Today, ethnic tensions simmer in Ethiopia, Putin gets his gig for life, and ISIS auditions for Narcos. Meanwhile, can the new Cold War get even chillier? It just did.

Enjoy, and note that we're off tomorrow — back in your inbox Tuesday morning.

- Alex Kliment

Pandora visits Ethiopia

Alex Kliment

When hundreds of thousands of protesters in Ethiopia brought sweeping change to their government in 2018, many of them were blaring the music of one man: a popular young activist named Hachalu Hundessa, who sang songs calling for the liberation and empowerment of the Oromo, the country's largest ethnic group.

Earlier this week, the 34-year old Hundessa was gunned down in the country's capital, Addis Ababa.

The killing has triggered massive new protests across parts of the country. More than 80 people are dead. The internet has been cut nationwide. The prime minister has praised the singer and called for calm. Authorities say suspects are in custody, but beyond that little is known.

These are tense moments. What does Hundessa's murder – and the response — tell us about the challenges facing Ethiopia, one of the world's great recent stories of political progress and economic growth?

Ethiopia is deeply fragmented. The country's people belong to more than 80 ethnic groups. The largest, comprising a third of the country's 105 million people, are the Oromo. Despite their numbers, they have long been politically marginalized.

The mass protests of 2016-2017 began as a reaction to government attempts to swipe Oromo land, and later morphed into a broader society-wide challenge to the opaque and repressive regime that had run the country for decades.

Faced with a sustained uprising, the ruling coalition finally relented. In April 2018, it appointed as prime minister a young, reform-minded Oromo politician named Abiy Ahmed. He became the first Oromo head of state in Ethiopia's history.

Abiy moved quickly, winning plaudits on a number of fronts: releasing political prisoners, making peace with neighboring Eritrea (for which he picked up a Nobel Peace Prize), and accelerating the privatization and reform of one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

But a new climate of political openness has allowed long-simmering ethnic tensions to boil over. In 2018 alone, ethnic strife forced some 3 million people from their homes. Periodic flareups of violence still routinely claim dozens of lives.

Abiy himself has become a target of prominent Oromo nationalists, who accuse him of having done too little to advance their interests, even as other ethnic groups worry that the Oromo are emboldened by having their man in charge.

The pandemic is making it all worse. Although Ethiopia has registered just a handful of coronavirus deaths – and has played an important role in efforts to fight the disease in other developing countries — the economic impact of the pandemic has been huge. The IMF has already cut the country's 2020 growth forecast in half to a little over three percent.

What's more, coronavirus has forced postponement of national elections originally scheduled for August until next year. That means Ethiopians, already in a situation of heightened social tension and economic uncertainty, will have to wait that much longer to express their preferences – and grievances – through normal political channels.

The bottom line: Abiy Ahmed has led bold and historic reforms, but lifting the lid off of a society as fractured as Ethiopia's can bring those debilitating tensions right into the open.

The Graphic Truth

Gabriella Turrisi

As the coronavirus continues to sweep across the United States, hospitals around the country are seeing a crush of COVID-19 patients requiring urgent care. In recent weeks, medical professionals in a number of states have said that they were unprepared not only for the number of infected people that would require treatment, but also for the length of time patients would need to stay in the hospital. Many cities and towns are now facing the possibility of massive hospital bed shortages. Here's a look at hospital bed occupancy rates, state by state.

A conversation on positive change with Howard University president

Bank of America

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.

The Red Pen:  Criticisms of US COVID response vs EU are not partisan

The Wall Street Journal editorial board says it is partisan to compare the US pandemic response to Europe. In this episode of The Red Pen — where we do our best to keep op-eds honest — Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Scott Rosenstein point out some flaws in the WSJ's argument. Far from being "partisan," a constructive comparison reveals lots that the US could be doing better. As the caseload continues to soar in many states, time is of the essence. See the whole clip here.

What We’re Watching: Russians let Putin stay, Syria donors pledge, US & China battle over tech

Carlos Santamaria

Putin Forever: Russian voters overwhelmingly approved a raft of constitutional amendments that will allow Vladimir Putin to serve two more six-year terms when his presidency ends in 2024. Putin's victory, which surprised no one, came after an independent election monitoring organization said that the Kremlin's referendum campaign was "rigged." Local government officials were told they could lose their jobs if turnout wasn't high enough, the group found. Meanwhile, some authorities had openly offered "prizes" for voting. The constitutional changes, which would allow Putin, now 67, to stay in power until he is 83, were packaged with other amendments, including a clause that outlaws same-sex marriage. Over the last year or so, Putin's popularity has sagged, in part because of specific missteps like a botched pension reform, but also because of a broader lack of clarity about what his plans are for Russia after two decades in power. On the upside, he just got himself another 16 years to figure it out.

Syrians in need get funding lifeline: Dozens of international donors committed on Tuesday a total $7.7 billion to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees. After grinding almost a decade of civil war, Syria has now plunged even deeper into its own abyss owing to the double blow of economic collapse and the coronavirus pandemic. There are currently more than 11 million Syrians in need of assistance, and over 9 million are not getting enough food after food prices have jumped 20-fold since 2011. Almost half the labor force has no work. Still, the money raised at the pledging conference, which was hosted by the European Union, fell well short of the $10 billion the UN asked for, which could provide a glimpse into the future of humanitarian funding for Syria as donor fatigue sets in and donor budgets run low due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Tech Cold War" continues: China has accused the US government of abusing its powers after the US Federal Communications Commission barred Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE from benefiting from American subsidies for mobile carriers (mainly in rural areas). The subsidies ban is the latest episode in the deepening US-China war over tech domination, with the US pushing back against China's rise as a technology powerhouse and China looking to cut its own tech dependence on the US. The rivalry has already spilled over to other markets like the UK, which earlier this year decided to allow Huawei, a leading supplier of 5G equipment, to build its 5G network despite US warnings that it is a high security risk for such critical infrastructure. As US-China tensions deepen, more and more countries are going to have to make a tough choice: use cost-effect components made by Chinese firms while risking Washington's ire, or choose budget-busting alternative suppliers.

Happy Independence...from the United States!

Carlos Santamaria

As the United States celebrates its Independence Day on July 4th, we thought we'd take a look at two places in the world that have emerged from the colonial rule of Uncle Sam, and a third that may do so in the future.

Liberia: The West African nation of Liberia was never formally a US colony, but from 1816 to 1847 it was administered by the American Colonization Society — founded to return freed American slaves to Africa. Liberia in 1847 became the first independent republic in Africa (and just the second Black republic after Haiti). Its first president was Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a former slave from Virginia. With a similar flag and a US-modeled Constitution, Liberia has remained independent despite several periods of extreme turmoil, including two civil wars. Its current president is former soccer star George Weah, whose son plays for the US national soccer team.

The Philippines: The Philippines officially celebrates its independence on June 12, marking the date in 1898 when, at the end of the Spanish-American War, the archipelago formally broke away from Spain after 333 years of colonial subjugation. But independence was short-lived and almost immediately replaced by US "benevolent assimilation." More than 200,000 Filipinos lost their lives challenging US rule during this period and it wasn't until after World War II that Washington finally gave full sovereign independence to the Philippines...on the 4th of July, 1946.

Puerto Rico: Madrid also lost Puerto Rico to the US during that same Spanish-American War. The island was a US colony until February 5, 1952, when the US Congress approved a constitution with self-governing powers — but it was not made a US state. Since then, Puerto Ricans have been weighing three options for the future: maintaining the status quo, rising to US statehood, or declaring independence. In 2017, 97 percent voted to become the 51st US state but the turnout was only 23 percent because the two political parties favoring the status quo and independence both boycotted the referendum.

Puppet Regime: Trump heads to Moscow

Well, Trump's got Russia problems again these days. Remember the time he went all the way to Moscow just to get help with his Twitter password? Check out this Puppet Regime classic.

Hard Numbers: Texas lags in testing, Guatemala closes the door, ISIS does Narcos, DRC refugees get into Uganda

Gabrielle Debinski

43: Texas, now a COVID-19 epicenter in the United States, ranks forty-third in the country in coronavirus testing per 100,000 people, even though it recorded more than 8,000 new cases on Wednesday, its highest daily uptick on record. Consider that Texas is conducting around 6,300 tests per 100,000 people, compared to almost 20,000 in New York and over 12,000 in Illinois.

400: Throughout the pandemic the Trump administration has continued deporting thousands of migrants to Central America, including many who have tested positive for COVID-19. Now the Guatemalan government, which says returnees from the US have spread the virus, is saying enough is enough: it will now accept a maximum of 400 deportees a month, down from recent highs of around 1,000.

1 billion: Italian authorities intercepted 1 billion euros worth of amphetamine this week, the largest shipment ever intercepted on its coast. Authorities believe that the stash, hidden in large cylinders, was manufactured by the Islamic State in Syria, which had ceased sending cargo to Europe because of the coronavirus crisis, but has now resumed operations to fund its activities in the Middle East.

3,000: Some 3,000 people who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over a month ago have finally been allowed to enter Uganda after a coronavirus border lockdown was lifted this week. Uganda hosts more than 1.4 million refugees, about 30 percent of whom come from the DRC.

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This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Carlos Santamaria. The graphic was made by Gabriella Turrisi and Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel came twice today: once from 1,000 years-worth of the 2,000 year-old man, and once from the artist who gave his heart to NY for all of us.

Hello, Today we analyze what the new USMCA means for North American trade, usher in the end of Hong Kong's political freedoms, and observe as Belgium reckons with racial injustice.

— Carlos Santamaria

Goodbye, NAFTA. Hello, USMCA.

Carlos Santamaria

Four years ago, Donald Trump promised to replace the "worst deal ever made" — known to the rest of us simply as NAFTA, the massive 1994 trade pact linking the US, Canada, and Mexico.

Now, he's officially done so. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaces NAFTA, comes into effect on July 1st.

How did we get here, and what does it mean?

Let's look back. NAFTA had a checkered history. On the one hand, it successfully integrated two of the world's most advanced economies (the US and Canada) with a developing one (Mexico), while boosting cross-border trade from $289.3 billion in 1993 to $623.1 billion in 2003, and lowering prices for most North American-made goods and services.

On the other hand, it resulted in net job losses and lower wages for many US factory workers. Coupled with the jobs that fled to China several years later, NAFTA came to be seen as part of the perfect storm of forces that clobbered American workers at the turn of the century.

Still, NAFTA was relatively popular in the US until less than a decade ago, when the economic wreckage of the financial crisis prompted more Americans to question the benefits of free trade in general, and NAFTA in particular. President Trump capitalized on that popular sentiment, pledging on the campaign trail to scrap NAFTA and replace it with something better. American views on free trade have improved dramatically since 2016, but the US is still deeply polarized on NAFTA.

So, is the UMSCA really a better deal? It depends on whom you ask. Here's the biggest issue that was on the table for each of the pact's three signatories and how it played out:

United States. Labor unions in particular are happy that the new trade deal raises minimum wages for workers who make goods covered by the deal. The US auto industry, for example, lobbied for USMCA to mandate that more of each vehicle be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour, in order to undermine the ability of lower-wage Mexican factories to take jobs from American workers.

On the other hand, vehicles made in North America will likely become more expensive for US consumers, as the new trade deal requires more of each automobile to be assembled from parts made in the US, Canada or Mexico — rather than in lower-cost Asian countries.

Mexico. Under the USMCA, Mexican workers will be less likely to get jobs outsourced from the US and Canada. But those who do find work will be entitled to better labor standards, including the right to unionize and to have their complaints investigated by UMSCA panels.

Canada. Canada won one big thing: the USMCA retains NAFTA's trade dispute settlement mechanisms, meaning that trade disputes with US companies will be settled by a multilateral panel rather than in a US court (as the Trump administration wanted). But the Canadian dairy industry, for one, is not happy about having to open the local market to US competition. No use crying over spilled milk now, though.

And what about Trump? Upon first glance, following through on a campaign promise to revisit a major trade deal is a big political win for the US president, who views trade as a zero-sum game and believes tariffs are the best way to resolve most trade disputes. It also reduces the pressure on Trump to move beyond his "phase one" deal with China — his main trade war opponent — before the November election.

However, a closer look reveals that the USMCA is more of a facelift than a complete do-over of NAFTA. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley once referred to the UMSCA as about 95 percent the same as NAFTA. And in the end Trump didn't get many items on his wish list, such as removing Canadian subsidies on lumber exports or scrapping Mexico's value-added tax on US imports.

Indeed, the UMSCA is often called NAFTA 2.0. The question now is, will we have to wait another 26 years for the next update?

The Graphic Truth

Ari Winkleman

The coronavirus global death toll topped 500,000 this week. The pandemic has unleashed twin public health and economic crises in most parts of the world, and some countries have been hit particularly hard by both. Here we take a look at COVID-19 fatalities per 100,000 people and Q1 2020 economic performance rates in the 10 countries with the most deaths worldwide.

Be the change, have a say in the future of the UN

Microsoft On The Issues

Help shape our future by participating in a one-minute survey from the United Nations. To mark its 75th anniversary, the UN is capturing people's hopes and fears for the world, and crowdsourcing solutions to global challenges. The results of this UN75 survey will help shape the institution's plans and programs and ensure those plans better reflect the views and needs of the global public. Take the survey here.

What We're Watching: Hong Kong's end, the Belgian King's "apology," a small bit of justice for the Rohingya

Gabrielle Debinski

Hong Kong's end? Last month we mulled the question: is Hong Kong as we know it over? As of yesterday, the answer is: yes. China has now implemented a new national security law for the city, which criminalizes secession and collusion with foreign forces. The law in effect ends the autonomy granted (by international agreement) to Hong Kong when it reverted from British control to Chinese rule in 1997. Critics fear it will be used to stamp out the remnants of the pro-democracy protests that erupted last year in response to a separate attempt by Beijing to expand its writ over the city. We're watching to see what the city's fearless but increasingly encircled protesters do now. And we're also eyeing the reaction from abroad. Washington has begun rescinding Hong Kong's special trade and investment privileges, and will now treat the city the way it treats the rest of China. The move is meant to punish Beijing, but unlike twenty years ago when Hong Kong accounted for a fifth of China's economy, today it's less than four percent. Those who suffer most may be Hong Kongers themselves.

Belgium reckons with racial injustice: Recent protests in the United States have caused countries around the world to take a hard look at racial injustice within their own societies. In Belgium, following anti-racism protests in the capital, King Philippe sent a letter on Tuesday to the Democratic Republic of the Congo acknowledging atrocities committed during Belgium's half century colonial rule there. The letter, sent to Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi on the 60th anniversary of his country's independence, acknowledged Belgium's brutal legacy in the country formerly known as Congo Free State, which has contributed to the country's post-independence conflict and economic stagnation. Belgium's government also pledged to establish a parliamentary commission to scrutinize its colonial past. However, some critics say that the gesture is merely symbolic because the King is not a member of Belgium's government and holds no real power over the country's foreign relations. They also note that it stopped short of issuing a formal apology for crimes committed.

A small step towards justice for the Rohingya: Despite evidence showing that Myanmar's military committed atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017 that caused some 750,000 refugees to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, no one from Myanmar's army has been held accountable for their brutal crimes — until now. In a rare move, a local court martial found three military officers guilty of genocide against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state, the army announced Tuesday. Both the country's powerful military as well as Aung San Suu Kyi, the now-disgraced Nobel peace prize winner and de facto head of government, have long denied allegations of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingyas. However, after Myanmar faced charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice late last year, the country's leadership flippantly acknowledged "weakness in following instructions" in Rohingya enclaves and set up courts martial to investigate the alleged abuses. However, no details have since been provided on the three perpetrators or their sentences, raising fears that this has been a sham trial and that the officers will continue to evade justice.

Hard Numbers: Australia's cyber defenses, India bans Chinese apps, EU extends Russia sanctions, South Sudan eases a stalemate

Gabrielle Debinski

1.3 billion: After a string of China-linked cyber-attacks against the Australian government and businesses, Australia says it will invest $1.3 billion in cyber defenses, its biggest ever cash injection to ward off cybercrime. Tensions between the two countries have been rising since Australia's prime minister demanded an investigation into China's pandemic response, prompting Beijing to slap tariffs on Australian exports.

59: Amid high tensions over their high-altitude dispute, India has banned 59 popular apps owned by Chinese firms, including TikTok, which counts India as one of its largest markets. Who will be hurt more by the move: China's officials or India's teens?

6: The EU extended economic sanctions on Russia for another six months because Moscow has still failed to adhere to its end of a ceasefire deal negotiated with Ukraine in 2015 after Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

8: After a stalemate over gubernatorial appointments threatened to derail South Sudan's new transitional government, the president has finally named governors to lead eight of the country's 10 states. However, discord over who should lead the Jonglei and Upper Nile areas persists, and could still undermine the country's nascent peace accord.

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This edition of Signal was written by Carlos Santamaria, Gabrielle Debinski, and Alex Kliment. Spiritual counsel from Willis Sparks.

Hello, today we'll track Emmanuel Macron's political tribulations, check in on Ireland's new PM, and follow up on Poland's (first round) election results.

Thanks for reading,


A rough road ahead for Emmanuel Macron

Gabrielle Debinski

In 2017, when Emmanuel Macron won 66 percent of the vote to become France's youngest-ever president, he was a relatively unknown figure in French politics. Macron, who spent most of his career as an investment banker, had never before run for office and had served only a brief stint as an advisor to former President Francois Hollande before becoming his economy minister.

An incumbent's first term in office usually defines his political identity and policy agenda. But three years into a five-year term, do we know Emmanuel Macron, what he stands for — or who he stands for — any more than we did in 2017?

A political outsider rises: When Macron thumped far-right rival Marine Le Pen to clinch the presidency in 2017, it was the first time in half a century that France would have a president from outside one of its two main political parties.

Macron, a stalwart of France's financial elite, created a new centrist political movement, La République En Marche (LREM), to appeal to those straddling the right and left. But in trying to win support from a politically diverse electorate, Macron failed to define his political agenda or his natural political base. (In the early days of his presidency, for example, Macron offered himself as a president for working-class people, but he also vowed to overhaul France's welfare state, inviting critics to dub him "president of the rich." Macron also committed to an ambitious climate reform plan while simultaneously pushing a traditional pro-business agenda.)

Macron on shaky ground: Now, with preparation for re-election in 2022 firmly on his mind, Macron faces a series of challenges.

His LREM party took a thrashing in local elections last weekend when Green party candidates clinched decisive victories in Lyon, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg. It was a clear rebuke for a president who has tied his potential next term to a robust environmental and social agenda. The trouncing of LREM's candidate in Paris' mayoral race was particularly embarrassing for Macron, whose party failed to win any major victories.

This defeat follows a series of political crises. Macron's proposed green tax on fuel in December 2018 sparked months of protests and created the "Yellow Vest" movement that forced Macron to backtrack on his ambitious climate agenda. Earlier this year, cities were brought to a standstill again as thousands protested the government's proposed reform of France's pension scheme.

Last month, seven LREM members accused Macron of surrendering on climate reform and bowing to monied interests. They then defected from the party, costing Macron and the LREM their outright majority in France's Assemblée Nationale.

Europe's leader: Macron, a torchbearer for global liberalism, has also tried to position himself as Europe's leader as German Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to hang up her boots. But, as Merkel has surely warned him, building a coherent EU position on complex issues is always challenging given the fractious nature of the 27-member bloc. This is not a role made for political success.

Soul searching: Macron recently said that he would "reinvent" his presidency by releasing a bold new environmental agenda, and will opt for a more "caring" final two years at the helm. The president also implied that he would reshuffle the government to appeal to disenfranchised left-wing voters. But critics on both the left and right charge that Macron's agenda has mostly been reactive and ad-hoc. In response to the LREM's poor performance over the weekend, for example, Macron hastily pledged 15 million euros to move France towards a greener economy. He also expressed support for a referendum on changes to France's constitution to incorporate climate policy, though it's unclear whether parliament will support the plan.

Looking ahead: It's too early to say whether the Greens' local victories will earn them more power at the national level or who might emerge as Macron's main challenger. For now, he remains the front runner. But recent events don't bode well for a president who is still a relative political newcomer, one who sees ongoing anti-racism protests and a pandemic-battered economy standing between him and his second-ever elections.

As COVID cases rise, Trump’s reelection prospects fall

In this week's Quick Take, Ian Bremmer talks about emerging COVID-19 hotspots in the developing world where social distancing is difficult and testing is limited. Meanwhile, cases continue to surge across the US, overwhelming hospitals in Florida, Texas, and Arizona. So, how is this impacting President Trump's re-election prospects? Find out here.

What We’re Watching: Irish PM rotation begins, Karachi stock exchange attacked, Poles go to runoff

Carlos Santamaria

Ireland has a new Taoiseach: Mícheál Martin was elected on Saturday by parliament as Ireland's new "taoiseach" (prime minister). Martin, leader of the center-right Fianna Fáil, will head a coalition government with the center-left Fine Gael and the Green Party. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael — which have taken turns in power since 1905 — will rotate the prime minister position in the latest example of mainstream parties striking odd deals to exclude anti-establishment forces, in this case the far-left Sinn Féin. The new coalition now has five years to show voters it can be more than a "green" version of business-as-usual.

Separatists target Pakistan stock exchange: At least seven people died after armed militants from a local separatist group stormed Pakistan's stock exchange in Karachi on Monday. The attack was claimed on social media by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which demands self-determination for this mineral-rich province. The BLA has traditionally targeted Chinese interests in the region, but there have been more recent clashes with the Pakistani military. There is also growing suspicion that the BLA is conducting joint operations with their former rivals from the Balochistan Liberation Front.

Poland presidential vote goes to runoff: President Andrzej Duda won the first round of Poland's presidential election on Sunday, but fell short of the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a July 12 runoff against Rafal Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw. Exit polls showed Duda — an ally of the governing Law and Justice party — got almost 42 percent of the vote, while Trzaskowski from the centrist Civic Platform party received over 30 percent. Despite Duda's double-digit lead, the runoff is expected to be very tight in a high-stakes election for Poland, and for the country's tense relationship with the European Union. The Polish president is less powerful than the prime minister but can refuse to sign legislation, and the ruling party doesn't have enough votes to override a veto if Trzaskowski wins.

What We're Ignoring

Iran wants Trump in handcuffs: Iran on Monday asked Interpol to detain President Trump after issuing an unprecedented arrest warrant for the president and nearly 40 other US officials Teheran links to the killing of Qassim Suleimani earlier this year. Suleimani, the former leader of Iran's Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, was killed by a US drone strike in Iraq in a targeted assassination that brought both sides to the brink of war. Brian Hook, US envoy for Iran, dismissed the move as a "publicity stunt," while Interpol flatly refused to honor the request. Iran said it will continue to pursue the matter even after Trump leaves office.

Hard Numbers: Duterte's drug war kills kids, global hunger surges, Mexican narcos strike, Japans army thins

Alex Kliment

129: When the Philippines' tough-talking populist president Rodrigo Duterte first took office in 2016, he unleashed a controversial war on drugs that has killed thousands of people and drawn heat from global human rights watchdogs. Now activists say at least 129 children are among the dead — most of them killed by government forces or their allies.

270: The number of people in need of food aid globally could rise to at least 270 million as a result of pandemic-related job losses and vanishing remittances, according to the UN's World Food Program. That's an 82 percent increase over last year, and the WFP says it doesn't have enough money to meet the need.

3: Mexico's Police Chief was seriously wounded and three people were killed in a brazen assassination attempt attributed to a powerful drug cartel. Among the dead were two bodyguards and a bystander. Mexican authorities have long struggled to subdue the cartels — now it looks like that battle is coming straight to the capital.

8: Japan's aging population is having a direct effect on national security. The country currently has an 8 percent shortfall in troops for its Self-Defense Forces, and has missed recruitment targets every year since 2014.

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This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Carlos Santamaria. Spiritual counsel from Willis Sparks.

Happy Friday, Signal readers. Today, we'll follow Poles to the polls, beat Ebola in the DRC, track Latin America's deepening recession, and mark Macron's next move.

- Willis Sparks

Poland's choice: A test of populism

Willis Sparks

On Sunday, voters in Poland will cast ballots in a highly charged, high-stakes election for president. The two frontrunners are current President Andrzej Duda, an ultra-conservative ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, and Rafal Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw.

If none of the five candidates wins 50 percent of votes, Sunday's top two vote-getters will face off in a second round on July 12.

There are two reasons why the results will be studied across Europe and beyond. First, it's a referendum on a populist government, in power since 2015, which has pushed Poland into conflict with the European Union.

Second, though Poland's president has much less power than the prime minister and can't be a formal member of any party, he can veto laws passed by parliament, and the current president is a crucial ally for the party leading the current governing coalition.

Why all the controversy? Current president Andrzej Duda has aligned with his former party, Poland's ruling Law and Justice, known by its Polish acronym PiS. This party has used its five years in power to try to consolidate control of Polish politics in ways the EU says violate its rules on democracy.

For example, PiS has used a variety of legislative tactics to stack Poland's courts, including its two highest judicial bodies, with politically loyal judges. It has used lawsuits and other pressure tactics to intimidate and censor the media.

In response, the European Commission has charged Poland's government with violating EU rules and triggered a so-called Article 7 disciplinary process. This means that a unanimous vote of all EU members could strip Poland of its EU voting rights. That won't happen, because the government of EU member Hungary has made similar moves against rule of law and would veto any move against its allies in Poland. The EU-Poland standoff continues.

The election is likely to be close. Duda will probably draw the most votes on Sunday but fail to win a majority. That means a runoff with Trzaskowski, a late entrant to represent the centrist Civic Platform, which governed Poland from 2007 to 2015.

Trzaskowski, who soundly defeated a PiS opponent to become Warsaw's mayor in 2018, will be a formidable challenger. If he wins, he's liable to veto all PiS legislation that the EU doesn't like, and PiS won't have enough votes in parliament to override him.

COVID-19 has played a role in this election. Lockdowns forced the authorities to postpone the vote from its original date of May 10. PiS wanted the vote rescheduled for the earliest possible date, probably because it calculated that the lockdown's economic fallout would hurt Duda more and more over time.

Duda's strategy. Duda has worked to energize his socially conservative, and primarily rural, base. For example, he has warned that "gay ideology" poses a greater threat to Poland than Communism did, a message that might well resonate with the 56 percent of Poles who told pollsters last year they reject gay marriage and the 76 percent who oppose adoption by same-sex couples.

He's also enlisted help from his friend Donald Trump, who is popular in Poland. (A Pew survey from January found that 51 percent of Poles—vs 13 percent of Germans—have confidence in Trump to "do the right thing in world affairs.") Duda was in Washington on Wednesday for President Trump's first visit with a foreign official since February. Trump has hinted that he might reward Poland by transferring some or all of the 9,500 US troops he's pledged to withdraw from Germany to Poland. Duda has suggested in the past that US troops might be housed in Poland at a place he calls "Fort Trump."

Bottom-line: Can populists remain popular after five years in power? Voters of all stripes across Europe will be watching Poland this weekend in hopes of finding out.

Circular oranges


In 2018, the production of citrus fruit in Italy reached 2,631,403 tons. And all of the peels? The ones from oranges have become "circular," thanks to a circular juice bar which transforms orange peels into bioplastic cups. It's called "Feel the peel" and was created by Carlo Ratti for Eni.

See how it works in the first episode of Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

GZERO Media Town Hall: Could our response to COVID help end poverty?

GZERO Media, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, hosted its first virtual town hall on how to fight global poverty amid the coronavirus pandemic. The panel featured Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media President Ian Bremmer, and Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The conversation was moderated by Africa No Filter's Moky Makura. Watch the clip here.

What We're Watching: Latin America's deepening recession, DRC beats Ebola, Macron's next move

Gabrielle Debinski

Latin America's economic pain: Back in April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that the pandemic would push Latin America into its worst recession in half a century, plunging a third of the population into poverty. That, it turns out, was the rosy view. The IMF now says, "the human toll has gone up," projecting that the region's economy will contract by 9.4 percent in 2020, a sharp drop from April's forecast of a 5.2 percent recession. Government-mandated lockdowns and travel restrictions have hit emerging market economies in the Caribbean and Latin America particularly hard because many of them rely on jobs in the informal sector and tourism industry to keep afloat. Taken with the effects of shutdowns in China, Europe, and the US, which have cratered demand for Latin America's exports while also decimating remittances, the region's economic recovery could take many years.

Ebola eradicated in DRC: The Democratic Republic of the Congo's worst Ebola outbreak in history, which has ravaged that country for two years, is officially over, the World Health Organization said Thursday. Ebola, an infectious disease that kills around half of those who contract it, has claimed more than 2,000 lives in that country since August 2018. Treatment and containment efforts have been complicated by decades of conflict (more than 100 armed groups operate within the DRC's borders) as well as government corruption. A team of more than 16,000 front line workers, along with a new effective vaccine program, helped eradicate the outbreak, the tenth Ebola epidemic in the DRC since the 1970s.

Macron's next move: With two years remaining of his five-year term, President Emmanuel Macron is already firmly in election mode. While no French head of state has clinched a second term since Jacques Chirac won in a landslide two decades ago, Macron faces a particularly grueling battle in trying to convince the electorate that he can resuscitate the country's pandemic-battered economy. French media is abuzz with conjecture regarding what big moves the president might have up his sleeve. After Macron earlier this month hinted at a post-pandemic "government reset," some predicted that the president might ditch his all too popular Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, replacing him with a new PM who can help him gain credibility with the left. Macron's poll numbers have been sliding since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, with a majority of French people disapproving of the government's handling of the pandemic. We're watching to see what happens when Macron elaborates on his new agenda in a much-anticipated address scheduled for next month.

Signal's Reading Corner 

Autumn of the Patriarch If politics, the Caribbean, and the magically macabre are your thing, dive into this excerpt from Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Marquéz's masterpiece Autumn of the Patriarch, which relates the last days of a cruel, solitary dictator who rules over a sweltering island nation. "Over the weekend," it begins, "the vultures got into the Presidential Palace...and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur."

From Bin Laden to Facebook — How do the two most wanted Islamist terrorists in Southeast Asia elude capture, yet manage to keep in touch with their friends on social media? Philippine journalist and press freedom activist Maria Ressa traces the spread of terrorism from the training camps of Afghanistan to Southeast Asia, and recounts her personal ordeal when one of her own reporters was kidnapped by the notorious Abu Sayyaf.

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann – In 1907, German everyman Hans Castorp visits his ailing cousin in an alpine Swiss sanitarium and decides to check himself in. Over seven years, his isolation and his encounters with a colorful, chronically ill cast of international characters warps his sense of time, distorts his identity, and expands his mind.

A Burning It starts like this: "'You smell like smoke, my mother said to me.' So I rubbed an oval of soap in my hair and poured a whole bucket of water on myself before a neighbor complained that I was wasting the morning supply." This gripping debut novel by Megha Majumdar follows three intricate characters in India who find their lives meshed together after a deadly terrorist attack. It's at once a gripping thriller and a beautiful story about the human condition.

Hard Numbers: Korean War remembered, EU bucks up for WHO, asparagus seen from space, stimulus for dead people

Carlos Santamaria

70: Thursday marked 70 years since the start of the Korean War, which began with with a surprise cross-border attack by North Korea and never technically ended: the two sides merely signed an armistice in 1953, but no peace treaty. The anniversary comes amid heightened tensions between the North and the South.

500 million: France and Germany revealed on Thursday a joint €500 million ($561 million) commitment to fund the World Health Organization's response to the coronavirus pandemic.This is a major funding boost for the UN public health body after the US — the top national contributor to its budget — announced last month it would cut ties with the WHO over concerns that the organization was too cozy with China.

17: The space agencies of the EU, Japan and the US have pulled together data from 17 different satellites in order to map the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as seen from orbit. The Earth Observing Dashboard shows how national lockdowns are affecting global air pollution, hospital lights... and white asparagus harvests.

1.4 billion: The US Treasury Department inadvertently sent coronavirus stimulus checks worth almost $1.4 billion to more than one million dead people, a government watchdog found.

Words of Wisdom

"We obviously warned the firefighters, but they told us that they didn't have snake detectors."

— A man in the French city of Rennes, who called the fire department to help him track down "Isis," a three-foot-long pet python that escaped from his apartment.

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This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks, Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Carlos Santamaria.

Hello, today we'll unpack why countries hit hard by COVID-19 are moving ahead with reopening plans, track a diplomatic spat on the high seas, and follow China's bid to become a space power.

Thanks for reading,

- Gabrielle

COVID cases jump. The world reopens anyway.

Gabrielle Debinski

Six months since the first coronavirus case was identified in Wuhan, China, the number of new daily COVID infections peaked last week with more than 177,000 cases reported globally. Yet, though the virus continues to spread like wildfire — mostly in emerging market economies — reopening plans continue to unfurl. Why?

The answer is straightforward: survival. For many people in the developing world, going to work is the difference between food on the table and starvation. There's only so much governments can do, therefore, to force people to stay at home. Ordering a lockdown when large numbers of people will simply ignore the order isn't good economics or good politics.

That's why the blueprint for slowing the spread of the virus in the US and Europe won't always work in countries that rely on informal economies to stay afloat. Here are four cases in point.

Mexico: Populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, was slow to shut things down and initially dismissive of the dangers posed by the virus. Mexico has since climbed the list of global hotspots to record almost 24,000 deaths to date, while new cases surge. But the streets of Mexico City, home to 21 million people, are busy again as many return to work in the country's informal sector, which generates nearly a quarter of Mexico's economic output. Many workers living hand-to-mouth say they are more scared of dying from lockdown-induced hunger than of COVID-19. Hospitals are now inundated, and AMLO has since tried to reinstall some restrictions, but anecdotal evidence suggests that compliance is limited. "For us, it's a luxury to get sick," one informal worker told the New York Times.

South Africa: President Cyril Ramaphosa moved swiftly to impose lockdowns in March – and to dole out cash to ease the economic blow for South African families. Despite the effort, South Africa – one of the most economically unequal countries in the world – has recorded more new COVID cases in recent days than at any point during the pandemic. That's in part because many workers have returned to work for fear they'll go hungry unless they quickly bring in cash. With no support for the country's unregulated sector, which employs some 30 percent of South African workers, long-term lockdowns are not sustainable, a reality Ramaphosa recently acknowledged. Add the problem that social distancing is all but impossible for millions living in impoverished townships.

Brazil: Brazil's COVID caseload surpassed one million this week, and the country topped 50,000 deaths. Fingers are now pointed at President Jair Bolsonaro, who has rebuffed social-distancing measures and joined protests calling for the economy to reopen. In many of Brazil's low-income favelas, where the virus has hit particularly hard, community leaders have found innovative ways to monitor cases and supplement poor health and social services. But that only goes so far. In the slums of Rio and São Paulo, where families are packed tightly together with poor sanitation, lockdowns don't always make people safer. Data shows that people who live in these impoverished areas are up to 10 times more likely to die if they contract the coronavirus than people who live in Brazil's wealthier enclaves.

India: Amid ongoing tensions with China, India's government is also grappling with a surge in COVID cases. There were 16,000 new infections on Wednesday alone, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even called on the military to manage makeshift health centers in Delhi to prevent panic and chaos as bed shortages loom. Nonetheless, millions of Indians filled buses, trains, and sidewalks in recent days as lockdown restrictions were eased across the country. Modi gave the greenlight to reopen because the country's economy is in free fall. Indeed, the lockdowns have been particularly brutal for Indians who rely on day labor to make ends meet, many of whom live in unsanitary slums where social distancing is a fantasy, and disease already thrives.

In all four countries, the ability to manage the health crisis is limited by hard economic truths and the limits of political power.

The Graphic Truth

Ari Winkleman

Taking in refugees often puts enormous economic and societal pressures on host countries. That's especially true in places where many of their own citizens already have limited access to food, shelter and support networks of family and friends. Several of the world's top 10 countries hosting refugees show exactly this: a large share of their populations are in the "high vulnerability" category of Gallup's Basic Needs Index. That puts refugees in these countries in the tough spot of potentially competing for resources from governments already struggling to meet the needs of their own people. Here's a look at the underlying economic and social vulnerability of the population in the countries that host the most refugees.

Commencement for America

Bank of America

Virtual graduation ceremonies have taken place across the country and it seems like all of us are reflecting on what could be next.

Confidence may be shaken. Our hearts may be cracked. But we're still here.

This is a commencement speech for America.

SPECIAL EVENT TODAY: Could our response to COVID help end poverty?

Please join us for a special town hall panel at 11 am EDT. Produced in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, our panelists, Ian Bremmer, Mark Suzman, Vera Songwe, and Moky Makura will discuss the challenges of equitably distributing vaccines and treatments, coordinating economic recovery strategies to maximize poverty reduction, and renewing global cooperation in a leaderless world. Click here to register. We'll be sending the link to the recording to all registered users, so please do sign up if you are interested.

What We're Watching: Trump's high seas feud with Iran and Venezuela, Kosovo leader's war crimes rap, Singapore's family feud election

Carlos Santamaria

US sanctions Iran over Venezuela oil shipments: In a bid to scuttle growing cooperation between two of Washington's biggest bogeymen, the White House yesterday slapped sanctions on five Iranian tanker captains who had delivered oil to Venezuela. Both Venezuela and Iran are currently under crippling US sanctions, but Tehran has been sending food and fuel aid to its comrades in Caracas, as Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro clings to power despite leading his country into economic ruin. If you're puzzled as to why Venezuela, with the world's largest known oil reserves, needs to import oil (and gas), it's because its own output has fallen due to low prices, US sanctions, and the incompetence of the Maduro cronies who run the state oil company. In a further snub to Caracas, a US warship yesterday took a swing through waters claimed by the Venezuelan government — earlier this year the Trump administration had threatened to deploy more Navy vessels to the region as part of a crackdown on drug trafficking, believed to be a major source of income for the Venezuelan ruling clique.

Will Kosovo's leader see a war crimes trial? Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi was indicted on Wednesday in The Hague for war crimes committed during Kosovo's violent uprising against Serb ethnic cleansing in 1998-1999. Thaçi is the first sitting head of state ever to be formally accused of war crimes. The indictment, which includes nearly 100 murders, was handed down by a special prosecutor in the Kosovo Specialist Chamber, established in 2015 to investigate alleged war crimes by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Kosovo, which was once a province of Serbia, became de facto independent in 2008, but its sovereignty has yet to be recognized by Serbia, several EU members, China, and Russia. Thaçi — who has been in power since the end of the war and is also suspected of involvement in drug, gun and human organ smuggling — immediately denied any wrongdoing, and cancelled his upcoming trip to the US, where he was set to attend White House talks on normalizing relations with Serbia.

Singapore's family feud election: Singapore is all set to hold its general election on July 10, despite the coronavirus. Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loo announced on Tuesday a 9-day campaign with no mass rallies. Lee, the son of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, is widely expected to win in a landslide, in what is probably his last election. His People's Action Party has ruled since independence in 1965. But the big drama is whether his estranged brother, Lee Hsieng Yang, will help the opposition Progress Singapore Party carve out a respectable chunk of the 93 seats up for grabs in parliament. Singapore's ballot will be the second major recent election in the region after South Korea's, which was hailed as a success in how to make democracy work in the middle of a pandemic.

Hard Numbers: Brazil's mounting death toll, Americans disapprove of Trump's pandemic performance, China's bid to go to space

Alex Kliment

50,000: Brazil now holds the dubious distinction of being just the second country in the world — after the US — to register more than 50,000 deaths from COVID-19. The country has also surpassed one million confirmed cases.

10 billion: Somebody alert the Space Force! In order to reduce its reliance on US navigation satellites, China has spent $10 billion on its own satellite navigation network, known as Bei-Dou-3. Beijing put the last of the system's 35 satellites in orbit this week, capping a major leap forward in China's bid to become a premier space power.

37: As confirmed coronavirus cases continue to surge in the US, a new poll finds that just 37 percent of Americans approve of President Trump's handling of the pandemic, the lowest mark on record. In recent days Trump has drawn fire for suggesting that less COVID-19 testing would yield rosier numbers.

4: Only four percent of Italians in a recent survey said the EU had been their country's most important ally during the horrific early phases of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, 25 percent said the same of China. Overall, respondents in nine EU countries took a dim view of Brussels' handling of the pandemic, but said more European cooperation was needed.

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This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Carlos Santamaria. The graphic was made by Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel from Willis Sparks.

Today we get ready to blow out 75 birthday candles for the UN, observe how Mali reruns its election, and look at why Tunisians are taking to the streets.

— Carlos Santamaria

The UN turns 75 — is it still relevant?

Carlos Santamaria

This Friday marks 75 years since the signing of the United Nations charter, a document that established the biggest and longest-lived experiment in global political cooperation in modern history.

But the organization celebrates this milestone at a time of uncertainty about whether it is still fit for purpose in the 21st century — and not only because of the critical global challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.

First, the good news. The UN has much to be proud of. Its programs help hundreds of millions of people to ward off hunger, poverty, and violence. It's the leading platform for the fight against climate change and its refugee agencies care for almost 60 million of the most vulnerable people around the world. UN observers help to ensure free and fair elections, and its peacekeepers intervene where few countries would do so alone. And without the Non-Proliferation Treaty, many more countries today would have deadly nuclear weapons.

But on the other hand, it's hard to think of a major international crisis that the UN Security Council — the UN's most powerful body — has resolved since the 1991 Gulf War. The Council is too often a stage for rivals like the US, Russia and China to simply veto each other's initiatives. It was unable to prevent genocides in Rwanda, Darfur and more recently Myanmar, and powerless to restrain the 2003 US invasion of Iraq or Russia's annexation of Crimea a decade later. It did almost nothing on Syria.

So here are three big questions that the UN will need to resolve in the coming years.

First, does power at the UN reflect today's world? In some ways, the organization is still stuck in 1945: France and the UK remain permanent members of the Security Council, which has only one permanent member from Asia (China), and none from Africa, the Middle East or Latin America.

Second, who's going to pay for the UN? The UN's regular budget is covered by mandatory contributions from all member states, but most UN agencies rely on voluntary contributions. This discretionary funding was already at high risk, and it's likely to decline even more as coronavirus clobbers national budgets. UN agencies will have to find the money elsewhere.

Third, will COVID-19 help or hurt the UN? On the one hand, a global public health crisis underscores the importance of precisely the kind of international cooperation that the UN is meant to foster. And as the pandemic deepens throughout the developing world, the UN will play a big role in managing the twin public health and economic impacts there.

However, the coronavirus is also heightening major countries' inclination to turn inward. The US, in a deepening rivalry with China, has already cut funding for the World Health Organization — a UN agency — over complaints that it's too cozy with Beijing. Will the pandemic and its aftermath empower political forces that favor cooperation or nationalism?

Happy Birthday, but…Three-quarters of a century on from its founding, the United Nations is at a potentially major turning point. As they blow out those 75 candles, what should the UN wish for?

Could our response to COVID help end poverty?

As countries around the world look to eradicate the coronavirus and revive their economies, there's a unique opportunity to tackle poverty and inequality. Join us for a special town hall panel tomorrow produced in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, featuring Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer, Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa Vera Songwe, and #AfricaNoFilter Executive Director Moky Makura. They'll discuss the challenges of equitably distributing vaccines and treatments, coordinating economic recovery strategies to maximize poverty reduction, and renewing global cooperation in a leaderless world. Click here to register for the event.

What kind of future do we want to create? Have Your Say

Microsoft On The Issues

The world is at a turning point. Help shape our future by taking this one-minute survey from the United Nations. To mark its 75th anniversary, the UN is capturing people's priorities for the future, and crowdsourcing solutions to global challenges. The results will shape the UN's work to recover better from COVID-19, and ensure its plans reflect the views of the global public. Take the survey here.

What We're Watching: Malawian do-over, Serbian power, Tunisian protests

Gabrielle Debinski

Malawi's election do-over: Five months after Malawi's constitutional court ruled that widespread irregularities compromised the incumbent President Peter Mutharika's re-election, Malawians participated in a historic rerun on Tuesday. Some 6.6 million people were registered to vote in the much-anticipated contest that will determine whether the 80-year old Mutharika, who has been involved in a string of corruption cases since he took up the post in 2014, can head off his main rival, opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera. Disputes over the first election gave rise to months of unrest as well as clashes between Chakwera's supporters and police.

What's Serbia's president gonna use that power for? In elections largely boycotted by the opposition, president Aleksandar Vučić's party swept up more than 60 percent of seats in Serbia's parliament, giving him further control over a fragile democracy that, rights groups say, has eroded since he came to power in 2017. His opponents said the result was illegitimate, pointing to what they said was biased coverage in state media. Now that Vučić has nearly complete control over the Serbian state, we're watching to see what he does about two important international issues: First, how will he balance his intention of bringing Serbia into the EU while also cultivating ever-closer ties with Russia and China? Second, can he reach a peace deal with Kosovo, the majority-Albanian region of Serbia that suffered a campaign of Serb-directed ethnic cleansing in the late 1990s and then declared independence with US and EU backing in 2008? The EU and US have proposed rival peace plans and Vučić is currently dancing between them. He heads to Washington for talks on the issue this weekend.

Tunisians protest unemployment: Protesters and police have clashed in the southern Tunisian province of Tataouine in recent days, as Tunisians flocked to the streets to protest surging unemployment and economic stagnation ten years after the popular revolution in that country gave rise to the broader "Arab Spring." Police fired tear gas and hurled stones at the crowd, but the harsh measures seemed only to embolden protesters who have continued to hit the streets. They say that six years since the first free presidential elections were held, the government has failed to boost economic opportunity for millions of Tunisians, and importantly, that a 2017 government pledge to employ thousands of Tunisians to work on oil and development projects was never acted upon. The country's youth unemployment rate of 36 percent is one of the highest in the world.

GZERO World: Why can't France see the problem of bias? 

The George Floyd protests in the United States have inspired countries around the world to take a closer look at their own problems with police brutality and racism. In France, thousands have hit the streets to demand justice for Adama Traoré, a Frenchman of African origin who died in police custody in 2016. But how similar are the French and American experiences with policing and racial injustice? And what is it about France's system that makes it impossible to really know how bad the problem is? GZERO's Alex Kliment sat down with University of Versailles lecturer Mathieu Zagrodzki to learn more. Watch here.

Hard Numbers: Zuma's day in court, Burkina Faso’s civilian killings, the soaring cost of water in the US, and Trump's H1B visa hit

Gabrielle Debinski

16: Former South African President Jacob Zuma appeared in court Tuesday to be tried on 16 corruption charges linked to his decade running the country. Zuma says the charges are part of a political "witch hunt," but his critics say the trial is a rare example of the country's judicial system actually holding people in power to account after years of government corruption.

2000: As jihadist violence continues to cripple Burkina Faso, more than 2,000 people have been killed in that country in the last 18 months. The bloodshed has long-been attributed to attacks by Islamic State and Al-Qaeda offshoots, but now a chilling New York Times expose reveals that Burkina Faso's armed forces – the soldiers meant to protect civilians – kill as many civilians as jihadists do.

80: As the economic pain caused by the coronavirus continues to plague American families, new data shows that water bills in the US have risen by an average of 80 percent over the past decade. Millions of families now risk having their water and sewage service cut off – or losing their homes – if they can't pay their bills, according to new findings by the Guardian.

75: About 75 percent of all US workers who hold the coveted H1B visa come from a single country: India. Only 25 percent of the visa's holders are women. President Trump on Monday suspended new applications for the visa as part of a wider halt to legal immigration, saying that foreign workers pose an "unusual threat" to American workers. Many in the US business community, meanwhile, denounced the move and could even challenge it in court.

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This edition of Signal was written by Carlos Santamaria, Gabrielle Debinski, and Alex Kliment. Spiritual counsel from Willis Sparks.

Hi there,

Today we've got the last arms control treaty, Israel's risky annexation plans, protests in Mali, and North Korea's flying cigarette butts. As a bonus: it's storytime with John Bolton!

-Alex Kliment

The START of the end for Arms Control?

Alex Kliment

In a world wracked by pandemic, rising sea levels, and the scourge of cyber-attacks, it's easy to forget that there are still weapons out there that can kill hundreds of millions of people in less time than it takes you to read this article.

Why are we talking about nuclear arms control in 2020? After all, the Cold War ended 30 years ago, and few are old enough to remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It seems almost quaint to worry about nuclear weapons, or to imagine the crippling impact that Lyndon B. Johnson's "Daisy" campaign spot had on his rival Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Those weapons are still, of course, the most potent destructive forces that humankind has ever developed. Eight in ten Americans say it's important to preserve current arms control treaties. And three-quarters polled separately listed the spread of nuclear weapons more broadly as a top threat to US national security, tied with terrorism for second place overall behind infectious disease. (Cyber-attacks came third, just one point behind.)

But now the last remaining arms control treaty between the world's major nuclear powers – the US and Russia — is in danger of collapsing.

Negotiators from the two countries met in Vienna on Monday to haggle over if, and how, to extend the 2010 New START treaty, which limits the number of long-range nuclear weapons that each side can deploy to about 1,500 apiece and permits mutual inspections and monitoring of each other's arsenals.

Unless it's renewed again before February 2021, it will end. If that happens, there won't be any major arms control agreement or coordination between the two countries that own 90 percent of the world's nukes.

Trust is in short supply: last year, the United States walked out on the long-standing Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty — which had limited medium-range nuclear weapons — over concerns that Moscow was violating it.

So, now that the US and Russia have agreed to negotiate, what exactly does each side want? Russia wants to renew the existing treaty. The US has signaled openness to that idea, but Washington says any new pact must include China, a small but rising nuclear power.

Here's where things get tricky. China has so far refused to join. Why, Beijing asks, should a developing nuclear power – with only about 300 deployed weapons – cap its arsenal while the big players get to keep five times that many?

But if a new pact falls apart, all sides – including China — will be worse off. Why? Because what the countries would gain in leeway to develop their arsenals, they'd lose in transparency about what their rivals are up to.

This is why nuclear arms treaties still matter. Sure, limiting the number of nuclear weapons is important, but those caps still vastly exceed the number required to destroy the earth many times over. The real value of these treaties is that they give each nuclear power the right to see what their adversaries are up to. Less uncertainty means a lower risk of mistakes or accidents.

How does the threat of nuclear war rank for you? And what are the tradeoffs you see in trying to reach new arms control agreements?

The Graphic Truth 

The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but the trajectories of their COVID-19 outbreaks have been vastly different. New data released by the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that while there are around 3,000 new COVID cases in the EU each day, the United States is now recording almost 30,000 new cases of the virus each day ten times higher than Europe. At least 23 US states have reported significant upticks in new daily COVID-19 cases in recent days, raising fears of an approaching "second wave" of infection. And while some politicians in the US have ascribed the difference to discrepancies in testing, a close analysis shows that the United States and the EU are conducting roughly the same number of tests per million people. Here's a look at the seven-day rolling average of new COVID cases in the EU and the US since March.

SPECIAL EVENT: Can our COVID response help end poverty?

As countries around the world look to eradicate the coronavirus and revive their economies, there's a unique opportunity to tackle poverty and inequality. This Thursday, June 25 join us for a special town hall panel, produced in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, featuring Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer, Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman, and #AfricaNoFilter Executive Director Moky Makura. They'll discuss the challenges of equitably distributing vaccines and treatments, coordinating economic recovery strategies to maximize poverty reduction, and renewing global cooperation in a leaderless world. Click here to register for the event.

What We're Watching: Mali's protests, Israel's annexation, Poland's election

Gabrielle Debinski

Go home, Malians tell president: Tens of thousands of Malians gathered in the streets of the capital city, Bamako, on Friday to demand the resignation of increasingly unpopular President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. In the second mass protest against him in less than a month, demonstrators said they are fed up with rampant corruption, a weak and disgruntled military incapable of stopping rising jihadist attacks, and the government's botched response to the kidnapping of opposition leader Soumaila Cissé by Al Qaeda-linked militants. Keita has led the sprawling West African nation since 2013, when he was elected to fill a power vacuum soon after French troops helped put down an Islamist rebellion in the north. The Economic Community of West African States, a regional political and economic bloc, is urging Keita — reelected in 2018 for a new 5-year term — to form a unity government to end the unrest.

Israel pushes ahead with annexation: Despite widespread international condemnation regarding its plan to annex parts of the contested West Bank, Israel's government says that starting next week it will begin the process of applying Israeli law to 30 percent of that territory as well as the Jordan Valley. Crucially, the move would not extend citizenship to Palestinians in those areas even though they will now be subject to direct Israeli rule. Back in January, the Trump administration said that an annexation plan must be tied to a broader Israeli-US peace plan, but that process has since stalled. The stakes are high. Both the Palestinian Authority that operates in the West Bank and the Kingdom of Jordan have threatened to walk away from longstanding security agreements if Israel pushes ahead with annexation, prompting fears of a return to the violence that characterized the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States published an op-ed in an Israeli daily last week, warning that annexation would threaten the normalization of Israel's relations with the entire Arab world. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made cultivating closer ties with countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE a foreign policy priority.

Poland's tight polls: There are just a few days until Poland's June 28 general election, and incumbent right-wing President Andrzej Duda isn't spending many of them in Warsaw or Krakow. Instead, he's headed to the White House for a widely publicized face-to-face with President Trump. Duda says the ad-hoc meeting was scheduled at the last minute to discuss crucial issues of public health and security in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But many analysts say that with his main opponent, Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowki, rising in the polls, this is Duda's last-ditch effort to cozy up to Trump – who is admired by much of Poland's influential right-wing electorate. Strong ties with Washington are doubly important for Duda given his country's increasing isolation from the European Union, which has criticized his government for eroding democratic norms. Duda may be banking on Trump to get him over the line, but whether that will be enough to overcome the pandemic-induced economic crisis that has been a boon for Poland's centrist candidates in recent weeks remains to be seen.

PUPPET REGIME: Storytime with John Bolton!

In a tireless quest to boost sales of his book, the old walrus-whiskered warmonger is even doing pre-school readings! See what went horribly wrong here.

Hard Numbers: North Korean leaflets — and trash, Arctic heat, hunger in Latin America, German slaughterhouse outbreak

Carlos Santamaria

12 million: Publishing houses in Pyongyang have printed 12 million propaganda leaflets that, along with cigarette butts and other trash, North Korea plans to drop into South Korea using thousands of balloons. North Korea has apparently revived this Cold War-era tactic in response to a recent surge in the number of defectors to the South.

38: Temperatures in the Arctic Circle are expected to be the highest ever recorded next weekend, with the mercury in remote Siberian Verkhoyansk possibly reaching 38°C (100°F) on Saturday, more than double the daily average maximum for June. Arctic heat waves are not uncommon, but scientists fear the recent one confirms the trend that the region is warming twice as fast as the global average.

1,300: More than 1,300 employees at a German abattoir have tested positive for the coronavirus, the country's largest single outbreak to date. Officials in Germany — where the government has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic — say the risk of spread to the wider population is low. China, meanwhile, has banned pork imports from the plant.

83 million: The number of people living in extreme poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean could increase by more than 16 million to over 83 million by the end of the year as a result of the pandemic-related economic crisis, says the UN. This will lead to a significant rise in hunger throughout the region unless urgent action is taken, warned the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

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This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Carlos Santamaria. The graphic was made by Ari Winkleman. Art by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from Willis Sparks.

Happy Friday, Signal readers. Today, we'll smoke some Syrian money, untangle Venezuela's latest political web, get the story straight on President Trump and China's Uighurs, and drop by Indonesia to visit with the Balikpapan Seven.

- Willis Sparks

Syria under pressure

Willis Sparks

Syria's civil war, which began in 2011, has killed more than 380,000 people and forced more than 11 million from their homes. Many of the displaced are now in Europe, Turkey, Jordan, or other neighboring countries. The Syrian economy today is a third of its pre-war size.

But the government of Bashar-al Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, remains in power and controls about two-thirds of Syrian territory, much of that recaptured from rebels. Most of the rest of the country's land is occupied by US-backed Kurds, Turkey's army, or jihadis.

Now life is becoming harder still inside Syria. Its economy is in freefall. Syria's currency is worth so little that some now use bank notes to roll cigarettes. Prices for food and medicine have soared so far beyond the reach of most people that protesters have hit the streets in places where demonstrators are often shot. Assad's government has blocked reliable information on coronavirus infections and deaths. The ongoing financial crisis next door in Lebanon makes matters worse by denying Syria's government one of its remaining bridges to outside cash.

Meanwhile, President Assad is now waging war on his cousin Rami Makhlouf, one of Syria's richest men, for refusing to help bankroll the government with some of the hundreds of millions of dollars he's believed to have amassed over the years through state connections. Makhlouf is fighting back by using Facebook to launch a barrage of online attacks on the government.

But the worst news for Syria this week comes from new US sanctions. The Caesar Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump in December, led to the imposition of new penalties this week on:

  • those who provide financial, material or technological support to the Syrian government,
  • foreigners inside Syria working for the governments of Syria, Russia or Iran,
  • those who help Syria produce oil and gas or buy military hardware,
  • those who contract with the Syrian government for reconstruction in areas controlled by the government and its backers.

The president's wife is named in the legislation as a war profiteer.

The act, named for the pseudonym of a photographer who escaped Syria with more than 50,000 photos proving government torture and murder, will certainly make life harder for the Assad regime.

But by cutting off Syria from international funding for badly needed postwar reconstruction, the "Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act" risks hurting the Syrian people it is meant to help.

The Caesar Act raises an age-old policy question: Is it possible to craft sanctions that effectively undermine autocratic regimes without hurting their citizens? At a time of deepening economic crisis in Syria, getting that balance wrong could soon have serious consequences for the people these measure are meant to "protect."

SPECIAL EVENT: Could our COVID response help to end poverty?

As countries around the world look to eradicate the coronavirus and revive their economies, we have a unique opportunity to tackle the related problems of poverty and inequality. Next Thursday, June 25, join us for a special town hall panel, produced in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, featuring Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer, Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman, and #AfricaNoFilter Executive Director Moky Makura. Ian, Mark, and Moky will discuss the challenges of equitably distributing vaccines and treatments, coordinating economic recovery strategies to maximize poverty reduction, and renewing global cooperation in a leaderless world. Click here to learn more— or to register for the event, head here.

All aboard for sustainable mobility


Our young researchers have come up with another fun idea with the theme of sustainable mobility. Nicknamed "Locomobi," it's an innovative train with units for separate waste collection completely powered by organic waste, inspired by an Eni innovation called "waste to fuel," which turns urban organic waste into biofuel.

Watch the final episode of Funny Applications, Eni's video series that imagines new uses for technology.

The Graphic Truth 

Gabriella Turrisi

After months of tight border restrictions meant to stop the spread of coronavirus, countries across the EU are now cautiously reopening to tourists from elsewhere in the union. Tourism is big business in Europe, accounting for 10 percent of the EU's GDP and some 27 million jobs across the bloc. But some countries are more dependent on holiday-makers than others. Here's a look at how much each member state relies on tourism, along with a snapshot of how hard the pandemic has hit each of their economies so far this year.

GZERO WORLD: The US is a “developing country” when it comes to race

Washington Post Global Opinion Editor Karen Attiah, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, offers a unique view on this politically and socially charged moment in American history. In this interview with GZERO World's Ian Bremmer, Attiah describes her father's journey from learning of Emmett Till's murder as a young boy to being cautious of police officers in Texas – even as a successful doctor – and discusses her own experiences with prejudice and racial discrimination as an immigrant from Africa. See the clip here, and check your local listings for GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

What We're Watching: Trump and the Uighurs, Maduro tightens his grip, George Floyd's impact in Indonesia


Does Trump support the Uighurs or not? President Trump signed a law Wednesday that would allow the United States to sanction Chinese officials involved in the detainment of that country's Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province, a scheme long deemed to be a gross human rights violation by the United Nations. More than one million Uighurs are believed to have been locked up since 2017 as part of what Beijing describes as a benign "deradicalization campaign," but is widely believed to be a network of internment camps where minorities are held indefinitely without trial. President Trump said the measure is proof that his administration is "tough on China," and Chinese leaders have vowed retaliation. But the signing came on the same day as fresh allegations from former national security adviser John Bolton that Trump had at one point given the green light to Chinese President Xi Jinping to build the Uighur camps and asked for help with his own re-election campaign. The Trump administration says Bolton's claims, which are difficult to prove, are the lies of a "sick puppy."

Maduro tightens the noose around the opposition: It's been well over a year now since most of the world's democracies recognized Venezuelan National Assembly speaker Juan Guaidó as "interim president." But despite that slight, and a deepening social and economic crisis, strongman president Nicolas Maduro remains firmly in power, while Guaidó seems more and more like a spent force. Now Maduro is laying the groundwork to undercut Guaidó further after a Supreme Court packed with regime cronies replaced the heads of two major opposition parties this week, placing them under the control of figures loyal to Maduro. While Guaidó's own party isn't affected, the two parties in question control nearly a third of the National Assembly seats, a major reason why the body remains the only branch of government that is not under Maduro's control. Taken together with last week's move to seat a new electoral commission under the control of Maduro loyalists, it looks like the regime wants to make it nearly impossible for the opposition to keep control over the Assembly in elections that are to be scheduled later this year. Both the US and EU — which recognize Guaidó as the country's legitimate interim president — have condemned the moves, but what are they prepared to do about it?

George Floyd's impact on a verdict in Indonesia: US protests against police brutality and racism have reverberated around the world in many ways, but did they even echo into an Indonesian courtroom? A leader of the decades-old movement for Papuan independence and one of the "Balikpapan Seven" was found guilty of treason this week, for leading 2019 rallies in response to a viral video of Indonesian police using racial slurs against ethnic West Papuan students. But the sentence was only 11 months behind bars, much less than the 17 years demanded by the prosecution. According to one Papuan activist — who spent over 10 years in prison for waving the (banned) Morning Star flag — the judge was influenced by the global anti-racism protests sparked by George Floyd's death.

Hard Numbers: A global displacement boom, cheap Dutch, gasping Peruvians, air concerns in India and Nigeria

Carlos Santamaria

11 million: Nearly 80 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations in 2019, the UN announced on Thursday. More than 11 million of those people were added to the list last year, almost double the amount of people displaced in the entire preceding decade. UNHCR attributed the surge to new displacements in hotspots like the DRC, Syria, and Yemen — and because they are counting Venezuela for the first time.

61: A recent poll found that 61 percent of Dutch voters dislike the EU's coronavirus economic rescue package, which would give member states 500 billion euros in non-repayable grants. The Netherlands leads a "Frugal Four" bloc alongside Austria, Denmark and Sweden that opposes the plan, while it is supported by France and Germany, as well as highly-indebted southern states hit hard by COVID-19 such Italy and Spain.The plan requires the support of all 27 EU countries to pass.

1,000: In Peru, home to Latin America's second biggest coronavirus outbreak, oxygen bottles are now so scarce that they are selling for a 1,000 percent markup on their usual price. To make matters worse, counterfeiters are flooding the black market with dangerous low-quality knockoffs. As public health workers protest to demand more personal protective equipment, the government is scrambling to prevent a total collapse of the economy.

90: An overwhelming majority of Indians and Nigerians are fed up with pollution and unlivable cities. Up to 90 percent of respondents in a new survey from both countries said they want to raise air quality in urban areas. Coronavirus-related lockdowns around the world have dramatically reduced air pollution, but experts fear emission levels will return back to normal after the pandemic, especially in countries with poor environmental oversight.

Words of Wisdom

"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free."

- From the proclamation read aloud by General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865. This announcement, and the celebration that followed, have given rise to the annual June 19 commemoration known as "Juneteenth," which for many Americans marks the end of slavery.

This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks, Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Carlos Santamaria. Graphic was made by Gabriella Turrisi.