What We're Watching: Suga's post-Olympics approval, Taliban take capitals, Mozambique and Rwanda vs jihadists, US offers Brazil NATO partnership

: The scoreboard shows "ARIGATO" (the Japanese for 'thank you') during the closing ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games at the Japan National Stadium (a.k.a the Olympic Stadium). The Olympic Games were held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The closing ceremony features live and pre-recorded elements. Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS.No use Russia.

Suga's collapsing popularity: For the past 18 months, debate within Japan and around the world has raged over whether Japan could and should stage the Olympic Games amid a pandemic. For better and for worse, the Games were held and are now closed. So, what's the political fallout for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has governed in a state of near-constant crisis, and for his government? The good news for them is that a new poll from Asahi Shimbun, released last weekend, found that 56 percent said it was a good idea to hold the Games, and just 32 percent said it was a mistake. The bad news is that approval for Suga's government has fallen to just 28 percent, the lowest of his time in office. A slow vaccination rollout continues to cost him.This fall, Suga's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will decide when to hold both its party leadership race and the next national general election. The LDP will likely remain in power, but Suga's future is now very much in doubt.

Taliban take key capitals: As the US continues to withdraw forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban are overrunning ever-wider swaths of territory, including urban areas that they haven't controlled in decades. Over this past weekend alone, the jihadist insurgents swept through no fewer than six provincial capitals, including the strategically important northern city of Kunduz. The US has mounted fresh airstrikes — including with a few old B-52s — to help the beleaguered Afghan security forces hold the line, but with that support reportedly scheduled to stop at the end of August, the writing is on the wall: the Taliban are on their way back to controlling Afghanistan. As we recently wrote, Afghanistan's neighbors are bracing for a growing rush of refugees fleeing the war-ravaged country, and the EU, just a few years removed from the last refugee crisis, is watching warily as well.

Mozambique and Rwanda retake jihadist hotspot: Mozambican and Rwandan troops this week gained control of the gas-rich port city of Mocimboa da Praia in northern Mozambique. For more than three years, Islamist fighters loosely aligned with the Islamic State, have waged a brutal insurgency in the northern Cabo Delgado province. Mocimboa da Praia, the site of one of Africa's biggest liquefied natural gas projects, has become a jihadist hub in recent years. Fighting has killed more than 3,100 Mozambicans and displaced 800,000 more. Last month, Rwanda sent 1,000 troops to support Mozambique's army, and the military alliance — which also includes support from Zimbabwe, Angola, and Botswana — managed to retake control of the port, airport, and hospital in Mocimboa da Praia. This massive feat comes after the European Union said last month that it will establish a new military mission in Mozambique to help the government push back against the increasingly brazen Islamic insurgency. Still, analysts warn, the Mozambican government needs to remain vigilant because the militants might still regroup in the months ahead.

US offers NATO partnership to Brazil? During a visit to Brazil last week, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan reportedly told President Jair Bolsonaro that if he bans the Chinese tech company Huawei from building 5G networks in his country, the US would push for Brazil to become a NATO global partner. That's not quite full membership, but it would give Brazil preferential access to arms purchases and other security perks with the world's most powerful military alliance. According to the Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo, which broke the story, the move is a bid by Washington to get Brazil on its side in a global push to squeeze Chinese tech firms out of 5G infrastructure. But Folha also reports that there are deep divisions within the Brazilian military about this: some higher-ups are implacably hostile towards China, while others say that Brasilia shouldn't ruin relations with Brazil's largest trade partner. Currently the only Latin American country that enjoys a NATO partnership is close US-ally Colombia.

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Does the EU really have a foreign policy?

For decades, European leaders have debated the question of whether Europe should have a common foreign policy that’s independent of the United States.

Germany, the UK, and countries situated closest to Russia have traditionally preferred to rely on membership in NATO and US military strength to safeguard European security at a cost affordable for them.

French leaders, by contrast, have argued that, with or without NATO, Europe needs an approach to foreign-policy questions that doesn’t depend on alignment, or even agreement, with Washington.

There are those within many EU countries who agree that Europe must speak with a single clear voice if the EU is to promote European values and protect European interests in a world of US, Chinese, and Russian power.

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The politics of US crime: Perception vs reality

A recent spate of violent crimes in New York City has made national headlines. Since Eric Adams was sworn in four weeks ago as mayor of America’s most populous city, violence on the streets — and the subways — has again become a major political focus. Things got even more heated this week, when two young cops were killed while responding to a domestic dispute in Harlem.

Crime is not only a dominant political issue in New York. It also resonates more broadly with American voters worried over increased lawlessness and unrest. Indeed, crime is already shaping up to be a wedge issue as Republicans vie to win control of the US Congress this November.

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Hard Numbers: South China Sea jet search, US economy surges, Cuban protesters charged, Africa gets vaxxed

FILE PHOTO of a F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the Argonauts of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, launches off the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Jan. 14, 2022.

U.S Navy/EYEPRESS

100 million: The US Navy is scrambling to find a $100 million F-35 stealth fighter jet that crashed and sank soon after taking off on Monday from an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. One expert described the Cold War-ish race to locate the remains — stocked with classified equipment — before the Chinese do as "basically The Hunt For Red October meets The Abyss."

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The logo of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project is seen on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020.

Nord Stream 2 used as a bargaining chip with Russia. The US now says that if Russia invades Ukraine, it’ll block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to transfer even more natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. This is a big deal, considering that Germany – thirsty for more Russian gas – has long been pushing for the pipeline to start operating despite ongoing objections from Washington. The $11 billion energy project, which would double Russian gas exports to Germany, is seen as (a big) part of the reason why Berlin is reluctant to push back hard against the Kremlin over its troop buildup at the Ukrainian border. Still, German officials admit Nord Stream 2 could face sanctions if the Russians invade, suggesting that the Americans’ threat was likely coordinated with Berlin in advance. This comes amid ongoing diplomatic attempts to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, with US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set to meet at the White House on February 7.

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Putin Has a “Noose” Around Ukraine, Says Russia Analyst Alina Polyakova | GZERO World

What’s going on in Vladimir Putin’s mind? That’s the million-dollar question.

Ukraine and Russia analyst Alina Polyakova doesn’t think it’s anything good.

Russia's president, she says, has put a “noose” around Ukraine with a troop build-up along the border that could spell invasion in the near term. The US has led an effort to deescalate the situation through diplomacy.

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The AI Addiction Cycle | GZERO World

Ever wonder why everything seems to be a major crisis these days? For former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, it's because artificial intelligence has determined that's the only way to get your attention.

What's more, it's driving an addiction cycle among humans that will lead to enormous depression and dissatisfaction.

"Oh my God there's another message. Oh my God, there's another crisis. Oh my God, there's another outrage. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God," he says. "I don't think humans, at least in modern society where [we’ve] evolved to be in an 'Oh my God' situation all day."

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Merkin' It With Angela Merkel | PUPPET REGIME | GZERO Media

Angela Merkel is retired — but only from politics. Still, maybe she's not as good at other jobs as she was as German chancellor.

Watch more PUPPET REGIME!

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