GZERO Media logo

Quick Take: US stimulus, vaccine rollout, & Russian cyber espionage

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. It's Christmas week. God, we need it. Great to see you and a little quick take to kick us off this last full week of 2020, getting through on fumes this most, most challenging year. First, obviously happy to finally see a deal come through almost a trillion dollars in relief that is desperately needed in the United States. People complaining that $600 checks aren't going to do very much. And I agree, it's kind of pathetic, especially in the context of what other advanced industrial democracies have been doing for their working populations around the world, but it's better than zero, which is where we were.

Look, my annoyance with all of this is that a trillion-dollar deal was doable three months ago, six months ago. The Republicans in power refused to make it larger when larger was necessary and doable. The Democrats, not in power, were unwilling to compromise or capitulate. And if you're in a weaker position, you need to be willing to bend more. As a consequence of both sides playing politics logically to improve their positions in the run-up to the election, the people that get screwed are the American voters, and particularly those that aren't doing well right now.

And that concerns me, especially because come January, assuming the Democrats don't take both seats in Georgia in the Senate, and it's possible they do, in which case you'll see a lot more stimulus, but if it doesn't, I think it's more the same. And that means you're going to have a working class in the US that's going to be in worse shape, in terms of trajectory, than in most of Western Europe, than in Canada, than in Japan. And for the wealthiest country in the world, the United States, with the markets just chugging along and the top 10% doing very well indeed, that's just not acceptable. And that, that kind of annoys me. So yeah, it's better than nothing, but it's not where we want to be.

Also, in terms of vaccines, we're seeing the rollout. I've seen an awful lot of criticism about all of these members of Congress that are getting their vaccines. I have no problem with the idea that for continuity of government purposes, that political leaders across the board, in the White House, top management in cabinet and in key departments, as well as all members of Congress, House and Senate should have access to the vaccine in the first tranche. I have no problem with that.

But I think leadership, if you are in one of those positions and clearly not vulnerable to the disease yourself, in other words, you're not old, you don't have pre-existing conditions, leadership is saying, "Everyone should take this vaccine. I'm waiting until my demographic comes up," which by the way is what the CEO of Pfizer did. And obviously he could have had a vaccine as soon as it was approved. He chose not to. That's leadership. And I don't like the idea that Marco Rubio or AOC or others have decided not to.

Now, by the way, I actually blame the Republicans more on this, not all Republicans, but those specifically that were unwilling to get tested when they should have, weren't wearing masks when they should have, it shows more hypocrisy. But what I want is not just an absence of hypocrisy, I want leadership and leadership is when you're out front leading by example. And I don't see very much of that in the United States right now on either of these points. I hate to bang on this, but here we are in the teeth of the worst crisis of our lifetimes and the United States is both the most economically unequal and also the most politically divided, and that's really not where you want to be.

The Russia hack is something that, as we learn more, continues to get worse. The technological sophistication that the Russians have in terms of cyber is very great indeed. Russia is not a country doing very well overall. They're nowhere in terms of private sector technology and artificial intelligence, the Americans and Chinese are both light-years ahead of them. Their major sources of strength and wealth are fossil fuels, which are going away, and conventional weapons and nuclear weapons capabilities, which the Chinese aren't investing much in, and that should tell you something about the future. But on cyber, the Russians have invested, and they are truly capable, and they are deploying that against the United States. The Americans are, of course, deploying that against the Russians as well. And the fact that we both engage in that kind of espionage against each other makes the world more dangerous, but also has to make you a little bit more cautious in terms of calling for, "We've got to hit them back. This is war."

It's not war. It would be war if the Americans were trying to actually break the critical infrastructure as they attack it, which is what they did, of course, in Ukraine with the NotPetya virus a few years ago, and which then actually extended well beyond Ukraine and caused billions and billions of dollars of damage. No, this is espionage. This is an intelligence operation. But the Americans need to invest in better defense. And the Americans also need to do a better job of degrading Russian capabilities. And in both cases, I suspect we'd not been quite where we want to be in the US. And that plus a risk acceptance on the part of the Russian government, where they feel like very little is going to be done to respond to them, whether it is their conventional activities in places like Syria or Ukraine, or even Belarus, or it's their cyber capabilities against the Americans against NATO, against American allies, that clearly makes Russia more of a risk than you'd like it to be.

China is still by far the most capable competitor of the United States and is growing in that capacity over time. Russia's capacity to undermine the global order is actually decreasing over time, but they're angry about it, and they blame the United States. And in the near term, that actually makes them a greater risk factor than you would otherwise expect.

So that's a little bit of where I'm thinking right now. Hope everyone is good. Hope you have a great Christmas this week. Be safe, avoid people. Talk to you soon.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

More Show less

Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

More Show less

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal