9/13/19

It's Willis with your Friday edition of Signal. Today, we'll detail what Trump vs. Bolton says about the future of US foreign policy, warn you off Chinese pork, raid the Russian opposition, and revisit the work of a great American artist.

If you like what you see, please share Signal with a friend.

Cheers,

Willis Sparks

The Trump-Bolton Divide and Election-Year Foreign Policy

Willis Sparks

For a president gearing up for a fierce re-election fight next year, President Trump has a lot to worry about. Democrats are now taking more of the US political spotlight. The latest opinion polls don't look good for him. There are signs that the strong US economy, Trump's top selling point, may begin to wobble.


And for US foreign policy, an area where US presidents have a lot of leeway, Trump knows he needs to make some deals, and fast.

This is the backdrop for Washington's big news of the week: Trump's firing of national security advisor John Bolton. Media debate this week has centered on whether Trump has smartly saved America from a warmonger or whether dismissing a knowledgeable foreign policy hand who was willing to challenge the president opens the way to a much more erratic policy driven by Trump alone.

But let's look instead at the central point of philosophical difference between the two men and what that tells us about what comes next for US foreign policy. Trump's choices to date suggest that he believes he can make a good deal with anyone, given the right mix of carrots and sticks. Bolton's history suggests he's convinced that when the other side believes its core interests are at stake, substantive deals aren't possible and force becomes necessary.

Cases in point:

In Afghanistan, the president wants to end an 18-year war, the longest in US history. Bolton reportedly argued against Trump's recent plan to talk with the Taliban.

Trump's view is that the war can't end unless Washington strikes a deal with the Taliban, which still controls a big percentage of Afghan territory. Bolton's is that the Taliban isn't trustworthy, and there's no deal to be had that would prevent a re-emergence of Afghanistan as a terrorist training ground.

On Iran, Trump wants to sit down with President Hassan Rouhani in New York later this month and has signaled a willingness to ease sanctions on Iran. Bolton, who authored an op-ed in The New York Times in 2015 under the headline, "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran," reportedly opposes both these ideas.

Trump will say the purpose of pressure on Iran is to secure a better deal than the one Barack Obama signed in 2015. Bolton will counter that it's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, not President Rouhani, who will decide Iran's nuclear policy, and that any relief of pressure on Iran will provide its leaders time to restart the nuclear program.

On North Korea, Trump believes that talking with Kim Jong-un is smarter than pushing him toward the testing of missiles that might reach the US mainland. Bolton will argue that Kim will never willingly surrender his nuclear weapons, and that Kim is not to be trusted.

On Venezuela, Trump can insist that the US should secure a deal with President Nicolas Maduro's friends in Moscow that removes Maduro from power. Bolton can claim that Russia won't bargain in good faith and that only maximum pressure on Venezuela's economy (and maybe the credible threat of regime change) can force Venezuela's military to oust Maduro.

The bottom line: The next year may prove that, on all these important subjects, both men are correct. Trump is right that he can't hope to make peace without offering the other side something of substance. But if the enemy isn't serious about giving Trump what he wants most, as Bolton warns, a hollow deal might boost Trump politically but won't serve US interests.

This is the main reason that President Trump may be forced to stand before voters next November without a grand bargain to sell.

What We’re Watching: Trump’s Tweets Could Make You Rich

GZERO Media

Chinese Pigs – Beyond a trade war with the US and unrest in Hong Kong, now Chinese officials are wrestling with an even more basic political problem. Pork is the favorite meat for many of China's 1.4 billion people, and some analysts treat pork consumption as an important indicator of the financial well-being of China's middle class. A serious outbreak of African Swine Flu is expected to push pork prices 70 percent higher over the second half of this year, which will hit ordinary Chinese pockets hard. By some estimates, half of China pigs have been culled, but there are also reports that some farmers have avoided the expense of slaughtering infected pigs, raising fears that the disease will continue to spread. The central government takes this problem seriously enough to call on local officials to boost large-scale hog farming. So far, China's "Year of the Pig" is just not going well.


Japan and its Neighbors – Japan may soon mix bad blood with toxic water. The Fukushima nuclear power plant, partly destroyed by a tsunami in 2011, will run out of space to store its contaminated water in the next three years, and Japanese authorities are reportedly considering a plan to dump the water into the Pacific Ocean. Both the South and North Korean governments are incensed by the idea, which they say would poison their seafood industries. Seoul has already summoned a Japanese embassy official over the issue. Japan and South Korea have already cut back trade and intelligence ties over Seoul's insistence that Tokyo atone for Japanese actions during its early 20th century occupation of Korea.

Volfefe - Since taking office, President Trump has tweeted more than 10,000 times, and the investment bank Morgan Stanley believes these messages can help investors make money. Introducing Volfefe, a portmanteau that combines the word "volatility" with the infamous "covfefe," a nonsense word Trump (accidentally?) tweeted late one night in May 2017. "The subject of these tweets," the bank writes, "has increasingly turned toward market-moving topics, most prominently trade and monetary policy. And we find strong evidence that tweets have increasingly moved US rates markets immediately after publication." One man's post-midnight fat-finger typing is another man's goldmine. "Bully" pulpit indeed.

The Photographs of Robert Frank – During the 1950s, photographer Robert Frank began a 10,000-mile odyssey across the United States that produced a landmark book of images entitled "The Americans." In an era when many Americans prided themselves on conformity, Frank provided stark visual evidence that life across the nation was far more varied and interesting. Nobility, ugliness, grace, racism, dynamism, and division jumped off each page. Some Americans were outraged. Others were mesmerized. The powerfully expressive images this Swiss-born American master created will continue to speak for themselves.

What We're Ignoring

Venezuela's Military Threat – Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has dispatched 150,000 troops to his country's border with Colombia "to defend our sovereignty and national peace by deploying our defense resources in full force." We're ignoring any threat of military action here because, even as Venezuela continues to make trouble for the Colombian government via backing for Colombian rebel groups, he's not about to start a shooting war. Maduro's political (and maybe personal) survival depends almost entirely on the loyalty of his military's officer corps, and he's unlikely to test that loyalty by putting its troops in harm's way.

Digitizing Energy Production

Eni

In the southern Italian region of Basilicata, home to the Val d'Agri Oil Centre known as COVA, hydrocarbon processing has undergone a radical digital transformation. COVA boasts one of the world's first fully digitized hydrocarbon plants, but why? Two primary reasons: infrastructure and information. Val d'Agri has the largest onshore hydrocarbon deposit in mainland Europe. The site is expansive and highly advanced, and the plant features a sophisticated sensor system built to capture massive amounts of data. Maintenance checks, equipment monitoring, inspections and measurements are tracked in a fully integrated digital system designed to prevent corrosion and ensure cleaner, more sustainable natural gas processing.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

Hard Numbers: Syria's Displaced Population Swells

1.2 million: Surging jihadist terrorism in Burkina Faso has pushed the country to the brink of humanitarian crisis, as attacks displace people from their homes and destroy critical infrastructure and hospitals. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 1.2 million Burkinabe are threatened with famine and malnutrition, and access to healthcare has dwindled. Experts say the violence is a spillover from the scourge of jihadism in neighboring Mali.


43: Russian investigators on Thursday raided the offices of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the homes of some of his supporters in 43 cities across Russia. Navalny's allies say the move is a response to their success in documenting vote rigging in last weekend's country-wide regional and municipal elections.

13 million: Ongoing violence in Syria, now in its ninth year, has displaced 13 million Syrians, according to a new report by a UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria. That's more than the entire population of Belgium.

69: This week, India and Nepal unveiled South Asia's first cross-border oil pipeline, allowing Kathmandu to import crude more easily from its southern neighbor. The two countries have had their differences over ethnic tensions in southern Nepal, but New Delhi is shoring up ties in part because of concerns over China's bid to expand influence in the Himalayas.

Then and Now

The news cycle moves fast. In fact, since you started reading this piece, it's already moved on.

As an antidote to the news cycle madness, we've created a little time machine, Then and Now. Every so often we'll fire it up to look back at the stories that we've covered in the past, and bring you up to date on what's happened since.

This week we look back at the rebels of the FARC arming in Colombia, ISIS plotting a resurgence, and see what happened to the ceasefire in Yemen's port city of Hodeidah.

Read the full story.

Words of Wisdom

"The transformation Brazil wants will not happen at the speed we yearn for through democratic means."

Part of a tweet from Brazilian politician Carlos Bolsonaro, son of the country's president, to his 1.3 million Twitter followers.

This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks with Gabrielle Debinski, and with editorial support from Alex Kliment (@saosasha) and Tyler Borchers. Spiritual counsel from Kevin Allison (@KevinAllison), Leon Levy (@leonmlevy), and the Right Honorable Mr. Flip Wilson.

9/11/19

Hi there,

Today we look at the pressures bearing down on Big Tech on both sides of the Atlantic, say farewell to John Bolton, get caught up in Russian spy games, and sympathize with Syrian refugees in Turkey. Also: did a US lawmaker really just propose banning higher education? We'll tell you what debate we'd rather be having instead.

Thanks for reading Signal. Love it? Hate it? We'd like to hear from you.

- Kevin Allison (@kevinallison)

Big Tech Gets Caught in a Regulatory Vise

Kevin Allison

Back in June, we talked about how US regulators were taking aim at Big Tech – gradually at first, but then suddenly, as federal anti-trust authorities launched investigations into large Silicon Valley firms' market power. The past week has brought some important new twists in the global campaign to rein in the industry. Here's a look at where the political heat is coming from.


Top-down pressure in Europe: On Tuesday, incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tapped Margrethe Vestager, one of the industry's most feared and revered tech regulators, for a new five-year term. The Danish politician, who US President Donald Trump has dubbed "the tax lady," has made waves with a series of multi-billion-dollar fines against huge US tech companies during her stint as EU competition commissioner. Under von der Leyen, Vestager will not only hold onto her anti-trust powers, she'll also take on broader responsibility within the EU for making Europe "fit for the digital age," including figuring out how Europe can maintain its "technological sovereignty" in a world dominated by US and Chinese tech firms. Vestager was already one of the most powerful enforcers in global tech. She just got even fiercer.

Bottom-up pressure in the US: Top prosecutors in 48 US states on Monday unveiled a "multi-state, bipartisan" competition probe into Google. This followed news of a similar anti-trust investigation into Facebook last week. The state-level action is interesting mainly because of Washington dysfunction: If federal investigations into Big Tech stall, could anti-trust become the latest example of state and local governments cracking down where national governments can't or won't? It's already happened in privacy, where a tough new California digital privacy law is set to fill the void created by Congressional inaction when it comes into force in January. Curiously, California was one of two states that declined to join the Google probe – its attorney general has remained tight-lipped about why, citing a need to "protect potential and ongoing investigations." Even so, the legal risks facing big tech companies in the US just got more complicated.

Bottom line: From all angles, Big Tech's regulatory squeeze in the West is only going to intensify.

Graphic Truth 

Ari Winkleman

The arrival of refugees fleeing Syria's brutal civil war and other conflict zones has been the single most contentious issue in European politics over the past several years. Although the number of arrivals has fallen dramatically since peaking in 2015, many EU countries still host huge migrant populations, and remain deeply divided over refugee policy. Here's a look at where things stand today, based on the most recent available data.

The New Book From Microsoft President Brad Smith Is Out Now

Microsoft On The Issues

Tools and Weapons takes readers inside one of the world's largest and most powerful tech companies as it finds itself in the middle of some of the thorniest emerging issues of our time. These are challenges including privacy, cybercrime and cyberwar, social media, and the moral conundrums of AI. Rolling Stone's Andy Kroll writes: "[Brad] Smith's book is not the typical vanity project churned out by so many Fortune 500 leaders, the generic tomes on leadership and teamwork stocked at airport bookstores near the neck pillows. Tools and Weapons is a glimpse behind the curtain as Microsoft reckoned with the Snowden revelations, defended against the vicious cyberattacks, and took both the Obama and Trump administrations to court." Buy the book here.

What We're Watching: Bolton's Exit, Kremlin Spies, and Turkish Threats

GZERO Media

Exit John Bolton - Yesterday's news that President Donald Trump has fired national security advisor John Bolton offers yet more evidence that, however his critics will characterize his motives, Trump is eager to avoid fresh military conflicts and wants to try to make deals instead. The ultra-hawkish Bolton appears to have wanted a more aggressive approach to Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Venezuela, and other places where US adversaries operate. Trump had evidently reached the limits of his trust in Bolton's judgment. But the remaining mystery is why, in the first place, a man elected on promises to end wars hired a man who wants nothing more than to start them? And, of course, who will want this job next?


Russian Spy Games – A CIA mole provided sensitive Kremlin intelligence, including photographs of documents seen by Vladimir Putin, for more than a decade, according to a bombshell CNN story. The source led the CIA to believe Putin had personally ordered Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. But in 2017, the CIA pulled him out of Russia – a decision that a source told CNN was partly motivated by the Trump administration's patchy handling of classified intelligence. The New York Times followed with other details, including concerns among some US intelligence officials that their most senior Russian asset may have been a double agent. There's plenty of fodder in this story for those on all sides of the Trump-Russia story – we're watching to see how Trump's critics, the president himself, and Vladimir Putin react now that the spy games have become public.

Turkey's Waning Hospitality – Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said that unless the US sets up a safe-zone within Syria where he can send a million of the Syrian refugees currently living in his country, he will "open the gates" for them to head into Europe. Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, by far the largest number of any country. But Ankara's hospitality is wearing thin. Since 2015, the EU has given Turkey $6.7 billion to deal with the influx of migrants, but Erdogan says this isn't enough now, as Turkey's deepening economic woes have fueled anti-Syrian sentiment among Turks. We're watching two things here: first, will Trump agree to Erdogan's ultimatum on setting up the safe zone? Second, if not, will the EU-Turkey deal hold up? Given the backlash against migrants across the EU, Brussels can ill-afford to see millions of fresh arrivals now.

What We're Ignoring:

Calls to Abolish Higher Education – A Republican state senator from Tennessee received national attention after he called to abolish higher education during his weekly radio show. Kerry Roberts, who represents a district near Nashville, said the move would "cut off a liberal breeding ground." The lawmaker subsequently walked back his comments, suggesting they were hyperbole (judge for yourself – his education remarks start around 50 minutes in). We are ignoring this story, because we'd rather tune in to a serious debate about whether Americans would be better off spending time and money on vocational or technical education rather than on increasingly expensive four-year degrees.

Puppet Regime: Bolton Hits the Job Boards

Now that firebrand US national security adviser John Bolton has been canned, we talked to him about what his next career moves might be. Funeral parlor director? Art Teacher? There's a whole world of possibilities out there! Click here to see the interview.

Hard Numbers: Not a Good Start, Boris!

7,000: The Philippines is the latest country to be hit by the African swine flu, a fatal pig virus that has spread across Asia over the past year, driving up pork prices. Authorities culled more than 7,000 pigs within a short radius to prevent an epidemic in the world's eighth biggest pork producer.


13: The new European Commission, a cohort of 27 commissioners charged with enforcing EU rules and treaties, will include 13 women and 14 men when it takes office on November 1, making it the most gender diverse leadership team in EU history.

38: According to a new Pew survey, 38 percent of Americans think colleges are having a negative impact on the direction the country is headed. These views increased by 12 percentage points since 2012, and are linked to partisanship: the jump was driven almost entirely by hardening attitudes among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

6: On Tuesday, British MPs voted to block Boris Johnson from holding snap elections, marking his sixth parliamentary loss in six days. This capped a bad few days for Britain's prime minister after a new law came into effect on Monday, blocking him from pursuing a "no deal" Brexit.

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, with Gabrielle Debinski and Alex Kliment. Graphics magic by Ari Winkleman. Editorial support from Tyler Borchers. Spiritual counsel from Willis Sparks.

09/10/19

Hi there,

Today, we'll look beyond the Camp David Trump-Taliban meeting controversy to update you on what's actually happening inside Afghanistan, peek at how tech is shaping the Hong Kong protests, warily welcome a breakthrough in Ukraine-Russia tensions, and look ahead to the next Brexit lunacy.

As a bonus: what can today's tech firms learn from Chernobyl? I sat down with Microsoft president Brad Smith to find out.

Love us, hate us, let us know. And thanks for reading.

-Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

No Peace for Afghanistan

Gabrielle Debinski

As the US-led mission in Afghanistan nears its nineteenth year, we have now reached a point where a child born on this date in 2001 — before the attacks of 9/11 — is old enough to be deployed there. Over the weekend, President Trump scuttled months-long negotiations with the Taliban that were meant to end the longest war in America's history.


While that decision provoked the usual storm of partisan recriminations in Washington, Afghanistan's political, social, and economic fabric continues to deteriorate. Consider that Afghanistan recently surpassed Syria as the single most violent country in the world.

With peace talks in limbo and the country's future uncertain, here's a look at what's happening in Afghanistan today.

A political patchwork — Afghanistan's political scene is fractious and unstable. Five years ago, after an inconclusive presidential election the US backed a power sharing deal between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who holds the post of chief executive. Crippled by tribal divisions and endemic corruption, Afghanistan's unity government has failed to govern effectively. It controls less than half of the country's districts.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have staged a resurgence in recent years – they now control more land than at any point since before the US invasion in 2001. Their control of the lucrative opium trade nets them more than a billion dollars a year. Their gunmen and suicide bombers have killed hundreds of ordinary Afghans in recent years. They have refused to negotiate directly with the Kabul government, which they consider a puppet of Washington. They will speak only to the US, and only about one thing: conditions for the withdrawal of US troops. A deal on that score seemed near until this weekend.

An economy in shambles — Violence and corruption have sapped the promise of Afghanistan's economy. For years, warlords and criminal networks have squandered foreign aid intended to stimulate businesses and jobs. For the first time, unemployment for youth has topped 40 percent, the bleakest mark on record, according to a new Gallup poll. As more people struggle to get by day-to-day — 90% of Afghans recorded experiencing financial hardship, the highest in the world last year—a destructive cycle of poverty and violence has become a key part of the Afghan experience.

Afghanistan, the worst place to be a woman The US-led ouster of the Taliban after 2001 opened up new freedoms for women, who, under Taliban control, were barred from going to school or working, and were routinely stoned for transgressions like attempting to flee forced marriage. More women have enrolled in universities and some men have been prosecuted for domestic violence, long an epidemic in Afghanistan's deeply patriarchal society. Still, eighty-seven percent of Afghan women are illiterate and three quarters of its female population are victims of forced marriage.

What's next? — Long delayed presidential elections are scheduled for later this month. The Taliban oppose the ballot, and they are likely to carry out a spate of attacks on elections, as they've done in the past. The US, meanwhile, has recalled its chief negotiator with the group. Afghans, weary after years of war, are bracing for a fresh surge in violence.

Graphic Truth: Afghanistan Up For Grabs

Ari Winkleman

Following President Trump's last-minute decision to scuttle Afghanistan peace talks between the US and the Taliban, the country's political future is more uncertain than ever. The US-backed government in Kabul controls less than half of the country's districts. The rest are controlled or actively contested by Taliban fighters or warlords. Here is a map of who controls what in a country that is still very much up for grabs.

What Chernobyl Can Teach Tech: a chat with Microsoft’s Brad Smith

New technologies that thrive on data have brought great promise and benefits to our lives. But they also pose new threats to our privacy, our jobs, our national security, and even to our democracies.

Few people are as keenly attuned to these challenges or as involved in trying to sort them out as Brad Smith, president of Microsoft and author, with Microsoft's senior director Carol Ann Brown, of the new book Tools and Weapons: the promise and peril of the digital age.

GZERO's Alex Kliment sat down with him recently to talk about the challenges that tech poses to our societies and what, if anything, can be done to address them. We discussed the prospect of a new iron curtain dividing the pacific, the role of government in regulating tech, and what horses can teach us about the challenges of artificial intelligence.

Check an edited transcript of the interview here, or listen to it in podcast form here. Note that Microsoft is a sponsor of GZERO Media content.

What We’re Watching: Hong Kong Apps, Russia-Ukraine Prisoner Swap, Brexit by the Letter

GZERO Media

Brexit by the Letter? Britain's parliament is now suspended ("prorogued") for five weeks. Opposition MPs have made clear they won't give PM Boris Johnson the elections he wants until a law is implemented that blocks the potential for a no-deal Brexit. They've also voted to force Johnson to ask the EU for an extension of the October 31 Brexit deadline. What spectacular political gymnastics will Johnson conjure up next to avoid complying with this? Will he send the required letter asking the EU for that extension, and then send another that says he was joking? Send the letter, but call on a sympathetic EU government to veto the extension request? Call a vote of no-confidence in his own government to force elections? Resign? All these options are under discussion in the British press. And now that colo(u)rful Commons Speaker John Bercow vows to leave his post on October 31, will he pursue a career as a wrestling referee?


Hong Kong Crowdsourced Protest Maps Violent protests and police crackdowns continued this weekend despite chief executive Carrie Lam's decision to withdraw the extradition bill that started it all. Thousands of activists gathered outside the US embassy Sunday to sing the Star Spangled Banner and ask for American help to "liberate" their city, while on Monday students formed human chains to support calls for a more accountable government. The basic problem remains: the protesters want more self-rule than China's hardline President Xi Jinping is willing to deliver. We're also watching how technology is quite literally shaping the protests: activists have developed real-time crowd-sourced maps that indicate where the police are, along with an amazing phone-to-phone "ripple" transmission system that is meant to overcome slow cellular data speeds. Check out Quartz's feature on it here.

Russia and Ukraine Exchange Prisoners — Russia and Ukraine exchanged dozens of prisoners this weekend in a move that European and American leaders hailed as a step toward ending the five-year long conflict over eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The freed prisoners include 24 Ukrainian sailors captured by the Russian Navy in a clash last fall, a Ukrainian filmmaker accused by Moscow of terrorism, and a Russian citizen who was involved in the separatists' downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014. We are watching to see if this is really, as President Trump says, a "first giant step towards peace." We are skeptical, because the basic problem of the Ukraine conflict is intractable: Russia wants Kyiv to give the Russian-backed eastern provinces a measure of influence over Ukraine's foreign policy, but that's not something Ukraine's parliament can agree to. And forget about Russia ever giving back Crimea.

What We're Ignoring

Saudi Arabia's Bid to Influence the Influencers Over the past few months Saudi Arabia has tried to bleach the stain left by allegations that its agents murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. One approach has been to fly Western Instagram influencers to the kingdom to show their followers how progressive and cool it is to visit (there are reports that Riyadh will begin issuing tourist visas for the first time later this month.) There are many reasons to want to visit Saudi Arabia – we'd love to see in person how Crown Prince Mohamed is cautiously liberalizing some areas of society while also ruthlessly crushing dissent. But the chance to mingle with clueless Western "influencers" like Aggie Lal posing in orientalist fantasy getups isn't one of them.

Hard Numbers: A Magnificent Seven Rescue for the Amazon?

56: In May, President Trump threatened to impose hefty tariffs on Mexican imports if that country's government didn't act to slow the flow of migrants making their way north. Mexico has reported a 56 percent decline in undocumented migrants crossing into the US since then.


600: Nigeria says it will send 600 South Africans back to their country of origin amid growing tensions between the two countries concerning xenophobic riots that took place in Johannesburg last week.

7: As thousands of fires continue to rage across the Amazon rainforest, seven South American countries with Amazon territory have signed a deal to protect it. Brazil has signed it, but will President Jair Bolsonaro really change his policy of loosening restrictions on turning the forest into farmland?

2.1 million: That Iranian oil tanker that British marines recently detained (and then released) under suspicion it was heading to Syria in violation of EU sanctions has been spotted by a drone . . . off the coast of Syria. The vessel is thought to have sold 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil to that country.

This edition of Signal was written by Alex Kliment and Gabrielle Debinski, with Willis Sparks. The graphic was made by Ari Winkleman. Editorial support from Tyler Borchers. Spiritual counsel from an accordion player at the Duroc metro station in Paris.

Hi there,

Today, we'll fire up a political time machine, get ready for a pivotal Brexit week, catch up on the economic crisis in Argentina, sort through an important vote in Germany, and ignore the latest bid to finally end World War II.

Please tell us what you think of Signal here, or consider sharing it with a friend. Thanks for reading,

Kevin Allison (@kevinallison) and Leon Levy (@leonmlevy)

Time Travel to the Present: South Africa, Algeria, Ukraine

GZERO Media

We at Signal are old enough to remember a time when there was some story about the US president trying to buy Greenland… last week. The news cycle moves fast. In fact, since you started reading this piece, it's already moved on.

As an antidote to the news cycle madness, we are creating a little time machine. Every so often we'll fire it up to check on, and update, stories that we've covered in the past.

For our inaugural voyage, we look back at South Africa's elections, Algeria's protests, and a scary near miss between Ukraine and Russia.


Three months ago – A South African reformer struggles: Cyril Ramaphosa's triumph in South Africa's May elections was seen as a reformist rebuke to his African National Congress (ANC) party's corrupt old guard. Now, three months into the job, he is dealing with two main issues: a corruption row and land reform. When Ramaphosa took over as party chief from Jacob Zuma — who was forced out amid widespread corruption allegations — he pledged to bring "ethics" into politics. But for much of his short tenure, Ramaphosa has been fighting a campaign finance scandal. Meanwhile, one of Ramaphosa's first moves as president was been to spearhead a controversial land reform that would expedite land transfers to the black majority. This, too, has split public opinion over how, exactly, it will help the poor or speed the country's economic progress.

Six Months ago – Algeria's unfulfilled protests: In February, hundreds of thousands of Algerian protesters hit the streets to call for the ouster of the country's long-serving and functionally-deceased strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He resigned in April but since then the government has been run by the same military cronies who kept Bouteflika in power. That doesn't sit well with protesters, who continue to flood the streets every weekend to demand more than just a cosmetic change to a repressive and corrupt system. They want fresh elections and a civilian government, but no new ballot is on the calendar yet. It's a stalemate in which the military is trying to outlast the streets. A reminder that while popular protests can succeed in ousting specific leaders (think Egypt's Mubarak or Sudan's Bashir) the systems behind those leaders are often much harder to displace.

Nine Months ago – Ukraine and Russia on the brink: For a few days last November, it seemed Moscow and Kyiv's simmering conflict over Eastern Ukraine might escalate into outright war on the high seas, when the Russian navy fired on Ukrainian ships in a contested waterway. Since then things have cooled – and Ukraine has elected a comedian as president. In recent days there has been talk of a major prisoner swap between Ukrainian forces and the Russian-backed rebels who control large swathes of eastern Ukraine. That would be a step forward in resolving the conflict, which is now in its fifth year. But the crux of it remains unresolved: Moscow wants Kyiv to grant the separatist provinces more autonomy than Ukraine's parliament can stomach.

What We're Watching: Brexit Drags on, Argentina Clamps down, Germany’s Center Holds

GZERO Media

Brexit lurches forward — However tired you are of reading about the long-running-but-never-moving Brexit saga, we here at Signal are equally (if not more) tired of writing about it. But this week will deliver some genuine drama as parliamentary opponents of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's no-deal Brexit gambit (a move he hopes will force the EU back to the negotiation table) attempt to pass legislation preventing the country from crashing out of the European Union on October 31. Time is short, as the Boris-backed parliament suspension kicks in next week. Boris has already threatened to call a general election on October 14 should MPs prove successful in passing a bill that forces him to seek an extension from Brussels in the face of no-deal. Even if the legislation doesn't pass, MPs can attempt to trigger elections themselves via a vote of no confidence. To paraphrase another famous Brit, this may be the beginning of the end, or it could be the end of the beginning. We'll be watching this week to see which of the two it is.

Argentina clamps down — Last week, Argentina said it would put off paying back $101 billion in country debt, a move that some (including the ratings agency Standard and Poor's) branded a default on the country's debts. On Sunday, Buenos Aires instituted capital controls to stem the country's worsening economic and financial crisis. While the immediate cause of the economic tumult was the surprise defeat of business-friendly President Mauricio Macri to his populist opponent in primary elections last month, Argentina's problems go deeper: over the past 12 months, more than 3 million people have slipped into poverty. We're watching to see how much worse the situation gets ahead of Argentina's October elections, when investors' fear of a populist assuming looks likely to become a reality.

Germany's battered center holds — The country's mainstream political parties beat back the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) in two state elections in the former East Germany on Sunday, but it wasn't pretty. In Brandenburg, the state that surrounds Berlin, the anti-immigrant AfD came in second to the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) with 23.5 percent of the vote, nearly doubling its showing from 2014. In Saxony, along the Polish border, the AfD almost tripled its vote share to 27.5 percent, around 5 percentage points behind Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU). While the AfD didn't perform quite as well as Germany's two long-dominant parties had feared, the result shows the power of AfD's populist message in a region that suffered a massive exodus of young workers after the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago. It will also complicate the process of building governing coalitions in both states. We're watching to see how the "grand coalition" between the CDU and SPD weathers this new, more fractious era in German politics.

What We're Ignoring:

Putin and Abe ending WWII Dignitaries assembled in Poland last weekend to mark the 80th anniversary of World War Two. Missing from the gathering: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose countries never signed a peace treaty after the war and continue to press competing claims over a series of islands that lie between them. The pair will discuss the islands' status at a meeting in Vladivostok, in Russia's far east, later this week on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum. But the two have held more than 25 bilateral meetings over the course of their tenures, and have yet to reach a breakthrough on the impasse. We're ignoring this story, because if there were serious prospects for officially ending the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen, it's (probably) not going to happen at a side meeting at an economic conference.

Hard Numbers

10,000: Around 10,000 students boycotted the first day of school in Hong Kong on Monday, the latest twist in the Chinese territory's pro-democracy protests. The walk-out follows a tense weekend in which protesters threw fire-bombs and police beat and pepper-sprayed people in the Hong Kong Metro.

21.2: The average tariff applied to Chinese products crossing the US border hit 21.2 percent on Sunday after the latest round of US trade levies took effect. That's up from an average of 3.1 percent at the beginning of the Trump administration. The figure is due to rise further in December if the two countries can't find a way to resolve their escalating trade dispute.

882,000: Colombian president Ivan Duque is offering an $882,000 bounty for the capture of former FARC leaders who appeared in a video recording last week calling for followers to resume their armed struggle against the government. It's the latest sign that the 2016 peace deal that ended the guerilla group's 50-year Marxist insurgency is in danger of falling apart.

18: The US war in Afghanistan turns 18 years old next month. On Sunday, the US lead negotiator said the country was "at the threshold" of an agreement with the Taliban, which is expected to involve the withdrawal of roughly 14,000 US troops and other foreign forces from the country. Over the weekend, the Taliban stepped up a military offensive in northern Afghanistan.


This edition of Signal was written by Alex Kliment, Gabrielle Debinski, Kevin Allison and Leon Levy. Editing by Tyler Borchers. Spiritual counsel from Willis Sparks.

It's Willis with your Friday edition of Signal. Today, we'll hit Brexit from all angles, track Matteo Salvini's next move, check on what Beijing is saying about Hong Kong, decipher what Tolstoy tells us about Dostoevsky in India, and trash a Trump statue in the Balkans.

If you like what you see, please share Signal with a friend.

Cheers,

Willis Sparks


Brexit From All Angles

Willis Sparks

Brinkmanship – "the technique or practice of maneuvering a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance or safety in order to secure the greatest advantage, especially by creating diplomatic crises."

For a colorful example, look at what Boris Johnson did this week. On Wednesday, the UK prime minister announced a five-week suspension of parliament in September and October.

Critics say Johnson's move undermines democracy by stripping lawmakers of precious time for debate and action on Brexit before October 31, when the UK is set to leave the EU. Johnson's defenders insist that there's still time for parliament to meet its responsibilities, that this action is perfectly normal, and that the real threat to democracy comes from those who would frustrate the British people's will by blocking Brexit.

To understand what's happening and where this is going, consider what each of the major players in this drama wants…


Boris Johnson – The prime minister wants to scare the Europeans into believing that he's serious about leaving the EU with "no deal," inflicting serious economic harm on both the UK and the continent. Why the threat? Because he wants Brussels to make concessions on the terms of Brexit that they didn't give to his predecessor, Theresa May. In particular, he wants them to drop the controversial Irish backstop, a provision that could keep the UK tied to the EU customs union indefinitely.

But to make that "no deal" threat credible, Johnson must do all he can to prevent UK lawmakers from taking actions that limit his options.

Jeremy Corbyn – The leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party wants new elections so that he can negotiate his own Brexit deal as Britain's new prime minister. Corbyn opposed the UK's entry into the EU decades ago, and his unwillingness to state a clear position on Brexit since the referendum in 2016 has frustrated Britons on all sides of this issue.

Other opposition leaders – Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, wants to halt Brexit. That means bringing down Boris Johnson's government, but without helping Corbyn become prime minister, even during an emergency period before elections can be held. That's because, given the damage that Brexit has done to both Conservatives and Labour, new elections might play in the LibDems' favor.

Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, would like to one day become the first prime minister of an independent Scotland. It appears 2020 might be too soon for another referendum, but antipathy in Scotland for Boris Johnson is helping her case, and his decision to suspend parliament further fuels that fire.

European leaders – EU leaders have differing opinions on Brexit, but most want to make the process as painful as possible for Britain in order to discourage any other EU countries from trying to leave the union in the future. They also don't want to reopen internal negotiations among 27 EU governments over the deal offered to the UK.

What's next? Boris Johnson has taken extreme measures to further his strategy, and his critics in parliament will likely do the same. We could see a strong push for a vote of no-confidence in his government as soon as next week.

If so, Johnson may well call for general elections to be scheduled for the weeks after the October 31 Brexit deadline. The Europeans, watching the resulting fury, will refuse to give Johnson any of the substantive concessions he wants.

In the meantime, the stakes and the anger on all sides will continue to rise.

Graphic Truth: Seventy Years of Nuclear Weapons Tests

Gabriella Turrisi

August 29 marked International Day Against Nuclear Tests, which aims to call attention to the effects and dangers of nuclear explosions. The economic and human cost of nuclear testing over the past seventy years has been well documented, leading to a vocal movement calling for a total ban on nuclear tests. Partial test bans were agreed during the Cold War but in 1996 the US became the first of more than 180 countries to sign a treaty that completely banned nuclear tests. Just three years later, however, the US Senate rejected it over concerns it was unenforceable and would tie Washington's hands. The treaty has not been ratified by India, Pakistan or North Korea – all of whom have tested nuclear weapons since 1996. Overall, more than 2,000 tests have been conducted by just eight countries. Here's a look at who has exploded the most nuclear warheads over the past 70 years.

Sustainability Goes on Holiday

Eni

Is one bathing suit more ecological than another? In today's era of fast fashion, the fashion industry generates 5.7 pounds of waste per second and more than 1.5 trillion pounds of greenhouse gases per year. How can sustainable energy apply to swimwear? Enter the EcoBikini. New technology can reuse nylon from fish nets, used carpet, and scraps of fabric reclaims waste deposited on beaches.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

What We’re Watching: Salvini's Next Move

GZERO Media

Salvini's next move From his post as interior minister, the charismatic Matteo Salvini has cut a dominant figure in Italian politics for the past year. Boosted by the popularity of his hardline approaches toward North African migrants and EU officials, Salvini believed that forcing early elections would make him prime minister. He figured the populist Five Star Movement (5SM) and center left Democratic Party (PD) would never find enough common ground to form a coalition government without Lega, his party. Turns out 5SM and PD do share one thing: they can't stand Matteo Salvini. They've now agreed to form a government. For now, Salvini will settle into the role of opposition leader, a natural fit for his firebrand talents. He's already called for a protest in Rome on October 19. But his quest to eventually become prime minister will continue.


Somalia's climate emergency – Aid agencies warn that two million people in Somalia already face severe hunger, and three million more don't know where their next meal will come from. Following severe droughts in recent years—and evidence that the frequency and duration of droughts has increased—Somalia offers the latest case study in how climate issues can combine with political instability, corruption, and terrorism to create humanitarian emergencies.

Chinese media's Hong Kong spin – Chinese state media have tried just about every approach in covering the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, according to BBC Monitoring. They've tried to ignore them, blamed them on "foreign agents," portrayed protesters as dangerous hooligans, argued that a silent majority of Hong Kongers disapprove of the demonstrations, and highlighted foreigners living in Hong Kong who praise China and pro-China protests led by Chinese nationals living in Western countries. They've even used Chinese celebrities—actresses, models, and members of boy bands–to talk up China and chastise the demonstrators. But none of this has quelled the public anger in Hong Kong, so we're watching to see what Chinese media try next.

"War and Peace" in India – A year ago, five activists were arrested in Mumbai and charged with instigating caste-based violence. This week, a judge in Mumbai made news by demanding to know why a copy of Tolstoy's War and Peace was found in one of the defendant's homes. Why did the defendant have an interest, asked the judge, in learning about "war in another country?" This episode leaves us wondering about Crime and Punishment in India.

What We're Ignoring

Slovenia's Trump Statue – We're ignoring this 25-foot-tall statue of Donald Trump that appeared recently in his wife's home country of Slovenia because it's weird, creepy, and doesn't look that much like him.

Hard Numbers: Russia Is No Place for Young People

2,000: When Afghans head to the polls next month, 2,000 polling stations out of 7,400 will be closed because of fears of attacks by insurgent groups. Ongoing security crises in that country coincide with talks between the US and the Taliban on reaching an agreement on the withdrawal of American troops.


14,603: Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office last year pledging to address a long-standing violence epidemic that is fueled by drug cartels and gang violence. It won't be easy: The 14,603 homicides recorded in Mexico in the first half of this year are the highest on record.

44: Russia, it appears, is no place for young people. According to a new Gallup poll, 44 percent of Russians between the ages of 15-29 say they want to move to another country permanently. That's up 30 points over the past five years. Russia's dwindling population and chronic brain drain are already threatening its prospects as a global power. This won't help.

1 million: As the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms large, EU citizens living in the UK are increasingly concerned about their future status in the country. So far, 1 million EU citizens have asked for "settled status" to stay in the UK. An additional 1.6 million are – like the rest of us – still seeking greater clarification on what's going on.

Words of Wisdom

"Certain themes cannot be celebrated in words, and tyranny is one of them. No one ever wrote a good book in praise of the Inquisition."

— George Orwell, from "The Prevention of Literature" (1946)

This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks with Gabrielle Debinski, and editorial support from Alex Kliment (@saosasha) and Tyler Borchers. The graphic was created by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from Kevin Allison (@KevinAllison), Leon Levy (@leonmlevy), and Larry Munson.

Hello,

In today's Signal we track the emerging backlash against artificial intelligence, eye fresh Middle East tensions ahead of Israel's election, check in on a three-year-old crisis in Cameroon, and ask why Iran is backtracking on nuclear talks.

Tell us what you think of Signal here. Thanks for reading!

-Kevin Allison (@kevinallison)

Here Comes the AI Backlash

Kevin Allison

A disruptive new technology appears. People freak out. A political backlash ensues. It's a pattern that's shaped the evolution of technologies from the printing press, to radio, to gene-modified foods, to social media. Next up: facial recognition, which uses AI to teach computers to recognize human faces. The backlash has been accelerating in recent weeks:


In the US, Bernie Sanders last weekend became the first 2020 presidential candidate to call for an outright ban on facial recognition software in policing. A handful of US cities have already blocked its use.

In Europe, policymakers in Brussels are weighing regulations to curtail "indiscriminate use" of the technology by companies and governments, while a UK parliamentary committee last month called for a moratorium. Just yesterday, Sweden's data protection authority issued its first-ever fine against a school that used facial recognition to track student attendance.

Then there's Hong Kong, where many protesters have donned face masks to prevent the authorities from using their faces to ID them. Over the weekend, they went even further, using electric saws to topple government-erected "smart lampposts" amid fears they could be used to spy on crowds. The government said in June it doesn't use automated facial recognition in the territory's thousands of surveillance cameras. The people aren't taking any chances.

Like all good technology backlashes, this one pits the concerns of individuals against the prerogatives of companies and governments. For consumers, facial recognition promises a measure of convenience – using a scan of your face to unlock your phone, or to check whether your flight to Shanghai is on time. In a few years, you might be able to ditch your wallet and just pay with everything using your face. For companies, the technology promises big profits, both from selling it – just this week, a Chinese facial recognition startup called Megvii filed for an IPO that could value the business at up to $1 billion – and from using the information gleaned to sell people more stuff. And for governments, it can help foil crime and terrorism by making it easier to detect and track bad guys (or truants!).

But while all of that is true, facial recognition can also be used for more sinister purposes - just ask the Uighurs in Xinjiang in Western China, whose movements are routinely tracked by surveillance cameras using facial recognition as part of a broader political and security crackdown there. Even in less repressive circumstances, facial recognition can also create risks for innocent people who are misidentified. The question is: who gets access to your face and under what rules? And should there be spaces where this technology just isn't allowed?

The backlash will probably only be partly successful. A few countries may try to ban facial recognition completely. Others will ban certain government applications, while permitting commercial uses. This too will require regulation: why would you trust a private company with your face? Other countries will more enthusiastically embrace it as a way of exercising greater control over their populations or providing better security.

Dystopian chaser: If you're worried about facial recognition, you'll love "gait recognition," which can ID you based on how you walk, even if it can't see your face. Companies are also working on "emotion detection" AI that guesses how you're feeling – or whether you're lying – based on pupil dilation and other physical cues.

Graphic Truth: A World of Worry About Trade Wars

Gabrielle Debinski

One reason for the recent jitters about the global economy is that several of the world's leading economic powers are locked in deepening trade disputes. In fact, add them all up and you'll find that three big spats alone involve countries that account for more than half of global economic output. Click here to read more about what's at stake.

A Message From Our Sponsor: ‘Tools and Weapons,’ Available September 10th

Microsoft On The Issues

China and the United States are not just the world's largest consumers of information technology, but also the largest suppliers. How is technology defining the relationship between China and the U.S., and what does it mean for the rest of the world? Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne's Tools and Weapons explores this and other pressing issues. The book takes readers on a narrative journey from the cockpit of one of the world's largest tech companies and lays out a path forward on some of the thorniest issues of our time. Read about it here.

What We're Watching: Israel and Iran, Clashes in Cameroon, and Brexit Battles

GZERO Media

Iran-Israel Proxy Flare-Up – On Sunday, Israel confirmed it bombed an Iran-backed militia group in Syria that it says was preparing to launch "killer drones" against Israeli targets. Israel is also thought to be behind attacks on Iranian-allied groups in Lebanon and Iraq, and hits on Hamas targets in Gaza. The governments of Iraq and Lebanon condemned the strikes, while Hezbollah promised retaliation. With three weeks to go until snap elections that will determine Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's (Bibi) political fate, we're watching to see whether this flare-up escalates, and whether it boosts Bibi's election chances against former Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz.


Clashes in Cameroon – English-speaking regions of majority Francophone Cameroon are on lockdown following a violent weekend in which clashes between the army and Anglophone separatists killed 40 people and sent tens of thousands of residents fleeing for safety. The conflict started in 2016, when the central government cracked down on English speakers protesting a move to impose French on local schools and courts. The flare-up in recent days came a week after 10 prominent Anglophone separatists were handed life sentences for rebellion. So far, more than 2,000 people have died and more than 500,000 have been displaced in the three-year-old conflict.

Brexit Battles Will Europe give UK prime minister Boris Johnson a better Brexit deal than the one they offered his predecessor, Theresa May? Not bloody likely. Yes, Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron have pledged to consider any credible new ideas from Johnson on how to handle the Irish border. But that's not a European concession; that promise of flexibility is already in the existing Withdrawal Agreement. Merkel and Macron want to appear flexible so that Boris takes the blame when the issue can't be resolved. Inside the UK, meanwhile, opposition party leaders made a show on Tuesday of agreeing on the need to avoid a Hard Brexit. But while they agree they have a problem, the solution remains unclear. With the clock ticking down toward the October 31 Brexit deadline, we're watching to see if some political Houdini can pick these locks before everyone sinks to the bottom of the river.

What We're Ignoring:

US-Iran talks – The surprise visit of Iran's foreign minister to the recent G7 Summit, at France's invitation, has raised expectations that Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might meet on the sidelines of next month's UN General Assembly meetings in New York. We shouldn't get our hopes up for a breakthrough. In Iran, it's the Supreme Leader, not the president, who makes the big foreign-policy decisions, and Ayatollah Khamenei has dismissed the idea of a meeting. Even if he agrees and Trump and Rouhani do sit down together, Iran is highly unlikely to make big concessions from a position of economic weakness, and Trump won't relent on sanctions. As Willis wrote in yesterday's edition, Iran's government is among those hoping to get a better deal from a new US president in 2021.

Hard Numbers: A Quarter of a Billion People Far From Home

29: Even before Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's response to fires raging in the Amazon fueled global scorn, his approval rating was tepid. It was 50 percent at the beginning of the year, dipping to 39 percent in February. Now it's just 29 percent.


57: Severe drought in Afghanistan over the past few years has led to a food crisis in the violence-plagued country. Some 57 percent of Afghans report having struggled to afford food in the past year, according to a Gallup poll. The proportion of those who said they are "struggling financially" was the highest on record last year.

400 billion: According to a study by the Center for Climate Integrity, the cost of building bulwarks against rising seas levels around the US by 2040 is projected to be $400 billion. That's almost as much as it took to build the original interstate highway system, which took decades to construct, and cost over $500 billion when accounting for inflation.

250,000,000: Out of a global population of 7.7 billion, a quarter billion people live outside the country of their birth. While most are migrants in search of better economic opportunities, one-tenth are refugees from crisis areas such as Syria, Venezuela and Myanmar.

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, with Willis Sparks and Gabrielle Debinski. Edited by Alex Kliment and Tyler Borchers. Graphics magic by Ari Winkleman.

Hi there,

Today we'll wonder about Trump's deal-making artistry, rustle up some unwanted help for the Amazon, send you a cheat sheet on US-China tariffs, check Italy's political crisis, and cautiously welcome a new government in the DRC.

Bonus: what's the worst thing about attacking a hurricane with a nuclear weapon?

Love us and/or hate us, let us know here.

Alex + Willis


Time for Trump to Close Some Deals. Can He Do it?

Willis Sparks

In 2016, Donald Trump sold himself to American voters as the master dealmaker. The author of The Art of the Deal promised that by bringing the hardnosed tactics of a New York real estate tycoon onto the world stage, he – alone – could solve some of Washington's most intractable foreign-policy problems. With the 2020 election approaching, his approval ratings low, and fresh signs the US economy might soon falter, the clock is ticking: Can he deliver?


Here's a look at four big deals that he might (not) be able to pull off in time.

China – Over the weekend, Trump appeared to concede "second thoughts" on tariff war escalation with China, and he now says that Xi Jinping, chastened by an economic slowdown in his own country, wants to talk. But, as Ian Bremmer asked six months ago, why would Xi offer concessions that fundamentally change China's economic model when he knows he might get a new US president in 17 months.

North Korea – North Korea has test-fired 15 ballistic missiles since May and six in the past four weeks alone. That's Kim Jong-un's way of demanding attention. The North Korean strongman needs a deal that can boost the DPRK's economy, but not badly enough to surrender the nuclear program that he believes guarantees his survival. Without that concession, what sort of agreement is possible?

USMCA – Here's a deal Trump thought he'd already made. The US-Mexico-Canada update to the North American Free Trade Agreement has been signed by all three governments. The obstacle here is at home: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has little interest in giving Trump a political victory by bringing USMCA to a ratification vote in the House of Representatives. If she won't give him a win in 2019, she probably won't be any softer in an election year.

Iran – Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made a surprise appearance at the G7 Summit in France last weekend, and though Trump didn't comment, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that President Trump "would not set preconditions" if Iran wants to talk about the nuclear deal that Trump walked out of in 2017. Trump would love to go into the election with an Iran deal that's even stricter than the one Obama signed in 2015. But will Iranians accept the terms Trump says he wants? Probably not. In fact, Zarif's trip shows Tehran is more interested in pressing Europe for help than in offering concessions to (a potentially outgoing) Trump.

The bottom line: Donald Trump loves to throw punches, and his most loyal supporters are content to see their man fight. But closing one or two of these "big deals" might help persuade more independent-minded voters that he can, in fact, be an effective president. As we get closer to the 2020 election, will his interlocutors, foreign and domestic, gain confidence that they can just wait him out?

Graphic Truth: Greatest Hits of the U.S.–China Trade War

Gabrielle Debinski

On Friday, China announced fresh tariffs on US products, prompting a furious Donald Trump to respond by raising US tariffs on China. If you're confused about who has done what so far, rest assured that you are not alone. Here's the scorecard of where things currently stand -- we're pretty sure we're going to have to update this soon...

What We’re Watching: Bolsonaro Rejects G7 Amazon Aid

GZERO Media

Amazon Aid Rejected – G7 leaders agreed last weekend on an aid package of $22m to help Brazil put out thousands of fires raging across the Amazon rainforest. But despite earlier complaining that it lacked the resources to deal with the fires, Brazil has just rejected the offer, suggesting that it would best be used to "reforest Europe." Each year, farmers burn some forest acreage legally to clear land for pastures and planting, but critics say Bolsonaro's moves to loosen enforcement of rules, coupled with his anti-science rhetoric, have encouraged more fires than usual. Bolsonaro, a far right science skeptic, has bristled at international criticism about the Amazon. Last week he finally deployed more than 40,000 soldiers to squelch the blazes. The EU is holding up a massive trade deal with Brasilia over concerns about Bolsonaro's environmental policies.


Italy Reaches a Turning Point – Unless Italy's political parties can form a new government today, the country will go to snap elections. The current political crisis began earlier this month when the increasingly popular Matteo Salvini withdrew his Lega party from the governing coalition in order to force new elections he believed would make him prime minister. But if his former coalition partners in the anti-establishment Five Star Movement can now form a (once unthinkable) coalition with the center-left Democratic Party, Salvini's gamble will have backfired, leaving his party in opposition. As a reminder, debt-laden Italy is in the middle of a bitter fight with Brussels over how much money the Italian government is allowed to spend.

DR Congo (Finally) Forms a Government – Eight months after Felix Tshisekedi was elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, replacing longtime strongman Joseph Kabila, the country has formed a new government. That election marked the DRC's first-ever peaceful transition of power, but some suspected that Tshisekedi – who defeated Kabila's preferred successor – had struck a secret deal allowing Kabila to stay in power behind the scenes. Kabila's political party controls 70 percent of parliament, and the new coalition government roughly mirrors the balance of power in the legislature, with nearly two-thirds of jobs going to Kabila loyalists, including prime minister and influential mining, defense, and finance ministry posts. We're watching to see whether this power-sharing agreement can produce real change in a country wracked by systemic corruption, ongoing political violence, and a raging Ebola epidemic.

What We're Ignoring

Nuking a Hurricane? – President Trump has denied media reports that he asked aides whether the US could avoid hurricane damage by hitting large storms with nuclear bombs before they make landfall. Whatever Trump may have said, this is a bad idea. Experts say that nuking a hurricane would simply create a radioactive hurricane. For a detailed technical explanation, click here. But your Signal authors also fear that a nuclear blast in the middle of the ocean might also produce a shock wave large enough to interfere with television reception just as baseball season heads for the playoffs.

GZERO WORLD: KIM JONG-UN, BEHIND THE CURTAIN​

Anna Fifield, Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post, has traveled to Pyongyang more than nearly any other foreign journalist. She paints a remarkably vivid portrait of the country and its enigmatic young despot. Then, on Puppet Regime, Kim and Trump go on a summer's end camping trip. Watch the full episode.

Hard Numbers: US Guns are Fueling Violence Abroad

33 billion: Indonesia has finally unveiled the site of its proposed new capital city: Borneo. The cost of relocating the nation's capital there from overcrowded, polluted, sinking Jakarta, is projected to be $33 billion.


86: A weekend of intensifying violence in Hong Kong, which saw the police use water cannons and live ammunition against protesters for the first time, resulted in the arrest of 86 people on a range of charges, including a 12-year old child.

200,000: According to a New York Times investigation, more than 200,000 guns are trafficked into Mexico from the US each year. That's part of a broader outflow of small arms from the US that is fueling violence across Latin America, the most murder-prone region in the world.

9,272: Mounting insecurity and violence across Central and West Africa have caused 9,272 schools to close across the region over the past two years, according to a new UNICEF report. That's three times the number that had closed at the end of 2017.

This edition of signal was written by Willis Sparks and Alex Kliment with Kevin Allison and Gabrielle Debinski. The Graphic was made by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from the few seagulls who won't back down

Hi there,

Signal team stepping in for Willis this fine Friday. We'll look at why you want Greenland, watch with alarm as the Amazon burns, and tune out the G7 summit.

Bonus: how much would you pay someone to prove that you don't exist? A town in Germany has one answer.

As ever, let us know what you love or hate here

.

It's Not So Absurd To Want Greenland

Leon Levy

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."


So is the idea of buying Greenland really absurd? Well, yes, in the sense that in today's world countries generally don't operate like real estate developers, buying and selling each other's territory. And even if Denmark wanted to sell Greenland, which it rules only nominally, it's not clear it actually could do so without Greenland's approval.

But wanting to buy Greenland isn't absurd at all. The Truman administration even looked into it in the 1940s, when it was seen as an Arctic chess piece in the Cold War. The US has had an airbase there since World War Two.

Today, the reasons are different, and they have a lot to do with one thing: climate change. There are huge reserves of gas, metals, oil, and rare earth elements underneath all that ice. As global warming thaws Greenland's glaciers faster and faster, those resources will become more accessible. At the same time, less polar ice means lucrative new Arctic shipping lanes are opening up – China and Russia are already angling to dominate those passages.

And that's another reason the US might be interested in Greenland: China, Washington's "strategic competitor," is already there. In recent years, Beijing has been cutting big checks to the island, including buying a significant stake in a big rare earths mining project and offering to build new airports.

A few hundred million dollars of foreign investment makes a huge impact on an economy as small and underdeveloped as Greenland's. The US has leaned on Denmark to undermine China's investment drive, but Washington has no comparable effort to win hearts and minds there.

So there are plenty of good reasons to want more influence in Greenland. But by assuming that the island was for sale when no one ever said it was, and then antagonizing his Danish counterpart for rebuffing him, Trump took a sensible idea – closer ties with a strategically and economically important island – and turned it into a counterproductive diplomatic circus that may in fact undermine Washington's ability to get what it wants.

What We’re Watching: The World’s Lungs Are Burning

Alex Kliment

The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.


Fake flames interlude: if you are sharing photos of the Amazon in flames – and go right ahead, because the Amazon produces 20% of the oxygen in our atmosphere – just make sure they aren't fakes.

Korea and Japan stop sharing intelligence – Ongoing tensions between Seoul and Tokyo over the legacy of Japan's 20th century occupation of Korea spilled from trade into national security this week, as Korea said it will scrap the two countries' military intelligence-sharing alliance. The timing, just as North Korea has started lobbing missiles into the Sea of Japan again, is…not great: Washington had pushed for that intel alliance as part of its efforts to address the threat posed by Pyongyang's nuclear program. We're watching to see whether these historic frenemies can find a way to save face and back down before someone gets hurt or a missile goes undetected.

What We're Ignoring

The G7 Summit in Biarritz Heck of a time to get together for a summit: Italy's prime minister resigned just three days ago. Germany's Angela Merkel is on her way out of power. Canada's Justin Trudeau is reeling from an ethics scandal and faces elections soon. The UK's Boris Johnson is trying to play chicken on Brexit with an unmoved Brussels. Japan's Shinzo Abe is in a rapidly-deteriorating spat with South Korea. Donald Trump wants to know why his pal Vladimir Putin isn't invited to these things anymore. And host country France's Emmanuel Macron has already announced that there won't be a joint communique at the end of the summit because the leaders won't really agree to anything. So while there will be the usual headlines and tweets and gaffes, we are ignoring the summit because nothing of substance seems likely to come from it.

Energy from Mozambique

Eni

Mozambique, which has suffered a series of major natural disasters in recent years, is poised to become a rich source of energy in the future. With new LNG carrier ships, floating gas liquification units can operate in the offshore regions of Mozambique and beyond.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

Graphic Truth: The Disappearing Amazon

GZERO Media

Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

Hard Numbers: Prove That We Don't Exist. Prove It!

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.


19 million: UN aid programs in Yemen, including emergency healthcare services and clean water programs, will be cut off because the funding pledged by UN member states has "failed to materialize." As a result, 19 million people in Yemen may lose access to healthcare in what is already the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

1 million: The German city of Bielefeld -- the decades-long subject of a good-humored conspiracy theory that it doesn't actually exist – is now offering 1 million euros to anyone who can prove it. City officials said there are "no limits to creativity."

3,450: Two years since Myanmar's Rohingya minority fled a state-backed genocide, more than 700,000 refugees remain in neighboring Bangladesh. The government of Myanmar has recently authorized 3,450 of them to return, over the objections of many of the refugees themselves as well as human rights observers.

This edition of Signal was written by Leon Levy, Kevin Allison, Alex Kliment, and Gabrielle Debinski. The graphic was made by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from Willis Sparks on a heroic transcontinental odyssey.

Latest