July 24, 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 numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 4,038,863 (+1.71%)
  2. Brazil: 2,287,475 (+2.69%)
  3. India: 1,288,108 (+3.98%)
  4. Russia: 793,720 (+0.74%)
  5. South Africa: 408,052 (+3.32%)
  6. Peru: 371,096 (+1.24%)
  7. Mexico: 370,712 (+2.33%)
  8. Chile: 338,759 (+1.22%)
  9. UK: 298,731 (+0.26%)
  10. Iran: 284,034 (+0.93%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

BULGARIA

Ties, Opaque and Dirty

Bulgarians hit the streets in the late 1980s to bring down communism. In 2013, they did it again to reject corruption. In recent weeks, thousands have shown up again to vent outrage over their leaders’ failure to tackle graft and bad government, and to protest the dirty ties between the government, oligarchs, the judiciary and security services.

Essentially, this means trouble for EU golden boy, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

A former bodyguard, firefighter and karate champion who worked for communist dictator Todo Zhivkov as well former prime minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg, a former king, the EU has mostly turned a blind eye to the shaky rule-of-law situation in the country, as well as its notorious corruption. That’s because he is staunchly pro-EU.

But protesters want him gone, as well as his chief prosecutor, Ivan Geshev. Borissov on Thursday fired four ministers to show critics he was doing something. It’s not enough, say protesters.

The protests erupted in early July after prosecutors raided the offices of President Rumen Radev, the Financial Times reported. The popular Radev has been critical of Borissov’s inaction and alleged involvement in government corruption. “Let’s throw the mafia out of the government and out of the prosecutor’s office,” Radev said in a speech after the raid.

The Center for the Study of Democracy, a respected think tank in Sofia, issued a report last year estimating that a minimum of 35 percent of public contracts in the Balkan country involved corruption. Organized crime’s tentacles have so enveloped the apparatus of Bulgarian government that the phenomenon of “state capture” occurs because the government has now become more of an extension of the mafia than a public operation, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project explained.

Now, the Bulgarian Socialist Party – the scion of the once-all-powerful communist party – plans to call a no-confidence vote in parliament, Balkan Insight reported. Helping their cause was an embarrassing video that surfaced in June. Shot in the prime minister’s home, Borissov was taped sleeping next to a gun and stacks of 500 euro bills. Borissov has lamely accused Radev of orchestrating the scandal.

Meanwhile, Borissov is not the only object of the people’s ire. In Burgas on the Black Sea, protesters have gathered on the beach to denounce the alleged corruption of Ahmed Dogan, an ethnic Turkish politician whose wealth, corruption and role in propping up governments in exchange for perks is notorious, Reuters reported. The chief prosecutor and police are under fire because of a violent crackdown on protestors: Scenes of the violence galvanized the anti-corruption, anti-oligarchy movement that also focuses on Delyan Peevski, a parliamentarian and media mogul.

Borissov is standing resolute, say analysts. Recently, he posted a video on Facebook with an icon of the Virgin Mary, defending the police and saying he’s the only one that can keep Bulgaria safe and prosperous, the only one that can deliver the funds from the EU, Politico explained. He also reminds voters of how corruption scandals in the Socialist Party and its mafia links caused EU officials in Brussels to limit the country’s access to EU funding during the financial crisis in 2008.

But protesters aren’t mollified by a cabinet reshuffle or his promises anymore, analysts say. And they don’t care about EU funds either, saying the money fuels the patronage networks, the corruption and the “poisoned political culture” they want destroyed.

Many believe it’s time for Borissov to go. What comes next is anyone’s guess. Whatever it is, some believe it’s got to be better than this.

WANT TO KNOW

ISRAEL

Loud Desperation

Israeli lawmakers passed a law Thursday that would empower the government to impose restrictions to fight the coronavirus pandemic without parliamentary oversight, sparking fears among the opposition for the future of the country’s democracy, Reuters reported.

The Grand Corona Law would allow the government to impose restrictions it deems urgent – such as new lockdowns – with lawmakers only reviewing such decisions after 24 hours.

The government argues that such a move would allow it to efficiently address the virus, which has infected more than 56,000 people and left more than 430 dead as of Thursday.

Critics, however, called the law “fascist and dictatorial” and argued that transparency around the coronavirus policy was vital during the pandemic. They said parliament needs to maintain strong scrutiny over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently facing a corruption trial and plummeting approval ratings.

Netanyahu effectively controlled the spread of the virus a few months ago. But a recent resurgence has prompted his fragile ruling coalition to impose new lockdowns that have sparked daily demonstrations over his handling of the pandemic.

CHINA

The Contender

China launched its first rover mission to Mars Thursday, which – if successful – will join the small but growing list of nations that have successfully landed on the planet, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Tianwen-1 mission will make a seven-month journey to Mars aboard the newly developed Long March 5 rocket, after which it will attempt to enter Mars’ orbit and send a rover to the surface.

To date, only the United States and Russia have successfully placed rovers on Mars.

Landing a rover, however, will not be easy, as nearly half of all Martian missions fail: The European Space Agency has tried to land a craft on Mars twice, in 2003 and 2016.

China’s late arrival to the space race has presented the US with a serious rival for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.

In 2013, China landed its first rover on the moon and it became the first country to send a rover to the far side of the moon five years later. It plans to set up a manned lunar base by 2045 and send astronauts to Mars by the same year.

CANADA

Keep Your Tired, Your Poor…

Canada’s Federal Court of Justice ruled earlier this week that the country’s asylum treaty with the United States violates the Canadian constitution’s guarantees of “the right to life, liberty and security of the person,” CBC News reported.

The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) recognizes both the US and Canada as “safe” countries for migrants and mandates that newcomers must claim asylum in the first country they arrive in – meaning that Canadian border authorities can send people back to the US.

The case was brought by human rights groups and individuals, who argued that Canada was exposing refugees to risks of detention and deportation by returning them to the US.

“Many people, and refugee advocates particularly, were concerned about the fact that sending people back to the United States may not be necessarily a safe place,” said Hani Ataan Al-Ubeady, the director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg. “A safe place is when people say and feel that they are safe. It’s not a safe place because it is written on a piece of paper.”

The 16-year-old agreement has come under intense scrutiny recently due to US President Donald Trump’s tightening of asylum rules.

Refugee advocates welcomed the ruling but cautioned those wanting to come to Canada following the court decision to hold off.

The Canadian government has six months to appeal the case.

DISCOVERIES

Written By the Victors

Historians have been debating for decades whether ancient Polynesians and Native Americans had contact with each other centuries before the Europeans arrived in the Americas.

Now they think they did.

The story starts in 1947 when legendary Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, showed the world that it was possible to traverse the Pacific Ocean on a wooden raft in his Kon-Tiki expedition.

Still, possibility isn’t fact. And past research of ancient DNA from excavated bones failed to provide conclusive evidence of pre-colonial contact.

Now, scientists have found evidence of a shared lineage between the Indigenous people in Colombia and natives of French Polynesia, United Press International reported. In a new paper, researchers studied DNA samples of more than 800 Indigenous people in both locations and wrote that both groups began interacting sometime around 1,200 AD.

Meanwhile, historians point to the sweet potato as further evidence – it was first cultivated in South and Central America but also grew in Oceania. Lead author Alexander Ioannidis also noted that the word for sweet potato was shared by both groups.

Researchers now believe it was the Polynesians who made the long journey to South America and carried the crop across the Pacific.

“If you think about how history is told for this time period, it’s almost always a story of European conquest, you never really hear about everybody else,” Ioannidis said. “I think this work helps piece together those untold stories “