What We're Watching: Modi plays to his base, US visit to Taiwan irks China, Colombia arrests ex-leader

What We're Watching: Modi plays to his base, US visit to Taiwan irks China, Colombia arrests ex-leader

Modi riles up his base: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday set the first stone for a new Hindu temple to be built over the remains of a Mughal-era mosque in Uttar Pradesh state. The site, in the town of Ayodhya, has been disputed for decades by Hindus and Muslims, but the Supreme Court last November ruled, based on archeological findings, that construction of the temple could begin. The ruling dismayed many of India's 180 million Muslims, who worry that Modi — who was accompanied at the ceremony by Mohan Bhagwat, an ultranationalist Hindu activist whose followers helped to destroy the old mosque amid a wave of sectarian violence in 1992 — wants to replace India's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of the country's identity. Although months ago Modi saw sizable protests over a controversial new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims, he has so far proven to be extremely resilient and remains widely popular in India.


A provocative visit to Taiwan: US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will soon become the most senior US official to set foot in Taiwan since Washington established democratic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1979. The official purpose of his visit is to deepen cooperation with Taiwan on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but it is certain to stoke further tensions between the US and China, which considers Taiwan part of its own territory. (For the record, so does the US, officially, but Washington has maintained a preferential security and diplomatic relationship with self-governing Taiwan for decades.) The timing of Azar's visit may have an electoral motivation: both Trump and Biden want to exploit growing bipartisan suspicions of China, and as the election approaches it may play well for Trump to have his man in Taiwan rehashing Washington's accusations that Beijing deliberately hid information about the initial coronavirus outbreak. We are watching to see how Beijing responds to the slight, as Taiwan is still the most sensitive issue in China-US relations.

Uribe's August staycation: Colombia's Supreme Court has placed powerful former president Alvaro Uribe under house arrest as part of a witness-tampering and fraud investigation. Uribe, a conservative, was president from 2002-2010, during which time he led a military crackdown against the country's FARC rebels that weakened them to the point that a peace deal was possible under his successor. But he has long faced accusations of turning a blind eye to human rights violations, and of having ties to right-wing paramilitary groups. The Court is investigating whether Uribe's allies sought to squelch an investigation into those relationships several years ago. Uribe remains one of the most powerful and polarizing figures in Colombia — his backing helped elevate current president Ivan Duque win a contentious 2018 election. Uribe's house arrest has sent shockwaves through a deeply divided country that is unaccustomed to seeing public officials of his stature held to account. If he is brought to trial and convicted — still by no means a certain outcome — he could face up to eight years in prison.

"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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