What We're Watching &What We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

DRC ELECTION DRAMA Opposition leader Martin Fayulu has, with the support of the local Catholic church and several Western governments, appealed to the country's Constitutional Court to nullify the official results of the 30 December election, which authorities say was won by Felix Tshisekedi, another opposition figure. The court could confirm the results, order a recount, or order new elections. Aside from the dangers of further political upheaval in a country long wracked by instability, global health experts are worried that the election uncertainty will complicate efforts to fight a resurgence of the deadly Ebola virus.


Canada vs China – Relations between China and Canada took a turn for the worse yesterday after a Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to death for attempting to smuggle drugs out of China. The verdict hastily handed down on Robert Schellenberg comes against the backdrop of Canada's arrest in December of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive of Chinese technology giant Huawei at the request of the US. With Ms. Meng now out on bail awaiting an extradition hearing, the families of Mr. Schellenberg and two other Canadian citizens detained by China fear that these men could be become pawns in a broader diplomatic fight between China and the West. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has no good options – any hint of clemency to Ms. Meng, who was arrested at the request of the US, risks infuriating Washington. But can he stand by as China executes one of his citizens?

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Questions about whether Donald Trump "worked for Russia" – The New York Times and Washington Post have recently published stories that say, respectively, that the FBI last year looked into whether the US President was doing Moscow's bidding, and that Mr. Trump had sought to conceal the US translator's notes from his one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. In the days since, journalists have been asking Mr. Trump if he "worked for Russia." After initially skirting the question on FOX, he flatly denied the allegation to the White House press corps. We are ignoring this question, as well as Mr. Trump's answers, and waiting for the findings of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation.

Justin Trudeau's Afghan doppelgänger – Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a man of many talents. He explains quantum physics. He boxes. He dances to Bhangra music in India. He runs a country so nice it's almost worthy of parody. But wait, does he also sing in fluent Dari and Pashto on television in Afghanistan? We too were fooled for a second when we saw the lyrical stylings of Afghan wedding singer Salam Maftoon, who bears an uncanny (like, really really crazy) resemblance to Mr. Trudeau. Attention to Mr. Maftoon's Trudeau-likeness has evidently boosted his chances of winning a popular TV singing contest, Afghan Star, by "50 percent." As an increasingly embattled Trudeau heads into elections later this year, he'd presumably be grateful for anything Mr. Maftoon can do to return the favor. But we are ignoring this because there is already a life-sized Justin Trudeau cutout, for whatever reason, in our office so we don't need another doppelgänger to keep track of.

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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