The World Today for December 31, 2020

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Badge of Dishonor

The Philippines is having its George Floyd moment.

An off-duty police officer in the East Asian archipelago shot and killed Sonya Gregorio, 52, and her son Frank Gregorio, 25, on Dec. 20 over an argument about illegal fireworks and noise in the northern province of Tarlac.

“I lost a mother who was the most loving mother to us,” Gregorio family member Tasha Delos Santos told Reuters. “I lost a brother who was also a very loving and caring brother. It’s very hard for us. I hope our family gets justice.”

Like the death of Floyd, an African-American, at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May, a video of the Gregorios’ encounter with the cop has gone viral: The officer shot the mother and son in their heads at point-blank range – unleashing pent up frustration about perceptions of police impunity and the strongman government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte has famously told law enforcement to crack down on drugs, suggesting they shoot first and ask questions later under his tough-on-crime administration. Now, Filipinos have been sharing the hashtag #PulisAngTerorista (the police are terrorists), the New York Times reported.

Police have killed 6,000 people in Duterte’s drug war since September – and those figures are the official numbers that could be plausibly low, the Washington Post noted. Human rights groups estimate the real number is closer to 30,000.

The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court said recently there is a “reasonable basis to believe” Duterte and his cronies have committed crimes against humanity in their zealous fight against addiction and crime, the South China Morning Post wrote. That means it’s possible to prosecute them at the court.

A coalition of international religious groups, civil rights activists and others have announced their intention to investigate to help build a case for the court. They say that police also crack down on political dissidents and others, sometimes falsely claiming they are communist rebels or other enemies of the state.

Duterte is under other pressure, too. He told his people that he would conquer Covid-19 by Christmas. Instead, cases are soaring, Al Jazeera reported. His regulators have failed to approve the vaccine. He told police to be tough on people who flout lockdown rules, again urging them to shoot violators. But citizens still openly break the rules, celebrating Christmas events and attending cockfighting matches, for example.

Writing in Nikkei Asia, Tokyo-based journalist William Pesek described Duterte’s rule as a “poser government” – all swagger without substance.

Alas, the incompetent can be bad at many things, some say, but usually good at causing chaos, pain and sadness.




See No Evil…

The European Union and China announced the approval of a major investment deal that would further open the Chinese market to EU investors, a move that could face strong opposition within the bloc and from the United States, Bloomberg reported Wednesday

The agreement marks a major step in the talks that began in 2013 and highlights the EU’s determination to focus on economic opportunities in China, despite the latter’s poor human rights record.

Under the deal, EU investors will have more access to a variety of industries ranging from cars to telecommunications. It also tackles major Chinese policies deemed by Europe and the US to be market-distorting, such as industrial subsidies, state control of enterprises and forced technology transfers.

Analysts said the deal will strengthen China’s call for a free-trade agreement with the 27-nation bloc.

The European Parliament still needs to approve the pact, and some lawmakers have expressed objections over China’s alleged human rights violations.

Politicians and activists across Europe say they have fundamental questions about whether Europe should be deepening its economic ties with an increasingly aggressive one-party state just as China is cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong, using mass surveillance technologies to control its population and is locking up hundreds of thousands of members of the Uighur Muslim minority in work camps, Politico reported.

The agreement also risks angering the incoming US administration, which has urged Europeans to consult with US officials over China’s economic practices.

In 2019, China ranked as the EU’s second-largest trade partner with bilateral trade valued at more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) a day.


Seismic Shift

Argentina’s Senate voted early Wednesday to legalize abortion, marking a historic shift for the predominately Catholic country that is also the homeland of Pope Francis, NPR reported.

The Senate’s vote follows one by the lower house, which narrowly approved the measure earlier this month. The measure will allow abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy.

Currently, abortions can only occur in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger – otherwise the woman could face criminal charges.

President Alberto Fernandez proposed the law in mid-November and has been a vocal supporter of the legislation.

Argentina now becomes the fourth country in Latin America and the Caribbean to legalize abortion, joining Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana.

A majority of nations in the region allow abortion only if the mother’s life is threatened, and some outlaw it altogether. However, Colombia, Chile and Mexico have seen growing pro-choice movements in their countries.

Despite being largely illegal, nearly 5.4 million abortions occurred annually in Latin America and the Caribbean between 2015 and 2019, according to the Guttmacher Institute.


Farmers: 1, Government: 0

The Indian government and farmers reached a partial agreement Wednesday over a contentious agricultural law that caused thousands of farmers to block highways near the country’s capital, the Associated Press reported.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and the leaders of the 40 farmers’ groups agreed that the government would continue to subsidize electricity for irrigation and that farmers would not be penalized for burning crop residues – a major cause of air pollution.

The demonstrations began after the government passed three controversial farm bills in September, which farmers say will lead to the cartelization and commercialization of agriculture, exposing them to corporate greed, Al Jazeera noted.

For weeks, farmers have been blockading highways linking New Delhi to northern India, and have damaged more than 1,000 cell towers and telecom equipment belonging to Reliance Industries Ltd. – farmers say the company benefits from the law.

The government and farmers will meet again next month to discuss the last remaining sticking points: Farmers want the three new agriculture reform laws repealed and for the government to maintain a guaranteed minimum price for wheat, rice and other crops.


Sea Bullies

Octopuses are mainly solitary creatures but sometimes they join a group of fish to hunt for food.

The problem is, the cephalopod is not always a team player – it can get very physical toward its hunting buddies, NPR reported.

In fact, scientists recently recorded octopuses sucker-punching fish during one of these hunts, an amusing sight that reveals a new persona of the eight-limbed creature.

“I almost choked on my regulator,” said lead author Eduardo Sampaio, who witnessed the strike underwater. “When I saw it for the first time, I just burst out laughing.”

Sampaio and his team wrote in their paper that punching octopuses are not uncommon but this was the first time they observed the behavior during a hunting party.

“You can see there some punches are almost like a small boop,” he said. “And the other ones (are so fierce) that even the whole arm curls up and uncurls afterward, you know, like the motion of a boxer doing a punch.”

They explained that octopus’ behavior can be attributed to a few reasons including just simply enjoying being a bully: Sometimes the cephalopod struck to push away the fish from its next meal or to punish them.

And at other times, the octopus just did without justification – because it could.

Holiday Promo

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: 19,744,734 (+1.17%)
  2. India: 10,266,674 (+0.21%)
  3. Brazil: 7,619,200 (+0.74%)
  4. Russia: 3,127,347 (+0.88%)
  5. France: 2,657,624 (+1.01%)
  6. UK: 2,440,202 (+2.10%)
  7. Turkey: 2,194,272 (+0.72%)
  8. Italy: 2,083,689 (+0.78%)
  9. Spain: 1,910,218 (+0.88%)
  10. Germany: 1,741,153 (+2.70%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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