The World Today for March 06, 2020

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A Perfect Storm

When fiscal conservatives fret about budget deficits and slow economic growth, their fears are rooted in the unknown. What might happen if a crisis strikes at the exact moment when government spending is already high, and the economy is teetering on the brink of recession?

The world might find out now that the coronavirus has struck Italy.

Almost 4,000 people in Italy have contracted the potentially deadly virus, according to the Johns Hopkins University. As of Friday, 148 have died. In absolute terms, those figures are not necessarily worrisome. But the number of cases jumped 50 percent in one day alone recently, CNN reported.

The spike in Italy occurred for the same reasons the virus spread quickly in South Korea and could also expand rapidly in the US. As the Daily Beast wrote, the virus is highly contagious and spreads even when carriers aren’t especially sick. Open societies where citizens travel freely can transmit it quickly.

The unique challenge in Italy is that the economy, the third-largest in the eurozone, already shrank 0.3 percent in the last quarter, bringing the currency bloc to near-zero growth overall, the Guardian reported. Worse, CNBC noted that the virus has struck Milan and Venice, whose regions represent around 30 percent of the country’s economy. Analysts foresee the coronavirus suppressing growth further.

Italian leaders have already warned European Union officials that they won’t hit their budget targets this year under rules designed to instill discipline in member states, the Financial Times reported. The EU has appropriated more than $250 million to help Italy and other countries fight the virus. But European leaders have also said there is no cause for alarm, reported Agence France-Presse.

Critics say the EU is dropping the ball. “The bloc is likely to approach a possible severe crisis in the same way it did the euro crises of the recent past: by bickering and delaying, thus increasing the final cost of the decisions it finally takes,” argued the financial magazine Barron’s.

Lastly, the coronavirus is likely to adversely affect one of the Italy’s vital industries: tourism. The Vatican, for example, has closed the country’s catacombs in order to stop tourists from rubbing elbows in cramped, humid tunnels that are ideal breeding spots for the virus, Reuters wrote.

Syracuse University is calling back students in its study-abroad program in Florence. John Fenton, a junior studying business, arrived in mid-January and had to go home after what he told was “by far the best month in my life.”

Some café owner near the Ponte Vecchio is missing Fenton dearly.



Operation Pawn

Turkey deployed 1,000 police officers to its western border to prevent Greece from pushing back thousands of refugees and migrants, an operation that has wounded 164 people, Al Jazeera reported.

Greek border guards have prevented nearly 35,000 people from entering the country in the past five days, the news outlet said. The Greek government is preparing to deport hundreds who have made it through.

Greece also announced earlier this week that it is suspending asylum applications for a month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that he won’t stop migrants and refugees from reaching Europe, breaking his previous commitment to hold them in Turkey under a 2016 deal with the European Union.

Greece and the EU have accused Erdogan of using the migrants and refugees as “blackmail,” a way to pressure Brussels to increase their support for Turkey’s hosting of more than 4 million refugees and its fight against the Syrian government’s forces in Idlib.


Learning Grace

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara announced Thursday that he will not run for re-election in October, ending speculation that he might illegally attempt to secure a third term, Agence France-Presse reported.

In a speech before lawmakers, he said that he was ready to hand over the reins of power to a new generation of leaders after 10 years in office.

He had previously declared that he would run if his longtime political rivals were candidates, even though the constitution prohibits him from seeking a third term.

Ouattara was first elected president in 2010 in an election that sparked a civil war after his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to concede defeat. Around 3,000 people died in the violence.

Political tensions have been increasing in the country after the government issued an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro, a presidential candidate and former rebel leader whose forces swept Ouattara to power in 2011.


War and Peace, and Accountability

Just days after the signing of a peace deal, the International Criminal Court ruled Thursday that its chief prosecutor could open investigations into alleged war crimes committed during the Afghan conflict, the BBC reported.

The ruling will allow prosecutors to look into the actions of United States forces, the Afghan government and the Taliban since May 2003.

While the US is not a signatory to the statute that created the court, Afghanistan is.

Both sides criticized the inquiry, arguing that the ruling comes at a fragile time: The US signed a peace deal with the Taliban over the weekend to end more than 18 years of conflict, an agreement that is already looking shaky in light of insurgent attacks on Afghan targets this week.

In 2016, the court released a report saying there was a reasonable basis to believe that US forces committed torture on prisoners at secret CIA-operated detention centers. It also alleged that the Afghan government tortured prisoners and the Taliban committed war crimes, such as the mass killing of civilians.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has been seeking a formal investigation into alleged war crimes since 2017.


Bovine Emissions

Former US Secretary of State James Baker quipped in 2008 that to solve climate change we have to “kill all the cows” to prevent their flatulence from warming the planet.

The Environmental Protection Agency pointed out that methane from livestock makes up almost one-third of agricultural greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States.

That’s just a drop in the bucket, but methane warms the Earth more than 85 times as much as carbon dioxide, Discover Magazine reported.

Now scientists are altering the diet of the bovines to cut down on the methane.

Animal biologist Breanna Roque and her team have been providing cows with special diets that contain small portions of two types of red seaweed: Asparagopsis taxiformis and Asparagopsis armata.

Both types of seaweed have a compound called bromoform, which prevents the enzymes in cows from producing methane during digestion.

In one study, Roque’s team fed beef steer with a grass feed containing five percent of A. taxiformis, which cut the methane produced by 95 percent.

In another study, they used A. armata in the feed of lactating dairy cows and noted that the special diet again lowered methane production by as much as two-thirds.

Despite the results, scientists are still trying to figure out the effectiveness of the algae and how they might affect the products coming from animals – for example, making sure the milk doesn’t taste strange.

Correction: In Wednesday’s DISCOVERIES section, we said in our “Save the Pooches” item that Egypt is moving to spray and neuter street dogs. The correct term is spay. We apologize for the error.

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