What We’re Watching: US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Fukushima wastewater, US stops J&J jab, big rabbit hunt

What We’re Watching: US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Fukushima wastewater, US stops J&J jab, big rabbit hunt

The end of "forever" in Afghanistan: The Biden administration says it'll withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted Washington to invade the country in the first place. It's unclear how the withdrawal will affect American plans to steer intra-Afghan peace talks in the right direction under the terms of a peace agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban in May 2020. Trump promised to pull out next month as long as the former al-Qaida hosts kept their end of the bargain by not launching deadly attacks (spoiler alert: they have not). Biden's move honors his campaign pledge to end a "forever war" that has claimed more than 2,300 American lives and cost the US Treasury almost $1 trillion since 2001. However, critics fear that a hasty departure could leave the Afghans helpless to prevent the Taliban from returning to power, rendering the entire mission not only expensive, but ultimately pointless.


Japan's nuclear waste problem: Japan has announced that in two years it will begin dumping treated radioactive wastewater from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster directly into the Pacific Ocean. Unsurprisingly, the decision has outraged local fishermen, environmental groups, and Japan's neighbors China and South Korea. Tokyo says the water, which has been treated, is safe, and that there is no other choice: the tanks that now store the liquid are almost full and they can't build more on current sites. Critics, in turn, argue that the Japanese government could acquire more land for the tanks, or follow the International Atomic Energy Agency's alternative recommendation to release the water into the atmosphere as vapor. Whether or not Tokyo reverses course, what to do with Fukushima's wastewater will likely be a hot-button issue in Japan's domestic politics and foreign relations over the next two years.

US hits pause on J&J vaccine: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have jointly recommended a "pause" in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine "out of an abundance of caution" following news that six people have developed a "rare and severe" type of blood clot after receiving doses. Out of more than 6.8 million doses, six people have developed these symptoms, all of them within 6 to 13 days of vaccination. Some observers will congratulate US health officials for their abundance of caution. Others will criticize a decision to slow vaccinations over a "very rare event" at a time when vaccine rollout is critical. But even if the pause in J&J jabs is a brief one, doubts have now been raised about the safety of a vaccine already administered to millions of Americans. The challenge of persuading the vaccine-averse in the US — and elsewhere — to roll up their sleeves just got a lot bigger.

Good Rabbit Hunting: Have you seen Darius? He is the world's largest rabbit, and he's been stolen from his home in the village of Stoulton in central England. Be on the lookout, Signal readers. Darius is 4 feet 3 inches long and weighs 44 pounds. For those of you on the metric system, that's 129 cm and 20 kg. There's a reward of more than a thousand dollars/euros/pounds for his return. But we're not in this for the money ourselves - we're searching because… who wouldn't want to see a rabbit that big? Here's to Darius's rediscovery and safe return to an owner who loves and cares for him.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

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For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

"Pandemic" was the most used word of 2020. "Delta" looks set to inherit this year's title.

Vaccination rates are ticking up slowly. Governments aren't talking to each other enough. Parts of the world are back to normal, while others are still locked down.

Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak?


Unfinished Business: Is the World Really Building Back Better?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 11am ET/ 8am PT

Our speakers:

Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Visit gzeromedia.com/globalstage to watch on the day of the event.

Salvadorans protest Bukele, Bitcoin: Thousands of people took to the streets of El Salvador's capital on Wednesday, the 200th anniversary of the country's independence, to protest against President Nayib Bukele's increasingly authoritarian streak and his embrace of risky cryptocurrency. Last May, Bukele ended the Supreme Court's independence; perhaps unsurprisingly, the court then decided to lift the constitutional ban on presidential term limits — presumably so Bukele can run for reelection in 2024. Meanwhile, last week El Salvador became the first country in the world to accept Bitcoin as legal tender, but the rollout was, to put it mildly, messy. The protesters resent Bukele's dictator vibes and warn that Bitcoin could spur inflation and financial instability. The tech-savvy president, for his part, insists that crypto will bring in more cash from remittances and foreign investment, and remains immensely popular among most Salvadorans. Still, Bukele's Bitcoin gamble could erode his support if the experiment fails.

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22.7 million: Trinidad-born US rapper Nicki Minaj has caused a political uproar after telling her 22.7 million Twitter followers that the COVID vaccine caused her Trinidadian cousin's friend to get swollen testicles and become impotent. The country's health minister called out Minaj, as did the White House.

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On Monday, Canada's liberal hunk of a PM heads into early elections that no one seems to have wanted... except for him.

When Justin Trudeau announced the move back on August 15, many people questioned the wisdom of holding a national election amid the economic and public health upheavals of the pandemic. "Read the room, Justin," was a common quip, with many saying the early vote was irresponsible from a public health perspective.

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

Will the House Democrats actually be able to "tax the rich"?

The answer to that question is yes, the House Democrats this week rolled out a proposal in order to partially finance their plans to spend $3.5 trillion. The tax proposal is notable for three things. One, while it does raise taxes on corporate America, including the corporate rate (that's 26.5% from 21% today), it goes a little bit softer on them than a proposal from Senate Democrats or from the Biden administration who wanted to be much more aggressive in going after the overseas earnings of US multinational corporations.

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UN Chief: Still time to avert climate “abyss”

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