The World Today for February 14, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

All in the Family

PHILIPPINES

America produced the Adams, Bush, Clinton and other political dynasties. Now leaders in Asia are seeking to do the same.

“The prevalence of dynasties reflects the great power that individual families wield in a fast-growing region of the world that is nonetheless marked by high levels of income inequality and state repression,” wrote the Wall Street Journal, noting that political families are “an obstacle to good governance.”

In the Philippines, for example, frontrunners in the race to become president and vice president in elections later this year are the children of the archipelago’s ousted dictator and its current authoritarian president.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is the namesake son of the man who left office after peaceful protests in the 1980s, Reuters reported. He has sought to resuscitate his family’s name, denying that his parents stole $10 billion while in power or carried out extrajudicial killings, torture and other human rights violations. His late father died in exile in Hawaii. His 92-year-old mother, Imelda, who famously kept thousands of shoes while many Filipinos went barefoot, has been using her political contacts to support her son.

Meanwhile, Sara Duterte, the daughter of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, who can’t run for reelection, is Marcos’ running mate for vice president, explained Nikkei Asia. She recently called for mandatory military service, a policy her father has long championed but failed to achieve, noted CNN Philippines.

Opposing them is Leni Robredo, who has pledged to end the kleptocracy that runs the country, wrote VICE.

In an analysis, the Rappler, a respected local English-language news website, noted that Duterte promoted a strongman image that helped pave the way for Marcos’ return. Ironically, his mother, Soledad, was an outspoken opponent of Marcos’ regime.

The Philippines is not alone. In Indonesia, the son and son-in-law of President Joko Widodo have become mayors, putting them in positions where they might succeed their elder when he decides to pass the torch to a younger generation, according to Foreign Policy magazine. It was the first time two family members of a president won local elections.

In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen recently tapped his son, Hun Manet, to succeed him, the Diplomat reported. Sen has been premier since 1985. In making his announcement, he said he was following in the footsteps of Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister, whose father was a foreign minister and whose grandfather was a prime minister.

Letting go of power, it seems, is much easier when you keep it in the family.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Bad, and Worse

AFGHANISTAN

Thousands of Afghans took to the streets Saturday to protest against US President Joe Biden’s decision to reallocate a portion of $3.5 billion in frozen assets from Afghanistan’s central bank to the relatives of the 9/11 victims, as the country teeters to economic collapse, the New York Post reported.

On Friday, Biden signed an order to divert half of $7 billion in Afghan assets to victims’ families and the other half to a United Nations trust fund that will provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has about $9 billion in assets overseas, with the majority being held in the United States. All of it was frozen after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021 following the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Demonstrators demanded the money go to Afghans as compensation for the death of thousands of Afghans killed during the 20-year war. The Taliban called the decision “the lowest level of humanity … of a country and a nation.”

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai also criticized the move as “an atrocity against Afghan people,” according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the country’s economy is teetering toward collapse: Millions of dollars in aid that bolstered the former Western-backed government is no longer available, and American sanctions have damaged the financial system and hampered humanitarian organizations’ capacity to distribute relief, the New York Times noted.

Many financial analysts and human rights groups are also questioning the move, saying it would ruin Afghanistan’s central bank for years as well as cripple its ability to establish monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payments.

Also, some expressed skepticism that the $3.5 billion earmarked for humanitarian aid would improve things unless the US lifts restrictions on the Afghan banking system that have hindered the flow of aid into the country.

Blinking

POLAND

Poland’s governing party proposed a new bill over the weekend to change the mandate of a controversial judicial oversight chamber to end a long-running spat with the European Union over judicial independence, the Financial Times reported.

The proposed bill would not abolish the chamber but it would mandate that it no longer handle cases involving judges. Instead, it would focus only on those involving lower-level legal professionals.

The bill would also prohibit judges from being penalized for their judgments and would allow those who have been suspended on those grounds to be reinstated.

The contentious chamber created to pressure judges had drawn the ire of EU officials and the bloc’s top court ruled it illegal. The long-running issue has resulted in the EU withholding more than $40 billion in pandemic recovery funds earmarked for Poland.

After resisting calls to change, Polish President Andrzej Duda gave in, saying that Poland “did not need this fight” in light of the “shocks on the international scene” – referring to rising fears of a Russian invasion in neighboring Ukraine.

EU officials welcomed the move but said it was insufficient to unlock the funding.

Meanwhile, the bill could still face challenges in Poland’s parliament: The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) would need support from its coalition partner, hardline United Poland led by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, to pass the bill.

Ziobro has taken a more confrontational approach with the EU and is working on his own bill to amend the disciplinary chamber. Without United Poland, PiS would need the support of the opposition.

Old Blood, New Faces

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan will hold snap elections next month after the country’s strongman, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, hinted that he would step down in the near future, Radio Free Europe reported Saturday.

The announcement came a day after Berdymukhamedov – who has ruled the country for 15 years – said during an extraordinary meeting of the parliament’s upper house that he intends to relinquish power to “younger leaders.”

The leader did not specify when he would resign but some believe he will attempt to transfer power to his son, Serdar.

In September, the younger Berdymukhamedov turned 40, reaching the age required to become president under the law. Last year, he was tapped for the position of deputy prime minister – one of the many official positions he holds.

If Serdar becomes president, he would govern over one of the most isolated and impoverished nations in Eurasia in spite of the country’s massive energy resources.

Since he came to power in a rigged election in 2007, the elder Berdymukhamedov has mismanaged the country while focusing on developing a cult of personality: In recent years, Turkmenistan has been plagued by rampant inflation.

Meanwhile, the Central Asian nation has never held free or fair elections since it gained independence following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

DISCOVERIES

A Common Link

A new study discovered a peculiar link between the common Epstein-Barr virus and multiple sclerosis, the Washington Post reported.

For years, scientists have debated whether the EBV – carried by more than 90 percent of all adults – caused multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system.

The virus is responsible for mononucleosis – also known as mono. Once infected, EBV remains in the body in a dormant state but can sometimes be reactivated.

Recently, Harvard researchers analyzed blood samples of 801 active-duty members of the United States military – all of whom developed MS during their service. Eight hundred of them carried EBV.

The team looked at 123 individuals who did not have MS or EBV when their blood samples were first taken. They split them into two groups: The first was a group of 33 MS patients who had 32 EBV-positive cases. The second group, a control group of 90 people without MS, had only 51 EBV cases.

Their findings showed that an EBV infection could increase the risk of developing MS by a factor of 32, which researchers described as the first “compelling evidence” to illustrate the connection.

The authors noted that the link suggests that many MS cases could be prevented by halting EBV infections. MS has no known cure.

Other scientists countered that the study doesn’t provide a definite link but noted that it could be the “tipping point” that leads to pharmaceutical companies investing in EBV vaccines.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 411,752,229

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,816,063

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,198,129,644

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

  1. US: 77,739,880 (+0.04%)
  2. India: 42,665,534 (+0.08%)
  3. Brazil: 27,492,904 (+0.21%)
  4. France: 21,855,090 (+0.41%)
  5. UK: 18,433,001 (+0.22%)
  6. Russia: 13,923,951 (+3.97%)
  7. Turkey: 12,908,321 (+0.57%)
  8. Germany: 12,454,304 (+0.51%)
  9. Italy: 12,105,675 (+0.43%)
  10. Spain: 10,604,200 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

Correction: In Friday’s THE WORLD, BRIEFLY section, we said in our “Not Sorry” item that Mexico is located in Central America. It is, in fact, in North America. We apologize for the error.

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