Pandemic worsens; defunding the police; debt crisis & Europe leadership

Ian Bremmer provides his perspective in a bit more than 60 seconds:

First, the W.H.O. says the coronavirus situation is "worsening" worldwide. Where is it getting worse?

Well, still in about a dozen US states where the reproduction number is greater than 1.0. In other words, we have flattened the curve in the United States as a whole. And New York City has a lot fewer, the metro area, has a lot fewer cases than it used to, a lot fewer deaths. But in 12 states across the country, you still actually have significant increases exponentially, though largely from lower numbers of cases. So, there's that. Most of that's in the south. Some of the Midwest. And hopefully won't expand dramatically on the back of all of the protests we've had for the last week and a half.


I'm of two minds there. I mean, on the one hand, most of those people, as you watched on television, are wearing masks and it's outdoors. And the super spreader incidents that we've seen so far are almost all indoors - meat packing, processing facilities and churches and nightclubs in South Korea. But, you know, you listen to Fauci, you listen to others, and the concern is that we're going to see more cases on the back of that. So, if that happens, then US, too.

But mostly coronavirus is getting worse in the developing world, particularly South America, particularly Brazil, Mexico, most other South American countries, and a lot of other countries, too, like in Pakistan, Iran has a major new outbreak now. And these are countries that do not have the money, the political wherewithal, the health care capacity to do enough testing or to really respond with lockdown. So, I mean, the expectation is not only are those numbers going up as we can monitor, but the numbers of cases that are asymptomatic or that have other diseases going along with them and we're never going to know are really cases, is a lot higher, probably two to five times higher than what is reflected in the data right now.

Another question, with calls to defund the police echoing across the United States, what does that actually mean?

Well, number one, it means it's not going to happen because Trump opposes it. And Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee, also opposes it. Now, I mean, I understand that a lot of people that are looking at systemic racism in police departments and all of the abuses of police authority that have happened over the course of the decades, and we're certainly still seeing and seeing very visually on videotape, right now, leads to a very emotive reaction. And defunding police sounds like you're taking away their money and there won't be a police department. And particularly the chair of the Minneapolis council was not very clever in what she had to say about that and provided great soundbites for people that wanted to paint it as if we're going to have anarchy. That's not the case. It's more about demilitarization of the police. It's more about trying to train in ways and provide technical capabilities that would stop from the use of escalation and force in most cases.

It certainly means, it could mean that budgetary priorities are going to change. There's no question about that. But I think the biggest issue is that if you don't change the nature of policing, the police unions continue to be incredibly strong and they really prevent you from taking the kinds of systemic reform that are required to respond to the demands of the population. And I mean, the population that's making those demands, you know, maybe 20 years ago, was primarily the black population in the US. It's not anymore. And what's so interesting is just how much President Trump himself and law and order is not reflected in the way the American population as a whole believes that this response should be treated.

Very few people out there presently support a lock them up and throw away the key. Or you remember when Trump was arguing, "yeah, yeah, put that guy in the paddy wagon. Rough him up a little first," for someone that was shouting and causing mischief in a Trump rally. There are very few Americans that actually support that. There's some, but it's nowhere close to Trump's actual support base of 35%, 40%, maybe even 45&. So, I do think that you're going to see more systemic reform of the police departments across the country. And some of what we've seen in Camden, New Jersey, an experiment I suspect that you're going to see a lot more of both here in my neck of the woods, but also more broadly.

Finally, it's all pandemic and protests in the news cycle. What other global stories should I be paying attention to?

Well, I mean, I certainly think the potential for an emerging market debt crisis, I mean, as the markets in the United States do very well. But the ability of right now, middle income emerging markets to borrow is very, very high. Interest rates are low and they're getting the money they need. It's only the poorest countries that are really squeezed and need the emergency funding right now. I suspect in 12 and six months' time, that squeeze is going to grow. And the potential to have real banking crises that metastasized beyond the emerging markets is real. And we should not in any way feel comfortable just because jobs are coming back in the United States. I'd also say focus on leadership in Europe. The fact that the Germans and Angela Merkel is doing so well right now, not only in terms of response to coronavirus, but in terms of getting relief to southern Europeans that need it and creating a seven year European budget that will get approved in fairly uncontroversial fashion, either in short order or certainly by the end of this year, no one would have expected that a few months ago. That's a pretty big story.

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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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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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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