What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Nigeria's delayed elections – State officials postponed Nigeria's presidential and parliamentary election just hours before voting was to set to begin last weekend. President Muhammadu Buhari said that anyone who would tamper with the results would do so "at the expense of his life." The opposition called this threat "license to kill" and a "direct call for jungle justice." The votes will now be held this Saturday, February 23. The risk of a disputed election outcome and a prolonged period of political uncertainty for Africa's largest economy continues to rise.

Rebel UK lawmakers – Eight MPs broke away from the UK's opposition Labour Party this week. Their newly formed Independent Group's chief gripes are Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's ill-defined stance on Brexit and alleged tolerance of anti-Semitism within the party. The dissidents also hope to attract anti-Brexit Tories to their centrist vision of "evidence-based" policymaking. Three members of governing party quickly joined their ranks. We are watching this despite a history of failed centrist breakaway movements in the UK and some early stumbles out of the gate. Anything that could potentially break two years of Brexit deadlock is welcome at this point.


WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Nicolas Maduro, concert promoter – Later this week, some of the Spanish-speaking world's biggest musical acts will take the stage in the Colombian town of Cúcuta, on the Venezuelan border. The gig, backed by billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and endorsed by opposition leader Juan Guaidó – who, with broad international support, claims the presidency – is meant to raise $100m to fund humanitarian relief for the country's beleaguered population. Not to be outdone, strongman President Nicolas Maduro, whose troops have been blocking aid shipments from the US and Colombia for fear that they are cover for a military intervention, announced two rival pro-regime concerts on the Venezuelan side of the border this weekend. We are ignoring Maduro's foray into concert promotion, because Branson's massive international event will dwarf what the embattled Venezuelan leader can pull off. Whether that convinces Maduro to open the border to aid, however, is less clear.

Russian libertarians – A Russian publisher claimed this week that sales of Ayn Rand's libertarian manifesto Atlas Shrugged surged 40 percent from 2017 to 2018. This follows recent news that a majority of Russians believe their government "always" or "largely" hides the truth when describing the country's economy, its crime rates, and the strength of its social safety net. Another recent poll suggests the huge popularity boost Vladimir Putin earned from the 2014 invasion of Crimea is now gone. Are these signs of change? Not yet. Some three quarters of Russians say they wouldn't volunteer for a civil society organization or participate in a street protest because they are pointless. Apathy – shrugging, if you will – remains a potent political force in Russia.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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