The World Today for September 11, 2017



Both Sides Now

Norwegian elections are usually sleepy affairs. Oil makes the country rich. Its generous social welfare state leaves few citizens behind. The largely homogeneous population traditionally eschews radical changes.

But as Norwegian voters go to the polls Monday to elect their parliament, many are struggling with big questions about the direction of the country, including its ties to the European Union and the future of its vital oil industry.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg wants to maintain her ruling grand coalition between her Conservatives, the anti-immigrant populist Progress Party, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals. The biggest party in parliament, Labor, is hoping its allies win so its leader can rule.

But both sides are struggling to find votes.

Meanwhile, the populist, rural Center Party is surging in light of two developments.

First, the wave of anti-EU sentiment that swept across the continent found an enthusiastic voice in the party.

“We are a country that has always been opposed to elites,” Center Party leader Sygve Slagsvold Vedum said in an interview with the Associated Press. “The EU is an elite that takes too much power away from our parliament. We think it transfers too much sovereignty to an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels.”

The Center Party could join Labor to form a coalition. But the new government would need to establish a public inquiry into Norway’s relationship with the bloc. Norway is not an EU member, but it operates closely with Brussels.

Second, Solberg in recent years sought to merge municipalities to make local government more efficient. When folks rejected her plans in local referendums, she threatened to force them to merge.

“In a country in which many consider Oslo to be interfering, naive and arrogant, such actions were a godsend to the Center Party,” the Washington Post observed.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Norway’s vital oil industry is also coming under fire.

The plunge in the price of oil hurt Norway’s economy, forcing Solberg to enact a raft of unpopular measures, like withdrawing more from the country’s oil-backed sovereign wealth fund, to make up for the lost revenue.

Now the Green Party – potential kingmaker if Labor needs only a few seats to form a government – is demanding curbs on the country’s energy industry as its role in the economy appears to be lessening.

Some voters are welcoming that message.

“We want change, more social justice,” a Labor-leaning voter told the Guardian. “But the planet (is) the biggest concern. And the green economy is happening everywhere – soon all our oil won’t be worth much.”

One side wants to cut ties with the EU. The other wants to cut off oil exports. Those in the middle are fighting over who defends the status quo, though it’s not quite clear if they know what that is anymore.

[siteshare]Both Sides Now[/siteshare]



Don’t Call it a Comeback

A former president of Georgia who was stripped of his Ukranian citizenship in July has pushed his way back into the country in what looks to be a bid to unseat Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Mikheil Saakashvili was governor of Ukraine’s Odessa province following his reign as Georgian president from 2004 to 2007, and then 2008 to 2013. He could mount a strong challenge to Poroshenko, who was instrumental in stripping him of his citizenship, Al Jazeera reported.

Saakashvili also faces an extradition request from Georgia, where he faces charges of abuse of power and misappropriation of property.

Ukrainian authorities attempted to block the erstwhile Poroshenko ally from entering the country, but he forced his way across the border with the aid of a throng of supporters.

Credited with pushing through pro-Western and anti-graft reforms in Georgia, Saakashvili was appointed governor of Odessa with the same brief in 2015. But he resigned after 18 months claiming he could make no headway against Ukraine’s entrenched culture of corruption.

[siteshare]Don’t Call it a Comeback[/siteshare]


Electric Feel

The global auto industry is moving its electric car production and design to China, banking on the economic giant’s commitment to invest heavily in charging stations and other infrastructure and eventually ban the sale of gasoline and diesel-powered cars.

However, as in other areas, they risk being forced to fork over proprietary technology to crack the market, the New York Times reported, as foreign automakers face new Chinese regulations that put heavy legal pressure on them to transfer electric-car technology to their local partners.

US President Donald Trump and others fear that could create a monster. But similar pressure to create joint ventures and share technology in conventional vehicles has yet to result in any world-beating Chinese automobile brands.

Notably, India, too, is undertaking a major push to electrify all cars by 2030, Reuters reported.

In May, though sales are negligible at this point, India’s leading think-tank laid out a 15-year roadmap for electrifying all new vehicles in the country by limiting registration of petrol and diesel cars and subsidizing electric ones.

[siteshare]Electric Feel[/siteshare]


I Feel the Earth Move

As the US and Caribbean reel from Hurricane Irma, a massive earthquake devastated southern Mexico last week, killing at least 90 people, damaging tens of thousands of homes and affecting some two million people.

The governor of Oaxaca state said the quake had likely affected around one in five of the state’s 4-million residents. “We’re talking about more than 800,000 people who potentially lost everything, and some their loved-ones,” Reuters quoted governor Alejandro Murat as saying on Mexican television Sunday.

The 8.1 magnitude quake off the coast of Chiapas state was stronger than the 1985 temblor that devastated Mexico City, but the damage was less severe because of the location of the epicenter. In Chiapas, governor Manuel Velasco said some 41,000 houses were damaged, and around 1.5 million people were affected.

Hundreds of thousands of people were reported to be without water service, and many were sleeping in the open rather than return to buildings that they feared might collapse, as strong aftershocks rocked Mexico on Sunday, reported the Associated Press.

[siteshare]I Feel the Earth Move[/siteshare]


The Nose Doesn’t Know

Anchovies and other marine organisms are attracted to plastic, thinking the petroleum-based
substance is food, according to researchers.

In a recent study in the journal Science Advances, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and University of California, Davis found the little fish’s sense of smell was the key factor in the misidentification. The smell of plastic similarly fooled sea birds into thinking it was food.

For fish, algae growing on the plastic might make its aroma appetizing. The sulfur smell of the algae could fool the birds, too, the Los Angeles Times described.

Previous theories held that birds were attracted to plastic bags that might look like jellyfish or tiny bits of plastic that looked like plankton.

As a consequence, one has to wonder how that plastic makes it up the food chain to, say, people who love tuna fish or Caesar salads, the study’s author wrote in the Conversation.

[siteshare]The Nose Doesn’t Know[/siteshare]

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