Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Nicaragua – Protests and a deadly crackdown continue in Nicaragua. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently submitted a report to the Organization of American States. The title says it all: “Serious human rights violations in the context of social protests in Nicaragua.” According to the report, “the State’s repressive actions had left at least 212 people dead by June 19, 1,337 people injured and 507 people deprived of their freedom by June 6, as well as hundreds of people at risk after being victims of attacks, harassment, threats and other forms of intimidation.”


Terrorists vs plastic bags  The Al Qaeda linked al-Shabab terrorist group celebrated International Plastic Bag Free Day on Tuesday by banning the use of plastic bags in territories it controls in Somalia. Because plastic bags constitute a “serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike.” For the record, Al-Shabab is responsible for the rape and murder of hundreds of people, including an April 2015 attack on a university in Kenya that killed 148 students.

The US Postal Service – The US Postal Service has been ordered to pay $3.5 million for copyright infringement after mistakenly using an image of a Statue of Liberty replica in Las Vegas on a postage stamp. It’s not clear whether Federal Judge Eric Bruggink agrees with the statue’s creator that it is "fresh-faced, sultry and even sexier" than the original, but the artist will get the money either way.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

Sophia the robot  A humanoid robot named Sophia met with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed this week. We’re impressed that she quickly and effortlessly learned to speak Amharic. But Sophia appeared with Mr. Abiy only after recovering several body parts she misplaced while travelling through Frankfurt airport, and though she’s female and a Saudi citizen, she’s not allowed to drive. So we’re just not that impressed with her.

Japanese food  psychic octopus named Rabio that correctly predicted all of Japan's World Cup match results was killed this week and made into sashimi. Your Friday author likes Japanese food as much as the next guy, but that’s just wrong.

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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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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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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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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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