February 19, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

HAITI

Eras New and Old

One of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti, is embroiled in a new political crisis.

Protesters recently marched down the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, chanting “Down with kidnapping! Down with the police!” They threw rocks at security forces, who responded with tear gas, the Guardian reported.

That and other unrest came in reaction to arrest orders issued by President Jovenel Moïse Feb. 7. Moïse ordered the arrest of 23 people, including a supreme court judge, a former presidential candidate and a senior law enforcement official. Addressing the nation in a Facebook Live video, he said the suspects were plotting to assassinate him as part of a coup. He described the conspirators as “people whose only dream is to run the country without you,” according to the Miami Herald.

“I’m not a dictator,” he added.

Others would disagree.

Opposition leaders did indeed discuss replacing Moïse. But they did so because they believe that his term has ended. He claims that he has another year in office. The Haitian Constitution stipulates that presidential terms are for five years. Moïse won the election in 2016. But he claims that he has not yet reached the limit because he was not sworn into office until 2017, CNN explained. He has pledged to relinquish power in 2022.

The Organization of American States and US President Joe Biden have supported Moïse’s interpretation of the law, but that doesn’t mean they support his every action. American officials have said they are “deeply concerned” about the Caribbean country’s democracy. Moïse, for example, dissolved the legislature and has failed to call for new elections. He’s been ruling by decree since early last year, as the Nation magazine wrote. Under his tenure, moreover, gang violence, including kidnappings for ransom, has spiked.

Some of those criminals have ties to Moïse’s government, argued the Washington Post editorial board, which described Port-au-Prince as a “ tableau of fear and insecurity.”

Moïse has proposed a constitutional referendum in April that would clear up these disagreements and precipitate fresh presidential and legislative elections, the Associated Press wrote. The current constitution is unclear about whether a president can serve two consecutive terms and doesn’t allow members of the large Haitian diaspora to run for office.

Ironically, Feb. 7 was also the anniversary of the day Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled Haiti in 1986 after 15 years of ruling the country as a dictator. He had taken over after his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, ruled from 1957 to 1971.

Baby Doc’s exit marked the beginning of a new era in Haiti. The question is what kind of era Moïse might herald by refusing to step down as scheduled.

WANT TO KNOW

AUSTRALIA

No News Is Good News?

The Australian government condemned Facebook on Thursday after the social media giant decided to block users in the country from sharing news content on its platform following disputes over a new media bill, CNBC reported.

On Wednesday, Facebook banned Australian users from viewing and sharing news content on the platform. The move also affected access to government sites including those providing updates on the pandemic and bushfire threats.

The government pages were later restored.

The tech firm’s decision came in reaction to a planned media bill that will require online platforms, such as Google and Facebook, to pay news outlets for displaying and linking to their content.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed the move and said that Australia will not be intimidated by Big Tech.

Analyst Tama Leaver said Facebook’s decision was a bad public relations move. He noted, however, that the company raised some legitimate concerns about the new bill, since “it’s doing more work for Australian news producers than it should be paying for.”

LEBANON

The Red Line

Lebanon’s highest court removed the investigating judge leading a probe into last year’s massive explosion in Beirut, following pushback from senior government officials, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The Court of Cassation will replace Judge Fadi Sawwan, who previously accused and summoned for questioning the country’s caretaker prime minister and three former ministers on suspicion of negligence in connection with the blast.

A deadly explosion ripped through Beirut’s port Aug. 4, killing more than 200 people, wounding more than 6,000 and destroying much of the capital. The explosion was caused by ammonium nitrate, a dangerous chemical that had been stored in the port for years.

Sawwan’s removal came after two of the former ministers challenged him in court, accusing him of violating legal and constitutional procedures and asking that he be recused.

Judicial officials said that a new investigator will be appointed.

A dozen family members of victims of the explosion blocked traffic and burned tires outside the Palace of Justice to protest the judge’s removal, while Human Rights Watch opined that courts in Lebanon “have drawn the red lines: politicians are not subject to the rule of law.”

GEORGIA

Conflict of Interest

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned in protest Thursday following a major dispute with ruling party officials, in a move that will exacerbate the country’s political crisis, the Financial Times reported.

Gakharia stepped down following a move by senior officials in the Georgian Dream party to detain Nika Melia, the leader of the main opposition party.

The United National Movement leader is accused of inciting violence during a 2019 anti-government protest. He has denounced the charges as “absurd and fabricated” and barricaded himself inside his party’s headquarters, where his supporters are preventing police from entering.

Melia has also accused the ruling Georgian Dream party of rigging last year’s election, in which it won 90 seats in the 150-seat parliament. He has demanded a new vote to end the crisis.

Following Gakharia’s resignation, the Georgian Dream nominated Defense Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who is a close aide to the party’s billionaire founder Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Garibashvili previously served as prime minister from 2013 to 2015, but his term was marked by tense relations with opposition parties.

The crisis has damaged Georgia’s reputation as a functioning democracy in contrast to most post-Soviet states, which are dominated by autocrats and political corruption.

DISCOVERIES

Sweat Science

In the future, sweat will play an important role in knowing whether a person is going through a brief period of stress or suffering from long-term depression.

Scientists are developing a wearable electronic chip that can analyze the stress levels in humans by detecting a particular hormone in their sweat, Science Alert reported.

The new device will monitor cortisol, a steroid hormone that is secreted in the adrenal glands in response to physiological stress. Cortisol gives that familiar stressful feeling and can be detected in saliva, sweat and urine.

Researchers wrote in a new paper that the prototype chip uses an extended gate field effect transistor (EG-FET) made from graphene to analyze small amounts of cortisol found in sweat.

The special patch would then record cortisol levels over the whole day to show whether the patient’s stress levels are normal or something is wrong.

“Having a reliable, wearable system can help doctors objectively quantify whether a patient is suffering from depression or burnout, for example, and whether their treatment is effective,” said senior author Adrian Ionescu.

It will take a while until the sensor hits the market, but the device will play an important role in spotting and preventing stress – sometimes known as “the silent killer.”

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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: 27,895,987 (+0.25%)
  2. India: 10,963,394 (+0.12%)
  3. Brazil: 10,030,626 (+0.52%)
  4. UK: 4,095,187 (+0.30%)
  5. Russia: 4,092,649 (+0.65%)
  6. France: 3,596,156 (+0.63%)
  7. Spain: 3,121,687 (+0.47%)
  8. Italy: 2,765,412 (+0.50%)
  9. Turkey: 2,616,600 (+0.28%)
  10. Germany: 2,372,209 (+0.42%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours