The World Today for September 24, 2018

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Elections, in 3-D

In Iraq, all politics is local.

Iraqi lawmakers met this month for the first time since May’s parliamentary elections but failed to elect a speaker as opposing factions each claimed they had assembled a coalition large enough to form a government, Reuters reported.

The machinations put Iraqi politicians in the odd position of journeying to Erbil to seek out partners for an alliance. Depending on one’s perspective, Erbil is either the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq or the seat of government of a nation that declared its independence from Baghdad in a referendum a year ago.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rejected the nearly unanimous results of that non-binding referendum. But today, he is in a weak position because his party came in third place in the elections. Result: He hasn’t been able to stamp out or seal an exit deal with the Kurdish separatists.

In an irony the Kurds must love, they are now potential kingmakers in the scrum for the Iraqi prime minister’s office. “Whoever agrees to implement the Kurdish demands, we will reach a deal with them,” said Ali Hussein, spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), in an interview with Rudaw, a Kurdish news website.

Meanwhile, Kurds are getting ready for their own legislative elections on Sept. 30. The Kurdish leadership’s failure to break away decisively from Baghdad has been a major issue in the campaign, Reuters reported. Many Kurdish voters are fed up entirely with politicians because none of them can seem to get anything done.

The stakes are high for the United States, too. Foreign Policy explained that the lack of American support for Kurdish independence and other White House moves have soured the Kurds on backing US interests in the region. Instead, they might be leaning toward Iran.

One might say Kurdish leaders have some leverage over Washington, where President Donald Trump wants allies in his crackdown on Iranian influence in the Middle East. Then again, given how Iran is fighting Kurdish militants who have fled from Iran across the border to Iraq, Trump has some leverage, too.

“What is happening right now in Iraq is a clear war between Iran and America,” Ahmad Haji Rashid, a veteran Kurdish lawmaker in the Iraqi parliament, told Al-Monitor.

Two elections. Three (or four) countries. A web of influence and alliances. Pity whoever winds up in charge.



Another Big Idea

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched yet another grand scheme to transform India: This time a publicly funded health insurance program designed to cover some 500 million people.

The Ayushman Bharat program, dubbed “Modicare,” promises to cover poor families with up to 500,000 rupees ($6,900) for serious illnesses, injuries and conditions, Al Jazeera reported.

At a launch event Sunday, Modi said that a government scheme at “such a grand scale is not being carried out anywhere in the world,” the news channel said. Like his earlier plan to stop Indians from defecating outdoors by making toilets universal across India, the program is desperately needed. And though it is expected to cost the central and 29 state governments a total of around $1.6 billion a year, the price tag isn’t the main worry espoused by critics.

By design, the program doesn’t cover primary healthcare, which is the biggest problem facing the country, and is limited instead to secondary and tertiary care for more serious and long-term treatment. And, as always in India, the implementation may not match Modi’s ambition – which also runs to bullet trains, manned space flight and “smart cities.”


Once More, With Feeling

Cuba’s new president is on his first trip to the US, landing in New York Sunday with plans to denounce the US trade embargo on his country before the UN General Assembly.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel faces an uphill climb, as US-Cuban relations have soured over President Donald Trump’s decision to walk back his predecessor’s relaxation of the embargo, Reuters reported.

The two countries remain at loggerheads over the mysterious ailments suffered by US diplomats in Havana. Washington says the symptoms are the result of some kind of attack, while Havana says that claim is just the pretext to justify reversing former President Barack Obama’s policies.

Diaz-Canel will address the UNGA Nelson Mandela Peace Summit on Monday and the General Assembly on Wednesday.

Cuba has been lobbying for a UN resolution calling for an end to the trade embargo for 27 years, and the assembly has repeatedly adopted it. During Obama’s tenure in 2016, however, the US and Israel abstained rather than vote against the measure.


Shuffles and Raises

In the poker game that is coalition politics, German Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to avert a collapse of her government by shuffling the deck, so to speak. But a raise was still giving her trouble until Sunday.

Last week, Merkel’s three-party coalition had reached a deal to transfer spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen to the Interior Ministry after his questioning of the authenticity of videos of far-right protesters in Chemnitz prompted accusations that he was a right-winger himself.

But members of the Social Democrats (SPD) soon pointed out Maassen would actually get more money in the new post, forcing the big wigs to hammer out a new deal that allows Maassen to change jobs without getting a raise or presiding over security and migration-related issues, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, a recent poll showed support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian counterpart has slumped to a record low 28 percent, while the SPD is neck and neck with the far-right Alternative for Germany – which backed Maassen in the dispute.


Rewarding the Ridiculous

Kidney stones are excruciating, but according to researchers David Wartinger and Marc Mitchell, roller coasters can help.

In their study, they used a silicone model of the human renal system, filled it with urine and kidney stones, and took their ‘patient’ on Walt Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Orlando, Florida.

They observed that the coaster ride eased the passage of the stones through the simulated urinary tract. Rear seats offered the best results.

“If I personally was unfortunate enough to have a kidney stone, I would take the time and effort to locate a moderate-intensity roller coaster and go for a half-dozen rides,” said Wartinger.

He cautioned that the ride might only help patients with stones below 0.2 inches in diameter. He also deemed it unlikely that trials on animals or humans would follow. But he was pleased that the silicon model gave direction to surgeons.

Recently, the duo won the Ig Nobel Prize for medicine for their bizarre but successful research project, Newsweek reported. The prize – unlike its Nobel counterpart – focuses on ridiculous-sounding but important research, experiments that elicit laughter and thought.

Some of this year’s winners received praise for studying the use of voodoo dolls on bosses, analyzing road rage, and inventing an “emergency bra” that quickly converts into two facemasks.

Click here to see the awards show.

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