May 14, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest number as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US 1,390,764 (+1.52%)
  2. Spain 271,095 (+0.58%)
  3. Russia 242,271 (+4.32%)
  4. UK 230,985 (+1.42%)
  5. Italy 222,104 (+0.40%)
  6. Brazil 190,137 (+6.69%)
  7. France 178,184 (-0.09%)
  8. Germany 174,098 (+0.54%)
  9. Turkey 143,114 (+1.16%)
  10. Iran 112,725 (+1.77%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

BRAZIL

Who’s in Charge?

Brazil has been facing three threats recently: a public health emergency due to the coronavirus, a political crisis stemming from alleged corruption in the rightwing, populist administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, and an economic meltdown.

Any of these three could threaten the stability of a nation. Now add in growing calls to oust the president and counter calls for a military takeover and you have a situation careening out of control, analysts say.

“The scenario has given Brazil’s generals an opening to insert themselves back into the front lines of politics, a role they last played during the country’s 21-year military dictatorship, which ended in 1985,” the New York Times wrote.

How did Brazil arrive at this moment – again?

Let’s start with the president’s handling of the pandemic, which has turned coronavirus-denial into an artform: Bolsonaro has resisted lockdowns and mocked those who fear it. As a result, Brazil might now have more coronavirus cases than the US, according to a study cited in the Week. It has less capacity to handle the sick, however.

And as the pandemic has raged, the Brazilian president and his family have become mired in a web of scandals and investigations.

Recently, the country’s Supreme Court blocked Bolsonaro from appointing a family friend as head of the federal police after the resignation of Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who publicly said that Bolsonaro had pressured him to choose a police official in Rio de Janeiro. Moro claimed that Bolsonaro wanted a Rio chief who would give the president information on the investigations into his two sons, Reuters explained.

Moro said Bolsonaro sent him a text message that read, “You have 27 superintendencies (of the federal police). I just want one, the one in Rio de Janeiro,” the Associated Press reported.

A video has surfaced to back up the charges against Bolsonaro, Al Jazeera reported.

Bolsonaro denied the accusations. But the Supreme Court has sanctioned a probe into the matter.

Meanwhile, Moro, the former lead judge of the Petrobras “Car Wash” investigations that ultimately led to the arrest of ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and, arguably, the election of Bolsonaro, is one of the most popular figures in Brazil, wrote Forbes.

“President Bolsonaro’s signature issue was the Car Wash and cleaning house. Sergio Moro is the living embodiment of that cause,” Kevin Ivers, vice president for Latin America at DCI Group in Washington, D.C., told Forbes. “This is a profound and potentially fatal blow for Bolsonaro’s presidency.”

Investigators have also identified Bolsonaro’s son, Carlos, as running a criminal fake news racket that defamed the president’s enemies, wrote the Guardian. As the Intercept described in fascinating detail, another of the president’s son, Flavio Bolsonaro, a senator and former local lawmaker in Rio, has close ties to assassins for hire and was involved in corruption schemes involving phantom employees in local government.

Bolsonaro likely faces impeachment. Two of the five presidents elected since Brazil’s military junta ended in 1985 have been removed from office – most recently in 2016 – so there is ample precedent. Bolsonaro also has plenty of enemies among the Brazilian establishment. He yearns to be a strongman, opined Venezuelan political commentator Francisco Toro and Latin American analyst James Bosworth in the Washington Post, but he hasn’t built the coalition that a strongman needs to succeed.

“To undermine a country’s institutions and take greater individual control, you need to chip away at democratic rules over time,” they wrote. “It takes more than fire-breathing rhetoric to do that, it takes political skills, alliance-building chops and a bit of luck, too. To Brazil’s great fortune, Bolsonaro seems to have run out of all three.”

Meanwhile, the value of the Brazilian currency, the real, is plunging. The economy is on track to shrink 4 percent, and is on the verge of collapse. Food shortages loom.

As chaos engulfs Bolsonaro’s presidency – and ordinary Brazilians’ lives – speculation is rife that his vice president, retired Gen. Hamilton Mourao, is preparing to take over. Mourão at times has appeared to enjoy the pandemonium, the New York Times wrote.

“Everything is under control,” he said. “We just don’t know whose.”

WANT TO KNOW

MYANMAR

Gotcha

Myanmar’s military admitted that its soldiers abused prisoners in Rakhine State in a rare admission of wrongdoing from an armed force regularly accused of crossing the line, Agence France-Presse reported.

A video emerged over the weekend showing soldiers punching and kicking blindfolded detainees arrested on suspicion of membership in the Arakan Army (AA). The group has been labeled a terrorist organization by the government.

Relatives of the detained men deny they were part of the AA. The military said they would take action against those responsible for the abuse.

Since fighting began last year, dozens have died, hundreds have been injured and thousands more displaced from their homes.

United Nations officials are pressing for Myanmar’s military to be investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Southeast Asian nation also faces charges of genocide at the International Criminal Court over a 2017 military crackdown in Rakhine, which forced more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

Myanmar denies the accusations.

EUROPEAN UNION

Free Movement, Freed

Germany announced Wednesday it plans to loosen its restrictions on border controls with other European Union countries after weeks of restrictions to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, Bloomberg reported.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that border operations will return to normal by June 15, as long as the spread of the disease remains under control.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Austria will also ease travel between nations on Friday and lift border checks completely by mid-June.

The ability to cross borders freely is one of the main foundations of the 27-nation bloc.

The controls have banned most travel and those allowed to enter are required to self-quarantine.

The restrictions have severely affected trade: Kurz said that lifting restrictions is an important step in restarting economies.

MALAYSIA

Shaky Ground

A prime minister sworn in unexpectedly due to “trickery” two months ago is facing heightened pressure from the opposition trying to topple it, the South China Morning Post reported.

On Wednesday, a confidence vote against the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin scheduled for May 18 was canceled, a decision denounced by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Reuters reported.

Mohamad, who resigned in February after his coalition collapsed, said the postponement of the vote was a possible sign that Muhyiddin’s coalition lacked a parliamentary majority. The country also hasn’t held a parliamentary session this year.

Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof said the vote had to be delayed so the government can prioritize the fight against the novel coronavirus. Malaysia has reported more than 6,700 cases and more than 100 dead.

No new date was provided.

Muhyiddin was unexpectedly sworn in on March 1 as prime minister with the support of a corruption-ridden party that was defeated in the 2018 general elections, Reuters said. Mohamad has been trying to oust the government since then.

DISCOVERIES

Missing on Mars

The Earth’s magnetic field is vital in shielding the planet from dangerous radiation caused by solar winds, a shield powered by a dynamo formed from molten metal deep in the planet’s core.

Mars, however, lost its dynamo billions of years ago.

And while scientists believed that Mars’ dynamo had a short lifespan, a new study shows it was active for longer than previously thought, United Press International reported.

For the study, a team of researchers used data from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution satellite to detect evidence of magnetism in Martian rocks.

Initially, Mars’ dynamo was believed to have operated somewhere between 4.3 billion and 3.9 billion years ago, but results showed that it was active even longer: between 4.5 billion and 3.7 billion years ago.

“We have these two observations that point to a dynamo at the earliest known time in Mars’ history, and a dynamo that was present half a billion years after many people thought it had already switched off,” said co-author Catherine Johnson.

The authors explained that studying dynamos is pivotal to learning more about a planet’s evolution, not to mention learning why the Red Planet ended up becoming a barren wasteland.