The World Today for November 17, 2017



The Pendulum

Chile’s Nov. 19 presidential election will likely cement a trend in South America of right-wing business types ousting left-wing premiers who came to power at the turn of the millennium, according to the Brookings Institution.

But where Chile differs from its neighbors is that its swing to the right is a move toward a friendly and reliable face: former president and billionaire airline magnate Sebastian Pinera.

In 2010, Pinera became the first conservative to win the Chilean presidency since the fall of General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1990. Center-left parties have dominated Chile’s political scene for 23 of the past 27 years, Bloomberg reported.

Flash forward to 2017, and the political and economic conditions in this Andean nation – one of the continent’s most stable and open economies – mirror the situation that originally brought Pinera to power seven years ago.

If Pinera wins this year, he’ll once again succeed President Michelle Bachelet, whose first term from 2005 to 2010 was branded as undynamic and mired in party infighting.

Pinera’s fresh, pro-business platform at the time fueled investor confidence while prices for copper, the country’s largest export, skyrocketed. Average annual growth during his first tenure neared 5 percent, the Financial Times reported.

This time around, President Bachelet, in power since 2014, had another rough go of it.

The economy contracted with decreasing copper prices, which made her hefty, poorly managed labor and educational reforms divisive among her supporters, Reuters reported.

Investor confidence is low again, Bachelet’s ministers are at wits end over botched mineral deals, and her center-left coalition is fraying at the seams. Six separate left-wing candidates are running against Pinera for the presidency.

Observers are confident that Pinera will come out on top, if not in the first round on Nov. 19, then definitely during the second round planned for mid-December.

But while Chilean markets are already gearing up for Pinera’s second coming, there’s reason for pause, Forbes reported.

Voter turnout in Chile is one of the lowest among developed countries. In 2012, it bottomed out at an abysmal 42 percent, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

A recent survey by Chilean pollster CEP found that this year won’t be much better, and that 60 percent of citizens are completely disenchanted with the political situation in the country. Voter apathy could work either for or against Pinera, depending on if the opposition unites behind a singular candidate in the second round, Voice of America reported.

And Pinera’s pro-business agenda could be curtailed by Bachelet’s lingering loose ends, like pension and tax reform, not to mention corruption allegations related to his various business interests in the state-run copper industry.

Pinera’s hated by many progressives, and some of his more radical policy proposals are already fielding major resistance, such as his plans to bleed the country’s anemic public sector, the Santiago Times reported.

Even with the pendulum predicted to swing Pinera back into the La Moneda Palace, conservatives should be wary of popping the cork too soon.



Finishing Line

Russia vetoed a US-written resolution at the United Nations Security Council, preventing the extension of an international investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria that has so far put the onus of responsibility on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

It was Moscow’s 10th such veto in support of Assad, the Washington Post reported. It means that the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), a body formed to learn who was responsible for chemical weapons attacks on civilians in Syria, expires at midnight Thursday.

The veto closely followed a tweet by President Donald Trump saying the extension was needed “to ensure that Assad Regime does not commit mass murder with chemical weapons ever again.”

After the vote, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, warned that the US might take direct action against the regime, as it did in April – when the US launched dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles at a military airfield where a chemical attack on Syrian civilians originated.


Legal Limits

A German court ruled that Kuwait Airlines had the right to refuse the business of an Israeli citizen on the basis of his nationality, in a decision that Jewish groups said condoned anti-Semitism.

The Frankfurt state court said it was not in position to rule on the laws of Kuwait – which does not recognize the state of Israel – and Germany’s anti-discrimination laws do not cover discrimination based on citizenship.

The passenger in question was prevented from boarding a Kuwait Airlines flight to Bangkok with a stopover in Kuwait City when the carrier determined he was traveling on an Israeli passport. The airline offered to book him on a direct flight to Bangkok with a different carrier, the Associated Press reported.

Backing the line taken by Jewish groups, the mayor of Frankfurt, Uwe Becker, said “An airline that practices discrimination and anti-Semitism by refusing to fly Israeli passengers should not be allowed to take off or land in Frankfurt,” noted Reuters.


Climate Warrior

By far the world leader in electric cars, as well as a major oil producer, Norway’s moves to get out of oil could wind up hurting Saudi Arabia.

Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund has proposed dumping all its oil and gas stocks – roughly $35 billion – to diversify away from energy, Bloomberg reported. The move would eliminate a potential “cornerstone” investor ahead of the planned IPO of Saudi Arabia’s Aramco – from which the kingdom hopes to gain some $100 billion from a 5 percent stake.

It could also reduce the appetite among Western pension funds.

“The divestment movement just got some new juice,” Bloomberg quoted Jamie Webster, a fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, as saying.

The IPO is crucial to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious reform program, as it’s intended to seed a $2 trillion sovereign wealth fund that would see Saudi Arabia through the transition.


The Day Shift

Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes – but does the sun play a role in how much time our bodies need to heal?

New research has revealed that our body’s ability to heal itself could indeed be influenced by our circadian rhythm, or the biological clock that influences sleep patterns, Science Magazine reported.

British scientists came to the conclusion by studying fibroblasts, a type of skin cell crucial to wound healing.

Research into the cells’ proteins revealed that the fibroblasts were particularly active during daytime – and even healed at a quicker pace during daylight hours.

“You can see by eye, when the cell is wounded only 8 hours apart from each other, in a different circadian phase, the [daytime] wounded ones take off, and the [nighttime] one drags,” said John O’Neill, one of the authors of the study. The authors’ research was recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

In human trials, the scientists found that daytime wounds recovered as much as 11 days earlier than nighttime wounds, an occurrence attributed to evolution, the researchers posit: Humans are more likely to get injured when active during the day than at night.

Sunlight isn’t just the best disinfectant – it could be the best medicine as well.

Click here to see the cells in action.


Correction: In Friday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “The Pendulum” item “Brookings Institute.” It is in fact “Brookings Institution.” We apologize for the error.

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