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.)

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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