What We’re Watching: Russians let Putin stay, Syria donors pledge, US & China battle over tech

What We’re Watching: Russians let Putin stay, Syria donors pledge, US & China battle over tech

Putin Forever: Russian voters overwhelmingly approved a raft of constitutional amendments that will allow Vladimir Putin to serve two more six-year terms when his presidency ends in 2024. Putin's victory, which surprised no one, came after an independent election monitoring organization said that the Kremlin's referendum campaign was "rigged." Local government officials were told they could lose their jobs if turnout wasn't high enough, the group found. Meanwhile, some authorities had openly offered "prizes" for voting. The constitutional changes, which would allow Putin, now 67, to stay in power until he is 83, were packaged with other amendments, including a clause that outlaws same-sex marriage. Over the last year or so, Putin's popularity has sagged, in part because of specific missteps like a botched pension reform, but also because of a broader lack of clarity about what his plans are for Russia after two decades in power. On the upside, he just got himself another 16 years to figure it out.


Syrians in need get funding lifeline: Dozens of international donors committed on Tuesday a total $7.7 billion to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees. After grinding almost a decade of civil war, Syria has now plunged even deeper into its own abyss owing to the double blow of economic collapse and the coronavirus pandemic. There are currently more than 11 million Syrians in need of assistance, and over 9 million are not getting enough food after food prices have jumped 20-fold since 2011. Almost half the labor force has no work. Still, the money raised at the pledging conference, which was hosted by the European Union, fell well short of the $10 billion the UN asked for, which could provide a glimpse into the future of humanitarian funding for Syria as donor fatigue sets in and donor budgets run low due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Tech Cold War" continues: China has accused the US government of abusing its powers after the US Federal Communications Commission barred Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE from benefiting from American subsidies for mobile carriers (mainly in rural areas). The subsidies ban is the latest episode in the deepening US-China war over tech domination, with the US pushing back against China's rise as a technology powerhouse and China looking to cut its own tech dependence on the US. The rivalry has already spilled over to other markets like the UK, which earlier this year decided to allow Huawei, a leading supplier of 5G equipment, to build its 5G network despite US warnings that it is a high security risk for such critical infrastructure. As US-China tensions deepen, more and more countries are going to have to make a tough choice: use cost-effect components made by Chinese firms while risking Washington's ire, or choose budget-busting alternative suppliers.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What is going on in Bosnia with Bosnian Serbs boycotting all major institutions?

Well, it's a reaction against a decision that was taken by the outgoing high representative during his very last days, after 12 years of having done very little in this respect, to have a law banning any denial of Srebrenica and other genocides. But this issue goes to very many other aspects of the Bosnian situation. So, it has created a political crisis that will be somewhat difficult to resolve.

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