What We're Watching: Israel finally gets a budget, US expands vax mandate, Portugal elections loom

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stands between Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Gideon Saar at a news conference on economy in Jerusalem, July 6, 2021

Israel's political breakthrough. Israel's government has passed a budget for the first time in more than three years. This might sound boring, but it's actually a big deal: for years, former PM Benjamin Netanyahu refused to do it for political reasons, resulting in a lengthy stalemate with four divisive elections in just two years. Getting it done is a big win for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who managed to get his ideologically-diverse coalition of eight parties to agree on the 2021 budget. Failure to pass it by November 14, as per the coalition deal, would have resulted in yet another election, likely a death knell for the current government which only came together this summer at the eleventh hour. The bill includes $10 billion for Arab communities over five years demanded by Mansour Abbas, head of Ra'am, an independent Arab party that serves in the coalition. For now, Bennett and his main partner, the centrist Yair Lapid, are proving wrong the naysayers who warned that the diverse coalition was doomed to collapse. Negotiations now continue over next year's budget ahead of the March 2022 deadline, but passing the 2021 budget has made a fresh vote — and Netanyahu's dream of returning to power — even less likely.


Joe Biden's New Year's vaccination mandate. In a bid to boost slowing vaccination rates in the US, the Biden administration has ordered that workers at all companies with more than 100 employees around the country must be fully vaccinated by January 4 or submit to weekly COVID testing. The order will apply to more than 80 million workers, according to the AP, and will include exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Companies that fail to comply will face fines of up to $14,000 per violation, though it's not clear exactly how the Feds plan to enforce the measure at every one of the thousands of companies affected nationwide. At the moment, 58 percent of US adults are vaccinated, a figure that trails other large democracies such as the EU (75 percent), Japan (73 percent), the UK (68 percent). Even Brazil, which had a lousy start to the vaccine rollout, has now surpassed the US in first doses. The new mandate will likely boost the US numbers, but it's also certain to further inflame the political polarization around vaccine mandates. Although a recent Gallup poll showed 58 percent of Americans support a mandate for companies with 100 employees or more, the split was sharply partisan: only 17 percent of Republicans agree with the idea.

Portugal headed to snap election. Portugal's president gave the go-ahead on Thursday for Prime Minister António Costa to dissolve parliament, the last step before calling a snap election. The center-left Costa is taking a gamble: he hopes that going to the polls will help end a political stalemate after his leftwing allies rejected a national budget for the first time since democracy was restored in 1974 because they didn't like some proposed social spending cuts. But recent polling shows that no single Portuguese party or plausible coalition is on course to win a majority of seats, and the race is up for grabs. One thing that is likely to change from the last election in 2019 is that the far-right Chega party may come in third. Whatever happens will be watched closely in next-door neighbor Spain, whose PM Pedro Sánchez is a fellow center-lefter with an unreliable leftwing coalition partner and a fragmented parliament who must jump through hoops every time he needs a budget passed.
A blue graphic using 1's and 0's to form an image of roads leading into a city

Governments, civil society and industry are beginning to understand the value of data to society in much the same way they considered the importance of thoroughfares 200 years ago. Just as these roads ushered in a new era of physical infrastructure that helped society thrive then, today we are beginning to understand the need to invest in modern approaches to our data infrastructure that will enhance economic growth and innovation, support individual empowerment and protect us from harm. Just as our physical infrastructure of roads and highways needs to be used appropriately, maintained and protected, so does our data infrastructure.

To maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of our data use, we need privacy regulations to serve as our global rules of the road that preserve our ability to use and share data across borders, supported by innovative tools and solutions that protect privacy and empower individuals. As we reframe our focus to support data use, let’s examine the regulatory approaches that have been working, and develop new approaches where needed to enable the responsible use and sharing of data. To read more about Microsoft’s approach to protecting data infrastructure, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

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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Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, our parent company, has opened this year’s GZERO Summit with a provocative speech on the near future of international politics. Here are the highlights.

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No country is in a big hurry to recognize the Taliban, explains journalist Ahmed Rashid, even those that likely will do so in the future: Pakistan, China, and Russia. “They understand that if they recognize the Taliban, it's going to lead to a major division in the international community,” he told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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Japan, the world's third-largest economy, has long been a bastion of modern capitalism. But newly-minted PM Fumio Kishida thinks it's time for a rethink of the neoliberal model.
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The Graphic Truth: French presidential frontrunners

France's presidential election is only three months away, and it’ll be no snoozer. Although barely one-quarter of French voters back current president Emmanuel Macron, he’s heavily favored to win re-election because he’d almost certainly beat far-right hopefuls Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour in a runoff. But the center-right French president now faces an unexpected challenge from the old establishment right: Valerie Pécresse, the nominee of the Les Republicains party, could give Macron a run for his money if she makes it to the second round. We take a look at how the top four French presidential candidates have polled over the past six months.

What We’re Watching: Biden vs Putin, Rohingya vs Facebook, Peruvian congress vs president

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agree to disagree. But what a disagreement it is…. From what we know, during their Tuesday video call, the Russian president made clear that NATO’s flirtations with Ukraine are a red line, and that Moscow is prepared to defend its sphere of influence. The Kremlin also wants to see movement on the 2015 Minsk peace plan, which would give Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine broad autonomy. Biden meanwhile stressed that if Russia stirs up fresh trouble in Ukraine, the US is prepared to impose more severe economic sanctions. The US president also told Putin that Washington doesn’t accept the idea that Ukraine’s interests are subordinate to Russia’s. All of that leaves us more or less where we were before the call: Russia with more than 100,000 troops camped out on the Ukrainian border, and the US sounding the alarm about a possible invasion.

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How is China able to control their tech giants without suppressing innovation?

For Ian Bremmer, one important reason is that there's a big difference between Jack Ma questioning Chinese regulators and Elon Musk doing the same to the SEC.

"In the United States you've got fanboys if you do that; in China, they cut you down," Bremmer told CNN anchor Julia Chatterley in an interview following his annual State of the World Speech.

Still, he says China knows it cannot kill its private sector because it needs to keep growing and competing with American tech firms.

So, who's winning the global battle for tech primacy?

Right now, Bremmer believes the US and China are at tech parity — thanks to their tech giants.

"When we're talking about tech supremacy, we can't just talk about governments anymore."

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Will any countries recognize the Taliban?

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