The World Today for October 27, 2020

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Sellouts and Patriots

A few weeks before a general election on Oct. 31, political candidates in Georgia received a surprise.

Officials in the former government under the United National Movement party allegedly gave away chunks of Georgian territory during negotiations with Azerbaijan. Both are former Soviet republics with overlapping claims to land along their frontier, including a Christian monastery founded in the sixth century. Prosecutors allege that the treacherous officials used the wrong maps during the talks, reported Radio Free Europe.

Their case has many twists and turns. Russian agents reportedly provided the correct maps to the government. As the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explained, Russia has deep connections and interests in the Caucuses region. Those ties are one reason the former Georgian president who ran the Black Sea country during the Russian invasion of 2008, Mikheil Saakashvili, the leader of the United National Movement, called the map allegations, “a cheap Russian special operation.”

The Open Society Foundation and other human rights organizations felt the case was fishy, too. “The investigation is politically motivated, aimed at creating misconception and discrediting political opponents,” the group concluded in a statement. The government has yet to explain why the cartographers would sell out Georgia to Azerbaijan, the activists noted.

The supposed revelations certainly make their suspected originator, the ruling Georgian Dream party, look good in comparison.

That’s in contrast to the public spectacles that make the ruling party look bad, like demonstrations and clashes with police in the streets over corruption and Russian influence. Journalists covering those events have also encountered repression, like when thugs beat up a group of reporters covering political assemblies that turn into riots, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Transparency International described how the Georgia Dream’s stance toward the media has become tougher and less tolerant. The US Ambassador in Georgia has spoken out to rally support for freedom of the press, too.

The European Union should dispatch teams to ensure the legality of the elections, suggested the European Council on Foreign Relations. The coronavirus might make that impossible. Indeed, a second wave of the virus could undermine the Georgia Dream government of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, reported Eurasianet.

The election is important because Georgia is a relatively stable country in an unstable region, argued Janusz Bugajski, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, DC. Two sections of the country, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have declared independence from the central government and enjoy Russian support. Next door, Armenia and Azerbaijan are fighting over territory.

Georgia is relatively stable now, observers say. But if its leaders keep up their behavior, it might not be.



Still Here

Dozens of Iraqi protesters clashed with police in Baghdad on Monday, a day after thousands rallied in the capital to mark the first anniversary of the emergence of a mass anti-government movement, Al Jazeera reported.

The “October Revolution” has led to Iraq’s biggest anti-government rallies since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Demonstrators over the past two days renewed calls for better services, economic opportunities and an end to corruption. They also called for a housecleaning regarding Iraq’s political class – they blame the elite for the country’s poor living conditions.

About 600 protesters died and 30,000 were wounded during the unrest last year, prompting the then-Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign in November.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi – who came to power six months ago – has vowed to address the demands of protesters, but they say little has been achieved, according to the Washington Post.


A Cartoon and a President

France appealed to foreign governments to forego a boycott of French products after President Emmanuel Macron publicly backed caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, the Guardian reported Monday.

On Friday, Macron said that France will not “renounce the caricatures,” while attending a national tribute to the murdered high-school teacher, Samuel Paty.

Paty was gruesomely murdered last week after he showed his class drawings of the prophet during a debate on free speech.

Macron’s comments caused anger in the Islamic world over the weekend, prompting protests and condemnations from leaders in Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey and Iran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a complete boycott of French products in Turkey. Meanwhile, Kuwait and Qatar have removed some products, as well as halted cultural events and flights to France.

Earlier this month, Macron incensed many Muslims when he said that Islam is “a religion that is in crisis all over the world today.” His comments came as he announced a long-awaited law against “separatism” aimed at combatting radical Islam in France – it is expected to be debated in the French parliament in December.


Risky Precedent

Top global human rights watchdogs expressed outrage over a recent proposal by the US government to brand certain organizations as “anti-Semitic” and to discourage foreign governments from supporting their work, NBC News reported.

The proposal targets organizations such as Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Oxfam and other groups that have criticized the Israeli government over its policies toward Palestinians.

The proposal would involve a declaration saying that the work of these groups is related to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the boycotting of Israeli products over the country’s construction of settlements on land Palestinians claim for a future state.

Legal analysts and human rights officials worry that such a move could be used by other governments as a pretext to ban or restrict their work abroad.

Representatives of HRW, AI and Oxfam have denied endorsing the BDS movement and called the Trump administration’s move an attempt to undermine the work of international human rights organizations.

Human rights advocates added that the proposal is part of a wider pattern by the Trump administration to undermine or ignore human rights concerns: The US has imposed sanctions on top officials of the International Criminal Court and has not penalized Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that seeks to fight anti-Semitism and bigotry, said the move would be a mistake.

“We oppose broadly applying the anti-Semitism label to these human rights organizations – doing so is neither accurate nor helpful to the fight against anti-Semitism,” a spokesperson for the ADL told NBC News. “Rather, this move would politicize the fight against anti-Semitism.”

Meanwhile, the human rights organizations felt blindsided by the proposal.

“It’s shocking, confusing, offensive, troubling – I am almost speechless,” Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch said. “This sort of smear is deeply troubling and not the sort of thing we would expect from the US government.”


A Different Turn

The large shaggy bee is different from the well-known honeybee: It’s a loner and a picky eater that mainly feeds on flowers of the aster family.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the insect has a very large brain compared to its cousins, according to the New York Times.

Scientists know that certain factors determine the brain size in vertebrates, but brain evolution in insects remains a big mystery.

In a new paper, researchers studied nearly 400 brains of 93 bee species to find patterns between brain size and behavior.

They discovered a few patterns that differed from those seen in the brains of back-boned creatures.

Lead author Ferran Sayol explained that birds with a broader diet had bigger brains, but this was not the case in bees: Bees that had a broad diet had smaller brains than those deemed “dietary specialists,” such as the aster-munching shaggy bee.

Sayol suggested that a non-specific diet doesn’t require a lot of brainpower, unlike the specialized one which requires thorough foraging.

The team also noted that unlike mammals, being more social didn’t mean bigger brains. Previous research in wasps has shown that the most social bugs are the least brainy.

Sayol said that the study offers new insights into the unexplored minds of insects and how brain evolution took a different turn in the insect world.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 8,704,524 (+0.79%)
  2. India: 7,946,429 (+0.46%)
  3. Brazil: 5,409,854 (+0.29%)
  4. Russia: 1,537,142 (+1.07%)
  5. France: 1,209,651 (+7.04%)
  6. Argentina: 1,102,301 (+1.07%)
  7. Spain: 1,098,320 (+4.99%)
  8. Colombia: 1,025,052 (+0.90%)
  9. UK 897,740 (+2.38%)
  10. Mexico: 895,326 (+0.47%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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