The World Today for July 24, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

POLAND

Channeling 1989

Tens of thousands of Polish supporters of diversity, free markets and globalization took to the streets over the weekend to protest their rightwing populist government’s alleged takeover of the country’s judicial system.

Outside the presidential palace in Warsaw, they waved Polish and European Union flags and held posters that read “constitution” and “I love and understand freedom,” CNN reported.

They came because of measures enacted Saturday that would force all Supreme Court justices to resign, the New York Times explained, letting the government’s justice minister pick which ones to retain. They also give government officials more control over future judges.

The protestors came, some said, to protect the gains the country has made since 1989, after it shook off a Soviet-backed dictatorship.

The Economist has described the regime of President Andrzej Duda and Law and Justice party boss Jaroslaw Kaczynski as “illiberal,” meaning they seek to consolidate power in the state, override minority interests and appeal to base values.

Similarly, critics of Duda and Kaczynski in this latest crisis said they were seeking to overwhelm the last independent institution they didn’t control in the country in order to continue to reject immigrants, assert government control over business and promote traditional Catholic values.

Asked if the court reforms would end the separation of powers in Poland, University of Warsaw law professor Marek Chmaj said, “It is already the end.”

Noting that the Polish government came to power with only 38 percent of the vote – that’s parliamentary democracy – the Christian Science Monitor’s editorial page labelled the court law a “challenge to EU values.”

Indeed, European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish premier, lamented that a country that challenged Soviet domination was opting for a more autocratic model of government. “Today the strategic direction toward the West that we had chosen is being reversed,” he said, according to Newsweek.

The magazine added that while President Donald Trump appeared chummy with Polish leaders on a recent visit to the country, the US State Department issued a statement raising concerns about the new law.

Other countries that have also been accused of illiberalism, like Hungary, applauded Duda and Kaczynski.

The question now is, what happens? Will the government stand firm or will the protesters win out?

Neither might have the final say. Poland needs foreign investment. Unlike Hungary, Polish leaders aren’t likely to turn to Moscow for help.

TechCrunch suggested that the government had ended the dreams of Poles who aim to develop a domestic tech sector that might bring Poland into the 21st century.

Whether or not illiberalism has a future might ultimately depend not on whether it can retain power in parliament but whether it can retain young, globally minded people who don’t mind moving to work in Berlin, Hong Kong or Silicon Valley.

And that is no sure thing.

[siteshare]Channeling 1989[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

JAPAN

A Roar of Suspicion

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe selected one of his closest friends to open the country’s first veterinary college in decades – at Monday’s special parliamentary hearing on the matter, he denied charges of cronyism but admitted the suspicions are “understandable.”

“Since this is a matter involving a friend of mine, it is understandable that the people would look at it with suspicion,” Bloomberg quoted Abe as telling parliament amid his denial of any wrongdoing.

Abe is set to reshuffle his cabinet next month in an effort to stop the bleeding – his cabinet’s approval ratings have dropped as low as 26 percent – and hold onto power until a party leadership election slated for September 2018. Polls conducted by the Mainichi and Nikkei newspapers showed his approval ratings ranging from 26 to 39 percent.

Support for the opposition Democratic Party is even lower – somewhere in the low single digits. But 60 percent of respondents to the Mainichi poll said Abe should not serve a third term as Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader.

[siteshare]A Roar of Suspicion[/siteshare]

ISRAEL

A Powder Keg, a Match

Two Jordanians died from injuries they sustained from gunfire at the Israeli embassy in Amman on Sunday that also injured an Israeli citizen, raising fears of escalating violence over added security measures imposed at the Temple Mount (or Noble Sanctuary) complex in Jerusalem.

Police said that the two Jordanians worked for a furniture firm and entered the embassy compound before the shooting to do repairs, Reuters reported. But little or no additional information was available, in part because Israel has imposed a ban on reporting the incident and has made no public comment.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Palestinians continued their protest of the Israeli decision to install metal detectors at the disputed religious site following a July 14 terrorist attack by refusing to enter the compound. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority also clarified that his decision to freeze contacts with Israel due to the conflict included suspending security coordination with its security forces, the New York Times reported.

[siteshare] A Powder Keg, a Match [/siteshare]

VENEZUELA

Let Them Eat Votes

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro vowed to follow through with a vote to elect a new national assembly and rewrite the constitution next Sunday, despite the threat of US sanctions and a general strike organized by the opposition.

“Who doesn’t go vote next Sunday is hurting the Republic of Venezuela, is hurting the right for peace, because what we are deciding here next week is between peace or war, violence or the constituent assembly,” Bloomberg cited him as saying in an official statement.

Opposition leader Simon Calzadilla urged citizens to go to voting centers Monday and post banners and placards reading, “In my voting place there won’t be a constituent assembly,” and promised to fight “center by center, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood to defeat Maduro’s proposal.”

That may well be necessary, as more than 100 days of protests and a US threat to stop its oil imports – eliminating what is essentially Maduro’s only source of hard currency – seem to have had no impact.

[siteshare] Let Them Eat Votes [/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Meet the Hyena Man

Many a neighborhood watch group would be up in arms if they knew packs of wild hyenas were roaming their streets at night in search of food.

But residents of the ancient walled city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia – population 240,000 – don’t complain. In fact, they’ve appointed a local family to feed them.

Abbas Yusuf – known around town as the Hyena Man – began feeding hyenas 13 years ago after taking up his post from his father.

“Hyenas have never attacked the people of Harar after my father started feeding them, unless you harm their babies,” Abbas Yusuf told Reuters. “My father is always thankful that I continued the good work he started.”

Residents of Harar have been offering food to hyenas every year since the 16th Century to mark the birth of Mohammed.

Today, Hyena Man has become an attraction himself for tourists pouring into Harar to visit the city’s ancient mosques.

Abbas even feeds the hyenas – many of which go by nicknames like “Lazy” or “Skinny” – directly from his own mouth to encourage visitors to trust them.

Still, old superstitions die hard, and residents continue to believe the country will have bad luck if the hyenas refuse the offerings.

[siteshare]Meet the Hyena Man[/siteshare]

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