What we're watching: Kim Jong-Un's weird frozen cosplay

What we're watching: Kim Jong-Un's weird frozen cosplay

Catalonia's violent revolt: Violent protests have roiled the Spanish region of Catalonia for days since the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy jail terms over their roles in the illegal 2017 independence referendum. Separatists have torched cars and rubbish bins. Police are shooting at them with rubber bullets, and at least 100 people have been hurt. Damages in the Catalan capital of Barcelona have already topped 1 million euros, and neither side shows signs of backing down. To the contrary. Quim Torra, Catalan government chief, has now pledged to hold a new independence vote within two years. As Spain heads to national elections next month, its fourth in four years, we're watching to see if the renewed focus on the separatist movement might swing voters, particularly if these protests get worse.


Kim Jong-un riding a horse up a snowy mountain: North Korea's state-run news agency released a series of propaganda photos of Kim Jong-un gliding across a powdered mountain atop a regal white horse. Twitter was abuzz with witty commentary about the photos, and rightly so: they're as amusing as you'd think, perhaps even rivaling Vladimir Putin's iconic bare-chested horse-riding snaps. But the propaganda could actually be a sign of something more than just the Dear Leader's wintry equestrian bliss. The backdrop for the shoot, Mount Paektu, has a sacred meaning in North Korean regime folklore: it's the mythical birthplace of Kim II Sung – Kim's grandfather and the founder of North Korea – and it was a tactical base during the Korean War. In the past, Kim Jong-un has visited the site before making major geopolitical moves. We're going to resist the urge to speculate here, but we're watching to see what Kim has in store now that he's come down from the mountain.

Canada's unpopular candidates battle it out: Canadians will head to the polls on Monday to elect a prime minister, ending six weeks of campaigning that has focused more on personality and ad-hominem attacks than on policy. Justin Trudeau, the sitting prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party, and the Conservative Party's Andrew Scheer, have been polling neck and neck, but neither is expected to win an outright majority, raising the prospect that a smaller party might emerge as powerbroker in forming a parliamentary majority. Trudeau's popularity has dipped in recent months after a series of scandals that dealt a blow to his finely-honed progressive image. Chief among them were photos that emerged showing that he'd worn blackface and brownface two decades ago. In what appeared to be a last-minute ditch to boost his prospects, Trudeau received an endorsement from President Obama, who's popular among Canadians. But after a contentious campaign will this be enough to get the incumbent over the line?

What We're Ignoring:

Pete Navarro's imaginary friends: Much of Donald Trump's policy against China has been shaped by one of his top advisers, the Harvard-trained economist Peter Navarro, author – most famously – of the book Death By China. But it now appears that one of Mr. Navarro's own top advisers is an imaginary person. Many of Mr. Navarro's books feature a character named Ron Vara, who exudes an earthy sort of wisdom with bons mots like "don't play checkers in a chess world" or slightly crazier musings like, "only the Chinese can turn a leather sofa into an acid bath." Mr. Vara, whose name is an anagram of his creator's, is a convenient figment of Navarro's imagination. However, Mr. Navarro, whose hardline views on China carry a lot of weight in the West Wing, is not.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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