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This Happened

This Happened—November 8: A Deadly Storm Makes Landfall

One of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, Typhoon Haiyan devastated parts of southeast Asia in 2013 and mainly landed in the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people.

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Journalism In A Zero-Trust World: Maria Ressa Speaks After Rappler Shut Down Again

The Rappler CEO and Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke with The Wire's Arfa Khanum Sherwani about how journalists everywhere need to prepare themselves for the worst-case scenario of government-ordered closure and what they should do to face up to such a challenge.

HONOLULU — For someone who’s just been ordered to shut down the news website she runs, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is remarkably cheerful about what may happen next.

In a speech she gave to a conference at the East-West Center here on challenges the media face in a “zero trust world”, Ressa said that she and her colleagues were prepared for this escalation in the Philippines government’s war on independent media and will carry on doing the work they do. “If you live in a country where the rule of law is bent to the point it’s broken, anything is possible…. So you have to be prepared.”

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The Beauty Of Diversity: Pageants Around The World Celebrate Difference

Beauty pageants once rewarded good looks, and maybe some talent on the side. But the events are no longer just a showcase for perfect hair and swimsuits. Innovative pageants around the world celebrate differences and advocate for people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ communities.

Gina Rühl might soon make history as the first Miss Germany with only one arm, an injury she sustained after a life-threatening motorcycle accident. Rühl now uses her platform to advocate for others with disabilities. She told German newspaper Die Welt that she decided to compete in Miss Germany because “I knew that this competition is no longer just about the outer shell, but about who you are and what message you want to convey to people.”

This is an increasingly common sentiment among beauty pageant contestants, a genre of competition that originally awarded good looks, and maybe some talent on the side. No longer just a showcase for beauty queens, both conventional and more inventive pageants around the world are embracing a more diverse range of contests.

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Here's Why Healthcare Workers Around The World Are Quitting In Record Numbers

The long toll of the pandemic is the final straw for many burned out healthcare workers in the West. But the Great Resignation in the medical field is global, with developing countries already struggling to contain the pandemic in the face of a doctor brain drain.

PARIS — The COVID-19 pandemic has led many around the world to reevaluate their careers, becoming part of the so-called “great resignation.” Just take one statistic: a record 4.5 million U.S. citizens quit their jobs last November. By far, the industry that has been most shaped by the pandemic is healthcare, the field leading resignations, with a 3.6% increase in the number of U.S. health workers quitting their jobs in 2021.

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Irene Caselli and Carl-Johan Karlsson

COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World

Teachers, students, parents and society as a whole have suffered through the various attempts at educating through the pandemic. Here’s how it looks now: from teacher strikes in France to rising drop-out rates in Argentina to Uganda finally ending the world’s longest shutdown.

School, they say, is where the future is built. The next generation’s classroom learning is crucial, but schools also represent an opportunity for children to socialize, get help for special needs … and in some villages and neighborhoods, get their one decent meal a day.

COVID-19 has of course put all of that at risk. At the peak of the pandemic, classrooms were closed for 1.6 billion schoolchildren worldwide, with the crisis forcing many to experiment on the fly for the first time in remote learning, and shutting down learning completely for many millions more — exacerbating worldwide inequality in education.

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Anne-Sophie Goninet

New Vaccine Requirements Around The World Are Getting Nasty

Countries are going all-in on virtually forcing citizens to get vaccinated: From the French President openly acknowledging his readiness to make life unpleasant for the unvaccinated to un-jabbed Canadians not qualifying for unemployment benefits to Greeks imposing monthly fines on the unvaccinated.

PARIS — Last year, as vaccination campaigns went into full swing across the world, governments and health authorities found creative ways to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, from VIP testimonials to lotteries to donuts.

But as several parts of the globe are experiencing huge surges in infections with the Delta and Omicron variants, we seem to be past the time for celebrity endorsements and free snacks. Or as a public health official in Hong Kong said recently: “enough carrots, time for the stick.”

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Deadly Japan Fire, France Blocks UK Travelers, Mars’ Grand Canyon Water

👋 Zdravo!*

Welcome to Friday, where Purdue Pharma’s $4.5 billion opioid settlement is overturned, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un celebrates his 10th year in office and water is found in Mars’ Grand Canyon. Weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique also looks at the reasons behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to properly run national governments.


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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Omicron And Winter Olympics, Duterte Backs Out, NFT Typo

👋 Hallo!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Omicron now looms over the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, Philippine strongman Duterte unexpectedly quits his Senate race, and the NFT world witnesses a very costly slip of the keyboard. In French economic daily Les Echos, Adrien Lelièvre wonders whether the jig is up for the “gig economy.”


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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Taliban Decree On Women, Averted Shutdown, Metal Planet

👋 Sannu!*

Welcome to Friday, where the Taliban issue a decree on women’s rights, the U.S. avoids another government shutdown, and we discover the most metallic planet ever. Delhi-based news website The Wire also suggests Indians should pause before any nationalistic boasting about the choice of Parag Agarwal as new Twitter CEO.

[*Hausa - Nigeria & Niger]

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Carl-Johan Karlsson

Gaddafi And Marcos Jr., When A Dictator’s Son Runs For President

Over the past few weeks, the offspring of two of the 20th centuries most ruthless strongmen have announced they'd like to become the (democratically elected) leaders of Libya and the Philippines.


PARIS — The son of the brutal Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi announced this week he is running for president, which follows a similar headline last month from Ferdinand Marcos Jr. What does this say about the state of democracy?

It was about a half-century ago that two of the most brutal dictatorships of the modern era began.

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In The News
Jane Herbelin, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Modi Bows To Farmers, Belarus Camps Cleared, Extra-Long Eclipse

👋 Dia dhuit!*

Welcome to Friday, where Indian farmers win a major victory against the Modi government after a year of protests, Austria announces a full lockdown and mandatory vaccines and the world is treated to the longest lunar eclipse in nearly 600 years. We also have a feature story from Jeune Afrique magazine that traces the international origins of twerking.


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Jacques Hubert-Rodier

The Pandemic Was Also Bad News For The World's Autocrats

For strongman leaders like Putin and Bolsonaro, the health crisis looked like a natural opening for greater top-down control — at least on paper.


PARIS — "Shoot "em dead." That was Rodrigo Duterte's startling take on how to deal with people who might be tempted to resist his country's lockdown orders.

For the Philippine president, the pandemic was an opening to tighten his grip on power and terrorize his people even more. And he wasn't alone. For Erdogan, Putin, Orban, Bolsonaro and other "strong men" in power, the crisis seemed like a bright opportunity to expand their authoritarian and megalomaniacal excesses.

Increased population controls? The suspension of basic freedoms, including free movement? With COVID-19, it's all justified.

And yet, as it turns out, the health crisis hasn't actually been that favorable to those who dream of unfettered power and the submission of society to their will. Instead, this unprecedented crisis has rightly shown the internal weaknesses of authoritarian regimes, almost all of which have struggled to meet the basic demands of their citizens and avoid sinking into international isolation.

It's a complex equation, in other words. But ultimately, the power gained during the pandemic was minimal — even for President "Digong," as Duterte is sometimes called.

Putin has never looked so weak.

Take, for example, the case of China, where the virus first appeared. President Xi Jinping is widely seen as the country's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. But his rise predates the pandemic by a number of years, and if anything, the health crisis has actually hurt him by tarnishing the image of China, which is accused of covering up the scale of the epidemic in its early stages and not being transparent about the numbers of confirmed cases and fatalities.

The pandemic has been an even bigger blow for the regime of Russia's Vladimir Putin, who has never looked so weak. "He looks like a sick old wolf," political scientist Alexander Kynev writes in the Moscow Times. Tatiana Stanovaya, an expert at the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, says that "things did not go as planned" for the Russian president. Indeed, Putin's grand plan to organize a referendum allowing him to remain in power until 2036 had to be suspended under the double shock of the collapse of oil prices and the health crisis.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is struggling as well. The Turkish president has already been in office for 17 years, and his gradual accumulation of extensive powers began long before the health crisis. Last year, however, he experienced a major setback when his Justice and Development Party lost control of the municipalities of Ankara and Istanbul. The country is hurting financially as well, and the COVID-19 crisis is only adding to those woes. As a result, the country's central bank has had to triple its exchange agreement with Qatar, expanding from $5 billion in 2018 to $15 billion in order to cope with the collapse of its foreign exchange reserves.

For Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who invented the concept of "illiberal democracy," the health crisis was the perfect pretext: On March 30, just as the pandemic was exploding in Europe, he granted himself special powers to govern by decree. Later, however, pressure from the European Union forced Orban to take a cautious step backwards by putting a time limit on those special powers.


Drivers protest the first day of nationwide coronavirus quarantine measures in Manila Photo: Joseph Dacalanio

Across the ocean, another strong-man leader, Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, is faring far worse. His management of the coronavirus outbreak proved catastrophic and created a governmental crisis marked by the resignation of his health minister after just four weeks in office. The previous minister of health was fired by Bolsonaro following a dispute over the severity of the virus.

Looking toward the post-pandemic period, it's clear that none of today's authoritarian leaders — hampered as they may be the situation — will let go of their power. On the contrary, there will be a strong temptation for them to strengthen the surveillance of their population by monitoring displacement or by further tightening their control over the media and the judiciary.

Will the leaders of today's democracies be up to the task, and not fall into the trap of authoritarian regimes.

Paradoxically, however, democracies have become more resilient. In France, as well as in Italy and Spain, the management of the health crisis has been chaotic. And yet, it aso triggered a strong demand for a more protective state. This is a movement without precedent since the 1980s, when the rise of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan ushered in the era of neoliberalism.

After World War II, democratic powers were able to implement genuine social protections, including health care. The question is whether the leaders of today's democracies will be up to the task and will not fall into the trap of authoritarian regimes, as appears to be the case in the United States, where President Donald Trump has engaged in dangerous boasting and renewed threats to justice and the media.

There, the health crisis has only deepened divisions between supporters the president and his opponents. This is an example for European countries not to follow. Democracy remains the worst of all systems, Winston Churchill was quoted as saying. It remains a fragile political system.

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