What We're Watching: Musk irks China, Abbas meets Gantz in Israel, Putin requests Biden call

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk

A scent of Musk in US-China space spat. Pull up! pull up! Beijing earlier this week accused the US of creating danger in space after Chinese astronauts commanding their country’s sparkling new space station nearly crashed into a satellite launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Beijing says the US government has to ensure that Musk’s satellites honor a 1967 treaty on safety in space. Given that SpaceX plans to launch thousands more satellites as part of its Starlink global internet access project, an already cluttered orbit is going to get even more dangerous. Governments will have to sort out who is responsible for policing private spacecraft. In the nearer term, we wonder whether this week’s near-miss space spat will have implications for Musk back on earth: China is currently the only country outside the US where his Tesla electric car company runs a factory (Germany is next, beginning early next year.) Chinese social media has reportedly lit up with criticism of Musk, with anecdotal accounts of calls for a Tesla boycott. That could hurt. Last year, Tesla sold $3 billion worth of cars in China, more than a fifth of its overall sales.


Abbas meets Gantz in Israel. In a meeting decried by hardliners on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas travelled to the home of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz for a two-hour meeting on security and economic relations. The trip, Abbas’s first official visit to Israel in a decade, came against the backdrop of escalating attacks by Jewish settlers in the West Bank, as well as increasing violence by Palestinians in the West Bank and inside Israel. After the meeting, Israel announced “confidence-building measures,” including an advance transfer of taxes to the PA and additional permits for Palestinian businesspeople to cross into Israel. But the militants of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, blasted Abbas’ move as treasonous, while the rightwing Likud party of former PM Bibi Netanyahu warned of dangerous “concessions” to the Palestinians. Still, some 60 percent of Palestinians polled say that anything to improve their daily lives is worth pursuing. That puts Abbas on the spot to deliver — the same poll shows three-quarters of Palestinians want him to resign. Overall, the Abbas-Gantz meeting is hardly a breakthrough. The official position of Israeli PM Naftali Bennett is that “there won’t be” a renewed peace process anytime soon. But in a conflict that has rarely seen significant leaps of progress, merely opening the way to constructive talks is always worth keeping an eye on.

Putin requests call with Biden. The Biden administration has announced that the US president will hold another call with Russia’s President Putin on Thursday afternoon “to discuss a range of topics, including upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia.” Crucially, the White House says Putin asked for the meeting. The presence of tens of thousands of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine has set Europe and the US on edge and NATO on alert. But the threat of a Russian invasion is tempered by the high economic and political costs that Russian casualties and an occupation of parts of Ukraine hostile to Moscow would impose. We’ll be watching for any sign that Putin can draw some concession from Biden that can help him claim a political victory without a shot being fired.

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Does the EU really have a foreign policy?

For decades, European leaders have debated the question of whether Europe should have a common foreign policy that’s independent of the United States.

Germany, the UK, and countries situated closest to Russia have traditionally preferred to rely on membership in NATO and US military strength to safeguard European security at a cost affordable for them.

French leaders, by contrast, have argued that, with or without NATO, Europe needs an approach to foreign policy questions that doesn’t depend on alignment, or even agreement, with Washington.

There are those within many EU countries who agree that Europe must speak with a single clear voice if the EU is to promote European values and protect European interests in a world of US, Chinese, and Russian power.

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Will Political Polarization Stop Big Tech Regulation | Cyber In :60 | GZERO Media

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Are we running out of time to regulate big tech?

And to that I would say yes and no. So let me explain. Yes, because especially in the US, the legislative responses to the outsized and growing power of big tech have been incredibly slow. Over the past several years, we have seen initiatives being drafted, but when it came to that point, the polarization between Democrats and Republicans have been running so deep that hardly any of the legislative ideas have actually come to adoption. And there's no real expectation that that will change soon. But we are not running out of time, but actually catching up, in the sense that elsewhere in the world, for example, in the EU, a series of proposals are being made and adopted. To foster more competition, to ensure greater responsibility from tech companies on content moderation, on AI, data, political ads, rights and principles, cybersecurity, and so on. And these proposals do add up to a shift in the status quo and certainly regulate the effects of big tech.

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The politics of US crime: Perception vs reality

A recent spate of violent crimes in New York City has made national headlines. Since Eric Adams was sworn in four weeks ago as mayor of America’s most populous city, violence on the streets — and the subways — has again become a major political focus. Things got even more heated this week, when two young cops were killed while responding to a domestic dispute in Harlem.

Crime is not only a dominant political issue in New York. It also resonates more broadly with American voters worried over increased lawlessness and unrest. Indeed, crime is already shaping up to be a wedge issue as Republicans vie to win control of the US Congress this November.

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Hard Numbers: South China Sea jet search, US economy surges, Cuban protesters charged, Africa gets vaxxed

FILE PHOTO of a F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the Argonauts of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, launches off the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Jan. 14, 2022.

U.S Navy/EYEPRESS

100 million: The US Navy is scrambling to find a $100 million F-35 stealth fighter jet that crashed and sank soon after taking off on Monday from an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. One expert described the Cold War-ish race to locate the remains — stocked with classified equipment — before the Chinese do as "basically The Hunt For Red October meets The Abyss."

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The logo of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project is seen on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020.

Nord Stream 2 used as a bargaining chip with Russia. The US now says that if Russia invades Ukraine, it’ll block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to transfer even more natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. This is a big deal, considering that Germany – thirsty for more Russian gas – has long been pushing for the pipeline to start operating despite ongoing objections from Washington. The $11 billion energy project, which would double Russian gas exports to Germany, is seen as (a big) part of the reason why Berlin is reluctant to push back hard against the Kremlin over its troop buildup at the Ukrainian border. Still, German officials admit Nord Stream 2 could face sanctions if the Russians invade, suggesting that the Americans’ threat was likely coordinated with Berlin in advance. This comes amid ongoing diplomatic attempts to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, with US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set to meet at the White House on February 7.

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Putin Has a “Noose” Around Ukraine, Says Russia Analyst Alina Polyakova | GZERO World

What’s going on in Vladimir Putin’s mind? That’s the million-dollar question.

Ukraine and Russia analyst Alina Polyakova doesn’t think it’s anything good.

Russia's president, she says, has put a “noose” around Ukraine with a troop build-up along the border that could spell invasion in the near term. The US has led an effort to deescalate the situation through diplomacy.

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The AI Addiction Cycle | GZERO World

Ever wonder why everything seems to be a major crisis these days? For former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, it's because artificial intelligence has determined that's the only way to get your attention.

What's more, it's driving an addiction cycle among humans that will lead to enormous depression and dissatisfaction.

"Oh my God there's another message. Oh my God, there's another crisis. Oh my God, there's another outrage. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God," he says. "I don't think humans, at least in modern society where [we’ve] evolved to be in an 'Oh my God' situation all day."

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The AI addiction cycle

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