What We're Watching: California scorcher, Gulf states threaten Netflix, potential Putin-Xi meeting ​

Water is dropped near a fireman as the Fairview Fire burns near Hemet, California.

REUTERS/David Swanson

California’s dystopian heatwave

Californians are bracing for mass power outages as the state of 40 million people suffers a record-breaking heatwave with temperatures in the triple digits. With residents cranking up air conditioners, state authorities say energy use statewide is hitting record levels. (The power grid is under added pressure because of the extreme heat, which makes power transmission less efficient.) Meanwhile, California’s independent grid operator called for energy rationing between 4 and 9 pm, advising residents to turn up their thermostats and avoid using energy-intensive equipment like dishwashers and washing machines. Indeed, the heatwave and energy crunch indicate that extreme weather events linked to climate change are pummeling countries in the developing and developed world alike. (With a GDP of $3.4 trillion in 2021, California’s economy is the largest in the US, surpassing countries like India and France.) As several wildfires broke out in Southern California in recent days, Governor Gavin Newsom warned that “we’re heading into the worst part of this heat wave.”


Gulf gulp for Netflix

Several Gulf Arab states have threatened legal action against the US-based streaming giant unless it censors any content there that violates “Islamic and societal values.” The salvo came from a Riyadh-based commission that represents the media interests of the Gulf Cooperation Council. No specific offenses were listed, but the concern is believed to center on programming that includes LGBTQ characters or themes. It’s not clear how big the Middle East market is for Netflix — the company lumps the region together with Africa and Europe in its annual reports. But the real challenge may come closer to home: Netflix recently weathered a backlash from progressives angry about a Dave Chappelle comedy special that was seen to make fun of transgender people. Would caving to Riyadh’s content demands provoke a similar storm? As our Eurasia Group friends noted earlier this year, the culture wars are a constant and usually no-win battle for companies these days.

Putin-Xi: From BFFs to "it's complicated"

The Kremlin says Vladimir Putin will meet Xi Jinping next week at a regional security gathering in Uzbekistan. If confirmed, it'll be the first in-person chat between the presidents of Russia and China since early February, when Putin attended the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics less than three weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. It'll also be Xi's first trip outside China since early 2020 — a big milestone for the architect of China's zero-COVID policy. The two have a lot to talk about since their last hangout, during which they showed off a bilateral bromance that, it turns out, does have limits. Xi was not happy about the Russian invasion but perhaps hoped the war would be quick and the West wouldn't have time to respond. That clearly did not happen, and the conflict looks more destined for a deep freeze than a negotiated settlement. What's more, China is feeling the heat for being noncommittal about Ukraine at a time that its lagging economy can hardly afford to lose foreign investment dollars. Russia, for its part, needs China to keep buying Russian oil that's off Western markets — albeit it at bargain prices — and remain its most powerful “friend.”
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