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What We're Watching: UK exam fiasco, Thai protests grow, GERD negotiations resume

What We're Watching: UK exam fiasco, Thai protests grow, GERD negotiations resume

The UK's exam fiasco: The UK Department of Education has landed Prime Minister Boris Johnson in hot water over a national scandal involving computer-generated "mock" test scores assigned to hundreds of thousands of high school students. A wave of "A-level" standardized exams (taken at the end of high school) were recently cancelled because of the coronavirus. But in order to assign students the scores that they would likely have gotten if they had taken the test, the UK's exam regulator, known as Ofqual, used an algorithm. (Algorithms in 2020, what could possibly go wrong?) The algorithm's reliance on two unsound key indicators — a school's past performance and students' results from primary school — placed high-achieving students at poorly-performing public schools at a massive disadvantage. Some 40 percent of students say the algorithm "downgraded" their results from teachers' assessments (teachers submitted their own assessed grades but they were not supposed to be taken into consideration). After hundreds of students took to the streets over the weekend, decrying Ofqual's mishandling, which they say messed up their university placements, authorities scrapped plans to use the algorithm and will now use a different system to determine final grades. Still, it's up to students to get in touch with universities to see if they still have a place. The situation is still extremely....messy.


Thai anti-government protests grow: At least 10,000 young activists took to Bangkok's streets on Sunday to rally against the Thai government. It was the largest protest the country has seen since 2014, when the military seized power in a coup, the 13th military coup in the country since the 1930s (Thailand has had more military coups than any other country in the world.) The youth-led movement has upended Thai politics in recent weeks by daring to question not only the role of the men in uniform but also that of the once-untouchable monarchy. It's an unprecedented show of defiance in Thailand, where any offense against the royal family can be punished with a long jail sentence. So far, however, the army has shown restraint in cracking down against the protesters — who demand fresh elections and a new constitution that curtails the powers of both the military and the monarchy — and only one prominent pro-democracy leader has been arrested. We're watching to see if the generals lose patience with the demonstrators in the days ahead.

More of these dam negotiations: This week, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan meet once again to try to reach an agreement on Nile River water rights involving the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia recently completed the mega-project, which is meant to boost the country's economy and turn it into a major electricity exporter. But downstream, Egypt and Sudan are worried that the dam will leave their farmers, industries, and households without enough water. They want a detailed and binding agreement that lays out exactly how much water Ethiopia can use, while Ethiopia's leaders want a more flexible accord. Tempers have flared over the issue, with both Egypt and Ethiopia threatening to go on a war footing in the past. Things are now coming to a head as Ethiopia begins filling the dam, over objections from Cairo and Khartoum. We're watching to see if there's any progress this week, or whether prospects for a deal before GERD gets going in earnest are as good as water over the dam. If so, the stage would be set for seasonal tensions over water that could quickly spiral from one year to the next.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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