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New Cold War between U.S. and China is a ‘disaster for the world’ – Noam Chomsky

Deteriorating relations between the United States and China have potentially disastrous consequences for the world when global cooperation is needed to fight threats such as COVID-19 and global warming, renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky said Friday in an FCC webinar.

Noam Chomsky talks to Club President Jodi Schneider on August 7, 2020. Noam Chomsky talks to Club President Jodi Schneider on August 7, 2020.

The attempts by the United States to prevent China from developing were cruel and pointless, he said.

“If China develops, we all benefit,” Chomsky said. “If we’re going back to a Cold War between China and the United States, that’s a disaster for the world. This is a moment, more than ever, where we have to have international cooperation. The crises that we face are all international.”

Relations between China and the United States have deteriorated since U.S. President Donald Trump – whom he called “the most dangerous political leader in history” – took office, resulting in a trade war and retaliatory actions against journalists in both countries.

Chomsky, one of the most influential public intellectuals in the world, said China was “trying to reassert its traditional role as the dominant force in Asia”, and the United States “won’t tolerate it”. He then likened the situation to the Mafia.

“The fact is the world is being run very similar to the Mafia.. the Don doesn’t tolerate any interference from states that challenge it, or even states that get out of line,” Chomsky said.

Discussing a range of topics, the author of more than 100 books including Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, addressed the political unrest that gripped Hong Kong in 2019 and said the only way to ease the pressure on Hong Kong to “undermine its democratic procedures, practices and opportunities” was a “reduction of international tensions” between China and the United States.

“It’s always worth remembering the old saying that when the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled. Hong Kong is the grass. If the elephants start fighting, Hong Kong is lost.”

“The Hong Kong protests were a major sign of optimism. They didn’t totally succeed but laid the seeds for future progress,” Chomsky added.

The webinar opened with Chomsky’s thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump Administration’s handling of it.

“The United States is basically a wreck,” he said, citing Trump’s dismantling of former President Barack Obama’s preparations against a global health emergency which he said left America “unprepared when the pandemic struck”.

Chomsky went on to warn of future coronavirus pandemics that, intensified by the impact of global warming and habitat destruction, would be even more lethal.

“It could be something like the Black Death,” he said.

Arizona, the state where Chomsky resides and where he is laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, was “now vying for the international record for the highest number of cases per capita”, he said. He accused Trump of “flailing around desperately to find some scapegoat to cover up for the fact that he’s responsible for killing over a hundred thousand Americans”.

Referring to misinformation around the pandemic, he took aim at media organisations such as Fox News for “peddling” misleading messages playing down the seriousness of COVID-19. But Chomsky also lamented the Trump Administration’s rhetoric towards the media as enemies of the people.

“With the media now it’s very scary. When half of Republicans think the government should have the right to close down media it doesn’t like, then that’s dangerous,” he said.

You can watch the entire talk here.

Daughter of COVID-19 victim speaks out about spread of misinformation

For Kristin Urquiza, misinformation about COVID-19 amounted to a death sentence for her father and drove her to launch her MarkedbyCovid campaign to try to stop people suffering the same fate.

During a July 30 FCC online panel discussion, Urquiza recounted how her father Mark, an otherwise healthy 65-year-old, died of the disease on June 30. He contracted COVID-19 after Arizona reopened and the governor encouraged people to resume their normal activities. She said she had understood as early as January that the virus was serious and, concerned by the apparent downplaying of the illness by authorities, had devised a strategy to keep her parents safe. Yet, as Arizona lifted its state-wide lockdown in May, citizens began returning to their normal activities. Urquiza said the downplaying of the potential risks of contracting the virus affected her father.

“My dad took this message to heart and it ended up being a death sentience for him. Two weeks later dad woke up with a cough and exhaustion. My dad ended up passing away on June 30, alone in his room in the ICU with a stranger holding his hand and he did not deserve that ending,” she said.

After his death, Urquiza said she looked through her father’s social media news feed and found ‘overwhelming’ misinformation from unverifiable news sources “which, to my trained eye, I could tell was fake news”. She is now campaigning for safer public health policies.

Appearing alongside Urquiza on the panel was Alice Budisatrijo, who heads Facebook’s misinformation policy work in Asia-Pacific. She said that Facebook had several policies in place to prevent the spread of misinformation and provide users with verified news and public information sources. She said as soon as the platform, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, started hearing about the global health crisis ‘we realised we had a responsibility to help people, to provide reliable information and stop the spread of disinformation’.

Among the measures in place to prevent the spread of misinformation, she said were chatbots on messenger apps that allow users to help find the latest information on the disease, and fact checkers in some countries via WhatsApp. On Instagram, when users search the most common keywords associated with coronavirus, the first results they see are links to the CDC in the U.S. or the World Health Organization.

“We can’t get to every piece of content,” said Budisatrijo, explaining that content that violates Facebook’s various policies is detected by automation and through reporting from users.

Claire Wardle, director of First Draft, a nonprofit coalition fighting the spread of harmful misinformation by providing “tools needed to outsmart false and misleading information”, said skepticism was needed when consuming news shared on social media. She warned that ‘seductive messaging’ in palpably false social media posts shared by presidents and celebrities alike posed a dangerous threat to us all and would only get worse if not addressed.

“We are in a much worse situation than I’ve seen in the last four years,” Wardle said.

You can watch the video here

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