The World Today for December 03, 2020

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Fire and Rage

After a fire in a Bucharest nightclub claimed 27 lives and resulted in 200 injuries, Romanians took to the streets. Angry over poor medical facilities, safety measures and other government failures, they marched and forced then-Prime Minister Victor Ponta to resign.

Now filmmaker Alexander Nanau has produced a well-received documentary that brings to life that disappointment and rage through the story of crusading journalists who work to expose the corruption that allowed the tragedy to occur, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The movie shows how aloof ministers waived off the journalists’ questions about why families suffered so needlessly due to the fire. “The cynicism and indifference to suffering is truly horrible, and a kind of insidious evil rises from the screen like carbon monoxide, and also a terrible sadness,” wrote the Guardian.

The film demonstrates what is at stake when the county’s voters go to the polls on Dec. 6 to choose new lawmakers. Romanians can decide between an open society or political posturing and incompetence designed to distract them from the serious problems their formerly communist country faces.

At present, as Politico reported, incumbent premier Ludovic Orban of the center-right National Liberal Party, is ahead in the polls, giving him a chance to secure a majority in parliament. Currently, he leads a minority government. His popularity, as well as his party’s solid performance a few months ago in local elections, reflects how many Romanians are wary of returning the opposition Social Democrats to power.

Much of that has to do with corruption, which has brought tens of thousands of Romanians out on the streets in protest over the past few years. Euractiv notes how the country has shifted to value clean government and how corruption is seen as the number one threat to the country: “Numerous civic movements have emerged in the country and an outstanding anti-corruption movement is growing in the society, especially among the young generations.”

This has led Ponta, who was a member of the Social Democratic Party, to form a new party to distance himself from his old allies. That includes former Social Democratic boss and former deputy prime minister Liviu Dragnea, who was convicted of abusing his office – and corruption – and sent to prison in May 2019. He claimed he was the victim of a deep state even as he was the country’s most powerful politician.

Meanwhile, the election is about more than Romania. Orban has berated the so-called “illiberal” European Union members Poland and Hungary for opposing EU budgets that attach conditions like respect for the rule of law to countries that receive European funds, the Financial Times reported. Orban likely doesn’t want anything to slow down EU money that can help his country’s struggling economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, BNE Intellinews noted.

Orban is also working closely with the US on issues like Chinese 5G technology in addition to military cooperation and nuclear plant construction, BalkanInsight wrote. Pro-Russian leaders in Hungary, in contrast, have teamed up with a Russian state-owned firm to build a nuclear plant.

Leaders can be corrupt. They can also be incompetent. In Romania, however, they tend not to last long – especially when they enrage voters.



Irreconcilable Differences

Israeli lawmakers approved a preliminary bill to dissolve parliament Wednesday, a move that could send Israel to its fourth election in less than two years, Axios reported.

The push comes six months after the formation of a shaky power-sharing government between right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival Benny Gantz.

The coalition crisis began after Netanyahu refused to pass a 2021 budget which would have locked in the rotation agreement which would make Gantz prime minister next November.

The bill still needs three more votes to become law, which gives the coalition two to three more weeks to resolve their disputes. Analysts, however, believe that a resolution is unlikely.

Despite his weakening poll numbers, Netanyahu faces no real rival and a fractured opposition: Polls show that his right-wing bloc could secure at least 65 seats – a solid majority that would allow him to delay his corruption trial or even cancel it through legislation.


Me, Too

A sexual harassment trial against a powerful Chinese media figure began in Beijing on Wednesday, a watershed moment for the country’s women’s rights movement and a test of its new sexual harassment law, Agence France-Presse reported.

In 2018, Zhou Xiaoxuan accused prominent television host Zhu Jun of groping and forcibly kissing her while she was interning at state broadcaster CCTV four years earlier.

The host has denied the allegations and has filed a defamation suit against her.

Zhou was only one of the many victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence that came forward when the emerging #MeToo movement rocked China in 2018: It began when a college student in Beijing publicly accused her professor of sexual misconduct, according to the Associated Press.

Zhou’s case was initially filed under “personality rights” law, which covers rights relating to an individual’s health and body. It was delayed for two years.

However, China passed its first-ever civil code in May, expanding the definition of sexual harassment. Zhou’s lawyers have asked the court to consider her case under the new legislation.

Zhou hopes the case will encourage other women to come forward in China’s conservative society, where victims often are blamed for sexual harassment and violence.


Climate Symbolism

New Zealand declared a climate emergency Wednesday and promised to make its public sector carbon neutral by 2025, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told lawmakers that the declaration was based on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: The UN body has said that countries need to lower their emissions by around 45 percent over 2010 levels by 2023 and reach zero by around 2050, to prevent an increase in global temperatures above 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Ardern’s administration is also planning a $141 million fund to finance the replacement of coal-burning boilers and help with the purchase of electric or hybrid vehicles.

Most lawmakers voted for the declaration but the main opposition National Party called the move nothing but “virtue signaling.”

New Zealand will now join a group of 32 countries that have also declared a climate emergency, including Canada, Japan and France, which critics say is merely a symbolic move until backed up with more concrete measures.

Environmental groups praised the move but said the government needs to tackle the agricultural sector, which produces nearly half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.


A Spidey Sense

The nocturnal ogre-faced spiders are terrifying for any arachnophobe: They hunt at night and are equipped with two large eyes that are 2,000 times more sensitive than human eyes in the dark.

But their gigantic eyes are just one of the many weapons they deploy during their nocturnal outings, USA Today reported. Although they lack ears, the arachnids can “hear” prey approaching – similar to Spider-Man’s “spider-sense.”

In a new study, a team of researchers found that the ogre-faced spider has special sensors on its legs that can pick up sound frequencies on the ground or in webs. They also noted that the spider uses “a capture web” that dangles between its front four legs to grab insects. If a flying bug approaches from behind, the arachnid picks up its vibrations in the air, prompting the deaf spider to perform a swift backflip to snag its prey.

“These spiders and other spiders, they’re detecting environmental information in ways very unlike our sensory systems,” said co-author Ron Hoy.

Hoy and his team believe that this ability to detect vibrations can be used to spot predators but have yet to prove that theory.

Despite their intimidating look, ogre-spiders are harmless to humans.

They are mostly found in the southeastern United States and they hunt by camouflaging themselves as a dead part of a plant.

“They have to make a living, too,” said Hoy.

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: 13,924,957 (+1.45%)
  2. India: 9,534,964 (+0.37%)
  3. Brazil: 6,436,650 (+0.78%)
  4. Russia: 2,354,934 (+1.20%)
  5. France: 2,275,677 (+0.01%)
  6. Spain: 1,665,775 (+0.56%)
  7. UK: 1,663,467 (+0.99%)
  8. Italy: 1,641,610 (+1.28%)
  9. Argentina: 1,440,103 (+0.53%)
  10. Colombia: 1,334,089 (+0.70%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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