It's Willis with your Friday edition of Signal. Today, we'll drive through the intersection of climate change and populism, past the fire Donald Trump just lit in front of Huawei headquarters, stop off in Vienna for a burger, speed through Guatemala, and chart a course toward Australia.

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

Cheers,

Willis Sparks

Note: A few days ago, we lost a friend with the passing of veteran journalist, legendary fisherman, and Signal reader Charles Salter. We send our best wishes to his family and many friends.

The Coming Migration Storm

Willis Sparks

In recent years, the accelerating cross-border flow of migrants fleeing violence and poverty has remade the politics of Europe and the United States. A startling new study from Stanford University warns that the conflicts we've seen to date may just be the opening act of a much larger and more dangerous drama.

Here's the study's argument in brief:

  • In 2007-2008, a drought wiped out the livelihoods of huge numbers of Syrians living in the countryside, forcing them into already overcrowded cities. This forced internal migration created stresses that combined with existing problems to create social unrest, a harsh government crackdown, and then a civil war.
  • The war created an exodus of millions of desperate Syrians toward neighboring countries and then to Europe, where more than one million of them landed in 2015.
  • This wave of refugees, joined by migrants from other places, sparked intense fear and hostility among some in Europe, creating opportunities for politicians to win support with vows to stop the flow. That's a major reason why xenophobic populism has become Europe's fastest-growing political phenomenon.
  • In 2014–2018, an unusually severe drought hit Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Years of erratic weather, failed harvests, and a chronic lack of jobs decimated entire villages in all three countries and created strong incentives for migrants to try to reach the United States.
  • The arrival of these migrants at the US southern border further polarized the politics of a country already divided over immigration, racial tensions, and lost manufacturing jobs.

Now a look to the future.

The report warns that populations are set to explode in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Central America in coming years. The working-age population of sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to increase by nearly a billion people between 2020 and 2060. Over time, we're likely to see "regional demographic explosions of young people."

In coming decades, overcrowding in these places will exacerbate desertification, water shortages, and urbanization. Mounting ecological stresses will provoke violent political conflict, forcing more people to hit the road in search of a better life.

In other words: The combination of extreme weather patterns and growing populations of young people in poorer countries will combine to create more migration, more political anger, and a greater risk of conflict within and among countries.

But… the study's authors say this bad news is not inevitable. Good government, in both poor and rich countries, can help avoid this risk. If poor countries invest more in education, they can create jobs and other opportunities that persuade many more people that they can build a safe and prosperous future, for themselves and their families, where they are. It's in the interest of rich countries to help. And governments of rich and poor countries can work together much more effectively to slow the advance of climate change. If they do, say the study's authors, both sides will benefit.

The Huawei Death Threat

Willis Sparks

President Donald Trump again dramatically escalated the stakes in the US-China rivalry on Wednesday with a move that made headlines in the US while landing like a grenade in Beijing.

The US Commerce Department announced yesterday that Huawei, China's leading tech company and already the source of major controversy, has been added to a list that prevents US tech suppliers from selling to Huawei without a license. That's even more important than the executive order, also published yesterday, that bans US telecom companies from using Huawei equipment.

It's possible this order won't be fully implemented. Maybe it's just one more leverage point that President Trump hopes will help him get a good deal from China to end the trade war between the two countries. Or maybe the order will go forward, but licenses will be granted that allow sales to Huawei to continue.

But placing Huawei on this list is essentially a death threat against a company that Beijing hopes will give China a competitive edge in the global race to develop the 5G communications technology that will enable everything from more advanced smartphones to smart cities. If Huawei can't buy from US hardware and software suppliers, it can't upgrade its own systems or conduct routine maintenance. It's a blow for virtually all of Huawei's products and its global network of customers.

Once again, the world awaits a response from China to the latest broadside from the US president and wonders how big a setback this is for talks to end the US-China trade war.

Australia’s Decision Day

Willis Sparks

Voters in Australia head to the polls tomorrow to elect a new government. Though few outsiders closely follow politics in this country, this election tells interesting stories about three of the most important issues in today's world: immigration, climate change, and managing changing relations with China. It's also a country with a steady economy—but lots of political turnover.

Consider:

  • Australian prime ministers enter politics through a revolving door. The country has had six changes of prime minister in the past 12 years, mainly as a result of infighting within both major political parties.
  • But that's not because of an economy in the dumps. In fact, Australia hasn't suffered a recession in nearly three decades. Analysts cite openness to immigration and trade, and intelligent government as the secret formula to Australia's economic success.
  • Australians have to vote or face a fine. Compulsory voting will bring an expected 97 percent of eligible voters – more than 16 million people – to cast a ballot. Nearly 3 million have already voted in early balloting.
  • Australia is a nation of immigrants. In fact, more than a quarter of Australians were born abroad, double the rate in the United States.
  • Migration has become a hot political topic. More than half of Australians said in 2018 that immigration rates are too high, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a former immigration minister, is running for re-election on a pledge to cap immigration.
  • Relations with China also loom large. Ethnic Chinese make up 1.25 million of the country's 25 million people, and many of them live in competitive districts that are particularly important for the election outcome. China is Australia's number one trade partner, but controversies over alleged Chinese spying and an Australian decision to ban Chinese firm Huawei from its 5G communications network have angered some in the Chinese community.
  • The weather is heating up too. Following a steady rise in temperatures and a year of drought, floods, wildfires and cyclones, nearly 60 percent of Australians say "Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involved significant costs." Opposition leader Bill Shorten has made climate change a major part of his campaign.

The bottom line: The center-right Liberal-National Coalition or center-left Australian Labor Party: whoever wins will face tough questions on the future of immigration, climate policy, and all-important relations with China.

What We’re Watching: Constitutional Crisis and the Embassy of Fast Food

An American Constitutional Crisis – A "constitutional crisis" arises when a confrontation among branches of government can't be resolved by existing law. The US Constitution gives Congress the responsibility of oversight of the president and his administration, and it grants the president certain privileges, as well. Some Democrats now argue that the Trump administration's refusal to provide congressional committees with access to requested witnesses and documents, including the unredacted Mueller Report and President Trump's tax returns, has created such a crisis. But the Constitution provides for three branches of government. Congress is already taking Trump to court on multiple issues. If the president or Congress refuses to comply with coming court rulings, then the US will face a true constitutional crisis. We're not there yet, but the danger is growing.

Austrian McDonald's – On Tuesday, we told you about Burger King's new plan to deliver fast food to motorists stranded in traffic jams in Mexico City. Here's some good fast-food news for US citizens travelling in Austria who have lost their passports and are craving a milkshake. The US Embassy in Vienna announced this week that McDonald's restaurants across Austria will serve as mini embassies for American tourists, who can receive limited consular services there.

What We're Ignoring: Guatemala's Dirty Politics and a Tidal Wave of Euro-Kitsch

Guatemala's Presidential Field – Guatemala's Constitutional Court has ruled that Zury Ríos cannot compete in the country's June 16 presidential election because she's the daughter of former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, the world's first former head of state to be charged with genocide in his own country. Guatemalan voters can still choose between former first lady Sandra Torres, who faces charges of embezzlement, perjury and tax fraud, and former attorney general Thelma Aldana, who is under investigation for campaign finance irregularities.

Eurovision – We're ignoring Europe's famed song contest because it takes place in non-European Israel, non-European Australia is among the favorites to win, some of the performances give kitsch a bad name, and because the Russians don't consider the voting important enough to hack. And as we've seen, Russians will hack anything.

Hard Numbers: The British People’s Choice?

3.79 million: About 3.79 million babies were born in the US in 2018, taking the annual birth rate to its lowest point in three decades. Births in the US have fallen in 10 of the past 11 years.

40: North Korea is now coping with its worst drought in nearly 40 years, according to state media. Drought creates food shortages and the potential for unrest, which might help explain why Kim Jong-un has returned to missile launches to win new economic concessions.

2 billion: In nominal terms, trade between the United States and Soviet Union in the late 1980s totaled $2 billion a year. Current trade between the United States and China is $2 billion a day.

0.26: When Theresa May is forced to resign as UK prime minister in coming weeks, the 120,000 members of the Conservative Party will choose a new party leader, and that person will automatically become Britain's prime minister. In this way, just 0.26 percent of the UK electorate will choose their country's next head of government.

Words of Wisdom


"Banned by the dictator but not forgotten."


– Basketball player Enes Kanter tweets his response to an announcement that the playoff games in which he competes in the United States will not be televised in his native Turkey following his outspoken criticism of President Recep Erdogan.


Hi there,

With Kevin on vacation, the rest of the squad steps in today to give you some real talk about how unlikely a US-China deal is, hack into WhatsApp's big scandal, worry about rising tensions in the Gulf, and meet a prized pigeon.

Bonus: who is less likely be a US president, a Muslim or a socialist?

Send us your love/hate – but make it good.

Alex, Willis, and Gabe

US-China: What If There’s No Deal?

Willis Sparks

As the trade war between the world's two largest economies continues, stock markets around the world have gone queasy, and both sides are hunkering down for a longer fight. Some people still hope that a compromise will emerge at a possible Trump-Xi meeting during the G20 summit in Osaka in June.

But the optimists shouldn't get their hopes up.

Trump and his negotiators are demanding a fundamental change to the way China grows its economy. Among other things, they want the Chinese government to:

  • provide better access for US firms to the Chinese marketplace
  • stop providing Chinese companies with big subsidies that give them a competitive edge against foreigners
  • stop stealing foreign intellectual property
  • end the practice of forcing US companies to share new technologies as the price of entry into China
  • write these changes into Chinese law
  • and create a verification system that gives the US government confidence that China is actually doing all these things

In other words, Trump wants Xi to formally renounce the tools that China's leaders have used to transform what was once one of the world's poorest economies into what is now its second largest. What's more, Trump wants Beijing to make all these changes with a knife at its throat.

Compromise won't come easy on either side. Both Xi and Trump attach outsized importance to the need to save face. Both are under intense domestic political pressure to prove that the gains they hope to make are worth the pain they're forcing their people to endure.

Many of us assume that US and China will eventually get to yes. But what if it takes much longer than anyone thinks?

If they can't make sustainable progress toward a deal by their meeting next month, this conflict will drag on – potentially until after the 2020 US presidential election. Why make tough concessions to a man who might not be president much longer?

The 2020 election is still 18 months from now – if the trade war persists until then, how much collateral damage will China, the US, and the world economy suffer in that interim?

Graphic Truth: Would America Elect a Socialist?

Gabe Lipton

Americans would sooner elect a woman, a Muslim, or a gay candidate as president than put a self-described socialist in the White House. Here's a look at how Americans' support for different types of candidates has shifted over years.

Technology is changing the world for people with disabilities

Microsoft On The Issues

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is this week and technology is doing its part to help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Apps that describe surroundings; the ability to create 3-D audio maps; and accessible gaming devices are all small steps toward a more inclusive world.

For more on this and other issues, visit → Microsoft on The Issues

WhatsUpp with Commercial Hacking Tools in Government Hands?

Alex Kliment

If you're like 1.5 billion other people on the planet – or if you are Jared Kushner – you conduct a lot of your personal or business conversations on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app that says it's largely impervious to snoopers, hackers, and spooks.

But according to a bombshell report in The Financial Times earlier this week, the app has long contained a critical flaw that's enabled hackers to tap into your smartphone just by placing a WhatsApp voice call to you.

The hack relied on a program written by the Israeli tech firm NSO, which designs powerful snooping tools for law enforcement and counterterrorism officials in the Middle East and "western countries."

But it appears that political dissidents, human rights activists, and even a lawyer filing a liability suit against NSO itself were targeted – the FT report doesn't say who the attackers were.

WhatsApp says the bug has been fixed as of Monday. But this story – in which a commercial hacking program sold to governments was used to violate people's privacy and snoop on dissidents – illustrates a few big political challenges that we've highlighted in discussions about cybersecurity.

Cyber-arms control is hard. Cyberweapons, being scripts of computer code, can be very hard to control and contain, even with close oversight of who gets to buy them.

Mission creep is easy. Companies like NSO say they sell these products only to police and counterterrorism officials – but once they are in government hands, they can be used (or sold, or stolen) for other purposes or by other parts of the state.

Liability is murky. Who should be held accountable here: NSO for developing a product that was used beyond its (presumably) stated intent? Or WhatsApp for failing to guarantee the security of its own platform?

Surveillance and espionage are hardly new. But never before has there been a device that contained as much data about your thoughts, habits, preferences, movements, and personal relationships as the device you're holding or reading right this second.

The upshot: With hackers, governments, and commercial developers all trying to figure out how best to crack into it – what are the rules of the game?

Where does the US-China trade war go from here?

GZERO Media

Does the Philippine midterm election strengthen Duterte? How likely is a conflict in the Persian Gulf? Where does the US-China trade war go from here? It's the World In 60 Seconds with Ian Bremmer.

What We’re Watching: Standoffs in Sudan and the Persian Gulf

Persian Gulf dangers growing by the day – Iran-backed Houthi rebels used drones to attack two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia yesterday, just two days after a mysterious attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Tensions are flaring dangerously: a Saudi daily led its Tuesday edition with the headline "On the Verge of War?", while Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted that these recent "accidents" were authored by the US and Israel to trigger a conflict. Hanging over all of this: the Times reported that the Pentagon is exploring plans to send 120,000 additional troops to the Middle East. What could possibly go wrong?

Sudan Standoff – Following mass demonstrations that began in December, thousands of protesters in Khartoum have occupied the square outside Sudan's national military headquarters since April 6. First, they demanded the end of strongman Omar Bashir's 30-year dictatorship. They got that on April 11, but they refused to go home until the army promised to form a civilian-led government. Last weekend, it seemed like progress was being made in talks between army generals and protest organizers. But on Monday gunfire erupted. At least five protesters and one soldier were killed. We're watching to find out whether someone, perhaps in the military, is trying to prevent the generals and protesters from making a deal.

What We're Ignoring: North Korean virtues & Chinese officials' feelings

North Korean Wisdom and Honesty – For the first time ever, the US last week seized a North Korean cargo ship that was flouting international sanctions on the North's coal exports. Pyongyang, which depends on a vast network of clandestine ships to trade in international markets, wasn't pleased. Yesterday, it called on the US to "carefully reconsider" its "daylight robbery" of the ship, called the Wise Honest, saying the move violated the spirit of cooperation between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. We're ignoring North Korea's complaints, because its neither Wise nor Honest to invoke cooperation just days after firing off a volley of ballistic missiles.

Irreparable Harm to China's Feelings – On Monday, a man was arrested in eastern China for giving his dogs "illegal" names. Apparently, the man thought it would be funny to name his dogs "Chengguan," a word that refers to city officials who fight petty crime, and "Xieguan," which is an informal community worker. The man then publicized his joke on social media. State officials explained the arrest by claiming the man had "caused great harm to the nation and the city's urban management, in terms of their feelings." We're ignoring this story because this man has failed at the relatively easy task of giving dogs funny names, but also because we're confident his offense poses no real threat to China or its urban management.

Hard Numbers: The Price of a Prized Pigeon

1: Since October, more than 160,000 people from Guatemala have fled to the United States seeking asylum. That's fully 1 percent of the violence-plagued country's population. For reference, imagine if 800,000 Germans, 3 million Americans, or 13 million Indians left their country in just 6 months.

20: Last year German authorities recorded 1,800 anti-Semitic crimes nationwide, a 20 percent annual increase. Almost all of the crimes were perpetrated by right-wing groups.

400: Tighter US sanctions on Iran have hit the press – literally. Iranian newspapers are running out of paper and ink amid a broader economic crisis have caused the price of newsprint to shoot up as much as 400 percent for some publications.

1.4 million: Over the past year, many wealthy Chinese have fallen prey, as it were, to an obsession with Belgian racing pigeons, which can swiftly find their way home even from thousands of miles away. One buyer dropped $1.4 million for a highly coveted pigeon named Armando. #OnTheWingsOfLove

Hi there, this Tuesday we take a look at China's weapons in the trade war, the Philippine president's rough appeal, some suspicious sabotage in the Persian Gulf, and a whopper of a bad idea in Mexico City.

As a bonus: what does it actually cost to save a single American manufacturing job?

Send us your love/hate, and subscribe to our Facebook and YouTube channels for more insight.

–Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

What Are Beijing's Best Weapons in the US-China Trade War?

Gabe Lipton

Last week, the Trump administration put a "knife to China's throat" in the two countries' ongoing trade dispute, and yesterday things only got worse.


China announced it would increase tariffs on $60 billion worth of goods imported from the US. Not to be outdone, the Trump administration readied its own fresh tariffs on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese exports not currently subject to increased duties. That's a move that could cut as much as 1.2 percentage points off of China's GDP.

Not surprisingly, all of that pushed markets into another tailspin, over concerns that the trade tussle between the world's two largest economies won't ease up any time soon.

With Trump prepared to really get serious, what else can China do to fight back?

China has already nearly reached the limit of US goods on which it can impose additional tariffs. But there are plenty of other ways that China could grab Trump by the… economy.

Here's how things could really get nasty:

Trade war 2.0: So far, Beijing has declined to place tariffs on certain US goods—like crude oil and Boeing 747s—that are tough for China to replace. But in recent months it has reduced its purchases of US crude and may soon cut back further on other key commodities, like soybeans. China could also instruct its customs officials to give importers of goods produced in the US – such as luxury cars or produce – an extra hard time at the border in ways that are legal in practice but clearly politicized in spirit.

Singling out US companies in China: It could also make life much more difficult for US companies that produce and sell in China. For example, around 40 percent of Apple's sales today come from Greater China, which includes mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. GM has a joint venture in China, where it sells more vehicles than anywhere else in the world. China could implement new regulations on these companies or move to subsidize their competitors, inflicting pain on some of the titans of America, Inc.

The nuclear option: A more severe step would see Beijing threaten or even move to dump some of its $1.2 trillion holdings of US government debt, a possibility mentioned Monday by the editor of The Global Times, the Communist Party's mouthpiece. That would send US interest rates—the cost the government pays to borrow and finance its spending—soaring and could inflict a major shock on America's financial system more broadly. But by the same token, it could just as easily imperil China's economy, the main reason Beijing hasn't made good on this threat.

China, in sum, has lots of ways it could hurt the US – but each would carry its own risks and blowback. These, for China, are the tradeoffs of a trade war.

Graphic Truth: Who Depends on China the Most?

Gabe Lipton

As the US-China trade war gets nastier by the day, here's a look at which US states depend most on China for jobs, and what the broader cost to the US economy has been so far.

Philippine Elections: Duterte Harry's (nearly) Clean Sweep?

Alex Kliment

You'd think that saying God is stupid and calling the Pope the son of a whore would be political suicide in a country as deeply Roman Catholic as the Philippines. You might also think it impolitic to joke about gang rape, compare yourself to Hitler, order your troops to shoot female rebels in their genitals, or unleash a war on drugs in which police and allied vigilantes have killed as many as 20,000 people, most without even a whiff of due process.

But if you thought that, odds are you aren't from the Philippines, where nearly 80 percent of the population still approves of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has done all of the above.


Elected in 2016 in a landslide upset, the former provincial mayor styles himself effectively as a man of common tastes and common sense, willing to dispense with liberal niceties (in both speech and policy) in order to get things done for people long neglected by the country's elites.

Critics point out that his drug war has normalized vigilantism and extrajudicial violence. His attacks on the press and political opponents, they say, are eroding a democracy that Filipinos fought hard to reclaim in 1986 from the lavish dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

But his supporters point to his record on infrastructure, his pitiless approach to crushing the drug trade and crime, and his common touch—he sticks up for the poor, in particular for the millions of Filipinos who work abroad. His broadsides against the US, and his closer alignment with China have also struck a chord in a country where the long history of US colonialism and military presence is still viewed with some resentment.

That broad public support is likely to carry Mr. Duterte's allies to a sweeping victory in national mid-term elections that were held yesterday. In addition to picking 18,000 local government posts, voters across the country's 5,000 islands chose half of the deputies in the Senate, which is now likely to come under his control.

Until now, that body has mounted some opposition to Duterte, checking his worst instincts – but after the vote count is in, it likely won't serve that function any more. At the top of Mr. Duterte's agenda is a controversial constitutional reform that would decentralize power, while also potentially opening the way for him to get around term limits that would otherwise require him to leave office in 2022. (Rumors also abound that he's grooming his daughter, currently mayor of Davao City, to succeed him.)

Upshot: Despite his disregard for human rights and his questionable commitment to the most basic democratic norms, "Duterte Harry" enjoys the strong backing of most Filipinos for the same reason he's often criticized internationally: his ruthless effectiveness. After today, he will be in a position of even greater power still.

Filipinos face “existential” elections moment

GZERO Media

Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa weighs in on an "existential" election in the Philippines. Watch the interview here.

What We’re Watching: Blowback in the Gulf and South Africa

"Sabotage" in the Gulf – On Sunday, four commercial ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, were hit by a "sabotage attack" off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. So far, no one has claimed responsibility, but Tehran is in the spotlight. Iran recently threatened to close the nearby Strait of Hormuz – a critical waterway for global oil shipments – in retaliation against tighter US sanctions. Whether this attack was carried out by Iran, or by someone trying to implicate Iran, rising tensions between the US and the Islamic Republic mean this is worth keeping an eye on.

Ramaphosa on offense – Celebrating victory in last week's national election, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa made a bold promise to tackle corruption within his party, the governing African National Congress (ANC), "whether some people like it or not." By "some people" he's pointing directly at former President Jacob Zuma and those still loyal to him within the ANC. This shows us that Ramaphosa believes his win gives him an opportunity to consolidate authority within a divided party and to sideline the discredited Zuma faction once and for all. We'll be watching to see how Zuma (directly or indirectly) responds.

What We're Ignoring: Mike in Sochi, Burgers in Traffic

Mike Pompeo in Sochi – The US secretary of state arrives in Sochi today for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Top on the agenda are likely to be Venezuela, where Moscow and Washington back rival contestants for power, as well as Iran, where Moscow still supports the nuclear deal that the US left last year. We are, however, ignoring the secretary of state's visit, because we – and, presumably, Mr Putin – have learned that unless Trump himself is involved, its hard to be certain just what, if anything, Pompeo can really achieve.

A Whopper of a Bad Solution – The traffic in Mexico City is notoriously awful, but not as awful as Burger King's new idea for how to ease the angst. The flame broiling US burger chain has launched a new app that enables people to order Whoppers that are delivered directly to their cars by motorcycle. We are ignoring La Traffic Whopper because indigestion is no solution for congestion. DING! (credit to Gabe for that gem.)

Hard Numbers: What does it cost to save an American job?

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

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

It's Willis with your Friday edition of Signal. Today, we'll break down the sharp escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran, check in on South Africa's president, up the ante in the US-China trade war, read the fine print on Australian money, and hail a ride through Mogadishu.

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

Cheers,

Willis Sparks

Escalation: Trump vs. Iran

Willis Sparks

The US and Iran are headed down a dangerous path.

On April 22, President Donald Trump tightened the screws on Iran's economy by announcing that China, Japan, India, South Korea, Turkey, and others would no longer be granted exemptions from US sanctions to continue buying Iranian oil, the country's most important export.

On May 5, US National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the deployment of a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to "indications and warnings" that Iran threatened US forces.

Iran then announced this week that it would mark Wednesday's one-year anniversary of Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal by ending compliance with two provisions of that agreement.

In particular, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned that if the five other countries who signed that agreement—France, Germany, the UK, China, and Russia—don't act within 60 days to help Iran weather the economic storm created by US sanctions, Iran will ignore the deal's limits on uranium enrichment, setting it on the path, once again, to acquire a nuclear weapon.

A few things to keep in mind as you follow the progression of this story:


  • Trump has avoided aggressive military action, because he knows it has undermined the popularity of past presidents. He's made plenty of threats—against North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran, for example—but he's avoided ambitious commitments that come with high risk and long-term costs.
  • The president's national security advisor does not share his reluctance to use military force. John Bolton has been calling for regime change in Iran for more than a decade, and he authored a New York Times op-ed in 2015 under the headline "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran."
  • Trump may be suspicious of Bolton. A piece in Wednesday's Washington Post reported that anonymous "administration officials and White House advisers" claim that Trump has complained aloud that Bolton is pushing him toward military action in Venezuela. If nothing else, this story suggests that some in the White House are worried about Bolton's influence–on Venezuela, if not Iran. On Thursday, Trump said this to describe his relationship with Bolton: "John has strong views on things… I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing. Isn't it?
  • Iran's economy is in real trouble. Its leaders may feel they have little to lose by pushing the Europeans to provide an economic lifeline by threatening the nuclear deal. Trump's decision to reimpose sanctions has pushed the country into a deepening recession. GDP is projected to fall 6 percent this year, according to the IMF, making it one of the toughest periods since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Its currency has lost nearly 60 percent of its value since sanctions were reimposed. Price inflation topped 30 percent last year and will rise even more quickly this year.
  • Europeans will do little to help Iran. The UK, France, and Germany have made clear they believe Iran has kept its end of the nuclear deal and that Trump was wrong to withdraw from it. In January, they created a payments system to help maintain trade in non-sanctioned food, pharmaceutical products and consumer goods with Iran. But Europe is struggling to convince companies more worried about losing access to US consumers than Iranian markets to keep operating there. And they warn they can't continue to abide by terms of the nuclear deal if Iran renounces important parts of it.

The bottom line: Tensions are rising quickly, and for now there is little ground on which the US, Iranian, and European governments can compromise.

South Africa: Ramaphosa’s Moment

Willis Sparks

The votes have now been counted, and it's clear that Cyril Ramaphosa, leader of the African National Congress (ANC), will continue to serve as South Africa's president. But this time he'll lead with a mandate sealed by South Africa's voters following the first national election victory for the ANC under his leadership.

What sets Ramaphosa apart from other South African leaders, and what is he now up against?


  • Ramaphosa has succeeded in many roles: Born in 1952, Ramaphosa spent the 1970s as an anti-apartheid activist and the 1980s as the union-man who led the largest mining strike in South Africa's history. He later served as Nelson Mandela's chief negotiator in the talks that ended apartheid in 1994. Frustrated by his inability to advance within the ANC, he left politics in 1997 to become one of South Africa's most successful businessmen.
  • He speaks to a broad audience: Ramaphosa has a formidable skillset. He speaks all 11 of South Africa's official languages—English, Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, Afrikaans, Siswati, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga—and his diplomatic skills have earned him a global reputation. He served as one of two international arms inspectors helping to disarm the Irish Republican Army as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.
  • His path to power has taken twists and turns: When ANC insiders pressured Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first post-apartheid president, to pass over Ramaphosa to choose Thabo Mbeki as his deputy and designated successor, a disappointed Ramaphosa spurned Mandela's government to pursue a seat in parliament. As chairman of South Africa's constitutional assembly, he played the lead role in drafting the country's post-apartheid constitution.
  • His greatest battles have been fought within the ANC: Ramaphosa finally became South Africa's deputy president in 2014, but President Jacob Zuma refused to endorse him as his successor. In December 2017, fears within the ANC that Zuma's reputation for corruption would cost the party its hold on power led insiders to oust Zuma and replace him with Ramaphosa. In February 2018, South Africa's ANC-dominated parliament elected Ramaphosa as the country's president.

This week, the ANC won a national election with Ramaphosa as its leader.

The president will face many challenges. To protect themselves and their interests against future corruption charges, Zuma and his allies within the ANC are actively working to undermine Ramaphosa's control of the party. Only if he can consolidate control of the ANC can he hope to meet the country's enormous challenges.

A quarter century after he helped end apartheid, Ramaphosa inherits the leadership of a country plagued with endemic corruption, a stagnant economy, high levels of violent crime, frequent electricity blackouts, and an unemployment rate of 27 percent. More than 64 percent of black South Africans still live in poverty. That's why the ANC has seen its vote share fall steadily with each new national election.

Cyril Ramaphosa has wanted this opportunity for 25 years. If he fails to persuade voters that he and the ANC can provide the security and prosperity they've promised, voters may finally decide that the party of liberation should no longer serve as the party of power.

Media in 60 Seconds: How to Avoid Making a Game of Thrones-Sized Editing Mistake

GZERO Media

Myanmar releases two journalists and HBO made a Game of Thrones-sized mistake. It's Media in 60 Seconds with LinkedIn's Isabelle Roughol.

What We’re Watching: Trade War Escalation and Somali Entrepreneurs

The US-China Trade Escalation: The US has sharply upped the ante in its trade war with China this morning by more than doubling tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products. Last night's high-level trade talks in Washington were not able to avert this move, which President Trump had announced earlier in the week. It's possible this latest escalation will set the stage for an extended conflict that can only be resolved by direct talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Given the stakes for many other countries and the global economy as a whole, the world will be watching.

Populist Climate Skeptics – Signalista Alex Kliment spotted the trend of far-right parties rallying against the costs of combating climate change early in coverage of the Finnish elections. Now similar ideas have found a foothold in Germany. Ahead of elections for the European Parliament later this month, the far-right Alternative for Germany party has added charges that climate change is a hoax to its attacks on Muslim migrants.

Somali entrepreneurs – The (important) good news is that Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, is emerging from decades of war. The (much less important) bad news is that better times bring more people and heavier traffic. Not to worry. As of May 1, we now have the Go! app to help us hail a motorcycle for a quick ride through the congestion. The service helps customers order a ride online or flag down a yellow-clad driver passing by on a yellow bike.

We're Ignoring: Ugly American Politics and Beautiful North Korean Defectors

Calls to Scrap the US Electoral College – In 2016, Donald Trump because the second Republican in 16 years to be elected president while receiving fewer votes than his Democratic opponent. That has led to calls to scrap the US "electoral college," the system by which candidates win presidential elections via delegates from individual states rather than a majority of votes cast. Not surprisingly, 74 percent of Republican voters want to keep the current system, and 78 percent of Democrats want to scrap it. Unfortunately for Democrats, this change would require a constitutional amendment passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate and approved by 38 states, or a constitutional convention called by 34 states. Both are highly unlikely.

Defector Beauties – This South Korean television show centers on attractive young women who have defected from North Korea and includes the kind of zaniness designed to boost TV ratings in the Internet era. It's almost too weird to ignore. But not quite.

Hard Numbers: A billion-dollar typo

52: Only a slim majority (52 percent) of Iranians polled now support the 2015 nuclear agreement, which the US walked out of last year. Back in 2015 more than three-quarters of those surveyed approved of the agreement. Hardliners in Tehran are pleased to see this: they never much liked the deal to begin with.

2: North Korea yesterday test-launched two more short-range missiles. The move follows a similar launch last Saturday. None of this violates Kim Jong-un's promise to stop testing long-range or nuclear missiles, but angrily firing missiles into the sea is seen as a sign that North Korea is frustrated by scant progress in negotiations with the US over its nuclear program.

1.6: Australia's government has printed $1.6 billion worth of currency… with a typo on it. The new Aussie 50-dollar bill, the country's most widely circulated, misspells the word "responsibility" in quoting a speech by the country's first female parliamentarian, Edith Cowan. We have to ask: whose responsibility is this?

0: So far, zero European countries have heeded the Trump administration's call to ban the Chinese tech firm Huawei from their plans to build 5G communications networks, prompting US Secretary of State Pompeo to accuse them of going "wobbly."

Welcome to your Wednesday Signal. Today we delve into South Africa's national election, ask what it'll take for the world's cyber powers to stop playing with digital fire, cheer the release of two Reuters journalists from a Myanmar prison, and ignore some arctic bluster.

You can send us your feedback here. Or sign up a friend who could use more Signal in their media diet. As always, thanks for reading.

–Kevin Allison (@kevinallison)

South Africa Heads to the Polls

Twenty-five years ago, Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) party ended apartheid in South Africa, but since then it has governed poorly. Four in 10 South Africans still live in poverty. Half of young people have no job. By some measures, South Africa is the most unequal society in the world.

A large part of this has to do with corruption, which thrives at all levels of government. It's no wonder that seven in ten South Africans don't trust their politicians.

And yet as South Africans vote today, the weakness of the ANC's challengers means that the party is set to win again. The question is: will it finally clean up its act in a way that enables the country to prosper?


Some progress has already been made. Last year, the ANC – worried that unchecked corruption was costing the party votes – replaced the venal President Jacob Zuma with his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, a corruption-fighting businessman and former union leader who helped negotiate the end of apartheid in the early 1990s.

Ramaphosa's record since then has been mixed. He strengthened the national prosecutor's ability to nab politicians for graft and moved to recover stolen state funds. But he's had more trouble tackling the deeply entrenched crony networks that have built up over the past quarter century. Local officials and power brokers may be corrupt, but they also deliver lots of votes.

"The dead hand of the Zuma faction [of the ANC] rests very heavily over his neck," South African political analyst Pieter Du Toit recently told Signal.

Whether Ramaphosa can shake that hand free will hinge on how well the party does in today's election. A strong showing for the ANC would signal that his anti-corruption message has helped to stem the outflow of middle-class black voters who've started to abandon the party, while a poor result would embolden those within the ANC who want to double down on patronage-based politics.

What to watch for on election day? A result below 60 percent, a margin the ANC has maintained since the end of apartheid, would be bad for Ramaphosa and the reformist wing of the party. Higher turnout tends to benefit the ANC.

The bottom line: South Africa's future growth and prosperity hinge on whether its deeply corrupted ruling party can clean up its act. Today's election will tell us a lot about whether Ramaphosa will have the political capital he needs to get that done.

Graphic Truth: The World’s Most Unequal Country

Gabe Lipton

In the post-apartheid era, South Africa still suffers deep divides. By some measures, it's the most unequal major economy in the world: the top 1 percent of the population gets almost half of all wage earnings, according to the latest data. Here's a look at how South Africa compares to some other countries.

A Message from Microsoft

Microsoft On The Issues

Protecting democratic elections though secure, verifiable voting

ElectionGuard, a new open source software development kit from Microsoft, will make voting secure, more accessible, and more efficient anywhere it's used in the United States or in democratic nations around the world. ElectionGuard will be available starting this summer to election officials and election technology suppliers who can incorporate the technology into voting systems. The technology enables end-to-end verification of elections, open results to third-party organizations for secure validation, and allows individual voters to confirm their votes were correctly counted, among other benefits.

Read more about it, visit → Microsoft on The Issues

Playing With (Digital) Fire

Kevin Allison

As any fan of martial arts knows, one of the best moves is to take an attacker's weapon and turn it back on them. In 2016, that's just what Beijing did – in cyberspace: after American operatives used a particular bit of code to attack Chinese computer systems, Chinese hackers took it, repurposed it, and used it to attack a bunch of US allies, according to The New York Times.

The technical details of the story are fascinating, but it also raises some big political questions:


If countries can't control their cyber arsenals, can they at least establish some ground rules for how they are used? Avoiding a destructive free-for-all in cyberspace may depend on it. But hacking tools aren't like conventional or nuclear arms, where countries have agreed to enforceable limits on capabilities and behavior. They're invisible, with no real way to count them or verify they've been destroyed, and prone to being stolen.

And despite an ongoing attempt by the US and its allies to deter bad behavior by indicting hackers, imposing sanctions, and even threatening military force in response to malicious cyber-attacks, there's nothing in cyberspace comparable to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction that has helped deter and prevent conflicts between nuclear-armed powers.

Why is that so difficult? For one thing, it's relatively easy to hide your identity or get hired guns to do your bidding in cyberspace – making it hard for the victims of cyber-attacks to be 100 percent confident in targeting their response.

There's also a lot of mischief that state-backed hackers can get up to that is short of outright war, but can still hurt an adversary (think: swiping personal data that can help identify spies or stealing trade secrets). Governments don't want to give those capabilities up. This helps explain why attempts to establish widely agreed, enforceable "cyber norms" have made limited progress, despite 15 years of wrestling with the issue at the UN.

The upshot: We already knew the US was struggling to secure its cyber arsenal. Now we know that just using a cyber weapon means there's a risk it'll be stolen and used by someone else. As more countries gain access to these tools, reaching a basic agreement on rules of behavior will become even more important.

Who is Attorney General William Barr?

GZERO Media

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress today for failing to deliver a fully unredacted version of the Mueller report. How did things reach this point? William Barr's past may offer at least a few clues. We explain here.

What We’re Watching: Iran’s Nuclear Intentions & Saudi’s Newest Target

Iran's belated response to Trump's Walkout – To mark the one-year anniversary of President Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, Tehran announced this morning that it will no longer abide by parts of the agreement. It will suspend sales of its uranium stockpile – key to removing them from the country – and has threatened to resume higher uranium enrichment within 60 days unless other countries in the pact help it get around US sanctions. To date, all the parties to the deal except the US have continued to honor its terms. We'll be watching closely for the response of European governments.

Another critic in Saudi Arabia's crosshairs – An Arab pro-democracy activist and prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman now living under asylum in Norway faces a credible threat from Saudi Arabia, according to the CIA. Ironically, the activist in question, Iyad el-Baghdadi, warned last year that unless Western powers held Riyadh to account for the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Crown Prince would become more dangerous.

What We're Ignoring: Pompeo's Cartographic Skills & "Pardons" in Myanmar

Mike Pompeo's Fake Geography – The US Secretary of State claimed during a speech to the Arctic Council on Monday that Canada's territorial claims over the Northwest Passage are "illegitimate." Leaving aside the geographical reality that the passage in fact moves between and around Canadian islands, Ottawa responded to Pompeo by citing the 1988 Arctic Cooperation Agreement, which specifies that the US government must ask Canada's permission for its icebreakers to navigate the waterways of the Northwest Passage.

Myanmar's "pardon" of two Reuters journalists – The government of Myanmar has released two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, after 17 months in prison as part of a broader amnesty that saw 6,000 prisoners set free. That's wonderful news for these men, their families, and for journalists everywhere. But let's be clear: the only "crime" these two men committed was to provide fearless coverage of the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by the country's security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar's Rakhine State in 2017. Their show trial was condemned by outside observers, including the UN.

Hard Numbers: Venezuela’s Mr. Unpopular

1.7 billion: Around 1.7 billion adults around the world lack access to a basic bank or mobile money account, according to the World Bank. That's down from 2 billion people in 2014.

200: More than 200 non-combatants have been killed and more than 140,000 people forced to flee Syria's Idlib province since February in the country's worst violence in more than a year. The region is Syria's last opposition stronghold and home to around 2.7 million civilians.

10: Americans consumed an average of 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) of tomatoes in 2017. That's nearly double the amount they ate in the 1980s, thanks largely to cheap imports from Mexico. Yesterday, the US moved to place tariffs on Mexican tomato exports after the two countries failed to finalize a trade deal. The price of tomatoes in the US could spike by as much as 40 percent.

13: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's popularity has hit a new low of 13 percent, according to local pollster Datanálisis. Around 57 percent of Venezuelans approve of opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Hi there,

This Tuesday, we wonder whether a US-China trade deal is dead, worry about the death of a million species, take stock of who wants what in Venezuela, and tell you who might be all good with a US-China trade war.

As a bonus: we take you 6 miles under the surface of the earth.

Send us your love/hate, and hop on to GZERO Media's Facebook and YouTube channels for more insight and relief from a world gone mad.

–Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

US-China: Trump’s Knife Meets Beijing’s Throat

Alex Kliment

China has long insisted that it won't negotiate a new trade pact with the US with "a knife at its throat." Over the weekend, US President Donald Trump flipped open the switchblade.

In a series of tweets, he blasted Beijing for taking advantage of the US economy, and threatened to sharply increase tariffs on everything China exports to the United States.

Coming just days before China's top negotiator was expected in Washington for a crucial – and perhaps final – round of trade talks, the tweets threw global financial markets into turmoil for several hours as investors worried that the world's two largest economies might fail to reach a deal for the foreseeable future.


What's the background?

For months, the US and China have been negotiating a trade agreement. Washington wants Beijing to make it easier for American firms to do business in China, cut back on government support for Chinese tech firms, stop stealing US technology, and buy more American agricultural goods.

Beijing sees these demands as part of an American attempt to stop China's rise as a global power. So while China has been willing to make life easier for US firms, it's less enthusiastic about cutting subsidies for Chinese companies or boosting purchases of US goods.

As a negotiating tactic, the Trump administration earlier this year slapped a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, and it has threatened to raise that to 25 percent if China doesn't meet US demands. Trump, unhappy with the pace of progress in negotiations, now says that will happen on Friday.

What's more, he's poised to put a 25 percent tariff on the remaining $325 billion of Chinese exports to the US, and "soon." That would mean higher prices for US consumers on virtually all Chinese goods bought in the United States – furniture, clothes, cars, electronics, you name it.

Why is this happening?

It's probably a combination of these three factors.

It's Trump's style: Making extreme demands and then stepping magnanimously back toward compromise is a long-established Trump negotiating tactic, particularly on trade. With a critical round of negotiations coming up, Trump now wants maximum leverage.

It's Trump's advisers: Hardliners on China within the Trump administration – in particular chief trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer – may have Trump's ear now. Some reports say Trump's tweet storm followed Lighthizer's complaints that China is reluctant to codify the terms of any new US-China deal into law. This – along with the question of how to ensure China actually complies with any new agreements – has long been a sticking point in talks.

It's the economy: Recent data say the US economy is rocking – "killing it" even. This gives the president more room to turn the screws on the US' largest trading partner without worrying about adverse effects, at least in the short term.

What happens next?

Neither side wants to lose face. Barring a massive concession from Beijing – or a dramatically gracious climbdown by Trump out of deference to his "good friend" Xi Jinping – Friday will mark a significant escalation in the trade war between the world's two largest economies, one that could last into the 2020 US presidential election and beyond.

Graphic Truth: Who Wins From A US-China Trade War?

Gabe Lipton

If the US and China lurch into nastier trade war, it would be bad for both of their economies. But some countries would actually stand to gain, at least in the short term, as trade flows between the two largest economies are diverted elsewhere. Here's a look around the globe at which countries would be the biggest winners and losers.

Venezuela: The Outside Powers

Alex Kliment

The internal drama of Venezuela's politics is frothy enough – two men claim to be president but neither is able to dislodge the other even as the country suffers the worst peacetime economic crisis in modern history.

But there are also a number of outside players with a keen interest in what happens to a government that controls the world's largest known oil reserves. Just yesterday, the US and Russia traded sharp words again over each other's involvement in the country.

Russia backs embattled strongman Nicolás Maduro, while the US supports opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom Washington and dozens of other democracies recognize as interim president.

Here's a rundown of the major external players in the Venezuelan crisis, who may ultimately determine the outcome of what happens there.


Russia: Moscow has billions of dollars in loans and energy deals in Venezuela that the Kremlin wants to protect or to use as leverage with a post-Maduro government. But mainly, Russia objects in principle to American-backed regime change anywhere in the world and sees another easy chance in Venezuela — as in Syria — to complicate life for the US in a place where Washington is ambivalent about how deeply to get involved. Russia has even sent troops to Venezuela. In the end, Moscow doesn't necessarily need Maduro as such – but the Kremlin will insist on a decisive say in whatever happens next.

Cuba: Havana supports Caracas for ideological reasons, sure, but also for practical ones: free shipments of Venezuelan oil remain an important lifeline for the Cuban economy. In exchange, Cuba has for years sent doctors, teachers and — crucially — intelligence agents to support its socialist soulmates in Caracas. If Maduro falls, the flow of oil could stop, putting the island's beleaguered, state-run economy in jeopardy.

United States: Old-school cold warriors like National Security Adviser John Bolton see a chance to take down a major socialist power and to pressure perennial foes Cuba and Nicaragua, which depend on Venezuelan oil to survive. But there's also a domestic political angle: Trump wants to secure the votes of conservative Cuban and Venezuelan voters in Florida, a key swing state, in the 2020 US presidential election. Being tough on Maduro is one part of that while bashing Democrats' plans to expand the social safety net as "Venezuela-style socialism" is the other.

China: A decade ago, Venezuela was the largest Latin American recipient of Chinese financing and investment, but Beijing has cut back on that in recent years as Maduro's policies wrecked the economy and cratered the production of oil — the main collateral for Chinese loans. Beijing still backs Maduro against what it sees as an illegitimate, US-backed effort to unseat him. But China has also reportedly put out feelers to Guaidó's camp as well, and he's directly called on China for its support. China wants to make sure it can get its loans paid back, and is willing to do business pragmatically with whoever runs Venezuela next.

One Million Species Risk Extinction. The Chief Culprit – Humans

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As many one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction as a result of human activity, according to a sweeping 1,500 page United Nations assessment released on Monday. On the latest GZERO World, Ian speaks with journalist David-Wallace Wells about how the consequences of climate change may actually be even more dire than most people realize. Watch here.

What We’re Watching: America Rules the Waves & An Istanbul Do-Over

US warships steaming toward Iran – A US aircraft carrier group is now headed to the Middle East following warnings from Washington that Iran and its proxy forces have given "troubling and escalatory" indications of a possible attack on US forces in the region. It's not immediately clear what these indications are, but we're certainly watching for any dangerous escalation in US-Iranian military tensions. Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Iranian nuclear agreement.

The Istanbul Do-Over – Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted another chance to win local elections in Istanbul, and he'll get one on June 23. A Turkish court ruled on Monday that a previous vote, which the opposition won by a margin of about 14,000 votes out of more than 8 million cast on March 31, must be re-run. We'll be watching not only for the new election result but for how Erdogan, the opposition, and residents of Istanbul react to them – if you call a do-over, you better be sure to win when it's done over, right?

What We're Ignoring: The UK's Newest Royal & A Deep, Deep Hole

Baby Sussex – The Signal team sends hearty congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—that's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for all you Americans—on the birth of their first child, a boy. But given that this kid is only seventh in line of royal succession, he better be doing card tricks by Thursday or we won't have much further interest in him. (Trivia fans: per our friend Dave Lawler at Axios, seventh in line to the US presidency is Attorney General William Barr — how's that for an expert weaving of news flows?)

Jumping down the deepest hole on earth – You probably know that there was a Cold War race to the moon, but less familiar is the fierce scramble to the center of the earth. By the time the USSR fell, Soviet scientists had drilled the deepest hole in the planet, more than 7 miles under the Siberian tundra, in an unfinished bid to reach all the way to the Earth's mantle. The Kola Superdeep Hole has been capped since then, but Japanese scientists now want to take the plunge. We are doing our best to ignore this extraordinary story, because we fall down WAY too many fascinating rabbit holes in our line of work as is...

Spend Some Time With: Fake Noodles, A Forgotten Musical Genius, and Gang Wars

My weekly three recs for spending slow time with good stuff.

Eat a plate of Pad "Thai" and ponder the fact that what you think is a timelessly Thai dish was actually invented just 80 years ago as part of the government's plan to build a sense of nationhood in an ethnically patchworked country.

See: the documentary Searching for Sugarman, which tells the story of Rodriguez, a talented American folk musician of the early 1970s who bombed in the States but became, unknowingly, a megastar in South Africa, where he was an inspiration to liberal whites during Apartheid. With South Africa's election tomorrow, it's good time to watch. And don't @ me but I really do think Rodriguez might have been better than Dylan.

Read: A gripping Times feature about block-by-block gang wars in a small city in Honduras. The epidemic of violence in Central America – and the region more broadly – is in part what is pushing so many people to seek refuge and opportunity in United States. How's this for a crazy fact? In just seven Latin American countries, violence has killed more people in recent years than the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen combined.

Hard Numbers: The death of a million species

100: Over the weekend, China marked 100 years since massive student protests against Western powers provided a spark for modern Chinese nationalism. President Xi Jinping extolled the patriotism of the students who participated in the May 4 protests, but he, and the Communist Party more broadly, have minimized discussion of the protests' anti-authoritarian nature during a year chock-full of sensitive anniversaries.

1,000: Western Africa is experiencing its deadliest Ebola outbreak in years – with more than 1,000 people dying from the virus in eastern Congo since August. Local violence has compounded the problem, as attacks on health workers have prevented them from addressing the crisis.

10,000: In 2019, almost 10,000 people were killed in jihadist-related violence in Africa, comparable to the number killed by similar conflict in Iraq in Syria during the same period. The global coalition of forces in the Sahel region – which includes troops from the US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and many other countries – is larger than the current US fighting forces in Afghanistan.

1 million: One million of Earth's 8 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction as a result of global warming, according to a new report form the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES). The panel estimated the world has less than 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Hi there,

Alex here, in for Willis on this fine Friday. Today, we've got the upshot on a wild week in Venezuela, a thought on why social media isn't great for launching a coup, and a look at the US plan to blacklist a major Middle Eastern political organization.

As a bonus, who's been married more times now: Thai King or Larry King?

Send us your love/hate here, and subscribe to GZERO Media's YouTube and Facebook pages to get our full range of digital series and fresh insights on a world gone mad.

–Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

Venezuela: Stronger Than They Look, Weaker Than You Think

Alex Kliment

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó's dramatic bid to unseat President Nicolás Maduro earlier this week failed. But as we head into the weekend, neither man is as strong as his supporters hope, nor as weak as his opponents think.

Here are the big lessons from this week.


Maduro survived the biggest single challenge to his rule since he took power six years ago. Defections from the military were minimal, and no high-level figures bolted on him. Furthermore, while repression by the military was firm, he avoided turning the day into a bloodbath that could have galvanized more forceful internal or external pressure.

And yet he still has several challenges to deal with. First, a rogue faction within his domestic security services appeared to have freed a major opposition figure, suggesting that loyalty to him is more fragile than it seems. And the fact that it took him 12 hours to appear on TV to assert control also wasn't a great sign. Second, Washington's claims that top members of the military were in talks with the US about ousting Maduro will – even if unverified – sow discord and suspicion within Maduro's inner circle. And third, Venezuela is still suffering the worst peacetime economic collapse of any country in living memory. Maduro (still) doesn't seem to have a plan in sight to fix that.

Guaidó, for his part, failed in his biggest bid yet to unseat Maduro. Whether because of poor planning, faulty intelligence, or a communications blunder, he was simply unable to muster a critical mass of anti-Maduro support, either on the streets or in the higher ranks of the military.

But on the plus side, he is still a free man. Not only that: he is a free man who still enjoys credibility not only on the streets but with foreign governments, more than 50 of which still recognize him as the rightful president of Venezuela.

That's not nothing. But the challenge, after Tuesday's stumble, is that he's increasingly hard pressed to keep both the optics and the momentum moving in his favor.

Meanwhile, in Finland: The top diplomats from Russia, which backs Maduro, and the United States, which backs Guaidó, may have a tete-a-tete Monday on the sidelines of a meeting of Arctic powers. You can bet Venezuela will top their agenda: Secretary of State Pompeo claims Russian pressure is the only thing that kept Maduro from fleeing to Havana this week, while Foreign Minister Lavrov has warned the US to stop meddling in Venezuela. Sparks may fly!

“Who’s Going to Follow @jguaido?” Coup Lessons With Naunihal Singh

Gabe Lipton

Social media gets all the attention when we talk about technology and politics these days. Seems like wherever you look, platforms like Twitter and Facebook are either polarizing democracies, solidifying autocracies, or – still – helping to mobilize popular uprisings.

But when it comes to coups, The Revolution Must be Televised. Like, on an actual TV.

That's according to Nauhinal Singh, author of the book Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups. In his view, Juan Guaidó's decision to announce his uprising via Twitter was a crucial error.

We sat down with him to learn why, and to understand better what makes coups succeed or fail (spoiler: it has nothing to do with who has the most guns or the most popularity). Does Singh think the Venezuelan opposition still stands a chance?

Check out the full interview here.

What's up with European Elections: Europe in 60 Seconds

GZERO Media

What are going to be the dominant issues in the European Parliament elections towards the end of May? It's European politics in 60 Seconds with Carl Bildt.

Bro! Trump Goes After The Muslim Brotherhood

Alex Kliment

The Trump administration said this week it wants to label the Muslim Brotherhood – one of the largest Islamist organizations in the world – as a terrorist group. That would outlaw financial dealings with the group and bar its members from entering the US.

No previous administration has taken this step, owing to the the group's loose organization, embrace of electoral politics, and a lack of clearly identifiable ties to militants. But Trump is for it, and his close allies in Egypt in Saudi Arabia would welcome the move. The decision would narrow the space for legitimate Islamic politics in the region.

Want more? Here's some background on what the Brotherhood is, who supports or opposes it, and why.

What We're Watching: Panama’s Election and A Fresh Old Face in Argentina

Panama's election – On Sunday, voters in Panama will head to the polls to choose a new president. Corruption looms large in the first election since the 2016 release of the Panama Papers exposed the involvement of Panamanian banks and politicians in money laundering and transnational kickback schemes. But one conspicuously absent issue is: China. Panama and Beijing have become a lot closer in recent years, in part because of the Central American nation's critical position in global trade (the canal, yes). We're watching to see not only who wins the election, but how the next president balances between Panama's traditional allies in Washington and a more assertive China.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's poll numbers – Things just keep getting worse for Argentine President Mauricio Macri. A business-friendly centrist who rose to power in 2015, Mr. Macri is expected to seek reelection in October. But the economy is collapsing around him and now polls show that his likely opponent, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, would beat him in a head-to-head runoff by a whopping 9 points. That's true even though Ms. Kirchner favors a return to questionable protectionist policies and currently faces charges for bribery, embezzlement, and money laundering.

What We're Ignoring: King Thai's the Knot and A War on Weekends

A royal wedding in Thailand – Thai King in Waiting Maha Vajiralongkorn announced this week that he's gotten married, just days before his long-awaited coronation. The lucky bride is Suthida Tidjai, a former flight attendant promoted to a position within the royal guard and given a generalship in the Thai military. We are ignoring this because, for one thing, she is Vajiralongkorn's fourth wife (watch out Larry King!), but mainly because the bigger story in Thailand is that social tensions are still high following elections in which the military junta that runs the country is accused of rigging the vote. Monarchic nuptials seem like a distraction.

Italy's War on the War on Weekends – The populist coalition of Lega and the Five Star Movement is now debating a measure that would force stores to close on Sundays, in order to get Italians to spend more time in church and with their families. We are ignoring this, because for one thing, anyone who has spent time in Italy knows that Italian shopkeepers are perfectly capable of making themselves scarce on Sunday without a formal law. But more importantly, the measure could cost some 2 billion euros in tax revenue and imperil 150,000 jobs.

Hard Numbers: The Tide Turns Against Venezuelan Refugees

8.6: Indian politician and parties are expected to spend almost $8.6 billion in this year's election which began in early April and lasts for more than six weeks, according to the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. That's more than the $6.5 billion spend in the 2016 US presidential and congressional elections, making it the most expensive election in the world.

90: Over the past 20 years, migration from Mexico to the United States has dropped 90 percent. Arrivals of illegal immigrants from Guatemala and Honduras are on pace to surpass those from Mexico this year for the first time ever.

236: There are currently 236 political prisoners behind bars in Russia, up from just 46 in 2015, according to a new report. A reminder that there are things that even Vladimir Putin, the Teflon Don of Russia, is worried about.

67: Sixty-seven percent of Peruvians view immigration from nearby Venezuela in a negative light, compared to 43 percent who held this view in February of 2018. This week, Peru conducted the first known mass deportation of Venezuelan migrants from any country in the region.

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