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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.
So, a controversial and unpopular opinion from me, I think we should legally mandate vaccines. Unless you have a legitimate medical reason, let's make it the law. I understand a lot of you are not going to agree with me. I see no one in the government is willing to make this argument right now, Democrat or Republican. But I'm neither, and my mom wouldn't be happy if I was only saying stuff to everybody that you already agree with, so let me try to lay out this argument.
We have tried convincing people. We've tried cajoling, we've tried education campaigns, we've used the media, we've used government, we've used the doctors, we've used the scientists, we've done lotteries, we've done free MetroCards, and still, we're talking about 50% of the country that is fully vaccinated right now. We are awash in vaccines as Africa, a billion plus people, only 1% of the continent has been vaccinated fully. In the United States, people won't take them. We are not where we need to be. Furthermore, we've already been passed in vaccination rates by Canada, by the United Kingdom, and in the next few weeks, we'll be passed by fully vaccinated people in the European Union as well. Despite the fact that the United States has by far the biggest initial advantage in getting these vaccines produced and distributed.
It is political division in this country, it's disinformation, it's stupidity. It's a lot of people saying no and then getting dug in and refusing to listen to facts in an environment that is increasingly tribal. It's us versus them much more so than in any other advanced industrial economy in the world. Big numbers. A majority of people that say that they're not going to get vaccinated at this point in the United States, say that they believe that the vaccine will implant a microchip into your body. This is insanity. This is not something we should be presenting two sides of an argument. There isn't two sides. There's one side and there are a bunch of people that refuse to actually listen to facts.
I think that part of this is because Democrats and Republicans both find it valuable to be sniping at each other on every single issue. Part of it is that a small number of dishonest brokers can make themselves famous and money by pushing conspiracy theories and fake news. And part of it, is the ineffectiveness of social media in taking down this information because it drives more clicks and more eyeballs. The arguments are getting stupider. Mask mandates are getting caught up in all of this as well. I saw Dr. Fauci coming up and saying, "We don't need masks." Initially, because he was worried that there wouldn't be enough for everybody. He lied to the public. Didn't mislead, lied. And he did it for what he thought were good reasons, but undermined the science, undermine his credibility. I personally think that was indefensible by Dr. Fauci at the time. Now I hear him saying, "You're either getting vaccinated or you're going to get the disease, but also that we still need to wear masks." Which is it?
It's increasingly getting impossible to convince people that there is a scientific side of this argument that is correct. The "gotcha" politics have just made people go with their political team, their political side, and increasingly not know who to believe. I have to say, I don't like taking away people's liberties under any circumstances. I support gun rights, I support free speech, I support legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, you name it. But here, we are talking about saving tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of additional lives in the United States. We've lost over 600,000 people in large part because we didn't have vaccines.
But going forward, anyone we lose is due to stupidity. It's due to political failure of our government, of our leaders. Not only that, but absent getting vaccines to everybody, millions of livelihoods are going to be affected because you're going to have more social distancing, and you're going to have more calls for a lockdown. You're going to have a stop-start, stop-start economy, which is problematic, particularly for those that are the poorest. Now, I want to be clear. I'm not talking about sending people to jail. A fine would work. It's like buckling up. You do it or you get fined. It's an imposition, yes. It's the government telling you what to do. A lot of people won't feel like it, but most people buckle up as a consequence, even if you think that it's an imposition on your liberties. I do believe that we are so divided right now, that carrots by themselves aren't going to work. We need some level of stick.
Is this authoritarian? Is it one step away from Hitler? I've seen people respond with crazy stuff because of course it's social media, and so that's what you need to do, is respond with crazy stuff. No. No. In fact, vaccine mandates and fines are American history. We've done it before with the smallpox vaccine. It was mandated after an epidemic. And an anti-vaxxer took the US government to court and the Supreme Court ruled on it in 1905. Jacobson vs. Massachusetts and the US Supreme Court, Democratic country, what did it say? It concluded that states can require vaccine via mandate, accompanied by a criminal fine. There you go. This is not something that is a slow step towards authoritarianism.
I also want to say that after 9/11, we took away liberties. We took away a lot of liberties. We spent billions and billions of dollars in the United States. I'm not just talking about the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I, you, can't get on a plane without taking off our shoes, our belt, our outer jacket, get all the metal out of our pockets, a full scan, arms over your head, take a look at us naked! Unless, you want to do a TSA PreCheck that gives all your info to the government, and then you can keep your shoes on. Awesome, right? How about the PATRIOT Act? Huge amounts of intrusion passed after 9/11. Because of national security, we've got all these surveillance laws, and now it's much easier for the government to spy on ordinary Americans by expanding their ability to get phone and email communications, to get your bank and credit card reports. We did that, so that 9/11 wouldn't happen again. We did that to save what we believe would be a few thousand lives in the United States from terrorism.
I understand why we did that at the time, and I understand why the entire country came together to support it, even though I believe that there were excesses, even though I believe that we spent too much, and then we went too far in taking away American liberties at the time. But I understand why we did. Today, this country is so divided that I don't think we could pass a seatbelt law. There's too much stupidity in just the political tribalism.
And so, if no one else is going to say it, I'm going to say it. I believe that saving those tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of lives is worth a vaccine mandate. Let's get it done, and as a consequence, let's save some lives in the United States. Thanks. Sorry to be a little annoying about all of this. We'll see what you have to say. I'll see all of you real soon.
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July 26, 2021
Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.
France's vaccine passport: Despite noisy protests from tens of thousands of people in Paris and across France over the weekend, France's parliament on Monday approved a law on vaccination against COVID. As of August 1, people will need proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test, to enter restaurants, bars, and other gathering places. As of September 15, any healthcare worker who has not been vaccinated is subject to suspension (but not firing) from work. These new rules will expire on November 15. France's constitutional court has not yet ruled on this law. Despite the show of anger in the streets, President Emmanuel Macron stands on firm political ground on this issue. A poll published in France two weeks ago found that more than three-quarters of those surveyed favored required vaccination for health workers, and a majority supported the passport for public venues. Since Macron announced this plan on July 12, the percentage of fully vaccinated people in France has jumped eight points to 48 percent.
US steps up Taliban strikes: As the Taliban continues to make significant territorial gains across Afghanistan, the US military changed tack in recent days, stepping up air raids against Taliban strongholds in coordination with Afghan security forces. This comes as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is almost complete. Tellingly, the Pentagon also acknowledged over the weekend that it was impossible to stave off Taliban advancements in many places and that the Afghan army should "choose its battles" and prioritize the security of certain population areas, like Kabul, the capital. Last month, the US military warned that Afghanistan could fall under complete Taliban control within six months of the US withdrawal, and trends already look dire: More than 270,000 Afghans have fled their homes this year as the security situation deteriorates. Still, the White House says the US could wrap up its withdrawal as soon as next month.
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Hard Numbers: Myanmar's COVID crises, British economy's rebound, Sierra Leone abolishes capital punishment, Iranian forces target thirsty protesters
July 26, 2021
7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.
80: Bolstered by a speedy vaccine rollout and increased consumer spending after nearly 18 months of lockdowns, the British economy is now growing at its fastest rate in 80 years. After shrinking by almost 10 percent in 2020, the worst performance of any G7 country, the boom is largely attributed to an increase in leisure and recreational services, economists say.
23: The West African country of Sierra Leone is set to become the 23rd African state to abolish the death penalty after the measure was approved by lawmakers. Since 1998, more than 80 people have been sentenced to death in Sierra Leone.8: At least 8 people have been killed by Iranian security forces since protests broke out in the province of Khuzestan over water shortages in the country's southwest. "Shooting and arresting people will simply add to the anger and desperation," the UN human rights chief said.
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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.
On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.
How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?
Tunisians are fed up. Over the past year, Tunisians have repeatedly taken to the streets in the largest numbers in a decade to decry the stagnant economy, rising inequality, inadequate public services, and dwindling job opportunities for young people (even before the pandemic, youth unemployment was already at 36 percent, the highest rate in North Africa.) Young Tunisians led the protests, often battling trigger-happy police.
COVID, of course, made everything worse. It crushed Tunisia's labor-intensive tourism industry, and forced thousands of Tunisian migrants to hop on boats across the Mediterranean headed for Europe via Italy, which saw a five-fold increase in arrivals in 2020. Right now, COVID infections rates are soaring while barely 7 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
More broadly, the people feel politicians remain as corrupt as they were under Ben Ali, and have failed to deliver on the promise of democracy to provide a better life for ordinary Tunisians. Trust in the system has plunged after highly fragmented parliaments have created a series of fragile coalition governments that slow-walk meaningful reforms, leaving the country in economic stagnation and a permanent political stalemate.
Constitutional crisis. Saied's sudden move has created a constitutional crisis because it's unclear he had the authority to dissolve the government on his own.
A former constitutional law professor who was elected as an independent in late 2019 to root out endemic corruption, the president says he's within his constitutional powers to govern by decree until he appoints a new PM. It's an unusually out-of-character performance by Saied, who styles himself as a moderate statesman and whom many Tunisians jokingly refer to as "Robocop" for putting audiences to sleep with his monotone delivery during speeches.
However, the moderate Islamist Ennadha party, as the largest force in parliament and the coalition government, insists it must nominate the next prime minister. (Ennadha — which was banned by Ben Ali for being inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood — won the 2014 and 2019 parliamentary elections, but both times fell short of an outright majority.)
The problem is that the separation of powers under Tunisia's mixed presidential-parliamentary system is somewhat confusing: just weeks ago, Saied and Mechichi were squabbling about who called the shots internal security amid the former's broader plans to reform the constitution. Interestingly, the constitution says a special court should resolve those disputes… but (surprise!) the executive and legislative powers still haven't agreed on how to set it up.
Next moves. Whether you think it's a power grab or a necessary intervention to address a crisis, Saied's action has captured the zeitgeist by moving against a political establishment that most Tunisians have long resented. However, it's hard to imagine how the president will be able to govern once he restores parliament because he doesn't have a party of his own. As president, he controls the military, but the reformist Robocop would rather make Tunisian democracy work than become dictator of a police state.
At a minimum, the situation creates more urgency for Tunisia's politicians to fix a system that — imperfect as it may be — gives the people a lot more of a say than in any other country that experienced the Arab Spring.
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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.
A few bleak facts:
- Of the 10 countries with the highest number of current COVID deaths per capita in the week before July 18, three of the top six are in Africa. That includes Namibia at #1, Tunisia at #2, and South Africa at #6.
- Last week, recorded COVID deaths in Africa jumped 40 percent from the previous week.
- Just 1 percent of Africa's 1.3 billion people are fully vaccinated. African governments will be very lucky if that number reaches 10 percent by the end of 2021.
- African countries were slated to receive many more AstraZeneca vaccine doses from India. That was before India became a global COVID hotspot.
- Of 77.6 million doses that the COVAX facility, a vaccine-sharing initiative, has allocated to African countries, fewer than 16 million had arrived in Africa by July 7.
There are many explanations for Africa's new COVID troubles. Healthcare facilities are below international standards in many of Africa's 54 countries. Governments don't have the bureaucracies to roll out treatments and vaccine doses as efficiently as in wealthier parts of the world. Poor infrastructure in some countries compounds that problem.
But the G-Zero world disorder plays a role here too. G-Zero is a term coined by our boss, Ian Bremmer, to describe an "every nation for itself" approach to global politics that has become the dominant trend in today's world.
It's not that wealthy countries have done nothing to help Africa. Without support from the US, EU, and other rich countries, COVAX wouldn't exist to provide vaccines to anyone. But while it's completely understandable that American and European leaders want to vaccinate Americans and Europeans first, the scale of vaccine selfishness has become a topic of hot debate.
Here's your key data point: According to One.org, an activist organization, "The world's richest countries could vaccinate their entire populations and still have over 1.9 billion doses to share — enough to vaccinate the entire adult population of Africa."
As it is, healthy young people in the US and Europe will be vaccinated months before many frontline healthcare workers, elderly people, and people with serious underlying medical conditions in Africa.
Some may see this as a sad but understandable reality. Wealthier nations and people have always enjoyed advantages while the poor suffer what they must. But there are two obvious responses to that.
First, selfishness can be a matter of degree. It's one thing to argue that "my people must be vaccinated first." It's quite another to horde excess supplies that might never be used and to consider booster shots for young healthy people in one country while frontline health workers in other countries can't even get their very first vaccine dose.
Second, every time COVID is transmitted from one person to another, it mutates. Enough mutations create variants — like the delta variant that has caused COVID to rise not only in Africa, but also in the United States and Europe. Leave enough people unvaccinated and we sharply increase the risk that future variants — maybe more transmissible and more lethal than the now prevalent delta variant — will be infecting vaccinated people everywhere.
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July 26, 2021
"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.
Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks
COVID-19 was a global catastrophe that blindsided the world's wealthiest nations, and it's far from over. But as disasters go, it was hardly unprecedented. Humanity has a long history of failing to prepare for the worst, from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes to famines to shipwrecks to airplane crashes to financial depressions. But how do we get better at preventing such calamities from happening, and how many seemingly unavoidable "natural" disasters are actually caused by humans? On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer talks about all that and more with Stanford historian Niall Ferguson, who is just out with the perfect book for the topic, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe." Plus, a look at how one young Ugandan activist was literally cropped out of the global climate fight.
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