What We're Watching: Finger-pointing over Greek fires, US military's vaccine mandate, Kim Jong Un's sister's tirade

A man holding a hose is helped to climb a slope, as a wildfire burns in the village of Gouves, on the island of Evia, Greece, August 8, 2021.

Fire and anger spread in Greece: The Greek island of Evia and surrounding areas have been ablaze for almost two weeks now, destroying hundreds of homes and ripping through more than 56,655 hectares of land. As the climate-linked wildfires have spread to the greater Athens area and beyond, public anger with the government has been boiling over, too. Local officials say that the national government has failed to provide adequate support for hard-hit communities, including aerial reinforcement needed to help put out fires raging through the forests. Critics also say that in many places, ill-equipped fire crews are relying on locals to help save homes and forestry from multiple blazes. PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, for his part, apologized (sort of) for any shortcomings in the government response, but said that his government had done whatever it could to tackle a natural disaster of "unprecedented dimensions." But angry residents pushed back, arguing that despite previous assurances, Athens didn't invest in recruiting more firefighters, as well as firetrucks and fire bombers even though there has been indication for some time that severe droughts and heatwaves are making wildfires more extreme — and frequent.


US military's vaccine mandate: In a massive development Monday, the Pentagon said that all active members of the US military — 1.3 million people across several military branches — will be required to get a COVID vaccine no later than mid-September. Those who refuse will face retribution, which could include administrative reprimands or even expulsion. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that going forward, it would be near impossible to deploy unvaccinated US troops in countries with strict vaccination rules. Additionally, a COVID outbreak within the US military would also undermine its ability to aptly respond to dangerous situations. To date, around 65 percent of active-duty personnel are at least partially vaccinated, while that number hovers at a much lower 50 percent for members of the Army. For months, both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the military have been struggling with lower-than-hoped for vaccination rates within their ranks. But legal experts warn that the Biden administration and the Pentagon should brace for pushback in the form of lawsuits from those who refuse to get the shot.

Kim Jong Un's sister on a rampage: Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea's supreme leader, is lashing out at South Korea and the US for holding annual joint military drills that Pyongyang demanded be cancelled amid a recent thaw with the South. What's more, Kim Yo Jong is also threatening more nuclear activity because of Seoul's drill with Washington, and proceeded to ghost the South Koreans on the bilateral hotline recently reestablished by the two countries a year after Pyongyang cut off communication. To be sure, it's hard to know what the North Koreans are really thinking, but perhaps Kim Yo Jong's antics are, at least in part, aimed at the Biden administration, which has shown little interest in engaging with the Kims since Joe Biden became US president, unlike his predecessor. It's not uncommon for the North Koreans to make outrageous statements when they feel they're being shafted, nor when they want to deflect attention from serious problems like a COVID-fueled economic crisis or looming famine. Regardless, if this tone continues, the latest détente with the South will likely be short-lived.

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The German people have spoken. For the first time in over 70 years, the country's next government is all but assured to be a three-way coalition.

That coalition will probably be led by the center-left SPD, the most voted party, with the Greens and the pro-business FDP as junior partners. Less likely but still possible is a similar combination headed by the conservative CDU/CSU, which got its worst result ever. A grand coalition of the SPD and the CDU/CSU — the two parties that have dominated German federal politics since World War II — is only a fallback option if talks fail badly.

Both the Greens and especially the FDP have been in coalition governments before. But this time it's different because together they have the upper hand in negotiations with the big parties wooing them.

The problem is that the two smaller parties agree on little beyond legalizing weed, and even when they do, diverge on how to reach common goals. So, where does each stand on what separates them?

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Joe Biden has already cancelled more US student than any other president. But progressive Democrats want him to write off a lot more to reduce the racial wealth gap and help people recover better from COVID's economic ruin. Republicans are against all this because it would be unfair to current and future borrowers and to taxpayers footing the bill, not to mention subsidizing the rich.

Watch the episode: How the COVID-damaged economy surprised Adam Tooze

China and Canada's hostage diplomacy: In 2018, Canada arrested Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou because US authorities wanted to prosecute her for violating Iran sanctions. China responded by arresting two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what looked like a tit-for-tat. Over the weekend, Meng and the "Two Michaels" were all freed to return to their home countries as part of a deal evidently brokered by Washington. The exchange removes a major sore spot in US-China and Canada-China relations, though we're wondering if establishing the precedent of "hostage diplomacy" with China, especially in such a prominent case, is a good one for anyone involved.

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40: Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body representing 40 Indian farmer groups, took to the streets Monday to mark a year since the start of mass protests against new farming laws that they say help big agro-businesses at the expense of small farmers. The group has called for an industry-wide strike until the laws are withdrawn.

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Germany's conservative CDU/ CSU party and the center-left SPD have dominated German politics since the 1950s. For decades, they have vied for dominance and often served in a coalition together, and have been known as the "people's parties" – a reference to their perceived middle-of-the-road pragmatism and combined broad appeal to the majority of Germans. But that's all changing, as evidenced by the fact that both performed poorly in this week's election, shedding votes to the minority Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. We take a look at the CDU/CSU and SPD's respective electoral performance over the past 60 years.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy week to all of you and thought I'd talk a little bit about Germany and Europe. Because of course, we just had elections in Germany, 16 years of Angela Merkel's rule coming to an end - by far the strongest leader that Germany has seen post-war, Europe has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And indeed in many ways, the world has seen in the 21st century. Xi Jinping, of course, runs a much bigger country and has consolidated much more power, but in terms of the free world, it's been Angela Merkel.

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Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

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