Then and Now: Hong Kong and Lebanon in turmoil, Ramaphosa on the spot

Three months ago: Lebanon in turmoil Three months ago we unpacked countrywide protests over corruption and the economy that brought Lebanon's capital, Beirut, to a standstill. At the time, thousands of protesters called in particular for reforms to Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, which currently gives the country's top jobs to people based on their religion. Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, and has since been replaced by Hassan Diab, a university professor who has the backing of the powerful Shia Hezbollah party – designated a terrorist group by the United States – but not the Sunni-bloc. This will make it hard for him to unify the country and secure the Western aid needed to rescue Lebanon's teetering economy. Diab has appointed a new, ostensibly technocratic cabinet in a bid to meet protesters' demands for a break from the old guard. But thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again this week, decrying the new ministers' connections to the political elite. Meanwhile, as the political crisis deepens, Lebanon's economy is on the brink of collapse: Banks are tightening restrictions on foreign currency withdrawals, fueling more public rage.


Six months ago: Hong Kong's enduring protests Back in August, we checked in on the increasingly ferocious protests in Hong Kong, which had been going on for about eight weeks. What started as a rebuke of legislation that would allow extradition of suspected criminals to mainland China has since morphed into an enormous, sometimes violent, political movement in defense of Hong Kongers' political liberties. Despite the fact that the size of protests has waned in recent months, protesters aren't giving up. Thousands of black-clad demonstrators have continued to flood the streets, demanding greater autonomy from Beijing, as well as investigations into police brutality. Meanwhile, Hong Kong police have used increasingly militant tactics to break-up crowds, including live ammunition. The recent coronavirus outbreak brings a new dimension to the seemingly intractable conflict. On one hand, it's revived Hong Kongers' resentment of the mainland: More than 7,000 health workers took part in a strike this week calling on Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, to seal the entire border with China, something she's long resisted. But the outbreak, which has spread in Hong Kong, also makes it impossible to hold mass gatherings. Chinese officials have called protestors "terrorists," and have amassed forces across the border. But eight months later, it's still not clear if Beijing has a red line, and what it would take from protesters to trigger a full-blown Chinese military intervention.

Nine months ago: Cyril Ramaphosa faces the heat As we wrote after President Cyril Ramaphosa's electoral triumph last May, the leader of South Africa's African National Congress party (ANC) faced enormous challenges in trying to revive the country's flailing economy, plagued by decades of crooked leadership. When Ramaphosa took over as party chief from Jacob Zuma, the disgraced former president facing a host of corruption charges, he pledged to bring "ethics into politics," and to oversee South Africa's economic revival. While Ramaphosa has made some effort to ignite growth – such as "embarking on a $100 billion investment drive in five years – South Africa's economy is still on the brink. The IMF and World Bank recently urged radical reform to avoid a recession as the country grapples with spotty electricity supply problems, weak business sentiment, sky-high youth unemployment, and the worst drought in living memory. Ramaphosa's attempt at reform has largely been hampered by competing factions within the ANC itself – so far, he's failed to consolidate control of the party to meet the country's enormous challenges.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."

Listen to the latest podcast now.

It's been a bad week at the office for President Trump. Not only have coronavirus cases in the US been soaring, but The New York Times' bombshell report alleging that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan has continued to make headlines. While details about the extent of the Russian bounty program — and how long it's been going on for — remain murky, President Trump now finds himself in a massive bind on this issue.

Here are three key questions to consider.

More Show less

Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, discusses technology industry news today:

Do some of the Facebook's best features, like the newsfeed algorithm or groups, make removing hate speech from the platform impossible?

No, they do not. But what they do do is make it a lot easier for hate speech to spread. A fundamental problem with Facebook are the incentives in the newsfeed algorithm and the structure of groups make it harder for Facebook to remove hate speech.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Yes, still in the middle of coronavirus, but thought I'd give you a couple of my thoughts on Russia. Part of the world that I cut my teeth on as a political scientist, way back in the eighties and nineties. And now Putin is a president for life, or at least he gets to be president until 2036, gets another couple of terms. The constitutional amendments that he reluctantly allowed to be voted on across Russia, passed easily, some 76% approval. And so now both in China and in Russia, term limits get left behind all for the good of the people, of course. So that they can have the leaders that they truly deserve. Yes, I'm being a little sarcastic here. It's sad to see. It's sad to see that the Americans won the Cold War in part, not just because we had a stronger economy and a stronger military, but actually because our ideas were better.

Because when those living in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Block looked at the West, and looked at the United States, they saw that our liberties, they saw that our economy, was something that they aspired to and was actually a much better way of giving opportunities to the average citizen, than their own system afforded. And that helped them to rise up against it.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, provides his perspective on US politics:

How likely is bipartisan action against Russia in light of Taliban bounty reports?

I think it's probably unlikely. One of the challenges here is that there's some conflict of the intelligence and anything that touches on the issue of President Trump and Russia is extremely toxic for him. Republicans have so far been tolerant of that and willing to stop any new sanctions coming. I think unless the political situation or the allegations get much worse or more obvious, that stalemate probably remains.

More Show less