What We're Watching: Poles to the Polls

What We're Watching: Poles to the Polls

Poland's Choice – The past 30 years have been good to Poland. Its trade unionists helped advance the fall of Communism in the late 1980s. Its newly capitalist economy began to grow in 1992. The country joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Poland hasn't suffered a recession in 27 years. Yet, the country's politics have shifted toward anti-EU populism. The current government, led by the Justice and Development Party, has brought the judiciary and media under its thumb, and has condemned resulting criticism from Brussels. On Sunday, Poles go to the polls for an election that will determine whether Poland continues in this direction. A strong economy is widely expected to lift the governing party to victory.


A Gulf Attack? Earlier today, there was a large explosion aboard an Iranian tanker in the Persian Gulf. Early reports suggest the vessel was struck by two missiles, but that's not yet clear this morning. Oil from the tanker has spilled but the crew is reportedly safe. The hit comes just weeks after tensions in the region soared following an attack on Saudi Arabia's main oil production facility. That attack was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, but both the US and Saudi blamed Iran. At the time, President Trump decided not to strike back at Iran on Saudi Arabia's behalf, instead sending a small contingent of US troops to Saudi Arabia to bolster the kingdom's defenses.

Beijing and Apple's Core Business – A day after China's state media took aim at Apple Inc. for serving as an "escort" for Hong Kong "rioters," the tech giant pulled an app – known as HKmap.life – from its iPhone app store. Beijing's beef? The app was helping protesters coordinate their movements by tracking the location of Hong Kong police through crowdsourced data. Apple's cost-benefit calculation isn't hard to grasp: The greater China region, Apple's third largest market, accounts for about $44 billion per year. This particular app has entangled the Silicon Valley giant in the same China-Hong Kong fight that has ensnared other large businesses, most recently the US-based National Basketball Association (NBA). As Beijing's patience with Hong Kong's protests wears thin, we're watching to see how much more aggressive it will become with companies caught in the crossfire.

Floyd Shivambu's Wedding Bills – Floyd Shivambu is a member of South Africa's Parliament and deputy to Julius Malema and his firebrand leftist political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). A South Africa expert and good friend introduced your Friday author to Mr. Shivambu in 2013, just as the EFF was beginning to make news. During our meal, Shivambu explained that EFF's exposure of South Africa's corrupt political elite would help the upstart party become one of the most important in Africa. When I asked Shivambu how the EFF raised money, he told me that all its cash came from the sale of the party's trademark red berets. Six years later, Mr. Shivambu faces a parliamentary investigation of allegations he paid for his 2017 wedding from a political slush fund.

Drudge Vs. Trump – A new Fox News Poll released on Wednesday found that 51 percent of those surveyed want Donald Trump impeached and removed from office. The president isn't happy about it, but he may have an even more significant problem to contend with. Since 1995, the news aggregation website The Drudge Report has served as a reliable signal of opinion within US right-wing media. In recent weeks, the site has featured a surprising number of news items that include sharp criticism of President Trump. We're watching to see if this trend continues, and if other media outlets on the right begin to criticize Trump more openly as impeachment momentum gathers force.

What We're Ignoring

Russian-NK News – Worried about the impact of "fake news" on politics? We've got good news. On Tuesday, Russia's TASS news agency signed a cooperation agreement with the North Korean state news agency KCNA, that commits these two venerable news organizations to fight back against the "misrepresentation of information in the news environment" and to "counter the dissemination of such fake news." Problem solved. Take the rest of Friday off.

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.

Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus over the last year. Now, we're sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021 including helping with vaccination efforts. To read more, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

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 since March 31 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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The Biden administration's much ballyhooed Earth Day Summit this week promises to be revealing. We're going to learn a little about what additional action a few dozen of the world's largest emitters are willing to take on climate change, and a lot more about which countries are willing to take such action at the behest of the United States.

Call it a situational assessment of the status of American power just shy of Biden's 100th day in office.

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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

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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