The World Today for May 09, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

It Runs in the Family

PHILIPPINES

Boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, a senator in the Philippines who is now running for the president, recently called on authorities to release Filipino Senator Leila de Lima from jail.

As the Philippine Daily Inquirer explained, de Lima is one of many of current President Rodrigo Duterte’s fierce critics. Two witnesses who had alleged that de Lima was involved in the illegal drug trade retracted their comments. De Lima has been in prison in Quezon City since 2017. She had consistently denied the charges against her.

Pacquiao stood up for de Lima because she has become a symbol of the opposition to Duterte and his legacy. Her and others’ criticisms of the president are well known.

Duterte won votes with his tough-on-crime platform. But Amnesty International and other human rights groups have accused the foul-mouthed, sexist Duterte of promoting extrajudicial killings and unfair trials, repressing political dissent, cracking down on indigenous and labor activists and numerous other violations in the course of his campaign against crime.

Elected in 2016 to a single six-year term, Duterte is now preparing to leave office once voters elect his successor on May 9. But his legacy will remain, in his daughter, Sara Duterte, who polls project will win the vice presidency.

Meanwhile, polls suggest Pacquiao will lose, Reuters reported. Voters are supporting the son of another famous Filipino, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., whose father ruled the second-most populous southeast Asian archipelago nation as a dictator and kleptocrat for two decades until 1986 when a popular revolution threw him out.

Marcos has harkened back to the Philippines’ supposed prosperous “golden age” of the 1980s when his father oversaw a brutal, corrupt government and economy. His campaign oversees “a massive disinformation and propaganda network,” according to Voice of America. For example, his main rival, incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo, has had to argue against allegations that she was an ally of “communist rebels” now identified as terrorist groups, wrote Philstar.com, a local English-language news website.

Such disinformation led the respected news outlet Rappler, whose executive editor Maria Ressa received the Nobel Peace Prize last year, to cover misinformation in the country closely. One of their stories noted how Duterte’s determined undermining of the press didn’t help the Filipino public sift between truth and propaganda.

Robredo, meanwhile, is operating a strong runner-up campaign. She defeated Marcos in the vice presidential race of 2016. In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately, so while she is technically part of Duterte’s administration, she is the anti-Duterte candidate. The young especially have been flocking to her banner, the New York Times reported.

Still, polls project a win for Bongbong, a candidate who “has done little in his 30 years in public life” and says even less about addressing the country’s main problems – a pandemic-battered economy, rising poverty and run-away corruption – but has a clear mission to clear his family name, wrote the Economist.

The lack of an agenda beyond winning is bad for the Philippines, says the British magazine, noting his family’s long and strong association with China.

But the biggest issue might be that those smoldering revolutionary ideals that forced his father to flee the country might alight with a Bongbong victory and with them, resistance to his win that could tear the country apart, sparking court fights, protests and even violence.

Such instability would be a distraction from an increasingly urgent to-do list, which, if ignored, essentially means more people will go hungry.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Promises, Promises

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban ordered Afghan women to cover themselves from head to toe, backtracking on previous pledges to support women’s rights after the militant group took over Afghanistan in August following the withdrawal of foreign troops, Axios reported.

Officials issued a decree over the weekend, saying “wearing Hijab is necessary and the best Hijab is chador (the head-to-toe burqa) which is part of our tradition and is respectful.”

They warned that husbands and other male relatives of women who do not follow the rules could face imprisonment. The decree also said that women who do not have important work outside the house should stay home.

Some believe the move marks a significant shift by the militant group, which had initially promised to defend women’s rights even as it moved in recent months to impose restrictions on women.

Soon after their takeover, they replaced the women’s ministry with the Ministries of Prayer and Guidance and the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The group has also placed restrictions on women’s movement.

In March, the Taliban abruptly reneged on their pledge to allow girls to attend school beyond the sixth grade.

Others say the Taliban’s promises regarding women’s rights were never taken seriously judging from past statements and actions, especially when it governed Afghanistan in the 1990s. Regardless, human rights groups criticized the new decree, noting that it’s “far past time for a serious and strategic response to the Taliban’s escalating assault on women’s rights.”

Still, the international community has cut aid and frozen the government’s funds held abroad, which has plunged Afghanistan into a humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations has warned that more than 50 percent of the population is experiencing acute hunger.

Of Tangled Webs

NORTHERN IRELAND

Sinn Fein won the most votes in Northern Ireland’s regional elections last week, a victory that marks the first time the British-controlled territory will see an Irish nationalist as its leader, CNN reported.

Results tallied over the weekend showed that Sinn Fein secured 27 seats in the 90-seat parliament, while its main opponent the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won 25 seats. Meanwhile, the centrist Alliance Party saw a surge in support, claiming 17 seats.

The victory marks a historic milestone for the Irish nationalist party, which had long been linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that fought a bloody three-decade campaign to end British rule and unite the territory with Ireland, the Associated Press noted.

Sinn Fein will be entitled to the post of first minister in Northern Ireland, a first for an Irish nationalist party since the territory was founded as a Protestant-majority state in 1921.

Although advocating for union with Ireland, the party’s campaign focused on social issues and the rising cost of living.

Party officials hailed the victory as a “new era” with Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald hinting that plans for any unity referendum would come in the next five years. A referendum on Irish unification could happen if a majority of voters would back it, according to a clause in the 1998 Good Friday Agreements that ended the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein’s win also underscores decreasing support for unionist parties but raises questions about the future of Northern Ireland’s complicated power-sharing politics and ongoing issues over post-Brexit arrangements.

Even so, British officials are planning to meet Northern Irish parties to urge them to form a government. The United States also urged leaders to “take the necessary steps to re-establish a power-sharing executive.”

Oops

AUSTRALIA

Facebook intentionally took down a number of Australian government pages last year in an attempt to influence the passage of a law that would make tech giants pay to host news articles,  the Wall Street Journal reported.

In February 2021, the social media giant blocked access to news content for users in Australia as Australian lawmakers began debating the law, which Facebook and other big tech firms opposed.

But the move also blocked access to a number of pages belonging to hospitals, emergency services and charities – including the Children’s Cancer Institute, Doctors Without Borders in Australia and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services for Western Australia.

At the time, the company said the move was “inadvertent” but whistleblowers told the newspaper this week that it was deliberate, adding that Facebook shut down the pages to gain leverage over Australian authorities discussing the new legislation.

Documents and those affiliated with the case noted that the firm used a filtering algorithm that it knew would impact others besides news outlets. When Facebook employees alerted company executives about the issue, they received little or no response.

Australia’s parliament eventually passed a watered-down version of the law. Following the vote, Facebook leadership wrote in an internal email that the company “landed exactly where we wanted to.”

The testimony of the whistleblowers as well as internal Facebook records have been turned over to the US Department of Justice and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Meanwhile, big tech representatives called the allegations “categorically and obviously false,” reiterating that the closure of pages was “a technical error.”

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • All remaining women, children and the elderly were evacuated from the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works factory in Mariupol over the weekend, bringing to a close a tragedy that included thousands of civilians being besieged for weeks amid a Russian assault, according to the Washington Post. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday that diplomatic attempts were underway to rescue the remaining fighters, doctors and the injured, though he admitted that such a move would be “very tough.”
  • Zelenskyy declared Sunday that “evil has returned” to Ukraine in an emotional address marking Victory Day when Europe commemorates the formal surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies in World War Two, Reuters noted. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council, including Russia, issued a brief declaration expressing “grave concern for the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine” in its first official statement since Moscow’s invasion of its western neighbor, Radio Free Europe reported. The text did not mention a “war,” “conflict,” or “invasion” – as many council members call Russia’s military action – or a “special military operation” as Moscow refers to it.
  • Sixty people died after a Russian bomb exploded near a school in eastern Ukraine, Sky News added. According to the governor of the Luhansk region, some 90 people were sheltering in the building when the attack occurred on Saturday.
  • Russia’s top legislator accused Washington of coordinating activities in Ukraine, which he claimed amounted to direct US military intervention against Russia, Al Jazeera wrote. Meanwhile, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri blamed “US weakness” as the reason behind Ukraine’s invasion, the Associated Press added.

DISCOVERIES

Exit Strategy

For a spider, mating is a matter of life and death.

Female spiders often devour their male partners before, during or after mating. But male orb-weaving spiders have developed an effective love-’em-and-leave-’em strategy to avoid becoming the main course, according to Agence France-Presse.

Scientists recently discovered that the male arachnid of that species catapults himself away from the female immediately after sexual intercourse.

In their study, a research team used high-speed cameras to understand sexual selection in orb-weaving spiders, which live in communal groups of up to 300.

The team observed that 152 out of 155 sexual encounters ended with the male species bouncing off the female and surviving the ordeal. The ones that didn’t, unfortunately, ended up cannibalized.

The findings showed that the average peak speed of the maneuver was 65 centimeters per second with an acceleration of 200 meters per second squared. Researchers explained that the number is about 20 times the acceleration felt during freefall – or 9.8 meters per second squared.

Despite the daring escape, they said that males would still mate with the same female again – and then catapult off again – up to six times.

Lead author Shichang Zhang said that no other species catapults after coitus but noted that other male spiders have developed novel ways to avoid becoming meals: For example, male nursery web spiders tie their partners up before mating.

Zhang suggested that females were judging the males’ sexual suitability by their exit strategies.

Click here to see how the gentleman spider makes his exit.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 517,357,846

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,251,366

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,339,923,095

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

  1. US: 81,863,725 (+0.01%)
  2. India: 43,105,401 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,564,536 (+0.02%)
  4. France: 29,148,451 (+0.10%)
  5. Germany: 25,299,300 (+0.01%)
  6. UK: 22,292,118 (+0.00%)**
  7. Russia: 17,961,837 (+0.03%)
  8. South Korea: 17,564,999 (+0.12%)
  9. Italy: 16,798,998 (+0.19%)
  10. Turkey: 15,043,379 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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