June 03, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

MEXICO

Transformation on the Ballot

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador – whose nickname is AMLO – wants to transform his country. On June 6, his constituents will have a chance in crucial midterm elections to have their say on whether he can.

As the Americas Society/Council of the Americas wrote, the elections include Mexico’s lower house of congress, the Chamber of Deputies, and numerous state governments. Whoever wins will be able to support or stymie López Obrador’s “statist vision,” known as the Fourth Transformation, which aims to leverage government to curb corruption, crack down on crime, reduce poverty and income inequality and improve the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

The Fourth Transformation builds on three earlier shifts in Mexico – independence from Spain in 1821, the reforms that ended the Catholic Church’s hold on politics in the 1850s and the revolution from 1910 to 1917 that ended with the establishment of the constitutional republic that today is the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country, explained the Associated Press.

Conservatives at the Cato Institute describe the president’s plan as authoritarian. Many Mexican intellectuals agree with that sentiment, reported El Pais. Leftists, on the other hand, view the Fourth Transformation as empowering ordinary people.

“There are scholarships for students, apprenticeships for nonstudents, a universal pension for seniors, benefits for the disabled, and insurance for the unemployed,” wrote Jacobin magazine. “For small businesses, there are interest-free microcredits and for farmers, a series of programs providing for technical training, fertilizers, a basic package of foodstuffs, and price supports for staple crops.”

López Obrador has attempted to score political points and show his bona fides on dispelling corruption with moves like publishing a letter from the US embassy asking for information about the governor of Tamaulipas State as part of a money laundering operation, for example.

He has also sought to intervene in elections in a manner that has raised eyebrows. As Mexican journalist León Krauze wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post, the president said the American government was funding nonprofits that were campaigning on behalf of opposition candidates. One nonprofit advocates for press freedom and free speech. The other has been helping to uncover corruption since 2015, or three years before López Obrador was first elected.

Still, polls showed that López Obrador and his political party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), are on track to lose a few seats in the Chamber of Deputies but retain their majority, Reuters reported.

In other words, AMLO is not done yet.

WANT TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Show Me the Money

European Union negotiators agreed to a new set of rules this week that would force multinational corporations to publicly declare the tax they pay in the bloc, a move aimed at clamping down on corporate tax avoidance, the Financial Times reported.

The new rules will require a company with global revenues of more than $917 million for two consecutive years to publicly disclose how much tax they pay in each of the bloc’s 27 states.

The country-by-country tax reporting will also apply to 19 jurisdictions deemed to be “noncooperative” tax authorities by the EU, including “blacklisted” ones such as Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

Among the firms affected will be major ones such as Google and Amazon, which have used entities in low-tax countries such as Ireland and Luxembourg to reduce their tax burden elsewhere, according to the Associated Press.

The deal – first proposed in 2013 – has been welcomed as a breakthrough for tax transparency and comes as international policymakers are planning to change rules on corporate taxation.

EU politicians and tax activists hailed the agreement, but others criticized it for limiting the scope of disclosures to the bloc and not beyond.

The agreement is still subject to a final vote by a majority of EU lawmakers and governments expected after the summer.

CHILE

To Be Loved and Hated

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera is planning to push for a same-sex marriage bill that has stalled in the legislature, a move that received condemnation from his conservative allies, the BBC reported Wednesday.

Pinera said “time for equal marriage has come” and said that he will give urgency to the bill, which was originally presented by former left-leaning President Michelle Bachelet in 2017.

Chile’s LGBT+ community has long pushed for the legislation in the historically Catholic country. Currently, the government allows civil unions between same-sex couples that provide some legal benefits.

Advocate groups welcomed the president’s announcement as historic, but Pinera’s conservative coalition – which dominates congress – called the decision a “betrayal.”

The move comes as Pinera’s popularity has plummeted over economic woes caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

His plummeting support was underscored last month when independent and opposition candidates won the majority of the seats in the Constitutional Convention, the body that will rewrite Chile’s constitution.

The current text dates back to the military rule of General Augusto Pinochet from 1973-1990.

RUSSIA

Defining “Mother Tongue”

Russia’s lower house of parliament approved a new language bill that critics say would give the government more control over teaching of minority and indigenous languages in the country’s many ethnic republics and regions, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday.

The new bill will allow the government to regulate basic pillars of minority languages in Russia. Officials say it will help save some languages from extinction by speeding up the process for approving orthography norms.

However, groups promoting indigenous languages and cultures said it will not stop the dying of some languages. They added that the study of indigenous languages at schools must be increased.

The issue over mandatory indigenous languages has been a contentious one since President Vladimir Putin called for an investigation in 2017 over concerns that people are forced to learn a language “that is not their mother tongue.”

Putin’s announcement sparked calls from Russian-speaking parents in the ethnic regions – which mainly comprise of indigenous, non-Russian ethnic groups – to abandon mandatory studies of languages other than Russian.

The move later sparked protests in multiple regions where local languages are officially state languages, along with Russian.

The new bill must still be approved by the parliament’s upper chamber and endorsed into law by Putin.

DISCOVERIES

Size Matters

Sleepy? Can’t help but yawn? Don’t worry you’re just big-brained.

A multinational research effort found that longer-lasting yawns are linked to animals with larger brains and more neurons.

The study also unveiled important clues to the mystery of yawning. In it, scientists observed animals at several different zoos, capturing data for 1,291 yawns from 101 different species – 55 mammals and 46 birds.

They subsequently found “robust positive correlations” between brain size and duration of yawns. “Although the pattern of yawning is fixed, its duration has co-evolved with brain size and neuron numbers,” added the researchers.

However, the study did not draw any connection to intelligence or the frequency of yawns.

The paper provides evidence for the “brain cooling hypothesis” – that larger brains need greater regulation of temperature and yawning helps to achieve that.

Andrew Gallup from the State University of New York (SUNY) explained that “through the simultaneous inhalation of cool air and the stretching of the muscles surrounding the oral cavities, yawning increases the flow of cooler blood to the brain, and thus has a thermoregulatory function.”

The data supports thermoregulation – a 2016 study involving humans recorded the shortest yawns (0.8 seconds) from mice and the longest yawns (6.5 seconds) from humans.

Also, smaller animals like birds have a higher core temperature than mammals, which means a shorter yawn is enough to drag in cool air.

Another explanation from scientists has been that yawns evolved as a social function. Yawning is contagious so scientists hypothesize that synchronizing that action helps to bond the group and their behaviors.

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: 33,307,424 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 28,441,986 (+0.47%)
  3. Brazil: 16,720,081 (+0.58%)
  4. France: 5,739,995 (+0.02%)
  5. Turkey: 5,263,697 (+0.14%)
  6. Russia: 5,031,583 (+0.17%)
  7. UK: 4,510,597 (+0.09%)
  8. Italy: 4,223,200 (+0.07%)
  9. Argentina: 3,852,156 (+0.92%)
  10. Germany: 3,698,004 (+0.14%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

Correction: In Wednesday’s Need To Know section, in our “Voices and Choices” item, we mistakenly inserted the wrong year for the start of the Iraq war. The actual year of the US invasion was 2003. We regret the error.