What We're Watching: "Illiberals" veto EU budget, Bangladesh's all-female cop unit, Armenian PM in trouble

What We're Watching: "Illiberals" veto EU budget, Bangladesh's all-female cop unit, Armenian PM in trouble

EU budget in peril: The European Union now faces an unexpected budget crisis after Hungary and Poland vetoed the bloc's 1.8 trillion euro ($2.14 trillion) spending proposal that will help steer the bloc's pandemic recovery, and fund the Union through 2027. Budapest and Warsaw balked after the EU included a provision that made disbursement of funds contingent on respecting EU rule-of-law norms — including on issues like judicial independence and human rights — which both countries vehemently oppose. The twin veto came as a surprise for many in Brussels, which had recently compromised on this issue by agreeing to only cut funding if the rule-of-law threat directly affects how EU money is spent, and if a simple majority of member states approve. Those terms were seen as narrow enough for Budapest and Warsaw to accept, but the EU's two "illiberal" states are playing hardball. We're watching to see how long Hungary and Poland — which often flout EU democratic norms — are willing to hold the EU budget hostage, or if the bloc will cave to their demands in order to release 750 billion euros in coronavirus relief funds that other member states are desperate to get their hands on.


Bangladesh launches all-female police unit: The scourge of violence against women in Bangladesh came to a head last month, when thousands of protesters flocked to the streets demanding change, prompting the government to implement the death penalty for rape convictions. For years, Bangladesh's government stood accused of facilitating a culture of impunity around gender-based violence (1,350 women were raped in the first 10 months of this year alone, likely a gross undercount because many sex crimes are not reported). In the wake of mounting public pressure, there are now some promising signs that the government is taking gender-based violence more seriously. This week, the first all-female police unit was launched to fight online abuse against women, who are disproportionately victims of digital crimes like revenge porn, sexual blackmail, and social media hacking. Indeed, Bangladesh has seen a massive increase in online sexual abuse as internet use has doubled over the past five years. Cause for optimism to be sure, but weeding out a web of legal and cultural norms that favor men remains extremely difficult.

Armenian government in hot water: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is facing mounting pressure to resign over the terms of the recent peace deal negotiated with Azerbaijan over the fiercely disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Thousands of Armenians took to the streets to demand Pashinyan's ouster after Armenia was widely perceived to have gotten the short end of the stick in the truce (the Azeris got to keep land won during the six-week war, while the Armenians agreed to withdraw from adjacent territory). Pashinyan has accepted responsibility for the loss of territory and Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan has stepped down, but many Armenians remain enraged at the PM's seeming willingness to surrender territory they see as theirs in the wake of a bloody war that's claimed over 2,300 Armenian lives. After weeks of conflict with the Azeris, the internal temperature inside Armenia is rising: just days ago, the security services claimed to have aborted a plot to assassinate Pashinyan, who rose to power just two years ago in the wake of a non-violent popular uprising against the old elite. Can he survive this crisis?

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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35.4: The US has overtaken China as the country with the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining networks, now accounting for 35.4 of the global mining presence. This comes after the Chinese government banned domestic cryptocurrency mining operations to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction.

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