What We're Watching: Lingering US presidential race, Ethiopia's ethnic strife,Trump's recount antics

Images of a Trump supporter and child holding a Biden-Harris sign

The lingering US presidential race: As counting continues in several key battleground states, the American people are still none the wiser as to who will be their next president. At the time of this writing, the road to victory — that is, to clearing the 270 electoral votes threshold needed to clinch the presidency — is clearer for Joe Biden, but President Trump could still win a second term. Millions of mail-in-ballots still being counted in several closely-watched states — Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Pennsylvania — will decide the outcome of the election in the next few days. Many analysts say that the bulk of these votes will likely favor Biden because the Democratic Party has encouraged voting early and by mail due to the pandemic, while the Trump campaign promoted in-person voting on Election Day. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has presented a legal strategy to contest the counting of mail-in-ballots — a tactic rejected by many mainstream Republicans. The margin of the race is razor-thin, reinforcing what many observers already knew: the country is bitterly divided.


Civil war in Ethiopia? Ethiopia's military has been deployed to the northern Tigray region after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused the ruling Tigray People's Liberation Front (TFLP) party of trying to provoke a war by attacking an army base there. Abiy's move is widely viewed as payback for the regional government's recent decision to defy Addis Ababa by holding elections in Tigray that were cancelled in the rest of Ethiopia due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the root of the mutual animosity has always been ethnic— and political: Tigrays only account for 5 percent of Ethiopia's population but for decades punched above their weight in domestic politics thanks to their role in ousting former dictator Haile Mengistu, a fellow Tigray. The region's grip on national power ended with the 2018 election of the reformist Ahmed, a member of the Oromo, the country's largest ethnic group but long marginalized by the political establishment in Addis Ababa. Since then, the TLFP and the prime minister have accused each other of stoking ethnic tensions in a deeply fragmented country. Will Ethiopia — which just months ago was on the brink of civil war after the murder of a nationalist Oromo singer — descend into full-blown ethnic conflict?

What We're Ignoring:

Trump's recount antics: After Wisconsin's electoral officials announced on Wednesday that Joe Biden had won a majority of votes in the crucial battleground state, the Trump campaign said it will request an "immediate" recount of the ballots, saying that "Wisconsin has been a razor thin race" that could readily flip in the incumbent's favor. While it's true that the race in the Badger State has been tight, Trump currently trails Biden by some 20,000 votes in Wisconsin, a significant margin that's unlikely to change even if votes are retallied. We're ignoring this because even Republican stalwarts like former governors Chris Christie and Scott Walker acknowledged that the Trump campaign's tactics were unfounded and unlikely to yield the President's desired results. Indeed, recounts only ever reveal discrepancies of a few hundred votes here and there, experts say. We're also ignoring the fact that the Trump administration prematurely claimed victory in Pennsylvania even though over a million votes have not been counted there — as well as his appeal for the courts to block continued counting of ballots in Pennsylvania and Michigan — because, well, … democracy!

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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