September 10, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

BRAZIL

Plagues of Fire and Pestilence

The Amazon is burning again. For the second year in a row, the Guardian reported, massive fires have swept through the rainforest often called the lungs of the Earth.

Critics say populist President Jair Bolsonaro is to blame. They claim he has gutted protections for the rainforest, allowed mines to proliferate and looked the other way while illegal development soared. “The Amazon is condemned to destruction,” an unnamed source in the South American country’s environmental agency told the left-leaning British newspaper.

Research showed the fires are worse than many assumed, Reuters added in a story that also quoted critics who said Bolsonaro has failed to protect the Amazon while welcoming clearcutting.

Corruption under Bolsonaro’s populist administration is also constantly in the headlines in Brazil. The country’s last three presidents have been impeached or embroiled in corruption scandals, Agence France-Presse explained. Bolsonaro, his family and officials close to him are now under scrutiny for malfeasance.

Brazilian journalists are also asking why Bolsonaro’s wife and son received payments from an ex-aide of the president who, in turn, is the subject of a second corruption investigation, the New York Times wrote. “What I’d like to do is smash your mouth in,” Bolsonaro told a reporter who brought up the scandal.

The coronavirus has also spawned a slew of corruption stories. First, the Economist assumed that Bolsonaro’s denial and head-in-the-sand response to Covid-19 helped make Brazil’s experience during the pandemic among the worst on the plant. It ranked second in the world in terms of the number of infections until earlier this month when India overtook it.

After denying the seriousness of the coronavirus, Bolsonaro continued to shake hands and mingle in groups as the pandemic raged. Brazil’s infection rates and deaths skyrocketed to the top of the global lists. The president said he had “mold” in his lungs when he tested positive for the virus.

Second, corruption has compromised the government’s response to the virus, too. As the Washington Post reported, a court recently suspended the governor of Rio de Janeiro from office. He was implicated in a corruption scandal involving the expropriations of pandemic response funds.

Yet Bolsonaro is doing well. His poll numbers are up, wrote Reuters, as he has turned on the taps of public spending, flooding the economy with public money in a move that has improved the poverty level and potentially helped him set the stage for a second term in office after the 2022 presidential elections.

“Rio’s Beaches Are Proof: Bolsonaro Is Winning the Narrative on Covid-19,” wrote Americas Quarterly, using sunbathing as a metric to determine whether folks felt as if their head of state was doing well or not.

Pocketbook issues count – and apparently trump corruption and mismanagement, at least in Brazil.

WANT TO KNOW

ETHIOPIA

Watch Me!

Voters in Ethiopia’s Tigray region went to the polls Wednesday, defying a government ban on parliamentary elections and raising fears of looming violence in the rebellious region, Bloomberg reported.

The regional election flouted a decision by the federal government earlier this year to postpone Ethiopia’s August general elections due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The dispute has raised fears that it might push the region to secede from Ethiopia if the situation worsens: Ethiopia’s upper house of parliament said the results won’t be recognized and federal authorities said they will stop the vote.

The move marks the latest challenge for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed: The Nobel Prize-winning leader has implemented political reforms and civil freedoms but his authority and initiatives have been challenged by ethnic regional groups since he came to power two years ago.

Analysts say that the election is merely a display of Tigrayan anger over being sidelined by the reforms, and won’t result in the region splitting from Ethiopia.

GREECE

Nowhere to Call Home

Thousands of refugees and migrants fled Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Wednesday, after a fire destroyed a large portion of the overcrowded camp, Politico reported.

The fire burned most of the camp’s formal enclosure, including a facility for 400 unaccompanied children, authorities said. They added that the 12,500 people living in the camp were headed to the island’s capital of Mytilene.

There were no reports of injuries or fatalities but Greek officials said the fire “wasn’t accidental.”

Aid workers, activists and officials said that a series of fires were started by some camp residents, who are furious at being forced to quarantine with at least 35 residents that tested positive for the coronavirus, the New York Times reported.

Made to accommodate about 3,000 people, Moria camp housed more than four times its capacity. Aid groups and international organizations have repeatedly complained that the social distancing and basic hygiene are impossible to implement in the overcrowded camp.

They have also accused the Greek government of using the pandemic to detain and restrict the movement of migrants and refugees.

MYANMAR

Breaking Ranks

Two soldiers from Myanmar’s army have broken ranks to provide video testimony to international investigators about the army’s role in the mass killings of Rohingyas three years ago, NBC News reported this week.

The testimony marks the first time members of the nation’s military have confirmed what United Nations investigators and international prosecutors call a campaign of genocide against the ethnic Muslim group. The soldiers explained in detail how they and other members of the military were responsible for killing and raping members of the minority in August 2017.

The army’s campaign forced more than 700,000 to flee the country, many to neighboring Bangladesh.

The soldiers fled Myanmar and are believed to be in the custody of the International Criminal Court, which is investigating whether Myanmar army officials committed acts of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Muslim community. The accounts back up the testimony of many Rohingya refugees and will likely be part of a future case against Myanmar.

Myanmar’s civilian leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has repeatedly denied that the armed forces have committed crimes against Rohingyas.

DISCOVERIES

Caught Red-Handed

A fossil dating back 99 million years is helping scientists understand how the earliest precursor of modern ants hunted and fed, USA Today reported.

Preserved in amber, the fossil shows an ancient “hell ant” using its horns and tusk-like mandibles to grab its final victim, an extinct relative of the cockroach.

Researchers reported in their paper that the hell ant – known as Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri – looked much different than today’s insects.

The ferocious bug had peculiar horn-like protrusions and its mouthparts moved in a vertical fashion. This is different from the feeding mechanism of current ants because they move their mandibles horizontally.

The fossil reveals the most vivid picture of how these extinct bugs fed before vanishing 65 million years ago.

“Since the first hell ant was unearthed about a hundred years ago, it’s been a mystery as to why these extinct animals are so distinct from the ants we have today,” said lead author Phillip Barden.

Barden and his team are now trying to determine the evolutionary course of the prehistoric insects and understand why they became extinct.

“Over 99 percent of all species that have ever lived have gone extinct,” he said. “As our planet undergoes its sixth mass extinction event, it’s important that we work to understand extinct diversity and what might allow certain lineages to persist while others drop out.”

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: 6,362,440 (+0.54%)
  2. India: 4,465,863 (+2.19%)
  3. Brazil: 4,197,889 (+0.86%)
  4. Russia: 1,037,526 (+0.50%)
  5. Peru: 696,190 (+0.67%)
  6. Colombia: 686,851 (+1.13%)
  7. Mexico: 647,321 (+0.69%)
  8. South Africa: 642,431 (+0.31%)
  9. Spain: 543,379 (+1.66%)
  10. Argentina: 512,293 (+2.45%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours