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What We're Watching: Brazil's Dam Disaster

Brazil's dam disaster – Hundreds of people are still missing after a dam burst in the central Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, sparking an avalanche of mud and mining waste that killed and injured many. This is the second deadly dam accident for Brazilian mining giant Vale in just three years, and it could prove politically damaging for Brazil's recently inaugurated president, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro ran as a pro-business and anti-regulation conservative, pledging to cut onerous environmental regulations. We'll be watching to see how he responds to growing pressure to crack down on one of Brazil's most important industries.


A breakthrough in Afghan peace talks? – US and Taliban negotiators have reportedly agreed in principle to a framework deal to bring about an end to America's longest war. Under the agreement, the US would commit to the eventual withdrawal of its 14,000 troops in return for a Taliban-backed ceasefire and peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government. To date, the Taliban has refused to talk to the central government in Kabul, whose authority it views as illegitimate. On Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani delivered a nationally televised address in which he applauded the agreement and called on Taliban to embrace direct talks. We're watching to see if the latest development represents a real step toward peace or is instead an effort by the Trump administration to dress up a predetermined decision to leave Afghanistan.

What We're Ignoring:

The United Arab Emirates' gender inclusiveness awards UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum handed out awards for "best government entity supporting gender balance," "best federal authority supporting gender balance," and "best gender balance initiative" at a ceremony on Sunday celebrating progress toward greater gender inclusion within Emirati government agencies. There was just one problem: the recipients were all men. The optics are terrible, and we're ignoring these awards. But, to be fair, the UAE does boast the best gender equality record in the Arab world, according to a UN study. It also recently doubled paid leave for new mothers to 90 days, unlike the US, which doesn't have a nationwide paid maternity leave policy.

"Red scarves" protests in France – It's been more than 11 weeks since tens of thousands of gilets jaunes – or "Yellow Vest" – protesters began occupying intersections in cities and towns across France. Now the weekend protests, which have sparked France's worst street violence since the late 1960s, have spawned a counter-movement. Enter the "red scarves," who turned out in the thousands over the weekend to denounce the "insurrectional climate" created by the rowdy yellow vests. We're all for calm, civil debate here at Signal, but it's hard to see how a protest movement calling for moderation can sustain enough energy to make a difference. In protest against this sartorial tomfoolery, your Signal authors have decided to don white berets.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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