The World Today for October 03, 2018

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The Soul of a Nation

The Constitutional Court of Romania recently decided that same-sex couples deserved the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts.

“The court says a same-sex family is worth as much as a heterosexual family,” gay-rights activist Teodora Ion-Rotaru told the Associated Press.

Ion-Rotaru was especially happy because the decision could throw a wrench into the plans of church-supported conservatives who are seeking a constitutional ban on same-sex unions.

In a referendum set for October 6 and 7, voters will decide on whether to change the constitution to restrict the definition of a family to one based on a “consensual union between a man and a woman.” NBC News has a good wrap-up on the referendum.

Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia don’t recognize same-sex marriages, sometimes even those of couples wed in other European Union member states.

Such inconsistencies create a host of issues. The European Court of Justice recently ruled, for example, that the Romanian government couldn’t refuse to grant residency to an American spouse in a same-sex union with a Romanian partner.

European officials said Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila was behaving more like a right-wing populist like those in Hungary or Poland than the leader of her country’s Social Democratic Party.

“Is this the stance of a left party?” a member of the European Parliament asked Dancila recently during a hearing on the rule of law, Euractiv reported.

The Romanian Orthodox Church backs the plan to ban same-sex marriage. Reflecting the church’s power in the East European country, the government adopted an emergency rule allowing voters two days rather than one to cast their ballots, a move that makes it easier for the referendum supporters to achieve the 30 percent turnout they need for the results to be valid.

“We’ve been a Christian nation for 2,000 years,” Senator Serban Nicolae of the ruling Social Democratic Party told the AP.

The referendum has sparked heated debate.

Romania’s national broadcaster recently apologized after a camera operator used “inappropriate language” during a live debate between a referendum supporter and a gay-rights activist. It’s not clear what happened exactly but the inference was that the cameraperson uttered a homophobic epithet.

The debate is not exclusively Romanian. Americans are involved, too.

The Southern Poverty Law Center alleged that wealthy American Christian evangelical groups have bankrolled referendum supporters, a tactic that has aided the adoption of harsh anti-gay laws in Uganda and elsewhere.

Liberty Counsel, a Florida group that defends traditional marriage, has filed briefs with the Romanian Constitutional Court claiming that assertions that same-sex marriages are healthy are “grounded in fraudulent ‘research’ based on skewed demographics and the sexual abuse of hundreds of infants and children.”

Meanwhile, some argue that Romanian cultural identity, or even its soul, is at stake in this referendum. At the very least, voters will need to make sure they make up their minds themselves.



Kurds and Why

Iraq selected a Kurdish president and looks set to approve a Shiite prime minister in what would end months of wrangling over the formation of a government following parliamentary elections in May.

On Tuesday, the parliament elected veteran Kurdish politician Barham Salih as president, a largely ceremonial position, the Washington Post reported. Soon afterward, he asked former oil minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to form the next government as prime minister.

Mahdi now has 30 days to form a cabinet and present it to parliament for approval.

Abdul-Mahdi, 76, is a Shiite with no recent party affiliation who was backed by populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a critic of both the US and Iran. A pro-Iran bloc of lawmakers, led by militia commander Hadi al-Amiri and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, tried to block his nomination but gave up after realizing they couldn’t cobble together a majority.

A parliamentary backer said the “compromise candidate” shares the ideology of Sadr and outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whom the US viewed as friendly to America. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Kurds are hoping Salih will re-establish clout lost amid a failed bid for Kurdish independence last year.


A Deep Split

A new poll shows far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro might just manage to defeat Workers’ Party rival Fernando Haddad in a Brazilian presidential election that’s widely expected to require a run-off after Sunday’s vote.

Though his controversial stances on social issues worry some observers, the first hint that Bolsonaro could go all the way buoyed Brazilian shares on Tuesday, CNBC reported, noting a 5.6 percent jump in the iShares MSCI Brazil exchange-traded fund.

Earlier in the day, Brazilian polling firm Datafohla released data showing the two candidates as neck-and-neck in a theoretical second-round vote, with Bolsonaro at 44 percent and Haddad at 42 percent. Crucially, however, some 14 percent of voters remain either undecided or are planning to cast a blank ballot, Deutsche Welle reported.

Both candidates inspire considerable antipathy, as well. Protesters took to the streets en masse Saturday under the banner “Not him” to decry Bolsonaro’s racist, homophobic and misogynist statements. But plenty of others — including many investors — are opposed to Haddad’s Workers’ Party due to its links to corruption scandals and perceived role in precipitating an ongoing economic crisis.


Follow the Money

Practically everybody has found a mysterious $20 bill in the pocket of a freshly laundered pair of jeans. The same can happen with $100 million, according to the central bank of Liberia.

The bank did not misplace $104 million in newly printed notes — or about 5 percent of its gross domestic product — last year as declared by the country’s information minister last month, central bank governor Nathaniel Patray said in a statement issued Tuesday, according to Reuters.

In fact, he insisted, an internal audit found that all the notes shipped from the Swedish printer between 2016 and 2018 were properly accounted for and stored in the bank’s reserve vaults.

The accusation that two separate shipments of cash containing a total of $104 million had gone missing last year had compelled President George Weah to order a federal probe and bar some 30 bank officials from traveling abroad, as thousands of Liberians took to the streets.

It’s unclear whether Patray’s assurances will be enough to end the crisis.


Connecting Everything

Antennas ensure the world stays connected but as they crop up in more types of devices, engineers are continually looking for new ways to shrink them.

Recently, scientists at Drexel University developed a method to install communication technology as easily as spray paint, Smithsonian magazine reported.

The spray-on antennas are made out of MXene, a titanium carbide compound that can be dissolved in water to create ink or paint. Antennas created with it are so flexible and thin that they could be applied on various surfaces.

For example, a person could spray it on a dog’s collar to prevent the animal from getting lost, or even on a tennis ball to monitor their training.

MXene antennas tested as 50 times better than antennas made from graphene, another new material being explored, Drexel said in a news release.

“We found that even transparent antennas with thicknesses of tens of nanometers were able to communicate efficiently,” said study co-author Asia Sarycheva, a doctoral student at Drexel. “By increasing the thickness up to 8 microns, the performance of MXene antenna achieved 98 percent of its predicted maximum value.”

In the future, researchers plan to test the spray-on technology on glass, textiles and even human skin.

Mobile phone company Nokia used the logo “Connecting People” in its heyday. But MXene might soon connect virtually everything.

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