July 31, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

ARGENTINA

Lights Out

A blackout struck Argentina in early June.

Almost 50 million people in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay lost power in an area four times as large as Texas. A month later, officials told the Associated Press that “improper reprogramming” in a major transmission line was to blame.

For years, Argentine utilities didn’t increase rates. Repairs, maintenance and new investments lagged as the grid wore out, the New York Times reported.

Electricity prices have increased under President Mauricio Macri, a business-oriented conservative who took office in 2015 and now is seeking re-election in October.

But the increases were unpopular. Argentina is in deep recession. Inflation is over 50 percent. Unemployment is 10 percent. Amid popular discontent earlier this year, Macri imposed a price freeze, Bloomberg wrote.

It’s ironic that the electricity grid failed. Macri has had plenty of ribbon cuttings on his schedule in the months leading up to the election, reported Al Jazeera. He’s been building new roads, bridges, subway extensions, rail lines, and other projects in a bid to boost the country’s flagging economy.

“There is obviously a government decision to increase expenditure in public works above what was budgeted, at least during this time of the year,” Argentine economist Rafael Flores told the Qatar-based news service.

In October, Macri faces Alberto Fernández, a center-left Peronist who wants to renegotiate the South American country’s deal with the International Monetary Fund for $57 billion to finance its economy, Reuters reported.

But Fernández has chosen former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as his running mate. The wife of the late former President Nestor Kirchner, she took office in 2007 and lost to Macri in 2015 amid corruption scandals – but then won a seat in the country’s senate.

“During those eight years, she nearly ran the country into the ground, in part by playing to voter frustration by declaring war on a group of foreign lenders,” opined foreign affairs pundit Ian Bremmer in Time magazine. “Her government manipulated economic statistics. Graft in politics and business was widespread. Cristina faces several ongoing corruption cases.”

Argentines face a choice in the upcoming election, Bremmer concluded: They could stick to the hard reforms that have yet to pay off but could yield a much better quality of life in the future. Or they could go back to an “ugly past.”

Corruption investigators face uphill battles in Argentina, wrote Americas Quarterly. Hunger is a major problem, reported El País, a Spanish newspaper.

There are a lot of problems that need fixing. Many hope that whoever wins in October gets busy with solving them, not politics.

WANT TO KNOW

CHINA

Surprise and Skepticism

China surprised its critics by announcing Tuesday that most of the ethnic Uighurs sent to re-education camps in China’s restive Xinjiang region have been released even as academics and Uighurs living abroad greeted the claim with skepticism.

“The majority of personnel who received education and training have returned to society and gone back to their homes,” Alken Tuniaz, a Xinjiang vice governor, told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s governor, said more than 90 percent of those released from the centers have “found jobs that they find suitable and like, and are earning considerable incomes.” He also suggested that this development itself was proof that the re-education centers are not detention centers or concentration camps.

Neither official offered any evidence to support those claims or provided any specifics regarding the number of people interned or released, however. Earlier estimates from international observers have pegged the number of detainees at more than a million.

Even if China’s claims have some truth to them, University of Sydney historian David Brophy suggested the new jobs might include forced relocation for work in factories with heavy surveillance.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

The Plot Thickens

The wife of the ruler of Dubai has applied for a “forced marriage protection order” in England’s High Court for one of her two children.

The order is a legal provision designed to help those who claim they are being forced into marriage or are already in a forced marriage, Reuters reported. Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, who is married to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, also applied for a “non-molestation order,” which protects a person from harassment or threats. It was not clear whom that order was intended to protect.

The 70-year-old sheikh married Princess Haya in 2004 in what was believed to be his sixth marriage. He has more than 20 children by different wives, Reuters noted. One of them, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al Maktoum, was forcibly returned after she attempted to flee the country last year, while Princess Haya decamped to London several months ago.

POLAND

Too Young to Tax

Poland will implement a new law this week that will eliminate income taxes for around 2 million workers under the age of 26 in a bid to combat the brain drain resulting from migration.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the tax break would make the opportunities for young people “match those available in the West,” CNN reported.

Under the scheme, Poles younger than 26 years old who earn less than 85,528 Polish zloty ($22,547) a year will be exempt from the country’s 18 percent income tax beginning Aug. 1. Notably, that’s considerably larger than the average Polish salary of around 60,000 zloty ($15,700) a year.

Morawiecki said the change was needed because around 1.7 million people have left Poland in the past 15 years since the country joined the European Union, making it easy for citizens to work elsewhere in the bloc.

Will it work? It might, but the young and ambitious migrate for reasons other than money, critics say. And along with other welfare programs it’s expected to cost the government 40 billion zloty ($10 billion).

DISCOVERIES

Of Bikinis and CO2

In many parts of the world, China included, people are cranking up their air conditioners when heat waves strike.

Some Chinese men, however, have been staying cool by rolling their T-shirts above their stomach, a practice known as the “Beijing bikini.”

The trend is pretty common in China and is said to be based on traditional Chinese medicine, but local authorities in the city of Jinan are cracking down on the practice as “uncivilized behavior,” Sky News reported.

In a bid to improve the city’s image, officials are ordering men to keep their shirts on, despite temperatures reaching above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

This is not the first time that male midriff-baring or total toplessness has caught the ire of authorities.

In Handan, near the capital Beijing, authorities have launched a campaign that includes an educational short film against going shirtless in public, according to CNN.

Meanwhile, people on social media have criticized the new measures as excessive and not environmentally friendly.

“Being shirtless cuts more carbon emissions than turning on AC,” one commenter said.

That may be might true. Demand for air conditioning is surging in China, which is already one of the biggest greenhouse gas producers in the world, accounting for about 27 percent of the global carbon dioxide levels in 2017, according to Statista.

Toughening up on its carbon emissions instead of clothing rules might be a better solution.