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NBA player sparks backlash from China; Bolsonaro's COVID negligence

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

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What We’re Watching: Bolsonaro’s COVID crimes, Mali calls al-Qaeda, Facebook gets a facelift

Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A long-running Senate investigation in Brazil has found that by downplaying the severity of COVID, dithering on vaccines, and promoting quack cures, President Jair Bolsonaro directly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. An earlier version of the report went so far as to recommend charges of homicide and genocide as well, but that was pulled back in the final copy to a mere charge of "crimes against humanity", according to the New York Times. The 1,200-page report alleges Bolsonaro's policies led directly to the deaths of at least half of the 600,000 Brazilians who have succumbed to the virus. It's a bombshell charge, but it's unlikely to land Bolsonaro in the dock — for that to happen he'd have to be formally accused by the justice minister, an ally whom he appointed, and the lower house of parliament, which his supporters control. Still, as the deeply unpopular Bolsonaro limps towards next year's presidential election, a rap of this kind isn't going to help.

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The war on (period) poverty

Brazil's bold President Jair Bolsonaro did a bad thing this week. He blocked legislation that would have provided free sanitary pads and tampons to disadvantaged Brazilian women and girls. In a country where 25 percent of girls miss school because they don't have access to sanitary products or bathrooms when they're menstruating, this is a pretty big deal.

Laws aimed at addressing period poverty — lack of financial access to basic hygiene products like pads, tampons, and soap – are often framed by male-dominated governments as excessive and inessential. They are so wrong.

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What We're Watching: Bolsonaro on the ropes, Georgian nightmare, Pandora's box opened?

Is Bolsonaro on the ropes for good this time? Tens of thousands of Brazilians hit streets across the country in recent days calling for the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro. For months, pockets of anti-Bolsonaro sentiment have been bubbling nationwide, but now a record 58 percent of people polled say his performance is "bad" or "very bad." Soaring prices for electricity, food, and medicine have added to lingering discontent with right-winger Bolsonaro's disastrous handling of the pandemic. And a scandal over potential corruption in vaccine procurements hasn't helped either. Bolsonaro can still count on the unwavering support of about a quarter to a third of the population, and he has strong loyalty among cops and soldiers. But as discontent spreads, it's looking less and less likely that he'll be able to defeat his presumptive rival in next year's presidential election: the leftwing former president Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva. Current polls suggest Bolsonaro is in for a drubbing, but if so, will he accept defeat?

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How long will COVID-fueled inflation last?

Everybody's talking about inflation these days. Rising prices are affecting people from all walks of life, all around the world.

In the US, buying a used car now costs on average 45 percent more than it did in January. Europeans are bracing for a tough winter with soaring natural gas prices that come at the worst possible time.

Asian investors mentioned the word "inflation" on calls this quarter the most times since 2003, when the SARS epidemic battered China's economy. In Lebanon, whose annual rate of inflation is now the world's highest, surpassing Venezuela and Zimbabwe, most people buy local not to support local businesses but rather because they can't afford imports.

Inflation, however, isn't always bad, and is actually a sign of a healthy economy as long as it stays around an annual 1.5-2 percent. But now in most countries it's creeping up too much due to the economic fallout from the ongoing pandemic.

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What We're Watching: Taliban government, Bolsonaro’s insurrection sputters, Myanmar uprising

Taliban name interim government: Three weeks after taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban on Tueaday appointed an interim government made up largely by veterans of the 20-year war against the US. The most high-profile names are PM Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, foreign minister under the first Taliban regime (1996-2001); interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, with a $5 million US bounty because he's the leader of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, a group responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on US and Afghan forces; and deputy PM Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's top negotiator with the US in Qatar. The Taliban had promised an inclusive government that would represent all Afghans, but the interim one is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns. It also has exactly the number of women most predicted: zero. The Taliban hope that an interim cabinet will make it easier for them to gain international recognition and to get on with the complicated business of governing Afghanistan — and find the money to do so.

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Clashes in Brazil as Bolsonaro's support plummets

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here with the Quick Take. Back in the office, we are functioning and open after a year and a half which is absolutely insane. 80 new employees since the pandemic who haven't met each other in person, most of the time. So God, we're happy to be back here. And wanted to kick it off by talking about Brazil.

Haven't talked about Brazil in a while, but it is their Independence Day. And wow, what an Independence Day it is. President Bolsonaro, who is in the cellar, popularity wise, the lowest popularity he's had since he's been president. And for lots of reasons, mishandling of COVID, economic problems, energy shortages, even a little bit of corruption scandals. Seen as not an effective president of the country and presidential elections next year. So, a combination of things that are setting him off individually. And has said quite famously in the past few days, that in upcoming elections, he's either going to win, or be arrested, or be killed. That those are the only three options.

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Is the US forcing Brazil to go against China or not?

We don't get it: Does the US expect its allies to choose between the US and China or not?

Just a few months ago, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken promised that, although the two countries are in a deepening rivalry over trade, technology and values, Washington "won't force allies into an 'us-or-them' choice with China."

But as we noted yesterday, it seems that during a recent trip to Brasilia, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan gave the impression that if Brazil were to ban Huawei from its national 5G auctions later this year, there could be a NATO partnership in it for Brasilia.

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