Non-coronavirus news: Brazilian streets, US-Iran provocations, and a cool breeze

Bolsonaro's supporters take to the streets On Sunday, supporters of far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro will hit the streets to vent frustration with what they see as efforts by the Congress and Supreme Court to "blackmail" the president's agenda. Bolsonaro has recently clashed with lawmakers over a tougher crime bill, as well as budget issues. Critics of the protests say they are an anti-democratic exercise meant to intimidate the legislative and judicial branches of government, and they point to calls for the closure of congress and the courts that have been widely shared on social media accounts that support the protests. Bolsonaro has egged on his followers, by sending a video made by protest organizers to hundreds of his associates. There has long been concern about the outspoken Bolsonaro's commitment to democracy -- he has spoken fondly of Brazil's period of military dictatorship (1964-1985) and expressed admiration for the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. We're watching to see how many people show up Sunday, and what broader effects the protests have on an already toxic relationship between the president and lawmakers.


Iran-US: the next round? Two Americans and one British serviceman were killed in Iraq Wednesday night when their military camp, north of Baghdad, came under intense rocket fire attributed to an Iran-backed militia. US officials cautioned that the death toll could rise after a dozen people sustained serious injuries in the strike, and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned Thursday that President Trump had authorized further responses: "All options are on the table," Esper said. Confrontations between Tehran and Washington, which have mostly taken place in Iraq, peaked in January when the US killed a top Iranian general. Now it looks like things are escalating again. A deadly coronavirus surge prompted Iran to ask the IMF for financial aid this week for the first time in six decades— a request the US can veto. Can Tehran really afford a major escalation with Washington?

The Wind: Everything about this award-winning German advert for wind power is brilliant. Everything. It's twelve years old, but new to us.

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Soothing the market panic: As global stock markets continue their swan dive, we wanted to offer something useful that we hope will reassure you. Check out this bit of common sense investment advice in the time of coronavirus...from VOX's estimable Matthew Yglesias.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the protests in Brazil are explicitly calling for the closure of Congress and the Supreme Court. The protest organizers have not officially made these demands, although many of their followers have. We regret the error and provide more context in the revised version of the piece.

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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