The World Today for January 28, 2022

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A Contraption Called Democracy


In late 2019, the Atlantic magazine portrayed the government of Prime Minister António Costa in Portugal as a rare champion for the European left during a period when the far-right appeared ascendant throughout the continent. In Portuguese, people called the unlikely coalition between Costa’s Socialist Party, the Left Bloc and the Communist Party a “geringonça,” or a “contraption” that could break down at any time.

Recently, after succeeding in raising the minimum wage, lowering unemployment and trimming the budget deficit while ending austerity policies, the geringonça broke down when leftists and right-wing lawmakers voted down Costa’s proposed budget, Euronews reported. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa responded by calling a snap election that is now scheduled for Jan. 30, or two years ahead of schedule.

The Socialists’ leftist partners rejected the budget because they contended it hewed too closely to the anti-labor, anti-public spending, pro-free market mindset of European Union bureaucrats in Brussels as Portugal prepared to allocate billions of euros in coronavirus pandemic aid, explained Jacobin magazine.

Costa’s party is expected to garner the most votes in the snap election, but the latest opinion poll shows it only has the support of about 37 percent of the electorate. He has ruled out a coalition with the Left Bloc and the Communist Party. His rivals, the Social Democrats, meanwhile, have gained in recent polls, wrote Reuters. They’re now polling at 33 percent, or three points more than in mid-January.

The Socialists are running on a platform of stability, arguing that they can continue Portugal’s economic expansion as Europe emerges from the pandemic. But, in order to woo rivals to support his bid for another term as prime minister, Costa might need to join forces with parties like People-Animals-Nature, an animal rights group. Such an alliance, noted Politico, might hurt him among “hunting, fishing and bullfighting aficionados.”

In addition to painting him as a conservative in disguise, the prime minister’s critics have said his enacted anti-corruption legislation is weak and too complex, the Financial Times wrote, detailing how former Prime Minister José Socrates as well as judges, business leaders and others have been caught up in corruption scandals recently.

Costa has also drawn fire for permitting voters infected with Covid-19 to cast ballots, the Associated Press reported. Doctors argued that the rules would make it harder to convince folks to self-isolate in general if they are allowed to stand. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population is fully vaccinated. That’s one of the highest rates in the world, but infections have surged in recent weeks.

Costa faces trouble. But if democracy in Portugal is analogous to a contraption, the Portuguese should be proud to say it is still working.


Keep It Positive


China’s internet regulator launched a monthlong crackdown on “illegal” online content, attempting to clean up the internet ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Lunar New Year, CNN reported.

The Cyberspace Administration of China said that its “purification” campaign aims to create a “healthy, happy and peaceful online environment.” The regulator will primarily target online rumors and other “bad” behaviors, including showing off wealth and overeating or drinking.

It also ordered homepages of important media sites and news pages to present “positive information” and remove any content considered violent, vulgar or obscene.

CAC added that “illegal and immoral” celebrities will not be allowed to make a comeback. China has previously punished celebrities that have violated rules by erasing them from the internet. Last year, authorities removed the major works of Chinese actress Zheng Shuang after she was fined $46 million for tax evasion.

Officials said the move is tied to the Lunar New Year holiday – a major festival held from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6 – but the campaign also coincides with the Winter Olympics.

The games are considered the largest international sporting event in China since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012. His government has placed great importance on the games as a chance to display a powerful and unified China.

The cyber campaign, meanwhile, marks another effort by the Chinese government to tighten its control over the internet and entertainment sector.

Last year, officials launched a clampdown on “chaotic” celebrity fan culture and vowed to eradicate “unhealthy” content from shows and promote a “patriotic” atmosphere.

Getting Priorities Straight


A series of emails released by the British Foreign Office showed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson prioritized the evacuation of pets from Afghanistan over thousands of desperate Afghans trying to flee the country during the Taliban takeover last year, the Washington Post reported.

The released emails are part of a parliamentary committee probing the government’s handling of its Afghanistan withdrawal. The correspondence was provided by whistleblower Raphael Marshall, a former Foreign Office official who previously criticized the evacuation as “arbitrary and dysfunctional.”

The communications allege that Johnson intervened to airlift 200 dogs and cats from the Nowzad charity, a shelter in Afghanistan run by former British Royal Marine Paul “Pen” Farthing. Farthing had launched a high-profile social media campaign asking for the evacuation of his charity’s staff and animals.

He later received clearance and arrived in London on Aug. 29 on a private jet carrying him and his animals. His staff later found a way to flee the Taliban.

Johnson had previously denied the initial allegations and called the recent ones “total rhubarb,” Sky News wrote Thursday.

In late August, tens of thousands of Afghans swarmed Kabul’s international airport to flee the country as the Taliban took control following the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The new evidence comes as Johnson is fighting for political survival over a series of scandals involving parties taking place in 10 Downing Street – the prime minister’s office – during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

What Lies Beneath


An Indigenous community in British Columbia found 93 potential burial sites near the premises of a former residential school, the latest in a series of discoveries since last year as Canada reckons with the historical treatment of its native population, the Hill reported.

Officials said that ground-penetrating radar showed the existence of potential human remains near the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, which operated near Williams Lake between 1891 and 1981.

The community added that the findings are preliminary and they would need to excavate the site, according to Canada’s CTV News.

Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars said during a news conference that investigators had also uncovered reports of neglect and abuse at the residential school, including evidence of children’s bodies being disposed of in lakes and the institution’s incinerator.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that the discovery “brings a lot of distressing emotions to the surface.”

The St. Joseph’s institution was part of the controversial residential school system that operated across Canada from the late 1800s until 1996. During that period, nearly 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families in an attempt to assimilate them and prevent them from having any connection with their culture.

The schools have been found to have abused children, some of whom died, and hundreds of unmarked graves have been uncovered around the grounds of the former institutions since last year.

Earlier this month, Canada agreed to pay $31.5 billion in a settlement intended to make up, at least in part, for the country’s past treatment of Indigenous children.


The Funerary Trek

Archaeologists came across a network of “funerary avenues” in northwestern Saudi Arabia believed to be about 4,500 years old, Live Science reported.

Lead researcher Matthew Dalton and his colleagues said that the “funerary” moniker was chosen because the avenues were found alongside pendant-shaped stone tombs.

They wrote in their paper that the paths would have linked oases and formed an ancient highway network of sorts that was used to travel vast distances.

“By following these networks, people could have traversed a distance of at least 530 km (330 miles) from north to south,” said Dalton.

Dalton explained that the ancient roadworks and tombs were built around the time of the Egyptian pyramids and Mesopotamian ziggurats – large pyramid-shaped temples.

However, he added that the neighboring civilizations did not provide any inspiration to the ancient people living in Saudi Arabia.

“We think that this phenomenon was certainly an indigenous development,” he noted.

Even so, the archeological team remains puzzled by the presence of the tombs because it’s unclear whether the ancient population used the avenues for funerary processions.

The authors also said that similar avenues have been spotted in southern Saudi Arabia and in Yemen but further investigation is needed to determine if people in the region traveled such long distances back then.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 366,317,805

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,637,750

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,900,718,700

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

  1. US: 73,428,433 (+0.71%)
  2. India: 40,622,709 (+0.62%)
  3. Brazil: 24,789,795 (+0.94%)
  4. France: 18,242,654 (+2.21%)
  5. UK: 16,358,047 (+0.60%)
  6. Turkey: 11,250,107 (+0.74%)
  7. Russia: 11,217,423 (+0.79%)
  8. Italy: 10,539,601 (+1.50%)
  9. Spain: 9,660,208 (+1.37%)
  10. Germany: 9,447,605 (+1.40%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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