What We’re Watching: Italian Squabbles, Merkel’s Worries

Italy's Squabbling Leaders On Monday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte threatened to resign unless Five Star and the League, the two parties that form the country's populist governing coalition, stop bickering and start working together. Campa cavallo (fat chance!) as they say. Tensions between the two parties have surfaced in recent weeks as Five Star's popularity wanes and League party leader Matteo Salvini becomes more popular and more aggressive in setting the country's political agenda. The results of last month's European Parliament elections have only accelerated the diverging fortunes of the two parties, leaving many to wonder if Salvini might just make a risky push for a snap election.

Pressure on Angela Merkel's government - More bad news this week for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who governs via an increasingly fragile and unpopular partnership between her Christian Democratic Union and the rival Social Democratic Party. Both parties did poorly in the recent EU Parliament elections. On Sunday, SPD boss Andrea Nahles said she would step down, and on Monday the head of Germany's leading industry association said it had lost faith in Merkel's grand coalition. With pressure mounting on all sides, Merkel can either try to ride it out, risk snap elections, lead a minority government, or seek a new coalition partner altogether before her fourth and final term expires in 2021.

What We're Ignoring: Xi in Russia, Duterte's Gay Bait

Xi in Moscow – Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow today for a state visit with Vladimir Putin before heading to St Petersburg, where he'll be a guest of honor at a big Russian investment conference. Russia and China are seeking closer cooperation at a time when both countries have rocky relations with the United States. But while neither of them likes a world where the US is a sole superpower, their own relationship is still limited by mutual suspicions and meager economic ties beyond oil. Beijing's number one trade partner is still the US, after all, while Russia doesn't even make the top ten. Chinese companies will certainly sign Russian deals in the coming days, but at the grand strategic level, we're not sure what precisely Russia can offer Beijing that it doesn't already have.

Duterte's Gay Bait – During a visit to Tokyo last week, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines announced that he had "cured" himself of homosexuality with the help of "beautiful women." You might think this is the kind of comment that would get an elected official in trouble, particularly since its purpose was to insult a political rival he claims is gay and "uncured." But we're confident we can ignore any risk of political fallout. After all, his past claim that God is a "stupid son of a bitch" in a country that's 80 percent Catholic didn't cut into his 81 percent approval rating or prevent his party from increasing the number of congressional seats it holds in last month's elections.

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

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7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

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