2/14/20

Hi there,

Today we'll check in on the state of "the West," track the coronavirus surge, click on a free speech crackdown in Ethiopia, and look for money to fight locusts.

-Alex Kliment

Is "the West" in trouble?

Alex Kliment

For the next three days, some of the world's most powerful leaders are gathering in Munich, Germany, to discuss an important question: is "the West" in trouble? And if so, is that a problem?

This year's Munich Security Conference – an annual gathering of key leaders and policy experts that's been held since the Cold War's heyday– is dedicated to the theme of "Westlessness."

No, that's not the mindset of an antsy Elmer Fudd, it's the idea that "the West" – that is, a group of European and North American countries united by a common, if not always consistent, commitment to liberal democracy, free markets, and the post-war international institutions set up for global trade, finance, and security – is fraying. That's happening for two reasons:


Internal divisions: Inequality and social polarization have fueled the rise of populist and "illiberal" parties within "the West." They are skeptical of the traditional, US/European-led international institutions and instead put national interests first. This is the story of Brexit and of Donald Trump, but it's also the rise of avowedly "illiberal" democracies like Poland and Hungary (which until 1989 were in the "East," but don't confuse the cartographer!).

External rivals: Authoritarian China's ambition to take center stage globally as the world's largest economy – and to dominate 21st technologies like 5G and A.I. – presents some implicit challenges to the Western-led global order. Meanwhile, a revanchist Russia has challenged "Western" power in Ukraine and Syria, while working to exacerbate social polarization and undermine democracies in both Europe and the US.

Is this a problem? For the Munich organizers, a fragmented "West" makes it more difficult to tackle a whole host of global problems like climate change, A.I. regulation, and the threat to democracies around the world. (Of course, from the perspective of the rising "non-West," many of the global institutions developed in the West are outmoded and exclusionary.)

One big question we'll see at Munich: What's the global future of Europe? Given the fragmentation of "the West," and the emerging rivalry between the US and China, as well as Washington's uncertain commitment to European security, is it time for the EU to play a larger global role on its own? Can it? We'll likely hear about this from French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the high profile attendees, as well as from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

But here's a question, for you: do you buy the idea of a coherent "West"? Do you think there is a risk of "Westlessness" in the world, or are there different perspectives you'd take? We are westlessly intewested in your thoughts.

Follow Munich with us! GZERO media will be covering the conference, which runs from Friday through Sunday, on our Twitter feed. Follow us for the latest.

The Graphic Truth

Gabrielle Debinski

Thirty years ago, China accounted for barely four percent of the global economy. In the years since, that has soared to nearly 20 percent. China's bid to use that economic clout in order to reshape the world more in its own image is one of the defining aspects of global politics today. Here's a look at who dominated the world economy thirty years ago, versus now.

See Eni's innovative new website

Eni

This month, Eni launched a totally redesigned website. Its aim is to explain the world of energy and the challenges ahead in the energy transition. "The new eni.com symbolises the transformation Eni is undergoing, in which innovation plays a fundamental role," says Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Eni.

Learn more at Eni's new website

What We're Watching: Coronavirus cases soar, Ethiopia hits free speech

GZERO Media

Coronavirus flare up: Officials in China's Hubei Province on Thursday added almost 15,000 new reported cases of coronavirus to their tally, the largest single-day increase on record. That brings the total number of cases in the outbreak epicenter to over 50,000. This week's steep increase highlights how difficult it is for Chinese health workers to grasp the scope and severity of the deadly illness and it has also raised doubts about the Chinese government's transparency and preparedness: specialized kits for diagnosing the infection are in short supply in Hubei. As the human and economic toll of the virus continues to rise (there are now more than 60,000 reported cases worldwide) the World Health Organization says that a coronavirus vaccine is still at least 18 months away.


Ethiopia stifles free speech: Ahead of national elections slated for August, Ethiopia's parliament has passed a bill that prescribes up to five years in prison for anyone who posts or shares online content that might stir social unrest. It's a seeming step back for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 promising to spearhead Ethiopia's democratic awakening and has since released thousands of political prisoners and journalists while lifting the country's ban on opposition parties. But recent months have also seen a resurgence of religious and ethnic tensions that have left dozens dead and displaced more than two million people. Proponents of the new social media law say it's necessary in order to avoid violence in the run-up to elections. But the law's critics, including the United Nations, say it's a flagrant violation of free speech.

This classic love letter from Angela Merkel: She was a young chemist. He was a bored young KGB agent. This Valentine's Day, we are rewatching the missed connection that may have shaped our world.

What We're (trying to) Ignore

Two rich guys destroying each other on Twitter: US President Donald Trump says media tycoon and presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg is short and boring. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, says Trump is a fraud and a laughing-stock in his own hometown. As Bloomberg storms into the fragmented field of Democratic presidential contenders, you can expect a lot more of this in the coming months, particularly if Bloomberg rises in the polls. Try to ignore it, just try.

Puppet Regime: What to get Melania for Valentines?

President Trump isn't sure what to get his wife for Valentines, so he invites over a few friends to help him – but Kim Jong-un has other ideas. Check it out here.

Hard Numbers: Send money for locusts

Gabrielle Debinski

61: By one measure, the Age of Trump seems to have been pretty good for most Americans, as 61 percent say they are "better off" than they were before Trump took office, according to a new Gallup poll. That number is higher than Gallup recorded in other reelection years: only half said the same in 1992 (Bush), 1996 (Clinton) and 2004 (G.W. Bush). In 2012 (Obama) the number was 45 percent.


20: The Amazon rainforest is emitting more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, with around 20 percent of the total forest area now a net source of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to a new decade-long study. The main cause, it says, is deforestation, which raises further concerns about Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's policy of prioritizing development of the Amazon over conservation.

19: At least 19 children were wounded by heavy shelling in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where clashes between government forces and local ethnic groups have intensified in recent weeks. Last month, the International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar's government to take immediate steps to protect long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims.

76 million: The United Nations says it needs $76 million "now" to fend off a once-in-a-generation locust infestation in East Africa that's decimated cropland, creating a food scarcity emergency. The money, which would go to increasing spraying capacity, is needed before April to avoid a full-blown humanitarian crisis, the UN warned.

This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski and Alex Kliment. Art and graphics by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from Willis "Feeling Irie" Sparks.

2/12/20

Hi there,

Today we'll assess the pros and cons of Uncle Sam getting into the tech business. We'll also have Xi Jinping open wide, take an elevator ride with Vladimir Putin, and ask whether Italy's Matteo Salvini is headed for the dock.

Thanks for reading.

- Kevin and The Signalistas

Uncle Sam, tech investor?

Kevin Allison

William Barr, the US attorney general, caused a stir last week when he suggested that the US government should consider buying Ericsson and Nokia, two European technology companies that are competing with the Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei are all competing to build the ultra-fast 5G networks that are supposed to power everything from your Netflix, to your self-driving car, to futuristic factories, to entire "smart" cities.

The US has recently been pressuring countries not to use Huawei equipment, because of fears that Beijing could use the company to spy or disrupt critical infrastructure (Huawei denies it has ever done this). And while not all of the US' allies have accepted this logic, there are concerns that in the long run, Huawei, which enjoys huge government support, could drive its competitors out of business, leaving everyone in the world dependent on China for critical mobile network gear.


So…enter Uncle Sam to change the dynamic by boosting some of Huawei's competitors? Here are arguments for and against what would be a dramatic US government intervention in the global tech sector:

The argument for: 5G is too strategic a technology to be left entirely to market forces – particularly if that means relying on China. So if there are no major US suppliers of telecommunications networking gear left, and it's unclear if European tech firms can compete in the long run against cash-rich, state-backed Huawei, it makes sense for the US to put its "large market and financial muscle" behind the European firms. The US acting as a private equity investor in tech would be a dramatic step, but there is some precedent here: After all, Silicon Valley as we know it, was nurtured by Cold War defense spending. If the US and its closest allies are in a new tech-centered geopolitical struggle with China, creating their own national – or transnational – technology champions is a logical move.

The argument against: For one thing, it's very hard to see European regulators approving a plan like this. One reason is that the EU – which is already wary of being caught between the US and China – wants to nurture its own tech champions, rather than farm them out to Washington. Another is that a move like this could provoke a sharp reaction from Chinese authorities, who might restrict European access to Chinese markets in response. There's also a philosophical argument: government interference in private business tends to create waste and could hurt innovation in the long run. The story of Silicon Valley was of seed capital and preferred suppliers, not the government making massive direct equity investments in companies. Boosting investment in basic research, education, and infrastructure would be a much better use of taxpayer dollars.

Some other members of the Trump administration quickly poured cold water on Barr's idea. There are other ways besides taking a direct stake that the US could get involved – it could try to offer tax breaks to private buyers, for example. But the fact that a top US official (a Republican!) is even talking about it shows that geopolitics is pushing the global tech sector into uncharted territory.

Puppet Regime: The Dickies Awards

Perhaps you saw the Oscars on Sunday night, but did you catch any of the Dickies? Kim Jong-Un recently hosted the global dictatorship awards, Honoring Great Works by Horrible Men. Who got the 2020 Dickie for Best Encouragement of Dictatorship in a Supporting Role? Tune in here to see them all.

Digital civility at lowest level in 4 years, new Microsoft research shows

Microsoft On The Issues

Microsoft's Digital Civility Index stands at 70%, the highest reading of perceived online incivility since the survey began in 2016, and the first time the DCI has reached the 70th percentile. Moreover, the equally troubling trends of emotional and psychological pain ­– and negative consequences that follow online-risk exposure – both also increased significantly.

Physical appearance and politics are the primary drivers of online incivility, with 31% of all respondents pointing to both of these two topics as problematic. Sexual orientation was close behind at 30%, while religion and race came in at 26% and 25% respectively. On the plus side, according to this latest study, people seemed encouraged by the advent of the new decade and what the 2020s may hold in terms of improved online civility among all age groups.

Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

What We're Watching: Xi's temperature, Salvini's fate, Putin's elevator

GZERO Media

China's party line on public health: China's President Xi Jinping appears to have decided that his coronavirus communications strategy hasn't worked. On Monday, after an extended absence from political centerstage, Xi appeared in public, wearing a surgical mask, to have his temperature taken as he reviewed a coronavirus health facility in Beijing. This new attempt to reassure the public that China's top man is personally directing the crisis came right as several senior party officials in Wuhan were sacked. There are also new surveillance measures: the state has launched an app that tells users whether they've been near a person suspected of having the virus. Xi, and those around him, are grappling with a problem familiar to authoritarian systems in moments of crisis: a party that holds a monopoly over political power also has a monopoly on responsibility when things go wrong. We're watching to see how these new messages play with an anxious Chinese public.


Watching people watching Putin watch them: A prankster in Moscow last week hung a gigantic portrait of Putin in his building's elevator and secretly filmed his neighbors' reactions. The result is superb. No one is thrilled. Almost all of the responses, ranging from incredulous to amused to overtly annoyed, boil down to: "what the f**k?". Watch it all the way through – the last guy's reaction is probably the best of the bunch. It's a great little snippet of how ordinary folks regard Putin in their daily lives – 70% approval rating or not.

Salvini in the dock: The Italian Senate will decide today whether far-right firebrand politician Matteo Salvini should face prosecution for refusing, when he was Interior Minister, to allow a coast guard ship that rescued 131 migrants in the Mediterranean to dock at an Italian port. Salvini, who heads the far-right anti-immigration Lega party, skirted prosecution last year when the senate gave him parliamentary immunity, but they'll vote again on Wednesday. Salvini says he sees potential criminal proceeding as "medals for having defended Italy's borders." But if the case moves ahead and Salvini is found guilty, he faces up to 15-years in prison. Salvini is a shrewd and very popular politician, but is he really willing to risk years behind bars?

Hard Numbers: Narendra Modi's BJP takes an electoral hit

Gabrielle Debinski

30: Boko Haram militants killed at least 30 people in an attack along a major highway in Borno state in north-eastern Nigeria. About 35,000 people have been killed and more than two million displaced since Islamist violence began plaguing Nigeria in 2009.


100: More than 100 US troops have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries stemming from Iran's missile strike on a US military base in Iraq last month. The estimate is up more than 50 percent from earlier Pentagon numbers, undermining initial reports that there were no casualties.

8: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist BJP took a thumping in regional elections Tuesday, winning just eight seats in New Delhi's legislature. Modi's BJP came up short against the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party, which ran on a platform of fixing state-run schools and providing free healthcare. The polls were seen as a referendum on Modi's divisive policies, including the controversial citizenship law that excludes Muslims.

100 million: Egypt's booming population has reached 100 million, making the North African country the most populous Arab nation. The Egyptian government has tried to implement policies to curb population growth in an increasingly resource-strapped country where around a third of the population lives in poverty.


Trivia interlude – the answer:

In yesterday's edition we asked – if Sinn Fein enters government in Ireland, would it be the only political party to hold power in two different countries at the same time?" The answer is: No. As Signal reader Sanjin Arifagic points out from the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, the HDZ (Croat Democratic Union) party holds power in both Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. Be sure to follow GZERO Media on Facebook and Instagram too!

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Willis Sparks. Spiritual counsel from Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn and the rest of the fictional 1989 Cleveland Indians.

2/11/20

Today, we'll take Joe Biden's temperature, map political turmoil in Germany, raise some suspicions in Brazil, and track Sinn Féin's rise, all while weathering a bat tornado.

Cheers,

Willis Sparks

Joe Biden's last stand

Willis Sparks

Voters in New Hampshire head to the polls today to choose among the Democrats who hope to unseat Donald Trump in November. In the process, they may decide the fate of Joe Biden, the man many people once thought had the best chance of doing that.

Biden's case to voters: His role as Barack Obama's vice president, established political brand, decades of political experience, centrist reputation, and ability to speak authentically to working class voters in the midwestern states that were crucial for Trump's 2016 victory make him the best choice to beat Trump in 2020.


The first test of that case came last week in Iowa, a state where 31 of 99 counties had voted for Obama and then flipped to Trump. These were supposed to be the working class folks that Democrats needed to win back from the GOP. Surely Biden was the man for the job.

In reality, Biden won exactly one of those 31 counties. One. About two-thirds of them went to 38-year old Pete Buttigieg, a man whose political experience is limited to two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Another handful of counties went for Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders.

Look more closely at those Iowa counties. Who would vote for Obama and then Trump? Maybe someone who rejects the entire political establishment in favor of something wholly new. The first African-American president, followed by a celebrity real estate tycoon who had never run for office.

This outsider's appeal is not just an American story these days. Consider the global backdrop for this election. Since Trump won in 2016, we've seen…

  • France elect a president who'd never before run for office, and who created a brand new political party of his own just a year before the election.
  • Germany make the far-right AfD the country's largest opposition bloc and the Greens the fastest-rising party on the left.
  • Italy elect a protest group founded by a comedian and a former separatist party.
  • Mexico elect a president leading a party he invented four years before the election.
  • Brazil elect a formerly little known far-right lawmaker from a party that held a single seat in Congress.
  • Ukraine reject the incumbent president and a former prime minister in favor of a guy who played the president on a TV show.
  • And voters in Ireland last weekend break the century-long stranglehold of two centrist parties by awarding the most votes to a party with past links to a terrorist organization.

In a world where voters are rejecting the entire political establishment, Joe Biden has been in politics for 50 years.

Maybe New Hampshire voters will put him onto the path toward a political turnaround. Or maybe we should question what it means to be "electable" in 2020.

The Graphic Truth

Gabrielle Debinski

Over the past few decades, China has become a crucial part of the global economy, driving demand for commodities and churning out consumer products that the world relies on. It is the world's leading exporter, and it accounts for a fifth of global GDP. As a result, the coronavirus that has brought parts of China to a near standstill is affecting other economies as well, as supply chains are diverted, travel links are cut, and Chinese consumption plummets. Here's a look at how the fallout of the coronavirus is projected to hit the Q1 GDP growth of select countries.

What We're Watching: German turmoil, a fishy killing in Brazil, Sinn Féin's rise, and a bat plague

GZERO Media

Merkel's search for a successor – When Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer took the reins of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party in 2018, she was seen as the obvious successor to Merkel, who will step down next year after 15 years in power. So much for that. Yesterday, Kramp-Karrenbauer (known as "AKK") resigned her CDU post and said she won't run in next year's election. She had come under fire for the party's losses in local elections. Major gaffes about free speech and LGBT rights didn't help. The final straw came last week when a local branch of the CDU defied AKK's warning not to support a member of the far-right AfD party, prompting Merkel to intervene directly. AKK's departure throws open the question of succession to Merkel and underscores the tough times for Germany's traditional centrist parties as they face stiff challenges from both the right and the left.


Dead (hit)men tell no tales in Brazil – Brazilian police on Sunday gunned down Adriano da Nobrega, a notorious hitman who was a key witness in the 2018 assassination of Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman Marielle Franco, a critic of police brutality. Nobrega had been sought for questioning, in part because the two former cops convicted of Franco's murder were thought to be members of a paramilitary gang that he ran in Rio. And the plot thickens further: Nobrega, like one of the convicted men, was close to the family of President Jair Bolsonaro. The police say that Nobrega opened fire as they tried to apprehend him, but Franco's friends and political allies are demanding more answers about the death of a man who may have known too much.

Sinn Féin– On Friday, we wrote that Sinn Féin, a party still reviled by some as the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, might break the hundred-year dominance of the country's two mainstream centrist parties. On Saturday, the party finished first in Ireland's multiparty election with 24.5 percent of the vote, almost doubling its 2016 tally. Sinn Fein party leader Mary Lou McDonald has invited other parties to open talks on forming a coalition. We're watching to see if either of the two mainstream parties will do a deal with Sinn Fein, or risk increasing its popularity by allowing it to lead the opposition. What's more, although the party's success had mostly to do with its progressive economic program, it has also called for Irish reunification, an issue that will be back on the agenda soon.

Trivia interlude: If Sinn Fein enters government in Ireland while remaining in a power-sharing deal in Northern Ireland, would it be the only political party in the world to hold political power in two different countries at the same time?

Biblical plagues of animals – Farmers in East Africa are grappling with the worst plague of locusts in living memory. Swarms of the grasshopper-like insects have already swept across parts of Ethiopia and Kenya, and could soon be headed for South Sudan, Uganda, Eritrea, Djibouti, Oman, and Yemen, according to UN experts. Unusually heavy rains from a recent cyclone have contributed to the infestation. So has conflict: one of the locusts' main breeding grounds is in Somali territory controlled by al-Shabab militants, where it's too dangerous for governments to spray effective pesticides. On a far less serious note, hundreds of thousands of bats have invaded the Australian town of Ingham, dropping their feces on schools, sidewalks, and homes and generally making life miserable for the town's badly outnumbered denizens. We were going to ignore this story about a "bat tornado," which frankly sounded like fake news, until we found out there was video.

Hard Numbers: Coronavirus deaths now surpass SARS toll

GZERO Media

57: The American public's view of the economy is as positive as it's been in twenty years, with 57 percent of Americans surveyed agreeing that the nation's economy is in "excellent" or "good" shape, according to a Pew poll. But people's viewpoints are sharply partisan: only 39 percent of Democrats agree that the economy is doing well.


2.6 billion: Ahead of President Trump's visit to India later this month, New Delhi is set to purchase $2.6 billion worth of military helicopters from the United States. India's defense purchases from the US have surged in the last decade as New Delhi, worried about Chinese influence in the region, has drawn closer to the US while pivoting away from its traditional arms suppliers in Russia.

900: The global death toll from the deadly Wuhan coronavirus has topped 900, officially surpassing the 2002-03 SARS outbreak that killed 813 people in China and other parts of Asia. However, the coronavirus – which has killed around 2 percent of people who have contracted it – is less fatal overall than SARS, which killed around 10 percent.

6.5 million: The personal data of all 6.5 million eligible voters in Israel was leaked due to a "grave" security lapse on an app that provides news and information about the upcoming election on March 2. The leak, which includes voters' full names, ID card numbers, and addresses, appears to be related to the app's poor coding, and required no hacking skills.

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. Give a friend the Signal here.

This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks, Gabrielle Debinski, Kevin Allison, and Alex Kliment. Graphic by Ari Winkleman. Spiritual Counsel from Joseph Shabalala.

2/7/20

It's Willis here with your Friday edition of Signal. Today, we'll count votes in Ireland, speed the queue into Europe, welcome foreigners to Nigeria, and salute Rome's most famous slave.

Cheers,

Willis Sparks

Ireland's vote could shape the UK's future

Willis Sparks

Tomorrow, voters in the Irish Republic will cast ballots in an election that could boost momentum toward an eventual break-up of the UK.

That's because the lasting story of this vote may well be the fast-rising popularity of the Sinn Fein party. Sinn Fein has capitalized on public anger over a healthcare crisis and housing shortage to rapidly expand its popularity in pre-election polls, but it is also now promising Irish voters a referendum on reunification of the Republic of Ireland (an EU member) with Northern Ireland (still part of the UK) within five years.


Saturday's election will be hotly contested, and the outcome is hard to predict. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's minority government and his party, Fine Gael, have seen their poll numbers drop. Opposition party Fianna Fáil is likely to win the most seats, but Sinn Fein is now mounting a major challenge thanks to popular promises to address the health and housing questions. The party says it will tax the wealthy and large companies in order to raise the revenue needed to hire more doctors, build more homes, and lower the pension age.

Sinn Fein's supporters say the party offers a sharp break from both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which have dominated Ireland's politics since the country won independence from Britain in 1921. While Varadkar's Fine Gael can claim to have lifted Ireland from the 2008-2009 financial crisis, Sinn Fein says they accomplished this with austerity policies that hit Ireland's working class especially hard.

Sinn Fein's detractors warn that the fresh faces now leading the party are a front for darker political forces. This is still, they say, the party that began as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the paramilitary group that waged war to push Britain out of Northern Ireland until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Younger voters are crucial for tomorrow's result. Sinn Fein's recent polling surge comes mainly from those old enough to remember the austerity of the past decade but too young to remember the IRA.

Sinn Fein won't be able to form a government, at least not this year. Even if it does well on Saturday, it hasn't put forward enough candidates to win a majority of seats. And both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil insist they won't invite Sinn Fein to join a coalition government because, they say, it would ruin Ireland's economy and because the party remains tainted by its history.

If Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael win the most seats, they could exclude Sinn Fein by inviting Labour and the Green Party to form a coalition government. But it's possible that Sinn Fein will win too many seats to be ignored. Even if it merely becomes the lead opposition party, its pledge to hold a reunification referendum will elevate that issue into Ireland's mainstream political dialogue.

Bottom line: Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to keep the UK in the European Union. Brexit has already provoked calls for a new vote on Scotland's independence. If tomorrow's vote boosts Sein Fein's role in Ireland's political future, demand for Irish reunification will grow louder.

The Graphic Truth

Ari Winkleman

President Trump's pledge to eventually withdraw thousands of US troops from Afghanistan has cast the spotlight back on America's longest running war. It's also sparked a discussion amongst the nations that contribute to the NATO-led mission deployed there, who are now also rethinking their commitment to the now 18-year old war. Here's a look at how many troops remain in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission, and where they're from.

The 5G Revolution

Eni

Eni

5G is coming soon. Already widespread in much of China, the next generation of mobile data transmission is being tested in cities across America and Europe. It will be 100 times faster than 4G/LTE and unleash a tidal wave of smart devices. Doctors will use it to carry out surgery remotely, taking advantage of its low latency to precisely control robots. Designers and lawyers will work remotely too, through shared virtual realities, and scientific experiments will be carried out over long distances, allowing scientists at opposite corners of the world to take part in common research projects.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

What We're Watching: EU accession, Nigerian visas, and a Hollywood legend's departure

GZERO Media

The EU's new accession rules – After months of EU infighting over the status of two western Balkan countries that want to join the bloc, the EU has streamlined the accession process. France, the Netherlands and Denmark have blocked the start of EU accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia, arguing that their political systems require reform. Germany, by contrast, insists that it's in the bloc's strategic interest to welcome in these western Balkan states. Now there's a compromise on the table. The new proposal gives all EU member states a role in vetting applicants and permits the EU to cut off negotiations if they slack on reforms. We're watching to see whether all 27 member states agree to this new way of doing things, but all eyes are really on French President Emmanuel Macron in particular. Et vous Monsieur President?


A Nigerian welcome – Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, is opening its doors to its neighbors. President Muhammadu Buhari this week unveiled a new immigration policy that grants visas on arrival to citizens of any of the 55 African Union member states. The measures, which aim to attract more innovation and talent into Nigeria, come amid broader economic integration efforts on the continent. On July 1, the new 54-country $3 trillion African Continental Free Trade Area will enter into force, though only about half of its signatories have ratified the agreement so far. Later this year the African Union is supposed to issue its own continental passports that will enable visa-free travel between all member-states.

Paths of Glory – Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas passed away this week at the age of 103 after jutting his jaw and gritting his teeth through more than 90 movies. Sure, he was Spartacus and (a peculiarly American) Vincent Van Gogh. But to see his true greatness, we'll be rewatching that other Stanley Kubrick-directed film, Paths of Glory.

What We're Ignoring

Russian TV's crowning conspiracy theory – Donald Trump used to give out crowns at his beauty pageants, right? Ok, and the word corona, as in "coronavirus," derives from the Latin word for "crown," correct? Need we say more? Russia's widely-watched, state controlled Channel One news says this coincidence makes it "absolutely clear" that the US developed the coronavirus in order to take down China. Granted, the virus is probably hurting China's economy more than Trump's scattershot trade war ever did, but this etymology-as-epidemiology sleuthing is contagiously stupid even by Russian state TV standards.

Hard Numbers: Half a million EU citizens in limbo in post-Brexit Britain

GZERO Media

7: Days after a new prime minister-designate took office in Iraq, seven protesters were killed at an anti-government sit-in in the city of Najaf. Supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, the powerful cleric with a cult-like following who backs the new PM, threw Molotov cocktails and stabbed demonstrators.


138: At least 138 people deported by the US back to El Salvador in recent years were killed after arriving there, according to Human Rights Watch. The grim tally comes as the Trump administration seeks to tighten restrictions on Central American asylum-seekers.

500,000: Some half a million EU citizens in Britain are yet to apply for "settled status," which would allow them to stay in the country after Brexit is complete. The British government has touted this as a fair scheme, but critics say EU citizens in Britain face losing benefits such as healthcare.

3,000: Several schools in northern Mozambique did not open for the new academic year because of the surge of jihadist terror attacks. The closure affects some 3,000 pupils in Cabo Delgado, the gas rich province that's become a hotbed of Islamist violence.

Words of Wisdom

"Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems."

– Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization's director general, speaking about the international threat posed by the coronavirus.

This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks, Gabrielle Debinski, and Alex Kliment. Graphic by Ari Winkleman. Spiritual Counsel from Kevin Allison and Mio Yamada, Ireland's favorite daughter.

2/5/20

Hi there,

Today we've got your Iowa caucus winners and losers, Russia and Turkey at odds, some good news from Yemen, and cops looking for Jacob Zuma.

Bonus: where's Trump's recent boost in support coming from?

-Alex Kliment

Vladimir Putin, and other Iowa winners (and losers)

University of Iowa students hold up numbered cards while they caucus on Feb. 3, 2020, in Iowa City.Xxx 200203 Ui Caucus 008 Jpg

After a day and a night (and most of a day) of technical difficulties, lousy communication, and general bewilderment, the Iowa Democratic Party finally released a batch of caucus results yesterday. With results in from 71% of Iowa's precincts, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has so far won the most delegates, followed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden. We will know more over the course of the day, but right off the bat, here are three winners and three losers.

Winner #1: Pete Buttigieg who proved he can win an election outside of South Bend, Indiana, and a primary at that (OK, a caucus.)

Winner #2: Vladimir Putin When the infrastructure of American democracy fails, nobody loves it more than the President of Russia. To be clear, there's no evidence of any hacking in Monday's Iowa Caucus – but there doesn't need to be. Colossal electoral screw-ups like this make Americans doubt the legitimacy of their own institutions and bolster Putin's longstanding gripe that no one should be taking democracy lessons from Washington.

Winner #3: Michael Bloomberg The media mogul and former New York City mayor has made $60 billion off of communications technology that, unlike the Iowa caucus app, actually works. The Iowa fiasco may also help his strategy of skipping the early small-state primaries to focus on larger ones later on. True, he's polling in the single digits, but now he's doubling down on spending, and a poor showing by establishment centrist candidate Joe Biden clears some space for him.

So much for the winners. Now to those on the other side of the gym.

Loser #1: Joe Biden, who finds himself up against a wall early, after an unexpectedly weak fourth-place showing. He could still bounce back – he is highly competitive in a number of upcoming primaries including Nevada (Feb 22), South Carolina (Feb 29), and several Super Tuesday states (March 3) – but unless he starts winning soon, Smokin' Joe is going to look more like Joe Smokin'.

Loser #2: The Democratic Party. The party's incompetence on Monday night created an international embarrassment that Republicans will easily exploit. President Trump has already asked voters whether they'd entrust their health care system to people who can't count the number of people in a gym. His son suggested Democrats had fixed the results to hide a Bernie Sanders victory. That's a charge that some Sanders supporters might believe, given evidence that party officials tried to tip the 2016 nomination process away from Sanders toward Hillary Clinton. All of which makes the Dems look unfit and deeply divided at the worst possible moment.

Loser #3: Iowa. Why are Iowa Democrats and Republicans allowed to hold the first nominating contest every four years? Because that's how it's been done for decades. That might end after this year. For one thing, this wasn't Iowa's first screw-up. In 2012, Iowa Republicans declared Mitt Romney their winner before explaining two weeks later that votes had been miscounted and Rick Santorum had actually won. What's more, Iowa's demographics don't match the nation's well, and its caucus process is starting to look a little quaint. After years of complaints about the state's privileged status, Monday might just be the last straw.

The Graphic Truth

Now that Iowa is done (sort of), the Democrats head into a flurry of other primaries in the coming weeks. Here's how each of the candidates are polling in the upcoming states.

Using AI to advance the health of people and communities around the world

The health of people and communities around the world has been improving over time. However, progress has not been equal across the globe, and there is a great need to focus on societal issues such as reducing health inequity and improving access to care for underserved populations. While researchers work to unlock life-saving discoveries and develop new approaches to pressing health issues, advancements in technology can help accelerate and scale new solutions.

That is why last week Microsoft launched AI for Health, a new $40 million, five-year program to empower researchers and organizations with AI to improve the health of people and communities around the world. The program is underpinned with a strong foundation of privacy, security and ethics, and was developed in collaboration with leading health experts who are driving important medical initiatives. AI for Health is the fifth Microsoft AI for Good program, a $165 million initiative to empower researchers, nonprofits and organizations with advanced technologies to help unlock solutions to the biggest challenges facing society today.

Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

What We're Watching: Yemen breakthrough, Turkey vs Russia, arresting Zuma?

People wait to board a United Nations plane which will carry them and other patients to Amman, Jordan in the first flight of a medical air bridge from Sanaa airport in Sanaa, Yemen

Yemen's mercy flight – After 18 months of painstaking negotiations, a United Nations plane carrying sick Yemenis in need of urgent medical care took off from Sanaa, the country's rebel-held capital, headed for Jordan. The seven people onboard the UN's "mercy flight" require treatment for life-threatening conditions, while an additional 23 people are expected to take similar flights to seek medical care in Egypt and Jordan later this week. Sanaa airport has been closed to commercial flights since 2016, when heavy fighting intensified between the Saudi-backed coalition and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Violence has eased in recent months as the two sides pursue back-channel talks to resolve a five-year conflict that's pushed much of the population to the brink of starvation. But a fresh outburst of fighting in recent weeks reminds us how elusive a workable peace in Yemen remains.


Turkey's search for friends – President Erdogan of Turkey once claimed a foreign policy of "zero problems with neighbors." He now appears to have zero friends. Consider: Turkey's relations with its longstanding allies – the US and the European Union – have been strained in recent years. Europe and Turkey are at odds over refugee policies, human rights, and oil drilling in the Mediterranean. The US, meanwhile, has threatened sanctions over Ankara's purchase of Russian missiles. As Turkey's relations with its NATO allies have soured, Erdogan has tried to cultivate closer ties with regional heavyweight Vladimir Putin. But rifts between Turkey and Russia have recently been opening too. In Syria, Turkey has exchanged deadly strikes with the Russian-backed forces of Bashar al-Assad, earning a warning from Moscow. In Libya, Turkey has sent troops to support the UN-backed government, which is currently at war with a warlord backed by…Russia.

Arrest warrant for Jacob Zuma – For months, South Africa's disgraced former president Jacob Zuma has tried to avoid showing up at his own corruption trial. First his legal team filed a flurry of appeals. When those were struck down, the 77-year old Zuma cited his deteriorating health as a reason not to face graft charges related to a $2.5 billion arms deal in the late 1990s. The court has now had enough – on Tuesday it issued an arrest warrant that takes effect if Zuma isn't present when the trial resumes on May 6. Lawyers for Zuma, who resigned the presidency in 2018 with more than 700 corruption charges against him, have accused the court of lacking "compassion." Zuma is reported to be in Cuba at the moment for medical treatment. There is no word on when he is set to return to South Africa.

Hard Numbers: Trump's Gallup approval rating hits all time high

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about impeachment investigation during signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at White House in Washington

151: Malawi's constitutional court has ruled that widespread irregularities compromised the outcome of last year's presidential election, annulling the results and ruling that a new vote must take place within 151 days.


3,000: After months of political upheaval in Algeria over what many decried as a sham election, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Tuesday pardoned more than 3,000 prisoners as a good will gesture intended to win him support. It's unclear, however, whether those pardoned include protestors detained for participating in recent anti-government activities.

49: President Trump's approval rating has risen to 49 percent, the highest recorded by Gallup since he took office three years ago. Growing support from independent voters, which has increased five points since early January, contributed to Trump's boost, Gallup found.

428 billion: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi released his annual budget for 2020-21, offering $428 billion for a series of modest initiatives that includes investment in new infrastructure. But many argue that it does nothing to help lift the country from its worst economic slowdown in more than a decade.

This edition of Signal was written by Alex Kliment, Gabrielle Debinski, and Willis Sparks. The graphic was made by Paige Fusco.

2/4/20

Hi there,

Today we'll explain how the coronavirus can get the global economy sick, meet Iraq's new PM, trade opium for avocados, and map the Trump administration's widening travel ban.

Send us your love/hate here.

-Alex Kliment

Why China's sneeze is giving the world economy chills

Could a single bat in central China make the global economy catch a cold? Call it an undead variation of the butterfly effect, but as the Wuhan coronavirus (which may have originated in bats) continues to spread, companies and consumers around the world are bracing for chills.

Why? Well, for one thing, China accounts for about a fifth of global economic output and it's number one in global trade. That means that any time the Chinese economy shudders or stumbles, the shockwaves circle the globe. And China is most certainly shuddering.


To slow the disease's advance, officials extended the traditional Chinese New Year holiday, and locked down cities that are home to more than 50 million people. In Wuhan itself, a major manufacturing and export hub, factories are shuttered for at least another week, and about a dozen other industrial regions have followed suit.

While China's own people are clearly bearing the brunt of the epidemic, here are three reasons why the outbreak, and the response to it, are also affecting the global economy:

China is a leading market for the world's largest consumer goods companies. But the quarantine and lockdown restrictions have forced many of those businesses to go dark in China for now. Apple, for example, has closed all its stores in China, its second largest market. Starbucks, similarly dependent, has closed half its shops in the country. China's oil imports, the largest in the world, are also reportedly taking a hit as the virus crimps travel and industrial production there. Dozens of air carriers, meanwhile, have cut service to China.

China is the world's largest exporter, and with many of the factories that do that exporting now closed, global businesses that rely on parts and labor in China are scrambling to figure out alternatives. DHL, who know a thing or two about supply chains, have warned of "serious disruptions." This affects everything from your smartphone, to your vacuum cleaner to your (or your kids') video game consoles.

Markets get jittery. People who trade the stocks of all the companies affected by this are understandably jittery. US markets have taken a hit in recent days and China's main stock indices fell about 8 percent when they opened yesterday for the first time since the beginning of the Chinese New Year holiday.

The good news is, after it gets worse, it generally gets better – when China's stores, factories, and travel links reopen, there will likely be a mini boom as everyone gets back to shopping and working and exporting. The bad news is: we still don't know when that might be.

JOB BOARD: Signal is hiring! 

Are you a writer or journalist with creative flair and an interest in international politics? Can you look at global stories from a variety of perspectives? Do you want to write for Signal? Then you are a great candidate to be an editor and senior writer at GZERO Media. See here to learn more.

The Graphic Truth

The Trump administration has added six countries to its contentious list of states whose citizens are banned from obtaining certain types of visas to enter the United States. The list now includes Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and largest economy, along with Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania. The travel ban already affected 135 million people worldwide, but in its new expanded form it has an outsized effect on Africa: fully a quarter of the continent's people (about 300 million people) are affected by the measures. The US says the travel ban is justified for security reasons. Here's a look at the restrictions, which vary from country to country.

What We're Watching: Iraq's new PM, Iowa caucus results, conflict avocados

Iraqi demonstrators and university students carry posters depicting the newly appointed Prime Minister of Iraq, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, to express their rejection of him, during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad

Iraq's new prime minister: After two months of political stalemate and mass anti-government protests, Iraq has a prime minister. Mohammed Allawi, a former communications minister who resigned from that post in 2012 after accusing the government of corruption, will now run the country until early parliamentary elections are held at a yet to be determined date. Allawi, a Shia, is the cousin of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. His first few hours on the job haven't been easy: despite making overtures to the protesters in which he praised their "bravery," hundreds of people took to the streets Sunday in Baghdad and the country's predominantly Shiite south to oppose Allawi who, they say, represents the same corrupt political elite that's long failed them. But Allawi also enjoys the backing of Moqtada el-Sadr, the country's most powerful Shia cleric, and that counts for a lot. We're watching to see if Allawi can restore order to Iraq's unsettled internal politics, while also balancing Iraq's dicey relations with the US and Iran. No easy task, even for the deftest of politicians.


The Iowa results: Like everyone else in the US right now, we're waiting for the release of Iowa caucus results. Also like everyone else, we are wondering if this is really the best way to do primaries. More soon.

Narcos and avocados: Americans' increased use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl has cratered prices for organic opium in Mexico, forcing gangs there to turn to an unlikely alternative source of income: the avocado. The tropical fruit (yes, it's a fruit, don't @ us) has enjoyed a huge boom in the US in recent years, opening up $2bn in trade for Mexican farmers. And with opium prices falling, the narcos have swooped in to extort avocado farmers and hijack their shipments. The Financial Times reports that some municipalities are hiring special security services just to protect the avocado industry. You can learn more about the story in the excellent Netflix series Rotten. In the meantime, the next time you order an avocado toast at brunch, gaze deep into that green paste and contemplate the harrowing journey that it took to reach you. Opioids. Avocados. Violence. It's all connected. Enjoy!


Puppet Regime: Putin on the Caucuses

What do Chechnya, Georgia, and Iowa have in common? The President of Russia has an answer. Watch here.

GZERO World: Steve Bannon on The State of the Union

One of President Trump's old advisers, Steve Bannon, thinks the President is making a mistake by delivering his State of the Union address this evening. Here he sits down with Ian Bremmer to explain why. The full GZERO World interview with Steve Bannon airs nationally on public television in the U.S. beginning Friday, February 7. Check local listings.

Hard Numbers: Chickens on the brink of death!

80: El Salvador has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, with one woman murdered on average every three days in 2019, and 80 percent of those crimes go unpunished. The recent high-profile murder of a Salvadoran journalist by her boyfriend prompted the government to declare femicide a national emergency.


300 million: The isolation of China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus, is pushing its flock of more than 300 million chickens to the "edge of death," the region's poultry association said. Blocking transport in and out of Hubei has disrupted crucial shipments of animal feed supplies, and if this trend continues, most farms in the province will likely run out by the end of the week.

600: As Islamist violence continues to cripple Africa's Sahel region, France announced the deployment of 600 more soldiers to the Sahel, adding to the 4,500 French troops already stationed there. The reinforcements will deploy primarily to areas along the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, which jihadists have used as launchpads for attacks.

6: Turkey launched fatal airstrikes against Bashar al-Assad's forces in northwestern Syria Monday, after six Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian shelling in Idlib province. Russia, a major backer of the Assad regime, said it wasn't warned about the retaliation – Turkey says Russia shouldn't stand in the way anyway.

This edition of signal was written by Alex Kliment and Gabrielle Debinski. Art and graphic by Gabriella Turrisi and Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel from the late, great Andy Gill (whose trailblazing post-punk band Gang of Four was, by the way, named after the leadership structure that ruled China during the Cultural Revolution.)

Hi there,

Today we've got the UK leaving the EU, Jared Kushner's thoughts on Israeli settlements, a growing refugee crisis in Syria, and America's geography problem.

Send us love/hate here.

Alex Kliment

Brexit is over, long live Brexit!

Brexit

At eleven o'clock this evening in London, the United Kingdom will officially escort itself out of the EU. After nearly half a century of an oft-contentious cross-channel relationship, Britain is now free to see other people. But what happens now? Is this really the end of the uncertainty and anguish that have gripped the UK since the 2016 referendum?

Not quite.

The UK is formally out of the EU, sure. But the clock is now ticking on a host of other issues.


Across the channel – The UK and EU still need to define their new relationship on a host of thorny issues, including trade, military and law enforcement ties, regulation, financial markets integration, and even fishing rights.

They have an 11-month grace period to work all that out. That's not a lot of time given the contentious issues involved. If nothing is agreed by December 31, then we'd be in the dreaded "no-deal" Brexit scenario, which would be economically damaging on both sides of the channel. Boris Johnson says he won't ask for an extension – which he'd have to do by July – setting up more high-wire politics as we lurch towards the summer.

Across the pond – After leaving the world's largest economic bloc, Johnson is eager to strike a fresh deal with the world's number one economy. But although the US is the UK's closest ally – a bond supported by their current leaders' mutual affection for populist messaging and awful hair – London and Washington have beefs. London recently bucked US demands to ban Huawei from building 5G networks in Britain, and Johnson says he's moving ahead with a digital services tax on US tech giants, despite Trump's threats to retaliate. Iran could also prove contentious: London, along with its erstwhile EU partners in Paris and Berlin, has said it wants the beleaguered Iran nuclear deal to survive, but Johnson has also called for a new "Trump Deal" to replace it. What side is he on?

Across the Irish Sea – Johnson also needs to manage fallout closer to home. His Brexit plan artfully avoids creating a potentially dangerous "hard border" with Ireland. But the fact remains that Brexit was not popular in Scotland or in Northern Ireland. Nationalists in both places want fresh referendums on whether to stay in the UK. Johnson has already refused to allow Scotland to call another independence referendum, and would likely do the same for any request for a Northern Irish "border poll" on unification with Ireland. The UK isn't about to fall apart, but over time these pressures will grow, particularly if the UK-EU negotiations become deadlocked later this year.

GZERO WORLD: Kushner wants Israel to wait on settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he wants to make the West Bank settlements officially part of Israel, and he may make a move in that direction as soon as this weekend. But in a new interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, America's First son-in-law Jared Kushner, who shaped the Trump administration's controversial new peace proposal, says: not so fast. Watch the clip here.

Making Styrofoam More Sustainable

At its plant in Mantua, Italy, Eni's chemical company Versalis has developed a new kind of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as styrofoam. It requires lower emissions and energy consumption, and it even resists breaking into little flecks and styrofoam balls. This new polystyrene was designed and produced specifically with reuse in mind, and for some applications it can be reused several times.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

Puppet Regime: Boris Johnson speaks on Brexit day

Today is going to be the day, friends. At times of great trial and tribulation, we know that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recites the poetry that is closest to his heart. And as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union today, here is what Mr Johnson has to say.

What We're Watching: Japan wants to jail Ghosn's American helpers

A combination of photos show Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn attending a news conference at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut

Japan seeks arrest of Americans who helped Ghosn escape: Japanese authorities have issued arrest warrants for three Americans suspected of helping former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn flee the country while he was awaiting trial on charges of financial wrongdoing. You might recall Ghosn's dramatic escape back in December, where he walked out of his home in Tokyo, turning up a day later in Lebanon. The Japanese claim that the three US citizens – including a former US special forces soldier– smuggled Ghosn onto a plane by hiding him in "portable luggage." The three Americans are believed to still be in the Middle East. Japan and Lebanon have about a month to decide whether Ghosn will be extradited back to Tokyo, but Beirut generally doesn't hand over its nationals to foreign governments.


"International crisis" looms in northern Syria: After a weeks-long offensive that has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians, Syrian government forces have captured the town of Maarat al-Numan in Idlib province, rebel forces' last stronghold. The town, held by opposition fighters since 2012, controls the long road linking Damascus to Aleppo, and is critical to Bashar al-Assad's plan of consolidating power across Syria. The dire humanitarian situation in Idlib has worsened as sustained air strikes have forced some 20,000 people to flee their homes there in the last two days alone. The US special envoy for Syria warned Thursday that around 700,000 displaced civilians from northwest Syria are now on the move to the Turkish border, which he says, could create a full blown "international crisis."

What we're really watching, like on TV:

Pandemic: Worried about coronavirus? Great time to check out the new Netflix docuseries "Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak," which explores the world's preparedness to deal with a potential influenza pandemic. Spoiler: experts say a new outbreak is inevitable, and that the world isn't prepared to handle it. Besides its freakish resonance for the moment, Pandemic introduces viewers to everyday heroes on the frontlines of managing and researching epidemics, like these scientists working tirelessly to develop a universal flu vaccine.

Well, do Americans care about Ukraine?

It's not us asking, it's US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo! GZERO guest contributor Kevin Bleyer takes a look at why Americans' generally poor grasp of world geography matters for the 2020 election. Did you know that Americans' willingness to bomb a country goes up as their familiarity with its location goes down? Read on…

Hard Numbers: Greece wants to build a new wall in the sea to deter migrants

10,000: In an attempt to uproot the vast network of jihadist groups in the Sahel region, Mali says it will recruit 10,000 new soldiers in the coming months, increasing the size of its army by about 50%. But it's not clear how the government will entice so many people to join an underfunded army whose soldiers are regularly killed in Islamist attacks.


7: The EU has piled new sanctions on seven Russian-backed officials in Crimea for illegally organizing elections in the peninsula last year, raising the number of individuals on the EU blacklist to 177. These people have their assets in the EU frozen and are barred from traveling there.

2.7: Greece's government wants to install a 2.7 km (1.7 mile) floating barrier in the Aegean Sea to deter migrants from reaching the Greek islands from Turkey's coast. A resurgence in the number of migrants arriving at the island of Lesbos from the Middle East and Africa has created severe overcrowding at some refugee camps.

200,000: The Colombian government will grant legal status to some 200,000 Venezuelan refugees in the coming months, and many more will be eligible for new work visas as well. Colombia has absorbed 1.6. million Venezuelan refugees, by far the most of any country, and the government wants to formalize their status in order to discourage criminality and other social problems.

This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski and Alex Kliment. Spiritual counsel from Kevin Allison, Willis Sparks, and these New York City coyotes.

Today in Signal: The UK walks a fine line between the US and China, Trump unveils a fairly unfair Middle East peace deal, while Bolivia's caretaker president drops a bombshell, and is the CIA Iran chief dead? As a bonus, we review some tasteless beers.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter.

Thanks for reading!

Kevin and The Signalistas

The UK walks a fine line on Huawei, is Germany next?

For months now, the US has been lobbying countries around the world to ban the Chinese tech giant Huawei from building the 5G data networks that are going to power everything from your cell phone, to power grids, to self-driving cars. US security hawks say allowing a Chinese company to supply such essential infrastructure could allow the Chinese government to steal sensitive data or even sabotage networks. On the other hand, rejecting Huawei could make 5G more expensive. It also means angering the world's second-largest economy.


On Tuesday, the UK government dealt a blow to the US campaign by announcing that, after careful consideration, it would let Huawei in, subject to some restrictions. It's a big decision that could have ripple effects - not just on the UK's relationship with the US and China, but on other major economies, like Germany, that are trying to navigate US-China trade and technology tensions.

Here's what's going on:

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking the middle ground. The US has banned Huawei from its own 5G networks and threatened to suspend intelligence-sharing with other allies who don't follow suit. But national security isn't Johnson's only concern. For one thing, there's the UK's trade relationship with China: banning Huawei would anger Beijing's government right as London is trying to forge critical post-Brexit ties. At the same time, he's on the hook for campaign promises to connect under-served regions of the UK to super-fast broadband, which will be harder to do if UK telecom companies can't use cheaper Huawei gear.

So, the UK's response is an attempted compromise: Huawei will be labelled a "high-risk" vendor and will face restrictions on where and how much of its equipment can be used. Johnson will hope the US is bluffing when it comes to cutting off one of the most important intel-sharing relationships in the world.

In Germany, Angela Merkel is watching anxiously. The German chancellor's political dilemma is sharper than Johnson's. On one side, German lawmakers, including influential members of Merkel's CDU party, want tougher restrictions that would effectively ban Huawei. But Germany's politically powerful carmakers do huge business in China, which could leave Germany more vulnerable to retaliation if it excludes the Chinese company. Merkel herself favors more openness, but unlike Johnson, who has a strong, fresh mandate, Merkel is in the twilight of her tenure, with a governing coalition under serious strain. The UK's decision to allow Huawei in may bolster Merkel's case, but she'll want to wait and see whether EU member state leaders take a similar position at a summit in March before she presses the issue with recalcitrant lawmakers.

Ian Bremmer: Trump's Middle East peace deal isn't meant to be fair

The Middle East peace initiative unveiled yesterday by the Trump administration is markedly more pro-Israel than any previous ones. But it offers the Palestinians one critically important thing. See here for Ian Bremmer's thoughts on what might in fact be the last best chance for a peace deal.

The new Washington Privacy Act could soon become the strongest of its kind in the U.S.

This month, a bipartisan group of legislators in Washington state presented new legislation that could soon become the most comprehensive privacy law in the country. The centerpiece of this legislation, the Washington Privacy Act as substituted, goes further than the landmark bill California recently enacted and builds on the law Europeans have enjoyed for the past year and a half.

As Microsoft President Brad Smith shared in his blog post about our priorities for the state of Washington's current legislative session, we believe it is important to enact strong data privacy protections to demonstrate our state's leadership on what we believe will be one of the defining issues of our generation. People will only trust technology if they know their data is private and under their control, and new laws like these will help provide that assurance.

Read more here.

The Graphic Truth

The new coronavirus, which first surfaced in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has already killed 132 people and infected more than 5,000 people in China. A little over a month since the virus was first identified, it has spread far beyond China's borders. Global financial markets have also taken a hit as investors are on edge about the uncertainty. Here's a look at where the Wuhan coronavirus has spread so far.

What We're Watching: Bolivia back on the brink

Bolivia's interim president Jeanine Anez attends a ceremony in La Paz

The end of the interim in Bolivia? – Mere months after taking over as Bolivia's interim president, Jeanine Áñez has decided that "interim" isn't quite permanent enough, and she now wants to run for president in elections set for May 3. Áñez is an outspoken conservative who took over in October when mass protests over election fraud prompted the military to oust the long-serving left-populist Evo Morales. She says she is just trying to unify a fractious conservative ticket that can beat the candidate backed by Morales' party. (Morales himself is barred from running.) Her supporters say she has the right to run just like anyone else. But critics say that after promising that she would serve only as a caretaker president, Áñez's decision taints the legitimacy of an election meant to be a clean slate reset after the unrest last fall. We are watching closely to see if her move sparks fresh unrest in an already deeply polarized country.


A broken ceasefire in Libya – A week after world leaders gathered in Berlin to broker a cease-fire in the Libyan civil war, intense clashes have resumed between two rival factions, the UN-backed Government of National Accord that governs Tripoli, and a rival faction led by general Khalifa Haftar. The Berlin conference sought to stop external meddling and arms supplies, but in recent days, foreign arms shipments have continued to arrive in Libya, providing militants with advanced weapons, armored vehicles, and even foreign fighters. Haftar's LNA has major backing from the United Arab Emirates, along with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Meanwhile, Turkey backs the Tripoli-based government and has deployed troops there. Prospects for peace in the war-torn, oil-rich country look as remote as ever.

The curious case of "Ayatollah Mike" – On Monday, a US Air Force plane crashed in Afghanistan. That's all we really know for sure, but the rumor mill is spinning fast and furious. The Taliban claims that it shot the craft out of the sky and that it was packed with CIA operatives. Iranian media, for their part, are claiming that one of the officials aboard was CIA bigwig Michael D'Andrea, the intelligence officer known as "Ayatollah Mike," who oversees the agency's work on Iran and Afghanistan. The sense of the coverage is that this was a response to the US killing of its top general Qassim Suleimani earlier this month, which D'Andrea would have overseen. There are very, very few people in the world who know what really happened. We're watching to see if and how this unfolds further and what effect it has on US-Iran tensions.

What We're Ignoring

Tasteless beers – The infamous Mexican drug lord El Chapo is not only behind bars, now he's in them too. His daughter has launched a craft beer named after him, as part of her El Chapo 701 clothing brand, which cashes in on the murderous billionaire drug trafficker's image and legacy. (We note that Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's kids already tried this trick years ago.) Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a new beer brand that uses Nazi-style imagery on its labels was flying off the shelves in a town in eastern Germany, prompting a police investigation into illegal use of banned Third Reich symbols. We'll pass on both of these brews, if it's all the same with you.

Hard Numbers: Russia wants a bigger piece of Africa

1: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally indicted on corruption charges Tuesday, making him the first sitting prime minister to face trial in Israel's history. The charges came hours before Netanyahu was set to meet President Trump for the unveiling of the US' long-anticipated Mideast peace plan.


60,000: Clashes in Sudan's West Darfur between Arab and African ethnic groups have displaced some 60,000 Sudanese, with 4,000 people fleeing to neighboring Chad in the last week alone. An uptick in violence has undermined efforts by Sudan's transitional government to end Darfur's decades-long conflict.

200: Russia is raising its profile in Africa, recently sending 200 mercenaries to Mozambique to combat the surge of jihadist violence in the region. Moscow is already involved in Libya's civil war and is looking to build a port in the Horn of Africa, which would be Russia's first permanent military installation on the continent.

6: For the first time since being jailed for driving the failed Catalan independence bid in 2017, six Catalan politicians returned to Barcelona's regional parliament to attend a committee session addressing the consequences of that crisis. The former Cabinet members are serving prison sentences of between nine to 13 years for that independence bid.

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, Alex Kliment, and Gabrielle Debinski. Graphics magic by Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel from Leon Levy.

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