News, June 11th

ASEAN’s economic growth could bounce back to 8% by 2021

Economic growth in the ASEAN region could rebound to an average 8% in 2021 after falling into recession in the first half of 2020, a report suggested on June 8.

The report, written by Oxford Economics and commissioned by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) suggested that most Southeast Asian economies will fall into recession in the first half of 2020 before recording a 1.9% contraction for the full year.

The report said Thailand will be one of the worst hit in the region because tourism and travel account for 20% of its gross domestic product (GDP).

On the other hand, Vietnam will emerge the least affected with its lead in unwinding measures as compared to other regional peers, although it is not immune to the sharp slowdown in trade flows, the report said.

The adverse impact on Southeast Asian economies is forecast to turn the corner in the second half of 2020 as Chinese import demand and global trade recover at a consistent pace, while a slower pace of normalisation will continue to weigh on tourism-dependent economies, according to the report.

It added that coordinated fiscal stimulus packages and monetary easing from authorities across the region will support the recovery in economic growth.

On the whole, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause the global economy to shrink by 4.7%, it noted. This is more than double the impact of the global financial crisis in 2008 and will be the biggest global recession in post-war history.

Coordinated bots spread China bioweapon conspiracy theory on Twitter:  Australian research

The coronavirus pandemic has been paralleled by an ‘infodemic’ of mis- and disinformation and a China bioweapon conspiracy on social media, according to Australian researchers.

On June 1, a report entitled Like a virus: the coordinated spread of coronavirus disinformation was published. Compiled by the Australia Institute, a Canberra-based independent think tank, and the Queensland University of Technology, the research found out that there are many bot-like accounts on social media spreading rumors that the coronavirus is “a bioweapon created by China”.

The study analyzed 2.6 million tweets relating to coronavirus and their 25.5 million retweets over 10 days from late March 2020, identifying 5,752 accounts that coordinated 6,559 times to spread mis- and disinformation regarding the coronavirus for either commercial or political purposes.

In analyzing the coordinated efforts to promote the China bioweapon conspiracy theory, the research found that the theory focused on 882 original tweets, which were retweeted 18,498 times and liked 31,783 times, creating an estimated 5 million impressions on Twitter users, spread mainly by pro-Trump, partisan conservative and/or QAnon accounts.

There was a sustained level of coordinated amplification of the “China bioweapon conspiracy” through the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic by pro-Trump, Republican and aligned networks of accounts, said the report.

According to the research, many of the accounts are very likely to be highly automated or “bot” accounts, controlled by computers rather than humans, as accounts that “retweet identical coronavirus-related content repeatedly within one second of each other were identified”.

“It’s not genuine behavior of human users,” Rod Campbell, research director at the Australia Institute, told Xinhua on Wednesday.

EU accuses China of running coronavirus disinformation campaign

China has been accused by Brussels of running a disinformation campaign inside the European Union, with regards to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 417,000 worldwide.

Specifically, the European Commission accused Russia and China of running “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighborhood and globally.”

Though Russia has repeatedly been called out in the past for spreading disinformation, it is the first time the EU has openly accused Beijing of being a source of disinformation.

In mid-April, a Chinese embassy website claimed that at the height of Europe’s outbreak, health care workers had abandoned the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — an assertion that left French politicians fuming.

“I believe if we have evidence we should not shy away from naming and shaming,” Vĕra Jourová, a European commission vice-president told The Guardian. “What we also witnessed is a surge in narratives undermining our democracies and in effect our response to the crisis, for example, the claim there are secret U.S. biological laboratories on former Soviet Republics has been spread by both pro-Kremlin outlets, as well as Chinese officials and state media.”

Jourová, a Czech politician, added that she believes “a geopolitically strong EU can only materialize if we are assertive,” alluding to the goal of the European commission president for the body to have more respect and authority on the world stage.

Fire during Minneapolis riots guts Native youth nonprofit

The scene June 5 was one of contrasts at MIGIZI Communications, Inc., a non-profit Native youth education center in South Minneapolis. In front of its empty and flame-scorched building, colorful prayer flags waved and smudge smoke drifted on the breeze, as hundreds of staffers, students and community members gathered for a unity and healing ceremony.

The building was one of many in the area destroyed by fires that broke out amidst protests following the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer.

Members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), created in 1968 in response to police brutality against American Indians living in the Twin Cities, were given curfew exemption to help patrol their neighborhoods during the recent protests.

AIM patrol fought into the night to protect MIGIZI from multiple nearby fires, but flames eventually spread from an adjacent building and overwhelmed it.

Despite their curfew exemption, AIM members who stood outside the Little Earth of United Tribes’ housing complex on May 30, were targeted by the National Guard and Minnesota State Police using rubber bullets and flash grenades, according to sources on the scene.

Several MIGIZI students at the healing event said they do not trust the Minneapolis police, one recalling watching family members being arrested when she was young. Students seemed united in their hopes that recent events lead to lasting change.

Ambersky Stevens, a MIGIZI student, was one of several who spoke at the event.

“I watch my friends march for a purpose. I’ve seen students spend late nights patrolling the streets and taking care of our communities. I see so many of us cleaning the streets in the wake of all this destruction: This will be what defines us,” she said.

“Now we are heard, we are seen. Not because of the violence and the looting, but because we are standing united.”

Afterwards, Stevens said she hopes the events of the past weeks makes a difference.

“We hope for change,” she said. “It shouldn’t have taken a man to die in order for people to understand.”

Hopa Stevens, another student, echoed this wish. She also talked about what MIGIZI means to her and the community.

“This was a safe place for us,” she said. “It also offered free meals during the school year to kids that need it, so it does a lot of good for the community.” She said her favorite activity at MIGIZI was making ribbon skirts.

It was not only the staff and students who felt the loss of the building. Since its founding, MIGIZI has been an incubator for changes felt city- and state-wide.

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, member of the White Earth Nation, talked about the destruction of MIGIZI during a news conference May 30.

“MIGIZI, an institution in our community that has been the foundation of organizing, for education and for opportunity for building community together, is no longer there. We did not do that. We have been coming together to take care of our community,” she said. Many say the widespread fires and looting were perpetrated by outside agitators.

MIGIZI was founded in 1977 “with a goal of countering misrepresentations and inaccuracies about native people in the media.” In 1982, its First Person Radio program became the first regular native program carried over National Public Radio’s satellite system. Today its initiatives include green jobs training and media skills training for native youth.

Jacob Vang, MIGIZI’s Marketing and Communications manager, said cleaning out the destroyed building didn’t take long, as a large crowd of volunteers showed up the next morning.

“We literally just opened up the doors and a lot of people started coming over. Around 100-150 people came out that day,” he said. “Most of the volunteers were just our neighbors. There were a lot of people from out-of-state that came to help too. It’s great to see our community this united, no matter what race or age or demographic.”

Since the fire, MIGIZI has raised just over half of its $200,000 rebuilding fund goal.

IMF Executive Board Approves an Additional US$111.06 Million Disbursement to Rwanda to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) today approved the disbursement of $111.06 million (SDR80.1 million) to Rwanda under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF). This is the second emergency disbursement since the onset of the pandemic and will help finance the country’s urgent balance of payments (BOP) and budget needs. It follows from the Executive Board’s decision on April 9, 2020 to double the annual access limit under the RCF to 100 percent of quota (see IMF Policy Paper No. 20/018) and brings the total IMF COVID-19 support to Rwanda to $ 220.46 million.

Rwanda’s economic outlook has worsened since the approval of the first RCF request on April 2, 2020, leading to a further downward revision in the 2020 GDP growth forecast from 5.1 to 2.0 percent due to deepening of the COVID-19 impact. The unprecedented spending needs generated by the pandemic, combined with losses of revenues, are putting significant pressures on public finances, and compounding the impact of sharp declines of exports and remittances on the balance of payments. The additional disbursement under the RCF will provide much needed support for critical COVID-related spending under the government’s Economic Recovery Plan, but further support will be needed from the international community. The authorities have committed to transparency and accountability to ensure the appropriate use of emergency financing, building on their strong public financial management framework.

Following the Executive Board’s discussion, Mr. Tao Zhang, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, issued the following statement:

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely impact the Rwandan economy. The global and domestic macroeconomic outlook has further deteriorated. Growth projections have been revised down, and revenue losses and spending needs are more than twice the size estimated at the time of the first RCF request.

“The policy measures deployed by the authorities to respond to the pandemic and accelerate economic recovery are appropriate. The additional fiscal spending should help mitigate the impact of the pandemic while ensuring that spending is well-targeted and cost-effective so as not to crowd-out other priority areas. Additional financing from the international community remains critical to ease the adjustment burden. The authorities’ commitment to high standards of transparency and accountability in the management of emergency financial assistance is welcome.

“It will also be important to maintain data-driven monetary policy and continue to provide liquidity support to cushion the impact of the pandemic as well as step up supervision to safeguard financial stability.

“Once the crisis abates, it will be critical to adopt a credible fiscal adjustment path to maintain debt sustainability in the medium-term and preserve Rwanda’s development gains over the last two decades.”

Kyrgyz Republic to Enhance Quality of Education with World Bank Financing

The Kyrgyz Republic will receive World Bank financing for the Learning for the Future Project in the amount of $50 million, on highly concessional terms. $25 million is allocated in the form of a grant, which requires no repayment, while the other $25 million is credit with a 0.75% interest rate, with repayments eased over 38 years, and a six-year grace period.

“The Learning for the Future Project aims to help raise the Kyrgyz Republic’s human capital through enhancing school readiness and teacher effectiveness,” says Bolormaa Amgaabazar, World Bank Country Manager for the Kyrgyz Republic. “The project puts special emphasis on distance and online learning, increasing digital literacy and building teacher capacity for best teaching-learning practice. Such support will help the country’s education system better respond to learning from home during the current school closures and recovery period from the COVID-19 pandemic. In the long run, this approach will help better prepare children for learning and adapting to a fast-changing future economy.”

The project has four main areas of support: expanding school readiness for underserved children; increasing effectiveness in teaching practice; enhancing technology-enabled support for learning; and enhancing measurement of learning. In the coming five years, the project will specifically help:

Establish 500 fully equipped community-based kindergartens in rehabilitated premises, thus enabling a successful transition to school for 20,000 children aged 3-5 years, in poor communities countrywide;

Build teacher competencies for more effective teaching of reading, mathematics and sciences in primary and secondary schools, through training in effective pedagogy and assessment, provision of digital learning content, resources and materials in 1,200 schools (53 percent of the total number of schools in the country);

Provide digital literacy training for 36,000 teachers to enhance their capacities to use digital technologies for professional development and effective teaching;

Equip 1,200 schools with an IT platform to support technology-enabled teaching and learning. The Republican Institute of In-Service Teacher Training will assist in developing digital content for teaching and learning;

Introduce a new criteria-based assessment instrument and methodology, develop, and introduce standardized tests aligned with new learning standards, conduct the National Learning Assessment in 2023 for grades 4 and 8, and participate in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2024.

The project will be implemented by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic during 2020-2025, using its existing institutional structures and in compliance with relevant World Bank procedures and standards.

The project supports the World Bank’s 2019-2022 Country Partnership Framework for the Kyrgyz Republic and is closely aligned with the National Education Sector Strategy-2040 of the Ministry of Education and Science, which is now under development. The project was approved by the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors on March 31, 2020 and was ratified by the Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic on June 11, 2020.

Pandemic reveals worker exploitation in Texas meatpacking industry

On May 19, workers at the meat processing plant, Quality Sausage Co. in Dallas, Texas gathered to protest the company’s mismanagement of a COVID-19 outbreak. The company did not follow CDC safety standards, resulting in three deaths and 63 infections. This company is one of many in Dallas and across the state of Texas that exemplifies the unsafe conditions food industry workers face nationwide.

Quality Sausage closed for two weeks on April 24 following the death of Mathias Martinez. The next day Hugo Dominguez, a forklift operator, also died of COVID-19. The plant reopened on May 8, and Bertha Cervantez died a few days afterward. Hugo Dominguez’s wife, Blanca Parra, is now speaking out and filing a wrongful death lawsuit against Quality Sausage.

“The virus was the gun that killed him, but Quality Sausage was the hand that pulled the trigger,” Parra said. “We are asking for justice because the company, and the people who made the decision to continue… putting people at risk need to be held accountable.”

The lawsuit states “his death could have been prevented, had the company spent a small segment of its $100 million profits to protect its underpaid and overworked employees.” A second lawsuit is currently being filed by the family of Mathias Martinez.

These hard times motivate us to continue working united, with more cooperation and agreement

Today the whole world is paying the price for the abuses of savage capitalism. The closest example is offered by Latin America, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic, to reveal to us, in all its brutality, the cost of putting the fate of the people in the hands of the market.

The neoliberal model, which is widespread in our region, has not been able to meet needs during the pandemic, nor will it be able to confront the post-COVID-19 period. The peoples subjected to the right’s economic fundamentalism, today suffer the effects of reduced budgets for health care, social protection, scientific research, and training of medical and paramedical personnel.

The experience of these months confirms that, with an adequate administration of fiscal policy and without neglecting macroeconomic equilibrium, the state plays a major, irreplaceable role, fulfilling its duty to protect, regulate and provide the necessary means to face the crisis, save lives, maintain the vitality of the economy and, at the same time, develop socially beneficial programs.

The economic forecasts are as dramatic as the daily pandemic reports. ECLAC – as explained by Alicia – foresees a 5.3% drop-in Latin American economic activity by the end of 2020, with the consequent deterioration of important social indicators. The unemployment rate would be around 11.5%, while the poverty rate could increase by 4.4 percentage points and extreme poverty by 2.6 percent, compared to 2019. This means that poverty in Latin America, the most unequal region in the world, could reach 34.7% of its population, equivalent to 214.7 million people, and extreme poverty would reach 13%, equivalent to 83.4 million.

I wish these were just numbers, but we are talking about human beings: millions of people who are going to join the great masses of the excluded, aggravating existing serious conflicts.

Much trade and investment has been frozen, while tax revenues and access to sources of financing have been reduced as a result of the economic paralysis we face, decreased demand for services and limited exports of our products. In addition, tourism, an activity of great importance to several nations in the region, has been significantly affected by necessary border closures.

Time and common sense impose on the international community the need to put aside political differences and, together, seek joint solutions, through international cooperation and indispensable solidarity.

UN chief urges continued international support for Mali amid growing terrorist threat

The UN Secretary-General has stressed the need for continued international commitment to Mali, as the country continues to navigate the path to political stability while confronting numerous obstacles, including terrorism, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

António Guterres was addressing the Security Council which on Thursday held a briefing on the West African country, where a UN mission, known by the French acronym, MINUSMA – the most dangerous place to serve as a ‘blue helmet’ – has been supporting the government since 2013.

“Building a politically stable and more secure Mali requires our collective and sustained commitment and MINUSMA’s continued support. We owe this to the people of Mali and the Sahel region, who deserve a better future”, he told ministers and ambassadors attending the meeting.

As in the wider Sahel, terrorist groups and criminal organizations are expanding their operations in Mali.

Recent attacks in Mopti, in the restive central region, have left at least 100 people dead.

“I remain very concerned about the situation in central Mali, where terrorist activity continues to fuel violence among communities, taking a heavy toll on the local population”, the UN chief said.

Though encouraged by government efforts to address the crisis, Mr. Guterres urged the Malian authorities to take greater action to combat impunity, which is essential to ending the violence.

“I would also like to highlight the need to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against peacekeepers. 128 peacekeepers have been killed as a result of malicious acts, and not a single perpetrator has been held accountable”, he stated.

“I am appalled by allegations of summary killings and executions of at least 38 civilians by the Malian armed forces in two villages in Mopti region last weekend, in one case with the support of traditional hunters. I welcome the Government’s announcement to investigate these serious violations and I call on the authorities to do everything possible to hold the perpetrators of these heinous crimes accountable.”

The Secretary-General also reported on progress in implementing the Peace Agreement signed in 2015 by the authorities and two coalitions of armed groups.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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