What We're Watching: Algeria's "sham" election

Algeria's election: Some Algerians went to the polls today to elect a new president. Others hit the streets of major cities to denounce the vote as a sham, one designed to hide the reality that nothing will change following the ouster in April of doddering former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika after two decades on the job. All five presidential candidates have promised "change" in some form, but all five have also worked for Bouteflika at some time in the past. The military, led by General Ahmed Gaid Salah, remains the true power behind the throne. Protests are likely to continue, and we'll be watching the army, which will be watching the crowds.


Trump gets a trade deal with China: After months of wrangling and rollercoaster hype, the US and China agreed today on the terms of a so-called "phase one" trade deal. The US will roll back some existing tariffs on Chinese imports and postpone any new ones, in exchange for Beijing's promise to buy more US agriculture goods. The legal text of the agreement hasn't yet been finalized, though, so there's still a possibility that either side could ditch it (which has already happened once before.) If a deal is finalized it would be a welcome reprieve from steadily growing tensions between the world's two largest economies, but it still wouldn't address the core issues on which Washington and Beijing are at odds: China's unwavering support for state companies and its ambitions to become a rival technology superpower.

What we're listening to: The New Yorker's Moscow correspondent Joshua Yaffa on The New Yorker Radio Hour, explaining how today's Russian propaganda differs from the Soviet variety in the way that it actively undermines the idea of truth itself. Yaffa's excellent new profile of Konstantin Ernst, the Kremlin's arty and sophisticated propaganda chief, is worth a read too.

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.

Read our roundup of COVID-19 themes and stories from around the globe.

Europe skirts US sanctions to help Iran: While the US insists on tightening the sanctions noose around COVID-stricken Iran, European countries are now sending medical equipment. To do so, they are using for the first time a system called INSTEX, a back-channel financial mechanism created a year ago that allows Europe to maintain trade ties with Iran despite US sanctions. Recall that in 2018 the US pulled out of the multilateral Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions – the Europeans stayed in the deal and have tried to salvage it. To date, Iran has suffered more than 3,000 deaths from COVID-19, one of the highest tolls in the world. Some say that Iran's failure to contain the contagion has been complicated further by US sanctions, which have thwarted the Islamic Republic's ability to fund medical imports. Tehran has urged the US to ease sanctions to no avail, but Ayatollah Khamenei has also, citing some wild conspiracy theories about the coronavirus' origin, refused medical aid from Washington.

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Laid-off hospitality workers tell their stories in their own words.

Ian Bremmer breaks down the massive economic toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on the hospitality and service industries in America and around the globe. In the U.S. alone, millions could face unemployment as businesses struggle to stay afloat.

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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