Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

The coup against Trump — Following an order from a Panamanian court, a 12-day standoff was resolved peacefully in Panama City as representatives of Donald Trump’s family hotel business evacuated their offices in a luxury hotel that, until this week, bore Mr. Trump’s name. Last month, Orestes Fintiklis, a representative of the hotel’s owners, arrived at the site to inform Trump’s management team that they were fired. Trump security guards ejected Mr. Fintiklis from the building. Local police were then called in to break up fights between rival teams of security guards over control of the hotel’s administrative offices and security system. The Trump team has vowed to continue the fight in court, but for now Fintiklis has physical control of the premises, and Trump’s name has been removed from the hotel’s facade with a crowbar. We’re watching this story mainly because I love the name Orestes Fintiklis.


Pop stars for Putin — Russian pop stars just can’t get enough Putin, and they want you to vote for him. See for yourself. BTW, you won’t find the punk band Pussy Riot in that video. They prefer Daniel Biss, a candidate for governor of Illinois.

European clocks — To our European friends, you’re not imagining things: Some of your clocks really are running slow, up to six minutes since mid-January, according to Entsoe, an organization that represents electricity transmission operators across 25 European countries. These nations are collectively plugged into an electricity grid that operates at a synchronized frequency that regulates time-keeping in many devices, though not in smart phones. For several weeks, tiny Kosovo failed to generate enough electricity to meet its own needs. Entsoe says Serbia is legally obligated to meet Kosovo’s electricity demand in order to keep the European grid stable, but it has lately failed to keep its end of the bargain, thanks to a series of political disputes with Kosovo since Kosovar secession a decade ago. Serbia’s refusal to generate more electricity “forced the frequency to deviate,” according to press reports, messing up clocks and giving people across Europe a new excuse to be late to work.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Boris Warns the Russians — UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned this week that Russia faces a “robust” British response if evidence emerges that Russians were involved in the collapse of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain following exposure to a “very rare” nerve agent. Both remain critically ill after they were discovered unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center. Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer convicted in Russia of spying for Britain. He has lived in the UK since a prisoner swap between the two countries in 2010. Skripal’s family says his wife, brother, and son have died under suspicious circumstances in the past two years. Three police officers who investigated the scene have been treated for symptoms related to exposure to a dangerous chemical. Search the words “Alexander Litvinenko” and “diplomats expelled” to see why we’ll treat Johnson’s threat with skepticism, at least for now.

Lego Belt and Road? — China doesn’t need as many new roads, bridges, and housing towers as it used to. The country’s Belt and Road Initiative — a development strategy that creates infrastructure, transportation, and energy projects that link 70 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania — allows Chinese companies to avoid large-scale unemployment by producing steel and cement for construction in other countries. In an unrelated story, Danish toymaker Lego admitted this week it made way too many Lego bricks in 2017, forcing the company to sell at lower prices, cutting deeply into profits. Lego already sells about 75 billion bricks a year in more than 140 countries, so it’ll be hard for Lego to transfer its oversupply into new markets. In this case, the China model isn’t transferrable.

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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