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What We're Watching: Poles to the Polls

What We're Watching: Poles to the Polls

Poland's Choice – The past 30 years have been good to Poland. Its trade unionists helped advance the fall of Communism in the late 1980s. Its newly capitalist economy began to grow in 1992. The country joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Poland hasn't suffered a recession in 27 years. Yet, the country's politics have shifted toward anti-EU populism. The current government, led by the Justice and Development Party, has brought the judiciary and media under its thumb, and has condemned resulting criticism from Brussels. On Sunday, Poles go to the polls for an election that will determine whether Poland continues in this direction. A strong economy is widely expected to lift the governing party to victory.


A Gulf Attack? Earlier today, there was a large explosion aboard an Iranian tanker in the Persian Gulf. Early reports suggest the vessel was struck by two missiles, but that's not yet clear this morning. Oil from the tanker has spilled but the crew is reportedly safe. The hit comes just weeks after tensions in the region soared following an attack on Saudi Arabia's main oil production facility. That attack was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, but both the US and Saudi blamed Iran. At the time, President Trump decided not to strike back at Iran on Saudi Arabia's behalf, instead sending a small contingent of US troops to Saudi Arabia to bolster the kingdom's defenses.

Beijing and Apple's Core Business – A day after China's state media took aim at Apple Inc. for serving as an "escort" for Hong Kong "rioters," the tech giant pulled an app – known as HKmap.life – from its iPhone app store. Beijing's beef? The app was helping protesters coordinate their movements by tracking the location of Hong Kong police through crowdsourced data. Apple's cost-benefit calculation isn't hard to grasp: The greater China region, Apple's third largest market, accounts for about $44 billion per year. This particular app has entangled the Silicon Valley giant in the same China-Hong Kong fight that has ensnared other large businesses, most recently the US-based National Basketball Association (NBA). As Beijing's patience with Hong Kong's protests wears thin, we're watching to see how much more aggressive it will become with companies caught in the crossfire.

Floyd Shivambu's Wedding Bills – Floyd Shivambu is a member of South Africa's Parliament and deputy to Julius Malema and his firebrand leftist political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). A South Africa expert and good friend introduced your Friday author to Mr. Shivambu in 2013, just as the EFF was beginning to make news. During our meal, Shivambu explained that EFF's exposure of South Africa's corrupt political elite would help the upstart party become one of the most important in Africa. When I asked Shivambu how the EFF raised money, he told me that all its cash came from the sale of the party's trademark red berets. Six years later, Mr. Shivambu faces a parliamentary investigation of allegations he paid for his 2017 wedding from a political slush fund.

Drudge Vs. Trump – A new Fox News Poll released on Wednesday found that 51 percent of those surveyed want Donald Trump impeached and removed from office. The president isn't happy about it, but he may have an even more significant problem to contend with. Since 1995, the news aggregation website The Drudge Report has served as a reliable signal of opinion within US right-wing media. In recent weeks, the site has featured a surprising number of news items that include sharp criticism of President Trump. We're watching to see if this trend continues, and if other media outlets on the right begin to criticize Trump more openly as impeachment momentum gathers force.

What We're Ignoring

Russian-NK News – Worried about the impact of "fake news" on politics? We've got good news. On Tuesday, Russia's TASS news agency signed a cooperation agreement with the North Korean state news agency KCNA, that commits these two venerable news organizations to fight back against the "misrepresentation of information in the news environment" and to "counter the dissemination of such fake news." Problem solved. Take the rest of Friday off.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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