What We're Watching: Indian farmers' hunger strike, Brexit finale, Russian cyber attack

What We're Watching: Indian farmers' hunger strike, Brexit finale, Russian cyber attack

Indian farmers' hunger strike: After three weeks of protests over legislation that farmers say will threaten their livelihoods, Indian agriculture workers upped the ante on Monday when they began a day-long hunger strike that they hope will pressure the government to scrap the new laws. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government says that three reforms passed in September amid the pandemic are meant to liberalize the country's robust agriculture sector (which accounts for 15 percent of India's GDP) by lifting requirements that farmers sell their harvests directly to state warehouses — which guarantee a set minimum price in return. Many agricultural workers, a group that includes about half the country's 1.4 billion people, fear that the laws will benefit big corporations that can increase their market-share by driving down prices and forcing smaller farmers out of business. Protests outside New Delhi continue to intensify, and some demonstrators have blocked highways leading into the capital and set up sprawling tent cities to wait out the political crisis. Modi's government has offered amendments to the legislation, but the demonstrations — and the political stakes — continue to grow.


Brexit endgame: Brits and Europeans are still talking and, believe it or not, that alone is significant. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signaled at various times that he's prepared to walk away from the bargaining table without an 11th-hour trade agreement with the EU, and the rest of us are left to wonder whether he's bluffing. The European Commission appears impressed enough with Johnson's patience and stubbornness to offer some flexibility on a key sticking point: the so-called Level Playing Field, the willingness of the UK to align its labor, environmental, tax and competition rules with those used in Europe to ensure the UK can't have both broad access to EU markets and a competitive advantage over EU companies. Will this European move be enough? The clock is now ticking thunderously: In just 16 days, the UK will finally leave the European Union with or without a deal.

A major Russian hack: US government officials said Sunday that hackers (likely from Russia) gained access to government email accounts at agencies including the US Commerce and Treasury departments, as well as private companies, as part of a hacking scheme that could date as far back as the spring. Details remain sketchy, but reports indicate that FireEye, a computer security firm that counts the US Department of Homeland Security as one of its clients, first raised the alarm about the breach after its own systems were infiltrated. A software company called SolarWinds, whose products are used by 300,000 global organizations including the Pentagon, State and Justice departments was also breached. Analysts say it could be the most sophisticated hack by a foreign government on US infrastructure in more than five years. While it's unclear what, if anything, the Russian hackers extracted — and whether highly-classified information has been stolen — US government agencies went into crisis mode as they continued to investigate.

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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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