What We're Watching: Brazilian ultras reject Bolsonaro, Syrian election "shocker", US baseball is back

What We're Watching: Brazilian ultras reject Bolsonaro, Syrian election "shocker", US baseball is back

The torcidas turn on Bolsonaro: Brazil's football fans, particularly the organized ultras popularly known as the torcidas, are famous around the world for the passion, intensity, insanity, and joy with which they celebrate their country's brand of the beautiful game. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, is widely known for the aggressive patriotism, hyper-masculinity, and man-of-the-people image he works to project. That's why some outside Brazil might assume that Brazil's hardcore football fans are major supporters of Bolsonaro, but that assumption ignores the fault lines particular to Brazil's political and sporting culture. In fact, ultras from some rival teams have joined forces in recent days to denounce Bolsonaro's approach to both crime (too heavy) and COVID-19 (too light). In part, this is because many Brazilian ultras are working-class supporters of the leftist Workers Party, the party that Bolsonaro bitterly opposed and then defeated in the last election. Many more low-income ultras live in favelas in Brazil's major cities, which have been especially hard-hit by the coronavirus.


Syria votes (sort of): Surprising precisely zero people, the Baath Party — led by President Bashar al-Assad — came in first in Syria's legislative elections on Sunday, winning 177 of the 250 seats up for grabs in parliament. In a country at war with itself for almost a decade, it should also come as no shocker that turnout barely reached 33 percent, down from 57 percent just four years ago — despite the government reopening polling stations in former rebel-held areas. The Syrian opposition denounced the result as a "farce" because most displaced people were not able to cast ballots, but that will matter little to the Baath Party, which has kept a stranglehold on power since a 1963 coup. The wider issue now is whether (or not) the ruling party will use its ample parliamentary majority to do something to help ordinary Syrians, who are coming under increasing pressure to make ends meet amid the country's economic implosion. Meanwhile, fresh US sanctions threaten to cut off Syria from some of the international funding it badly needs to rebuild its shattered economy and infrastructure.

US baseball opens in closed ballparks: Seventeen weeks late, Opening Day has finally arrived. It's a red-letter day for American sports as major league baseball opens a coronavirus-abbreviated season, in which cardboard photographs will replace human fans in the stands. Signalista Alex Kliment wants you to know (again) that the New York Mets will win this year's World Series. Signalista Willis Sparks wants you know that Kliment will be wrong about that for the 34th year in a row. There is also an election-year political angle here: Given poor approval numbers for President Trump's handling of the coronavirus, any perceived return to normal summertime life in America can offer a political boost. On the other hand, Washington DC's baseball club opted against having the president or a former baseball star throw out the ceremonial first pitch of their season: instead they chose infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. "Normalcy" remains a relative concept. Play ball.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.

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80: If polar ice caps continue to melt at their current pace due to climate change, 80 percent of all emperor penguins will be wiped out by the end of the century because they need the ice for breeding and keeping their offspring safe. American authorities want to list emperor penguins, which only live in Antarctica, as an endangered species so that US fishing vessels will be required to protect them when operating in their habitat.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

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On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

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For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

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