October 14, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

NEW ZEALAND

Neverland, Discovered

It’s almost like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is living in a fairytale.

Ardern closed the island nation to foreigners and imposed a tough lockdown with the help of the so-called “team of 5 million,” – New Zealand’s population. Rather than a popular revolt, the policy was a smashing success. After a recent resurgence of the virus, Ardern announced that Kiwis had beaten Covid-19 twice.

She is incredibly popular, the Economist reported, and not just at home: Her image has been projected onto the world’s tallest building, made the cover of Time magazine and she has been “feted by progressives globally for compassionate and decisive responses to crises…for her embrace of multilateralism and liberal values,” the Washington Post wrote.

A member of the left-leaning Labor Party, Ardern is expected to win big, earning a second term and garnering a rare one-party majority when New Zealanders go to the polls on Oct. 17 to elect a new parliament.

The opposition National Party’s campaign keeps pointing out that Ardern failed to fix New Zealand’s housing crisis or improve the lives of impoverished children.

The attacks don’t stick, wrote Bloomberg. Ardern’s standing is too high. Only 25 of her constituents have died during the pandemic. She incidentally also led the country during two other recent dark periods: a white-supremacist terror attack that killed 51 and a volcanic eruption that claimed 21 lives.

The country today has instituted testing and tracing measures that are the envy of the world, as Axios explained. They are figuring out how to lock down specific towns or neighborhoods, one at a time, to stop the spread without bringing everything in a city or region to a halt.

Ardern takes stands. Raised a Mormon, she left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in her 20s because she disagreed with the church’s opposition to LGBTQ rights, Newsweek reported. Ardern is expected to ban conversion therapy that seeks to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ folks.

She is also promising to phase out coal-fired boilers, mandate the use of electric boilers and reduce carbon emissions from public buses. “During our first term in government, climate change was at the center of all our policy work and commitments,” she told Reuters. “It is inextricably linked to our decisions on issues like housing, agriculture, waste, energy and transport.”

Arden has also taken a softer foreign policy tack toward China in contrast to other members of the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing partnership that also includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the US, reported the South China Morning Post. While those other countries are seeking to counterbalance China, New Zealand has been less confrontational. Its economy also happens to be more dependent on China than the others.

The world is not perfect. But somewhere in the South Pacific, people still have faith in their government.

WANT TO KNOW

TAIWAN

Tickling a Bear

China said on Tuesday it would take a “legitimate and necessary” response against the United States’ arms sales to Taiwan, a day after reports emerged that the US government was moving forward with the transaction, Reuters reported.

The White House notified Congress about three of seven planned weapons deals with Taiwan for approval, according to Newsweek. The sale would equip Taiwan with weapons to defend itself against a potential amphibious Chinese attack.

The new armaments deal follows a video released by China showing a large-scale military exercise simulating an invasion of Taiwan, the Washington Post reported.

Taiwan has been independent since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the last bastion of the defeated nationalist forces. China’s Communist Party, however, considers it part of China’s territory and has sought to isolate Taiwan from the rest of the world.

The US does not officially recognize Taiwan’s independence but it has supported the island via weapon sales and agreed to defend it against a Chinese invasion per the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

CYPRUS

Keys to the Kingdom

Cyprus suspended its controversial “golden passport” scheme, which granted citizenship and visa-free travel throughout the European Union to those who invested more than $2 million in the country, the BBC reported Tuesday.

The move follows an Al Jazeera report which filmed Cypriot officials, including Parliamentary Speaker Demetris Syllouris, using the scheme to assist a fictional Chinese businessman with a criminal record.

On Tuesday, the government approved a proposal to suspend the scheme, citing a “weakness” in the investment program that could be exploited. Syllouris, meanwhile, said he would step down.

Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, is one of the few countries in the bloc that offers the golden passport scheme – Bulgaria and Malta also operate similar programs.

Last year, the EU Commission warned that such programs could be abused.

In November, officials discovered that fugitive Jho Low – a key figure in a global scandal that saw billions of dollars disappear from the Malaysian state fund 1MDB – had obtained Cypriot citizenship in September 2015 and bought property worth nearly $6 million.

Low is wanted in the US, where prosecutors say he laundered billions through its financial system.

AFGHANISTAN

All Talk

Afghans expressed worry over the prospects of peace after US President Donald Trump tweeted last week that he intends to bring all American forces home by Christmas, the Washington Post reported.

Many Afghan voters, government officials and analysts said that if Trump follows through with his pledge, the country might plunge into a civil war similar to the one that broke out after Soviet forces left in the 1980s.

One group was happy at the announcement – the armed Taliban militants – who are currently negotiating with the Afghan government in Qatar to end the nearly two-decade conflict.

The United States reached an agreement with the militant group in February to withdraw the remaining US forces from Afghanistan, in return for Taliban security guarantees.

The agreement was seen as the precursor to the intra-Afghan talks to end the war. However, attacks have continued and there has been little progress since the talks began last month.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Mark Milley, meanwhile, reiterated that pulling out the remaining 4,500 troops depends heavily on the Taliban reducing attacks and continuing the peace talks with the Afghan government, CBS News reported.

DISCOVERIES

The Posers

When facing large predators, praying mantises pose in an intimidating way and make certain sounds to scare off their attackers.

Known as startle displays, mantises – and other animals – use this type of defense mechanism to great effect, but even so, scientists haven’t studied such tactics deeply – until now, the New York Times reported.

In a new paper, evolutionary biologist Kate Umbers and her team reviewed centuries of scientific accounts on more than 50 mantis species. They rated the complexity of each species’ display, judging their colorful wings, stretched-out limbs and vocalizations.

Many of the arthropods had unique combinations of moves but the team noticed that larger and flight-less mantises rarely displayed complex startle displays.

It was mostly groups of closely related species that bothered to pull off the complex poses and scare tactics.

Umbers explained that related ones are trying to maintain an element of surprise: Because close related species share habitats and predators, the mantises would have to employ different startle displays to save themselves.

Otherwise, the predators would figure out they are being duped and gobble them up.

She said that these diverse displays evolved about 60 million years ago, following the extinction of dinosaurs and the emergence of modern birds – the key mantis predator.

Click here to see some very “threatening” little mantises.

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: 7,858,344 (+0.69%)
  2. India: 7,239,389 (+0.89%)
  3. Brazil: 5,113,628 (+0.20%)
  4. Russia: 1,318,783 (+1.05%)
  5. Colombia: 924,098 (+0.55%)
  6. Argentina: 917,035 (+1.47%)
  7. Spain: 896,086 (+0.80%)
  8. Peru: 853,974 (+0.33%)
  9. Mexico: 825,340 (+0.52%)
  10. France: 798,257 (+2.86%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours