Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Kenya — Last August, Kenya held a presidential election. The incumbent (Uhuru Kenyatta) was declared the winner, but his main challenger (Raila Odinga) claimed the results had been altered electronically. Kenya’s Supreme Court then ruled the vote had to be rerun. Kenyatta won the October rematch, but half of those who voted in the first election skipped the revote.


This week, Kenya’s opposition announced creation of an alternative government by swearing in its leader, Raila Odinga, as the “people’s president” in a Nairobi park. The government calls it treason, and shut down three large private TV channels that had planned to broadcast the event. Courts have told the government to turn the channels back on. So far, the government has refused. Watch Kenya.

Disgruntled Tories — Members of her Conservative Party are becoming more open in their criticism that Prime Minister Theresa May lacks backbone and a coherent Brexit strategy. If at least 48 of her party’s MPs (15 percent) send a letter expressing lack of confidence in her leadership, they can trigger a majority vote to oust her. A poor performance for her party in local elections in three months might be the breaking point.

The State vs Hip Hop — State-run media in China has begun cracking down on Chinese hip hop artists with charges that their lyrics are misogynist, vulgar, and “decadent.” A meeting last week of the state agency that decides who and what may appear on China’s airwaves included the following directive for programmers: “Do not use celebrities with low moral values, those who are vulgar and of low taste, those whose thoughts and style are not refined, and those who are involved in scandals.” There goes 83 percent of the best in American pop culture. #FightThePowersThatBe

What We're Igorning

Those who dismiss Donald Trump’s political talent — Some of those who don’t like Donald Trump dismiss his political talent much too easily. Love him or hate him, Tuesday’s State of the Union Address showcased the president at the top of his game. Trump knows what his supporters want to hear and how to engage them emotionally. He’s more comfortable on camera than Ronald Reagan and a better salesman than Bill Clinton. At a time when it has never been less clear who will lead the Democratic Party forward, don’t underestimate Donald Trump’s ability to rouse his crowd.

A Degree in Yodeling — A Swiss university has announced plans to offer a three-year bachelor’s degree in yodeling. Now you’ve done it, Switzerland. You’ve made me quote the despicable Harry Lime: “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace — and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Emotional Support Peacocks — This week, United Airlines officials at Newark, New Jersey’s Liberty International Airport refused to allow a woman to bring a peacock on the plane with her. She claimed she needed the large and colorful bird for “emotional support.” Let’s be clear: Though your Signal authors much prefer llamas, we like peacocks very much. We’re also big fans of emotional support. That said, we do not see any clear connection between peacocks and emotional support. (Thanks to loyal reader Anil Gupta for bringing this story to our attention.)

Beyond simply accumulating too much waste, we also recycle and repurpose so little of it. 3D printers, however, can reverse this pattern. Among the most used tools in the "circular" economy, these printers help reduce production costs, release fewer greenhouse gases, and reduce the use of raw materials by allowing objects to be repaired.

See how they work on the 7th episode of Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

You've probably heard a lot in the past three days about Senator Kamala Harris, her background, and the ground-breaking nature of her candidacy for US vice president.

But now that the cheering crowds have logged off and the virtual confetti has been swept away, we're left with a basic question: will Kamala Harris make a difference — on the campaign trial and maybe in the White House — for Joe Biden?

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Kevin Sneader, global managing partner for McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on how corporate business leaders think in response to the coronavirus crisis:

What is the role of HR going into the next normal?

Well, this is a time of reset and one big reset that I see is around the role of HR. I think it's time for HR to shift from being a transactional partner around compensation, organization charts, and benefits to being a truly integral architect of change. Now, that's been happening for years in the best performing HR departments. It Involves rethinking talent requirements, capturing what was learned about individuals and organizations during the course of this pandemic, and even learning and growing in a world in which remote working has to be combined with working back in the office or the manufacturing facility. A world where incentives needs to be rethought. And where employee experiences need to reflect a very different reality. So, there's a big reset going on and I think that reset needs to embrace HR both in terms of what HR can do, the role of the CHR role, and indeed the way in which together HR becomes a true architect for change, just as it has done for many years, perhaps unnoticed, and not give enough credit by those who really should know better.

An open letter in Politico by a group of foreign policy experts says the US should take a much tougher approach on Russia. In this edition of The Red Pen, Ian Bremmer is joined by Eurasia Group analysts Alex Brideau and Zach Witlin to point out some reasons why diplomacy and realism are critical in the US approach to Russia.

And today, we're taking our Red Pen to an open letter titled "No, Now Is Not the Time for Another Russia Reset." It was published in Politico and signed by 33 foreign policy experts, including diplomats Bill Taylor and Kurt Volker, who both testified at the impeachment hearings, as well as a bunch of military intelligence and diplomatic figures. And as it turned out, actually, we were Red Penned here, because it's a response to this piece, also in Politico recently, that I cosigned with a different group of Russia experts, including Fiona Hill and Jon Huntsman.

Both letters talk about the road ahead for US relations with Russia. The one I signed argued that the US needs to know when there will be opportunities to work with Russia and when Washington has to push back. The central argument in this article is that there's no point in talking to Russia until Putin changes his mind. So, what we have here is an open debate about the issue. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty we agree on and plenty of places where no red ink is required.

We agree that Russia bears plenty of responsibility for the current state of affairs. It occupies territory that belongs to Georgia and Ukraine, two sovereign states. And it interfered in the 2016 US election and continues to do so as we speak. Moscow has also killed dissidents in Europe, assassinated them. So, I mean, you know, no one is trying to justify any of that belligerent behavior. And we also agree that while the United States can fine tune its policy all we want, it actually takes two to tango. Recent talks with the Russians have not been too successful, but since the red pen is here, it is time to highlight some areas of disagreement. So, here they are.

Point one, the authors argue that there's no point in talking to Russia about much of anything until Putin changes his act. They write that "by arguing that it is the United States and not Russia that needs a 'current change of course' the authors of the open letter (that's us) get it exactly backward."

If the US takes an all or nothing approach with Russia, it will end up with nothing. Look, I mean, I certainly expect and understand that we should have a more hawkish line on a bunch of things with the Chinese as well, but that doesn't mean you can't work with these countries on climate change, on space, on a bunch of areas where it's actually really important. These are still large economies. In the case of the Russians, the largest nuclear arsenal in the world along with the United States, and I would argue that leaving the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement was a mistake, leaving the Blue Skies Agreement, the Open Skies Agreement was a mistake. That you have to work even with your antagonists, and that's important. That means that we should be pursuing diplomacy and cooperation where we can while also vigorously defending our own interests where we can't. This strikes me as a fairly obvious baseline understanding of international diplomacy, and I'm always surprised when people push back against it.

Point two, the authors write that the US should "maintain, even enhance sanctions" on Russia unless a long list of demands are met, like withdrawing troops from Ukraine, including Crimea, and ending cyberattacks and election interference.

Nobody is saying we should give in to Russia on any of those issues. The bottom line is that the above list of demands is already US policy. How more sanctions would change Russian behavior? Doesn't make a lot of sense. You need your allies on board for sanctions to work. And sanctions work best when they're calibrated and targeted. When they have clear benchmarks that when met, lead to easing of those sanctions. And when they're paired with diplomacy. Russia's a big nuclear armed country, unlike, say, South Africa. Russia's not going to simply be sanctioned into surrender. Maintain the sanctions but expanding them at this point strikes me as having very little likelihood of return and only marginal increase of sanctions that we could do.

Point three, the authors say that the US should not resign itself to accepting "Russia's repression, kleptocracy and aggression" as that provides no incentive for Putin to change.

Now, we agree. The US cannot accept Russian misbehavior, but we need to be realistic about what we can actually change, like stopping Russian election meddling, and what we can't, like Russia's kleptocracy. We can and should do our part to stop dirty money from coming into the US and Europe but changing Russia's domestic system is another story.

So, in conclusion, the Russians are an antagonist of the United States. Their revisionist power, they're in decline. They are trying to undermine the Americans, the Europeans, and the transatlantic relationship. All true. But I actually think that there are areas where we still need to be working with lots of states that we really don't like and don't trust, and yes, Russia is one of them. By the way, New START, the nuclear arms reduction treaty signed in 2010 by the US and Russia expires in February 2021. Open dialog right now could save it and I think it's worth saving. Let's work on that.

"We now have for the first time, pre-COVID, a very good sense of where the gaps are" says former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden on pandemic preparedness. But in order to prevent another pandemic from bringing the world to its knees, he argues, the United States must play a more proactive role on the global stage. First step: work much more closely with the CDC (and don't, for starters, pull funding during a pandemic).