What We're Watching

Explanations for the Assange arrest – Why did Ecuador's government allow UK police to arrest Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday after providing him asylum in its London embassy for nearly seven years? Was it pressure from the US government, which wants to imprison him for revealing its secrets? Assange's ongoing political activities? His "discourteous and aggressive behavior" toward embassy staff? Threats by Wikileaks against Ecuador? Or did Assange fail to follow embassy rules that he must pay his own medical bills and clean up after his cat? (Those were actual rules.) It probably wasn't the cat, but your Signal authors can smell that litter box from across the Atlantic.

South African violence against migrants – Election season can be a dangerous time. Migrants from other African countries have again become the target of deadly vigilante attacks by South Africans in recent weeks. Guest workers from Malawi, Somalia, DR Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe have all been victimized. Upcoming elections may be feeding the violence as politicians from multiple parties publicly blame African foreigners for many of South Africa's economic, security, and social problems.

The Swiss troll the Brits – For the first time in modern Switzerland's history, a court has overruled the result of a nationwide referendum. In 2016, Swiss voters were asked whether partners who live together should pay tax at the same rate as married couples. By a margin of 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent, voters said no. This week, Switzerland's Supreme Court voided that result on the grounds that the information provided to voters before the referendum was "incomplete." Said the court: "Keeping in mind the close result and the severe nature of the irregularities, it is possible that the outcome of the ballot could have been different." The vote will be re-run. We're watching this story to see the expressions on the faces of Britons when they hear about it.

What We're Ignoring

Cuban Protesters – Hundreds of Cubans marched through Havana this week to protest cruelty to animals. Organizers of the demonstration say it's the first independent march ever authorized by Cuba's Communist government. Your Signal authors love animals, including Julian Assange's cat, but we'll ignore this story until the Cuban state approves a march to protest cruelty to people who disagree with their government.

Polling on Democratic presidential candidates – The men and women running for president, those who've made it official and those who haven't, are already working hard to raise money and their public profiles. But these are early days. First votes in primaries and caucuses won't be cast for nearly 10 months, and we're still 11 weeks away from the first Democratic presidential debates (June 26-27). Current polls tell us little more than that voters are familiar with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, while the rest of the (ever-expanding) field is relatively unknown.

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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