December 13, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

A Growing Mire

An Irish High Court will be considering an important question next year: whether Britain can reverse its decision to leave the European Union once Prime Minister Theresa May invokes the infamous Article 50 of the EU treaty that allows members to leave the 28-member bloc.

With the help of crowd funding, a London lawyer was expected to file papers in the case before Christmas not necessarily to stop Brexit, but to make it possible for Brits to change their minds about this summer’s decision more easily in the future.

“This case does not stop Brexit, it does not remove democratic control from parliament,” the attorney told Reuters.

The case is one of many that have multiplied over Brexit. Think Bush v. Gore that lasts for two years, the amount of time Article 50 allows Britain to conclude a new arrangement with the EU before its withdrawal and the loss of the benefits of membership.

Britain’s Supreme Court is now slated to render a decision in January on whether May can trigger Article 50 without parliament’s approval.

The Telegraph of London reported that the justices are split. But seven were leaning toward ruling that parliament needs to vote, while four would probably oppose that decision, the newspaper reported, citing government sources.

May is under pressure in the House of Commons, too. The Labor Party and members of her Conservative Party recently forced her to publish her Brexit plan before invoking Article 50.

“The June 23 referendum didn’t announce the end to parliamentary democracy: We don’t have a dictatorship in this country of the executive,” said Ken Clarke, the Tory Europhile and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, on Sky News.

Activists on Monday also filed yet another lawsuit contending that parliament had to vote on exiting the European Economic Area, or EEA. A separate agreement, it, too, is fundamental to Britain’s membership in the EU and the common market.

The government claims that Brexit includes leaving the EEA, Bloomberg reported, but those who want to maintain as many connections as possible to the EU say otherwise.

Meanwhile, analysts warned that Britain might face problems re-entering the World Trade Organization as a non-EU member because pre-existing members like Argentina and Spain might block them due to territorial disputes in the Falklands and Gibraltar, the Independent reported.

Add into the mix EU negotiators who have little to gain.

The Guardian’s succinct headline about a House of Lords report said it all: “UK naive to expect easy ride in Brexit trade talks.”

Holiday Promo

WANT TO KNOW

A Good Excuse

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks to be using the weekend’s deadly terrorist attack as an excuse to expand an ongoing crackdown and solidify his power in the name of security.

Turkish authorities arrested more than 200 people Monday following suicide bombings near an Istanbul stadium that killed 44 people, the Associated Press reported.

However, the arrests focused on members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, a pro-Kurdish party that was elected to the Turkish Parliament in 2014, rather than members of the fringe group that claimed responsibility for the attack or the larger outfit that the government blamed for the bombing.

Officially, Istanbul blamed the strike on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, while an offshoot of the PKK known as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility. Turkey is already engaged in a shooting war with the PKK – which is fighting for an independent Kurdish state – in the country’s southeast.

Since a failed coup attempt this summer, Erdogan had already detained more than 7,423 HDP members and formally arrested 2,345 others, including elected officials and their spouses, the HDP told AP.

Bread or Handcuffs

Amid a surge by right-wing populists across Europe, Romania’s social democrat party (PSD) scored a decisive win, it was announced Monday.

The PSD claimed around 45 percent of the vote against the center-right National Liberal Party’s (PNL) 20 percent in parliamentary elections held Sunday, CNBC reported.

For the past year, a technocrat government of experts has run Romania, after the PSD was forced from power in November 2015 amid widespread disgust over political corruption. Anti-corruption rhetoric featured heavily in this campaign, too. But the election puts a man who is himself facing corruption charges – PSD leader Liviu Dragnea – in the driver’s seat.

Voters tired of austerity measures apparently preferred his promise of higher government spending over others’ promises to root out graft, Reuters said. Dragnea told reporters in June that Romanians had a choice between “better bread or handcuffs.”

Values and Fear

Antonio Guterres becomes secretary general of the United Nations as the world seems more divided than it has in many years – and perhaps poised to splinter further.

As Guterres was sworn in on Monday, he touched on the many threats to “respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity” in his address, the New York Times reported. “The threats to these values are most often based on fear,” he said.

That statement might well have been an allusion to the additional challenges the UN will face as the result of the election of Donald Trump.

Trump dismissed the importance of global institutions during his campaign – which appealed to the “anti-globalist” sentiments of conspiracy theorists as well as resentment against globalization. Moreover, he has espoused partnering with Russia to end the conflict in Syria by wiping out the Islamic State, even if that means keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power despite his grim track record of human rights violations.

DISCOVERIES

The Queen’s Knees

When archaeologists discovered the lavish tomb of Queen Nefertari, the spouse of ancient Pharaoh Ramses II, and its opulent painted walls in Egypt’s Valley of the Queens in 1904, one object in particular became the source of much fascination – a mummified pair of knees.

Archaeologists have speculated for decades whether the fragments of these mummified legs belonged to the famed beauty Nefertari, who is believed to have died around 1250 BC.

Because Egyptians used burial sites repeatedly – and due to dramatic acts of nature like flash floods – archaeologists cautioned against assuming the remains belonged to the queen herself. But now the question has been resolved.

Using radiocarbon dating, x-rays of the legs and an analysis of chemical embalming agents, Joann Fletcher of the University of York and a team of researchers found that the knees did indeed belong to Nefertari, according to results published in the journal PlosOne.

“The expertise that had gone into that mummification – even judging from the legs – the care, the attention, the wrapping, the materials employed; they are strongly suggestive someone of incredibly high status,” Fletcher told the Guardian.

Fletcher said there was an “immense irony” behind Nefertari’s fate: for all her wealth and beauty, they only thing that remains of her today are her knees.