Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Italian contradictions — The populist Five Star Movement and Lega will now form a government after all. As Gabe Lipton wrote for us on Wednesday, they face some very tough choices. Polls indicate that 57 percent of Italians favor both a universal basic income and big tax cuts, promises offered by these two parties. More government spending and less government revenue is a questionable idea for a country with the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of any EU country not named Greece. A new government in Rome doesn’t mean things have gotten any simpler.


Somali pirates — Incidents of piracy off Somalia’s coast jumped from 16 in 2015 to 27 in 2016 and to 54 in 2017, according to an annual report released by an anti-piracy NGO. The main source of the increase appears to be official complacency — fewer patrols and fewer precautions onboard ships.

Fredie Blom’s bad habit — South African Fredie Blom wants to quit smoking. He’s wanted to quit for a long time. We all know cigarettes can cause health problems, and Fredie blames the devil for his addiction. But we shouldn’t worry too much about his repeated failure to kick the habit, because Fredie Blom is 114 years old.​

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

The Larrea Letter — Billionaire businessman German Larrea published a letterthis week warning Mexico’s business community of the risks of electing a “populist” candidate as Mexico’s president. But a new poll this week showed Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the obvious target of this letter, with a 26-point lead on his nearest challenger ahead of the one-round July 1 presidential election. That’s probably because voters are less worried about the fortunes of Mexico’s business elite than about issues like security and corruption on which Lopez Obrador polls well.

The Trump-Kim Summit — President Trump invited Kim Kardashian to the White House on Wednesday to discuss “prison reform,” because… um…

A North Korean Burger Joint? — In a report published this week, CIA analysts argued that North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear program, but agency officials also say Kim Jong-un might open a Western hamburger franchise in Pyongyang as a gesture of goodwill toward President Trump. Even if I found myself unexpectedly in Pyongyang and ravenously hungry, your Friday author wants no part of a North Korean Happy Meal.

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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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Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

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

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