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.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

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