The World Today for March 02, 2018



A Tattered Playbook

When Italians go to the polls March 4, the elections are not going to be about bunga-bunga politicians or even clowns.

They are going to be about Italy’s next government – and especially whether it wants to play ball with the European Union.

This race, quite simply, could impact the bloc like nothing has since Brexit. And there is plenty to fret about, writes The Economist

Italian politics have always been chaotic, and this time is no exception, commentators say.

On one side is a center-right group headed by Forza Italia – and its four-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – in an alliance with Matteo Salvini of the nationalist League, which recently dropped “Northern” from its name.

The other contenders are the center-left Democratic Party, led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, and the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, led by Luigi Di Maio, vice president of the lower house of parliament.

Salvini is running on an “Italy first” platform and says EU rules hurt Italian industry and the economy. Di Maio aims to renegotiate the bloc rules Italy plays by. Only the Democratic Party says nothing about withdrawing from the Eurozone – but even its relationship with the bloc is fragile at best.

No one is sure what the outcome is going to be after Sunday. Most in Europe hope it won’t be the front-runners, the Forza Italia-League group.

The election comes as Italy continues to experience slow economic growth, and the high unemployment and high debt burden that come with it. The euro is often blamed locally for those ills.

And there is real bitterness over EU-imposed austerity, says The Commentator. But Europeans are concerned that the Italian economy is “too big to fail” – it’s too important to the bloc. As a result, the EU has demanded fiscal discipline and reforms.

Meanwhile, Italy is on the frontlines of the European migrant crisis, with more than 600,000 arriving in the last four years – and they are still coming. And Italians aren’t wrong when they scream that they have been left alone to deal with the influx, according to Euronews.

More than anything, what the rest of Europe wants is an effective government in Italy – and of course, one that is pro-EU. But it isn’t likely to get it this time around.

Javier Noriega, an analyst with Hildebrandt and Ferrar investment house, told USA Today that there is no realistic outcome that would be positive from an Italian or European perspective.

“The worst-case scenario is probably that a populist coalition takes over and starts debating a referendum on remaining in the eurozone, something that could have as big an impact as the Brexit vote two years ago,” Noriega said. “Sadly, the best-case scenario is probably that no party does well and Italy has a year or two of political dysfunction that drags down economic growth across the continent.”



Delaying Democracy

Venezuela postponed its presidential election until May 20 from an earlier date of April 22, but the delay did not stop calls for a boycott.

The major opposition coalition said Thursday its members would follow through with a promised boycott, despite claims by the government that it would allow international observers to monitor the polls, the New York Times reported.

President Nicolás Maduro, who is running for another six-year term, has jailed political rivals and used force to stop protests against his moves to centralize power – not to mention policies that have bankrupted the country and resulted in dire shortages of food and medicine.

“We’re not participating because there are no open elections, because they are not respecting the right to vote, the right to choose or the will of every Venezuelan,” said Juan Pablo Guanipa of the Primero Justicia party. The party’s most popular leader has been barred from contesting.

Election observers, the US and various international bodies have also rejected the vote.


Revising the Rescue

After early reports focused on those rescued, Nigeria has released the names of 110 girls who remain missing since a raid by Boko Haram militants on their school last week.

Fighter jets, helicopters and surveillance planes have all been deployed in the search for the girls, CNN reported. According to the list of names, the 110 who remain missing are between the ages of 11 and 19. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said the raid was a “national disaster” and promised the families of the missing girls their children would be returned.

But that’s cold comfort for parents who are all too familiar with the story of the kidnapping of some 300 schoolgirls from Chibok in 2014. As many as 100 of those abduction victims are still missing after four years.

As part of his first official visit to Africa next week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Nigeria, along with Chad, Ethiopia and Kenya. A key focus of the trip will be counterterrorism.


Invitation, Not Invasion

Instead of invading Taiwan to take back what it considers a renegade province, China unveiled an invitation of sorts to Taiwanese emigres: 31 measures that make it easier for Taiwanese to invest, work and study on the mainland.

Taiwan did not embrace the welcome, reported the Los Angeles Times.

China is “accelerating its one-sided economic development goals by attracting Taiwanese resources as well as hoping [the measures] will help change Taiwan’s political identity,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement.

Twelve of the measures are designed to make Taiwanese investors equal to their Chinese counterparts, helping Taiwanese factories crack the mainland market. Nineteen others make it easier to study, set up businesses and work in China, the paper said.

The maneuver comes as the US Senate unanimously passed the Taiwan Travel Act on Wednesday, a bill that encourages visits between US and Taiwanese officials. China’s state-supported Global Times newspaper quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson as saying the bill violates the so-called One-China Principle – under which the US nominally acts as though the island is part of China.


Survival Art

Our distant ancestors’ lack of artistic talent may explain why they went extinct.

A recent study published in the journal Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture posits that Neanderthals’ lack of artistic prowess – and the fact that they thrived on easily captured prey like horses and bison without using weapons – are telltale signs of their inferior hand-eye coordination, the Telegraph reported.

The study’s author, artist and psychologist Richard Coss with the University of California at Davis, believes the mental acumen needed to visualize the arc of a spear is closely related to the dexterity of drawing.

“Neanderthals could mentally visualize previously seen animals from working memory, but they were unable to translate those mental images effectively into the coordinated hand-movement patterns required for drawing,” he said.

By contrast, Homo sapiens hunting large, dangerous game on the open African savannah had to better conceptualize how to stalk and hunt their prey from afar – making them better drawers.

As such, Coss proposes that Homo sapiens developed rounder skulls and larger parietal cortexes as a result of their needs, allowing visual imagery and motor skills to become desirable evolutionary traits – and setting the scene for human social cohesion.

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