Archive for month: December, 2019

Big Business in 2008 and 2018, Rwanda on the Rise, and Imprisoned Journalists

Earlier this week we found ourselves driving after midnight out of Bellingham to Seattle. We’ve made this drive eleven thousand four hundred fifty three and a half times (we once got stuck in a snow storm) over the years. Many years ago when driving south it was a quiet ride all the way until Everett (about 20 miles north of Seattle for our non-Puget Sound area readers). Over the last five years we now find ourselves mired in traffic the entire drive, distracting us from the amazing natural beauty just south of Bellingham. But until this week it had been a while since we made the drive so late at night. For the first twenty-five miles no head beams blinded us from behind, no red tail lights distracted ahead. We devoured open road and on a bright moon-lit night, the trees glimmered, Lake Samish shimmered and the clarifying horns of Satchmo guided us on our way. It is a more prosperous, healthy world we inhabit, but it is also easy to long for the quiet days gone by. We are tempted to find a job working graveyard to bring them back to life but then the Staunton Lick shuffled onto our playlist and we returned to the world to compare big business today and ten years ago, the surprising success of Rwanda, and who jails the most journalists. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, wishing you and yours an internationally happy holidays.

Lemon Jelly – The Staunton Lick

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Like the good Brit/Canadian we are not, INTN takes Boxing Day off next week. We’ll see you in 2020.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Big Business in 2018 and 2008

As we near the end of the teens (tens?), and prepare for 2020 (how did that happen?!!), let’s examine changes in the list of the largest companies in the world from over the last ten years. The handy list below shows the largest companies in 2008 compared to 2018. Interestingly and not surprisingly because historically these lists change quickly, there is only one that was in the top ten in 2008 that was still one of the largest companies in 2018, Microsoft. Perhaps they should have been broken up after all…of course, where they derive their revenue today is far different from 2008–they are practically a new company compared to ten years ago. China has two fewer companies in the top ten than ten years ago, both of which are Internet based businesses. In fact, seven of the ten companies in the 2018 list are technology companies, although Amazon could be classified any number of ways. We expect the list in 2028 will be just as different as 2018 is to 2008 no matter whether or not Elizabeth Warren gets her wish to break up big companies such as Facebook.

Rwanda on the Rise

We’ve talked up Ethiopia a fair amount here as the most underrated country in the world. Rwanda is also too often ignored, one of a number of African countries that are increasingly locations for manufacturing and fast growing economies. Last week, it was announced that Rwanda’s economy grew over 11 percent in the third quarter year over year. It is expected that the Rwandan economy for all of 2019 will grow at a rate of over 8 percent. Since the end of the civil war in 1994, poverty has decreased in Rwanda 40 percent. In October, an iPhone manufacturing plant opened in the capital Kigali. Rwanda has many challenges (don’t we all?), but it’s one of a number of potential African Lions lurking in the world’s tall grass.

Information Wants to Be Jailed

We hope that 2020 will be a better year for journalists than 2019 was. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “For the fourth consecutive year, at least 250 journalists are imprisoned globally.” China, which likes to be number one in everything, beat out Turkey to rank first on the list with 48 journalists currently imprisoned there. But Turkey was no slouch, just behind at 47, followed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea. CPJ points out that while most of these journalists were jailed for so-called “anti-state” activities, the fun new trend is for journalists to be arrested and imprisoned for producing “false news.” Thanks be to the impeached for that, I suppose.

Last minute addendum: This morning while driving in the dark to our office we listened to a new special episode of the podcast In The Dark. It is easy to make fun of reporters these days, especially political ones, but so much of journalism is more than about presidential politics. Madeleine Baran and the rest of the In the Dark Team make a real impact on our world. The wrongfully convicted Curtis Flowers is out of jail because of a hard working group of reporters. Those that imprison journalists deserve our ridicule and scorn. Journalism like In the Dark, deserve our support. 

What We Think About China, Checking Your Blood, and Eat to Win

Who is the best person in the world you may be asking yourself? Well, if you weren’t before you are now that we’ve posed the question. Some would pick Greta Thunberg. Others would choose a recent Nobel Peace prize winner or a medical researcher who cured some disease. We’re here to tell you the best person in the world is the trombone player for the touring version of Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Ronell Johnson. We were first blown away (all pun intended) by him at a show last year. Though he’s clearly eaten a beignet or two, we don’t understand how he’s not skinny as a rail since he was constantly moving, bopping, dancing and lifting his horn up while on stage. We originally thought he must sit quietly when not performing, but no, in the fun documentary, A Tuba to Cuba, which chronicles Preservation’s trip to Cuba to examine the common roots of New Orleans and Cuban music, Ronell’s wife says he is the most joyful person in the world and that everyone loves him. He’s a solar panel of a human being, lighting up every room he enters, making it a better, more rousing place than how he found it. So if the world ever gets you down, if you’ve got the holiday blues, just think of Ronell, and as the song below, instructs, Keep Your Head Up. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, your tuba of international information, sousaphone of international data.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – Keep Your Head Up [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

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Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

What We Think About China

In our upcoming book about the U.S. and China (it will be required reading for INTN readers—there will be a test), we discuss alliances. The latest Pew Global survey of people’s opinions on China shows that given the world’s worries about China, there are increased possibilities to create alliances to mitigate some of China’s challenging practices. Eight countries have seen double digit decreases in their favorability rankings of China. Indonesia, Canada and Sweden all have 17 percent decreases. Canadians, of course, surely have taken note that two of their citizens have been held incommunicado for more than a year in retaliation for Canada’s justice system using the rule of law to adjudicate Huawei’s CFO, who is out on bail living in one of her two mansions in Vancouver, BC with full access to lawyers, Tim Horton’s and hockey on demand. The Pew Global survey was conducted before China announced retaliation for Sweden’s Minister of Culture attending an awards ceremony honoring the bravery of a Chinese-Swede journalist now imprisoned in China. We’re guessing China’s popularity has decreased even more since the survey. China’s party-state aggressive behavior may seed its own destruction.

We’re Checking Your Blood, We’re Checking it Twice…

When we come home from an international trip using our Global Entry status, we now have to place our fingers on a scanner that checks our fingerprints. Besides being a good way to transmit disease, we find the increasing use of biometric data annoying which probably indicates we are old and easily annoyed–but even so right to be concerned. Which countries are most invasive in their use of biometric data? Comaratech analyzed 50 countries and to no one’s surprise China is the most invasive user of biometric data. Number two is Malaysia, followed by Pakistan, the good ole USA and then a four-way tie for fifth among India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan. Biometric data will perhaps make security more efficient and, well, secure, but we wonder if all the trade-offs have been properly assessed.

5 Worst Countries for Invasive Use of Biometric Data

5 Best Countries (least invasive use)

Eat To Win

Earlier this week we tried to carve a chicken. We watched a Youtube video first to make sure we got it right. Let’s just say our carving of the chicken bore little resemblance to the instructional video by the chef. Which got us to thinking as we prepare to spend a holiday season eating, which world city has the best restaurants (given our carving skills, we’re looking to eat out more)? We’ve often told people Tokyo is one of the best cities to eat in and data proves us right. Tokyo tops the list of cities with the most Michelin star restaurants, topping out at 234. Paris is second but given its population is six times smaller than Tokyo’s, Paris is pound for chicken pound arguably greater than Tokyo. Rounding out the top five are Milan, Vienna and London. Whet your lips with the full list below.

Chinese Prisoner Dilemma Escalates, Clean Energy Is Saving Us, and South Korean Inequality

After seeing a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the new movie about a journalist’s relationship with Mr. Rogers, we read the most recent article of the real life inspiration for the journalist in the movie. Tom Junod notes many people ask him what Fred Rogers would say about Donald Trump. Junod asserts Mr. Rogers would say what he said about many problematical or complicated people, “He would say that Donald Trump was a child once too.” We should have thought about that when playing basketball with our eight-year-old niece and seven-year-old nephew late Thanksgiving day afternoon. The basket was set to nine-feet-tall at their request. At one point my nephew commanded me, “Play hard mode,” by which he meant I should try to beat him, not go easy on him, as if I were a setting on a basketball video game. We were reluctant to do so but he kept repeating it so finally we drove past him and leapt up to dunk the ball as we once could have done easily on a nine-foot hoop.  When we landed, barely having put the ball through the basket, pain shot through our good knee, it felt like we had suffered a hernia down somewhere below our gut which may have been a manifestation of all the Louisiana cornbread stuffing, mac and cheese and sweet potato pie we had just eaten, and marshaled all our energy to not crumple to the ground in agony. While our nephew trash talked us a bit, we tried to maintain our dignity, and transitioned to soft mode. Painfully dribbling the ball, looking at our young nephew, we wanted to say, “We were once a child too.” Today, as we rub our knee wistfully recalling our youth, we try to remember that the Chinese authorities forcibly harvesting organs were once children, that children are counting on us to implement clean energy technology to ward off the worst effects of climate change and that South Korean children hope for less inequality. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, Knives Out to find the most important happenings around the world.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Chinese Prisoners Dilemma Escalates

The last time we gathered in this space, we questioned our doubts about accusations that China is harvesting organs from political prisoners. We did so after reading data analysis of China organ transplants showing official Chinese transplant numbers are made up. Now comes news that gives us even more pause. An International Tribunal assembled by the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC) has gathered evidence and listened to witnesses (all of which are available on a website to allow others to make their own analysis). The Tribunal’s conclusion?  “On the basis of all direct and indirect evidence, the Tribunal concludes with certainty that Forced organ harvesting has happened in multiple places in the PRC and on multiple occasions for a period of at least twenty years and continues to this day.” Rarely have we seen a more chilling and damning conclusion of a country’s current day practices. Along with the atrocities in Xinjiang against Uyghurs (one of the groups allegedly targeted for forced organ harvesting), the practice of forced organ harvesting is causing us to reassess how the world should relate with China. The principal group targeted so far for forced organ harvesting is the Falun Gong, a religious group deemed a cult by China’s government. One of the many pieces of evidence presented at the Tribunal was the fact that imprisoned Falun Gong have their blood tested and organs examined and other prisoners do not.* Blood testing is needed so that donor and recipients can be matched. The world faces important choices on how best to confront this conclusion. The worst option is to ignore it.

*Falun Gong have been targeted but it appears Uyghurs are being prepped: “Ethan Gutman gave evidence to the Tribunal in December 2018 stating that ‘over the last 18 months, literally every Uyghur man, woman, and child – about 15 million people – have been blood and DNA tested, and that blood testing is compatible with tissue matching.’”

Clean Energy is Already Saving Us

At dinner recently, a friend told us of their Gen Z son who believes the world is doomed due to climate change, and believes we are fated to starve and burn up in ten to twenty years’ time. Maybe it is the contrarian in us but while everyone else goes all doom and gloom, we don’t exactly see sunshine but certainly abundant rays of hope. Advances in clean energy may already have mitigated the worst case scenarios for future warning. The world is currently tracking for warming of 1.5 – 2.5 Celsius which is far less than the UN’s worst case scenarios, and that is due to current installations of clean energy technology. And, although a few weeks ago we noted our over optimism that the world was reaching peak oil emissions, others believe we are now near it. “Over the past 5 years, the global economy grew by 3.5% per annum, but emissions grew by only 0.8% per annum. One more push during the next decade, and we’ll set off on the down-slope.” Would we feel better if the U.S. president believed in climate change and took steps to prevent it? You bet. But there’s hope yet, Gen Z. (“Okay Boomer,”—our Millennial editor.)

Parasite and South Korean Inequality

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, we watched the movie Parasite, a parable of South Korean income inequality by the director Bong Joon-Ho. It is one of the best movies of the year—unpredictable with 3-D characters (the useful kind, not the Marvel movie 3-D you pay four dollars extra to see). Although we do look forward to someday seeing a movie allegory about how a market-driven economy raised living standards in South Korea (and elsewhere) to remarkable heights in forty years, concerns about inequality are understandable in South Korea. It has one of the higher levels of income inequality among developed countries with rising poverty levels in recent years, especially among the elderly. This is all made worse by a population aging as quickly as Japan’s and stark gender inequality. South Korea has made remarkable economic progress in the last 50 years. But it is currently facing serious economic and sociological challenges, the only upside of which is to spur great cinema like Parasite.

Gini Coefficient of OECD Countries