UK vaccine rollout a key chance to learn; Brexit trade deal is razor close

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

COVID vaccine rollout has begun in the UK. What's next?

Well, I was so pleased to see that the second person to get the vaccine in the UK is William Shakespeare. Some 86-year-old guy living in the UK. Of course, of course he is. It's also nice for the UK, finally have some good news about something. It's been all Brexit and economic disaster and Boris Johnson, bad news on coronavirus. First, it's herd immunity, then it's not. It's lockdown, it's not. But the first advanced industrial democracy to start getting vaccines out there and capping off an extraordinary year in terms of vaccine development. Really Moore's law for vaccines. It's very, very, very exciting. What happens next is we learn a lot. One of the big mistakes that we made in the United States is we had a couple of weeks when the virus was exploding in Europe and we were twiddling our thumbs in the United States. We weren't prepping, we weren't watching what was happening in Italy and making sure that we understood the type of coordination we needed, the type of testing we needed, the type of contact tracing we needed. As a consequence, some critical time was wasted. We need to be watching very carefully what problems the UK has, challenges in rolling out this vaccine. First vaccine we see right now from Pfizer, that's the one that's most challenging from an infrastructure perspective. It's the one that needs the proprietary cold chain capability, super low temperatures, South Pole type temperatures. It needs labor on site that can dilute the vaccine right before it is administered. Those are things you can do easily in good hospitals. It's not an easy thing to roll out across a countryside.


And so, it's going to be very interesting to learn from the UK. Their successes, and also their failures. We're going to need them in the United States real, real soon. Also of course, seeing how they deal with misinformation, disinformation. How they deal with people talking about side effects that they get that are real side effects and actually do cause fever, for example, will take you out of work for a few days. All of that stuff we need desperately to get right. Especially in the United States, the world's largest economy with a very divided franchise here. We're very politically divided. We've been so divided on coronavirus. We don't want to be divided on vaccines. We've already started to see some of the nationalism play out. This New York Times story that Trump had an opportunity to buy a bunch of Pfizer vaccines in June or August and didn't. And so now the US isn't going to be able to get as many until summertime. We really don't want that to lead Trump to say, "No, we don't like the Pfizer vaccine. We only want the Moderna vaccine." We don't want Americans to think that one is good and one is bad. Because you're not going to have options. As soon as you can get a vaccine, you should be taking that vaccine that's available in the United States. So watching this rollout is going to be incredibly important. And again, lots of things that could go wrong.

Staying in the UK. Will a Brexit trade deal be reached before the end of year deadline?

It's close. The fact that Boris Johnson is going to meet with Ursula Von Der Leyen and negotiate in person gives him more flexibility, means that he wants personal responsibility for getting the deal done, it means it's more than 50/50. He's a very capable and charismatic leader and it's easier for him to do this individually than dealing with all of the politics within his own conservative party at home.

So, it makes me feel a little bit more optimistic. But things can go wrong. There are hard red lines, and the Europeans are negotiating for the entire group, not just for the EU as a whole. And while Boris Johnson suggested that Merkel and Macron be on the phone, in a call with Von der Leyen, she said, "No, you'll just talking to me." So, it's not done. So many of these things, they're razor edge, they're right at the end, and yes, we're still talking about Brexit. Kind of kills me.

Why are farmers in India going on strike?

Nationwide strike across India because Modi wants to create more efficiency in the agricultural sector. That means more market mechanisms and more ability for big corporates to do effective business. And the farmers are concerned that that will mean that they're going to lose income, they're going to lose pricing power. They're not going to be protected. And they have been protected. It's quite a protectionist ag sector in India. And so, they're angry and they started by demonstrating on Delhi and now they're engaging in shutdowns across the country. So, it's probably the most significant nationwide social dissent that we've seen economically under Modi and we'll see how he responds to it. If it's going to affect what he's doing with his own legislation. We saw it with Macron, big protests across France. They're used to big protests, made him pull back on his policing and surveillance, no surveillance law from people doing videos and the rest. We'll see if Modi decides to back down.

The Arecibo observatory telescope collapsed. Yes, it's true, in Puerto Rico. Should they rebuild for the next James Bond movie?

I hope they do. What an extraordinary thing. It was at the end of GoldenEye. It was an iconic telescope, watching it fall apart was so depressing. Just implode in on itself. Puerto Rico, of course, has had more than its share of disasters over the past few years. It's not like there's a lot of infrastructure money that's going into that territory. But I really would like to see it rebuilt. The first message that was ever sent by humanity to outer space, as far as supposed extra-terrestrials, was from Arecibo. And if it's gone and we don't rebuild it, then you know, they're going to look back and they won't know who it came from. You know? You got to have return address on this stuff. So, I'd like to see it rebuilt. I'm kind of a space buff. Not like a Star Trek space buff, though Trouble with Tribbles is a good episode and all that. But more just I think we should be investing in NASA. I like having public support for our space program.

I will also say, it's kind of interesting, you saw that in the last week in China, they've just gotten a lander on the moon and they've got a Chinese flag that's now on the moon. Unless you think that's all fake news, like the American space landing in 1969, of course. And taking some space rocks, going to bring them back to the world, to here to earth. The reason that China's space program is doing so well now is because back in the '80s and '90s, the United States didn't want to cooperate with China anymore. Said they were taking advantage. And so, we cut them off and that became a big moment for the Chinese to invest in their own program. And it led to a much more robust Chinese space program that we have today, much more competitive with the US. There's a big question as to what the United States has been doing on 5G, for example, is going to end up forcing the Chinese to cooperate more with the United States. Will it make them change their red lines? Will it destroy their advanced technology sectors around 5G infrastructure? Or will it force them to invest so much more to become more effective competitors in five to 10 years' time? If it's the latter, this will have been a big mistake. So, something worth thinking about and something worth talking about as we see this observatory that we may or may not be rebuilding.

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University of British Colombia professor Edward Slingerland says drinking makes us feel good and has historically encouraged socializing. But there are negative implications, as well. We now have the problem of "distillation and isolation": getting as much booze as you want and drinking alone, especially during the pandemic. There's a gender issue too: the "bro culture" associated with alcohol can exclude and even be dangerous for women. Not all regions have the same problems, though, as drinking habits vary widely. Watch Slingerland's interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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