The World Today for November 26, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Stacking Decks

HONDURAS

When voters in Honduras go to the polls to elect a new president on Nov. 28, many might be frightened. During the last presidential election in 2017, after President Juan Orlando Hernández won reelection amid fraud claims, mass protests triggered a military and police crackdown that resulted in at least 23 people dying.

With the prospect of more violence in mind, Amnesty International recently issued a public letter to the Honduran presidential candidates.

“The Honduran population has faced a serious regression in the respect and guarantee of their human rights in recent years, which in many cases has led people to flee the country,” the letter stated. “The change of government could be a unique opportunity to reverse this situation by addressing the structural causes of violence, inequality and discrimination.”

Poverty and corruption in Honduras rank alongside Haiti as the worst in the Western Hemisphere, wrote the Birmingham Times in conjunction with Ethnic Media Services.

Now ending his second and last term in office, Hernández, whose National Party has run the Central American country since the military staged a coup in 2009, is allegedly affiliated with drug traffickers, the New Yorker reported. His brother, Honduran Congressman Juan Antonio Hernández, was recently found guilty in federal court in New York of smuggling more than 400,000 pounds of cocaine into the US three years ago.

The National Party is fielding Nasry Asfura, or “Papi,” the mayor of the capital of Tegucigalpa. His main rival is Xiomara Castro of the Libre Party. She is the wife of ex-President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in the 2009 coup. She is running on a leftist platform that includes curbing free-market policies and lifting up the poor.

The National Party is allied with elite landowners who supported paramilitaries that have clashed with farmers who have sought to reclaim the land they say was taken from them by large corporations, the Intercept explained. The paramilitaries infiltrate farmer or social and political activist movements, murder their leaders and then deploy gunmen to cow anyone who might challenge their masters.

When prosecutors have sought to uncover the alleged misdeeds of the president and his coterie, they haven’t gotten very far, added Reuters.

Castro’s critics have launched mass misinformation campaigns designed to smear her campaign, Time magazine reported. Facebook and Twitter have removed several illegitimate networks tied to President Hernandez and his allies in recent years, too.

When the deck is stacked against bringing about change via the ballot box, politicians shouldn’t be surprised when angry voters take to the streets.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Too Much, Too Little

SOUTH KOREA

A debate over the use of force by police reignited in South Korea this week after a policewoman failed to intervene during a recent stabbing incident, Reuters reported.

Last week in the city of Incheon, two police officers – a man and a woman – responded to a complaint about a noisy neighbor. The man accused of being noisy allegedly stabbed the female complainant as she was talking to the female officer.

The policewoman – who was armed with a taser – ran downstairs to seek help from her male partner, who later subdued the attacker with his taser.

The incident caused a furor in South Korea, a country where police officers have been criticized at times for being too passive, instead of using force when necessary.

The victim’s family launched a petition demanding punishment of the police officers, gathering more than 230,000 signatures – crossing the threshold needed to trigger a government response.

National Police Commissioner General Kim Chang-yong apologized for the incident and ordered an internal investigation into the conduct of the two officers.

Meanwhile, the conservative opposition blamed the incident on the gender equality measures in the country’s police force. They criticized feminism and equality programs, saying that the hiring practices used to boost female recruits should stop to ensure future officers are hired only on merit.

President Moon Jae-in said it was not a gender issue but rather a matter of duty – the police must serve and protect the public. Analyst Lee Yung-hyeock noted that police passivity stems from a “lack of field training” and potential criminal liability for officers using force.

South Korea plans to increase the number of female officers to 15 percent of the 130,000-strong force in 2022. The police have also changed the assessment for physical fitness when hiring policewomen to match those for men following criticism of double standards.

Bells and Whistles

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is coming under fire for proposing a contentious voter identification law, a move many critics said could threaten Australia’s election process, the Washington Post reported.

The new bill would require voters to provide identification before voting in the federal elections, which the government explained would help reduce voter fraud. Morrison said that the bill resembles legislation in other countries, including Canada and the United States.

But opposition politicians and election analysts raised concerns about the draft law, saying that the prime minister and his supporters are fueling panic and misinformation about the integrity of Australia’s electoral system.

Australia’s system is considered one of the best in the world: Eligible citizens are required by law to vote and scofflaws are subjected to a small fine. More than 90 percent of Australians vote in the federal polls, compared with around 60 percent in the US. The Australian Electoral Commission has also said that the evidence of voter fraud is “vanishingly small,” despite the high turnout.

Although the debate about voter ID has been going on for years, analysts noted that the controversial bill was proposed only months before the federal elections next year. Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party has slipped in polls and critics said that the proposed law – as well as a bill on religious discrimination – are aimed at courting far-right voters, who could give him a boost in the upcoming elections.

Even so, a number of senators in Morrison’s conservative coalition said they would block the two bills over their demands for a law against coronavirus vaccine mandates.

But even if the voter ID bill passes, the opposition Labor Party said it would repeal it if it wins the elections.

Seeing the Forest

INDIA

India’s Supreme Court reversed a controversial ruling that had cleared a man of sexual assault of a young girl, which many analysts and human rights advocates warned would set a dangerous precedent, the BBC reported.

The top court’s verdict struck down a decision by a high court judge in Mumbai earlier this year: The judge ruled that a man accused of touching a 12-year-old girl over her clothes and trying to undress her should only face the charge of molestation.

The Mumbai court explained in its ruling that charges of molestation – which carry a lower sentence – apply in this case because there was no “skin-to-skin contact.”

The controversial ruling sparked outrage among activists and legal analysts, who warned that it would deter children from speaking out about abuse. Many worried that it would also undermine efforts to tackle assault and sexual violence against women.

The Supreme Court criticized the lower court’s ruling, saying that “restricting the interpretation of the words ‘touch’ or ‘physical contact’ to ‘skin to skin contact’ would not only be a narrow and pedantic interpretation … but it would lead to an absurd interpretation” of the law.

Lawyers and advocates welcomed the verdict, while officials said they hoped the man’s three-year prison sentence for sexual assault would be enforced, the Washington Post reported.

India has toughened its sexual assault laws following the brutal 2012 rape of a young woman on a bus, an act that sparked an outcry in India and internationally.

Last year, the country registered nearly 43,000 cases of sexual offenses against children, according to Attorney General KK Venugopal. Even so, activists noted that the number of cases is likely higher but stigma stops people from coming forward.

DISCOVERIES

The Scream

Asian giant hornets – colloquially known as murder hornets – are terrorists, according to honeybees.

Growing at 1.5 to two inches long, a few hornets are capable of decimating a hive within hours. Even so, the bees have found an effective weapon: “Screaming.”

Researchers discovered after studying the interaction between the two insects for seven years that honeybees in Vietnam let out a very unique buzzing noise to alert their fellow hive members when the murder hornets are nearby, CBS News reported.

In their paper, they explained that the so-called “antipredator pipe” similar to “shrieks, fear screams and panic calls” – these spooked some of the researchers, too.

“The pipes share traits in common with a lot of mammalian alarm signals, so as a mammal hearing them, there’s something that is instantly recognizable as communicating danger,” co-author Heather Mattila said. “It feels like a universal experience.”

Mattila’s team said that the pipe occurs “almost exclusively” when the hornets attack, which prompts the other bees to go defend the hive.

They noted that the distress signal is an evolved trait to grab attention, adding that the findings provide more information “about the complexity of honeybee communication.”

Since December 2019, murder hornets – generally native to Asia – have been spotted in Washington state. This has sparked concern among wildlife officials – and terrorized residents.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 260,092,573

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,182,579

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 7,527,195,943

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

  1. US: 48,126,574 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 34,555,431 (+0.03%)
  3. Brazil: 22,055,238 (+0.06%)
  4. UK: 10,076,116 (+0.47%)
  5. Russia: 9,303,751 (+0.00%)**
  6. Turkey: 8,678,609 (+0.28%)
  7. France: 7,619,656 (+0.44%)
  8. Iran: 6,097,672 (+0.08%)
  9. Germany: 5,670,253 (+1.33%)
  10. Argentina: 5,322,127 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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