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.

Electricity consumption in our homes contributes 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions. What if we could transform this huge contributing factor into a solution? That's what Eni's luminescent solar concentrators can do. These transparent, colored slabs can be inserted into home windows to capture solar energy and generate electricity. By adjusting to the brightness and temperature of your home, they can even save you money on heating and air conditioning costs.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

How did an entire country's media spread false news for a night?

Fascinating case study in France over the weekend. For less than a day, we thought that the most wanted men in the country had been caught in Scotland. Turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The so-called news was actually reported quite carefully at first, on Friday night with careful words. But the language quickly moved from conditional to categorical and therefore, to misinformation through human error. What you have here is the tension between being first and being right, which has always been present in journalism but is more and more as you have these 24 hour news channels, social media, and the incredible economic pressure on news sites that are advertising based and therefore click based.

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Donald Trump announced a fresh "phase 1" trade deal with China last week, part of his ongoing bid to reduce the United States' huge trade deficit with China. The US has been buying more from China than China buys from the US for decades, but since coming into office Trump has made reducing that deficit central to his "America First" agenda. It's not easy to do. Consider that in 2018, after two full years of the Trump administration, the trade deficit with China actually swelled to its highest level since the Clinton years. That's because many perfectly healthy economic factors contribute to a trade deficit: stronger economic growth under Trump has meant more demand for foreign goods, so as long as the economy keeps humming along, it will be hard for Trump to reduce the deficit. Likewise, the strong US dollar makes foreign goods cheaper for US consumers to import, while China's own economic slowdown in 2018 decreased Chinese demand for American goods. For a historical perspective on all of this, here's a look at how the US-China trade balance has developed under each US president going back to 1993.

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.

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Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.

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