Saturday, the 5th of June

Talking Points

A muted memorial on the June 3. PHOTO: Jerome Favre / EPA
  1. Thousands of HK police quashed Tiananmen Square massacre vigil
  2. Turkey used an autonomous attack drone in Libya
  3. The number of migrants making the Channel crossing soared
  4. Denmark adopted Australia's inhumane third-country asylum regime
  5. Pope Francis revised canon law on sexual abuse by clergy
  6. Global meat giant JBS suffered a massive ransomware hack
  7. The first Capitol Riot case collapsed in the US
  8. United Airlines bought 15 of Boom Overture's supersonic jets
  9. AMC, surging on 'meme stock' buzz, is now a $30b company
  10. The International Space Station was hit by zooming space junk

Dive deeper

Are you a Groupie? PHOTO: Getty

The G7 has a reputation for not achieving much, and for shouting from the rooftops on the rare occasions it does. This year we dive into the Group of Seven: what's it good for and does it do anything worth writing home about?

Group(of 7)think

The heads of government from the Group of Seven – the world's largest advanced economies – meet next week in Cornwall to tackle the most significant problems of the day. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan will come together to address climate crises, pandemic preparedness, and global tax regimes. In the lead up to the summit, UK PM Boris Johnson was at his triumphal best, "the world has looked to the G7 to apply our shared values and diplomatic might to create a more open and prosperous planet". It's yet to be divined what values the seven member states share beyond contradistinction: 'we're not China or Russia'.

Still, at least they're singing from the same hymn book. That's an improvement since last year when then-President Donald Trump had fobbed off the group as "a very outdated group of countries". But for all his foibles, Trump did have a valid point. The International Monetary Fund's definition of an "advanced economy" excludes the likes of China and India. The former is not invited even though it will be double the size of the US economy in half a century. The latter has scored an invite (as a guest, along with South Korea, South Africa, and Australia), but must remain outside the tent looking in. At a minimum, it is fanciful to think that genuine progress can be made on pandemic recovery – which is at the top of the ticket – without representatives from Beijing.

The External Revenue Service

There is one project up for debate at the G7 that could revolutionise the modern economy: the institution of a global minimum corporate tax rate . For decades countries have been engaged in a 'race to the bottom' to furnish acquisitive corporat with a place to stash their cash. One doesn't need to parse the Panama or Paradise Papers to see how utterly ineffectual the global tax system is – just look at Amazon, Alphabet, and Apple. The most accurate picture we have comes from back in 2016 when $1.4tn was shifted offshore by multinationals. That's 2% of the entire planet's GDP . Today the G7 finance ministers begin their own pre-summit meeting to try and staunch the bleeding.

This long-awaited action can be attributed directly to a sympathetic ear in Washington. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is spearheading the push, but it is not simply for the good of the commons. President Biden's enormous outlay on infrastructure projects is being paid for with a domestic corporate tax hike – the global minimum standard is a way to corral America's slippery multinationals and grow America's coffers. At this point we are willing to forget intentionality entirely: if this helps kill off tax havens then we'll grin and bear it. There are any number of reasons to support this move: placing money back in the hands of lawmakers in jurisdictions where the profits are earned, increasing competition between local firms and fairly taxed multinationals, and, at a base level, creating a sense of procedural fairness.

France and Germany have thrown their weight behind the uncharacteristic openness from a US president. French Finance Minister Brune Le Maire was emphatic on the subject, "We have to seize opportunities when they present themselves. It's now. It's now that we must act."

The two proposed rates are 21% and 15% but the smart money is on the lower one. Naturally, the tax havens have most to lose from a globalised tax rate. Ireland has been a welcome home to contriving US multinationals since the 1980s. It even has its own evasive 'Double Irish' tax arrangement to weaken its already slight 12.5% tax rate. It is a ludicrous set up. Just last year Microsoft earmarked €222b in profits to its Irish subsidiary (which does not have a single employee on its books) only for it all to disappear to Bermuda. Cyprus, which has striven for years to become the Mediterranean tax haven par excellence, has threatened to block the European Union from signing up to any future agreement. Hungary, with its pitiful 9% corporate tax rate, has made similar noises.

Seawalls for Cornwall

That next week's meeting is being held in picturesque Cornwall should conjure some meditation on a green future. The south-western tip of the UK is home to the country's first major geothermal power plant and a sizeable vein of lithium. It's also going to lose a significant number of its low-lying villages to rising seas. The UK government is galloping towards the future with a 2035 target to reduce emissions by 78% versus 1990 levels. But there is only so much you can expect from the rest of the gang.

A report has found that the G7 member states have not matched their rhetoric with action: in the 14 months to March 2021 they poured $42b more into oil, gas, and coal projects than renewables. To add insult to injury, the G7 has granted Australia guest status this year – the developed world's worst environmental dissembler will be given a podium to further its climate goals, that is to weaken any international agreements on emissions. Russia was rightly kicked out of the G7 in 2014 for annexing Crimea – it would have been an arch insult to allow Moscow to feign international cooperation. Our kingdom for a G7 that treats climate laggards similarly.


Worldlywise

Osaka leaves the ball in the media's court. PHOTO: Xinhua

An unforced error at Roland Garros

Team sports promote cooperation, communication, and compromise. Sure, there are big personalities and moments of individual brilliance, but subservience to a collective in pursuit of victory is paramount. Singles tennis is something else entirely; melodramatic, self-absorbed, and utterly mesmerising. McEnroe, Williams, Kyrgios – we've come to equate high dudgeon with high drama. Which, perhaps, is why the world leaned in so swiftly to criticise world number two Naomi Osaka for declining media appearances at the French Open. It smacked of a tennis star wanting to be answerable only to themselves: to hell with the sponsors and broadcasters that pay for the whole tournament and for whom post-match interviews are a critical component of the agreement!

Osaka made good on her intention by skipping a press junket and was duly fined $15,000 by tournament organisers. In their defence, the tennis star's initial comments were convoluted, but then again she is paid for fluency with a racket, not words. And t he fine itself is immaterial; Osaka is the highest-paid female athlete in history – taking in US$37m in prize-money and sponsorships last year. But t acked on was a threat to expel her for any further absenteeism, which did not have the desired effect and instead prompted Osaka to quit the French Open. In her shock announcement she detailed a long struggle with depression . The pressure of winning Grand Slams is immense. And so that whirring sound you now hear emanating from Paris is the organisers back-pedalling fast enough to qualify for the Tour de France. They are now pledging to open a dialogue with players to help manage the relentless media coverage.

Tennis fans adore the sport precisely because of its otherness. To watch Naomi Osaka or Novak Djokovich is to feast on seemingly super-human feats of precision and strength. They are not like us, and most of us can scarcely conceive emulating them (bar the one-in-eight delusional British men who think they could take a point off Serena Williams). This affair should ring home that they are human, all too human.

The King and his challenger in 2019. PHOTO: Atef Safadi

Regicide in Israel

There's a trope in action and horror films that you'll be familiar with. The exhausted hero turns their back on the vanquished antagonist, only for the slumped baddie to rear up one last time and create havoc. It's a reliable fixture, but easily overdone. How many times has Benjamin Netanyahu performed this exact feat? Seemingly down and out, deserted by his allies, facing electoral oblivion – only to lurch back into contention with some combination of charisma, fear, and institutional inertia . Year after year, we have covered the man feted as 'King Bibi' and his frankly unbelievable staying power. Four inconclusive elections in just over two years led many in Israel to believe that it's either Bibi or nothing.

Which is why, even with Netanyahu on the verge of finally – finally – being turfed out of government , there is a note of caution in the air. The improbable partnership of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett has borne an agreement to form government. Their diverse coalition of 8 parties is large enough to seal Bibi's fate with a vote of confidence. The wily Netanyahu is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at cracking the coalition open before that final blow; he's hammered Bennett as a "left-winger" who has given up the country to win the votes of the Arab Joint List . This is a fanciful notion, the ultra-right-wing Bennett has called for the near total annexation of Palestine and is famous for saying, "I've killed lots of Arabs in my life and there's no problem with that". Of course, for Netanyahu it is a fight for survival. Those corruption trials loom over the once towering 'King of Israel'.

What does it mean for Palestine? A loosened blockade on Gaza or perhaps meaningful steps to reverse apartheid in the West Bank? Don't hold your breath.


The worst of times

We'll miss it once it's gone. PHOTO: AFP

One direction for Iceland's ice floes

Iceland’s glaciers are rapidly shrinking, providing even more evidence of the damage caused by climate change. Between 2000 and 2019, the country’s ice masses lost 750km ² or seven percent of their surface . The decline has been ongoing since 1890, however it has accelerated since the beginning of this century. Of course, Iceland’s ice loss isn’t isolated: analysis of satellite imagery reveals the planet has lost an average of 267b tons of ice per year since 2000.

Canada's cultural genocide

The remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at a former boarding school in Canada this week. The boarding school was one of 139 locations set up to assimilate Indigenous children after being taken from their homes. Some 150,000 Indian, Inuit, and Metis young people were forcibly removed from their homes over almost 80 years. It's a deep scar that modern Canada has yet to fully address.


The best of times

World, meet Arthur Morgan. PHOTO: Manchester Evening News

Million dollar baby

A five-month-old baby has become the first person in England to receive the world's most expensive drug through the country’s public health service. Zolgensma is proven to help babies born with spinal muscular atrophy live beyond their two-year life expectancy. However, each dose costs £1.79m, making it the world’s priciest. Luckily, a deal between its maker, Novartis Gene Therapies, and the UK government means it is available at a fraction of that cost.

In the shadow of the Himalayas

Archaeologists have used a new technique to confirm the presence of humans in the Himalayas 5,000 years ago . Not only are traces of their presence scarce, the mountains are predominantly made of stone, making the dating process difficult. Researchers overcame the challenges by analysing the stone’s luminescent signal. The signal is interrupted after the material is removed from the ground, and resumes once it is buried. As such, the new method can be used to date other stone artefacts found in places with a long history of human presence.


Weekend Reading

The image

The MV X-Press Pearl, burns and disintegrates off the coast of Sri Lanka. The four-month old chemical carrier ignited on May 20 and is feared to become the worst environmental disaster in the country's history. Efforts to tow the ship to deeper waters failed this week. Photograph supplied by Reuters.

The quote

"Um."

– Ums and uhs are ubiqutious in human communication. Linguists refer to them as difluencies – minor disruptions in speech. A paper published this week argues that these disfluencies are actually behavioral markers that precede difficult-to-pronounce words or concepts that the speaker has not recently engaged with. By attaching electrodes directly to the association regions of the brain, a team of neurologists at Detroit's Wayne State University have shown that high-level brain activity does not dip during the um or ah. Feel free to quote this to your child's doctrinarian language teachers.

The numbers

2,000,000,000 shots

- It's taken just half a year to inoculate 2 billion people against Covid-19. A notable achievement that is tempered by the shocking inequality of access. In the US 89.4 doses have been given per 100 people; in sub-Saharan Africa that figure falls to just 1 shot per 100 people.

10,000 empty volunteer slots

- The International Olympic Committee is one of those startling organisations that makes billions in broadcast and licensing rights while relying almost wholly on free labour. The Tokyo Games – a car-crash in slow-motion – needs 80,000 volunteers to run smoothly. The organisers must now contend with the fact that 10,000 of them have quit over mounting health concerns .

The headline

"World's only alpine parrot may have moved to the mountains to avoid people" The Guardian . A prudent decision.

The special mention

These humpback whales . We've finally caught them bubble-net feeding for the first time and it is a true wonder.

A few choice long-reads

  • How many children is the right amount? China has landed on this formula: one each for mum, dad, and the party. The Economist warns against this prescriptive approach.
  • A desperately needed investigation from Bloomberg Businessweek: Yemen Had the World's Worst Humanitarian Crisis. Then Covid Came.
  • The Financial Times comes through with a pearler for fans of Don Quixote: Meet the Englishman trying to save American bookstores from Amazon.

Tom Wharton @trwinwriting