The World Today for December 19, 2017



The Perils of Justice

Complaints of a stomach bug didn’t stop an Indonesian court from indicting Setya Novanto, the former parliament speaker and leader of the country’s second-largest political party, which is part of President Joko Widodo’s coalition.

As the Associated Press explained, Novanto tried unsuccessfully to use his health as an excuse to postpone a corruption trial stemming from allegations that he and others used the rollout of a new electronic ID system to steal $170 million in public funds. He also went missing when police first sought to detain him.

Among other allegations, Novanto received a $135,000 Richard Mille watch as part of the kickback scam, the Wall Street Journal reported. The man who gave him the watch, a US-based consultant who is a witness in the case, shot himself during a confrontation with police in Los Angeles in August, Reuters wrote.

Two officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs have already been sentenced to five and seven years in prison in the case.

Novanto, incidentally, appeared at a September 2015 press conference in New York City during then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The real question in the case is not whether Novanto is headed to jail for what could be a life term.

The Australian noted that many Indonesians assume their parliament is a “failing institution” that is “riddled with entrenched corruption.”

They have reason to think that way. Transparency International ranked the sprawling archipelago between the Indian and Pacific Oceans 90 out of 176 countries last year on its corruption perception index (on this index, a lower ranking reflects a greater level of perceived corruption). The Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission, known as the KPK, is alleging that as many as 60 other lawmakers might have been involved in the alleged scheme.

The real question is whether Widodo was somehow involved.

The first Indonesian president with neither a military or other elite background, Widodo bills himself as a new kind of politician who has sought to reduce corruption and free up state-dominated industries to help ordinary people. Economic growth recently hit 5 percent while the government has embarked on record-setting spending on infrastructure.

“These positive developments are thanks to one thing and one thing only: reform,” he told Bloomberg.

But Widodo faces a dilemma.

In an interview with the Economist, political analyst Kevin O’Rourke, an Indonesia specialist, said Novanto’s court case needed to run its course or else democracy in the country would be imperiled.

If the case implicates Widodo or allies of Novanto who are crucial to enacting the president’s agenda, the reforms could end. If Novanto escapes what appears to be an iron-clad prosecution, then the reforms might be exposed as pointless.

Indonesians are discovering why justice is blind.



Going It Alone

The US vetoed a United Nations resolution criticizing Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, exercising that power for the first time since the election of President Donald Trump.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley cast the veto, blocking the resolution, which was introduced by Egypt, CNN reported. The 14 other members of the Security Council voted to approve it.

“Today for acknowledging a basic truth about the capital city of Israel, we are accused of harming peace,” Haley said. “The record will reflect that we reject that outrageous claim.”

The Palestinians immediately sought a comparable resolution from the United Nations General Assembly. Such a resolution doesn’t have the same force as one by the Security Council, but each member has one vote and no country enjoys veto power.

Though the outcome of the vote was expected, it highlighted the isolation of the US on the issue. Even stalwart American allies such as France and the United Kingdom insisted the final status of Jerusalem should only be determined in negotiations.


Freedom from Europe?

Austria swore in a new government on Monday that included the far-right Freedom Party for the first time in 10 years, marking the rise of right-wing populist parties across Europe.

Concerned about the return to government of a party that was founded by neo-Nazis after World War II, President Alexander Van der Bellen exacted several promises from the new government before he would administer the oath of office, the New York Times reported.

Those promises included acknowledging Austria’s commitment to the European Union and its responsibility for its Nazi past.

New Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the People’s Party travels to Brussels on Tuesday “determined to dispel concerns that his coalition with the far-right spells trouble for the European Union,” Reuters noted. In response to a letter from European Council President Donald Tusk outlining those worries, Kurz tweeted that Austria would remain “clear pro-European and committed to making a positive contribution to the future development of the EU”.

Some fear that Austria will be a dogged opponent of EU asylum reform and efforts to increase the EU budget.


Flawed But Finished?

A senior Honduran government official ruled out a new presidential election, despite calls for one by the Organization of American States.

The Nov. 26 vote that elected US-friendly President Juan Orlando Hernandez sparked violent protests, due to suspicions of manipulation to block the rise of center-left candidate Salvador Nasralla. On Sunday, Honduran election authorities said that a partial recount confirmed the results. Soon afterward the OAS said the process did not meet democratic standards, Reuters reported. But European Union election observers said the vote recount showed no irregularities.

So far, a new election looks unlikely.

“The only other elections there are going to be in this country will be on the last Sunday of November 2021,” the agency quoted First Vice President Ricardo Alvarez as saying.

Furious protesters clashed with police in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, blocked roads around the country’s main port, and set fire to a courthouse and bank branch in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city.

“We are not going to stop protesting,” Reuters quoted a Nasralla supporter as saying.


Not Alone

With the help of Google’s artificial intelligence, scientists last week discovered an eighth planet orbiting the Kepler-90 star – located nearly 2,500 light-years away from Earth – meaning our solar system is no longer the largest we know, the Verge reported.

Since 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope has been combing the stars for planets in attempts to map the universe.

Based on the slight dimming and brightening of stars, Kepler has identified 35,000 signals from potential planets and has confirmed the existence of 2,525 exoplanets, expanding our understanding of what the universe has to offer.

Despite having the same number of planets as our sun, Kepler-90 is 20 percent larger and 5 percent warmer with a narrower orbit – seven of Kepler-90’s eight planets would fit in between the earth and the sun.

That makes for inhabitable conditions, CNN reported: The new planet, Kepler-90i, meanwhile, is hot, rocky and “sizzling.”

Click here to see a rendition of the Kepler-90’s system.

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