Welcome to Friday, where a cop dies in the aftermath of Capitol mayhem, Boeing's fraud won't fly, and Norway hits an electrifying record. Meanwhile, Les Echos weighs the possibility that Asian populations are genetically more resistant to COVID.
SPOTLIGHT: FROM PINOCHET TO TRUMP, WHEN DEMOCRACY IS UNDER ATTACK
A dictator-in-waiting orchestrates a violent assault on the seat of government. Shots are fired. A stunned world watches what most agree is an attack on democracy itself, a rejection of what had long seemed self-evident: that a nation's health and prosperity depend on an orderly transfer of power from one elected leader to another.
Two days after the stunning scenes in Washington, I am reminded of those grainy images from a different historical chapter in another nation's capital, Santiago, Chile. It was nearly a half century ago when military forces, under the command of General Augusto Pinochet, launched their assault on the La Moneda presidential palace on Sept. 11, 1973.
In doing so, Pinochet and his collaborators toppled the democratically elected government of then-president Salvador Allende, who died in the mayhem and was quickly replaced by a military junta. Next came a wave of excruciating human rights abuses and a dictatorship, under Gen. Pinochet, that would last for 17 long years.
Chile was eventually able to reestablish a democratic system of government; but even now, more than three decades after the infamous strongman finally stepped aside, his legacy lives on. And while some credit Pinochet for planting the seeds of Chile's relative economic success, many others see him as a stain that's still in need of removal.
That ongoing debate was put to the test in a referendum last October on whether to scrap the country's constitution. And when the votes were tallied, the result wasn't even close. Nearly 80% of voters chose the apruebo (approve) option, backing efforts to dump the 40-year-old document despite uncertainties about how or when a new constitution will be drafted.
The result of the plebiscite was even more remarkable given that — as backers of the status quo point out — the constitution has, for all intents and purposes, already been rewritten thanks to numerous reforms and amendments by the democratic governments that succeeded Pinochet. But any lingering whiff of authoritarianism in the document was enough to welcome the opportunity to write a whole new constitution.
The assault on the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump, who had refused to guarantee a seamless transfer of power after his defeat to Joe Biden, seems to mark a turning point in the American political system. And perhaps there are lessons to cull from Chile's recent history.
Unlike the United States, with its proud, uninterrupted tradition of democracy and a 234-year-old constitution that most Americans treat with a "holy book" kind of reverence, most Chileans understand that theirs is an imperfect system, one in need of constant revision and improvement.
And as an American who spent years living and working there, it was something I always admired. It stood in sharp contrast with the U.S. political mindset, where faith in the perceived genius of the system has inoculated it from meaningful and necessary reform.
The dictatorship in Chile, for its part, shattered any illusions about the inevitability of the systems of government that both preceded and eventually replaced it. In some ways, this was a good thing.
From voter suppression strategies to district redlining, corporate campaign financing, and an anachronistic electoral-college system that twice, in the span of just 16 years, sent men to the White House who failed to win the popular vote, there is much that can and should be improved in America's system of democracy.
Doing so, however, requires a bit of humility. Seeing its very seat of government breached was an ugly and embarrassing scene for the United States, and shocking for those around the world who look to the country as a model of democracy.
Fortunately, unlike back in Santiago all those years ago, it won't mark the start of a brutal dictatorship. Still, America would do well to see the riot in the Capitol for what it was: an urgent warning, and an opportunity to start making improvements to its system of democracy now, before it really is too late.
— Benjamin Witte
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
- Capitol riot aftermath: Death toll rises to five after a Capitol police officer succumbs to injuries suffered during Wednesday's assault by supporters of President Trump. As Democratic leaders of the House and Senate call from Trump's removal, two cabinet members join a growing list of Administration officials resigning. Meanwhile, in a taped video speech, Trump finally condemns the rioters and admits his term is ending.
- COVID-19 latest: Facing the surge of COVID-19 mutation cases in Europe, the World Health Organization says the spread has reached "a tipping-point." French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Health Minister Olivier Véran vowed a "simplified" vaccination strategy to speed up vaccines and discussed delaying second doses.
- Boeing to pay billions: The U.S. Department of Justice has convicted Boeing of conspiracy to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration's Aircraft Evaluation Group following fatal flights of its 737 carrier in 2018 and 2019. The company has agreed to pay over $2.5 billion.
- Bali bomber released: Abu Bakar Bashir, the radical Indonesian Islamic cleric and mastermind beind the 2002 bombings on the island of Bali, has been released after serving out his prison sentence. The attack killed 202 people, including dozens of Australian and British backpackers.
- Japan wartime sex slaves ruling: A South Korean court has said Japan must compensate 12 women who were forced to work as so-called "comfort women" during World War II.
- Sinkhole at Italian hospital: A sinkhole measuring 2,000 square meters wide and 20 meters deep has swallowed up part of the COVID-19 treatment center at a hospital in Naples. So far, no deaths have been reported and investigations are underway.
- Rich as Musk: Tesla founder Elon Musk blasts past Amazon's Jeff Bezos to become the world's richest man.
The Economist devotes its cover to "the shame and the opportunity" that make up "Trump's legacy", featuring one of the young rioters who broke into the Capitol on Wednesday. Check out Worldcrunch's collection of front pages, as newspapers from around the world featured the events from Washington.
REGIONAL IMMUNITY? WHY ASIA HAS AVOIDED THE WORST OF COVID-19
East Asia is home to 30% of the world's population but has recorded only 2.4% of the COVID-19 global death toll. Scientists are looking at possible immunity from past epidemics or even genetics, reports Yann Rousseau in French daily Les Echos.
Across the continent, people were quick to adopt mask-wearing without question, as wearing this protective gear was already common practice in Japan and South Korea. "The big differences with the West have been the strict border shutdowns and the rigorous testing of infected people, whether they were sick or asymptomatic," notes Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore. Governments in the region also all isolated themselves from the world before March.
While they confirm the weight of these socio-political factors, scientists are still astonished by the exceptional performance of Asia and are now reflecting upon a more medical explanation. What if Asian populations were naturally more resistant to the coronavirus? Could there be some form of "Asian immunity" linked to past epidemics or even genetic characteristics?
In Tokyo, a number of researchers are convinced of the validity of these hypotheses. Tatsuhiko Kodama, of the University of Tokyo, thinks that East Asia populations have naturally developed a form of resistance to SARS-CoV-2. This is because they have already been exposed, over the course of their lives, to a multitude of other less ferocious cousins of the coronavirus.
Carrying this reasoning one step further, other Japanese experts are wondering if this exposure to past epidemics over the course of thousands of years may have generated genetic differences between the inhabitants of Asia and other populations in the rest of the world.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com here.
The market share of electric cars in Norway has increased to a record 54.3% in 2020 from 42.4% the previous year. Norway has become the world's first country where electric cars make up over half of the total new car sales and intends to be the first to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2025.
I have no confidence in them.
— Iran Supreme Leader Khamenei has banned the country's government from importing the vaccines developed in the United States and the UK, adding that "if the Americans were able to produce a vaccine, they would not have such a coronavirus fiasco in their own country." Iran has launched human trials of its first domestic vaccine candidate but Khamenei said the country could obtain jabs from "other reliable places' as well.
Members of an anti-epidemic volunteer team at Dalian Ocean University, northeastern China, deliver supplies to a students' dormitory. The university closed its campus last month and teachers and students are currently quarantined in the dorm area. — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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