What We’re Watching: The World’s Lungs Are Burning

The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.


Fake flames interlude: if you are sharing photos of the Amazon in flames – and go right ahead, because the Amazon produces 20% of the oxygen in our atmosphere – just make sure they aren't fakes.

Korea and Japan stop sharing intelligence – Ongoing tensions between Seoul and Tokyo over the legacy of Japan's 20th century occupation of Korea spilled from trade into national security this week, as Korea said it will scrap the two countries' military intelligence-sharing alliance. The timing, just as North Korea has started lobbing missiles into the Sea of Japan again, is…not great: Washington had pushed for that intel alliance as part of its efforts to address the threat posed by Pyongyang's nuclear program. We're watching to see whether these historic frenemies can find a way to save face and back down before someone gets hurt or a missile goes undetected.

What We're Ignoring

The G7 Summit in Biarritz Heck of a time to get together for a summit: Italy's prime minister resigned just three days ago. Germany's Angela Merkel is on her way out of power. Canada's Justin Trudeau is reeling from an ethics scandal and faces elections soon. The UK's Boris Johnson is trying to play chicken on Brexit with an unmoved Brussels. Japan's Shinzo Abe is in a rapidly-deteriorating spat with South Korea. Donald Trump wants to know why his pal Vladimir Putin isn't invited to these things anymore. And host country France's Emmanuel Macron has already announced that there won't be a joint communique at the end of the summit because the leaders won't really agree to anything. So while there will be the usual headlines and tweets and gaffes, we are ignoring the summit because nothing of substance seems likely to come from it.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan announced a $1 billion, four-year commitment of additional support to address economic and racial inequalities in our local communities that have been intensified by the global pandemic.

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Have you heard? The Republican president of the United States proposed a plan for "partial basic income" and his plan passed the House of Representatives. In 1968.

President's Nixon's plan, which he called "the most significant piece of social legislation in our nation's history," died in the Senate and never became law. It hasn't really made a comeback in the US. But the idea of "guaranteed basic income" is already back in the news in Europe, because income inequality — exacerbated by COVID-19 — will become increasingly hard for the world's political leaders to ignore.

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Poland's election set: After a grueling political fight between the far-right Law and Justice Party, which heads the government, and opposition parties on how and when to hold a presidential election during a global pandemic, Poland says the ballot will now go ahead on June 28. For the incumbent government, led by President Andrzej Duda, the election is a chance to further solidify its agenda of social conservatism and an alarming reworking of the country's democratic institutions. While April polls strongly favored Duda, the pandemic-induced economic crisis has dented his ratings in recent weeks, giving centrist candidates a slightly better chance to take the nation's top job. Indeed, in last year's election, the Law and Justice party won only a very shaky parliamentary majority and needs Duda to stay at the helm, not least in order to pass controversial judicial reforms that the EU has long-deemed as undemocratic.

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The coronavirus crisis has clobbered all European economies, but most have avoided a severe spike in unemployment. That's in part because of government programs that directly subsidize workers' wages while also incentivizing employers to keep workers on the payroll by reducing their hours. This approach has shielded much of Europe from the kind of unemployment calamity that's plaguing the United States, where the jobless rate has increased sixfold since January and is now more than double that of the Euro area. Here's a look at how European job markets have fared in the time of coronavirus.

As protests over the police killing of George Floyd raged across the country, there have been more than 125 instances of journalists being shot with rubber bullets by police, arrested, or in some cases assaulted by protesters while covering the unrest.

Foreign news crews from Germany and Australia have been caught up in the crackdown. Australia's Prime Minister has even called for an investigation. Some of these journalists have simply been caught in the crossfire during surges of unrest, but video and photographic evidence reveals cases where police have deliberately targeted reporters doing their jobs.

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