The World Today for October 14, 2016


Known Unknowns

To explain the ongoing confusion over the United Kingdom’s plans to exit the European Union – a.k.a. “Brexit” – the BBC’s political editor was forced to reach back to the absurd-yet-profound locution of former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know,” Rumsfeld said in reference to Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction back in 2002.

So it goes for Brexit, writes the BBC.

Putting limits on immigration was the real crowd-puller of the Leave campaign, and British Prime Minister Theresa May roiled financial markets over the past week by hinting that she’d focus on this issue rather than the arguably more important one of retaining access to the EU’s single market. But despite a plethora of suggestions, there’s no real plan for what curbs Britain might put on migrants.

It’s a known unknown – except to say that May is under great political pressure to put some kind of limits in place.

At least one possible measure appears to have been ruled out.

On Sunday, May’s defense minister and education minister said categorically that Britain would not “name and shame” companies by requiring them to publicly disclose the foreign workers on their payrolls, a proposed move that had been widely criticized by local business leaders and contributed to a precipitous drop in the value of the pound, Reuters reported.

But interior minister Amber Rudd said Tuesday she is still considering whether it should be harder for British companies to employ workers from outside the EU, despite a letter to the Daily Telgraph signed by more than 100 business leaders that called such proposals “anti-business and dangerously naïve.”

Rudd had previously reiterated the Conservative Party’s campaign pledge to bring net annual migration down to below 100,000 from more than 300,000 currently.

Another big unknown is how and to what extent Britain will retain access to the EU’s single market – a feat that could well prove impossible if it adopts stringent immigration controls.

Exiting the common market was almost as much a part of the Leave campaign as the backlash against freedom of movement. But now that it’s clear a total exit could cost the country as much as $81 billion a year, according to a leaked government report cited by USA Today, May’s government is trying on models for partial access like that enjoyed by Norway and Switzerland.

On the plus side, there’s at least one “known known.”

Following the bloodbath in the currency markets, May walked back some of her toughest Brexit rhetoric this week and agreed to allow parliament to vote on the eventual plan for leaving the EU – with the caveat that it can’t use that vote to block the exit altogether.

The heated debate that followed Wednesday – which included a rebellion from Conservatives who had backed the Remain campaign – suggests that May’s caveat alone won’t be enough to force everybody to fall in line.

But the vote should also ensure that whatever strategy Britain does bring to the negotiating table will be thoughtfully considered, and, one hopes, free of the sort of misinformation that guided Rumsfeld’s decisions in Iraq.


Legal Rodeo

A judge in Brazil ruled Thursday that ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva must stand trial over corruption allegations, accepting that there was sufficient evidence to charge Brazil’s former president.

Da Silva – known colloquially as Lula – is accused of being involved in a bribery scheme involving the construction giant Oderbrecht in Angola.

The other charges against Lula include engaging in acts of corruption, money-laundering, and “influence-trafficking” with Brazil’s state development bank, BNDES, reported Bloomberg.

The ruling is another major blow to the once widely revered ex-president, who must now face three set of corruption charges in court, said observers. The other corruption cases against Lula relate to the ongoing so-called Carwash corruption investigation into state oil company Petrobras and accusations of obstructing justice.

In a separate ruling, another judge ruled that the former speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, would also have to stand trial for his supposed involvement in Petrobras, wrote the BBC. Cunha successfully masterminded efforts to impeach former President Dilma Rousseff earlier this year.

Tempers Mounting

Israeli politicians have railed against a resolution approved Thursday by UN cultural agency UNESCO that criticizes Israeli activity in and around Jerusalem’s holiest site.

The UNESCO resolution, which requires final approval from the organization’s executive board next week, also downplays the Jewish connection with the site, wrote the Washington Post.

The UNESCO resolution, which requires final approval from the organization’s executive board next week, also downplays the Jewish connection with the site, wrote the Washington Post.

The resolution, submitted by seven Arab countries, lists a number of “Israeli violations” of Muslim holy sites in the West Bank and criticizes Israel’s “persistent excavations” in East Jerusalem and its unwillingness to allow free access to the Haram al-Sharif and al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

But Israeli politicians have mainly focused their ire on UNESCO’s failure to mention the significance of the Temple Mount, or the Western Wall, as the holiest site in Judaism.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the UNCESO decision “absurd” for denying the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, and the Israeli ambassador to UNESCO said that the Jewish people do not need UNESCO to approve their connection to Jerusalem.

Family Footsteps

The world’s longest-reigning monarch, Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, died in a Bangkok hospital Thursday at the age of 88 after 70 years on the throne.

Bhumibol’s death creates uncertainty in the southeast Asian nation, where he was long seen as a source of stability in a country that saw several military coups as it transitioned into a modern manufacturing and tourism hub, wrote the Guardian.

In a nationally televised address, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that people are to avoid “festivities” – including the country’s infamous “full moon party” – in the 30-day mourning period for the king, while the state will observe a year of mourning in which all civil servants are ordered to wear black.

The prime minister also confirmed that 64-year-old Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the late king’s only son and heir, would now ascend to the Thai throne.

But observers have already predicted that Vajiralongkorn, who does not inspire the same degree of national affection as his father, will have a difficult time following in the late king’s footsteps.


Big Brain, Big Yawn

Cat videos are cute. Yawning cat videos are cuter. But a montage of different animals yawning? Well, that’s science.

Every creature in the animal kingdom yawns in some way or another. But the exact reasoning behind the phenomena is still unknown.

One query bouncing around is that yawning serves as a natural cooling system for the body’s main circuit board, the brain – the sudden intake of cool air brings down the temperature of a highly worked system.

With this in mind, scientists hypothesized that those with more complex, larger brains should have more sustained yawns, since more circuitry should equal more cooling.

To test this, a group of researchers led by Andrew Gallup of the State University of New York at Oneota took to the Internet, and isolated 29 mammals whose brain weights had been previously documented: They calculated the average duration of their yawns.

After collecting their data, they found that a brain’s weight and the number of cells in its outer cortex correlated with the average length of a given animal’s yawn more so than the animal’s body weight.

In short: A bigger brain means more intelligence, and, according to the study, more intelligence means a bigger yawn.

Still, some disagree, the Washington Post reports. Regardless, the critters are fun to watch.


Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a new, regular feature on press freedoms around the world, brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists. We hope you enjoy this new addition to DailyChatter. Feedback welcome.

Birthday Behind Bars

Monday was the 29th birthday of Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, better known as Shawkan. It’s the fourth he has spent behind bars since his arrest in 2013. “My passion is photography but I am paying the price for my passion with my life,” Shawkan wrote in 2015.

Next month, Shawkan will be honored with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award.

Wielding a camera might be cause for arrest in Egypt, but investigating corruption can have even higher consequences: 20 percent of about 1,200 journalists killed since 1992 were working on corruption stories, according to CPJ research.

At a Civil Society Policy Forum last week, held on the sidelines of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington, D.C., CPJ’s advocacy director Courtney Radsch talked about the role of journalists in combatting corruption and the risks they face when exposing questionable practices, like the Panama Papers. Read more here.

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