Coronavirus Politics Daily: Poland's election, Iraq on the rocks, the Peruvian urban exodus

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Poland's election, Iraq on the rocks, the Peruvian urban exodus
Poland's election mess: Many countries have postponed their elections fearing that in-person polls could put voters at risk of contracting COVID-19. Not Poland. The country is still set to hold its presidential election on May 10, and any decision to the contrary will now come at the 11th hour, after a contentious debate. The ruling coalition government, led by the nationalist Law and Justice Party, wants to delay the vote by just a week or two so that a vote-by-mail system can be rolled out. Critics note that a fraud-proof system of this kind usually takes months or years to get off the ground. But the government wants to capitalize on incumbent President Andrzej Duda's strong recent polling, and is even trying to bend rules which forbid any changes to elections within six months of the vote. Opposition parties, meanwhile, worry about fraud and the public health risks of holding the vote so soon, and some have called for a boycott. Parliament is set to vote on the government backed-plan this week. The crucial vote lies with the lower house, where the governing coalition has a slim majority.

Iraq on the rocks: Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Iraq was facing multiple political and economic crises, including a potential Islamic State resurgence, grassroots anti-corruption protests, and the lack of a permanent Prime Minister. But now the oil-rich state's economy is on the brink of collapse, for two reasons. First, lockdowns around the world have cratered global demand for oil, which accounts for 90 percent of Iraq's government revenues and directly contributes nearly 40 percent of GDP. With global crude prices at their lowest levels in decades, the government is already $2 billion short. Second, Iraq's own lockdowns have proven catastrophic in a country where more than half of all workers toil in the country's informal economy, which means they can't work from home and have no jobless benefits. For many of these families, not working means not eating. When oil prices plummeted back in 2014, the IMF doled out $4.5 billion in aid to helped Iraq weather the storm. But amid the current crisis Iraq is just one of many crisis-stricken developing countries pleading with the IMF for urgent assistance.

A Peruvian exodus: Nations emerge from poverty and build middle classes when waves of people move from the countryside into cities to find better opportunities to learn, work, and earn. That's why one of the coronavirus' most damaging effects lies in its ability to force people out of cities, where infection rates are highest, back into the countryside—and perhaps back into poverty. That's the context for reports like this one, which describes the highways in Peru lined with men, women and children, burdened with their possessions, escaping the capital city of Lima on foot. Peru is especially hard hit: current data say it has the second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Latin America, behind only the much larger Brazil. But the frantic and often uncertain exodus from the city to the countryside is an echo of what is happening in developing countries all over the world.

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.

Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus over the last year. Now, we're sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021 including helping with vaccination efforts. To read more, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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The Biden administration's much ballyhooed Earth Day Summit this week promises to be revealing. We're going to learn a little about what additional action a few dozen of the world's largest emitters are willing to take on climate change, and a lot more about which countries are willing to take such action at the behest of the United States.

Call it a situational assessment of the status of American power just shy of Biden's 100th day in office.

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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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