By some measures, China is already the largest economy on earth. So as a follow up to our look last week at how the 50 United States stack up with other countries' economies, this week we do the same with the political units of mainland China.
Gaps in economic opportunities have made it hard for all individuals to take part in the global payments ecosystem. To address those gaps, society needs public policies to empower citizens, small businesses, and economies. That’s why, in 2021, the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute (VEEI) started conducting research and publishing reports about fostering digital equity and inclusion, unlocking growth through trade, and imagining an open future for payments. In 2022, we hope you’ll visit the VEEI for insights and data on the future of inclusive economic policies. See our newest stories here.
Joe Biden’s first year as US president included two major historic accomplishments and a series of (often bitter) disappointments that has his party headed toward likely defeat in November’s midterm elections. Biden’s own political future is increasingly uncertain.
A caveat: presidents are never judged fairly. Credit is given and blame assigned for events and circumstances well beyond their control. But the policy and political consequences of their perceived successes and failures are real. They matter for both the future direction of the country they lead and the political fortunes of their parties.
Begin with voters. By historical standards, Biden entered office with modest popularity. He opened at about 55 percent in composites of various surveys and steadily fell to a current level below 42 percent. It’s a downward spiral that leaves him barely more popular than Donald Trump was after his first year in office.
A new poll shows that just 28 percent of respondents would like Biden to run for re-election in 2024, a number that suggests that, unlike Trump, Biden is hemorrhaging support from within his own party.
Few Republicans and a falling number of Biden’s fellow Democrats credit him for the two major accomplishments of his presidency: a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, which passed Congress in March, and a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that became law in November. These investments stand with the largest legislative achievements of the Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson administrations, both of which benefited from much larger congressional majorities than Biden is ever likely to have.
The list of Biden’s perceived failures is much longer. After promising in July that Americans were “closer than ever to declaring our independence” from COVID, the nation now faces a third wave of coronavirus infections. Biden has greatly expanded the availability of COVID tests and vaccines — and he can’t be blamed for Republican aversion to vaccines and masks — but there’s little question he overpromised on an end to the pandemic.
The US economy has posted strong growth numbers, unemployment has fallen sharply since the pandemic’s early days, and US stock indexes reached record highs in December. But a variety of foreseeable factors have produced the highest inflation numbers since the 1980s, a problem that will further disrupt supply chains, cost consumers, and dampen expectations for continued growth.
On immigration policy, the Biden White House was startlingly unprepared for the surge of migrants that was sure to arrive with the end of the “tough on immigration” Trump presidency and periods of pandemic easing.
On foreign policy, Iran’s new hardline government has so far balked at Biden’s invitation to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan left US soldiers dead and American friends behind.
The most immediate test ahead comes from the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin has ordered more than enough troops to Russia’s border with Ukraine to pose a credible threat of military aggression. He has demanded guarantees from NATO that would redesign the security architecture of Europe.
During a Wednesday press conference, Biden warned that Russia would pay a “stiff price” following a Russian invasion of Ukraine. He can back up that threat with unusually harsh sanctions and US-made weapons to Ukrainian troops.
But he also said that a “minor incursion” by Russia would leave NATO members “to fight about what to do and not do.” Ukraine’s government was appalled, and the White House was forced to issue a clarification. Biden has since done some damage control.
But Biden’s greatest political failure has been his inability to lead haggling factions within the Democratic Party toward compromises that might have brought more of the investment and reforms that he and members of his party have promised for years.
Central to the Democratic Party’s message to Americans is that government can (and should) do big things to strengthen the nation and its people. When Democrats hold the White House and both houses of Congress, their voters expect them to deliver on promises to strengthen the social safety net, reform immigration policy, protect voting rights, and expand individual liberties for Americans who have historically faced various forms of discrimination.
When the leader of the Democratic Party, with Democratic majorities in Congress, fails to rally his own lawmakers toward the political deals needed to advance the party’s goals, he’s failing in his most important job — and giving voters fewer reasons to support him or his party when they next go to the polls.
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January 22, 2022
Listen: Tech companies set the rules for the digital world through algorithms powered by artificial intelligence. But does Big Tech really understand AI? Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt tells Ian Bremmer that we need to control AI before it controls us.
What's troubling about AI, he says, is that it’s still very new, and AI is learning by doing. Schmidt, co-author of “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future,” worries that AI exacerbates problems like anxiety, driving a human addiction cycle that leads to depression.
COVID has accelerated our embrace of the digital world. The thing is, we don't always know who’s running it.
Instead of governments, Ian Bremmer says, so far a handful of Big Tech companies are writing the rules of digital space — through computer algorithms powered by artificial intelligence.
The problem is that tech companies have set something in motion they don't fully understand, nor control.
But China does. Beijing is using AI do some pretty bad stuff, such as surveillance of Uyghurs in Xinjiang (and also some fun stuff, like publicly shaming jaywalkers).
Will we learn to control AI before AI controls us? Find out on the upcoming episode of GZERO World.
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If omicron makes cases explode in China, the country's leaders will have to choose between weathering short-term or long-term pain.
Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that sticking to the zero-COVID approach at all costs will hurt the Chinese and global economy. In his view, learning to live with the virus is the way to go.
China can continue zero COVID until the end of the Beijing Winter Olympics, but after the Games the best move for Xi Jinping is to change direction. But even then, Huang says, it won't be a major shift.
“They're just going to quietly abandon it, or replace it with a new policy.”
Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World: Omicron & the undoing of China's COVID strategy.
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January 20, 2022
Joe Biden's approval rating has taken a big hit during his first year as US president. Biden is now just slightly more popular than his predecessor Donald Trump at the same point in his presidency. While Biden has made a series of policy and political blunders that might be reflected in polling, this is also a sign of the times: US politics are now so polarized that presidential approval has a low ceiling. We compare the approval ratings of the last five US presidents in their first year.
January 20, 2022
Iran and Russia heart each other. The presidents of Iran and Russia have little in common personally, but they share many geopolitical interests, including in Afghanistan and Syria. They also have a common resolve in countering "the West.” These issues are all on the agenda as Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi held their first in-person meeting in Moscow. Raisi is a hardline cleric who leads a theocracy with nuclear ambitions. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is a wily autocrat who enjoys provoking America and Europe, and has ambitions to return to the glory days of the territorially expansive Soviet Union — as seen with the Kremlin's recent provocations on the Ukrainian border. With the Iran nuclear talks on life support and Joe Biden already bracing for Russian troops crossing into Ukraine, Tehran and Moscow now have even more reasons to scheme and cooperate. Indeed, Moscow and Tehran have increasingly been cooperating on energy and security issues (Iran might be buying Russian military technology) as their respective relations with the West deteriorate.
Will Sheikh Jarrah eviction spur more unrest? Israeli police evicted on Wednesday a Palestinian family from their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The removal came after a court ruled against the Salhiyeh family in a land dispute with the municipality (East Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan before it was seized by Israel in the 1967 war). The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. But after a years-long legal battle, the court ruled that the municipality can expropriate the land — which it plans to turn into a school (not handed over to Jewish settlers like in previous similar cases). Other Palestinian families also face potential expulsion from Sheikh Jarrah, a recent flashpoint in the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last year, protests over the proposed eviction of Palestinian families in the neighborhood set the stage for a brief war between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group which rules the Gaza Strip.Kim Jong Un at it again. North Korea's supreme leader isn't top of mind for a preoccupied Joe Biden. And since he hates being ignored, Kim Jong Un is now trying to get the US president's attention by threatening to resume testing nukes and long-range missiles that could hit the US. (This is on top of recently firing off a bunch of hypersonic missiles.) Kim presumably wants to restart negotiations to lift crippling US economic sanctions in exchange for ending North Korea's atomic weapons program. But Biden has quite a bit on his plate at the moment, and would rather first sign a nuclear deal with the Iranians. Kim might have better luck with Moon Jae-in, South Korea's president, who wants to make peace with North Korea before he steps down after the election in March. The frontrunner to replace Moon favors détente with Pyongyang, but he's not yet assured victory against his hawkish rival, who wants the US to deploy tactical nukes on South Korean soil to deter the North Koreans.
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Hard Numbers: Namibia’s anti-LGBTQ ruling, Red Cross hacked, Biden to deliver N95 masks, North Korean compensation
January 20, 2022
2: Namibia’s High Court ruled against two gay couples seeking legal recognition of their marriages. The judge said she agreed with the couples, who are seeking residency or work authorizations for foreign-born spouses, but is bound by a Supreme Court ruling that deems same-sex relationships illegitimate.
515,000: The International Red Cross says hackers infiltrated its database, compromising the personal information of 515,000 vulnerable people, including migrants and those displaced by conflicts. The Geneva-based organization believes the hackers were likely criminals hoping to profit from the data breach.
400 million: As omicron continues to spread, the Biden administration will distribute 400 million free N95 masks to Americans starting next week. But some analysts have criticized the move, saying it will further disrupt supply chains.
240,000: A New York court ruled that the family of Otto Warmbier — a US student who died in 2017 after being detained by North Korea — should be awarded $240,000 in seized assets from Pyongyang. Plaintiffs in Japan and South Korea are pursuing similar legal avenues to hold the North accountable for human rights abuses.
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