The World Today for May 28, 2019

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Sturm und Drang

Solomon Michalski became the target of bullies in his school in Berlin when he innocently revealed that he was Jewish.

“Solomon was walking home and stopped into a bakery. When he emerged, he found one of his tormentors pointing what looked like a handgun at him,” the New York Times Magazine wrote. “The gun turned out to be a fake. But it gave Solomon the scare of his life.”

The incident in Germany is an indication of the discontent with changing times, and the hatred, high emotions and even rebellion simmering in the country.

One might argue that the nationalist, populist political parties giving establishment politicians a run for their money in Bremen as well as European parliamentary elections are another.

Those parties threatened to trounce the center-left Social Democrats in the north German city-state of Bremen Sunday.

That happened, sort of.

In Bremen, Social Democrats lost their stronghold of 73 years to the center-right Christian Democrats of Angela Merkel, and to a lesser extent the Greens and the populist, far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), according to German broadcaster ARD.

The Social Democrat’s shock defeat reflected their losses at the European Parliament election, with the far right, Eurosceptic parties, the Greens and the center-right making gains at their expense, reported Politico.

“Establishment politics in Germany, but also in the EU, often haven’t managed to really solve the issues the population believes are pressing,” Joachim Schuster, a Social Democratic European parliamentarian who ran for re-election in Bremen, told the Associated Press.

In Bremen, blue-collar voters are angry about how they’ve lost jobs in shipbuilding, while white-collar voters complain that efforts to diversify the economy haven’t succeeded, wrote Politico. Bremen has Germany’s highest unemployment rate – 10 percent, Reuters reported.

Many of Schuster’s constituents cast their ballots for the AfD, which accuses mainstream leaders of abandoning the working class while allowing more than one million migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere to settle in the country beginning in 2015.

“Each country should look out for itself,” one Bremen voter told euronews, reflecting a sense that German politicians were ignoring domestic issues.

Still, indifference is playing a role in the shift. The research group Bertelsmann Stiftung said voter turnout has been low in cities like Bremen, suggesting that winning candidates may not reflect the will of a majority of their constituents.

There is another reason – voters act differently in EU elections than in national ones.

“Voters are more likely to indulge themselves in the nontraditional candidates,” Ben Tonra, a politics professor at University College Dublin, told the Washington Times. “That tends to benefit the (far left and the far right).”

Still, the center-right pulled ahead in Bremen and in most of Germany. It was first in the EU vote also even as its share of support declined.

But the real contest is to come. In the eastern German state of Brandenburg, the AfD was the biggest winner in the European elections, gaining about one-fifth of the vote. Brandenburg will hold local elections this fall. With the SPD in decline, Merkel on her way out, and the Greens doubling their share in Germany in the EU vote to become Germany’s second strongest party, it’s becoming an all-out war – but between right and left.

“The Greens are our main enemy,” said Alexander Gauland, leader of the AfD, on Monday, acknowledging the shift. “The Greens are the ones ruining Germany.”



Divided They Fall

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his caretaker government lost a no-confidence motion on Tuesday, making him the first Austrian leader in more than 70 years to be ousted by Parliament.

Kurz’s ouster follows closely on the heels of the resignation of Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache after a damaging video that now seems to have been a setup was leaked to the press: That video appeared to show him promising government contracts to a woman who claimed to be the niece of a Russian oligarch in exchange for her financial support, the New York Times reported. That incident had already caused Kurz’s coalition government to collapse.

However, with Kurz out, a new caretaker government appointed by President Alexander van der Bellen will take over and elections, previously slated for September, are likely to come sooner.

Notably, provisional results showed Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) nevertheless came first in the European Parliament elections, with a record 34.9 percent of the vote. Strache’s far-right Freedom Party declined only slightly to take third place, with 17.2 percent, the BBC reported.

That means Kurz could well win the upcoming national elections, too, but may struggle to form a coalition.


Out of Passes

Romania’s most powerful politician, Social Democrat (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea, witnessed his party suffer a heavy defeat in the European Parliament elections and then received a three-and-a-half year jail sentence for corruption from an appeals court in Bucharest Monday.

Banned from holding office due to a previous corruption conviction, Dragnea long orchestrated Romanian politics from behind the scenes. But his reign now looks to be truly over, the Financial Times reported.

“I don’t think [Dragnea] is ever making a comeback, this is it,” Oana Popescu, of the progressive Bucharest-based think-tank Global Focus, told the British paper.

In the European Parliament elections, Dragnea’s PSD won only 23 percent of the vote, down from 37 percent five years ago. Meanwhile, in a referendum that also took place Sunday, voters resoundingly rejected PSD-proposed measures to reduce the penalties for corruption – which Dragnea’s critics have long linked to his own legal troubles.

He was indicted for abuse of office the same week he became president of the lower house of parliament in late 2016, for example, then swiftly moved to decriminalize corruption, sparking the largest mass demonstrations since the collapse of communism in 1989.


Shock and Horror

A schoolgirl and a man in his 30s died and at least 17 were injured following a mass stabbing in a park in the Japanese city of Kawasaki Monday.

The Japan Times reported that 15 of the injured victims were also elementary schoolgirls and a boy, according to the local authorities.

Police detained a man in his 50s in connection with the crime, saying he later died from a self-inflicted stab wound.

Kanagawa Prefectural Police officials added that the suspect was armed with knives in both hands when he attacked schoolgirls waiting for a bus, but have not provided any details on the motives of the perpetrator.

The attack came as US President Donald Trump wrapped up a state visit in Japan, and offered “prayers and sympathy” to the victims as he met troops outside Tokyo.

The rampage is a rare occurrence in a country with one of the lowest violent crime rates in the developed world.


Cow Safaris

Belching cattle and other livestock are responsible for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

That staggering amount – which some scientists dispute – would put livestock on par with transportation as polluters.

As a result, scientists are looking for new ways to lower their emissions even as some Colombian cattle farmers seem to have found one, the BBC reported.

Ranchers are taking their cows on “cow safaris” into the woodlands where the bovines feed on bushes  instead of on grass in open fields.

A diet of bushes and “Boton de oro” flowers allows the cattle to grow faster and produce more milk and less methane – a big contributor to global warming.

“It’s very good for them,” says local farmer Sandra Carbonell.

Meanwhile, neighboring ranchers that use deforested lands are seeing a decrease in soil quality and milk production, due to the lack of trees and soil erosion caused by the animals.

“The pasture is drying up,” says Gustavo Echeverry, another farmer. “I’ve seen production fall.”

Only 1 percent of Colombia’s ranchers have received foreign aid funding for this pilot method and that’s about to end soon, making it hard for farmers like Gustavo to adapt.

Click here to see the new cow safaris.

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