What We're Watching: Brexit Drags on, Argentina Clamps down, Germany’s Center Holds

What We're Watching: Brexit Drags on, Argentina Clamps down, Germany’s Center Holds

Brexit lurches forward — However tired you are of reading about the long-running-but-never-moving Brexit saga, we here at Signal are equally (if not more) tired of writing about it. But this week will deliver some genuine drama as parliamentary opponents of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's no-deal Brexit gambit (a move he hopes will force the EU back to the negotiation table) attempt to pass legislation preventing the country from crashing out of the European Union on October 31. Time is short, as the Boris-backed parliament suspension kicks in next week. Boris has already threatened to call a general election on October 14 should MPs prove successful in passing a bill that forces him to seek an extension from Brussels in the face of no-deal. Even if the legislation doesn't pass, MPs can attempt to trigger elections themselves via a vote of no confidence. To paraphrase another famous Brit, this may be the beginning of the end, or it could be the end of the beginning. We'll be watching this week to see which of the two it is.

Argentina clamps down — Last week, Argentina said it would put off paying back $101 billion in country debt, a move that some (including the ratings agency Standard and Poor's) branded a default on the country's debts. On Sunday, Buenos Aires instituted capital controls to stem the country's worsening economic and financial crisis. While the immediate cause of the economic tumult was the surprise defeat of business-friendly President Mauricio Macri to his populist opponent in primary elections last month, Argentina's problems go deeper: over the past 12 months, more than 3 million people have slipped into poverty. We're watching to see how much worse the situation gets ahead of Argentina's October elections, when investors' fear of a populist assuming looks likely to become a reality.

Germany's battered center holds — The country's mainstream political parties beat back the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) in two state elections in the former East Germany on Sunday, but it wasn't pretty. In Brandenburg, the state that surrounds Berlin, the anti-immigrant AfD came in second to the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) with 23.5 percent of the vote, nearly doubling its showing from 2014. In Saxony, along the Polish border, the AfD almost tripled its vote share to 27.5 percent, around 5 percentage points behind Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU). While the AfD performed worse than Germany's two long-dominant parties had feared, the result shows the power of AfD's populist message in a region that suffered a massive exodus of young workers after the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago. It will also complicate the process of building governing coalitions in both states. We're watching to see how the "grand coalition" between the CDU and SPD weathers this new, more fractious era in German politics.

What We're Ignoring:

Putin and Abe ending WWII Dignitaries assembled in Poland last weekend to mark the 80th anniversary of World War Two. Missing from the gathering: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose countries never signed a peace treaty after the war and continue to press competing claims over a series of islands that lie between them. The pair will discuss the islands' status at a meeting in Vladivostok, in Russia's far east, later this week on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum. But the two have held more than 25 bilateral meetings over the course of their tenures, and have yet to reach a breakthrough on the impasse. We're ignoring this story, because if there were serious prospects for officially ending the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen, it's (probably) not going to happen at a side meeting at an economic conference.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Viktor Orbán, Hungary's far-right populist prime minister, likes to shock people. It's part of his political appeal. Orbán has proudly proclaimed that he is an "illiberal" leader" creating a frenzy in Brussels because Hungary is a member of the European Union.

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In countries with access to COVID vaccines, the main challenge now is to convince those hesitant about the jab to roll up their sleeves, and this has become even more urgent given the spread of the more contagious delta variant. So, where are there more vaccine skeptics, and how do they compare to total COVID deaths per million in each nation? We take a look at a group of large economies where jabs are available, yet (in some cases) not everyone wants one.

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:

QR codes are everywhere. Are they also tracking my personal data?

Well, a QR code is like a complex barcode that may be on a printed ad or product package for you to scan and access more information. For example, to look at a menu without health risk or for two-factor verification of a bank payment. And now also as an integral part of covid and vaccine registration. QR codes can lead to tracking metadata or personal data. And when your phone scans and takes you to a website, certainly the tracking starts there. Now, one big trap is that people may not distinguish one kind of use of QR codes from another and that they cannot be aware of the risks of sharing their data.

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky bits of color from a Games like no other…

Today we've got— the best freakout celebrations!

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Tanzania reverses course on COVID: Just four months ago, the Tanzanian government was completely denying the existence of the pandemic. Then-President John Magufuli insisted Tanzania was COVID-free thanks to peoples' prayers, and refused to try to get vaccines. But Magufuli died suddenly in March — perhaps of COVID. His successor, current President Samia Suluhu, has acknowledged the presence of the virus in Tanzania, and although she was initially lukewarm on mask-wearing and vaccines, Suluhu has recently changed her tune, first joining the global COVAX facility and now getting vaccinated herself to kick off the country's inoculation drive. Well done Tanzania, because if there's one thing we've all learned over the past 18 months, it's that nowhere — not even North Korea, whatever Pyongyang says — is safe from the coronavirus.

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16: A new study tracking Earth's "vital signs" has found that 16 out of 31 indicators of planetary health are getting worse due to climate change. Last year's pandemic-induced shutdown did little to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, stop the oceans from warming, or slow the shrinking of polar ice caps.

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Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

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