January 22, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

PORTUGAL

Tough Times and Potential Energy

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa will be running for reelection on January 24 from quarantine. The veteran politician tested positive for the coronavirus recently although he has displayed no symptoms, the Associated Press reported. The virus is raging in Portugal, forcing the government to impose a strict lockdown, Politico added.

The Portuguese president’s powers are largely ceremonial. Prime Minister Antonio Costa runs the government’s daily business. But the election race between de Sousa, known as the president of “people and hugs,” and his rivals is an opportunity for the Portuguese to take stock of their country’s progress, as the Portugal News wrote.

Most importantly, the Portuguese economy – one of the poorest in Western Europe – is on the ropes. More than 100,000 restaurant workers in the tourism-dependent nation are poised to lose their jobs. The country’s finance minister recently told Reuters that the European Union should not tighten rules to curb deficit spending that might counteract the pandemic’s economic damage.

The state of affairs could pull apart what the Financial Times called Portugal’s “special brand of socialism.” Costa’s minority Socialist party runs the country with the help of the anti-capitalist Left Bloc and Communist parties. But those two parties have been voting with more conservative political parties to increase spending, while Costa and his Socialists are less enthusiastic about increasing public expenditures.

Experts said those rifts could expand until no party has sufficient support to run the country, a potentially disastrous development during a tough time. De Sousa is a popular, unifying figure who is likely to win handily, however, signaling that voters aren’t as fragmented as their representatives in parliament, argued Global Risk Insights, an analytical firm.

If reelected, de Sousa has some tailwinds to help him move his country forward. Portugal recently assumed the presidency of the European Union this year, giving its leaders a chance to exert their influence in Europe after the departure of the United Kingdom.

Portugal has become the destination of choice for expats and so-called “digital nomads” who can work virtually and want to take advantage of sunny Iberia and inexpensive living costs, Deutsche Welle reported. TechCrunch envisioned Portugal becoming a tech tiger with plenty of opportunities for growth given its skilled engineering sector, relatively high English proficiency and stable of entrepreneurs.

The country is not out of the woods, but it has a path to follow.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAQ

Clear and Present Danger

Twin suicide bombings killed at least 32 people and wounded more than 100 in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, in an attack that comes amid heightened political tension over planned early elections and a severe economic crisis, CBS News reported Thursday.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Iraqi authorities suspected that Islamic State was behind Thursday’s bloodshed as a way “to prove its existence” after suffering many blows in military operations to root out the militants.

The attacks mark the first time in three years that the jihadist group has struck the capital: In 2018, a suicide bomb ripped through Baghdad shortly after the Iraqi government had declared victory over the armed group.

In 2017, the militants lost much of their influence and territory following military campaigns by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition. However, Islamic State still maintains its presence in northern Iraq and has been increasing its attacks during the coronavirus pandemic.

The recent attack comes after Iraq’s government agreed to hold early elections in October following months-long mass protests against the ruling elite and poor public services.

Iraq is also dealing with a severe economic crisis brought on by low oil prices and exacerbated by the pandemic.

FRANCE

Sharing is Caring

Google and a group of French publishers signed an agreement Thursday that would open the path for the internet giant to make digital copyright payments for online news content, France 24 reported.

Google and the Alliance de la Presse d’Information Générale (APIG) agreed to set a framework under which Google will negotiate individual license arrangements with newspapers on copyright payments and will give papers access to its new News Showcase program.

The deal – a first in Europe – will involve “neighboring rights,” a new European law that requires companies to pay copyright holders for news content that appears in their search engines.

News publishers have long demanded reforms in EU copyright laws while complaining that ad revenue is being siphoned off by digital giants.

France was the first country in the European Union to enact the law. A Paris appeals court ruled in October that Google had to continue negotiations with French news publishers over neighboring rights.

Before the deal, Google had established individual agreements with a few publications, including Le Monde and Le Figaro.

The company and APIG did not establish how much money could be distributed.

JAPAN

‘No Plan B’

The International Olympic Committee said Thursday that the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics will go ahead this summer amid fears of rising numbers of infections from the coronavirus in Japan and elsewhere, Kyodo News reported.

IOC chief Thomas Bach said there was “no plan B,” while noting that the committee might reduce the number of spectators allowed to attend the event.

He added that the world was better equipped to handle the pandemic now than it was when the games were first postponed and noted that the vaccines will become available by April or May in many countries.

His announcement comes as Japan and other countries are facing a surge in infections, reporting more daily cases compared with last March, when the games were postponed for a year.

Tokyo has recorded four-digit daily increases almost every day since the beginning of January, while some Japanese regions are under a months-long state of emergency.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has insisted that the international event will take place as scheduled as “proof that humanity defeated the coronavirus.”

On Friday, Japanese officials denied rumors that the games would be canceled, following reports of a possible cancellation, CNN reported.

However, the Japanese public doesn’t support the move: An opinion poll by Kyodo News earlier this month found that 80 percent of respondents wanted to cancel or postpone the games.

DISCOVERIES

Monkey Business

Staff at the Uluwatu temple in Bali, Indonesia, have always warned tourists to beware of pickpocketing monkeys roaming the area.

The long-tailed macaques are notorious for stealing things from unsuspecting visitors and holding onto them until they are given some food as a ransom payment.

Now, scientists have discovered that the monkeys have become smarter in their thievery and are targeting items that their victims would value the most, according to the Guardian.

In their study, lead author Jean-Baptiste Leca and his team recorded the animals’ behavior for more than 270 days.

They reported that the macaques would go after important valuables, such as electronics or prescription glasses to coax the tourists into giving them food. The team also noted that the mischievous monkeys were tough negotiators when it came to returning the goods.

In one instance, it took 25 minutes – including 17 minutes of bargaining – for staff and tourists to persuade the macaque to return one item.

Leca pointed out that this peculiar behavior is learned at a young age and marks an expression of cultural intelligence on the part of the monkeys.

“These behaviors are socially learned and have been maintained across generations of monkeys for at least 30 years in this population,” he said.

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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: 24,631,890 (+0.79%)
  2. India: 10,625,428 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 8,697,368 (+0.68%)
  4. Russia: 3,637,862 (+0.59%)
  5. UK: 3,553,773 (+1.08%)
  6. France: 3,046,371 (+0.75%)
  7. Spain: 2,456,675 (+1.84%)
  8. Italy: 2,428,221 (+0.58%)
  9. Turkey: 2,412,505 (+0.26%)
  10. Germany: 2,108,895 (+0.39%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours