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.

Eni's luminescent solar concentrators can help smart windows and next-generation buildings generate electricity. But even Eni hadn't imagined using this technology to create eyeglasses capable of charging mobile phones and headsets.

Introducing Funny Applications, Eni's video series that imagines new, unexpected uses for technology. Watch the premiere episode.

We've written recently about how the COVID-19 pandemic will hit poorer countries particularly hard. But the burden of the virus' spread also falls more heavily on working class people even in wealthy countries, particularly in Europe and the United States. This is exacerbating the divide between rich and poor that had already upended the political establishment in countries around the world even before anyone had heard of a "novel coronavirus."

Why?

More Show less

Meet Mark Wetton, a Kentucky-based businessman who owns a dust-collection factory in Wuhan. He has been there since the beginning of the outbreak, and describes the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak there, life in lockdown, and what things are like today as the city finally begins to reopen its borders and come back to life. He also shares some lessons learned that he hopes Americans will heed.

The coronavirus is likely to hit poorer countries particularly hard, but it is also laying a bigger burden on working class people even in wealthy ones. As less affluent people suffer disproportionately not only from the disease, but also from the economic costs of containing it, we can expect a worsening of income inequalities that have already upended global politics over the past few years. Here is a look at inequality in some of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 so far.

500 million: The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could plunge 500 million people into poverty, according to a new report released by Oxfam. As incomes and economies continue to contract, global poverty will increase for the first time in 30 years, the report predicts, undermining many of the gains of globalization that have pulled millions out of poverty in recent years.

More Show less