What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

What We're Watching

Protests in Hungary – Starting last week, thousands of anti-government protesters have hit the streets in Hungary. The unrest began when the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban forced through a new labor law that permits bosses to demand 400 hours of overtime annually and to delay paying workers for those hours for up to three years.


The measure aims to solve Hungary's chronic labor shortages without accepting more immigrants, whom Orban often demonizes. Hungary's unions said hell no, opposition parties and students got behind them, and the protests have morphed into a broader backlash against Mr. Orban's crackdown on democracy and civil society. Footage of police beating an opposition politician has further inflamed the situation. Will Orban back down on an unpopular law or will he crack down on the streets, risking a more serious political crisis?

A new army in the Balkans – Last week, Kosovo's parliament voted to create a national army. The move provoked an angry response from neighboring Serbia, the country from which Kosovo gained independence in 1999 after a brutal war. Serbia says it's worried about the security of Serb minorities in predominantly ethnic-Albanian Kosovo. NATO also opposes the move, given the potential for instability in the region. Kosovo says it should be entitled to an army like any other country, though under the UN-brokered terms of its independence, Kosovo's constitution doesn't allow it. The US government has broken with NATO on this, by firmly backing Kosovo's position. The move is symbolic for now — the parliament's plan would take ten years to realize — but as tensions throughout the region continue to simmer, we're keeping a watchful eye even on symbolic gestures.

What We're Ignoring

Mexico's ambitious oil goals — Mexico's new left-wing president, Andres Manuel López Obrador, wants to make the country self-sufficient in oil and fuels. He's proposed massive new funding for Pemex, Mexico's heavily-indebted state oil company, and wants to build a new $8 billion oil refinery in his home state of Tabasco. Mr. Lopez Obrador's plan for Mexico's once-vibrant oil industry is ambitious: he wants to boost Pemex's oil production by 50 percent over the next five years. But it looks like a long shot, as it would require reversing 14 years of steady decline in oil output due to mismanagement, high debt, and low oil prices.

Putin's bid to become Tsar of all the Rappers – The Russian president doesn't like rap music. Its glorification of "drugs, sex, and protest" poison the Russian language, culture, and nation, he says. His curmudgeonly objections aside, Putin also says it's impossible to outlaw the genre – which is hugely popular among younger Russians. Instead, he wants instead to "regulate" it. What that means isn't clear, but his comments come amid a growing clash between Russia's hip-hop scene and the government that's seen shows cancelled, rappers jailed, and Soviet poets pressed into service in an attempt to prove that rap is actually Russian. Putin generally plays a weak hand well, but taking on an entire musical genre seems like a losing battle. Does he really think he's bigger than hip hop?

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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