Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran's anguish, Gaza on the brink, Orban pulls a fast one

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran's anguish, Gaza on the brink, Orban pulls a fast one

Iran's corona quagmire – As the coronavirus death toll climbs in Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected US offers of humanitarian aid, citing a bogus conspiracy theory that the virus was manufactured by the United States. In a televised address marking the Persian New Year, Khamenei denounced President Trump's "maximum pressure campaign" since the US walked away from the nuclear deal in 2018. Iran's leaders say that the Trump administration should instead lift crippling sanctions that block Tehran from exporting crude oil and accessing global financial markets. Iran is battling one of the world's largest COVID-19 outbreaks, with some 22,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,800 deaths. One person in Iran dies from the virus every 10 minutes, according to an Iranian health official. The message from Washington: we'll offer humanitarian help if you want it, but sanctions aren't going anywhere.


COVID-19 reaches Gaza – Late Saturday, Palestinian authorities confirmed at least two coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, both recent returnees from Pakistan. Officials have now moved to isolate all travelers returning to the coastal enclave, but many say the quarantine facilities (schools, medical facilities) have extremely poor sanitary conditions that would allow the virus to thrive. Gaza, home to some 2 million people, is one of the most densely populated places in the world, complicating efforts at social distancing, and its healthcare system is already in disarray after years-long blockades by both Israel and Egypt. If the virus sweeps Gaza – which is already grappling with spotty electricity, corrupt leadership, and scarce resources – the outcome will be catastrophic.

Coronavirus infects Hungary's democracy – Hungary's defiantly "illiberal" Prime Minister Viktor Orban knows that a proper strongman lets no good crisis go to waste. After staying on-message early by blaming the pandemic on immigrants, he has now proposed changes to the country's emergency laws that would allow him to rule by decree indefinitely, while mandating jail sentences of up to five years for spreading information that raises panic or impedes the government's response. Orban, who has come under EU criticism for violating EU rules on democracy in the past, says he needs these new powers to grapple with the enormity of the crisis, but critics and human rights watchdogs warn that the measures are open-ended and threaten free speech. Hungary's legislature, which is controlled by Orban's Fidesz party, will vote on the changes this week.

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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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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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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