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.

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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