Cartoon Villains, Real Fears: Pooh and Jones

Cartoon Villains, Real Fears: Pooh and Jones

We’re living through a cartoonish period in global politics. Just look at the US and China, for example, where the fate of two very different cartoon(ish) characters reveals something important about each country’s biggest political fears.


Last week, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Chinese censors had bannedWalt Disney’s new Winnie-the-Pooh live-action film, Christopher Robin, from theaters. It’s part of an ongoing crusade against the portly, honey-addicted cartoon bear, which, it is widely agreed, bears a certain resemblance to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi’s opponents have made a meme of the lovable storybook character, using it to poke fun at the country’s most powerful leader since Mao. It seems absurd. Is China, the aspiring superpower, really so afraid that its leader can’t stand a little ribbing that it has to ban a cartoon bear? Xi isarguably the most powerful man on the planet, and cuts a strong figure as the head of a newly “confident” China. But as Beijing girds for a trade war with the US, the government doesn’t want a little bear to open the way for bigger criticism of China’s leadership. Millions of would-be Winnie-the-Pooh fans will just have to go see something else.

Meanwhile, in the US, a cartoonish villain has become a poster-boy for the country’s deepest anxieties. Fans of Alex Jones, a conspiracy-mongering talk radio host -- who, among other things, has spread baseless claims that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax -- can no longer find their favorite entertainer on Facebook, Apple, and YouTube. In recent days, those companies banned him from their services on the grounds that he was using hate speech. The fear here isn’t making a mockery of the national leadership, it’s that lies and disinformation will exacerbate divisions in society and undermine trust in institutions that are critical to a healthy democracy. Technically, there’s no free speech conflict – these are private companies. But their decision to deny Jones the use of their megaphone raises broader questions – does keeping the internet safe for democracy require rooting out poisonous speech? If so, should governments be regulating these companies more closely? Or does silencing someone like Jones just risk exacerbating the divisions he was inflaming in the first place?

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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