The decline of democracy

Worldwide, democracy and global freedom have been declining since 2006. The COVID-19 pandemic made things worse, with many leaders choosing to use authoritarian measures to contain the virus. It was difficult for the opposition to protest the measures because they weren't allowed to gather in groups.

But the trend towards dictatorship began long before the pandemic. The decline is not just happening in nations with authoritarian governments, but even long-standing democracies have suffered. In 2020, nearly 75% of the world’s population lived in a country where democracy deteriorated. The United States, which has long stood as an icon of democratic values, is becoming so divided that the government can barely function. The 2020 election results were challenged, ending up in an attack on the Capitol building itself.

Look at this graph from Freedom House showing the democracy gap since 2005. Interpret and discuss it with your teacher.

The idea of Universal Basic Income

According to Vox Media, the idea of a basic income was, for decades, something of a policy fantasy. However, the last few years have seen it become less fringe and more mainstream. In fact, we now have many limited basic income programs running around the world.

The general idea—that the government should give every citizen a regular infusion of money with no strings attached—has been around since the 16th century. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has given the idea fresh momentum, with the crisis generating significant financial loss and uncertainty.

Critics worry that UBI will disincentivize work and hurt the economy. They also say that it is unaffordable for the government to pay every citizen enough to live on, regardless of whether they work. So far, the evidence has not supported these critiques.

Kowloon Walled City

For nearly a century, Kowloon Walled City stood out as a rare modern example of an ungoverned territory. When Great Britain took Hong Kong from the Chinese, they left a Chinese enclave in Kowloon, near Hong Kong island. As the 20th century unfolded, consecutive Chinese governments neglected the governance of the enclave, the British refused to get involved, and it took on a life of its own.

By the 1980s, nearly 50,000 people lived in 300 illegally built structures connected together by an interconnecting maze of passageways and staircases. Drugs and prostitution were common in the walled city, and people from nearby neighborhoods would come to visit cheap unlicensed doctors and dentists. Residents cooked and baked goods that they sold to vendors outside the enclave.

No foie gras in California

California has been trying to ban the delicacy foie gras for quite some time. The French dish is well-known in fine dining, but it is made from the liver of a duck or goose that has been force-fed to increase the fat content. Many have said the process constitutes animal cruelty.

The ban was passed into law back in 2004, but it was phased in gradually. It finally went into full effect in 2012, at which time foie gras producers promptly sued the state government. Fast forward to 2015, and a federal judge overturned the ban, stating that it was unconstitutional and went against federal poultry law.

Two years after that, the higher Ninth Circuit court ruled 3-0 that the federal judge had made an error, and allowed California to keep the ban. Again, foie gras producers appealed, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, making the previous Ninth Circuit ruling final. 

The issue of universal basic income

The idea of universal basic income (UBI) has been gaining steam around the world. A Japanese billionaire and an American presidential candidate, among others, have both thrown their weight behind it.

The concept is simple: the government provides unconditional money to their citizens. The theory is that in order to provide basic services for all citizens and to stimulate the economy, a small amount of money can be given to each person, equally. 

In the United States, presidential candidate Andrew Yang has even given away $12,000 to a random Twitter follower. In his plan, each adult would receive that amount of money every year. Yang argues people will continue working, even with UBI. $12,000 a year is barely enough to live on in many places and certainly not enough to afford much in the way of experiences or advancement. To get ahead meaningfully, people will still need to get out there and work.

Preventing gun crime in Japan

In 2014, there were just six gun deaths in Japan (≈0.00000004% of the population), compared to 33,599 (≈1.0% of the population) in the US.

Buying a gun in Japan takes patience and perseverance. First, you need to attend an all-day class, then sit a written exam and pass a shooting-range test with a mark of at least 95%. There are also mental health and drugs tests to pass.

Afterwards, your criminal record is checked and police look for links to extremist groups. They even check your relatives and co-workers. Police have the power to deny gun licences and sweeping powers to search and seize weapons. In addition, handguns are banned outright. Only shotguns and air rifles are allowed.

Young people demand a better future

On Friday, September 22, millions of young people around the globe walked out of school to protest the lack of action to reverse climate change. Led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, teenagers, children, and some adults added their voices to an ever-growing movement to hold governments and corporations accountable for their environmental destruction and demand that they make immediate changes to reverse the damage. A week later, more strikes drew similar crowds, some even larger. In New Zealand, an unprecedented 3.5% of the population took to the streets.

The lack of foster care in Japan

In the United Kingdom, the United States and other developed countries, abused or neglected children are often sent to live with a foster family. But that rarely happens in Japan, one of the world's wealthiest and most progressive societies. 

Close to 90 percent of Japan's troubled children are placed in state institutions. Foster care has not emerged as a viable alternative for abused children in Japan because governments have failed to properly train carers, monitor the placements, or adequately educate the public about its benefits. In addition, Japan strongly values blood ties, so welcoming a stranger’s child into a family seems unnatural to many people. Japan is also a country where speaking out about child abuse causes great shame.

Japan minister in hot water again

The minister in charge of cybersecurity said he doesn't use computers.

Yoshitaka Sakurada, who just last week was criticized for stumbling over basic questions during Diet deliberations, found himself once again in hot water Wednesday after making it known that he doesn't use computers even though he is a deputy head of the government panel on cybersecurity and is tasked with overseeing policies on such matters.

During a Lower House Cabinet Committee meeting, Sakurada, who is also the minister in charge of the Olympics, said: “I don't use computers because since I was 25 I have been in a position of authority where secretaries and employees handle such tasks for me.”

Sakurada was answering questions posed by Masato Imai, an independent Lower House lawmaker. “It's shocking to me that someone who hasn't even touched computers is responsible for dealing with cybersecurity policies,” Imai said.

First woman fighter pilot in Japan

On Friday, August 24, Misa Matsushima realised her lifelong dream and struck a blow for Japan’s women when she started duty as the country’s first female fighter pilot. Matsushima, who holds the rank of first lieutenant in the air self-defence force, completed her training in August 2018, just three years after Japan lifted its ban on women becoming fighter pilots.

“I have admired fighter jet pilots ever since I saw Top Gun when I was in primary school,” she told reporters on the eve of starting her new role. “I want to continue to work hard to carry out my duties, not just for myself but also for women who want to follow this path in the future.” Three other women are currently training to join Japan’s elite group of fighter pilots.