US President Donald Trump, 74, is running for reelection against former Vice President Joe Biden, who will turn 78 soon after the November election. They are the oldest candidates for president in US history — and both are more than 35 years older than the median age for Americans in 2020. So, is the White House unique in becoming a gerontocracy? We look at the age gap between country leaders (presidents and prime ministers) and their populations, across the G20 group of the world's largest economies.
This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.
It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.
Who's being targeted? First they came for billionaire Jack Ma, who was fined a whopping $2.8 billion for alleged antitrust violations and stopped from launching Ant Group, part of his Alibaba empire, as the world's biggest IPO. The value of its stock has plummeted since.
Then Beijing imposed sweeping restrictions on cryptocurrency trading, perceived as being too volatile... right as China (wink-wink) is pushing its own digital yuan as a reliable alternative.
After that, it was the turn of ride-hailing app Didi, which — on the eve of its American IPO — had its offices raided by state security agents for collecting more data on passengers than Beijing was comfortable leaving in the hands of a private firm. Next, for-profit tutoring giants were taken offline for skewing college admission odds towards the kids of rich families who can afford the help.
Now, it's the gamers' turn.
Why all the fuss? Beijing has all these companies in its crosshairs because they do at least one of three things Xi Jinping doesn't seem to like: they've become too big too fast, have gathered too much data, or are making too much money at the expense of social stability.
At a time of rising inequality in China, being rich is no longer, in Deng Xiaoping's own words, "glorious."
Here are two ways to understand what's going on.
One prevailing narrative — especially in the West — is that Xi is bullying large, rich companies because he is simply an authoritarian party boss who wants to stop any tech mogul or company from becoming too influential for the ruling Communist Party. Some argue that Xi would rather put the likes of Alibaba, Didi, or Tencent in their place — and perhaps out of business altogether — than let them become rival power centers. That's especially true if US stock market listings open up sources of financing and influence for these companies from Beijing's number one rival.
But another reading is that he is using his terrible powers for an understandable purpose. After decades of breakneck growth and corporate enrichment, China is reining in companies in the interest of social harmony over infinite growth. From this perspective, Xi is astutely flexing the one-party state's (considerable) muscle to nip social ills like inequality, monopoly, or gaming-induced apathy in the bud before they become horrific political problems like in the West.
In fact, at a time when many countries want to regulate tech firms but can't do so expediently as democracies, Beijing is — as far as this argument goes — ahead of the curve. In other words, by cracking down on tech behemoths Xi's acting less like Joseph Stalin than like trust-buster Teddy Roosevelt.
Xi has found an unexpected ally in Chinese youth, who are otherwise tired of their parents and the government ganging up on them over playing video games. There's a #MeToo angle — Tencent is one of several tech firms linked to Kris Wu, a famous singer accused of sexually assaulting multiple women. In cancelling him, young Chinese and the CCP have found common ground: the youth hate Wu for being a sexual predator, while the party generally despises the celebrity obsession culture tech companies rake in billions from.
What do you think? Is Xi using his power for good or bad reasons? Let us know here.
Additional reporting by Ziyu Wu.
Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.
But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).
Jumpers had to clear 14 hurdles, and the sumo, stationed at hurdle 10, caused quite a stir. "Hunched over and seemingly ready to attack, the wrestler is facing away from approaching riders, meaning that when they complete a sharp turn to take on the jump, the first thing horse and human see is the wedgie created by the wrestler's mawashi," the Washington Post wrote.
The statue spooked several horses, and jumpers incurred penalty points as a result. Fun fact: American rider Jessica Springsteen, daughter of a certain famed musician called Bruce, was knocked out of the event after her horse knocked down a rail after confronting the sumo statue.
For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.
What We're Watching: India's rape problem, Iranian antics at sea, Guatemala has another anti-corruption prosecutor
India's rape problem: Hundreds of protesters have flocked to the streets of New Delhi for four days straight after a 9-year old girl was raped and murdered in a small village outside the capital while going to fetch water for her family. Some demonstrators burned effigies of India's PM Narendra Modi, saying that the government has not done enough — or anything, really — to address the country's abysmal rape problem: there were more than 32,000 rapes recorded in 2019, certainly a vast undercount given the stigma associated with reporting sexual assaults in India. The scourge of sexual violence against women and girls in India was brought to light in 2012 when a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and murdered while traveling on a bus in the nation's capital, prompting international outrage. Four men have been arrested in connection with this week's attack, though they have not been charged. The city of New Delhi, meanwhile, has ordered an inquiry to probe events surrounding the young girl's death, though Indians who have been sounding the alarm on violence against women for decades aren't expecting much to come of it.
Iranian antics in the Arabian Sea: Iran has upped the ante in the ongoing maritime wars: last week, an Iranian drone attack on an Israeli-linked tanker operated by a British company, killed a Briton and a Romanian, prompting British PM Boris Johnson to warn of "serious consequences." Now, this week, the Brits said another tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates had been hijacked, likely by Tehran, though the ship has since been declared safe. What's Iran's strategy here? The drone attack fits into the pattern of the ongoing Israel-Iran shadow war (Israel has targeted several Iranian vessels bound for Syria, transporting oil and weapons.) But some observers wonder whether all these high-seas shenanigans could also be an attempt by Iran's powerful and ultra-hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to scuttle ongoing negotiations on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. The last round of talks in Vienna adjourned in June, and while the Biden administration says it's committed to returning to the negotiating table, trust between Washington and Tehran is extremely low.
Guatemala appoints possible fox to mind hen house: Guatemala has appointed a new anti-corruption prosecutor, just weeks after the dismissal of his predecessor provoked street protests and drew a stern rebuke from los yanquis. The Central American country ranks a lowly 149th on the Corruption Perceptions Index, and recent efforts to change that have been less than inspiring. Back in 2019, the government kicked out a UN body that was probing graft, creating its own local anti-corruption team instead. In July, the government of President Alejandro Giammattei sacked the leader of that group, who fled to neighboring El Salvador and claimed he'd been ousted for finding out things that Giammattei didn't want him to know. Protesters then hit the streets and the Biden administration, which is trying to stamp out corruption in the region, called foul. The new guy, Rafael Curruchiche, is a former prosecutor focused on electoral crimes. But critics point out past allegations that he too has used his power to protect corrupt politicians, including former president Jimmy Morales.
It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.
Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.
Some locals say Lebanon has become "unlivable" in recent months. So why isn't the country — now approaching failed-state status — getting the help it needs?
Corruption and dysfunction. International donors resent the corruption and cronyism that have long plagued Lebanon's political class and impeded meaningful political reform. And they have little reason to expect change. Despite international outrage in the aftermath of last year's explosion, Lebanese lawmakers have refused to lift immunity from prosecution for several former ministers wanted for questioning, stonewalling the state's investigation.
Even before the blasts, Lebanon's byzantine sectarian power-sharing system had brought the government to a standstill, while years of pocket-lining by politicians had crashed the economy and sent standards of living into free fall.
For those at the top, there has been little incentive to implement reforms: industry "entrepreneurs" have benefited from lack of government regulation and services — often giving generous kickbacks to politicians for preserving the status quo. Lebanon's sketchy electricity industry, which relies on so-called "generator mafias" with ties to the political elite, is a case in point.
Foreign aid distribution is politicized. Last summer, Emmanuel Macron, president of France, Lebanon's former colonial power, jetted into Beirut twice within a few weeks and vowed to help usher in the reforms needed for Lebanon's political and economic "rebirth." But he has also said that unlocking international aid would be contingent on Lebanon instituting some basic reforms, like forming a new government and rooting out corruption. So far, that's been a bust: just weeks ago, the interim PM Said Hariri threw in the towel after failing to find common ground with President Michel Aoun.
"Real reforms require the political class, as well as Hezbollah, to give up too much of the power, money and influence they accumulated over years and they're not ready to do that," Kim Ghattas , author of Black Wave and contributing writer at the Atlantic, told GZERO Media. "The real work and the real opportunity for change is next year, when Lebanon will have legislative, municipal and presidential elections."
Macron has made no secret of the fact that he's fed up with Lebanon's untrustworthy elite. Still, after last summer's aid-pledging conference covered just 5 percent of the damages, he will hold a second fundraising event this week.
International financial heavyweights are frustrated. Bailout talks between Beirut and the International Monetary Fund have also reached an impasse. Before the port explosion, Lebanon's central bank had refused to accept the IMF's assessment that it had incurred losses of $49 billion, and the IMF has grown frustrated at the lack of progress on meaningful political reforms its assistance is tied to. Earlier this year, the World Bank also approved loans to help struggling families, but some analysts say that the loan structure shortchanges needy Lebanese while benefiting the political elite.
"For years, the international community helped feed corruption by pouring aid into Lebanon to support stability but without ever inquiring about where the money went," Ghattas said. Looking ahead, "the US and France and their allies should continue to stress the need for justice and accountability, not only for the port blast but also for the country's economic crash. Without accountability there is no stability, anywhere."
Regional players have their own agenda. To make matters worse for Lebanon, wealthy Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pulled back on doling out funds in recent years. In 2016, Riyadh scrapped a total $4 billion in aid to Lebanon's military and police, citing Iran's heavy hand in the country's affairs. The Saudis and Emiratis don't want the money going to Iran-backed Hezbollah, a dominant force in Lebanese politics, and they want to see Iran and its proxy take the blame for Lebanon's popular unrest.
So why should outsiders bail out chronically unstable Lebanon? There is, of course, the moral dimension of human suffering. For those who care about their fellow human beings, that's incentive enough.
But there's also the regional implications: instability begets instability, and Lebanon lives in an unstable neighborhood. The spillover effects of a more chaotic Lebanon won't help a region still coping with large numbers of refugees and the continuing fallout from civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and potential instability elsewhere.
Hard Numbers: Thailand plagued by delta, Sweden's gang problem, Americans lose hope, Iraq reclaims looted artifacts
20,200: As the super contagious delta variant continues to spread, Thailand is now a COVID hotspot, recording more than 20,200 new COVID cases Wednesday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began. Authorities imposed new restrictions in Bangkok and other provinces as the vaccine rollout remains sluggish; just 5.8 percent of Thailand's 66 million people are fully vaccinated.
180: In a bid to tackle a surge in gang violence, the Swedish government wants to give police greater access to Swedes' mobile data, including conversations on messenger apps like WhatsApp and Facebook. Sweden has already reported 180 shootings this year, and now has one of the worst gun violence problems in Europe.
40: Americans were feeling hopeful about the pandemic's trajectory… until the delta variant started wreaking havoc across the country. Only forty percent of Americans now say that the COVID situation is getting better, down from 89 percent who felt optimistic back in June.17,000: Iraq has reclaimed 17,000 archeological artifacts held by two American institutions in its biggest ever repatriation effort. War, military occupation, and a power vacuum in Iraq in recent decades have led to mass looting and theft at unexcavated sites. Many of the returned artifacts are from the lost ancient city of Irisagrig.
University of British Colombia professor Edward Slingerland says drinking makes us feel good and has historically encouraged socializing. But there are negative implications, as well. We now have the problem of "distillation and isolation": getting as much booze as you want and drinking alone, especially during the pandemic. There's a gender issue too: the "bro culture" associated with alcohol can exclude and even be dangerous for women. Not all regions have the same problems, though, as drinking habits vary widely. Watch Slingerland's interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.
Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol