It's Willis with your Friday edition of Signal. Today, we'll fly you to the moon, with return stops in Puerto Rico, Ukraine, Mexico, and Antarctica.

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

Cheers,

Willis Sparks

The Politics of the Moon Mission

Willis Sparks

Tomorrow, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.

What We’re Watching: Unrest on the Isle of Enchantment

Willis Sparks

#Rickyleaks – A spectacular political crisis has erupted in the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico as tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent days to demand the resignation of Governor Ricardo "Ricky" Rosselló. The trigger for the unrest was the leak of hundreds of text messages in which Rosselló and his associates use homophobic and sexist slurs against a wide variety of public officials and journalists—while joking about the death toll from Hurricane Maria. But this outburst of public fury reflects broader frustrations with mismanagement of post-Maria reconstruction, severe cutbacks in social services in response to a debt crisis, and decades of corrupt and detached politicians in charge of the "La Isla del Encanto."

Ukraine's Elections – Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president two months ago, but the substantive part of his time in office will begin on Sunday, when elections are held for the Rada, Ukraine's parliament. His Servant of the People party, named for the television show that made Zelensky famous, will likely win more votes than any other. We'll be watching to see its margin of victory and what it reveals about the new president's opportunity to transform Ukraine's politics.

Mexicans' attitudes toward migrants – A new poll from The Washington Post and Mexico's Reforma newspaper finds that more than 60 percent of Mexicans say Central American migrants take jobs and benefits that should go to Mexicans. Nearly as many, 55 percent, support the deportation of migrants back across Mexico's southern border.

Rhino Bonds – The Zoological Society of London and Conservation Capital are running the sale of a $50 million bond to finance expansion of the endangered black rhino population. It's a test case for creation of a wildlife conservation debt market that could be used to protect species facing extinction.

What We're Ignoring:

A manmade Antarctic snowstorm – A report published in the journal Science Advances finds that if we had 12,000 wind turbines to power giant seawater pumps and snow cannons to spray trillions of tons of snow over western Antarctica, we might prevent the collapse of a giant ice sheet that threatens to submerge coastal mega-cities like New York and Shanghai. The study's authors devised this ludicrous proposal as a way to focus people's attention, rather than as a feasible project. But we're ignoring this idea because we don't see the value in another argument that leaves us feeling powerless to deal with an important problem.

Energy Superfacts: Ghana, Eni and NBSSI

Sponsored by Eni

Ghana is hosting an ambitious project supported by Eni and NBSSI, that could transform the face of the country: it's called Okuafo Pa. Thanks to innovative agricultural and entrepreneurial techniques, combined with the use of renewable energy, it offers a new model of sustainable development, replicable in the future in other reigions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

Hard Numbers: How many people does it take to reach the moon?

5 million: A hacker has stolen the personal and financial information of as many as five million citizens and foreign residents in Bulgaria, a country of about 7 million people. "The state of your cybersecurity is a parody," announced the hacker in an email. It's certainly starting to look that way.

5.1: In 2018, the number of US drug overdose deaths fell for the first time since 1999, according to preliminary data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows 72,224 overdose deaths in 2017 and 68,557 in 2018, a drop of 5.1 percent.

700 Billion: China has lent more than $700 billion to other countries. That's more than double the amount loaned by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund combined and makes China "the world's largest official creditor." A new study suggests that half of that sum is hidden from institutional lenders.

400,000: It took 400,000 people—including engineers, scientists, mechanics, technicians, pilots, divers, seamstresses, secretaries and others—to send Apollo 11 to the moon and to bring Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins safely home. And while the faces we're most familiar are almost entirely white and male, the larger list of those who made it possible is much more diverse.

Words of Wisdom

"Your mind is like a parachute: If it isn't open, it doesn't work."

-- Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin

This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks, with editorial support from Alex Kliment (@saosasha) and Frank Czuchan. Spiritual counsel from Kevin Allison (@KevinAllison), Leon Levy (@leonmlevy), and alley cats everywhere.

Hi there,

Today in Signal: We welcome the next president of the European Commission, head to court with Jacob Zuma, watch some missile-toting Italian neo-Nazis, and ignore a bid to woo dissidents home to Saudi Arabia.

Plus: what's the President of Taiwan doing in Haiti?

We love reader feedback at Signal – you can reach us here. Thanks for reading!

-Kevin (@kevinallison)

Von der Leyen Wins: Something for Everyone in Europe to Hate!

Kevin Allison

Europe has selected a new president of the European Commission. Last night, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen won support from a majority of members of the European Parliament to lead the executive body that shapes policy for the world's largest economic bloc. The final result was a close shave, however — she won by a margin of just nine votes out of 757 — and there's something in the outcome for everyone to hate.

For many anti-EU populists, von der Leyen's appointment confirms their view that the EU is undemocratic and doesn't respect ordinary citizens. Why? Because she wasn't selected by the voters who went to the polls in the recent EU parliamentary elections — or even indirectly by the lawmakers who won those seats. She was hand-picked by leaders of the 28 EU member states, who side-stepped parliament after better-known candidates chosen by various political factions within the legislature failed to attract enough support from the national governments. Anti-EU politicians like France's Marine Le Pen will spend the next five years reminding us that von der Leyen's presidency reflects everything that's wrong with Brussels.

For Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and other European leaders who backed von der Leyen, her narrow margin of approval gives her a weak mandate as she confronts huge challenges such as the EU's fraught relations with the US and China, showdowns over Italy's budget, erosion of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland, the economic and political fallout of the UK's exit (or not) from the bloc, and the EU's drive to regulate Big Tech.

Von der Leyen herself, who is from the center-right, made significant concessions to get her nomination through with parties that are deeply suspicious of her. Those included a promise to propose a so-called "green deal" within her first 100 days in office, reform the minimum wage, and launch a push for EU-wide legislation on artificial intelligence. Von der Leyen also pledged to reform the process for selecting future candidates for Commission president and to give the EU Parliament a "stronger role in shaping and designing" the EU's future. Now that von der Leyen has secured the closest thing the EU has to a top job, she'll be spending much of her political capital trying to deliver on those promises.

Graphic Truth: Europe's Young and Restless

Kevin Allison

As Ursula von der Leyen takes the helm of the EU's executive body for the next five years, here is what younger Europeans (aged 15-24) think are the most important issues facing the bloc's future.

As technology like AI propels us into the future, it can also play an important role in preserving our past

Microsoft On The Issues

Technology has played a big role in accelerating globalization. While it's our business to advance technology, we also believe that technology should respect and even help protect the world's timeless values. That conviction has led us to announce a new and fourth pillar to Microsoft's AI for Good portfolio – our $125 million, five-year commitment to use artificial intelligence to tackle some of society's biggest challenges. This new pillar will focus on AI for Cultural Heritage. Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

What We’re Watching: Zuma in Court, Ebola in the Big City, and Italian Neo-Nazis

GZERO Media

Jacob Zuma on the witness stand — The 77-year-old former president of South Africa will be in court in Durban throughout the week to answer questions from a judge investigating endemic corruption, influence-peddling, and "state capture" by business interests during his tumultuous nine-year tenure. Zuma has denied any wrongdoing and says he's the victim of a "conspiracy." We're watching to see whether the ex-president uses his time on the stand to undermine his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been struggling to unite the ruling African National Congress since guiding the party to an election victory in May.

Ebola in the city — The second-worst outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever has reached a dangerous new milestone: On Sunday, the Democratic Republic of Congo's health ministry confirmed the first case of the disease in Goma, a city of 1 million inhabitants on the border with Rwanda that serves as a hub for people traveling throughout central Africa. While local authorities say the situation is under control, the presence of Ebola in a big city increases the risk that the disease could spread further. Nearly 2,500 people have been infected and more than 1,600 people have died in the current outbreak.

Heavily armed Italian neo-Nazis Italian police who launched a series of raids on a neo-Nazi group in the northern city of Turin on Monday seized a substantial arsenal of illicit weapons, including a French-made air-to-air missile that once belonged to the Qatari military. The raids were tied to a broader investigation into Italians who had fought alongside Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. We are watching this as a grim illustration of the reach and (fire)power of transnational crime groups and non-state actors of all stripes.

What we are ignoring:

Saudi Arabia's allure for dissidents Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is making a fresh push to convince opponents of the regime to come home. One exile anonymously quoted by the Financial Times said a go-between had promised "there would be no harm or jail time" if they decided to return to Saudi Arabia and stop criticizing the government's human rights violations and lack of accountability. Nine months after dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered (as part of a plot in which the crown prince was allegedly involved), we doubt many of the young monarch's critics are buying it — and neither are we.

Hard numbers: Are immigrants going to get big in Japan?

140: Pakistan removed the last restrictions on international flights across its territory on Tuesday, ending a 140-day blackout imposed after an altercation with nuclear-armed arch-rival India that led to air strikes in Pakistan and the downing of an Indian fighter jet. The nearly five-month ban forced airlines serving India and other destinations across Asia to cancel flights and make lengthy detours around closed airspace.

1,187: The opioid epidemic isn't just a US problem. Nearly 1,200 people died from drugs in Scotland in 2018 — around 86 percent of cases involved opioids like heroin. Per capita, that's nearly 3 times the drug death rate for the whole UK and more than any other EU country.

2.7 million: There are 2,667,000 foreigners living in Japan now, or just over 2 percent of the total population. That represents an increase of 170,000 over the past year. The country's aging economy needs more young workers, but immigration is a contentious topic in Japan, one of the world's most ethnically homogenous countries.

17: There are only 17 countries left in the world that maintain full diplomatic relations with Taiwan rather than with China. (You have to choose because Beijing, which sees Taiwan as part of China, will not grant full relations to countries that have formal ties with the island). Of those, over half are in Central America or the Caribbean. Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, landed in Haiti over the weekend to begin a tour of the region.

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, with Alex Kliment, and editorial support from Mara Lemos Stein. Graphics-wrangling by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from Leon Levy and Willis Sparks.

Hi there,

Alex here with the Tuesday dish – today we'll look at China's economic slowdown, preview the vote for a new EU head, consider warnings of genocide in Africa's largest country, and ogle beautiful people in a toxic lake.

Bonus: Which two countries have pumped the most money into US colleges?

Love us? Hate us? Let us know here.

-Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

China's slowest growth since 1992? Relax.

Alex Kliment

The last time China's economy was growing as slowly as it is today, Sir Mix-A-Lot stood atop the US charts (he liked big butts and he could not lie), a country called "West Germany" was the reigning FIFA World Cup champ, and South Africa still practiced apartheid.

Hard to believe, I know, but that's what the latest data says: annual expansion of China's economy fell to 6.2 percent in the second quarter of this year, the slowest rate since 1992.

Some of that slowdown comes from weaker exports – caused in part by the Trump administration's fresh tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese exports. And some of it comes from the current Chinese government's policy of steadily pulling back on the massive, but financially precarious, infrastructure investments that have helped boost growth in the past. And some of it is just simple math: an economy can't keep growing at 10 percent indefinitely. China's massive economy has been gradually cooling for years now.

So there are three ways to look at this.

The global view: Not all "six percents" are equal. Adjusted for differences in purchasing power, China's GDP is about 25 trillion dollars, according to the World Bank. Even if an economy of that size is growing at "only" 6 percent, that means it adds new output equal to the entire German economy every four years. Within 10 years, it'll have added GDP equal to another United States.

The domestic consideration: The Chinese government's own target is for growth between 6 percent and 6.5 percent, so no one is ringing alarm bells in Beijing just yet. What's more, the job market – which matters more to your average Chinese citizen (and the Chinese government) than a nationwide growth figure – is still looking pretty good. So President Xi Jinping isn't about to pump tons of money into the economy to give things a jolt.

But what if the growth figure drops below that 6 percent target range? Beijing wants the economy to look as robust as possible as the People's Republic celebrates its 70th birthday this fall. And if there's one thing that could pitch the Chinese economy further into gloom it's… you guessed it…

The one guy whose perceptions matter most: Trump immediately seized on news of the Chinese slowdown as evidence that his tough stance on US-China trade is working. If Trump smells blood in the water around China's economy, he'll be inclined – rightly or wrongly -- to hit Beijing even harder as the recently revived trade talks continue. And that could change the picture for the Chinese economy more significantly.

Graphic Truth: China's Six Percent is Different

Alex Kliment

China's days of breakneck double-digit economic growth are long gone, but when you are talking about an economy of this size, even much slower growth rates can have a huge impact on the global economy. Here's a look at what it would mean if China was growing at "only" 6 percent for the next ten years.

What We're Watching: Something Insane Over Paris

GZERO Media

Le Flyboard - I could describe the sight of a guy holding a rifle flying around on a hoverboard above France's Bastille Day festivities this weekend, but you should just see the video yourself, courtesy of President Emanuel Macron. The Flyboard is a drone powerful enough to carry a standing person at speeds up to 118 miles per hour (190 km/h) for short periods of time. We are watching this because it is absolutely next-level awesome, and also because we suspect it won't be long before these things start to change the face of warfare and maybe of crime too?

A Warning in Nigeria – Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has sent a public letter to current President Muhammadu Buhari warning, among other things, that ongoing violence between farmers and herders could lead to a "Rwanda-type genocide" of ethnic Fulanis. More broadly, unchecked violence could lead to "dismemberment of the country." These two men are political rivals, and Obasanjo has written open letters before. But given ethnic tensions that have led to hundreds of recent murders in the country and continuing attacks from the Boko Haram terrorist group, these are warnings worth watching. Nigeria is home to about 200 million people, and it is Africa's largest economy.

A big vote in Europe – German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has won the backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron, and other EU leaders for her bid to be the next president of the European Commission, the 28 member bloc's executive body. To win that post later today, she'll need an absolute majority among the 746 European members of parliament. The vote – which will occur via secret ballot – is too close to call. She is liked by the center and center-right, but not the left. It's a good early test of EU unity after a hotly contested election for the European Parliament a few weeks ago. We'll soon know whether she'll be setting the agenda in Brussels for the next five years or whether Merkel and other leaders of an increasingly fractious EU will have to go back to the drawing board.

What We're Ignoring

Toxic Paradise in Russia - Limpid turquoise waters shimmer in the summer sun. The beautiful people paddle about and pose for selfies that garner millions of likes on social media. You can practically hear the pulse of Balearic house music emanating from the photos…Welcome to the Maldives….of Siberia. Yes, we're talking about a lake outside the smallish Russian city of Novosibirsk that has become an object of cult obsession this summer. The catch? It's actually a man-made waste site for a nearby electrical plant. The vivid blue isn't the result of pristine shallow waters, white sands, and coral reefs – it's actually an aquamarine stew of toxic salts and oxides flushed into the water by Heating and Electrical Station Number 5. We are ignoring (just barely though) the urge to enjoy a post-apocalyptic dip.

Hard Numbers: Bidding Adios to the Beetle!

650 million: Between 2012 and 2018, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia donated roughly $650 million to more than 60 US universities. But Saudi Arabia isn't the greatest source of foreign money to American universities — that honor goes to Qatar…with whom the Saudis are currently feuding. #CollegeRivalries (Willis hastens to note that in the American South, college football rivalries are known as "border wars.")

81: The last VW Beetle rolled off the production line last week in Puebla, Mexico, marking the end of the iconic car's 81-year history. Designed by Ferdinand Porsche, championed by Adolf Hitler, anthropomorphized as Herbie the Love Bug, and driven famously (with a Rolls Royce Grill!) by Cheech and Chong, this car is one of the most beloved machines humanity has ever made. What's your best memory of the Beetle?

390,000: According to the US Government Accountability Office, the FBI has conducted more than 390,000 facial recognition searches since 2011. If that worries you, then consider that the FBI has access to 641 million face photos in databases compiled by local, state, and federal authorities. #savingface

6,856: Death squads backed by the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela killed 6,856 people between January of 2018 and mid-May 2019, according to a report released by the UN earlier this month. The report says this is a conservative estimate, citing outside groups that place the death toll higher than 9,000.

This edition of Signal was written by Alex Kliment, with Kevin Allison, Leon Levy, Willis Sparks, and editorial support from Mara Lemos Stein. The graphic was made by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from this heroic cockatoo who is fighting the power.

It's Willis with your Friday edition of Signal. Today, we'll duck and cover to survive the explosion of "fake news," decode Trump's two takes on Tech, feed Putin to the birds, ride a Sardinian unicorn, and tip our cap to H. Ross Perot.

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

Cheers,

Willis Sparks

The Fake News Atom Bomb

Willis Sparks

In this month's Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the folks who created the famous "Doomsday Clock" to remind us of the persistent risk of nuclear war, cyber expert Herbert Lin makes a startling claim: False information threatens the future of humanity.

In brief, Mr. Lin argues that "corruption of the information system" amplifies the existential threats already posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, but also that "cyber-enabled information warfare" has become "an existential threat in its own right."

How so? In the twenty-first century, information flows are the lifeblood of society. Lin warns that social media are increasingly used to inject false or misleading information into that bloodstream. This new kind of propaganda is in some ways more insidious and harder to detect than traditional propaganda, which is issued via public, and often centralized, media channels.

Targeted disinformation can make wars more likely; imagine the possible impact of Facebook and Twitter during the Cuban Missile Crisis. They can trigger health crises by undermining public confidence in prevention and treatment methods, and exacerbate the effects of climate change by portraying it as a hoax.

If large numbers of people regularly consume false information, Lin says, they will lose confidence in the institutions that govern society and the vital information they provide. That, he warns, can create a "global information dystopia, in which the pillars of modern democratic self-government—logic, truth, and reality—are shattered, and anti-Enlightenment values undermine civilization around the world."

We've already seen:

• Ubiquitous use of search engines that return results based mainly on the popularity of the answers rather than their accuracy.

• The "formation of echo chambers and media bubbles that reinforce pre-existing beliefs."

• Large-scale data mining that allows digital-age propagandists to sift vast amounts of personal data to identify and target those most susceptible to specific kinds of "fake news."

• Lightning-fast data transfers, which enable false information to spread more quickly.

• Computer-generated voices and manipulated images that are almost indistinguishable from real ones.

The solution? According to Lin, we need "better ways of identifying adversary cyber-enabled information warfare campaigns in progress; good countermeasures to help human beings resist the use of cyber-enabled information warfare operations targeted against them; and good measures to degrade, disrupt, or expose the adversary's use of cyber-enabled information warfare operations."

The complication: Human beings are not always truth-seekers. As this report acknowledges, all of us are guilty at times of believing what we want to believe, creating demand for false information.

Teaching people to recognize fake news is important. Persuading them that they should try to separate fact from fiction is a different challenge.

Trump and Tech: Very Unfair at Home, Very American Abroad

Alex Kliment

President Trump has a bipolar relationship with America's tech firms. At home, he sees them as bastions of liberalism that are systematically biased against him and his conservative followers.

But abroad, it's a different story.

Beyond America's borders, the president sees these companies as symbols of American technological prowess, not to be messed with, undermined, or treated unfairly by foreign governments.


That explains why on the same day that Trump hosted a summit at the White House to blast the "dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression" he says is characteristic of social media companies, his administration also launched a probe into whether France's new digital services tax unfairly targets America's tech giants.

The French measure, passed Thursday, imposes a 3 percent tax on tech firms whose annual revenues exceed 750 million Euros globally and 25 million Euros in France. That's a very small number of companies, and since most of them are American, the Trump Administration, with bipartisan backing, says it's a discriminatory swipe at the United States that violates trade rules.

The administration's investigation could open the way to fresh US tariffs on French goods like wine and automobiles.

What explains the home-and-away difference in Trump's view of Big Tech? In part, it's the old "I can criticize my own tribe, but you better not" behavior common to us all.

More importantly, it's also good politics. At home, attacking the perceived liberal bias of social media companies stokes his conservative base (never mind the central role that these platforms play in his own political strategies).

And abroad, Trump's "America First" agenda seeks to boost US firms while also creating maximal leverage to extract concessions from foreign governments on trade and security issues.

Finally, when someone hits you, according to the Trump playbook, you always hit them back harder.

En garde!

What Is Green Diesel?

Sponsored by Eni

Eni has launched a major investment plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The key is green diesel, which is produced from plants or the herbivores that ate them. With green diesel, the carbon that comes out of your car's exhaust pipe is equivalent to the carbon those plants removed from the atmosphere over their lifetime. Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

What We're Watching: Mass Arrests, Libya's Spiral, A Floating Unicorn

GZERO Media

Mass Arrests in the US – On Sunday, US immigration police will begin a multi-day, nationwide operation to arrest thousands of people believed to be living in the United States illegally, according to press leaks from US officials. If this happens—similar plans have been postponed before—President Trump will say he is simply enforcing US law. His critics will insist he's capsizing the lives of thousands of people, including children, for political gain. The less predictable part of this story is the human drama that thousands of arrests will create—and the political firestorm that will surely follow.


Libya's Downward Spiral – A new report suggests that Libya's civil war is becoming bloodier and that the country is now "spiraling further downward." There's no end in sight to the fight between the internationally-recognized, UN-backed Government of National Accord and the so-called Libyan National Army, led by former Libyan general Khalifa Haftar and reportedly backed by Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. On July 5, the UN Security Council formally condemned an airstrike on a migrant detention camp in a suburb of Tripoli that killed 53 people. No one has admitted responsibility for that attack. A bid by Haftar to capture Tripoli has bogged down. And despite a UN arms embargo in place since 2011, Libya remains "awash with weapons."

Miracles on Italian Beaches – Imagine: You're a newlywed enjoying a holiday on a beautiful Sardinian beach. You're floating on an inflatable unicorn. But then you fall into the water, which is unexpectedly cold, and your medical condition makes it impossible for you to move your legs. A strong wind then blows away your unicorn. You are now swallowing large amounts of salt water, and you begin to lose consciousness. Not to worry, because Olympic bronze medal-winning swimmer Filippo Magnini, sunbathing on the beach with his TV star girlfriend, has been alerted to your plight, and he's only too happy to save you. Apparently, this is the sort of thing that actually happens on Italian beaches.

Off to the races – You can, and should, experience the thrills of the annual World Wife-Carrying Championships right here. But then there's also this excellent T-Rex race. We're watching for your responses to know which race you like better and why.

What We're Ignoring:

Putin's Love of Birds – In a recent speech, Russia's president warned that wind turbines are dangerous: "Wind-powered generation is good, but are birds being taken into account in this case? How many birds are dying?" Research from the London School of Economics estimated in 2014 that there could be anywhere from 9,600 and 106,000 bird deaths a year from wind energy in the UK by 2020. (That's a fairly broad guess.) Their research also found that about 55 million British birds are killed each year by British housecats. We're not doubting Putin's well-documented love of birds, but maybe his position as president of one of the world's leading producers of oil, gas, coal, and nuclear energy has skewed his judgment on this one.

Hard Numbers: Who Cares if Boris Behaves Badly?

71: The US Commerce Department says it has received more than 100,000 requests for exclusions from the administration's tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. About two-thirds of those requests have been processed. Of those, 71 percent of requests have been granted. The lesson: Tariff exemptions create an influence racket that enriches lobbyists who are working to exempt their clients.

13,000: Each day in Ukraine's war-wracked east, a tentative ceasefire allows nearly 13,000 civilians to cross through the checkpoint at the boundary that separates separatist-controlled territory in Luhansk province from areas under the Ukrainian government's control. They travel to buy groceries and medicine, and especially to visit relatives. Fabrice Deprez of Bear Market Brief offers a compelling eyewitness account.

77: Following yet more embarrassing personal behavior from soon-to-be UK prime minister Boris Johnson, a recent YouGov survey found that 77 percent of Britons questioned say his private life is not relevant to whether he'd make a good prime minister.

24: Japan is often criticized for a perceived lack of women in its workforce, particularly in positions of authority. But according to Pew Research, 51 percent of Japanese women over 15 are in the workforce compared with 50 percent in France, 40 percent in Italy, and just 24 percent in India.

Words of Wisdom

"Failures are like skinned knees, painful but superficial."

-Ross Perot, the self-made billionaire, philanthropist, and political gadfly, who passed away this week at age 89. In the 1992 US presidential election, Perot won almost 20 million votes—19 percent of the national total. That's still the best performance for an independent or third-party candidate since 1912.

This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks, with Alex Kliment (@saosasha). Editorial support from Tyler Borchers. Spiritual counsel from Kevin Allison (@KevinAllison), Leon Levy (@leonmlevy), the alley cat that hangs out behind my apartment, and Mark Bieker, my all-time favorite Perot voter.

Welcome back to Signal, GZERO Media's digest of the most important stories in global politics. Today, we riff on the similarities between climate policy and the global "techlash," brace for more trouble in Hong Kong, and watch a court case that could break the internet. Plus: Why we're ignoring an upcoming White House social media summit, and the hard numbers on income inequality in Nigeria and a controversial US-Taiwan arms deal.

Love Signal? Hate it? Let us know here.

Thanks for reading,

--Kevin Allison (@kevinallison)

What Climate Change Can Teach us About Securing Global Tech

Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa attend the 2018 Beijing Summit Of The Forum On China-Africa Cooperation - Round Table Conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China

I'm just back from a week in Rwanda, where I spoke at a conference on technology and economic development. One of the big questions was how countries that are working their way up the economic ladder should balance the need for better access to digital technologies with the need for those technologies to be secure and trustworthy. The discussion reminded me of another big policy challenge facing governments around the world: climate change.

How so? Well, climate policies today ask poorer, developing countries to swap the easy gains of fossil-fuel-powered growth that helped make rich countries, well, rich in the first place for something more sustainable (read: more expensive). The dynamics in tech are similar: today's tech giants got huge and rich countries a lot richer during a period of digitally-fueled growth marked by poor cybersecurity and little regard for consumer privacy. But now the US is demanding other countries reject the most economical (Chinese) options for building 5G networks, while European regulators are setting tougher standards for data privacy that are having ripple effects around the world.

The US crackdown on Huawei reflects a concern (overblown or not) that allowing the Chinese tech giant's cut-price gear into next-generation data networks poses unacceptable security risks. Ditching Huawei in favor of Western suppliers, or imposing tougher security standards across the board, as some European countries have proposed, might ease security fears — but could be cost-prohibitive for many countries in Africa.

The EU's tough data protection rules, similarly, aim to shore up online privacy. But they'll come at a cost as popular online services are forced to hire more compliance staff and rethink their business models. Attempts to establish similar protections in African countries might limit tech companies' appetite to provide innovative services there and in other regions where the digital economy is still just starting to gain steam.

Viewed through this lens, it's easy to see why developing countries might be loath to abandon cheaper Huawei networking equipment or adopt strict, European-style privacy practices around personal data. Rich countries that have already benefitted from decades of digital innovation and economic growth under the old system are in a better position to cope with the shift towards tougher security and privacy standards. Just as with climate change, the cost of transitioning to a more sustainable model could end up falling hardest on developing countries, where millions of people have yet to fully reap the benefits of an earlier, more carefree age.

GRAPHIC TRUTH: PUTIN’S HIGHS AND (RECENT) LOWS

In nearly twenty years of running Russia, Vladimir Putin has had his highs and his lows. Some of his greatest hits, from a popularity perspective, include his handling of several terrorism crises early in his tenure, his thrashing of Georgia in a brief 2008 war (when he was only pretending not to be the guy in charge of Russia) and, of course, the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, which sent his approval ratings from fresh lows back up to stratospheric highs. But since then, he's come back down to earth again — if a mid-60s approval rating can be called "earth" these days. A sluggish economy has played a part, but nothing dented his appeal more than a deeply unpopular pension reform plan unveiled last summer. Here's a look at Putin's ups and downs over the years.

7 places where high-speed rail is having an impact

Visit Microsoft on The Issues for a look at how Microsoft Public Affairs is thinking about pressing policy issues including high speed rail, the environment, accessibility and cybersecurity. Read stories and watch videos to see how Microsoft is approaching the issues that matter most.

What we are watching: What Does “Dead” Mean in Hong Kong?

A caricature of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is seen on a pillar of the Legislative Council, a day after protesters broke into the building, in Hong Kong

More Trouble in Hong Kong — The headlines say that Chief Executive Carrie Lam has declared the proposed extradition law that has triggered massive (sometimes violent) protests to be "dead," but demonstrators remain defiant. Joshua Wong, a protest leader, tweeted yesterday that Lam is a "habitual liar" and points out that the bill has not been formally withdrawn from the legislative agenda. As we've seen in other countries in recent years, demonstrations driven by a single grievance can abruptly become a broader expression of public anxiety, frustration, and fury. At this point, it appears many protesters won't believe anything Lam says, and Beijing will remain on high alert to ensure Hong Kong doesn't become ungovernable.

A Big Resignation in Mexico — Since taking office, Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has tried to pursue a leftwing economic agenda without scaring off the financial markets whose investment is critical for the country's economic stability. On Tuesday, that balancing act got much harder when his Finance Minister Carlos Urzua, a former economics professor seen as a bulwark against Lopez Obrador's more extravagant spending impulses, abruptly quit, citing differences of opinion with the president and fiscal incompetence among top officials. We are watching to see if Lopez Obrador tries to restore investor confidence, or if he is willing to take a much riskier gamble on Mexico's future now.

The court case that could break the internet — On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice heard arguments in a case that could determine whether it's legal for internet users' personal data to cross the Atlantic. The case stems from a complaint brought by 31-year-old Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems, who argued that the US mass electronic surveillance programs revealed by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden should be enough to prohibit Facebook from scooping up Europeans' personal data, according to the bloc's tough data protection laws. He has already won one court case back in 2015, and now the court will rule on whether two widely-used legal mechanisms for transferring data outside the EU offer sufficient protections to the bloc's citizens. If the answer is no, it would throw internet business models into turmoil and rile US-EU relations. The court is expected to rule on the case later this year.

What we are ignoring:

President Trump's social media summit – Tomorrow, the White House will host a group of "digital leaders for a robust conversation on the opportunities and challenges of today's online environment." On the guest list: A gaggle of media personalities and political activists who have long accused sites like Twitter and Facebook of suppressing conservative views. Not on the guest list, according to recent media reports: Twitter or Facebook. There are plenty of tech issues worth discussing here — including tech companies' growing influence over the way information flows through democratic societies. But this looks more like a fact-free reality TV stunt than a serious attempt at a conversation.

Hard numbers: Tanks a lot America!

29: The UN cultural agency UNESCO added 29 new sites to its World Heritage List, including iron-age furnaces in Burkina Faso, a wine-growing region of Italy known for Prosecco, the city of Jaipur, India, and — your Wednesday author's personal favorite — eight major buildings designed by the US architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Overall, UNESCO has granted special status to over 1,100 sites of "outstanding universal value."

90: The price of opium extracted from poppies — the precursor of heroin — has fallen by 90 percent in parts of southwest Mexico over the past 18 months, possibly due to increased competition from heroin alternatives like fentanyl. The price crash has hurt local farmers, contributing to a surge of migrants headed to the US border.

5: The five richest men in Nigeria have combined personal fortunes of nearly $30 billion. That's more than the country's entire national budget. About 60 percent of Nigerians live on less than $1.25 per day.

2.2 billion: The State Department on Tuesday approved $2.2 billion of arms sales to Taiwan. The deal, which has yet to be concluded, includes 108 Abrams main battle tanks and 250 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. The approval came despite a warning from China's Foreign Ministry that the deal would be "extremely sensitive and damaging."

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, with Alex Kliment (@saosasha), and editorial support from Mara Lemos Stein. The graphic was made by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from Willis Sparks and Leon Levy.

Hi there,

Alex here, to sift through the trash in China's politics, assess a power-sharing deal in Sudan, chronicle the Turkish president's latest troubles, and unlearn everything we ever learned about the origin of money.

As a bonus: What region of the planet produces the most garbage?

Love us or hate us, let us know here.

--Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

the politics of trash in the heart of china

A bulldozer evens out garbage at a waste landfill site in Hangzhou

Last week, protests shook one of China's most important cities as thousands took to the streets to defend their quality of life. But the disturbances weren't about political freedoms, extradition laws, or judicial transparency. This wasn't the prosperous former British colony of Hong Kong but the sprawling central Chinese metropolis of Wuhan. And the protests were about…garbage.

Residents of the 10 million-strong city oppose the government's plan to replace a landfill site with a new energy-producing trash incinerator. The authorities say it's a more environmentally (and olfactorily) friendly way to dispose of the city's growing mountains of refuse. But many Wuhanese, particularly those who live near the proposed site, fear it will spew toxic fumes into the sky over their homes and schools. They don't believe the secretive and suspect local government's assurances that the newfangled plant will be safer than the filthy ones China has used in the past. So when rumors spread that construction had started, thousands poured into the streets, braving riot police and undercover cops to make their point.

The problem of what do to with trash is hardly unique to Wuhan of course — it's been a big issue in other Chinese cities in recent years. The thing about lifting a billion people out of poverty is that wealthier people consume more stuff, which means they produce more garbage. As that garbage piles up, people expect their governments to safely and efficiently dispose of it. This is a growing challenge for many rapidly developing countries, and even for some developed ones (see: Naples, Italy).

The Wuhan demonstrators were careful to distance themselves from the political protests a thousand miles away in Hong Kong. But how governments deal with the trash is inherently political, because citizens don't have the means to make it go away by themselves. Garbage disposal requires complex systems to organize and oversee the collection, transport, and disposal of waste — and everyone can see and smell the result when government fails to get the job done. Recycling programs add a whole other layer of compliance and complexity. Getting these things right requires that governments be efficient and accountable.

In the Chinese case, the quality of life concerns of an increasingly affluent population — trash collection, environmental depredation, and poor infrastructure — may ultimately prove to be a bigger challenge to the Communist Party's opaque governance system than concerns about the lack of political rights.

GRAPHIC TRUTH: TRASHING THE PLANET

The world currently generates 2 billion tons of solid waste every year, according to the World Bank. By 2050, that figure will rise to 3.4 billion, with most of the increase coming from low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia, where greater urbanization and prosperity will generate more consumption, and more trash. That's a huge political challenge for urban governments around the world. Here's a look at who generates the most trash today — and in the future.

What we are watching: Power in Sudan, Racial Tensions in Israel, Troubles in Turkey

FILE PHOTO: Sudanese people chant slogans as they celebrate, after Sudan's ruling military council and a coalition of opposition and protest groups reached an agreement to share power during a transition period leading to elections, in Khartoum

The fate of Sudan's power-sharing deal — Sudanese opposition protesters have reached a power-sharing agreement with the military under which the two sides will create a "sovereign council" to be headed by the military for 21 months, followed by 18 months of civilian leadership ahead of fresh elections. In addition, the two sides have pledged a full investigation of the military's deadly crackdown on protesters in June. It remains to be seen whether that's truly possible, given that the killings were carried out by forces loyal to General Mohamed Hamdan, currently the most powerful figure in Sudan. In addition, the protesters seem to have made a big concession by allowing the military to run the council first — but in the end, they have the problem that all civilian popular revolutions must face: you need men with guns to run a state — who will they be?

Racial and generational tensions in Israel — Last week, an off-duty cop killed an unarmed Ethiopian Jewish teenager under unclear circumstances, prompting riots and protests among Israel's small, marginalized community of Ethiopian Jews. The back story is that tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in the 1980s, escaping famine and political repression at home. But while that first generation of immigrants remained stoic in the face of what its leaders describe as discrimination and racism, their children are much more willing to confront these issues head on, opening another fault line in Israel's increasingly polarized society.

Erdogan's Troubles — Troubles for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have only deepened since his man lost the Istanbul mayor's election…twice. Early Saturday morning, Erdogan fired central bank governor Murat Cetinkaya because he refused to lower interest rates in order to give Erdogan's political standing a boost with a short-term surge of economic growth. The move in the wee hours on a weekend was evidently meant to give investors time to digest the news before they reacted. But when markets opened Monday, the Turkish lira dropped like a stone, further devaluing the money that Turks carry in their pockets. Later on Monday, Erdogan suffered a second blow as former Turkish deputy prime minister Ali Babacan announced his resignation from Erdogan's Justice and Development Party over "deep differences" with the party's direction. He's now expected to form a rival party with former president Abdullah Gul.

A new politics in Greece — What challenges await the center-right New Democracy party after it rang up a resounding victory in Sunday's election? Check out Leon Levy's take here, and our interview with incoming prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakos here. "If there's a bigger lesson for the world to take away from Greek elections this Sunday," Leon writes, "it's this: even populist movements run out of steam."

What we are ignoring:

Russia's explanation of a deadly sub mishap — Last week, 14 Russian sailors perished in a fire aboard a submarine that Moscow says was carrying out a survey of the sea floor. Russian President Vladimir Putin later revealed the sub was nuclear powered and although the reactor is reportedly safe, an anonymous military official was quoted in the local press saying that the valiant efforts of the crew had saved the ship and "averted a catastrophe of planetary scale." Our sympathies are with the dead and their families, but there's no way we're buying the official line that this secretive, high-tech sub was innocently exploring the ocean depths for science.

SPEND SOME TIME WITH: BOSSA NOVA, BLOOD MONEY, AND REMBRANDT

A few recommendations for life beyond the news cycle.

Listen to: the breezy intimacy of Joao Gilberto's music. The Brazilian songwriter was a pioneer of bossa nova, a soothing fusion of samba rhythms, jazz chord voicings, and a lyrical poetry of longing that came to define (a certain slice of upper middle class) Brazil from the 1950s onwards. His most famous tune was "Girl from Ipanema," a collaboration with American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. Gilberto died over the weekend. Give a listen here.

Learn about: the history of money with NPR's superb podcast On the Media. Come for the explanation of why your teachers were wrong when they taught you that "money was a medium of exchange that replaced barter" – and stay for the artist who investigates the value of currency by issuing money with his own blood. Click here.

Watch: the restoration of Rembrandt's The Night Watch. One of the most magnificent paintings in history is set for a careful restoration at its home in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. And you can watch every second of it, via this livestream. It's like watching the grass grow except the grass is a colossal, dramatic painting of a 17th century military company on the move.

Hard Numbers: Do You Have to be Christian to be American?

1.5 billion: Over the past two years, investors have poured some $1.5 billion into companies that make, market, or share scooters in cities around the world. In principle the elevation of a child's toy to adult commuting vehicle is meant to reduce congestion (and be fun) but the issue is fast becoming political as startled and annoyed residents pressure mayors to regulate the two-wheeled whizzers. The mayor of Paris has already vowed to crack down on the "anarchy."

50: The area of Venezuelan farmland planted with staple crops of rice and corn will fall 50 percent this year, owing largely to gasoline shortages that crimp farmers' ability to produce and transport their goods. In some parts of the country, rice fields are being left barren for the first time in 70 years.

32: Stars and stripes and...a crucifix? Thirty-two percent of Americans say you have to be Christian to be considered truly American, according to a new Pew study.

11: News that Christine Lagarde will be leaving her post as IMF Managing Director to become the next president of the European Central Bank has touched off fevered speculation about who will replace her. In its 73 years of existence, all 11 IMF chiefs have hailed from Europe: we'd bet that the twelfth will be too.

This edition of Signal was written by Alex Kliment, with Kevin Allison, Leon Levy, and Willis Sparks, and editorial support from Mara Lemos Stein. The graphic was made by Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel supplied by a gigantic inflatable flamingo in upstate New York.

It's Kevin here. I've just arrived in Rwanda to talk tech and geopolitics at the Kigali Global Dialogue, a big economic development conference. But first, I've got your Wednesday dish on the most important stories in global politics. We'll ask what the Trump administration is trying to accomplish by easing pressure on the Chinese tech giant Huawei, watch women take the top jobs at the EU, and wrap ourselves in the booming US flag industry. We'll also visualize independence movements ahead of the US Fourth of July holiday.

Programming note: This is the last edition of Signal for the week, due to the US holiday. We'll resume normal service on Tuesday.

Bonus (not a) trick question: On what day did the US declare independence? Look for the answer after Hard Numbers.

—Kevin (@kevinallison)

Trump Takes his Foot off Huawei’s Neck — and Catches Hell for it

Kevin Allison

As US-China trade talks sputtered back in May, the Trump administration banned Chinese tech giant Huawei from acquiring US technology. The move, which threatened to cripple the company and crater China's plans to lead the world in next-generation 5G network technology, prompted high-fives from US national security hawks, who view Huawei, and China more broadly, as security threats — "strategic competitors," even.

The question since then has been whether President Donald Trump would stay tough on Huawei or offer a lighter touch as a bargaining chip in broader trade talks with Beijing. Over the weekend, he moved in the latter direction, announcing that US companies would be allowed to resume some limited sales of goods to Huawei as part of a compromise with China's President Xi Jinping to restart negotiations. It was a classic Trump-as-dealmaker move, but it didn't take long for the problems with this strategy to become apparent.

The US is sending mixed messages. For months, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other US officials have been pressuring allies not to use Huawei gear in their next-generation mobile networks, because of the national security risk that China could use that technology to snoop. But using the company as a bargaining chip in pursuit of a trade deal undermines the credibility of that argument. Meanwhile, if it's true, as the White House says, that Trump plans to allow sales only of "general merchandise" that Huawei could buy from just about anyone, then that's not a great deal for Xi: Huawei will struggle to compete in the global market without harder-to-make US conductors and software.

Trump isn't the only one with the power to crush Huawei. If he goes too easy on the company in pursuit of a trade deal, Congress might take the decision about Huawei's future out of his hands. The Huawei tech ban is one of the few things that has strong bipartisan support in Congress. Senator Marco Rubio, a leading Huawei hawk, has already threatened to pass a bill that would make the ban permanent with a "veto-proof majority."

Bottom line: Huawei can be a bargaining chip in the US-China trade war, or it can be a truly existential threat to the national security of the US and its allies. But it can't be both. By trying to have his Huawei and eat it too, Trump risks confusing industry, tanking the credibility of his administration, and alienating US allies and adversaries alike.

Graphic Truth: Catching the Independence Wave

Over the past 250 years, there have been several major waves of independence: the revolutions of European colonies in the Americas in the 18th-19th centuries, the creation of independent states out of the defunct Habsburg, Ottoman, and Russian empires after World War I, the end of European colonialism in Africa and Asia after World War II, and, finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In honor of US Independence Day, here's a historic look at the founding dates that countries around the world celebrate today. For a full animation since (before!) 1776, click here.

How AI and satellites are used to combat illegal fishing

Microsoft On The Issues

Fishing is a way of life for coastal communities around the world. An estimated four million fishing vessels sail the world's oceans, providing fish for a global seafood market valued at over $120 billion. Overfishing — when fish is caught faster than stocks can replenish — is a significant factor in the decline of ocean wildlife populations. To fight back against this overfishing, OceanMind is using the power of AI to map data and then feeding that information to government authorities to help catch perpetrators.

To learn more head to Microsoft on the Issues.

What we are watching: EU power plays, Japan vs South Korea, and an Ethiopian Pandora's Box

GZERO Media

Women in Power in Europe — European leaders have chosen German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of chancellor Angela Merkel, as their pick for president of the European Commission. The surprise choice came after deadlock sank the prospects of other leading candidates favored by the bloc's various political factions. At the same time, Christine LaGarde, the French head of the International Monetary Fund, was selected as the next head of the European Central Bank. If the European Parliament approves the new leadership slate in November, it'll be the first time that women have occupied the two most important EU jobs.

Abiy's Challenge — Abiy Ahmed has opened Pandora's Box in Ethiopia. Prime minister since April 2018, he's earned international praise by ending a 20-year war with neighboring Eritrea, freeing hundreds of political prisoners, and lifting bans on political parties. But this opening of the country's politics has encouraged competition for land among some of Ethiopia's 80 ethno-linguistic groups, provoking violence that has made internal refugees of nearly three million people. Abiy has shown that he wants to build a more open society, and we're watching to see if there's enough good will among the largest ethnic groups to negotiate an end to conflicts quelled in the past only by dictatorial governments.

Japan vs South Korea trade spat — On Monday, Tokyo slapped export controls on sensitive technology exports to South Korea, as a bilateral dispute between the countries over Japan's 20th century colonization of the Korean peninsula escalates. In recent months, South Korea has demanded that Japanese firms compensate laborers who say they were forced into virtual slavery when Japan occupied the peninsula between 1910 and 1945. Talks have broken down since Japanese firms refused to comply with the demand and Korean authorities began seizing some of their assets. We are watching to see how history shapes the present in this spat between the second and third largest economies in Asia.

What we are ignoring:

Russians' declining belief in the paranormal — A recent survey flagged by the Moscow Times suggests that Russians' belief in aliens, psychics, witchcraft, and other paranormal activity has plunged to a 30-year low, after surging during the reality TV era. We're ignoring this story because it's probably just what Vladimir Putin and the ghost of Grigori Rasputin WANT you to think. The truth is out there, Signal readers.

Hard Numbers: What Country Buys the Most US Flags?

11: The US is far from the only country that celebrates independence this time of year. There are no less than 11 other countries that do the same in the first ten days of July. In order, they are Canada, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Belarus, Algeria, Cape Verde, Venezuela, Comoros, Malawi, the Solomon Islands, Argentina, South Sudan (the world's newest country!), and the Bahamas.

2: There are two countries in the world that have no official independence day or national day at all. They are the United Kingdom (the eventual cause of so many other independence days, of course) and Denmark, which wants you to know that they were "once brutal Vikings." Vikings don't get colonized!

335: The US may run a big trade deficit with the rest of the world, but the flag industry is doing its best to close the gap. In 2018 the US ran a trade surplus of 300 percent in cloth flags. Of the roughly $6.3 million worth of flags imported, almost all came from China. Meanwhile three quarters of the $21 million worth exported went south of the border to Mexico. Thanks to Jason at the US Census Bureau for helping us out with the data.

$1 billion: Boom, ra-ta-ta-ka, boom… BOOM! Americans spend more than a billion dollars on fireworks every year, according to the American Pyrotechnics association. most of which are used during the July 4 period. Ninety nine percent of them are imported from the USA's "strategic competitor" China.

Quiz Answer: Liberate yourself from a common misconception. The US actually declared independence on July 2nd 1776. The Declaration text was approved on the 4th but not signed until almost a month later, on August 2nd. So if you're in the US, tell your boss Signal said you can take August 2nd off, too.

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, Willis Sparks, Alexander Kliment, and Leon Levy. The graphic magic was spun by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from a poltergeist who lives in the crawl space in Willis's apartment.

Hi there,

This Tuesday we watch the (Trump) clock with three autocrats under pressure, check out a Transatlantic backlash against the anti-globalization backlash and stuff a bunch of countries into China.

Bonus: When was the longest period of US economic expansion in history?

Love us or hate us, let us know here.

-Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

The Clock-Watchers: Xi, Kim, Khamenei

Alex Kliment

Over the weekend, US President Donald Trump reached a trade truce with China, restarted nuclear talks with North Korea by taking an unprecedented step into that country, and then returned home to the news that Iran has officially exceeded the limits on uranium enrichment set by the 2015 nuclear accord that he ditched last year.

As Trump heads into the final 18 months of his (first?) presidential term, these three huge foreign policy challenges remain unresolved. Despite the ludicrous speed of the news cycle, 18 months isn't long in global politics time. So if you're the leader of Iran, China, or North Korea, do you stall to run out the clock? Or do you take your best shot now to get what you want from Trump?

Put yourself in the shoes of these three men…

Ayatollah Khamenei: Trump wants you to sign on to a new, stricter nuclear deal, and he's been ratcheting up sanctions while blaming you for a spike in Persian Gulf shipping attacks. But he chose to hack rather than bomb you in retaliation when you shot down an American drone, which was nice of him. He says he wants to talk to you directly – he is probably salivating at the ratings it would deliver him -- but you aren't prepared to go from "Death to America" to "Welcome Donald Trump" quite so quickly.

Your best bet is probably to wait until 2020 to see if you can get a Democrat who is both more predictable and more favorably disposed to the original Iran deal.

Xi Jinping: Trump has agreed to postpone a massive new round of tariff increases in order to revive talks on a US-China trade deal. And he may even give a little relief to Huawei, your most important tech company. Still, Trump and his team want you to dismantle the state-powered economic system that Made China Great and which, you are certain, will make China the tech superpower of the future.

You are on the fence. If you wait out Trump, you might get a more conventional Democrat in 2020. But a new US president might work more effectively with US allies to lead a united front against your trade and tech practices. Then you'd really be in trouble.

Kim Jong-un: You already have nuclear weapons, and you aren't going to give them up altogether because they are your security guarantee – after all, you've had nightmares about what happened to Qaddafi. And you've balked at even partial concessions until Trump eases some of those crippling sanctions on your country. With a little economic help from China you can hang on for a long time like this. But, here's the thing: Trump seems to like you. To really, really like you. In fact, he likes you in a way that no other US president could have or will again. Shouldn't you leap at the chance to make some kind of deal now? If Trump loses, you might too. After all, as a wise man once said, "the waiting game sucks, let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos."

Beautiful powerful voice interlude: By the way, you may have seen that Trump praised Kim Jong-un's "powerful voice" voice at the DMZ. Whatever, Puppet Regime knew about the North Korean leader's vocal talents months ago when we penned a classic surf tune with him. Check it out here, losers.

Graphic Truth: 31 Countries (Worth) of China

Alex Kliment

By some measures, China is already the largest economy on earth. So as a follow up to our look last week at how the 50 United States stack up with other countries' economies, this week we do the same with the political units of mainland China.

Protectionism What? EU and South America Strike Major Trade Deal

Alex Kliment

One of the largest multilateral trade deals in history was signed just a few days ago, between the European Union and Mercosur, a South American trade bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The deal covers countries with a total population of nearly 800 million people and it took 20 years to hammer out. It will open up Europe to more South American agricultural goods, while reducing their duties on European manufactured exports like cars, shoes, machinery, and, of course, wines and cheeses.

Three quick thoughts on this:

Trump wasn't even in the room, but he's in this story: One reason the long-deadlocked talks got crackling again was that Trump's more confrontational approach to US allies on trade had pushed the Europeans into seeking opportunities elsewhere. This is the largest trade deal the EU has ever struck, following smaller recent deals with Japan, Canada, Mexico, and Singapore.

Did you think all "populists" were protectionists? They aren't. Brazil's controversial far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is a major backer of the deal. He has made it his mission to reduce tariffs and other investment barriers in what is one of the world's most protectionist countries. He sees that as a way to spur growth and clear away a legacy of left-wing economic policies.

Could it go up in smoke? Yup. Farmers in Europe and manufacturers in Mercosur don't like it, and that matters because the deal still requires ratification by each member country (that means 28 in Europe alone.) But the biggest immediate challenge will come in Argentina. If Wall Street friendly President Mauricio Macri loses his fading re-election bid to the leftwing protectionist ticket of Alberto Fernandez and former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner later this year, Buenos Aires could throw a wrench into this thing fast.

What We're Watching: Hong Kong, Rome vs Brussels, Tunisia's President

GZERO Media

Hong Kong Protesters Get Violent – As we warned on Friday, the Hong Kong protest story is far from over. Yesterday, on the anniversary of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule, a small faction of protesters broke with the peaceful demonstrations of recent days, battered their way into the Hong Kong legislature building, and vandalized the place. The initial police response involved pepper spray and batons, and then moved to tear gas. We are watching to see if the use of violence by even this small subset of protesters changes perceptions of the movement in Beijing, and perhaps leads to a more decisive crackdown by the Chinese state.

Rome vs Brussels Soon Enough – The European Commission yesterday postponed a decision on whether to punish Rome for its high national debt, after EU leaders failed, in separate talks, to agree on who should lead the next European Commission. The delay heads off a big showdown between Italy's popular rightwing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – who says he'll quit (maybe triggering new elections) unless he can push through a massive tax cut– and the bean-counters of Brussels, who are nervously adjusting their green visors as Italy's debt surges above the 2 percent of GDP limit specified by the EU's fiscal rules. Crisis averted for now, but the reprieve may only be temporary.

The Tunisian President's Health – Tunisia, the only country to emerge from the 2011 Arab Spring with a functioning democracy, suffered a scare last week when the country's aging President Beji Caid Essebsi was rushed to the hospital after suffering a "severe health crisis." While the 92-year-old Essebsi is reportedly on the mend, the episode reminded people that there is no clear mechanism for replacing him if he dies -- the court that is empowered to choose an interim replacement hasn't been set up yet because of squabbling between Tunisia's political parties. As Tunisia heads towards national elections this fall, Essebsi's death could plunge the country into major political uncertainty.

What We're Ignoring

Theresa May's Request of Mohammad bin Salman – Lost in the Trump-related news from last weekend's G20 summit was a side meeting in which UK Prime Minister Theresa May urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) to allow a "transparent" legal process to ensure accountability for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. Here are three reasons why we can safely ignore this conversation. One, MBS doesn't seem like a guy who likes to take advice from women. Two, he knows Theresa May will be in a new line of work by the end of this month. Three, why on earth would a Saudi prince want to hold someone accountable for a murder when that someone is all but assuredly… himself?

Hard Numbers: “Call Me Ishmael-San,” Japanese Whaling Returns

7: US negotiators sat down with the Taliban for a 7th round of peace talks over the weekend, amid ongoing violence in the country. Two US special forces soldiers were killed in a firefight with Taliban fighters last week.

121: It's been 121 months since the US emerged from the steep recession that followed the financial crisis in June 2009. That's the longest economic expansion in US history.

31: Japan resumed commercial whaling on Monday, ending a 31-year hiatus. The move follows Japan's withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission, a global conservation organization that passed a moratorium on whale hunting in the 1980s. Japan insists it can whale in an environmentally responsible way, but the move has sparked criticism from activists.

72: Just 72 percent of people in North America (and 73 percent of Northern Europeans) think vaccines are safe. Contrast that with the 95 percent of South Asians and the 92 percent of East Africans who agree with that statement. Overall, 79 percent of the world believes vaccines are safe to administer. #FirstWorldProblems

This edition of Signal was written by Alex Kliment, with Kevin Allison, Leon Levy, and Willis Sparks, with editorial support from Tyler Borchers. The graphic was made by Ari Winkleman.