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.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here from sunny Nantucket and going to be here for a little bit. Thought we would talk about the latest on COVID. Certainly, we had hoped we'd be talking less about it at this point, at least in terms of the developed world. A combination of the transmissibility of Delta variant and the extraordinary misinformation around vaccines and COVID treatment means that we are not in the position that many certainly had hoped we would be today.

The United States is the biggest problem on this front. We are awash in vaccines. Operation Warp Speed was an enormous success. The best vaccines in the world, the most effective mRNA, the United States doing everything it can to get secure doses for the entire country quick, more quickly than any other major economy in the world, and now we're having a hard time convincing people to take them. The politics around this are nasty and as divided as the country, absolutely not what you want to see in response to a health crisis.

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If your country had suffered decades of crippling corruption, wouldn't you want to prosecute those responsible? Of course you would. On Sunday, almost 98 percent of Mexicans who voted in a national referendum on this subject said, in so many words: "Yes, please prosecute the last five presidents for corruption!"

The catch is that turnout was a dismal 7 percent, meaning the plebiscite fell way short of the 40 percent turnout threshold required for its result to be binding.

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The COVID delta variant — which first surfaced in India earlier this year — is spreading rampantly throughout every continent, and is now the most dominant strain globally. But low- and middle-income countries, particularly in regions where vaccines have been scarce, are bearing the brunt of the fallout from the more contagious strain. We take a look at the 10 countries now recording the highest number of daily COVID deaths (per 1 million people), and their corresponding vaccination rates.

China tackles delta: China is the latest country to express serious concern over the highly contagious delta variant, after recording 300 cases in 10 days. Authorities there are trying to trace some 70,000 people who may have attended a theatre in Zhangjiajie, a city in China's Hunan province, which is now thought to have been a delta hotspot. Making matters worse, a busy domestic travel season in China saw millions recently on the move to visit friends and family just as delta infections spiked in more than a dozen provinces. Authorities have enforced new travel restrictions in many places, including in central Hunan province, where more than 1.2 million people have been told to stay in their homes for three days while authorities roll out a mass testing scheme. The outbreak has reached Beijing, too, with authorities limiting entrance to the capital to "essential travelers" only. Indeed, the outbreak has raised fresh concerns about Chinese vaccines' protection against delta, though many experts say they are still at least 55 percent effective in preventing serious illness.

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It was a weird series of events. Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya took to Instagram to lament that her country's Olympic Committee had registered her for the 4x400 relay event at the eleventh hour (because a fellow participant had failed to pass drug screenings) despite not having trained.

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100: A scorching heat wave has caused more than 100 wildfires across Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coastline in recent days. Scientists say that dry conditions induced by climate change have helped spread the fires, which have already killed eight people and caused mass evacuations from tourist hotspots.

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Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Also: since alcohol isn't the only social drug, a look at the state of marijuana legalization across the US and around the world.

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GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal