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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.
So, a controversial and unpopular opinion from me, I think we should legally mandate vaccines. Unless you have a legitimate medical reason, let's make it the law. I understand a lot of you are not going to agree with me. I see no one in the government is willing to make this argument right now, Democrat or Republican. But I'm neither, and my mom wouldn't be happy if I was only saying stuff to everybody that you already agree with, so let me try to lay out this argument.
We have tried convincing people. We've tried cajoling, we've tried education campaigns, we've used the media, we've used government, we've used the doctors, we've used the scientists, we've done lotteries, we've done free MetroCards, and still, we're talking about 50% of the country that is fully vaccinated right now. We are awash in vaccines as Africa, a billion plus people, only 1% of the continent has been vaccinated fully. In the United States, people won't take them. We are not where we need to be. Furthermore, we've already been passed in vaccination rates by Canada, by the United Kingdom, and in the next few weeks, we'll be passed by fully vaccinated people in the European Union as well. Despite the fact that the United States has by far the biggest initial advantage in getting these vaccines produced and distributed.
It is political division in this country, it's disinformation, it's stupidity. It's a lot of people saying no and then getting dug in and refusing to listen to facts in an environment that is increasingly tribal. It's us versus them much more so than in any other advanced industrial economy in the world. Big numbers. A majority of people that say that they're not going to get vaccinated at this point in the United States, say that they believe that the vaccine will implant a microchip into your body. This is insanity. This is not something we should be presenting two sides of an argument. There isn't two sides. There's one side and there are a bunch of people that refuse to actually listen to facts.
I think that part of this is because Democrats and Republicans both find it valuable to be sniping at each other on every single issue. Part of it is that a small number of dishonest brokers can make themselves famous and money by pushing conspiracy theories and fake news. And part of it, is the ineffectiveness of social media in taking down this information because it drives more clicks and more eyeballs. The arguments are getting stupider. Mask mandates are getting caught up in all of this as well. I saw Dr. Fauci coming up and saying, "We don't need masks." Initially, because he was worried that there wouldn't be enough for everybody. He lied to the public. Didn't mislead, lied. And he did it for what he thought were good reasons, but undermined the science, undermine his credibility. I personally think that was indefensible by Dr. Fauci at the time. Now I hear him saying, "You're either getting vaccinated or you're going to get the disease, but also that we still need to wear masks." Which is it?
It's increasingly getting impossible to convince people that there is a scientific side of this argument that is correct. The "gotcha" politics have just made people go with their political team, their political side, and increasingly not know who to believe. I have to say, I don't like taking away people's liberties under any circumstances. I support gun rights, I support free speech, I support legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, you name it. But here, we are talking about saving tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of additional lives in the United States. We've lost over 600,000 people in large part because we didn't have vaccines.
But going forward, anyone we lose is due to stupidity. It's due to political failure of our government, of our leaders. Not only that, but absent getting vaccines to everybody, millions of livelihoods are going to be affected because you're going to have more social distancing, and you're going to have more calls for a lockdown. You're going to have a stop-start, stop-start economy, which is problematic, particularly for those that are the poorest. Now, I want to be clear. I'm not talking about sending people to jail. A fine would work. It's like buckling up. You do it or you get fined. It's an imposition, yes. It's the government telling you what to do. A lot of people won't feel like it, but most people buckle up as a consequence, even if you think that it's an imposition on your liberties. I do believe that we are so divided right now, that carrots by themselves aren't going to work. We need some level of stick.
Is this authoritarian? Is it one step away from Hitler? I've seen people respond with crazy stuff because of course it's social media, and so that's what you need to do, is respond with crazy stuff. No. No. In fact, vaccine mandates and fines are American history. We've done it before with the smallpox vaccine. It was mandated after an epidemic. And an anti-vaxxer took the US government to court and the Supreme Court ruled on it in 1905. Jacobson vs. Massachusetts and the US Supreme Court, Democratic country, what did it say? It concluded that states can require vaccine via mandate, accompanied by a criminal fine. There you go. This is not something that is a slow step towards authoritarianism.
I also want to say that after 9/11, we took away liberties. We took away a lot of liberties. We spent billions and billions of dollars in the United States. I'm not just talking about the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I, you, can't get on a plane without taking off our shoes, our belt, our outer jacket, get all the metal out of our pockets, a full scan, arms over your head, take a look at us naked! Unless, you want to do a TSA PreCheck that gives all your info to the government, and then you can keep your shoes on. Awesome, right? How about the PATRIOT Act? Huge amounts of intrusion passed after 9/11. Because of national security, we've got all these surveillance laws, and now it's much easier for the government to spy on ordinary Americans by expanding their ability to get phone and email communications, to get your bank and credit card reports. We did that, so that 9/11 wouldn't happen again. We did that to save what we believe would be a few thousand lives in the United States from terrorism.
I understand why we did that at the time, and I understand why the entire country came together to support it, even though I believe that there were excesses, even though I believe that we spent too much, and then we went too far in taking away American liberties at the time. But I understand why we did. Today, this country is so divided that I don't think we could pass a seatbelt law. There's too much stupidity in just the political tribalism.
And so, if no one else is going to say it, I'm going to say it. I believe that saving those tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of lives is worth a vaccine mandate. Let's get it done, and as a consequence, let's save some lives in the United States. Thanks. Sorry to be a little annoying about all of this. We'll see what you have to say. I'll see all of you real soon.
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This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?
They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.
A few bleak facts:
- Of the 10 countries with the highest number of current COVID deaths per capita in the week before July 18, three of the top six are in Africa. That includes Namibia at #1, Tunisia at #2, and South Africa at #6.
- Last week, recorded COVID deaths in Africa jumped 40 percent from the previous week.
- Just 1 percent of Africa's 1.3 billion people are fully vaccinated. African governments will be very lucky if that number reaches 10 percent by the end of 2021.
- African countries were slated to receive many more AstraZeneca vaccine doses from India. That was before India became a global COVID hotspot.
- Of 77.6 million doses that the COVAX facility, a vaccine-sharing initiative, has allocated to African countries, fewer than 16 million had arrived in Africa by July 7.
There are many explanations for Africa's new COVID troubles. Healthcare facilities are below international standards in many of Africa's 54 countries. Governments don't have the bureaucracies to roll out treatments and vaccine doses as efficiently as in wealthier parts of the world. Poor infrastructure in some countries compounds that problem.
But the G-Zero world disorder plays a role here too. G-Zero is a term coined by our boss, Ian Bremmer, to describe an "every nation for itself" approach to global politics that has become the dominant trend in today's world.
It's not that wealthy countries have done nothing to help Africa. Without support from the US, EU, and other rich countries, COVAX wouldn't exist to provide vaccines to anyone. But while it's completely understandable that American and European leaders want to vaccinate Americans and Europeans first, the scale of vaccine selfishness has become a topic of hot debate.
Here's your key data point: According to One.org, an activist organization, "The world's richest countries could vaccinate their entire populations and still have over 1.9 billion doses to share — enough to vaccinate the entire adult population of Africa."
As it is, healthy young people in the US and Europe will be vaccinated months before many frontline healthcare workers, elderly people, and people with serious underlying medical conditions in Africa.
Some may see this as a sad but understandable reality. Wealthier nations and people have always enjoyed advantages while the poor suffer what they must. But there are two obvious responses to that.
First, selfishness can be a matter of degree. It's one thing to argue that "my people must be vaccinated first." It's quite another to horde excess supplies that might never be used and to consider booster shots for young healthy people in one country while frontline health workers in other countries can't even get their very first vaccine dose.
Second, every time COVID is transmitted from one person to another, it mutates. Enough mutations create variants — like the delta variant that has caused COVID to rise not only in Africa, but also in the United States and Europe. Leave enough people unvaccinated and we sharply increase the risk that future variants — maybe more transmissible and more lethal than the now prevalent delta variant — will be infecting vaccinated people everywhere.
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July 26, 2021
"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.
Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks
COVID-19 was a global catastrophe that blindsided the world's wealthiest nations, and it's far from over. But as disasters go, it was hardly unprecedented. Humanity has a long history of failing to prepare for the worst, from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes to famines to shipwrecks to airplane crashes to financial depressions. But how do we get better at preventing such calamities from happening, and how many seemingly unavoidable "natural" disasters are actually caused by humans? On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer talks about all that and more with Stanford historian Niall Ferguson, who is just out with the perfect book for the topic, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe." Plus, a look at how one young Ugandan activist was literally cropped out of the global climate fight.
July 24, 2021
Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?
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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:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?
Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.
Both sides are probably correct on this. So the Democrats can use this as an opportunity to keep the Jan. 6 in the media and to keep Republicans connected to the riot at the Capitol. The Republicans, in turn, are going to use this to try to expand the scope and talk about all kinds of things that are really beyond strictly focusing on Jan. 6. So, it seems unlikely there's going to be a lot of real value that comes out of this commission, but you do have members like Liz Cheney who will be participating, who say they want to get to the bottom of what happened beyond President Trump's involvement.
Progress on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, is that really possible?
So this week, the Senate actually voted down, moving to proceed to a bipartisan infrastructure bill. And strangely, that may be the first sign that the bipartisan infrastructure bill could actually happen. Republicans voted against moving to the bill, opening debate on it, because they didn't have the text yet and they say it wasn't ready. The vote lost; it didn't get the 60 votes needed to proceed. But the 22 members, Republicans and Democrats, who are working on a bipartisan compromise, since the vote happened, have said they've made significant progress and are planning to try again early next week.They need to try to cut a deal over the weekend and produce legislative text, and in the legislative text is where you're going to find a lot of things that could potentially trip up this bill. Because no other members have seen what's in this yet, there could be policy riders that people don't like, and the scores that come out of the Congressional scorekeepers telling everybody how much money to spend and how much revenue it raises may not add up. So there's still a lot that can go wrong between now and next week, but strangely, this negative vote was the first step towards actually getting something done this year on infrastructure.
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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.
Today we are taking our Red Pen, first time we're doing this, through recent op-ed by veteran columnist and best-selling author David Brooks of The New York Times.
The title of the piece is "The American Identity Crisis," and it focuses on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Coming to a theater not so near you real soon. And how it represents a double standard that Brooks believes America is experiencing—protecting liberal and progressive values at home (and many would argue with that point alone by the way) while abandoning allies in Afghanistan and doing little to stop the rise of autocrats elsewhere.
Let's get out the Red Pen.
First, Brooks laments that in, quote, "Iraq and Afghanistan, America lost faith in itself and its global role—like a pitcher who has been shelled and no longer has confidence in his own stuff."
That's right, but I'd argue the roots of this lost confidence go back a lot further. It was after the Vietnam War that Americans seriously began to question their ability to transform the world. And let's also remember the deaths of American soldiers in Somalia back in 1993, reinforced that sentiment: President Bill Clinton was so shell-shocked that he refused to intervene in Rwanda during that country's genocide.
Next, Brooks writes that the "two-decade strategy of taking the fight to the terrorists, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, has meant that global terrorism is no longer seen as a major concern in daily American life."
I'd say it's no longer seen that way because it's no longer a daily concern in terms of actions taken at home. US intelligence and law enforcement officials have spent vast sums over the past 20 years in the United States and on borders to protect the American people. If anything, US interventions abroad have made Americans less safe, not more: Exhibit A, destabilizing Iraq fostered the rise of the Islamic State, which continues to wreak havoc in and beyond the Middle East.
Brooks also writes that there's "a strong possibility" that the US withdraw from Afghanistan "will produce a strategic setback and a humanitarian disaster."
Yes, a humanitarian disaster if the Taliban does take over, and I think that's likely—women and ethnic minorities will suffer. But that was already looking pretty likely—in fact, the Biden policy review expected that the Taliban was likely to take over the course of the Biden administration, absent a troop surge, and nobody thought that that was politically feasible. And a strategic setback for the United States? Well, that's a harder one to argue. I mean, a Taliban-led Afghanistan might be a thorn in Biden's side but it's not going to derail his top foreign policy priority by far, which is managing over surging China. And on that issue, by the way, that's a key reason that Beijing wants the Americans to stay in Afghanistan because the Chinese government knows that they're going to end up supporting the Taliban government while facing blow back from regional warlords in Afghanistan. That doesn't work.
You still with me? I've got a couple more points to go and still have a little red ink. Brooks writes that the United States is competing against countries like China and Russia "in an economic, cultural, intellectual, and political contest all at once—A struggle between the forces of progressive modernity and reaction."
Now, if values are so important to US foreign policy, why is Washington on such good terms with Egypt or Saudi Arabia, whose positions on LGBTQ and women's rights are anything but progressive. Some in the United States do want to advance liberal values the world over, but the US doesn't have either the capacity or the inclination to do so everywhere. Plus, the struggle between the United States and China, and with Russia to a lesser extent, is less about exporting culture than about shaping the global order.
And finally, Brooks says "to fight Trumpian authoritarianism at home, we have to fight the more venomous brands of authoritarianism that thrive around the world. That means staying on the field."
Now the United States should remain an active player in global affairs, I certainly agree with that. But "staying on the field" does not equal military intervention. Should the United States send forces into Myanmar as the country edges closer to becoming a failed state? I mean, how about Haiti, right in American backyard, following the president's assassination in his home. The United States can't afford to use military force whenever something goes wrong all over the world. There are plenty of ways to advance democracy—such as sending humanitarian aid and establishing cultural changes—without becoming the world's sheriff. Given how Afghanistan, Iraq, and other recent US military interventions have turned out, these soft power tools deserve a lot more attention.
So there you have it. That's your Red Pen for today. We'll see you again soon. In the meantime, stay cool in the dog days of summer. Moose told me to let you know that. Be good. Talk to you soon.
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