What We're Watching: Bolsonaro criminal probe, Lebanon's "social explosion," Zuma defies court, Putin's definition of champagne

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro gestures during a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, June 29, 2021

Bolsonaro probe heats up: A smattering of protests broke out in cities across Brazil this weekend after the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for a criminal probe into President Jair Bolsonaro for "dereliction of duty" linked to procurement of COVID vaccines. What's this all about? A recent congressional inquiry into Bolsonaro's broad handling of the COVID crisis revealed that he knew — and failed to report to authorities — a shady deal negotiated by his health ministry to buy jabs from a private Indian pharmaceutical company for more than 10 times the price originally quoted. The allegations have sparked fresh calls to impeach Bolsonaro, but conviction would require support from two-thirds of the lower house of Congress, an unlikely scenario given Bolsonaro's broad web of alliances in parliament. Still, the unfolding political drama is indeed having an impact on the street cred of the populist president, who rose to power on an anti-establishment, anti-corruption platform: Bolsonaro's net approval rating now hovers at -23 percent. Brazilians, who have been pummeled by the COVID crisis, will surely be watching the probe very closely ahead of next year's presidential vote. The timing is not great for Bolsonaro, whose nemesis, leftwing former president Lula, is gaining steam in the polls.


Lebanon's impending "social explosion:'' Lebanon's financial and social crises have been deepening for months, but Prime Minister Hassan Diab recently warned that a "social explosion" is imminent. Gas and electricity shortages have intensified, prompting nationwide protests. Recent reports detail Lebanese lining up for hours to fill up their vehicles, with some even pushing their cars because of the dire fuel scarcity situation. For months, Lebanon's fractious transitional government has passed ad hoc measures to try and address the worsening economic crisis: Parliament recently passed a $556 million food ration program to help Lebanese buy basic goods (half of Lebanese now live below the poverty line) but it's unclear how the cash-strapped state will pay for it. As we've written before, the current mess is a direct result of a severe economic crisis that started in late 2019 as a result of decades of corruption and mismanagement. It was then turbocharged by the fallout from the August 2020 Beirut port explosion, which left Lebanon without a functioning government. Last month, the World Bank said that Lebanon's economic crisis ranks among the world's most severe since the mid-1800s.

Zuma defies court — again: Jacob Zuma, South Africa's defiant former president, has refused to turn himself in to authorities after the country's top court sentenced him to 15-months in prison for failing to appear at an inquiry into corruption that occurred during his time in office. Zuma, who is 79, has launched several court appeals in recent days, saying that sentencing him to jail during a global pandemic is the same as "sentencing me to death." A stalwart of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and close confidante of Nelson Mandela, Zuma served as president for nine years until 2018, when he was forced to resign amid graft allegations. But he retains an extremely loyal following: in recent days, hundreds of supporters formed a "human shield" outside his home, vowing to protect Zuma if police showed up to arrest him. Zuma, for his part, told the crowd that "a messy confrontation would've ensued if police dared to arrest me." The standoff is exacerbating tensions within the already-divided ANC, making life hard for Zuma's successor and former ally, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has pledged to bring "ethics into politics."

What We're Ignoring:

Putin's definition of champagne: Fresh tensions are bubbling between Moscow and Europe, after Vladimir Putin signed a law that says only Russian producers of fizzy white wine can use the term "champagne" on their products in Russia. As anyone who's spent (and can remember) a new year's celebration with Russians knows, the country has long produced its own "Sovyetskoye Shampanskoye" (Soviet Champagne), a glorious, festive, splitting headache in a bottle. Much of the stuff is made in southern Russia, as well as in Crimea, the peninsula of Ukraine which Moscow annexed in 2014 and is trying to prop up as best it can now. Meanwhile, the makers of actual champagne are popping mad now, with market leader Moët Hennessy pledging to halt all exports to Russia until a solution can be found. The EU is making its usual "why I oughta!" strong statements, but will flutes go empty in Russia now? The country imports about 50 million liters of sparkling wine annually, of which about 13 percent is from the Champagne region of France, according to Drinks Business, a trade publication.

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Learn more about Zoe and her story.

Listen: Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

In the lead-up to this year's COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, much of the attention has been focused on last summer's wildfires across the US and Europe, and more recently skyrocketing European energy prices. But what about Asia, the world's biggest and most populated region, which also has the highest share of global carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming? Asia has unique climate risks but also many opportunities for solutions, and whatever happens at COP26, Asian countries led by China and India are primed to lead the world in the struggle to make the planet greener before it's too late. In a live discussion moderated by Shari Friedman, Eurasia Group's Managing Director of Climate and Sustainability, global experts discussed these and other topics during the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit sponsored by Suntory.

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We're just days away from COP26, the landmark global climate conference that's been dubbed the last chance to get the climate crisis in check. In the lead-up to the event in Glasgow, dozens of countries have released new ambitions to reduce their future carbon footprints. For years, climate activists and experts have called on governments to introduce carbon pricing schemes – either through taxes or emissions-trading schemes. So who's heeded the warning? We take a look at the top ten carbon emitters' share of global emissions and details about their respective national carbon pricing schemes.

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Do cryptocurrencies make it harder to enforce foreign policy sanctions?

Well, that is exactly what the Biden administration worries about. As part of growing concerns of whether unregulated currencies undermine a whole host of policies, sanctions and foreign or trade policy should be a priority area. And just like others who wish to evade tracing of their wealth or transactions, the very states or their sanctioned entities should be assumed to resort to all options to evade restrictions while continuing to do business. So having cryptocurrencies undermining the ability to enforce strategic goals logically raises eyebrows in Washington.

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Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

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For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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