What We're Watching

Mueller Report Machinations – The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to authorize a subpoena to force Attorney General William Barr to deliver Special Counsel Robert Mueller's "full and unredacted" report. If Barr refuses, the ensuing legal battle could drag on for years, but the political impact will be immediate as Democrats accuse Republicans of a coverup and Republicans accuse Democrats of playing politics with the law. Raising the stakes, The New York Times and the Washington Post reported Wednesday that anonymous members of Mueller's team claim the report's findings are more critical of President Trump than Barr has indicated. A warning shot from Team Mueller that Barr better be more forthcoming?

Pirates of the Caribbean – A surge in the number of pirate attacks in the 10-mile stretch of water between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago suggests Venezuela's economic crisis has allowed criminal gangs to expand operations offshore, in particular to control drug trafficking into the Caribbean Sea. In some cases, scarcity in Venezuela has pushed criminal gangs to carry out maritime robberies of Trinidadian fishermen.

What We're Listening To

An incredibly lewd song that explains why Brazil's congress shut down yesterday during a debate on pension reform.

What We're Ignoring

Sisi Soaps – The government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is reportedly extending its dominance of national media into production of the country's extremely popular TV soap operas, and a production company linked to the military is taking charge of some of the most popular shows. Makers of these shows have reportedly been informed that they must, for example, always portray the army and police in a positive light, cast the banned Muslim Brotherhood as odious and dangerous, and encourage children to obey their elders. Sounds like really exciting TV.

Health Warnings from Donald Trump – The president of the United States warned this week that the noise produced by wind turbines causes cancer. Your Friday author concludes from this that if Don Quixote had simply worn earplugs, he might well be alive today.

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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