What We're Watching: Indian students' outrage

Indian students' outrage – At least 40 people were admitted to hospital Sunday after mask-clad attackers descended on the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, striking students and staff with stones, sticks and iron rods. Many have blamed the attack at JNU – long associated with left-wing student activism – on a Hindu nationalist student body associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP. Now, thousands of protesters across the country have flocked to the streets, accusing police of failing to intervene as more than 50 attackers bludgeoned students, and for failing to arrest members of the violent mob. The incident comes at time of enhanced ethnic tensions in India amid the government's controversial citizenship bill, seen by many as anti-Muslim. If the government continues to remain mum on this attack, it will surely only inflame tensions further.


Calamity in Kenya – Kenya is on high alert after a spate of regional attacks by the Somalia-based al-Shabab terror group, an offshoot of al-Qaeda loosely aligned with Iran. Three Americans were killed in an attack on US and Kenyan troops in Manda Bay Sunday, about a week after al-Shabab militants blew up a truck at a busy intersection in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, killing 80 people. The violent uptick in Kenya is a reminder of the deteriorating situation in neighboring Somalia – one of the world's most fragile countries – and militant groups' knack for taking advantage of the region's porous borders to mobilize fighters and wage attacks. About 300 US army personnel are stationed in Kenya, helping train local forces fighting homegrown terrorist cells. It's worth noting that the Pentagon is reportedly contemplating a major troop reduction in West Africa as part of President Trump's planned military pullback – a move that would allow extremist groups to proliferate throughout Africa, some military officials have warned.

Facebook's bad week – Despite sustained pressure from US lawmakers, Facebook announced Thursday that it will not make any changes to its rules surrounding political advertising, a controversial policy that allows politicians to lie in ads. The tech giant also said it would not put an end to "microtagging," giving political campaigns a green light to continue targeting their ads – and disinformation – at subsections of the public. Facebook executives defended the move on free speech grounds, but this decision will have far-reaching consequences for online advertising campaigns anticipated in this year's election (estimated at over $1 billion). This announcement came a day after the tech behemoth and Teen Vogue magazine were panned for "placing" a lofty online article praising Facebook for fighting misinformation ahead of the 2020 presidential election, failing to disclose that the piece was in fact paid Facebook content. All eyes will now be on the US Congress, but election-related regulation for the tech industry has stalled in the extremely fractious legislature, and that's unlikely to change.

What We're Ignoring

A new US-Iran nuclear deal – The US says it's "ready to engage without preconditions in serious negotiations" with Iran following this week's hostilities. President Donald Trump says he wants a new nuclear deal to replace the existing version negotiated by his predecessor with Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia. If Trump wins re-election in November, Iran will have to consider its options. But we can safely ignore this invitation for now. Iran, which has proven its ability to absorb economic pain many times over the past 40 years, has no interest in offering fundamental concessions to a man who may not be president next year. It took former President Obama many years to force Iran's government to the bargaining table. Iran knows Trump may not have that long.

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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