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.
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.
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What We're Watching: India's rape problem, Iranian antics at sea, Guatemala has another anti-corruption prosecutor
August 04, 2021
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.
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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.
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Hard Numbers: Thailand plagued by delta, Sweden's gang problem, Americans lose hope, Iraq reclaims looted artifacts
August 04, 2021
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.
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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
Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.
An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?
Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.
How has Delta variant added to the COVAX woes?
Well, we've seen a lot more cases. I mean Florida, for example, right now, highest level of cases since this pandemic has started. Hospitalizations too. But not deaths. Death numbers across the country are still comparatively very low. That's also true in Europe. Why is that? That's because even though vaccines overall are not where they need to be in the United States, the people that are most vulnerable to dying, the seriously elderly, those with pre-existing conditions are also among the most likely, sensibly, to get vaccines. And so it was a consequence. Death numbers are still mercifully comparatively low, and I suspect they're going to stay low. Having said that, we don't know much about long COVID. We do know about 50% of the people that get symptoms have those symptoms persist. The healthcare costs of that, the psychological costs of that, the reality of the quality of life, it's deteriorating for a much longer period of time. That's what we worry about the most. The thing I'm most worried about globally is China, where they're locking down big cities in part because they have no tolerance for the pandemic to grow in China. But also because their vaccines really don't work against Delta variant. That could slow down the second largest economy in the world. Watch that over the next few months.
A year after the Beirut blast, what has changed in Lebanon? One of the biggest non-nuclear blasts in global history.
Answer is very little has changed. The investigation is going nowhere. One of the few things that various factions around the government can agree with is that they don't want to be tried for corruption by independent investigators so they've been slow rolling it. Economic collapse, not much international support. Emmanuel Macron, you'll remember the French president, went down said we're going to help these people. There's been very little international aid and no new conference trying to raise that support for Lebanon. They are close to becoming a failed state and maybe not a surprise given how bad both COVID and the financial crisis has hit a country that was already among the most poorly governed in the region and the world.
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