Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Corsica — Spain is not the only country with a potential separatist problem. French President Emmanuel Macron paid his first visit to Corsica this week to respond to demands for greater autonomy from increasingly ambitious nationalists on the island.


Korean Women’s Ice Hockey Team — The Winter Olympics are officially open, and one of the great stories of these games will be a women’s hockey team that brings together South and North Korean athletes for the first time. Forget politics. Forget medals. Forget your national team, at least in women’s hockey. They may not win a single contest, but these women are THE team to watch in Pyeongchang.

Other Animals That Can’t Fly — Last week, we told you about United Airlines’ refusal to allow a woman to board her flight with a large peacock she claimed she needed for “emotional support.” Now United is preparing a list of other animals that will not be allowed. The preliminary list includes hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles and “non-household birds.” Your Friday author will be watching to ensure his Support Llama is not included.

What We're Ignoring

Lembert Mende — In 2016, Democratic Republic of the Congo’s President Joseph Kabila refused to step aside when his term of office ended. Violent street protests followed. This week, Kabila’s Minister of Communications, Lambert Mende, said that Kabila, in office since 2001, would not stand for re-election or try to select a successor who would protect his interests in a vote now scheduled for December. No offense, Mr. Mende, but we’ll need to hear this news directly from Joseph Kabila.

Pence in Pyeongchang — US Vice President says he plans to attend the Games to ensure that North Korea is unable to “hijack the messaging of the Olympics.” Is there anyone alive today on this planet who is capable of being charmed by Kim Jong-un but then guided by Mike Pence? No, there isn’t.

North Korean opinions about beer — North Korea’s state-run Taedonggang brewery has introduced a new beer which North Korea’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun says tastes and smells “better than existing beers” and has “already gained positive reviews from North Korean citizens.” Dear North Korea, we’ll cheer for your hockey players, but we aren’t going near your beer.

 

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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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.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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