What We're Watching: Bibi on trial, Iran nuclear talks resume, Kosovo's election

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in court

Bibi on trial as deadlock continues: One political commentator described it as "the ultimate Israeli split screen." As Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's corruption trial finally kicked off after months of delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, political parties were meeting with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin to "recommend" whether the incumbent PM or the opposition should be given the first shot at trying to form a new coalition government after Israelis recently went to the polls for the fourth time in two years. Back in court, the prosecutor said that the PM made "illegitimate use" of his power to obtain favorable media coverage and other luxury perks, with Bibi responding by calling the trial an "attempted coup." The political temperature could not be hotter right now: though Netanyahu is likely to have the votes to try and form a government in the next few weeks, political stalemate persists, making it increasingly unlikely that he will be able to hobble together a workable coalition. Netanyahu also must appear in court three times a week, a massive distraction as he tries to save his political career. All this comes as Israel tries to revive its post-pandemic economy without a stable government or a national budget. The prospect of a fifth election looms large.


Iran talks finally resume: After months of speculation over how to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the US unilaterally abandoned under the Trump administration, most signers of the pact — France, Germany, the UK, China, and Russia — will meet in Vienna on Tuesday to chart a path forward. But there's a catch: representatives from the US and Iran will be present but they will not meet face-to-face. Why? Because the Iranians still insist that the US immediately lift all 1,600 economic sanctions — worth $1 trillion in economic damages — first. The US, meanwhile, says that the Iranians — who have enriched uranium well beyond the deal's limits in recent years — must fall back into compliance with the accords themselves. The other signatories will try to bring Washington and Tehran closer, but that won't be easy. Trust on both sides has cratered after six years of bluster and confrontation, with the Americans insisting Tehran cease its support of terrorist proxies across the Middle East. But time is of the essence: Iran is set to hold national elections in June and if hardliners win the presidency and parliamentary seats, Tehran could lose interest in engaging with America at all.

Kosovo parliament elects a president just in time: With just one day until a deadline that would have triggered snap parliamentary elections, the tiny Balkan nation of Kosovo's legislators on Sunday elected 38-year old lawyer and activist Vjosa Osmani as president, representing the ruling leftwing nationalist Vetëvendosje movement. The post had been formally vacant since last November when her predecessor stepped down over war crimes accusations. Two prior attempts to elect a president in recent days had failed because boycotts by opposition parties and ethnic-Serb parties prevented the body from reaching quorum. Osmani and Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who founded Vetevendosje himself as an anti-establishment party more than a decade ago, have styled themselves as a younger and more liberal generation of Kosovar leaders. One of the biggest challenges, in addition to a massively struggling economy, is to chart further progress in peace talks with Serbia, which — with backing from China and Russia — still refuses to recognize the independence of its former province. (Kosovo, with support from NATO, declared independence in 2008 after more than a decade of struggle against the threat of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Serb nationalists.) The Trump administration brokered a partial normalization of economic ties last year but deep misgivings remain on both sides.

Building on more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

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 for almost three weeks 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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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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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohamed, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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1,544: South African authorities say that at least 1,544 square miles of land has already been destroyed by wildfires in Cape Town. Landmarks including an African antiquities library at Cape Town university were gutted by the flames, while communities around the historic Table Mountain were evacuated as fire engulfed the area.

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