What We’re Watching: Guyana’s windfall, freedom in Iran, and Maduro babies

Guyana rags to riches – If you knew your income would triple over the next four years, what would you do? That's the wonderful (and fascinating) problem facing the small South American nation of Guyana after the recent discovery there of one of the world's biggest offshore oil reserves. The country's 780,000 people are currently awaiting the results of the presidential and legislative elections held earlier this week. The winners of that vote will be responsible for guiding this nation through one of the most dramatic increases in national wealth in recent world history. At the moment, Guyana's GDP per person is less than $5,000. As it goes from being one of the Western hemisphere's poorest countries per capita to one of its wealthiest, will Guyana's people prosper? Or will this country fall prey to ethnic divisions as citizens of African and Indian descent fight for the spoils. Will it suffer what political scientists call "the resource curse" as a tidal wave of new money warps the economy and feeds rampant corruption? Stay tuned.


Free Time in Iran – Are you stuck in an Iranian prison and want to go home? Good news. You're free to go. If you have tested negative for Coronavirus. And you're serving a sentence of less than five years. To this point, Iran is home to the deadliest Coronavirus outbreak outside China. Afraid that overcrowded prisons help Coronavirus spread, Iranian authorities announced this week that 54,000 prisoners will be freed temporarily. We'll be watching to see how they spend their "free time," and how difficult it might prove to return them all to jail in the future.

Maduro babies – "Every woman should have six children for the good of the country." So says Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, president of a country that is home to severe shortages of food and medicine. By having more children, he seems to believe, Venezuela can eventually end its politically driven economic collapse.

What We're Ignoring

A used orb – remember that strange glowing orb that Donald Trump, Saudi King Mohammad Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi all put their hands on during Trump's state visit to the Saudi kingdom in 2017? This video will jog your memory. According to a new book by New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard, that orb is now in US possession. The orb was apparently offered to the US government as a souvenir, one that US officials have no idea what to do with. We're ignoring this story because, though the Signal team is very interested in buying an orb for our office, we don't buy used orbs.

In Italy, stacks of plastic boxes in supermarkets and stores are not garbage - they are collected and reused, thanks to a consortium that specializes in recycling them for food storage. How do these "circular" plastic boxes help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions?

Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

British economist Jim O'Neill says the global economy can bounce back right to where it was before, in a V-shaped recovery. But his argument is based on a lot of "ifs," plus comparisons to the 2008 recession and conditions in China and South Korea that may not truly apply. Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Robert Kahn take issue with O'Neill's op-ed, on this edition of The Red Pen.

Today, we're taking our Red Pen to an article titled "A V-Shaped Recovery Could Still Happen." I'm not buying it. It's published recently by Project Syndicate, authored by British economist named Jim O'Neill. Jim O'Neill is very well known. He was chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. He's the guy that coined the acronym BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China. So, no slouch. But as you know, we don't agree with everything out there. And this is the case. Brought to you by the letter V. We're taking sharp issue with the idea that recovery from all the economic devastation created by the coronavirus pandemic is going to happen quickly. That after the sharp drop that the world has experienced, everything bounces back to where it was before. That's the V. Economists around the world are debating how quickly recovery will happen to be sure. But we're not buying the V. Here's why. W-H-Y.

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Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

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Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, provides his perspective on technology news:

Will the new audit of Facebook civil rights practices change the way the company operates?

Yes. It came under a lot of pressure from civil rights activists who organized an advertising boycott. And then an internal audit on Facebook's effect on civil rights came out. It was quite critical. Those two things, one after the other, will surely lead to changes at the company.

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The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have recently become very different. Since the beginning of July, the average number of both new fatalities and new deaths per 1 million people is rapidly increasing in the US while it remains mostly flat in the EU. We compare this to the average number of new cases each seven days in both regions, where the US trend continues upward but is not surging like the death toll. EU countries' robust public health systems and citizens' willingness to wear masks and maintain social distance could explain the disparity.