What We’re Watching: Is Bibi Netanyahu Going to Trial or Not?

What We’re Watching: Is Bibi Netanyahu Going to Trial or Not?

Netanyahu's hearing problems — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pre-trial hearing on various corruption charges begins tomorrow, giving his lawyers a chance to rebut the state's indictment and determine whether the case is strong enough to go to court. The timing is horrible for Netanyahu who, after a marginal win in last month's do-over parliamentary elections, is trying to cobble together a coalition government while also already preparing for yet another election if he can't. Between electoral challenges and legal troubles, we are watching keenly to see just how many political lives Israel's longest-serving premier has.


The far right's second chance in Austria? Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz's rightwing People's Party won handily in Sunday's snap elections, but he still needs a coalition partner in order to govern. Kurz himself was first elected in 2017 but called the snap election earlier this year after his scandal-ridden coalition partners in the far-right Freedom Party got busted trying to peddle influence to Russia while trashed in Ibiza. The big question now is whether Kurz will risk tying up again with the Freedom Party, whose views are closest to his, or leap across the spectrum to govern with the leftwing Green Party which, as elsewhere in Europe, surged in the polls. Working with the Greens would boost Kurz's support among younger voters, but it would be an awkward political marriage. One thing seems sure: Kurz won't likely work with the center-left Socialist party which got clobbered into its worst electoral result since 1945.

Sandra the orangutan's new life — In 2014, a group of animal rights lawyers in Argentina convinced a court that an orangutan named Sandra should be considered a "nonhuman person." A lawyer at the time hailed the case as a major legal breakthrough – not just for great apes like Sandra, whose confinement in a Buenos Aires zoo amounted to an illegal deprivation of her freedom, but "also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories." After five years of delays and assorted red tape, Sandra is finally on her way to a cushy primate reserve in Florida. We're watching this story because we're happy for Sandra but also because we want to let cows, pigs, horses, and chickens know that they might want to lawyer up these days too.

What We're Ignoring

Mohammed bin Salman's new story — The Saudi crown prince told the US TV news magazine 60 Minutes that he had no knowledge of the plot to kill and dismember Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. But he also said that, "as a leader in Saudi Arabia" he would "take full responsibility" for the heinous crime, which took place a year ago tomorrow. We are ignoring this for three reasons: first, the US intelligence services believe the crown prince ordered the hit; second, the Saudis have changed their story on this murder so many times that we see no reason to believe this one; and third, the word "responsibility" has no recognizable meaning in this context, since there is no power inside or outside of Saudi Arabia that seems willing to hold Prince Mohammed to account.

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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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Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

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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