The World Today for December 31, 2021
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NEED TO KNOW
A Frightful Old Year
Fear was the watchword of 2021.
People feared the coronavirus. In Africa, where the Omicron variant first appeared, United Nations officials continued to sound alarm bells about the lack of a coordinated international effort to vaccinate people and stop the spread of the virus. They warned that more variants could result.
As the public health crisis played out, citizens in countries around the world feared corrupt, overweening governments. In authoritarian states, those fears were well-founded. In democracies, things were more complicated.
In the wake of democratic movements that appeared successful but nonetheless failed to address significant problems, for example, leaders in Sudan, Tunisia and Myanmar circumvented the law to seize unilateral power, sparking violent clashes between security forces and pro-democracy protesters, the Washington Post wrote.
Those events might seem like faraway disasters to Western readers. But the continued rise of elected autocrats in formerly communist Eastern Europe and elsewhere in 2021, as National Public Radio explained, should underscore to many that civic freedoms are often the exception in much of the world.
Meanwhile, the democracies of Western Europe and the Western world in general failed to solve their differences over migration and the coronavirus in the last year, the Guardian reported. In Australia, for example, protesters against government-imposed restrictions clashed with police, setting fire to the Old Parliament House Thursday.
In Latin America, many voters decided that they desired democracy but would reject unfettered free-market capitalism that has not lived up to its promise of delivering broad-based prosperity, Al Jazeera wrote. From Chile to Honduras, citizens opted for leftist politicians over more conservative candidates.
Some of those issues came to head in China, where 13 million people in the city of Xi’an were on the world’s strictest lockdown at the end of the year due to an outbreak of Covid-19, reported the Times of India. Meanwhile, Chinese officials continued their crackdown on the Muslim Uyghur community in Xinjiang and pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong while the country’s real estate market struggled to stabilize.
To be sure, other geopolitical issues shifted majorly in 2021. The US reduced its footprint in the Middle East and Afghanistan, eliciting the possibilities of new developments in those regions in the new year, the Middle East Institute predicted, for example.
Last but not least, climate change-related disasters in 2021 were gravely damaging, Reuters added. The worst disasters, like Cyclone Yaas in India and Bangladesh, cost billions and displaced more than 1 million people.
The optimistic view is that many of the world’s problems appear self-inflicted and preventable. The cynical counterpoint is that knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into action.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
A Dialogue With No One
Ethiopian lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill this week to establish a commission for national dialogue following international pressure to end the ongoing civil conflict in the Tigray region, the Associated Press reported.
The bill states that it intends to “pave the way for national consensus and keep the integrity of the country.” The government has promised to create such a commission to establish a common ground on contentious issues in the multi-ethnic nation.
The move comes as Ethiopian government troops have been fighting against forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) since November 2020. The 13-month conflict has left tens of thousands dead, displaced millions and pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.
Both sides of the conflict have been accused of atrocities. The international community, meanwhile, has urged the warring parties to call for a ceasefire and inclusive dialogue to resolve the conflict.
Even so, analysts noted that the commission will not engage with the TPLF or the Oromo Liberation Army – it is also fighting government troops – as both organizations have been declared terrorist organizations by the government.
Tsedale Lemma, CEO of the Ethiopian-based Jakenn Publishing, called the commission “just an extension of the government’s inadequate attempt at scratching the thick surface in Ethiopia’s otherwise multi-layered and complex political crisis.”
The Eternal Leader
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko published draft constitutional amendments this week that would allow the authoritarian leader to strengthen his rule and remain in office until 2035, Radio Free Europe reported.
The proposed changes would give Lukashenko immunity from prosecution and limit the president’s tenure to two terms, every five years. The limits, however, will only apply to the next leader, meaning the incumbent could rule until he is 81 years old.
Other amendments also include the weakening of parliament and the strengthening of the All-Belarus People’s Assembly, a periodic gathering of Lukashenko loyalists that currently has no governing status. The assembly will receive powers to approve policies, draft laws and constitutional amendments, as well as select judges and election officials.
The numerous amendments also stipulate that a sitting president automatically becomes a delegate of the assembly and may also chair it. Analysts suggested that Lukashenko would “most likely” become chairman of the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly at some point.
The draft amendments will be subject to a referendum in February.
The move comes after more than a year of upheaval in Belarus following the August 2020 presidential elections. Lukashenko overwhelmingly won the polls but his opponents and the international community claim the election was rigged.
Mass protests followed but Lukashenko launched a violent crackdown that has seen the detention of more than 900 political prisoners and the exile of many opposition leaders.
Following the protests and crackdown, Western nations have refused to recognize Lukashenko – who has been in power since 1994 – as the country’s legitimate leader and have imposed sanctions against his government.
Chinese national soccer players are being forced to remove all existing tattoos and are “strictly prohibited” from getting any new ones, the latest measure by China to remake various aspects of society, Agence France-Presse reported.
China’s Sports Administration released a statement with the new directive, adding that the under-20 national teams and those with younger players can’t recruit anyone with tattoos.
In recent years, the sport has been in the spotlight of the Chinese Communist Party, forcing many players to cover their arms with long sleeves or bandages to hide their ink. The Chinese Football Associated has also ordered young footballers to military camps for drills and Marxist-style “thought education.”
Tattoos are particularly frowned upon in China: In the past, they are were used to brand criminals and body ink still has links to organized crime groups in East Asia, according to BBC.
Even so, they remain popular among younger generations, who went on social media to criticize the measure.
This year, the Chinese government has implemented a series of restrictions on youth culture such as a ban on “abnormal aesthetics” and a crackdown on the perceived excesses of modern entertainment.
Officials have also been putting pressure on movie stars and the entertainment industry, banning reality shows and ordering broadcasters to stop featuring “sissy” men and “vulgar influencers.”
Where It’s New Year’s Every Day
Scientists recently discovered an exoplanet where New Year’s Day happens every single day, according to CNN.
The newly found planet, GJ 367 b, is about 31 light-years away from our Sun and a single year there lasts roughly eight hours.
A research team reported in their study that GJ 367 b is considered an ultra-short period planet (USP) that orbits around its host star at a very fast rate.
USPs have been documented in the past with scientists saying that their complete orbit lasts less than 24 hours. However, not much is known about these planets because they are too far from our solar system.
Researchers noted that the short distance of GJ 367 b from our solar system allowed them to better study the planet’s features. They described it as a rocky world that is about the size of Mars – making it only half the mass of Earth. The planet’s interior is also made of iron and a nickel core, which is similar to Mercury.
The team added that GJ 367 b is very close to its M dwarf star, which would make its surface a scorching wasteland with temperatures above 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the planet may not be hospitable, the authors suggested that there could be other planets in that solar system that could support life.
“For this class of star, the habitable zone would be somewhere between a two- to three-week orbit,” said study co-author George Ricker.
Happy New Year!
COVID-19 Global Update
Total Cases Worldwide: 286,518,948
Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,429,617
Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,099,002,535
Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*
- US: 54,252,612 (+1.10%)
- India: 34,838,804 (+0.05%)
- Brazil: 22,281,649 (+0.06%)
- UK: 12,820,685 (+1.51%)
- Russia: 10,299,923 (+0.20%)
- France: 9,845,583 (+2.14%)
- Turkey: 9,443,734 (+0.42%)
- Germany: 7,171,422 (+0.59%)
- Spain: 6,294,745 (+2.64%)
- Iran: 6,192,698 (+0.03%)
*Numbers change over 24 hours