talking about these thorny and uncomfortable issues is important and the first step towards trying to fix them.

You can listen to the show below, or by visiting the Ezra Klein Show.

May 6, 2020 -

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David Roth is critical of Donald Trump, to be sure, but saves his most scathing critique for the journalists tasked with covering him, a view I share completely.

From The Cancer in the Camera Lens | The New Republic:

This is especially troubling because confusing and frightening things really are happening, every day. Thousands of Americans are dying, every day, from a disease that, as a quadruple-bylined survey in Science concluded, “acts like no pathogen humanity has ever seen.” For more than a month, state and federal leaders have edged up to suggesting that this is something the country might just play through, shedding thousands of lives every day in the name of the American Way and various industries’ bottom lines; states are already gearing up for this kamikaze response to an unreasoning virus. Trump is fixated on various numbers that he can watch go up or down and on not losing his reelection campaign; he fights to win the day because it’s all he knows and how he lives, and he’ll govern that way until he isn’t governing anymore. There is no leadership of any kind coming from the top of the government, and while it’s hard to say what the Democrats are doing, exactly, “leadership” surely isn’t the word for it. All of it, quite literally, is a matter of life and death. Right now, either out of instinct or inertia, the culture is tipping toward the latter.

And yet, as with the broken system that perpetually elevates what Trump says over what he does—the treacherous spectacle that puts him back in those presidential close-ups day after day—the obvious failure of it all has somehow not led to a change in course. The institutions that might help people understand a uniquely terrifying world instead turn, daily, back toward the uncomprehending pursuit of an idiot king’s vinegary whims. When a reporter from The Washington Post stammered out a question last week about Trump’s stance on disinfectant/sunlight injections, Trump was already leaning in, manifestly out over his skis and yet comfortably in his element. “I’m the president,” he said, “and you’re fake news.” Here is what he said after that: “It’s just a suggestion. From a brilliant lab, from a very very smart, perhaps brilliant man. He’s talking about sun, he’s talking about heat. And you see the numbers. That’s it, that’s all I have. I’m just here to present talent. I’m here to present ideas.” It’s not an answer, but it was enough to get him to the next question. Trump didn’t know the answer to that one, either, but someone was still waiting to ask it.

The media’s failure in this era is only matched by the President’s.

May 4, 2020 -

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I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I’ve teamed up with a good friend of mine to launch a new podcast that focuses on PR and law named, naturally, the PR & Law Podcast.

I’m still not entirely comfortable with the result; it has been more than a decade since I’ve done any kind of radio, which remains my first love. I am having an absolute blast working on the podcast, but we still have plenty of kinks to work out and refinements to add.

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April 16, 2020 -

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From Possible Chinese Nuclear Testing Stirs U.S. Concern – WSJ:

The Trump administration’s allegation is included in an unclassified summary of an annual review of international compliance with arms-control accords. The review has been in preparation for some time and is likely to add to existing strains over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, its militarization of the South China Sea and trade disputes.

It also comes as President Trump is seeking to open nuclear-arms talks with Beijing in the hope of negotiating a new nuclear deal that also includes Russia and covers all nuclear weapons.

Some former arms-control officials said that the Trump administration appeared to be more concerned with scoring points against China than resolving potential disputes through diplomacy.

This is explosive news (no pun intended). There are the concerns over nuclear testing in China, of course, but also over the State Department’s decision to call out China so publicly when relations between the two nations is already riven with mistrust.

April 14, 2020 -

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A Twitter war between two countries isn’t very common, and even less so in Asia where open confrontation is often downplayed. But when people have the chance to be anonymous, the insults can fly — no matter where they are. That was the case recently when Mainland China and Thailand went after each other in a war of foul language, funny creative memes, and even self-deprecating humor.

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March 31, 2020 -

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You can always count on the United States to find ways to entertain — not even Covid-19, with millions of people under lockdown, can stop America’s cultural juggernaut. When the outbreak of the novel coronavirus led to the cancellation of the iHeart Radio Music Awards, music execs decided to replace it with an ingenious idea: having musical artists perform from home, together.

The iHeart Living Room Concert for America helped raise US$8 million for coronavirus relief on Sunday night. It was a hit, drawing nine million viewers to watch acts like Dave Grohl, Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish, Billie Joe Armstrong, and many more perform from home — kind of like the rest of us are doing, minus the singing.

One of the bigger hits of the night was, surprisingly, the Backstreet Boys. So if you miss the late 90s and early 00s, fill yer boots.

March 30, 2020 -

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The video of a representative of the World Health Organization hanging up on a reporter for asking questions about Taiwan’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak quickly spread around the world on Saturday. The Hong Kong reporter, Yvonne Tong, was asking questions of Bruce Aylward, a Canadian doctor. From The Guardian:

Asked by the RTHK reporter, Yvonne Tong, if the WHO would reconsider Taiwan’s membership, Aylward didn’t respond for several seconds, before saying he couldn’t hear the question.

Tong offered to repeat it but he cut in: “no, that’s OK, let’ move to another one then.”

“I’m actually curious to talk about Taiwan as well,” Tong said.

Aylward then appeared to either hang up the call, or get disconnected.

This is truly one of the most embarrassing, self-inflicted PR disasters in recent memory (and not just because he hung an oversized WHO bath towel behind him).

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March 30, 2020 -

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I am a huge fan of The Ezra Klein Show, a Vox Media podcast that goes deep into some random but fascinating issues like loneliness, identity politics, atheism, poetry, veganism, “political hobbyism”, class conflict, I could go on. Klein is the best kind of journalist: struggling to make sense of the world, genuinely curious, and open to having his mind changed. 

Another of my favorite journalists is Evan Osnos, an award-winning staff writer for The New Yorker. Evan was based in China for a long time, overlapping with a few years that I lived in Beijing. I didn’t know him well at all, but occasionally ran into him at Luga’s, a dive burrito shack pouring fake booze for just over $1 in a seedy bar district. Osnos is arguably the best writer on China today; he speaks Putonghua well and has taken the time to dive deep into the culture. Not only does he “get” China in a way that few other journalists and pundits do, he’s able to articulate the many nuances and contradictions in both society on the ground and in the highest levels of government in a way that helps the rest of us understand the country better. (One of the best recent books on China is Osnos’ Age of Ambition, which is a fascinating look into how the country’s growing political and economic power is shaping society on the ground.)

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