The World Today for October 07, 2022
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The Alpine Tremors
The president of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen, recently suffered a concussion after falling while hiking in the Alps. As the Daily Beast reported, the 78-year-old Van der Bellen was briefly out of commission, a situation that likely made some Austrians nervous given how unstable the Austrian government has been recently.
Sixty percent of Austrians think their democracy is malfunctioning. Ninety percent believe the political system is corrupt, Politico reported at the beginning of the year. Their cynicism reflects how former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, 35, recently retired from politics under a cloud of corruption scandals, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle added.
Van der Bellen, meanwhile, the former leader of the Green Party, remains relatively popular. He might even win reelection in the first round of voting when Austria holds its presidential election on Oct. 9, the Local wrote, noting a recent poll that gave him 59 percent support among voters. He first won office in 2016, defeating far-right candidate Norbert Hofer after Austria’s Constitutional Court ordered a rerun of the second round of voting when Hofer claimed the vote was rigged.
The president’s standing is not random. As the Independent explained, the Austrian presidency is largely a ceremonial office but it becomes more important during domestic crises like pandemics, chancellors’ resignations, and nearby wars like the one between Russia and Ukraine. Van der Bellen, a former economics professor, has been a figure of calm amid these storms.
Meanwhile, the far-right is still extremely popular in Austria, especially outside of Vienna. Kurz’ first of two conservative governments included Hofer’s far-right Freedom Party, for example, until Freedom Party members were caught in a scandal involving recorded conversations in Ibiza, Spain concerning an alleged deal to give public contracts to the supposed wealthy niece of a Russian oligarch in return for political donations.
As the Guardian noted in an editorial, many Austrians, like many other Europeans today, are suspicious of European Union elites, unrestricted mass migration, and discussions about gender and identity.
Economic instability often inflames the passions that make political ideologies more noxious. That’s one reason Van der Bellen and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer appear to be working in parallel to tackle the energy crisis now striking the country. Nehammer is proposing to spend billions of dollars to subsidize Austria’s energy costs, which have risen exponentially as Europe has reduced gas supplies from its biggest supplier, Russia, in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. Van der Bellen is seeking to begin a broader transition to other energy sources.
Austrians will soon tell us whether they think Van der Bellen’s moves are enough.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
When Havens Aren’t Safe
Canada’s Supreme Court began hearing arguments Thursday on whether the US is a safe destination for asylum seekers, in a case that could upend a bilateral agreement under which the two countries share responsibility for people in need of protection, the Washington Post reported.
The case will focus on the constitutionality of the 2004 Safe Third Country Agreement. The deal stipulates that asylum seekers who enter Canada through official land border crossings are deported back to the US, and vice versa.
The idea behind the pact implies that both countries are safe destinations and meet their obligations under international refugee law, which means that claimants must submit their requests for protection in the country where they first land.
However, a number of asylum seekers and human rights organizations said the agreement violates the right of “life, liberty and security of the person” enshrined in Canada’s constitution: They explained that it exposes asylum seekers – who are returned to the US – to potential detention on the American side, and repatriation to the nations they fled because of persecution.
Canadian government officials, meanwhile, countered that the US process of handling asylum claims is “robust and fair” with “built-in protections and safeguards compliant with its non-refoulement obligations.”
The deal was challenged at a Canadian federal court in 2020. While the court agreed with the claimants, a federal appeals court overturned the lower court’s decision.
The pact has come under criticism since its inception but a loophole has given critics new traction in recent years: While asylum seekers who enter Canada through official land border crossings are deported, those who arrive through unauthorized entries elsewhere along the 5,500-mile border may stay and register their claims.
More than 67,800 asylum seekers have entered Canada through such crossings and submitted applications for protection since 2017.
Although the number of asylum seekers rose during the Trump administration, figures for asylum in Canada have continued under the Biden administration.
The Land of Tears
A former Thai police officer killed at least 36 people, most of them children, Thursday, in what has been described as the Southeast Asian nation’s deadliest rampage ever, USA Today reported.
Authorities said the attacks took place in the rural town of Uthai Sawan, about 330 miles northeast of Bangkok. The rampage began when disgraced officer Panya Kamrap barged into a daycare, shooting and slashing at least 22 children and two adults. He then drove off and began randomly shooting and slashing people in the street.
Panya later went home and killed his wife and child before committing suicide.
Police officials suggested Panya was under the influence of drugs during the time of the attack. They added that the former officer was expelled from the force in June and faced charges of possessing methamphetamine pills.
He was set to appear in court Friday on drug charges.
The incident rattled the nation, which was already rocked by a mass shooting two years before: In 2020, a soldier opened fire at a shopping mall and other locations in the southern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, killing 29 people and wounding 58.
A Sort of Boycott
A number of major French cities will eschew their normal practice of setting up fan zones showing the World Cup soccer tournament in Qatar next month, in protest against the Gulf country’s human rights record, Euronews reported.
Cities such as Paris, Marseille and Lyon have opted out of organizing fan zones, which have traditionally been places where large numbers of soccer fans gather during World Cup tournaments and watch the games on big screens.
The move is significant as it comes just weeks before the major tournament in Qatar and as France’s national team prepares to defend its title following its victory in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Officials said the decision arises out of concern for Qatar’s human rights situation, including the exploitation of migrant workers and the treatment of LGBTQ people.
The International Labour Organization estimated that at least 50 laborers died in work-related accidents in Qatar in 2020 alone, while at least 500 workers were seriously injured.
Others have also expressed concern over the environmental impact of the competition, such as purpose-built air-conditioned stadiums.
Even so, Pierre Rabadan, the deputy in charge of sports at Paris city hall, added that the move was not a boycott of the games or the Qatari regime, CNN noted.
Meanwhile, other French cities, including Nice and Cannes, are still undecided about whether to set up fan zones.
This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed documents annexing four areas of eastern Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson – even as Kyiv pushed the Russian army further out of three of those areas, the BBC reported. The annexation followed “shotgun” referendums in those regions last week, that most of the world refused to recognize. In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree officially declaring that any negotiations between Kyiv and Rusia would be “impossible,” Radio Free Europe noted. He gloated over humiliating retreats by the Russian army and said the Ukrainian military had retaken more villages in two of those districts, Luhansk and Kherson. Between Sunday and Tuesday, Ukraine reclaimed at least 10 villages in the Kherson region, Axios noted. Kherson is the only regional capital to have fallen since the invasion began, and recapturing it is a major priority for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian troops retreated from the city of Lyman, in Donetsk, over the weekend, as Ukraine’s military inched closer to re-capturing the annexed city, Axios wrote separately.
In other Ukrainian-Russian conflict news:
- On Wednesday, a group of the world’s most prominent oil producers – including Russia and Saudi Arabia – agreed to impose substantial cutbacks to production to encourage a recovery in petroleum prices, despite appeals from the US to pump more to boost the global economy, CNBC reported. The US and Europe have urged more oil production to ease gasoline prices and punish Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine, the New York Times added. The move comes as European Union nations agreed to slap price caps on Russian oil and other additional penalties after Moscow’s annexation, according to the Associated Press.
- On the diplomatic front, Russia used its veto power at the United Nations Security Council to derail a draft resolution condemning its takeover of Ukrainian land, Al Jazeera added. But Moscow’s closest allies, China and India, opted to abstain rather than vote against the resolution condemning the Kremlin’s actions, a significant slap for Russia. In the meantime, the Kremlin is lobbying for a secret ballot rather than a public vote when the 193-member UN General Assembly debates whether to condemn Moscow’s annexations, Reuters wrote.
- Meanwhile, Zelenskyy engaged in a spat with Elon Musk on social media this week, after the billionaire weighed in on a plan to end Russia’s war in Ukraine by asking Twitter users for their views, drawing immediate condemnation from Ukrainians and much of the Internet, Reuters reported.
Global Sun Screen
As the climate crisis unfolds, scientists are proposing a very ambitious – and highly controversial – plan to refreeze the Earth’s poles to dial down the global thermostat, Sky News reported.
The plan would involve sending a fleet of 125 high-flying jets to spray microscopic sulfur dioxide particles into the atmosphere. The planes would release the aerosol particles at an altitude of 43,000 feet and a latitude of 60 degrees in the northern and southern hemispheres.
An international research team explained that the sulfur dioxide would then drift to the poles on high-altitude winds and slightly shade the Earth’s surface beneath.
In their study, they wrote that releasing more than 14 tons of particles during the spring and summer would be sufficient to cool the poles by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, with a more moderate cooling at mid-latitudes.
But to enact such a plan, governments will have to first reach an international consensus on whether to release particles into the atmosphere. Another conundrum is that governments will need to make around 175,000 flights to release the particles, which would consequently release millions of tons of carbon dioxide.
Other scientists are also wary of releasing solar-shading particles because they could have unforeseen complications, such as lowering crop yields.
Lead author Wake Smith and his colleagues noted that only one percent of the globe’s population lives in the targeted areas. They argue that the program will cost just under $11 billion annually, which is considerably less than the price of carbon capture or other methods of mitigating or coping with climate change.
Even so, Smith cautioned that their plan mainly treats a symptom of climate change and not the cause.
“It’s aspirin, not penicillin,” he said. “It’s not a substitute for decarbonization.”
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