UK’s new COVID strain problematic but economic pain is a greater risk

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

Number one, what's the story with the new COVID strain in Britain?

Well, I mean, it's a mutation. Apparently, it is equally combatable by the vaccines that we've developed, and I've heard that directly by some of the people that are running those companies. So, it's not a concern about the ability that we have to stop the disease once we get vaccinations, thank God. But it is a problem in terms of how much more quickly the virus can be transmitted. Now, in the United Kingdom, they do an awful lot of testing, especially compared to many countries in Europe, and they have found an extensive amount of this new strain, which has led them to bring the UK into Tier 4, as they call it, which means basically Christmas is canceled. No one's going anywhere. Everything's locked down. That also has meant that a lot of countries have suspended travel to the United Kingdom, which I understand, but we've already seen some of this new strain in Italy, for example. I suspect it's going to pop up in a bunch of other countries in the continent. If it's everywhere, do you really want the additional pain economically?


Look, one thing I would say is that over the course of the next couple of months, as we see much more vaccinations, and we're going to, we've got 500,000 people vaccinated already in the United States which is a fantastic number, frankly, so quickly. These are the people that are most vulnerable. Mortality rates are going to go down significantly. As it does, there needs to be much more focus on the economic side of the equation. $600 in the pocket of the average American that is suffering on the back of all of these lockdowns is not adequate for them. And I think the new coronavirus task force under Biden should be doctors and epidemiologists, should also be economists and business leaders. You need a balance between both, and I am worried that especially as we do a better job, finally, in fighting the healthcare impact of this disease, we are not doing nearly an adequate job for the average American in fighting the economic consequences, and that is something we're going to live with for a very long time.

Okay, next question. Did Aleksei Navalny really prank his poisoner?

I don't know that I'd call it a prank in the sense that Navalny only could have died, but he did pretend to be the boss of this one Russian spy, got him on the phone, and was chewing him out with the fictitious name and say, "How was it that, Navalny, you didn't kill this guy?" And I'm sure at least psychologically it was good for Aleksei to feel like he was able to do that and get it out there. And apparently, they put this agent, this chemical agent inside the seams of Navalny's boxer shorts. I mean, I didn't need to know what kind of briefs Navalny wears personally, but now it's all out there. He wore them, it got into his body. He immediately fell very ill. Apparently when the Russians provided his body, they allowed it to fly to Germany, all the clothing was of course not there because that's evidence. And now he's trying to get that clothing. And I'm fairly certain that that clothing no longer is gettable. But does Putin care? Probably not. Navalny's considered a pest, but also, if Putin really wanted Navalny dead, Navalny would be dead by now. I think that's also pretty clear. Putin likes to show that he can play a cat and mouse game with these dissidents, that he is so much more powerful than them. I feel fairly confident that if there were more significant threats to Putin's power, the level of direct repressive measures against a lot of these people would be even greater. It's not as if Putin has any respect for human life in this context, a very depressing thing.

Did you see the Christmas Star?

I actually did. This is Jupiter and Saturn coming as close together as they've ever been since the 1600s, apparently 1623. Galileo's time. And you look out and it was right after sunset. And even in a city like New York with all the ambient light, you could actually see this very bright, two planets kind of look like stars, right? Because how the hell would we know, right where the sun had set for a couple of hours? And I mean, it was nice. It didn't excite me, but I thought it was kind of a cool thing. Interestingly, everyone talks about how it's the first time since 1623, but the astronomers are saying that back in 1623, they were too close to the position of the sun so no one could have seen it. It's like if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? Does it matter? And the answer is, well, yeah, maybe, but it's not as exciting as if the humans can put it in context, document it, has experience for us. And that's important because this does happen every few hundred years. In fact, it happened back in the early 1200s when people could see it. And then, that was the time of Genghis Khan. And that was the kind of world that we have today, more GZERO, more kind of like mass destruction, and we don't care about people. And it just feels more appropriate generally that the last time we've had this kind of a convergence of the two largest planets in the solar system... People saying Jupiter and Saturn, but they're the two largest planets. It's like the United States and China, but on a solar system kind of scale, right? I'm just going to stop right now because I clearly know nothing useful about astronomy, but you asked this question and so I'm giving you what I have.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What is going on in Bosnia with Bosnian Serbs boycotting all major institutions?

Well, it's a reaction against a decision that was taken by the outgoing high representative during his very last days, after 12 years of having done very little in this respect, to have a law banning any denial of Srebrenica and other genocides. But this issue goes to very many other aspects of the Bosnian situation. So, it has created a political crisis that will be somewhat difficult to resolve.

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