The World Today for September 17, 2021

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How to Win Big

Boris Vishnevsky was shocked when he saw the names and faces of his two opponents in the upcoming elections to the Russian lower house of parliament, the Duma. His rivals were both named Boris Vishnevsky. Both were around his age and sported beards like him.

There was little doubt about what was happening, he said. Vishnevsky is a member of Yabloko, a Liberal political party, in St. Petersburg. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party had put his doppelgangers on the ballot to confuse voters.

“Apparently, my chances to win are estimated as very high, so now they have to resort to these dirty schemes,” Vishnevsky told CNN. “This speaks of a high assessment of my merits and of the level of my support in town. You know, this is not the way you fight weak candidates.”

Such moves show how Putin wants a big win when Russian voters go to the polls from Sept. 17 to 19, wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

United Russia has a supermajority in the Duma. Putin’s authority in the country is unquestioned for now. But the country’s poor economy since the 2008 global financial crisis, softer oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic has squeezed ordinary Russians. Dissatisfaction with widespread corruption has also eroded United Russia’s support. The party lost almost a third of its seats in the Moscow City Council elections in 2019.

In the upcoming Duma elections, United Russia is expected to garner only 26 percent of the vote, its lowest percentage in 13 years, Voice of America noted. Opposition leaders said Putin is pulling out the stops to demonstrate that his rule is legitimate and avoid embarrassment.

The local Russian press has already published leaked recordings of officials training election workers in how to commit fraud to help the party, reported Radio Free Europe. Russia has also banned international groups from observing the polls, labeling them “foreign agents,” a term that was commonly applied to human rights activists and others during the Soviet era.

Nearly 15 percent of workers at industrial plants have allegedly faced pressure from their bosses to vote in the election. Some of those workers told the Moscow Times that they had planned not to vote because they didn’t see anyone worthy of their support. Though some also said they weren’t told to vote for a specific candidate, Roman Yuneman, a former independent politician who now runs the election watchdog Your Choice, argued such workers typically feel like they’re being watched when they enter the voting booth.

A Moscow court banned Russian search engine Yandex from displaying results for the phrase “smart voting,” added Forbes, because it’s part of campaign efforts by the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in August 2020, Navalny is now in jail on fraud charges that he maintains are bogus and politically motivated.

It all brings the term “grip on power” to a new level.



See You in Court

The International Criminal Court authorized a formal investigation into the Philippines’ controversial anti-drug war this week in a move that could lead to the potential prosecution of President Rodrigo Duterte, the architect of the crackdown, NPR reported.

Duterte’s bloody campaign has led to the death of 6,000 Filipinos in anti-drug police operations, sparking global condemnation, and the true death toll is believed to be higher.

The Netherlands-based court said that the evidence suggested that the drug war cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation. Nor can the killings be viewed as “mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation.”

The investigation would primarily focus on the period between Duterte’s election in 2016 and 2019, when he withdrew the country from the ICC to stymie just such a probe. Prosecutors will also investigate Duterte’s anti-drug campaigns when he was mayor of Davao City between 2011 and 2016.

On Thursday, Duterte’s legal representatives said the president will refuse to cooperate with the court and argued that the ICC doesn’t have any jurisdiction, Agence France-Presse reported. They added that the government will prevent the ICC from gathering evidence in the Philippines and bar its members from entering the country.

Duterte’s term is set to expire next year, but analysts said that he is now trying to find a successor that would shield him from prosecution.


Show Me the Money

Thousands of protesters gathered in El Salvador’s capital this week to demonstrate against President Nayib Bukele’s decision to make Bitcoin the country’s official currency, Euronews reported.

In June, El Salvador’s Congress passed the Bitcoin Law, which will require all businesses that are technologically capable to accept the cryptocurrency tokens as payment. Last week, Bukele’s government also launched “Chivo,” a national digital wallet for the token, but the rollout has been plagued by bugs and system crashes.

The president said the cryptocurrency will help Salvadorans working abroad send money home easily, but demonstrators denounced the policy to adopt the cryptocurrency as a legal tender, the BBC reported. They said that Bitcoin’s value constantly fluctuates and could bring instability to the Central American country.

During Wednesday’s protests, some individuals began attacking Chivo cash machines, while others held signs reading “Bukele Dictator.”

Protesters also lamented that the populist president is attempting to concentrate too much power in his hands and undermine the country’s judiciary.

Bukele’s New Ideas party secured a congressional majority following elections this year. Immediately after taking their seats, lawmakers from his party replaced five members of the Constitutional Chamber as well as the country’s attorney general, who had criticized some of Bukele’s actions.

Earlier this month, the new Constitutional Chamber removed a ban that would have prevented the country’s president from running for a second successive term. Critics said the decision could allow Bukele to run for reelection in 2024.


Grinding to a Halt

More than 1,400 dolphins were killed during an annual hunting tradition in the Faroe Islands this week, an event that sparked condemnation from global animal rights advocates and local residents, NBC News reported.

The killing occurred Sunday during the annual tradition known as the “grind” – or grindadráp in Faroese – where dolphins, including the large pilot whales, are corralled into fjords before being stabbed to death.

Faroese officials said that the grind has been practiced “since the Viking age” and remains an important part of the islands’ cultural identity and heritage. They added that the practice was “fully regulated” and considered “sustainable,” with around 600 pilot whales and 250 white-sided dolphins caught on average each year over the past 20 years.

However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other animal rights groups called it a “cruel and unnecessary hunt,” saying that Sunday’s killing broke historical records. The previous high came in 1940, when about 1,200 dolphins and pilot whales were killed.

The Faroese government acknowledged that this year’s grind was “exceptionally large,” but maintained that it was still sustainable. It added that meat will be distributed to local communities throughout the islands.

Even so, authorities and marine biologists noted that Sunday’s grind will spark demands for more regulations and set a limit on the number of dolphins that can be slaughtered.


Spotting the Culprit

British mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing proposed an interesting theory about how animals such as cats and leopards get the patterns and markings on their fur.

Recently, scientists tested that theory and discovered the real culprit behind the spots and stripes, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Turing posited that the markings – which develop in the embryo – form as a result of a systematic relationship between two substances that inhibit and activate one another. This “reaction-diffusion model” proposes that ordered fur patterns are produced when interacting substances are distributed throughout the skin at different concentrations.

In a new study, a research team studied the development of patterns on domestic cat embryos. They analyzed the genes of single cells and proteins of various skin samples and found a signaling molecule encoded by the gene Dkk4.

This particular gene plays an important role in the reaction-diffusion that creates a tabby cat’s elegant markings.

Their results revealed that Dkk4 expression in the fetal epidermis – the outermost part of the skin – marked areas of fetal skin that would later lead to the formation of hair follicles that would then consistently produce a darker pigment in subsequent hair loss cycles.

They suggested that the skin cells expressing the special gene receive “time-sensitive epigenetic changes that are later incorporated into hair follicles.”

The authors hope that further research can reveal more about the role that Dkk4 has in developing more aesthetically pleasing stripes and spots in bigger cats, such as jaguars and ocelots.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 227,070,462

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,670,479

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,812,812,240

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

  1. US: 41,785,979 (+0.60%)
  2. India: 33,381,728 (+0.10%)
  3. Brazil: 21,069,017 (+0.16%)
  4. UK: 7,373,456 (+0.36%)
  5. Russia: 7,110,656 (+0.27%)
  6. France: 7,021,091 (+0.19%)
  7. Turkey: 6,766,978 (+0.42%)
  8. Iran: 5,378,408 (+0.34%)
  9. Argentina: 5,234,851 (+0.05%)
  10. Colombia: 4,936,052 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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