Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

The 212 Defend Islam Action Alumni — One year ago this week, hardline Muslim groups that want to transform Indonesia into an Islamic state governed by Sharia law succeeded in defeating the ethnic Chinese and Christian former Jakarta governor and having him thrown in jail. Those same groups commemorated their achievement this week with a large rallyattended by the governor they supported as his replacement. Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, remains popular and a defender of secular and inclusive government, but we’ll keep watching to see if these groups challenge him more directly in 2018 ahead of national elections in 2019.


Yemen — The killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh will provoke more violence and create more misery in a country that’s already home to an enormous humanitarian crisis. The war in Yemen has killed about 14,000 people and forced 3 million from their homes. More than 1 million are afflicted with cholera. The UN estimates that more than 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian help.

The HJK Helsinki football club — Two events were booked at the same time in the Tukkutori market in Helsinki. The first was a torchlight march of far-right Finnish nationalists to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Finland’s independence. The second was a children’s group that wanted to mark the same occasion with rabbits and alpacas. Local officials ruled that the guys with torches applied for the permit first. The HJK Helsinki football club then offered the kids, bunnies, and alpacas the use of its stadium. #Suomi100

What We're Ignoring

Early ANC voting — Cyril Ramaphosa has reportedly opened a lead in the battle to decide who will lead the ruling African National Congress into South Africa’s next election in 2019. We’re ignoring preliminary results. We’ll be watching closely (and writing about) the actual outcome of the vote later this month. Its significance is historic, but much can change between now and then.

The color yellow — Here’s another story you can ignore until later in the month. Spain’s electoral authority has ordered officials in Barcelona to remove yellow lights from public fountains around the city because they fear the color yellow, associated with Catalan identity, will encourage separatist sentiment. Catalans will vote in regional elections on December 21. Even if separatist parties win there will be no sudden moves toward independence, but demand may again begin to grow. That won’t be because of yellow lights in public fountains.

The Yulin City Zoo — Dear Finnish kids, please do not send your bunnies and alpacas to the zoo in Yulin, China, where the featured attractions are inflatable penguins, some roosters, and a “longevity turtle.” This is not China’s first zoo scandal. According to The Straits Times, “In 2013, an ‘African lion’ in a zoo in Henan was revealed to be a Tibetan mastiff when it barked.”

The danger to informal workers grows: Coronavirus lockdowns have created a world of uncertainty for businesses and workers around the world. But one group of people that could be hit particularly hard are those working in the so-called "informal economy," where workers lack formal contracts, labor protections, or social safety nets. Nowhere is this challenge more widespread than in Africa, where a whopping 85 percent of the work force toils in the informal sector. These workers, which include street vendors, drivers, and the self-employed, don't have the luxury of working from home, which makes social distancing unviable. As a result, many continue to go to work, risking exposure to the virus, because not turning up is often the difference between putting food on the table and starving. What's more, even where governments are trying to provide support, many people lack bank accounts, complicating efforts to get them aid. In Nigeria, for example, some 60 percent of people do not even have a bank account, according to the World Bank.

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As Europe inches past the peak of COVID-19 deaths and the US slowly approaches it, many poorer countries are now staring into an abyss. As bad as the coronavirus crisis is likely to be in the world's wealthiest nations, the public health and economic blow to less affluent ones, often referred to as "developing countries," could be drastically worse. Here's why:

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What's the new normal going to look like? Now that numbers are at least plateauing, if not leveling off in hard hit countries in Europe. An effective lockdown may last 4 - 8 weeks. Once you start pulling back on quarantine measures, what's life look like? What's the economy look like? The idea that life is back to normal anytime soon is really, really overstated.

Assuming workplaces get fully functional with suitable personal protective equipment, feel comfortable that we're not going to get significant additional cases. In the workplace, you organize social distancing in offices, you give people more flexibility on work from home, and everybody in contact regularly with people gets masks. You should be able to get to that point within 3 months in the world's developed economies. They're there functionally in China. That allows you to get the economy going again.

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Ben White, Chief Economic Correspondent for Politico, provides his perspective on the coronavirus-related news in US politics: What's the coronavirus update?

Well, we've gotten at least a little bit of good news that perhaps the rate of deaths in New York City is plateauing and may start to come down. God willing, we'll see if that comes to pass. Also, some indications that if we keep social distancing in place through the end of May, we could see fewer deaths than we worried about and fewer hospital beds need it. So, God willing, that happens.

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