Welcome to Friday, Signal readers. Today, we'll speculate on Kamala Harris, cut a deal between Israelis and Emiratis, check on the turmoil in Minsk, and tell Spain to stop smoking (good luck with that).

- Willis Sparks


Welcome to Friday, Signal readers. Today, we'll speculate on Kamala Harris, cut a deal between Israelis and Emiratis, check on the turmoil in Minsk, and tell Spain to stop smoking (good luck with that).

- Willis Sparks


You've probably heard a lot in the past three days about Senator Kamala Harris, her background, and the ground-breaking nature of her candidacy for US vice president.

But now that the cheering crowds have logged off and the virtual confetti has been swept away, we're left with a basic question: will Kamala Harris make a difference — on the campaign trial and maybe in the White House — for Joe Biden?

There are three ways to answer that question.

Can she help Biden unseat President Donald Trump? Early evidence suggests Biden's choice of Harris is fairly popular. As the first black woman and first person of Asian descent on a presidential ticket, she might boost Biden's appeal at the margins with black voters, women, and Indian-Americans, though Biden is already popular with the first two groups.

Less tangibly, but perhaps more importantly, Harris' considerable energy and charisma can boost public excitement for a campaign led by the 77-year-old Biden, a man who has been active in US politics for half a century. On the other hand, her record as a San Francisco prosecutor and California attorney general will trouble some voters on the progressive left who want substantial reform of policing across the United States.

All that said, the historical evidence shows that voters don't care very much whose name appears second on the party ticket.

Can she serve as president on a moment's notice? The vice president's most important constitutional role is to become president if the boss can't continue. Gerald Ford (1974), Lyndon Johnson (1963), and Harry Truman (1945) are the most recent examples.

Senator Harris does have executive experience. As California Attorney General, she ran the second largest justice department in the United States, an organization with 5,000 employees.

She was much less successful, however, as the head of her own 2020 presidential campaign, a mysteriously dysfunctional operation that broke down before the first votes were cast in Democratic primaries.

If Biden wins, can she help him govern? When Biden introduced her on Wednesday as his campaign partner, he said he wants Harris to be the "last voice in the room" after other advisors are gone and someone who will "challenge my assumptions if she disagrees."

The prosecutorial precision with which Harris has questioned witnesses during Senate hearings, and her willingness to go after Biden on the debate stage while she was still a presidential candidate, suggest Harris has more than enough toughness and poise to fill that role. Also important: Biden's trust in Harris is boosted by her longstanding friendship with his late son Beau.

Here's a bonus question....

Is Kamala Harris the future of the Democratic Party? Not so fast. Ask a voter enthusiastic about Senator Harris what they like about her, and you're more likely to hear about her personal strengths and professional achievements than about policy positions.

Progressive voters, increasingly important for the future of the Democratic Party, know what Senator Bernie Sanders believes. They know that Senator Elizabeth Warren has "a plan for that," and they associate emerging star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the "Green New Deal."

If Kamala Harris is to become the dominant voice in her party, she'll have to develop a brand that makes it easier for voters to identify her — and easier for rivals to attack her.

Bottom line: Harris has obvious value for Biden as a respected and trusted policy advisor. Her broader political appeal remains untested.



Even before last week's explosion — which killed over 200 people, turned downtown Beirut into rubble, and forced the government to resign — Lebanon was already in economic dire straits. The value of the local currency has plunged following decades of corruption, mismanagement and political chaos, dragging about half of the population into poverty. Since the beginning of 2020, the depreciation of the Lebanese lira (on the black market, while the official rate remains somewhat pegged to the US dollar) and soaring inflation have increased the price of basic goods beyond what most citizens can afford, and wiped out pensions and salaries. If the situation does not improve soon, Lebanon could see unprecedented levels of hunger — and international assistance may not be enough to feed everyone. We compare how the Lebanese lira has traded with the US dollar amid rapidly rising inflation over the first half of the year.



Beyond simply accumulating too much waste, we also recycle and repurpose so little of it. 3D printers, however, can reverse this pattern. Among the most used tools in the "circular" economy, these printers help reduce production costs, release fewer greenhouse gases, and reduce the use of raw materials by allowing objects to be repaired.

See how they work on the 7th episode of Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.



UAE and Israel strike historic deal: In an historic development, the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to normalize ties. As part of the deal, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to suspend his government's plans to annex swaths of the occupied West Bank in the near term (he made sure to emphasize that the plan was merely on hold, likely a nod to his right-wing base). The peace deal, brokered by the Trump administration, marks the first time that a Gulf Arab state has normalized ties with Israel — though it's widely believed that shared concerns over the threat posed by Iran have led to backchannel cooperation between Israel and the Gulf Arab states. Many analysts, therefore, say that the agreement is largely symbolic, formalizing ties that have existed for years. It's only the third Arab-Israeli peace agreement since Israel's establishment in 1948 (a deal was signed with Egypt in 1978 and with the Kingdom of Jordan in 1994). Two key takeaways: the move gives the Trump administration a big boost before the November 3 elections as he struggles to keep up in the polls. It also reveals that lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue will no longer impede powerful Arab states from establishing formal ties with Israel, long the official position of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Is Lukashenko turning the tide? The mass protests that have rocked Belarus since last weekend's rigged election have died down over the past two days, in part because of internet shutdowns and a brutal crackdown by riot police. Factory strikes and some smaller protests against police violence persist, but opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya remains in (possibly forced) exile in neighboring Lithuania, and law enforcement appear to be staying loyal to President Alexander Lukashenko, who has run the country of 9.5 million with an iron fist since 1994. What's more, despite the testy relationship between him and Russian president Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin (along with China) appear so far to be still in his corner, while the European Union has threatened to impose further sanctions on Belarus in the near term (though it needs the support of all 27 EU members to do so). Unless the streets can mount a fresh challenge to his rule that undermines the loyalty of his goons and cops, he may well survive this immediate phase of the crisis. Keep an eye on what happens this weekend.

Filipinos to test Putin's vaccine: The Philippines plans to begin testing on its own citizens Russia's new vaccine — dubbed Sputnik V —for the coronavirus in October, after President Rodrigo Duterte accepted an offer to conduct nationwide clinical trials from his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin (presumably in exchange for getting free doses for all 107 million Filipinos once the vaccine is ready for distribution in May 2021). Duterte — who volunteered on live TV to be the first to inject himself with Sputnik V (though he reneged shortly after) — is apparently not concerned about the danger of cutting corners to rush the development of a miracle cure against COVID-19. The Philippines recently overtook Indonesia as the country with the most coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, amid a second government-mandated partial lockdown of Metro Manila that expires on Sunday. Although Filipinos have yet to have their say on whether they are willing to be tested, popular confidence in mass inoculation is likely to remain low following a botched national vaccination campaign against dengue in 2016 killed several children.

What We're Ignoring

Spain's northwestern Galicia region has banned outdoor smoking — without social distancing — to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Although most scientists believe that smokers can spread COVID-19 droplets when they exhale, it is unlikely that most residents will comply with the restriction in a country where anti-smoking laws and higher prices have failed to curb overall smoking rates, especially among young Spaniards (who are also those most likely to not wear face masks).



In this week's Quick Take, Ian Bremmer explains why the normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is such a big deal — and why it's a big win for US President Donald Trump. Watch the video here.



200,000: At least 200,000 more people have died in the US since March than in previous years during the same time frame, according to analysis conducted by the New York Times. This means that official government data is undercounting COVID-19 deaths in the US by at least 60,000, the Times says.

500 million: India has pledged $500 million towards a bridge project in the Maldives that would link the capital Male to nearby islands. Investment in the island nation, which has become a key part of China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, reflects New Delhi's attempt to counter Beijing's influence in the region amid an intensifying rivalry between the two powers.

6: Nearly six percent of all people in England (3.4 million residents) contracted COVID-19 by the end of June, according to new research which tested 100,000 people for coronavirus antibodies. At least 13 percent of all people living in London have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, a sign of the vast scale of the outbreak in England.

10 million: Namibia has rebuffed a compensation package from Germany — totaling a reported 10 million euros — aimed at compensating the African nation for crimes committed there during German colonial rule (1884-1915) resulting in tens of thousands of indigenous deaths — often referred to as the 20th century's first genocide. Local media reports that part of the dispute is about using the term "reparations," with Germany favoring a less "evocative" term such as "healing the wounds."



Words of Wisdom

"I was proud of the unit I served. Now I am ashamed. Shame on everyone who follows such orders." — A security officer in Belarus filmed throwing his uniform in the garbage in response to a brutal state crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Belarus.

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This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks, Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Carlos Santamaria. Graphic and art by Gabriella Turrisi. Spiritual counsel from the ugliest pigs on Earth.


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