What We're Watching: Biden's battered agenda, big oil in hot water, Sudanese PM sort of free, Japan's nuclear worries

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his Build Back Better infrastructure agenda at the NJ TRANSIT Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny, New Jersey, U.S., October 25, 2021

Will Biden finally be able to pass his spending package? For months, the White House and Democrats in Congress have been locked in a stalemate over the two infrastructure bills that form the bedrock of Biden's policy agenda. But is the wrangling drawing to a close? It certainly doesn't look like it. On Wednesday, the White House unveiled a billionaire tax, which would take effect for the 2022 tax year in order to help pay for the ambitious proposals currently making their way through Congress. If it passes, the bill will affect around 700 US taxpayers with more than $1 billion in assets, as well as those who make $100 million or more in income for three years in a row. To date, two moderate Democratic senators – Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin of West Virginia – have opposed conventional tax hike increases, but will they support this more limited scheme that will help rescue Biden's policy agenda? Manchin appears to be skeptical of the proposal, and it's unclear what Sinema's game plan is. Still, chasms remain on parts of the spending package itself, including healthcare coverage, and how to pay for it all.

Big Oil goes to the hill: It's not exactly news that oil companies have tried to downplay or deny their products' contributions to global warming, but on Thursday Big Oil execs will go before Congress to give sworn testimony about it for the first time. What did you know, and when did you know it? will be the basic question put to top executives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell when they come before the House Oversight Committee. California Democrat Ro Khanna, who will play a central role in the hearing, says that this is just the beginning of a broader probe into how major American industries have funded and encouraged what he calls "climate disinformation." Khanna thinks this will be a Big Tobacco moment for Big Oil, but wasn't it barely two weeks ago that the same was said about Big Tech? There are only so many industries that can go up in smoke at once — and we aren't holding our breath just yet.

Japan's election goes nuclear: As Japan's long-governing Liberal Democratic Party heads into a general election on Sunday, the issue of nuclear power could end up being decisive in a vote that may be closer than most expected. To be clear, no one doubts that the LDP will win, but a weak margin of victory could cost recently-ensconced Prime Minister Fumio Kishida his post as party leader (and Prime Minister). That's where the question of whether to restart more of Japan's nuclear reactors could come into play. A decade after the Fukushima disaster, barely a third of the country's 33 plants are running again. Kishida wants to rapidly expand that, both to boost the economy and help meet Japan's goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. But the move is opposed by 40 percent of the population, as well as by Kishida's chief rival for LDP leadership, the popular and outspoken Taro Kono, who has overseen the COVID vaccine rollout.

Sudan's PM released (sort of): Following international outrage after this week's coup, Sudan's military have released PM Abdalla Hamdok and his wife, allowing them to return home, albeit under close watch. Meanwhile, the rest of the civilian leadership arrested this week are still jailed in an unknown location. In recent days, Hamdok himself had been held at the home of coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, who said that other civilian government officials would face trial for "inciting a rebellion." The coup came after weeks of heightened tensions as the civilian wing of the two-year-old transitional-government was set to take control of a key executive decision-making body. While the release of Hamdok is surely a welcome sign, it's unlikely to placate Washington, which on Tuesday froze $700 million in direct financial aid to Khartoum, calling on Sudan's generals to release and reinstate the country's civilian leadership, and to stop targeting pro-democracy protesters. Burhan has hinted that the internet, which the military shut down during the coup, could be restored soon, but the credible elections that were supposed to take place next year seem like a long shot now.

A group of young women looking together at images on a wall.

Research indicates neurodivergent individuals hold key competencies to meet this demand, yet their unemployment rate is estimated to be as high as 80%.

As part of its initiative to build an inclusive workplace for all, Bank of America has improved its hiring and support process to recognize and elevate the unique talents of neurodivergent employees.

Who’s in Joe Biden’s democracy club?

The Biden administration’s much-touted Summit for Democracy kicks off on Thursday. A total of 110 countries are invited, with some puzzling choices and omissions.

Illiberal Poland is attending, but not illiberal Hungary. Seven of the 10 Southeast Asian nations are out, but several quasi-democracies in Africa made the cut. Brazil's authoritarian-minded President Jair Bolsonaro is an acceptable democrat for Joe Biden, but not Bolivia's democratically-elected President Luis Arce.

The criteria to get a ticket is as unclear as what Biden’s democratic virtual get-together wants to achieve.

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Australia's former PM and current CEO of the Asia Society knows China quite well. He's fluent in Mandarin, and — for a foreigner — has a pretty good idea of what's cooking in Chinese politics.

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The French election is getting hot

Germany has been the European center of political attention in recent months, as punk-rock god Angela Merkel exits the stage after almost two decades at the helm. But there’s another big election heating up in Europe. The French will head to the polls in just twelve weeks, and the race has started to get very interesting.

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The Graphic Truth: Are you democratic enough for Joe Biden?

The Summit for Democracy, which the Biden administration has been playing up for months, kicks off Thursday. The invite-only event with representatives from 110 countries is Biden’s baby: it’s a chance for the US president to “rescue” democracy, which is in global decline. What’s less clear, however, is why some states with poor democratic records have a seat at the table, while others with better democratic bona fides don’t. Is this a real stab at strengthening democracy, or rather a naked attempt to alienate those who cozy up to foes like China and Russia? We take a look at a selection of invitees, as well as some who didn’t make the cut, and their respective democracy ratings based on the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index.

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has often had to defend her work as the creator of the 1619 Project, a piece of modern journalism that has gained as much praise on one end of the US political spectrum as it has sparked outrage on the other.

Hannah-Jones admits some of the criticism was fair game — and that's one reason she’s just published an extended version of the project in book form, entitled The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. But she rejects those who’ve tried to disqualify her and the project.

"People were saying these facts are wrong... [and] that this journalism needed to be discredited, and that's not normal," she explains. "And I don't agree with that type of criticism because... it's not true.”

According to Hannah-Jones, part of the problem is the mistaken perception that the 1619 Project claimed that slavery was uniquely American. It did not, she says, but did argue that the history of US slavery is quite exceptional in another way.

"There is something clearly unique about a country engaging in chattel slavery that says it was founded on ideas of individual rights and liberty. And that was not Brazil. That was not Jamaica. That was not any of the islands in the Caribbean. They didn't pretend to be a nation founded on God-given rights. We did."

Watch all of Hannah-Jones' interview with Ian Bremmer on the upcoming episode of GZERO World.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson observes an early morning Merseyside police raid on a home in Liverpool as part of 'Operation Toxic' to infiltrate County Lines drug dealings in Liverpool, Britain December 6, 2021.

Boris’ horrible, no good, very bad day. Boris Johnson is no stranger to controversy. In fact, sometimes he appears to relish it. But not this time. As British authorities weigh whether to impose unpopular restrictions amid a surge in omicron cases, a video has surfaced of top Downing Street aides tastelessly joking about flouting lockdown rules last Christmas by gathering for a holiday party. At the time, Britons were forbidden to gather with friends and family during the holiday season, let alone say goodbye to dying relatives. What’s more, Downing Street has been accused of trying to cover up the shindig – a “wine and cheese” night, according to the video – until this damning footage materialized. Johnson says he is “sickened and furious” about it, and a top aide has since resigned. (Johnson himself has not been accused of attending the party.) Meanwhile, London police say they are looking into the case. The timing is pretty awful for Johnson, who is already facing party backlash over a series of blunders in recent months, as well as his perceived failure to address Brexit-related shortages of gasoline and goods. Currently, 55 percent of Britons disapprove of his leadership.

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A person waves flags as people gather after the Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill, in Santiago, Chile December 7, 2021

8: Chile’s Congress approved same-sex marriage Wednesday, becoming the eighth Latin American country to do so. Conservative President Sebastián Piñera for years opposed the measure, which would give full parental rights to same-sex couples, but six months ago changed his position, paving the way for the bill’s passage.

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