What We're Watching: Biden's immigration dilemma, "illiberals" sue EU, China tramples on HK democracy, Lego sales soar

Migrant families with children walk along a dirt road after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States from Mexico in Penitas, Texas, U.S., March 6, 2021.

Immigrants flock to the US-Mexico border: President Biden has already undone many of the Trump administration's harsh immigration programs, saying that he is ushering in more "humane" policies. Since then, an influx of migrants mainly from Central America has flocked to the US-Mexico border in the hopes of seeking asylum in the United States. The number of children and families reaching the border increased by more than 100 percent between January and February 2021, according to US Customs and Border Protection. Importantly, the number of children arriving on their own has also surged 60 percent in that time, presenting a particular challenge for the US president, who campaigned heavily against Trump's policy of detaining unaccompanied minors. The Biden administration says that the recent surge is linked to a renewed sense of "hope" after Trump's hardline immigration stance, but this development puts Biden in a massive bind: he wants to stay true to his image as a humane and compassionate leader, while also not opening the floodgates on immigration — still a hot button issue in the United States. Indeed, this problem is only going to get worse in the months ahead.


"Illiberals" vs EU: EU member states Hungary and Poland have filed a petition with the European Court of Justice over the bloc's budget provision that conditions disbursement of funds on respect for the "rule of law" within member states. The provision, which is baked into the EU's 2021-2027 budget as well as the 750 billion euro pandemic relief package passed last summer, has irked Budapest and Warsaw, who argue that doling out the cash should be linked solely to meeting key economic objectives and fiscal rules. For years, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who often boasts of his country's "illiberal democracy," has been at loggerheads with the EU over his attacks on the independent judiciary and stifling of the media. Meanwhile, Polish President Andrzej Duda and his ruling Law and Justice Party have also clashed with Brussels over the conservative Polish government's erosion of democratic principles and discrimination against the LGBTQ community. The complaint now makes its way through the courts, a process that could take up to two years — delaying the disbursement of some funds that desperate Europeans need as the continent continues to grapple with a rising caseload and a sluggish vaccine drive.

China "fixes" Hong Kong elections: China's rubber-stamp parliament approved on Thursday the ruling Communist Party's plan to reduce the number of Hong Kong lawmakers elected by the public and replace them with appointees picked by a pro-Beijing committee. This means that more members of the city's legislature will now be chosen by the Chinese politburo than by Hong Kong voters. China's National People's Congress also consented to a rule requiring all aspiring lawmakers to pledge their loyalty to China in order to qualify as candidates under Beijing's draconian national security law. We've said this before, but Hong Kong democracy is effectively over since it'll be impossible for the pro-democracy bloc to ever win control of the territory's legislative council. Interestingly, the two proposals were backed by 2,985 members of the National People's Congress with zero votes against... and one (gasp!) abstention. We now expect to see the usual strong-worded condemnations from democratic governments around the world, which are likely to be met with the usual eye-rolls in China.

Soaring plastic bricks: Sales of Lego's colorful plastic bricks jumped nearly 20 percent in 2020. Kids trapped at home by the pandemic need something to do, and many parents want their diversions to be less digital and more imaginative. Fun bonus fact: many adults play with Lego sets too. #ThankYouDenmark.

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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