The World Today for May 20, 2019

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Wanted: Bold Solutions

Riven with divisions that mirror the country’s French and Flemish-speaking regions, Belgian politics have long been contentious.

In 2010, for example, the separatist New Flemish Alliance won an upset victory in parliamentary elections, triggering a political crisis that prevented a government from assuming power for 541 days.

The run-up to this year’s elections on May 26 has been no different.

Three protesters wearing yellow vests – garb taken from gas-tax protests in France that has come to denote widespread dissatisfaction with mainstream politics – recently interrupted a televised debate between Prime Minister Charles Michel and his main rival, Socialist Party leader Elio Di Rupo.

The protesters, who were quickly hustled away by security services, wanted to bring attention to “the decline in purchasing power and the current difficulty many Belgian households are having to make ends meet,” reported the European broadcast group RTL.

Michel has warned about the danger of ignoring populists like the yellow vest protesters, saying their concerns must be addressed to counter the tide of xenophobia, Euroscepticism and other views that have led to Brexit, “illiberal” democracies like Hungary and other developments that fly in the face of European unity.

“Our citizens are waiting for a more effective Europe based on the results,” Michel told the Financial Times in April. “We need concrete, operational decisions in order to change the future of Europe and give a better answer.”

Indeed, anti-Semitic incidents in Belgium almost doubled to more than 100 last year, up from 56 in 2017, the European Jewish Press reported. Around 20,000 asylum seekers enter the country annually, sometimes allegedly perpetrating crimes like the recent killing of a 9-year-old Palestinian boy, wrote the National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi.

Left-wing parties have surged in popularity, too, according to Jacobin magazine, as Belgians have sought more progressive solutions to these issues.

But voters shouldn’t hold their breaths for a revolution.

Di Rupo is leading Michel in the polls, noted the Brussels Times, a local English-language newspaper, but nobody has overwhelming support.

Michel technically resigned his office in December when the New Flemish Alliance, then one of his coalition partners, quit the government over Michel’s support of the United Nations’ migration pact, a deal to organize a response to the Middle Eastern and other migrants who have been streaming into Europe in recent years. Michel stayed on as caretaker premier, however.

Now the prime minister and Di Rupo have publicly said they won’t object to joining together in a cabinet if one wins but can’t form a coalition, a likely outcome given Belgium’s recent political history.

Americans might applaud such a bipartisan team-up. Unfortunately, however, it’s not a recipe for bold solutions.



No Worries, Mate

After a campaign season dominated by climate change, Australians on Saturday re-elected the center-right coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison – now famous for holding up a black lump in parliament and telling members, “This is coal. Don’t be afraid.”

Droughts, floods and bushfires had raised expectations that voters would back the Labor party and its plans to cut emissions and boost renewable energy, Reuters reported. Instead, they chose Morrison’s Liberal party and the promise of lower energy prices.

With more than three-quarters of the votes counted, Morrison’s Liberal-led coalition had captured 77 seats to Labor’s 68, according to BBC. Only 76 seats of the total 151 are needed to form the government.

That most likely means the country will stick with Morrison’s previous emissions reduction target of a 26-28 percent drop from 2005 levels by 2030, though the United Nations warned last year the country wasn’t on pace to meet that goal. Labor had proposed cutting carbon emissions by 45 percent and reaching 50 percent renewable power by 2030.



The Austrian president called for fresh elections on Sunday, a day after the country’s right-leaning government collapsed as the result of a video that appeared to show the Freedom Party’s Heinz-Christian Strache promising to deliver government contracts to a purported niece of a Russian oligarch.

Strache resigned as vice-chancellor after the German magazine Der Spiegel and the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung released the video on Friday. Even so, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Vienna demanding fresh polls the next day, the New York Times reported.

The scandal hit the far-right Freedom Party just a week before the European Parliament elections. But it’s as yet unclear if concerns about far-right leaders cozying up to Russia will hit similar right-wing populist formulations elsewhere around the bloc – who were otherwise expected to further their recent gains.

In the short term, there are also questions about how current Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will keep the government functioning until fresh polls can be held in September, as both the opposition and some members of Kurz’s People’s Party have demanded that all Freedom Party ministers resign as well.


Too Close for Comfort

A “low-grade rocket” hit near the US embassy in Baghdad’s so-called Green Zone on Sunday, increasing worries about an escalation of hostilities between Washington and Iran.

The Iraqi military said that a “rocket fell in the middle of the Green Zone” without saying who might have launched the attack. Subsequently, the US state department confirmed that so far no one has claimed responsibility for the incident, the Financial Times reported. No one was injured in the attack.

The first such attack in the Green Zone since late last year, it comes in the wake of the evacuation of nonessential US personnel from Baghdad last week, as well as the sabotage of several oil tankers in the Gulf and a drone attack on a Saudi Arabian oil pumping facility.

As the US continues to try to force Tehran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program with stiff economic sanctions, Washington’s claims of credible threats from Iran, together with the deployment of additional US firepower to the region, have raised fears the eventual confrontation could take place in Iraq.


Dark Side of the Moon

After successfully landing on Jan. 3, China’s Chang’e-4 lunar mission launched its rover to explore the South Pole-Aitken basin, the largest and oldest impact crater on the “dark side” of the moon.

It’s helping Chinese astronomers gain a better understanding of how the Earth’s satellite formed and evolved, CNN reported.

In a recent study, scientists highlighted that studying the moon’s craters can reveal more about the composition of its mantle layer, which exists between the crust and core – similar to the Earth’s layers.

Scientists have theorized that the early moon was covered by a molten magma ocean, which later cooled and formed a basalt crust over a mantle of minerals.

The Yutu-2 rover found samples of olivine and pyroxene around the basin, two minerals believed to be present in the moon’s mantle. They are also found in asteroids and Earth’s upper mantle.

It will take more exploration to determine how the moon came to be, but at least there’s enough evidence to prove that the celestial body is not made out of cheese.

“Understanding the composition of the lunar mantle is critical for testing whether a magma ocean ever existed, as postulated,” said study co-author Chunlai Li. “It also helps advance our understanding of the thermal and magmatic evolution of the moon.”


Clarification: On Friday’s Map, we identified Myanmar as Burma. The country’s name was officially Burma, the English version of Myanmar, until 1989 when Burma’s military junta changed it to Myanmar. Many countries recognize Myanmar as its official name but others continue to use Burma, including media outlets. President Barack Obama, during his visit to the country in 2012 used both.

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