The World Today for April 04, 2018



Same Same But Different

When the populist Five Star Movement and a coalition of far-right political parties garnered sufficient votes in Italy’s parliamentary elections to form a government a month ago, they ballyhooed their victories as a new epoch for the country.

“Today, for us, the third republic commences,” Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio said. “At last, a republic of Italian citizens.”

Now it looks as if Di Maio, a 31-year-old college dropout who was living with his mother until five years ago, was a wee bit hasty.

“His improbable ascent is a measure of Italy’s suddenly turbulent politics,” the New York Times wrote. “But it also reflects the youthful, new-kid-on-the-block appeal of the Five Star Movement, as well as what critics say is one of its most glaring shortcomings – a lack of real-world experience.”

Since the Five Star Movement was the biggest single party winner – garnering more than 32 percent of the vote – Di Maio thinks he should be prime minister. But the far-right coalition led by the League party won almost 37 percent, so its leaders think they should pick the next leader.

Silvio Berlusconi, a former four-time Italian prime minister and a founder of the center-right Forza Italia party, is one of those leaders. He faces a ban on becoming prime minister and is fighting charges of tax fraud and bribing witnesses. But clearly he’s a powerful figure who can muck up the process, observers say.

Di Maio has refused to meet with Berlusconi. He’s undoubtedly thinking of the optics. But the UK’s Guardian reported that Five Star ruled out joining a coalition government that includes Forza Italia in an as yet unaired interview with the La7 TV channel.

Substantive issues indeed separate the two sides. The Five Star Movement wants to increase public spending while the League and its allies are more conservative on economic issues. They support tax cuts and protectionist measures. Both policies are arguably shocking, given Italy’s stagnant economy and high debt.

In the same La7 TV interview, Di Maio reportedly said Five Star is open to talks with the center-left Democratic Party (PD) – but not to its former secretary Matteo Renzi. Whoever’s talking and not talking, the negotiations could take months, Reuters reported.

As the politicians posture, the new epoch looks a lot like the old.

Euronews reported that more than 2,000 people applied for five nursing jobs in Turin in late March. Applicants took tests in a basketball stadium, jotting down their answers on clipboards while crammed against their competitors in the bleachers. Some took 13-hour bus rides to apply.

Citing European Commission statistics, the Local, an English-language news site in Italy, noted last summer that around 20 percent of young Italians were unemployed, not seeking a job or studying full time. The overall jobless rate was around 11 percent.

Both the Five Star Movement and conservative coalition honchos appear prepared to flout European Union budget rules to address the issue, Reuters reported, setting the stage for a confrontation with EU bureaucrats in Brussels.

They can at least agree on something.



Group Huddle

As the US president flirts with withdrawing American troops from Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran are meeting to define its future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Ankara on Tuesday, in the lead-up to their second meeting since November with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss a resolution to the fighting in Syria, Al-Jazeera reported. Earlier talks took place in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Tewfik Shuman, a Lebanese political analyst, said Wednesday’s talks will reflect Turkey’s successful military operation in Afrin and the imminent victory over Eastern Ghouta by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The three foreign powers, as well as Assad, now seem united in opposing the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters, according to Mensur Akgun, who leads the international relations department at Istanbul’s Kultur University.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump said Tuesday he expects to decide “very quickly” whether to pull out American troops, though some of his top military advisers stressed the need to stay in Iraq and Syria to finish off Islamic State.


Traffic Jam

Mexico stopped and screened hundreds of mostly Central American migrants heading toward the United States to determine whether they have the right to stay in Mexico or will be returned to their countries of origin.

Aimed at breaking up the so-called “caravan” that has attracted the ire of US President Donald Trump, the move could prove problematic for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), as many Mexicans are sympathetic to the plight of the migrants and angry over Trump’s proposed border wall and other threats, Reuters reported.

The Mexican government said on Monday evening around 400 people in the caravan had already been sent back to their home countries. Having threatened to link Mexico’s response to negotiations over revising the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Trump on Tuesday said he might deploy the US military to guard America’s border with Mexico, though statistics show the number of people crossing illegally into the US at the lowest level since 1971.


Blame Game

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro rejected claims that pro-government “colectivos” were behind an attack on opposition presidential hopeful Henri Falcon’s campaign on Monday and said 17 people have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the incident.

“If someone says they are ‘chavista’ or a member of a ‘colectivo’ and does what that group did yesterday in Catia, in Caracas, then they’re not ‘chavista,’” Reuters quoted Maduro as saying during a speech on state television. “It could be an infiltrator on the right-wing’s payroll.”

The embattled president – whom Peru’s foreign minister reiterated on Tuesday is not welcome at the upcoming Summit of the Americas April 13-14 – didn’t provide any further details about the arrests.

Falcon’s security chief reportedly suffered a “severe” head injury. Separately, the head of his campaign claimed to have secured the backing of the other opposition leaders comprising the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD – though some are worried the former member of Maduro’s party may be a government stooge running to legitimize an unfair election.


A Fish Called SoFi

Much of marine life remains a mystery to biologists due to the fact that undiscovered sea dwellers get spooked at the mere sight of humans.

But that might change, thanks to the advent of the soft robotic fish, SoFi for short.

Created by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SoFi is a biomimetic bot that biologists could use to study underwater fauna without fear of scaring off their subjects, the Verge reported.

SoFi closely resembles a real fish and is said to be the most versatile robot of its kind. It’s made from 3D printed plastics, fitted with a special tank to control its depth, and equipped with a fin made from a hydraulic actuator that pumps water in and out of its internal chambers, which gives it fish-like movement.

It’s also remote-controlled and comes equipped with a built-in camera, allowing scientists a closer look at marine life, as evidenced by a recent study that tested out SoFi.

“We were excited to see that our fish could swim side by side with real fish, and they didn’t swim away. This is quite different to when a human diver approaches,” said co-author Daniela Rus.

Click here to see SoFi in action.

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