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?

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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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