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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.)

The role of the public library has evolved over time. As we move online at an even faster rate, knowledge, entertainment and opportunities for education and employment are found on the internet. Those living in well-connected, affluent places may have come to take internet access for granted. But there is a digital divide in the U.S. that has left people at a disadvantage – particularly since the arrival of COVID-19.

Finding ways to overcome that divide in a sustainable, community-led way could help bring the benefits of the internet to those who need it most. One solution is to use technologies such as TV white space to facilitate wireless broadband – as Microsoft's Airband Initiative is doing. To read more about Microsoft's work with public libraries, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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Less than a week out from Election Day, 66 million Americans have already cast their ballots, and many of those are people who are voting "early" for the first time because of the pandemic. In fact, the early vote total alone this year is already equal to nearly half of all ballots cast in the 2016 general election, suggesting that 2020 turnout could reach historic levels. Most important, however, is how things are playing out in key battleground states where the outcome of the US election will be determined. In Texas, for instance, a huge surge in early voting by Democrats this year has raised the possibility that a state which has been won by Republican candidates since 1976 could now be up for grabs. Here we take a look at early voting in battleground states in 2020 as compared to 2016.

In a national referendum on Sunday, Chileans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new constitution. But, why are people in this oasis of political stability and steady economic growth in South America willing to undo the bedrock of the system that has allowed Chile to prosper for so long?

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

One week before the US election. What do other world leaders want to happen?

Well, I mean, let's face it. Outside the United States, most of the world's leaders would prefer to see the back of Trump. An America first policy was not exactly made for non-Americans. That was not the intended demographic audience. Trump doesn't really care. In fact, to a degree, it's kind of a selling point that a lot of foreign leaders don't want Trump. It's showing that Trump is strong in negotiations and indeed is doing better for the American people.

That's largely BS, but occasionally it's true. I mean, his willingness to use American power to force the Mexican government to actually tighten up on Mexico's Southern border and stop immigration from coming through. AMLO would have much rather that not have happened, but the fact that it did was an America first policy, that rebounded to the benefits of the United States. And there are other examples of that. But generally speaking, it would be better for the US long-term, and for the world, if we had more harmonious, smoother relations with other countries around the world, certainly pretty much all the Europeans would much rather see Trump lose. The United Kingdom is the significant exception given the nature of Brexit, and the fact that Trump has been in favor of that, like being called Mr. Brexit by five or six Brits or however many did.

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