Coronavirus Politics Daily: Virus eliminated down under, Mexico’s AMLO defies gravity, Belarus plays ostrich

AMLO's approval: Mexico's populist president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has been criticized for initially dragging his feet in response to the coronavirus crisis, which critics say cost the country precious time in containing the outbreak. But despite a surging death toll (the number of COVID related deaths in Mexico doubled in the past week alone to more than 1,300) AMLO appears to have defied political gravity, with a large majority of Mexicans, some 82 percent, saying they approve of his handling of the emergency situation. Unlike other Latin American leaders, AMLO hasn't imposed a strict national lockdown, though he has extended recent school and non-essential business closures until the end of May. According to the same poll, however, Mexicans were less enthusiastic about the president's handling of the economic fallout. In recent days he has imposed budget cuts so severe that critics have compared the lifelong left-winger to austerity icons Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, while also rebuffing calls to provide tax relief for businesses. Given that Mexico's economy was already in trouble before the pandemic hit, it remains to be seen whether AMLO will pay a price for his economic policies in a way that he hasn't (so far) for his public health response.


Australia and NZ pave the way on virus containment: Despite being led by politicians with vastly different political views, the island nations of Australia and New Zealand are both on track to eliminate the coronavirus from their countries — for now. While both countries have had the advantage of geographical isolation and additional time to enforce national lockdowns, they also have another feature in common: the ability to put partisanship aside to weather a crisis. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, a conservative, and New Zealand's leftwing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, have listened to public health experts and worked pragmatically with local officials to respond to the crisis. Both governments have rolled out generous social safety nets for workers, and boosted healthcare capacity. In Australia, where new daily COVID cases have hovered in the single digits for days, more than 2 million Australians (8 percent of the population) recently downloaded a new contact tracing app within hours of its release. Contact tracing has proved critical to subduing outbreaks in Singapore and South Korea. New Zealand, for its part, documented only one new case on Sunday. Both countries are not only on track to flatten the curve, but to crush it.

Belarus' COVID denial: Alexander Lukashenko is the only president Belarus has ever had. Since the office was created in 1994, he has dominated his country's politics so thoroughly that he's been called "Europe's last dictator." He rarely makes news outside Europe and Russia, but his handling of the coronavirus has brought him lots of international attention. In short, he is NOT handling the virus, which he insists does not exist in his country. He also says, for the record, that it can be kept at bay with vodka and saunas. Belarus is officially open for business, spectator sports continue, and people are expected to show up for work in person. We can't know for sure what Lukashenko is thinking. Maybe it's a deep fear that his already weak economy can't withstand a lockdown as he gears up for a stage-managed election this fall. Or maybe it's something to do with his never-ending personal rivalry with Russia's Vladimir Putin. The two countries are negotiating a kind of limited merger right now. Perhaps Lukashenko's insistence on ignoring COVID-19 is his way of saying that while Putin has given in and ordered precautions, real men don't fear invisible germs.

Paper was originally made from rags until the introduction of cellulose in 1800. Since then, it has transformed into a "circular" industry, with 55% of paper produced in Italy recovered. It no longer just comes from trees, either. Some companies produce paper with scraps from the processing of other products like wool and walnuts.

Learn more about this rags to riches story in Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

In late 2017, Zimbabwe's long-serving strongman Robert Mugabe was deposed by the army after 37 years in power. Amid huge popular celebrations, he handed over the reins to Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former spy chief. It was an extraordinary turn of history: Mugabe, one of Africa's last "Big Men" and a hero of the country's liberation war to end white minority rule, went out with barely a whimper, placing Zimbabwe — stricken by economic ruin and international isolation — in the hands of "The Crocodile."

Mugabe has since died, but almost three years after his departure, Zimbabwe's woes continue.

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As the world prepares to mark the 75th anniversary since American forces dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, global non-proliferation efforts, first codified in Cold War-era treaties, are in jeopardy. While the overall number of nuclear weapons continues to decrease — mainly because the US and Russia have set about dismantling retired weapons — both countries, which account for 90 percent of the world's total nuclear arsenal, continue to modernize their nuclear weapons programs. Meanwhile, the New START treaty, which limits the number of long-range nuclear weapons that each side can deploy to about 1,500 apiece, is at risk of collapsing. Here's a look at which countries have nuclear weapon stockpiles and who's ready to use them.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, we are in August, summer, should be taking it a little easier. Coronavirus not taking the stress levels off but hopefully giving people the excuse, if you're not traveling so much, be close with your families, your loved ones and all that. Look, this is not a philosophical conversation, this is a talk about what's happening in the world, a little Quick Take for you.

First of all, you know, I'm getting a little bit more optimistic about the news in the United States right now. Yes, honestly, I am. In part because the caseload is flattening across the country and it's reducing in some of the core states that have seen the greatest explosion in this continuation of the first wave. Yes, the deaths are going up and they should continue to for a couple of weeks because it is a lagging indicator in the United States. But the fact that deaths are going up does not say anything about what's coming in the next few weeks. That tells you what's happened in the last couple of weeks.

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TikTok, ya don't stop: The wildly popular video app TikTok has been in the crosshairs of American lawmakers for many months now. Why? Because the app is owned by a Chinese company, raising national security concerns that it could funnel personal data on its 100 million American users to the Chinese government. The plot thickened in recent days after President Trump abruptly threatened to ban the app altogether, risking a backlash among its users and imperiling US tech giant Microsoft's efforts to buy the company's North American operations. After a weekend conversation between Microsoft and the White House, the sale negotiations are back on but US lawmakers say any deal must strictly prevent American users' data from winding up in Chinese Communist Party servers. The broader fate of TikTok — which has now been banned in India, formerly its largest market, and may be broken up under US pressure — nicely illustrates the new "tech Cold War" that is emerging between China and the United States. A Microsoft/TikTok deal is expected by September 15. Tick..Tock.

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