Watching/Ignoring

What We're Watching

Protests in Iraq – In recent days, thousands of people have hit the streets in southern Iraq to protest widespread electricity shortages and rampant government corruption. The protests come just months after an inconclusive and fraud-tainted election which is currently undergoing a recount. For the time being, a delicate governing alliance has been struck between the current prime minister, Haider Al-Abadi, and the biggest vote-getter, the fiery Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, that should make it possible to form a new government soon. Whether it can deliver the improvements needed to quell popular discontent remains to be seen.


The EU vs Hungary – The European Union has brought a formal complaint against the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for passing a controversial law that criminalizes any organization that provides aid to asylum-seekers. Brussels says the law violates EU treaties, whereas Budapest says migrants and those who help them compromise Hungary’s security. Coming alongside Brussels’ dispute with neighboring Poland over the government’s judicial power grab, the clash with Hungary raises the stakes in the EU’s deepening conflict over fundamental values and the rule of law with its increasingly nationalistic member states.

What We’re Ignoring

A little dust on the furniture in Addis – Eritrea's embassy in Ethiopia has just opened for the first time in 20 years as part of a recent watershed peace overture between the two countries, which have been in a state of war since the late 1990s. Everything in the building is just as it was when employees left in 2000, down to family photos, wine bottles, bedspreads, a scowling Peugeot 505, all under a thin patina of dust. We are ignoring the dust, which can be swifty swiffed, while remaining keenly interested to how far Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his Eritrean counterpart Isaias Afwerki can take a momentous and, until recently, deeply improbable peace process.

Trump critics’ expectations that he’ll change tack on Russia – Trump’s evident obsequiousness before Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki drew criticism from lawmakers across the political spectrum. But don’t expect much to change or for Congress to do much about it. Why? A poll taken since the Helsinki presser shows 79 percent of Republican voters approve of the way Trump handled Putin. As GOP lawmakers look ahead to this fall’s midterm elections, few are willing to substantively challenge a president whom their constituents overwhelmingly support. Trump, for his part, has already invited Putin to Washington.

Legislators in 8 US states have recently passed laws to limit abortions, thrusting the contentious issue into the center of the country's political debate ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The bills are intended, in part, to force the US Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which gave women the right to choose to terminate pregnancy. Here's a look at how other countries around the world regulate abortion at the national level, as well as a region-by-region snapshot of how prevalent the practice is today, compared to 30 years ago.

Last week, as trade tensions continued to rise between China and the US, the Trump administration landed one of the heaviest blows yet on Beijing, moving to severely restrict the Chinese tech and telecoms giant Huawei's ability to do business with American firms.

What happened? Two things: The Trump administration formally banned sales of Huawei telecoms equipment in the US. More importantly, it also prohibited American firms from selling their technology to Huawei without a special license.

Why? It's complicated. Technically, Huawei was blacklisted from acquiring US technology due to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. But the US is also concerned that Huawei could allow Beijing to spy on or disrupt data flowing across the next-generation 5G data networks of the US or its allies. President Trump may also believe the moves will give him extra leverage in his broader fight with Beijing over trade and technology.

The fallout is already starting to hit. Here's where:

More Show less

An Austrian politician got drunk with a Russian woman in Ibiza a few years ago and said some things that have now broken up his country's government.

That's right, over the weekend the German press released a video secretly recorded on the Spanish resort island just before Austria's 2017 elections, in which Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), tells a woman posing as the niece of a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch that if she donates money to his party, she'll get lucrative government contracts.

More Show less

Direct(ed) Democracy In Russia – After thousands of people protested the construction of a new cathedral in a nice park in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, President Putin weighed in to stop construction until a popular referendum can be held. What does that tell us? Well, for one thing, Putin is probably a little more sensitive to public unrest after seeing his approval rating pummeled by a botched pension reform last year. But more to the point, this is a nice illustration of how democracy works in Russia: the new tsar orders accountability to happen when and where it suits his interests.

The Size of Modi's Election Victory – Eight different exit polls released over the weekend show Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party comfortably ahead in the country's 6-week national election. Voting ended on Sunday, with final results due on Thursday. How big will the BJP's margin be? In 2014, the party won the first outright parliamentary majority in India in 30 years, but after mixed economic results and rising concerns about sectarian tensions, the BJP went into this election on shakier ground. We're watching to see if Modi heads into his second 5-year term emboldened with another majority, or if he's forced to cobble together an unwieldy coalition of parties in order to govern.

What We're Ignoring: Cash for Peace and a Southern Switcheroo

The Deal of the Millennium – President Trump has a plan to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. That plan is: buy it. The administration announced over the weekend that it will hold a "economic workshop" in Bahrain in late June to get Gulf and other Arab states to funnel aid to Palestine, in exchange for which the Palestinians are expected to drop their long-held demands for an end to Israeli settlements, the designation of East Jerusalem as their capital, and (some form of) formal statehood. We're skeptical that cold cash will solve one of the most intractable conflicts on earth. Also, it's not a great sign that the Palestinians themselves don't even plan to attend.

Don't Cry for Veep, Argentina – With her country in crisis (yet again), Cristina de Fernández Kirchner, the controversial left-wing populist who ran Argentina between 2007 and 2015, is increasingly well-positioned to return to power in elections later this year. But over the weekend she pulled a surprise move, announcing that she'd be running only as vice president, allowing former aide Alberto Fernández, whose politics are seen as somewhat more moderate than hers, to top the ticket. We get that it's an electoral strategy meant to broaden Kirchner's appeal among centrist voters, but let's be serious: if the ticket wins, only one Fernández will really be running the country – AND SPOILER: IT'S NOT GOING TO BE ALBERTO.