September 11, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

JAPAN

A New Emperor

Shinzo Abe’s decision to step down as prime minister of Japan due to health concerns triggered worldwide speculation about the future of one of the world’s largest economies and an important American ally in Asia.

Abe, 65, has been Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. As National Public Radio explained, he inaugurated a new economic regime called “Abenomics,” tried but failed to change Japan’s pacifist constitution, succeeded in promoting Japanese institutions like the emperor, managed Japan’s complicated relationship with a rising China – see this Asia Times story for more on that subject – and enjoyed a good relationship with President Donald Trump.

He was a strong leader who gave the East Asian nation much-needed stability, according to the Washington Post. When he took power in 2012, Japan saw a revolving door of six prime ministers, including Abe himself, who lasted for only a year.

But Abe’s legacy will likely be clearer as his successor – likely Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga – slated to be chosen at a governing Liberal Democratic Party conference on Sept. 14, faces up to the many challenges that Abe has been attempting to resolve.

Abe fumbled Japan’s response to the coronavirus, argued Craig Mark, a professor of international studies at Kyoritsu Women’s University, in the Conversation. His response to the pandemic was sluggish in the early days. Now Japanese officials expect everyone in the country to be vaccinated by the middle of next year.

The toll of the virus also undercut Abe’s policies of spending to revive the Japanese economy as lockdown measures erased much of the growth that Abe managed to provide, the New York Times wrote. The monetary easing and public funding helped Japanese citizens regain some of the economic ground lost during the so-called “lost decade” from 1991 to 2001.

But Abenomics didn’t create a widespread change in fortunes. And Japan now has the largest public debt in the developed world as a consequence of that spending. The country also has an aging population that needs benefits that a shrinking young, working population must support.

Suga has said he will keep up Abenomics but also redouble efforts for structural economic changes that might further stoke growth without racking up more debt, including cuts to the country’s “excessive bureaucracy,” CNBC wrote.

Suga, or whoever replaces Abe, will also push forward with beefing up Japan’s military, reported Jane’s, a frightening but understandable move given China’s more bellicose stance internationally in recent years.

Hopefully, some say, the next Japanese prime minister will know that not having to use such weapons is often the real mark of a great leader.

WANT TO KNOW

ALGERIA

Bah Humbug

Algeria’s parliament approved an amended constitution Thursday in response to demands by the “Hirak” protest movement which last year forced long-term president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to resign, Al Jazeera reported.

The amended constitution was created by Bouteflika’s successor, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who has promised the reforms will bring “radical change” including tackling corruption, and enshrining social justice and press freedoms in law.

The amendments will be put to a referendum on Nov. 1, the anniversary of the start of Algeria’s war of independence from France.

Despite the promising changes, parties linked to the Hirak movement called it a “laboratory constitution” and described the referendum as “treachery.”

Tebboune was elected last year following elections that were rejected by protesters.

He has pledged to push for reforms and Algerian courts have been handing out heavy prison sentences to former officials linked to Bouteflika.

COLOMBIA

Colombian Lives Matter

Violent protests erupted in Colombia’s capital overnight following the death of a man at the hands of police, the New York Times reported.

At least eight people died and nearly 400 people were injured during clashes between police and demonstrators. Bogota’s Mayor Claudia Lopez said Thursday that 46 of the capital’s streets have been “totally destroyed.”

The protests were sparked after a video circulating on social media showed two police officers holding a man, Javier Ordonez, and repeatedly using a stun gun on him, while observers told them to stop.

Police officials said that the officers were responding to a dispute involving multiple people who had been drinking. They said they would investigate the death.

However, a witness contradicted the police account, saying there was no argument.

The upheaval comes after months of a pandemic-related lockdown in the city and years of concern about police brutality. The protests echo the rallies against police violence in the United States, which have been widely publicized in Colombia.

IRELAND

The Screws Turn

Ireland’s data privacy chief has sent Facebook a preliminary order to stop the transfer of user data from the European Union to the United States, a move that could affect millions of people who use the social network, sources told CNBC.

A report by the Wall Street Journal said the regulator had sent the order in August, CNBC reported.

Facebook has declined to comment on the article but a Wednesday blog post by company executive VP, Nick Clegg, detailed that the privacy chief has started an inquiry into Facebook’s EU-US data transfers.

The report follows a decision by the European Court of Justice a few months ago which invalidated the EU-US Privacy Shield agreement: That deal allowed companies to send EU citizen’s data across the Atlantic. The court argued that the agreement did not adequately protect European user data from being accessed by US intelligence agencies.

Clegg’s post explained that the privacy chief’s order could apply to other US tech giants handling data such as Google. If data cannot be transferred across borders, it could seriously harm the global economy as it struggles with the fallout of the pandemic.

DISCOVERIES

The Big Bite

About 13 million years ago, a ground sloth had an unfortunate encounter with a caiman around the region that is now northeastern Peru.

The confrontation ended with the ancient reptile killing the poor sloth and leaving nearly 50 tooth marks on its tibia – also known as the shinbone.

Resolving that mystery has taken more than a decade: Since the bone’s discovery in 2004, scientists weren’t sure what kind of creature could cause such damage.

Recently, though, they found their suspect, Live Science reported: Among the lakes and swamps of the Amazon lived up to seven species of crocodilians. In a new paper, they closely analyzed the damaged bone and discovered that the extinct giant caiman Purussaurus chomped on the leg of the unsuspecting sloth.

The findings showed the bite was taken by a younger Purussaurus but the team noted that adult species were a force of nature: They could reach up to 33 feet long and had a bite force estimated at seven tons –  four times stronger than the current saltwater crocodile, which has a bite force of 1.6 tons.

The big bite was the second fossil record of a Purussaurus attack: The other is the shell of an aquatic turtle that sustained a 25-inch bite mark on its shell.

The turtle barely made it out alive.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 6,397,245 (+0.55%)
  2. India: 4,562,414 (+2.16%)
  3. Brazil: 4,238,446 (+0.97%)
  4. Russia: 1,042,836 (+0.51%)
  5. Peru: 710,067 (+1.99%)
  6. Colombia: 694,664 (+1.14%)
  7. Mexico: 652,364 (+0.78%)
  8. South Africa: 644,438 (+0.31%)
  9. Spain: 554,143 (+1.98%)
  10. Argentina: 524,198 (+2.32%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours