The Only Thing That Scares Vladimir Putin (And Many Others)

The Only Thing That Scares Vladimir Putin (And Many Others)

Today, Brazilians will pour into the streets to vent their anger about something that, in fairness, makes a lot of people's eyes glaze over. But it's the same issue that's roiled politics in Spain, France, and Argentina recently. In Nicaragua last year, it prompted a violent political crisis. And in Russia – well, let's just say there is only one thing Vladimir Putin is truly afraid of and it's…


Pension reform.

Governments do a lot of things, but few of them affect people's welfare as directly as paying for their retirement. A pension is a promise: you will be provided for in your old age. When governments break that promise – as many do to avoid a debt crisis – the political consequences can be severe.

The problem: Many countries make overly generous promises when they set up their pension systems, underestimate how long people would live, or simply mismanage the money. Often, to keep the payments flowing, governments have to divert money from other productive uses or run up huge deficits. In Brazil's case, the financial mess threatens the country's economic stability and growth.

What are the options? One approach is to cut the outlays for retirees – by raising the retirement age, narrowing eligibility, or reducing payouts. But all of that is politically explosive. It not only hurts pensioners, but also their families, who must often help shoulder the burden of supporting them.

Another approach is to raise taxes. But the jump would be huge. In Europe, taxes would have to rise as much as 30 percent to cover future pension outlays, says the IMF. That would be political suicide.

What usually happens: Compromise. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wants to save $300 billion over the next decade but will almost certainly settle for less. Last year, Vladimir Putin watered down his own pension reform after it lopped double digits off his approval rating almost overnight.

It's a problem in the world's largest economy too. In the US, the Social Security system will have to start paying out less than originally promised in 2035 unless Congress reforms it. Many US states and cities are facing pension overhauls or higher taxes to put their plans on a more sustainable footing.

The political compromises required to solve these problems will be painful. Far from a boring story, pension reform cuts to the heart of what governments owe their citizens, and the difficult tradeoffs they face when those promises become unsustainable.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

Today — what's the smallest country (by population) to win a gold medal in a summer Olympics?

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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24-year-old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate recounts how in 2020 she was cropped out of a photo at Davos of her with other white climate activists (like Greta Thunberg) and what it revealed about how people of color and people in developing countries, like those in Africa, are frequently excluded from the climate conversation.

Watch the episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some fun, intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

First up — what's the Refugee Team?

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the International Olympic Committee created for the first time the Refugee Team to allow those who had fled persecution in their home countries to participate in the Olympics. Up from 10 athletes in 2016, it now has 29 participants across 12 sports from conflict-ridden countries: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela.

A separate team of refugees will also participate at the Paralympics, both of which are managed by the IOC and the UN Refugee Agency.

Iranian-born Kimia Alizadeh, a Germany-based taekwondo champion, narrowly missed out on bronze this week, which would have been the Refugee Team's first ever Olympic medal. Follow the team here.

Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

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