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.)

Are the US and China headed for a new Cold War over technology? Judging by what we heard a few days ago at the Munich Security Conference, a major trans-Atlantic gathering for world leaders and wonks, you'd certainly think so. US, European, and Chinese officials at the event all weighed in with strong words on the US campaign against Chinese 5G giant Huawei and much more. Here are the main insights we gleaned from the proceedings:

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A few weeks ago we first took a look at how a bat (possible origin of the coronavirus) could have a butterfly effect on the world economy.

China accounts for about a fifth of global economic output, a third of global oil imports, and the largest share of global exports. That means that any time the Chinese economy shudders or stumbles, the shockwaves circle the globe. And China is most certainly shuddering.

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Bloomberg takes the stage – Tomorrow's Democratic debate will be the first to feature media tycoon Mike Bloomberg, who in recent weeks has thrown hundreds of millions of dollars behind an ad campaign designed to position himself as a viable, moderate candidate who can beat Trump. As his support in national polls has climbed to nearly 20 percent, Bloomberg – who largely sat out the earlier rounds of Democratic campaigning – has come under attack for sexist comments in the past as well as his support, as NYC mayor, for "stop and frisk" policing tactics that disproportionately targeted people of color. Bloomberg will immediately be at war not only with the moderates whom he wants to displace – Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Joe Biden – but especially with the front running left-progressive Bernie Sanders. It will likely be quite ugly and we're certainly tuning in.

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150: As the Chinese government continues to expand travel restrictions, hoping that reducing human contact will stop the virus from spreading further, at least 150 million people are now facing government restrictions dictating how often they can leave their homes. That's more than 10 percent of the country's total population who are currently on lockdown. Some 760 million are under partial, locally enforced restrictions.

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