What We’re Watching: Thai king is untouchable, Ugandan challenger arrested, US caves on Mexico DEA threat

Pro-demonstrators carry inflatable rubber ducks during a rally in Bangkok. Reuters

No reform for Thai monarchy: Defying the wishes of thousands of pro-democracy activists and protesters, Thailand's parliament declined to move forward constitutional reforms that would curb the powers of the king. The vote had been delayed until Wednesday due to violent clashes between protesters, royalists and the police that left 55 people injured and put inflatable rubber ducks in the crossfire. Shortly after parliament's decision, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned that he would use "all available laws" to end the protests, which have been going on for months, signaling that he might start enforcing Thailand's draconian lèse majesté law, which punishes any offense of perceived insult to the royal family with up to 15 years in prison. Will the streets stand down, or is the situation about to get worse?


What's going on in Uganda? The detention of Uganda's popular presidential candidate, the pop star-turned politician Bobi Wine, has set off a wave of protests across the country, prompting a heavy-handed response from police that's already resulted in at least seven deaths. Ugandan authorities say Wine was arrested for holding campaign events that breached COVID-19 restrictions, but his supporters claim that this is yet another attempt by longtime President Yoweri Museveni to quash dissent ahead of Uganda's general elections in January 2021. Museveni, who's held the top job since 1986, has used various legal tricks to tighten his grip on power, including two constitutional amendments — and he was last elected in 2016 after jailing the opposition. Meanwhile, Wine, a political newcomer, is running on a platform of change that promises to put "people" first and reverse the culture of corruption and intolerance of dissent that has defined Museveni's rule. Will he prevail?

The fate of General Cienfuegos: Last month, in a scene out of a Michael Mann film, US agents detained Mexico's former Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda at Los Angeles airport, on corruption and drug charges. At the time Cienfuegos, who headed the Mexican military from 2012 to 2018, was the highest-ranking Mexican former official ever detained in the US. Now, in a dramatic reversal, he'll be heading home to face prosecution in Mexico instead after the US dropped charges. Why? Because Mexico, which had been in the dark about the US operation, threw a fit over his arrest, reportedly threatening to kick out agents of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, which works closely with local authorities — particularly the Mexican army — to go after narcos and gangs. Now there are two questions: will Cienfuegos really see justice at home, and second, given the success of their threat, has Mexico City learned a useful pressure point for its future dealings with los yanquis?

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The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

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Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

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Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.

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1 billion: One billion Indians have now gotten at least one COVID vaccine shot. It's a big turnaround for the country, which stumbled with the initial rollout and then suspended vaccine exports for months to deal with a deadly wave in the spring. Still, only 30 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated in India, the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines.

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