What We're Watching: Trump targeting trade

Trump Targeting Trade – This week, President Trump has again become very aggressive on trade. On Monday, he announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum from Argentina and Brazil in response to what he called "massive devaluation of their currencies." Then the administration threatened tariffs on $2.4 billion of French imports in response to a new digital-services tax imposed by France. On Tuesday, Trump said during the NATO summit in London that "I like the idea of waiting until after the [US] election" in November 2020 for a deal that would resolve the massive trade fight with China, a comment that, given the enormous economic stakes, sent markets tumbling. Perhaps Trump feels confident after a robust month of November for US equity markets. Maybe his advisors want him to push now while the rally continues and before election-year pressures kick in. Either way, we're watching to see how long this posture will last and what sort of impact it might have.


Hunger in Zimbabwe – Food scarcity has become so dire in the landlocked African country of Zimbabwe that it poses a serious threat to national security, a UN envoy has warned. Skyrocketing inflation and recurrent droughts are pushing many Zimbabweans to the brink of starvation. Currently, 60 percent of the population is considered "food insecure" and nearly 8 million people are dependent on international food aid – with much of the problem man-made. The United Nations World Food Programme says it will double the number of Zimbabweans it helps to more than 4 million, but that's only half of those in need. As people grow more desperate, fears of civil unrest, and in turn, a brutal government crackdown– a common response to dissent in Zimbabwe – are growing.

Italian "Sardines" – That's what students who have packed themselves into city squares in Milan and other cities in Italy in recent weeks to protest former deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's anti-immigrant, nationalist rhetoric are calling themselves. What started as a hastily-arranged flash mob is showing signs of morphing into something bigger ahead of what could be a pivotal regional election in the northern Italian region of Emilia Romagna next month. Despite being just a few weeks old, the Sardines have amassed 200,000 followers on Facebook. They've also left Salvini – a master at delivering barbs to his opponents on social media – uncharacteristically tongue-tied and struggling to respond to a group that's taken aim both at him personally and his in-your-face, populist brand of politics. We're watching this story to see where the Sardines swim from here, because the last organic popular movement to emerge in Italian politics – the 5-Star movement – eventually ended up in government.

What We're Ignoring

Kim Jong-Un's Potemkin village – On Tuesday, North Korea's leader traveled to the base of Mount Paektu, the reputed birthplace of the communist dictatorship's founder Kim Il Sung, to unveil a new town. The village of Samjiyon has been described by the North Korean press as the "epitome of civilization" - complete with a ski hill, shiny new stadium, and apartments for 4,000 people. As much as we like the idea of hitting the slopes and strolling through a quaint North Korean mountain village during the holidays, we'll be skipping a trip to Samjiyon this year, not just because experts say it was likely built with forced labor, but also because it's not clear whether anyone actually lives there.

What We're Reading

"Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi's India," a gripping read by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker, paints a disturbing picture of the Hindu-nationalist backlash against Muslims in the world's most populous democracy. We'd love to know what our readers in India and elsewhere think of the story. You can email us here.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."

Listen to the latest podcast now.

It's been a bad week at the office for President Trump. Not only have coronavirus cases in the US been soaring, but The New York Times' bombshell report alleging that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan has continued to make headlines. While details about the extent of the Russian bounty program — and how long it's been going on for — remain murky, President Trump now finds himself in a massive bind on this issue.

Here are three key questions to consider.

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Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, discusses technology industry news today:

Do some of the Facebook's best features, like the newsfeed algorithm or groups, make removing hate speech from the platform impossible?

No, they do not. But what they do do is make it a lot easier for hate speech to spread. A fundamental problem with Facebook are the incentives in the newsfeed algorithm and the structure of groups make it harder for Facebook to remove hate speech.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Yes, still in the middle of coronavirus, but thought I'd give you a couple of my thoughts on Russia. Part of the world that I cut my teeth on as a political scientist, way back in the eighties and nineties. And now Putin is a president for life, or at least he gets to be president until 2036, gets another couple of terms. The constitutional amendments that he reluctantly allowed to be voted on across Russia, passed easily, some 76% approval. And so now both in China and in Russia, term limits get left behind all for the good of the people, of course. So that they can have the leaders that they truly deserve. Yes, I'm being a little sarcastic here. It's sad to see. It's sad to see that the Americans won the Cold War in part, not just because we had a stronger economy and a stronger military, but actually because our ideas were better.

Because when those living in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Block looked at the West, and looked at the United States, they saw that our liberties, they saw that our economy, was something that they aspired to and was actually a much better way of giving opportunities to the average citizen, than their own system afforded. And that helped them to rise up against it.

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Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, provides his perspective on US politics:

How likely is bipartisan action against Russia in light of Taliban bounty reports?

I think it's probably unlikely. One of the challenges here is that there's some conflict of the intelligence and anything that touches on the issue of President Trump and Russia is extremely toxic for him. Republicans have so far been tolerant of that and willing to stop any new sanctions coming. I think unless the political situation or the allegations get much worse or more obvious, that stalemate probably remains.

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