The World Today for September 25, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

GERMANY

Sturm und Drang

There were no surprises in German elections Sunday. The earth didn’t tremble. The world order remained intact.

And yet, there was a seismic shift.

Angela Merkel will remain chancellor for another four years, the longest-serving leader in Europe, and the first to lead Germany for four terms since German reunification in 1990.

But Europe’s largest economy – and the bedrock of an almost united continent – was unable to fend off the marshalling forces of the far right that have hit most western nations. And for the first time since shortly after World War II, its new standard bearer in Germany, the Alternative For Germany (AfD) won seats in the national parliament.

It was the party’s first federal election.

It’s not going to matter much, say insiders. The four-year old AfD can’t do anything policy-wise: Every party in the Bundestag will shun them.

But the party can change the tone of a national conversation that was already getting darker since its transformation two years ago from an anti-euro party to an anti-Muslim, anti-foreigner force in the wake of Merkel’s decision to open German doors to more than a million refugees in 2015.

The party can gain legitimacy in parliament, its message amplified, some say.

“Many will feel encouraged by their presence, and now the sort of speech that AfD practices on migration, society, multiculturalism and popular sovereignty will become part of a wider public discourse,” said Josef Janning of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Others say the party will distract Merkel and “put her on the run” as they promised Sunday night.

That’s not helpful for the de facto leader of the free world as she tries to keep Europe together through Brexit or deal with the integration of a million newcomers – or a dozen other crises she faces. She’s already going to have a hard-enough time keeping the sparring kids in line in the upcoming coalition she will have to form.

Still, the good news is that many Germans won’t tolerate the AfD’s brand of nationalism these days.

Voters came out specifically to keep the party out of parliament, USA Today reported. Protests broke out at their offices around the country. And the left, the center and the conservatives vowed to stay the course on fairness, tolerance and openness in the face of worries by the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Some analysts shrug off the AfD victory as Germany’s postwar coming of age.

It’s okay now for Germans to be nationalistic, more than seven decades after World War II. That’s the real shift, say analysts.

“So far, because of Germany’s past, you couldn’t have an anti-European party that’s also xenophobic,” said Janning. “Now we can.”

And in spite of the change-adverse, stability-minded German character that reelected Merkel, neo-Nazis have long been part of Germany’s political landscape. It was a matter of time before they gained seats in the federal legislature.

“For all its resistance to change, why should Germany be any different than anywhere else in Europe,” mused Jackson Janes, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, Germans are quick to reassure fretting foreigners: Merkel will continue to be Mutti (mommy): boring, staid, stable, lacking in vision – and always muddling through.

That’s because she’s “Merkeliavelli.” And she can play chess like no other in German politics.

So she will open with Petrov’s Defense and patiently wait. The AfD will do itself in. It’s already started imploding in 13 state parliaments.

“Their primary political figures may look good to their constituents now, but they won’t look good once they become part of the system,” said Janning. “This is already happening.”

[siteshare]Sturm und Drang[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

Day-old Baguette

French President Emmanuel Macron is starting to look like a day-old baguette.

His Republic on the Move (LREM) party won fewer seats than expected in Senate elections on Sunday, coming up short of the three-fifths majority in both houses he needed to make constitutional reforms, including plans to overhaul parliament, Reuters reported.

The vote, in which about 171 of the Senate’s 348 seats were up for grabs, consolidated the Senate’s existing conservative majority. Meanwhile, LREM, which hoped to win 40-50 senators, ended up getting only 23.

The results could make it more difficult for Macron to push forward with his reform agenda, considering that his popularity is already waning. According to opinion polls, his approval ratings have plunged due to his plans to loosen labor laws and slash spending – including a decrease in housing aid for students.

On the other hand, Macron still enjoys a majority in the lower house, which has the final say in legislation, and many Republicans in the Senate support his pro-business policies, the Guardian noted.

[siteshare]Day-old Baguette[/siteshare]

JAPAN

Playing Chess

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will announce plans to dissolve the parliament and call for fresh elections Monday, after instructing his cabinet ministers to prepare an $18 billion stimulus package for the end of the year.

Abe, who has held power for five years, is expected to focus his campaign message on pledges to increase spending on education and child care, stay tough on North Korea and revise the constitution, Reuters reported.

The election could be held as soon as Oct. 22.

The snap polls are a bid to capitalize on a spike in popularity, as Abe’s ratings have risen to around 50 percent from around 30 percent in July. He’s therefore betting his coalition can retain its majority in the lower house, even if he loses the two-thirds “super majority” needed to revise the constitution.

One of Abe’s long-held goals has been to emend Japan’s pacifist constitution to give the military more power.

[siteshare]Going to the Polls[/siteshare]

MYANMAR

Justifying the Purge

Myanmar claimed to have discovered the bodies of at least 28 Hindu women and boys in two mass graves in Rakhine state, providing an implicit justification for the army’s brutal campaign against the Rohingya minority.

The government has blamed the Muslim insurgents for the alleged killings, which it claims include six boys under 10 years old, ABC News reported.

Police said the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army insurgent group, or ARSA, is to blame for the killings and claim that some 100 Hindus have been missing since ARSA attacked at least 30 police outposts Aug. 25.

Following those attacks, a controversial government crackdown has resulted in the burning of 200 Rohingya Muslim villages and forced some 420,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh. The government has said most of the hundreds of people who were killed were insurgents.

Notably, India’s Hindu nationalist government has stood by the Myanmar regime as the United Nations has condemned the military action as ethnic cleansing.

[siteshare] Justifying the Purge [/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Holy Tremors

Experts discovered years ago that natural gases bubbling up from the earth could have intoxicated the ancient oracle of Delphi, giving her visions and prophecies to guide the decisions of Greek leaders from 800 BC to the 4th Century AD.

Now a British researcher believes many other ancient Greek temples might have been purposely built and rebuilt on earthquake fault lines like those that probably allowed the gases in Delphi to emanate from hot springs.

Writing in a study published recently in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, University of Plymouth Professor of Geoscience Communication Iain Stewart said temples in Mycenae, Ephesus and elsewhere were located right on top of faults.

“The Ancient Greeks placed great value on hot springs unlocked by earthquakes, but perhaps the building of temples and cities close to these sites was more systematic than has previously been thought,” said Stewart in a press release.

He didn’t comment on whether earthquake fault lines make ancient prophecies more or less valid.

[siteshare]Holy Tremors[/siteshare]

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