Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Locked-up Lula Alex wrote a piece for your Tuesday edition on the emergence of Joaquim Barbosa as a presidential contender in Brazil. Then we got more big news from the country this week. Late Wednesday night, by a vote of 6–5, Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal ruled that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, must sit in prison while he appeals a 12-year sentence for a corruption conviction. Lula still leads in opinion polls ahead of October’s presidential election — though the number of voters who say they’re dead-set against him would make it hard for him to win. Lula’s incarceration creates space on the left for other candidates, like Barbosa. But, as Alex points out, it could also delegitimize the election for those who agree with Lula that the charges against him are politically motivated.


Macron vs the unions Every French president who tries to change that country’s labor laws knows that sooner or later the showdown with unions will come. It’s Emmanuel Macron’s turn, and a wave of strikes, led by staff at state railway SNCF, is now under way. Strikes are scheduled to disrupt transport on 36 separate days over the next three months. Rail workers want to protect their relatively generous benefits, while the government says the state can’t afford them — and that EU rules require that state railways open to competition. On Wednesday, students, angry over more selective university entry requirements, added their challenge to President Emmanuel Macron. This is a crucial test for a leader with grand ambitions — for France and for Europe.

The Weiner-Dog Museum — Did you know that Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy loved dachshunds? Did you know that Germans bred dachshunds in the Middle Ages to flush predatory badgers from underground tunnels? Did you know the mascot of the 1972 Munich Olympics was a dachshund called Waldi? If you didn’t know these things, would like to learn more, and are passing through Bavaria, Signal recommends the newly opened Dackelmuseum in Passau, Germany.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

US withdrawal from Syria — President Trump made news last week by telling a cheering crowd in Ohio that “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.” But there’s been little clarity since then on what “very soon” means. The Pentagon is not ready for withdrawal. Defense officials made clear this week that ISIS is not finished. Turkey’s intervention in Syria has delayed the “fight going against the remnants of ISIS,” said Defense Secretary James Mattis ten days ago. The Pentagon also appears interested in countering Russian influence in shaping Syria’s future and in dissuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey, and Iran that it’s safe to attack US Kurdish allies. Until the Commander in Chief and Pentagon sort these questions out, the words “very soon” don’t mean much.

Bahrain’s new oil find — This week, the Kingdom of Bahrain — with a population smaller than Barcelona or Phoenix, Arizona — announced discovery of an offshore shale oil field large enough to push the tiny country’s oil reserves from 66th to 8th in the world. This may be good news for the already wealthy and well-connected in Bahrain, but we’re ignoring this story because its government, in lockstep with Saudi Arabia, won’t use new wealth to pursue a more independent foreign policy.

Iranians who fear nipples — The team logo for Italian football club AS Roma features the traditional Roman image of two babies, city founders Romulus and Remus, being suckled by the Capitoline Wolf. During its coverage of UEFA Champions League football, broadcasters in Iran altered the image by blurring out the wolf’s teats. We’re speechless.

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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.

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Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

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7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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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.

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"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.

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GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal