What We’re Watching: Biden campaign hacked, Iran war games, “Secretary General” Xi

Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for US President in the 2020 election. Reuters

Hackers (again) target US election: Hackers affiliated with the Russian government have reportedly tried to break into the servers of a US strategy and communications firm that is advising Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign. Microsoft evidently detected the suspicious activity and informed the company, SKDKnickerbocker, before any data were compromised. Moscow denies any involvement, but the attempt is consistent with US intelligence community findings that Russian hackers (and others) have tried, are trying, and will continue to try to influence the outcome of the US election. Microsoft says the attacks are affecting hundreds of firms on both sides of the political divide. The extent to which Russian meddling can affect the final result is debatable (and almost certainly minimal, in the grand scheme of things) — but that's not really the point: From the Kremlin's perspective in particular, sowing doubt about the legitimacy of the result is at least as big a prize as actually altering it. Only 53 days until Election Day!


Iran holds naval drills amid US tensions: The Iranian military has started its annual war games near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The exercises come at a fraught time (and a horrible year) for the Islamic Republic, as tensions with the US remain high. The countries have been to the brink of war multiple times since January, when an American drone strike killed General Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in Iraq. Just days later, Tehran retaliated by launching a missile strike against a facility hosting US troops in Iraq, and then in late July the Iranians again "provoked" America by attacking a replica US aircraft carrier near the area where this week's naval drills will take place. We are watching to see if Iran "does something" again, and if so how the highly unpredictable US leader will react... in the homestretch of his reelection campaign.

What We're Ignoring:

Arguments about Xi Jinping's title: A US lawmaker wants to prohibit the US government from referring to China's leader Xi Jinping as "President." The "Name the Enemy Act" introduced by Congressman Scott Perry, is a bit of a word game: The Republican from Pennsylvania argues that calling Xi "President" incorrectly implies that he was elected by the Chinese people. Although Perry may score some political points with this given the currently dismal state of US-China relations, we're ignoring this for two reasons. First, Xi's three official titles are Chairman, Chairman, and Chairman — of the party, the state military commission, and the armed forces — not "President," which doesn't have a direct translation in Mandarin Chinese anyway. Second, Xi has already rewritten the Chinese constitution to remove term limits on himself, so he will likely still be in charge in Beijing long after Perry — and probably several US presidents, too — are out of office. Call him what you want.

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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900 million: Egypt has impounded the Ever Given, the ship that recently blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week, until its owners pay some $900 million in compensation for losses and the cost of the rescue operation. The blockage of this major naval chokepoint caused severe disruption to the global maritime shipping industry.

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