March 02, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

BRAZIL

The Color of Pride

Brazilians of African descent became the majority racial group in their country almost a decade ago.

Today, many refer to Brazil as a “post-racial” society. There is a tradition of elites encouraging folks of different skin tones to intermarry, for example. Officials in the administration of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro have denied that racism exists in Brazil.

But it would be wrong to think that Brazil has somehow surmounted all the challenges that racial differences can help engender, noted Cherwell, the student newspaper at Oxford University.

Less than a quarter of the lower house of the Brazilian Congress is Black, for example, according to Reuters. Last year, the country adopted rules to funnel more funding and airtime to Black candidates for office in 2022 to change the situation.

In response, Black resistance to racism and prejudice in Brazil is on the rise. Communities called “quilombo,” for instance, an African term referring to fugitive slave groups formed before slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, are springing up throughout the country, Time wrote.

A host of recent municipal elections won by candidates of color suggest that Black and mixed-race politicians were also taking advantage of the demographic shifts and are seeking to capitalize on the new rules at the ballot box, added the Wall Street Journal.

Ironically, the new rules might have led more than 42,000 incumbent Brazilian politicians who ran for office last year to change their racial identification to Black from another identity, usually white, in 2016, said University of Florida Political Scientist Andrew Janusz in the Conversation.

The statistics raise questions about whether these now-Black politicians understand the group whose identity they now claim to share, Janusz argued. Today, Black Brazilians are more likely to be killed in police encounters than their white compatriots. They are more likely to die from the coronavirus. The shutdown of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival due to the pandemic has been a blow to the Afro-Brazilian community, too, both financially and emotionally, Conde Nast Traveler wrote.

But some Brazilians, after viewing themselves as mixed race, realized only recently that they, in fact, were Black after watching the racial tensions escalate in the US over the past year. “I didn’t think I was Black,” local politician José Antônio Gomes told the Washington Post. “But now we have more courage to see ourselves that way.”

Next year’s presidential election will give voters a chance to decide whose views on race they prefer – those of Bolsonaro’s view or his critics. The number of votes, not the color of those who cast ballots, will decide who wins.

WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

Bad Boys

A French court sentenced former President Nicholas Sarkozy to one year in prison and a two-year suspended sentence, after finding him guilty of corruption and influence peddling, the Financial Times reported Monday.

The court found that the former center-right leader had entered a “corruption pact” with his lawyer Thierry Herzog and former judge Gilbert Azibert. Both individuals received the same sentence as Sarkozy.

In a trial that concluded in December, prosecutors accused Sarkozy and his lawyer of attempting to bribe the judge in exchange for confidential information on an inquiry looking into allegations that during his 2007 presidential campaign, Sarkozy took illegal payments from L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. The Bettencourt case was later dropped.

Sarkozy maintained his innocence but the French leader is embroiled in other legal battles and investigations, including allegations that the Libyan government funded his successful 2007 campaign.

Monday’s conviction marks the second time a French president in France’s Fifth Republic was convicted after leaving office: The late Jacques Chirac was convicted in 2011 of misusing public funds when he was mayor of Paris. He was given a suspended sentence.

CHINA

A Torturous Lesson

China imposed new rules Monday that ban school teachers from imposing harsh punishments that can cause physical or mental harm, following multiple student deaths linked to such discipline in recent years, Agence France-Presse reported.

The new rules will forbid punishment at schools that include humiliating students and reinforce existing bans on corporal punishment.

Practices such as canning, standing or kneeling on the floor for hours will be banned. Under the new regulations, students will be encouraged to write an apology letter or do classroom chores for minor offenses.

The Ministry of Education didn’t specify how it plans to punish teachers that violate the rules.

China banned corporal punishment in 1986 but the practice has persisted in some classrooms and parents often have turned a blind eye.

Chinese media, however, regularly reports cases of children who have died after being beaten by teachers or who have committed suicide following public humiliation in school.

Last September, a 10-year-old girl in the southwestern province of Sichuan died after her math teacher pulled her ears and beat her head for getting two equations wrong. In June, a fifth-grader in Jiangsu killed herself after a teacher slapped and humiliated her over an essay.

EL SALVADOR

Friends in High Places

Allies of President Nayib Bukele appeared on track of securing a supermajority in El Salvador’s congressional elections, a victory that has worried critics who see the popular president amassing excessive power, Bloomberg reported Monday.

Bukele’s Nueva Party and its allies were projected to win at least 56 of 84 seats in parliament, according to a chart published with 80 percent of ballot sheets tallied.

The opposition Arena and FMLN parties – which have dominated El Salvador for decades – performed poorly and secured only about a quarter of the votes.

The majority in the legislature will remove the main check on Bukele’s influence, making it easier for him to advance his agenda, including seeking a deal with the International Monetary Fund.

It will also allow the president to push for constitutional changes, which may include changes to presidential term limits to benefit himself.

The victory has alarmed critics and US lawmakers, who said that the country is slipping into authoritarianism.

Bukele, who was elected in 2019, has repeatedly clashed with El Salvador’s congress, which had been previously controlled by his opponents. Last year, he sent armed troops into the building after lawmakers rejected a loan to purchase more equipment for the country’s security forces.

DISCOVERIES

Doppelgänger

Scientists have successfully cloned a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann, marking the first cloning of a native North American endangered species, according to Newsweek.

The cute predator was born late last year and is an original copy of another ferret, named Willa, who died more than 30 years ago.

Recent tweets from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service showed that Elizabeth Ann is being raised in captivity and is in good health.

Elizabeth Ann’s cloning is part of an effort by scientists and conservationists to bring back the endangered ferret from the brink of extinction.

Currently, scientists are breeding the species in captivity to multiply its numbers but the program is posing some “genetic challenges.”

All of these ferrets descend from seven animals that were discovered in the 1980s and many of them lack any genetic diversity, which makes them more prone to being born with abnormalities and contracting diseases as well as a decreased fertility rate.

Researchers believe that cloning will help fix this issue since Willa was not part of the seven ferrets and her genome contained “three times more unique variations than the living population,” according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

This means that Elizabeth Ann has the same genome as her mother – or sister – and could potentially help in preserving her fellow ferrets with her unique genes.

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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: 28,664,463 (+0.21%)
  2. India: 11,124,527 (+0.11%)
  3. Brazil: 10,587,001 (+0.34%)
  4. Russia: 4,220,291 (+0.25%)
  5. UK: 4,194,289 (+0.13%)
  6. France: 3,820,369 (+1.95%)
  7. Spain: 3,204,531 (+0.50%)
  8. Italy: 2,938,371 (+0.42%)
  9. Turkey: 2,711,479 (+0.37%)
  10. Germany: 2,455,590 (+0.17%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours