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

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

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.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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