The World Today for March 15, 2023
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A young man traveling on the train from Athens to the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki on Feb. 28 was having trouble speaking to his mother on the phone. “Mum, there are too many people on the train,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse. “I’ve never seen a train so crowded. I’ll call you when we get there, come and get me.”
His train then struck a freight train head-on. At least 57 people died in the worst accident on the rails in Greek history. Most of the dead were college students returning to study.
Today, the slogan “pare me otan phtasis,” a transliteration from Greek for “call me when you get there,” has become the hallmark of the protesters blaming lazy, incompetent, or corrupt government officials and business elites for the disaster, and the woes that seem endemic in the southeast European country. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets, Reuters reported, with protests sometimes turning violent.
Officials have claimed that a faulty automated signaling system led an inexperienced stationmaster to make an error that led to the collision. Criminal charges have also been filed against railroad workers, the Guardian added. Critics, including protesters, countered that the politicians were scapegoating railway staff to cover up their failure to ensure public safety.
“Greece’s railways long suffered from chronic mismanagement, including lavish spending on projects that were eventually abandoned or significantly delayed,” wrote the Associated Press.
The accident and also recent corruption scandals belie the progress Greece has made over the past decade.
Nearly 13 years since the 2010 financial crisis devastated Greece and forced it to request three bailouts, unemployment is down and the country’s economy is projected to grow six percent in 2023 in a “seemingly stunning transformation,” according to a report by the European Commission.
Still, the pervasive problem of corruption, which in a 2010 report the International Monetary Fund noted as being a major contributor to Greece’s fiscal crisis and has existed since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974, continues to linger and is widespread, noted Georgios Samaras of King’s College London in the Conversation.
That is reflected in the widespread sense in Greece that something is wrong, with 98 percent of Greeks saying that corruption is rampant in the country. The Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament recently issued a statement lamenting how the rule of law, a free press and other checks and balances on corrupt officials and criminals have been weakening.
“Corruption is eroding public services and goods,” the lawmakers said in a press release. “Civil society organizations are under enormous pressure.”
Greeks can’t even trust their members of the European Parliament. Police recently arrested Eva Kaili, a Greek legislator who was rapidly climbing the power ladder in Brussels, the capital of the European Union. Kaili, a former celebrity journalist, was ensnarled in a bribery investigation, Politico explained, exposing the rot behind her glamorous facade.
Closer to home, Greece’s “Watergate” scandal blew up late last year after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who had promised to fight corruption when elected in 2019, is now facing outrage and possibly new elections after it emerged that the country’s intelligence service spied on journalists and opposition politicians, including Nikos Androulakis, the leader of the center-left opposition party Pasok and a member of the European Parliament, the Guardian explained. The prime minister, who has called the surveillance legal, has claimed he knew nothing about it. Most Greeks don’t buy it, the Guardian added.
Still, for the moment public outrage is focused on the train crash. On Sunday, thousands hit the streets to demand those responsible be held accountable, the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, the leftist news website Jacobin blamed austerity and privatization for years of dangerous underinvestment that led to poor, fatally unsafe infrastructure. Jacobin quoted a public declaration from a Greek rail workers’ union from Feb. 7, a few weeks before the accident saying they were considering a strike or other industrial action because the railway system was unsafe. Union leaders wrote that they didn’t want to see executives shed “crocodile tears” after a tragedy occurred.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
No See, No Hear
Israeli lawmakers in a first vote approved a draft law that would overhaul the country’s judiciary, even as thousands have marched in the streets for weeks against the contentious bill, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.
The proposed legislation – introduced earlier this year by the governing conservative coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – would allow Israel’s parliament to scrap rulings by the country’s Supreme Court with a simple majority vote. The changes would also give the government more power over the appointment of judges.
Netanyahu and his allies say the bill is necessary to reset the power balance between elected politicians and unelected judges on the powerful Supreme Court. But critics and opposition politicians fear such a move threatens Israel’s democracy by weakening key checks and balances on the executive and legislative branches.
For 10 weeks, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets denouncing the bill. Some critics, which include the business community and the military, noted that the overhaul was also part of an effort by Netanyahu to shield himself from corruption charges in an ongoing court battle.
In an earlier overnight session, lawmakers in their first vote also approved a bill that would significantly reduce the likelihood of a prime minister being declared incapacitated for reasons other than mental or physical impairments.
The judicial overhaul bill still faces scrutiny and passage through a committee and then must pass second and third votes before it becomes law.
Opposition parties said they will boycott the final votes.
The Indian government expressed its formal opposition to same-sex marriage in a key Supreme Court case this week, in what observers have described as the clearest statement by the country’s ruling Hindu nationalist party on an issue that has been increasingly debated in Indian society, the Washington Post reported.
The government relayed its official stance in an affidavit, where it explained that such unions would cause “complete havoc” in India.
Officials said the notion of marriage “necessarily and inevitably presupposes a union between two persons of the opposite sex,” and hinted that same-sex marriage was a Western concept that would be incompatible with traditional Indian values.
The government added that the issue of same-sex marriage should be debated and legislated upon in parliament, not in the courts.
The move comes as India’s top court is preparing to hear dozens of petitions filed by same-sex couples demanding marital rights. Next month’s hearings come nearly five years after the Supreme Court overturned a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual gay sex.
At the same time, members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – as well as other right-leaning politicians and influential organizations in the country – have increasingly offered mixed or even supportive messages on LGBTQ rights.
If the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage, India will become the second Asian country to do so, after Taiwan. Based on the judges’ comments thus far, legal observers and attorneys believe the top court will rule in favor of the same-sex plaintiffs.
Terrorism By Sushi
Police in the Aichi prefecture arrested three young people in connection with cases of sushi terrorism that have been rising in Japan and threatening the iconic conveyor belt sushi culture in the country, NBC News reported.
The three youngsters, who are aged from 15 to 21, were caught in a video showing one of them drinking directly from a communal bottle of soy sauce.
The arrests are some of the first relating to incidents that have been increasingly alarming the Japanese and forcing sushi restaurants to change how they serve food, including removing the conveyor belts.
Late last year, viral videos began showing up showing unsanitary behavior from patrons that outraged diners in a country known for its high standards of cleanliness and jeopardized the multibillion-dollar “kaitenzushi” (conveyor belt sushi) industry.
One video showed a teenager rubbing saliva on a plate of sushi after having already licked the rim of a cup and placing it back on a shelf. Another showed a person spraying food with hand sanitizer as it rolled past on a conveyor belt.
Since the incidents began, the parent companies of conveyor belt sushi restaurants have seen their share values drop as they scrambled to reassure customers appalled by the videos, taking measures to avoid such incidents and reassure disgusted clientele.
The Kura Sushi chain welcomed the arrests and vowed to do everything to protect kaitenzushi, which has been part of Japanese culture for decades.
But another chain announced it is planning to get rid of conveyor belts altogether, saying the move was “a countermeasure against recent nuisance behaviors that have caused serious damages to the restaurant industry.”
The 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine forced residents living near the nuclear plant to abandon their homes and belongings to escape dangerous levels of radiation.
Many also left their pets behind, including dogs, which were later culled by authorities to prevent them from spreading radioactive contamination.
But some of the pooches survived and now scientists have discovered that their descendants living around the disaster area are genetically distinct from other canine populations outside the site, New Scientist reported.
For their paper, researchers sequenced genomes collected from the blood samples of more than 300 dogs in the Chernobyl area between 2017 and 2019. The majority of the sampled animals lived either very close to the destroyed nuclear plant or in Chernobyl City, located more than nine miles from the plant.
A small sample lived in the Slavutych area, a more populated zone about 28 miles from the nuclear plant and much less contaminated.
The findings showed that the genomes of dogs living near the plant and Chernobyl City were very different from those in Slavutych, as well as compared with dogs in other parts of Ukraine and other countries.
However, the team noted there are a lot of questions about the Chernobyl dogs, such as whether radiation altered their genes, or whether that was the result of decades of inbreeding because of their relative isolation.
In the future, they hope to conduct more research on the unique population.
Meanwhile, researchers said that the study can help find genetic variants that promote resistance to cancer, or aid in the development of protections against radiation exposure.
“A nuclear disaster like this has only happened once in human history – we hope it never happens again – so we want to learn everything we possibly can from it,” said co-author Elaine Ostrander.
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