American carnage

An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021

Our newsletter is called Signal. We chose that name because we wanted to do our best to separate "signal" from "noise" for our readers — to cut through ideology and emotion to try to offer insight into what's happening, why it's happening, and what might happen in the future. With that in mind, here's what has happened in the United States over the past 24 hours and how we got here.

President Donald Trump has built a large following by telling people that American politics is a game that has been rigged against his supporters. In November, he was defeated by Joe Biden in a free and fair election. Before, during, and after that election, Trump has tried to persuade his followers that the election was stolen from them. That charge is false. It has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits and court cases, and no court has found that it has merit.


In Washington on Wednesday, the US Congress began legal proceedings to formalize the election result according to law. A mob of armed rioters, goaded by the president, who encouraged his supporters at a rally Wednesday not to "concede," stormed the building to stop that lawful process.

Order has been restored, at least for now. Congress certified President-elect Biden's victory early this morning, and he will be inaugurated the rightfully elected president of the United States on January 20. Under intensifying pressure to concede that Biden has won, President Trump has promised "an orderly transition of power."

But this event has raised troubling questions about the future of American domestic politics and the US' role in the world. Here's a preliminary list of questions we'll be trying to answer in coming weeks, months, and years.

Will this violation of rule of law in the United States — the halting of a transition of presidential power by an armed mob — split the Republican Party into warring factions that can't be reconciled into a single coherent political party?

What impact will the (brief) occupation of the US Capitol by Trump supporters have on the willingness of Republican lawmakers to bargain and compromise with soon-to-be president Joe Biden? Will they be willing to work with a president whom many Trump supporters consider illegitimate and an enemy?

How will Joe Biden and the Democratic Party respond to this increasingly toxic political environment? Will Democrats attempt in some way to reach out to Republicans disgusted by this rioting? Or will most become convinced they must move forward with no Republican support?

Will President Trump be held responsible for instigating this insurrection by members of his own party? If the current hostilities escalate over the next 13 days, will there be a serious attempt to remove him from power?

What will foreign governments make of this spectacle? US allies and rivals alike already know that President Trump won 74 million votes, more than any other presidential candidate in history except the man who defeated him. They know he has expanded his political base. They already understood, therefore, that Trump, or at least "Trumpism," might return in 2024. How does the sight of a pro-Trump mob storming the US Capitol building alter their calculation of how much to invest in making longer term economic, political and security bargains with the Biden administration.

What does the world look like when the planet's only superpower is now wracked by a level of political instability and scenes of unrest more commonly associated with what are called "emerging" markets?

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U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in a White House handout photo as he speaks with European leaders about Russia and the situation in Ukraine during a secure video teleconference from the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2022.

Western powers claim that they present a united front against the Kremlin’s current threats in Ukraine. But clearly there are reasons for doubt. President Joe Biden provided more last week when he appeared to question whether NATO would in fact act with “total unity” if Vladimir Putin orders Russian troops across the Ukrainian border.

Do Western allies really agree on a common approach to keeping Russia out of Ukraine? What are the major points of contention among them?

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Beating China at AI | GZERO World

The US and China compete on many fronts, and one of them is artificial intelligence.

But China has a different set of values, which former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is not a big fan of — especially when those values shape the AI on apps his children use.

"You may not care where your kids are, and TikTok may know where your teenagers are, and that may not bother you," he says. "But you certainly don't want them to be affected by algorithms that are inspired by the Chinese and not by Western values."

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Russia & China vs “the West”

Russian President Vladimir Putin attempts to shake hands with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Russia and China have always had a complicated relationship. They almost went to war over a border dispute in 1969, and have historically regarded each other as neither friends nor enemies, but rather competitors for influence in Asia and elsewhere.

But that all started to change in 2014, the year Moscow and Beijing saw a US hand in the revolutions that prompted Russia to seize Crimea from Ukraine, and China to crack down on umbrella-wearing protesters in Hong Kong. China is increasingly thirsty for Russian oil and natural gas, and both have a common interest in standing up to “the West.”

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are now showing off their authoritarian bromance in the face of growing animosity from the US and its allies over flashpoints such as Ukraine and Taiwan.

We know how much of the West views Russia and China. But how do Russia and China view the West? Here's a hypothetical recent catch-up video call between BFFs Putin and Xi.

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The Graphic Truth: Coups ain’t what they used to be
Gabriella Turrisi & Paige Fusco

Rebel soldiers have ousted Burkina Faso's democratic government in the first military coup of 2022. Last year, soldiers also seized power in Myanmar, Mali, Guinea and Sudan. But attempts around the globe in recent decades have become both less common and less successful. That's partly because the end of the Cold War diminished outside superpowers' interest in backing coups against governments they didn't like. Here's a look at the historical record.

What We’re Watching: Burkina Faso coup, China’s “pure” internet, Thailand decriminalizes weed

Captain Sidsore Kader Ouedraogo, centre, spokesman for the military government, with uniformed soldiers from the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration or MPSR, announces on a television studio that they have taken power in Burkina Faso.

Radio Television du Burkina (RTB)/Handout via EYEPRESS

Another coup in volatile West Africa. Monday’s military coup in Burkina Faso is the fourth armed takeover of a West African government in just 17 months. As in neighboring countries like Mali — which has had not one but two coups since 2020 — it will be hard for outsiders, like the African Union and the regional group ECOWAS to reverse this assault on an elected government. Why? For one thing, al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated militant groups are winning battles with soldiers and killing civilians in barely governed parts of Burkina Faso. For another, more than 1.5 million of the country’s 21 million people have been forced from their homes since 2018. Street protests in major cities and mutinies in military bases have made clear in recent months just how unsustainable Burkina Faso’s security situation has become. Events in Mali, Niger, and Guinea have followed a worryingly similar pattern, and the Ivory Coast and Benin also face growing jihadist threats. We’ll be watching to see whether Burkina Faso’s junta has more success than the government it ousted in beating back jihadist attacks and restoring security to the country — and what happens if it doesn’t.

China's internet "purification" campaign. Xi Jinping doesn't like big celebrities — other than his famous singer wife — because they often show off their expensive lifestyles online, encouraging Chinese youth to worship money instead of the ruling Communist Party. That's why ahead of next week's Lunar New Year, the government plans to take down celebrity fan groups and censor influencers whom Xi regards as "unpatriotic." What's more, minors will no longer be allowed to become online influencers. The campaign is part of Xi's broader "common prosperity" vision to combat rising wealth inequality in China, which has prompted a surge of charitable giving by tycoons, especially tech billionaires. It has also canceled celebrities who flaunted their wealth or embarrassed the CCP by doing things like visiting a Tokyo shrine that holds the remains of World War II criminals, acquiring foreign citizenship, or using a surrogate to have a baby born in the US. Keep all of this in mind if you're an aspiring influencer in China.

Thai stoners rejoice. On Tuesday, Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalize cannabis by dropping it from its list of banned substances. This is a very big deal for a country known for some of the world’s toughest anti-drug laws, including the death penalty for anyone caught with even small amounts of certain narcotics. Still, a tangle of laws related to cannabis leaves unclear whether recreational use and possession will be prosecuted. For now, the percentage of THC — the psychoactive compound in cannabis that makes you high — must be under 0.2 percent. In recent years, Thailand has relaxed its policy on so-called soft drugs, first legalizing medical marijuana and later kratom, a popular plant-based mild stimulant and painkiller. But the country still has a big problem with addiction to hard drugs — especially yaba (crazy pill), a highly addictive combination of methamphetamine and caffeine sourced from the lawless border areas of neighboring Myanmar.
Hard Numbers: Oz buys Aboriginal flag, Malawi vs corruption, ISIS human shields, Boris the party animal

Children hold an indigenous flag at a Black Deaths in Custody Rally at Town Hall in Sydney, Saturday, April 10, 2021.

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

14: The Australian government paid $14 million for the copyright of the Aboriginal flag so that anyone can display it without fear of being sued. Indigenous artist Harold Thomas created the flag 50 years ago as a protest image; since then, it has become the dominant Aboriginal symbol and an official national flag.

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Russia's Actions Towards Ukraine Are Strengthening NATO | World In :60 | GZERO Media

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on Russian escalation of Ukraine strengthening NATO, omicron and the end of COVID-19, and on the most recent military coup in West Africa — Burkina Faso:

How will Russian escalation of Ukraine strengthen NATO?

Well, NATO over the last 10, 20 years even was increasingly beset by problems. You had the US unilateralism focused more on Asia. You had the old mission of defending against the Russians less relevant. The French wanting strategic autonomy. Macron leaning into that. Now, of course, Merkel's gone, too. But the proximate reality in danger of the Russians invading Ukraine, actually, as much as the Europeans are more dependent on the Russians for their economy and their gas, they're also more concerned about Russia in terms of national security. That has driven a lot of coordination, including announcements of a lot more troops and material from being sent by NATO states to Ukraine and also to defend NATO borders, like in the Baltic states as well as Bulgaria and Romania. I would argue that what Putin's been doing so far has had no impact greater than bolstering NATO, and it's one of the reasons why I'm skeptical that a full-on invasion is something that Putin has in the cards because that would frankly do more than anything else out there to make NATO, focused on Russia, a serious and going concern.

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