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What We’re Watching: Modi reshuffles cabinet, Iran enriches uranium metal, Ortega jails Nicaraguan opposition

Modi's makeover: After weathering months of criticism over his disastrous (mis)handling of the pandemic, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday undertook the biggest government reshuffle since he came to power seven years ago. At least a dozen cabinet ministers are out, including Harsh Vardhan, the health minister widely criticized for the devastating second wave of COVID infections that tore through the country earlier this year while India — the world's largest producer of vaccines — was unable to roll out jabs for its own people fast enough. The ministers of environment, education, and IT are also gone, and the new cabinet nearly triples the number of female ministers to 11. The move is a rare course correction for Modi, whose otherwise buoyant approval rating had plummeted nearly 15 points (to 63 percent) between January and June. India's economy is expected to roar back with 12.5 percent growth this year, but still barely 5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

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What We're Watching: VP Harris on Central America trip, FBI dupes crooks, India reverses course on vaccines

VP Harris tours Central America: US Vice President Kamala Harris this week embarked on her first official foreign trip since assuming that role, making stops in both Mexico and Guatemala. After immigration became a major political headache for the Biden administration, with Central American migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border in historic numbers in recent months, Biden tapped Harris to oversee issues related to the root causes of mass migration from Central America (which he distinguishes from the so-called "border crisis''). Harris, for her part, has been pushing the US private sector to invest more in the Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — that are plagued by corruption and crime, and account for the bulk of migrants arriving at the US' southern border. Harris has also engaged in vaccine diplomacy to shore up support, announcing that the US will ship COVID vaccines to both Guatemala and Mexico. Immigration is a massive electoral problem for President Biden, with polls suggesting that 48 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the issue. Harris is trying to fix that. But analysts say that this trip is also an opportunity for the VP to bolster her own foreign policy bonafides as she looks at a future presidential run.

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Israel-Palestine de-escalation likely by weekend; next space race?

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on World In 60 Seconds (aka Around the World in 180 Seconds) :

Biden says he expects significant de-escalation between Israel and Hamas. Will the conflict end soon?

He wouldn't say that if he hadn't already been told that by Bibi Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, as well as the fact that Israeli Defense Forces have already been saying that they've engaged in significant deterioration of Hamas's military and leadership capabilities. That means that within days you likely get a ceasefire. It's going to be back and forth. The Israelis saying Hamas have to go first. And even when you get a ceasefire agree, then you get more violence, and you get an outbreak. So it's a bit of a rolling back and forth as opposed to suddenly there's just no more military engagement. But I would be really surprised if in another week we see this level of military conflict and of deaths on the ground, primarily in Gaza. In fact, I'd say really by the end of the weekend, I would think that this is going to calm down significantly. Biden wouldn't be saying that otherwise.

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As India gasps for air, a government “still in denial”

According to Delhi-based journalist Barkha Dutt, while the Indian government has finally started to mobilize in response to the COVID crisis, there's still a lot of denial about the severity of the ourbreak. "Our Health Minister, for instance, made a statement in the last 24 hours saying that India is better equipped to fight COVID in 2021 than in 2020. That's simply rubbish. We had India's Solicitor General telling the Supreme Court that there is no oxygen deficit as of now. That's simply not true." In an interview on GZERO World, Dutt tells Ian Bremmer that only the connection between fellow Indians, helping each other when the government cannot, has been a salve.

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

How did India’s second COVID wave get so bad?

There have been well over 18 million confirmed cases of COVID in India, second now globally to only the United States. Hundreds of thousands of new infections daily and already more than 200,000 reported deaths—though experts say that number could be 5 or even 10 times higher. Epidemiologists fear the infection rate could be as high as half a million per day by August, with as many as a million dead. India, as one newspaper headline put it, is a ship adrift. So, how did this happen? What does this all mean for India, for Narendra Modi, and for the world?

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

What We’re Watching: Clashes in Jewish-Arab cities, Nepal's COVID crisis, Uganda's forever president

Integrated Israeli cities on the brink: Another bloody day in Israel and the Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued to bomb Gaza Wednesday, killing several Hamas commanders. At least 56 Gazans have now been killed in Israeli strikes, including 14 children. Meanwhile, rockets continue to fall inside Israeli cities, causing millions to flee to bomb shelters. The Israeli death count now stands at eight. The more startling development for intelligence analysts, however, has been the increasingly violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in integrated Israeli cities following weeks of confrontations in Jerusalem: an Arab man was pulled from his car and attacked by Jewish vigilantes in a suburb outside Tel Aviv, while Arab Israelis have burnt synagogues and attacked Jewish Israelis. Integrated cities like Lod, Acre and Haifa are often highlighted as models for broader Palestinian-Israeli peace, but as Haaretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer points out, these unprecedented clashes show that Israel's security apparatus failed to understand that Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank are still motivated "to rise up and show solidarity with each other." International actors are reportedly trying to get the two sides to agree to an imminent ceasefire. Will it work?

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India’s “Darwinian” COVID response: “Indians have been left to fend for themselves”

"It feels like citizens have been left to fend for themselves. It's almost sort of Darwinian. You have a sense of starring in your own worst science fiction survivor movie, where it's up to you if you survive," says Barkha Dutt, an Indian journalist who just lost her father to COVID and has tested positive for the virus herself. A year into the pandemic, India's government has not properly prepared its hospitals and health care workers, forcing desperate families to run from hospital to hospital looking for help, she tells Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

Did “complacency” cause India’s COVID explosion?

In January 2021, after India got its vaccination program underway, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory over "controlling corona" at the World Economic Forum. But within weeks, those words would come back to haunt him. Ian Bremmer asks Delhi-based journalist Barkha Dutt what she thinks went wrong. "I think the complacency set in because, as a percentage of infections, the fatalities seemed to be not as high as the rest of the world… but it doesn't explain to me why we should've got lulled into not needing contingencies." Their discussion about India's COVID crisis is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

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