The World Today for April 15, 2016

April 15, 2016


China: Slow Growth Spurs Crackdown

There’s a simple explanation for China’s abrupt turnabout on freedom of expression and new aggression when it comes to foreign policy. It’s the economy – which dropped to its slowest pace since 2009 in the first quarter.

Since the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has convinced the people to forego personal and political freedoms in exchange for greater and greater prosperity. But as President Xi Jinping confronts the inevitable end of double-digit economic growth that was driven as much by investment and capacity expansion as demand for cheap Chinese exports, he has only one model for maintaining control: Mao Zedong.

Starting with a crackdown on corruption that helped bring him to power in 2012, Xi has gradually centralized power and purged political rivals, longtime China hand Orville Schell argues in the New York Review of Books. Now, faced with a broader threat to stability from the deteriorating economy, he’s expanding that crusade against corruption to clamp down on freedom of expression and adopting a more bellicose foreign policy. Sound familiar?

“Not since the 1970s when Mao still reigned and the Cultural Revolution still raged has the Chinese leadership been so possessed by Maoist nostalgia and Leninist-style leadership,” Schell writes.

Taken together, Xi’s actions are ominous.

Domestically, local journalists have been forced into televised, Cultural Revolution-style “self-criticisms.” And a new law is in the works that could prevent civil society organizations from working with foreign agencies like the Ford Foundation or the Open Society Foundation.

Perhaps more alarming, the “return of fear-based governance” is also affecting foreigners, says Minxin Pei, a China expert at California-based Claremont McKenna College.

Following its moves to retrieve errant Hong Kong book publishers from countries like Thailand, where rebels might once have expected safety, Xi’s regime this week pressured Kenya to extradite 45 Taiwanese citizens wanted for telephone fraud to the mainland – implicitly asserting China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, too.

Foreign journalists and aid workers have been expelled for exposing excesses related to the crackdown on the Muslim Uighur minority in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. And China’s extensive construction projects and stationing of surface-to-air missiles in the South China Sea have raised concerns about a potential military conflict with one or more of its neighbors over the disputed territory – prompting the US to conduct a rare joint patrol with the Philippines.

With the CCP’s next party congress slated for late 2017, it remains to be seen whether such actions will help Xi to solidify his power, or undermine his popular appeal. But the pressure to flex his muscles will only increase as China’s economic woes deepen, and that seems inevitable, as the bursting of a longstanding credit bubble will make it nearly impossible to boost growth with new investment.

Worse still, Schell says, the same authoritarian impulses make successful economic reform – on which the world depends – “increasingly unlikely.”


Brazil: No Reprieve for Rousseff

Embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff inched closer to being ousted after the country’s top court rejected her motion early Friday to block an impeachment vote on the anvil in the lower house of parliament.

Under fire for using money from state-owned company accounts to hide government debt during her run for re-election, Rousseff has already lost the support of key coalition partners. But both her supporters and the opposition maintain they have enough votes to win (or defeat) an impeachment vote – which requires two-thirds of the 513 lower house votes to go through.

Rousseff’s approval ratings have dropped to the single digits. But she’s hardly the only offender in Brazil’s government. A full 60 percent of Brazil’s Congress face charges such as bribery, electoral fraud, illegal deforestation, kidnapping and homicide.

Earthquake Hits Frightened Japan

Still recovering from the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, a frightened Japan was hit by a powerful earthquake that toppled buildings and killed at least nine people late Thursday. This time, however, there was no accompanying tsunami like the one that flooded nuclear reactors and caused the disastrous 2011 meltdown.

The quake measured a magnitude of 6.4 on the Richter scale, compared with a magnitude of 9 in 2011. But in some places the shaking was equally intense, according to the country’s seismology office. At least 250 people were injured and thousands fled their homes on the island of Kyushu – which is home to five nuclear reactors, two of which were in operation during the quake.

Feds Kidnapped Mexican Students?

In a breakthrough for a case that has captivated Mexico for nearly two years, a commission investigating the disappearance of 43 Mexican students in 2014 has unearthed a witness who says two federal police officers helped orchestrate the mass kidnapping.

Present when the kidnapping took place, the witness says the federal officers and police from the nearby city of Huitzuco joined local police officers while they were handcuffing and loading the students into pickup trucks. Apart from the charred remains of one student, no trace of any of them has been seen since.

The students had commandeered the buses to attend a rally against the leftwing mayor of the town of Iguala, who was found to have ordered the attack. But for more than a year afterward, the Mexican government insisted there was no reason to investigate or question federal police regarding the incident.


It’s Not Cancer

Some good news for a change: a thyroid tumor that once forced thousands of patients to undergo surgery to have the gland removed isn’t cancer after all.

The new thinking is expected to impact about 10,000 out of 65,000 thyroid cancer patients in the US.

A small lump in the thyroid that is surrounded by fibrous tissue, the tumor looks like a cancer but the capsule of tissue itself prevents it from spreading, the researchers determined. And it’s not the only tumor with an unnecessarily scary name that results in unwarranted surgeries, doctors say.

Premalignant lumps in the breast and prostate are called “stage zero cancer” or “cancerous tumors” even though they’re really not. Meanwhile, ultrasound, MRIs and CT scans are finding more and more of them – especially when it comes to thyroid nodules.

It’s the weekend again. Happy Friday, everybody. We welcome your comments and suggestions for improving DailyChatter. Write to us at

— Compiled and written by Jason Overdorf


Fri, 04/15/2016 – 05:48

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