The Impossibility of Vacation: Signal on the Beach

As you can see, your average Signalista has a tough time unplugging from the world of global politics, even on vacation. Even on the beach. Here’s a little window into what it’s like… a prose poem by yours truly and Willis Sparks.


 

You’re on the beach. The sun blazes in a cloudless sky. Seagulls glide silently overhead. The soothing rush of the waves lulls you into a moment’s peace as you gaze at the water.. The level of the water. How much will it rise because of global warming in the coming decades. Three meters? Four? The fragmenting of the Paris Accords will definitely make it worse.

Well, in the long run we’re all dead anyway. Wasn’t that Keynes? For now this will be a perfect day. August is the best…. A lot of world leaders probably hate August. The 1991 Soviet coup against Gorbachev happened in August. So did the ruble crisis seven years later, a national humiliation that helped lay the groundwork for a strongman like Putin to take charge.  Nixon resigned in August 1974. I wonder what Robert Mueller is doing today. He’s probably wearing a tie..

The sky! That pristine blue dome. Above that blue are 1,700 satellites, used for navigation, military applications, and communications. The Chinese and Russians have developed technologies to shoot them down. President Trump is mulling a new Space Force to deal with it, though the Pentagon isn’t on board yet...

Good thing this beach isn’t so crowded. Bondi beach in Australia is crowded. Too crowded. That country’s population surge (it’ll reach 25m people three decades earlier than expected) is straining cities, clogging up beach access, and fomenting a backlash against immigration that could really roil politics there…

Pebble beach or sand beach? The age old question. China’s leaders are at the beach too. Every August, they spend two weeks privately plotting strategy at a beach resort called Beidaihe. It looks nice in the photos. Sand, it looks like. Wonder what they’re talking about today…. A face-saving compromise with Trump? How to keep North Korea on track? It’s hot. Maybe a dip in the water would be nice…

What beautiful water… What the… is that a garbage bag? That could kill a seagull! There’s a four-in-five chance that this bag  is from Asia, you know. That rapidly growing Asian middle class is buying more stuff and throwing out more trash than ever. The logistical and political hurdles to dealing with that problem are … what’s that smell? Is that… those kids are smoking weed! Are they vaping or is it a joint? What was that report about how Lebanon could bring in an extra $500m in export revenues if it legalized cannabis…

It really is hot out here. I’m thirsty. Water is important. Hope India never tries to use its upstream control of so much of Pakistan’s water supplies for political purposes. Kaboom. Wonder what’s happening in Egypt’s dispute with Sudan and Ethiopia over Nile water resources. Maybe it’s time for lunch. . .

Legislators in 8 US states have recently passed laws to limit abortions, thrusting the contentious issue into the center of the country's political debate ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The bills are intended, in part, to force the US Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which gave women the right to choose to terminate pregnancy. Here's a look at how other countries around the world regulate abortion at the national level, as well as a region-by-region snapshot of how prevalent the practice is today, compared to 30 years ago.

Last week, as trade tensions continued to rise between China and the US, the Trump administration landed one of the heaviest blows yet on Beijing, moving to severely restrict the Chinese tech and telecoms giant Huawei's ability to do business with American firms.

What happened? Two things: The Trump administration formally banned sales of Huawei telecoms equipment in the US. More importantly, it also prohibited American firms from selling their technology to Huawei without a special license.

Why? It's complicated. Technically, Huawei was blacklisted from acquiring US technology due to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. But the US is also concerned that Huawei could allow Beijing to spy on or disrupt data flowing across the next-generation 5G data networks of the US or its allies. President Trump may also believe the moves will give him extra leverage in his broader fight with Beijing over trade and technology.

The fallout is already starting to hit. Here's where:

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An Austrian politician got drunk with a Russian woman in Ibiza a few years ago and said some things that have now broken up his country's government.

That's right, over the weekend the German press released a video secretly recorded on the Spanish resort island just before Austria's 2017 elections, in which Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), tells a woman posing as the niece of a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch that if she donates money to his party, she'll get lucrative government contracts.

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Direct(ed) Democracy In Russia – After thousands of people protested the construction of a new cathedral in a nice park in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, President Putin weighed in to stop construction until a popular referendum can be held. What does that tell us? Well, for one thing, Putin is probably a little more sensitive to public unrest after seeing his approval rating pummeled by a botched pension reform last year. But more to the point, this is a nice illustration of how democracy works in Russia: the new tsar orders accountability to happen when and where it suits his interests.

The Size of Modi's Election Victory – Eight different exit polls released over the weekend show Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party comfortably ahead in the country's 6-week national election. Voting ended on Sunday, with final results due on Thursday. How big will the BJP's margin be? In 2014, the party won the first outright parliamentary majority in India in 30 years, but after mixed economic results and rising concerns about sectarian tensions, the BJP went into this election on shakier ground. We're watching to see if Modi heads into his second 5-year term emboldened with another majority, or if he's forced to cobble together an unwieldy coalition of parties in order to govern.

What We're Ignoring: Cash for Peace and a Southern Switcheroo

The Deal of the Millennium – President Trump has a plan to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. That plan is: buy it. The administration announced over the weekend that it will hold a "economic workshop" in Bahrain in late June to get Gulf and other Arab states to funnel aid to Palestine, in exchange for which the Palestinians are expected to drop their long-held demands for an end to Israeli settlements, the designation of East Jerusalem as their capital, and (some form of) formal statehood. We're skeptical that cold cash will solve one of the most intractable conflicts on earth. Also, it's not a great sign that the Palestinians themselves don't even plan to attend.

Don't Cry for Veep, Argentina – With her country in crisis (yet again), Cristina de Fernández Kirchner, the controversial left-wing populist who ran Argentina between 2007 and 2015, is increasingly well-positioned to return to power in elections later this year. But over the weekend she pulled a surprise move, announcing that she'd be running only as vice president, allowing former aide Alberto Fernández, whose politics are seen as somewhat more moderate than hers, to top the ticket. We get that it's an electoral strategy meant to broaden Kirchner's appeal among centrist voters, but let's be serious: if the ticket wins, only one Fernández will really be running the country – AND SPOILER: IT'S NOT GOING TO BE ALBERTO.