The World Today for December 29, 2021

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Scratches in the Teflon

UNITED KINGDOM

The former speaker of the British House of Commons, John Bercow, recently told Good Morning Britain that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was the worst premier he had ever known. A formerly Conservative parliamentarian who recently switched to the opposition Labour Party, Bercow said that Johnson didn’t care about anyone but himself, refused to take responsibility for his mistakes and was interested solely in short-term political gain rather than helping his country.

In light of recent controversies surrounding Johnson’s behavior, many think Bercow has a point.

After his government instituted rules in 2020 forbidding public gatherings in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Johnson hosted a Christmas party at 10 Downing Street in flagrant violations of the law. “Officials knocked back glasses of wine during a Christmas quiz and a Secret Santa while the rest of the country was forced to stay at home,” the Daily Mirror reported.

Johnson had initially denied the party ever took place until a video surfaced with an aide making reference to it.

That wasn’t the first of Johnson’s missteps.

On Nov. 27, Johnson held a jam-packed event in honor of Cleo Watson, a 32-year-old aid nicknamed “The Gazelle” who was leaving the prime minister’s office to write an erotic political thriller about British officials, Daily Mail wrote, adding that the Conservative prime minister held three other crowded bashes in 2020 in contravention of Covid rules.

Earlier this year, Johnson also told ministers during a meeting that he would not accept a third nationwide lockdown to stop the spread, saying that he would rather “let the bodies pile high in their thousands,” according to Reuters.

Johnson and his circle repeatedly deny these allegations. But numerous news outlets have reported on them.

The prime minister also stoked a controversy when he renovated his Downing Street living quarters earlier this year at a cost of more than $260,000 – even though, as the BBC explained, he possessed only a publicly appropriated budget of around $40,000 for the job. Political donors might have paid the difference without Johnson properly disclosing it.

As a result, polls now show that Labour has the support of 41 percent of the British public compared to the Conservative’s 33 percent, reported the Huffington Post. Johnson’s approval ratings have dropped to 29 percent with a majority of the country saying he should resign.

Johnson, like ex-President Donald Trump, has long “mystified” critics by bouncing back from scandals that would have wrecked other, less colorful politicians, the Washington Post noted.

Now, however, he might be losing his touch. Recently, as CNN reported, Conservative members of parliament defied him to vote against his proposed Covid-19 measures. Liberal Democrats also recently won a parliamentary seat in a district that the Conservatives had held for 200 years.

Whether he survives scandals and turmoil, one thing is clear: It’s been a tough Christmas for the prime minister.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Boogeymen

RUSSIA

Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the closure of the country’s oldest human rights organization Tuesday, a controversial move seen as the latest effort by President Vladimir Putin to curb dissent and independent thought, the Guardian reported.

The court found that Memorial International had repeatedly violated Russia’s “foreign agents” law, accusations the organization and its supporters have said are politically motivated.

The group said it would appeal the verdict, both in Russia and at the European Court of Human Rights.

Memorial International was founded in the late 1980s during the twilight years of the Soviet Union. The organization has been responsible for documenting crimes committed by the communist regime, including Joseph Stalin’s infamous purges.

However, criticism of the Soviet government has become taboo in Russia over the last 30 years. During the trial, Russian prosecutors also portrayed the group as a geopolitical weapon used by foreign powers to undermine the achievements of the Soviet Union.

The ruling comes as Putin’s government has launched a crackdown on Russian civil society that has led to the detention of prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as well as the exile of numerous journalists and activists under the “foreign agents” law.

Many non-governmental organizations and media outlets have also been hit with closures and fines under the legislation.

The Hand That Giveth…

INDIA

India’s government blocked the charity organization founded by the late Mother Teresa from accessing foreign funds this week, a move that threatens an important source of funding for the group’s programs to help impoverished Indians, Bloomberg reported.

The Missionaries of Charity had sent an application to renew its license to continue receiving foreign donations. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it refused the charity’s application on Dec. 25 “for not meeting the eligibility conditions” under India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.

The ministry did not give details on what rules the organization had flouted. The Christian charity, meanwhile, said that it would stop operating any bank accounts with foreign contributions “until the matter is resolved,” the Wall Street Journal noted.

The decision received criticism from Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal state, who said she was “shocked” the federal government had blocked the group’s access to its bank accounts on Christmas day.

Some Christian leaders added that the rejection comes amid a period of increasing hostility toward Christians in the Hindu-majority nation governed by the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

This is not the first time that charitable organizations or rights groups have lost their license to receive money from overseas donors.

Since it came to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has cracked down on hundreds of organizations. In 2020, Amnesty International had to close its Indian operations after accusing the government of “constant harassment,” including freezing its bank accounts.

Making It Official

ISRAEL

Israel will build new settlements and double the population of the contested area of the Golan Heights in the future, an announcement that was condemned by Syria, CNN reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet announced this week that the government will invest about $320 million to make the area a “place that is good to live in.” The plan will include thousands of new homes and two new settlements.

Syria, however, denounced the plan, calling it “dangerous and unprecedented” and warned that it would only prolong Israel’s occupation of the territory, according to the Associated Press.

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the area in 1981. Considered an occupied territory under international law, the Golan Heights is shared between Israeli settlers, Syrian Druze and a small population of Alawites.

Despite its international status, the United States recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the area in 2019.

In his announcement, Bennet added that the Syrian civil war made the idea of Israeli control of the territory more acceptable to its international allies, adding that the alternative would be much worse.

Even so, the proposed plans would complicate any future attempts to establish peace between Israel and Syria.

DISCOVERIES

A Caring People

Ancient Spartans would abandon – even dispose of – babies that were not considered “fit and strong.”

They would also likely consider that story, as written by Greek philosopher Plutarch, as defamation.

Still, his accounts have convinced many historians that the ancient Spartans practiced infanticide.

Until now: A recent study noted that archaeological evidence suggests that the ancient Greeks actually cared for their disabled infants and raised them to adulthood, according to Science Magazine.

Lead author Debby Sneed posits that the practice might have happened occasionally but was not widely accepted in ancient Greece.

She wrote that Greek physicians would advise each other on how to help adults “who are weasel-armed from birth.” She added that Plutarch also made reference to an ancient Spartan king who was short and “impaired in his legs.”

Sneed explained that numerous findings showed a caring civilization: Archaeologists have uncovered ceramic bottles with baby tooth marks on the spouts, which could have been used to feed infants with a cleft palate and other disabilities.

In a previous study, she also pointed out that ancient Greeks built “disability ramps” on some temples and other venues, Live Science reported in July.

While the study shatters a terrible myth about the ancient civilization, other scholars remained cautious about Sneed’s findings. They noted that while there’s no concrete evidence of active infanticide, unwanted babies might have still been abandoned.

The author, however, said that modern assumptions need to be challenged: Even though some people today may devalue disabled individuals, it’s not necessarily true of ancient civilizations.

“There are a lot of different strands of evidence that show people investing time and resources into care for infants who (were) sick or disabled,” Sneed suggested.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 282,848,767

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,414,872

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,032,534,630

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

  1. US: 53,174,959 (+0.72%)
  2. India: 34,808,886 (+0.03%)
  3. Brazil: 22,259,270 (+0.04%)
  4. UK: 12,406,697 (+1.05%)
  5. Russia: 10,258,052 (+0.00%)**
  6. France: 9,430,829 (+1.94%)
  7. Turkey: 9,367,369 (+0.34%)
  8. Germany: 7,086,173 (+0.82%)
  9. Iran: 6,188,857 (+0.03%)
  10. Spain: 6,032,297 (+1.68%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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