THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: FAR FLUNG CONTINGENCY PLANS​

THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: FAR FLUNG CONTINGENCY PLANS​

You’ve got to have a backup plan. Always a backup plan. And sometimes a little backup means towing massive objects to your shores, or sending improbably large sums through the skies…


First to the Irish Sea where British officials are considering towing in thousands of electricity generators on barges to supply Northern Ireland with power in the event that Brexit talks collapse and the UK leaves the European Union with no deal on future economic relations. Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, imports most of its electricity from its southern neighbor, the Republic of Ireland, under common EU electricity market rules.  But if the UK leaves the EU (taking Northern Ireland with it) those rules would no longer apply, meaning that utilities in the Irish republic could decide to shut off the flow of electricity to the North. The fate of the Irish border affects a lot more than just electricity, mind you. Free travel and commerce between Northern Ireland, the Irish republic, and the rest of the United Kingdom is a lynchpin of the 1998 Good Friday agreement which ended decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland. Reimposing that border – in any form or location – could stoke long dormant tensions in Belfast.

Second, to Iran where authorities are looking to fly in some 300 million euros in cash from an Iranian-linked bank located in Germany. With the fate of the Iran deal unclear after the US decided to ditch it, and economic troubles continuing to foment protests at home, Tehran is concerned that any new sanctions might make it impossible to access money stashed abroad in the future. Cash is king, and they want it now. But the request has put Germany in a tough spot. At a time when relations with Washington are already under strain, the US ambassador to Berlin is pressuring Berlin not to approve the transfer. German officials, for their part, could be on the hook for violating sanctions if the money ends up being used to support terrorism.

Lastly, to South Africa where the second-largest city, Cape Town, is running out of drinking water and there is a crazy plan to do something about it. For background, a severe drought has forced the government to impose water restrictions in order to avoid a “Day Zero,” the point where taps run completely dry in the city of nearly 4 million. One evidently feasible plan involves dressing an Antarctic iceberg in a protective shawl, towing it about 1,200 miles to Cape Town, and grinding it into slurry that could supply up to 30 percent of the city’s annual water demand. A recent rise in dam levels has already postponed Day Zero until at least 2019, so it’s not clear how urgently the iceberg is needed – but the problem of megacities running out of water is hardly limited to South Africa. At least 14 of the world’s largest metropolises are facing Day Zeroes of their own, and there aren’t enough icebergs to go around.

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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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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. 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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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

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

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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