The World Today for May 10, 2018



The Unending Debate

Members of the Irish rock band U2 recently came out in favor of repealing abortion prohibitions outlined in the eighth amendment of Ireland’s constitution – a question voters will decide in a May 25 referendum.

U2 deliberately announced its position and chose to open its latest US tour in Oklahoma, a conservative state where presumably much of their audience wouldn’t agree with the band members’ beliefs, the Irish Times reported.

“I think it’s going to ruffle some feathers for sure,” said the band’s guitarist, who goes by the pseudonym The Edge.

Culture wars over abortion rights are raging throughout the US.

The Washington Post reported that the US Supreme Court could strike down a California law that mandates that anti-abortion pregnancy centers inform women that they could receive state-subsidized health care, including abortions.

In Iowa, a law banning abortions if doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat is prompting the University of Iowa to consider establishing a clinic in neighboring Illinois where medical students could train, the Iowa City Press-Citizen said.

But U2’s potentially controversial message is a reminder that similar battles are occurring around the globe, too.

Poland bans abortion except in cases of rape or when there are medical concerns about the mother’s or child’s health. But Polish lawmakers, with the support of the Catholic Church, are considering banning abortions even when children are expected to be born with severe defects, the Economist reported.

The United Nations and the Council of Europe have asked Polish officials to reject the idea, but the ban is a key part of the socially conservative platform of the Euroskeptic and populist ruling Law and Justice Party.

In El Salvador, the online news site Jezebel noted, women face 12 years or longer in prison if they receive an abortion, which can also be considered aggravated homicide. In an editorial, the New York Times said the Central American country’s laws have resulted in “horrific outcomes,” including forcing girls as young as 9 to bear their rapist’s child and prosecuting women who suffer stillbirths and miscarriages.

In the Australian state of Tasmania, activists are fighting for greater access to surgical abortions. In Kenya, abortion providers said new American aid rules to curb abortions could force them to close down. In Britain, women are complaining that anti-abortion activists have made them feel as if they committed murder – an assertion with which the activists would likely concur.

Writing in USA Today, Carolyn J. Davis, a researcher with the Public Religion Research Institute, noted that young Americans are becoming more likely to support abortion rights, a shift that could change the debate in the US.

Note the word “change.” The debate in the US, and everywhere else, will almost certainly not end anytime soon.



Nuclear Fallout

Iran launched a barrage of 20 missiles toward Israel’s positions in the Golan Heights early Thursday, and Israel responded with strikes on Iranian targets inside Syria, giving credence to fears that the US withdrawal from the international nuclear agreement may escalate a low-intensity war with Iran.

An Israeli military spokesman said Iran’s Quds Force, a special forces unit affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, trained rockets on the Golan Heights Thursday, marking the first time Iranian forces have ever fired directly on Israeli troops, the Washington Post reported. The spokesman said no one on the Israeli side was injured.

Subsequently, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Jonathan Conricus said on Twitter that Israel was striking Iranian targets in Syria, Bloomberg reported.

The agency cited Syria’s state news agency SANA as saying that missiles hit an ammunition storage facility and a radar base, though many other missiles were successfully intercepted. Hours before US President Donald Trump’s announcement the US was pulling out of the nuclear deal, Israel warned Golan Heights residents they should start building bomb shelters, according to Al Bawaba news.


Strange Bedfellows

A coalition government between far left and far right populists is looking ever more likely in Italy, after kingmaker Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday dropped his opposition to an alliance between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-immigrant League.

President Sergio Mattarella has given the two groups until Thursday afternoon to decide if they can cobble together a majority, Bloomberg reported. Previous efforts to form a coalition had been thwarted by Five Star Leader Luigi Di Maio’s insistence that League head Matteo Salvini drop his alliance with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

By outperforming Forza Italia in the March 4 election, the League unexpectedly gained control of the center-right bloc.

Another round of elections is still not out of the question, as Five Star and the League still have to agree on a premier, cabinet ministers and priority policies. But such an alliance has been described as an investor’s nightmare, due to profligate spending plans and proposals to scrap a pension reform and overhaul Italy’s relationship with the European Union.


Old Is Gold

The alliance led by ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad won a surprise victory in Malaysia’s general election, putting the 92-year-old on course to become the oldest elected leader in the world.

Mahathir said Thursday he expected to be sworn in as prime minister later in the day, after official results showed that his Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) had won 113 of parliament’s 222 seats, Reuters reported.

The election potentially marked several turning points for the Southeast Asian nation.

The country’s ethnic Malay majority has long supported the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) – which Mahathir once headed – because of affirmative-action policies that give them government contracts, cheap housing and guaranteed university admissions.

Prime minister from 1981 to 2003, when he retired, Mahathir was once a mentor to current Prime Minister Najib Razak. But he left the party over the 1MDB development fund corruption scandal and joined the opposition.

Closed for two days due to a public holiday, markets may be jittery when they reopen next week due to uncertainty about the incoming government’s fiscal and economic policies.


Born to Run

Last Saturday, everyone was a winner in the town of Boerne, Texas.

Located 30 miles outside of San Antonio, the small town organized a 546-yard charity race for “underachievers,” Newsweek reported.

Described as “The Running Event for the Rest of Us”, the half-kilometer run – unlike the more popular and challenging 5-kilometer race – involved a quick sprint between two local brewpubs.

With a registration fee of $25, the event allowed only 225 runners to compete – organizers feared that a larger crowd could have dried up the local brewpubs, who are supplying contestants with free beer for their efforts.

Contestants who successfully finished the race were decorated with a “pretentious oval Euro-style 0.5k sticker that you can attach to the rear window of your car to show everyone what a cool hipster you are,” said Jay Milton, a Boerne resident and member of the race’s organizational committee.

Those who paid an additional $25 VIP-fee received a larger medal and the chance to ride in a restored 1963 Volkswagen van. Organizers also awarded prizes for best costume and doled out complimentary cowboy hats and sunglasses to participants.

With the all the proceeds – the event raised more than $30,000 – going to a charity that helps feed students registered in federal aid programs, the event is meant to showcase self-worth rather than athletic skill, the organizers stated on the event’s Facebook page.

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