The World Today for March 13, 2023

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Blazing Furnace


Vietnamese lawmakers elected Vo Van Thuong as the Southeast Asian country’s new president in early March, almost two months after his predecessor, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, was ousted due to a string of corruption scandals stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials allegedly bilked expatriate Vietnamese citizens seeking to return home out of $200 million. Tech company Viet A Technology allegedly colluded to price gouge when selling its Covid-19 testing kits, garnering $172 million. These scandals, moreover, occurred in parallel with more routine but equally nefarious graft, like car registry employees demanding bribes, as Radio Free Asia noted.

Numerous government officials have been fired or arrested due to corruption in recent months, the Diplomat wrote. As the Sydney Morning Herald explained, however, Phuc was the “biggest scalp” claimed during an anti-corruption crackdown that officials have described as a “blazing furnace” that will melt away the impurities plaguing the nation.

Last year, when the “blazing furnace” crackdown resulted in the arrests of top executives, corporate stocks in Vietnam lost $40 billion in value, Reuters wrote. Now, foreign investors who have been key to Vietnam’s economic rise over the years said Thuong’s appointment would herald a period of stability. But those sentiments might be overly optimistic. Many Vietnamese citizens, for example, are skeptical that the new president’s administration can really stamp out corruption.

Speaking in Hanoi, Lam Kieu Loan, who used to work for the pharmaceuticals industry, told Voice of America that Thuong’s team might root out corruption among its rivals, but she didn’t think the new president would prosecute his allies. “It is more like internal cleansing than taking action against corruption,” she said. “Indeed, many people stood up to tell the truth and were punished before these removals. However, this case looks like the factions annihilate each other, and escape justice rather than actually investigate and tackle corruption.”

Others question if the politics of Thuong’s rise will really benefit Vietnam. The youngest leader in the Communist Party of Vietnam’s Politburo – the country is a one-party state – Thuong has close ties to General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, a political boss and conservative, doctrinaire communist who has been driving the anti-corruption campaign, reported CNN. Trong might be as interested in ideological purity as he is in good governance.

As the BBC contended in an analysis, “Trong, who was given an unprecedented third term at last year’s party congress, appears to be consolidating his authority by ousting senior officials seen as more pro-Western and pro-business.”

Thuong and Trong might want to make sure their blazing furnace doesn’t get too hot.


Making Up


Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations following Chinese-led negotiations, a landmark development that many analysts see as a de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East and Beijing’s increasing international role, CNBC reported.

The two regional rivals made the announcement Friday following four days of negotiations in Beijing. They agreed to reopen their embassies and diplomatic missions in each other’s countries.

The new agreement will also include the revival of previous cooperation accords, including the 1998 “General Agreement for Cooperation” covering the fields of trade, economy, technology, science, culture and youth.

Iran and Saudi Arabia had long accused one another of destabilizing the region. In 2016, they severed relations after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran following Riyadh’s decision to execute 47 dissidents, including a prominent Shia cleric.

Gulf nations and the United States – Riyadh’s ally and Tehran’s rival – welcomed the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Analysts, meanwhile, described the agreement as a major breakthrough for the region, noting that it could lead to positive developments in war-torn Yemen – where Iran-backed militias are fighting the internationally recognized government supported by a Saudi-led coalition.

Others noted that the deal also underscores China’s growing role in resolving foreign disputes, according to the Wall Street Journal.

They explained that the unexpected event serves as a reminder to Washington that, despite the US’ long role and military presence in the Middle East, China is a rising economic and diplomatic influence there.

The Heavy Thumb


Tunisian President Kais Saied dissolved the country’s municipal councils this week, a move critics say is another step toward dismantling the North African country’s democratic gains following the 2011 revolution, Africanews reported.

The dissolution has come more than a month before the mandates of 350 mayors and municipal councilors were set to expire. Local elections were then to follow.

Saied said municipalities will be replaced by “special councils,” which will be also elected but under new rules that the president will write, according to Middle East Monitor.

In the 2018 municipal elections, one-third of municipal councils came under the control of Ennahda, an Islamist party that has been the most vocal critic of Saied. The president had previously called the councils “states within a state,” adding that they were “not neutral.”

Elected municipal councils were introduced after the 2014 constitution called for decentralization. However, Saied has replaced that constitution with one he wrote himself. It was adopted last year after a referendum with an unusually low turnout.

The move to eviscerate the municipal councils is the latest by Saied to concentrate power in the presidency. Since 2021, the former law professor has been ruling by decree after dissolving parliament and implementing “emergency measures” that opposition parties have described as an undemocratic “coup against the constitution.”

Saied has rejected the accusations, countering that the moves were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from years of turmoil at the hands of a corrupt, self-serving political elite.

Last month, Tunisian police arrested prominent Saied critics and opposition activists, including senior Ennahda members, whom the president labeled criminals, traitors, and terrorists in the first major crackdown on dissent against his authority.

Moving Mountains


The renowned chocolate “Toblerone” is being forced to remove the iconic image of Switzerland’s Matterhorn mountain because the brand cannot be considered “Swiss” anymore under the country’s law, Euronews reported.

The redesign came after the brand’s US owner, Mondelez, decided to move production outside of Switzerland to Slovakia for the first time in the chocolate’s history.

The confectionery giant explained this week that changing the production site was important to address growing demand for its products.

But Swiss law dictates that only milk-based products produced exclusively in Switzerland can use the country’s symbols in their packaging and marketing. This means that Toblerone – established in 1908 in the Swiss capital of Bern – will lose its image of the Matterhorn peak from its packaging.

Instead, Mondelez said Matterhorn will be replaced by a generic summit. The new packaging will also include a new font, a label that says “established in Switzerland” instead of “of Switzerland,” and the signature of Toblerone’s founder, Theodor Tobler.

Meanwhile, the Toblerone case is not the only product having an identity crisis recently.

A US court ruled earlier this month that the label “Gruyère” can be applied to any cheese, not just the dairy product made exclusively in France and Switzerland, the Washington Post noted.

The case began in 2015 when the US Patent and Trademark Office rejected an application by French and Swiss cheesemakers to certify only cheese that hails only from the mountainous European region between France and Switzerland can be called “Gruyère.” The USPTO, instead, saw the term “Gruyère” as generic, adding that it amounted to “a category of cheese that may be made anywhere and evoke the Swiss and (occasionally) French origin.”

In 2021, a Virginia district court upheld the patent’s office ruling.

Earlier this March, the Virginia-based US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit also ruled that the term was generic, noting that Gruyère “primarily signifies a type of cheese (much like brie, swiss, parmesan or mozzarella) regardless of regional origin.”

In Europe, many were disappointed by the lack of protection for the cheese which has a storied, 900-year history.

“The disrespect of the American law for (products with a protected designation) is unbearable,” a French user of social media said, according to the Post.


The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Egypt’s famous Great Pyramid of Giza continues to unveil its secrets.

Archaeologists recently discovered a hidden corridor inside the 4,500-year-old structure, using novel imaging techniques based on cosmic rays to analyze a cavity behind the pyramid’s north face, a cavity first discovered in 2016, NBC News reported.

Members of the international research team explained that the technique tracks cosmic ray muon particles, which strike Earth at near-light speed and penetrate solid objects more effectively than X-rays. This allows scientists to precisely visualize the presence of undiscovered structures within.

The new passage is more than six feet wide and nearly 30 feet long, with researchers suggesting that it was likely designed to help relieve the weight of the vast pyramid.

The latest finding is part of the “ScanPyramids” project launched by Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities in 2015 to look inside the majestic pyramids without using invasive drilling methods.

Scientists previously uncovered a major inner structure in the Great Pyramid in 2017 – known as the Grand Gallery – using the same imaging techniques.

The pyramid – also known as Khufu’s Pyramid – was commissioned by Pharaoh Khufu, a Fourth Dynasty monarch who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BCE.

Considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, its history and structure still remain mysteries to archaeological teams.

“We will continue working and searching using technology and advanced scientific methods which are safe, to uncover the secrets of ancient Egypt,” said Ahmed Issa, Egypt’s tourism and antiquities minister.

Covid-19 Global Update

Editor’s Note: Exactly three years ago, we began publishing the COVID-19 Global Update with the goal of tracking the impact of the pandemic. Today, we are pausing the Update given that the week-to-week changes in the pandemic are no longer statistically significant. We assure our readers that the Update will return if the coronavirus surges again, something we all hope will not happen.

Your DailyChatter Team

Total Cases Worldwide: 682,546,389 (+0.88%)

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,819,835 (-0.90%)

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 13,232,904,667 (-0.79%)*

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

  1. US: 105,972,038 (+2.09%)
  2. India: 44,696,388 (+0.01%)
  3. France: 39,703,279 (-0.41%)***
  4. Germany: 38,297,037 (+0.13%)
  5. Brazil: 37,145,514 (+0.16%)
  6. Japan: 33,374,303 (+0.13%)
  7. South Korea: 30,702,960 (+0.29%)
  8. Italy: 25,651,205 (+0.19%)
  9. UK: 24,423,396 (-0.95%)***
  10. Russia: 22,506,199 (+1.90%)

Source: WorldOMeters.Info**

*Numbers were taken from the World Health Organization as of March 14th, 2023.

**Johns Hopkins University stopped publishing the Covid-19 update on March 10th, 2023.

***Numbers have been adjusted by affected country.

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