What We're Watching: Prague Protests, Violence in Ethiopia, Cash for Peace

What We're Watching: Prague Protests, Violence in Ethiopia, Cash for Peace

Czech protests – When protesters flooded Prague's Wenceslas Square three weeks ago, Prime Minister Andrej Babis dismissed the size of the crowd as the natural result of the day's beautiful weather. Apparently, the skies were even bluer last Saturday as an estimated 250,000 gathered to again demand Babis' resignation. The demonstrators are angered by fraud charges against the prime minister, and by his decision to appoint a close political ally as justice minister right when prosecutors are considering an indictment against him. This is another example of a country where protests erupt not because of economic grievances—Czech growth has been quite strong in recent years—but because of a political leader who appears to hold himself above the law.

Assassinations and ethnic tensions in Ethiopia – Over the weekend, Ethiopia's Army Chief of Staff and top officials in the country's large Amhara region were killed in what authorities described as a coup attempt. The alleged leader of the coup, a general who had called for Amharas (Ethiopia's second largest ethnic group) to take up arms for more autonomy, was also killed. The episode underscores the political challenges for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a transformative leader who has sought to liberalize Ethiopia's fast growing economy and politics since taking power last year. His reforms threaten powerful interests among the old guard (Mr Abiy himself survived an apparent assassination attempt last year that was blamed on rogue generals), and tensions among the country's dozens of ethnic groups are volatile.


Cash for Middle East Peace? – Today marks the opening of a two-day "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, a part of US presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. We're watching mainly to see who even shows up for it. The plan aims to raise some $50bn worth of investment into the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries to get the Palestinians to agree to… well, it's not clear what: the plan has no details yet on critical questions about land, borders, or security. No high-ranking Palestinians have agreed to attend this event, in part because they reject Washington's decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017. But given the lack of clarity on what the broader plan is, top ranking Israeli officials may not show up either. Anybody? Bueller?

What We Are Ignoring:

Attempts to silence an annoying French rooster- Summer vacationers in an island town off the Western coast of France are suing to shut up a large and loud local rooster named Maurice, according to this superb New York Times feature. The battle has become a symbol of the rural /urban divide in French society, and it carries strong nationalistic overtones too since the rooster (in general, not Maurice specifically) has long been a symbol of France. We are ignoring these peevish city slickers' attempts to silence majestic Maurice. Let the cock crow! (On a great side note, we learned that the rooster became a French symbol only because the Latin words for "rooster" and "Gauls" are the same: gallus.)

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 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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