What We're Watching

Bolsonaro's Coup Commemoration Day – Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, generated considerable controversy this week by ordering commemoration of the day in March 1964 when Brazil's army moved to seize power from President João Goulart and established a dictatorship that lasted until 1985. Bolsonaro insists the takeover was not a "coup" and has said it's a shame more leftists weren't killed during the period of military rule. We'll be watching to see if "Coup Commemoration Day" is as over-the-top cool as Carnival. And we're betting it's not.

Our Girls Freed – In Burundi, three schoolgirls arrested two weeks ago faced up to five years in prison for insulting President Pierre Nkurunziza by doodling on photos of him printed in their school textbooks. To protest these charges, social media users then created their own extravagantly altered versions of Nkurunziza's photo with the hashtag #FreeOurGirls. Score another victory for political satire, because the girls have reportedly been freed.

What We're Ignoring

The Modi Movie – Critics of Narendra Modi say that a new film, which is billed as the Indian prime minister's life story, is little more than propaganda meant to boost Modi and his party ahead of national elections in April and May. Check out the poster, which depicts a pious Mr. Modi surrounded by adorable smiling children wearing the national colors with the tagline "patriotism is my strength." We don't know whether this film violates India's election laws, as some are insisting, but we're ignoring it, because it looks like a crappy movie.

The Female Spacesuit Shortage – NASA, the US space agency, had to cancel plans this week for the first all-female spacewalk because the agency doesn't have two spacesuits small enough to fit the two women chosen for the big event. The walk will go forward, but one of the women has been replaced by a man. President John Kennedy once said, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Here's hoping it will soon be less hard for NASA to find outfits for two female astronauts at a time.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

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North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

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As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

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