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Boris Johnson’s Brother Resigns From Parliament Amid PM’s Second Call for Election

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  • Boris Johnson is expected to make another call for snap elections following his defeat in parliament on Wednesday.
  • After PM Johnson lost his majority and expelled 21 Tories from the Conservative party, Johnson’s brother, Jo Johnson announced his resignation, citing being “torn between family loyalty and the national interest.”
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Johnson at his home and extended negotiations for a free trade agreement, claiming it would boost trade between the countries three to four times.

Johnson to Make Another Call for Elections

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make another call for snap elections on Monday, following his failure on Wednesday to garner enough votes to hold elections.

Also on Wednesday, Johnson was first defeated when the House of Commons passed legislation that would bar the United Kingdom from executing a no-deal Brexit. Following that vote, Johnson then called for the elections that would open all 650 seats, including his own as prime minister. 

The second vote, which ended 298 to 56, failed to attract the two-thirds majority needed to initiate the elections, which would occur three years before the term is over.

Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he will vote for elections, but only after the bill blocking a no-deal becomes law.

After securing approval from the Commons, the bill moved to the House of Lords, which announced it will finish all related proceedings by Friday afternoon. If it passes, it will be sent back to the Commons for any amendments. If passed again in the Commons, it will then head to Queen Elizabeth II who will almost certainly sign it into law. 

Johnson has argued that blocking a no-deal option would prevent him from negotiating a better deal with the European Union, though he has repeatedly said he would remove the U.K. from the EU “do or die.” On Wednesday, Johnson called the block a surrender bill, claiming it will kill any chance for him to secure a better deal.

For his part, Johnson believes the EU will only agree to a better deal if it suspects the U.K. might pull out without a deal. While experts forecast a no-deal would seriously rupture the U.K.’s economy, it would also be expected to damage the economies of other European countries. 

Johnson also said he had made “substantial progress” in arguing for a new deal, but a spokesperson for the EU told reporters “there is nothing new” from London.

“It’s basically a policy that’s cloaked in mystery, like the emperor’s new clothes,” Corbyn said in the Commons. “There really is absolutely nothing there.” 

Nonetheless, if the no-deal Brexit ban becomes law, Johnson may be forced to ask the EU for an extension to the October 31 deadline. Johnson has repeatedly stated he will not ask for another extension, following two granted to his predecessor Theresa May.

“I would rather be dead in a ditch,” he told reporters Thursday.

Johnson’s Brother Resigns from Parliament

In another blow to Johnson, his brother Jo Johnson announced his resignation on Twitter Thursday morning. 

“It’s been an honour to represent Orpington for 9 years & to serve as a minister under three PMs,” Johnson wrote. “In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest – it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister. #overandout”

Some political commentators have speculated the resignation might stem from PM Johnson’s expulsion of 21 conservative members of parliament on Tuesday. In a reply, David Gauke — an MP who Johnson expelled — hinted at the tensions within the Conservative Party.

“Lots of MPs have had to wrestle with conflicting loyalties in recent weeks. None more so than Jo. This is a big loss to Parliament, the Government and the Conservative Party.”

A spokesperson for the prime minister later thanked Jo Johnson for his service and said his constituents “could not have asked for a better representative.”

Prime Minister Johnson faced questions from reporters later in the day, with many of them asking about his brother’s exit. PM Johnson then responded by saying that while they disagree on how to approach Brexit, his brother wants the government to solve Brexit and has been supportive of his domestic policies.

U.S. and U.K. Potential Free Trade Agreement

Amid the turmoil in the U.K., President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have offered their support for Brexit.

Pence met with the prime minister of Ireland on Wednesday, where he mentioned a potential free trade agreement with the U.K. post-Brexit. Previously, Trump had said he would sign a “very big trade deal, bigger than we’ve ever had.”

The following day, Pence met with Johnson at his home on 10 Downing Street, extending an invitation to discuss a free trade agreement and claiming it could increase trade between the two countries by three to four times.

“The president often says the US has the biggest economy in the world and we truly believe that a free trade agreement between the United States and the U.K. could increase trade between our country by three or four times,” Pence said to Johnson. 

See what others are saying: (Time) (Reuters) (NPR)

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Anti-Asian Hate Crimes on the Rise in British Columbia

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  • A report given to Canadian police in Vancouver, British Columbia last week showed a 717% in hate crimes against Asians over the last year and a 97% increase in hate crimes overall.
  • Prosecutors have been urged to more seriously pursue hate crime charges, despite them being harder to prove in court.
  • The trend has been mirrored in Ontario, another Canadian province with significant Asian populations.

Massive Surges in Hate Crimes

The U.S. has struggled with anti-Asian hate crimes over the last year, especially in municipalities like New York City, which reported upwards of a 1,900% increase from one incident to 19 within the year.

However, the U.S. isn’t the only country dealing with the issue. Similar trends have been reported in Canada as well. A report given to the Vancouver police board last week found that in 2019, there were just 12 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes reported in the city. In 2020, there was 98, which marks a 717% increase. Those numbers helped drive the stats of hate crimes in the city up 97% overall.

To be clear, crime overall has been on the rise, likely fueled by struggling local economies dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Hard To Pursue Charges

The report has caused Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth to push local prosecutors to seek more hate crime charges.

The region has failed to actually bring charges for most reported hate incidents, with the past year only seeing just one charge filed despite police evidence of such hate crimes. The issue at hand is that adding a hate crime charge makes getting a conviction much harder.

The incidents have led to a push for more strict anti-racism legislation in the province, a position that John Horgan, the British Columbian Premier, has pushed for as far back as June 2020.

British Columbia, according to an assortment of Asian-Canadian advocacy groups, has the most incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes, followed by Ontario. This is especially notable because they are the number two and number one locations of Asian populations in Canada, respectively.

See what others are saying: (Vancouver Sun) (CBC) (CTV News)

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Japan Appoints ‘Minister of Loneliness’ To Combat Rising Suicide Rates

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  • Earlier this month, Japan appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as the country’s Minister of Loneliness, tasked with addressing rising suicide rates.
  • Suicides were declining worldwide, except in the U.S., ahead of the coronavirus pandemic but have since seen startling spikes.
  • In October, Japan reported 400 more suicide deaths than all COVID-19 related deaths in the nation until that point.
  • While suicide cases among men in Japan are higher, the country has seen a drastic increase in suicides among women, who are more likely to have unstable work that is susceptible to market disruptions from the coronavirus.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Loneliness Is a Rising Issue

Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshinori appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as its Minister of Loneliness earlier this month.

Sakamoto is already in charge of combating Japan’s declining birthrate and regional revitalization efforts, but his new role will see him combating Japan’s rising suicide rate. Suicides were actually on the decline in Japan until the COVID-19 pandemic, which has drastically exacerbated the issue.

That trend reached a milestone in October 2020 when Japan suffered 2,153 suicides – nearly 400 more than all COVID-19 related deaths in Japan until that point. Currently, monthly suicides no longer exceed the total amount of deaths from COVID-19, as Japan faced an outbreak at the end of the year and has over 7,500 COVID-19 deaths.

Even though monthly suicides no longer outstrip total coronavirus deaths, the rate hasn’t let up. While men still make up the vast majority of suicides, there’s been a drastic increase in women taking their own lives. Between October 2020 and October 2019 there was a 70% increase in female suicides.

According to Ueda Michiko, a Japanese professor at Waseda University who studies suicides, women are particularly affected because they often have more unstable employment that is more susceptible to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

She went to tell Insider, “A lot of women are not married anymore. They have to support their own lives and they don’t have permanent jobs. So, when something happens, of course, they are hit very, very hard.”

Internationally Suicides on the Rise

Sakamoto hasn’t outlined any specific plans to combat loneliness in Japan, but he has a blueprint to work from as he’s not the world’s first Minister of Loneliness. The U.K. appointed one in 2018 after a report found more than 9 million Brits said that they often or always felt lonely.

But the job doesn’t seem very easy or desirable, as the U.K. has gone through three ministers of loneliness since then.

COVID-19 has been a massive disruption to suicide rates globally, which had actually been steadily declining for decades. The notable exception to this is the United States, which has faced increases nearly every year since 1999 adding up to almost a 30% total increase over the past two decades.

If you’re in the U.S. and feeling suicidal or have thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

For reader across the globe, here are resources in your nation.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (NDTV) (Insider)

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Thailand Pushes Marijuana as Next Cash Crop

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  • The Thai government issued a statement Sunday urging farmers to grow cannabis as a cash crop.
  • A relatively small amount of farmers currently grow the crop for the nation’s medical marijuana industry, but state-run entities are now offering to buy it for $1,500 per kilogram, which is exponentially higher than other cash crops.
  • For reference, a staple like rice goes for about $1 per kilogram.
  • While other countries in the region have followed Thailand’s footsteps in approving medical cannabis, no others allow local farmers to grow the plant.

Underlying Shift in Region

In a drastic change for marijuana policy across Asia, the Thai government made announcements on Sunday that pushed for farmers to grow marijuana as a cash crop for the country’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry.

The decision is in stark contrast to much of East and Southeast Asian marijuana policy, which often features extreme punishments for trafficking the drug, and nearly as harsh punishments for using it recreationally or for medical purposes.

Thailand was the first to approve cannabis for medical use at the end of 2018, with the law practically going into effect in 2019. Since then, according to deputy government spokesperson Traisuleee Traisoranakul, “…2,500 households and 251 provincial hospitals have grown 15,000 cannabis plants.”

“We hope that cannabis and hemp will be a primary cash crop for farmers.”

Worth Its Weight in Gold

The push for more farmers to partake in the marijuana industry comes after hospitals and the nation’s state-run pharmaceutical company found that they needed more of the plant. Currently, the government’s pharma company is hoping that their price of $1500 for 1 kilo of marijuana that contains 12% cannabidiol (CBD) will be enough incentive.

That’s considerably more than what the government pays for other staple crops, such as rice, which goes for about $1 per kilogram.

Additionally, the government also announced that marijuana can now be used in foods and beverages at restaurants as long as it comes from an approved producer. This opens the door for a tourism industry akin to Amsterdam’s coffee shops

While Thailand is leading the way when it comes to marijuana policy, other nations in the region are following in their footsteps. In 2019, South Korea approved the plant and its derivatives for medical use, and Japan has opened the door for clinical research into the drug and its compounds. Still, those nations require that THC and CBD be imported, and their use is heavily restricted.

Thailand’s move to cultivate a homegrown marijuana industry is a huge shift and will likely help the nation secure a hold in the growing industry, which the industry marketing firm Market Research Future believes will be worth over $50 billion by 2025.

See what others are saying: (Bangkok Post) (Reuters) (Chiangrai Times)

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