What We're Watching: Britain's new COVID strain, US Congress reaches stimulus deal, Nepal's political chaos

Police and port staff at the Port of Dover in Kent which has been closed after the French government's announcement it will not accept any passengers arriving from the UK for the next 48 hours amid fears over the new mutant coronavirus strain

Britain's new COVID strain: Just as the Brexit transition comes to an end and the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union on January 1, Britons now face a new form of isolation. Countries in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere have banned travelers from the UK in response to reports that a variant of the novel coronavirus is raging out of control in that country. The (relative) good news is that, though this COVID-19 variant appears more infectious than the strain it has replaced, there is no evidence to date that it's more deadly or more resistant to the vaccines now in use in the UK. The bad news is that there will be more people flooding into British hospitals, and the virus variant is another factor undermining economic and financial confidence in the UK at a time when its leap into the Brexit unknown already threatens market turmoil.


US Congress reaches stimulus compromise: After months of gridlock, Democrats and Republicans have reached a deal on a pandemic aid package, their first such agreement since the spring. Though smaller than the $2 trillion doled out by Congress in March, this $900 billion fund includes $600 stimulus payments to millions of Americans and will revive a lapsed loan program for small businesses. The bill also provides $25 billion in rental assistance for people whose incomes have suffered because of the pandemic. To reach this breakthrough, each side made painful concessions: Republicans dropped calls for liability protections for businesses, and Democrats gave up on hopes of getting funds to cash-strapped state and local governments. This stimulus is a welcome legislative accomplishment after months of stalemate, but it's no cure-all for the ailing US economy. More than 50 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits since April.

Nepal's political chaos: Amid intense political infighting, Nepal's prime minister KP Sharma Oli moved to dissolve the lower house of parliament Sunday, paving the way for new elections to be held in April 2021, 18 months ahead of schedule. The prime minister's popularity has cratered in response to criticism that he has failed to root out corruption (his government itself has been mired in scandal), to boost the country's economy, and to manage pandemic response. Fear that he'll only become more unpopular in coming months has persuaded Oli to bet on early elections. Situated in the strategically important Himalayas, Nepal has become an important arena in China and India's intensifying battle for influence in the region. In 2017, Oli campaigned on a pledge to bring Kathmandu closer to Beijing, and should he fall in April, China would lose a crucial ally as it seeks to expand its footprint in South Asia.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truck loads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

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As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.

Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

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Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Why should all eyes be on the Virginia suburbs?

I'm here in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where the state will be having a gubernatorial election on November 2nd. The Virginia governor election is held in the year after the US presidential election typically, and is generally seen as a bellwether for how popular the incumbent president of the United States is. In 2009, the Republican candidate won by a commanding 16 points despite the fact that Virginia has been trending more and more Democratic in recent years due to the population growth here in the suburbs, which tend to be more blue than rural areas of the state.

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