The World Today for October 10, 2023

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The Devils You Know


The Supreme Court of Liberia last week called on the West African country’s National Elections Commission to make its voter rolls public before the Oct. 10 presidential ballot. The commissioners said they had posted the information on their website, but critics charge that nobody has been able to download the document, wrote the Africa Report.

Such news is why only 34 percent of Liberians trust the National Elections Commission, as an Afrobarometer poll found recently. Without a list of voters, of course, it’s hard to prevent fraud and other meddling. The African Union sent a monitoring team to observe the vote with these and other concerns about Liberia in mind. The US recently announced visa restrictions on anyone caught “undermining” democracy in Liberia.

These developments come as Liberians hold their fourth general election to choose their president, senators, and members of the country’s House of Representatives since the end of a civil war in 2003, explained South Africa-based News24. The elections stand a good chance of being free and fair. But many observers are nonetheless concerned about the potential for serious trouble. As PBS’s Frontline recounted, the 14-year-long war claimed 150,000 lives in the country established by freed American slaves.

Today, incumbent President George Weah, a former soccer star, is running for a second six-year presidential term against his challenger, the 78-year-old opposition leader Joseph Boakai, a former vice president.

Boakai supporters told Reuters that Weah has done too little to help the country recover from its terrible civil war, a catastrophic Ebola outbreak, high prices for imported food, and unstable prices for commodities that it exports. Instead, they said, he ignored his pledges to clean up government and boost the economy. The US even slapped sanctions on three officials in Weah’s administration, including his chief of staff, over corruption allegations that included misappropriating state assets.

Writing in African Arguments, Liberian writer Robtel Neajai Pailey argued that Weah has refused to disclose his own or his top officials’ assets publicly, prioritized loyalty over competence in his administration, and mismanaged public finances.

Pailey isn’t alone in her criticism. As a result, the race promises to be competitive.

“The incumbent, President George Weah, looks to be punished at the polls for rampant corruption, gross incompetence, extra-judicial killings, and a lousy economy,” wrote the Robert Lansing Institute.

However, Boakai is not beyond reproach, either. According to Semafor, he has formed an alliance with Prince Yormie Johnson, a former warlord who is now a senator and political powerbroker in the country. The US sanctioned Johnson in 2021 on corruption allegations.

Johnson was responsible for the death of former Liberian President Samuel Doe in 1990 at the start of the country’s civil war. Johnson drank beer as he watched his soldiers “torture and mutilate Doe who begged in vain for mercy,” added the Associated Press.

Liberians will have to make up their minds. Observers say that’s a difficult task this time around.


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Shock and Awe


The Israeli government ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip and mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists Monday, just two days after Hamas militants launched a surprise, large-scale attack and set off what has been described as the deadliest conflict inside Israel since 1948, the Financial Times reported.

Israeli tanks and drones were deployed to guard breaches in the Gaza border fence to prevent new incursions, the Associated Press reported. Thousands of Israelis were evacuated from more than a dozen towns near Gaza, and the military summoned 300,000 reservists — a massive mobilization in a short time.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced Monday that “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” would be allowed into Gaza, which is home to about 2.3 million people.

The recent escalation follows a highly coordinated surprise attack by more than a thousand Hamas fighters – by land, sea, and air – over the weekend. The Palestinian militants pushed through the border with Gaza, sometimes with bulldozers, during the Jewish Simchat Torah holiday, attacking a number of nearby villages and towns, and an open-air music festival where many revelers were shot at point-blank range, according to videos.

Meanwhile, Israel’s vaunted military and intelligence apparatus was caught completely off guard by Hamas, resulting in heavy battles in its streets for the first time in decades.

So far, more than 1,200 people have died, with Israel saying at least 700 civilians and soldiers have been killed on their side. For the Palestinians, Gaza officials said around 560 people died following Israeli retaliatory strikes on the Mediterranean enclave over the past few days.

The death toll is expected to rise, however, and Israeli officials have warned of a protracted conflict as they seek to decisively defeat Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for over 15 years.

“I ask that you stand steadfast because we are going to change the Middle East,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

So far, Israel’s response has included airstrikes, artillery bombardment, and ground operations in Gaza, targeting Hamas infrastructure. This has raised concerns about the humanitarian situation in the enclave, with the United Nations reporting that nearly 125,000 people in Gaza have been displaced since the outbreak of hostilities, worsening the humanitarian crisis in the region because civilians in the enclave cannot leave.

Meanwhile, the European Union responded to the situation by putting Palestinian development financing under review, affecting more than $728 million in aid. The conflict has disrupted daily life in Israel, with flights being canceled, and schools being closed.

Currently, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) said they have gained “full control” over communities in southern Israel, but noted that the border is not fully sealed and that “terrorists still have the ability to invade this country.”

Meanwhile, after IDF officials announced the mobilization of the reservists, describing it as the largest call-up in the country’s history, they added that not all soldiers would be sent to the Gaza border, but that the military was “going on the offensive.”

While some analysts suggested that a land invasion into Gaza is imminent, others warned that the kidnapping of at least 150 Israelis who were moved into the area could complicate Israel’s offensive, the Los Angeles Times noted.

In the past, Israel has resisted a ground war in Gaza despite provocations because officials feared intensifying casualties. However, the surprise attack and a death toll unseen since the 1973 war with Egypt and Syria have led to calls to crush Hamas no matter the cost.

Israel is run by its most hard-right government ever, dominated by ministers who adamantly reject any form of Palestinian statehood.

At the same time, Hamas says it is ready to fight to end an Israeli occupation it says is no longer tolerable. Desperation has grown among Palestinians, many of whom see nothing to lose under unending Israeli control and increasing settler expansion and violence in the West Bank, the blockade in Gaza, and what they see as the world’s apathy, the Associated Press said.

Meanwhile, the fighting has the potential to become a wider regional conflict after militants from Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militant group in Lebanon, launched attacks “in solidarity” with Palestinians.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Iranian security officials helped plan Hamas’s Saturday attack on Israel and gave the green light for the assault at a meeting in Beirut last Monday.

According to US officials, Iran was worried about Israel’s possible rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. It has already established ties over the past few years with other Gulf states.

A Loud Message


Germany’s ruling three-party coalition suffered a bitter electoral defeat in two key state elections this week, while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party saw a significant increase, a result that underlines its growing national power, Bloomberg reported.

Sunday’s elections saw the governing Social Democratic Party, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party lose a combined 12.2 percentage points in the western state of Hesse, and 6.6 percentage points in Bavaria.

The conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party secured 34.6 percent in Hesse, while its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, took 37 percent in the southern state.

Results also showed large gains for the AfD: It emerged as the second-strongest force in Hesse and the third-strongest in Bavaria.

Analysts said the results underscore the far-right party’s increasing popularity in Germany, as many voters grow frustrated with the country’s economic malaise, a surge in migration and the impact of the war in Ukraine.

The ruling coalition – headed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the SPD – has also been plagued by infighting, including disputes over the transition to a cleaner and more technologically advanced economy.

Scholz has also decided against implementing a stimulus program, despite previously distributing significant aid to mitigate the pandemic’s effects and the energy crisis due to embargos on Russia.

The government has also faced challenges in formulating effective policies to deal with an influx of refugees and migrants, leaving them vulnerable to criticism from opposition parties like the AfD and the conservative bloc, the news outlet wrote.

Baby, Let’s Cruise


Singaporeans will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to own a car, as costs in the wealthy city-state have soared amid rising inflation and a slowing economy, Reuters reported.

Since 1990, Singapore has run a “certificate of entitlement” (COE) system to regulate the number of vehicles on its roads. To own a car, individuals must participate in a competitive bidding process to secure a COE, which is valid for 10 years.

Recently, the prices for certificates have skyrocketed to a record minimum of $76,000 – more than four times the price in 2020, CNN wrote.

That amount is only for Category A cars, with a small to medium-sized engine. Singaporeans who want to own a larger car – such as an SUV – will need to pay more than $106,000.

For instance, the price of a new Toyota Camry hybrid can cost around $183,000 in Singapore, an amount that includes a COE, registration fees and taxes.

Observers said the price of buying a car in Singapore is roughly equivalent to the cost of a small, government-subsidized apartment in the country.

They explained that the fluctuation in COE prices was influenced by various factors, including economic conditions and the number of vehicles on the road. During the COVID-19 pandemic, COE prices dropped as fewer people were purchasing cars. However, as economic activity rebounded post-pandemic, car purchases surged, driving up COE prices.

This astronomical cost has made car ownership unattainable for many middle-class Singaporeans, disrupting the aspirational “Singapore Dream” of upward social mobility, which often included owning a car alongside other markers of success, like home ownership.

Some individuals who previously purchased cars when COE prices were lower are now selling their vehicles to profit from the surging demand.

Even so, other citizens remain ambivalent, saying that Singapore still has a good and stable transport system.


The More Things Change …

England’s Oxford University is one of the highest-ranked centers of learning in the world and an important contributor to humanity’s quest for knowledge.

Seven hundred years ago, however, it was the murder capital of medieval England, according to Popular Science.

Since 2018, historians and criminologists have been mapping murder cases committed during the medieval period across three English cities: London, York, and Oxford.

Known as “Medieval Murder Maps,” this University of Cambridge project analyzed crime scenes from 700-year-old coroners’ reports, originally written in Latin. These documents catalog sudden or suspicious deaths, providing details like names, events, locations and weapon values.

Researchers have used these data to create the street atlas of 354 homicides across the three cities.

The findings showed Oxford had a per capita homicide rate up to five times higher than late medieval London or York. It also revealed that the homicide rate was about 60 to 75 per 100,000 – which is around 50 times higher than the murder rates in today’s English cities.

These figures could be attributed to the university city’s wild academic body: At the start of the 14th century, Oxford had nearly 7,000 inhabitants, including 1,500 students.

Medieval coroner reports showed that 75 percent of the perpetrators were referred to as “clericus” – which most likely meant student or faculty member. The documents also revealed that 72 percent of the homicide victims were also clericus.

So what would cause such a murder fest?

Lead murder map investigator Manuel Eisner explained it was “a deadly mix of conditions.”

“Oxford students were all male and typically aged between 14 and 21, the peak (age) for violence and risk-taking,” he said. “These were young men freed from tight controls of family, parish or guild, and thrust into an environment full of weapons, with ample access to alehouses and sex workers.”

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