The World Today for October 20, 2017



Bohemian Rhapsody

The candidate expected to become the next leader of the Czech Republic is a “polarizing,” straight-talking media-mogul and billionaire who vows to drain the swamp, kick out Muslims and run the country like a business, according to the Washington Post.

Sound familiar?

And by the way, this anti-establishment outsider has also created his own fact-checking website to counter fake news, says Poynter.

It might be true that US President Donald Trump is not well-liked in much of Europe. Even so, the bloc is about to get a leader very much in the Trumpian vein: Frontrunner Andrej Babis and his Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) party want to disrupt things, both in and out of the country.

“People here may not like Trump,” said Jiri Pehe, the director of New York University’s Prague campus, told the Washington Post. “But they like Trumpian politics as performed by Mr. Babis.”

Now, some Europeans are worried about what comes next, not least because Babis also has the European Union and NATO in his sights, says Bloomberg.

In spite of election wins for pro-bloc candidates this year in France and Germany, there’s a danger in yet another country turning anti-EU, even if it’s a small player on the continent, say analysts.

The Czech Republic could easily block European legislation, for one thing. It could also join with other small players to become a potent force within the bloc.

For example, Austria just tilted rightward by giving an anti-immigrant, anti-euro candidate the most votes in an election Sunday that is also likely to propel the far-right, anti-EU Freedom Party into government, the New York Times reported.

Poland and Hungary, too, have gone populist over the past few years. Both are run by leaders who resent the EU. Both have been threatened by the European Commission recently over their refusal to accept refugees among other things.

Meanwhile, Czech voters are the most skeptical about the EU in the region: A recent survey showed that only 18 percent of Czechs “strongly agree” the country should be a member of the EU – the lowest support for EU membership among the Visegrad Group, according to Politico EU.

It might seem surprising that euro-skepticism abounds in this country in particular: Besides owing much of its post-communist development to the bloc’s largesse, the Czech Republic was by far the most successful country economically in the region since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But that success hasn’t always trickled down, and many Czechs blame the EU.

They blame their leaders, too, and are especially angry about the rampant corruption in the country.

The consequence of such disillusionment is that a candidate who is running on an anti-corruption platform but who was just charged in a multi-million-dollar fraud case is likely to win this weekend.

Those who know him say, don’t worry, he’s not stupid, and he knows how to play ball.

“(It) could be a lot worse than Mr. Babis,” Jan Machacek, who runs a think tank funded by Babis’ conglomerate, told the Post.

To some, that’s cold comfort.



No Respect at All

Russian President Vladimir Putin did his best Rodney Dangerfield on Thursday, accusing the West of not giving Russia the respect it deserves.

“The biggest mistake our country made was that we put too much trust in you; and your mistake was that you saw this trust as a lack of power and you abused it,’’ Putin said during a question and answer session at an annual gathering of foreign-policy specialists, Bloomberg reported.

In what one analyst described as “the most negative speech Putin has given” with regard to the US, Putin dwelt on perceived slights that Russia endured in the 1990s, when the nation’s economy and military were in dire shape.

Though such remarks are pitched to domestic voters in the lead-up to Putin’s expected bid for re-election in 2019, they come as Russia is increasingly at loggerheads with Washington.

Apart from the ongoing conflict over the annexation of Crimea, the US is now concerned Russian airstrikes are violating a so-called “deconfliction” line in Syria to allow government forces to snap up territory before US-backed fighters can do so.


A Prevailing Force

Nearly a month after an inconclusive parliamentary election, New Zealand Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern forged a coalition deal with New Zealand First that will make her the country’s youngest prime minister in more than 150 years.

Ardern said Friday she was putting the final touches on the sharing of ministerial posts with her coalition partners, Reuters reported. Uncertainty over her plans has caused a steep drop in the country’s currency over the past two days.

Ardern said most of Labour’s policies had survived the negotiations with her partners – which likely presages renegotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal.

The 37-year-old’s ascent to the PM’s office ends a decade of center-right rule. Emerging as Labour’s leader just 81 days ago, she sparked an immediate 19-point surge in the polls when she took over the election campaign in what soon became known as “Jacindamania.”


Political Football

Former football (or soccer) star George Weah will face Vice President Joseph Boakai in a run-off election to select Libera’s president next month.

Weah won the first round with 38.4 percent of the vote, 10 points ahead of Boakai, Reuters cited the country’s election commission as saying Thursday.

The only African ever to win FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d‘Or, Weah, 51, has served as a senator from the opposition Congress for Democratic Change since 2015. Though he’s wildly popular with young people and the poor, who feel they have not benefited from Liberia’s post-war recovery, his campaign has not offered much in the way of concrete policies.

Provided he wins the run-off, he’ll have a hard time matching his supporters’ aspirations, with the resource-based economy reeling from endemic corruption and low commodity prices.

On the plus side, whichever candidate wins the run-off will make history – marking Liberia’s first democratic transfer of power in seven decades.


All Natural

To create the high-tech camouflage and realistic robots of the future, scientists are turning to nature for inspiration.

With funding from the US military, robotics scientist Robert Shepherd and his team have begun investigating ways to replicate the amazing camouflage and texturing characteristics of octopus skin.

While these cephalopods’ soft bodies leave them vulnerable to attacks, evolution has provided them with the ability to texturize and change the color of their skin to adapt to their surroundings.

It’s the result of tiny muscle groups called papillae which run along the surface of the skin. The muscles protrude, retract and harden to provide camouflage and enough support for these invertebrates to hunt and outsmart predators, the CBC reported.

Replicating the papillae in the lab could result in technology that allows for bulky items to be collapsed and shipped, only to be re-inflated when they reach their destination.

Researchers posit they could one day be able to utilize the papillae method to develop high-tech camouflage pants, or even three-dimensional readouts that collapse in a vehicle’s dashboard.

Click here to see the progress they’ve made so far.

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