November 04, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

Back to the Future

Lately it’s been feeling a lot like 1968.

Fifty-one years ago, Americans took to the streets demanding civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War. French students set up barricades in Paris calling for university reforms. Czechoslovak protesters took to the streets in support of more independence from the Soviet Union and further unrest erupted around the world.

It was a time of anger and frustration, a tipping point when much of humanity could no longer remain silent over the status quo.

Now it’s happening again.

A list in Business Insider included protests in Hong Kong, Indonesia, France, the Netherlands, Haiti, Chile, Peru, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Syria and the United States, where auto workers were on strike until recently in hopes of securing better wages. The news website forgot to mention Ecuador, Spain, Zimbabwe and other countries.

“Another day, another protest,” wrote Reuters.

Unique local issues usually trigger the demonstrations. In Zimbabwe, for example, people are taking to the streets to condemn American and European sanctions on their leaders, who are accused of human rights abuses and electoral fraud, reported Al Jazeera. In Hong Kong, democratic activists say they are resisting Chinese authoritarianism. In France, rising fuel taxes initially caused the furor, which has morphed into rage over living standards and the elites.

But, as the BBC noted, there are some common threads. A handful of forces have produced a climate where ordinary people are increasingly willing to take to the streets and face riot police to air their grievances: inequality, corruption, human rights and climate change.

Some analyze the situation differently. The global economy has been growing, poverty has been declining worldwide and it’s hard to tell if corruption and government incompetence are worse today than in the past.

Instead, Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, believed social media and youth movements were key factors in the discontent. “They are able to mobilize large numbers on small issues, such as fare increases, and tap into general discontent that otherwise might have remained unexpressed,” wrote Diehl.

Echoing those ideas, Slate cited research that concluded the growth of the middle class around the world has given rise to more folks who expect better public services, more career opportunities and improved public health, as their leaders cut spending and hike taxes amid sluggish economic growth.

One might ask why protesters in democracies like France or Ecuador don’t vote if they want change. Perhaps they feel as if their votes don’t matter. Democracy could be “stalling out,” a New York Times newsletter, the Interpreter, suggested.

Certainly climate activists like those in this CNN story feel their elected leaders aren’t listening.

When people shout, it’s because they feel as if they aren’t being heard.

WANT TO KNOW

UNITED KINGDOM

No Fracking Way

The British government said over the weekend it is temporarily halting “fracking,” an about-face for Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has praised the controversial fossil fuel extracting process.

The decision came after a recent report by the Oil and Gas Authority government agency warned of earthquakes and pollution for those living near fracking sites, the Guardian reported.

The country’s only fracking site, Preston New Road in Lancashire, halted operations this summer after fracking triggered multiple tremors that breached the government’s earthquake limits.

The move was welcomed by environmental groups who have fought for almost a decade against the controversial practice.

Fracking, also known hydraulic fracturing, involves the use of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure to fracture shale rock to extract natural gas and oil.

The process has been banned in Germany and France, while Scotland and Wales have put their own moratorium on it, the New York Times reported.

In the United States, shale gas extraction is allowed in remote areas, but in Britain most of the fracking sites are near residential areas.

SAUDI ARABIA

Going Once, Going Twice

Saudi Arabia announced Sunday that is launching an initial public offering (IPO) of large state oil producer Aramco and giving investors the opportunity to own a piece of the world’s most profitable company, CNN reported.

“(The IPO) will increase our international visibility as the leading company in the world,” CEO Amin Nasser said at a press conference.

Saudi Aramco has vast oil resources and holds a monopoly in the Saudi kingdom, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil.

The IPO is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to lessen the country’s dependence on oil and develop other areas of the economy.

The IPO has been an arduous process for the kingdom due to doubts about the $2 trillion valuation sought by bin Salman and the attacks on Saudi oil facilities in September.

Analysts valued the company at no higher than $1.5 trillion and there are still questions as to whether investors will be interested considering the country’s sensitive geopolitical environment.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Let’s Share It

Chinese officials said Sunday they were ready to work with Southeast Asian countries on a “code of conduct” for the disputed South China Sea, Nikkei Asian Review reported.

“We stand ready to work with ASEAN countries…to strive for new progress…to maintain long-term peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said in Bangkok, where regional leaders convened for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and East Asia summits.

China and ASEAN members have been locked in territorial disputes over the waterway for years, and Beijing has been accused of building military installations and bullying fellow claimants.

The statement comes after a months-long standoff between China and Vietnam: China sent a survey ship into waters inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, Agence France-Presse reported.

A new agreement over the region will be concluded in 2021, but diplomats haven’t agreed on some of the salient topics, including if the agreement would be legally binding.

The statement Sunday, meanwhile, marks a change of tone from China, which has been accused of intentionally delaying the agreement as it rushes to build islands around the territory.

The United States has accused China of blocking Southeast Asian nations’ access to $2.5 trillion worth of energy resources in the disputed marine region.

DISCOVERIES

The Mysterious Warrior

Back in 1928, Ukrainian archaeologist Ivan Borkovsky discovered the remains of a mysterious 10th century warrior at Prague Castle, in what is now the Czech Republic, but was unable to properly determine its origins.

The Nazis and subsequently the Soviets exploited the skeleton’s ethnicity for ideological purposes and coerced Borkovsky to change the warrior’s origin twice – from Viking to Slav.

The warrior – whose sword and objects were of Viking origin – remained a mystery for years, but researchers are now getting close to determining his background, the BBC reported.

A team of archaeologists recently published a study suggesting that the warrior was born in northern Europe, in Denmark or another Baltic Sea country. That still doesn’t mean that he was a Viking, however.

“Back then the south coast of the Baltic was also home to Slavs, Baltic tribes and others,” said Jan Frolik, one of the study’s authors.

The northern man then moved to Prague in early adulthood to serve the nobles of Bohemia, and his burial in the castle suggests he was a man of high status.

Researchers are trying to discover more about him, but his mixed background reveals that then, as now, ethnic heritage could be complex.

“Just as today people can have multiple identifications according to their situation, so they would have done in the past,” said co-author Nicholas Saunders.