What We’re Watching: Duterte’s meltdown, Bulgaria blocks North Macedonia, Middle East prepares for Biden

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (R) and Vice President Leni Robredo (L). Reuters

Duterte's typhoon troubles: As the Philippines struggles with the aftermath of Typhoon Vamco, which killed almost 70 people and submerged parts of the main island of Luzon, tough-talking President Rodrigo Duterte defended himself from accusations of poor disaster management by lashing out at Vice President Leni Robredo on live TV. The president, unleashing a barrage of sexist remarks at the Veep, falsely claimed that his political rival Robredo — the Philippines elects the VP separately from the president — had criticized him for being absent at the height of the storm, when Duterte was (virtually) attending a regional meeting of Southeast Asian leaders. Robredo, for her part, called the president a misogynist, and said she's not competing with him after Duterte threatened to be her "nightmare" if she ran in the next presidential election. We're watching to see if the typhoon disaster — or Duterte's meltdown about it — will make a dent in his popular support, which remains strong despite growing discontent over his handling of this latest crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.


Things go south (again) for North Macedonia: The small Balkan country once known clunkily as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" just can't seem to catch a break. Two years ago, the country finally got itself on the (longshot) path to EU membership by agreeing to call itself "North Macedonia", resolving a long-running name dispute with its southern neighbor, Greece. But with the Greeks out of the way, now Skopje (the North Macedonian capital) is running into problems with its eastern neighbor — Bulgaria. The Bulgarians say they will veto any North Macedonian EU accession talks until the two iron out their own linguistic and ethnic disputes. Among other things, Bulgaria wants the North Macedonians to recognize Macedonian as a dialect of Bulgarian, rather than an independent language. Since EU accession talks require the unanimous consent of current member states, the North Macedonians are up against a wall again. And to make matters worse for Skopje, some other EU members who are skeptical of expanding the bloc at all are right now reported to be quietly OK with the Bulgarian roadblock.

Middle East starts US transition: While President Trump still refuses to concede to President-elect Joe Biden in the US election, leaders in the Middle East are quietly preparing for the transition of power, even as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tours the region this week. Pompeo is scheduled to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, which analysts view as a parting gift to Prime Minister "Bibi" Netanyahu, who seeks to normalize the settlements over Palestinian objections that they are illegal (and also likely an attempt by Pompeo to boost his own street cred with evangelicals as he eyes his post-Trump political career). Indeed, the Trump's administration's proposed peace plan for the Middle East was overwhelmingly rejected by the Palestinians because it would have allowed Israel to annex a third of the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has now agreed to resume ties with Israel that had been suspended for months over the annexation plans. Are both sides ready to move on from Trump? Biden is widely expected to return to the Obama administration's Middle East policy, which supported Israel but called for a two-state solution. That's bad news for Bibi and offers a glimmer of hope for the Palestinians, whose position has suffered under Trump. What's in store for the region with Biden in the White House?

In a new episode of That Made All the Difference, Savita Subramanian, head of ESG Research, BofA Global Research, explains why ESG factors are critical to why some companies succeed and some fail.

"I think 10 years from now, we won't even call it 'environmental, social and governance,' or ESG investing. We won't call it sustainable. It'll just be part of investing," she says.

Link to the episode here.

This weekend, world leaders will open the COP26 climate summit, the UN's annual climate change conference, in Glasgow. Some insist this event is crucial to the multinational fight to limit the effects of climate change; others dismiss it as a circus that will feature politicos, protesters and celebrities competing for attention – one that's long on lofty promises and short on substance.

What's on the agenda?

Political leaders and negotiators from more than 120 countries will gather to talk about two big subjects. First, how to reduce the heat-trapping carbon emissions that scientists warn can inflict catastrophic damage on millions of people. This is where they'll offer their "nationally determined contributions," diplomatic jargon for their updated promises on their climate goals. Second, how to help poorer countries pay for adaptation to the climate damage that's already unavoidable.

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Less than a year after the world started putting COVID vaccines into people's arms, most regions have immunized at least half their populations, but Africa still lags behind. With industrialized nations hoarding jabs and the COVAX facility faltering, barely five percent of the African population is fully vaccinated.

Some enterprising South African scientists are now making a bold bid to change that, with an experiment that could benefit not only Africa's 54 nations and billion people, but the entire world: Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a Cape Town-based startup, has developed a plan to reverse-engineer Moderna's mRNA shot and manufacture it for priority distribution on the continent.

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11: Hit by a massive new COVID wave, Moscow has issued an 11-day lockdown of schools, businesses, and all "non-essential" services. Russia is now one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, having recorded 400,000 deaths by some estimates. Russia's high rate of vaccine skepticism isn't helping.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Has Russian behavior in cyber changed after President Biden and President Putin's meeting earlier this year?

Well, unfortunately, we see ongoing assertiveness and aggression from the Russian side, targeting the US government, but also US tech companies. And the fact that there is so little accountability probably keeps motivating. Shortly before the Russian elections, Apple and Google removed an app built by opposition parties, to help voters identify the best candidate to challenge Putin's party. The company sided pressure on their employees in Russia, but of course, the pressure on the Russian population is constant. And after these dramatic events, the silence from Western governments was deafening.

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No government today has the toolbox to tinker with Big Tech – that's why it's time to start thinking of the biggest tech companies as bona fide "digital nation states" with their own foreign relations, Ian Bremmer explains on GZERO World. Never has a small group of companies held such an expansive influence over humanity. And in this vast new digital territory, governments have little idea what to do.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

Right now, only one region of the world is reporting an increase in new daily COVID cases. Here's a hint: it's one of the places where vaccines are, for the most part, easiest to get.

It's Europe. According to the World Health Organization, the region last week notched a 7 percent uptick in new daily infections, the third week in a row that infections rose there.

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