What We’re Watching: Protests Erupt in Indonesia

What We’re Watching: Protests Erupt in Indonesia

Massive Protests in Indonesia: This week, tens of thousands of students clashed with police on the streets of Jakarta and other large cities as part of ongoing demonstrations triggered by two controversies: President Joko Widodo's move to curb a major anti-corruption agency and his apparent support for a new criminal code bill, strongly supported by Indonesia's growing Islamist movement, that would outlaw premarital sex, limit gay rights, and curb free speech. The students also want the government to punish companies that have set thousands of fires in Indonesia's forests to clear land for palm oil plantations. Joko's common touch and commitment to build better infrastructure brought him to power five years ago as a political outsider. In April, he easily won re-election, though some questioned his decision to run alongside a hardline Islamist cleric. As he enters his second and final term, the appearance that he's caving to pressure from business oligarchs and conservative clerics has taken a bite out of his once sky-high popularity. Does he need to make these concessions in order to govern effectively? We're watching to see how Joko squares this circle.


The Big Vote You Might Have Missed: Buried beneath the impeachment story this week was another US political bombshell: The US Senate passed a resolution which effectively kills President Trump's declaration of a "national emergency" at the US-Mexico border. On Wednesday, 11 Republican senators joined Democrats to strike down the president's declaration, issued in February, which allowed his administration to bypass congressional approval to divert money toward construction of his border wall. The administration has already used the declaration to divert $3.6 billion from congressionally approved military construction projects to fund the barrier. The Senate passed a similar resolution back in March, and Trump swiftly vetoed it. But as he faces a lengthy impeachment battle and needs Republican unity in the Senate, we're watching to see if Trump chooses a different strategy this time.

The Monday Dilemma: In Mestre, a suburb of Venice, Italian police recently imposed a fine of €350 on a Nigerian migrant named Monday. His offense? Sweeping garbage off the streets (only trucks are permitted to do this). A public backlash that followed persuaded police to cancel the fine. This story raises an important problem for the future. In coming years, migration to wealthy countries is set to increase. But it will also become harder for migrants to find productive work as automation sweeps up more and more menial jobs. What happens to those who want to justify their presence by performing useful work when more of the world's menial labor is performed by machines?

The Death of Chameleon Bonaparte: Jacques Chirac had many nicknames, some of them too vulgar for inclusion here, but his death on Thursday gives us pause for thought. The former French president, known for decades of corruption scandals and a theatrically avuncular speaking style, was a political giant. His critics say he stood for nothing. His backers insist he stood for France. His political gifts were undeniable, and we'll remember Jacques Chirac as the superstar shape-shifter with a deep feel for his country's hopes and fears.

What We're Ignoring

The Pope's Assault on Adjectives: "Let us learn to call people by their name, as the Lord does with us, and to give up using adjectives." So tweeted Pope Francis this week in a plea for concise expression. "We have forgotten the strength of nouns," he said in a speech on Monday. "Why say authentically Christian? It is Christian! … it is an adjective noun, yes, but it is a noun." Your Friday author shares the Pope's yearning to prune the world's verbiage, including our own. But we're respectfully (that's an adverb) ignoring His Holiness on this one, because adjectives are like candy, and your Signal authors can't live on bread alone.

Labradoodle Regrets: In a recent interview, Wally Conron, the first person to cross-breed a Labrador with a poodle, says his creation is his "life's regret" and that he hasn't "got a clue" why people still breed these dogs. It's a little late for that, Wally. Labradoodles are everywhere. And don't make it worse for yourself by using adjectives in the confessional #ReadYourMaryShelley.

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Even with innovations in fintech and digital payments, roadblocks related to basic infrastructure like electricity and internet connectivity still prevent many migrant workers from being able to transfer money to their families back home with a truly digital end-to-end flow. While more workers can send money digitally today, the majority of people still receive funds in cash. Read more about why public-private partnerships are key to advancing the future of global money movement and why it matters from experts at the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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