Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Mike Pompeo — To succeed, a nation’s top diplomat needs three things: an ability to persuade others he speaks for the boss, the freedom to accomplish the boss’s goals in his/her own way, and good working relationships with a strong support staff. Fired US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finished 0 for 3. No one he met during his brief tenure could believe he spoke for Trump, the president never gave him room to work, he was dogged by criticism that he ignored senior staff, and a stunning number of State Department jobs have become or remain vacant. Will Mike Pompeo succeed where Tillerson failed?


South African Land — The investor class was happy to see Cyril Ramaphosa win control of the African National Congress in December and replace Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s president last month. It was less happy when South Africa’s parliament approved legislation on February 27 that allows government to address inequality by confiscating and redistributing land without compensation. That move raised the specter again that South Africa might follow Zimbabwe down the path to racial violence and economic ruin. There’s reason to believe Ramaphosa is just giving the left wing of his party something they want in order to preserve ANC unity ahead of elections next year, and that the policy will be used mainly to redistribute unused land to black farmers. But the hostile rhetoric from South Africa’s left and from right-wing commentators in South Africa, Britain, and the US is worrisome and worth watching.

A Big Bolivian Flag — On Monday, lawyers representing Chile and Bolivia will appear before the International Court of Justice to argue about whether Bolivia should have a coastline. Bolivia lost direct access to the sea following the War of the Pacific in the late 19th century, but the country has never given up the fight to regain that land from Chile. (It still has a navy.) To cheer on the lawyers, the country has produced a 124-mile long bright blue “flag of maritime revindication.” Yes, the flag, unfurled along a highway, really is 124 miles long. We’re watching this story not because we want to see if this patriotic show can help Bolivian President Evo Morales overcome popular resistance to a fourth presidential term, but just because that’s a really big flag.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Political rebranding in France — In 2015, France’s center-right party formally known as the Union for a Popular Movement changed its name to Les Republicains, boosting its candidate to a third-place finish in last year’s presidential election. Now Marine Le Pen has proposed changing the name of the far-right Front National to Rassemblement National (“National Rally”) to improve its image because, she says, the name “Front National” has become a “psychological barrier” for voters. Maybe she should change the party’s name to “Le Pen.”

Stormy Daniels — The adult film star who alleges an “affair” with President Trump is set to launch a media blitz, and the early word is that parts of her story will be particularly unsavory. We’re ignoring this story because, even if it’s deeply embarrassing for Trump, and even if an exchange of cash is found to have violated election laws, the political impact (and impeachment risk) would be greater if it told a significant number of voters something they don’t already suspect about the president. The White House will watch the projected path of this Storm, but we have eyes only for Special Counsel Robert Mueller — and what he does and does not find.

The Costco Doomsday Kit — Still worried about Kim Jong-un or Putin’s invincible zig-zagging missile? Discount retailer Costco is now selling a food kit that can help you survive “an emergency or natural disaster.” For just $5,999.99, you can have enough freeze-dried broccoli, green beans, corn, dehydrated apples, egg noodles, quick oats, cornmeal, elbow macaroni, potato chunks, instant lentils, instant black beans, freeze-dried banana slices, blueberries, and carrots to feed four people for one year. It’s a wonderful opportunity to face End Times on a full stomach. More good news: You won’t have to share with the neighbors, because the kit is “packaged discreetly for privacy in shipping.” But I’m ignoring this product because the package weighs 1,800 pounds, and I already have a bad back.

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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