The World Today for March 29, 2017


Lucky 777

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s former number two leader, became the city’s chief executive after winning two-thirds of the vote in elections on Sunday.

But her win amounted to only 777 votes in a territory of over 7 million people.

Despite calls for popular sovereignty, Hong Kong’s administrators are still elected by wealthy business and political elites. Lam is largely seen as having won thanks to Beijing’s support despite having trailed her main competitor in polls, Bloomberg reported.

China agreed to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy when it took control from Britain in 1997. But Beijing has exerted a heavier hand in the city in recent years – to the contempt of many locals.

Lam now can serve as a custodian who will guide the city toward 2047, when China’s deal with Britain on Hong Kong autonomy expires, or she can vigorously address the bustling city’s many problems, argued a South China Morning Post opinion writer on Tuesday.

While Lam remained popular during her five years as Hong Kong’s second in command, the people turned on her in 2014 when she supported a China-sponsored electoral overhaul that would have granted citizens the right to vote if Beijing could vet candidates.

The city erupted in protests that shut down everyday business for almost two months as a result.

The media labeled the uprising the “Umbrella Revolution”: Young residents leading the protests used umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas.

The electoral initiative failed. But Lam’s comportment amid the controversy won her favor with Beijing, NPR reported.

Years later, protesters once again took to the picket lines after Lam’s election. They also took to cyberspace, calling their new chief executive “777” – the number of votes she received, which coincidentally sounds like an expletive in Cantonese for someone who’s impotent.

Reports have surfaced that Lam doesn’t even know how to buy toilet paper or use public transport.

“All politicians might be made fun of and that is quite common, but people doing it on Day Zero is a very strong indication of what an uphill battle it’s going to be for her,” said Alvin Yeung, an opposition lawmaker who voted in the election.

But Lam has work to do.

High housing costs and the income gap between rich and poor in Hong Kong are major challenges. She must tackle those problems without jeopardizing the investor-friendly climate that contributed to the city’s $12 billion surplus this year, the South China Morning Post reported.

If she can’t fix her people’s problems or relate to them on the most basic level, Lam’s political impotence may not be just a silly pun, and the discontent that simmers may bubble over.


Read My Lips

Brazilian President Michel Temer’s efforts to beat back the country’s worst-ever recession took another hit, as his government was again forced to delay announcing budget cuts and other measures to meet his declared deficit goal of 139 billion reals ($44.25 billion) – equivalent to 2 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product.

The problem should sound familiar: The government faces growing pressure from lawmakers not to raise taxes, leaving a gap of some 52 billion reals, Reuters reported. A local paper said Temer might try to fill the hole by increasing estimated income from an amnesty program for people with undeclared assets held abroad. But others say tax increases are “almost inevitable” – meaning the budget could face resistance from Congress.

Temer’s ability to rein in spending is a key issue for investors, as Brazil’s bonds were downgraded from investment-grade status under his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff. Earlier this month, Temer said his turnaround efforts are working, and Moody’s raised the rating outlook for Brazilian sovereign debt to stable from negative.

Lives Matter

The fatal police shooting of a Chinese man in his Paris apartment sparked demonstrations by France’s large Asian community and a diplomatic protest from Beijing.

Protesters took to the streets Monday and Tuesday to decry the killing of 56-year-old Shaoyo Liu during a raid of his apartment building. Police claimed he brandished a bladed weapon, but rumors circulated that he was cutting up fish with scissors, the Associated Press reported.

The demonstrators clashed with baton-wielding police, resulting in injuries to three police officers and the arrest of 35 protesters – who lined the road chanting “murderers,” broke down barricades and set fire to cars.

The incident follows a September protest in which 15,000 people rallied in Paris to demand an end to violence against the Asian community after the beating death of a Chinese tailor, as well as a march by thousands of people to protest the alleged rape in February of a young black man by police.

Dying for Justice

The United Nations confirmed that two bodies found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo belong to employees who were looking into violence and human rights abuses in the Central African nation.

Congolese officials said Tuesday that the bodies of American Michael Sharp and Swedish citizen Zaida Catalan, as well as the body of their interpreter, had been found in Central Kasai province, NPR reported. The human rights workers had gone missing earlier this month.

The motive for the killing and identity of the killers is not clear. However, Sharp and Catalan were in the area to investigate a relatively new conflict in which local rebels are fighting against the Congolese Army. They were to probe suspected mass graves, some of which had been attributed to the Congolese Army, as well as reports of the conscription of child soldiers, the New York Times noted.

Separately, Congolese police fired shots and tear gas to disperse protesters after Catholic bishops admitted defeat in their efforts to convince President Joseph Kabila to follow through with a promise to hold elections and step down.


Back to the Future

Some 20 percent of all species on Earth are endangered. That number could rise to 50 percent by the end of the century.

To combat mass extinction, scientists are considering a method straight out of a sci-fi novel, the New York Times reported.

The costly and disputed technique, called de-extinction, takes genes from one animal and splices them with DNA from its distant cousin in order to bring the scarcer creature back to life.

But this Frankenstein-like conservation effort has its ethical and monetary costs, scientists discussed in a new paper published recently in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Reviving a species could cost tens of millions of dollars, said Joseph Bennett, an assistant professor and conservation researcher at Carleton University in Ontario, whose team simulated the costs of the technique.

That’s money that could be used to save myriad species still alive today.

Many support gene splicing for the possible ecological benefits it could yield. But Bennett and his team say that’s largely speculation. The revived critters will likely invade the habitats of animals already struggling to survive.

Scientists need “to have a very sober look at what one could do with those millions of dollars with living species,” Bennett said. “There’s already plenty to do.”

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