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Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Shifting Saudi Arabia — A Saudi prince paid $1 billion to make corruption allegations go away — and maybe to offer fealty to soon-to-be king Mohammad bin Salman. This is yet another sign that MBS is firmly in charge.


Narita, Japan — Narita is known for both its international airport, which many a weary traveler wishes was a little closer to Tokyo, and its freshwater eels. How then to design the city’s mascot? With more than 800,000 votes, Narita has won a contest for Japan’s best regional mascot by creating a character that is half airplane/half eel. We’ll be watching next year to see this thing defend his/her/its crown.

“Mad” Mike Hughes — Apparently unaware of the works of Tom Friedman, self-taught rocket-builder Mike Hughes has promised to shoot himself 1,800 feet into the California sky in a scrap-metal rocket to take photos that prove the Earth is flat. We’ll be watching to be sure this idiot doesn’t land on us.

What We're Ignoring

War of the Roses: Part II — Faced with news that Britain’s Prince Harry will marry Meghan Markle next year, you’re probably worried that the bride’s Roman Catholicism could prevent Harry from one day becoming king. You don’t need to sweat this one. By the time Harry weds Meghan next May, he’ll be sixth in line for the throne, with two toddlers and a baby ahead of him in the queue. This guy loves mischief, but he’s no Richard III, so the kids are safe. Also, new rules went into effect two years ago that allow royals to marry Catholics, so you can safely go back to worrying about Brexit.

Venezuela’s chances of producing more oil — Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro named an army general with no energy experience to run PDVSA, the state-owned oil firm, in a country that draws more than 90 percent of export revenue from oil. That’ll go well.

The price of bitcoin — Bitcoin began 2017 at less than $1,000 and this week topped $10,000. I continue to ignore this story, because I never invest in things I don’t understand. #CryptoTulips

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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