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Our newsletter is called Signal. We chose that name because we wanted to do our best to separate "signal" from "noise" for our readers — to cut through ideology and emotion to try to offer insight into what's happening, why it's happening, and what might happen in the future. With that in mind, here's what has happened in the United States over the past 24 hours and how we got here.

President Donald Trump has built a large following by telling people that American politics is a game that has been rigged against his supporters. In November, he was defeated by Joe Biden in a free and fair election. Before, during, and after that election, Trump has tried to persuade his followers that the election was stolen from them. That charge is false. It has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits and court cases, and no court has found that it has merit.

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In the weeks leading up to the US presidential election, we spoke to journalists and commentators from around the world about how the result might affect their countries. Then, in the days after Joe Biden's victory became clear, we went back to some of them to see what they now expect from the next American administration. Here's what we heard from Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Mexico, and the Philippines.

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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 illiterateand 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.

14,000: A sprawling NYT report says more than 128,000 people have disappeared into Syria's government prison system, where torture, rape, and summary executions are rampant, since the start of the civil war in 2011. Some 14,000 people are believed to have been tortured to death, with one officer proudly calling himself "Hitler."

2/3: Cuba, hit by tighter US sanctions and shrinking imports of cheap oil from Venezuela, has returned to a policy of rationing basic foodstuffs. The state-controlled economy imports roughly two-thirds of what its 11 million citizens eat, at an annual bill of $2 billion.

2.8 billion: Since 2016, Facebook has deleted some 2.8 billion "fake" accounts as part of a Whack-A-Mole style effort to stamp out disinformation campaigns designed to mess with elections. The tech giant's next big test on this score is the European Parliamentary election later this month.

815,000: The tariffs that the Trump administration imposed on imported washing machines last year helped to create nearly 2,000 new jobs in the United States, at a cost to consumers of more than $815,000 per job created, according to a University of Chicago study. #TradeoffsOfTrade

Macron takes the stage – France's embattled President Emmanuel Macron has spent a few weeks listening to the French people, and now he's set to speak about what he's learned. In a speech tomorrow, Macron will unveil several policy proposals – including tax cuts and measures to increase government accountability – meant as a response to the issues of inequality and the urban-rural divide that gave rise to the Yellow Vests protest movement. The speech, initially planned for last week, was postponed when the Notre-Dame cathedral went up in flames. It will be the most politically significant moment of Macron's flagging presidency. Can he turn things around?

The Inglorious Bustards of Pakistan – Since the 1970s, wealthy Gulf Arab falconers have flocked to Pakistan to hunt a fiercely startled looking bird called the MacQueen's Bustard, whose flesh is considered an aphrodisiac. Conservationists say overhunting has put the species in danger, and some Pakistanis have objected for years to foreigners plundering their natural riches. But Pakistan not only makes good money selling the hunting licenses, the cash-strapped country is also dependent financially on Saudi Arabia, whose princes are avid falconers. We're watching, hawk-eyed, to see if Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan is willing to ruffle Riyadh's feathers over this. We doubt it.

What We're Ignoring: A Zero Summit

The Putin-Kim Summit – Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet North Korea's Kim Jong-un for the first time at the Russian port city of Vladivostok, not far from the border between their two countries, later this month. We expect little of substance to come from this. North Korea has nothing that Russia needs and can't pay a decent price for anything the Russians would sell. And saddled with sanctions of its own, Russia is unlikely to serve Kim a free lunch to revive his economy. Both men can use the meeting to enhance their international prestige, and Putin certainly loves to pique Washington, but that's about it.

Steve Bannon's "Gladiator" School – Former Trump advisor and poster boy for the slovenly, anti-globalist set Steve Bannon has leased a 13th century Italian monastery in Italy for 19 years (!) to serve as an academy to train populists. Bannon calls it a "gladiator school for culture warriors" that can "save Western civilization." Because nothing says anti-elitist friend of the working man like an academy housed within an Italian monastery. The school's formal name is the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West. We're ignoring this story because we're skeptical that Europeans need an American to explain populism to them, but the film version of this could be spectacular.

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

More Brexit Bewilderment – Following yesterday's parliamentary votes, which failed to approve any alternative to Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan, she is now weighing whether to try and get it through one last time. Although Parliament has already soundly rejected it three times, it now looks to be the least tumultuous path forward, and a fourth vote could be held by the end of the week. Another round of indicative votes is also expected in Parliament tomorrow. If both votes fail, new elections or a second referendum might be the only way to break Britain's bewildering political paralysis. But the clock is ticking: the UK has only until April 12 to decide what it wants to do. If it doesn't, the EU has to either give London even more time to sort things out, or allow the UK to careen out of the Union without any deal on future economic ties.

Bouteflika's next/last move – Oil-rich Algeria's severely disabled 82-year-old president has said he will step down before his term ends later this month, responding to weeks of protests that began when he announced he would seek a fifth-straight term in office. Will the early resignation quell the protests? A lot will depend on whether Bouteflika's exit opens the way to a more accountable political system or whether, as many fear, it will merely pave the way for military brass and other cronies around Bouteflika to make cosmetic changes that do little to address the country's problems. We aren't optimistic, but we are watching....

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Rational explanations for Garfields on the beach – For thirty years, novelty telephones shaped like the grumpy cartoon cat Garfield (one of your author's Saturday morning favorites as a child) have been washing up on a beach in Northwestern France. No one knew why until volunteers cleaning the beach recently discovered that the feline phones were washing out of a shipping container that had fallen off a boat in the 1980s and become lodged in a nearby sea cave. Ok, we understand that shipping companies lose an average of 1,500 containers on the high seas every year and that this is a rational explanation, but we were really hoping there was some larger supernatural force that might send thousands of Nermal washing up in Plymouth, England to antagonize Garfield from across the channel

Irrational explanations for the Rise of Nazism – One of Brazilian President JairBolsonaro's favorite political gurus is a 71-year-old, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, autodidact philosopher from Brazil who lives in Virginia. Olavo de Carvalho's eccentric broadsides against "the left" and "globalists" are immensely popular with the Brazilian far right, and also with Steve Bannon (remember him?). But Mr. Carvalho's ideas sometimes go beyond the eccentric into the flat out, well, crazy: this weekend he tweeted that Stalin had in fact created Nazism as part of a broader plan to subjugate Eastern Europe. While we are ignoring the historical illiteracy of this suggestion, we are paying attention to what Carvalho says, because he exerts huge influence over Brazil's education policy, which Bolsonaro has made a point of reshaping since the moment he won Brazil's presidential election late last year.

627 million: Brexit has cost the United Kingdom an estimated $627 million in lost economic output per week since the 2016 referendum, according to Goldman Sachs.

9: Only 9 percent of Ukrainians say they have confidence in their government, compared to 91 percent who see it as corrupt, according to Gallup. Why? Well, for starters, nearly four in 10 adults report not having enough money for food or shelter.

94: A new report from the UN estimates that 94 percent of Venezuelans live in poverty today. Once South America's wealthiest country, Venezuela is experiencing one of the worst economic collapses ever recorded.

40: Just over a week after the release of the preliminary findings of the Mueller report, 40 percent of Americans believe it hasn't cleared the president of wrongdoing, while 29 percent believe it has.

What We're Watching

Nasrin Sotoudeh – Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has built a formidable reputation by, among other things, taking the cases of women arrested for appearing in public without headscarves. In 2012, the European Union awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. On Monday, an Iranian court ordered Sotoudeh to serve 10 years on top of a previous 28-year prison sentence for "colluding against the system"—and to receive 148 lashes.

Aggressive Australian Animals – Australia is a wonderful country filled with fantastic people, but it's a really, really dangerous place. Drop your guard for two seconds and some angry shark, anaconda, or hairy prehistoric spider will try to beat you senseless. Look what happened to this unsuspecting paraglider.

What We're Ignoring

Maduro Propaganda – Venezuela's chief prosecutor has asked the country's Supreme Court to investigate opposition leader Juan Guaidó for sabotaging the country's electrical system following a massive electricity shutdown across the country. Maduro claimed on Tuesday that the US government had used electromagnetic waves from mobile devices to knock out the nation's power system. We're watching the political impact of the power outages while ignoring laughable claims about their source.

Speculation about the Mueller Report – We've seen arguments in the media that the Robert Mueller investigation of President Trump will end within days, that it will continue for months, that Mueller will issue a report, that he won't issue a report, that he'll issue a report that we're not allowed to read, that there will be two Mueller reports, that he's already issued a report and we just missed it, and that the report will be published only in Latin. (OK, I made up that last one.) This confusion provides proof positive there are still people in Washington who can keep an important secret—and that the only authority on Robert Mueller is Robert Mueller.

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American carnage

09/10/19

Hard Numbers