LIBERATION
Libération is a French left-leaning daily. Co-founded by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973, it later moved away from its original far-left and anti-advertising stance to embrace a social-democrat view. It was acquired by Israeli businessman Patrick Drahi in 2014.
Namibia Holds inaugural Gay Pride Parade, June 4, 2016
Geopolitics
Genevieve Mansfield

African LGBTQ Activists Fight To Undo Colonial Legacy

Both north and south of the Sahara, Africa's gay, lesbian and trans activists are fighting for their rights … and for many, that means returning to a much earlier history.

Ten years after Tunisia's pro-democracy revolution, activists are continuing to fight for the rights of all … and that increasingly also includes members of the LGBTQ community. Like Tunisia, other African countries are confronting the challenge of overcoming conservative attitudes and the legacy of colonialism that too often still stands in the way of providing equal protection and dignity to gay, lesbian and transgender citizens.

History might surprise you

Back in 19th-century Tunisia, it would not be surprising to overhear a popular song referencing same-sex love or stumble upon a book with an LGBTQ love scene — or even hear gossip about the sexually diverse makeup of the Prince's court. Abdelhamid Larguèche wrote in his historical novel, Les ombres de Tunis, that pre-colonial society in Tunisia was "less repressive," as Ottoman penal codes did not mention homosexuality or sodomy. Today, however, even after the 2011 "Jasmine Revolution," homosexuality is a punishable crime.

Homosexual sex became illegal in Tunisia in 1913, with the passing of Article 230 while the country was under French proctorate. Since then, LGBTQ people have been subject to invasive anal probes used for ‘evidence" for arrests and eventual imprisonment. Yet several civil societies have emerged since the revolution to push for LGBTQ rights in the country. Their first goal: getting rid of the colonial era law, Article 230.

Tunisia

The organization Mawjoudin - We Exist, which began in 2014 is among the leaders in the battle. Ali Bousselmi, their co-founder and executive director, told French newspaper Le Monde that since the revolution, "there have been fewer arrests and the use of anal probes. But with article 230, we remain threatened."

Along with awareness campaigns aimed at repealing Article 230, Mawjoudin works to create a safe space for members of the LGBTQ community. Since 2018, the organization has successfully put on an annual queer film festival. After being canceled last year due to coronavirus, the festival will be back on from July 16-19.

For activist Rania Arfaoui, also a member of Mawjoudin, these measures are crucial for showing that activists are on the ground and leading the charge in their own communities. She told another French daily Liberation that "It is essential to make our struggle visible and to show that the movement for queer rights and feminism is not just the prerogative of Western activists. There are communities in the Global South who are fighting!"

National Women's Day in Tunis, Tunisia, 2016 — Photo: Chedly Ben Ibrahim

Angola

Tunisian activists are not alone in their fight to repeal colonial-era legislation and show how African communities are reclaiming their histories. Some 3,000 miles south of Tunisia, LGBTQ activists in Angola celebrated earlier this year when the portion of the 1886 Penal Code that outlawed "vices against nature" was officially repealed.

Though it was not frequently enforced, the colonial-era law effectively banned homosexual conduct in the country and allowed for greater harrassment and discrimination against LGBTQ people. Like Tunisia, Angola also has a prior history of acceptance toward the LGBTQ community, as its Ovimbundu tribe was known for having had traditions which involved homosexuality and cross-dressing.

Carlos Fernandes, an LGBTQ activist, told Híbrida magazine that the decision this year "removed barriers," and has given their organization a greater ability to dialogue with the government. Now, Fernandes is focusing on creating community spaces for mental health and well-being, as well as addressing the spread of HIV.

Botswana

Another country with a history of LGBTQ acceptance prior to colonization is Botswana, which has also seen the repeal of discriminatory legislation. The country's high court overturned anti-sodomy laws in 2017. The presiding judge, Michael Leburu, later told the The New York Times that the laws were a "British import," and that they had been developed "without consultation of local peoples."

Activists were excited to see the overturn: Anna Chalmers, the CEO for Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana told France 24 that the decision "goes a long way towards giving us our freedom."

Phransisko Kumedzro in Accra, Ghana, for British Vogue — Photo: Stephen Tayo

Ghana

Activists in Ghana, another former British colony, are still struggling to see homosexuality decriminalized. Same-sex relations have been outlawed since the colonial era, and the current criminal law uses similar wording to that which was enacted during the 19th century. LGBTQ activists in Ghana have made international news multiple times this past year, notably when law enforcement shut down the office of a rights group in February, and when 21 activists were arrested in June for "unlawful gathering."

Yet, despite these setbacks, activists have not given up. VOA Afrique reported that the organization, LGBT+ Rights Ghana, launched a fundraiser to "help them get out of prison." The hashtag #ReleaseThe21 has also been trending on social media. But the rise in homophobia, coupled with the President's outspoken opposition to decriminalizing homosexuality, has forced activists to be less vocal in their calls for complete legal decriminalization. Efforts instead have focused on education and legal challenges in the court system.

Like others, Ghana's activists are increasingly using the internet to create an safe spaces for the queer community. In reflecting on ways progress has been achieved in her country in recent years, Tunisian activist Ali Bousselmi said that "talking about it broke a taboo in society, and this has allowed the community to gain allies." Activists across the continent are following a similar path, one step at a time, even though they are rightfully ever impatient for change.

El Pibe de Oro on the world's front pages
CLARIN
Bertrand Hauger

Adios Maradona: 22 World Front Pages On The Death Of Soccer God

El Pibe de Oro, Barrilete, El Dios, Cósmico, D10S, Dieguito, El 10, El Diez ...

The quantity of nicknames is just one more sign that fútbol legend Diego Armando Maradona was in a category of his own. His death Wednesday from a heart attack at the age of 60 was a bonafide global event.

Here are the front pages of 22 newspapers dedicated to the passing of the soccer legend: from dailies in his native Buenos Aires to the cities of his beloved club teams, Naples, Italy and Barcelona, Spain, but also California, France, India and beyond celebrated arguably the greatest artist that the beautiful game has ever seen.

ARGENTINA

Cronica, a daily newspaper in Maradona

Cronica

Clarin

La Nacion

Pagina/12

Portada de La Prensa (Argentina)

La Prensa

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Paris on Oct. 17
Sources
Sandrine Rousseau*

Crisis After Crisis, Freedom Is Disappearing Drip By Drip

Concurrent emergencies have given rise to 'exceptional' measures that then have a tendency of being institutionalized.

-OpEd-

PARIS — We are running from crisis to crisis, from the public safety crisis that began with terrorist attacks and led to a permanent state of emergency, to a health crisis that restricts our freedoms in the name of preventing illness. Then comes the economic crisis and its conjoined twin sister, the social crisis. And of course, brewing in the background of all this is another, massive-scale crisis that will leave many other crises in its wake: the climate crisis.

The French Republic and its democracy are repeatedly put to the test by these events. The pattern is the same: political decision-making is centralized, with action coming from war councils or from rulers, ministers and presidents. And the people, for their part, are required to obey — in the name of a higher interest.

They do so without second thought. Who, after all, would go against protection when there is imminent danger? French men and women are understanding, and necessarily so, because otherwise the pandemic would have taken another turn.

The problem is not so much in the management of the emergency but rather the time that follows. These supposedly "exceptional" measures are gradually becoming commonplace, and then they become institutionalized. Engraved in common law, they become the norm.

A regime of exception was put in place following the attacks of Nov. 13, 2015. It became common law in 2017, allowing for allocations to a given area, simplified searches and the creation of "protected zones' where law enforcement has exceptional powers. UN reports have even expressed concern that freedom of expression, assembly and association are being infringed upon.

The state of emergency declared for the COVID-19 crisis came to an end on July 10. It was replaced by a four-month "transitional regime." But now the pandemic is resurging, and the way it's being managed is leading us to a new legal arsenal aimed at controlling private life. We can already hear the arguments: To slow the spread of the virus and the saturation of hospitals, it is necessary to protect people against their will. Allowing drones to fly over cities, limiting gatherings, preventing people from meeting in bars or on the street, postponing family meals... What will remain of the freedom of assembly and association after this attack?

What will remain of the freedom of assembly and association after this attack?

What is known is that anxiety-provoking climates are conducive to the enactment of laws, restrictions and regulations. Sometimes they have little to do with the crisis. COVID-19 serves as a starting point for the enactment of laws, restrictions, and regulations. Sometimes they have little to do with the crisis, for example, this new policing regime that limits journalists from freely practicing their profession during demonstrations.

None of this, however, is inevitable. While emergencies can require immediate measures that deviate from the law, there are two safeguards to preserve the essential: freedom.

First, respect for democracy. Even in times of crisis — especially in times of crisis — democracy is not only exercised from lawmakers in the capital, but also from municipal, departmental and regional assemblies. While they only have partial sovereign powers, the elected representatives are the foundation of our territorial cohesion and the protection against abuse of power in Paris. Marseille must alert us to this. The absence of consultation with local elected officials is a serious attack on democracy.

Strict new measures return to Paris — Photo: Samuel Boivin/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Whether this order is with good or bad intentions is not the issue. The Fifth Republic and its presidential omnipotence are conducive to this sort of subjugation, but should it be used in this way? No federal republic, no parliamentary regime can take such measures without going through, or at least consulting, the territories and decentralized management.

The second safeguard is to never institutionalize exceptional rules afterwards. Otherwise, each crisis will reduce our liberties, and with them, the very foundations of our republic. If we do not rebuild freedom after this one, then little by little, without even realizing it, we are paving the way for totalitarian management.

If we do not maintain our democratic model, which makes France a country of human rights — and women's rights — then we won't have the strength to defend it later on. This is what a free country is known for: its ability not to renounce its great principles in times of crisis. And this challenge is only just beginning, because the coming climate crisis will put even more strain on our democracies and our ways of sharing life.

We should learn from what is happening now so that we can perfect our democracy, guarantee our freedoms and develop our sense of collective responsibility. Let us seize this moment to reexamine who we are and what our values are, and what makes our French society so dear and so free. Let's use local democracy to form a consensus: decentralize decisions, strengthen the role of Parliament, develop the democratic tools that allow us to fight our own fears, and guarantee independent checks and balances.

If we can do that, these crises will not have been for nothing. They will have helped us affirm what is most essential: our values. To ensure that the future does not push us into darkness, let us reaffirm the values of the enlightenment and safeguard our freedom as citizens.

*Sandrine Rousseau is an economist.


**This article was translated with permission from the author.

Hugo Chavez during his recovery from surgery in Cuba in February 2013
BBC

When World Leaders Get Sick: Health, Lies And Videotape

The uncertainty around President Trump's condition since contracting COVID-19 is part of a pattern when powerful politicians fall ill.

The 72 hours since U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted out his COVID-19 diagnosis have been filled with a shocking yet unsurprising flood of information, misinformation, facts, rumors, off-kilter video messages and one very ill-advised ride in his motorcade. Even with the whole world watching and asking, nobody has the answer to the question "How sick is he?" The week begins with Washington watching to see whether Trump, as leaked by presidential confidantes, will leave Walter Reed military hospital far earlier than most doctors believe is wise.


What's different: There is much that is unprecedented about Trump's first-hand personal (and presidential) battle with COVID-19. The political context is particularly charged, after the president had spent months downplaying the pandemic — and the timing couldn't be more momentous, one month before his reelection bid. Add to that, of course, is Trump himself who mixes patriotic appeals with an instinct for showmanship and notably casual relationship with the truth. Still, unlike other challenges he's faced over the past four years, the coronavirus itself is a nemesis that is harder to predict than Trump himself.


Despots and democrats: The criticism that Trump and his entourage are facing for the lack of transparency around his health is hardly new in the world of politics. Both the private nature of personal health, and the potentially high stakes of a head of state being incapacitated or worse, has prompted democratically elected leaders and dictators alike to go through great pains to obscure the truth.


Several U.S. presidents have hid chronic illnesses, while others have covered up the grave state of their health, right up until their death in office.

  • Just months after taking office for his second term in 1893, Grover Cleveland was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on the roof of his mouth. While surgeons removed the tumor — along with several of the president's teeth and a large part of his upper left jawbone — the White House announced that Cleveland was on a fishing trip. But the real cover-up came thanks to the president's trademark mustache, which covered his scars.

A portrait of U.S. President Grover Cleveland — Photo: The Bureau of Engraving and Printing

French secrets: Just months after François Mitterrand was elected President of France for the first time in 1981, he was diagnosed with cancer.

  • As Paris-based daily Libération reports, he wound up concealing the illness for 11 of his 14 years in office, finally going public in September 1992 following an operation. He died from prostate cancer a year after leaving office in 1995, at the age of 79.
  • A subsequent book, called Le Grand Secret, recounts the lengths Mitterrand went to hide his illness, even publishing false health reports. During his campaign for the presidency, Mitterrand had promised to be transparent about his health, after one of his predecessors, President Georges Pompidou, had died in office in 1974 from cancer that too was long kept secret.


From Russia with secrecy

  • Though Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's health had been deteriorating since the end of World War II — he suffered from atherosclerosis as a result of heavy smoking and had two strokes in 1945 — the official newspaper of the Soviet Union's Communist Party Pravda first reported about Stalin's disease three days after he suffered a massive stroke and one day before his death in 1953. The leader was already unconscious, receiving no medical attention as Soviet leaders competed for his succession (a well-documented episode that even led to a 2017 dark comedy).

  • As the BBC Russian Service once investigated, mum's the word when it comes to Moscow's authorities and their health, with Vladimir Lenin being the only leader whose medical bulletins were published regularly. In subsequent decades, Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Boris Yeltsin all had significant health problems that were shrouded in mystery.

François Mitterrand and Ronald Reagan in 1981 — Photo: Wikipedia

​Chavez's cancer: As early as summer 2010, rumors that Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez had cancer started, with Chavez readily denying them.

  • In June of the next year, new rumors started to spread when the president went to Cuba to undergo surgery and didn't appear on media for two weeks, following a knee injury, El Periodico reported at the time.

  • The next month, Chavez finally revealed during a television address that he was being treated for cancer and that the surgery in Cuba was conducted to remove a tumor. He added however that the illness would not prevent him from staying in command of the country.

  • Despite the revelation, details about his illness were kept as vague (and positive) as possible and the state of his condition remained a mystery until his death in March 2013.

In India, the health of home affairs minister Amit Shah, who was hospitalized three times in less than two months due to coronavirus, has sparked a debate over the need for transparency concerning the medical condition of the country's political leaders.

  • The "medical status of public figures is taboo," writes Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in the Telegraph India, as health is seen as a private and personal matter that should not be discussed publicly. Shah, considered India's second most powerful person after his close ally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

  • But Bharat Bhushan, writing for Indian magazine The Caravan argues that as tensions are still vivid with China on the Ladakh border, the need for the home affairs minister "to function efficiently ought to be a matter of public concern". "Revealing the health condition of a leader requires a tough balancing act between transparency and individual privacy. While transparency contributes to public accountability, its absence can endanger the nation, the government and impact public interest", writes Bharat Bhushan.

Silvio's nip and tuck: Leave it to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to make a high-stakes health drama out of a face-lift operation.

  • Around Christmas 2003, the billionaire leader had disappeared for more than a month and reemerged with a notably tighter face.

  • Though Berlusconi never officially confirmed the intervention, La Repubblica reported on anger among Italian plastic surgeons that the operation took place at a Swiss clinic.

  • Six months later, there was speculation that Berlusconi had resorted to hair replacement procedure after he appeared alongside British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a bandana at a Sardinian resort.

Bob Dylan mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota
CLARIN
Jeff Israely

How Does It Sound? Bob Dylan, Between Headlines And Posterity

PARISGrandioso, say the Italians. Kolossalt for the Swedes. The Berkeley student newspaper called it monumental, while a Buenos Aires daily was stamping it patrimonio de la humanidad.

The world's popular music critics and other sundry writer types (wink!) have spent the past few weeks trying to size up something that is much more than just a big new album release. Bob Dylan's latest, Rough And Rowdy Ways, comes eight years since his most recent original material, four years after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and ten months shy of his 80th birthday.

All of this, including the raving reviews, amounts to a major news event for the culture pages — a chance to search for the words (in the present tense) to describe someone bound for posterity. It also happens to arrive as the news pages are being consumed by two other ongoing stories that have their own whiff of history-in-the-making.

Churning through the daily updates and refreshing our Twitter feeds, news editors and readers might pose that unanswerable question: What will remain? Where will the stacks of coronavirus headlines leave us once the pandemic passes? Will George Floyd's name make it into the history books? And what place will now be reserved for Christopher Columbus, Cecil Rhodes, Leopold II?

Back to the culture pages, and the present tense, Olivier Lamm of France's Libération took a crack at describing what it's like, in 2020, to listen to the latest offering from the singular rock "n" roll master artist:

"How does it sound, a Dylan blues song in the era of TikTok, Defund the Police and the coronavirus? Well what do you know, it sounds like it had to be, a flash of lucidity, a howl crossing the sky."

For this news editor and Dylan nut, that sounds about right. Since first getting hooked 30 years ago, I've often searched for the words — my own and those who write about such things for a living — that might take the measure of a man for the ages who also happens to be my favorite entertainer.

If you're like these international rock critics above, you can try to capture the grandeur; you might compare him to Shakespeare or Mozart or Michelangelo. But I'll also never forget a writer's description of liking Dylan's music the way he likes the smell of bacon ... and then there's the man in question, who parried the early hero worship by calling himself a "song and dance man."

That's what critics do: list the songs, cite a verse, make a connection or comparison.

His Nobel Prize was another occasion for the world's press to try to sum up his multitudes. That he initially went AWOL after the announcement, and wound up as a no-show at the ceremony, prompted additional Dylan news cycles. I even threw my own two cents in the media fountain. But then the Nobel, which at first seemed like some kind of ultimate validation that he was a category unto himself, goes only so far on the question of posterity: Hell, they give one out every year!

And so the reaction to the current album was also destined to create what news editors, with a slightly derisive tone, call copy. Much of it handled by the music reviewer's arsenal of song-by-song analysis and references to other works. That's normal, the work that critics do: list the songs, cite a verse, make a connection or comparison. There are, after all, other new albums to review, pages to fill, deadlines to meet.

Between my own deadlines, and waiting for more Bob copy to come in, it's taken me three weeks to have my say. And no, I'm afraid you won't get your answer here either. I'm an amateur in the field, with a dog in the fight. All I can offer is a heavy-handed, scripture-citing command to go to minute 5:18, fourth track, "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself To You."

My heart's like a river, a river that sings

It just takes me a while to realize things

Where do we start? With three pop song tropes — heart, river, sings — stacked right on top of each other, somehow creating a crescendo of a metaphor that you can both see and hear. Or maybe we've heard it before? Or it's just a throwaway line? Did he steal it? But we quickly find out, the sweetness will take a bitter turn: the simplest of thoughts, stripped away, a sigh to your lover over a cup of coffee. As a painter friend once told me: All great art is surprise.

Of course, such sleights of hand and crushing of hearts mean something different now, in the very twilight of his career. When he was barely 20, Dylan had a way of writing and singing with the voice of someone who had seemingly lived and seen a thousand lives. Now, when he sings "a while," we simply hear the sound of a lifetime.

Looking for words to describe Dylan's latest brings me to the one artist who, for me, has always seemed to be his mirror: for the sheer talent and expressionism, for never being prisoner to their own revolutions, and yes, for the longevity too.

We're in 1969 and the latest works from Pablo Picasso have just gone on exhibit. Jacques Michel, Le Monde"s art critic, has this to say about the Spanish master, nearing the age of 90:

"Picasso paints here as a child would paint, a bird would sing. Nothing elaborate, the spontaneous restitution of electric jolts instead; Picasso does not seek, he finds .... For three-quarters of a century, he's done only that: find. Even today, the harvest is rich and will surely take on a deeper meaning later. Like self-portraits of Rembrandt, at the end of his life, or Van Gogh, attending to and depicting the drama unfolding inside themselves. What Picasso gives us here is the testimony of his destiny."

I'm just a news guy on loan to the culture pages, but the connections do feel stronger in times like these. The destiny of artists are tied to their subjects, and the subjects of the day to each other: George Floyd and Hattie Carroll, Columbus to Guernica, in sickness and in health. Dylan has come to remind us that, posterity or otherwise, it all begins with ourselves.

Careful of those hands
REUTERS
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Virus Alert, Protect Your Body And Computer

Before COVID-19, when we heard the word "virus," most of us thought about our computers. Cyber-security terminology has borrowed from the biological world because of the similar ways that viruses spread and can be combated. Both rely on hosts for transmission and can be prevented by immunity, which for a computer comes in the form of antivirus software rather than the injection of a vaccine. Perhaps the most important similarity is that computer viruses also spread surreptitiously, often causing serious damage before being detected. In other words, both are pretty scary.


Although the term computer virus was coined already in the 1980s, it was popularized the following decade by a swelling genre of cyber movies (remember Hackers?) as well as the first real-life public malware scare in 1992 when the Michelangelo virus — named after the famous painter with the same March 6 birthday — spread to some 5 million computers, mainly through floppy disks.


Of course, talking about computer viruses when a real-life pandemic is still wreaking havoc across the world may raise eyebrows. Yet, one clear side effect of the current health crisis is that more and more of our lives, particularly working lives, are moving online. The cyber-security risks, for example, in the proliferation of Zoom and other video conferences puts everything from our images to our passwords at risk of exploitation.


As our economy becomes more digitized, faceless and harder to understand, the stakes are bound to keep rising. Yet, advances in computing could help us learn lessons to fight both health and cyber threats, as pointed out in a recent article in Welcome to the Jungle about those combating viruses in our computers and our bodies: "With both disciplines plotting similar paths toward data-driven threat response, there is surely considerable benefit for both in gaining a greater understanding of each other's strategies, successes, and challenges."


Nobody right now expects either virtual or biological viruses to be eradicated any time soon, and we've learned that our fate remains largely in our own hands — which you should wash regularly, and use to change your passwords at least once a month.

People in Seoul wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus.
THE WASHINGTON POST
Rozena Crossman

Seoul To Stockholm, Living With The Cycles Of A Virus

Today, you may read about lockdowns being loosened in COVID-19 hotspots like France or Spain or the U.K. But you may also discover that Germany, widely lauded for keeping infection rates relatively low, has seen an uptick in their number of coronavirus cases since they relaxed certain social distancing restrictions. Turn farther to the East, to South Korea — the supposed poster child for effective management of the crisis — and you'll find out that one 29-year-old's Seoul bar crawl last weekend has set off a new rash of cases, and forced officials to reimpose restrictions on businesses.


We talk a lot about quarantining and de-quarantining, a tricky maneuver for any government tasked with trying to control the behavior of millions of people who are used to the most basic freedom of movement. Here in France, today, May 11, has been marked on the calendar for the past month as the supposed "end" to the national lockdown. The rendezvous was maintained, but frankly not much has changed.


After months of riding these ups and downs, perhaps it's time for nations to discuss long-term plans with their people, acknowledging that, until a vaccine arrives, our lives to some extent are in the hands of a virus that the world's best scientists are still trying to understand. Inevitably, it will create the kinds of ups and downs, cycles of activities and emotions, that we must adjust to.


U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein tried to put it in clear terms last month for the public: "All the predictions are no vaccine for upwards of a year, so that means we've got to refine our ability to survive and operate and do the missions the nation requires. And we've got to bring back those missions that we slowed down, so we can get back to some kind of a sense of new normalcy in an abnormal world… Until we have a vaccine, we're going to be living with this virus and the potential for it to come back in some cyclical way is likely."


What will this new "cycle of life" look like? The answer, to some degree, depends on the country. Sweden's leaders believe Stockholm will achieve herd immunity in a month's time thanks to their citizens' ability to diligently follow their relatively loose lockdown measures. Meanwhile, part of Iran, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, is heading back indoors as their denizens "failed to follow social distancing rules." There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to how we organize our agendas for the next year, but a straightforward conversation about learning to live with coronavirus will serve the whole world well.

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The lockdown has created one of the highest recorded demand for jigsaw puzzles
BBC
Worldcrunch

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Quarantine Blues And The Power Of A Jigsaw Puzzle

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.


SPOTLIGHT: QUARANTINE BLUES AND THE POWER OF A JIGSAW PUZZLE

A sudden rush of stress, trouble sleeping or eating, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, general fatigue. Does it sound familiar? With approximately half the world still forced to live in lockdown, old and new psychological disorders are a widely diffused side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study led by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of Americans feel the current health crisis had impacted their mental health. In France, Le Figaro reported this week that 74% of adults in a recent survey developed sleeping disorders and 34% showed signs of psychological distress.

Humans are social animals — Aristotle taught us that 2,300 years before Mark Zuckerberg cashed in on the concept. And while we can acknowledge that our modern digital tools are providing instant links in the face of our respective quarantines, we are also seeing how crucial in-person interaction and stimuli are to the human experience. Those living alone or forced to put their professional activity on hold are particularly vulnerable to this enforced isolation.

Alongside the more severe threats to our emotional state is a seemingly less menacing effect: boredom. There is a fine line between enjoying some spare time to do nothing and repeatedly having nothing to do, especially when we yearn for distraction from the current uncertainty of the outside world. Board games that were piling up dust in the basement are seeing the light of day again and solo players indeed are able to play across the computer screen with friends and strangers.

Similarly, the lockdown has created one of the highest recorded demand for jigsaw puzzles, a pasttime whose time had seemed to have passed two or three generations ago. The American Puzzle Warehouse reported a jump of 2,000% in business compared to the same period last year. When the world seems to fall apart, putting back pieces together could be the ultimate satisfaction.

— Laure Gautherin


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: Japan urges citizens to stay home today as new predictions warn that death toll that could reach 400,000 without tighter restrictions. Meanwhile the number killed by COVID-19 in the United States edges close to 30,000, and tops 15,000 in France.

  • WHO funding cut: President Donald Trump cut U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), blaming the organisation for mismanaging the outbreak of the global pandemic. Experts warn of risks in undermining the sole global coordinator of health contagions.

  • Markets: Stocks dip amid new forecasts that global economic crisis could be worst since the 1930s.

  • Oil Forecast: Oil demand is expected to take a sharp dive in April to a record low not seen in the last 25 years, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

  • Beijing embassy backlash: The Chinese ambassador was summoned by France, following a stream of controversial comments made by Beijing's embassy in Paris on what they perceived as the government's slow response to the coronavirus.

  • Back to school? Children in Denmark up to the age of 11-years-old are being welcomed back to school today, as the Prime Minister of Australia also considers reopening schools.

  • The Quarantine King: Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who'd been quarantining in a German hotel as the coronavirus ravages his country, finally left his ‘harem" lockdown and traveled 20,000 miles home for a national holiday.

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In Paris on March 16
LA STAMPA

Coronavirus ~ Global Brief: Chinese New Wave, Italian Shopping, Trump Control

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The rapid, insidious path of the COVID-19 outbreak across the planet teaches us in a whole new way how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world.

CHINA: WORRYING ABOUT A SECOND WAVE

"Is there an end in sight?" It's the question that hangs just behind more pressing matters like emergency care and people losing their jobs. It's a question that also brings us (back) to China, where the coronavirus outbreak began late last year, and where the number of new cases and deaths has been quietly abating for the past several weeks.

But the fear in Beijing now, as reported in the state-run Global Times newspaper, is that foreign carriers of COVID-19 are starting to bring the virus back to Chinese shores. Beyond the debate over travel bans, this points to some key unanswered questions that are purely medical — and which will be weighing over the world in the coming months. Is a natural immunity created by those who have contracted the virus? Will COVID-19 come back next winter even stronger? If so, can a vaccine be created, and distributed, quickly enough? Questions for the future. Questions for right now.​​

NUMBER DU JOUR

LATEST

• A rash of new restrictions is rolled out both within and between European countries, as the toll of the virus appears set to multiply in France, Germany and elsewhere, with Italy's death toll hitting new daily records and nearing the 2,000 mark (for updates, consult the World Health Organisation live map).

• Nearly $2 trillion in stock value evaporated in the first few minutes of Wall Street trading Monday, as the COVID-19 crisis continues to send fears rippling through global markets.

• The U.S. woke up to widespread new closures of schools and other public spaces, as well as to a President Trump press conference in which he declared, counter to every possible indication, medical and otherwise, that the COVID-19 outbreak is something "we have tremendous control over."

FRANCE

Last Kiss: French daily Libération says it in ALL CAPS on the front page of its Monday edition: In the country of l'amour, la liberté and "bises' air-kisses, the state of emergency has turned into a STATE OF RECKLESSNESS: Even after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the closing of non-essential businesses (including cafés and restaurants) on Saturday, French crowds still insisted on going out to markets and parks. In Paris like elsewhere, the only way to stop such nonchalance in the face of a grave health emergency, was ultimately to impose ever stricter regulations — which President Emmanuel Macron announced Monday night, declaring that France is "at war."

ITALY

Counting Toll In Newspaper Pages: Italy offers a distressing picture of where other countries may be headed with COVID-19. And that starts, sadly, with the rising rate of deaths each day. Italian journalist David Carretta quantified the toll with an unsettling video that showed 10 pages of obituaries in L'Eco di Bergamo, the local newspaper in the northern city of Bergamo. Typically the daily death notices take up little more than a page.​

Supermarket Tips: With Italy on a strict nationwide lockdown, the Turin daily La Stampa offered tips for what to do when you go shopping to limit both the spread of the virus and any problems with fellow shoppers or the authorities:

- Go alone

- Wear gloves

- Keep 1 meter distance from other shoppers

- Only shop for essentials

- Make a list beforehand to limit time in store

- Try to limit trips to store, and go when fewer shoppers are there.

It's also a good idea, more than ever, to acknowledge the work of the people serving you at your local market, whose job requires them to come in contact with hundreds of people every day. One was quoted in La Stampa: "We're not angels like nurses, we're just supermarket cashiers and shelf-stockers. But we (too) are forced to risk our lives."​

U.S.​

Uberization-19: The unprecedented global health crisis is intersecting with the digital revolution's transformation of work. The Verge reports that Uber is expanding its emergency policy on sick pay for its drivers during the pandemic. The company announced this week that drivers forced off the road (those who test positive for COVID-19 or forced into quarantine or have their Uber accounts suspended because of health regulations will be eligible for up to 14 days of paid sick leave. It remains to be seen how the so-called "gig economy" will emerge from this crisis — along with the rest of the economy.​

SOUTH KOREA

Behind The Mask: Coronavirus is sparking a brand new fear among the younger generation in South Korea: not finding a soulmate. Spring is usually the busiest season for professional matchmakers to make love blossom between their many clients through blind dates, but business has predictably been badly hit. The Chosun Ilbo daily reports that COVID-19 is taking its toll on the romance industry not just because men and women are reluctant to meet their potential partner in person, but because when they do, the masks so many wear to protect them from the virus is seen as a big turn-off, especially by women who also don't want to have readjust their makeup because of it.​

JAPAN

COVIDictionary: The Asahi Shimbun reports on a new word entering the Japanese lexicon. With quarantines forcing people to share cocktail hour with friends virtually, you can now invite someone for some オン飲み (on-nomi), or online drinking.​

IRAN

Battle Cries And Begging: The COVID-19 crisis is testing the limits of rhetoric coming from national and local leaders around the world. In Iran, one of the countries worst-hit by the pandemic, (nearly 15,000 infections and 853 deaths as of Monday) the head of the country's revolutionary guards corps, Hossein Salami, said his troops were "on a war footing in all the provinces, alongside the medical community," to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Still, as we have seen around the world, much of the responsibility for stemming the spread comes to the personal choices of individuals. To that end, according to a report in the semi-official ISNA agency, Salami, also used the same declaration to "beg" Iranians to respect limits imposed on their movement.

Protesters continue to demonstrate in the streets of Yangon, Myanmar, despite the heightened military presence and the deployment of armored vehicles
BBC

The Latest: Suu Kyi Charged Again, Guinea Ebola Outbreak, Bitcoin's Record

Welcome to Tuesday, where Myanmar files new charges against Suu Kyi, Guinea reports an Ebola outbreak and bitcoin value is about to cross a major threshold. We also look at a new business booming in China during the pandemic: student ghostwriting.


• COVID-19 latest: The World Health Organization has authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use around the world. A snowstorm in Athens halts vaccine rollout while a syringe shortage is slowing South Korea's efforts. China has reported 16 new cases, so far largely avoiding outbreak fears related to Lunar New Year homecomings.

• Myanmar military targets Suu Kyi: Military police file a new charge against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, for breaking coronavirus restrictions. The junta, which last week allowed for detention without court, may try to hold her indefinitely. Meanwhile labor strikes take aim at the regime, while Buddhist monks have begun demonstrating outside of UN offices.

• Congress to probe Capitol assault: Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced plans to launch an independent commission to investigate the Capitol Hill riots on January 6, including a review of security infrastructure.

• Ebola outbreak in Guinea: At least seven cases, including four deaths, have been reported in the West African country, as officials rush to trace contacts and has asked international health organizations to acquire vaccines.

• North Korean hackers: Despite the country's leader claiming it has no Covid cases, South Korean Intelligence Services report that North Korean hackers tried to break into Pfizer computer systems to steal information related to vaccine technology.

• Attack on U.S. base in Iraq: One person was killed and another eight wounded in a rocket attack near an airport in northern Iraq. The Shiite militant group called "Guardians of Blood Brigade" have claimed responsibility.

• Larry the cat, a decade of service: The "Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office" has celebrated 10 years of service at 10 Downing Street, London, never missing an opportunity to appear in a news segment or catch invading pigeons.

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Thousands of protesters took to the streets Sunday across Russia in support of detained Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
BBC

The Latest: Myanmar Coup, Russian Protests, Messi Money

Welcome to Monday, where the army seizes power in Myanmar coup, weekend protests rock Russia and it's revealed that Messi scored really big in Barcelona. We also take a look at Big Brother in China, and how citizens have had enough of the country's ubiquitous surveillance system.

The fragility of American democracy is nothing new

For many people, the lesson from the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — and more broadly from the experience of the last four years – is that American democracy has become newly and dangerously fragile.That conclusion is overstated, writes Professor Alasdair S. Roberts, in The Conversation.

In fact, American democracy has always been fragile. And it might be more precise to diagnose the United States as a fragile union rather than a fragile democracy. As President Joe Biden said in his inaugural address, national unity is "that most elusive of things."

Certainly, faith in American democracy has been battered over the last year. Polls show that 1 in 4 Americans do not recognize Joe Biden as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. The turn to violence on Capitol Hill was a disturbing attack on an important symbol of U.S. democracy.

But there are four other factors that should be considered to evaluate the true state of the nation. Taking these into account, what emerges is a picture of a country that, despite its long tradition of presenting itself as exceptional, looks a lot like the other struggling democracies of the world.

Democratic fragility is not new

First, fragility is not really new. It's misleading to describe the United States as "the world's oldest democracy," as many observers have recently done. By modern definitions of the concept, the United States has only been a democracy for about 60 years. Despite constitutional guarantees, most Black Americans could not vote in important elections before the 1960s, nor did they have basic civil rights. Like many other countries, the United States is still working to consolidate democratic ideals.

Similarly, the struggle to contain political violence is not new. Washington has certainly seen its share of such violence. Since 1950, there have been multiple bombings and shootings at the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Troops have been deployed to keep order in Washington four times since World War I – during riots and unrest in 1919 and 1968, economic protests in 1932, and again in 2021. The route from the Capitol to the White House passes near the spots where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, James Garfield was fatally shot in 1881, and Harry Truman was attacked in 1950.

Political instability is also a familiar feature of economic downturns. There were similar fears about the end of democracy during the 1970s, when the United States wrestled with inflation and unemployment, and during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Of course, those fears had some justification. Many people wondered whether democratic governments could rise to new challenges. But there is evidence from historical episodes like this that democracies do eventually adapt – indeed, that they are better at adapting than non-democratic systems like the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991.

Finally, the debate about American democracy is fixated excessively on politics at the national level. This fixation has been aggravated by the way that the media and internet have developed over the last 30 years. Political debate focuses more and more heavily on Washington. But the American political system also includes 50 state governments and 90,000 local governments. More than half a million people in the United States occupy a popularly elected office. Democratic practices may be imperfect, but they are extensive and not easily undone.

On balance, claims about the fragility of American democracy should be taken seriously, but with a sense of proportion. Events since the November 2020 election have been troubling, but they do not signal an impending collapse of America's democratic experiment.

A crisis of unity

It might be more useful to think of the present crisis in other terms. The real difficulty confronting the country might be a fragile national union, rather than a fragile democracy.

Since the 1990s, the country has seen the emergence of deep fissures between what came to be called "red" and "blue" America – two camps with very different views about national priorities and the role of federal government in particular. The result has been increasing rancor and gridlock in Washington.

Again, this sort of division is not new to American politics. "The United States' did not become established in American speech as a singular rather than a plural noun until after the Civil War. Until the 1950s, it was commonplace to describe the United States as a composite of sections – North, South and West – with distinctive interests and cultures.

In 1932, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Frederick Jackson Turner compared the United States to Europe, describing it as a "federation of nations' held together through careful diplomacy.

It was only in the 1960s that this view of the United States faded away. Advances in transportation and communications seemed to forge the country into a single economic and cultural unit.

But politicians overestimated this transformation.

Return of old divisions

Since the 1990s, old divisions have re-emerged.

America's current political class has not fully absorbed this reality. Too often, it has taken unity for granted, forgetting the country's long history of sectional conflict. Because they took unity for granted, many new presidents in the modern era were tempted to launch their administrations with ambitious programs that galvanized followers while antagonizing opponents. However, this winner-take-all style may not be well suited to the needs of the present moment. It may aggravate divisions rather than rebuilding unity.

Only 20 years ago, many Americans – buoyed by an economic boom and the collapse of the Soviet Union – were convinced that their model of governance was on the brink of conquering the world. President George W. Bush declared American-style democracy to be the "single sustainable model for national success." By contrast, many people today worry that this model is on the brink of collapse.

The hubris of the early 2000s was misguided, and so is the despair of 2021. Like many other countries, the United States is engaged in a never-ending effort to maintain unity, contain political violence and live up to democratic principles.

Alasdair S. Roberts / The Conversation

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Taxi drivers protesting against Uber in Buenos Aires
Egypt
Rozena Crossman

IPO And Beyond: How Uber Rolled Into Our Lives - A World Tour

Long before Uber's multi-billion-dollar IPO, the ride-hailing app has been shaking the economic and legal foundations of the dozens of countries around the world where it's landed. Not only has it disrupted the transportation sector, but the San Francisco-based digital taxi service has introduced a whole new way for companies to deliver their services and people to seek work — in fact, we call it: uberization.

Present in 65 countries and more than 600 cities, the platform has facilitated more than five billion trips worldwide. Though the impact is indeed global, the arrival of Uber has followed a unique route in each country. By taking a ride through the company in Egypt, Argentina, the UK, the U.S., and France, we examine the effects of the gig economy that will ultimately count much more than the tens of billions that Uber is worth today.

Egypt

Egypt is Uber's largest market in the Middle East and it's about to get bigger: The company recently announced plans to buy Careem, a regional rival. But Uber is already struggling to keep its 157,000 Egyptian drivers happy. This past March, a four-day strike was organized by drivers fighting for fair pay. According to the Egyptian media Mada Masr, Uber upped commission fees from 20% to 22.5%. Drivers also have to pay VAT which, in most other freelance professions, is usually billed to the client. In addition, the Egyptian government passed a law in 2018 requiring both Uber and drivers to obtain licenses — for a fee. It's also important to note that many Egyptian drivers don't own their own cars, and thus pay loans to car owners.

Beyond money troubles, drivers in Egypt have suffered robberies at the hands of their clients, and many want Uber to help ensure their safety by having clients register their national ID number. The 2018 law on licensing did contain an amendment about the app's user data, but it had nothing to do with the security of drivers. An article from The Cairo Scene explains that ride-sharing apps are now obliged to share their customers' data with the Egyptian security forces, and can be fined up to 5 million Egyptian pounds ($290,000) if they don't. All these recent developments have made both Uber users and drivers uneasy, but tuk-tuk operators are off scot-free as they fall under the jurisdiction of their local municipality.

Argentina

Why is Argentina Uber's fastest growing market in the world even though it only operates in Buenos Aires? The answer is a little sinister. The country's growing economic tensions have boosted unemployment and slashed purchasing power: 20% of drivers were unemployed before signing up, clearly in need of quick cash. The strange thing is, Uber isn't currently making a profit in Argentina. The country's peculiar regulations around ride-sharing mean that Uber trips can only be paid in cash or foreign credit cards, making it hard for the company to impose its commission on drivers. This has caused a surge in sign-ups as, according to Uber, up to 400 new drivers enlist each day.

Uber and Lyft drivers strike in California — Photo: Scott Varley/SCNG/ZUMA

The gig economy in Argentina is booming beyond Uber, and a new union was created at the end of 2018 for delivery workers who earn their keep through apps like Rappi and Glovo (for food delivery). In the city Córdoba, a union for messengers and deliverers have even created their own platform that helps companies with logistics. As Irene Caselli wrote for the Argentine newsletter The Essential, "The twist is that the new delivery app will be made up by unionized workers, giving delivery people more benefits, such as a higher salary, health, and life insurance, annual leave and bonuses."

France

Powerful unions and long strikes are renowned traits of the French, yet their labor-law nemesis is quickly becoming an institution on their very own soil. Uber is so encrusted in the Gallic country that its secondary business, Uber Eats, has expanded to cities as small as Saint Malo, and the company rolled out a dockless electric bike and scooter share program in the Paris area this year. It looks like the gig economy is here to stay, as noted by Le Monde in a recent piece on the game-changing popularity of finding work through these platforms with French students.

But make no mistake, Uber is still experiencing setbacks. The company is trying to appeal a recent decision by a French court which ruled that a former driver was treated as more than just a freelancer and that his situation resembled that of an employee. Libération reports that a recent EU directive aimed at helping these drivers and deliverers allows them to deny work outside of their predetermined hours, and states that any training period must be paid as work time. The very companies this directive is aimed at, however, feel the EU's announcement is completely unrelated to them.

Nine out of ten drivers were immigrants, and 54% had the burden of bringing in over half of their family's income

A spokesperson from the food delivery service Deliveroo invoked the famous gig-economy claim: their deliverers were merely freelancers garnering work via their app. The European Parliament, however, begs to differ. As one representative firmly told the French paper, "A new definition of freelance workers was adopted in this legislation. It's not up to Uber or Deliveroo to decide who is a freelancer and who isn't."

United Kingdom

Two years ago, British judges made the landmark ruling that Uber drivers were not, in fact, self-employed and therefore entitled to the minimum wage. This past December, the courts refused Uber's appeal, finding contradictions in the agreement between the company and its drivers. The Guardian quoted a relatively scathing excerpt from the judgment: "For Uber to be stating to its statutory regulator that it is operating a private hire vehicle service in London and is a fit and proper person to do so, while at the same time arguing in this litigation that it is merely an affiliate of a Dutch-registered company which licenses tens of thousands of proprietors of small businesses to use its software, contributes to the air of contrivance and artificiality which pervades Uber's case."

In March, four drivers filed another lawsuit against the corporation for breaching the EU's General Data Protection Regulation. The law stipulates that all individuals have the right to access any of their personal data a company might be harboring. Uber allegedly never provided the data these drivers asked for, such as GPS data, time logged into the app, and trip ratings. These elements are crucial for drivers to be able to calculate their pay. With such an indispensable case hinging on EU regulations, one wonders what the future of British Uber will look like post-Brexit.

United States

In Uber's home and native land, a 2018 study showed that two thirds of drivers working for ride-sharing apps in New York City did so full-time, and 80% had bought cars for the express purpose of working through these platforms. According to the New York Times, "Many were in debt from those acquisitions and making very little money." Moreover, nine out of ten of these drivers were immigrants, and 54% had the burden of bringing in over half of their family's income. Soon after the study was published, the city implemented a new law capping the number of ride-share cars allowed to operate in the metropolis, and imposed minimum rates per-mile and per-minute. Across the country, San Francisco is considering putting a surcharge on ride-sharing. As New York Magazine recently argued, these municipalities have the power to do so much more, and could easily stand up for their exploited constituents by twisting Uber's arm with regulations. Although Uber began its reign in the U.S., it seems Lady Liberty has fallen behind her international counterparts when it comes to fencing this corporation in.