AN UPDATE ON THE EVICTION CRISIS IN WA:
On July 24, Gov. Inslee announced that he extended the protections for renters to Oct. 15, 2020. The moratorium, previously set to end on the first day of August, prohibits landlords to send eviction notices, notices to pay or vacate, to charge late fees, and to threaten or seek judicial support in evicting the tenants. Meanwhile, the Washington State Department of Commerce is distributing $100 million in CARES Act funding through the state’s homelessness services. The money will pay up to three months of unpaid rent to protect renters from homelessness. According to a survey reported by the Department of Commerce, 17% of Washingtonian renters were unable to pay July’s rent. The program, which will end on Dec. 31, will focus its limited resources on historically disadvantaged groups that are particularly suffering from COVID-19’s impact, such as ethnic minorities, refugees, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities.
THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT IS TARGETING MUSLIM GROUPS TO “PROTECT” NATIONAL SECURITY:
For more than three years, the Chinese Communist Party has interned up to a million Uyghur Muslims and other Islamic ethnic groups in high security “re-education schools” in the Xinjiang region. The government justifies this conduct as a means to prevent religious extremism and related terrorism, but ex-prisoners, leaked documents, satellite images, and footage demonstrate that these structures are not schools, but concentration camps. According to Amnesty International, the deportations increased in 2017, when the “Regulations on De-Extremification” came into action. The law targets the following “extremist” behaviors: growing a long beard, wearing a veil, fasting, avoidance of alcohol, reading Muslim and Uyghur texts, and praying—all peaceful Muslim practices. Other factors that can lead to detention are the use of encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp, “suspicious” messages sent through social media, and international travel or communication, especially with countries of a large Muslim population. Suspects reportedly face no trial and are subject to severe abuse for the entire duration of the internment, which ends once the detainee has “transformed.” On June 17, Congress passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act; authorizing the president to impose sanctions on the Communist Party while requiring the protection of ethnic Uyghurs and Chinese who are studying or working in the U.S.
DOES TRUMP WANT MAIL-IN VOTING TO FAIL?
President Trump has expressed concerns regarding mail-in voting, suggesting delaying the elections “until people can properly, securely and safely vote” to avoid “the most inaccurate & fraudulent election in history.” Congress and the United States Postal Services denied Trump’s conjectures, but in a July 27 statement, USPS’s Postmaster General and Trump mega-donor, Louis DeJoy, has lamented an inefficient service and excessive expenditures, justifying previously issued guidelines that included cutting delivery costs. (The Trump Administration had already blocked billions of CARES Act funding to the USPS, offering instead a much smaller loan.) Workers blame this decision for increasing the delays, a fact that suggests that many ballots won’t be delivered in time for the November elections. Despite denial from Congress, Trump claims mail-in ballots can easily be counterfeit, except in swing state and Republican-run Florida, where it’s “safe and secure.”
Distrust in the postal services could lead to many people abstaining from voting. These changes come at a time when absentee ballots are most likely to be the preferred voting method, as in-person voting can lead to exposure to COVID-19.
TENSIONS ESCALATE IN CONFLICT OF INTEREST OVER BLUE NILE RIVER:
Africa’s greatest dam, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, has been at the center of a dispute amongst Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia.
Egypt and Sudan worry that the dam, built on the Blue Nile, could cause water shortages in their territory while it fills up (a process that would last for years, causing severe droughts in the downstream countries). The Blue Nile River is an important tributary to the Nile, and both rivers are vital to millions of people. Sudan also fears it could be a threat to its own dams’ safety. Ethiopia instead assures that the dam would improve the welfare of the region.
Disagreements over the $4.6 billion structure and threats to take military action have existed ever since the project was announced in 2010, while the dispute over water rights has originated more than a century ago. Britain favored its ally, Egypt, in the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, later updated in 1959. This latter agreement grants Egypt the right to veto projects in upstream countries, such as Ethiopia, whose interests were ignored.
Tensions are rising after Ethiopia announced it has begun filling the dam, before reaching a trilateral agreement with Sudan and Egypt that would decide how to carry out the process of filling. On Aug. 5, Egypt and Sudan suspended talks, raising fears of a future regional conflict.
LEBANESE ECONOMIC CRISIS HIT BY COVID-19 AND DEADLY EXPLOSION:
Lebanon was experiencing its worst economic crisis in 30 years when on Aug. 4, an explosion originating in Beirut’s port killed over 130 people and injured thousands, causing material damages (which include residential structures) worth an estimate of $15B and greater losses for the country’s welfare.
Over the past 10 months, the Lebanese peacefully took the streets to protest against the new government that failed to improve an already dire financial situation. The highly corrupted leadership led to the collapse of the national currency, the Lebanese Lira, by 80%, according to the International Money Fund, and was forced to default its international debts. Almost half the population lives below the poverty threshold.
According to S&P Global, 60% of Lebanon’s imports enter through the port. Imported food represents 90% of the total consumption, and the pandemic increased food prices by almost five times their pre-COVID cost. Power outages due to scarce resources became frequent, leaving the struggling health care system on thin ice. Hospitals were already short on medical supplies to meet enormous demands imposed by the pandemic. Now, the damages caused by the explosion are forcing Beirut’s hospitals to turn away the injured.
CHINA-U.S. RELATIONS STYMIED ON COMMERCE:
The “Trade War” between the United States and China, which began in 2018, consisted of tariffs on the rival’s goods and reciprocal accusations of unfair practices. In early 2020, the US and China signed a Trade Deal: the former agreed to cut by half part of the tariffs on Chinese goods, and the latter agreed to purchase more American goods and to fight copyright violations.
The first phase of the Trade Deal, which took two years of negotiations, has gone through a turbulent relationship. According to President Trump, China is responsible for the spread of COVID-19, which he calls the “Chinese Virus.” Because of China’s alleged role in the pandemic, Trump expressed skepticism about the treaty. Data also shows that China isn’t committing to purchase the stipulated amount of product.
According to Reuters, U.S. and Chinese Trade Representatives are planning a meeting on Aug. 15 to discuss phase one. Chances of peaceful trade cooperation remain uncertain: in 2020, the hostility has grown with the pandemic, the dispute over the South China Sea, the recent sanctions over the internment of Muslim minorities, and the violation of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
President Trump also targeted Chinese app TikTok, recently threatening to ban it from the United States over National Security concerns. He later proposed ByteDance to sell TikTok to an American company, such as Microsoft, to avoid the ban. The deal will expire on Sept. 15.