What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

What We're Watching & What We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Japan vs South Korea – On December 20, a Japanese military plane encountered a South Korean destroyer in the waters between the two countries. Japan says the South Korean ship locked onto its plane with missile-targeting radar. South Korea says the Japanese plane was flying dangerously low and the radar "was not intended to trace any Japanese-controlled aircraft." Both governments can score political points at home by escalating the war of words, and as he prepares for another summit with President Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un can be happy to see two US allies fighting with one another.

Strikes in Mexico – A faction of the national teachers' union is now blocking railroad lines in one state while manufacturing workers are on strike in another. Work stoppages and protests may well become a new sign of the times in Mexico, because many union leaders believe new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will be sympathetic to their demands. If one group scores significant concessions, other unions will face pressure from members to use the same tactics. That can boost wages for underpaid workers, but there are also reports of shortages of food staples as a result of railroad blockades.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Fear of Dogs in Tehran – It is now illegal for residents of Iran's capital to walk dogs or to "drive them around" in automobiles. The city's police chief explained that dogs create "fear and anxiety" among members of the public. Iranian authorities say that dogs are unclean and a menace. But they also consider dog ownership an imitation of Western lifestyles, and that may be the true source of their fear and anxiety.

Complaints about Russian Post Office Beer – To boost the profitability of its postal service in remote areas, Russia now permits post offices to sell beer. Some customers have complained that beer sales undermine the dignity of the Russian Post, but we suspect the Russian thirst for beer will ensure this plan works. Officials also say they hope to help Russians find high-quality beer in places where citizens risk alcohol poisoning from alternative low-quality alcoholic products.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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