May 28, 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 1,699,933 (+1.10%)
  2. Brazil 411,821 (+5.27%)
  3. Russia 370,680 (+2.30%)
  4. UK 268,619 (+0.76%)
  5. Spain 236,259 (0.00%)**
  6. Italy 231,139 (+0.25%)
  7. France 183,038 (+0.10%)
  8. Germany 181,524 (+0.18%)
  9. Turkey 159,797 (+0.65%)
  10. India 158,613 (+4.44%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

NEED TO KNOW

GERMANY

No Nukes

American nuclear weapons in Western Europe were controversial during the Cold War. They acted as a deterrent to a Soviet invasion from the east even as many Europeans viewed them with fear because their continent – not North America or Eurasia – would suffer the fallout of a nuclear exchange.

Recent developments have reignited those debates.

In Germany, leaders of the liberal Social Democrats who are part of a grand coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats recently called for the US to withdraw its nukes from their country, Politico reported. The weapons simply provoke Russia, they argued.

As the Center for Eastern Studies, a Polish think tank, explained, the Social Democrats’ comments came after German officials announced they would keep their air force’s ability to deliver nuclear warheads when they replaced their aging fleet of warplanes in the coming years, an arrangement that has been in place for decades within NATO.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg entered the debate, arguing that Germans must keep the American atomic bombs if they expect to have a say in discussions over nuclear deterrence in Europe, DefenseNews wrote.

Russia is still an existential threat to Europe, Stoltenberg added. Russian nuclear missiles are stationed in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea around 350 miles from Berlin. Russia has also threatened to use nuclear weapons against Denmark, Poland and Romania. Meanwhile, Russian aggression in Ukraine and its espionage in Europe doesn’t exactly signal good intentions, either.

The US appears to be responding to that aggression with its own nuclear saber-rattling.

President Donald Trump recently pulled the US out of an arms-control agreement with Russia that allows either side to fly over each other’s territory to make sure the other is not preparing for a military conflict. The move could presage a US exit from another major accord that limits each nations’ nuclear arsenals, the New York Times warned.

If Germany doesn’t want US nukes, the American ambassador in Warsaw has suggested that the US could move them to Poland. An analyst at the Brookings Institution thought that was a bad idea because it would be expensive and also make those weapons more vulnerable to a Russian attack. Officials in Russia believe such a move would violate NATO’s promises not to put nukes on the soil of its newest members, the Turkish Anadolu Agency reported.

What finally happens is anyone’s guess. However, this debate is a reminder that the novel coronavirus is not the worst thing that could happen to humanity.

WANT TO KNOW

INDIA

The Standoff

India deployed more troops along its northern border with China after multiple rounds of talks failed to ease tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

India said it will deploy about 5,000 soldiers to the un-demarcated border in the Ladakh region – to match what China has already assembled there – to stop the continuing incursions by the Chinese army, an Indian official told the news agency.

Tensions began escalating earlier this month when Indian and Chinese troops engaged in a scuffle on the banks of Pangong Tso glacial lake which left scores of soldiers injured. Since then, there has been a steady buildup of troops and multiple faceoffs, the agency said.

Chinese officials said Wednesday they are committed to resolving the dispute “through dialog and consultation.” Indian authorities said that talks are being held “at various levels” but added that maintaining troops on the border is key.

“India will defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity and at the same time make all efforts to maintain peace and tranquility along the India-China boundary,” said S. L. Naramsimhan, a member of India’s National Security Advisory Board.

An Indian official told Bloomberg that the dispute was possibly triggered by the construction of a road in the region by the Indian government: Such projects are part of a plan to develop rural areas.

Indian officials, meanwhile, said that the current dispute is more serious than the Doklam standoff in 2017: Then, Indian troops were placed around the Doklam region near Bhutan after China tried to construct a road in the area.

EUROPEAN UNION

Desperate Measures

The European Commission proposed a €750 billion ($824 billion) recovery package Wednesday that would assist members of the European Union heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic get back on their feet, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The package aims to provide massive fiscal injections for the union’s hardest-hit nations without increasing the debt levels of southern European members such as Italy, Spain and Greece.

The new debt consists of €500 billion in grants and €250 billion in loans to hard-hit countries. Repayment deadlines would start in 2028 and be spread out over several decades.

The proposal needs the approval of all EU nations. If approved, it would represent a historic step in the merging of the finances of the bloc’s 27 members.

Still, the “frugal four” – the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Sweden – have already raised doubts over the plan.

EU leaders are expected to meet in June to negotiate over the proposal.

BRAZIL

When News Becomes a Weapon

Brazilian federal police raided the homes and offices of allies of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro Wednesday, part of an investigation into a network that allegedly carried out fake news attacks against the Supreme Court, Reuters reported.

The operation was executed in six cities and primarily focused on social media posts that allegedly spread defamatory claims about the chief justices.

The targets of the raid included a congressman, Douglas Garcia, a Bolsonaro supporter, who called the raid a left-wing assault, according to the Guardian.

Bolsonaro’s son Carlos Bolsonaro also criticized the raid as part of an “unconstitutional, political and ideological” investigation. Last month, police identified Carlos Bolsonaro as one of the key members of the “criminal fake news racket” engaged in threatening and defaming Brazilian authorities.

Supporters of Bolsonaro have expressed frustration at the court for limiting the powers of the president. They have been demonstrating in front of the court on weekends demanding its closure.

Opposition politicians, meanwhile, have praised the raids and have accused Bolsonaro of building “a fake news network that operates from within the presidential palace and the offices of congressional allies.”

DISCOVERIES

Bionic Birds

Cormorants are excellent at catching fish: The wiry blackbirds can dive into the ocean and nab their dinner in less than a minute.

Now, scientists have discovered that this ability to find and snatch prey so effectively comes from the birds’ super-sonic hearing, according to the Washington Post.

In a recent study, researcher Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard and his team said that at least one of the 40 species of the bird can hear underwater nearly as good as frogs and turtles.

They said the 10-pound avian has “pulsations of air bubbles behind their eardrums and that gives them underwater sensitivity.” They also have stiffer and thicker eardrums than non-diving birds, which allows them to go deep without having to worry about the pressure underwater.

But this innate ability comes with a price: The birds have poor hearing when in flight. That makes them vulnerable to approaching predators.

The research, meanwhile, was the first to study the physiology of a bird’s underwater hearing. Christensen-Dalsgaard said it was crucial to learning how birds have adapted to the environment over millions of years.

He added that it’s also important to learn how human noise can affect an animal’s ability to hunt and communicate.

With many people staying home due to the pandemic, the researcher said that “birds’ songs have changed because it is more quiet than usual.”