The World Today for December 10, 2020

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The Mink Saga

Mink are cute, curious and valuable mammals, making them a perfect, if unfortunate, victim for an international news story that raises questions about how far humans are willing to go to end the coronavirus pandemic.

Denmark triggered worldwide dismay when officials recently decided to kill 17 million mink farmed for their fur. The order came when a mutated strain of Covid-19 passed from people to mink and to 12 humans. The sheer number of discarded mink carcasses in this Yahoo! News photo conjured unpleasant connotations of the mass suffering that humans can wreak on each other, too.

The saga also devolved into a political crisis reaching the highest levels of the Danish government: Political opponents took the opportunity to warn of a threat to Danish democracy as the culling was deemed illegal, the Washington Post reported.

Actually, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who broke down in tears visiting a mink farmer, acknowledged that she had no legal basis for culling the animals, angering breeders at the country’s 1,100 mink farms. She apologized. Agricultural Minister Mogens Jensen resigned due to the illegal move and the outcry around it, reported National Public Radio. There were calls for Frederiksen to do the same.

Danish lawmakers retroactively passed a law allowing the cull.

Denmark is the world’s biggest exporter of mink used in high-end fur fashion. One BBC story featured a third-generation mink farmer who had to put down 65,000 animals. Overnight, his business was gone.

Conversely, animal rights activists seeking to end animal cruelty have been critical of the industry for years. The Humane Society compellingly argued that the extermination of so many of the creatures highlighted the senselessness of keeping them in tiny cages for much of their lives to satisfy the fashion industry.

Indeed, some “luxury-fashion insiders” wondered if the cull, in addition to public pressure from animal cruelty and welfare groups, might finally end the appeal of fur, Vanity Fair wrote.

Jensen noted that, while he regretted the cull, it was necessary: The wily minks frequently escape from their farms, Newsweek explained. Stopping the spread of the virus was, in a sense, incumbent on the absolute necessity of preventing the animals from passing Covid-19 to humans.

Adding to the macabre drama, the disposal of the minks was done poorly. Buried in shallow graves, gas from the corpses caused them to bloat and shift, pushing some through the dirt that had covered them. “Culled mink rise from the dead to Denmark’s horror,” a Guardian headline said. “Zombie-mink” was the local meme. Regardless, officials had to dig them up and bury them again in deeper pits.

Greeks have already killed their mink. The Irish will soon have to decide what they will do with their own populations. Minks have tested positive for the coronavirus in the US, too, the Washington Post reported.

Like the Nordic sagas of a millennium ago, this one in Denmark had the requisite drama, human frailty, conflict and loss. And like those tales of yore, so many stories during this pandemic involve heart-wrenching choices with bitter endings.




En Marche

Facing mass protests and multiple allegations of excessive force, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the start of a process to reform policing in France, calling the need for such a measure “urgent,” the Guardian reported Wednesday.

Macron said summits between police officials, legislators and community leaders would begin next month to tackle seven areas he believes needs to be addressed including the racial profiling of residents of color and longstanding police complaints over working conditions.

“When you have a skin color that is not white, you are stopped much more. You are identified as part of a problem. That cannot be justified,” Macron said last week in an interview that angered police unions.

And in a letter to the SGP-FO police union, he wrote that it was important to “beef up trust between the French and the police forces, while at the same time giving police the means to be able to do their jobs and meet the expectations of our citizens.”

Trust in French police has plummeted: One recent survey found that only 37 percent polled had confidence in the police.

Macron, say observers, has done a 180 in the face of growing protests since American George Floyd was killed earlier this year, setting off demonstrations worldwide over police brutality and racism.

More recently, demonstrators in France have taken to the streets to protest a new and controversial global security law, which would make it illegal to record on-duty officers with the “intent” to cause harm.

Critics say the law threatens civil and press freedoms.



Russia signed an agreement with Sudan this week to establish a navy base in the troubled East African country, a move seen as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to increase its global influence, the Associated Press reported

Under the agreement, Russia will anchor four navy ships, including nuclear-powered ones, at Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The deal will last for 25 years with options to extend.

In return, Sudan, which is undergoing a fragile democratic transition, will receive Russian weapons and military equipment.

Russia said that the new navy base will “help strengthen peace and stability in the region.”

Analysts suggest that the deal marks another effort by Moscow to restore its naval presence around the world: The country’s military international presence declined following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Red Sea has long been a critical link in a network of global waterways stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean to the Pacific – a strategic and economic thoroughfare one US defense official dubbed the “Interstate-95 of the planet,” Brookings Institution said.

It is an especially important conduit for the oil trade.

The Russian navy has already established a major presence in the Mediterranean Sea because of its naval base at the port of Tartus, in Syria.

Since 2015, Russia has been aiding the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad to reclaim control over most of the country in the face of a devastating civil war.



Australian lawmakers passed a law this week that would give the federal government new powers to veto or scrap agreements between Australian states and foreign powers, a move aimed at curbing China’s influence in the country, Bloomberg reported.

The new legislation will allow the central government to block or curtail foreign involvement in various sectors, including infrastructure, trade cooperation, tourism, as well as university research partnerships.

The move could further inflame tensions between Australia and its largest trading partner, China. Since April, ties between the two nations have worsened after Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus. China imposed crippling tariffs on barley and wine in retaliation.

Australian states and territories have at least 30 agreements across 30 nations that could be affected by the new law. Among the early targets, the government is likely to go after an agreement signed by the state of Victoria in 2018 to join China’s signature infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative.

Meanwhile, Morrison has said that he plans to toughen oversight of foreign investment, regardless of the size of the deal, for sectors such as telecommunications, energy and technology.


Just Like New

Small lizards and geckos can regrow their tails but this ability hadn’t been observed in bigger reptiles – until now.

New research shows that young American alligators can regenerate part of their lost tails, the Miami Herald reported. Reaching 15 feet in length and weighing 1,000 pounds, alligators need their tails to hunt in the murky waters of the southeastern United States.

In their study, a team of researchers studied four young American alligators that had died in the wild. Their findings showed that the juvenile reptiles could regrow new tails spanning up to 18 percent of their total body lengths.

However, the regenerated parts had no skeletal muscle. The team explained that it gave the alligators “a functional advantage” in their habitats.

The study also raises more questions about evolution since mammals and birds can’t regenerate complex tissues as efficiently as smaller reptiles.

Researchers say the findings offer new insight into future therapies for people suffering from arthritis or injuries.

“If this very large long-limbed animal has this ability, can we take advantage of this to help people who have lost limbs or burn victims who need skin regeneration?” wondered co-author Jeanne Wilson-Rawls.

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: 15,391,701 (+1.45%)
  2. India: 9,767,371 (+0.32%)
  3. Brazil: 6,728,452 (+0.80%)
  4. Russia: 2,546,113 (+2.14%)
  5. France: 2,377,913 (+0.62%)
  6. UK: 1,771,545 (+0.95%)
  7. Italy: 1,770,149 (+0.73%)
  8. Spain: 1,712,101 (+0.57%)
  9. Argentina: 1,475,222 (+0.36%)
  10. Colombia: 1,392,133 (+0.54%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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