Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Nicaragua — Last week, hundreds of people hit the streets of Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, to protest announced cuts to the country’s pension system. Men wearing motorcycle helmets and pro-government tee-shirts attacked the protesters with metal pipes and electric cables. In response, thousands of new demonstrators appeared, and demonstrations spread to other cities. Protesters and police were killed. Strongman president Daniel Ortega then rescinded the pension order, but the turmoil continues. As in Brazil, Turkey, and Ethiopia in recent years, a brutal response to a small protest has triggered something much more dangerous. Ortega’s two stints in power date to 1979. Has he outstayed his welcome? Serzh Sargsyan is calling on line one.


Biplab Deb — Earlier this month, a local Indian official named Biplab Depclaimed that Hindus invented the Internet thousands of years ago. His evidence? Referring to the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, written between 1,600 and 2,400 years ago, he asked, “How could Sanjaya [the king’s charioteer] give a detailed account and description to the blind king about the Battle of Kurukshetra? … We had Internet and a satellite communication system. It is not like Internet or media wasn’t available in the age of Mahabharata,” he said. Even fellow Hindu nationalists are having fun with this guy on the Internet.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

“Death to America” emojis — Signalista Kevin Allison notes that Iran’s government has launched a new messaging app that features “Death to America” emojis. Your Friday author’s personal favorite is an emoji of a chador-clad woman carrying a sign to protest Freemasonry. History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, and then as kitsch.

The Royal Rumble — Signalista Gabe Lipton opened Wednesday’s New York Times to discover an ad featuring an invitation from “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” to witness a “Royal Rumble” wrestling event at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah. Our excitement faded when we saw that no actual Saudi royals will be wrestling. None of your Signal authors plans to attend.

Unjust Desserts — South Korea announced this week that, at the conclusion of the Moon-Kim summit, guests would be served a mango mousse with a decorative flag placed on top that contains a map of a unified Korea that includes small islands controlled by South Korea but claimed by Japan. Tokyo was not amused.

We're used to seeing electric, gas and wood-burning ovens, but can you imagine baking pizza in a solar-powered oven? That technology was invented in the latest episode of Funny Applications, where Eni's budding researchers imagine new uses for technology.

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It looks like China's leadership has finally had enough of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

In a speech on Thursday to the national people's congress, a symbolic confab of the country's ruling elite, Premier Li Keqiang announced a new national security law that would outlaw secessionist activity and criminalize foreign influence in Hong Kong. The measure, an explicit response to recent pro-democracy protests there, would also permit mainland China's security agencies to operate openly in the city.

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Indonesia becomes an epicenter: Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is now considered an epicenter of the pandemic, after it suffered its biggest daily surge in cases Thursday with over 900 new infections. The country of 260 million has the largest outbreak in Southeast Asia, recording about 20,000 cases and 1,300 deaths, though a recent study suggested that as few as 2 percent of the country's coronavirus infections may have been reported. When pressed on why Indonesia is experiencing a surge in cases while the curve appears to be flattening in neighboring countries, Indonesian health authorities blamed the public's flouting of social distancing guidelines. But critics say the government has sent wishy-washy messages on how to stop the disease's spread, as demonstrated by the fact that only four of Indonesia's 34 provinces have applied widespread social-distancing restrictions. Meanwhile, as the country's 225 million Muslims prepare to celebrate the end of Ramadan this weekend, popular markets have been overwhelmed by shoppers buying food and clothing, with little guidance or enforcement of large-scale social distancing measures. Indonesia's public health system is grossly underfunded, and experts warn that given the shortage of hospital beds, medical equipment and staff, the situation could deteriorate fast in the coming weeks.

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This is not the 2020 that Vladimir Putin had in mind.

As the year started, Russia's president was crafting plans for changes to the constitution that would permit him to stay in power for (at least) another 16 years. A rubber stamp public referendum was to be held in April. Then, in May, he was to welcome foreign leaders to Moscow for a grand celebration (parades, concerts, fireworks, and a reviewing stand atop Lenin's Mausoleum) marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War.

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Have you ever read a major op-ed and thought to yourself, "no! no! no! That's just not right!" Us too. This week, Ian Bremmer is joined by analysts Kelsey Broderick and Jeffrey Wright to take the Red Pen to former World Bank president Robert B. Zoellick's Wall Street Journal op-ed.

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