Coronavirus Politics Daily: Italy closes ports, Spain floats UBI, Libya cases grow

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Italy closes ports, Spain floats UBI, Libya cases grow

Italy closes its ports to migrants: After a boat carrying 150 Libyan migrants was intercepted off the Italian coast this week, the Italian government rushed to pass an eleventh-hour law barring migrant ships from docking on its shores during the coronavirus crisis. Italy, the main port of entry for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, has seen more COVID-19 deaths than any other country to date. Members of Italy's political right and left – including the country's health minister, who belongs to a leftist party that has long supported migrants' rights – joined forces to support the legislation, on the grounds that Italy can't ensure the safety of migrants during the outbreak. But non-government groups that patrol the Mediterranean to rescue migrants say that even in the midst of a global crisis, the rights of asylum seekers should be safeguarded. Rome's move to close the ports comes just six months after a new Italian government reopened them to migrants, overturning the anti-migrant policies spearheaded by former interior minister Matteo Salvini of the right-wing Lega Party. Before Europe became the epicenter of the pandemic, efforts were underway to implement some sort of bloc-wide policy on migrants. But as COVID-19 cases soar throughout the union, this has undoubtedly been put on (the furthest edge of) the back burner.


Spain readies cash for…everyone? The catastrophic economic and social impacts of the coronavirus crisis are sure to force fresh thinking about governments' responsibilities to their citizens. In Spain, which has the highest COVID-19 death rate of any country on earth, the leftist coalition government has proposed a bold step: introducing a Universal Basic Income scheme, under which Spaniards would permanently receive monthly payments directly from the government. A government minister said Tuesday that moves are afoot to implement the measure as soon as possible. It's not clear whether it would target all Spaniards or just people with low income. What's also not clear is how it would be paid for in the long run. Local level experiments with UBI have been tried in a number of countries, but at the nationwide level, there are few examples. Finland scrapped a 2-year nationwide UBI plan in 2019 after finding that it did little to boost employment. At the moment, the only country we know of that runs a nationwide, government backed cash transfer scheme like this is Iran.

COVID-19 in Libya: The UN called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in war-torn Libya after the Libyan National Army (LNA), the defacto government that controls eastern Libya, confirmed its first COVID-19 case Tuesday in Benghazi. The LNA's opponents, the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which rules the capital city of Tripoli, has also reported dozens of infections and one death from the virus. Six years of civil war have destroyed Libya's already fragile health infrastructure, and aid agencies, including the World Health Organization, have warned that an outbreak could devastate the country. Calls for a ceasefire seem far-fetched: this week the LNA, headed by the wily warlord Khalifa Haftar, attacked a coronavirus-designated hospital in Tripoli. Here's a reminder of who's who in Libya's intractable civil war.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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