October 20, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

The Sick Man

The coronavirus pandemic is undermining democracies worldwide.

A report from Freedom House recently found that Covid-19 has “fueled crisis for democracy around the world,” worsening democratic conditions in 80 countries as leaders have abused their power, silenced critics, weakened institutions and harmed the agencies that are supposed to protect public health.

In Kyrgyzstan, officials compelled healthcare workers to publicly apologize after voicing their complaints about the Central Asian country’s health system. China cracked down on speech that contradicts the Communist Party’s propaganda. Islamophobia in India has been on the rise during the pandemic, leading to persecutions under the Hindu nationalist government.

The virus has simultaneously made it harder for citizens to get out and vote in order to address those problems, the Washington Post added. Some politicians have opted for demagogic campaigning that seeks to capitalize politically on the divisions laid bare as the pandemic and crushing economic lockdowns persist.

The changes will be hard to reverse, the Freedom House report’s authors told CNN, especially as the media worldwide labors to cover the day-to-day developments of the pandemic as well as perform its watchdog role on government under the strain of budget shortages and pandemic restrictions. Foreign Policy magazine called the phenomenon “creeping authoritarianism.”

Big tech companies, for example, have harvested an unprecedented amount of data from users around the planet as billions have jumped online in an attempt to experience a simulacrum of their normal lives, reported the New York Times in conjunction with the Athens Democracy Forum.

Remarkably, Microsoft President Brad Smith, who attended the forum, agreed. “Democracy ‘is in a more precarious state today than it has been perhaps since the 1930s, and I think technology is one of the reasons,’” he said.

Certainly, democracy is not dead. It’s alive and kicking in New Zealand, which just held an election, according to Time magazine. From Belarus to Hong Kong to Sudan, pro-democracy protesters are taking to the streets to demand their rights despite the dangers of infection, government pushback and often-violent security forces, a European Union statement said.

Perhaps, as San Jose State University Rhetoric Professor Ryan Skinnell wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, people have become too prone to consider contentious disagreement and partisanship as a sign of a democracy in crisis. Democracy, after all, requires disagreement and political jousting, he says.

Skinnell’s argument has merit. But many nations would love to be able to get to the point where they could agree to disagree.

WANT TO KNOW

GREECE

Fortress Europe

Greece finalized plans to build a border wall along its northeast border with Turkey in order to deter migrants from staging mass crossings into the European Union nation, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Government officials said that the $74 million project will add about 16 miles to an existing six-mile fence. The 15-foot wall is expected to be completed by the end of April.

Police also said that they plan to install a large surveillance camera network to cover the entire 120-mile Greek-Turkish border.

A standoff occurred at the border this year, when tens of thousands of migrants tried to enter Greece after Turkey said it would no longer stop them from trying to reach the European Union.

The number of refugees has fallen sharply amid the coronavirus pandemic and tougher border policing.

The move could raise ongoing tensions between the two neighbors: The countries are bickering over energy rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, which has sparked a dangerous military buildup and fears of conflict breaking out.

BOLIVIA

The Comeback Kid’s Kid

Former President Evo Morales’s leftwing party claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential elections, after its candidate appeared to defeat the opposition in a landslide, the Guardian reported Monday.

Exit polls projected that Luis Arce of Morales’s Movimiento al Socialismo (Mas) won more than 50 percent of the vote against centrist former President Carlos Mesa, who received about 30 percent.

Mesa and rightwing interim President Jeanine Anez conceded defeat.

Arce pledged to end the uncertainty that has gripped Bolivia since October 2019, following disputed presidential elections that month. Allegations that Morales had rigged the polls to secure an unprecedented fourth term sparked mass protests, forcing the leftwing leader to leave the country.

The victory was hailed by the left in Latin America, a move that could help revive their chances in national elections across the continent.

Analysts said that Arce’s success also highlights that the rightwing in Bolivia has little support.

Mas’s opponents, meanwhile, say that Morales might try to make a comeback following the victory. Arce has tried to distance himself from the former leader while party officials said Morales “will not interfere” in the new government.

FRANCE

The Lingering Stink

Former French President Nicholas Sarkozy was indicted on charges of “criminal association” amid an ongoing investigation over the alleged illegal financing of his 2007 presidential campaign, the Washington Post reported.

The new charges are considered the most serious indictment of a former head of state in the history of France’s Fifth Republic, which was established in 1958.

Sarkozy was charged in 2018 with corruption and illegally obtaining millions of dollars in cash from the government of then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The new charges raise questions about the former leader’s motives in orchestrating the NATO operation that deposed Gaddafi in 2011.

The former president will stand trial in late November over accusations that he and his lawyer attempted to obtain classified information from a French judge. Sarkozy will also stand trial in the spring on charges of illegal campaign financing.

He denies all charges.

DISCOVERIES

Love at Slow Blink

Cats are very subtle at how they bond and communicate with humans – as a result, it’s easy to misunderstand them.

Scientists say, however, that the secret to feline communication lies in the eyes: Cats often “smile” at people by partially closing their eyes and slowly blinking them, according to Science Alert. And a new study found that cats are more receptive toward humans who slow blink back.

Researcher Karen McComb and her team tested this behavior in two experiments to understand how cats behaved toward slow-blinking humans.

In the first experiment, cat owners slow-blinked at 21 cats from different households. The team recorded the facial expressions of both owners and cats and then compared the results to situations in which the cats blink with no human interaction.

The findings showed the animals were more likely to “smile” at humans that slow-blinked at them.

The second experiment involved the same procedure, but this time the researchers – who had no prior contact with the felines – were the subjects. Scientists also extended their hands to see if the cats would approach.

Once again, the cats were more likely to blink back and were more likely to approach the hands of humans that blinked.

McComb’s team suggests that cats developed this expression because humans like it.

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: 8,214,754 (+0.73%)
  2. India: 7,597,063 (+0.62%)
  3. Brazil: 5,250,727 (+0.50%)
  4. Russia: 1,406,667 (+1.14%)
  5. Argentina: 1,002,662 (+1.31%)
  6. Spain: 974,449 (+4.05%)
  7. Colombia: 965,883 (+0.66%)
  8. France: 952,600 (+8.70%)
  9. Peru: 868,675 (+0.00%)**
  10. Mexico: 854,926 (+0.43%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country