September 24, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

GERMANY

Succession

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel steps down from office after parliamentary elections on Sunday, she will leave behind an impressive legacy.

Germany is the fourth-largest economy in the world. It is the European Union’s most powerful member. The country has weathered economic crises, migrant crises, the coronavirus pandemic and other challenges.

But Merkel’s legacy arguably also left Germany vulnerable, wrote the New York Times, citing the dependence of its export-driven companies on China, Merkel’s failure to build a robust digital infrastructure, the sloppy closure of nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster in Japan and the rise of inequality during her nearly 16-year-long tenure.

The sense of change in the air in Germany as Merkel exits is not helping Armin Laschet, the head of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, who is seeking to replace her as chancellor. His “bumbling” campaigning – putting ketchup on a bratwurst in Saxony where the locals take mustard, for example – has reduced his lead in the polls to only a percentage point, Bloomberg reported.

The Christian Democratic Union’s main rivals, the left-leaning Social Democrats, meanwhile, are hammering away at Laschet’s proposed spending cuts and refusal to back tax increases as a lack of a vision for the future.

“Merkel is very good in solving crises when there is crisis,” Matthias Bartke, a Social Democratic parliamentarian from Hamburg-Altona, told National Public Radio. “There are very few people who can handle it better. But she has no idea about the future. And Schulz has a very, very clear plan of how things should develop and look like.”

The third-largest party, the Greens, meanwhile, doesn’t appear to be poised for a breakout victory despite torrential rains that led to deadly sinkholes in the country and shined a light on its vulnerability to climate change, the Financial Times reported.

Many Germans have been disappointed by their options. “There’s no need to fear charisma in this year’s German elections,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

Whoever wins will likely not achieve sufficient seats to govern alone. Instead, the winner will need to form a coalition with the other prominent parties and a few others with seats in the Bundestag, or German parliament. The would-be chancellors have plenty of important issues to cover. There are international and military questions, as the European Council on Foreign Relations described. A contested Russian gas line remains an issue, as Reuters explained. And as Timothy Garton Ash discussed in the Guardian, questions remain about the future of the embattled EU.

Everything is in the air because, soon, Merkel won’t be around.

WANT TO KNOW

TUNISIA

The Old Playbook

Tunisian President Kais Saied declared this week he will rule by decree and ignore parts of the constitution as he prepares to alter the country’s political system, a move that was condemned by lawmakers and politicians, Reuters reported.

Saied has held nearly total power since July, when he sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament. The president said his decision came because of a national emergency, but his opponents called the move a coup.

The move will allow him to issue “legislative texts” by decree, appoint the cabinet and set its policies without any interference. Meanwhile, the elected parliament will remain frozen and lawmakers will be stripped of immunity from prosecution.

Saied did not set an expiration deadline for his new powers, but he said that he would appoint a committee that would amend the 2014 constitution and create “a true democracy in which the people are truly sovereign.”

The president has denied that he has any dictatorial aspirations, but lawmakers said his recent decision was a “premeditated coup.”

The recent crisis could undermine the democratic gains Tunisia achieved following the 2011 revolution that ended the autocratic rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and eventually sparked the Arab Spring in the region.

Saied’s decision came after years of economic and political stagnation that was worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and came to a head with violent protests.

While some of the president’s supporters have welcomed the move, an increasing number of Tunisians are questioning the lack of clarity about Saied’s plans and the absence of a prime minister.

INDIA

Reporting for Duty

India’s Supreme Court ruled this week that women can be allowed to attend the country’s elite defense academy, a ruling that could potentially allow females to achieve high-ranking military positions in a field traditionally occupied by men, CNN reported Thursday.

The verdict said that women can take the National Defense Academy’s entrance exam in November, which would clear the way for female students to begin attending the institution next year.

The institution is a highly selective military academy that trains cadets for all three branches – the army, the navy and the air force. It has produced many of India’s top military leaders, including all the current chiefs of staff in all branches.

The court initially made the decision in August, but the government requested that it extend the deadline by a year, saying it needed more time to accommodate female cadets. The court rejected that request on Wednesday.

A lot of questions remain about how the academy will implement the new changes and what the development might mean for women in the military.

Currently, females only make up a very small fraction of India’s military – just 6.5 percent of the navy, 1.08 percent of the air force, and 0.56 percent of the army. They are also usually excluded from combat duties.

The decision follows a Supreme Court ruling last year that ordered the government to grant permanent commission and command positions to female officers.

That earlier ruling meant that women could serve beyond the previously enforced “short service commissions” – which ranged from 10 to 14 years – and made them eligible for the same promotions and pensions as their male counterparts.

EUROPEAN UNION

One Port to Rule Them All

The European Union will order smartphone makers to make USB-C connectors the standard charging port for all electronic devices in the bloc, a move that is aimed at reducing environmental waste but could affect tech giant Apple the hardest, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The European Commission said the new, long-awaited legislation is aimed at European consumers and would affect a variety of electronics, including cameras, video game controllers and headphones. Wireless chargers would not be affected.

The legislation is expected to come into effect in 2024 following approval by the European Parliament and then be adopted by manufacturers.

The EU has wanted to mandate a common charging port since 2009, when there were more than 30 charging options in the market, as opposed to the three in use today.

Not surprisingly, Apple – whose devices use proprietary Lightning connectors that would be barred from use in the bloc – has long opposed the plan. The company argues that it would stifle innovation and lead to more waste, since it would make all current chargers that are not USB-C obsolete. Already, the American firm is facing regulatory inquiries in the EU over unfair fees and its payment services Apple Pay.

DISCOVERIES

Changing Colors

Jordanian scientists and government officials were baffled last week after a pool of water near the Dead Sea turned blood red, the Independent reported.

Jordanian authorities said the red pool is a small pond that is isolated from the Dead Sea, and the government has sent an investigative team to analyze the water.

Multiple pictures on social media showed a small water body with a deep red color, with one user noting that it was reminiscent of the Biblical “first plague,” when the scriptures say that Moses turned the waters of the Nile, in Egypt, into blood.

Scientists, however, believe that the cause may be biochemical and possibly man-made.

Sakhr Al-Nusour, the head of the Jordanian Geologists Syndicate, said that the color could have been caused by algae, iron oxide or even unknown substances that locals might have added to the water.

Previous instances of water bodies turning red have also been recorded in the region.

In neighboring Israel, for example, the Alexander River turned red last year because of blood flowing from a nearby slaughterhouse.

Farther afield, in Russia, a river turned beet red in the southern industrial city of Kemerovo last year, according to India’s NDTV. Russian officials said that the color change might stem from a mysterious pollutant, while locals said that even ducks refused to enter the water.

Weekly World Quiz

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 230,626,180

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,729,129

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,026,536,549

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

  1. US: 42,672,291 (+0.30%)
  2. India: 33,594,803 (+0.09%)
  3. Brazil: 21,308,178 (+0.12%)
  4. UK: 7,601,602 (+0.47%)
  5. Russia: 7,248,572 (+0.29%)
  6. France: 7,068,630 (+0.10%)
  7. Turkey: 6,960,267 (+0.40%)
  8. Iran: 5,493,591 (+0.30%)
  9. Argentina: 5,246,998 (+0.03%)
  10. Colombia: 4,946,811 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours