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Daily Pnut
AUGUST 27, 2020
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“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

― Nathaniel Hawthorne

Pompeo and Circumstance

(2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)

Mike Pompeo wanted to make sure his employees at the State Department didn’t breach the long-standing rule of remaining politically impartial — not engaging in any “partisan political activity” — while abroad.

In a July 24 directive Pompeo sent to diplomatic and consular posts regarding political activities, the Secretary of State wrote that presidential and political appointees, as well as career Senior Executive Service officials “may not engage in any partisan political activity in concert with a partisan campaign, political party, or partisan political group, even on personal time and outside of the federal workplace.”

Pompeo reiterated to State Department employees that its policy “is that U.S. citizen employees and family members may not engage in partisan political activity while posted or on [temporary duty] abroad, even on personal time.” His cable referenced a December 2019 memo from the Office of Legal Adviser that told all political appointees they were prohibited from “engag[ing] in political activity in concert with a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group,” and specifically said that “Senate-confirmed presidential appointees,” like Pompeo, “may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event.”

Regardless, the US Secretary of State chose to throw precedent, his own rules, and possibly the law out the window Tuesday night when he appeared in a Republican National Convention speech praising President Trump’s foreign policy record. Pompeo spoke in a recorded video from a Jerusalem rooftop during an official trip through the Middle East and Africa. A State Department spokesperson said while the speech was filmed on an official overseas trip, Pompeo had delivered it “in his personal capacity,” and no State Department resources or staff were involved.

The Hatch Act forbids federal employees from engaging in political activities unless they’re off duty, outside a federal facility, and not using federal property. News of the Secretary’s upcoming speech unleashed a tidal wave of criticism. Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Tex), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s oversight subcommittee, announced he was launching an investigation into Pompeo’s speech hours before it aired.

Calling Their Bluff

  • Transsion is a Chinese company that makes low-priced smartphones and basic handsets for the developing world. It released its first smartphone in 2014; since then it’s become Africa’s top handset seller. Although it’s largely unknown outside of Africa and in developing countries, Transsion is the fourth-biggest handset maker in the world, behind Apple, Samsung, and Huawei.
  • It’s also the only manufacturer in that group to exclusively focus on low-income markets. But those cheap Chinese-made phones actually come at a much higher cost. They have preinstalled malware that has stolen data and money from some of the world’s poorest people.
  • One customer who bought a Tecno W2 smartphone in Johannesburg, South Africa for about $30 discovered pop-up ads were interrupting his calls and chats. He would wake up to find his prepaid data mysteriously used up and messages about paid subscriptions to apps he’d never asked for. He thought it was his fault, but a mobile security service, Secure-D, found software already in the phone pre-sale.
  • The Tecno W2 was infected with xHelper and Triada, malware that secretly downloaded apps and attempted to subscribe the owner to paid services without his knowledge. Between March and December 2019, Secure-D’s system, which mobile carriers use to protect their networks and customers against fraudulent transactions, blocked 844,000 transactions connected to preinstalled malware on Transsion phones.
  • “Transsion traffic accounts for 4% of the users we see in Africa. Yet it contributes over 18% of all the suspicious clicks,” said Secure-D’s managing director. Besides South Africa, Tecno W2 phones in Ethiopia, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, and Myanmar were infected. (Buzzfeed)

Bolsonaro’s Buoyancy

  • Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has been a disaster inside and outside his country. He has encouraged the destruction of the rainforest by farmers and land-grabbers, turned a blind eye to the murder of indigenous peoples, thumbed his nose at the coronavirus that has infected more than 3.6 million, killed over 114,000, and devastated the country’s health system, and failed to forestall the economic collapse that’s driven the unemployment rate to 14 percent.
  • He’s been abandoned by allies, pilloried by critics, and caught up in numerous corruption scandals. Just weeks ago people of all political stripes were clamoring for Bolsonaro’s impeachment, and he was growing more erratic by the day. Yet through all this — stunningly — new polling data shows he’s gotten more popular. In the last eight weeks, his approval has risen from 32 to 37 percent, and his disapproval rating has dropped from 44 to 34 percent.
  • Bolsonaro has never been a politician of the poor. His supporters have largely been members of the middle and upper classes — fiscal conservatives, evangelicals and the military. But when the pandemic hit, businesses closed and people were urged to stay home, his government began sending $110 every month to the poorest citizens.
  • And despite the fact that the virus has been far deadlier among the ranks of the poor, they’re receiving emergency financial aid; in return, they’re giving the president their support and broadening his base. “The benefit reached many people long before the disease did,” said a political scientist, adding “it’s income they’re not used to making.” (WaPo)

If you’d like to take a deeper look at President Bolsonaro and his vision for Brazil, please check out this Daily Pnut essay: WHO IS: Jair Bolsonaro. The essay examines the military rise of the right-wing politician and his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Additional World News


Americans Overstay Their Welcome

(Scott Eisen via Getty Images)

  • Canada is deadly serious about controlling the spread of COVID-19. It closed its borders to Americans on March 21st, but there is a loophole for those traveling to and from Alaska. At the border, the Canada Border Services Agency directs Americans to take the most direct route through Canada to get to Alaska or back to the lower 48 states.
  • Americans are prohibited from visiting Canada’s national parks, leisure sites and tourist attractions, and they must undergo quarantine if they stay in a hotel. Visitors must also display a hang tag in their vehicle with a mandatory departure date. However, some Americans decided they wanted to stay in Canada this summer regardless of the restrictions.
  • One man, John Pennington of Walton, Kentucky, didn’t take the hint when he was fined $1,200 Canadian on June 25, after an employee at a Banff hotel where he was staying suspected he was violating Alberta’s COVID-19 regulations. Pennington was told to stay in his hotel until leaving the next day. Instead, Pennington opted to do some sightseeing in Banff National Park.
  • When someone saw a car with Ohio license plates in the parking lot police were called. The car turned out to be Pennington’s. He was arrested and charged with violating Canada’s Quarantine Act. He’s scheduled to appear in court in November, where he could face a fine of $750,000 Canadian and a six-month stint in prison.
  • That may seem a little harsh. On the other hand, fewer than 10,000 Canadians have died from COVID-19, compared to 180,000 in America. (NPR)

Salt Bowl or Petri Dish?

  • High school football is really big in the South. And what’s a sporting event without screaming fans in the stands, even if it could be a COVID-19 super-spreader event? Arkansas will be the test case when the Benton Panthers and Bryant Hornets face off in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium for the annual Salt Bowl Saturday night.
  • It’s traditionally the most-attended high school game in the state, and for this pandemic showdown, officials have taken some precautions. There won’t be the usual tailgate parties this year, no hot dog giveaways or pregame luncheons or game day ticket sales. And the 12,000 some odd fans expected to stream into the stadium this Saturday will have to wear masks, so there’s that.
  • One organizer has a custom face mask featuring both schools’ logos for Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson to wear — he’ll be flipping the pregame coin toss. But there’s more at stake here than just high school rivalry.
  • The match — which promoters say will be the state’s largest outdoor event since the pandemic began — is also a survival test for fall sports. If fans leave the stands and carry the virus back to their communities, it could crush any hope for attending crowded sporting events in the US this year.
  • If a super-spread doesn’t happen, it could keep the dream alive for other big gatherings, and give President Trump and others searching for signs of normal times a major boost. (Politico)

Additional USA News

The Future of the GOP

Super Space Germs

  • The Tanpopo mission is a Japanese astrobiology experiment studying the effects of the space environment on simple organisms. The mission, which set out several years ago to address fundamental questions on the origin of terrestrial life, hoped to test the panspermia hypothesis, a long-standing hypothesis suggesting the interplanetary transport of microbes.
  • It also aimed to test the possible origin of organic compounds carried from space by micrometeorites before the terrestrial origin of life. The tests were carried out with space experiments at the Exposed Facility of the Japanese Experiment Module of the International Space Station (ISS).
  • The team captured any orbiting microparticles, such as micrometeorites, space debris, and terrestrial particles carrying microbes as bioaerosols, by using blocks of silica aerogel. It then tested the survival of microbial species and organic compounds in the space environment for up to 3 years. The final samples (colonies of bacteria) left the ISS in 2018 in a spacecraft bound for earth.
  • On Wednesday, the Tanpopo team published its new research in Frontiers in Microbiology. The research details how multiple species of Deinococcus bacteria survived three straight years of exposure to the hostile space environment, providing scientists with vital insight into how other living organisms might endure in a hostile environment. (Wired)

 Additional Reads

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