The World Today for September 15, 2016


Berlin Redux

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is gearing up for regional elections in the city-state of Berlin on Sunday.

It’s hoping for a repeat of its surprising upset over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats in her home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania earlier this month.

The AfD finished second there with a bit over 20 percent of the vote. Merkel’s Christian Democrats finished a disappointing third, marking the first time the conservatives were flanked from the right in any state or regional election in postwar history.

But the anti-immigrant party has been barreling ahead throughout the country. They’re polling nationally at 12 percent, a sign that their anti-immigration platform is siphoning away voters from more traditional parties.

“In the long term, we want to govern this country,” said Joerg Meuthen, one of the leaders of the party.

Still, Germany’s ideological rightward push is a Europe-wide phenomenon: One crisis after another has plagued the continent and disenfranchised voters, says the Economist. The refugee crisis is just the latest one.

The biggest difference now is that the obscure right wing is going mainstream and actually governing.

A decade ago in Sweden, the right-wing Sweden Democrats could only find ideological partners in former Nazi parties, and often had to disavow their ties to white supremacists.

But the party won 13 percent of the vote in elections two years ago. And now, they are starting to gain middle ground. Their minority coalition recently pushed through a bill to restrict the number of asylum seekers able to receive permanent residency, preventing lone refugee children from uniting with their parents. A Swedish referendum for leaving the European Union is also in the works.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, the right-wing Danish People’s Party has become the parliament’s second largest, and has proposed such steps as confiscating the belongings of refugees. In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party has seen surges in approval ratings since erecting a wall to keep out migrants.

Coming up later this year, Austrians could install Western Europe’s first right-wing, populist head of state. Italy, meanwhile, is set to vote on a referendum that is essentially a vote of confidence on its reform-minded leadership. And France’s right-wing queen, Marine Le Pen, and many others are waiting in the wings.

“That which was impossible yesterday has become possible,” French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen wrote in a Twitter post following the AfD’s win earlier this month.

To the AfD – and their soulmates across Europe – Berlin is just another step.


Another Scalp

Brazil’s battle against corruption just claimed another scalp.

Following the expulsion of his protégé and successor Dilma Rousseff and also former house speaker Eduardo Cunha who led the drive to impeach her, Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his wife were charged with corruption Wednesday, with prosecutors accusing Lula of masterminding the multibillion dollar Petrobras scam, the Financial Times reported.

“Lula not only knew about the corruption scheme, he was in command,” said Deltan Dallagnol, the prosecutor leading the investigation, known as Operation Car Wash.

The prosecutors alleged that some of the $1.9 billion siphoned from Petrobras went to Lula’s Workers’ Party, where it helped him and his allies maintain their hold on power. Moreover, they accused Lula and his wife of personally taking kickbacks for government contracts from a construction firm, including renovations to their luxury beachfront apartment.

Though Lula has been under investigation for some time, these are the first charges lodged against him by federal prosecutors. They are likely to further anger his supporters in Brazil’s Workers’ Party, who are already holding daily protests against the coalition government of President Michel Temer, Rousseff’s successor.

The charges could further complicate his efforts to implement reforms needed to get the economy back on track. Never mind the country’s governance.

Wishing on a Star

After going after Apple for avoiding taxes, the European Union is taking on Facebook and Google to boost its own tech firms.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday that the bloc would take steps to increase broadband speeds and lower data prices in a move to shore up support for the EU following the Brexit vote, Reuters reported.

The planned reforms might also compel US tech giants like Facebook, Google and Whatsapp to share revenue with the Europe-based broadband companies whose networks they use – adding to US concerns about EU protectionism in the tech field.

Though they are likely to be watered down due to opposition from EU lawmakers, the proposed reforms also include measures to give news sites and artists more muscle to negotiate with Google and other companies for a share of revenue when linked to their copyrighted content. So far, most such claims have been shot down by the courts.

Wayward Cannonballs

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s tough talk has his allies more confused than scared.

Apparently looking to insult the US every chance he gets, he’s halfway convinced Washington and its Asian allies that he’s ready to ditch his country’s decades-old partnership with the US, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Is he just talking? Is he looking to be wooed, rather than taken for granted? Or is he looking to settle his country’s dispute over the South China Sea by hitching his wagon to Beijing?

China doesn’t know what to think, either. While Duterte’s anti-US remarks could aid Beijing in undermining the international ruling in favor of the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute in July, his willingness to let his words fall like cannonballs where they may has Chinese pundits thinking he could reverse his position at any time.

“With Duterte’s temper, no matter who he’s blasting, it won’t be easy for him to be used by any third party,” opined the Global Times – a tabloid affiliated with the state-owned People’s Daily.

Along with calling US President Barack Obama “a son of a bitch,” Duterte has recently said the Philippines will stop patrolling the South China Sea alongside US vessels to avoid being part of any “hostile act” against Beijing. And he’s called for the withdrawal of US Special Forces currently training Filipino troops for the fight against local terrorists.

Nobody knows what he’ll say next. But Singapore-based policy expert Ian Storey said his shoot-from-the-hip style was a “risky and dangerous strategy” that would alienate regional allies, the Filipino public and his own military.


Hairy Crimes

Getting away with murder is about to get even harder.

Along with DNA evidence, a strand of hair may soon be enough to identify its unique owner beyond a shadow of a doubt, say scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.

Like DNA sequencing, the test they have devised not only could identify an individual but also trace his or her ancestry, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Under the current methodology of crime scene investigation, scientists can compare two strands of hair to show that they are similar enough to match. But without DNA attached to the hair follicle, they cannot say for sure that they came from the same person.

But researchers at Livermore’s Forensic Science center found that the proteins that make up the hair are “like an echo” of the hair’s owner’s DNA, the paper said.

If the technique is accepted – as the researchers believe it will be – it could prove invaluable to investigators because DNA is easily degraded by the passage of time and exposure to the elements. Hair, however, is not.

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