The World Today for October 19, 2023

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Twirl, Dip and Turn


Argentina’s financial markets reeled in August after presidential candidate Javier Milei won the largest share in the primary election – 30 percent – on a platform of radically cutting spending and using the American currency in place of the Argentine peso, a practice that Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, and other states also currently employ to stabilize their economies.

As the Financial Times reported, after Milei’s win, to bolster the peso amid this criticism, Argentina’s Central Bank devalued its currency by 18 percent to 350 pesos per dollar and raised interest rates by 21 percentage points to 118 percent. Inflation was running above 115 percent. Forty percent of Argentines live in poverty, incidentally.

Since then, Milei has surged in the polls. Today he is the favorite to win the Oct. 22 election, though the competition between him and his two other leading contenders for the Casa Rosada, the Argentine president’s executive mansion, is fierce, according to Reuters.

In the meantime, however, Argentina’s peso fell to a record low in early October, to 1,000 per US dollar on black markets that offer so-called “dollar blue” rates, the Buenos Aires Times noted. Greenbacks trade at 365 pesos via the Central Bank – but access to foreign currency is extremely limited. Inflation rose to as high as 124 percent in that week.

And last week, a prosecutor launched a criminal case against Milei for deliberately causing a drop in the Argentine currency when he encouraged citizens not to save in pesos. Milei countered that the move was political persecution.

At the same time, incumbent President Alberto Fernandez, who opted not to seek reelection, criticized Milei for deploying rhetoric that hurt the peso’s value. Milei responded by saying Fernandez and other politicians who represent entrenched interests should look in the mirror if they wanted to hold someone responsible for the economic crisis afflicting the country, reported the Associated Press. He wants to abolish the Central Bank of Argentina altogether, of course.

Meanwhile, embracing comparisons between former American President Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Milei has denied the role of humans in climate change, criticized the pope – an Argentine, no less – and pledged to ban abortion. He also wants to legalize the sale of human organs, the New York Times reported, saying he believes that a free market in organs would produce a better system for organ transplants than the current one, explained MercoPress, which reports on Latin America.

Argentinians might be receptive to Milei’s radical program because they, like him, say their elites have failed to deliver on the economic promise that democracy was supposed to have delivered after Argentina replaced military juntas and the Peron family with free and fair elections in the early 1980s, wrote Eduardo Levy Yeyati, a former chief economist at the Central Bank of Argentina, in the Americas Quarterly.

The people are hungry, for sustenance and solutions.


The Spiral


Israel will allow basic humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, the government announced, a move that came as US President Joe Biden began his visit to the Jewish nation amid fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas militants in the Palestinian enclave, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would allow “humanitarian assistance from Egypt as long as it is only food, water and medicine” for civilians in southern Gaza only. He added the passage of aid was possible as long as it did not end up in the hands of Hamas, which controls the entire enclave.

Fighting between Israel and Hamas flared again after Palestinian militants launched a bloody attack from Gaza on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 people and resulted in the kidnapping of nearly 200 others.

The Israeli government responded by declaring war on Hamas and imposing a siege on Gaza. Israeli bombings have resulted in more than 3,300 deaths, according to Palestinian health officials.

President Biden arrived in Israel Wednesday in a show of solidarity with the country, urged the Israeli government to show restraint regarding Palestinian civilians, discussed ways to reach a peaceful resolution to the war, and also prevent it from turning into a regional conflict.

But the US leader’s trip was overshadowed by the deadly blast at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, with both Israel and Palestinian militants blaming each other for the bombing.

Palestinian officials estimated more than 500 people were killed in the explosion.

Following an internal investigation, the Israel Defense Forces said the explosion at the hospital was caused by a misfired rocket launched by militants from a nearby cemetery.

Biden also backed the Israeli accounts even as the strike prompted strong condemnation from Arab leaders in the region, with protests breaking out from Morocco to Turkey and Iran, the Washington Post reported. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called it a “heinous war crime,” while the United Arab Emirates – which normalized relations with Israel in recent years – called it “an Israeli attack.”

The deadly blast resulted in Jordanian King Abdullah II canceling a summit with Biden, Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

Meanwhile, el-Sissi accused Israel of trying to push Palestinians into Egypt, which borders Gaza, and warned that such a move risked turning the war into a regional conflict.

Presumed Guilty


A Brazilian congressional probe found that former populist President Jair Bolsonaro should face criminal charges for plotting a coup in response to losing the 2022 presidential elections to leftist candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Bloomberg reported.

The findings are part of a report by Senator Eliziane Gama, who is leading the investigation into the riots that ransacked the country’s main governmental bodies in the capital Brasilia earlier this year.

Gama’s report also recommended that the former leader should be indicted on three other charges related to the Brasilia riots on Jan. 8 that saw thousands of Bolsonaro supporters storming government buildings, including the presidential palace and supreme court, in a bid to undermine Lula’s victory.

The report asserts the former president was the “author” of the attempted insurrection, while also accusing other top members of his cabinet and senior military officials of participating in efforts to overturn the election result.

Bolsonaro and those officials have not commented on the charges.

The congressional committee, comprising members from both houses of parliament, voted its approval of the report Wednesday by 20 votes to 11, passing it without any amendments, Reuters reported. It will be up to the Brazilian police whether to pursue indictments based on the committee’s recommendations.

The Jan. 8 riots have been described as the most explicit assault on Brazil’s democratic structures since a military coup in 1964 gave rise to a 20-year military dictatorship.

Bolsonaro has to date never formally conceded the election, following almost a year of questioning the legitimacy of Brazil’s electoral system. Shortly before Lula’s inauguration on Jan. 1, the conservative leader left Brazil and remained in the US for three months.

He has denied any responsibility for the riots. Meanwhile, he is currently facing legal troubles both related and unrelated to the election.

In June, Brazil’s electoral court barred him from holding office for eight years over his claims during a meeting with foreign ambassadors that the country’s voting system was vulnerable to manipulation.

Butting Heads


Georgian President Salome Zurabichvili survived an impeachment vote Wednesday, a motion that came after the country’s constitutional court ruled that she violated the constitution after visiting European Union countries without government consent, Radio Free Europe reported.

The motion was recommended by the ruling Georgian Dream party, which holds 84 seats in the 150-member legislature. But observers said the party did not have the two-thirds majority needed to push through the motion, adding that other parties would not support the vote.

The vote came days after the constitutional court found that Zurabichvili “exercised representative powers and authority in the area of international relations without the Georgian government’s consent.”

But the decision split the nine-panel tribunal, with three judges saying their colleagues misinterpreted the constitutional rights of the president.

The country’s constitution forbids the president from getting involved in the country’s diplomatic relations without the agreement of the government.

Between Aug. 31 and Sep. 6, Zurabichvili traveled to a few European capitals to promote Georgia’s EU candidacy and meet with some of the bloc’s leaders. Georgia applied for EU membership last year, shortly after Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine.

Zurabichvili has clashed with the ruling Georgian Dream party, while the latter has sought closer ties with Moscow. The president criticized the impeachment motion as “an attempt to kill Georgia’s European future and democracy.”

The call for Zurabichvili’s impeachment coincides with her growing popularity due to her pro-Western and pro-Ukrainian stance.

This popularity has emerged as a response to some controversial decisions made by the ruling party, including a proposed “foreign agent” law.

Zurabichvili opposed this bill, saying it would align Georgia with the Russian model rather than the European one, leading to public protests and the ruling party’s eventual withdrawal of the proposal.


Tricky Colors

Skunks are easy to spot thanks to their particular color pattern: Jet-black fur with white stripes running from head to tail.

But some skunks eschew this color code, displaying only a small white patch, while others are only one color – either completely black or white.

Researcher Ted Stankowich and his team recently discovered why skunks sport this diversity, National Geographic reported.

Stankowich explained that the varying patterns can be confusing to the animal’s few predators, such as mountain lions and coyotes.

“(The) more consistent your signal, the more the predator gets one image in their head,” and knows to avoid you, he said.

For their study, researchers photographed 749 striped skunk skins across the North American continent and recorded their characteristics, such as stripe length and pattern symmetry. They then compared the data with other variables, such as the creature’s environment and the other animals potentially inhabiting them.

The findings showed that skunks with their well-known color pattern were more common in areas with a strong risk of predation. But these stripe and color variations increased in areas where the skunks were less exposed to predators.

This suggests that fewer predators mean it is less likely the strong warning stripes get passed on through the generations.

The team theorized that the reason behind these variations could be the hunting of large predators by humans, but they cautioned on whether to label our intervention as causation.

“There’s been a complex history of huge mega-predators in North America that are no longer here,” said Stankowich. “So it’s hard to say what the predation landscape looked like thousands of years ago, and how it might affect skunks now.”

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