What We're Watching: Mistake in Bolivia, missed call in Korea, and will US troops ditch Germany?

Oops! Maybe there wasn't fraud in Bolivia's election: In October 2018, thousands of Bolivians flocked to the streets to protest irregularities in the re-election of long-serving leftwing President Evo Morales, the nation's first president of indigenous origin. After the independent Organization of American States (OAS) supported those claims, Morales was pushed out of office by the military, and fled to Mexico. But now, Latin America experts at the University of Pennsylvania say that their own research into the contentious ballot fails to support the OAS' findings. The allegation that Morales' cronies interfered with the vote counts and rigged ballots was based on incorrect data and flawed statistical modeling, the researchers say. The new findings do not, importantly, prove that Bolivia's elections were held in a manner that would be considered "free and fair." Still, the OAS blunder, if true, is a big deal: since Morales left the country, a rightwing caretaker government, led by Jeanine Áñez, has cracked down on Morales supporters and postponed fresh elections. Bolivia's parliament recently passed a law compelling Áñez to hold a new vote by August. Morales, for his part, said he will not run in the do-over election, but his handpicked successor is leading in the polls.


Pyongyang and Seoul's missed call: Amid increasing tensions between North and South Korea, Pyongyang initially refused to answer a daily call from the South Monday, the first time this has happened since the calls were set up two years ago by the inter-Korean liaison office. That office was created after a watershed Korean summit in April 2018, with the aim of facilitating cross-border contact and keeping tensions in check across one of the world's most heavily militarized borders. Pyongyang's rebuff comes just days after the North threatened to abrogate the joint liaison office altogether, in response to a flurry of anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent into the North by South Korea-based defectors. At a meeting of the ruling Workers Party Monday, Kim Jong-un emphasized the North's economic independence, in what was seen as an attempt to flex a little muscle for viewers south of the DMZ. Reports say that the two capitals did connect later in the day, but the signal Pyongyang sent by just letting the phone ring at first is a worrying one.

Will US troops walk out on Germany? Media reports last Friday said President Trump has ordered that 9,500 of the 34,500 US troops now stationed in Germany will leave that country by September. We're still awaiting more details, but if true, this decision highlights a question at the heart of Trump's challenge to the US foreign-policy status quo. Critics will say the move would weaken the US military by reducing its presence in the heart of Europe, undermining confidence in NATO and emboldening Russia's Vladimir Putin. Trump's supporters, however, will ask why the US should be responsible for the security of Germany, one of the world's richest countries, 30 years after the Cold War's end. They will remind Trump's critics that, while NATO allies have agreed to spend the equivalent of 2% of their GDP on defense to ensure burdens are shared fairly throughout the alliance, Germany spent less than 1.4% in 2019, and its government says it won't reach 2% until 2031.

In Italy, stacks of plastic boxes in supermarkets and stores are not garbage - they are collected and reused, thanks to a consortium that specializes in recycling them for food storage. How do these "circular" plastic boxes help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions?

Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

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"Neither America first, which is ultimately America alone, nor America the world's policeman," Sen. Chris Coons told Ian Bremmer in describing VP Joe Biden's approach to foreign policy should he win the presidential election in November. In the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer, Sen. Coons provides details of how U.S. relationships with foreign governments and multilateral alliances could change in a Biden presidency. He also defended President Obama's track record, saying "I think it is a mischaracterization of the Obama-Biden foreign policy for President Trump to say that we were picking up the tab and fighting the world's wars and that we were disrespected." Coons stated that Biden would work to restore U.S. involvement in alliances like NATO, and shore up global support to pressure China on labor and environmental standards. The exchange is part of a broad conversation with the Senator about COVID response and economic relief, Russian interference in elections, and the 2020 presidential race. The episode begins airing nationally in the U.S. on Friday, July 10. Check local listings.

Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, shares his insights on US politics:

How is coronavirus jeopardizing the legitimacy of a 2020 presidential election?

Well, what coronavirus is doing is a lot of states are worrying about people who aren't going to want to come to the polling places in the fall, and they're worried about a shortage of polling workers who are going to want to come out and volunteer to get sick by interacting with a bunch people in person. So, what they're doing is they're looking at making a shift to vote-by-mail. Most states allow some form of absentee balloting today. Five states just automatically mail you a ballot and they don't do any in-person voting. But the challenge here is that a lot of states are unprepared for the sharp increase that's expected. In the last election, 25% of ballots were cast by mail. You may see 50, 60 or even more percent of ballots cast by mail this time, which could overwhelm election administration, which happens at the state level.

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The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have diverged. As of July 8, the average number of new deaths every three days in the EU had fallen 97 percent since peaking at the beginning of April. The US number, however, has fallen only 67 percent over the same period. That means that although both regions' death tolls peaked with only two weeks difference, the EU has flattened its COVID-19 fatality curve faster than America. Some experts attribute the difference to EU countries' more robust public health systems and better compliance with mask-wearing and other social distancing measures.