What We're Watching: Trump targeting trade

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.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Viktor Orbán, Hungary's far-right populist prime minister, likes to shock people. It's part of his political appeal. Orbán has proudly proclaimed that he is an "illiberal" leader" creating a frenzy in Brussels because Hungary is a member of the European Union.

It's been over a decade since the 58-year old whom some have dubbed "the Trump before Trump" became prime minister. In that time he has, critics say, hollowed out Hungary's governing institutions and eroded the state's democratic characteristics.

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In countries with access to COVID vaccines, the main challenge now is to convince those hesitant about the jab to roll up their sleeves, and this has become even more urgent given the spread of the more contagious delta variant. So, where are there more vaccine skeptics, and how do they compare to total COVID deaths per million in each nation? We take a look at a group of large economies where jabs are available, yet (in some cases) not everyone wants one.

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

QR codes are everywhere. Are they also tracking my personal data?

Well, a QR code is like a complex barcode that may be on a printed ad or product package for you to scan and access more information. For example, to look at a menu without health risk or for two-factor verification of a bank payment. And now also as an integral part of covid and vaccine registration. QR codes can lead to tracking metadata or personal data. And when your phone scans and takes you to a website, certainly the tracking starts there. Now, one big trap is that people may not distinguish one kind of use of QR codes from another and that they cannot be aware of the risks of sharing their data.

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky bits of color from a Games like no other…

Today we've got— the best freakout celebrations!

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Tanzania reverses course on COVID: Just four months ago, the Tanzanian government was completely denying the existence of the pandemic. Then-President John Magufuli insisted Tanzania was COVID-free thanks to peoples' prayers, and refused to try to get vaccines. But Magufuli died suddenly in March — perhaps of COVID. His successor, current President Samia Suluhu, has acknowledged the presence of the virus in Tanzania, and although she was initially lukewarm on mask-wearing and vaccines, Suluhu has recently changed her tune, first joining the global COVAX facility and now getting vaccinated herself to kick off the country's inoculation drive. Well done Tanzania, because if there's one thing we've all learned over the past 18 months, it's that nowhere — not even North Korea, whatever Pyongyang says — is safe from the coronavirus.

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16: A new study tracking Earth's "vital signs" has found that 16 out of 31 indicators of planetary health are getting worse due to climate change. Last year's pandemic-induced shutdown did little to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, stop the oceans from warming, or slow the shrinking of polar ice caps.

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Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

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