Before it was TikTok, Huawei and WeChat. Now it’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), which was targeted September by being put on a U.S. government blacklist.
At first, targeting SMIC seems to be a logical extension of the Trump administration’s firm stance on China and appears to send a message to the world that the U.S. is still a leader in global affairs. It would be reasonable to guess that the extension of the ban can be good business for American firms. Banning Chinese firms may mean American firms are theoretically benefitting from less competition at home and more support from the American federal government. But aside from potentially improving national security through increased scrutiny, this extended ban, and all ban on Chinese tech, will cause blowback.
Singaporean diplomat and academic Kishore Mahbubani highlighted in his recent book Has China Won? that one of China’s biggest mistakes in the US-China relationship was alienating the American business community, which until recently had been a strong supporter of engaging with China. Ironically, the major drawback of the Trump administration’s latest escalation is that it makes precisely the same mistake and alienates the Chinese business community, obliterating whatever goodwill that Chinese companies still have towards the United States. And although their friendship may not be critical, it is important. As things are, Washington currently seems steeped in a fog of wilful amnesia, incapable of understanding that although they may not like Chinese tech, Chinese techis here to stay, playing a major role in the global business market.
The blacklisting of SMIC shows that Washington is still desperately attempting to finds its role in the new digital economy. This is a bad image for the America as the world’s leading power because most countries settled on their digital economy policies long ago. Although the Trump administration’s ban on Chinese apps does hurt the chequebooks of Chinese firms, it also hurts American jobs, a vital part of the economy. It isn’t Chinese citizens losing jobs from America bans on Chinese firms. Mostly, it is American job seekers looking for a stable salary who have been robbed of opportunity. For example, in middle of the current economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, when companies are dismissing workers at an unprecedented rate, ByteDance – the parent company of video-sharing app TikTok – had announced plans to hire over 10,000 staff in the United States. This announcement came before Trump’s announcement of a ban on TikTok, and many Americans laid off in this recession would be delighted to have a job right now, Chinese company or not. Now, this is no longer possible. Yes, the Trump administration has mandated that TikTok be purchased by an American firm, which technically means these jobs are not lost but instead in a process of transfer. However, as recent events have shown, there is still no guarantee of a forced American purchase. Instead, the banning of tech, especially with TikTok, heavily delays the process of delivering these ten thousand jobs to Americans at a critical time.
Much to Washington’s dismay, it is now well documented that the U.S. ban on Chinese tech has hurt America more than it has hurt China. It’s also increasingly clear that an escalating tech war with China is not in Washington’s long-term interests. Although the increasing ban hurts Chinese exports, this isn’t something that’s usually felt directly by the average Chinese consumer. Their American counterparts, however, have been directly affected, with job losses in the manufacturing sector and higher prices for American producers and consumers. Despite mounting evidence, the Trump administration so far appears to be pursuing every avenue to increase bans on not just Chinese tech, but Chinese everything.
Although some have argued that China will have a tough time responding to the increasingly strict bans, China was able to make a decisive move by launching its own global data security initiative. Designed in response to America’s Clean Network Initiative which intends to exclude Chinese network equipment, software and services from internet infrastructure used by the U.S. and other nations, this move puts Washington between a rock and a hard place.
The first thing Beijing’s initiative does is it forces Washington to ask a question: is America willing to further risk losing tech dominance in Asia? This is possible because the Clean Network Initiative erroneously assumes that Asia will automatically side with Washington on this issue. Reality suggest that if America were to economically decouple with China as Trump highlighted in a recent speech, there is no guarantee that the majority of Asia will side with American initiatives. Even American firms in Asia have already made it clear that they will continue doing business with China and Asia regardless of Washington’s diktat.
Both China and the U.S. claim they want to increase data security. Like people who side with thosethey are familiar with in arguments with strangers, countries tend to side with the nations they know best in crises. Geographically, the U.S. has few neighbours of close familiarity compared to China. The geopolitical mood of today is also not favourable. With Washington having alienated key allies, this is not the time for America to be asking anyone, especially those its insulted to pick a side. Outside of America, many remember that the United States, through the National Security Agency (NSA), spied on not just its citizens, but those of its allies and their leaders. As a result, trust in American tech crashed, the United States was condemned, and the European Union passed GDPR as a reaction. This trust has yet to be restored. Although American allies may harbour their suspicions of Chinese tech, to date there is little to no evidence of rumoured backdoors built into Chinese software, and even less evidence that China has engaged in the degree of targeted espionage that the NSA previously did. With this in mind, the recent posturing of the State Department’s Clean Network Initiative comes across as hypocritical at best.
The Clean Initiative, and the increasing U.S. ban on Chinese tech, will most likely fall on deaf ears as watchers of global affairs see this for what it is: posturing to whip American voters into a patriotic frenzy, something ridiculously commonplace in the U.S. during election season. A better initiative coming from the State Department would focus on cleaning up America’s global reputation through unifying bilateral initiatives. As a new secretary of state will be sworn in January 2021, the latest SMIC blacklisting and the Clean Network initiative are last-minute attempts at winning over voters who prefer their tea in one flavour only – American and strong.
The 4 groups of Senate Republicans that will decide Trump’s impeachment trial
With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushing back the Trump impeachment trial to mid-February to make sure things cool down, Senate Republicans’ positions on the vote are far from crystallized yet. Here are the four groups of Senate Republicans, according to views and likely vote. The numbers and composition of these four groups will decide Trump’s future political faith. Which group Mitch McConnell chooses to position himself in will also be a deciding factor in the unusual and curious impeachment trial of a former US president no longer sitting in office.
Group 1: The Willing Executioners
There surely are those in the Republican Party such as Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Ben Sasse who cannot wait to give that Yea and the final boot to disgraced former President Trump, and will do that with joy and relief. Both the Utah Senator and the Nebraska Senator may be vying for the leadership spot in the Republican Party themselves but that is not the whole story. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska openly said “I want him out.” This group is unlikely to reach as many as 17 Senators, however, needed for the two thirds Senate majority to convict Trump.
Group 2: The Never Give up on Trumpers
There are also those Republican Senators who will stick with Trump through thick and thin until the end – some out of conviction, but most as someone who cannot afford to alienate the Trump supporter base in their state – a supporter base which is still as strong.
At least 21 Republican Senators are strongly opposed to voting to convict former President Trump, as reported by Newsweek. They realize that doing so would be a political suicide. Republican voters, on the whole, are unified in their belief that the presidential elections were not fair and Joe Biden did not win legitimately, with 68% of Republican voters holding the belief that the elections were “rigged”. The majority of the Republican Party constituents are Never Give up on Trumpers themselves.
Among them are Senators Cruz and Hawley. Both will fight at all cost a vote which certifies as incitement to violence and insurrection the same rhetoric they both themselves used to incite the Trump crowd. Cruz and Hawley will try to avoid at all cost the legal certification of the same rhetoric as criminal in order to avoid their own removal under the 14th Amendment, as argued already by Senator Manchin and many others.
Senator Ron Johnson even called upon Biden and Pelosi to choose between the Trump impeachment trial and the Biden new cabinet confirmation. Group 2 will fight fierce over the next weeks and you will recognize them by the public rhetoric.
Group 3: I’d really like to but I can’t be on the record for convincing a President of my own party
Then there is a large group of Republican Senators – maybe the largest – who would really like to give that Yea vote and leave Trump behind but they do not wish to go on the record as having voted to convict a US President from their own party. Some of these Senators will share their intention to vote Yea in private or off the record with the media, but when push comes to shove and the final vote, they will be hesitant and in the end will vote Nay. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida falls under Group 3.
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is also the illustration of the average Republican Senator right now – someone who said that Trump committed “impeachable offenses” but who is not sure about convicting him through trial, so that probably means a Nay.
The BBC quoted a New York Time’s estimate from mid-January that as many as 20 Republican Senators are open to voting to convict Trump, but it should be recalled that in the first Trump impeachment trial in 2020, several Republican Senators also shared in private and off the record that they would be willing to convict. After so much discussion, calculations and prognosis, in the end, it was only Senator Mitt Romney who broke ranks on only one of the two impeachment articles, and voted to convict.
The Capitol events, of course, are incomparable to the Ukraine impeachment saga, but it should be accounted for that the trial vote will likely take place sometime in March 2021, or two months after the Capitol events, when most of the tension and high emotion would have subsided and much of American society will be oriented towards “moving forward”. Group 3 will host the majority of Senate Republicans who in the end will decide to let it go. Most of the 21 Republican Senators who already expressed their opposition to convicting Trump actually belong to Group 3 and not Group 2 Never Give up on Trumpers.
Group 4: I am a Never Give up on Trumper but I really want to look like Group 3
And finally, there is the most interesting group of Republican Senators who are secretly a Never Give up on Trumpers but would like to be perceived as belonging to the hesitant and deliberative Group 3 – willing and outraged but unwilling to go all the way on the record to eliminate a former Republican President.
Senator Ted Cruz might move into Group 4 in terms of rhetoric. Never Give up on Trumpers will vote Nay willingly but will try to present themselves as conflicted Group 3 politicians doing it for different reasons.
Which group Mitch McConnel chooses will be the decisive factor in aligning the Senate Republican votes. McConnel himself seems to be a Group 3 Senator who, in the end, is unlikely to rally the rest of the Senators to convict Trump even though McConnel would really like Trump out of the Republican Party, once and for all. The very fact that McConnel is not in a hurry and is in fact extending the cool-off period places him in Group 3.
Yea voters don’t need time to think about it and look at things. It took House Democrats exactly three days to get it over and done with. McConnel is quoted as willing to give time to “both sides to properly prepare”, allowing former president Trump enjoy due process. But Trump’s legal team will notice quickly that there is not much to prepare for, as they won’t find plenty of legal precedent in the jurisprudence on American Presidents’ incitement to violent insurrection for stopping the democratic certification process on an opponent who is the democratically elected President.
McConnel himself has said that he is “undecided” and that speaks volumes. He is a Group 3 Senate Republican, and with that, Group 3 will describe the mainstream Senate Republicans’ position in the impeachment trial.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set 8 February as the start of the impeachment trial, pushing earlier McConnel’s time frame. This is when it all starts.
It is my prediction that when all is said and done, there won’t be as many as 17 Senate Republicans to vote to convict former President Trump. Trump will walk away, but not without the political damage he has incurred himself and has also left in American political life.
Two Ways that Trump Spread Covid-19 in U.S.
1. Encouraging infected workers to continue working even if it infects others:
On 12 May 2020, two hundred and twenty five labor organizations signed a letter to Antonin Scalia’s son Eugene Scalia who was Donald Trump’s appointed Secretary of Labor, and it urged his Department to change its policies “that address the standards that apply under the federal U[nemployment] I[insurance] law to determine when workers remain eligible for regular state UI or P[andemic] U[nemployment] A[ssistance] if they leave work or refuse to work due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.” In more-common language, an economist Jared Bernstein headlined in the Washington Post six days later on May 18th, “The Labor Department is forcing workers back to jobs that could make them sick” and he explained that Scalia’s Department “has issued guidance that virtually ignores health risks and encourages employers to report workers who refuse job offers [while unemployed] so their unemployment payments can be taken away. The agency is busy urging employers to snitch on ‘claimants that have turned down suitable work.’” Trump’s Labor Department ignored the labor-organizations’ letter. Then, a barista headlined at Huffpost on 22 January 2021, “I Work In A Coffee Shop In Montana. Anti-Maskers Have Made My Job Hell.” She complained that the many customers who refused to wear masks were causing her to fear working there — she was blaming those customers, but not Trump. However, Trump and his Labor Secretary were responsible and simply didn’t care about the safety of workers, such as her, and were instead encouraging employers to force these workers to stay on the job, though doing so endangered themselves and their co-workers. Millions of infected workers were infecting others because not to would cause them to become fired and could ultimately force them into homelessness. Maybe the billionaires who funded Trump’s political career profited from such exploitation of their employees, but nationally this policy helped to increase the spreading of Covid-19. Also: since so many of those bottom-of-the-totem-pole employees are Blacks and Hispanics, etc., this Trump policy helped to cause the drastically higher infection-rates that have been reported among such groups.
2. Refusing to deal with the pandemic on a national basis:
On 15 July 2020, the Washington Post headlined “As the coronavirus crisis spins out of control, Trump issues directives — but still no clear plan” and reported that, “health professionals have urged the White House to offer a disciplined and unified national message to help people who are fatigued more than five months into the crisis and resistant to changing social behaviors, such as wearing masks and keeping a distance from others. Trump, for instance, refused to be seen publicly wearing a mask until last weekend, when he sported one during a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. ‘You can get a really strong and eloquent governor who can help at the state level, but it does seem like we need some more national messaging around the fact that for many people, this is the most adversity they’ve faced in their life,’ said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.” Every country (such as China, Vietnam, Venezuela, South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand, and Finland) that has been far more successful than America is at having a low number of Covid-19 cases (and deaths) per million residents has dealt with the pandemic on a national and not merely local basis, but all of the worst-performing countries (such as America, which now is at 76,407 “Tot Cases/1M pop”) have not.
It therefore also stands to reason that
which ranks all 50 states according to how high is the number of Covid-19 infections per million inhabitants, shows (and links to the data proving) that “In 2016, the top 17 [most Covid-infected states] voted for Trump, and the bottom 5 voted for Clinton. All but 3 of the top 24 voted for Trump.” The correlation of high Covid-infection-rate with Trump-voting was astoundingly high. Trump, it seems, gave the high-infection-rate states what they had wanted. But what he gave to America is the highest Covid-19 infection-rate of any nation that has at least 11 million population. It is the 7th-highest Covid-19 infection-rate among all 219 reporting nations. Trump’s policies produced the type of results that had been expected by well-informed people around the world.
A Most Unusual Inaugural
Sic transit gloria mundi — thus passes worldly glory, which seems an apt phrase for the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.
Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. became the 46th president of the United States at noon on January 20th, and earlier Donald J. Trump departed the White House quietly for Florida — his last ride on Air Force One as president — leaving behind a generous and gracious letter for Biden. So it is described by Joe Biden himself. Trump did not attend the inauguration, the first president not to do so since Woodrow Wilson in 1921, who remained inside the Capitol building because of poor health while his successor Warren G. Harding was installed.
It was a most unusual inauguration this time. There were no crowds on the lawns outside; instead row upon row of American flags representing them. The official attendees all wore masks and included three former Presidents (Obama, the younger Bush and Clinton). President Carter, who is in his 90s and frail, sent his apologies.
The usual late breakfast before the ceremony and the lunch afterwards were also cancelled — one cannot eat with a mask in place! No evening inaugural balls either. These were sometimes so many that the new president and his lady could only spend a few minutes at each. In their stead, there was a virtual inaugural celebration hosted by Tom Hanks the actor. It consisted mostly of pop-singers who supported Biden plus a disappointing rendering of Amazing Grace by Yo-Yo Ma on his cello.
Biden’s first act was to sign a series of executive orders to undo some of Trump’s policies. He announced the U.S. would not leave the World Health Organization (WHO) and would continue to contribute to it. On climate change a complete policy reversal now means the U.S. will abide by the Paris climate accord.
Biden’s other executive orders totalling 15 responded to the coronavirus crisis with the goal of giving 100 million vaccine shots by the end of April. He proposes to establish vaccine centers at stadiums and community facilities and also plans to speed up production of the supplies required for making vaccines.
The U.S. now has lost 406,000 lives (and counting) from COVID-19. That number is noted to be greater than U.S. deaths during WW2. The virus has so far infected 24.5 million people. However, the problem is more complicated than simply inoculating everyone.
Swedish authorities report that 23 people, mostly elderly and having other health issues, have died after being given the Pfizer vaccine. Its side effects apparently can be severe and mimic the disease itself. Thus given a choice, one would prefer the Moderna vaccine.
Old age is a poignant sight to behold. Biden the ex high school football star now having difficulty lifting his feet to walk. Very gamely, he even tried a jog or two to say a quick hello to bystanders during his short walk to the White House. We wish him well and hope for a successful presidential term. Thirty-six years as senator and eight years as vice-president certainly make him one of the most experienced to sit in the White House Oval Office. Good luck Mr. President!
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