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Hong Kong’s illicit wildlife trade, North Korea’s unusual — and addictive — Lunar New Year gifts, and a deeply troubling Bonsai theft. Here’s the latest:
U.S. lawmakers reach a tentative border deal
House and Senate negotiators say they reached an “agreement in principle” to avert another government shutdown at the end of the week.
President Trump said he was “not happy” with the deal, although he didn’t signal whether he would sign it or veto it.
Details: The deal would provide $1.375 billion for physical barriers at the southern border with Mexico, far lower than the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump had demanded. And it would allow for 55 miles of new fencing, a fraction of the 200-mile steel-and-concrete wall the president had envisioned.
The deal appeared to be a win for Democrats, who were able to weave in a reduction of the number of migrants and undocumented immigrants who can be held in detention centers.
What’s next? The deal could be finalized rapidly, but would still need to be approved by both the House and Senate, as well as Mr. Trump.
Hong Kong: Still a hub for criminal wildlife trade
Every year, vast amounts of exotic animal products, like shark fins and elephant ivory, flow through Hong Kong. Most of it is headed for China, the world’s largest wildlife market.
The latest victims of the trade are pangolins from Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Their meat is considered a delicacy in southern China and their scales are a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Four of the eight species are now endangered.
By the numbers: Hong Kong officials estimate that they’ve seized more than $71 million worth of wildlife contraband in the past five years, a figure that suggests the possibility of a larger, billion-dollar industry that remains under the radar.
Enforcement: The authorities claim they are cracking down on the illegal trade, but few cases have led to prosecutions and individual smugglers have gotten away with just a few weeks in prison. It is also a Sisyphean task to inspect every parcel going in and out of the city, home to one of the world’s most voluminous ports and airports.
Alternative: Officials have suggested focusing on the demand side of the equation instead.
“I think the community has begun to accept that if something is not good for the environment, it should be phased out,” said one official. “The world is changing.”
Australian lawmakers back medical evacuations for asylum seekers
Parliament’s lower house narrowly passed legislation that would let asylum seekers held in offshore detention centers fly to Australia for medical treatments.
Two or more doctors would need to request medical evacuations, to be reviewed by an independent medical panel. The home affairs minister could ultimately reject the transfer.
What’s next? The measure now heads to the Senate, which passed an earlier version of the legislation last year.
Background: Australia’s immigration policy, aimed at deterring dangerous sea crossings, keeps asylum seekers who try to enter the country by boat from setting foot in the country. Many have been detained on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus for years in conditions of increasing concern for human rights groups and medical experts.
Political implications: The vote was a blow for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who strongly opposed the measure. It appears to be the first time since 1941 that the government had lost a key vote in the lower house.
North Korea’s peculiar Lunar New Year celebrations
Like many people across Asia, North Koreans exchange presents during the holiday, but, instead of the usual tea or sweets, some reports suggest that crystal meth is the preferred gift.
The drug, which has fueled addiction crises around the world, is well established in the country. People snort it as casually as they might smoke a cigarette, possibly unaware of its harmful qualities. A lack of access to health care and medical supplies has also contributed to its popularity.
Background: In the 1990s, North Korea’s cash-poor government started manufacturing meth to export and, about two decades later, local production of opiates. The meth was then typically sneaked across the border into China or handed off to criminal organizations, like the Japanese yakuza.
In the mid-2000s, government-controlled production ebbed, so its skilled makers began supplying local markets.
Here’s what else is happening
Myanmar: A French tourist who was arrested and accused of flying a drone near the Parliament building in the capital, Naypyidaw, could face up to three years in prison, a local police official said.
El Chapo: The Mexican drug kingpin was found guilty after a three-month trial in New York that exposed the inner workings of his brutal and corrupt cartel. He faces life in prison.
Hungary: Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced that women with four or more children will no longer pay income taxes, the latest incentive he’s offered to increase the country’s dwindling population and work force without allowing in immigrants.
Canada: The parliamentary ethics commissioner opened an inquiry into allegations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to influence the criminal investigation of a Montreal-based engineering company, a case that could dent his reputation in an election year.
France: Anti-Semitic incidents have risen sharply, jumping 74 percent in 2018 to 541, government officials said. The figures illustrate the rise of the far-right, especially online, raising outrage and concern.
Bonsai theft: A prized 400-year-old tree was among seven stolen from a store near Tokyo, unsettling the owner so deeply that he begged the thieves to return them, and to water them in the meantime. Bonsai trees are notoriously difficult to keep, requiring meticulous shaping, watering and caring that creates a deep connection for their owners.
Playing mom and dad: A hit new video game, Chinese Parents, has players raising a child from cradle to college. It’s spurring heated discussions online, thousands of reviews and sparking players’ feelings of empathy for their parents.
Tips for a more fulfilling life.
Recipe of the day: Looking for a light meal? Serve simmered kabocha squash over rice with a fried egg.
Activities requiring you to stand instead of sit, such as tai chi, can reduce falls.
South Asians have high rates of heart disease, and experts are beginning to understand why.
The wintry storms raging around the U.S. this week aren’t, thankfully, bringing the plunging temperatures of the recent polar vortex. That brutal blast of cold offered a reminder of the one temperature where the Fahrenheit scale agrees with Celsius: minus 40.
The scales both address two major calibration points (freezing and boiling), but divide the temperature range between them in differently sized degrees. There are a lot more in Fahrenheit, and the two intersect at just that one point.
Daniel Fahrenheit, an 18th-century physicist and inventor, made his scale for a mercury-in-glass thermometer that was the first accurate and practical way to measure temperature.
He used a frigid mix of ice, water and salt to define zero degrees. Then he borrowed and refined other reference points from an existing scale, which is how other commonly used points ended up with untidy values like 32 for water’s freezing point and 212 for its boiling point.
Anders Celsius, whose lifetime overlapped Fahrenheit’s, set those reference points at 0 and 100.
Kenneth Chang, a science reporter who says he “hates the Fahrenheit scale — and miles and ounces and those other British units that even the British dropped decades ago,” wrote today’s Back Story.
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