The World Today for November 24, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Roadblocks for a Generation

TAIWAN

While Taiwan debates expanding its democracy, observers are debating whether China will be soon launching a takeover attempt against the country, which Chinese leaders view as a renegade province.

Taiwanese voters head to the polls on Nov. 26 to vote for local officials, including the mayor of the capital of Taipei, as well as on a referendum question asking whether the minimum voting age should be dropped from 20 to 18, the Diplomat explained. Taiwan is the only major democracy where 18-year-olds can’t vote, and one of less than a dozen worldwide. The idea has the support of all the major parties in the country.

Still, some Taiwanese doubt that young people understand politics, or are capable of taking care of themselves and making independent decisions, the Taipei Times wrote.

In a recent televised forum, legislator Hung Sun-han of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party noted that around a fifth of Taiwan’s population is 65 and older. He implored voters to support the referendum in order to make sure young people still had a say in their future. “We need to allow young people to participate in policy-making, and we must ensure that our society doesn’t fall into a crisis of generational inequality,” Hung told Channel News Asia.

Similarly, a Taipei Times op-ed argued that 18-year-olds should be able to vote because they are technically adults qualified for military service. Japan, Malaysia and South Korea have lowered their voting ages to 18 over the last decade, too.

At present, however, less than half of Taiwanese voters are expected to support the referendum, according to Radio Taiwan. Many voters hold traditional views that make them skeptical of giving young folks too much power.

As the Taiwanese toil in the trenches of electoral politics, Chinese President Xi Jinping recently buttoned his third term, demonstrating his near total control of the Chinese government, National Public Radio reported. Under Xi, the giant Chinese military 100 miles away on the other side of the Taiwan Strait appears to be girding for an invasion. Missile tests, air strafing and naval exercises have become par for the course for Taiwanese military officials who are forever poised for a fight, the New Yorker wrote. The tensions in the region have made the possibility of a mistake that leads to a war that the US might need to enter, rather than a full-blown out-of-the-blue invasion, the most worrisome option for some strategic thinkers.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese citizens who work in China and have contributed to its growing high-tech sector are also leaving, citing draconian coronavirus regulations and a desire not to help China acquire more cutting-edge tech, reported the New York Times.

What China does depends on the will of one old man. How Taiwan responds, however, might be up to the teenagers.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Man, The Machines

BRAZIL

Brazil’s electoral court rejected a complaint by the party of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro challenging the outcome of last month’s presidential runoff that he narrowly lost to his leftist rival, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The populist leader lost in the Oct. 31 runoff to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who won 50.9 percent of the vote.

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party (PL) filed a complaint after a party-commissioned study said it found “serious and irremediable inconsistencies” in older models of Brazil’s digital ballot boxes.

The report said that software malfunctions made it impossible to individually identify devices manufactured before 2020, which accounted for nearly 60 percent of those used in the election.

As a result, the party suggested that votes cast through these machines should be “invalidated,” which the study said would hand Bolsonaro victory, the Financial Times added.

The electoral court said it would consider the complaint if the PL submitted a new report within 24 hours – including results from the first round of the election because the same machines were used in both ballots.

But party representatives said there would be no amended report, prompting the court to dismiss the complaint Wednesday.

The court also issued a fine of more than $4 million for “bad faith litigation” and ordered the suspension of government funds for the Liberal Party until the penalty is paid.

Earlier this month, Bolsonaro supporters launched blockades across Brazil following the election results, claiming that da Silva fraudulently won the election. The outgoing leader also took two days to address the public after his defeat: He has not explicitly conceded the race or congratulated his opponent since the election.

Analysts said the recent challenge was an attempt by Bolsonaro, who has consistently questioned the integrity of Brazil’s election system, to appeal to his supporters.

Should We Stay Or Should We Go

SCOTLAND/ UNITED KINGDOM

The UK’s Supreme Court in London ruled Wednesday that Scotland needs consent from the UK Parliament to hold a new independence referendum, throwing cold water on the nation’s prospects of leaving the United Kingdom, CNBC reported.

The top court said that the Scottish legislature did not have the power to legislate on matters reserved to the UK’s Parliament, including those relating to the union. It rejected arguments that Scotland should be allowed to hold a referendum based on its right to self-determination under international law, saying that Scots were not “oppressed” people and therefore did not warrant such status.

Supreme Court President Lord Robert Reed added that a lawful referendum would have “important political consequences relating to the Union,” the New York Times wrote.

The verdict comes eight years after Scotland held a referendum to split from the UK. At the time, about 55 percent of Scots voted to stay in the union.

Since then, the British government has rejected calls by Scotland’s ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) for another plebiscite. Following Wednesday’s ruling, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomed the decision.

In contrast, the SNP’s leader, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was disappointed by the decision but respected and accepted it.

Even so, she stressed that the debate for Scottish independence was not over and that her party would work on alternative ways to hold another referendum.

Sturgeon has campaigned on a “clear promise to give the people of Scotland the choice of independence.” She also promised to rejoin Scotland with the European Union following the UK’s exit from the 27-nation bloc.

Show Me The Money

CHINA

Chinese workers clashed with police at the world’s largest iPhone factory after demonstrations erupted at the assembly plant of 200,000 workers in central China, which has been subject to severe Covid-19 restrictions for weeks, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Videos circulating on workers’ chat groups showed scenes of unrest at the factory in the city of Zhengzhou, where Foxconn Technology Group assembles most of the world’s latest iPhone models.

Employees said the demonstrations began after they learned that their expected bonuses would be delayed.

The clashes come in the wake of an Apple announcement last month that its shipment of high-end iPhone models would be smaller than expected. The US tech giant said the drop in production was caused by disruptions from China’s strict “zero Covid” policy adopted to crush the outbreak.

Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facility had been expected to produce more than 80 percent of the latest iPhone 14 base models and 85 percent of the high-end Pro models.

Earlier this month, it had offered bonuses to recruits in an effort to restart production after tens of thousands of workers were quarantined or confined as part of China’s anti-coronavirus measures. But thousands of workers fled the facility over fears of contracting Covid-19 and rumors that infected people were being allowed to work so that Foxconn could meet its targets.

Foxconn admitted Wednesday that the clashes were related to payment concerns, adding that it plans discussions with employees and officials to resolve the crisis.

It denied that infected workers were allowed to work.

Even so, one recruit lamented that the company has done little to ameliorate the situation.

DISCOVERIES

Risky Business

Acetaminophen, better known as paracetamol, became the go-to drug during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The painkiller – used in brand names Tylenol and Panadol – helps reduce a variety of symptoms, including headaches and fever.

But one study found that the common analgesic has a weird side effect that makes individuals take more risks, according to Science Alert.

“Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities – they just don’t feel as scared,” lead author Baldwin Way said in a statement.

In a series of experiments involving more than 500 participants, Way’s team measured how a single 1,000-milligram dose of paracetamol – the recommended maximum adult single dosage – affected an individual’s risk-taking.

The participants were split into two groups: people who took the drug and others who were given placebos.

Participants were then asked to pump an uninflated balloon on a computer screen in return for imaginary money. The more they pumped, the more money they would get as long as the balloon didn’t pop – otherwise, they’d lose everything.

The findings showed that volunteers that took acetaminophen engaged in riskier behavior, such as inflating the balloon to its limit. Also, the instances of the balloons popping were more common in the paracetamol group than in the control group, the team noted.

Researchers also saw similar risk-averse behavior in the analgesic group after they were asked to fill out a survey rating the level of risk they perceived in various hypothetical scenarios, such as betting a day’s income on a sporting event.

Way noted that more research is needed to understand the painkiller’s psychological effect.

“With nearly 25 percent of the population in the US taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society,” he said.

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