The World Today for June 13, 2018

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Boom and Bust

Imagine if one of your siblings suddenly announced they could no longer take mom or dad to their medical appointments. Now multiply that by millions of people.

That will be China in 50 years.

And while nearly every developed country faces serious aging issues, in the world’s most populous country, the problem is potentially catastrophic.

Take Hong Kong, a hub of global capital and culture that rivals New York and London.

In around 50 years, folks 65 or older will comprise almost 36 percent of the city’s population, the South China Morning Post reported.

Supporting them will be a challenge. In 2014, around 2.4 Hong Kong residents were working for every elderly person. In half a century, that ratio will fall to 1.8 to one – certainly a less ideal arrangement that anyone caring for an ailing parent or grandparent can appreciate.

It makes sense, therefore, that China is considering scrapping its limits on child births, as Bloomberg News explained. “The policy change would close the book on one of the largest social experiments in human history,” the financial news service wrote.

China eliminated the infamous one-child policy two years ago. Enacted in the late 1970s, that policy was supposed to avoid a budding housing and jobs crisis. But it also entailed a horrific human toll. Due to the traditional Chinese preference for boys, selective abortions have resulted in around 30 million more Chinese men than women, for example.

“Too old, too male and too few,” was how Malaysian-born Chinese-American journalist Mei Fong described the effects of the policy on the country in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Chinese leaders opted instead for a two-child policy. But rather than spark a baby boom, birth rates continued to decline. “Busy younger mothers in urban areas … turned their backs on having a second child,” wrote the Telegraph.

Al Jazeera noted that workplace discrimination was one reason women were leery about having children. Chinese employers grant them too few protections if they leave. Some companies even require female employees to submit to pregnancy tests and coerce pregnant employees to resign so their companies won’t have to pay for maternity benefits.

Removing limits entirely probably won’t change much, Bloomberg opinion writer Justin Fox argued, noting that birthrates were falling even before the one-child policy was introduced.

And for China, as for many other countries such as Japan and Germany, that means economic growth prospects are dimming.

The irony is, at a time when migration and immigration are stirring controversy, especially in the developed world, perhaps the greater challenge is that there are too few of us.



Rebellion in the Ranks

Still pushing for Germany (and Europe) to open its doors to asylum seekers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a rebellion from within that could destabilize her governing coalition, even as anti-immigrant parties gain ground across the European Union.

On Tuesday, Merkel managed to prevent Interior Minister Horst Seehofer from presenting a “Migrant Masterplan” under which Germany would turn away at its borders those asylum seekers who have already been registered in another European Union state. Several senior members of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), however, made clear that they backed the proposal, Reuters reported.

Closely following Italy’s refusal to allow a rescue ship carrying more than 600 refugees to land on its shores over the weekend, Seehofer’s scheme would effectively reverse the open door policy toward such asylum seekers that Merkel adopted in 2015.

Anti-immigrant sentiment eroded support for Merkel and helped propel the far-right Alternative for Germany party into parliament for the first time in federal elections last year.


Tangled Web

Vietnam passed a new cybersecurity law Tuesday that critics say threatens freedom of speech and will damage investor sentiment.

The law requires web companies like Google and Facebook to store user data in Vietnam, the Associated Press reported. It also mandates that such firms must maintain offices in the country and act within 24 hours to remove content that the Ministry of Information and Communications or the Ministry of Public Security deems objectionable.

Vietnam’s chairman of the Committee on Defense and Security, Vo Trong Viet, said the law doesn’t violate the country’s commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization and the Trans-Pacific Partnership and argued it is necessary for national security.

However, the US, Canada and several industry associations warned that the law would hamper the growth of Vietnam’s digital economy, and Amnesty International warned it would curtail freedom of expression by granting the government sweeping powers to monitor online activity.


Flip the Script

While “just following orders” has been discredited as an excuse for war crimes, the opposite claim can still be effective, the reversal of a landmark International Criminal Court ruling illustrates.

On Tuesday, ICC judges ordered the release of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the ex-vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Al-Jazeera reported.

Last week, the ICC had reversed his June 2016 conviction of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his private army in the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR). The judges determined he could not be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by his troops.

Though he still hasn’t been sentenced for a separate charge of bribing witnesses, the judges ruled it was unfair to keep him in custody while that sentence is pending, as he has already served 80 percent of the maximum possible jail term.

Amnesty International called the reversal a “huge blow” for the victims of a “horrifying campaign of rape and sexual violence,” the BBC reported.


You’re Getting Very Sleepy…

Patients going under the knife normally have only two choices on the operating table: local or general anesthesia.

But a new study out of France posits another, rather unorthodox option for patients undergoing surgery: hypnosis.

At the 2018 Euroanaesthesia conference in Copenhagen last week, a team of French researchers presented an evaluation of 150 surgeries that showed that in 99 percent of cases, anesthesia methods that relied on hypnosis worked just as well as traditional methods.

Using a technique called “hypnosedation,” in which hypnosis is combined with a cocktail of anti-nausea drugs and painkillers, doctors effectively sedated patients and kept them conscious during procedures for breast cancer, gynecological surgeries, colonoscopies and plastic surgeries, procedures which normally last about 60 minutes, Quartz reported.

The high success rate suggests that for most patients this may be a viable alternative to general anesthesia, which has side effects like throat pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Moreover, recovery time after surgery could be quicker, especially for older patients or those with cardiac or respiratory issues.

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