January 01, 2021

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WORLD

Here’s to Hope

Well, it was quite a year. It’s safe to say the big international story was the novel coronavirus.

Now, as the world enters 2021 with high hopes for vaccines, trepidation over the virus’ continued impacts and fears of a devastating economic crisis, everyone agrees: The top world story in 2021 will still be Covid-19.

The coronavirus claimed an estimated 1.8 million lives worldwide in 2020. As many governments struggle to manufacture and distribute vaccines, masks, social distancing and other measures will likely remain in effect through the year.

In that vein, World Health Organization Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan recently told CNBC that humanity couldn’t expect herd immunity to Covid-19 until the end of 2021. Some say they expect that to develop much later given that in some countries – many of them in Africa – vaccines are only expected to arrive a few years down the road.

Meanwhile, in 2021, we’ll start to see economic recovery from the devastation of the lockdowns to contain the virus, analysts say. The global economy is estimated to have contracted about 5 percent in 2020. The World Economic Forum gave advice on how to navigate the new “start-and-stop pandemic economy,” hardly a prescription for stability. Still, the Wall Street Journal noted that many conflicting signs made any predictions hard to make.

The economy is in its deepest recession in centuries as workers stay home to fight the public health crisis. Meanwhile, the number of people pushed into extreme poverty worldwide by the pandemic could top 120 million, says the Brookings Institution. That means that a decade of progress in fighting global poverty could be wiped out, especially for girls and women, notes the International Monetary Fund.

Yet stock prices have risen to new heights.

Still, some are optimistic – labor economist Julia Pollack foresaw a booming economy in 2021 as the world emerged from lockdown. And writing for the Inter Press Service, which aims to report from the perspective of the developing world, Columbia University Global Social Justice Program Director Isabel Ortiz evoked the “roaring twenties” as she similarly looked forward to a return to dining, festivals and traveling, which will help struggling tourism-dependent economies and especially those who work in the service economy.

A major question is whether the complicated web of the global economy can deal with the great power tensions and internal strife that marked 2020 – think trade wars between the US and China.

The Council on Foreign Relations predicts more tensions between the US and China as part of the pandemic – and says it will be a big story for 2021. As the American and European economies struggle, China’s economy is expected to “flourish” in 2021 in part because of the country’s success in battling the virus. Emboldened, Chinese leaders now view their model of government as superior to the feckless West, setting the stage for the so-called “Thucydides trap” where a rising China must confront the US as the established global power.

At the same time, China is increasingly throwing its weight around, the think tank wrote. In 2020 alone, China ramped up its “wolf warrior” diplomacy, retaliated against Australia for requesting an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, threatened critical Europeans, provoked a border clash with India, imposed a new national security law on Hong Kong that violated the terms of the treaty governing the city’s handover from the United Kingdom and repeatedly sought to intimidate Taiwan for strengthening its ties with the United States.

As a result, many around the world are concerned over China’s attempt to “dominate the world,” as Bloomberg says. One thing to watch out for in 2021, say analysts, is if, and how, Western countries come together to contain China, and how it reacts.

Meanwhile, Europe will probably be preoccupied as the US and China angle for influence, at least for a while, analysts say. Britain and the European Union completed Brexit on Christmas Eve, supposedly ending years of uncertainty. The problem, however, is that the so-called finalized Brexit deal put off loads of questions, meaning the two sides are going to have to go back to the negotiating table soon for more talk, delays and uncertainty, the New York Times wrote.

With President-elect Joseph Biden set to become the US president in January, itself a big change for the world, analysts predict big turnarounds in policy regarding Iran, Russia and North Korea. For example, they expect Biden to resurrect the nuclear deal that President Donald Trump withdrew the US from, with upped stakes, noting a return to the past in any form isn’t going to be easy.

Meanwhile, it’s been more than two years since the last US-North Korean summit. Analysts believe it’s possible that leader Kim Jong Un initiates a nuclear test or one involving an intercontinental ballistic missile. That’s because North Korean leaders have shown a penchant for provoking crises with newly elected US presidents, the Washington Post noted.

Then there is Russia – most expect friction to grow between the US and Russia, not least because Trump – the most Russia-friendly president in modern US history – is leaving office but also because of a massive hack on the US government and American companies blamed on Russia.

Meanwhile, it will be worth watching what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. In Iraq, as US troops depart, violence has continued to spike. Even so, Iranian-backed militias pledged to hold their fire because they are getting what they want – a US pullout. Still, that doesn’t mean that internecine warfare won’t continue or grow, analysts say. And in Afghanistan, the fits and starts of the US-initiated peace process that started this year is expected to continue as the Afghan government and the Taliban continue talks. Will peace arrive in 2021 for Afghanistan? Many hope so, even as others say, ‘no chance.’

In the Middle East, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan agreed in 2020 to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, a dramatic turnaround in longstanding policy. Now, one thing to watch for in 2021 is – will Saudi Arabia be next? How these diplomatic moves reset policy vis a vis Palestinians and how they react is also a lingering question.

A continuing story in 2020 and certainly in 2021 will be how democracy is under threat worldwide. In 2020, Covid-19 gave strongmen some potent cover: Populist leaders in countries like Brazil, Hungary, the Philippines, Poland, and Turkey enacted a range of policies that undermined their democratic institutions, says Carnegie Europe. The once-heralded leader of Ethiopia delayed elections and conducted a massive assault on its Tigray region after local leaders there disagreed with that decision and decided to hold their own vote. Meanwhile, Kenya, Albania, the US and many, many other countries have seen protests against police brutality and crackdowns by the government.

Still, Covid-19 is only partly to blame: Freedom House reports that political rights and civil liberties have deteriorated around the world for 14 years in a row.

In 2021, expect protestors in countries around the world to continue to hit the streets to fight against government corruption, incompetence, election rigging, bullying and violent crackdowns – as they did in 2020 most notably but not only, in Thailand, Belarus, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Hong Kong, Peru, Lebanon.

In some countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon, protestors managed to force leaders to step down.

While some countries’ transition to democracy such as Sudan’s is worth watching in 2021, others such as Hong Kong’s fight to retain its freedoms seem more hopeless. One wildcard is Belarus: Many expect longtime dictator Alexander Lukashenko to be forced out this year, says Foreign Policy.

It’s been a long, turbulent and eventful 2020. Some say perhaps it’s best to simply be glad the year is behind us now and look forward.

 

Happy New Year!

News will return Monday.
Your DailyChatter Team

 

DISCOVERIES

Let There Be Light

The miracle of 2020 was certainly the creation of vaccines against the coronavirus in record time.

Even so, in spite of the resources devoted to the vaccines and the difficulties in operating during a pandemic, the virus didn’t stop researchers from making new discoveries about our world and the universe in 2020, according to USA Today.

In fact, it was a banner year.

For starters, archaeologists found that dinosaurs could have dominated the planet if it weren’t for that pesky asteroid that hit Earth about 66 million years ago.

New fossil findings in Canada also unveiled the existence of a Tyrannosaurus species known as the “reaper of death” that predated the well-known T-rex. Meanwhile, in South America, researchers came across the fossil of possibly the largest turtle ever found, which was nearly the size of a mid-sized car.

In other discoveries, scientists used new technologies to make an Egyptian mummy talk: While it wasn’t a full sentence, the research team was able to reproduce a single vowel sound, which resembles something between the vowels in the words, “bed” and “bad.”

A new study also busted the myth that Neanderthals were simple-minded brutes: They knew how to fish, which might explain how some of them developed surfer’s ear.

And in our solar system, the Moon turned out to have water molecules on its sunlit surface, and uninhabitable Venus is full of phosphine, a noxious gas that is associated with life on our planet.

Moreover, earthquakes aren’t just present in our world but have also been recorded on Mars – although with low magnitudes.

As for the sun, researchers have taken the most detailed photos of our star: They show a pattern of turbulent “boiling” plasma – with cell-like structures each about the size of Texas – that cover the celestial body.

And as for the universe, scientists finally figured out its true age – about 13.8 billion years – through studying the image of the oldest light found.

It’s quite an accomplishment for researchers worldwide to unravel life’s mysteries and those of the universe amid a time of trial and tribulations.

One thing that can be certain about next year is that the virus will not stop man’s search for knowledge and understanding.

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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: 19,974,120 (+1.16%)
  2. India: 10,286,709 (+0.20%)
  3. Brazil: 7,675,973 (+0.75%)
  4. Russia: 3,153,960 (+0.85%)
  5. France: 2,677,666 (+0.75%)
  6. UK: 2,496,231 (+2.30%)
  7. Turkey: 2,208,652 (+0.66%)
  8. Italy: 2,107,166 (+1.13%)
  9. Spain: 1,928,265 (+0.94%)
  10. Germany: 1,760,520 (+1.11%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours