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What We're Watching: China’s Trade War Fightback and the Internet’s Role in Mass Shootings

What We're Watching: China’s Trade War Fightback and the Internet’s Role in Mass Shootings

China's trade war retaliation – China let the value of its currency, the renminbi, fall sharply against the US dollar on Monday to its lowest level in a decade. It also reportedly told state-run companies to stop buying from US farmers. Global stock markets plunged. Both moves were aimed squarely at the US and President Trump, who last week threatened to slap tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese goods if Beijing didn't bow to US trade demands. By allowing the renminbi to slip, Beijing is withdrawing an olive branch, signaling that it is no longer willing to keep its currency artificially strong (and its exports less competitive) while talks with the US proceed. Suspending farm purchases is a direct jab at Trump himself; it increases financial pressure on US farmers, an important political constituency for the president. Taken together, China is saying: We're not going to take the latest US threats lying down. In response, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin branded China a "currency manipulator" – a largely symbolic move that may have been intended to forestall an even more aggressive response by the White House. We're watching to see whether the two sides can avoid further escalation.


The "gamification" of mass violence – On Sunday, an apparent white supremacist murdered 20 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, minutes after posting a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto on the website 8chan. It was the third mass shooting this year advertised beforehand on the website, where some anonymous commentators cheer on gunmen by posting ironic memes and encouraging them to get a "high score." The El Paso shooter said he had been inspired by an Australian man who killed 51 Muslims in New Zealand in January, who broadcasted a live, first-person video of his murder spree on Facebook as though it were a video game. We're watching what others have dubbed the "gamification" of mass violence, because it's increasingly clear that the internet and social media's ability to help people with violent, fringe views find and draw inspiration from one another is fueling these mass shootings, and it's not clear how governments can stop it.

What We're Ignoring:

The Turkmen president's proof of life – A couple of weeks ago, we highlighted dubious reports that Turkmenistan's strongman president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, had died from kidney failure. State television said he was merely on holiday. On Sunday, the national broadcaster offered proof of life: a report showed the Turkmen leader driving a rally car near a giant flaming crater in the middle of the desert, then receiving a standing ovation from spectators dressed in identical track suits after rolling three strikes at a bowling lanes. We are ignoring this story, because it illustrates the basic principle that Turkmenistan is an endless rabbit hole of fun that keeps us from other stories. Unless you live there.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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In the fall of 2019, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would change the world, Ian Bremmer asked Dr. Fauci what kept him up at night and he described a "a pandemic-like respiratory infection." Fast-forward to late February 2021 and Dr. Fauci tells Ian, "I think we are living through much of that worst nightmare." Dr. Fauci returns to GZERO World to take stock of the nightmare year and to paint a picture of what the end of the pandemic could look like—and when it could finally arrive.

Catch the full episode of GZERO World, where Dr. Fauci discusses the latest in vaccine roll out, schools re-openings, and plenty more, on US public television stations nationwide, beginning Friday, February 26. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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