Even Autocrats Get Headaches

Even Autocrats Get Headaches

Your Tuesday author has written about the sharp drop in Vladimir Putin’s approval numbers following unpopular changes announced to Russia’s pension system. That story made news again this week with a new poll that gives United Russia, a party distinguished only by slavish devotion to Putin, an approval rating of just 37 percent. That’s their lowest point since 2011.


Putin isn’t the only autocrat with a headache. After an historic consolidation of power over the past year, one made possible by purges of rivals and a surge in state censorship, President Xi Jinping has established a degree of political dominance not seen in China since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. But Xi is now grappling with two main sources of anxiety and anger.

The near-term problem is a public health crisis. A party that holds a monopoly on power assumes direct responsibility for the security and wellbeing of its citizens. In years past, China’s people have fallen victim to unsafe food and medicine, and last month a government investigation and news reports revealed that a major Chinese drug company produced at least 250,000 doses of vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough that didn’t meet safety standards. This is China’s third vaccine scandal in eight years. Protests erupted on social media and on the streets of Chinese cities.

The long-term challenge centers on growing economic anxiety. China’s economy has been slowing for years, in part by design, as the leadership shifts from heavy reliance on exports to a model fueled by the spending of Chinese consumers. It hasn’t been a smooth process, and the state has recently had to inject more than $100 billion to keep the economy moving at a healthy pace.

A growing trade war with the US has only added to unease about the future. President Trump again raised the stakes this week with threats to impose 25 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese exports to the US.

Last October, as presidential term limits were lifted, and a twice per decade Communist Party congress became a kind of coronation, Xi proclaimed a new era for China, one in which his rising nation need no longer hide its strength and surging self-confidence. Yet, if China’s economic worries continue to grow, some will blame Xi and this triumphalist message for provoking an unnecessary confrontation with the US and others.

Let’s be clear: Xi and Putin have plenty of power in reserve. Neither is in imminent danger. But both must fear that, over time, emboldened critics may limit their ability to take unpopular but necessary steps for the long-term health of their countries.

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Does the EU really have a foreign policy?

For decades, European leaders have debated the question of whether Europe should have a common foreign policy that’s independent of the United States.

Germany, the UK, and countries situated closest to Russia have traditionally preferred to rely on membership in NATO and US military strength to safeguard European security at a cost affordable for them.

French leaders, by contrast, have argued that, with or without NATO, Europe needs an approach to foreign-policy questions that doesn’t depend on alignment, or even agreement, with Washington.

There are those within many EU countries who agree that Europe must speak with a single clear voice if the EU is to promote European values and protect European interests in a world of US, Chinese, and Russian power.

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The politics of US crime: Perception vs reality

A recent spate of violent crimes in New York City has made national headlines. Since Eric Adams was sworn in four weeks ago as mayor of America’s most populous city, violence on the streets — and the subways — has again become a major political focus. Things got even more heated this week, when two young cops were killed while responding to a domestic dispute in Harlem.

Crime is not only a dominant political issue in New York. It also resonates more broadly with American voters worried over increased lawlessness and unrest. Indeed, crime is already shaping up to be a wedge issue as Republicans vie to win control of the US Congress this November.

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Hard Numbers: South China Sea jet search, US economy surges, Cuban protesters charged, Africa gets vaxxed

FILE PHOTO of a F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the Argonauts of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, launches off the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Jan. 14, 2022.

U.S Navy/EYEPRESS

100 million: The US Navy is scrambling to find a $100 million F-35 stealth fighter jet that crashed and sank soon after taking off on Monday from an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. One expert described the Cold War-ish race to locate the remains — stocked with classified equipment — before the Chinese do as "basically The Hunt For Red October meets The Abyss."

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The logo of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project is seen on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020.

Nord Stream 2 used as a bargaining chip with Russia. The US now says that if Russia invades Ukraine, it’ll block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to transfer even more natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. This is a big deal, considering that Germany – thirsty for more Russian gas – has long been pushing for the pipeline to start operating despite ongoing objections from Washington. The $11 billion energy project, which would double Russian gas exports to Germany, is seen as (a big) part of the reason why Berlin is reluctant to push back hard against the Kremlin over its troop buildup at the Ukrainian border. Still, German officials admit Nord Stream 2 could face sanctions if the Russians invade, suggesting that the Americans’ threat was likely coordinated with Berlin in advance. This comes amid ongoing diplomatic attempts to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, with US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set to meet at the White House on February 7.

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Putin Has a “Noose” Around Ukraine, Says Russia Analyst Alina Polyakova | GZERO World

What’s going on in Vladimir Putin’s mind? That’s the million-dollar question.

Ukraine and Russia analyst Alina Polyakova doesn’t think it’s anything good.

Russia's president, she says, has put a “noose” around Ukraine with a troop build-up along the border that could spell invasion in the near term. The US has led an effort to deescalate the situation through diplomacy.

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The AI Addiction Cycle | GZERO World

Ever wonder why everything seems to be a major crisis these days? For former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, it's because artificial intelligence has determined that's the only way to get your attention.

What's more, it's driving an addiction cycle among humans that will lead to enormous depression and dissatisfaction.

"Oh my God there's another message. Oh my God, there's another crisis. Oh my God, there's another outrage. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God," he says. "I don't think humans, at least in modern society where [we’ve] evolved to be in an 'Oh my God' situation all day."

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Merkin' It With Angela Merkel | PUPPET REGIME | GZERO Media

Angela Merkel is retired — but only from politics. Still, maybe she's not as good at other jobs as she was as German chancellor.

Watch more PUPPET REGIME!

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