The World Today for February 22, 2022

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Greasing the Wheels

ITALY

The Italian judicial system took almost 20 years to determine whether a couple living near Genoa could compel their neighbors to stop flushing their toilet at night. Recently, the southern European country’s top court ruled in the couple’s favor, determining that the sound was interrupting their sleep and violating their human right to healthy living.

As the Washington Post explained, the tank of the toilet in question happened to be placed on the other side of a thin wall next to their bed’s headboard. The four men who lived next door apparently used the toilet frequently during the night.

This example illustrates how Italy has one of the slowest judicial processes in the European Union. Initial rulings take 500 days on average in civil cases. Appeals require another 800 days. Top court appeals are usually 1,300 days in coming. Criticism of how the judicial system has handled Catholic sex abuse scandals also suggests deeper corruption in the courts, too, the New York Times wrote.

The problem is deep. “The disarray in which the Italian civil justice system finds itself has been ongoing for decades, and red flags became apparent as early as the 1980s,” said University of Milan Law Professor Laura Salvaneschi, who is also a partner at the Italian law firm BonelliErede, in an interview with Law.com.

Italy’s increasingly complicated economy understandably requires more litigation, the Financial Times added. But the country’s legal system has helped undercut the productivity gains that should have resulted from that development. Italy’s gross domestic product has not gained in proportion in real terms – taking inflation into account – since 2000.

At the same time, the threat of endless litigation scares off foreign investors, constrains growing Italian companies and could keep Italy from qualifying for its share of a 200 billion euro ($250 billion) post-Covid recovery fund, the New York Times noted.

Now Prime Minister Mario Draghi is trying to change things. Launching what has been called “the mother of all reforms,” Draghi is pushing measures to decrease the length of civil trials by 40 percent in the next four years as well as cut other red tape that bogs down businesses and diverts Italians to courts rather than other means of resolving their disputes.

Among the reforms is a prohibition on magistrates from entering politics and then reentering the judiciary when their terms in office end, the Associated Press reported. The new rules, for instance, would prevent magistrates from running for office in regions where they were sitting on the bench or prosecuting cases in the previous three years.

The wheels of justice turn slow everywhere. In Italy, it seems like some have their foot on the brake.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Potemkin Politics

UKRAINE

Russian President Vladimir Putin formally recognized the independence of two Moscow-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered Russian forces to enter the two territories for “peacekeeping” purposes Monday, a move that marks a major escalation in what some believe will result in a full-fledged war, the Washington Post reported.

On Monday, Putin delivered a lengthy speech where he recognized the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic as independent while condemning Ukraine as “a colony with puppets at its helm,” where Russian speakers were oppressed.

He went on to add that Russia had been attacked by Western powers and that NATO’s expansion was meant to hold the country back. He warned that the West was using Ukraine as a “theater of potential warfare” against Russia.

Putin’s move is a clear violation of the 2015 Minsk peace agreement that was to restore the two separatist territories to Ukraine. After annexing Crimea in 2014 and following Ukraine’s Maidan revolution that same year – it deposed a pro-Moscow leader and ushered in a Western-leaning administration – Russia fomented revolutions in those two territories.

The recent move comes amid a standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine: For weeks, almost 200,000 Russian troops have amassed around the Ukrainian border, drawing condemnations from the United States and its allies.

Attempts to defuse the situation failed and the West has threatened Russia with devastating sanctions on its financial sector and also export controls if the latter were to invade Ukraine. Ukraine is pleading for those sanctions to be imposed.

Meanwhile, the US, Europe and allies in the Pacific region are now discussing what the next moves are in a coordinated response.

Analysts, meanwhile, noted that the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are only partially controlled by the Russian-supported rebels. If Russian troops push deeper into Ukraine-controlled areas, the Ukrainian army would respond and the situation “could get very bloody,” they added.

At the same time, Western leaders are struggling with how to respond because it is unclear whether Putin’s moves constitute an invasion: These regions have long had a Russian presence, have been turning locals into Russian citizens and funding the militias. While Russia has long denied these accusations, its actions are merely bringing out into the open what has long been a reality, analysts said.

The Bell Tolls

MYANMAR

The International Court of Justice resumed hearings into the allegations of genocide against Myanmar for its treatment of its Rohingya minority Monday, even as questions remain about who should represent the country following last year’s military coup, the Associated Press reported.

The case is related to the alleged genocide Myanmar’s army perpetrated against the Muslim Rohingya in 2017: At the time, the military launched a campaign that forced more than 700,000 members of the community to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Myanmar’s forces have also been accused of mass rapes, killings and the destruction of thousands of homes.

Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi initially represented Myanmar and denied the accusations. But last February, Suu Kyi and her democratically-elected government were ousted by the military. She and others in the former government have been detained.

On Monday, representatives of the military junta demanded the dismissal of the case, saying the proceedings were brought forward by The Gambia on behalf of the Organization of Islamic States. They noted that the African nation could not bring the case as it was not directly linked to the events in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, the National Unity Government, a shadow administration made up of ousted officials including elected parliamentarians who were prevented from assuming their seats due to the military takeover, contended that it should represent Myanmar in court. The shadow entity claims to be Myanmar’s only legitimate government but no foreign nation has recognized it.

The court’s president, US Judge Joan Donoghue, said, “that the parties to a contentious case before the court are states, not particular governments.”

Even so, the recent dispute underscored a broader struggle in the international community over whom to accept as the Southeast Asian country’s legitimate rulers following the coup.

Water Under the Bridge

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopia turned on its ambitious mega-dam on the Blue Nile this week, a move seen as a milestone in the controversial multi-billion dollar project that has stoked regional tensions, Africa News reported Monday.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed inaugurated electricity production from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), considered the largest hydroelectric scheme in Africa.

The $4.2 billion dam is expected to generate more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity but so far only one of the 13 turbines is currently operational. The second turbine is expected to come online in the next few months.

Abiy hailed the move as “the birth of a new era,” saying that this project is integral to developing and powering Africa’s second-most populous country.

Even so, neighboring Egypt and Sudan have voiced concern that the colossal infrastructure project will threaten their access to vital Nile waters.

Following the inauguration, Egypt’s foreign ministry said that Ethiopia was “persisting in its violations” of a declaration of principles on the project signed by the three nations in 2015.

Abiy, however, dismissed those concerns.

Since work on the dam began in 2011, the three nations have failed to reach a binding agreement over the filling and operation of the dam.

Still, analysts said that the GERD is seen domestically “as a symbol of Ethiopia resisting external pressure.” Others underscored that Abiy’s decision was a “rare positive development that can unite a deeply fractured country” after 15 months of brutal conflict with Tigrayan rebels.

DISCOVERIES

Dormant Superpowers

Salamanders have long held the distinction of being one of the few creatures on the planet that can fully regrow their limbs. Now, frogs can, too – with a little help.

Scientists recently regrew the amputated limbs of frogs using a special chemical cocktail, CBS News reported.

In their paper, researchers explained that adult frogs, similar to humans, develop scar tissue when suffering major injuries and are unable to naturally regenerate limbs.

The new five-drug chemical concoction, however, aims to overcome these issues and induce limb growth in the amphibians: The special sauce has various functions, including preventing the creation of collagen – which leads to scarring – reducing inflammation, as well as encouraging the growth of nerves, blood vessels and muscles.

For their experiments, the team applied the chemical cocktail infused in a silk protein gel to the stumps of African clawed frogs. The stumps were then sealed with a silicone dome – which the team dubbed the “BioDome” – and then removed after 24 hours.

After waiting for about 18 months, they wrote that many of the treated frogs had regrown almost fully functional legs equipped with bones, nerves and boneless “toes.” The animals could also feel when their new limbs were brushed with a stiff fiber and could use them to swim.

“It’s exciting to see that the drugs we selected were helping to create an almost complete limb,” said co-author Nirosha Murugan.

Murugan noted that the findings suggest that frogs and possibly other animals have “dormant regenerative capabilities” that can be triggered.

He and his team are now planning to try the special concoction on mammals to see if they can regenerate their limbs.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 425,987,874

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,891,215

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,388,467,514

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

  1. US: 78,529,492 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 42,851,929 (+0.03%)
  3. Brazil: 28,258,458 (+0.14%)
  4. France: 22,466,076 (+0.08%)
  5. UK: 18,785,333 (+0.26%)
  6. Russia: 15,297,628 (+0.00%)**
  7. Germany: 13,805,196 (+1.01%)
  8. Turkey: 13,589,511 (+0.63%)
  9. Italy: 12,494,459 (+0.20%)
  10. Spain: 10,858,000 (+0.45%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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