What We're Watching: Johnson's political mess, carnage in Kabul, Algerian plot twist

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a hand to his chin looking concerned

Boris Johnson's hot mess: Analysts across the British political spectrum seem to agree on one word to describe UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's pandemic response: chaotic. After recently saying there would not be another nationwide lockdown in England, Johnson reversed course on Saturday after the UK recorded over 1 million COVID-19 cases and neared 47,000 deaths. (Around 1 in 100 people in England were infected with COVID-19 in the week between 17 and 23 October, according to the UK's Office for National Statistics.) Public health experts say that these new measures come too late, having recommended weeks ago that the government introduce new nationwide restrictions to tackle the country's soaring caseload and surging rate of hospital admissions. While offering support for the lockdown, Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer accused the Johnson government of gross incompetence due to its inconsistent messaging. Johnson has also faced opposition from inside his own Conservative party, with some MPs saying that another lockdown will be ruinous for England's economy. (A leaked memo Friday caused Johnson to make an ad-hoc announcement about the planned lockdown, blindsiding some members of his own party.) Meanwhile, pro-Brexit warrior Nigel Farage is also capitalizing on the chaos and outrage, saying he will change his Brexit Party's name to Reform UK, switching focus to fight the government's COVID lockdown: "Building immunity" would be a more effective strategy, Farage said.


Carnage in Kabul: At least 19 people were killed — mostly students — and scores more injured when gunmen and a possible suicide bomber stormed the biggest university in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday, leading to an hours-long standoff with Afghan security forces. The deadly rampage coincided with an Iranian book fair on campus, which was set to be attended by Iranian publishers and dignitaries. The Taliban, long locked in a battle against the US-backed Afghan government, says it was not involved in the gruesome attack. Attention is now on Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan who claimed responsibility for a similar attack on an education center in Kabul last month that killed 24 people. (ISIS-linked groups gained a foothold in Afghanistan in 2014, and have targeted Afghanistan's minority Shiite community in particular.) This latest bout of violence comes as representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban are trying to iron out a peace deal in Qatar, while the US is looking to bring its troops home from Afghanistan soon after nearly two decades in the country.

Another political plot twist in Algeria: For more than 18 months, the gas-rich Mediterranean nation of Algeria has been gripped by political drama. Last year mass protests led by students succeeded in toppling long-ruling dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika. But his successor hasn't pleased the streets, and protesters say the same corrupt cabal of military men still run the country. Over the weekend, the government held a referendum on a new constitution that it hoped would meet protesters' demands for more government accountability and economic security. But while those who voted overwhelmingly approved it, total turnout in the country of 44 million people was just 24 percent, raising big questions about the popular legitimacy of the document. One big reason for the weak showing at the polls was a boycott by the "Hirak" (the leaderless protest movement) which says that although the new constitution includes more guarantees of social and economic rights, it was drafted without sufficient input from civil society and still reserves too much power for the president. It's not clear what happens next — but if the government thought the referendum would draw a line after more than a year of unrest, it may be in for a rude surprise in the coming weeks.

"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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