The World Today for May 23, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

ITALY

It’s Alive!

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron may have been able to stave off populist, eurosceptic political forces in their nations’ respective elections last year.

But in Italy, pegged to become the EU’s third-largest economy once the United Kingdom departs from the bloc, a Frankenstein-coalition of right-wing and populist movements looking to buck the status quo in Europe is about to take power.

Italy’s March 4 elections delivered decisive wins to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-immigrant, right-wing League, which together secured 55 percent of the vote.

Since then, Italian politics has been at a standstill while the two parties attempted to meld their agendas critical of immigration and austerity measures out of Brussels into a unified platform.

That happened last Friday, when the parties reached an agreement that toned down eurosceptic rhetoric, the Financial Times reported.

The parties also nominated political outsider Giuseppe Conte, 54, to become prime minister. However, he is facing scrutiny over claims that he embellished his resume as he awaits the nod from President Sergio Mattarella, the BBC reported.

Mattarella is expected to announce a decision on how to move forward later this week, but European leaders don’t see stability returning to Italy – or the bloc – anytime soon.

In line with promises from the Five Star Movement, the parties plan to introduce a $919 basic income allowance for the nation’s lowest earners – if they attempt to seek work. A minimum monthly pension would also be set at that same amount, and the retirement age would be lowered, the BBC reported.

Following through on promises from the League, the agreement demands the EU provide more immigration aid to Italy – the primary destination for refugees coming to Europe from North Africa. It also demands a change in the EU’s “Dublin” rules that allow migrants to stay in the first country they enter. And it declares that the estimated 500,000 undocumented migrants in the country must be promptly deported.

Such plans have Europe worried that Italy may be digging itself into another financial crisis, Bloomberg reported.

The new welfare and tax regulations would cost some $41 billion and decrease state income by almost $95 billion – this in a country with a national debt at 130 percent of its GDP.

“Italian risk is being dramatically underpriced,” Nicholas Spiro of London’s Lauressa Advisory told Canada’s Globe and Mail. The markets assume that the European Central Bank will come to the rescue again in Italy, he said, “but how can it? There could be another financial crisis in Italy.”

Italy’s first black cabinet minister, Cecile Kyenge, now a member of the European Parliament, told the Guardian she’s most worried about the social effects the coalition will have on Italy. She’s been a target of racial epithets from League politicians since they began gaining in popularity.

“It is very difficult for me to see that a party that accepts it is racist is going to manage law, which is supposed to protect (the entire) community,” she said.

Despite the ominous shadow the new Italian government is casting over Europe, Ferdinando Giugliano opined that, as a democratically elected force, the new coalition now has its shot to express the will of its voters.

That doesn’t mean things will work out. Frankenstein may be alive – but there’s still much speculation about whether he’ll stay that way.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAN

Right in the Kisser

A senior Iranian military commander said his people would like to punch US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the mouth, while the country’s foreign minister said European leaders aren’t fighting hard enough to keep Europe’s oil trade with Iran alive following the US withdrawal from the 2015 international nuclear pact.

Pompeo’s warning Monday that the US was set to unveil “the strongest sanctions in history” has European leaders worried, too, CBS News reported. So far, Europe isn’t walking away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), though European firms may nevertheless opt to stop doing business with Iran.

Pompeo delivered an ultimatum so comprehensive it seems designed to be rejected, opined Daniel Larison in the American Conservative. The so-called Plan B threatens to escalate a conflict between Tehran and Washington and put the US on a path toward forcible regime change in Iran, Bonnie Kristian, a fellow at Defense Priorities, argued for CNBC.

VENEZUELA

Somebody’s Watching Me

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has expelled two top US diplomats in response to new US sanctions that followed his widely condemned re-election, claiming they were part of a “conspiracy” to undermine his regime.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order limiting Venezuela’s ability to sell state assets on Monday, after the US, the European Union and most major Latin American nations found that Sunday’s vote did not meet democratic standards, Reuters reported.

On Tuesday, Maduro accused US charge d’affaires Todd Robinson of being involved in “a military conspiracy,” and ordered him and another senior diplomat, Brian Naranjo, to leave the country within 48 hours.

The US rejected the conspiracy theory.

Previous US sanctions affected asset sales linked to individual Maduro administration members. The new executive order bars US citizens from being involved in sales of Venezuela’s pending invoices related to oil and other assets.

Venezuela’s foreign ministry said Tuesday that the sanctions violated international law.

MYANMAR

Lost and Found

Rohingya militants in Myanmar massacred as many as 99 Hindus last August during the uprising that preceded the ruthless military crackdown on the Muslim minority group, according to an investigation by Amnesty International.

The crackdown prompted an exodus of some 700,000 Rohingyas and others fleeing the violence, overshadowing the alleged atrocities of the Rohingya militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa).

Based on interviews with refugees in Bangladesh and in Rakhine state, the Amnesty report bolsters the Myanmar government’s claim last September that bodies discovered in a mass grave were those of Hindus killed by Arsa, the BBC reported. Due to Myanmar’s refusal to acknowledge the atrocities committed by its own military at the time, many foreign news outlets had dismissed its claims about the Arsa killings.

“Accountability for these atrocities is every bit as crucial as it is for the crimes against humanity carried out by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine State,” said Amnesty’s Tirana Hassan.

DISCOVERIES

Attention to Detail

Since the 1960s, studies have speculated that early experimentation with psychotropic drugs allowed humans during the Ice Age to paint their surroundings on cave walls with exceptional realism.

But scientists now posit that our early ancestors’ artistic talents may have been the expression of an autistic trait, EurekAlert reported.

According to a new study published recently in the journal Open Archaeology, “detail focus” may be behind the spread of realistic art across Europe beginning 30,000 years ago. A trait which determines whether one can draw realistically, detail focus is very common in individuals with autism, but rare in those without it.

The new finding discredits previous theories about early drug use, said Penny Spikins from the University of York, the study’s lead author: Drugs only disinhibit individuals with a pre-existing talent.

“The idea that people with a high degree of detail focus, many of which may have had autism, set a trend for extreme realism in ice age art is a more convincing explanation,” she said.

The study adds to a body of evidence suggesting the important role people with autistic traits played in early human evolution, Spikins added.

“As well as contributing to early culture, people with the attention to detail needed to paint realistic art would also have had the focus to create complex tools from materials such as bone, rock and wood,” she said.

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