The World Today for September 20, 2018

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Past, Present and Future

In its post-World War II history, Germany has worked hard to overcome its Nazi past.

But events over the past few weeks have shown that keeping its dark legacy at bay is becoming increasingly difficult.

According to German media, over 8,000 right-wing protesters descended on the eastern German city of Chemnitz late last month in response to the killing of a 35-year-old German man, allegedly at the hands of two migrants from Syria and Iraq.

Over several days, protesters shouted Nazi slogans and chased people of foreign appearance through the streets. The New York Times reported it was unlike anything the city – or postwar Germany – had ever seen.

Two weeks later, 2,500 people marched through the town of Köthen in response to another young German’s death after a fight involving foreigners, the Irish Times wrote.

The far right in Germany has seized on a string of such high-profile incidents to bolster claims that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to allow more than one million asylum seekers into the country disrupted the harmony of German society, the Atlantic wrote.

Official statistics debunk such claims. But the rhetoric has been enough to make the once-fringe, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) – which won seats in parliament in elections last year – the nation’s third-largest political force.

In a handful of states in the formerly communist East – a region plagued with nationalism and xenophobia for centuries – the AfD could overrun more middle-of-the-road groups to become the most popular party.

Meanwhile, some of the party’s local youth chapters have been put under federal surveillance for their connection to neo-Nazi groups. One regional leader even marched with such groups in Chemnitz.

Even so, it seems the mainstream of German society still stands against the resurgence of right-wing sentiments.

In Chemnitz, for example, some 65,000 anti-Nazi protesters assembled just days after the unrest to hold a fight-the-right benefit concert that was promoted by the highest levels of the German government, CNN reported.

But among the governing parties, there is no consensus on how to stanch the rise of the AfD and other, more overtly radical groups, Reuters wrote. Some have called for extending surveillance of AfD to the national level.

While condemning extremism, Chancellor Merkel has resisted entering the surveillance debate, saying such a step should be based on facts and not political motivations.

Meanwhile, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency cast doubt on whether hate-motivated attacks had taken place in Chemnitz – even though there’s video evidence that they did.

It goes to show that Germany has really only glossed over its issues with hate, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, Yale historian Jason Stanley wrote in a stinging op-ed for the New York Times.

A report by the paper’s Berlin bureau chief about a small town’s fight over a swastika-clad church bell only underscored Germans’ mixed feelings about their past.

As neo-Nazi protests in Germany become more frequent and support for the AfD continues to rise – possibly turning into wins in upcoming Bavarian elections – such confusion and inaction don’t bode well for a future that is free of past evils.



Demanding Democracy

In a rare development for Russia, the country’s top election official concluded that a recent election was rigged and recommended that a new vote be held to select the governor of the country’s far eastern Primorsky region.

The regional election commission will make the final decision on Thursday, and a new vote could be held within the next three months if it agrees with the recommendations of Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Election Commission, Al Jazeera reported.

Pamfilova said Wednesday the run-off election between Kremlin-backed United Russia candidate Andrei Tarasenko and his Communist challenger Andrei Ishchenko on Sunday was marred by a series of irregularities, including ballot-stuffing and vote-buying.

On Sunday night, Tarasenko was trailing Ishchenko by more than two percentage points with a little less than 99 percent of the votes counted. But by Monday Tarasenko emerged victorious by one percent – after getting almost every one of the last 20,000 votes counted.

More widely, several defeats for United Russia showed a new vulnerability for President Vladimir Putin due to anger over increases in the retirement age.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Blamed for environmental destruction and child labor, the cocoa growing business could be headed for a genuine change in the imminent future, following a declaration from one of the world’s largest candy makers.

Mars Wrigley Confectionery said Wednesday the company was revamping its supply chain strategy to address the problems that have longed plagued the cocoa trade, focusing on small operators, Reuters reported.

The new sustainability scheme will cost the company $1 billion over 10 years and ensure that all the cocoa Mars buys will be responsibly sourced by 2025 – including third-party verification that it was grown without contributing to deforestation. The move raises the bar, so to speak, from its previous commitment to buy only certified cocoa by 2020.

According to the European Campaign for Fair Chocolate, many of the 40-50 million people who earn their livelihood from cocoa survive on less than $1.25 a day, and the industry employs more than 2 million child laborers in Ghana and Ivory Coast alone.


Back to the Future

Heroin has displaced cocaine in public discourse, thanks to tens of thousands of annual overdose deaths in the US. But Colombia’s production of the scourge of the 1980s rose to record levels last year, amid a historic peace deal ending the country’s conflict with leftist revolutionaries.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said Colombia’s cocaine production rose about 31 percent to some 1,400 tonnes, cultivated on 171,000 hectares, in 2017, the BBC reported. And it warned that the drug trade could threaten efforts to maintain peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine, while America is the world’s largest consumer. Last year Colombia produced more of the drug than ever before, despite receiving $400 million a year from the US to aid in interdiction efforts and another $300 million to compensate farmers who switch from coca to other crops.


The Real Fountain of Youth

Bram Stoker’s Dracula might have had a good reason for drinking blood.

A recent study in the journal Nature suggested that pumping young blood into older bodies could slow aging, Newsweek reported.

This doesn’t mean everyone should start sharpening their canines and sucking blood. Rather, they’d obtain others’ blood through transfusions.

“We’re really beginning to understand how malleable aging is,” said study co-author Linda Partridge. “Now we need to push to translate this into humans.”

Scientists reviewed several previous studies and noticed correlations between reduced blood flow and aging, and how younger blood reversed it.

“Loss of blood flow seems to be one of the early things that leads to diseases of aging,” Davis Sinclair, lead author of another study, told Time magazine.

Naturally, entrepreneurs are trying to cash in on the news.

Several startups, such as Ambrosia, are focusing on cities with aging populations, selling teenage blood plasma for $8,000 a pop.

Partridge, however, said more studies are needed to determine if the youth elixir works on humans. So far, studies have been conducted only on animals

For now, people should focus on known healthful routines, she said: “Give up smoking, don’t eat too much, take plenty of exercise.”

She acknowledged, however, that “not everybody has the willpower or wish to undertake these.”

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