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Volume I No.3

WORLD, REGION & NATION

Published 01 December 2020

Hi Reader,

It was a historic moment not only for the United Kingdom in which it took place, and not only for the Western world but also for all of humankind struggling against the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The family of humankind

A 90-year-old woman from Northern Ireland, Margaret Keenan, became the world’s first recipient of a Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials. This marked the first step toward humankind achieving herd immunity from the virus that has already killed around 1,596,000 human beings. The nurse who administered the vaccine, May Parsons, is a Southeast Asian, a Filipino who has been working with the UK National Health Service for 24 years. There are some 20,000 Filipinos working within the UK health system.

A 90-year-old woman, Margaret Keenan, receives a Pfizer vaccine injection from May Parsons. The event was being broadcast on TV and online. (Photo: New York Times)

The meaning of that moment cannot be overstated, especially in the context of kinship of all humankind. And in light of the sacrifices of the countless frontline health workers fighting the pandemic, including the supreme sacrifice of giving their lives to save the lives of others.

 Reader,

Once again, this is your Briefer, Jamil Maidan Flores, observing the World, Region and Nation from a Jakarta vantage and striving to make sense of what I observe with the help of Pinter Politik contributors.

A dangerous moment in America

Meanwhile in the United States, the Supreme Court has just thrown out a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General of Texas that sought to invalidate the election victory of Democrat Joe Biden in four battleground states—Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia—by questioning their respective state electoral procedures. The Supreme Court Justices, most of them appointed by Republican presidents, three of them by President Trump himself, unanimously refused to grant relief to the complainant, and seven of them ruled that in the first place Texas had no legal business disputing the way other states hold general elections.

The Supreme Court of the United States when Justice Ruth Baden Ginsburg, seated, second from right, was still alive. The newest member, Justice Amy Coney Barret was appointed and confirmed in such a hurry so recently that there is no Supreme Court group portrait that includes her.

Every American legal expert who has any reputation quickly denounced the lawsuit as brazen and farcical. That does not mean Trump and allies will stop trying to upend the results of an election that he had already obviously lost, using similarly brazen and farcical tactics. Nor will the millions who have made a cult of Trumpism cease claiming that the election was stolen, with many of them ready to resort to violence to redress that grievance.

 This is therefore a dangerous moment for a deeply divided America. The democrats have proffered themselves as the champions of underdog populations: the Blacks, the Latinos, the Native Americans and other minorities as well as women and LGBTQs. On the other hand the Republicans have taken the role of advocates of the white working people, the white middle class, the white people without college education. Thus the Democrats and Republicans have divided America between themselves.

#BlackLivesMatter activists and Trump supporters were seen arguing in Madison, Wisconsin, US. (Photo: State Journal)

There are grievances on both sides, fueled by the demagoguery of politicians and “alternative truths” being peddled not only on social media but also in some mainstream media. This is a recipe for social decay if not outright disintegration.

Why should we in Southeast Asia be so concerned at what’s going on in the United States? Because the issues that are tearing American society apart, especially the issues of inequality and identity, are also at work in our part of the world. No country is entirely safe from populist firebrands. There must be many lessons we can learn from the American experience.

Update 29 November 2020

Today the deadly march of the Coronavirus continues all over the world, in the ASEAN region, and in Indonesia. With this we bring you the latest data gathered from:

The Global Situation

The total number of confirmed cases, as of 29 November 2020 stood at 62,712,622 cases. Deaths numbered 1,460,792 at a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 2.3 percent. Covered in this report are 219 infected countries and 178 Local Transmission Countries. The total new cases for today is 157,468 and the total new deaths around the globe reached 3,245. Taken from: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

The ASEAN Talley

As of 29 November 2020, the total number of confirmed cases in the ASEAN region stood at 10,688,202. The aggregate total of deaths was 162,778 for a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 1,5 percent. The data on a country-by-country basis are as follows:

Taken from: https://covid19.kemkes.go.id/

The Indonesian Total

Indonesia saw 6,267 new cases and 169 deaths on November 29, bringing the total to 534,266 cases and 16,815 deaths, a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 3.1 percent. These numbers cover 505 affected Districts-Cities.  For more detailed statistics, click here.

Slavery and the Electoral College

One of the great dysfunctions of American democracy is its bizarre system of electing a president and vice president where the winner of a presidential election is not necessarily the candidate preferred by the majority of voters. If the Electoral College of the United States were not so freaky, the spectacle of a Donald Trump trying to blot out the 81 million votes for Joe Biden might have been avoided.

Ballots cast by members of the Electoral College being collected in Sacramento California during the 2016 electoral process

How did the US come to adopt such a ponderous system? It’s all because of the institution of slavery, which prevailed in the country at the time the Framers of the US Constitution were designing the electoral system. It was crafted to preserve white supremacy, according Zakiah Nuril Zapirah in an op-piece published in this issue.

In relation to this, she recalls a time in Indonesia when an elite also decided who would be president, a system that enabled Suharto to rule for more than three decades. Today, however, as a result of Reformasi, the key officials at all levels in the Executive and in the Legislature of Indonesia are elected directly by the people. She wonders if America is capable of the same kind of electoral reform. Read about that here.

Biden’s foreign policy menu

Whatever Trump and his allies do in the days ahead, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. will be sworn in as 46th President of the United States. He will have a staggering domestic agenda because of the damage that Trump has inflicted on national governance.

No less formidable are the challenges that await him in international affairs. There is the task of bringing back America into vital multilateral arrangements such as the Paris Treaty on Climate Change, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better know as the Iran Nuclear Deal. He has a lot of fence-mending to do with NATO allies. He should make Russia’s Putin, Israel’s Netanyahu, and Saudi Arabia’s Muhammed bin Salman understand that their coddling days are over. And then there’s China to deal with.

An aircraft carrier of the PLAN (Navy of the People’s Liberation Army) with battleship escorts patrolling at sea.

China indeed. Dealing with this rising military and economic superpower is a pretty complex business. It has financial and economic capabilities that the US can no longer match. It is also getting more aggressive in claiming territories over which it is in dispute. And there is its longstanding threat to seize Taiwan. Will China actually invade any time soon? Regina Marthalia has an answer to that question. Find out here.

Thought for food

Now here is something you can sink your teeth into. You know of course that culture is the source of a nation’s soft power, and a vital part of a nation’s culture is its cuisine. That is one reason China has such formidable soft power: Chinese restaurants had conquered the world long before the parents of the founders of Huawei were born.

Indonesian dishes being served in Jakarta. (Photo: Jakarta Post)

Another world leader in “gastrodiplomacy” is Thailand. Indonesian diplomat Ignatius Puguh Priambodo, who says he is as much a foodie as an envoy, believes he has found the secret behind the success of some 15,000 Thai restaurants around the world, and proposes that Indonesia use the same ingredient to enable Indonesian restaurants to also spice up the world. Find out that secret ingredient here.

Sup buntut, anyone? I hope this Brief has given you some food for thought you can chew on. Thanks for reading.

WORLD, REGION & NATION

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