Hard Times for Volodymyr Zelensky

Hard Times for Volodymyr Zelensky

Not so long ago, you were Volodymyr Zelensky, beloved comedian and star of "Servant of the People," one of Ukraine's most popular TV shows. Then you decided you wanted a new project, a big challenge. Why play Ukraine's president when you could be Ukraine's president?


All you had to do was win an election, your first ever, by knocking off incumbent president Petro Poroshenko and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. People knew and loved you. How hard could it be?

You won! Well done. And the political party you created, "Servant of the People," then won a solid majority of seats in parliamentary elections, giving you plenty of friendly lawmakers to help write your vision into law and to fight the endemic corruption that has long blocked your country's path forward.

So… 21 weeks later, how's it going?

For one thing, you now find yourself in the middle of what may become the biggest American political scandal in decades. Members of each major US political party want you to talk about one thing and shut up about another.

Democrats say Trump tried to strong-arm you into giving him dirt on one of his political rivals by withholding money that your country needs to face down challenges from Russia. Republicans, meanwhile, want to know what the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was doing to earn $50,000 per month from a Ukrainian natural gas company while his dad was Vice President.

Thanks to your new lead role in an American impeachment battle, some are now calling you Monica Zelensky.

Then there's that war with Russia you inherited, the one triggered by Russian-backed separatists that has killed 13,000 people in the disputed provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk and forced 1.5 million people from their homes. Your new big idea to end this awful conflict is to consider a plan, first proposed by a former German foreign minister, that would allow elections in those two provinces, reincorporate them back into Ukraine with a "special status" that gives them some policy independence, disarm the separatists who've been shooting at your army, and give you back control of the border with Russia.

And for your trouble, Mr. President, protesters in the center of Kyiv have called you a traitor. They say these elections will formally recognize the theft of political power by separatists and prevent Ukrainian patriots from returning to their homes there. They say you have "surrendered" to Vladimir Putin.

Soon talks will begin with the French, Germans, and Russians to see if this deal can be made real. The devil is no doubt hiding in the details.

In the meantime, it's been a tough four and half months, Mr. President. You deserve a bit of comic relief at this point, and we're glad you got to meet Tom Cruise. For now, you're still pretty popular at home. You're known for your sense of humor and ample political talents, and you'll surely need both in months to come.

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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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Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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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 does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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