What We're Watching: Turkey's (latest) currency collapse, US-EU sanction China, Slovakia's Sputnik crisis

Pigeons fly in front of a large poster of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Bursa, Turkey, April 6, 2019.

Turkey's president has himself a big (bad) weekend: The Turkish lira on Monday lost 15 percent of its value against the US dollar after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sacked his Central Bank head Naci Agbal. What was Agbal's offense? He had raised interest rates in order to combat rising inflation. That's a pretty standard policy response, but Erdogan hates higher rates since they (deliberately) cool the bank lending and consumer spending that keeps voters happy. The currency plunge, which will now likely stoke further inflation, is the largest one-day lira selloff in three years, and puts Turkey on the brink of a fresh currency crisis. Also this weekend, Erdogan provoked protests after withdrawing his country from a European treaty meant to stop violence against women. Erdogan and his allies view (Turkish) the treaty as an alien concept that aims to weaken the "traditional social fabric." Meanwhile, local activists and watchdogs say violence against women in the country has surged in recent years.


US, EU, and allies sanction China: The US, Britain, Canada, and the EU on Monday announced new coordinated sanctions on China over Beijing's human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province. More than one million Uighurs are believed to have been locked up since 2017 as part of what Beijing describes as a benign "deradicalization campaign," but which is widely believed to be a network of internment camps where minorities are held indefinitely without trial. Several Chinese individuals involved in the mass detainment project will now be sanctioned, as well as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, which the EU says is responsible for "large-scale arbitrary detentions" in China. This is the first time that the European Community has hit China with sanctions since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. In response, a furious Beijing slapped retaliatory sanctions on 10 European officials, denouncing Brussels' "gross interference" in its internal affairs. Coming amid deepening US-China tensions over trade, human rights, and technology, we are watching to see if Beijing hits back at Washington too.

Sputnik injects a political crisis into Slovakia: Earlier this month, the Slovak government, struggling with rising coronavirus cases and a sluggish EU vaccine rollout, bypassed EU authorities and ordered several hundred thousand doses of the Russian made Sputnik V jab. The move immediately provoked a political crisis, as two of the four parties in Prime Minister Igor Matovič's coalition demanded he resign and threatened to withdraw from government over the move to take vaccines from Russia, which haven't been approved by the European Medicines Agency. Matovič's health minister resigned last week and now the PM himself says he is willing to step down in order to end the crisis. But there's a catch: members of other parties would have to relinquish their cabinet posts too, and so far that's a non-starter. Matovič, in power barely a year, heads a coalition of parties elected to clean up corruption after the murder of a high-profile investigative journalist rocked the nation. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has tested the coalition's resilience. Slovakia — with a population of 5.4 million — has the world's 12th highest COVID death rate per 100 people.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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