The World Today for October 03, 2016


A Fumbled Hexit

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has suffered an embarrassment in his duel with Brussels.

In a referendum in Hungary on Sunday, voters nearly unanimously chose to reject the European Union’s resettlement plan for the more than one million Syrians and other refugees who have flooded into the continent in recent years to escape war, oppression and lack of opportunity.

The referendum was arguably Orban’s attempt to stage a kind of Hexit – a Hungarian withdrawal from the EU like Britain’s Brexit. It didn’t explicitly call for the country to leave the union, but it could have set the stage for Orban to square off against Brussels with a popular mandate for more independence – if only more Hungarians had showed up at the polls.

As noted by Bloomberg, the wording of the question said it all: “Do you want the European Union to be able to order the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without parliament’s consent?”

The answer was a resounding no. But unfortunately for Orban, only around 40 percent of Hungarians cast ballots. Hungarian law calls for at least half of eligible voters to go to the polls to make such results binding, CNN said.

It was a rare misstep for the European far-right’s successful march over the past few years – which Orban arguably helped to start when he won the premiership for the first time in 1998.

In 2010, after a stint out of power, Orban formed a victorious coalition that rewrote Hungary’s constitution to grant more authority to the government while curbing civil rights, including freedom of the press, according to human rights groups.

At the same time, he formed close ties with Moscow.

Since then, his Euroskepticism has gained currency. Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the Podemos party of Spain and, of course, British voters are stalwart members of this club.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, is feeling the political backlash now from advocating an open-door immigration policy.

Germany spent too much time trying to tear down walls for the country to put up new ones, Merkel reasoned. But last month she admitted that the open-door policy hurt her Christian Democrats in local elections.

Still, unlike Merkel, Orban claimed victory after the Sunday vote, citing how voters overwhelmingly opposed EU-led attempts to house refugees in the country.

But opposition leader Ferenc Gyurcsany told the BBC that the low turnout meant that a majority of Hungarians did not support the prime minister. They know that the refugee crisis is Europe-wide and needs a unified response from all the members of the union.

“According to this result with such low turnout, the people do not support the government,” said Gyurcsany. “And this is good. The migration issue outreaches Hungarian borders.”


Rejecting Peace

After more than 50 years of war, you’d think everybody would be ready for peace. Not so.

In a stunning development, Colombians on Sunday voted against a peace deal designed to end the decades-old conflict between the government and the Marxist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the New York Times reported.

In the vote, 50.2 percent of Colombians rejected the peace deal and 49.8 percent voted in favor of it. The surprise result leaves the country apprehensive about what will follow.

Analysts say the No voters believed that the amnesty offered to FARC was too generous, given the brutal scars of the war. The outcome dealt a huge blow to current President Juan Manuel Santos and offered an equally big lift to former President Álvaro Uribe, who opposed the deal. The next step will be an effort to negotiate tougher terms.

Both sides vowed they would not go back to fighting.  At least there is that.

Mismanaging Dissent

Ethiopia’s mismanagement of dissent again proved deadly over the weekend.

Dozens were killed in the resulting stampede after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse an anti-government protest that grew out of a massive religious festival, the Associated Press reported.

At least 52 people were killed in the restive state of Oromia, which has seen months of sometimes-deadly protests. Some 2 million people were attending an annual religious festival. It turned deadly after protesters began chanting slogans against the political grouping that has ruled the nation for quarter of a century.

Their dissatisfaction stems from the belief that the government is dominated by the Tigray ethnic group, which makes up only about six percent of the population, Al Jazeera reported.

Human Rights Watch says at least 500 people have been killed in similar incidents since last November.

Coming Clean

Another roadblock to the global fight against climate change was eliminated Sunday, as India became the 62nd nation to ratify the Paris agreement despite its concern that limits on emissions could strangle economic growth.

The world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases joined the two largest emitters – the US and China – as a formal signatory to the deal. But India’s ratification came with a warning to developed nations that “live extravagant lifestyles with a high carbon footprint” yet insist that poorer countries need to cut back, Reuters reported.

The environment ministry said it is imperative to make progress on nuts-and-bolts issues such as financing and technology transfer at a climate change meeting to be held in Marrakech next month.

“(In) Morocco, India will insist on a concrete roadmap from developed countries,” the ministry said.


Comfortably Numb

Ants, it seems, have a dark side.

Apparently, developing the itch of addiction may not be an exclusively human – or even mammalian – trait, scientists at the University of Scranton have discovered. Carpenter ants can develop a taste for the hard stuff as well.

Researchers first introduced carpenter ants to a feeder filled only with a sugar solution. They flocked to it. But over a six-day period, scientists gradually replaced the sugar solution with morphine until that was all the ants were consuming.

They got hooked. Even when two separate feeders were introduced, one with morphine and one with sugar, the junkie ants overwhelmingly favored the opiate.

Humans are the ultimate thrill-seekers of the animal kingdom. We’re able to forgo basic survival in pursuit of a self-administered dopamine rush of pleasure. In contrast, insects were thought to develop such dependency only when the addictive substance was introduced through food intake.

This was originally the case with the addicted ants. But increased dopamine levels in their brains, coupled with their choice of dope over food, displayed a clear pattern of reward-seeking behavior thought to exist only in mammals.

It seems humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy being comfortably numb.


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