THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: GOOOOOOOOLLLLLLL!

Half of humanity tunes in to the World Cup every four years, making it the single most watched event on the planet. True, most people probably see it as an escape from the tumult and tensions of global politics. But we at Signal are incorrigible nerds who just can’t help it… So here are three big political stories that, while watching the World Cup, we JUST CAN’T UNSEE.


Anti-establishment upstarts: Brexit. Trump. Duterte. Five Star. Mahathir (sort of), insert your example here, but knocking the establishment off its perch is all the rage in global politics these days and, at least so far, this World Cup is no exception. For one thing, perennial powerhouses Italy (which has won four cups) and the Netherlands (a reliably strong team which has been to the finals the most times without winning) inexplicably failed even to qualify.

Now, in the early days of play, we’ve already seen some startling upsets: Mexico beat defending champs Germany, causing an actual earthquake back home, and tiny Iceland, playing in its first world cup ever under the direction of a part-time dentist, managed a tie against mighty Argentina (cue jokesabout how Argentina has big trouble with tiny islands). Throw in Portugal wrestling Spain to a draw, and the Swiss doing the same to tournament favorites Brazil, and disruption is in the air.

Still, a lot of World Cups have kicked off with some upsets — but in the end, a small group comes out on top: in fact, since 1950, just one final match has been played without Brazil, Germany, Argentina, or Italy in it. And who could forget English football god Gary Lineker’s famous definition of football as “a simple game, in which 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end, the Germans win.” Will that idea hold, or is another expert opinion about to get sent off?

Spy games: The World Cup is a contest among nations and all nations spy on each other, full stop. Some are just better at it than others.

A few weeks ago, a random Swedish fellow showed up at the South Korean team’s training facility in Austria, pretending to be a “tourist.” They kicked him out. So he drove up a nearby mountain overlooking the pitch and paid a local couple to let him set up shop in their house with a telescope and a camera. His mission: record and report on Korea’s tactics in order to help the Swedes win in their upcoming World Cup match.

Of course, the only thing that trumps good intelligence is better counterintelligence — so to confuse the Swedish tourist/mountaintop-peeper, the South Korean coach switched his players’ numbers from practice to practice because, he said, “it is very difficult for Westerners to distinguish between Asians, and that’s why we did that.”

Sweden defeated South Korea 1–0 on Monday.

The (hi)stories in the rosters: World Cup players must be citizens of the countries that field them, and yet dozens of them weren’t actually born under the flags they play for. The story of the moment there, of course, is that the debate about immigration and naturalization is setting fire to politics in the US and Europe almost daily (see Germany above).

But there’s also a broader historical sweep written into these rosters:

The legacy of French colonialism in the dozens of French-born players who have gone to play for Morocco, Senegal, and Tunisia, where they have family ties.

The anguish of the former-Yugoslavia in the 1990s, reflected in the number of ethnic Serbian, Croatian, and Kosovar players on Switzerland’s roster.

The story of how a booming post-war West German economy would ultimately transform German society by admitting hundreds of thousands of low-wage Turkish “guest workers” in the 1960s, among them the grandparents of Germany’s (and Arsenal’s) star midfielder Mesut Özil.

World history written in the rosters of the World Cup. What other stories do you see here?

Every day thousands of people legally cross back and forth between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on their way to jobs, schools, doctor's appointments, shopping centers and the homes of family and friends. This harmonious exchange has taken place for more than 400 years, uniting neighbors through shared social ties, geography, history and, most importantly, an interlinked economy.

Beyond the people and goods, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez also converge in a cross-border flow of ideas, ambition and aspirations that have shaped the region for centuries. This forward-looking spirit is what attracted Microsoft to the region in 2017, when it launched Microsoft TechSpark to create new economic opportunities and help digitally transform established industries with modern software and cloud services. It's also why Microsoft announced on Monday that it is expanding the TechSpark El Paso program to include Ciudad Juárez and making a $1.5 million investment in the binational Bridge Accelerator. Read more about the TechSpark announcement here.

Since Syria's brutal civil war began eight years ago, millions of Syrians have fled their country to escape the bombs and bullets. But hundreds of thousands have been displaced within Syria's borders, where they languish in packed refugee camps. The al-Hol camp in northern Syria is sprawling, and of its nearly 70,000 residents, some 11,000 are family members of foreign ISIS fighters, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The surprise American withdrawal from northern Syria last week paved the way for Turkey and Syria's Bashar al-Assad to move in. Some 160,000 civilians have now fled the border region that Turkey is bombarding, deepening a humanitarian crisis in a stretch of Syria that had been relatively secure since the defeat of ISIS's self-declared caliphate back in March. Here's a look at the camps for displaced people in the area.

Syria is quickly turning into US President Donald Trump's most significant foreign policy blunder to date. It's looking like it might be for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, too.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced a fresh wave of sanctions on Turkey, in a bid to get Erdogan to halt his invasion of Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria. Yes, you may recall, that's the same invasion that the US green-lit last week by withdrawing American troops from the area.

More Show less

Mozambique's democracy test Mozambicans voted yesterday in an election that will test a fragile peace accord between the ruling Frelimo party, led by president Filipe Nyusi, and Renamo, a former rebel group-turned-opposition party. The two factions were on opposite sides of a Cold War-tinged civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people between 1977 and 1992. Frelimo, which has ruled Mozambique since independence, has been losing popularity due to a corruption scandal, but is likely to hold onto power at the national level. Renamo, which foreswore violence just two months ago in exchange for electoral reforms that will help the party, will be hoping to make regional gains that allow it to win some key governorships. Disputes over the final vote count and even outright fraud or violence are possible in coming days, particularly if Renamo fails to make its hoped-for gains.

More Show less

What's the update at the Syria-Turkey border?

Well, it is increasingly in the hands of Assad and the Russians, who the Kurds have flipped with. The United States withdrawing some troops away from the border, the Turks coming in, but they going to be limited in how much they can do given the fact that ultimately, Assad and Russia has most the firepower and Turkey does not want that fight.

More Show less