What We’re Watching: Global scorcher, Indonesia’s COVID surge, Lebanon keeps imploding

What We’re Watching: Global scorcher, Indonesia’s COVID surge, Lebanon keeps imploding

Global heat wave: In much of the world, the past few days have been an absolute scorcher. Temperatures in the normally damp, temperate US Pacific Northwest soared to records of 115 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Further north in Canada's British Columbia, the mercury climbed to 121, causing dozens of deaths. In remote reaches of Siberia, satellites recorded a mark of 117 degrees. Yes, you read that right: 117 degrees in Siberia. Typically toastier parts of the world have suffocated under unusual heat too: temperatures broke 120 in Southern Iraq this week, just as the region is struggling with widespread power outages. Experts say that although massive heatwaves are perfectly natural, climate change makes them more likely to occur and more intense when they do. In other words: the drastic effects of climate change aren't off in the future somewhere; they are here, right now. Will this hot spell light a fresh fire under efforts to tackle climate change ahead of the next UN climate change summit in Glasgow this fall? We're sweating out that answer along with the rest of you.


Indonesia on COVID brink: Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is teetering on the edge of a COVID "catastrophe." On Tuesday, the country reported almost 20,500 new infections, its highest daily rate since the pandemic began. The Red Cross says the nation's health system could soon collapse as the more infectious Delta variant threatens the supply of hospital beds and oxygen. Indeed, in recent days the price of an oxygen tank has almost tripled to $140, way more than most Indonesians can afford. To make matters worse, only 5 percent of Indonesians have been fully vaccinated, mostly with China's Sinovac jab, which is as effective as other vaccines against COVID death and severe illness but less so to prevent contagion. Although some experts are blaming the rising cases and the deaths of at least 10 fully inoculated doctors on Sinovac, the Indonesian government has no plans to suspend its use for now. President Joko Widodo has already delayed opening up the island of Bali to international tourists, but he has yet to decide on imposing another national lockdown that could further damage Indonesia's already fragile economy.

Lebanese economic hell: For many Lebanese, their country has become "unlivable." In what used to be an oasis of modernity and prosperity in the otherwise troubled Middle East, people now face shortages of almost all basic products, most of which they can hardly afford even when available due to hyperinflation. Power outages are now frequent, and the government's sudden decision to cut subsidies on Tuesday increased fuel prices overnight by one-third. As we've written before, the current mess is a direct result of a severe economic crisis that started in late 2019 as a result of decades of corruption and mismanagement. It was then turbocharged by the fallout from the August 2020 Beirut port explosion, which left Lebanon without a functioning government. Since then, things have only gotten worse with no end in sight. The Lebanese are now venting their anger by fighting each other at gas stations and attacking bank staff. But they've been protesting for 20 months with little to show for it: the same politicians that got them here still hold power, and their latest plan to fix Lebanon's economic ills is… more subsidies.

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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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 EU'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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Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

16: Rich countries have secured 16 times more COVID vaccine supplies than developing nations that rely on the struggling COVAX facility, according to analysis by the Financial Times. COVAX is steadily losing bargaining power to buy vaccines at low prices due to the combined effects of booster shots being doled out in developed countries, as well as low-income countries deciding to buy jabs on their own.

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