The World Today for December 12, 2019

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The End of the Beginning

Women standing for seats in the British parliament face threats, intimidation and abuse.

One Labour incumbent in Leeds, Rachel Reeves, recently removed campaign signs from outside her election headquarters, reinforced the door and installed security cameras. She had received death threats, online harassment and graffiti targeting so-called “traitor” lawmakers whose vision of Britain doesn’t comport with right-wing views.

She’s not overreacting: A nationalist gunman assassinated British Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox in a nearby district in 2016. “We really needed to learn the lessons from that, and yet here we are, three and a half years later, and I think the environment is much more toxic,” Reeves told the New York Times.

Brits head to the polls on Dec. 12 – their third election since 2015 and the “weirdest” in recent memory, according to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The new government will be set to finalize an exit from the European Union, a controversial subject that has stirred up passions among many constituencies. The atmosphere is violently electric.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who orchestrated much of the Leave movement, has asked his comrades not to enter races where they might draw support from Conservatives who face surging Remain support from the Liberal Democrats in the south of England, the BBC reported.

Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has failed to achieve the Brexit that has defined his career and is now seeking a stronger mandate, has refused to sit down with reporters. “There have been claims that Mr. Johnson is avoiding scrutiny by not agreeing to the interviews,” the Evening Standard wrote.

The prime minister doesn’t need the coverage. His campaign motto is “Get Brexit Done.” Passionate Brexiters as well as some who just want the Brexit drama to end already hope the blond-mopped Johnson will succeed.

But they are “delusional” to think Brexit will end there, warned Politico. Negotiations with the European Union over trade issues could continue for years. Denis MacShane, a former Labour member of Parliament and minister of state for Europe, predicted “Brexiternity.”

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – invoking the spirit of socialism – has vowed to trigger a wave of public spending on railways, Internet access, a green industrial revolution and a second Brexit referendum so the people can reconsider what they really want, Time reported.

But Corbyn has not said how he might vote in that second Brexit poll.

Writing in the Guardian, Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, worried that the British political system didn’t sufficiently track or understand young black voters, Asian working-class voters and other minorities who are playing a larger, more influential role in elections these days.

And then there is Scotland, where the majority oppose Brexit and some are pushing for independence from the UK: This election will have a “massive impact on the future of Scotland,” Brad Mackay, a professor of strategic management and vice principal of the University of St. Andrews, told PBS NewsHour.

It seems Britain needs to take more time to understand itself. But in the rush to get Brexit done, that time is running out.




Deflection and Misdirection

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi defended her government against accusation of genocide at the International Court of Justice Wednesday, arguing that the allegations were “incomplete and misleading,” the Guardian reported.

“The situation in Rakhine state is complex and not easy to fathom,” she argued. “The troubles in Rakhine state … go back into past centuries and have been particularly severe.”

The Nobel peace prize laureate denied that the government was conducting a genocidal campaign against ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

She blamed the conflict on an uprising by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) separatist group, adding that the military intervened to stop the violence in the region.

The leader admitted the military made mistakes during their operations, but that any war crimes and human rights violations would be prosecuted by Myanmar’s justice system.

The military operations forced nearly 700,000 Rohingyas to flee to neighboring Bangladesh since late 2016.

United Nations investigators have described the military operations as “brutal” and that Myanmar was failing to prevent a genocide.


Third Time’s a Charm?

Israeli lawmakers voted to dissolve parliament and set a new election date for March 2 Wednesday, forcing voters to the polls for a third time in less than a year, Reuters reported.

The upcoming elections will take place before a new budget is passed, which will lead to months of cutbacks that will slow economic growth, the wire service said.

During the previous elections, the ruling right-wing Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the centrist Blue and White party failed to secure a governing majority in parliament.

Both Netanyahu and his chief rival, Benny Gantz, also failed to form a coalition and blamed each other for the impasse.

As new elections approach, Netanyahu is also fighting for his political legacy.

He was indicted last month by Israel’s attorney general on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud over allegations that he doled out favors to media barons in exchange for favorable coverage.

He has denied the charges, but has no legal obligation to resign over the indictment.

He promised to “win big” in the upcoming elections, but a Tuesday opinion poll predicted he’d gain fewer seats than Gantz’ party.


I Want To Break Free

The people of Bougainville voted to become independent from Papua New Guinea in a non-binding referendum linked to a peace agreement that ended a civil war between separatists and government forces nearly 20 years ago, the New York Times reported.

The island group in the South Pacific voted nearly 98 percent in favor of divorce.

The results could pressure the government to speed up the path to independence and encourage other independence movements in the Pacific, such as West Papua in Indonesia.

The mineral-rich region initially attempted to secede in 1975 from Papua New Guinea over economic grievances, but the government refused to recognize the move and tensions escalated.

In 1989, a civil war broke out, which claimed the lives of 20,000 people and lasted for nine years.

Under the Bougainville Peace Agreement, the region received more autonomy and permission to conduct a non-binding referendum for independence within 20 years.

Analysts said that Bougainville has the opportunity to become the world’s newest nation and foster new diplomatic and economic relations with other countries – including the United States and China, which have interests in the Pacific.


Cat Whisperers

Sometimes, feline behavior is mystifying. Cat owners often struggle to tell when their pet stares at them if it is annoyed, hungry or simply wants to play.

Many assume that cats have nearly zero facial expressions, but the truth is that people are really bad at reading them, the Washington Post reported.

In a study, researchers surveyed more than 6,000 participants from different countries to determine how well they could read a feline’s mood by watching short videos of cats’ faces.

Unsurprisingly, only 13 percent of the participants could accurately decode the animals’ moods 75 percent of the time or more.

“Cats are telling us things with their faces, and if you’re really skilled, you can spot it,” said co-author Georgia Mason. “Some people can do it – that means there’s something there.”

Mason and her team dubbed these people “cat whisperers,” but added that the study was more than just a critique of pet owners.

They argued that the research could help develop tools for owners and veterinary staff to better read felines’ expressions.

Mason added that there’s still the big question of how the cat whisperers can tell what’s going on with their pet.

“People are reliably seeing something that is true and valid. But what is it?” she asked.

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