What we're watching: COVID boosters, Israel-Lebanon border flareup, Mexico vs gringo guns

What we're watching: COVID boosters, Israel-Lebanon border flareup, Mexico vs gringo guns

Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.


Flareup on Israel-Lebanon border: On Wednesday, Israel launched airstrikes against militants in several Lebanese villages in response to a flurry of rockets fired this week from Lebanon into northern Israel. Hezbollah, Lebanon's powerful Iran-backed militia and political party, denied responsibility, and analysts said it was likely the work of smaller Lebanese-based Palestinian outfits. But then on Friday, Hezbollah got involved too, firing a barrage of rockets into northern Israel, and Israeli forces struck back, targeting "terrorist infrastructure." The exchange of fire is one of the biggest cross-border escalations in several years (Hezbollah and Israeli forces last fought an all-out war in 2006). Lebanese President Michel Aoun, for his part, said Israel's response had violated Lebanese sovereignty, while Israeli PM Naftali Bennett shot back that Israel would hold the Lebanese state responsible for any rockets launched from its territory, no matter who is firing them. The escalation came as Lebanon marked the one-year anniversary of the Beirut port explosions. Thousands of Lebanese flocked to the streets this week to demand justice for the victims of the blast and to vent their outrage over the country's deepening financial and economic crises.

Mexico takes on the gringo gunmakers: The Mexican government this week filed a lawsuit against US gun manufacturers, arguing that their commercial practices have contributed to Mexico's sky-high murder rate by making it easy for illegal weapons to flow south of the border. According to the suit, some 70 percent of weapons illegally trafficked into Mexico come from the US, and those firearms were involved in about half of the country's roughly 35,000 yearly murders. Mexico says US gunmakers' marketing campaigns designed to appeal to Mexican buyers are part of the problem, but the American gun lobby says the lawsuit is preposterous and that it's up to Mexico to keep guns from crossing its borders or falling into the wrong hands once they do. US gunmakers enjoy broad immunity from lawsuits like this within the US, but this is believed to be the first international suit of its kind. Mexico is seeking $10 billion in damages.

The key for small business growth? More digital support.

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The key for small business growth? More digital support.

The pandemic ushered in a boom in new businesses, with growth driven largely by entrepreneurs and small businesses in online retail, transportation, and personal services. According to our recent survey, small businesses indicated that to continue to thrive, greater digital support is even more important than more loans or grants. Their top priorities? Better internet connections. More cybersecurity capabilities. Greater digital sales support. Increasing digital payments. Read more about how we can work together on this important issue from the experts at the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute.

Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

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January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

Kevin Allison, director of geotech at Eurasia Group, is concerned about the rise of very powerful tech companies disrupting centuries of geopolitics led by the nation-state.

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The problem with China’s Zero COVID strategy: GZERO World with Ian Bremmer - the podcast

Listen: Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low. A wave of lockdowns could disrupt the world's second-largest economy — just a month out from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

That could spell disaster for Beijing, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. If things get really bad, though, Huang believes China will pivot to living with the virus, especially as the cost of keeping zero COVID in the age of omicron becomes too high.

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.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Kiev, Ukraine

First question, how is the crisis in this part of Europe developing?

Not good. There's been a week of intense diplomacy with talks in Geneva, and Brussels, and Vienna that produced virtually nothing. The Russian, sort of key demands are outrageously unrealistic. They know that is the case. The US is trying to engage them on somewhat different issues. We'll see if there's any prospect there, but it doesn't look too good. I think the likelihood is that we gradually will move into the phase of what the Russians call military technical measures, whatever that is.

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For Angela Hofmann, practice head for Industrial & Consumer at Eurasia Group, the world's most visible brands are in for a very rocky year.

Navigating culture wars will be very tricky, as well as fighting with competing demands from consumers, employees, and regulators on issues like China, diversity, and voting rights.

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Political polarization in the US isn’t just a problem within the country, points out former US national security official Fiona Hill. Deep divisions, she says, actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

“Putin loves our disunity," Russian expert Hill tells Ian Bremmer. "It's incredibly useful as a tool to exploit in that toolkit that he has.”

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An emboldened Putin thrives on American disunity

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