Watching/Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Trouble for US-Turkey – The US slapped sanctions on Turkey's justice and interior ministers this week in response to the continued detention of a US pastor. Andrew Brunson has been in custody for nearly two years. Turkey’s government says he’s a spy with links to terrorists. President Trump calls Brunson a “great Christian, family man and wonderful human being” who is “suffering greatly.” This is incident #743 in a lengthening list of grievances dividing these two governments. No one wants to be the one to blink, and this conflict could get worse.


Trouble in 3D – A US gun rights activist pledged this week to fight for his right to publish online blueprints for 3D-printed firearms all the way to the US Supreme Court after a federal judge blocked him from doing so. Thousands of people were able to download the instructions before the judge issued his order. There are many ways in which new technologies can strengthen the state at the expense of the individual. Here’s a technology that can do the opposite, by making it impossible for national or local governments to regulate the distribution of weapons. Consider the implications.

Trouble for Basic Income  The latest in a series of experiments with “guaranteed basic income,” a program that provides subsistence-level payments that allow people to pursue work without fear of lost benefits, was brought to an abrupt end in Ontario this week. The newly elected Doug Ford administration claimed it was already evident the program wouldn’t work. Critics say he killed the plan for political reasons. Either way, we’ll have to look to future programs in the Netherlands, Italy, and Scotland to learn whether and how these sorts of programs can help governments and workers cope with changes in the nature of work. An earlier experiment in Finland was canceled.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Egyptian Zookeepers – If you visit Cairo's International Garden municipal park, and a park employee tells you you’re looking at a zebra, ask yourself the following questions: Are its stripes parallel? Is its snout black? Is its face free of obvious paint smudges? If you answered no to these questions, check the ears. Are they small and pointy? If so, you’re looking at a donkey, and you should get out of there. It’s not as bad as that Chinese zoo that tried to pass off a dog as a lion, but it’s pretty bad.

Trump at the supermarket – President Trump claimed in a speech this week that Americans must present a photo ID to buy groceries. (His spokeswoman says he meant alcohol, but Trump doesn’t drink.) The point is clear: Don’t ask Trump to shop for you. This is not an area where he has a robust level of experience. You’ll have to buy your own groceries.

Plogging – The Swedes often invent good things, but “plogging” is not one of them. Plogging is the practice of picking up and disposing of litter while jogging. Your Friday author believes that picking up litter and running for exercise are both worthwhile enterprises, but that each deserves our full attention.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever sovereign debt default. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko — who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 — has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression. Also, on Friday US Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to continue talks on resolving the Ukraine standoff.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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