The World Today for May 27, 2021

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Tarnished Sunset

A Greek member of the European Parliament, Ioannis Lagos, was recently extradited from Brussels to his home country to serve a 13-year prison sentence for organizing a criminal gang linked to hate crimes. A Reuters reporter covered police taking Lagos in handcuffs to a prosecutor in Athens. “For Orthodoxy and Greece, every sacrifice is worth it,” he shouted.

Lagos is an ex-leader of the Golden Dawn, a far-right political party whose members deliver Nazi-style salutes. As this Britain-based Channel 4 newscast explained, the group propagated a racist agenda and antisemitic conspiracy theories to gain political standing during the Eurozone financial crisis after 2008. The Syrian refugee crisis and mass migration of people from the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere helped fuel their ascent to power.

But in October a Greek court ruled that the Golden Dawn was a criminal organization that “systematically” employed violence against asylum seekers, leftists and critics, reported the New York Times. Officials began investigating the group when a member killed a popular leftist rap musician in 2013.

In a trial with 68 defendants, seven leaders were eventually convicted, 16 more with involvement in the murder of the musician. Lagos, however, fled to Brussels, where he enjoyed legal immunity as a member of the European Parliament. But the parliament stripped him of that immunity, leading to his extradition. One last Golden Dawn member remains at large.

Ironically, a cohort of female prosecutors ultimately brought down the group, whose ideology is on a spectrum between patriarchal and misogynistic. “It’s undeniable that in this case justice was female,” Panteion University Gender Studies Professor Maria Stratigaki told the Guardian. “For a party whose ideology is based on male supremacy, whose worldview is so militaristic, it’s humiliating and will hurt.”

Pro-democracy, anti-fascist activists had lobbied the government for years to crack down on the group, the Financial Times wrote. They noted that Golden Dawn dates back to the dark days of Greece’s military dictatorship in the 1970s. Nikos Michaloliakos, who was among those recently sentenced to prison, founded the group in 1985 when he was a youth leader in a pro-junta political party.

The sun has not entirely set on the Golden Dawn, though. In Cyprus, an affiliated group called Elam is running in parliamentary elections slated for May 30, according to the Cyprus Mail. Elam currently holds two seats in parliament. Its opponents are beseeching voters to cast ballots against the far-right party. Elam also grew in popularity after a financial crisis involving Cypriot banks hit the country in 2013, wrote openDemocracy.

Rooting out hate is hard. And necessary.



Lighter Footprints

A Dutch court ordered oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent, a landmark ruling that could have major ramifications for fossil fuel producers, Euronews reported Wednesday.

The court in The Hague said the multinational firm’s climate policies were too vague and must be changed by 2030.

The case, which began in December after environmental organization Friends of the Earth Netherlands and thousands of co-plaintiffs filed a lawsuit, is unique in that no compensation is being demanded from the company.

The verdict is reminiscent of a previous case between the environmentalist Urgenda Foundation and the Dutch government: In 2013, the organization filed a litigation against the government to force it to reduce its CO2 emissions in the country by 25 percent by 2020 over 1990 levels.

The government repeatedly appealed the case until the Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of Urgenda in 2019.

The recent ruling, however, is only legally binding in the Netherlands. Even so, many believe it could spark legal action against other fossil fuel producers around the world, according to Forbes.


Tightening the Chains

WhatsApp sued the Indian government Wednesday in an attempt to block strict new rules, which the US tech company says would lead to “mass surveillance” by forcing social media platforms to hand over private information about their users, CNN reported.

The Facebook-owned firm said that one of the rules – to take effect Wednesday – would require companies to trace the “first originator” of messages if asked by authorities. WhatsApp maintains the regulation will “break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy.”

It also said it would have to keep giant databases of every message to comply with the traceability demand. WhatsApp has about 400 million users in India, its biggest market.

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said the lawsuit was an “unfortunate attempt” to prevent the new rules from coming into effect at the last minute.

Officials said the government intends to respect user privacy, adding that it would only ask platforms to reveal private data if required for the investigation or prevention of “very serious offenses” related to security, public order, as well as sexual crimes.

WhatsApp and other social media platforms have faced an increasingly difficult environment in India.

Earlier this week, police visited Twitter offices in India to order the platform to cooperate with an investigation into a tweet sent by a member of the ruling party. Twitter had labeled the tweet as “manipulated media.”


The Selected Few

Russia’s lower house of parliament approved a bill that would ban supporters and members of “extremist” organizations from running for public office, a move aimed at preventing allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny from being elected, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday.

Under the draft legislation, leaders and founders of organizations deemed extremist or terrorist by Russian courts will be barred from running for public office for five years. Other members or employees of such organizations will face a three-year ban.

The law still needs the approval of the upper house and President Vladimir Putin’s signature to take effect.

Rights advocates described the law as a thinly-veiled attempt at barring anyone affiliated with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) from running in the parliamentary elections in September.

The FBK has already received the “foreign agent” designation, and authorities are seeking to declare it as an extremist organization.

The new bill comes as the ruling United Russia party is facing its lowest level of support in the polls in years. Navalny’s allies are implementing a “Smart Voting” strategy to promote candidates who are most likely to defeat those from United Russia.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin critic is currently serving a prison sentence on embezzlement charges he says were trumped up because of his political activity.


Shape-Shifting Carbs

One single pasta shape might someday reign supreme on your grocery store shelves – flat.

A multinational research effort inspired by resource and space-saving packed furniture created “morphing” flat-pack pasta that changes shape when placed in boiling water, reported ScienceAlert.

This new pasta aims to eliminate all the air space from the different spiral and tube-shaped pasta and could reduce packaging by up to 60 percent. That’s important because food waste and its packaging make up almost half of all solid landfill waste in the US.

Researchers developed the noodles by stamping groove patterns into them. The pasta unfurls into its pre-stamped 3D shape spontaneously when submerged in water because the smooth surface expands less than the grooved one.

Wen Wang, a computer scientist at CMU says “the groove pattern in terms of the depth, the height, and then the spacing are all very important…By utilizing this we could bend the pasta into the shape we would like,” reported New Scientist.

The wacky food is not completely alien, however, “the morphed pasta mimicked the mouthfeel, taste and appearance of traditional pasta,” said Ye Tao, a digital fabrication researcher from Zhejiang University in China.

Researchers hope this new technique and product can be used in a variety of ways – either by adapting to other food gels or flour-based noodles that swell up in water or using the product for consumption on disaster sites and in space travel where efficient packing and transport makes a huge difference in the amount of resources used.

Also, these techniques can be applied to materials like 3D-printed hydrogels used in medicine and robotics for drug deliveries and diagnostic biosensors.

Take a look at the morphing shapes here.

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: 33,190,560 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 27,369,093 (+0.78%)
  3. Brazil: 16,274,695 (+0.50%)
  4. France: 5,683,143 (+0.22%)
  5. Turkey: 5,212,123 (+0.17%)
  6. Russia: 4,968,421 (+0.17%)
  7. UK: 4,486,168 (+0.07%)
  8. Italy: 4,201,827 (+0.09%)
  9. Germany: 3,668,864 (+0.17%)
  10. Spain: 3,657,886 (+0.14%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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