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NEED TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Headwinds

Left-leaning activists in Europe have been throwing milkshakes on populist politicians like Nigel Farage, who led the campaign for Britain to exit the European Union. It’s immature, the Independent admitted, but “milkshaking” is arguably a form of potent political protest.

“The recipient looks ridiculous and it debunks the politician’s aura,” London School of Economics political scientist Kevin Featherstone told the New York Times. “The attacker is saying, ‘You don’t represent me, with your darker side of politics.’”

That sentiment is gaining ground throughout Europe.

After far-right populists increased their share of seats in the European Parliament in last month’s elections, their leaders aimed to form a new political group, the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations, Euractiv explained. The anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic populists seemed energized.

But the wind quickly left their sails.

Farage opted not to join the group. Britain is supposed to leave the EU soon, after all. Poland’s far-right lawmakers also decided not to join, citing the group’s coziness with Russia. Hungary’s populist parliamentarians have yet to join, too, wrote Reuters.

Other signs bode ill for the populists. Austria’s government collapsed recently amid a corruption scandal, CNN reported. American conservative political guru Steve Bannon was hoping to train a new generation of nationalists in a 13th-century monastery in Rome, but the city recently revoked his lease, reported Bloomberg, saying Bannon wasn’t complying with regulations covering maintenance of the historic building. And in France, after months of demonstrations, fewer so-called yellow vest protesters are taking to the streets to decry cost-of-living increases, Reuters wrote.

The Alternative for Germany, perhaps the most concerning populist party due to the country’s Nazi past, came in fourth in the European Parliamentary elections in Germany. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a post asking whether German politics might even be getting back to normal.

The far right’s enemies are on the move, too.

Massive protests, perhaps the largest since the fall of communism in the late 1980s, have broken out in the Czech Republic as populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis faces allegations of fraudulently using EU funds, the BBC reported. British protesters staged lavish demonstrations against President Donald Trump during his recent trip to London, noted the New Statesman.

Still, the far right has its heroes. In Italy, Matteo Salvini’s League party won the most votes for European Parliament. HuffPost argued that Salvini, whose party is part of Italy’s governing coalition, is now considered the boss of Europe’s radical conservatives.

Italy’s economy is in precarious shape, however, CNBC wrote. Salvini and his colleagues should maybe enjoy their time in the limelight now because the future might not be so bright.

WANT TO KNOW

BRITAIN

Less Than Zero

Britain became the first Group of Seven country to commit to reaching zero net greenhouse gas emissions, vowing to reach that target by 2050.

That means a further reduction than the 80 percent cut from 1990 levels that was the country’s previous goal, Reuters reported. “Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children,” Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement. “Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations.”

The government aims to introduce legislation to amend its existing climate change act and adopt the new target on June 12, heeding the recent warning of the Committee on Climate Change. The more ambitious plans will likely mean the phasing out of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 at the latest, as well as dramatically increasing the use of renewable energy.

BOTSWANA

Ruling for Dignity

Botswana decriminalized gay sex on Tuesday, becoming the ninth country in the past five years to do so.

Activists packed the courtroom to celebrate as the High Court rejected laws punishing homosexual sex with up to seven years in prison in a landmark ruling for Africa, the Associated Press reported. The decision closely followed an opposite ruling in Kenya, where the High Court recently upheld similar laws.

Gay sex remains a criminal offense in 67 countries and territories, including more than two-dozen countries in Africa. However, earlier this year, the southern African nation of Angola decriminalized same-sex activity and banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, the agency noted.

A Botswana-based nonprofit called LEGABIBO had supported an anonymous petitioner to take the case to the High Court, arguing that laws criminalizing gay sex between consenting adults “infringe on basic human dignity.”

The group shared a statement attributed to President Mokgweetsi Masisi saying people in same-sex relationships should not have to suffer in silence or fear discrimination. “Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected,” he said.

MOLDOVA

On-Again, Off-Again

Moldova’s President Igor Dodon on Tuesday annulled a decree to dissolve Parliament, leaving the country with two governments that both claim legitimacy and no clear route to solving the impasse.

The country has faced a political crisis since February, when no party managed to win a clear majority in the general election, Agence France-Presse reported.

Over the weekend, Parliament had approved an unprecedented coalition government that included both pro-Russian and pro-European forces – who had come together to prevent oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party from coming to power. But after the Constitutional Court suspended Dodon and appointed Prime Minister Pavel Filip of the Democratic Party as interim president, he swiftly dissolved the Parliament and called for snap polls in September.

Dodon, who belongs to the pro-Russian Socialist Party, refused to honor the court’s decision, however. And by promising to honor commitments to the European Union and also respect the views of Moldovans who want to remain close to Moscow, he’s gained the support of five EU states including Britain, France and Germany, as well as congratulations from Russia.

DISCOVERIES

Spiced Up

Those who dare to take a big bite of wasabi know well the excruciating pain that follows.

This is thanks to a chemical compound found in the paste called allyl isothiocyanate, or AITC, which damages the proteins within the cells and causes the burning sensation.

Most animals avoid this chemical, but one species of mole rat is completely unfazed by it, the New York Times reported.

Scientists studied the effect of AITC on eight species of mole rats, including bucktoothed naked mole rats, which are uncanny survivalists and immune to acid or capsaicin – the component that makes peppers spicy.

Only one of the species, the furry highveld mole rat, didn’t flinch from the pungent substance, even when researchers increased their dosage.

The team discovered that furry rodents have a type of ion channel called NALCN in their nerve cells that “makes it harder to excite the neurons,” according to study co-author Dr. Gary Lewin.

His research colleague, Daniel Hart, added that the mole rats evolved this ability to withstand the painful venom of Natal droptail ants, which acts similar to AITC.

But apart from learning about the resilience of mole rats, researchers hope the new find can lead to advancements in pain treatment for people.