The World Today for December 28, 2021

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Upstaging Ghosts

CHILE

If the legacy of General Augusto Pinochet’s cruel rule haunted Chile for years, the ghost of his predecessor, the late leftwing Chilean President Salvador Allende, is now getting its chance to do the same.

Pinochet seized power in a coup that unseated Allende in 1973. As the National Security Archive showed using US government documents, the CIA backed the general’s violent rise to power because American officials feared Allende’s socialist policies might succeed and demonstrate their effectiveness amid the ideological conflicts of the Cold War.

Until 1990, Pinochet led the country with an iron fist that promoted economic growth at the expense of human rights, particularly those of leftists who opposed his brand of free-market capitalism. Remaining as commander in chief of the army through 1998 and a senator until 2002, he died in 2006 before answering for his crimes.

The recent victory of leftist candidate and ex-student activist, Gabriel Boric, who at 35 will be the youngest person to become the Chilean president, over far-right populist José Antonio Kast could be the end of the era that Pinochet created.

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The election presented Chilean voters with diametrically opposed visions for “the economy, the rights of historically marginalized groups and public safety,” wrote the New York Times. Boric called Kast a fascist who wanted to empower the police, expand the prison system and crack down on indigenous communities asserting their rights. Kast claimed Boric wanted to turn Chile into Venezuela, where an authoritarian socialist regime has ruined the economy.

As the Washington Post explained, Boric has vowed to “bury” the neoliberal policies that Pinochet enshrined in the country’s 1981 constitution. Following civil unrest over inequality, lawmakers are now drafting a new document.

“We are a generation that emerged in public life demanding our rights be respected as rights and not treated like consumer goods or a business,” Boric said in the capital of Santiago recently, according to the Guardian.

The question now is whether his policies will work when the Chilean economy is slowing due to ongoing protests and the coronavirus pandemic. Chilean stocks fell after Boric’s win as nervous investors worried that Chile’s pro-business, conservative fiscal policies might change, Bloomberg reported.

Boric moved to reassure them. He, for example, is already “softening” his plans for reforming pensions, expanding the social safety net, implementing universal health insurance, increasing taxes on companies and the rich, and spending big on green technologies, the BBC noted.

The new president has vowed not to allow foreign pressure to undermine Chile’s democracy when he takes office in March. That might be an impossible task.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Muddling Through

IRAQ

Iraq’s top court validated October’s elections results Monday, dealing a blow to the powerful pro-Iran political factions that had challenged the outcome of the polls, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In its ruling, the Federal Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Iran-backed factions, which demanded the nullification of the election results over alleged voter fraud. The pro-Iran parties and their armed allies had lost significant ground in the elections.

The court said nullifying the election results was outside its jurisdiction but acknowledged a few irregularities in the polls: It advised against using an electronic count system in the future.

The verdict comes amid rising tensions in the country, with protesters demonstrating outside the courthouse against the election results. Some also chanted against the country’s current leader, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Following the decision, lawmakers will now have two weeks to form a majority coalition in parliament and then select a new parliamentary speaker and prime minister. The new government will then decide on the future of American forces based in the country to help fight against Islamic State militants, as well as navigate a geopolitical struggle between the United States and Iran.

The October elections placed Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the lead. He has vowed to create a new government free from influence from both the US and Iran. Analysts said that it’s unlikely that Sadr will seek office but noted that he will remain an important powerbroker.

Even so, Sadr faces fierce competition from other Shiite rivals and Iran supporters.

The Long Road

SOMALIA

Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed sacked the country’s prime minister Monday, a move that could escalate the long-running political crisis in Somalia amid slow preparation for elections and an ongoing jihadist insurgency, Agence France-Presse reported.

Mohamed – better known as Farmajo – said he was suspending Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble over corruption allegations. The president accused Roble of attempting to influence an investigation into a scandal involving army-owned land after the prime minister replaced the country’s defense minister on Sunday.

Roble, in turn, blasted Farmajo’s move as unconstitutional and accused the president of sabotaging the polls.

Relations between the two officials have been tense for months but Monday’s events threaten to shake Somalia’s stability as it struggles to stage elections and continues its fight against Al-Shabab militants, an al Qaeda affiliate.

Somalia’s polls have been hindered by delays and the country entered a constitutional crisis in April when Farmajo extended his term without holding elections. Farmajo later reversed the decision following violent clashes between pro-government and opposition fighters and international pressure.

Even so, the road to elections remains full of potholes and the recent escalation prompted the United States to urge Somalia’s leaders “to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions… refrain from provocative actions, and avoid violence.”

Backing Down

POLAND

Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed a controversial media bill Monday following intense pressure from voters, who believed the legislation would curb press freedoms in the European Union nation, Euronews reported.

Duda said the proposed law was unpopular among Poles and would have damaged Poland’s reputation as a place to do business. He added that it was important for Poland to be seen as an honorable partner with its allies.

The draft law – approved by the lower house of parliament – would have prevented any non-European company from owning more than 49 percent of shares in television or radio broadcasters in Poland.

Specifically, it would have forced the US company Discovery to sell its controlling share in the Polish network TVN.

The ruling Law and Justice party had said the bill was important for national security and sovereignty to ensure that no non-EU company influences public opinion. Critics, however, warned that it was an attempt by the government to silence the broadcaster.

Discovery had also threatened to sue the government in an international arbitration court over its investment. It is considered the largest-ever American investment in Poland and the company now estimates TVN’s value at $3 billion.

Duda noted that countries should limit foreign ownership in media companies, citing similar laws in France, Germany and the US. Even so, he said the bill would have cost Poland billions of dollars.

DISCOVERIES

You Snooze, You Win

A short nap is enough to make the brain more creative, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Before falling asleep, people experience a hazy stage between consciousness and sleep known as “hypnagogia” – or N1.

Historians say that artist Salvador Dali and inventor Thomas Edison would deploy hypnagogia when they needed inspiration: They would doze off while holding a small object in their hands, which would then fall on the floor and wake them up as they were drifting to sleep.

Then, they would go back to work.

Now, scientists have discovered that hypnagogia can boost creativity, they wrote in a new study.

In their experiments, researchers gave a set of math problems to 103 participants and the key to solving them was a hidden pattern. Only sixteen participants solved the puzzle quickly. The rest were told to take a 20-minute break and copy Edison’s and Dali’s techniques.

Researchers monitored the individuals’ brainwaves as they began to experience hypnagogia and later told participants to record their thoughts during the sleep stage. Then, the volunteers were assigned new questions.

The findings showed that almost 83 percent of the participants who reached the N1 stage solved the hidden pattern and answered the questions. Only 31 percent of people who stayed awake and 14 percent that entered a deeper level of sleep solved the problems.

The authors have yet to determine why the N1 stage causes this “creative sleep sweet spot,” but noted that hypnagogic experiences could have led to many discoveries – such as the ring structure of benzene.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 281,444,183

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,408,330

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,004,709,790

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

  1. US: 52,794,834 (+0.98%)
  2. India: 34,799,691 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,250,218 (+0.03%)
  4. UK: 12,277,814 (+2.67%)
  5. Russia: 10,258,052 (+0.21%)
  6. Turkey: 9,335,193 (+0.28%)
  7. France: 9,251,021 (+0.33%)
  8. Germany: 7,028,398 (+0.27%)
  9. Iran: 6,186,729 (+0.03%)
  10. Spain: 5,932,626 (+3.75%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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