The World Today for August 23, 2022

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Door Fees

SINGAPORE

In the 2013 novel (and 2018 hit film) “Crazy Rich Asians,” the ingénue travels to Singapore and realizes that her boyfriend is so fabulously wealthy that their backgrounds might be too different for them to share a life together.

Spoiler alert – things work out for the couple. But the film illustrates how the machinations of the affluent send ripples through the small, cosmopolitan country, a former British colony now dominated by ethnic Chinese.

To that end, a recent proposal to hike taxes on the rich is making serious waves.

First, some context. More than 13 percent of Singapore’s adult population will be millionaires in the next eight years, Fortune reported, citing global bank HSBC. If that occurs, the Southeast Asian city-state will have more millionaires than China and the US proportionately to population.

But post-pandemic inflation, government budget shortfalls and the income gap between the rich and poor have led Singapore’s government to consider measures to help lower-class families make ends meet.

“Everybody pays some form of taxes but certainly the ones with greater means – the rich and the higher-income – will have to pay more,” Deputy Prime Minister and also Finance Minister Lawrence Wong told Bloomberg Wealth. “It’s not only done through the taxation system but we also can do it through transfers and spending and make sure that spending is targeted at the lower-income (demographic) and those with greater needs.”

A campaign to increase social benefits for food delivery drivers is an example of the political ructions that such wealth disparities can cause, noted Reuters.

As Bloomberg wrote, measures could include reinstating the estate tax, which was abolished in 2008, instituting taxes on capital gains or percentages of total assets (also called a wealth tax), cutting tax breaks for philanthropy or simply raising preexisting tax rates on sales, income and excise duties on big-ticket items like cars.

Critics might argue that such new taxes would impede economic growth in Singapore. The question, however, is how much less Singapore can grow given how much wealth is pouring into the country.

More than a dozen investment firms open offices in Singapore every month due to policies that lure the firms from low-tax jurisdictions around the world, the Financial Times reported.

Wealthy folks from mainland China are flocking to Singapore, too, a safe haven for holders of capital who want to avoid the long arm of their authoritarian, communist leaders.

New Chinese millionaires and billionaires have established 63 of 143 family offices – private investment management firms that service moneyed individuals – in Singapore in the last year through April, reported the Business Times, a local financial newspaper. That’s one reason officials made a point to say the country still welcomed immigrants, Xinhua added.

The proposed new taxes, in other words, might actually be entrance fees.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Upping The Ante

PAKISTAN

Pakistani police filed terrorism charges against former Prime Minister Imran Khan this week, a move that could further inflame political tensions in the country as the ousted leader seeks to return to power, NBC News reported Monday.

The charges come a few days after Khan held a speech in the capital where he vowed to sue the police and a judge. The former leader is accused of threatening the officials and could face years in prison if found guilty.

Even so, security forces have not detained Khan and online videos have shown thousands of his supporters have been surrounding his home to prevent police from arresting him. His party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, warned that it will hold nationwide rallies if Khan is arrested.

Khan has been holding rallies against the new government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif since he was voted out of office in April.

At the time, lawmakers approved a no-confidence vote against the embattled leader, with the opposition accusing him of economic mismanagement as Pakistan’s currency plummeted and inflation soared.

The former prime minister alleged – without providing evidence – that the Pakistani military participated in a US-led plot to oust him from power. He said that his removal came after he denied the US from having military bases in Pakistan.

Sharif’s government and military officials have denied the allegations.

Branding Issues

QATAR

Qatar arrested more than 60 foreign workers protesting over late wages and deported some of them, a move that comes as the Gulf nation faces ongoing scrutiny over its labor practices just months ahead of an international soccer tournament, the Associated Press reported Monday.

On Aug. 14, dozens of foreign laborers demonstrated in front of the offices of Al Bandary International Group, a conglomerate that includes construction, hotels and food services. The workers were lamenting over the late payments, saying that some of them had not received their salaries for as long as seven months.

The company did not comment on the situation, but the government later acknowledged that the firm had not paid salaries. Officials added that Qatar’s Labor Ministry would pay “all delayed salaries and benefits” to those affected.

Still, police later arrested the demonstrators and held them in detention centers. The government said that a number of protesters “were detained for breaching public safety laws,” but declined to offer any information about the arrests or any deportations.

Qatar and other Gulf Arab nations heavily rely on foreign labor and are known to deport demonstrating workers. The right to form unions is tightly controlled and only available to Qataris.

Labor rights activists warned that the detentions placed further doubt on Qatar’s pledges to improve worker welfare ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup set to take place in November.

In 2010, FIFA – the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or “International Federation of Association Football” in French – awarded Qatar the international soccer tournament in Doha, the capital.

Since then, the energy-rich country has taken steps to revamp its employment practices, such as abolishing its “kafala” employment structure. The controversial system bound workers to their employers, who had the final say on whether they could leave their positions or the country.

Qatar also introduced a minimum wage of $275 per month for workers, as well as ordered food and housing allowances for employees not receiving them directly from their employers.

Even so, advocates cautioned that some of the changes could have been “a cover” for authorities allowing prevailing labor practices to continue.

A Little Sunlight

UNITED KINGDOM

A new British documentary exposing the extent to which British colonial masters in Kenya tortured and raped local freedom fighters and then covered it up is making waves in the UK, and is the latest installment in a worldwide effort to seek a reckoning for past injustices by colonial powers.

The documentary, “A Very British Way of Torture,” released this month, features survivors’ testimonies, Kenyan and British historians and records hidden away for over 50 years: All these together offer a more complete picture of how colonial forces in the 1950s used systematic torture to repress Kenyans fighting for independence, the Guardian reported.

One document, buried for more than six decades, meanwhile, illuminates the extent to which the British forces tried to cover it up, knowing their actions were unacceptable.

From 1952 to 1960, Kenyan rebels took part in the Mau Mau Uprising, trying to shake off colonial rule. The British brutally suppressed the movement, with detention camps, torture, rape, forced castration, and other violence.

The Kenyan Human Rights Commission estimates that 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed in the crackdown and about 160,000 were detained, the BBC reported.

Afterward, most British governments tried to distance themselves from the violence against the rebels, the newspaper wrote.

During the rebellion, British Police Chief Arthur Young was dispatched to Kenya to investigate the alleged physical and sexual abuses Kenyans faced by colonial forces. He quickly discovered the instances of human rights violations by colonial officers, who were either covering them up or contributing to the violence.

He tried to appeal to the ministry of legal affairs and the attorney general in Kenya but they blocked his attempts to get the perpetrators brought to justice. He resigned in frustration, writing letters to officials, detailing and condemning British forces’ treatment of Kenyans. These missives were rewritten and toned down for the official files while the originals were buried in sealed archives used by British intelligence forces MI5 and MI6 for more than 60 years.

Historians say while many of the abuses were known; the British government settled compensation claims with Kenyans in 2013, but what’s new is the extent to which the British government and the colonial administration tried to cover them up.

“You often hear people say in Britain that it was acceptable by the standards of the time,” Niels Boender, a historian from the University of Warwick, told the Guardian, referring to torture and other abuse. “And I think documents like this really illustrate that, no, people at the time knew this was wrong as well.”

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The European Union will propose initiating a significant training program for Ukrainian soldiers in neighboring countries, according to EU foreign policy leader Josep Borrell, Radio Free Europe reported. Borrell also rejected a proposal by EU countries bordering Russia to bar Russian citizens from entering the bloc, as the union’s foreign ministers prepare to discuss a ban on tourist visas next week, Bloomberg noted.
  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy threatened to halt all talks with Russia if Ukrainian prisoners of war were paraded in the occupied city of Mariupol and placed on “an absolutely disgusting and absurd show trial,” the New York Times wrote.
  • Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, has banned public celebrations of the country’s independence from Russian-dominated Soviet rule this week, citing a heightened fear of a Russian attack, Reuters added.

DISCOVERIES

Dreaming of Flies

Dreaming is not exclusive to humans.

Dogs and birds dream and now, scientists have discovered that spiders can, too, CBS News reported.

A research team found that jumping spiders can enter a dream-like state during sleep, complete with rapid eye movement – known as REM sleep – the deepest stage of sleep that promotes health.

Because they couldn’t scan their brains, the researchers closely monitored a group of baby spiders while they snoozed at night.

In their study, they wrote that the arachnids would attach themselves to silk anchors before sleeping. The team would then observe “twitching and uncontrolled leg movements, coupled with actual retinal movements.”

“The way they twitched just made me think of dogs and cats dreaming,” lead author Daniela Roessler told National Geographic.

Roessler suggested that the little arachnids could be experiencing “visual dreams”, but cautioned that it will be “very difficult to prove that scientifically.”

Even so, the authors added that, if confirmed, the findings would mark the first time REM-like sleep has been identified in invertebrates.

And what could the little creatures have dreamed about? London zookeeper Jamie Mitchell told CBS that they were “dreaming about flies probably.”

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