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.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The Trump administration's Middle East peace plan – three years in the making—is expected to be revealed tomorrow at a joint White House press conference between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recall that the economic part of the plan, which calls for $50 billion of international investment to boost the Palestinian economy, was released last summer to weak applause, because it didn't include a framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here are a few things to look for when more details are released tomorrow.

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The 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucuses, a critical early contest on the path to winning the nomination, will take place on Monday, February 3rd. After that, the pace of the primaries picks up fast, with important contests in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Here's the latest polling of the frontrunners in each of those states. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tops polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, but former Vice President Joe Biden is number one in Nevada and has a commanding lead in South Carolina.

John Bolton's book: Details of former US National Security Advisor John Bolton's hotly-anticipated White House memoir, "The Room Where it Happened" have started to leak, including an allegation that President Trump was explicit about holding up security aid unless Ukraine investigated his Democratic rivals. This will intensify pressure on moderate Senate Republicans to join Democrats in calling for Bolton and other direct witnesses to the President's conduct to testify under oath in the impeachment trial. This may also provide an opening for Democrats to lobby Chief Justice John Roberts – who is presiding over the Senate trial – to subpoena Bolton himself. We're watching to see how Republicans in the Senate respond to this new pressure.

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51: Following a recent uptick in Taliban violence, Afghan security forces have struck back, killing at least 51 of the group's fighters in recent days. This comes amid a renewed stalemate in US-Taliban peace talks that recommenced in Doha last week.

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