What We’re Watching: Hariri back as Lebanese PM, US-India vs China, Iran’s US election shenanigans

Art by Gabriella Turrisi
Hariri 4.0 in Lebanon: Veteran politician Saad Hariri returns as Lebanon's prime minister almost exactly one year after he stepped down amid mass street protests over corruption and lack of jobs. Now, though, his job has become even tougher: sky-high inflation, cash-strapped banks, and rising poverty were all bad enough before first COVID-19 hit. Then a huge explosion in the Beirut port killed over 200 people and caused billions of dollars in damages. Although bringing back Hariri for his fourth stint as PM doesn't seem to jive with the Lebanese people's increasing demands for change to deal with the country's collapse, he was the only candidate with sufficient support to get nominated in Lebanon's famously complex political power-sharing system. So far, Hariri has promised to set up a team of experts to carry out long-overdue political and economic reforms Lebanon that needs to get a financial lifeline from international donors like France. Will Hariri 4.0 deliver?

India to get US satellite data: Ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's upcoming visit to India, a deal is in the works under which the Indian military would get access to US satellite data for its missiles and drones. The agreement helps India narrow its military gap with China, and is part of the Trump administration's broader efforts to check China's ambitions by bolstering the defense capabilities of other Asian countries. For years India has avoided getting dragged into the US-China tussle, but last summer's deadly border clash with the Chinese in the Himalayas prompted Delhi to take a more active role in the "Quad" group of countries (a security group including Australia, India, the US and Japan, which Beijing views as a US attempt to create a NATO-style anti-Chinese military alliance in the region). We're watching to see how China will react to further US-India military cooperation, and how the Indians will walk the fine line between bolstering their defenses and avoiding more open conflict with Beijing.

Iran pretending to be Proud: The FBI is blaming Iranian agents for a recent flurry of emails that threatened US voters if they don't vote for Donald Trump. The emails, supposedly from the Proud Boys — a pro-Trump far-right street gang — targeted registered Democrats with the message "vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you." US intelligence officials say the scam was designed to tarnish Trump, but to us it seems more like a bid to create broader confusion and distrust surrounding the election. You can expect more shenanigans of this kind in the coming days, as the Feds say both Iran and Russia have gained access to voter registration information in some US states. (They have not been able to change any information or affect any vote tallies.) But, in our view, any issues surrounding the legitimacy of the US election have much more to do with American polarization than with foreign meddling. If you disagree, we'd love to hear why.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Also: since alcohol isn't the only social drug, a look at the state of marijuana legalization across the US and around the world.

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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Listen: A deep dive down the bottle to examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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