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 danger to informal workers grows: Coronavirus lockdowns have created a world of uncertainty for businesses and workers around the world. But one group of people that could be hit particularly hard are those working in the so-called "informal economy," where workers lack formal contracts, labor protections, or social safety nets. Nowhere is this challenge more widespread than in Africa, where a whopping 85 percent of the work force toils in the informal sector. These workers, which include street vendors, drivers, and the self-employed, don't have the luxury of working from home, which makes social distancing unviable. As a result, many continue to go to work, risking exposure to the virus, because not turning up is often the difference between putting food on the table and starving. What's more, even where governments are trying to provide support, many people lack bank accounts, complicating efforts to get them aid. In Nigeria, for example, some 60 percent of people do not even have a bank account, according to the World Bank.

More Show less

As Europe inches past the peak of COVID-19 deaths and the US slowly approaches it, many poorer countries are now staring into an abyss. As bad as the coronavirus crisis is likely to be in the world's wealthiest nations, the public health and economic blow to less affluent ones, often referred to as "developing countries," could be drastically worse. Here's why:

More Show less

What's the new normal going to look like? Now that numbers are at least plateauing, if not leveling off in hard hit countries in Europe. An effective lockdown may last 4 - 8 weeks. Once you start pulling back on quarantine measures, what's life look like? What's the economy look like? The idea that life is back to normal anytime soon is really, really overstated.

Assuming workplaces get fully functional with suitable personal protective equipment, feel comfortable that we're not going to get significant additional cases. In the workplace, you organize social distancing in offices, you give people more flexibility on work from home, and everybody in contact regularly with people gets masks. You should be able to get to that point within 3 months in the world's developed economies. They're there functionally in China. That allows you to get the economy going again.

More Show less

Ben White, Chief Economic Correspondent for Politico, provides his perspective on the coronavirus-related news in US politics: What's the coronavirus update?

Well, we've gotten at least a little bit of good news that perhaps the rate of deaths in New York City is plateauing and may start to come down. God willing, we'll see if that comes to pass. Also, some indications that if we keep social distancing in place through the end of May, we could see fewer deaths than we worried about and fewer hospital beds need it. So, God willing, that happens.

More Show less