The World Today for September 21, 2017



Rock Stars and Maniacs

With fewer than 5 million citizens and an isolated location in the southwestern Pacific, New Zealand doesn’t often figure as a major player in global affairs.

But the breathtaking island nation has more to offer than top fly-fishing and scenery befitting the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien. Already boasting one of the world’s highest standards of living, the country’s $185 billion economy is a bona fide rock star, according to HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham.

Heading into parliamentary elections Sept. 23, New Zealand has been enjoying a growth rate of around 2.5 percent – while unemployment has recently dropped back below 5 percent despite the impact of the 2008 Eurozone crisis, notes Newshub.

“New Zealand is doing very well when you compare it to the rest of the developed world. So yes, I think it has continued to be a rock star,” Bloxham said recently on local television.

Conventional wisdom would therefore suggest voters would be keen to return the ruling conservative National Party to power, and as recently as six weeks ago, that might have been the case. Now, though, another rock star has hit the stage: Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern.

Thanks to what local commentators have christened “Jacindamania,” opinion polls now show a neck-and-neck race that could well result in the first change of government in the South Pacific nation in nine years, the Associated Press reports. Since taking over the center-left Labour Party last month, Ardern has buoyed its fortunes a whopping 20 percentage points in opinion polls, writes Agence France-Presse.

The contest reflects some of the issues that have colored other recent elections around the world.

Prime Minister Bill English’s National Party has vowed to support free trade against a wave of global protectionism – vowing to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, despite the withdrawal of US President Donald Trump. In contrast, Ardern’s Labour Party has said it would look to renegotiate the terms of the deal, Reuters notes.

Similarly, in an inverse of the Democrat-Republican positioning in the US, Ardern has gained ground by advocating strict curbs on immigration, which has hit record levels under English’s center-right government, reports Dow Jones Newswires.

Net migration topped 72,400 in the year to July. Ardern would like to cut that number by as much as 30,000.

While regular folks may be inclined to see both free trade and immigration as threats to their wellbeing, however, economists point out that both have been key drivers of New Zealand’s recent boom – even if growth has slowed in recent months.

The disconnect might well stem from where the benefits are going, Dow Jones Newswires notes. Though economic growth has been robust, the influx of immigrants has also contributed to record housing prices, making Auckland and Wellington – two of the country’s biggest cities—as costly as Shanghai.

Even isolated at the bottom of the world, it seems, the wind is blowing in the same direction.

[siteshare]Rock stars and Maniacs[/siteshare]



Scout’s Honor

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Wednesday that his nation is preparing to send some 50 refugees from remote detention centers on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus Island to the United States.

The prime minister’s comments are the first indication of the staying power of the refugee-swap deal made between the two nations during the tenure of former-President Barack Obama, Politico reported.

Up to 1,250 refugees will eventually be resettled as part of the deal, but many remain skeptical that the American president will adhere to the agreement.

President Trump has described the arrangement as “dumb,” but claims that Washington will stay true to its word. For its part, Australia will begin resettling dozens of Central American refugees.

Canberra has come under fire for its policy of intercepting asylum seekers at sea and detaining them on Manus Island and Nauru under conditions condemned by the United Nations.

With the center on Manus Island slated for closure on Oct. 31, Australia is under pressure to resettle some 2,000 refugees on both islands as soon as possible.

[siteshare]Scout’s Honor[/siteshare]


Cyber Warfare

On the sidelines of the United Nation’s General Assembly in New York Wednesday, tech giants like Facebook and Google claimed that it’s not easy to meet the demands of American and European governments that they remove extremist content within an hour or two after it’s posted.

After years of terrorist attacks in the West and the promulgation of hate speech on online platforms that many say has influenced elections, governments have begun pushing social media companies to remove “terrorist content” from their forums as quickly as possible, or else face fines, Reuters reported.

Although Facebook reportedly claimed that the industry as a whole could do more to build new tech to address the issue, the social media giant contended that its developments in artificial intelligence only go so far, the Guardian reported.

“AI can spot a terrorist’s insignia or flag, but has a hard time interpreting a poster’s intent,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s director of global policy management, told the General Assembly.

[siteshare]Cyber Warfare[/siteshare]


Compromising Situation

Delivering its final and fully detailed judgment on Wednesday, Kenya’s Supreme Court issued a scathing criticism of the nation’s electoral commission for its failures in handling last month’s botched elections.

The final verdict comes on the heels of the court’s initial ruling on Sept. 1 nullifying the results of the country’s Aug. 8 presidential election. It was the first time that a presidential election result had been legally overturned on the African continent, Bloomberg reported.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s alleged reelection last month initially sparked protests and deadly clashes between opposition supporters and security forces that took 24 lives.

Upon review, the Supreme Court ruled that the electoral commission’s system had been “infiltrated and compromised,” citing several discrepancies such as missing and forged documents, as well as a reluctance to cooperate with the opposition in verifying the results.

The judgment could severely impact the reputation of the ruling Jubilee Party on Oct. 17 when Kenyans take to the polls again for a do-over.

[siteshare]Compromising Situation[/siteshare]


The Sandbox

Sand is an overlooked but key commodity in the global economy.

Now, as Asia especially consumes more sand for its construction boom, Earth might be facing a shortage in the stuff.

In a study published in the journal Science, researchers said the sand industry is on an unsustainable path that is hurting the environment and fueling corruption.

Entitled “A Looming Tragedy of the Sand Commons,” the study said the multibillion-dollar international sand mining industry has expanded by 600 percent over the past 25 years.

Writing in an editorial in the Conversation, the researchers argued that major countries need to study sand mining more closely, then figure out a new regime to cut down on its use. Promoting better building methods and policies, for example, could curb the excesses of sand miners.

“It is time to treat sand like a resource, on a par with clean air, biodiversity and other natural endowments that nations seek to manage for the future,” they wrote.

So the world is kind of a sandbox, after all.

[siteshare]A World Without Sand[/siteshare]

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