The World Today for May 26, 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 1,662,768 (+1.17%)
  2. Brazil 374,898 (+3.22%)
  3. Russia 353,427 (+2.60%)
  4. UK 262,547 (+0.63%)
  5. Spain 235,400 (-0.16%)**
  6. Italy 230,158 (+0.13%)
  7. France 183,067 (+0.20%)
  8. Germany 180,600 (+0.15%)
  9. Turkey 157,814 (+0.63%)
  10. India 145,456 (+4.61%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country



Stage Fright

Columbia University economist Adam Tooze recently suggested that rightwing leaders have controlled global debates during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“The prevailing political tenor of the crisis, so far, has been conservative and nationalist,” Tooze wrote in a masterful Guardian op-ed where he described the pandemic as the first economic crisis of the Anthropocene, a term referring to our current geological epoch where humans rather than, say, dinosaurs, dominate the planet.

But others suggest that while conservative leaders might be in charge of the world’s major powers, they have not taken advantage of the crisis in a manner their fiercest critics might have claimed.

In Germany, the Alternative for Germany, a Eurosceptic party that opposed migration, initially denied the threat from the virus, Politico wrote. That proved an unpopular stance among Germans who felt as if remaining in lockdown was a wise better-safe-than-sorry policy.

In the New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat opined that President Donald Trump failed to aggrandize more power despite the tradition of American commanders-in-chief seizing opportunities to do so in crises.

One might contrast Trump with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose ruling party granted him extraordinary open-ended emergency powers to fight the virus. But Douthat noted that Orban is now promising to renounce those powers, almost, seemingly, to shame his critics who warned that he might keep them indefinitely in order to pursue his autocratic goals.

In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has arguably plunged conservative movements around the world into crisis as they argue between themselves about its causes and the solutions they should pursue. Analysts at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change wrote how some groups want to blame Israel, others want to blame China and still others want to claim the coronavirus is a hoax.

Some decided to bypass the question through pretzel logic, claiming that Jews ran the Chinese labs that created the virus to destroy China, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. Conspiracy theorists usually view China as the West’s most bitter enemy, so it’s not clear why a plot to take them down would be problematic from that perspective.

In Italy, the coronavirus has undercut rightwing, populist xenophobic messages, wrote Quartz, like claims that China purposely infected African migrants who brought the virus to Italy. That theory didn’t explain why most cases were concentrated in the country’s affluent north, not the south where most migrants are. As the death numbers increased, many Italians tuned out the hateful messages.

The coronavirus could have vindicated those who believe a globalized world is inherently dangerous. It still might, but not yet.



A Troubled Land

Ruling party candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye won last week’s presidential election in a landslide, Burundi’s electoral commission announced Monday.

Ndayishimiye took more than 68 percent of the vote while voter turnout topped 87 percent, Al Jazeera reported.

Ndayishimiye will succeed outgoing President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose controversial decision to seek a third term in the 2015 presidential elections sparked mass unrest and left 1,200 people dead. Hundreds of thousands fled the country.

Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been left increasingly isolated by the international community and donors since then.

Last week’s election, the first democratic transfer of power in almost six decades, was criticized for taking place during the pandemic: Few international election monitors were able to observe the vote because of quarantine requirements imposed by the government on foreign visitors.

The opposition called the vote rigged, a charge the ruling party denied.

Ndayishimiye is set to be sworn in for a seven-year term in late August. Meanwhile, many say he won’t govern free of Nkurunziza’s influence.

In February, lawmakers elevated Nkurunziza to the rank of “supreme guide for patriotism.” He also remains chairman of the party’s highly influential council of elders.


An Olive Branch

Afghan officials released 100 Taliban prisoners Monday as a goodwill gesture while the Taliban declared a three-day ceasefire to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, Agence France-Presse reported.

The government said the prisoner release is intended to “help the peace process.” It added that it will continue to release 100 inmates daily until 2,000 fighters have been freed.

Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani said the government is ready to hold peace talks with the armed group and put an end to the conflict.

The ceasefire is only the second one ever called during Afghanistan’s almost two decades of war. It is the first one initiated by the Taliban.

Even so, violence in Afghanistan has escalated since the Taliban and the United States signed a recent peace deal to withdraw US forces from the country by next year. The prisoner release is a condition of that deal as is intra-Afghan talks.


True Colors

In a rare protest in the former Soviet republic, more than 1,000 Belarusians took to the streets of the capital earlier this week to oppose President Alexander Lukashenko’s reelection bid, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.

The demonstrations on Sunday were organized by former presidential challenger Mikola Statkevich and opposition blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski – both have been barred from running in the upcoming elections on Aug. 9.

That’s because Lukashenko has no intention of relinquishing his position, say critics. In power since 1994, the president has moved to abolish presidential term limits, crack down on dissent and suppress press freedoms.

Human Rights Watch warned last week that Belarusian authorities have intensified their crackdown with a “new wave of arbitrary arrests” ahead of the election.

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on the country due to its poor human rights records. Even so, the relationship between Belarus and the West began to mend last year in a bid by Belarus to reduce Russia’s hold on the country.


Rebels with Paws

Teen angst doesn’t just affect humans but man’s best friend as well, according to new research.

Scientists in the United Kingdom found that dogs go through the same “rebellious” phase as humans during adolescence, Science Alert reported.

In their study, the research team analyzed the behavior of more than 370 pooches to observe whether their behavior changed as they aged.

They noted that once canines reached eight months – the start of puberty in dogs – their behavior shifted: They were less inclined to heed their owners.

In one experiment, the team observed how 93 dogs consisting of “teen” Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and mixed-breeds hesitated to follow a “sit” command when their owners ordered it.

The researchers added that this behavior was not present when the dogs were younger than eight months, or when they overcame their angsty phase.

Moreover, this defiant attitude was mostly directed at the owner and seen less often when strangers gave commands.

Lead researcher Lucy Asher explained that this is an important period in a dog’s life and that the pup needs patience and attention – like a human teenager.

“It’s very important that owners don’t punish their dogs for disobedience or start to pull away from them emotionally at this time,” said Asher.

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