The World Today for October 29, 2018

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Fool in the Rain

Lifespans in the United Kingdom rose for almost 130 years as improvements in medicine and hygiene eliminated common fatal diseases, technological and labor advances put an end to many dangerous, back-breaking jobs, and widespread economic growth improved quality of life in general.

But those gains stopped in 2011, possibly because of budget cuts to health and social welfare programs, especially for the elderly, after the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession.

“It’s very difficult to say one thing causes another,” British researcher Lucinda Hiam told US News & World Report. “However, the evidence (pointing to cuts in services) is really building, and these latest statistics really confirm our repeated concerns.”

Homelessness – or “sleeping rough” in British parlance – has also doubled in the country since 2013, Al Jazeera reported. The Qatar-based news network didn’t exactly blame the government for the rise. But it suggested lean times were taking their toll on the lowest rungs of society.

Now, however, Prime Minister Theresa May says the tide has turned.

On Monday, the Conservative Party leader is expected to release a new budget that would mark the end of “austerity,” the term that arose after 2008 to describe officials slashing spending, often while hiking taxes, to balance budgets amid a recession that caused tax revenues to plummet, according to CNBC.

May pledged at her party conference earlier this month that the “end is in sight” for austerity. To say her promise was political is an understatement. As the left-leaning New Statesman magazine noted, the prime minister learned a lesson from her rival, Labor Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who almost defeated her in 2017 due to anger among voters over austerity.

The pledge also came as her cabinet was at loggerheads over Brexit, or Britain’s planned exit from the European Union in late March. British and European negotiators have failed to reach a deal on the issue, leading New York Magazine to warn that another worldwide financial crisis could occur if London banks collapse.

The pledge might not be possible, either, wrote HuffPost. As the British economy is on tenterhooks, halting austerity budget cuts that had been planned through 2020 would boost spending by almost $40 billion. That’s peanuts for the US but real money in Albion.

Brexit also “makes all predictions of economic growth and tax receipts more of a fiction than usual,” the Guardian argued. May and her allies simply won’t know whether predictions of catastrophe are exaggerated or not until April.

In Shakespeare, the fools are the wisest of all. Brits must hope the same applies to their leaders.



A Violent Return

The first violence broke out in Sri Lanka Sunday after a shocking move put former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in the prime minister’s chair late last week, in what some call a deepening constitutional crisis.

Bodyguards for Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga opened fire on a crowd of supporters of President Maithripala Sirisena, who sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and installed Rajapaksa on Friday, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported. Ranatunga is an ally of the ousted Wickremesinghe, who has refused to vacate the prime minister’s residence.

Three people were injured in the shooting and one later died as the result of his wounds.

It’s Wickremesinghe’s replacement that worries observers, however. Known for his brutal campaign to end the country’s fight against Tamil separatists, Rajapaksa was accused of extrajudicial killings, media harassment and corruption during his ten years at the helm of Sri Lanka’s government.

Between 1983 and 2009, the intermittent civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, is believed to have resulted in as many as 100,000 deaths.


Joining the Club

Brazil joined the club of countries ruled by far-right populists on Sunday with the election of a controversial leader known for homophobic and misogynistic remarks and extolling the virtues of the country’s erstwhile military dictatorship.

Marking a radical reversal of the dominance of the socialist Workers’ Party, Jair Bolsonaro had won 55 percent of the vote against socialist rival Fernando Haddad’s 45 percent with nearly all the ballots counted.

The victory makes him the most right-wing of a growing number of conservative leaders to win power in Latin America, the New York Times reported.

“This is a really radical shift,” said Harvard Brazil specialist Scott Mainwaring. “I can’t think of a more extremist leader in the history of democratic elections in Latin America who has been elected.”

Bolsonaro drew on popular anger over Brazil’s crime problems and endemic corruption – which resulted in the jailing of Workers’ Party hero Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the longtime front-runner in the race.


Deadly Crash

An Indonesian plane plunged into the sea minutes after taking off from Jakarta on Monday, just a few months after the lifting of a ban on Indonesian airline flights to Europe due to safety concerns.

The brand-new Lion Air plane was carrying 189 people, including eight crew members, the Associated Press reported. The search for survivors has so far recovered no bodies — only ID cards, personal belongings and aircraft debris, according to the deputy chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 was delivered to Lion Air in mid-August. Its pilot had more than 6,000 flying hours, and the co-pilot had more than 5,000 hours.

While the cause of the crash remains unknown, it is sure to raise concerns about the safety of Indonesian carriers. Indonesian airlines were barred in 2007 from flying to Europe because of safety concerns, and though some had been permitted to resume flights over the past decade the ban was only completely lifted this June. A similar ban on flights to the US was lifted in 2016.


The Eyes Have It

Today, people can easily learn about their ancestry and genetic makeup through at-home DNA kits.

So can dogs.

Embark Veterinary Inc., a startup providing DNA analysis for pooches, recently published a study detailing how Siberian Huskies got their piercing blue eyes, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Geneticists studied the saliva samples of more than 6,000 dogs to create the “largest canine genome-wide association study to date.”

They uncovered that the brilliant eyes in Siberian Huskies are thanks to a mutation in the canine chromosome 18 found near a gene called ALX4, which is linked to eye development in mammals.

Just one copy of the mutated genetic sequence would result in dogs with blue eyes, or one blue and one brown, a phenomenon known as “heterochromia.”

Researchers, however, believe that changes in chromosome 18 might not be the only determining factor and further study is needed.

Co-author Aaron Sams told Inverse that the study illustrates how Embark’s DNA kits provide useful information to both pet owners and scientists.

“With that data we can conduct studies like these to better understand the role of genetics and the environment in the development of diseases in dogs, thereby improving the lives of both dogs and their owners,” said Sams.

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