What We're Watching: Prague Protests, Violence in Ethiopia, Cash for Peace

Czech protests – When protesters flooded Prague's Wenceslas Square three weeks ago, Prime Minister Andrej Babis dismissed the size of the crowd as the natural result of the day's beautiful weather. Apparently, the skies were even bluer last Saturday as an estimated 250,000 gathered to again demand Babis' resignation. The demonstrators are angered by fraud charges against the prime minister, and by his decision to appoint a close political ally as justice minister right when prosecutors are considering an indictment against him. This is another example of a country where protests erupt not because of economic grievances—Czech growth has been quite strong in recent years—but because of a political leader who appears to hold himself above the law.

Assassinations and ethnic tensions in Ethiopia – Over the weekend, Ethiopia's Army Chief of Staff and top officials in the country's large Amhara region were killed in what authorities described as a coup attempt. The alleged leader of the coup, a general who had called for Amharas (Ethiopia's second largest ethnic group) to take up arms for more autonomy, was also killed. The episode underscores the political challenges for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a transformative leader who has sought to liberalize Ethiopia's fast growing economy and politics since taking power last year. His reforms threaten powerful interests among the old guard (Mr Abiy himself survived an apparent assassination attempt last year that was blamed on rogue generals), and tensions among the country's dozens of ethnic groups are volatile.


Cash for Middle East Peace? – Today marks the opening of a two-day "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, a part of US presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. We're watching mainly to see who even shows up for it. The plan aims to raise some $50bn worth of investment into the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries to get the Palestinians to agree to… well, it's not clear what: the plan has no details yet on critical questions about land, borders, or security. No high-ranking Palestinians have agreed to attend this event, in part because they reject Washington's decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017. But given the lack of clarity on what the broader plan is, top ranking Israeli officials may not show up either. Anybody? Bueller?

What We Are Ignoring:

Attempts to silence an annoying French rooster- Summer vacationers in an island town off the Western coast of France are suing to shut up a large and loud local rooster named Maurice, according to this superb New York Times feature. The battle has become a symbol of the rural /urban divide in French society, and it carries strong nationalistic overtones too since the rooster (in general, not Maurice specifically) has long been a symbol of France. We are ignoring these peevish city slickers' attempts to silence majestic Maurice. Let the cock crow! (On a great side note, we learned that the rooster became a French symbol only because the Latin words for "rooster" and "Gauls" are the same: gallus.)

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Does Boris Johnson strengthen or weaken the US-UK relationship?

Well I mean strengthens it in so far as he and Trump like each other. They're both oriented towards Brexit. They're kind of right-wing populists that aren't ideologically moored. But will it last? Boris could flip on a dime on any major issue as can Trump. So it's kind of volatile. Plus they both really love the media and when they're in front of each other with other people the potential to - I mean Boris upsets people and Trump easily takes offense. So this could easily go south.

Will Iran release the captured UK oil tanker?

I mean over time I suspect it will. But remember the UK has an Iranian tanker as well, so it's much more likely they work these things out together even if they're not explicitly linked, than suddenly the Iranians say, "Oh I'm sorry. Here's your tanker"

Will protests continue in Hong Kong?

It certainly seems that way. The question is what will China do about it? Xi Jinping is now saying that they are reaching the danger zone and the ability of the Chinese to hit back and hit back hard is real. I worry about those protesters.

Will Robert Mueller reveal anything new when he testifies on Capitol Hill?

I highly doubt it. He said very clearly that he does not intend to go beyond what was in his report. So Democrats looking for bombshells on collusion or obstruction are likely to be disappointed.

Can President Trump expand his electoral college edge in 2020?

Well he thinks he can. He thinks he can win in places like Minnesota and New Hampshire. I think it's more likely that he just hangs on to the Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that got him there in 2016.

Should the governor of Puerto Rico resign?

Absolutely. Governor Rossello should resign. He's lost the confidence of the island. Puerto Rico needs a fresh start particularly after all these terrible text messages. He should definitely resign.

Finally for The Rant: today's rant is on Elizabeth Warren who put out a report today saying the economy is on the brink of collapse. It was very alarmist, certainly there are problems with the economy. Issues that could be fixed but she risks sounding like she's yelling fire in a crowded theater with calls like that.

"A regime willing to kill en masse to stay in power,' Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iranian, discusses the challenges facing the rise of democracy within the country.

Avi Loeb, The Chair of Harvard University's Astronomy Department, delves into the search for extraterrestrial life.