US pharmaceutical company Pfizer says that a preliminary analysis shows that its COVID-19 vaccine is 90 percent effective at preventing the coronavirus, far exceeding the expectations of the US Food and Drug Administration. While it usually takes many years to develop and widely distribute vaccines, scientists have been trying to get one ready within an unprecedented timeframe as COVID-19 has wreaked havoc around the world. Of the hundreds of candidates in development, only 12 have progressed to Phase III of the clinical trial process, when they are being tested on thousands of people and the results are compared with those who receive a placebo drug. Phase III is the final stage before approval. Who's gotten there so far?
Over the next decade, Walmart's $350 billion investment in U.S. manufacturing has the potential to:
- Support more than 750,000 new American jobs.
- Avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions by working with suppliers to shift to U.S. manufacturing.
- Advance the growth of U.S.-based suppliers.
- Provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.
A year and a half after millions poured into the streets of Santiago to protest inequality and the vestiges of the Pinochet dictatorship, Chileans voted this weekend to elect the 155 people who will rewrite the country's constitution.
The question now is not whether the people want change — clearly they do — but rather how much change their representatives can agree on. Overall, the new text is widely expected to beef up the role of the state in a country where a strong private sector made Chile one of Latin America's wealthiest yet also most unequal nations.
Here are a few things to bear in mind as the constitutional rewrite process kicks off.
Voters punished the right — and the broader political establishment. Sunday night was a shock for Chilean conservatives: the ruling center-right coalition got fewer delegates than their traditional leftist rivals, and failed to secure the one-third of the vote necessary to veto any radical changes. Meanwhile, independent candidates, most of them left-leaning, won a surprising majority in a similar rejection of the entire political class.
In theory, this shift to the left should pave the way for bold reforms in Chile's next constitution. But getting so many independents, many of whom are single-issue advocates, to agree on a wide range of reforms with delegates from the establishment leftist parties they no longer support, will be an uphill climb that adds uncertainty to the process. And if no consensus is reached within 12 months, the charter will stay as is, setting up the country for fresh unrest.
So, where can they find common ground? Most delegates want Chile to have a more robust social safety net. That means spending a lot more on education, healthcare and pensions, which until now have been mostly privatized alongside other essential public services like water. They will also push for the new constitution to enshrine equal rights for women, and to recognize the land rights of indigenous Chileans, who make up about 10 percent of the population but are not even mentioned in the current charter.
It may be harder, though, to get the needed two-thirds majority support on more radical proposals such as mandatory royalties on mining — which is a big deal for the world's top copper producer — or imposing minimum spending thresholds on social programs. Allowing the state to nationalize most private corporations is also unlikely to pass.
And more elections are coming... In late November, Chileans will go to the polls for the third time in little over a year, this time to vote for president, with the deeply unpopular incumbent Sebastián Piñera unable to run for another four years because of term limits. So far no major party has yet decided on a candidate, but constitutional reform will probably be a major campaign issue, especially if little progress has been made on the text by then.
Meanwhile, the rest of South America will be paying close attention. The results of Chile's constitutional election show that the pandemic has done little to calm the wave of social unrest that swept the continent months before COVID. There have been protests about socio economic issues across the Andean region, and strikers in Colombia are currently demanding a lot of the same things as the Chileans did.What Chile has done is somewhat unique: the people wanted change, and they were given the opportunity to have their say. Chile's constituent assembly was entirely elected by popular vote, and the first ever in the world with gender parity. If the delegates get the job done on time and the text is ratified in a second referendum sometime next year, it'll send a clear message that change can be pursued through the democratic system without having to resort to permanent upheaval.
In January 2020, Thailand became the first nation outside of China to record a case of COVID-19. But along with neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand managed to keep the coronavirus mostly at bay last year by swiftly enforcing lockdowns and other public health measures. However, having barely rolled out COVID vaccines, in 2021 many Southeast Asian nations are now grappling with massive new outbreaks of disease. Cambodia's caseload is surging, leading Prime Minister Hun Sen to say that his country was on "the brink of death." Meanwhile, Malaysian officials struggled to enforce domestic travel restrictions during Ramadan, causing cases to skyrocket in recent weeks. We take a look at COVID-19 caseloads in Southeast Asian countries with the highest daily caseloads this year.
What We’re Watching: Morocco-Spain border crisis, Belarus police can target protesters, no beef from Argentina
Morocco punishes Spain with... migrants: Spain has sent in the army to help defend the border in Ceuta, a tiny Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast, after more than 8,000 migrants crossed over in just two days. Spanish border guards say that Morocco facilitated the migrants' departure, most of whom are Moroccan nationals, to punish Madrid for meddling in Morocco's internal affairs over Western Sahara. Last month, Madrid allowed the leader of the pro-independence Polisario Front to seek treatment for COVID in a Spanish hospital, infuriating Rabat, which claims the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara as part of its territory. The Moroccans, for their part, deny involvement in the mass exodus. However, that seems questionable given that Morocco has traditionally overreacted to any hint of Spanish support for Western Saharan independence. But Spain won't want to rock the boat too much because it needs Morocco's help to stop African migrants from flooding Ceuta and Melilla, the other Spanish enclave in Morocco. If the spat is not resolved soon, the European Union may have to step in to mediate because once the migrants are on EU soil, they are free to travel to other EU countries.
Belarusian police given go-ahead to shoot protesters: Seven months after Belarusians took to the streets in huge numbers to protest Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus' strongman president, who is widely believed to have rigged last year's national elections, Lukashenko has signed a bill allowing police to shoot protesters in the street. The new law is part of a broader package of legislation passed by the lower house in April that aims to stifle anti-government dissent and restrict civil rights after nearly a year of unrest. Importantly, under the new laws, police can draw up suspected "extremist lists": once a person is on such a list, they can be banned from vocations including journalism and teaching — and their finances can be surveilled by the state. To date, most politicians who have challenged Lukashenko's three-decade rule are now either in exile or have been thrown into jail. Though the US and EU have slapped sanctions on Belarus and called for fresh elections, Lukashenko does not seem to be deterred at all.Argentina's beef crisis: In a bid to address soaring food prices and rising inflation, Argentina's government on Tuesday banned all beef exports for 30 days. It's a massive deal given that Argentina is one of the world's biggest exporters of beef, shipping around $3 billion worth in 2020, 70 percent of which went to Chinese markets. President Alberto Fernández wants to lower domestic beef prices that have soared in recent months, but some critics say that the "emergency measure" was politically motivated (Fernández desperately wants beef prices to drop ahead of midterm legislative elections this fall). Argentina, which was already suffering from sky-high inflation before the pandemic, has been pummeled by rising global food prices and COVID-related supply chain disruptions: retail beef prices in Buenos Aires increased 65 percent over the past year. Fernández is now betting that reducing costs for the meat-obsessed Argentine population will offset any blowback from the lost export dollars. Come October, we'll know if his approach paid off.
Hard Numbers: US donates jabs, IMF cancels Sudan debt, oldest Gitmo inmate released, no fossil fuels to reach Net Zero
20 million: The US will donate 20 million doses of federally authorized COVID vaccines to countries in need. This is the first time the Biden administration has agreed to send shots approved for use in America. Washington previously pledged to send by the end of June 60 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the US has stockpiled but lacks FDA approval.
50 billion: IMF member countries have agreed to clear Sudan of the roughly $50 billion it owes to the multilateral institution. This debt forgiveness will allow the transitional military-civilian government in Khartoum to gain access to the cheap international credit it needs to address Sudan's deep economic crisis following decades of isolation and sanctions under former strongman Omar al-Bashir.
17: The US Department of Justice has approved the release of the oldest prisoner at the Guantánamo Bay detention center. Saifullah Paracha, a 73-year-old Pakistani, has spent almost 17 years at the facility since he was arrested on suspicion of ties to al-Qaeda, yet never charged with a crime.2050: New fossil fuel projects should be abandoned if the world wants to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency warns in a new report. It's a big shift for the IEA, which environmental groups have long accused of underestimating the importance of renewable energy in the fight against climate change.
Cyber is a tool, and sometimes a weapon. Whether espionage for commercial gain or indiscriminate attacks on critical infrastructure, actions taken in cyber space affect you directly, potentially upending even the most mundane realities of everyday life.
Watch GZERO Media and Microsoft's live conversation on cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens in a Munich Security Conference "Road to Munich" event recorded today, May 18.
Event link: gzeromedia.com/globalstage
Our guests will discuss privacy, truth, security, and the urgency of improving cyber security and establishing cyber norms globally. Joining the discussion:
- Ian Bremmer, President, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
- Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
- Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman, Munich Security Conference
- Jane Harman, President Emerita, Wilson Center
- Juliette Kayyem, Harvard Kennedy School Professor (moderator)
This event is being held in collaboration with the Munich Security Conference as part of their "Road to Munich" series.
Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace: Tuesday, May 18, 2021, 1pm EDT / 10am PDT
A big reason the Chinese leader is pushing harder than ever to annex Taiwan is actually quite small. The self-governing island has an outsize manufacturing capacity for semiconductors – the little chips that bind the electrical circuits we use in our daily lives. Cell phones, laptops, modern cars, and even airplanes all rely on these tiny computer wafers. Taiwanese chip manufacturer TSMC alone makes more than half of the chips outsourced by all foreign companies, which means your iPhone likely runs on Taiwanese-made semiconductors. What would happen to the world's semiconductor chips if China were to take control of Taiwan?
Watch the episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: What could spark a US-China war?
What We're Watching: White House backs Gaza ceasefire, Southeast Asia's COVID spike, Iran's heavyweight contenders weigh in
Will there be a ceasefire in Gaza? Fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas/Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip has now entered its second week. Over the weekend, Israel intensified its bombing of the Gaza Strip, which included targeting a building that houses Al-Jazeera and AP, two foreign media outlets, causing their reporters to hastily flee the premises (Israel has so far not substantiated its claim that Hamas intelligence operatives were working in the building.) At least 42 Gazans were killed in a single Israeli strike Sunday, bringing the Palestinian death toll above 200. Meanwhile, Hamas continued to fire rockets at southern and central Israel, resulting in several casualties. On Monday, for the first time since the violent outbreak, US President Joe Biden voiced support for a ceasefire driven by the Egyptians and others. However, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has said that the operation will "take time," and a truce is off the table until Hamas' military capabilities are significantly degraded. Civilians on both sides continue to suffer.
Southeast Asia braces for pandemic surge: COVID-19 has hardly finished with India, which is still grappling with the world's largest outbreak, but now many of the country's neighbors in Southeast Asia are bracing for their own wave of infections. Thailand on Monday reported nearly 10,000 new cases, up from about 300 at the beginning of April. The outbreak there is being driven in part by rapid spread in the country's famously cramped prisons. In Malaysia, meanwhile, new daily cases have tripled over the last month, rising to more than 4,500 last week, owing in part to Ramadan and Eid celebrations in the predominantly Muslim country. Vietnam, lauded for acting early to quash the spread last year, is now seeing a sharp increase as well, though the numbers are still small — new cases leapt from 14 daily at the beginning of May to nearly 300 over the weekend. The two big question marks (paywall) are Indonesia, where (reported) cases have so far stayed low, but could rise in the wake of the Islamic religious holidays, and the Philippines which managed to quash a surge in March but is still seeing high positivity rates. Across the region, vaccination rates are low, health care systems are creaky, and vast swathes of the population are not able to simply "work from home." The example of India's recent COVID apocalypse looms large.
Iran's presidential frontrunners: One month from Tuesday, Iranians will head to the polls to choose their next president, the person who oversees their country's economy and domestic policies while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei attends to foreign policy and negotiations over the country's nuclear program. Nearly 600 candidates have announced their intention to run, but over the next couple of weeks, the Guardian Council, an unelected body of clerics and jurists, will nullify all but a handful of hopefuls. For now, it appears that judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi and former parliament speaker Ali Larijani are probably the frontrunners. Raisi is a so-called hardliner, a religious conservative who vows to fight corruption and who opposes better relations with the West. Larijani, meanwhile, played a significant negotiating role in both the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with the US, UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia, as well as in a "strategic cooperation" deal with China signed earlier this year. No matter who wins the fate of negotiations over a revitalized nuclear agreement will continue to depend on the Supreme Leader, but the vote will tell us something about how Iran's people see the issue.