What We’re Watching: Biden takes (executive) action, Dutch curfew, Darfur bloodshed

President Joe Biden signs executive actions in the Oval Office after his inauguration. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Biden's first-day blitz: Just hours after taking the oath of office as the 46th US president, Joe Biden hit the ground running, signing a whopping 17 executive actions, most of which reverse the Trump administration's policies. The main areas of focus are COVID (reorganizing the federal response coordination structure, returning to the World Health Organization), climate change (rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, cancelling the Keystone KL pipeline), and immigration (ending the travel ban for certain Muslim-majority countries, stopping construction of the southern border wall, and giving more protection to so-called "Dreamers," undocumented people who entered the country when they were children). He also signed orders directing US federal agencies to root out discrimination and barriers to opportunity in their hiring and policies. We're watching how many of these actions will be challenged in the courts — as a lot of Trump's were four years ago — and whether they will hamper Biden's ability to get moderate Republican support for key legislation he can't get done just with the stroke of his pen.


Netherlands curfew: Once an outlier in Europe for its somewhat lax approach to the pandemic, the Dutch government has proposed implementing the country's first nationwide curfew since World War Two, while also banning all flights from the UK, South Africa and South America. With infections surging, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he doesn't have a choice anymore as the new COVID strain from Great Britain threatens the Netherlands — where the government has come under fire for being the last EU member state to roll out vaccines (only 100,000 have gotten the jab so far). The decision comes at a tough time for Rutte, whose entire government stepped down last Friday over a childcare subsidies fraud scandal. Rutte will remain interim PM until after new elections are held, but he must rely on broad support from all political parties to get his new pandemic response measures — including the curfew — approved in parliament. Will the outgoing Rutte manage to convince enough skeptics to back his measures to keep the virus in check before the March 17 vote?

Fresh violence in Darfur: Just weeks after the UN and the African Union announced they would end a 13-year long peacekeeping mission in Sudan's long-troubled Darfur region, a fresh outbreak of violence has claimed more than 100 lives in recent days. The violence began over a stabbing that quickly led to militia group attacks that forced 50,000 people to flee their homes. The clashes take place months after Sudan's transitional civilian-military government signed a shaky deal with Darfur rebel groups that raised hopes for peace in a long-running territorial, ethnic, and sectarian conflict that pits local rebels against the central government. The fighting has killed some 300,000 and displaced more than 5 million since 2003, as the government employed militias to carry out a genocide against the local population. If the Sudanese are unable to calm tensions soon and ensure security, foreign peacekeepers may have to cancel their withdrawal and stay in Darfur longer than expected.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

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Castillo takes over in Peru: After almost two months of protests, baseless allegations of fraud from his rival in the runoff election, and even rumblings of a coup, Pedro Castillo will be sworn in as president of Peru on Wednesday. A former rural school-teacher famous for riding on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat and waving a giant pencil to show how much he cares about education, Castillo has big plans to achieve big change. But he won by just a razor-thin margin in a deeply divided country, and Peru's dysfunctional political system will likely hobble his attempts to get major legislation passed. Moreover, despite having moderated his positions, half of the country still sees him as a communist who might turn Peru into another Venezuela. Castillo's most immediate task is dealing with the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a COVID-fueled economic crisis that has hit poor Peruvians — his base — the hardest.

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13: The two Koreas have restored their communication hotline almost 13 months after Pyongyang abruptly cut it in response to Seoul not doing enough to prevent North Korean defectors from sending propaganda leaflets across the shared border. The hotline was established in 2018 following a historic meeting between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

Today — what's the smallest country (by population) to win a gold medal in a summer Olympics?

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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24-year-old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate recounts how in 2020 she was cropped out of a photo at Davos of her with other white climate activists (like Greta Thunberg) and what it revealed about how people of color and people in developing countries, like those in Africa, are frequently excluded from the climate conversation.

Watch the episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

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