The World Today for October 21, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

The Boogeyman

SLOVENIA

In April, Slovenian voters tapped Robert Golob, leader of the Freedom Movement party, to replace as prime minister right-wing populist Janez Jansa, a longtime figure in Slovenian politics and an ally of Hungary’s illiberal nationalist Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.

But Jansa remains a boogeyman.

And as the country prepares for a presidential election on Oct. 23, new battle lines are being drawn, the Associated Press reported. While the Slovenian presidency is largely ceremonial, the office has significant authority as the head of state and is a bellwether of popular sentiments in the country.

As Euractiv explained, Anze Logar, who served as foreign minister under Jansa but is running as an independent, is now leading in the polls. His main challenger is Pirc Musar, an independent and former news anchor who has represented ex-First Lady Melania Trump (a Slovenian immigrant to the US) in legal disputes in her home country, including libelous allegations that she was an escort, as the Daily Beast reported.

Lastly, Milan Brglez, a European Union parliamentarian who enjoys the support of the Social Democrats and the Freedom Movement, entered the race late but has garnered a healthy share of supporters.

The initial Freedom Movement candidate, Marta Kos, dropped out of the race citing personal reasons, the Slovenian Times wrote. Polls said she had little chance of winning. Slovenian news channel Nova 24 TV claimed that the real reason she quit, however, is because she had been promised the prestigious position of ambassador to the US.

Writing in the Balkan Insight, Alem Maksuti, a political scientist based in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, argued that Logar’s success highlights how Golob and his coalition partners in government have failed to adequately marshal a response to Jansa’s continuing threat to the country.

This threat involves the insistence that communists are still ruling Slovenia through a “parallel mechanism,” the outlet wrote.

For example, Jansa regularly blames “deep state” conspiracies for his loss in the spring. He and his allies “write books and produce films and establish newspapers, TVs and web portals to support this theory,” Maksuti wrote, while the Freedom Movement and others can’t organize and field the proper support for a single candidate for president.

The absence of a liberal champion or even a never-Jansa conservative who might defeat Logar and prevent a runoff vote later in mid-November is all the more peculiar given how Slovenia’s economy is doing relatively well under Golob despite an energy crisis precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, added the Economist.

Logar’s rivals have no one else but themselves to blame if he wins.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Unwanted Record

UNITED KINGDOM

The UK’s Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned Thursday after just six weeks in office, plunging the United Kingdom into further uncertainty amid skyrocketing energy prices and high inflation, NBC News reported.

Truss’ resignation came as the prime minister’s approval rating and support within her ruling Conservative Party were plummeting over a contentious – and now reversed – economic plan that dropped the value of the British pound.

She was appointed as the country’s new leader early last month following the resignation of her predecessor, Boris Johnson, who stepped down as prime minister – and party leader – under pressure from Conservative members and the public amid a series of scandals.

Truss had promised a major shift in the UK’s economic fortunes, turning it into a low-tax, high-growth nation that would unleash the country’s potential following its exit from the European Union in 2020.

But her proposed plans – so-called “Trussonomics” – soon came under fire: Her first finance minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced $48 billion in unfunded tax cuts, causing the government’s borrowing costs to rise, prompting an emergency intervention from the Bank of England and a rebuke from the International Monetary Fund.

She later fired Kwarteng and his successor, Jeremy Hunt, soon reversed nearly all the controversial policies. Even so, the UK is still grappling with the fallout from the plan, including record inflation and rising mortgage rates.

The failed policies prompted lawmakers in her party to call for her resignation. While she initially resisted pressure to step down on Wednesday, she later relented.

Truss will remain as caretaker leader until the Conservative Party selects a new leader – who will then become the country’s prime minister.

In the UK’s unwritten constitution, the leader of the party with the most seats in the Parliament’s lower house is invited to lead the government.

While there is speculation that her predecessor might return, observers noted that Rishi Sunak, Johnson’s former finance minister, is one favorite to replace her.

Still, some Conservatives cautioned against choosing a new leader without allowing the British public to have a say in the matter. The opposition Labour Party, meanwhile, is calling for an election.

Governing for only 45 days, Truss is now considered Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister.

The previous holder of that record was George Canning, who served for 119 days in the early 19th century.

Unpleasant Smell

NEW ZEALAND

Farmers in New Zealand took to the streets of the country’s major cities Thursday to protest against the government’s plans to implement a tax on greenhouse emissions from farm animals, Agence France-Presse reported.

Convoys of tractors, SUVs and other farming vehicles disrupted traffic in Wellington and other important hubs, as farmers brandished signs criticizing the so-called “burp and fart” tax.

Earlier this month, the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unveiled a “world first” levy on emissions of methane and nitrous oxide produced by cows and sheep in New Zealand.

Officials said the tax aims to tackle climate change and will reduce livestock emissions by 20 percent. They added that farmers could benefit from the levy if they can charge more for climate-friendly meat.

However, protesting farmers countered that the tax was “punitive” and “an existential threat to rural communities.” They noted that the emission curbs will raise the cost of food.

The nationwide demonstrations received support from urban residents and those in a number of municipalities from New Zealand’s remote West Coast regions.

The new tariff would particularly target methane, a greenhouse gas that – although less abundant than carbon dioxide – is a stronger warming agent.

Despite being a minor component of the greenhouse gas mix, scientists believe methane is responsible for around 30 percent of the global temperature rise.

The Bigger Picture

FRANCE

Worker strikes in France continued this week as many employees are demanding better pay amid concerns of a bitter winter ahead in Europe exacerbated by record inflation and the energy crisis, the Washington Post reported.

Strikes initially began weeks ago when workers in oil and gas companies walked out demanding higher salaries, arguing that their employers had gained significant profits from Europe’s soaring energy prices – a trend being driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Those strikes resulted in severe fuel shortages that caused nearly a third of the country’s gas stations to run out of some type of fuel by Sunday.

But on Tuesday, workers from other industries – including rail and nuclear power plants – and high school students joined a nationwide strike to protest the rising cost of living and an increase in pay.

One of the unions leading the strikes said more than 180 protests took place around France, with 70,000 people marching in the capital, Paris – figures that the government has disputed.

Despite calls for better pay, the walkouts also reflect broader discontent and worries over how to afford mounting household bills this winter.

The French government has taken steps to mitigate the impact of rising energy prices, including subsidizing gasoline prices and energy bills. However, the prices of many basic goods continue to increase.

Observers noted that France’s efforts were bolder than those of other countries, but the ongoing frustration underscores questions about whether the government’s initiatives will be enough in the long run.

Tuesday’s strike has been compared to the 2018 yellow vest protests, which were prompted by proposed tax rises but grew to encompass issues about social inequality.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

This week, there were more signs that Russia’s hold on gains in Ukraine is tenuous at best. For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared martial law in four of Ukraine’s illegally-annexed regions at the same time that Russia began evacuating large numbers of citizens from one of those areas – indicating it might not be able to maintain control for much longer, NBC News reported. After weeks of pressure from Ukrainian soldiers attempting to recapture territory, Moscow-appointed authorities in Ukraine expressed fears that the next city to fall to the Ukrainians will be the strategically important city of Kherson in the south.

In other Ukraine-related news:

  • As the war in Ukraine enters its eighth month, the Iranian leadership says it is willing to talk to Ukrainian officials about charges that it is arming Russia and plans to increase military cooperation with its ally, according to Al Jazeera. Iran’s foreign ministry issued a statement late Tuesday reiterating Tehran’s denials of having provided drones to Russia to be deployed in the conflict, and for the first time expressed a willingness to engage in “dialogue and negotiation with Ukraine to clear (up) these allegations.” Iran’s announcement came after Russia unleashed a barrage of exploding drones on the Ukrainian capital earlier this week, CNN added. At the same time, the European Union imposed sanctions on three Iranian generals and an arms manufacturer accused of supplying Russia with drones, Radio Free Europe wrote.
  • Putin announced last week that Russia’s partial mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine will end in around two weeks, saying that the country was able to mobilize 222,000 people of the planned 300,000, Politico noted. Even so, the newly mobilized recruits are already being deployed to the frontlines with only a few days of training, according to the New York Times. Many of those recruited were either too old, infirm or lacked any military training.
  • The five former Soviet countries of Central Asia are increasingly standing up to Moscow, cognizant of their newfound leverage as Russia looks to their markets and trade channels to avoid Western sanctions, Al Jazeera reported. At a summit in Kazakhstan last week, Putin was subjected to a seven-minute tirade from the leader of Tajikistan, one of the region’s smallest and poorest countries. “We want respect. Nothing else. Respect,” said Emomali Rahmon, Tajikistan’s president since 1994, complaining that Moscow’s attitude had not improved since the Soviet era.
  • Meanwhile, Estonian legislators passed a resolution this week calling Russia a “terrorist regime” and condemning its recent annexation of the four Ukrainian regions, Al Jazeera wrote.

DISCOVERIES

The Chaos of Whales

Narwhals are elusive creatures by nature, which has made it challenging for scientists to study them as they go about their business under the Arctic’s sea ice.

The whales are known for their deep dives to nearly 1.2 miles below the surface and their dependence on sea ice.

Now, though, a research team was able to get an idea of the whale’s irregular daily routine through the use of chaos theory, Science Alert reported.

For their study, scientists placed a satellite-linked time-depth recorder on a male narwhal’s back off the coast of East Greenland. They then devised a method for making sense of chaotic behavior in dynamic contexts by employing mathematical tactics taken from chaos theory – known as the study of activity that appears unpredictable, yet is governed by strict sets of laws.

After recording the animal’s movement for 83 days, the team uncovered an unusual daily pattern, including peculiar details about how those habits can be influenced by variables such as seasonal change.

One of their key findings showed the narwhal altered its patterns in response to the prevalence of sea ice: Surface activity decreased when ice was more prevalent and the marine mammal also exhibited more intense diving behavior.

The study could help scientists and conservationists learn more about the narwhal’s habits, an animal that has not been listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – even though it is considered to be vulnerable to human activities and climate change.

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