The World Today for November 02, 2016


Of Poeticians and Refresh Buttons

Will we look back on Iceland as the beginning of the end for populism?

The conservative Independence Party won the most seats in recent elections in Iceland, defying the polls, to defeat the populist Pirate Party, a collection of activists with an inchoate anti-establishment agenda seeking to legalize marijuana, use the internet to crowdsource democracy and challenge the neoliberal global capitalist order.

Calling herself a “poetician,” Pirate leader Birgitta Jónsdóttir is notorious for helping WikiLeaks to release a video in 2010 of a US Apache helicopter killing a Reuters journalist and others in Iraq, the Daily Beast reported.

Jónsdóttir decried the rise of Donald Trump. But her Pirates were an Icelandic expression of the same disgust with the status quo that Trump represents in the United States.

In Spain, the left-leaning Podemos is fighting for radical change. In Italy, it’s the Five Star Movement. In France, it’s the National Front. In Britain, it’s the United Kingdom Independence Party. In Germany, it’s Alternative For Deutschland. Some are left leaning. Some are conservative. Others are xenophobic and anti-globalist. Some are internationalist but anti-free market.

But Iceland appears to be a rare exception in a year when Donald Trump pledged to build walls between borders, Brits opted to leave the European Union and xenophobia and populism rose around the world, Bloomberg noted.

The leader of the conservative Independence Party who is expected to become prime minister, 46-year-old Bjarni Benediktsson, told the news agency that his performance as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs in the country’s coalition government convinced voters to support his platform.

Benediktsson helped steer Iceland through an economic crisis following the collapse of its banking sector in the 2008 global financial crisis.

“We just took a stand against populist ideas,” Benediktsson said. “What we’ve been saying lately is, don’t overspend, don’t over-promise, just keep your way when things are going well. They were calling for us to push the refresh button and we said, ‘Well, there’s no need to.”’

Still, Benediktsson’s victory is not complete.

His party won the largest plurality in parliament. But because its current coalition partners, the ruling Progressive Party, lost seats, he needs the support of at least one other party to form the government.

That means the Pirates still have a chance to help steer the ship in Iceland, though their participation would embroil them in the same backroom machinations that helped fuel rise of populism in the first place.


Back to the Jungle

Migrants displaced by the destruction of the impromptu Calais refugee camp known as “the Jungle” are finding new homes throughout France. But the country’s difficulties integrating them into society are far from over.

Some refugees have been relocated from the slum-like conditions of the Jungle to new lodgings, such as a dilapidated motel in Reims, with basic amenities like toilets and showers. Others have traded their shanties in Calais for tents in Paris, Voice of America reported. There, too, the government has vowed to demolish the pop-up camps this week.

Still others from among the 5,000 migrants sent from Calais to other locations around the country are angling to work their way back to the port city, from which they hope to cross into Britain.

In many places, the refugees have been greeted by anti-migrant protests or right-wing, not-in-my-backyard campaigns. And in Reims the Salvation Army received a letter threatening to burn facilities being used to house the city’s new residents. Others have been more welcoming.

The people of Reims “are very good, friendly,” said one refugee. “We have food. I’ve never seen that here before.”

Pass the Buck

Nobody knows how to make peace in Syria. But everybody knows the problem is the other side’s fault.

In the latest broadside, Moscow blamed the United States for failing to rein in Islamist rebels it backs in the simultaneous fight against the Islamic State and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying that the resumption of peace talks has been delayed indefinitely as a result, Reuters reported.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that rebels backed by the West had been attacking civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo, despite a pause in Russian and Syrian air attacks.

Previously, the United States had blasted Russia for continuing to hit civilians with air strikes during the purported ceasefire, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the continuation of the current pause depends on the behavior of rebel groups in Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said all the players may be committing war crimes with their indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

Blood in the Water

South Korea’s president recently proposed amending the constitution to allow future presidents to serve more than one term. But where she’s concerned, it’s probably a good thing she’s not eligible for re-election.

With the detention and interrogation of her longtime friend and spiritual advisor for alleged “undue influence” over her decisions, President Park Geun-hye’s approval rating sunk below 10 percent this week, even as thousands of protesters gathered in Seoul Saturday to demand she step down, Reuters reported.

Now, prosecutors have announced they are investigating whether Choi Soon-sil used her friendship with Park to gain access to classified documents and influence government decisions to the benefit of her non-profit foundations, the agency said.

Meanwhile, the opposition called for the investigation to be expanded to include the president herself, according to the Korea Times.

Such a probe is unlikely, as it would be unprecedented in South Korean politics. But then, so is this scandal, and the blood in the water has sent the Korean media into a frenzy – with new dirt about Choi’s alleged meddling in political affairs emerging every day.


Skin the Cat

The fossil record is once again linking us with our primitive ancestors. Only this time, it’s within the unlikely realm of taxidermy.

Scientists recently uncovered nine toes belonging to an ancient cave lion in Spain that went extinct some 12,000 years ago, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Climate change likely led to the demise of the species. But distinctive markings on the newly discovered bones suggest that this particular cave lion may have been killed by human trophy hunters.

The bones show evidence of a predator with “expertise skinning lions,” said Marián Cueto, an archaeologist at the University of Salamanca and the lead author on the study.

“They had knowledge of the anatomy, where to cut in the exact place” to keep the toes attached to the hide, which was likely used as a primitive trophy, she added.

Some academics refute the theory that such hunting played a predominate role in the cats’ extinction. But they do admit the find reveals a bit about our ancestors’ tastes for cave décor.

“Whether or not this particular specimen was actually killed by people, the fact that it occupied such a central place in the floor of that cave illustrates that it played an important role in the minds of those people,” said Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota.

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