Non-coronavirus news: Israel’s deadlock, Sanders' future, and Putin's forever plan

Non-coronavirus news: Israel’s deadlock, Sanders' future, and Putin's forever plan

Israel's deepening political woes: A week after Israel's parliamentary election – its third in less than a year – neither the incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor his rival Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, appear well positioned to form a coalition government. Earlier this week, it seemed that Gantz might just be able to form a minority government backed by the Joint List of Arab parties, but this plan fell through when two Blue and White members refused to sit in a government backed by Arabs. Israel's deepening political instability comes just as Netanyahu is set to appear in a Jerusalem court to face three corruption charges on March 17. A series of elections and a caretaker government have meant that for more than a year there's been no economic policy in place to stem the country's growing budget deficit. Now, as the coronavirus outbreak presents major challenges for Israel's economy, the political wrangling is delaying the passage of a much-needed state budget.

Is it over for Bernie Sanders? Bernie Sanders entered yesterday's primary elections in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Washington, Idaho, and North Dakota fully aware that he needed a good result in most of these states in order to keep his presidential campaign alive. That's because his rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, has built a fairly strong delegate lead and the older and more heavily African-American demographics of the states that appear next on the primary calendar favor Biden. Sanders came up short. When the votes from yesterday's contests are fully counted and the delegates allotted, it will be clear that Biden has become the overwhelming favorite to capture the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and to face off with Donald Trump in the November election. Sanders may remain in the race a few more weeks, but this contest is effectively over.


Putin's forever plan: After 20 years in power, Russian President Vladimir Putin just can't get enough. Last month, he proposed constitutional amendments that would create various indirect ways for him to remain Russian-in-Chief even after term limits kick in at the end of his current term in 2024. But yesterday he pulled out all the stops: After a little-known lawmaker proposed resetting the clock on those limits, beginning in 2024, Putin theatrically swept into the chamber to deliver a speech in which he graciously accepted the possibility of serving two more six-year terms (until 2036), pending approval from the constitutional court. Spoiler: the constitutional court will approve. Credible polls tell us that Putin is genuinely popular, and many Russians, particularly businesspeople and politicians, prefer the imperfect system they know to the prospect of a struggle for power when Putin leaves the scene. But there's a big difference between "approval of Putin" and "approval of 16 more years of Putin." And the last time he found a gimmicky way to return to power (from 2008-2012 he served as prime minister to evade presidential term limits) it provoked massive street protests.

What We're Ignoring

A 2032 Olympics bid for an imaginary city: Indonesian President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, wants his country to host the summer Olympics in a dozen years' time. After filing an initial bid last month to host the summer games in Jakarta, Jokowi is reportedly considering changing the venue to Indonesia's new, high-tech capital city on the island of Borneo. There is a slight catch: the city doesn't exist yet. Construction won't begin until next year. We feel comfortable ignoring this story until the city at least has a name.

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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