September 13, 2021

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly

NEED TO KNOW

NORWAY

Eco Election

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg might become the first top politician to be ousted due to climate change.

Polls forecast that Solberg and her Conservative Party will lose the Sept. 13 general election in the Scandinavian country to Labor Party leader Jonas Gahr Stoere and other leftwing parties by a margin of two to one, Reuters wrote.

Profiled in EUObserver as an old hand in Norwegian politics, Stoere has been appealing to the “common people” on the campaign trail. He has promised to lower taxes for low- and middle-income voters who have faced disruptions and higher prices due to the pandemic, hike taxes on the richest Norwegians, stop privatizing government services, spend more money on hospitals and renegotiate the country’s economic relationship with the European Union. (Norway is not a member of the EU, as this Norwegian government website explained.)

The real forces driving Stoere and his leftwing associates’ expected success stem not from their big agenda but from voters’ growing concerns about climate change and Norway’s most important industry – oil.

The United Nations climate change report published on Aug. 9 gave the leftists a political present. Describing a coming era of worse storms, greater temperature swings and other climate change phenomena as a “code red for humanity,” the report has led many voters to question Norwegian oil’s role in making the planet less hospitable, as the Financial Times noted.

Environmental awareness is widespread in Norway. Even Conservatives agree that the country must wean itself off oil. They have proposed tax changes that would make oil exploration more expensive, for example. But the country’s oil sector employs 160,000 people and makes up a whopping 42 percent of exports.

The issue has become intertwined with tax policy and social inequity.

Norway weathered the economic tsunami of the coronavirus pandemic fairly well because it is a major oil exporter, Bloomberg wrote. But the Conservatives, saying oil and the revenues it generates won’t last forever, have proposed reducing the wealth tax to incentivize Norwegians to invest and establish new businesses. Stoere, in contrast, has proposed increasing wealth taxes to shore up the country’s finances and, by extension, its social safety net.

Leftwing politicians have been choosing their words carefully when confronting the oil industry.

“The most important thing we have to do for the people who work in the oil and gas industry is to increase the speed of creating more renewable energy industries, so they have jobs to go to,” Labor Deputy Leader Hadia Tajik told Reuters.

It’s hard when the golden goose is a political straw man.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

More Flexing

Russia and Belarus began joint military drills over the weekend described as the largest bilateral military exercise in decades amid ongoing tensions between the two allies and Western nations, the Moscow Times reported.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the Zapad-2021 drills will include up to 200,000 soldiers, 760 tanks and multiple rocket systems, as well as 80 aircraft and 15 warships.

The ministry added that the exercises will test the “readiness levels and the Belarusian and Russian military command bodies’ ability to jointly ensure military security and territorial integrity.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called Zapad-2021 “the biggest military exercise in 40 years.” His comments come as Poland declared a state of emergency along its border this month over a rise of unchecked migrants from Belarus, according to the Washington Times.

Morawiecki called Zapad-2021 provocative, but Russian officials rejected the accusations and said the drills were “purely defensive.”

NATO officials, meanwhile, said that they were not invited to send observers to the military exercises.

Analysts told Radio Free Europe that Zapad-2021 will bring a series of outcomes, including the Russian military permanently remaining in Belarus after the drills are over. They noted that the integration of Russian and Belarusian forces could stamp out “a Color Revolution-type scenario in Belarus.”

Before the start of the drills, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko announced they would deepen economic integration as part of the two countries’ 1999 “union state” agreement.

Putin said that the union would entail deeper political ties, such as a single parliament and currency, but did not discuss political integration with Lukashenko.

MEXICO

When Monuments Fall

Officials in Mexico’s capital plan to replace a statue of explorer Christopher Columbus along Mexico City’s iconic boulevard with that of an Indigenous woman to recognize the contribution of the country’s native population, CNN reported.

Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said that the Italian colonizer’s legacy remains divisive among Mexicans, with some seeing the 15th-century figure as a symbol of European suppression of Mexico’s Indigenous civilizations, according to the Associated Press.

The statue was originally placed on Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s main avenue since the late 19th century. However, the monument has been the target of pro-Indigenous protesters: In 1992, demonstrators damaged the statue during the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas.

Authorities removed the statue last year for a scheduled restoration, but there were debates whether it should be replaced amid concerns that it would be further vandalized.

The removal took place shortly before Oct. 12, which Americans know as Columbus Day but Mexicans call “Dia de la Raza,” or “Day of the Race” – a holiday aimed to recognize “the mixed Indigenous and European heritage of Mexico,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Sculptor Pedro Reyes, who will create the new statue, said it will depict a woman from the Olmec people, who are believed to have built one of the oldest civilizations in Mesoamerica. Reyes added that the new monument will be dedicated to Indigenous women and to the Earth, because “if anyone can teach us how to take care of this planet, it’s our native peoples.”

Meanwhile, the Columbus statue will be moved to a less prominent location in the Polanco neighborhood of the capital.

FRANCE

Turning Stones

French officials placed former Health Minister Agnès Buzyn under formal investigation over the weekend for “endangering the lives of others” in the coronavirus pandemic, in one of the first such judicial cases worldwide, the Washington Post reported.

The move is part of a widening probe into the role of French government ministers and officials in handling the pandemic: Authorities might also launch investigations against current Health Minister Olivier Véran and former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe.

Last October, they searched the homes of Philippe, Véran, Buzyn and other officials following an order by France’s Cour de Justice de La Republique, a special tribunal tasked with investigating wrongdoing by members of the government.

Ahead of the probe, Buzyn defended her track record and said she would “reestablish the truth.” The former minister resigned during the early days of the pandemic.

The investigations could prove problematic for President Emmanuel Macron, who is running for reelection next year.

His government has received criticism for being slow in obtaining personal protective equipment and for confusing the public on whether wearing masks was necessary. Last April, Macron acknowledged that France was not ready for the crisis.

Currently, France has recorded more than 116,000 deaths and nearly 7 million cases as of Sunday.

The French government has implemented a health pass to urge people to get vaccinated, but cases have been rising in the country’s south.

DISCOVERIES

Of Gods and Whales

Before they solely occupied the world’s oceans, ancient whales began life on Earth as “herbivorous, deer-like terrestrial mammals.”

Eventually, some of them developed a taste for flesh and became ferocious predators that hunted both on land and sea, a new study reported.

Recently, archeologists discovered in the Egyptian desert a 43-million-year-old fossil belonging to a prehistoric whale species that sported four legs and very sharp teeth, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Studying the remains, researchers concluded that the unknown amphibious species was an apex predator and named the creature Phiomicetus anubis – after Anubis, the ancient Egyptian god of death who accompanied dead pharaohs into the afterlife.

“This whale was a god of death to most of the animals that lived in its area,” said lead author Abdullah Gohar.

Gohar and his team explained that the animal lived around the Fayum Depression of Egypt’s Western Desert – an area that was once covered by sea and is also known as Whale Valley because of all the marine mammalian fossils found there.

P. anubis was 10 feet long, weighed about 1,300 pounds and had a raptor-like feeding style thanks to its impressive jaws and teeth. Its webbed feet allowed it to hunt both on land and sea.

The authors explained that the prehistoric whale could unveil more about how the other cetaceans evolved when they first appeared about 50 million years ago.

“Phiomicetus anubis is a key new whale species, and a critical discovery for Egyptian and African paleontology,” noted Gohar.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 224,663,868

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,630,729

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,680,604,626

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 40,955,258 (+0.08%)
  2. India: 33,264,175 (+0.08%)
  3. Brazil: 20,999,779 (+0.05%)
  4. UK: 7,259,752 (+0.40%)
  5. Russia: 7,037,435 (+0.00%)**
  6. France: 6,990,662 (+0.11%)
  7. Turkey: 6,658,221 (+0.67%)
  8. Iran: 5,295,786 (+0.38%)
  9. Argentina: 5,224,534 (+0.02%)
  10. Colombia: 4,930,249 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country