What We’re Watching: Polish abortion protests, US stops Saudi/UAE arms sales, GameStop’s wild run

What We’re Watching: Polish abortion protests, US stops Saudi/UAE arms sales, GameStop’s wild run

Poland abortion showdown: Poland's conservative government has moved ahead with controversial restrictions on abortion that set the stage for the return of large protests. The new rules, which prohibit abortion even in cases of severe fetal abnormalities, were first approved by a constitutional tribunal last fall, prompting hundreds of thousands of protesters led by women's groups to hit the streets in the largest demonstrations since the fall of communism in 1989. Faced with that backlash, the government delayed implementing the new rules for several months before abruptly changing course on Wednesday. Even before the new rules, Poland had some of the tightest restrictions on abortion in Europe — last year barely 1,000 women in Poland had the procedure done, with fetal abnormalities accounting for almost all of those cases. Abortion has become a lightning-rod issue in a deeply Catholic country that is increasingly split between the conservative rural areas that form the government's voter base, and liberal big cities where the opposition is strong. We are watching the streets of Warsaw and Krakow to see what happens next.


US arms sales to UAE, Saudis on hold: The Biden administration has paused the planned sale of billions of dollars worth of US arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in order to conduct a wider review of all pending deals made under former president Trump. This is a common move for new administrations, but it may signal a broader change in recent US foreign policy regarding Yemen, where the Saudi-UAE coalition's five-year campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has contributed to what the UN calls "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." While pressure from US lawmakers to review arms sales to Saudi Arabia grew in 2018 after the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration held firm. But new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on the record criticizing Saudi conduct in Yemen, and many Democrats — who now control Congress — are encouraging Biden to "reset" America's relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. That would rankle Israel, which supports arming both nations to counter Iran's regional influence, and which recently normalized ties with the UAE as part of a US-brokered deal in which the Emiratis would get US fighter jets.

The politics of GameStop: This week, a populist revolt of sorts came to the stock market, of all places, as thousands of anonymous retail stock traders who connected via the social media platform Reddit got together to boost the stock price of video game chain GameStop by more than 700 percent, causing crippling losses for several hedge funds who had bet against the stock via "short" positions. The drama escalated when RobinHood — the no-fee stock trading app used by many of the GameStop buyers — suspended trading of the stock. RobinHood said it was to restore market stability, but the move seemed to allow hedge funds breathing room to recoup their losses, while preventing small-fry investors from continuing their buying spree. Cue: predictable outpouring of populist rage. Politicians of both parties seized on the story to call for tighter regulation of Wall Street, with even mortal political enemies such as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Senator Ted Cruz reaching a rare, if fleeting, consensus. There are a lot of potential issues for authorities to look at here, from policing how hedge funds operate, to regulating retail traders differently, to even looking at social media liability in instances of market manipulation. Expect a lot of politics around these issues in the coming weeks.


  • Updated to correct earlier version, which stated that RobinHood trading suspension prevented day traders from cashing out.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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10: Joshua Wong was sentenced along with other Hong Kong democracy activists to 10 months in prison for participating in a vigil last year marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Wong is currently behind bars for participating in separate pro-democracy protests, and will only start this new sentence after that term concludes in November.

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What's the biggest foreign policy misconception that Americans have about the US's role in the world? According to international relations expert Tom Nichols, too few Americans believe that the US, in fact, has a critical role in the world, and that the things Americans enjoy, from cheap goods to safe streets, are made possible because of American global leadership. "Americans have become so spoiled and inured to the idea that the world is a dangerous place that they don't understand that the seas are navigable because someone makes them that way. They don't understand that peace between the great powers is not simply like the weather, that just happens," Nichols tells Ian Bremmer. Their conversation is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television – check local listings.

Watch the episode: Make politics "boring" again: Joe Biden's first 100 Days

The cover story of The Economist declares that Taiwan is "The most dangerous place on Earth," because China might finally be ready to plan an invasion of the island. But are the consequences of such a move worth the many risks to China and its President Xi Jinping? Ian Bremmer breaks out the Red Pen to to explain why a US-China war over Taiwan is unlikely.

We are taking our red pen to a recent article from The Economist. The Economist, you ask, how could I? I love The Economist, I know, I know. But you'd lose respect if I give this piece a pass. In fact, it was the magazine's cover story this week, so I had no choice. The image and headline say it all. Here it is, Taiwan is now "the most dangerous place on earth" as US/China relations continue to sour in the opening months of President Biden's administration.

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Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.

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Would China really invade Taiwan?

The Red Pen

India’s COVID crisis hits home

GZERO World Clips
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal