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.)

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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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

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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