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Biden's vaccine mandates caught in a growing culture war

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is happening with Biden's vaccine mandates?

Well, Biden put in place a mandate for employers to vaccinate or test, on a weekly basis their employees, if they have more than 100 of them. And there's been pushback from a lot of corners of society. Some smaller businesses have objected. Some governors, particularly Texas, Louisiana, have objected.

Texas said the mandate doesn't apply for large employers in its state, even though that puts the employers in a terrible situation of having to choose which level of government they should listen to. And these states have sued in federal courts. The federal courts have stayed the mandate, meaning it won't be implemented until the decision is made probably by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Labor Department overstepped its authorities in issuing this mandate, claiming that they have the ability to protect workplace safety.

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What We're Watching: Israel finally gets a budget, US expands vax mandate, Portugal elections loom

Israel's political breakthrough. Israel's government has passed a budget for the first time in more than three years. This might sound boring, but it's actually a big deal: for years, former PM Benjamin Netanyahu refused to do it for political reasons, resulting in a lengthy stalemate with four divisive elections in just two years. Getting it done is a big win for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who managed to get his ideologically-diverse coalition of eight parties to agree on the 2021 budget. Failure to pass it by November 14, as per the coalition deal, would have resulted in yet another election, likely a death knell for the current government which only came together this summer at the eleventh hour. The bill includes $10 billion for Arab communities over five years demanded by Mansour Abbas, head of Ra'am, an independent Arab party that serves in the coalition. For now, Bennett and his main partner, the centrist Yair Lapid, are proving wrong the naysayers who warned that the diverse coalition was doomed to collapse. Negotiations now continue over next year's budget ahead of the March 2022 deadline, but passing the 2021 budget has made a fresh vote — and Netanyahu's dream of returning to power — even less likely.

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From $3.5 trillion to $2 trillion: Cuts to US spending bill mean less money for families

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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Polexit isn’t in Poland’s future; Texas bans COVID vaccine mandates

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at Polexit fears, China & India energy woes, and Texas Governor Abbott's ban on COVID vaccine mandates.

Is a "Polexit" from the EU a real possibility?

You just want to say "Polexit", right? I mean, you don't get to brand that, Poland. It's like being in the G20. You don't get to be in line. You're the 21st largest economy, at least you were when they put that together. They're annoyed about that. They're not going to leave the EU, but there is a real fight over recent judicial rulings that EU laws are not aligned with Poland. Poland supersedes. There's going to be a fight. There might be some fines. Everyone's going to be animated about it. But Poland's not going anywhere. Are some demonstrations though.

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What We're Watching: Rwandan "justice," ISIS-K hits the Taliban, Canada's vote, COVID vaccines for kids, the UNGA podium

Hotel Rwanda hero given 25-year sentence: It's been more than a year since Paul Rusesabagina — the former hotel manager credited with saving more than 1,200 Tutsis and Hutus during the 1994 Rwandan genocide as portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda — was misled into boarding a plane that eventually flew him to Kigali, where he was arrested. Now, Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US permanent resident who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2006, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges. Rwandan authorities say Rusesabagina's punishment is for his support for the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, a group accused of coordinating a string of attacks in southern Rwanda in 2018. But supporters of Rusesabagina say the trial is simply retaliation for his public criticism of President Paul Kagame, who has ruled the country since the civil war ended in the mid-1990s and has been dubbed a "benevolent dictator." Western governments have criticized Kagame for targeting Rusesabagina, and President Biden could bring up his case directly with the Rwandan president when the two leaders attend a G20 summit in Rome next month.

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What We’re Watching: Salvadorans protest Bitcoin, meet Aukus, no COVID pass no job in Italy

Salvadorans protest Bukele, Bitcoin: Thousands of people took to the streets of El Salvador's capital on Wednesday, the 200th anniversary of the country's independence, to protest against President Nayib Bukele's increasingly authoritarian streak and his embrace of risky cryptocurrency. Last May, Bukele ended the Supreme Court's independence; perhaps unsurprisingly, the court then decided to lift the constitutional ban on presidential term limits — presumably so Bukele can run for reelection in 2024. Meanwhile, last week El Salvador became the first country in the world to accept Bitcoin as legal tender, but the rollout was, to put it mildly, messy. The protesters resent Bukele's dictator vibes and warn that Bitcoin could spur inflation and financial instability. The tech-savvy president, for his part, insists that crypto will bring in more cash from remittances and foreign investment, and remains immensely popular among most Salvadorans. Still, Bukele's Bitcoin gamble could erode his support if the experiment fails.

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Why CIA director Bill Burns met with the Taliban

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on the CIA director's secret meeting with the leader of the Taliban, the G7 emergency meeting on Afghanistan, and the future of vaccine mandates following the FDA's approval of Pfizer's COVID vaccine.

CIA director Bill Burns held a secret meeting with the leader of the Taliban. How will it impact the ongoing evacuations?

Well, at the very least, you have to think that America's top priority, ensuring that all Americans get out of Afghanistan, given that the US controls nothing on the ground but Kabul Airport, will be facilitated. I would think that that was the reason for him to be there, absolute top priority. That has been successful. If it was a failure, we would've heard something about it by now, and the situation on the ground would be quite different. That is very different though than what happens after August 31st, and whether or not all of the Afghan nationals working with the Americans and in physical danger are going to be let out. So far, I haven't heard that from the Taliban. Certainly that will be a big piece of the negotiations. But better that he's there than not.

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What We're Watching: Finger-pointing over Greek fires, US military's vaccine mandate, Kim Jong Un's sister's tirade

Fire and anger spread in Greece: The Greek island of Evia and surrounding areas have been ablaze for almost two weeks now, destroying hundreds of homes and ripping through more than 56,655 hectares of land. As the climate-linked wildfires have spread to the greater Athens area and beyond, public anger with the government has been boiling over, too. Local officials say that the national government has failed to provide adequate support for hard-hit communities, including aerial reinforcement needed to help put out fires raging through the forests. Critics also say that in many places, ill-equipped fire crews are relying on locals to help save homes and forestry from multiple blazes. PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, for his part, apologized (sort of) for any shortcomings in the government response, but said that his government had done whatever it could to tackle a natural disaster of "unprecedented dimensions." But angry residents pushed back, arguing that despite previous assurances, Athens didn't invest in recruiting more firefighters, as well as firetrucks and fire bombers even though there has been indication for some time that severe droughts and heatwaves are making wildfires more extreme — and frequent.

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