Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.
"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.
The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.
Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truckloads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.
When some of al-Bashir's allies flipped in 2019, a bloody power struggle ensued (hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed) before a transitional government – made up of six civilians and five military personnel – was appointed for a three-year transition period, at which time democratic elections were to be held. Since then, the very tenuous government has remained mostly intact despite ongoing violence and ethnic clashes.
However, things got particularly heated in recent weeks, as a November 17 deadline loomed for the civilian wing to take control of the government's decision-making body. (Per the power-sharing agreement, the military's representatives had mostly been calling the shots.)
Clashes broke out on the streets between pro-democracy activists and military loyalists, before the government's military wing took charge this week, declaring a state of emergency and seizing power. Civilian leaders and ministers – including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdak, an economist who previously worked at the UN – have been arrested.
What does this mean for Sudan? At a basic level, it makes the prospect of democracy more illusory. The likelihood of fresh elections going ahead next year as planned is slim given that the military personnel who staged the coup are former allies of al-Bashir who built a career on quashing dissent.
What's more, there was also hope that when the civilian wing took over, al-Bashir would be handed over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague to face charges over his government's brutality in Darfur (2003-2009). But because al-Bashir's extradition and testimony would expose crimes committed by some of the generals, that's likely to be a moot point, too – at least for now.
Moreover, if the takeover stands, it'll be a massive economic blow for Sudan, which has been trying to revive economic ties with the international community after years of sanctions and isolation. In late 2020, the US removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism list, restoring Khartoum's access to global financial markets and international aid. This paved the way for crucial debt relief from institutions like the IMF, so the transitional military-civilian government in Khartoum could access the cheap international credit it needs to address the country's deep economic crisis. This is all at stake now.
Who cares what's happening in Sudan? Well, several countries are surely keeping a close eye on unfolding events.
Egypt has been trying to improve cross-border relations with Sudan in recent years, after the two countries had long been locked in a border dispute over access to the mineral-rich Halayeb triangle. More recently, Cairo and Khartoum have joined forces against Ethiopia amid a messy dispute over water access in the Nile. Though Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is no democracy warrior, he is hardly interested in seeing more instability and chaos on Egypt's southern border.
Meanwhile, Turkey – which backs Ethiopia in the water dispute – has been pushing to play a larger political and economic role in Africa, and to build a port off Sudan's Red Sea coast that would be a hub for Muslim pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to Mecca.
Additionally, Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have capitalized on the ousting of al-Bashir to bring Sudan under their sphere of influence. In exchange for certain concessions (like tempering ties with the Gulf states' nemeses in Qatar and Iran), the Saudis and Emiratis have lushed Khartoum with cash. (Though the Saudis have backed off a bit, the Emirates have continued to act as a key powerbroker in Sudan.)
What happens now? The signs are ominous: Khartoum's airport is closed, and the internet has been shut down. Meanwhile, coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan said that elections could take place in July 2023, but trust is low and fears are high of a return to civil war.
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Hard Numbers: Haitian hospitals at risk, US cash for ASEAN, Dutch pension fund dumps fossil fuels, Biden freezes US aid to Sudan
October 26, 2021
500: Fuel shortages in conflict-ridden Haiti are putting many hospital patients at risk. If fuel isn't delivered ASAP, UNICEF says around 500 people – including children and COVID patients – are at very high risk of deterioration. Supplies and deliveries have been disrupted for weeks because of heightened gang activity in the country.
102 million: US President Joe Biden has pledged $102 million to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and will address the group at a summit later this week. The funds will go to climate initiatives, education and health projects, and are part of Washington's efforts to build a bulwark against China in the region.
15 billion: Ahead of COP26, Dutch pension fund ABP said it will divest $15 billion from fossil fuel companies by 2023, a massive commitment from one of the world's largest pension funds. Multinational corporations like Fidelity International, an asset manager, have also made more ambitious climate pledges in the lead-up to the global climate summit.700 million: Washington has frozen $700 million in direct financial aid to Sudan after the military staged a coup on Monday. The US said that in order for funds to be unfrozen, Sudan's generals need to release and reinstate the country's civilian leadership, and stop targeting pro-democracy protesters – both of which are extremely unlikely.
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October 26, 2021
Sort of, but governments haven't lost all control yet. On the one hand, The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson says that governments can still push tech companies for transparency in their algorithms, while Microsoft has partnered with the US government to together fight hackers "so the company is seen as a champion for freedom and democracy." On the other, over time Thompson expects tech firms in the US and China to gradually become more powerful as the state becomes less powerful toward them. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.
Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences
October 25, 2021
As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.
Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.
- Diana Fox Carney, Senior Advisor, Eurasia Group
- Gerald Butts, Vice-Chairman, Eurasia Group
- Naoko Ishii, Executive Vice President, Professor at Institute of Future Initiative, Director, Center for Global Commons, University of Tokyo
- Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft
- Catherine McKenna, former Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Canada
- Katharine Hayhoe, Atmospheric Scientist, Professor and Director of the Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University
Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
11 am ET / 8 am PT
To watch live on November 2, go to: https://www.gzeromedia.com/globalstage/
Stay informed on upcoming live discussions from GZERO Media: sign up for updates and reminders about GZERO Media's events.
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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?
And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.
I mean, if there's anything that's a real threat to Facebook going forward, it's whether or not people themselves, the consumers start to opt out. Is it a place for young people around the world or is it really just folks like me who are engaged in posting and all of that kind of thing. But why do I feel that way? Well, one, because government does not in any way agree on what to do.
I mean, on the right, you have a lot of people who think the problem is about culture warriors. It's political incorrectness not being allowed. It's people on the right being taken off unnecessarily. So of course, that starts with Trump. It goes farther with others. It is certainly true that the most viewed sites on Facebook continue to be people like Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino and Fox News. It's not consistent every day, but it is absolutely majority. So it's hard to make that argument overall, but certainly in terms of individual people that are getting canceled and folks that are seen as putting forward, what is described as fake news and disinformation on Facebook, whether it's around the elections or around white nationalism and supremacy, or even around vaccines and the pandemic response, there has been more sensitivity on both the actions taken and the responses from the right than from the left.
On the other hand, on the left, you have people who are saying there's far too much power. This is bad for civil society. It's driving people towards extremes. It promoted all sorts of stop-the-steal behavior and promoted violence as a consequence. And so, it's a very different set of what... When the country is as tribal as it is, the responses to where you see a lot of that tribalism is very, very different.
Secondly, the company of course itself is not interested in taking on principal responsibility for solving the challenges of regulation. I mean, companies always say they'd rather functionally regulate themselves, but they don't want to have direct responsibility for that because that implies direct accountability with the population for that. So in other words, this reminds me of what you used to hear from China 10, 20 years ago, which is, "hey, we're small. We are poor. We're weak. Don't look to us for the global solutions, look to the United States for the global solutions." Facebook is kind of doing the same thing. I mean, I don't know if you read Axios this morning, but Facebook's sponsoring it. And they're basically saying, hey, we want regulation. We want the government to tell us there are problems with the kind of news that's on our and other sites. And we want the government to create new sets of rules that will apply across the entire internet, across all social media that will determine how we should function, what kind of information we should post, what we should not post. They're asking for it. And in part they're asking for it because as they know they're not really going to get it, but in part they're asking for it because it means not their responsibility. If it screws up, it's on somebody else. It's on the US government. Furthermore, Facebook, like most of these AI-driven organizations, don't really know what their algos, what the algorithms really do. And that's a problem of AI. You've got deep learning into massive amounts of big data. And you understand that it's getting you outcomes that drive more engagement, but you don't really know exactly what it's doing.
It's not telling you. I mean, you can figure out what patterns it's getting information from, but that's very different from having a human being sit down and explain, okay, here's why we're getting more engagement. Here is the strategy and the logic behind it. I mean, when you are programming algorithms to look inside data, to drive more engagement, you will get that outcome. And it's not an effort to polarize. It's not an effort not to polarize either. It's just an effort to drive more engagement. And if the companies themselves don't really know what the algos do, then it's very hard for them themselves to say, "well, here's what we would do if we wanted to ensure that civil society was stronger." Because that's not what you're optimizing for. You're optimizing for the business model itself.
Then of course you have the point that it's the United States versus China in terms of the supremacy of different technological capabilities of which Facebook is one. And if you're weakening Facebook, if you're breaking up Facebook, if you're regulating Facebook in a way that fundamentally subverts their business model, while in China with many more citizens and far more data, because there's no real privacy consolidated in super apps, well the Chinese companies are going to become more successful. They'll win. And if these companies are increasingly meant to be a big component of what national security means and how one competes on the global stage, the worst thing you can do is undermine American companies at the expense of their competitiveness, vis-a-vis China.
So I think all of these things together are reasons why it is unlikely that we are going to see structural regulation that will meaningfully undermine the power of organizations like Facebook to have more and more influence over the areas that they play. And in the case of Facebook, it really is social interaction, information, and news that the average person around the world on the platform, 3 billion people at this point are digesting.
I do think that there are some... As Ian Bremmer here, there are some obvious fixes that would reduce the level of the problem. I mean, fix number one seems pretty clear to me, that choosing not to run political ads of any sort would improve the level of information and the quality of discourse with US elections. That's number one. Secondly, systematically reducing the importance of domestic politics, or heck, even all politics on the site so that people who are going to Facebook are not being fed primarily that kind of information. That runs against my interest, frankly, but nonetheless, I think it would probably help.
And third, my favorite one, everyone should be verified. Every person that is on the site should actually be a real person like on LinkedIn, for example. They have to sign in and verify who they are. If they break the terms of agreement, then that means that they lose that. And they can't just come up with another random anonymous account. Now, the problem with all three of these fixes is that they all would actually in different ways undermine the business model. You will make less money if you don't take political ads, if you don't run them. You will make less money if something that's very popular, drives a lot of engagement, like politics is reduced in its prevalence on the site. You will make less money if you get rid of all of the anonymous accounts and the bots and the fake trolls, because they drive engagement, they drive a lot of engagement.
So there are very legitimate reasons that a shareholder-driven company would not take the steps to make those sorts of fixes. And there's also lots of reasons that I mentioned before, why the US government will not put the kind of regulations in place that would lead to fixes like that. So what does that mean? What's going to happen? What's going to happen is that we are going to need to adapt to an environment where technology companies are increasingly powerful in various digital spaces.
This reminds me of when I first came up with the idea of the "G-Zero World," a world without global leadership almost 10 years ago now, and immediately the response I got from people is, "okay, Ian, well, that's bad. So how do we stop it from happening?" And I was like, "well, what do you mean? How do we stop it from happening?" I'm telling you, I think it's going to happen and it's going to happen because it's overdetermined, because the United States increasingly doesn't want to be the global policeman or architect of global trade for reasons that are deep and structural. And the Europeans are more divided themselves and less capable and willing of providing that kind of leadership in the absence of the US. And the Russians are in decline, but angry at the Americans and the Europeans. They want to further undermine those countries and their ability and willingness to provide that leadership. And China's becoming stronger, but they are not aligned with the political and economic models of the US and Europe.
So it's not how you stop the "G-Zero" from coming. It's given that the "G-Zero" is coming, what do you do about it? How do you respond to it? How do you adapt to it? It's like climate change. We started 27 years ago, the COP process and the people involved would not even talk about adaptation because that was tantamount to surrender. If you said you were going to adapt to climate change, that meant that you were refusing, you were abdicating responsibility for a world that we had to stop climate change. And yet, the reasons that climate change were not going to be stopped were so incredibly overdetermined. So entrenched among many actors across the entire world, that it should have been obvious that we were heading towards one, two degrees, increasingly three degrees centigrade of warming. And it's a horrible thing for the environment, but we need to adapt to it. Doesn't mean that we stopped trying to mitigate the consequences themselves, of course, but you can't refuse to adapt. Adaptation has to be a big component of how you respond. And I think when we talk about Facebook, when we talk about technology companies more broadly, adaptation is increasingly a core part of the model in part because it's happening a lot faster than climate change. And for reasons that I've argued, I really don't think it is sensible to presume that we're going to be able to fix this in the near term future.That's enough for me. Hope everyone's good. Talk to everyone soon.
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What We’re Watching: Erdogan picks 10 fights, Sudanese coup, Bosnia on the brink, Chilean right-winger surging, G-20 split on climate, Colombia nabs top narco
October 24, 2021
Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.
Coup in Sudan: Sudanese soldiers have seized power in a coup, arresting the head of the transitional civilian-military government and declaring a state of emergency. In recent days, Khartoum has been rocked by rival protests from pro-democracy groups and supporters of the military wing of the government, which the latter wanted to dissolve entirely. What's more, a blockade set up by a pro-military tribal leader in eastern Sudan had interrupted the flow of goods and food to the capital — a recipe for disaster in a country already experiencing sky-high inflation and shortage of basic products. The possibility of a military takeover by troops loyal to former dictator Omar al-Bashir has haunted Sudan since Bashir — now pending trial for war crimes in The Hague — was ousted in 2019. The situation got even more tense as we got closer to the November deadline for the military to hand over control to the civilian wing in the supreme council, which has the final say on all national matters under a power-sharing agreement. That deal was supposed to pave the way for elections in 2022, but the coup has changed the equation.
Bosnia on the brink: Bosnia is facing its worst political crisis since the end of the bloody Yugoslav civil war in 1995, which pitted ethnic Bosnians against Serbs and Croats and left more than 100,000 dead. What's going on? Well, when that war ended, the peace agreement created a special enclave within Bosnia for ethnic Serbs — the better to keep warring ethnicities apart. This has always been a messy arrangement, but now the nationalistic leader of that enclave, Milorad Dodik, is threatening to secede altogether, amid a spat over new laws meant to ban denial of the genocide that Serbs carried out against Bosnian Muslims during the war. A breakup of Bosnia could quickly lead to serious violence, and both the EU and US staunchly opposed the move. But Dodik is undaunted. He says that Serb-only institutions will be in place as soon as November. Asked how he'd pull this off, Dodik — who recently oversaw provocative military drills that spooked Bosnia's other ethnic groups — responded: "as the Slovenes did it." That's a not-so-veiled reference to the breakup of former Yugoslavia, which led to years of bloodshed. Indeed, it's not a good omen, and raising fears of a return to the deadly violence of the 1990s.
Right-winger on a roll in Chile: José Antonio Kast, an ultra- conservative politician who pines for the days of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, has ridden a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to the top of the polls ahead of next month's presidential election. He's currently at 21 percent, one point ahead of leftist former student leader Gabriel Boric. Talk about political whiplash: it was just a few months ago that Chileans elected a broadly leftwing constituent assembly to rewrite the country's Pinochet-era constitution in the wake of mass protests about inequality. But Kast, an avowed free-marketeer and social conservative, has tapped into rising resentment against the vast numbers of migrants – in particular from Venezuela and Haiti – who have arrived in the country in recent years. Last month, for example, saw an outbreak of violence against Venezuelan refugees in the northern city of Iquique. Kast has called for digging ditches along the borders and wants a special police force to root out illegal migrants. In the last presidential election, Kast got less than 8 percent of the vote. This time he's making a race of it.
G-20 members split on climate ahead of COP26: Just before the COP26 climate summit kicks off in Glasgow on October 31, the leaders of the world's top 20 economies will meet in Rome to discuss climate change, soaring energy prices, and post-pandemic recovery. But the G-20 remains divided between Western countries – like the US and the EU – demanding firm commitments from all member countries on cutting carbon dioxide emissions, and top polluters like China, India, and Russia who say that demand is unreasonable given that many Western nations have benefited from fossil fuel use for decades. Of these three outspoken countries, only India's PM Narendra Modi will travel to Rome, which makes it unlikely that any meaningful progress will be made ahead of the landmark summit in the UK. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden is in a tough spot: ahead of a trip to Europe this week, he was hoping to have secured billions of dollars in new climate funding from Congress, but his ambitious plans remain stuck due to divisions within his own party. More broadly, if no consensus is reached in Rome, it'll raise the stakes even more for Glasgow — and the planet can't wait any longer for politicians to make up their minds.Colombia nabs top drug kingpin: Colombian security forces have arrested Dairo Antonio Usuga, the most-wanted drug kingpin in the country since Pablo Escobar. Usuga – known by his alias Otoniel – is head of the notorious Gulf Cartel, and will likely be extradited to face a slew of charges in the US, which had a $5 million bounty on his head. While some say Otoniel's capture is a big win for Colombia, others say that rather than striking a blow against narco-related violence, the strategy of taking down kingpins creates more power struggles within cartels, in turn leading to more violence and bloodshed. This was the case following the 1993 death of Escobar and the 2016 arrest of "El Chapo" Guzmán in Mexico. Still, if Otoniel spills the beans on his operations in exchange for a lighter sentence in America, that could provide critical intelligence for Colombian and US drug enforcement to better target other narcos at a time when large swaths of rural Colombia are now ruled by gangs, contributing to regional instability.
An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that the Council of Europe was the EU's largest human rights organization. We apologize for then error.
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What We’re Watching: ASEAN shuts out Myanmar, Russian hackers strike again, Afghans risk winter starvation
October 25, 2021
ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.
Another big Russian hacking operation: Hack me once, shame on me. Hack me twice? Just months after US President Joe Biden slapped sanctions on Russia over a massive Kremlin-backed hacking campaign that targeted US businesses and government agencies, the Russians are at it again. Microsoft, which is increasingly functioning as a de-facto cybersecurity department of the US, says Russia's powerful SVR foreign intelligence agency is behind a new, "very large" and "ongoing" operation to swipe cloud data from US government agencies, think tanks, and corporations. On the one hand, operations like this are now run-of-the-mill cyber-spying, which all governments (including yours, wherever you are) do to each other. But the optics of the Kremlin launching a massive operation of this kind just six months after Biden deliberately soft-pedaled Russia sanctions in an effort to "de-escalate" US-Russia tensions… are NOT good.Afghanistan faces starvation: The UN's World Food Program has warned that without urgent action, more than half of Afghanistan's 38 million people are at risk of starving this winter. Since the Taliban took over the country in August following the US withdrawal, the country has fallen into an economic tailspin. That's partly because Western donors and international lenders — who are loath to recognize the Taliban — have cut the flow of foreign aid, which accounts for up to 40 percent of Afghanistan's GDP. The WFP says that it needs more than $200 million a month to meet the food needs of the country. Last week, the IMF warned that Afghanistan's economic collapse could generate a fresh and regionally destabilizing migrant crisis.
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