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.

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Learn more about Zoe and her story.

Listen: Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

In the lead-up to this year's COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, much of the attention has been focused on last summer's wildfires across the US and Europe, and more recently skyrocketing European energy prices. But what about Asia, the world's biggest and most populated region, which also has the highest share of global carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming? Asia has unique climate risks but also many opportunities for solutions, and whatever happens at COP26, Asian countries led by China and India are primed to lead the world in the struggle to make the planet greener before it's too late. In a live discussion moderated by Shari Friedman, Eurasia Group's Managing Director of Climate and Sustainability, global experts discussed these and other topics during the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit sponsored by Suntory.

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We're just days away from COP26, the landmark global climate conference that's been dubbed the last chance to get the climate crisis in check. In the lead-up to the event in Glasgow, dozens of countries have released new ambitions to reduce their future carbon footprints. For years, climate activists and experts have called on governments to introduce carbon pricing schemes – either through taxes or emissions-trading schemes. So who's heeded the warning? We take a look at the top ten carbon emitters' share of global emissions and details about their respective national carbon pricing schemes.

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Do cryptocurrencies make it harder to enforce foreign policy sanctions?

Well, that is exactly what the Biden administration worries about. As part of growing concerns of whether unregulated currencies undermine a whole host of policies, sanctions and foreign or trade policy should be a priority area. And just like others who wish to evade tracing of their wealth or transactions, the very states or their sanctioned entities should be assumed to resort to all options to evade restrictions while continuing to do business. So having cryptocurrencies undermining the ability to enforce strategic goals logically raises eyebrows in Washington.

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Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

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For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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