Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

The 212 Defend Islam Action Alumni — One year ago this week, hardline Muslim groups that want to transform Indonesia into an Islamic state governed by Sharia law succeeded in defeating the ethnic Chinese and Christian former Jakarta governor and having him thrown in jail. Those same groups commemorated their achievement this week with a large rallyattended by the governor they supported as his replacement. Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, remains popular and a defender of secular and inclusive government, but we’ll keep watching to see if these groups challenge him more directly in 2018 ahead of national elections in 2019.


Yemen — The killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh will provoke more violence and create more misery in a country that’s already home to an enormous humanitarian crisis. The war in Yemen has killed about 14,000 people and forced 3 million from their homes. More than 1 million are afflicted with cholera. The UN estimates that more than 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian help.

The HJK Helsinki football club — Two events were booked at the same time in the Tukkutori market in Helsinki. The first was a torchlight march of far-right Finnish nationalists to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Finland’s independence. The second was a children’s group that wanted to mark the same occasion with rabbits and alpacas. Local officials ruled that the guys with torches applied for the permit first. The HJK Helsinki football club then offered the kids, bunnies, and alpacas the use of its stadium. #Suomi100

What We're Ignoring

Early ANC voting — Cyril Ramaphosa has reportedly opened a lead in the battle to decide who will lead the ruling African National Congress into South Africa’s next election in 2019. We’re ignoring preliminary results. We’ll be watching closely (and writing about) the actual outcome of the vote later this month. Its significance is historic, but much can change between now and then.

The color yellow — Here’s another story you can ignore until later in the month. Spain’s electoral authority has ordered officials in Barcelona to remove yellow lights from public fountains around the city because they fear the color yellow, associated with Catalan identity, will encourage separatist sentiment. Catalans will vote in regional elections on December 21. Even if separatist parties win there will be no sudden moves toward independence, but demand may again begin to grow. That won’t be because of yellow lights in public fountains.

The Yulin City Zoo — Dear Finnish kids, please do not send your bunnies and alpacas to the zoo in Yulin, China, where the featured attractions are inflatable penguins, some roosters, and a “longevity turtle.” This is not China’s first zoo scandal. According to The Straits Times, “In 2013, an ‘African lion’ in a zoo in Henan was revealed to be a Tibetan mastiff when it barked.”

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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