The World Today for June 02, 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 1,811,277 (+1.18%)
  2. Brazil 526,447 (+2.25%)
  3. Russia 414,328 (+2.09%)
  4. UK 277,736 (+0.57%)
  5. Spain 239,638 (+0.07%)
  6. Italy 233,197 (+0.09%)
  7. India 199,343 (+4.39%)
  8. France 189,348 (+0.18%)
  9. Germany 183,771 (+0.15%)
  10. Peru 170,039 (+3.38%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



Good for Godfathers

A funeral procession took place in Sicily in April despite Italy’s strict lockdown. The public mourning was for a 70-year-old Mafioso, the “scion” of one of the most notorious Mafia families. That dozens took to the streets to honor him underscored how organized crime operates in southern Italy with impunity, CNN reported.

The coronavirus pandemic has been kind to the mafia.

Good fellas are handing out basic necessities in low-income neighborhoods and extending loans to businesses in danger of failing that might qualify easily for other funding. “The aim is to gain credibility and to step in as an alternative to the state,” said Nicola Gratteri, an anti-mafia prosecutor in Calabria, in an interview with the BBC.

That generosity has a purpose. Folks who receive food and other goods might later be asked to hide a gun or a fugitive, hire a cousin or give preferential treatment or contracts to mob-run businesses over the competition, reported France24.

The mob’s influence is more malevolent than that, too. Italian mobsters are angling for billions of euros in stimulus funds and taking advantage of overwhelmed police and government officials to move more cocaine through Europe.

Italian police recently arrested almost 100 Mafiosi who were allegedly buying businesses from owners struggling amid the pandemic, pressuring them to sell with offers of money obtained via other extortion and drug trafficking schemes. In essence, the Associated Press wrote, the mob was using the pandemic as an opportunity for money laundering.

A wave of violence in Puglia – a region in the “heel” of the boot of southern Italy – suggests a “fifth mafia” group that was previously underground is operating in the south in addition to the Cosa Nostra of Sicily, the ’Ndrangheta of Calabria, the Camorra in Naples and the Sacra Corona Unita, also in Puglia, the Guardian reported.

The criminals are stepping into a vacuum, Foreign Policy magazine said. While wealthy, cosmopolitan northern Italy is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, the impoverished south is suffering the most under lockdown orders that prevent working-class Italians from earning a living. It’s no surprise they are turning to local criminal networks when the government is absent.

Before the pandemic, unemployment was already 17 percent in southern Italy, reaching as high as 50 percent for the young, compared to the 10 percent jobless rate nationwide and 27 percent youth unemployment across the country.

Italian author Roberto Saviano, whose non-fiction book, Gomorrah, was an international bestseller, told the Local that the mafia was now looking to capitalize on a flood of European Union money that many anticipate will flood in to stabilize Italy’s economy.

After all, Italy is “too big to fail.”

Saviano now lives under police protection in New York. If he can’t stay safe in his own country, imagine how the average person must feel when they receive an offer they can’t refuse.



Extinguishing Flickers

Hong Kong officially banned the annual candlelight vigil marking the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown for the first time in 30 years, Britain’s Press Association reported Monday.

Police officials said the vigil, which attracts huge crowds, would violate the social distancing rules imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Vigil organizers and activist groups criticized the move as “an excuse to stifle freedom of expression.”

The event commemorates the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

The ban comes less than a week after China announced it would impose a national security law on Hong Kong, a move that critics say consolidates its control of the city.

Critics worry the move would erode the former British colony’s “one country, two systems” framework that was agreed to when Britain handed the territory to China in 1997.

In response, the British government said it might allow holders of the British National (Overseas) passport to stay in the United Kingdom for a year or more.

The passport was issued to residents of Hong Kong before 1997.

While it falls short of offering full citizenship, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said the new passport plan could include options that offer a path to citizenship.


Quiet Desperation

The United Nations Monday made an urgent plea for funding to finance its operations in Yemen, saying three-quarters of its programs in the country have been forced to shut down or have seen reductions in their operations, the Associated Press reported.

The UN’s World Food Program had to cut rations in half, while UN-funded health services were reduced in more than half of the 369 hospitals nationwide. Meanwhile, the pandemic is spreading in the country.

One of the main reasons for the dwindling funds is the blockade caused by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, which control the capital, Sanaa, and other areas. The United States, a top donor, reduced its aid package earlier this year as a result of Houthi interference.

A UN donor conference co-hosted by Saudi Arabia – a major player in the Yemeni civil war – is aiming to collect $2.41 billion to fund essential activities from June to December.

Even so, critics have questioned the Saudi role in rallying humanitarian support: The country continues its fight against the Houthi rebels in a conflict that has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Yemen civil war began in 2014 when Houthi fighters took over Sanaa and forced the internationally recognized president to flee. In 2015, a US-backed, Saudi-led coalition began a campaign to dislodge the Houthi rebels.

The fighting has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions.


Euripides’ Moment

Thousands of people marched on the US Embassy in Auckland, New Zealand Monday to condemn the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man who died last week in Minneapolis while being detained by police, the Guardian reported.

Protesters carried signs reading, “Be Kind” and “Do Better, Be Better,” while also calling on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to denounce the killing of Floyd as a hate crime.

Floyd died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nine minutes while Floyd repeatedly complained that he couldn’t breathe. Three other police officers were involved in the incident.

Demonstrations against the killing also occurred over the weekend in other major cities around the world, including London and Berlin.

In Australia, thousands of protesters are planning to hold similar rallies on Saturday in some major cities.

Floyd’s death also drew condemnation from countries that are critical of the United States and have a record of suppressing dissent such as Iran and Russia.

Chinese officials, meanwhile, compared the US protests to the pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong last year and accused Washington of hypocrisy.


Monkey Talk

Chimpanzees smack their lips when communicating with each other, it’s a highly amusing sight.

Scientists now have discovered that this peculiar form of communication could finally answer one of the biggest questions of evolution: How human speech and language evolved, The Week magazine reported.

In a new study, researchers noted that the chimps’ lip-smacking rhythm had the same pace as that of a human’s spoken language.

Humans – regardless of language – open their mouths two to seven times per second while talking – or 2 to 7 Hz.

Previous studies have recorded this rhythm in other species such as gibbons and orangutans but this is the first time they were studied on African great apes – the closest species to humans.

After studying captive and wild chimp populations, the research team concluded that the animals produced lip-smacks at an average speech-like rhythm of 4.15 Hz.

Co-author Adriano Lameira explained that the results “prove that spoken language was pulled together within our ancestral lineage using ‘ingredients’ that were already available and in use by other primates and hominids.”

Lameira’s team hopes that future research across primate species can shed some light on these human-like rhythms.

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