Coronavirus Politics Daily: Chile's miners in a jam, sexist attacks in Italy, climate summit postponed

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Chile's miners in a jam, sexist attacks in Italy, climate summit postponed

Chile's miners caught in a COVID bind: Even as coronavirus swept their country, Chile's hardy copper miners, whose industry accounts for a full ten percent of Chile's economy, continued to go to work. But now, as their unions prepare for new contract negotiations and seek bonuses for having worked amid COVID-19 hazards, they might be stuck in a tight shaft. For one thing, coronavirus related economic shutdowns around the world, especially in copper-hungry China, have caused prices to plunge, putting copper companies in an especially tight-fisted frame of mind. For another, the pandemic has increased many companies' desire to replace more of their workers with robots — Chile's mining industry is particularly exposed. The outcome of the negotiations, which could shape life for Chile's miners for years to come, is an early bellwether of the kinds of issues that unions around the world may face as they seek to negotiate with employers in the aftermath of the pandemic.


Sexist attacks fly in Italy's Senate: We've already written about how Italy's women doctors and public health experts have been largely left out of Italy's coronavirus response — but here's the kind of abuse that one of the few female officials who is involved has to deal with: amid an angry debate about how to reopen the economy, Education Minister Lucia Azzolina was attacked in grotesque terms on the Senate floor yesterday, when a critic of her school-reopening plans challenged her credibility by likening it to her virginity. Ms. Azzolina, a member of Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement, is under police protection after receiving a spate of sexist threats on social media as well. Ensuring the safety of top officials is becoming a wider problem in Italy as tempers flare over the handling of the pandemic and its aftermath. Attilio Fontana, the embattled far-right governor of the Lombardy region — epicenter of the outbreak in Italy — and Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri have also been given extra security after receiving serious threats on social media and in public spaces.

UN climate summit postponed: Coronavirus quarantines have done some short-term wonders for the environment, causing emissions to fall and giving wildlife a chance to paint the town in cities around the world. But it's also now caused the United Nations critical COP26 climate summit to be officially postponed for one year, to November 2021. It was simply too hard to get delegates from 196 countries together amid travel restrictions, and effective diplomacy by Zoom at that scale isn't really feasible. So, is the postponement a good thing or a bad thing from the planet's perspective? On the one hand, it pushes off a critical summit where countries were to present, revise, and agree on new emissions targets. At the moment, the world still isn't doing enough to meet the Paris Agreement goals, inked at the 2015 climate summit, of limiting warming to 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. And the coronavirus crisis, in principle, presents a rare opportunity to reset the agenda on emissions as countries plan their economic recovery strategies. But on the other hand, this year's summit was due to occur right alongside a US presidential election that could dramatically change the climate policy of the world's largest economy: President Donald Trump walked out of the Paris accords, but his opponent Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin them. Maybe waiting to see how that shakes out isn't the worst thing after all.

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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Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

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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