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.)

Advancing global money movement for everyone, everywhere

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Even with innovations in fintech and digital payments, roadblocks related to basic infrastructure like electricity and internet connectivity still prevent many migrant workers from being able to transfer money to their families back home with a truly digital end-to-end flow. While more workers can send money digitally today, the majority of people still receive funds in cash. Read more about why public-private partnerships are key to advancing the future of global money movement and why it matters from experts at the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute.

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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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

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

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during 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

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. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

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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