What We’re Watching: Italian Squabbles, Merkel’s Worries

Italy's Squabbling Leaders On Monday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte threatened to resign unless Five Star and the League, the two parties that form the country's populist governing coalition, stop bickering and start working together. Campa cavallo (fat chance!) as they say. Tensions between the two parties have surfaced in recent weeks as Five Star's popularity wanes and League party leader Matteo Salvini becomes more popular and more aggressive in setting the country's political agenda. The results of last month's European Parliament elections have only accelerated the diverging fortunes of the two parties, leaving many to wonder if Salvini might just make a risky push for a snap election.

Pressure on Angela Merkel's government - More bad news this week for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who governs via an increasingly fragile and unpopular partnership between her Christian Democratic Union and the rival Social Democratic Party. Both parties did poorly in the recent EU Parliament elections. On Sunday, SPD boss Andrea Nahles said she would step down, and on Monday the head of Germany's leading industry association said it had lost faith in Merkel's grand coalition. With pressure mounting on all sides, Merkel can either try to ride it out, risk snap elections, lead a minority government, or seek a new coalition partner altogether before her fourth and final term expires in 2021.

What We're Ignoring: Xi in Russia, Duterte's Gay Bait

Xi in Moscow – Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow today for a state visit with Vladimir Putin before heading to St Petersburg, where he'll be a guest of honor at a big Russian investment conference. Russia and China are seeking closer cooperation at a time when both countries have rocky relations with the United States. But while neither of them likes a world where the US is a sole superpower, their own relationship is still limited by mutual suspicions and meager economic ties beyond oil. Beijing's number one trade partner is still the US, after all, while Russia doesn't even make the top ten. Chinese companies will certainly sign Russian deals in the coming days, but at the grand strategic level, we're not sure what precisely Russia can offer Beijing that it doesn't already have.

Duterte's Gay Bait – During a visit to Tokyo last week, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines announced that he had "cured" himself of homosexuality with the help of "beautiful women." You might think this is the kind of comment that would get an elected official in trouble, particularly since its purpose was to insult a political rival he claims is gay and "uncured." But we're confident we can ignore any risk of political fallout. After all, his past claim that God is a "stupid son of a bitch" in a country that's 80 percent Catholic didn't cut into his 81 percent approval rating or prevent his party from increasing the number of congressional seats it holds in last month's elections.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.

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