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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Virus origin stories, the mob reaps rewards, Venezuelans go home

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Virus origin stories, the mob reaps rewards, Venezuelans go home

Venezuelan refugees flee to...Venezuela: Over the past several years, more than a million Venezuelans have fled the humanitarian and political crisis in their country and settled in neighboring Colombia. Now, with much of the Colombian economy shuttered due to coronavirus lockdowns, some of them are returning home. Over the last week, at least 600 Venezuelans crossed back into Venezuela, many to reunite with family left behind there. It's a fraught choice: Venezuela's health system is a shambles, and there are still major shortages of water, food, electricity, and testing – complicating the government's ability to respond to the pandemic. But there's little work in Colombia these days, and only 40 percent of the Venezuelan refugees there are registered to receive government benefits.

Debates over the virus' origins: Since the coronavirus crisis first became international news late last year, there's been global consensus that it first leaped into a human body in a wet market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. But now US intelligence agencies have confirmed that the US government is probing the possibility that the virus actually originated in a Wuhan science lab, and that it was unleashed on the public accidentally, perhaps due to poor handling of substances by researchers. The theory that COVID-19 was lab-made, first reported by Yahoo and Fox News, is just one possible origin theory under investigation by US intelligence agencies, sources have said. Leaked cables from the State Department obtained by the Washington Post this week reveal that the US has long been worried about the safety standards at Wuhan labs, which study bat coronavirus. Back in 2004, for example, samples of the SARS virus were reportedly leaked from Chinese labs on multiple occasions. For its part, the Chinese government denies the novel coronavirus is lab-made, saying that the theory lacks scientific evidence. Bottom line: we probably wont know the whole truth for some time.

Italian mobs reap covid rewards: Members of the Italian mafia are using the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Italy particularly hard, to curry favor with vulnerable families who have suffered financially because of the national lockdown. The mobsters (mostly based in the country's south) are offering loans and food deliveries to ingratiate themselves to small business owners and poor families in desperate need of a handout. The Italian government, which has spent years trying to crush the mob, has designated 400 million euro in food aid to deter needy Italians from turning to organized crime for help. While quarantines make it harder for Italian criminal organizations to conduct their usual business of trafficking and smuggling, as we noted here, Italian officials warn that they might seek repayment for their loans by forcing recipients to perform illegal favors, like transporting drugs.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

UNGA Livestream