Coronavirus Politics Daily: Lebanese protests return, Japanese gangs help out, Ramaphosa capitalizes on crisis

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Lebanese protests return, Japanese gangs help out, Ramaphosa capitalizes on crisis

A boost for Ramaphosa: Since President Cyril Ramaphosa came to power in South Africa in 2018, factional rivalries inside his own party, the African National Congress (ANC), have undermined the president's attempt to pass much-needed economic reforms. But the unprecedented coronavirus crisis seems to have provided him an opportunity to do just that. Ramaphosa has directed 10 percent of total GDP to a COVID stimulus and rescue package, the largest in South Africa's history, giving him political room to face down powerful unions and freeze public sector wages. And he has approached the World Bank and IMF for crucial financial support. ANC members aligned with former president Jacob Zuma have long rejected any deals with the IMF, in part over fears that the Fund's scrutiny would reveal their party's well-documented corruption. But as further coronavirus-related economic hardship stalks the 50% of South Africa's population who already live in poverty, Ramaphosa's political opponents have stayed largely mum on his plan to increase borrowing from international lenders to weather the crisis. Still, it remains to be seen whether Ramaphosa will seize upon the crisis to try for an even bigger prize: reforming South Africa's bloated and failing state companies.


Help from Japanese gangland: Japan's famed yakuza organized crime groups are reportedly using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to boost their image at a time when the public is frustrated with the government's bumbling response. The heavily-tatted mobsters of the yakuza, who specialize in black market trading, extortion, and racketeering, have been using their networks to source and distribute scarce medical supplies to pharmacies and schools, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They've also offered their henchmen to assist with disinfection of quarantined cruise ships, in an echo of their (illegal) efforts to help clean up the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. But not all of Japan's underworld is as magnanimous: newer less-centralized crime groups known as "hangure" are using the pandemic to launch price gouging schemes and other scams. Another example of the ways in which government shortcomings in a crisis open the way for all kinds of shadier players.

Lebanese protests resume: Lebanon has done a decent job handling the coronavirus – even if sketchy numbers from the Hezbollah-controlled Ministry of Public Health raise doubts about the official toll of just 22 deaths. But the country's beleaguered economy is faring far less well. Lebanon's government moved swiftly to close schools and non-essential businesses, and enforce strict lockdowns, but those measures have only compounded high youth unemployment rates and hurt an economy that was already crumbling. Even before the outbreak, the World Bank predicted that some 40 percent of Lebanese would be impoverished by the end of 2020. As a result, protesters in Beirut and Tripoli remember them? – have recently returned to the streets to call for "revolution," demanding an end to corruption. As Lebanon has now extended its lockdown until the end of April, these economic woes will only get worse.

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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Whenever Burkina Faso is in the news, it's often about how the crisis-ridden country has got caught up in the crosshairs of horrific jihadist violence plaguing the Sahel.

But this week, the nation of 20 million was celebrating because Hugues Fabrice Zango won its first-ever Olympic medal after finishing third in the men's triple jump in Tokyo.

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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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Does alcohol help bring the world together?

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