WHAT WE’RE WATCHING/IGNORING

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Saudi Arabia's Oil Strategy – Tomorrow, members of OPEC, an organization of large oil producers, will convene in Vienna.


Over the past two months global oil prices have fallen by almost 30 percent, after reaching a high of $86 in early October. Saudi Arabia, the cartel's most powerful producer, hopes to forge an agreement among members and participating "observer states," like Russia, to reduce production with the aim of lifting prices. But it faces a political bind: any attempt to increase prices risks angering President Trump, a frequent OPEC critic, while a continued swoon could damage Saudi Arabia's oil-dependent economy.

The limits of Europe's Big Tech crackdown – A Franco-German effort to tax Silicon Valley giants hit a roadblock this week after a handful of member states objected, forcing Paris and Berlin water down their proposal. Europe has some of the world's toughest data rules and has brought huge antitrust cases against Silicon Valley firms – regulation is one of the ways the 28-member bloc, which lacks its own Silicon Valley, can project digital power in the 21st century. But some EU states remain wary of pushing the companies that will drive the next generation of big digital innovations too far. The debate over digital taxation reveals an important limit to an ongoing crackdown.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Russian attacks on Immanuel Kant – Russia's government recently launched a contentious competition to pick a new name for the airport in Kaliningrad, a small Russian exclave located between Germany and Poland. The territory, which was German (Königsberg) until the end of World War II, is the birthplace of the moral philosopher Immanuel Kant. Once the Kant's name made it to the final round of the contest, things got ugly – mobs have vandalized Kant statues and a senior naval officer there declared him a "traitor to his own country." This sort of behavior almost certainly violates Kant's first categorical imperative. Or is it the second? Either way, it looks like Empress Elizaveta of Russia, who briefly annexed the territory in the 18th century, will get the nod.

Nigeria's really fake first lady – In Tuesday's Signal, we revealed that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been forced to defend the fact that he is, in fact, the real Muhammadu Buhari, amid persistent rumors that he died and was replaced by a clone or body double. Today, we are perplexed to report that Nigeria's secret service has detained a real-life fake first lady who was posing as Buhari's wife inside the presidential villa. Elaborate scam? Or sinister attempt to distract from the real scandal? We'll leave it to you to speculate, because we're still ignoring this story.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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