WHAT WE'RE WATCHING - WHAT WE'RE IGNORING - WHAT WE'RE SMOKING

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Fake news in Brazil – Oi, Brazilian voters: You know that picture of former President Dilma Rousseff as a young woman rubbing elbows with Fidel Castro? Yeah, the one your mother in law just blasted out on WhatsApp? It’s a fake. So is the pic of right-wing frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro walking into a hospital with a smile on his face – allegedly proof that his recent stabbing at a campaign rally was staged. According tofact checkers, fake news and misinformation are surging across WhatsApp ahead of a deeply polarizing presidential runoff later this month.  After the vote, which Bolsonaro is almost assured to win, expect an extremely polarized debate over effects of disinformation on the election and the legitimacy of the next president.


Fake moon in China – We at Signal have been closely following China’s push to create its own global models for finance, trade, and technology – but now it appears that Beijing’s ambitions rise higher than that still. The southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu has announced plans to launch an “illumination satellite” to light up the night sky better than the moon. This fake moon – because that’s what it is, a fake moon – will be eight times brighter than the real moon and able to cast light over a distance of 10-80 kilometers.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

People going postal over Trump’s mail decision – The White House this week said the US is ditching the 144-year old global agreement under which countries agree to deliver each other’s mail, and has ordered the US Postal Service to charge more for deliveries from China. Some people are dismayed. But since 1969 the Universal Postal Union pact has given favorable shipping rates to poorer countries – one of those countries being… China! American e-commerce companies have rightly complained that this puts them at a disadvantage: according to calculations by The Atlantic, if you’re in Virginia it’s cheaper to have a packet of eyebrow razors shipped from China than from North Carolina. There is plenty to critique in Trump’s habit of busting up international norms, but on this one he’s right. We’d bet that China – and others – will renegotiate over the next year, before the US withdrawal formally takes effect.

Canine views on Brexit – Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun, as the saying goes. Well, earlier this month about a thousand dogs – and their owners – marched on Britain’s parliamentto demand a fresh referendum on whether the UK should still leave the European Union. Granted – as we wrote earlier this week – the process of negotiating  “Brexit” has become more complicated than most Britons seemed to foresee. But rerunning the referendum still seems like a long shot. Unless those dogs know something…

WHAT WE'RE SMOKING

Canadian stuff – On Wednesday, Canada became the first major economy to legalize the recreational use of marijuana (Uruguay has been there since 2013.) The Canucks are already prodigious producers and smokers: Canada’s 36 million residents blazed up an estimated 773 tons of weed last year, worth around $4.2 billion, and (illegally) exported another $765 million. Over time, Canada’s decision will offer a unique look at legalized weed’s impact on the budget (marijuana is taxed) and on social issues (incarceration rates and drug use). We also relish the thought of Justin Trudeau cutting the rug while legally stoned.

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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