The World Today for October 15, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

LUXEMBOURG

Bread and Circuses

The Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg held elections Sunday.

Whoop dee doo, right?

Wealthy Luxembourg is slightly smaller than Rhode Island, so such an event understandably doesn’t generate big headlines globally.

Even so, at stake are issues that reflect the enormous divides among many voters elsewhere in the Western world.

Above all else, Luxembourgers care about housing. In a recent poll, around half of those surveyed said housing was too expensive, according to the Luxembourg Times, the English edition of a German-language local newspaper.

It’s easy to see why such an issue would loom large. Housing costs have increased by 40 percent in the past eight years, compared to an average 11 percent rise across the European Union.

The second-most important issue among voters was transportation, particularly regarding their commutes to work. The environment came in third, perhaps reflecting how air pollution is a significant problem in a country wedged between Belgium, France and Germany.

The political parties campaigning to run the country, meanwhile, are focused on foreigners and Luxembourg’s identity.

Claude Wiseler, leader of the opposition Christian Social People’s Party (CSV), which was trailing the government of Prime Minister Xavier Bettel in early returns, blasted Bettel for holding a referendum in 2015 that would have given Luxembourg’s many foreign residents the right to cast ballots in the election, the Luxembourg Times reported.

Voters rejected that idea, leaving the many people who work in EU institutions and foreign company headquarters – the source of much wealth – along with others from abroad, without a voice in the political system of the country where they live, for better or for worse.

Wiseler would make sure schools taught more literature in Luxembourgish, the local tongue that competes with French, German and, increasingly, English. He also would mandate a more comprehensive ban on Islamic veils than the government’s current partial ban.

Pushing back against that rhetoric was Green Party top candidate François Bausch: “If everyone spoke Luxembourgish, it would not solve housing issues,” he told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, far bigger issues are swirling.

Luxembourg is a center of money laundering and tax evasion, wrote the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Sometimes, like in the grand duchy’s tax deal with American fast-food chain McDonald’s, the country is doing nothing wrong, as the Associated Press noted. It just offers a better deal in terms of tax and trade laws to foreign businesses (READ: American) than its European neighbors.

But the EU is seeking to crack down on such practices, potentially ridding the country of a lucrative source of revenue, wrote Reuters.

How might Luxembourg replace that economic activity? By launching a space exploration industry, of course, as local magazine Delano wrote.

Voters think about bread-and-butter issues. Politicians like bread and circuses. Tax cheats like inattention.

WANT TO KNOW

SAUDI ARABIA

Cracks in the Foundation

Saudi Arabia vowed to hit back with “greater action” if the US tries to punish it for the alleged murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul – where he entered the Saudi consulate and then disappeared on Oct. 2.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump said in an interview with “60 Minutes” that proof of Saudi involvement in Khashoggi’s murder would trigger “severe punishment,” the Irish Times reported.

“The Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by waving economic sanctions, using political pressure, or repeating false accusations,” according to the Saudi Press Agency. The Saudi foreign ministry went on to add, “If it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.”

A US official said that the US has intercepted communications in which Saudi officials discuss a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him, CNN reported. The alleged incident has badly dented Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to present an image of a reform-minded regime, though he denies any knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate.

SOMALIA

Mixed Signals

Somalia marked the one-year anniversary of a terrorist attack that killed nearly 600 people in the capital of Mogadishu by executing a man convicted of driving one of the vehicles used in the attack.

While Hassan Adan Isak was executed for his involvement, the country also held a commemorative ceremony at the intersection where the blast occurred, renaming it 14 October junction in memory of the victims, the BBC reported.

The conventional wisdom is that the militant Islamist al-Shabab group orchestrated the attack, though no one has claimed responsibility. The group did, however, claim credit for a suicide bombing on Saturday that killed 20 people and injured dozens more in the town of Baidoa.

While the outlook for an end to terror in the region is not looking good, other developments in the Horn of Africa are promising at least better regional cooperation: Also this weekend, an Ethiopia National Airways plane landed at the Somali capital’s Aden Adde airport, marking the first commercial flight between the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and Mogadishu in 41 years.

GERMANY

Winds of Change

The Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) suffered a devastating setback in regional elections on Sunday.

The Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) is projected to face its second-worst election outcome since 1946, winning around 37 percent of the vote, NPR reported. That would give it the largest share of votes but compel it to partner with another party to form a coalition government.

The Green Party made the biggest gains, more than doubling its share of the vote compared with the last regional election in 2013, while the fourth-place finish of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party was viewed as disappointing by the country’s far-right populists.

“If you follow the media, you get the impression that everyone’s turning to the right, to racism. But it’s not like this. Normal people just haven’t been loud enough,” one Bavarian voter said.

Prior to the vote, analysts suggested that the AfD’s anti-immigration rhetoric had found particularly fertile ground in Bavaria – Germany’s wealthiest region.

DISCOVERIES

Thank You, Jaws

More sharks are swimming north in US coastal waters every year due to warming oceans.

Now, Australian tech startups are thinking of ingenious technological ways to prevent future shark attacks and contribute to the fishes’ conservation, Bloomberg reported.

High school student Samuel Aubin developed an app last year that analyzes several environmental factors and the probability that the apex predator might attack.

Startup Ripper Group, meanwhile, has developed drones that scan the waters for the predators’ presence, alerting lifeguards and even dropping inflatable devices to swimmers at risk.

Ocean Guardian’s Shark Shield goes to a whole new level. It’s a portable device that emits a three-dimensional force field that causes the sharks to turn away from their prey.

The startups hope to promote better conservation efforts for the marine species and have received backing from the Australian government.

Despite their effectiveness, the devices will be a tough sell to consumers, who can thank Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” and subsequent media sensationalism for widespread fears of shark attacks.

“It’s hard to convince people you can stop a one-ton great white shark moving at 30 kilometers an hour from eating you, but it does,” says Ocean Guardian CEO Lindsay Lyon, whose product proved effective in several tests.

Click here to see the Shield in action.

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