January 21, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

CANADA

Bearded Wisdom

Where the US and Canada meet has long been celebrated as the longest unguarded border in the world. Lately, it is the longest closed unguarded border in the world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced that Canada would keep the border closed through late February due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Buffalo News reported.

Closing the border is a bold, controversial move. The US is Canada’s biggest trading partner and movement between the two countries in ordinary times is enormous. But Trudeau was inured to pressure during 2020, when he faced a series of tests. Iran shot down a Ukrainian commercial airliner carrying at least 63 Canadian citizens and scores of others who were traveling to Canada early in the year, for instance. And Trudeau weathered scandals, like news that he awarded a massive government contract for student grants to a charity that employed his family members.

Trudeau, 49, grew a beard in 2020. It became a symbol of his transformation from the bright-eyed young Liberal leader who pledged to inject new energy into Canada when he won office in 2015 to the scrappier, more battle-scarred politician he is a today, Politico wrote.

He has also found the temerity to remain steadfast in a diplomatic standoff against China, where two Canadians were arrested on espionage charges in what appeared to be retaliation for the Canadian arrest of a Chinese citizen, Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, on American fraud charges. Wanzhou is now under house arrest in her Vancouver mansion and fighting extradition to the US, while the two Canadians, an ex-diplomat and a businessman, were allowed to call home for Christmas, the Guardian wrote.

Trudeau runs a minority government, so he could lose his job if the opposition chose to bring him down. But he told Reuters in an interview that he intends to stay in office for years to come. To that end, he recently reshuffled his cabinet, a move Bloomberg said likely presaged him calling a new election. His approval rating stands at 50 percent, not a bad starting point before a campaign.

If Trudeau is around for the next few years, he has some big social-political issues to face. Canada has a long-running white supremacist movement that has roots in the country’s founding, as CTV News wrote. Canadian experts recently issued warnings about rightwing populist instability in the country. The Canadian government is already considering labeling the Proud Boys as a terrorist group. Public Radio International’s The World described the Proud Boys as a “far-right extremist group involved in the US Capital riots.”

History will judge how he rises to the challenge.

WANT TO KNOW

WORLD

The Oath Heard ‘Round The World

Millions of people including US allies and rivals watched President Joe Biden get sworn in on Wednesday, with many expressing optimism about working with the new leader following the tumultuous four-year term of his predecessor, Donald Trump, Al Jazeera reported.

European allies “breathed” a sigh of relief seeing the 46th president sworn in, many of them expressing hope that Biden will walk back Trump policies that have strained ties.

“This day brings good news: The United States is back and Europe stands ready to reconnect with an old and trusted partner,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission.

America’s traditional allies in Europe said they were looking forward to working with the new president, while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Biden taking the helm was a “good day for democracy.”

NATO, meanwhile, voiced hope that Biden will resume America’s traditional strong support for the alliance, following Trump’s repeated questioning of its importance.

Closer to home, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wished Biden well. While he has developed a warm relationship with Trump, he noted that the new president should take steps to settle the immigration status of Mexicans working in the US, according to CNN.

Calls for better relations were also made by two of America’s rivals, China and Iran.

Chinese officials hoped that Biden would “look at China rationally and objectively” to strengthen relations that have been strained by the Trump administration’s tough stance on trade and other criticisms leveled at Beijing. China’s official news agency didn’t mince words in expressing its feelings about the previous administration.

“Good Riddance, Donald Trump!” tweeted Xinhua.

Iran said Biden’s inauguration ended the “tyranny” of Trump, who withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the country.

“We expect [the Biden administration] to return to law and to commitments, and try in the next four years, if they can, to remove the stains of the past four years,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Russia also welcomed the new Biden administration in the hopes that the leader will be committed to extending the New START nuclear arms-control treaty between the two countries, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.

ITALY

The Survivor

Italian Prime Minister Giussepe Conte won confidence votes in the upper and lower houses of parliament this week, allowing him to remain in power following the collapse of the ruling coalition a week earlier, the Guardian reported.

However, the prime minister presides over a minority government amid an ongoing pandemic and severe economic crisis.

Last week, coalition partner Italia Viva, led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, left the government over disagreements about the handling of the pandemic and a post-Covid-19 economic recovery plan.

Conte pledged that he will shake up his cabinet, modernize the country and enact a swift economic recovery plan, but analysts expressed doubts about his minority administration.

Renzi criticized the prime minister’s post-pandemic spending plan as weak, saying that it risks squandering money from the European Union recovery fund that amounts to more than $250 billion.

Conte enjoyed popularity for his handling of the first wave of the pandemic in March, but lost credibility over his government’s chaotic approach to subsequent restrictions and weak financial response to businesses that were affected.

WORLD

In Hindsight

The World Health Organization welcomed a proposal by the European Union to negotiate a global treaty on pandemic preparedness to fight future disease outbreaks, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Last month, President of the European Council Charles Michel had proposed that countries should draw up a treaty so that their obligations in future pandemics would be clear from the outset.

WHO head, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the treaty will ensure “political commitment of member states,” and noted that it would be the first global public health accord since a 2003 tobacco-control pact.

Ghebreyesus’ comments come a few days after a WHO-commissioned independent panel released a report criticizing China and the agency for their response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

The report said that China and other countries did not adopt basic public health measures as early as possible and asked why the UN health agency did not declare a global public health emergency sooner.

DISCOVERIES

Internal Differences

New research found that identical twins are not always identical when it comes to their genetic makeup, according to new research.

A research team discovered that some identical twins can go through different developmental mutations during the early stages of embryonic development, the Telegraph reported.

Researchers sequenced the genomes of more than 380 pairs of identical twins and their parents, spouses and children to track mutation divergence.

Their results showed that on average twins differ by 5.2 early developmental mutations and that in nearly 15 percent of identical twins, one sibling carries a substantial number of mutations the other doesn’t share.

These mutations can explain why sometimes one sibling has autism or some other disorder, while the other does not.

“This assumes that the contribution of mutations that separate monozygotic twins is negligible; however, for some diseases such as autism and other developmental disorders, a substantial component is due to de novo mutations,” the team wrote.

Identical twins – also known as monozygotic twins – come from a single zygote produced when one sperm fertilizes one egg.

Previously, scientists believed that different physical and behavioral traits found in identical twins were mostly attributed to the environment, while genetic differences were minimal.

But the new study shows that the role of DNA has been seriously underestimated.

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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: 24,438,720 (+0.76%)
  2. India: 10,610,883 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 8,638,249 (+0.75%)
  4. Russia: 3,616,680 (+0.60%)
  5. UK: 3,515,796 (+1.12%)
  6. France: 3,023,661 (+0.90%)
  7. Italy: 2,414,166 (+0.57%)
  8. Spain: 2,412,318 (+1.75%)
  9. Turkey: 2,406,216 (+0.27%)
  10. Germany: 2,100,618 (+1.39%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours