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What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Another shutdown showdown — Unless the US Congress and President Trump reach a deal to fund the federal government by Friday, there will be another partial government shutdown. The issue, once again, is President Trump's request for $5.7 billion to begin building a wall along the US-Mexico border, which the Democrats refuse to grant. Late on Monday night, Democrats and Republicans reached a compromise "in principle" on about $1.3 billion in funding for new border barriers as well as no change to the number of detention spots for undocumented migrants funded by the budget. Democrats had wanted to reduce that number of "detention beds," while the GOP sought to increase it. Congressional leaders seem optimistic, but we are watching to see if this compromise will be acceptable to President Trump himself.

Polar invasion of Russia — Over the weekend more than 50 polar bears stormed a restricted military community on a Russian island in the Arctic, prowling through garbage dumps and apartment blocks in search of food. The local government has declared a state of emergency. Wildlife experts blame the crisis in part on global warming – as Arctic ice floes melt, the polar bears' vast traditional hunting grounds are shrinking, forcing them to look for food in human settlements. As we've written, the Russian government sees a lucrative opportunity to profit from new shipping lanes as the polar ice recedes – but if the polar bears have anything to say about it, things could get ugly fast.


WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Rome's bid to cook NATO's books — Italy's populist-led government is calling on NATO to change how it calculates members' defense spending. Rome contends that the alliance's requirement that 2 percent of GDP be spent toward defense include non-military investments, like cyber and energy infrastructure. In 2018, Italy spent 1.15 percent of GDP on defense, putting it in 22nd place out of the alliance's 29 members in terms of expenditure. We're ignoring this because it seems like the last-ditch effort of a cash-strapped government, and NATO's not going to buy it.

Middle Eastern peace in Middle Eastern Europe – Coinciding with the 40thanniversary of the Iranian revolution this week, Poland is co-hosting an international conference ostensibly aimed at discussing stability in the Middle East but which has a distinctly anti-Iranian bent. US Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are set to attend, but most EU foreign ministers are skipping the occasion, as Brussels and Washington still disagree over the wisdom of the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal last year. We don't expect any groundbreaking announcements to come out of this one, though Poland's right-wing government likely hopes that hosting the event will help it to woo the Trump administration into building a US base – possibly called "Fort Trump" – on Polish soil.

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It's been four days since Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, died in a hail of bullets on a highway near Tehran. Iran has plausibly blamed Israel for the killing, but more than that, not much is known credibly or in detail.

This is hardly the first time that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated in an operation that has a whiff of Mossad about it. But Fakhrizadeh's prominence — he is widely regarded as the father of the Iranian nuclear program — as well as the timing of the killing, just six weeks from the inauguration of a new American president, make it a particularly big deal. Not least because an operation this sensitive would almost certainly have required a US sign-off.

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Joe Biden has had one of the longest political careers in American history, but his most important act is yet to come. Can decades of experience in Washington prepare him to lead the most divided America since the end of the Civil War?

Watch the GZERO World episode: What you still may not know about Joe


Ethiopia on the brink: After ethnic tensions between Ethiopia's federal government and separatist forces in the northern Tigray region erupted into a full-blown armed conflict in recent weeks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his forces had taken control of Tigray's capital on Saturday and declared victory. But the fugitive Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael quickly called Abiy's bluff, saying the fighting is raging on, and demanded Abiy withdraw his forces. Gebremichael accused Abiy of launching "a genocidal campaign" that has displaced 1 million people, with thousands fleeing to neighboring Sudan, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Tigray, who make up about five percent of Ethiopia's population, are fighting for self-determination, but Abiy's government has repeatedly rejected invitations to discuss the issue, accusing the coalition led by Gebremichael's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of "instigating clashes along ethnic and religious lines." As the two sides dig in their heels, Ethiopia faces the risk of a civil war that could threaten the stability of the entire Horn of Africa.

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110: At least 110 people were killed in Nigeria's conflict-ridden Borno state on Saturday, when armed men attacked agricultural workers as they tended their fields. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the brutal attack, but analysts say the assault was likely the work of Boko Haram or Islamic State-linked groups that have gained a foothold in the Sahel region in recent years.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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