Bolsonaro in Brazil; Kim Jong-un health speculation; COVID-19 in Africa

What is going on in Brazil? Is it at a tipping point?

I'm not sure it's tipping point for Brazil, but it's a tipping point for Bolsonaro. When he came in, it was after years of political scandal, Lava Jato. You had impeachments, ministers getting thrown out of office. Former President Lula in jail. Dilma Rousseff impeached. Finally, somebody clean who has the former federal justice who helped put away a lot of these ministers as the new minister of justice. Now, a president that mishandled coronavirus, attacked the governors as fake news, you can't have shut downs, and cases in Brazil are spiraling much higher per capita than in other major Latin American economies; now he's gotten rid of his minister of justice. He's resigned, said Bolsonaro is interfering with investigations, getting too close to his family. That is the opposite of what you want in the midst of the worst economic contraction, maybe in Brazil's democratic history. His approval ratings are dropping, down in the low 30s. He might end up getting impeached. He'd have to lose more support. But, the idea that he governs effectively in Congress with a reformist coalition is off the table. He is in a lot of trouble. This is the beginning of what I suspect will eventually be the end of Bolsonaro. It's much harder to imagine him getting another term. Even lasting the full term.


Why is speculation surrounding Kim Jong-un difficult to confirm or debunk?

It's the world's most closed totalitarian dictatorship. We haven't heard from Kim or anyone representing Kim saying how Kim is doing for a couple of weeks. Yesterday, President Trump said we're going to hear from him soon, which is the closest we've had to intelligence, believe it or not. It sounds like Trump has heard through US intelligence that Kim Jong-un is still alive. Probably vis the Chinese. Not from the North Koreans. We still haven't heard from him and that does imply, especially given rumors and a big national holiday just a few days ago, that he's not well, not able to appear publicly for mass consumption. Does that mean he's a vegetable? No, but it does mean he's hurting, there's a real problem. If he does die, if there needs to be a transition, it's dangerous. The potential that the Chinese might have to step in is real. They would if it looked like instability could shake the regime or lead to a dispute over control of nuclear weapons and conventional forces in North Korea. Until we find out Kim Jong-un is okay, there's a lot of concern.

Finally, has Africa been spared by coronavirus?

Numbers of cases in Africa are very low. The main reason is because they're not testing. Helps that there isn't as much travel to/from Africa, which is part of why it's economically underdeveloped, but also limits cases into African countries. Chinese from Wuhan went to Africa, working there. They were in China during the New Year's celebrations and left. That's different from spread from travel that you get in the US or Europe. Also, many cases are asymptomatic. We're finding that in New York, in Massachusetts, in Washington State, in California. These are very young populations in Africa. The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria, 18 years, I think, is the average age. The vast majority of people that get this disease won't have symptoms, never mind getting sick. If you're an African leader and don't have ventilators, adequate health care personnel, test kits - and your economy's in bad shape, you keep economies open. That doesn't mean that Africa is spared because we have economic slowdown globally, and people aren't going to be traveling there, you won't get tourism, supply chains will get disrupted, but you probably don't get the kind of closures of African economies as in other countries, even emerging market economies. Even where they do, so much of the economy is informal, not controlled by the government, so it doesn't shut down. You'll see a lot of people getting sick, people dying. Whether or not that's known publicly, or it's considered dying from some other comorbidity, is an open question. But some of the poorest countries in the world probably won't have the same impact from coronavirus. If there are silver linings, we'll take them.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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