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Three Stories In The Key Of: Political Definitions

Three Stories In The Key Of: Political Definitions

The summertime lull is an opportunity to slow down and contemplate the big questions: What is a terrorist? Is the Caspian Sea a lake? And is a trout a salmon? The first question is deadly serious. The second determines which countries have a legal claim to vast natural resources. The third is absurd. But they all have one thing in common: they show how definitions affect politics in ways both big and small.


Uighurs in China: In 2009, violence broke out in Xinjiang province in western China, where millions of Uighurs, a Muslim minority, have long bridled under Communist rule. Nearly 200 people, most of them ethnic majority Han Chinese, were killed as a result. A crackdown ensued. Car bombs followed. The crackdown intensified. Most recently, China has been accused of turning Xinjiang into a surveillance state and engaging in systematic repression of Uighurs. On Monday, Chinese officials appeared before a UN panel to rebut allegations that more than a million people had been forced into “re-education centers.” No such thing, they argued: Sure, there are “Vocational Technical Education Training Centers,” where minor offenders receive instruction. But the authorities in Xinjiang are operating within the law, doing what any government would do: providing security in a region prone to terrorist violence. Needless to say, there are big assumptions built into any government's decision to identify enemies of the state.

The Caspian Sea: Over the weekend, the leaders of Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan signed a pact designed to resolve a long-simmering debate about whether the Caspian Sea is, in fact, a lake. The distinction matters: the Caspian is home to enormous deposits of oil and gas, the fish that produce 90 percent of the world’s caviar, and a tangle of sometimes-conflicting territorial claims. If the world’s biggest inland body of water is in fact a sea, as its name implies, then the five countries that border it would have claims to some parts of it, while others would be considered international waters under maritime law. Either designation creates winners and losers. Russia, for example, wants its navy to be able to freely navigate much of the Caspian while opposing other countries’ efforts to build energy pipelines across it that would undermine its grip on the region’s energy flows. The solution? An epic fudge that divides up the surface according to the law of the sea while divvying up the lakebed between the five countries. The lesson: don’t let strict definitions stand in the way of a deal.

Trout vs salmon: Back in May, Chinese state television broke the story of an epic bait-and-switch: it turned out that up to a third of “salmon” sold in China was actually trout, the salmon’s freshwater cousin. In a controversial move, an industry organization attached to China’s Ministry of Agriculture this week officially blessed the practice, saying that trout could be labelled as salmon since they were both part of the Salmonidae fish family (apparently, the group has requested that restaurants and fishmongers also identify the precise species being sold under the new catch-all salmon label, presumably in the fine print). This is patently absurd. “There’s no way a trout is a salmon, and that's a hill I’m ready to die on,” was Alex Kliment’s response on hearing about this story on Tuesday. But how governments define food is a serious issue in global politics: The French guard their appellations like some countries guard their nuclear codes, and the European Union has long been at odds with the US over genetically modified foods. In China, the fundamental tension involves a government and industry trying to define away the difference between what people are getting (trout dressed up as salmon) and what people actually want (the real thing). It’s a good bet that Chinese consumers can taste the difference between trout and salmon, and the market will sort this out. Even in China, top-down control has limits.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

On Tuesday night, you can finally watch Trump and Biden tangle on the debate stage. But you TOO can go head to head on debate night .. with your fellow US politics junkies.

Print out GZERO's handy debate BINGO cards and get ready to rumble. There are four different cards so that each player may have a unique board. Every time one of the candidates says one of these words or terms, X it on your card. First player to get five across wins. And if you really want to jazz it up, you can mark each of your words by taking a swig of your drink, or doing five burpees, or donating to your favorite charity or political candidate. Whatever gets you tipsy, in shape, or motivated, get the bingo cards here. It's fight night!

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

The enormous scale of the coronavirus pandemic was captured earlier this week as the global death toll surpassed 1 million people. As the weight of the grim milestone sunk in, the New York Times noted that COVID-19 has now killed more people this year than the scourges of HIV, malaria, influenza, and cholera — combined. While some countries like Germany and South Korea are models in how to curb the virus' spread through social distancing and mask wearing, other countries around the world have recently seen caseloads surge again, raising fears of a dreaded "second wave" of infections. Here's a look at countries where the per-capita caseload has spiked in recent days.

Donald Trump's presidency has irked a lot of people around the world. And in fairness, that's no surprise. He was elected in part to blow up long-standing assumptions about how international politics, trade, and diplomatic relations are supposed to work.

But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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