What's next for America; protests & pandemic; Hong Kong autonomy

On the latest edition of World In 60 Seconds, Ian Bremmer brings an extra-long analysis to pressing issues:

Pandemic, economic depression and now mass protests. What's next for America?

I'm not surprised by this level of dissent publicly, given how long social inequality has persisted and how much worse it's being made by coronavirus. You're going to see a lot of people on the streets because we've got 25% unemployment right now. A lot of people are going to go back to work, but a lot aren't. It's heading towards the summer, people are soon coming out of lockdown and may feel safer in terms of the pandemic, especially in NY and in LA where the caseload has gone down. We also have very deep divisions.


Trump was at 42% approval when we had lowest unemployment. He's at 42% approval now when we have global depression. This says a lot about how divided the country is. This has been on the back of the African-American community. Blacks have been hardest hit in the United States in terms of inequality and now in terms of coronavirus too. How many are dying, how many can't socially distance, how many have jobs that have gone away or require work in unhealthy situations? The Blue Lives Matter contingent, the working class white folk, also feel disenfranchised, their wages are flat and they don't feel secure. This is a massively polarized group and there is less space in their center than before.

With election coming right now in the US, you're probably going to see violent protests for longer. Keep in mind that the media focuses on the violence and riots. If you watched last night, the peaceful protests didn't make news. Instead, it's who broke windows, hit police, got arrested. It's the minority of people out there, but it's what the news and social media cover. With all of this and with a president who understands that the way he wins is not by reaching out to black Americans, but by ensuring that his base shows up in larger numbers, implies much greater division at a time of great economic disarray and dislocation. The next few months are going to be really ugly in the US.

With inequality protests going global, where does that leave coronavirus and social distancing?

I'd say be less oriented towards panic around this. The super spreader incidents we've seen in a nightclub in South Korea, a bunch of churches, and a chorus group in Seattle, all have a commonality: people are singing. In Wisconsin, they found one outdoor demonstration that led to fifteen people being found positive. That's a lot less than the 50% outside of Seattle, Washington, who were socially distanced, but inside a room singing for three hours. Here in NYC, I saw a large-scale demonstration, about 70% to 80% were wearing masks. There was a decent amount of social distancing, nothing like what we saw at the Ozarks. Most people that are demonstrating about Black Lives Matter and police brutality don't have a thing about wearing mask. Most people that were demonstrating the lockdowns, there is a political statement in not wearing a mask. My hope, based on some science, is that relatively short-term protests outdoors with many people wearing masks, probably won't get you the super spreader incidents that we have seen.

Having said that, the protests grow, and you get a lot of people protesting in close quarters and going up against the police. The police weren't any better at wearing masks last night than the protesters were in terms of numbers. You'd be more concerned about that.

Hong Kong banned the Tiananmen Square vigil for the first time, coming up on June 4th. What does that say for its autonomy?

They're saying they banned it because of concerns of coronavirus in Hong Kong, one of the most effective paces in the world at containing the virus. Doesn't seem to be the priority for the legislature. They've been trying to work on making it illegal for people to speak badly of the Chinese mainland. I think it's a bit of misdirection. It's about wanting to assert more authority over Hong Kong. It probably says that Macao and Hong Kong are not, not going to be allowed to protest Tiananmen Square going forward. Let's see what happens with Macao going forward. The United States has put the Chinese and Hong Kong on notice, but the level of sanction is less than it could be and not close to removing special trade status.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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35.4: The US has overtaken China as the country with the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining networks, now accounting for 35.4 of the global mining presence. This comes after the Chinese government banned domestic cryptocurrency mining operations to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction.

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