Why the UK is on lockdown; Iran pushes Biden on uranium levels

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

Why is the UK going on lockdown again?

I know. And it looks like six weeks to, this is the highest level of lockdown they do. And it's this new strain of coronavirus, which it's not more lethal, but it is much more infectious. And thank God all of the vaccines work equally well against it. But nonetheless, the vaccines are still very early stages in rolling out and coronavirus is a very robust stages of rolling out. So, you were getting greater levels of hospitalization right now in the UK than in their spring peak. The case levels were exploding and so they just shut it down. Germany is extending their lockdown and here in New York City, I just heard yesterday, we've got the first confirmed cases of the new strain. This is, it's not a game changer because the vaccines are the game changer and the vaccines are rolling out and as they do, we're going to feel very, very differently, but it does mean that explosive caseload and more hospitalizations, and indeed more people dying in the coming weeks is something we're going to have to gird ourselves for. But I still think, when you looked at our top risk piece this year, we didn't make coronavirus, the number one risk and it's because of the vaccines. Also, in the nature of this disease that really does focus so much of the mortality is in a very small percentage of the population, the most elderly and the most sick. And so, in just a few weeks, four, six weeks, when we get to 10% of the population in the US that's been vaccinated, suddenly you're going to have probably some 90% of the mortality taken out of the disease. You still have concerns about long COVID, you still have people that can be sick for a long time. But just think psychologically about how much we've all been carrying about just been worrying, the worry we've had of the people that we are close to who are in their high seventies or older, or already have medical conditions and we know that if they are to get this disease, they could very easily die. That is something we're not going to have to worry about in just a few more weeks. I think that's the game changer for 2021, frankly. That's a really good news story, so something that's worth mentioning.


Okay, what do I make of Iran increasing its uranium enrichment levels?

To 20% is almost nuclear bomb grade or enrichment level. And what it means is they are pushing Biden really hard, they want to get back to the old Iranian nuclear deal, no ifs, no buts, no preconditions. And Jake Sullivan, the incoming national security advisor has made clear that, well actually, they're willing to go back to the old JCPOA as it's called that's the nuclear deal, but not by itself. They also want to open negotiations at the same time on ballistic missiles and on Iran's support for radical organizations in the region. And the Iranians want no preconditions, I think that a compromise can be found, but not easily. And the decision of Iran to push the enrichment quickly is something they don't need to do; they did on the anniversary of Soleimani's assassination by the United States. I mean, it's a little bit of national pride in Iran, which has had a much tougher year than most around the world right now. But on balance, it's really a message incoming to Joe Biden.

And then finally, with Saudi Arabia lifting its embargo on Qatar, what does that mean for the region?

Well, it's a positive. I mean, what we're seeing is the geopolitics are normalizing. When you're a CEO and you think about the Middle East, you think primarily in terms of risk, the risk environment in the Middle East is reducing somewhat around geopolitics. Israel is normalizing relations, opened diplomatic engagement directly with a number of Arab States and others are moving in that direction, even the Saudis. The GCC Blockade, breaking apart that organization because the Saudis and the UAE were fundamentally breaking ties, economically, diplomatically with Qatar, that the fact that that's ending is useful for everybody. Frankly it's even useful for Iran relations because Qatar has been able to be a conduit and interlocutor, which they obviously couldn't serve that role when the Saudis and UAE had frozen them out. So, I think there's really no downside here and I'm glad to see it. And if it's something that Trump gets to run a bit of a victory lap on God bless, he was a little bit responsible for the flare up to begin with because he didn't do very much to his closest allies when they started heading in this direction. But it's good to get it done and it's one problem that Biden doesn't need to worry about, he's got plenty, when he becomes president in a couple of weeks.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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35.4: The US has overtaken China as the country with the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining networks, now accounting for 35.4 of the global mining presence. This comes after the Chinese government banned domestic cryptocurrency mining operations to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction.

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