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.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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