Brief #9 - okładka

Arrests of opposition leaders in Tanzania, Uganda and Ivory Coast

The authorities in Uganda, Tanzania, and the Ivory Coast are arresting the opposition leaders amid the elections’ disputes. In Uganda, a popular reggae singer, Bobi Wine, was arrested just after being certified as a candidate for the elections. The current president, Yoweri Museveni, has been in power since 1986 and has just changed the constitution that now allows him to run for the office despite his old age. A wave of detentions of opposition leaders occurred in Tanzania after they called for mass protests over allegedly rigged elections. The U.S. ambassador in the country urged the Tanzanian government to cease the arrests. Prosecutors from Ivory Coast indicted opposition leaders with terrorism charges after they boycotted elections on 31st October, in which the current president, Alassane Ouattara, was elected for the third term. Ouattara claims that approval of a new constitution in 2016 restarted his mandate and therefore he could run despite the two-terms constitutional limit.

Iraqi president, Barham Saleh, has ratified the new election law that aims at providing independent candidates with a better chance of winning seats in the parliament. It comes in response to the ongoing protests in the country. People demand the government to end corruption and hold early elections.

New species of animals and how the poo-analysis helped us find them

According to the recent genetic studies made by Australian scientists, the greater glider, one of the world’s biggest gliding mammals, is actually three separate species. The greater glider is a nocturnal animal unique to Australia. It is comparable to a cat in size, it is fluffy, and feeds on eucalyptus leaves only. “They launch themselves from trees and spread out a membrane attached to their elbows to glide as far as 100 meters – using their long tails like a rudder,” as written in The Guardian. The greater glider is considered “vulnerable” as it is affected by bushfires, land-clearing, and rising temperatures.

Gentoo penguins are four, not one species, as claimed by the scientists from the Milner Centre for Evolution. New evidence shows that the birds differ not only in shape and size but in their DNA as well. Gentoo penguins, known for the red-orange beak, were isolated from each other for hundreds of thousands of years and didn’t interbreed.

An analysis of the DNA from feces helped scientists identify three separate species of banded langur, a primate endemic to Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia. This method allows researchers to quickly gather data on animals, extract their DNA, and get insights on their diet, gut flora, and parasite load while not disturbing or stress the creature in the process. It also remains one of only a few feasible methods of obtaining information on rare species.

Electronic skin and scientists who connected the human brain to a computer

The researchers from the University of Melbourne connected a computer to the human brain via blood vessels. They inserted electrodes through the jugular vein in the neck and then to the brain’s primary motor cortex. The electrodes detected brain signals and fed them to a computer. The new method was proven to work on two people with the degenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). “Used in combination with an eye-tracker for cursor navigation, participants achieved Windows 10 operating system control to conduct instrumental activities of daily living tasks,” as it was stated in the study.

Self-healing “electronic skin” may replace wearable devices, like smartwatches. Thin and flexible, it is recyclable and only slightly thicker than a plaster. It may track heartbeats or steps and can be worn on any body part. According to scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder, it can be stretched by 60 percent and still function well.

The Walt Disney Company created a skinless robot that can mimic human motion, especially blinking or subtle head movements. The company developed a robot to make its animatronics more realistic, creating the “illusion of life” at Disney’s parks. The machine follows the principles which animators use to make cartoon characters.

Green companies during crisis and troubles of Russian wine farmers

It pays off to be “green”. The companies more engaged in the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) initiatives are more resilient during crises, according to research. Although some studies suggest that they may perform worse in a short time due to the heavier upfront investment costs in becoming environmentally and socially sustainable, they profit in the long term. The 2008 financial crash dented investor’s trust in purely financial criteria, which benefited companies with better reputations and more transparent extra-financial communication. In March 2020, when the global MSCI World Index fell 14,5%, almost two-thirds of large-cap investment funds focused on ESG outperformed it.

Chinese pigs are eating so much corn that it may affect the country’s green fuel plans. From 2020 China is adopting biofuel based on ethanol produced from corn as a measure of reducing pollution. So-called E10 fuel is a mixture of 10% corn-derived ethanol and gasoline. Now, corn has become less accessible in the market and therefore more expensive as Beijing started an initiative to raise the supply of pork. Together with that comes the use of ethanol as sanitizer during the pandemic. The E10 producer, Sinopec Group, is forced to reconsider the scale of sales.

Small wineries on the Russian coast of the Black Sea may not survive as they struggle with bureaucratic requirements imposed by Moscow. The authorities claim they are fighting with unsanitary production, tax avoidance, and counterfeits. Although those issues are real, the cost of licensing (at least 6000 USD a year), and abiding by other regulations are projected to drive most winemakers out of business.

World’s highest minimum wage and the unprecedented taxation in Oman

The canton of Geneva in Switzerland introduced the world’s highest minimum wage. It now stands at around 25 USD per hour and a minimum monthly salary of over 4400 USD. The high costs of living have strained the 600 000 poor Swiss (out of 8,5 million citizens) especially during the pandemic. The minimum wage in the canton was introduced as a “people’s initiative” coming from citizens. They gathered enough signatures to call a referendum, and 58 percent of the voters agreed with their proposition. Meanwhile, the U.S. Florida becomes the eight state to decide to gradually raise the hourly wage floors to 15 USD by 2026. At least 21 cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles have already reached the same level of the hourly wage floor or exceeded it.

One of Joe Biden’s proposals, raising the taxation for capital gains in the U.S., may result in lower revenue for the government, according to Brian Faler from Politico. The reason for that would be discouraging the investors from selling assets as a way of avoiding paying tax. In Oman, authorities plan to tax the highest earners by 2022. It is an unprecedented move in the Gulf –  until now countries there avoided any taxation. It comes as a countermeasure to the budget deficit, which is partially a result of low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic. Apart from that, the government plans to gradually cut the subsidies on electricity and water and remove them until 2025.

Bribe for child delivery and the dangers of being a woman vaccinator

Pregnant women in Zimbabwe are forced to pay bribes to healthcare workers to be offered help in childbirth. The whole sector is collapsing, the staff is going on strike, and the most basic resources are lacking. There are even reports of women giving birth outside maternity clinics. Two Zimbabwean women took the authorities to court and legally forced them to reopen 42 clinics. The Zimbabwean constitution guarantees the right to healthcare, but its quality is rapidly deteriorating, especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than half of the mothers in the U.K. believe that following the old wives’ myths and tricks helped them become pregnant. One in five of the polled women thinks that staying with their legs raised in the air after intercourse is beneficial for conception, and only a few percent less consider that it could be achieved via sex in a particular position. The British nutraceutical company, Vitabiotics commissioned a poll of 2000 parents.

Extreme religious leaders in Pakistan are targeting and killing female vaccinators who fight polio. Radical Islamists claim that vaccines are causing death and illness and are part of a western conspiracy while allowing women to work is against Islam. In the last week of October, over 13000 people refused to be vaccinated in the south-western district of Killa Abdullah. Pakistan remains one of the two countries in the world which yet failed to eradicate polio.