On the latest episode of Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Ken Burns explores the opportunity to come out of this moment as better versions of ourselves — and reveals whether a film about this year is in the cards.
The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.
In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?
<p><strong>The timing could not be worse.</strong> In recent weeks, Lebanon, one of the world's most <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50183895" target="_blank">indebted </a>countries, has spiraled into chaos after decades of economic mismanagement. </p> <p>Crime is spiking as desperate Lebanese seek scarce basics like food and medicine, while others are turning to a swarming <a href="https://www.france24.com/en/20200708-barter-economy-lebanese-turn-to-facebook-to-swap-goods-for-food" target="_blank">online barter economy</a> to survive — clothes for baby formula? The deepening economic crisis recently pushed at least 500,000 children in Beirut<a href="https://www.savethechildren.net/news/more-half-million-children-beirut-are-struggling-survive" target="_blank"> into poverty</a>, an aid group warned in July. </p> <p>International observers, meanwhile, have questioned whether Lebanon has already breached the "failed state" threshold.</p> <p><strong>International support. </strong>So far, countries including Australia, Canada, France, Israel, Norway, Turkey and the Netherlands have offered Beirut urgent humanitarian aid in the form of generators, medical equipment and personnel, and even some cash. The EU, for its part, is<a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_20_1452" target="_blank"> sending</a> search and rescue teams to search for survivors, while <a href="https://www.france24.com/en/20200805-macron-will-travel-to-lebanon-thursday-after-beirut-blasts-french-presidency-says" target="_blank">French President Emmanuel Macron </a>will touch down in Beirut on Thursday to offer support to his country's former colony. </p> <p>While immediate humanitarian support has been forthcoming — and encouraging — the aid itself is unlikely to pull Lebanon back from the brink. There are several reasons for this. </p> <p><strong>First, humanitarian aid is one thing, but financial lifelines are another.</strong> Even before the pandemic crippled the global economy, the World Bank <a href="https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2019/11/06/world-bank-lebanon-is-in-the-midst-of-economic-financial-and-social-hardship-situation-could-get-worse" target="_blank">predicted</a> that 50 percent of Lebanese could be living below the poverty line if current trends continued. Hoping to stave off its worst economic crisis since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990, Beirut has since appealed to international creditors like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a whopping $10 billion in financial assistance, but the <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/imf-lebanon/imf-chief-says-more-unity-needed-in-lebanon-on-reforms-idUSL1N2E310A" target="_blank">IMF</a> has refused to play ball unless the Lebanese government reforms its bloated, inefficient, and corrupt public sector. So far, Beirut's power brokers have resisted. </p> <p><strong>Reformist will is key.</strong> Even if the IMF acquiesces and doles out funds to cash-strapped Lebanon, what happens when the money gets there? Lebanon's patronage-ridden public sector and corrupted politicians, many of them <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-election-activists/in-lebanon-vote-activists-face-warlords-powerful-political-dynasties-idUSKBN1I41ZG" target="_blank">former warlords</a> of sectarian groups, have mismanaged the country's economy for decades, lining their own pockets while the middle class has plunged into poverty. IMF support does not solve long-term problems such as government paralysis, poverty and social instability that, experts warn, can only be mitigated through structural reform. </p> <p><strong>The Hezbollah equation. </strong>The political clout of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group, further complicates Lebanon's efforts to secure external funding. In 2018, the IMF pledged $11 billion to Lebanon on the condition that the government institute significant anti-corruption and economic reforms. Washington, which, along with its Gulf Arab allies, deems the group a terrorist organization, recently <a href="https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/06/26/Hezbollah-jeapordizing-Lebanon-s-economy-recovery-US-ambassador" target="_blank">accused</a> Hezbollah of obstructing reform efforts, a view tacitly supported by other international donors. </p> <p>This week's tumult also comes as the country braces for a UN court's verdict on the 2005 slaying of Lebanon's former Sunni prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, set to be handed down on August 18. The outcome in the<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/08/04/world/middleeast/04reuters-lebanon-tribunal-hariri-factbox.html" target="_blank"> Hariri case, </a>which inflamed sectarian tensions across Lebanon and the region, will likely implicate Hezbollah officials. This risks further complicating efforts to secure external aid, and threatens to ignite sectarian discord amongst already-despondent Lebanese. </p> <p>As negotiations with the IMF stalled in recent months, a desperate Beirut <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/lebanon-looks-to-china-as-us-arabs-refuse-to-help-in-crisis/" target="_blank">turned to Beijing</a> for economic support, but it's walking a fine line, wary of irking Washington, a longtime ally, as US-China tensions surge.</p> <p><strong>The ball is largely in Beirut's court. </strong>The government can start working towards comprehensive reform in the hopes of lifting its floundering population out of poverty. Alternatively, it can fall back on the excuse of international donors not coming through and continue with business as usual. Which will it choose? </p>
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August 05, 2020
Former Spanish King Juan Carlos I's decision to leave the country after being investigated for corruption has reignited the debate over the future of the monarchy in Spain. Opinions are divided between mostly older Spaniards who defend the institution's role as a symbol of national unity, and the younger generations and nationalist regions who want Spain to become a republic. More than three quarters of the world's countries are now republics, but 44 still have a king or queen as their head of state — among them the 16 Commonwealth countries officially ruled by British Queen Elizabeth II and 5 countries where the sovereign is all-powerful. We take a look at which countries remain monarchies today, and those that sent their royals packing in the post-World War II waves of decolonization and republicanism.
What We're Watching: Modi plays to his base, US visit to Taiwan irks China, Colombia arrests ex-leader
August 05, 2020
Modi riles up his base: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday set the first stone for a new Hindu temple to be built over the remains of a Mughal-era mosque in Uttar Pradesh state. The site, in the town of Ayodhya, has been disputed for decades by Hindus and Muslims, but the Supreme Court last November ruled, based on archeological findings, that construction of the temple could begin. The ruling dismayed many of India's 180 million Muslims, who worry that Modi — who was accompanied at the ceremony by Mohan Bhagwat, an ultranationalist Hindu activist whose followers helped to destroy the old mosque amid a wave of sectarian violence in 1992 — wants to replace India's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of the country's identity. Although months ago Modi saw sizable protests over a controversial new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims, he has so far proven to be extremely resilient and remains widely popular in India.
<p><strong>A provocative visit to Taiwan:</strong> US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/04/world/asia/taiwan-azar-beijing-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">soon become</a> the most senior US official to set foot in Taiwan since Washington established democratic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1979. The official purpose of his <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/08/04/hhs-secretary-alex-azar-lead-delegation-taiwan-in-first-visit-by-us-hhs-secretary.html" target="_blank">visit</a> is to deepen cooperation with Taiwan on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but it is certain to stoke further tensions between the US and China, which considers Taiwan part of its own territory. (For the record, so does the US, officially, but Washington has maintained a preferential security and diplomatic relationship with self-governing Taiwan for decades.) The timing of Azar's visit may have an electoral motivation: both Trump and Biden want to exploit growing bipartisan suspicions of China, and as the election approaches it may play well for Trump to have his man in Taiwan rehashing Washington's accusations that Beijing deliberately hid information about the initial coronavirus outbreak. We are watching to see how Beijing responds to the slight, as Taiwan is still the <a href="https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3096070/beijing-fury-expected-us-health-secretary-alex-azar-heads" target="_blank">most sensitive issue</a> in China-US relations.</p><p><strong>Uribe's August staycation:</strong> Colombia's Supreme Court has placed powerful former president Alvaro Uribe under <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/colombia-top-court-places-president-uribe-house-arrest-200805024748088.html" target="_blank">house arrest</a> as part of a witness-tampering and fraud investigation. Uribe, a conservative, was president from 2002-2010, during which time he led a military crackdown against the country's FARC rebels that weakened them to the point that a peace deal was possible under his successor. But he has long faced <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-colombia-politics/colombia-supreme-court-places-former-president-uribe-under-house-arrest-idUSKCN2502HP" target="_blank">accusations</a> of turning a blind eye to human rights violations, and of having ties to right-wing paramilitary groups. The Court is investigating whether Uribe's allies sought to squelch an investigation into those relationships several years ago. Uribe remains one of the most powerful and polarizing figures in Colombia — his backing helped elevate current president Ivan Duque win a contentious 2018 election. Uribe's house arrest has sent shockwaves through a deeply divided country that is unaccustomed to seeing public officials of his stature held to account. If he is brought to trial and convicted — still by no means a certain outcome — he could face up to eight years in prison. </p>
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August 05, 2020
280 million: Democratic candidate Joe Biden plans to spend $280 million on campaign ads in his battle against US President Donald Trump. Although Trump trails the former vice president by 7 points in an average of national polls, the incumbent has set aside less than half that amount for ads of his own.
<p><strong>500,000:</strong> About half a million people would <a href="https://www.euronews.com/2020/08/05/nuclear-bomb-in-germany-would-kill-hundreds-of-thousands-greenpeace-warns" target="_blank">die</a> instantly if a large nuclear bomb were detonated in Frankfurt, Germany's most populous city, according to a new simulation from Greenpeace. It is <a href="https://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/nato-nuclear-disarmament/" target="_blank">estimated</a> that the US — the only atomic power that stores part of its arsenal in other countries — has maintained between 15 and 20 nukes on German soil since the end of the Cold War. </p><p><strong>8 billion:</strong> The uber-rich Kwok family, which owns Hong Kong's largest real estate empire, <a href="https://www.straitstimes.com/business/property/hong-kongs-richest-family-the-kwoks-loses-us8-billion-in-a-single-year" target="_blank">lost</a> $8 billion over the past twelve months. The steep drop in the dynasty's net wealth is partly attributed to lack of investor confidence in Hong Kong as China has moved to assert fuller control over the city. It's also worth noting that the Kwoks publicly oppose the new security law that China has imposed on the former British colony. </p><p><strong>8:</strong> Jorge Oliveira, Brazil's secretary of the presidency, is the <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-brazil/eighth-brazilian-cabinet-minister-tests-positive-for-coronavirus-idUSKCN2502XA" target="_blank">eighth</a> member of President Jair Bolsonaro's cabinet to have tested positive for the coronavirus. Bolsonaro — who recently <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/bolsonaro-tests-positive-what-happens-next" target="_self">survived</a> COVID-19 himself — is part of a select group of world leaders who continue to play down the threat of the pandemic, and is often seen meeting people without social distancing or wearing a mask, even as Brazil has tallied more 2.8 million cases and close to 100,000 deaths. </p>
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