What We're Watching: Coronavirus cases soar, Ethiopia hits free speech

Coronavirus flare up: Officials in China's Hubei Province on Thursday added almost 15,000 new reported cases of coronavirus to their tally, the largest single-day increase on record. That brings the total number of cases in the outbreak epicenter to nearly 50,000. This week's steep increase highlights how difficult it is for Chinese health workers to grasp the scope and severity of the deadly illness and it has also raised doubts about the Chinese government's transparency and preparedness: specialized kits for diagnosing the infection are in short supply in Hubei. As the human and economic toll of the virus continues to rise (there are now more than 60,000 reported cases worldwide) the World Health Organization says that a coronavirus vaccine is still at least 18 months away.


Ethiopia stifles free speech: Ahead of national elections slated for August, Ethiopia's parliament has passed a bill that prescribes up to five years in prison for anyone who posts or shares online content that might stir social unrest. It's a seeming step back for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 promising to spearhead Ethiopia's democratic awakening and has since released thousands of political prisoners and journalists while lifting the country's ban on opposition parties. But recent months have also seen a resurgence of religious and ethnic tensions that have left dozens dead and displaced more than two million people. Proponents of the new social media law say it's necessary in order to avoid violence in the run-up to elections. But the law's critics, including the United Nations, say it's a flagrant violation of free speech.

This classic love letter from Angela Merkel: She was a young chemist. He was a bored young KGB agent. This Valentine's Day, we are rewatching the missed connection that may have shaped our world.

What We're (trying to) Ignore

Two rich guys destroying each other on Twitter: US President Donald Trump says media tycoon and presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg is short and boring. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, says Trump is a fraud and a laughing-stock in his own hometown. As Bloomberg storms into the fragmented field of Democratic presidential contenders, you can expect a lot more of this in the coming months, particularly if Bloomberg rises in the polls. Try to ignore it, just try.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."

Listen to the latest podcast now.

It's been a bad week at the office for President Trump. Not only have coronavirus cases in the US been soaring, but The New York Times' bombshell report alleging that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan has continued to make headlines. While details about the extent of the Russian bounty program — and how long it's been going on for — remain murky, President Trump now finds himself in a massive bind on this issue.

Here are three key questions to consider.

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Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, discusses technology industry news today:

Do some of the Facebook's best features, like the newsfeed algorithm or groups, make removing hate speech from the platform impossible?

No, they do not. But what they do do is make it a lot easier for hate speech to spread. A fundamental problem with Facebook are the incentives in the newsfeed algorithm and the structure of groups make it harder for Facebook to remove hate speech.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Yes, still in the middle of coronavirus, but thought I'd give you a couple of my thoughts on Russia. Part of the world that I cut my teeth on as a political scientist, way back in the eighties and nineties. And now Putin is a president for life, or at least he gets to be president until 2036, gets another couple of terms. The constitutional amendments that he reluctantly allowed to be voted on across Russia, passed easily, some 76% approval. And so now both in China and in Russia, term limits get left behind all for the good of the people, of course. So that they can have the leaders that they truly deserve. Yes, I'm being a little sarcastic here. It's sad to see. It's sad to see that the Americans won the Cold War in part, not just because we had a stronger economy and a stronger military, but actually because our ideas were better.

Because when those living in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Block looked at the West, and looked at the United States, they saw that our liberties, they saw that our economy, was something that they aspired to and was actually a much better way of giving opportunities to the average citizen, than their own system afforded. And that helped them to rise up against it.

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Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, provides his perspective on US politics:

How likely is bipartisan action against Russia in light of Taliban bounty reports?

I think it's probably unlikely. One of the challenges here is that there's some conflict of the intelligence and anything that touches on the issue of President Trump and Russia is extremely toxic for him. Republicans have so far been tolerant of that and willing to stop any new sanctions coming. I think unless the political situation or the allegations get much worse or more obvious, that stalemate probably remains.

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