Belarus massive protests & Trump's USPS plan

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

First of all, Belarus, who knew we'd be talking about Belarus? Actually, if you were paying attention a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty clear that the opposition was very popular, the president, Lukashenko who is a dictator, they call him the last dictator of Europe, he's been in place for over two decades now, a disastrous leader of that country, and mishandled coronavirus, called it basically a conspiracy, feeding from paranoia from the West, told his people that if they would drink more vodka, that would poison the virus. Kind of like Bolsonaro in Brazil, he got it and then didn't have serious symptoms. And so that proved that it wasn't actually a really big deal. And no lockdowns. Meanwhile, that and a horrible economy has meant that the people are indeed enormously angry.


So now, for eight days running, you have massive demonstrations across, in Minsk, as well as across the entire country, biggest of the country's history. Belarus keep in mind, when the Soviet Union collapsed back in '91, Belarus was the country that kind of didn't really want independence. They were happy to be in some kind of union with the Russians. And, you know, everyone there, basically Russian speaking. And, you know, it was very different from the Coloured Revolutions that you saw in places like Ukraine, and Georgia, and the Kyrgyz Republic. This is not an anti-Russian demonstration. This is an anti-Lukashenko demonstration. And it's pretty clear. You've got a number of members of the police and military that have put down their uniforms and joined with the protesters, put down their arms. You've seen a Belarus state media refuse to actually provide censored coverage and say, "if they're not allowed to cover the demonstrations then they won't actually broadcast." So, it's looking pretty bad.

Lukashenko has now called Putin a couple of times. And they have said publicly that there are NATO movements on the Lithuanian border with Belarus. Lithuania also is where the former opposition candidate against Lukashenko, is is hanging out with her family, with her kids, because of concerns to her own safety. And so, saying that the West is actually trying to somehow force out Lukashenko where in reality there is no real external pressure, it's really domestically on the ground. Putin has said he would send military support, as I think a bluster, to just basically tell NATO and tell the West, "don't intervene, this is ours." But in reality, I really don't think Putin is all that interested in propping Lukashenko up. I think that it is more likely that we're going to see the Russians stay on the sidelines, like they did in Armenia.

You had a kleptocratic regime forced out, a new prime minister who is quite popular and clean on the ground, but the orientation of the Armenian government is still very much towards Russia. In part because of a war they're fighting with Azerbaijan and the Russians provide the military support, a lot of economic trade, and the rest. Belarus gets a lot of cheap energy from the Russians, there's a lot of military coordination with the Russians. I think as long as the new government is likely to continue to be oriented towards Moscow, Russia doesn't really want to be propping up an incredibly unpopular regime.

So, at this point, if you made me bet, on balance, I think Lukashenko is going to be forced out. And I think the Kremlin will be fine with the next Belarussian government. And in this 2020 year, where so many things have gone wrong for so many people, it would really be nice to see the Belarussian people actually get a government that cares about the people of the country. So, let's root for them and really hope that we don't see violence on the ground there. An incredibly courageous group trying to get rid of their dictator.

So beyond that, the post office, everyone talking about the post office. You wouldn't think you'd be talking a lot about the post office right now. It's the one week where coronavirus, I mean, with the exception of George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter, this feels like the one time since coronavirus and the pandemic really started in the US, that it's not dominating all the headlines. And it's because we're getting close to the election, and the US Postal Service is the place where you see the most contentious fighting over whether or not the election is going to be rigged.

Look, it's very clear to me that if Trump is capable of rigging the election in his favor, he will do so. The question is whether or not he can be stopped? And is the postal service part of that effort? I think it's very clear that it is. To be clear, the postal service doesn't make money. It loses money. It is a service. It is not meant to be profitable, right? We have known that the postal service also is massively over served in terms of the delivery capabilities it has compared to the number of packages that are actually being delivered. And that's not new under Trump. That was true under Obama. They've cut back on numbers of boxes and mail sorters, in part because people are sending things through email. They're sending virtually. There's not as many letters that are going through the mail as used to. And also, for people that want to have things overnight that is important, there are more expensive private sector ways of getting that done, with FedEx, and UPS, and DHL, and you name it.

But the idea that you're going to reform the post office as a priority three months before a presidential election, Trump has had four years to do this, never really shown up, now, suddenly it does. And very clearly, because he doesn't want to see lots of balloting by mail, he claims that's because it is fraudulent. There's virtually no evidence of that. And when I say, "virtually no," I mean, truly, virtually no evidence of that. But Trump understands that with a much more enthusiastic base, if people don't show up in the polling places, he's more likely to win.

Republicans also less concerned of voting in person than Democrats are, they want to vote by mail. So, it's very clear from a partisan perspective, the Republicans want less voting by mail, the Democrats want more. By the way, that would be true under any administration. The question is what they're prepared to do about it? And in the case of Trump, with a postmaster general that is not supposed to be politicized, a board that is made up of both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans, bipartisan, the fact that President Trump has put his finger on the scale and now you have all of these advisers to Trump saying, "yes, it's a horrible organization and it's, you know, not making any money and we need to reform it," it's not the issue. The issue is, can we do something else that will allow us to say, after the elections are over, that these elections have indeed been rigged?

And if Trump thinks he's going to lose and again, it doesn't mean he's going to lose, I mean, if you look at the polls right now, you'd probably say, "if there were no intervention, 70-30 Biden wins. 30% Trump wins, that's significant, right? I mean, by no means is he out of being able to win a legitimate election. It's just that his willingness to ensure that he ups that number by taking steps that are not legal, but that no one will prevent him from doing because the Senate is controlled by his party, and they will be loyal just as they were in the impeachment proceedings, it gets us closer and closer every day to an election whose outcome is likely to be contested.

And that's, I think, why this is a dominant issue right now. And I fully expect that unless it's a blowout in November, this is a contested election. It's going to be incredibly politically fraught and ugly. So, that's my view. And I hope everything is going well for everyone. Please be safe. Avoid people. More coronavirus, I'm sure, next time I talk to you.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the biggest act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.

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Colin Powell's legacy

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