The World Today for August 05, 2022

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Same Old, Same Old

IRAN

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative former judge, won office a year ago promising change. But the same old problems continue to bedevil the country.

The collapse of a luxury building in the southwest city of Abadan in May, a controversy involving an unfulfilled public grain importing contract, and a minister accused of nepotism are souring many Iranians against Raisi’s rule. “Mister President, does this corruption with this large volume eventually have an end point or no?” lawmaker Seyed Morteza Hosseini asked in parliament recently, the Washington Post reported.

Plunging faith in public officials might be one reason that some Iranian women are organizing protests against laws compelling them to wear hijabs (Islamic head coverings) in public, Radio Free Europe wrote. Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 inaugurated an ultra-orthodox government in the country, females aged nine and older are required to don hijabs in public. Many women flout the rule, however.

Still, videos on social media showed so-called ‘morality police’ beating women who had taken off their hijabs. As Al Jazeera explained, many Iranians have grown increasingly angry at the heavy-handed response, leading to officials reprimanding police.

But according to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei it is the West that is to blame for stoking such protests, saying that American and British media had deployed propaganda to lead Iranians away from their faith, Reuters noted.

Khamenei recently also accused Israel of planning an attack against a defense plant in Isfahan, the same city where Iran is now building a new nuclear research reactor that critics warn could produce nuclear weapons in the future, as the Jerusalem Post reported.

That construction could be moving forward because reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is unlikely, Axios wrote. Former US President Barack Obama, China, Russia, and various European powers negotiated the deal under which Iran agreed to reverse its nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions being lifted. But President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the arrangement. Now, President Joe Biden is trying to resuscitate it. The Council on Foreign Relations featured this excellent rundown of the often poor relations between Iran and the West since the Iranian revolution, and why that is so.

Europeans who sought to maintain the deal recently said Iran won’t get a better opportunity to reduce the chances of a nuclear conflict that could destroy the country, especially if it fires a nuclear warhead at Israel, the Associated Press added.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Ellie Geranmayeh, a fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Bourse & Bazaar Foundation predicted that Iran would only become more isolated, more economically vulnerable and more geopolitically cornered if Khamenei and Raisi didn’t accept a deal soon.

Wherein the old problems will not only likely persist, they’ll probably get worse.

And some officials believe that Iranians angry about poverty, corruption and restrictions on their daily lives may increasingly fail to blame the Western Boogeyman and instead turn their rage on their leaders. The powers that be would do anything to stop that.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Dragnet

PUERTO RICO

Puerto Rican authorities arrested former Governor Wanda Vázquez on corruption charges Thursday, the latest in a string of high-profile arrests of public sector figures in the US territory, Bloomberg reported.

Vázquez is suspected of participating in a bribery scheme from December 2019 to June 2020 while serving as governor. Other alleged participants in the scam include a Venezuelan-Italian bank owner, a former FBI agent, a bank president, and a political consultant.

She denied the allegations.

Vázquez came to power in August 2019 following the resignation of her predecessor Ricardo Rosello, according to the Associated Press.

Rosello stepped down amid massive protests over corruption and mismanagement, as well as offensive comments about women, gays and victims of Hurricane Maria.

Shortly after taking office, Vázquez vowed to combat corruption, increase hurricane recovery funds and help Puerto Rico overcome a severe economic crisis as the island’s government tried to avoid bankruptcy.

She served until 2021 after losing the primaries of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party to Pedro Pierluisi, who is currently governor.

The arrest sparked anger among Puerto Ricans, who believe the island’s shaky reputation has been further tarnished. Many people are wondering whether US federal authorities will help root out entrenched government corruption.

Concerns over previous corruption cases caused a delay in federal aid for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria as the US government put more safeguards in place.

Recently, at least 10 current and past mayors have been caught up in a wave of public corruption charges that have shaken the US territory.

The Colors of Hope

AUSTRALIA

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef showed the highest coral cover in 36 years, according to a new report that suggested there is hope for the recovery of the fragile UNESCO World Heritage site, CBS News reported.

The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) released a report Thursday saying that the average hard cover in the Reef’s northern and central regions had increased to 36 percent and 33 percent, respectively, in 2022, up from 27 percent each in 2021.

AIMS scientists said the increase was driven by the fast-growing Acropora corals. They cautioned, however, that the corals are fragile and that more disturbances could reverse the recovery.

The report also raised concerns over the coral cover of the Great Barrier Reef’s southern region, noting that it remains vulnerable to common disturbances such as mass bleaching events. These happen when coral, in response to stressful conditions like heat, loses its pigments and symbiotic algae, turns white and is fragile enough to die.

Despite some positive findings, AIMS warned that the frequency of mass bleaching events has reached “uncharted territory” since it began monitoring the reef 36 years ago.

“Every summer the reef is at risk of temperature stress, bleaching and potentially mortality, and our understanding of how the ecosystem responds to that is still developing,” said AIMS CEO Paul Hardisty.

A Plea, a Fist

ITALY

Italian police arrested a local man in connection with the death of a Nigerian street vendor at a beach resort in Italy, whose brutal murder set off outrage this week as the country prepares for an election that anti-immigrant hardliners have been predicted to win, the Associated Press reported.

Filippo Claudio Giuseppe Ferlazzo, 32, was arrested within minutes of the alleged robbery and fatal beating of Alika Ogorchukwu in the beach town of Civitanova Marche over the weekend, as bystanders watched and filmed the attack.

According to police, the suspect attacked the seller in response to 39-year-old Ogorchukwu’s “insistent” pleas for money from Ferlazzo and his female companion.

Ferlazzo’s lawyer said her client had expressed his apology to the victim’s family, adding that “there was no racial element” involved in the assault.

But the case prompted anger from Ogorchukwu’s family and Italy’s Nigerian community, who hit the streets in protest over the weekend. More protests are expected this week.

Ogorchukwu’s death took place as Italian parties campaign for the Sept. 25 snap elections prompted by the shock resignation of prime minister Mario Draghi. Opinion polls project that a right-wing alliance of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, the anti-immigrant League and the more moderate Forza Italia is set to win, according to Reuters.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • A new report from Amnesty International said the Ukrainian military has occasionally put people at risk of Russian strikes by establishing bases in schools, homes and other sites in inhabited regions, the Associated Press wrote.
  • A Russian court found WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of drug offenses and sentenced her to nine years in jail Thursday, bringing an end to a case that garnered intense interest and included the highest echelons of the US government, according to Axios.
  • The US Senate has approved Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO, marking the 30-member alliance’s biggest enlargement since the 1990s, Al Jazeera reported.
  • Ukraine said that Russia was forming a military strike force aimed at President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, warning that this might be part of a larger new offensive in the country’s south, Euronews noted. Russia already controls large portions of southern Ukraine acquired during the initial stages of the invasion. Kyiv said it is conducting a counteroffensive and has already taken back 53 villages in the Kherson area.
  • Italian authorities are looking into the case of a former top Russian official who was sent to hospital this week in Sardinia after suffering neurological symptoms, the Washington Post said. Anatoly Chubais, the Kremlin’s climate envoy who quit in protest shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, was in intensive care after becoming unwell without warning at a resort on the island.

DISCOVERIES

The Group Tango

Scientists have discovered that teas and herbs from the grocery store are teeming with insect DNA, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

In their paper, lead author Henrik Krehenwinkel and his team purchased herbs and teas from different brands to make sure that each product originated from different parts of the world.

They then used environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis to isolate the arthropod genes in the dried leaves, and found traces of more than 1,200 different bug species from just four plants: Chamomile, mint, tea, and parsley.

The team noted that some of the insects couldn’t be matched to known species, adding that further research is needed on the more obscure and understudied groups.

Krehenwinkel said that the study is aimed at understanding how bugs and plants interact with each other.

“There’s very, very specific interactions and very cryptic interactions of which we know very little because no one has basically put in the effort of studying this before,” said Krehenwinkel.

Researchers added that the eDNA method can help track crop pests and other harmful species to prevent their spread. It could also help collect insect data around the world to aid in conservation efforts.

The authors also hope to utilize their approach to pique children’s interest in ecology and conservation by giving them a hands-on opportunity to participate in ongoing research.

“Just give a little kit to collect plants to a child and then they can collect flowers, and basically, we can process those flowers and reconstruct those interactions,” Krehenwinkel said.

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