What We’re Watching: EU vs everyone, Austria vs the unvaccinated, India vs smog, Barbados vs real world

What We’re Watching: EU vs everyone, Austria vs the unvaccinated, India vs smog, Barbados vs real world

The EU targets "everyone!" The EU on Monday unanimously agreed to impose fresh sanctions on "everyone involved" in bringing migrants to the Belarus-Poland border, where a diplomatic and humanitarian crisis continues as thousands of asylum-seekers shiver in makeshift camps. Brussels says Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has deliberately created this crisis to strike back against existing EU sanctions that were imposed in response to his sham re-election last year and his hijacking of a RyanAir flight this summer. Reports show that Belarus loosened visa restrictions for migrants — largely from Iraq — to serve as a transit point for migrants hoping to cross the EU border to apply for asylum. Details of the new sanctions aren't yet decided, but they are likely to target political officials, travel agencies, and airlines. Lukashenko has vowed to fight back, but he won't cut off the Russian gas flows that traverse his country on the way to Europe — Vladimir Putin quickly slapped down that possibility after Lukashenko raised it over the weekend. The question remains: will EU sanctions change Belarus' behavior?


Austria's lockdown of the unvaccinated. Beginning Monday, unvaccinated Austrians will be required to stay in their homes for all but essential outings or face a fine of 500 euros ($572). The move comes as Austria suffers one of the highest rates of new COVID infections in Europe. The country currently has a vaccination rate of 65 percent, which lags behind most of Western Europe but exceeds levels in Eastern Europe, which is experiencing an even harsher wave of the virus. The Austrian measures will last for 10 days and be enforced by police spot checks. The unvaccinated were already prohibited from entering restaurants, but the government says the additional restrictions are necessary to boost vaccination rates and head off a crunch at ICUs. Critics — including the right-wing Freedom Party — say the policy is discriminatory and violates Austria's constitution.

A different sort of lockdown in India. India's Supreme Court called on Monday for an immediate lockdown of Delhi, the country's capital. But this time, the threat to public health comes not from COVID but from the toxic smog that regularly pollutes the city's air. The Delhi government has pronounced itself "ready to take steps like complete lockdown," while calling on the governments of neighboring regions to do the same. There will be no in-person classes in schools this week, government officials will work from home, and private businesses are urged to do the same. The city's many construction sites will also remain shut down for three days. Delhi suffers from the exhaust produced by millions of vehicles, crop-stubble burning by farmers, coal-fired plants on the outskirts of town, and the open burning of garbage. By some measures, India is home to 13 of the world's 14 most polluted cities, and in 2019 air pollution was blamed for more than a million deaths.

Metaverse diplomacy. What happens if you run into trouble when visiting a foreign country? You call your embassy or consulate, of course. But what if you're in the Metaverse, a catch-all phrase for the virtual and augmented reality world Mark Zuckerberg wants you to spend a lot of time in? Well, you're in luck if you're a citizen of Barbados, the first country to open an actual embassy in this virtual world. The tiny Caribbean island nation plans to build and purchase digital "land," offer e-visas to visit virtual Barbados, and develop virtual transport to move avatars to and fro. What this all means in the real world is unclear, but crypto bros are very excited about it, and we don't want to burst their bubble.
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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