The World Today for March 31, 2017


A Legal Coup

Despite years of political repression, human rights abuses, economic crises and food shortages, much of the world has held out hope that President Nicolás Maduro would maintain democracy in Venezuela.

That faith has now been exposed as wishful thinking.

On Thursday, news broke that Venezuela’s Supreme Court had issued a decision late Wednesday to dissolve the National Assembly and – here’s the kicker – assume its duties.

“This constitutional court will guarantee that all parliamentary functions will be exercised by this court, or an institution designed by it,” the court wrote in its decision, CNN reported.

Justices allied with Maduro pack the court, while the opposition Voluntad Party, the only check on Maduro, controls the National Assembly, noted Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro. He called the extraordinary ruling a “self-inflicted coup.”

Assemblyman Freddy Guevara, a Voluntad Party member, was more direct. “This ruling marks a point of no return for this dictatorship,” Guevara told the Miami Herald.

The court found the assembly in contempt and declared it invalid for ignoring previous court decisions.

Guevara and his colleagues said they wouldn’t recognize the decision. Instead, they would hold protests, setting the stage for an epic clash between their supporters and those who follow Maduro and revere the memory of his mentor, the late revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez.

ABC News reported that some opposition members called on the military to intervene.

Still, international bankers might become the real heavies in this conflict.

Grappling with low oil prices that have gutted his budget, Maduro has proposed securing foreign loans to prop up Venezuela’s crumbling economy.

But under the country’s constitution, the National Assembly must approve new debt. Maduro’s enemies have resisted his plans. The country is flirting with default now.

Now the court theoretically could grant Maduro permission to borrow more – if he can find creditors willing to take the risk.

At least one expert thinks lenders would be foolhardy to help.

University of Missouri Economist Michael Hudson is one of Maduro’s favorite economists, according to Bloomberg. The two have never spoken. Hudson is no socialist. But Maduro likely appreciated Hudson’s writings on how banks often pursue non-productive investing to boost their bottom lines rather than expand prosperity.

Hudson has consulted for officials in Iceland, China and Greece on taxes and debt. He had advice for Venezuela that applied to the country’s finances but was also a prescription to avoid the civil unrest that is potentially on the horizon.

“If they realize they can’t pay later, they should stop now,” he said.


Do Not Pass Go

South Korea’s ousted President Park Geun-hye was arrested and thrown in jail Friday, after a Seoul court approved a request from the prosecution on the grounds that the former president might try to destroy evidence in the case against her.

Park was transported to a detention facility near Seoul before dawn in a convoy of vehicles, the Associated Press reported. Many supporters waved Korean flags and shouted “president” as the black sedan carrying the disgraced leader entered the facility.

Accused of colluding with a longtime confidant to solicit bribes from some of the country’s largest corporations, including the Samsung Group, Park can now be held for as long as 20 days while prosecutors seek proof of her alleged crimes. During that period, they’re expected to lodge formal charges that would allow them to keep her in jail for several months of court procedures, the agency said.

As the result of her ouster, South Korea will hold new presidential elections in May. Liberal opposition leader Moon Jae-in is the current frontrunner.

New ‘State’ Land

Israel approved the first new Jewish settlement in the West Bank in more than two decades to make room for 40 settler families who were evacuated several weeks ago after a court ordered the removal of a settlement built on privately owned Palestinian land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office also announced that some 220 acres of land in the center of the West Bank had been declared “state land,” making it eligible for more settler housing, the New York Times reported.

Some experts speculated that the moves could represent an effort to mollify Jewish hardliners before Netanyahu gives in to US President Donald Trump’s recent calls for restraint in building new settlements or expanding existing ones. But Trump’s stance on Israel has itself been ambiguous: Earlier this month he waffled on America’s longstanding commitment to the so-called “two-state solution” – under which Palestine and Israel would become separate countries on opposite sides of the Jordan River.

Netanyahu’s announcement comes a day after Arab leaders from more than 20 countries expressed their continued support for the two-state solution at a summit meeting in Jordan.

You’re Fired

South African President Jacob Zuma fired his widely respected finance minister on Friday in a move that spooked investors and dashed hopes that the president would take steps to avoid escalating political turmoil.

The firing of erstwhile Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was on the cards since Zuma unexpectedly recalled him from an investor meeting in London early this week. But in pulling the trigger on Friday, Zuma defied mounting calls for him to step down, the New York Times reported.

Seen as fighting graft in the corruption-plagued country, Gordhan received a standing ovation at the funeral of a prominent anti-Apartheid leader on Wednesday, where various longtime members of Zuma’s African National Congress called for the president to step down. Many saw Gordhan’s ouster as related to wrangling over the relationship between Zuma and the powerful Gupta brothers – businessmen who have been accused of wielding undue influence over government decisions.

The rand plunged nearly 4 percent on the news of Gordhan’s sacking.


Popeye’s Gold

Eating your spinach may not be the most effective use of the nutrient-rich food.

Scientists suggest soaking it in detergent instead.

That’s because a spinach leaf, once stripped of its plant matter, can be used to rebuild human heart muscle, according to a study published this month in the journal Biomaterials.

When trying to repair heart tissue with synthetic materials, scientists often have difficulties mimicking the heart’s complex vascular network, ultimately leading to tissue death, National Geographic reported.

Enter the spinach leaf. Once stripped of all plant matter, its vast system of tiny veins that carry water and nutrients can be merged with live human cells.

The result is human tissue grown on a spinach-leaf scaffolding that can be used to repair the heart.

“The idea here is that we have a very thin, flat piece of tissue that already has that vascular network in there,” said Joshua Gershlak, a graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, in a video describing the study, which he co-authored.

“We should be able to potentially stack up multiple leaves and create a piece of cardiac tissue.”

Click here to see the team’s spinach tissue for yourself.

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a new, regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Protests, the Press and a Heavy Hand

Belarusians have demonstrated since early February to protest the imposition of a tax of the equivalent of US $250 on those who have been unemployed for more than six months and who have not sought work at government job centers. Their initial slogan, “We are not parasites,” was a reference to President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s 2015 introduction of the tax to fight “social parasitism,” but the demonstrations have since developed into protests against his 23-year rule. At least eight journalists remain behind bars for covering the protests. Police have beaten, detained, or otherwise harassed more than 100 other journalists in an effort to stifle coverage, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists. In addition to documenting the attacks on the press, CPJ last week issued a safety advisory for journalists covering the protests.

Meanwhile, in Russia, protests against alleged government corruption in 99 cities across the country drew thousands of protesters on March 26. According to press reports and the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), a press freedom advocacy group, riot police obstructed journalists covering protests in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, and Makhachkala. Russian media reported that at least 11 journalists, all of whom have since been released, were detained while reporting.

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