Saturday, the 31st of August

Talking points

This just about settles it. PHOTO: Tiksa Negeri / Reuters
  1. We met our part-ape, part-human ancestor: Australopithecus amanensis
  2. Indonesian capital is slated to move from Jakarta to pristine Borneo
  3. A markedly more-relaxed Giuseppe Conte was tapped to lead Italy
  4. South Korea's highest court ordered a retrial in the Jay Y. Lee bribery case
  5. Deutsche Bank hiring policies raised eyebrows
  6. Scientists (who clearly haven't read Frankenstein) grew human brains
  7. Donald Trump returned to a pet project: nuking storm systems
  8. Plant-based chicken broke into the mainstream with a KFC trial
  9. Bangladesh scrapped a draconian virginity declaration for married women
  10. Huawei was dealt another blow: its new handset was denied Google apps

Deep Dive

Spot on. PHOTO: Daniel Sorabji / AFP

The British describe their parliament as "the mother of all parliaments". But this week Boris Johnson decided to prorogue it, which means that mum's the word down at Westminster. The punters are not happy about it.

Going prorogue

Before we begin in earnest, we need to establish an educated presumption: that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom intends to crash out of the European Union without a deal. We acknowledge that this it may be a debatable presumption (there are still people who believe Boris Johnson). But he has insisted that Britain will only pursue a deal if the EU drops the insurance policy against a hard-border in Ireland, known as the backstop. That has already been agreed to by both Brussels and the previous occupant of 10 Downing Street. Given that this impossible concession will not be made, Johnson is content to see a no-deal Brexit eventuate.

Now for a brief timeline. This column will be published on Saturday August 31. On September 3 British parliament will sit after a sweltering summer holiday. They'll have the better part of two months to debate whether or not it's in the best interests of their constituents to leave the European Union without a deal. If they discover it's a "not", they'll have until October 31 to find a more sensible solution. Or, at least they would've, had the prime minister not hijacked an arcane Westminster mechanism and weaponised it.

Speaking the Queen's

The Queen's Speech is, as you may surmise from the name, an annual speech in which the monarch outlines the legislative agenda of the government. These events have historically been preceded by the prorogation (read: suspension without dissolution) of parliament for several days. Johnson has taken this tradition and bent it to his will: he's announced that parliament will be prorogued from September 9th through to October 14th. Five valuable weeks of parliamentary debate have disappeared into the ether. It is a nakedly self-serving ploy to head off a parliamentary vote that would've stopped a no-deal Brexit. Or, in the words of Commons speaker John Bercow, a "constitutional outrage".

If you think this sounds like it is goes against the spirit (if not the letter) of the law, then you are not alone. In fact, you are joined by some high-profile members of Johnson's cabinet . Proroguing parliament has previously been described as a "mad suggestion" (Nicky Morgan, culture secretary) and "absolutely outrageous" (Amber Rudd, work and pensions secretary). It was said to betray the spirit of the Tommies on the beaches of Normandy (Matt Hancock, health secretary) and trash democracy (Sajid Javid, chancellor). Hypocrisy like theirs ought to be pointed out, not just because it's rather funny, but because it reveals just how (we're being as polite as possible here) malleable said politicians' principles are.

Two steps back(stop)wards

Johnson's plan may well be audacious, but it's only cunning in the Blackadder sense. With one stroke the PM has managed to unite the hitherto unwieldy and fragmented opponents of no-deal. The leader of the opposition, the Lenin-partial Jeremy Corbyn, now has common cause with the decidedly not-Leninist Financial Times and Economist . The Lib Dems, having pulled themselves from the brink of oblivion, are in a tizzy. It's no rhetorical flourish to say that the people have taken to the streets .

Johnson’s opponents have few options but these will be likely pursued with vigour. Multiple legal actions (including one by anti-Brexit doyenne Gina Miller) seeking emergency injunctions have been launched in London and Edinburgh. In the Commons some tough decisions must be made: MPs could vote to take control of government business and force an early election or mandate that Johnson go back to Brussels to seek an Article 50 extension. There are significant risks in any step that the MPs take and there is very little time in which to organise a coherent strategy. It is a historic moment for the mother of all parliaments.

The conservative movement has long defined itself as the custodian of institutions against unnecessary change. The subversion of those institutions is purely expedient and marks a low point for a centuries-old intellectual tradition.


Measuring death in gold. PHOTO: Rolling Stone

On the subject of Johnsons...

An Oklahoma court this week ruled against American pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) for its role in the opioid epidemic. The court found that the drug maker had "compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans" and ordered a $572m penalty be paid. The cold logic of the markets meant that J&J enjoyed a jump in stock price as the fine was lower than market expectations. Investors may enjoy their day in the sun (the fine is a drop in the ocean of the company's $330b market capitalisation) but it will be a brief one. The ruling has given succour and useful precedent to potential litigants in other jurisdictions.

There are thousands upon thousands of cases targeting American opioid manufacturers and distributors. 2000 are aimed squarely at Purdue Pharmaceuticals , the manufacturer of OxyContin that wantonly produced and sold its highly-addictive product. The company's owners, the Sackler family, have offered $up 12b as a proposed settlement to the lawsuits. Some have lauded the novel offer (which hands control of the company over to their courtroom antagonists), but a powerful group of lawmakers argues that $12b is simply not enough . Whatever the result of these cases, there is still a long way to go: perhaps as many as 500,000 Americans will die from opioid-related deaths in the next decade.

Pro-independence leaders were arrested ahead of the weekend. PHOTO: AFP

Another weekend of protests

Hong Kong is set for further disruption this weekend. A huge rally was not permitted on security grounds; the illegality of the march makes it all the more likely that clashes with police will occur. It comes on the heel of a peaceful rally during the week which sought to draw attention to a string of sexual assaults against female protesters at the hands of police.

If this weekend's protests had the potential for volatility, the police have virtually guaranteed it with the arrest of pro-independence leaders on Friday. Joshua Wong is fast becoming a household name with his regular appearances in the international media. He was walking to the subway yesterday morning when he was grabbed off the street , bundled into an unmarked car and taken to police headquarters. Wong has become something of a totem in Hong Kong. The 22-year-old shoulders great expectations – and risks – as the mouthpiece for a sprawling movement.

Late in the week the People's Liberation Army rotated a new contingent of soldiers into its barracks on the island. With the city on a knife-edge, the sight of black armoured personnel carriers proved a panic trigger. Beijing described it as a routine exercise, though the incessant troop manoeuvres on the mainland have done little to dissuade fears of an imminent military operation.

The Best of Times

Leaving it to the last possible moment. PHOTO: Amir Cohen / Reuters

The faintest glimmer of hope

The northern white rhino has three feet across the threshold of extinction, though some help may be on the way. Last year we lamented when the last male of the species, a 45-year-old named Sudan, died in a Kenyan conservation park. The species is functionally extinct save for Sudan's daughter and granddaughter (Najin and Fatu), from whom 10 eggs were taken for artificial insemination. We can rejoice in the fact that 7 of them were successfully artificially fertilised .

Always look on the bright side of life

If you want to live a long one, that is. This study found that optimists are more likely to live longer.

The Worst of Times

School's out. PHOTO: Charles Krupa / AP

Overzealous petty officials #1

This week a Palestinian student arrived at Boston Logan International Airport ready to start his first year at Harvard. Given that he was a Palestinian arriving from Lebanon, he was subject to strenuous checks by border guards. After eight hours of waiting he was summarily deported because the immigration officers found that his friends – that's right, not him – had criticised America on social media.

Overzealous petty officials #2

Over at Detroit Metro Airport a Chinese student was denied entry for bringing a prohibited item into the country. The item? A bulletproof vest . The expectation must be that if you want the privilege of travelling to the only developed country with non-stop mass shootings, you ought to be ready to pay with your life.

Weekend Reading

Quote of the week

"Just so you know, in my view Pluto is a planet. "

– Just when you thought it was safe to mentally categorise Pluto as a dwarf planet, none other than Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine hurls us back into the maelstrom of planetary definitional war.

Headline of the week

'Anti-groping' device that marks attackers with invisible ink sells out within 30 minutes in Japan The Independent

Special mention

Hamdi Ulukaya has a novel approach for fixing the global refugee crisis. He hires refugees. We implore you to read his story – it's absolutely worth your time.

Some choice long-reads

  • Businessweek applies some skin-lightening cream and finds that it's full of mercury,
  • The Economist lays out – in the clearest terms – how to stop Boris Johnson, and
  • Foreign Policy has a moment of déjà vu when reporting on modern day Afghanistan and Kashmir.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Britain's lewdest tabloid, The Sun, was boycotted in Liverpool after its attrocious coverage of the Hillsborough disaster. A contemporary study has found that since that point, Liverpudlians have become substantially less Eurosceptic. Lesson: newspapers are powerful political tools only so long as they are read.

Tom Wharton