The World Today for November 15, 2017



Hope, and a Hard Place

Ireland’s newest prime minister, Leo Varadkar, 38, recently joined the ranks of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron as yet another young leader looking to shake up the status quo.

To some, Varadkar symbolizes that Ireland – a staunchly Catholic nation historically steeped in sectarian violence – is taking a step toward modernity, Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times. Varadkar is Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister, and besides that, he’s half-Indian, and the nation’s youngest leader in its modern history.

Still, he’s got his work cut out for him. Varadkar’s push to raise Ireland’s profile on the European and global stages doesn’t come without contention – and not for reasons relating to identity politics.

Despite a booming economy that’s made strides in recovering from the European economic crisis almost a decade ago, homelessness in Ireland persists, Irish public broadcaster RTE reported.

Varadkar – in line with contemporaries like Trudeau and Macron – often uses social media to employ lofty rhetoric built upon the idea of creating opportunity and instigating change in Ireland.

Critics point out, however, that words alone won’t help the more than 8,000 Irish in need of emergency accommodations, among them over 3,124 children. Child homelessness in Ireland has nearly quadrupled in the last three years alone, the Irish Times reported.

Meanwhile, as Varadkar rubs shoulders with Macron and his ambitious plans to reform the European Union, many point out that Ireland’s new premier lacks any concrete vision for Ireland’s role in the European bloc.

Varadkar is without a doubt pro-EU, and sees the bloc as a driver of prosperity in Ireland, writes the Irish Times. But he hasn’t fought Macron’s economic proposals that would disadvantage European corporate tax havens like Ireland that have benefited from international investment in recent years.

And showing a strong stance on European issues will be of utmost importance for Varadkar as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the EU, the Financial Times reported.

Ireland is on the front lines of the Brexit negotiations: It’s geographically isolated from the continent, making trade with the European Union a difficult task without the United Kingdom as a middleman, Stratfor reported.

A “hard Brexit” for the UK would severely destabilize Irish harmony as well, as a customs checkpoint would need to be erected on its border with Northern Ireland, a province of the United Kingdom.

That would not only stanch the free flow of goods and people between the territories but could also rekindle political and religious divisions on the island that have lain dormant since 1998’s Good Friday peace agreement: It ended sectarian violence that cost more than 3,600 lives, NPR noted.

Given such heated issues on the island, Varadkar needs to employ more than just a youthful face and hopeful rhetoric on Twitter to move Ireland into the future.



Of Coups and Coverups

Zimbabwe’s military seized control of the state broadcaster to allow army leaders to address the nation as soldiers and armored vehicles patrolled the streets of Harare and residents reported hearing explosions in the capital city.

Armed forces commander Constantine Chiwenga said early Wednesday that the military had not taken over and that President Robert Mugabe and his family were safe, attempting to quell speculation about a possible coup, Bloomberg reported.

“We are only targeting criminals around [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” the New York Times quoted Maj. Gen. S. B. Moyo as saying, reading from a prepared statement.

On Monday, Chiwenga warned that the army would step in if Mugabe’s purge of veterans of the country’s struggle for independence continued, following the ouster of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Prior to the seizure of the state broadcaster, Zimbabwe’s ruling party called Chiwenga’s criticism “treasonable.”


The First Step

Nearly two-thirds of Australians voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage in a postal poll that ensures Parliament will consider the measure later this year.

Some 62 percent of registered voters who responded favored legalization, the Associated Press cited the Australian Bureau of Statistics as saying Wednesday. The country’s conservative government said a bill to allow same-sex marriage would be considered in Parliament in the final two-week session that is due to end on Dec. 7 as a result.

Thousands of supporters gathered in city parks around the country to await the result, cheering and waving rainbow flags when the news broke of the victory.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a vocal advocate of marriage equality, called on lawmakers to heed the “overwhelming” result.

“They voted ‘yes’ for fairness, they voted ‘yes’ for commitment, they voted ‘yes’ for love,” Turnbull said. “Now it is up to us here in the Parliament of Australia to get on with it.”


Flattery Gets You Nowhere

The US issued a stern rebuke to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday, resisting his overtures to President Donald Trump ahead of a Supreme Court decision on Hun Sen’s efforts to dissolve the country’s main opposition party.

“The US side forthrightly expressed strong concerns about recent steps that challenge the country’s democratic progress,” Reuters cited a statement from the US mission to ASEAN as saying, following a meeting between top Trump administration officials and Cambodia’s foreign minister in Manila.

The US also “pointed with deep concern” to the continued detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was arrested on Sept. 3 and accused of plotting treason with unnamed Americans.

The rebuke came after fulsome praise for Trump from Hun Sen, who called the US president “a great man to me” and lauded him for “non-interference” in foreign affairs.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch urged Cambodia’s Supreme Court not to back the dissolution of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Wednesday, and pressed international donors to emphasize that the move would delegitimize national elections scheduled for 2018.


Leviathan Rises

While researching ways to minimize unwanted catches in commercial fishing, Portuguese scientists unearthed something sinister: a real-life sea monster dubbed a “living fossil.”

The five-foot prehistoric shark, aptly named the frilled shark due to its set of 300 frilled, razor-sharp teeth, was captured last week by a trawler off the coast of Portugal, the BBC reported.

According to scientists, the shark is one of the few pre-historic creatures to still roam the earth. Its 80-million-year-old lineage has survived by living at ocean depths of 2,300 feet, where the lack of light and crushing pressure make for conditions uninhabitable for most living things.

The creature is presumed to roam the deep of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, where it preys on fish, squid and even other sharks. Any other information about the creature is a mystery to scientists due to its rarity, the Independent reported.

Sailor’s stories of sea serpents from the deep may have been influenced by this shark, which is recognizable by its eel-like body and serpentine movements.

It might not be the only creature in our midst: More than 90 percent of the Earth’s deep waters remain uncharted, possibly hiding other sea monsters, such as the recently discovered toothed snake-eel.

Divers be warned.

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