What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

What We're Watching

US threatening Germany over Chinese 5G – The Trump administration is willing to cut intelligence-sharing with Germany unless Berlin bans Chinese equipment maker Huawei from its 5G networks. Washington is pressuring Europe more broadly to drop Chinese 5G suppliers over concerns they could give Beijing backdoor access to sensitive communications, data, and networks. Germany is crafting new regulations meant to address these concerns, but it won't impose a blanket ban that could anger China and push up the cost of building the new network. We're watching two things here: first, are those new German rules enough for the Trump administration? Second, will Trump's own (somewhat fickle) approach towards Chinese 5G suppliers (like Huawei) turn out to be as harsh as what he's asking of Europe?

Foreign effects of Trump's new budget – President Trump on Monday submitted his budget proposal for 2020 to Congress. Much of the media has focused on his request for $8.6 billion to build a border wall, which will spark a fresh confrontation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But our eyes are on the nearly 5 percent increase in military spending and sharp cuts to the budgets of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development. Trump will emphasize hard power over soft, and he'll use deep cuts to federal health insurance, the federal pension system, and other social programs to pay for it. The Trump budget doesn't matter much, since Congress controls spending, but it's a good indicator of the president's policy priorities.

What We're Ignoring

North Korea's Parliamentary Elections – The North Korean ruling party has won a stunning landslide victory in the country's latest parliamentary elections, a sign the North Korean people are thrilled with the job their leaders are doing. One noteworthy surprise: Kim Jong-un's name was not on the ballot. It's the first time a North Korean leader has not sought a seat in parliament. We're ignoring this story, because our intuition tells us that Kim's political position remains reasonably strong.

Mayors vs Google – Two mayors in Iceland insist that the Google Maps satellite images of their towns are hurting tourism by showing them covered in snow. "This snowbound image gets on my nerves," one of them told reporters. "I'll post a comment a day, until I get through to them." We're guessing these requests remain fairly low on Google's current to-do list. After all, the company is still – after five years – sorting out whether to show Crimea as part of Russia or Ukraine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Rome tomorrow ready to plant a flag in the heart of Europe. Italy is expected to break with most other advanced economies by formally signing onto Beijing's $1.3 trillion global Belt and Road (BRI) infrastructure initiative.

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China's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative is one of the most ambitious geopolitical projects ever. By 2027, it aims to dish out an estimated $1.3 trillion in loans, around ten times what the US spent on the Marshall Plan in the aftermath of World War II. As China increases its investment in the West, will countries' loyalty shift toward Beijing? Here's a look at the already staggering scope of Beijing's agenda.

As you read this, US-backed Syrian and Kurdish forces are killing or capturing the last few Islamic State militants holding out in a fingernail-shaped sliver of riverbank in eastern Syria. It's all that remains of the caliphate declared by the Islamist extremist group across a swath of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

Despite being on the back foot territorially, here are three ways that ISIS will continue to rile global politics:

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What we are watching

A retiring strongman in Kazakhstan – Since 1989, one man has ruled the massive, oil-rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. That is, until yesterday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president and put a close ally in charge until new elections are called. The 78-year old Kazakh leader was rumored to have been planning a transition for more than two years, putting allies in key posts, weakening the power of the presidency, and bolstering the clout of the country's Security Council, which he will still head. But the exact timing came as a surprise. We're watching this story – not just because it's a rare example of a strongman leaving power of his own will, but because we suspect Vladimir Putin is watching, too. The hardy 66-year-old Russian leader needs to figure out what he'll do when his current term expires in 2024. The constitution says Putin can't run again. Is Nazarbayev charting a path that Putin can follow?

A suspicious death in Italy – Italian authorities are investigating the suspicious demise of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old Moroccan model who died in Milan earlier this month – apparently with high levels of toxic metals in her blood that could indicate poisoning. Fadil was a frequent guest at ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous bunga-bunga sex parties, and was a key witness in his 2013 trial on underage sex allegations. Adding to the intrigue, Fadil was due to testify at another upcoming court case. Apart from all of this, her death could have an immediate impact on Italian politics: Italy's right-wing Lega party is now less likely to call a snap election this summer, because the Fadil case taints Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the group that Lega would ideally like to team up with in order to gain a majority in parliament.

What we are ignoring

The Scent of Fascism – In a new commercial out of Israel, a beautiful woman glides through arty black and white scenes like a model, purring about putting new limits on the judiciary, and spritzing herself with a perfume called "fascism." Hot stuff, right? But this isn't just a sultry model hawking a designer fragrance – it's the country's right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has incensed the left with her bid to curtail the power of courts, which she says are too liberal. At the end of the spoof ad, which is meant to promote her New Right party ahead of upcoming elections, Skaked takes whiff of the perfume and tells viewers: "Smells like democracy to me." We are ignoring this bid to put her party's name back in the headlines because the fascism joke just isn't funny.

Devin Nunes' Mom – Devin Nunes, a Republican Congressman from California, has filed a lawsuit seeking $250 million in damages against a Twitter personality who goes by the handle @DevinNunesMom, other users of the popular messaging platform, and Twitter itself. According to a copy of the complaint uploaded by Fox News, Nunes, the ardent Trump supporter who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says @DevinNunesMom engaged in slander by calling him "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," and claiming he was "voted Most Likely To Commit Treason in high school," among other digital insults. The suit also accused Twitter of suppressing conservative viewpoints – an argument that other Republicans have used to put political pressure on the company. We'll be watching how that argument plays out, but we are ignoring @DevinNunesMom. Judging by the massive jump in followers that @DevinNunesMom has received since the case was filed, by the time this is all over, we're pretty sure Congressman Nunes will wish he had done so, too.