The World Today for August 25, 2021

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Recall Rage

Is too much democracy a bad thing? If you ask some progressive politicians in Taiwan these days, they would likely answer yes.

That’s because a mechanism that was intended to deepen democracy is now being wielded as a weapon in “partisan revenge politics,” the Diplomat wrote. Taiwan is going recall-crazy. It has actually become easier to recall a politician than to elect one, the Diplomat said.

The dismay by many in the country centers around a rarely used electoral tool to remove elected politicians that exists in many Western democracies called the recall referendum. It began getting renewed attention in the US after the high-profile governor of California, Gavin Newsom, became a target of the recall. The Washington Post called the situation, “democracy spinning out of control.”

In Taiwan, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. About five years ago, lawmakers changed the rules to make it easier to recall elected officials, a move initiated by progressives and supported by President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the Taipei Times wrote. They were responding to pressure from the Sunflower Student Movement, which sprung up to oppose the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT, or Kuomintang) after it passed a trade pact many worried would give China political leverage over Taiwan. The student protestors wanted more direct democracy to kick out corrupt officials and entrenched politicians to make way for younger, more progressive and more pro-Taiwan officials – and fewer Kuomintang politicians.

Now, the recall mechanism is being weaponized against the same progressives that wanted it.

The recall madness kicked off in June 2020 with the successful ouster of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang, known as “Taiwan’s Trump.” He became the first municipal leader to be recalled in Taiwan’s history, Focus Taiwan wrote.

Since then, there have been five more recall attempts of elected officials, according to local media. Of six, two have been kicked out of office so far. The latest target is Freddy Lim, an internationally known rock star turned activist-legislator, whose recall petition just passed the first phase.

According to progressives, the pro-China Kuomintang which opposed the 2016 legislation to make recalls easier, has now declared open season on opponents using the mechanism: The Kuomintang has vowed to take out those who voted against Han, such as Taichung legislator Chen Po-wei of the Taiwan Statebuilding Party. That vote is slated for October.

In most countries, recalls are not easy as thresholds are kept high to avoid constant turmoil. But in Taiwan since the rule change, “the political process has become so accessible to the public that it has actually become a hindrance to Taiwan’s democracy, rather than an asset…distracting politicians from actually doing their jobs…(as they) spend months focused on the recall campaign…,” wrote Lev Nachman, a research fellow at the Harvard Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Brian Hioe, editor of New Bloom, in the Diplomat.

And what’s next? A referendum at the end of the year to make referendums easier possibly means that the Taiwanese might become so busy with democracy that they have little time and attention left for the governing of it.



Red lines, Deadlines

The Taliban reiterated Tuesday that it views the Aug. 31 deadline for US withdrawal from Afghanistan as final even as the Biden administration – under global pressure – decided against extending it, the Washington Post reported.

“It was the American plan,” Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday. “They can take all the people that belong to them.”

The Taliban is still allowing foreign nationals to leave, Mujahid said, but is stopping Afghan nationals from reaching the airport on the grounds it is dangerous. On Monday, gunfire broke out at the airport, where at least seven Afghans died a day earlier in a stampede involving thousands of people.

Mujahid added that Afghans are needed to rebuild the country and ordered men back to work.

Meanwhile, thousands continue to wait to be airlifted out of the country, a process slowed by security concerns and bureaucratic backlogs that has led to some Afghans who were promised visas being turned away in favor of Americans still stuck in the country, the New York Times reported.

The United States and allied countries flew nearly 21,600 people out of Kabul in a 24-hour window ending Tuesday, the White House said. Since Aug. 14, the United States has evacuated more than 70,000. Meanwhile, people continued to try to reach Kabul’s airport even as the US warned of an Islamic State threat.

On Tuesday, President Biden sent CIA Director William J. Burns to meet with Taliban’s de facto leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul about the deadline, the AP reported. Also, the leaders of the Group of Seven nations met Tuesday to discuss evacuation plans. The UK wants an extension to depart the country. The German government said that even with an extension, there isn’t enough time to “fly out everyone we want to get out.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is “ready to stay” beyond Aug. 31 while French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that allies have a “moral responsibility” to extract vulnerable Afghans.

However, the Taliban was clear, calling an extension a “red line“: “We will not extend the deadline,” Mujahid said.


Do As I Say…

China passed a sweeping privacy law that will curb data collection by tech companies even as it likely continues the government’s widespread surveillance of its citizens, the Wall Street Journal reported.

China’s top legislative body passed the Personal Information Protection Law at a meeting in Beijing earlier this month. The law will take effect on Nov. 1.

The country’s first privacy law resembles the world’s strictest privacy law – the EU’s – which requires minimizing data collection and consumer consent for personal data collected. But unlike European governments, the Chinese government can access personal data irrespective of the new rules.

There isn’t “anything resembling legal limits on government surveillance” in the law, Karman Lucero, a fellow at the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center, told the newspaper.

China’s new privacy framework comes as public concern grows over online fraud, data theft, facial recognition, algorithmic bias and personalized marketing. At the same time, it’s part of a crackdown on data collection by domestic tech giants that for years had few rules placed on them. Over the past year, China has cracked down on the tech sector for issues such as data security and anti-competitive practices, the Journal wrote in a separate article.

Meanwhile, violating the new rules could lead to a fine of up to $7.7 million, or up to 5 percent of a company’s income in the prior year.


Justice, Cheated

Former Chadian president, Hissène Habré, died while serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity during his rule in the 1980s, possibly of coronavirus, even as his victims continue to wait for compensation, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Habré, 79, was released from prison early on health grounds in Senegal, where he was convicted.

In 2016, Habré was the first former head of state to be found guilty of crimes against humanity which included murder, torture and sex crimes by another country’s courts. A Chadian truth commission found that Habré’s administration killed more than 40,000 people it deemed enemies of the state during his rule from 1982 to 1990, the Associated Press reported.

According to the New York Times, his victims had fought for justice for decades while the former dictator lived in luxury in exile in Senegal. And despite the conviction, nearly 8,000 victims are still waiting for the $150 million in compensation they were jointly awarded.

Clément Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime, was arrested as a student and spent four years in prison, forced to dig the graves of his friends and cellmates as they died from the treatment and conditions in prison. He says he is still waiting for justice: “The court of Dakar has not seized his property. The African Union, which is handling the case, does nothing. Up until now, Hissène Habré has not paid a single cent. Nothing.”

Meanwhile, many former subordinates have not faced justice – they run Chad’s government, he added.

Habré, who came to power in a coup, also lost it due to a coup. His successor, Idriss Déby, died fighting insurgents this year and was succeeded by his son.


Dragons of Down Under

Australia had its own “dragon” that terrorized the area of current-day Queensland about 100 million years ago, the Guardian reported.

In 2011, amateur fossil hunter Len Shaw came across a peculiar-looking fossil in northwestern Queensland and immediately contacted the local museum to report his find.

Ten years later, a research team studied the remains, a portion of the lower jaw, and wrote in their paper that it belonged to a group of pterosaurs known as anhanguerians.

Lead author Tim Richards said the pterosaurs lived some 200 million years ago and were present on every continent. This particular one – named Thapunngaka shawi – lived about 105 million years ago and is the largest known flying reptile on the Australian continent.

He described the extinct creature as having a three-foot-long skull packed with 40 razor-sharp teeth and a circular crest below its jaw. The Australian dragon had a wingspan of nearly 23 feet and would feed on a diet of fish, according to Richards.

“It wasn’t built to eat broccoli,” Richards said. “It would have been a fearsome sight.”

The discovery is notable because pterosaur remains are hard to find as their bones are very thin and fragile.

Richards’ team noted two-thirds of Queensland was covered by the shallow Eromanga sea millions of years ago. They suggested that most pterosaurs would fall into the sea after dying and then later get gobbled up by bigger sea creatures.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 213,232,235

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,452,826

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,004,422,336

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 38,075,085 (+0.36%)
  2. India: 32,512,366 (+0.12%)
  3. Brazil: 20,614,866 (+0.15%)
  4. France: 6,734,077 (+0.39%)
  5. Russia: 6,690,663 (+0.27%)
  6. UK: 6,586,184 (+0.47%)
  7. Turkey: 6,253,681 (+0.31%)
  8. Argentina: 5,148,085 (+0.16%)
  9. Colombia: 4,894,702 (+0.05%)
  10. Spain: 4,804,424 (+0.21%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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