What We’re Watching: Biden-Xi on Zoom, Cuban protest, Duterte family drama, Qaddafi junior for prez, Steele Dossier skewered

What We’re Watching: Biden-Xi on Zoom, Cuban protest, Duterte family feud, Qaddafi junior for prez, Steele Dossier skewered

US-China virtual summit. Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will meet face-to-face (virtually) on Monday for the first time since Biden became US president last January. The two have a lot to discuss: trade wars, the 2022 Beijing Olympics — which Biden won't attend, but probably won't boycott — and how to deliver on the joint US-China pledge on climate made at COP26. But the elephant in the Zoom room is Taiwan, an ultra-sensitive issue for China. Xi is seething at the Biden administration's recent public support for the self-governing island, which the Chinese regard as part of their own territory. The Americans insist they are simply doing what they've always done since 1979 — pledging to help Taiwan defend itself. Can Biden and Xi navigate these issues in a calm, cool way? It may help that the two leaders have known each other for more than a decade, when they were both VPs. With US-China relations getting chillier by the day, the stakes are high.


The streets of Cuba. For months, Cuban activists and dissidents have been planning a fresh, island-wide, anti-government protest. Well, today is the day, and the stakes are high. The Cuban regime, which has refused to issue permits for any marches, says it will not tolerate any unrest, and has accused the US of being behind the demonstrations. Back in July, you might remember, Cuba witnessed the biggest anti-government protests in decades, as popular anger over shortages, poverty and political repression boiled over into the streets. Since then some 1,200 people have been arrested, with roughly half of them languishing in jail while awaiting trial on charges of sedition or sabotage that carry sentences of up to 25 years. We're keeping an eye not only on what happens in Cuba, but also on how the Biden administration responds. The US president will be under immense pressure from the powerful Cuban-American constituency in Florida, as well as Republicans more broadly, to impose tougher sanctions on the island. But there's an argument that the interests of the Cuban people might be better served by doing just the opposite.

Duterte telenovela. The daughter of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will run next year for vice president... while her dad will seek a Senate seat. The term-limited senior Duterte had threatened to run against her, but changed his mind again at the eleventh hour. (The president — who faces legal action over his bloody drug war unless his successor declines to prosecute him — was initially going to run alongside his daughter, but then dropped out because he said most Filipinos were against it.) Meanwhile, although the country elects presidents and VPs separately, Sara Duterte will be on a de-facto ticket with Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the former dictator and allied with the Dutertes. Expect more drama during the campaign from the Dutertes and other big names in the Philippines, where politics is deeply personal and parties serve as mere vehicles for individuals with high name recognition. With boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao also running in a very crowded field, buckle up for an epic battle to replace Duterte in May 2022.

Qaddafi redux in Libya? From the progeny of one dictator to another. Ten years after the death of former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, his son Saif — dressed in Berber robes eerily similar to his father's classic outfit — registered on Sunday to run for president in the December 24 election. With his comeback, Saif Qaddafi hopes that those nostalgic for the stability of the previous regime, as well as Libyans tired of the decade of chaos and civil war that followed his dad's ouster, will give him their vote. But if the elections happen at all, which is quite uncertain due to ongoing bickering between factions on the rules and schedule, Qaddafi's son faces long odds. For one thing, it's unlikely he will campaign in public because he fears for his safety and has an outstanding ICC arrest warrant for crimes against humanity (a Libyan court also sentenced him to death for war crimes in 2015, although that ruling was later overturned). For another, he'll be up against tough rivals backed by different groups of foreign powers like General Khalifa Haftar, a warlord supported by the Gulf states and Russia; Aguila Saleh, the influential parliamentary speaker; and PM Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, head of the UN-backed National Unity Government.

US media trust wars. Remember the Steele Dossier? Yes, the oppo research on Donald Trump compiled by a former British spy that alleged Russia had kompromat leverage over the then-US presidential candidate. After Trump won the 2016 election, several media outlets openly hostile to Trump covered the unverified report — Buzzfeed even published it in full — to suggest that Russia helped get Trump elected. Trump and the GOP-friendly media blasted it as part of a liberal "witch hunt" to undermine his election victory. Well, in the past few days the dossier itself has been skewered after Igor Danchenko, the source of the report's most juicy claim — that Trump got Russian prostitutes to defile a bed Barack Obama slept on in a Moscow hotel — was indicted for lying to the FBI about it. The charges against Danchenko subsequently led the Washington Post to correct two old articles that cited the dossier, the basis for FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign now being probed by US attorney John Durham. Expect the scandal to dominate the US political conversation for weeks, and drive an even bigger media trust wedge between Democrats and Republicans.
A group of young women looking together at images on a wall.

Research indicates neurodivergent individuals hold key competencies to meet this demand, yet their unemployment rate is estimated to be as high as 80%.

As part of its initiative to build an inclusive workplace for all, Bank of America has improved its hiring and support process to recognize and elevate the unique talents of neurodivergent employees.

Who’s in Joe Biden’s democracy club?

The Biden administration’s much-touted Summit for Democracy kicks off on Thursday. A total of 110 countries are invited, with some puzzling choices and omissions.

Illiberal Poland is attending, but not illiberal Hungary. Seven of the 10 Southeast Asian nations are out, but several quasi-democracies in Africa made the cut. Brazil's authoritarian-minded President Jair Bolsonaro is an acceptable democrat for Joe Biden, but not Bolivia's democratically-elected President Luis Arce.

The criteria to get a ticket is as unclear as what Biden’s democratic virtual get-together wants to achieve.

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Australia's former PM and current CEO of the Asia Society knows China quite well. He's fluent in Mandarin, and — for a foreigner — has a pretty good idea of what's cooking in Chinese politics.

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The French election is getting hot

Germany has been the European center of political attention in recent months, as punk-rock god Angela Merkel exits the stage after almost two decades at the helm. But there’s another big election heating up in Europe. The French will head to the polls in just twelve weeks, and the race has started to get very interesting.

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The Graphic Truth: Are you democratic enough for Joe Biden?

The Summit for Democracy, which the Biden administration has been playing up for months, kicks off Thursday. The invite-only event with representatives from 110 countries is Biden’s baby: it’s a chance for the US president to “rescue” democracy, which is in global decline. What’s less clear, however, is why some states with poor democratic records have a seat at the table, while others with better democratic bona fides don’t. Is this a real stab at strengthening democracy, or rather a naked attempt to alienate those who cozy up to foes like China and Russia? We take a look at a selection of invitees, as well as some who didn’t make the cut, and their respective democracy ratings based on the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index.

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has often had to defend her work as the creator of the 1619 Project, a piece of modern journalism that has gained as much praise on one end of the US political spectrum as it has sparked outrage on the other.

Hannah-Jones admits some of the criticism was fair game — and that's one reason she’s just published an extended version of the project in book form, entitled The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. But she rejects those who’ve tried to disqualify her and the project.

"People were saying these facts are wrong... [and] that this journalism needed to be discredited, and that's not normal," she explains. "And I don't agree with that type of criticism because... it's not true.”

According to Hannah-Jones, part of the problem is the mistaken perception that the 1619 Project claimed that slavery was uniquely American. It did not, she says, but did argue that the history of US slavery is quite exceptional in another way.

"There is something clearly unique about a country engaging in chattel slavery that says it was founded on ideas of individual rights and liberty. And that was not Brazil. That was not Jamaica. That was not any of the islands in the Caribbean. They didn't pretend to be a nation founded on God-given rights. We did."

Watch all of Hannah-Jones' interview with Ian Bremmer on the upcoming episode of GZERO World.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson observes an early morning Merseyside police raid on a home in Liverpool as part of 'Operation Toxic' to infiltrate County Lines drug dealings in Liverpool, Britain December 6, 2021.

Boris’ horrible, no good, very bad day. Boris Johnson is no stranger to controversy. In fact, sometimes he appears to relish it. But not this time. As British authorities weigh whether to impose unpopular restrictions amid a surge in omicron cases, a video has surfaced of top Downing Street aides tastelessly joking about flouting lockdown rules last Christmas by gathering for a holiday party. At the time, Britons were forbidden to gather with friends and family during the holiday season, let alone say goodbye to dying relatives. What’s more, Downing Street has been accused of trying to cover up the shindig – a “wine and cheese” night, according to the video – until this damning footage materialized. Johnson says he is “sickened and furious” about it, and a top aide has since resigned. (Johnson himself has not been accused of attending the party.) Meanwhile, London police say they are looking into the case. The timing is pretty awful for Johnson, who is already facing party backlash over a series of blunders in recent months, as well as his perceived failure to address Brexit-related shortages of gasoline and goods. Currently, 55 percent of Britons disapprove of his leadership.

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A person waves flags as people gather after the Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill, in Santiago, Chile December 7, 2021

8: Chile’s Congress approved same-sex marriage Wednesday, becoming the eighth Latin American country to do so. Conservative President Sebastián Piñera for years opposed the measure, which would give full parental rights to same-sex couples, but six months ago changed his position, paving the way for the bill’s passage.

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