But aside from the coronavirus: Three big stories beyond Covid-19

But aside from the coronavirus: Three big stories beyond Covid-19

The public health, economic, and political impacts of the rapidly expanding Covid-19 pandemic are soaking up most of the world's attention, and for good reason. But here are a few stories that you might have missed while you were washing your hands, watching the stock market, or nervously checking the latest CDC and WHO guidelines.

Lebanon had a major debt crisis: For the first time in its history, Lebanon defaulted on its foreign debt payments when it failed to meet a March 9 deadline to make a Eurobond repayment of $1.2 billion. While defaulting could placate dissatisfied Lebanese protesters who have flocked to the streets for months, imploring the government to prioritize domestic affairs, this move will do little to ease the fiscal woes of one of the most indebted countries in the world. Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab – who took office after protests forced the former PM to resign – said he will negotiate with other creditors to restructure his country's remaining foreign currency debt, which totals a whopping $31 billion (its debt-to-GDP ratio has peaked above 150 percent). As its currency continues to plummet and unemployment surges, the main question is what options do the debt-strained country have now? Beirut has engaged in preliminary bailout talks with the IMF, but a deal could take months and Lebanon needs cash – fast – to avoid more public upheaval.


Myanmar's lawmakers refused to clip the army's wings: A decade into its fraught transition to democracy, Myanmar's parliament has blocked a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the role of the military in politics. In 2010, military rule in Myanmar was replaced by a military-backed civilian government. But the country's constitution – drafted by the military junta in 2008 – continued to guarantee members of the military a quarter of seats in parliament. Now, lawmakers have blocked a bid from the political party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (the controversial leader who spearheaded Myanmar's pivot to partial-democracy) to reduce the number of military MPs over a 15-year period. Suu Kyi is feeling the heat when it comes to showing progress on constitutional reform after her country recently faced accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice. The court claims that the military establishment (the same one that vetoed the proposed constitutional amendment) was responsible for a brutal crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017 in northern Myanmar. Voting on other proposed constitutional amendments – including measures to override the head of the military's right to yield complete power during a state of emergency – will continue through March 20, although given the military's voting power, these are unlikely to pass.

South Africa's president beat a corruption rap: South Africa's High Court dismissed corruption charges this week against President Cyril Ramaphosa, a major boost for the beleaguered leader of the continent's largest economy. Ramaphosa had been accused of lying to parliament about the source of a $32,500 campaign donation, which allegedly came from a shady logistics company mired in corruption scandals. But in a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the donations to Ramaphosa's campaign were of a "private" nature, and therefore, outside the purview of the court. The case was seen by many as a manifestation of the intense political rivalry inside Ramaphosa's ruling African National Congress party, which has undermined his attempts at much-needed economic reform as the country deals with sky-high youth unemployment and weak business sentiment, exacerbated by the worst drought in living memory. When Ramaphosa replaced disgraced former president Jacob Zuma as head of the ANC in 2017, he pledged to bring "ethics into politics" and to revive the flailing economy. Now that this case is over can he consolidate control of a divided party and tackle his country's problems more effectively?

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.

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80: If polar ice caps continue to melt at their current pace due to climate change, 80 percent of all emperor penguins will be wiped out by the end of the century because they need the ice for breeding and keeping their offspring safe. American authorities want to list emperor penguins, which only live in Antarctica, as an endangered species so that US fishing vessels will be required to protect them when operating in their habitat.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

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On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

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For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

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