What We're Watching & What We 're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Joseph Kabila's Intentions – The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) says he will leave office after elections on 23 December. Kabila has been in power since 2001, when he took over after his father's murder. He was supposed to step down in 2016 but has repeatedly postponed holding a presidential election.


The upcoming vote pits Kabila's former interior minister, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is currently under EU sanctions for human rights abuses, against opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi and businessman Martin Faulu Madidi. The sprawling resource-rich country has not had a peaceful transition of power since winning independence from Belgium in 1960. Mr. Kabila has left open the possibility of returning to power in 2023, which the constitution permits.

Shops that sell construction clothing in Cairo – As the seventh anniversary of the Tahrir Square revolution approaches, the Egyptian government has quietly cracked down on the sale of reflective yellow vests. Why? The authorities are worried about the potential for copycat protests inspired by the "gilets jaunes" movement in France. It's been decades since people thought of Cairo's belle epoque downtown district as "Paris Along the Nile" – and after the recent surge of violent protests in the French capital, Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sissi would just as soon keep it that way.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Russian bombers in Venezuela – On Monday, a pair of Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed at an airbase outside of Caracas. The US, which just last week made a rare reconnaissance flight over Ukraine in a direct dig at Russia, won't like the display of force on its proverbial doorstep in the Caribbean. This looks like a simple tit-for-tat by Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed at shoring up a struggling ally. Maduro walked away from a trip to Moscow last week claiming to have secured $6 billion of financial assistance for Venezuela's struggling economy and 600,000 tons of food aid. Whether those promises materialize is a much more important issue for Venezuela than a temporary flyby.

British MPs behaving badly – A Labour MP was kicked out of the UK's House of Commons on Monday after he grabbed the ceremonial mace symbolizing the royal authority required for Parliament to meet and pass laws during a heated debate over Brexit. We're ignoring this for two reasons: first, it's been done before. Second, because the MP in question handed it back without a real fight. If you're going to make a spectacle of yourself by stealing a 400-year-old ceremonial club, you should at least give it a symbolic swing or two to make things interesting.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.