Non-coronavirus news: Israel, US-Iran skirmishes, and a Sanders surprise?

Non-coronavirus news: Israel, US-Iran skirmishes, and a Sanders surprise?

Gantz tapped to form a government in Israel: Israel's president has tapped the Blue and White party's Benny Gantz to form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing bloc failed to secure a parliamentary majority. Gantz has 28 days to wrangle the 61 seats needed to form a unity government. One noteworthy change in the status quo: Avigdor Lieberman, the political kingmaker whose support both leaders need to form a coalition, has broken with Netanyahu and tipped the scales in Blue and White's favor. Meanwhile, at the behest of the president, Netanyahu and Gantz met Sunday to discuss the option of forming an "immediate joint government" to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. A state of emergency in the court system has also delayed Netanyahu's long-awaited corruption trial, slated to begin on March 17, until May 24. The ball is now firmly in Gantz's court.


Will coronavirus help Bernie Sanders? To win the Democratic Party's nomination, Bernie Sanders needs something big and completely unexpected to happen. On Tuesday, three delegate-rich states — Arizona, Illinois, and Florida — go to the polls. Under ordinary circumstances, polls show Biden would be the clear favorite to win all three. But coronavirus ensures the turnout will be very low. What if Sanders voters show up, and Biden voters don't? A long shot? Probably. But remember that Biden voters tend to be much older (and apparently more vulnerable to COVID-19) than Sanders voters. An upset by Sanders in most or all these states could upend the delegate race and the entire election.

Iran-US tit-for-tat continues: An Iraqi military base housing US troops was hit by a fresh wave of rockets over the weekend, wounding three Americans and two Iraqis. This comes just a week after three coalition members were killed when their military camp near Baghdad was hit by rocket fire attributed to the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, prompting retaliatory US airstrikes on that group. The Pentagon has increased its military presence in the Middle East over the past year in response to the perceived increased threat posed by Iran. Tehran now seems willing to up the ante. But as it grapples with one of the world's worst coronavirus outbreaks (it has the third largest death toll behind China and Italy) maybe this isn't the best time to provoke Washington?

UPDATE: the piece has been updated to reflect the postponement of the Ohio primary.

What We're Ignoring

Those who ignore the experts: The warnings from public health officials are stark. To ensure that the global coronavirus pandemic doesn't overwhelm healthcare systems, everyone needs to do their part: Wash your hands. Avoid large gatherings. Work from home if you can. And yet, an Arkansas clergyman quoted in the Washington Post says a colleague recently told him that "half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there's no actual virus." Meanwhile, this weekend nightlife was bumping in big cities like Nashville and New York. France's health ministry is clarifying to the public that snorting cocaine does not, in fact, slow the bug's spread. And here is a group of Thai bat guano collectors continuing to ply their trade despite concerns that coronaviruses may be incubated in bat colonies before making their way to humans. We're not just ignoring these stories; we're washing our hands of them.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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