July 09, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

BULGARIA

New Normal

Bulgaria could be at a turning point.

Voters are scheduled to go to the polls on July 11 to elect a new parliament after Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and his Gerb political party failed to form a coalition despite three attempts since parliamentary elections in April. The ex-bodyguard of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, Borissov was seeking a fourth stint as premier.

Other parties have declined to join a Gerb coalition because of graft scandals, Bloomberg reported. They appear ready to fight hard to ensure that someone else wins a clear mandate. The stakes are high. Whoever wins will disperse billions of euros in European Union coronavirus pandemic aid and oversee Bulgaria’s transition to the euro in 2024.

Gerb and talk-show host Stanislav Trifonov’s anti-establishment There is Such a Nation party – also known as There is Such a People party – are vying for first place, Reuters reported. Gerb is maintaining a slim lead in spite of a plunge in support after the US slapped sanctions on two Bulgarian oligarchs and former and current officials over corruption allegations in early June.

The oligarchs are Vassil Kroumov Bojkov and Delyan Slavchev Peevski. A gambling magnate known as “the Skull,” Bojkov allegedly bribed government officials and now is evading extradition in the United Arab Emirates, a US Treasury press release wrote. Meanwhile, the appointment of media mogul Peevski to the powerful State Agency for National Security kicked off street protests in 2013. Known as “Potbelly” due to his ample girth, he appears to have receded from the limelight in recent months, Radio Free Europe reported.

Many Bulgarians are sick of characters like the Skull and Potbelly and the undue influence they exert over state institutions and the economy. As Politico explained, many see this election as their best chance to capitalize on widespread frustration with corruption and install reform-minded leaders in the cabinet.

Kiril Petkov, the economic minister who is now in the Balkan country’s caretaker government is the sort of leader they might want. He recently told Euractiv that a state economic development fund of more than $570 million had given tens of millions of dollars to only eight companies because of their contacts to reputed mobsters. The money could have helped almost 1,000 smaller businesses, he said.

“I studied economics at Harvard,” Petkov said. “My dream is to bring in the positive programs that can make Bulgaria wealthy. Unfortunately, a lot of my time has been spent fighting some institutions that should be working quite normally.”

Looks like it’s time for a new normal.

WANT TO KNOW

JAPAN

Dying Flame

Japan declared a new state of emergency in Tokyo on Thursday following a sudden surge in coronavirus cases, a move that could cause serious issues for the Olympic Games that are set to open on July 23, the New York Times reported.

The state of emergency will start next week and is expected to remain in effect through the Tokyo Games. The decision could also force authorities to abandon plans announced in late June to allow domestic spectators to attend.

The announcement comes a day after Tokyo reported more than 900 new infections, the highest number since May. It marks the fourth time Japan’s capital has been under a state of emergency since the beginning of the pandemic.

The pandemic has been relatively mild in Japan but the country’s vaccine rollout – now at more than a million doses a day – had a slow start.

The decision adds to uncertainties already plaguing the Games, which were scheduled for last year but postponed due to the pandemic.

In March, Olympic organizers barred international spectators from attending.

Then in June, Japanese officials said they would allow as many as 10,000 domestic spectators to watch competitions held in larger venues.

Even so, many scientists expressed concern that the Games could become a superspreader event. Recent polls have also shown that a large majority of the Japanese public supports canceling the Games.

EUROPEAN UNION

Gotcha

The European Union imposed a fine of more than $1 billion on German carmakers Thursday for conspiring to limit the development of clean emissions technology, Politico reported.

EU Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said the five car manufacturers, BMW, VW – which includes Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche – and Daimler held multiple technical meetings during 2009 and 2014 to hinder innovation.

She said that the so-called “circle of five” producers agreed to hold back on technological development that could reduce the harmful nitrogen oxide gases emitted by diesel cars.

Meanwhile, VW and BMW will pay the fines, while Daimler will receive total immunity for being the first at the bargaining table, she added. BMW responded that it will comply with the Commission’s terms. VW, however, said it is deciding on an appeal.

The Commission has said that the case marks the first time that collusion on technical development was found to be a cartel. Vestager warned the fine is a strong message to the industry that she “will not hesitate to take action against all forms of cartel conduct…”

The penalties come just ahead of an announcement by the European Commission on an important set of legislative proposals to advance the EU Green Deal.

CANADA

Meeting the Moment

Inuk leader and diplomat Mary Simon will become Canada’s first Indigenous governor general, a move that comes amid a broader reckoning over the country’s historical treatment of Indigenous people, the Washington Post reported.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed her appointment as a “historic step,” adding that he “cannot think of a better person to meet the moment.”

As governor general, Simon will serve as the representative of Queen Elizabeth II, who is the country’s head of state. Simon will serve as Canada’s commander-in-chief, grant royal assent to bills to become laws, as well as approve a prime minister’s request to dissolve parliament.

The former ambassador said that her appointment marked “an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation.”

Simon will replace Julie Payette, a former chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, who resigned earlier this year amid allegations of workplace harassment and bullying.

Her appointment comes as Canada reckons with its past mistreatment of its Indigenous populations: In recent weeks, hundreds of unmarked graves have been found on or near the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children, who were forcibly removed from their homes from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century.

Calls for an Indigenous governor general emerged following Payette’s resignation but some argued that the appointment would be more of a token gesture than a step towards reconciliation.

Political analysts, meanwhile, say the appointment is politically motivated, that Trudeau – who is leading minority government – looks toward federal elections this year.

Simon and Trudeau said they had not spoken over a potential election.

DISCOVERIES

Machiavellian Bees

Why are the hives of the African lowland honeybee (Apis mellifera scutella) being taken over by a clone army of rival subspecies?

Genetics, says a new study, according to ScienceAlert.

Unlike most animals, female workers of the rival South African Cape honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis) can produce perfect copies of themselves – a clone – each time they reproduce.

The Cape bee workers lay eggs retaining all genetic material due to a genetic mutation.

One lineage of Cape bee workers is using this “cloning superpower” to take over African lowland honeybee hives – the workers sneak in and lay as many eggs as they can in, which the African lowland bees mistake for their own and rear.

The parasitic bee larvae even send signals to their unfortunate hosts to feed them as much as possible. This signaling behavior allows their bodies – and their ovaries – to grow almost as large as a queen’s.

Once they reach that size, “the Cape bee clones don’t do any work inside those hives because they’ve become reproductive,” said lead author Benjamin Oldroyd. “It very quickly leads to the collapse of the hive.”

In fact, the Cape bee workers that take part in this parasitic behavior are genetically identical descendants of a single worker from 1990 and responsible for the collapse of 10 percent of African lowland honeybee colonies every year, according to Oldroyd.

Now the researchers want to figure out whether the Cape bee workers can switch off the genes that prevent genetic exchange, and also, what exactly triggers the collapse of parasitized African lowland hives.

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: 33,790,505 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 30,752,950 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 18,962,762 (+0.28%)
  4. France: 5,861,128 (+0.08%)
  5. Russia: 5,638,901 (+0.43%)
  6. Turkey: 5,465,094 (+0.09%)
  7. UK: 5,040,060 (+0.64%)
  8. Argentina: 4,613,019 (+0.42%)
  9. Colombia: 4,450,086 (+0.53%)
  10. Italy: 4,267,105 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours