The World Today for December 10, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Pig in the Poke

HONG KONG

A wild boar infestation in Hong Kong provided fodder for a political cartoonist who was critical of how Chinese authorities demanded to screen candidates who could run in the city’s legislative elections on Dec. 19.

As the Washington Post explained, the artist drew a hog eyeballing a bag of money, a sliced loaf of bread and a ballot box. Behind a nearby tree kneeled a policeman with his gun drawn. The implication is that Hong Kong voters participating in the upcoming elections under Chinese officials who have eroded the former British colony’s democracy and human rights are like animals led to slaughter.

In September, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the system would ensure that only “patriots administer Hong Kong.”

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Hong Kong pro-democracy activists like Nathan Law, who received asylum in Britain last year, called the elections a sham. “Just ignore them,” Law told Reuters. “We should not give any legitimacy to the elections, we should not pretend we have elections – it is just a selection by Beijing.”

If Law was still in his hometown, he might now be in jail. Chinese authorities have issued arrest warrants for pro-democracy activists who have called on voters to boycott the elections. “Hong Kong Says Vote – or Else,” said the headline of a Wall Street Journal editorial.

The absence of a legitimate democratic process might be one reason pollsters found that around 60 percent of Hong Kong voters don’t even know who is running to represent them in the city’s Legislative Council. According to the South China Morning Post, more than half the electorate still plans to turn out to the polls. But that’s down from voting rates of 80 percent in the previous council elections.

Importantly, the elections are the first since China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that significantly reduces the city’s independence and took a sledgehammer to its democratic institutions. Protests erupted after the law came into effect last year but many activists who led that civil unrest are now in jail or have fled to other countries.

The law was part of a broader Chinese campaign to consolidate power while cracking down on political movements that oppose the official communist ideology of leaders on the mainland, wrote U.S. News and World Report. Similar policies are behind China’s allegedly genocidal campaign against the Muslim Uyghur community in Xinjiang and its toughening military pressure on Taiwan, the independent country that the Chinese government considers a breakaway province.

One wonders what’s the point of having elections at all. Authoritarians, however, need the trappings of democracy to retain power, Bloomberg noted.

But when it comes to these elections, everyone in Hong Kong seems to know there’s a pig in this poke.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Of Faustian Bargains

EL SALVADOR

El Salvadoran officials secretly negotiated a truce with leaders of the country’s powerful street gangs for their political support, according to the US Treasury, an accusation that risks escalating already tense relations between the two nations, the Associated Press reported.

The recent allegations suggest that officials in President Nayib Bukele’s government offered financial benefits and privileges to imprisoned leaders of MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs in 2020 including prostitutes and cellphones “to ensure that incidents of gang violence and the number of confirmed homicides remained low.”

The two officials who conducted the negotiations were Osiris Luna Meza, chief of the Salvadoran Penal System and vice minister of justice and public security, and Carlos Amilcar Marroquin Chica, chairman of the Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit. The US Treasury initiated sanctions against both.

Bukele, in response, took to social media to deny the accusations and questioned the evidence behind the allegations.

The recent announcement comes more than a year after the local news site El Faro reported that Bukele’s government negotiated with gang leaders. Then, lawmakers from his party removed former Attorney General Raul Melara after the latter said he would investigate the El Faro report.

The new accusations come as Bukele faces criticism over his administration’s authoritarian style.

His party secured a majority of seats in the country’s congress following legislative elections earlier this year. In May, the new congress removed Melara and the justices of the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court, a move that raised concerns in Washington over the direction of the country.

Those lawmakers are now pushing for a “foreign agents” law that many fear will be used to restrict the work of independent journalists and civil society organizations, according to Human Rights Watch.

Party Time

FINLAND

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin apologized this week for spending the night out in the capital, Helsinki, after she was exposed to Covid-19, Fox News reported Thursday.

The backlash began when the world’s youngest leader – she is 36 – received a call on Saturday saying that Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto tested positive for Covid-19. Marin explained in a Facebook post that she was initially told that she didn’t have to quarantine because she was fully vaccinated.

That night, she and her husband went out for dinner and socialized with friends, ending the night at a nightclub, maskless, at 4 a.m. However, she added that she had left her work phone at home and only found out on Sunday that she was instructed to isolate and get tested for the virus. Her test results later came back negative.

Finnish coronavirus regulations say that fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tests positive. However, government officials are recommended to limit contact after exposure, according to USA Today.

Marin apologized, saying she should have “used better (judgment),” and added that she understands why public officials need stricter guidelines than citizens.

Marin is not the only Nordic leader to face uproar over flouting Covid-19 rules.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg received a fine of more than $2,200 for hosting a 13-person birthday party earlier this year, despite a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

Senior Swedish official, Dan Eliasson, resigned earlier this year after he traveled to the Canary Islands to visit his daughter.

Lighting a Fire

MYANMAR

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, removed pages, groups and accounts associated with businesses controlled by Myanmar’s military this week after an uproar over the tech giant failing to take down posts and content targeting the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, the Financial Times reported.

Meta representatives said the company’s move came after multiple reports showed that those businesses had a “direct role in funding the Tatmadaw [Burmese military] and the ongoing violence and human rights abuses in Myanmar.”

Earlier this year, Myanmar’s military overthrew the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, a move that received international condemnation and resulted in multiple sanctions. Following the coup, Facebook banned content from the Tatmadaw and stopped military-linked companies from advertising.

Just before the move, groups representing Rohingya refugees in the United States and Britain filed a $150 billion lawsuit against the tech giant this week: The plaintiffs alleged that Facebook’s algorithms prioritized “dangerous and harmful content” and that the company had received warnings about “the vast quantities of anti-Rohingya hate speech and misinformation on its system.”

Facebook has been facing pressure from civil society groups since the 2017 military crackdown against the Rohingya, which killed thousands and forced more than 740,000 to flee to Bangladesh.

Meta expressed shock at the atrocities against the Rohingya and said it had taken steps to mitigate the situation, including building a team of Burmese speakers and investing in Burmese language technology to reduce “violating content.”

Meanwhile, it denied that the recent ban was connected to the lawsuit.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

Couch Potatoes

The coronavirus pandemic and the cold winter have forced many people to remain cooped up at home and binging on Netflix and other streaming services.

But scientists warned that watching too many episodes or movies – or doing a TV marathon – is a sign of poor impulse control and similar to other addictive activities, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Researchers at Poland’s Jagiellonian University surveyed a group of 645 people between the ages of 18 and 30, who admitted to watching at least two episodes of a TV show in one sitting.

The team wrote in their paper that they were trying to measure the individuals’ motivations, impulsivity and emotional regulation for their binge-watching.

Lead author Jolanta Starosta explained the results showed that “motivational factors were stronger predictors of problematic binge-watching than personal predispositions, such as impulsivity.”

She noted that most binge-watchers experienced feelings of loneliness, boredom or a wish to be entertained.

While most participants would watch between two to five episodes, about 20 percent of them said they could watch between six to 20 episodes in one go.

“It may be related to the fact that problematic binge-watchers engage in marathoning TV series mainly because they want to escape their daily life problems and regulate emotions, but decide to continue watching … because of more entertaining reasons,” added Starosta.

Even so, the authors noted that studying binge-watching in other nationalities and age groups could unveil more about the unhealthy habit.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 268,600,310

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,288,698

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 8,337,595,457

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

  1. US: 49,664,506 (+0.25%)
  2. India: 34,674,643 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,177,059 (+0.04%)
  4. UK: 10,722,083 (+0.47%)
  5. Russia: 9,752,340 (+0.00%)
  6. Turkey: 8,986,377 (+0.22%)
  7. France: 8,209,911 (+0.70%)
  8. Germany: 6,442,848 (+0.98%)
  9. Iran: 6,147,872 (+0.05%)
  10. Argentina: 5,350,867 (+0.05%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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