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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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