The World Today for August 27, 2021

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Brother, Can You Spare a Wage Hike?

An Iranian immigrant, Zahra Hossein Zadeh, earns $19 an hour cleaning hotel rooms in Sydney, Australia. “Honestly, I don’t have any financial problems,” Zadeh told the Washington Post.

When she learned about the US federal minimum wage of $7.25, she was surprised. The Australian minimum wage is around $15 an hour.  “That’s really sad,” said Zadeh. “Seven dollars? You can’t even buy your lunch for that.”

As American politicians debate the pros and cons of increasing the minimum wage in the US, other countries are moving forward with laws that give the lowliest workers a hand. As the Pew Research Center explained, some raise wages through legislative action. Others use automatic increases. Still, others depend on collective bargaining with unions. Each case demonstrated how politics and economics are entwined.

In Spain, where governments have been grappling with the Eurozone financial crisis for more than a decade, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has overseen a 29 percent increase in the minimum wage, new rules that give permanent contracts to temporary workers as well as labor rights for gig workers who often complain of wielding too little power in their jobs, Politico reported. Almost 240,000 people have seen their wages increase.

In Britain, the National Living Wage increases annually in April according to one’s age and experience. Importantly, British officials enforce it, recently issuing a list of 200 businesses that shortchanged workers by not paying minimum wages, reported Reuters.

Topping the list, ironically, was the employee-owned Waitrose supermarkets and John Lewis department stores. The company issued a statement saying the list was unfair because it did not consider how wages were smoothed out over time so that employees received a similar amount with every paycheck. Meanwhile, a report in openDemocracy argued that the list did not adequately demonstrate how big tech companies like Amazon, Deliveroo and Uber allegedly violated minimum wage laws.

Criticism of government empowering underhanded businesses compelled authorities in Qatar to establish a monthly minimum wage of $274 and abolish a rule that forced workers to obtain their employer’s permission to change jobs, Al Jazeera wrote. The moves came after human rights groups shed light on the mistreatment of migrant workers building the facilities for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

China appears to be flirting with the notion of a maximum wage. Recently in his speeches, Chinese President Xi Jinping has increasingly deployed the term “common prosperity” while officials have floated proposals to tax high earners and redistribute income in order to reduce income inequality, reported Bloomberg.

Whether or not one agrees with those ideas, raising incomes for the poorly paid seems to be something whose time has come.



The Long Road

Two explosions hit Kabul airport followed by an assault by gunmen Thursday, killing at least 60 Afghans and 13 US troops and wounding more than a hundred, disrupting the final push of the US evacuation effort.

The civilian victims were mostly Afghans trying to enter the airport to get a flight out of the country, fearing persecution by the Taliban. Footage from the sites showed multiple bodies including those of children and bloodied survivors being transported away in wheelbarrows. About 140 Afghans and 18 Americans were wounded along with 18 US soldiers, the Washington Post wrote, but the true toll of the attacks is still unclear and likely to change. Some reports put the death toll of civilians at 90.

The explosion at the Abbey Gate of the airport was the result of a complex attack, Pentagon officials said, according to CNN. Another blast occurred near the Baron hotel next to the airport. Both were reportedly carried out by suicide bombers of the Islamic-State-Khorasan, the Islamic State’s Afghanistan and Pakistan arm.

Earlier in the day, Western governments escalated warnings of an imminent attack by Islamic State, warning people away from the airport. The Taliban, who seized Kabul on Aug. 15, is the sworn enemy of the group. They condemned the bombings.

Thursday’s explosion came after several US allies including the Danes, Poles, Canadians and Dutch said they were halting evacuation flights from Afghanistan, leaving behind citizens and thousands of Afghans who had been cleared for evacuation, the Washington Post reported. The Dutch Defense Ministry said that it was no longer able to assist its citizens and eligible Afghans because of the security situation.

Italy, whose last flight left Thursday, said that its C-130 aircraft filled with Afghan refugees came under fire at takeoff but wasn’t damaged. An Italian reporter aboard the plane said the pilot had to take evasive action, the Wall Street Journal reported.

US officials said about 1,000 American citizens remain in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The CIA, the military and Special Forces have been deployed to extract stranded Americans stuck outside of the airport, the Journal wrote. The US has evacuated about 100,000 people since mid-August. It will likely end evacuation flights Friday to allow the military time to prepare to depart.



Thousands of Indigenous people have been camped out on the streets of Brasilia this week, intent on putting pressure on Supreme Court justices who are due to start considering a case that will have far-reaching implications for their land rights, the Associated Press reported.

The 6,000 protesters from 173 ethnic groups are worried about a case that involves a lower court’s ruling that invalidated a claim by some Indigenous people in Santa Catarina state to what they say is their ancestral territory. The lower court based its decision on allegations that the group wasn’t occupying the land in October 1988, when Brazil’s constitution was signed after the nation’s return to democracy. The group denies that.

Protest organizers say the court’s decision could be “the ruling of the century,” because eliminating the 1988 benchmark would force judges across the country to impose that on similar pending cases and would affect a bill being considered in the legislature that would loosen protections for Indigenous lands.

President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday that overturning the lower court’s ruling would prompt new requests to officially recognize hundreds of Indigenous territories and create “chaos,” the AP wrote. He has repeatedly argued that Indigenous people control far too much land relative to their population size — their territories cover 14 percent of Brazil, mostly in the Amazon.

Other proponents of the bill, which include farming groups, say the 1988 cutoff date provides legal certainty regarding property law.

But Indigenous groups and their supporters say it ignores the fact many Indigenous people had been forcibly expelled from their lands, particularly during the military dictatorship or may not have formal means to prove their prior presence. And other critics, which include the UN and Human Rights Watch, say the case is really about allowing big businesses to exploit Indigenous lands.

Pi Surui, from the 7 de Setembro village in the Amazon rainforest state of Rondonia, said he had come to the capital to make clear that Indigenous territory is more than just land. “It is sacred, our history, our life,” he told the AP.

Brazil has 421 officially recognized Indigenous territories that are home to 466,000 people.


Bienvenue, For Now

The European Union is discussing – again – whether to reimpose limits on American tourists coming into the bloc due to high infection rates of Covid-19 in the US, Forbes reported.

The US, currently on the list of safe countries from which travel is allowed into the EU, has surpassed the limit to stay on the list which allows no more than 75 new cases of Covid-19 daily per 100,000 inhabitants over the previous 14 days. Instead, the 14-day rate for the US in the first two weeks of August was 507 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, Bloomberg reported.

The EU had previously discussed banning US tourists at the beginning of August when the country was reporting a 14-day rate at just under 270 daily cases per 100,000 for the end of July but decided against it. Also, European leaders are upset that US borders remain closed to Europeans, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Meanwhile, the airlines fear new travel bans will hit them again just as they are starting to bounce back from the impact of the pandemic.

Airlines for Europe, a lobby group, said “such a decision would be hugely disappointing for Europe’s airlines, not to mention our tourism sector, which has benefited greatly from the influx of American travelers since restrictions were removed in June.”


The Lessons of Nuts

On the outside, walnuts give the impression that they can be tough to open. But a recent paper found that pistachios are the toughest nut to crack, Science Magazine reported.

Researcher Notburga Gierlinger and her colleagues found that pistachio shells are comprised of “ingenious” microscopic structures of interlocking cells that are tightly bound to each other.

In their experiments, they thoroughly analyzed the biomechanics of multiple nut shells, including those of the pine nut, the pistachio and the walnut. The team noticed that the tough shells of walnuts and pistachios consisted of 3D, puzzle-shaped cells with interlocking lobes. When they examined and tested the strength of the broken shells of both, pistachios turned out to be the sturdiest.

Their findings showed that interlocking cells in pistachio shells have three times as many lobes as walnut cells. This means the pistachio cells have 30 percent more surface area to lock on to each other.

Gierlinger described the velvety nuts as the “master of geometrical cell interlocking.”

Other researchers described the structure of pistachio shells as “a holy grail of materials science.” They added that the study could influence the creation of better shock-absorbing devices such as safety helmets or car bumpers.

In the meantime, Gierlinger advised that the best way to crack unopened pistachios is to aim for the seam – its weak spot.

Or, use a nutcracker.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 214,636,336

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,474,622

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,094,021,053

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

  1. US: 38,384,595 (+0.42%)
  2. India: 32,603,188 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 20,676,561 (+0.15%)
  4. France: 6,777,676 (+0.29%)
  5. Russia: 6,728,699 (+0.28%)
  6. UK: 6,659,916 (+0.58%)
  7. Turkey: 6,293,267 (+0.31%)
  8. Argentina: 5,161,926 (+0.13%)
  9. Colombia: 4,899,085 (+0.04%)
  10. Iran: 4,833,135 (+0.77%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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