The World Today for September 06, 2018

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Winter is Coming

Sweden, the superpower of Scandinavia, with its wealth, high standard of living and generous welfare state, is normally immune to the destabilizing political trends sweeping the rest of Europe.

Its parliamentary elections on Sept. 9, however, may upset that status quo, thanks to a surge of support for the far-right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, who could become the nation’s largest political party, euronews reported.

The Sweden Democrats – rooted in Sweden’s white-supremacy movement but now disavowing that legacy – have made rapid gains since they first entered parliament in 2010 with only 5.7 percent of votes, the Local reported.

By 2014’s election, they more than doubled their support to 12.9 percent. Some polls currently suggest they could get as much as 28.5 percent of the vote next week, making them the country’s largest political force.

Across Europe – from Italy to Germany to Hungary – right-wing groups have experienced a groundswell of support in recent years in response to the surge of refugees coming to the continent.

Sweden, like Germany, accepted an outsized proportion of newcomers compared to its neighbors, welcoming 165,000 asylum seekers in 2015, according to Public Radio International. This year, it became the third-largest recipient of UN-designated “quota refugees” in the world.

Despite claims by US President Donald Trump to the contrary, the influx of some 300,000 refugees since 2015 has had little effect on crime or the economy in Sweden.

The country’s National Council for Crime Prevention for 2017 reported that concern about crime and safety has shown an uptick in recent years, but remains about the same as it was in 2006. Meanwhile, economic growth is outpacing the rest of Europe, a positive trend that Bloomberg attributes to Sweden’s success at integrating refugees into the labor market.

Be that as it may, income inequality in Sweden is growing faster than in any other OECD country, a bitter pill to swallow for a nation that prides itself on equality, wrote the Local.

Combine that with the optics of 2015, in which migrants were packed into public buildings and social services were overwhelmed, along with an unprecedented terror attack in 2017, and it’s clear why the right-wing party has gained support – even from foreign-born Swedes, the Guardian reported.

Even if they do come out on top, the Sweden Democrats may not actually seize power, Bloomberg reported. They’ve been ostracized by all other parties in Sweden, where minority governments are common. The ruling left-wing alliance, or the center-right opposition, could assume power simply by convincing a majority of parties not to vote against them.

But the presence of the Sweden Democrats has already changed party platforms in a country where elections are normally a bore. Mainstream conservative parties are moving to amp up police forces and crack down on immigration, and the ruling coalition led by the Social Democrats is fracturing, wrote Politico. That could make coalition building extremely difficult, especially if the Sweden Democrats make their poll numbers a reality.

While they might not cinch power this time around, they could come close.

And according to Politico, the prospect of a party in power that advocates exiting the EU and sending asylum seekers elsewhere “would make Germany’s problems with the AfD or Italy’s swing to the right pale in comparison.”



Criminals No More

India’s Supreme Court struck down the country’s colonial-era law against consensual gay sex.

The decision – which walks back a 2013 move by the court to overturn a Delhi High Court ruling that had decriminalized gay sex in 2009 – included unusually frank statements of support for LGBT citizens’ rights, CNN reported.

Crowds gathered outside the Supreme Court building cheered the announcement. Many supporters and LGBT community members were overcome with emotion.

The law that was struck down – Section 377 – lumped consensual gay sex in with bestiality and other acts India’s colonial rulers deemed “unnatural sex.” But on Thursday the court said sexual orientation is a biological phenomenon, so any related discrimination is a violation of the fundamental rights granted all Indians by the constitution, the Times of India reported.

Though the law was rarely enforced, activists have long argued that it contributed to a climate of fear and guilt that facilitated police persecution and extortion.


Practical Measures

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un reportedly wants to denuclearize his country before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term, and his faith in his American counterpart remains “unchanged.”

As US leaders voice skepticism about Pyongyang’s willingness to take real steps toward disarmament, Kim is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the North Korean capital Sept. 18-20 to discuss “practical measures” that can get the ball rolling, South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said after a meeting with Kim this week, Reuters reported.

The 2021 deadline marks the first time Kim has set a timetable for denuclearization, the agency noted.

Kim “expressed his strong will to carry out more proactive measures toward denuclearization” and showed“frustration over the doubt shown by some parts of the international society about his will,” Chung said.

Wednesday’s meeting was intended to set the timing and agenda for the third inter-Korean summit this year and break the deadlock between Washington and Pyongyang over what the US sees as Kim’s reluctance to take concrete steps toward denuclearization.


The Gang’s All Here

Brazilian prosecutors charged the likely presidential candidate of the Workers’ Party with corruption, dealing another blow to the left-wing party of jailed former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula.

Almost simultaneously, federal police filed a report seeking corruption charges against current President Michel Temer, who is not running for re-election due to approval ratings that have sunk to single digits, the Associated Press reported.

Claiming to have uncovered evidence that Temer pocketed about $300,000 in bribes from construction giant Odebrecht, the report could lead to his suspension – though he has denied any wrongdoing and twice survived similar efforts to charge him.

The charges against Workers’ Party vice presidential candidate Fernando Haddad – who is in line to become the presidential candidate after Lula was barred from contesting by the country’s top electoral court last week – will have greater impact.

Based on allegations that the party took kickbacks on his behalf to offset a debt he incurred during the 2012 Sao Paolo mayoral race, the charges won’t stop Haddad from contesting. But they’ll give his opponents ammunition, Al Jazeera said.


The Mystery of Bones

Among the oldest vertebrates, ancient fish known as heterostracans roamed the Earth’s waters more than 400 million years ago.

Fossil evidence discovered over a century ago revealed that the fish had a peculiar bone composition not found in modern vertebrates, a fact that puzzled scientists at the time.

But scientists have recently been able to determine the composition of the ancient fish bones, the University of Manchester said.

Using a special type of X-rays, researchers discovered that the skeletons were made of a mystery tissue called aspidin.

“It is crisscrossed by tiny tubes and does not closely resemble any of the tissues found in vertebrates today,” said lead researcher Joseph Keating. “For 160 years, scientists have wondered if aspidin is a transitional stage in the evolution of mineralized tissues.”

Keating and his team asserted in their study that the tissue is one of the earliest stages of bone evolution.

“We show that it is, in fact, a type of bone, and that all these tissues must have evolved millions of years earlier,” he said.

And that is important because bones are the key innovation underpinning the evolution of the vertebrate skeleton.

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