The World Today for November 01, 2023

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Operation Dismantlement


The results of the Oct. 15 parliamentary elections in Poland are echoing throughout Europe.

Women and young voters helped swing the election to the Civic Coalition and other parties opposing the ruling Law and Justice party, a populist political group that espouses conservative Catholic values and skepticism about the European Union, wrote the BBC.

Law and Justice (or PiS) is still the largest party in parliament, with a 35 percent share, reported Reuters. Now the task of governing falls to Civic Coalition leader Donald Tusk, a former prime minister and ex-president of the European Council, a key EU institution.

Tusk recently notified Polish President Andrzej Duda that he had assembled a majority of lawmakers into a coalition that would appoint him as premier, Politico explained. But Duda is a “staunch ally” of Law and Justice. He could wait and see if Law and Justice under current Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki can assemble an equally viable coalition before inviting Tusk to form a government, putting Tusk off for a month or more.

Analysts expect Tusk and his allies to eventually assume power, probably by mid-December. When they do, they can make choices that will reverberate throughout the continent, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Tusk will draw Poland closer to the EU, send a strong signal to Russia that it supports progressive Western values, and curb the spread of so-called “illiberal” policies.

Law and Justice has been accused of using their years in the majority to weaken democratic institutions like the judiciary and the free press, while consolidating their hold on state media and every other institution in government. For example, the Financial Times wrote that the state-run broadcaster spewed absurd pro-government propaganda before the vote, recalling a news ticker headline – “The opposition’s proposals for Poles: worms instead of meat.”

Meanwhile, its moves have brought it censure from the EU.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Anne Applebaum told Visegrad Insight that the election was basically unfair due to government manipulation, yet Tusk and his allies still won. Bulgarian geopolitical thinker Ivan Krastev wrote an op-ed in the Guardian similarly arguing that Law and Justice’s ploys to win enough support to keep its majority failed. Instead, a strong turnout – the highest in 30 years – helped propel the opposition to its strong showing. Even so, the PiS has yet to admit its losses, the Washington Post reported, instead hailing its success.

One of Tusk’s first jobs will be to dismantle this legislative framework, administrative machinery, and election apparatus, not an easy task. “A deeply entrenched populist system, a president loyal to the Law and Justice party, a puppet Constitutional Tribunal and Supreme Court – these are just a few of the problems a new government would face,” Polish journalist Jaroslaw Kuisz and historian Karolina Wigura wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times.

In the meantime, this move from a populist to a more centrist government is potentially bad news for Russian President Vladimir Putin, noted CNBC. Poland has resisted Russian influence since the end of the Cold War. Now, however, a key anti-Russian voice is also going to be far more accepting of pan-European efforts to counter Russian forces in Ukraine and elsewhere.

The bureaucrats in Brussels must be happy.


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Hardball Politics


At least two people died and dozens were injured in Bangladesh on Tuesday, following clashes between anti-government protesters and police on the first day of a three-day demonstration calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ahead of next year’s election, Reuters reported.

The protests began after the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) called for blockades of roads in response to skirmishes between party supporters and authorities over the weekend.

Sunday’s incident killed one policeman and injured more than 100 people.

BNP officials repeated their calls for Hasina to resign to allow elections scheduled for January to be held under a neutral caretaker government. The government has rejected those demands.

Following Tuesday’s fatalities, opposition politicians accused Hasina of allowing police to kill demonstrators “to stop the movement to restore democracy.”

Hasina first came to power in 2009 and her governance has been marked by years of strong economic growth in the South Asian country. But the government has been accused of human rights violations, cracking down on free speech and jailing its critics.

It has also been accused of vote-rigging and suppressing opposition parties in the 2014 and 2018 elections.

While the government denies the allegations, it has faced pressure from Western nations to hold free and fair polls.

The United States has warned Bangladesh that it will restrict visas for Bangladeshis who undermine the democratic process.

Lip Service


Venezuela’s top court this week suspended the results of the opposition’s recent primary election, a move that will likely hinder the participation of opposition candidates in next year’s presidential vote, the Associated Press reported.

The ruling is centered on the opposition’s primary vote on Oct. 22 which saw more than 2.4 million Venezuelans, including those living abroad, selecting the candidate to run against incumbent Nicolás Maduro.

Last week’s results showed that María Corina Machado, a former lawmaker and fierce government critic, won more than 90 percent of the vote – despite a government ban preventing her from holding office.

But on Monday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice found that the primary vote was likely in violation of the law, ordering the suspension of both the voting process and the result. It also ordered election organizers to hand over all ballots, tally sheets and voting notebooks used to verify the identity of voters.

The verdict came after José Brito, an unknown lawmaker, filed suit, claiming he was unfairly excluded from the primary. Tamara Adrián, a primary candidate, noted that the court should not have accepted the appeal because it did not meet legal requirements.

Still, the ruling marks the latest challenge by Maduro to the opposition ahead of the 2024 presidential elections. Before the primary, Maduro and the opposition had agreed in principle to allow the latter to choose its candidate for next year’s polls.

That agreement was part of a larger deal between Venezuela and the United States to ease sanctions on the South American country’s oil industry.

It was not immediately clear whether the suspension would effectively result in the nullification of the primary vote.

Meanwhile, the court’s decision has sparked concern among Venezuelans about the lack of voter secrecy.

In 2004, a pro-government lawmaker exposed the names of millions of petition signers seeking a recall referendum against then-President Hugo Chávez. The disclosure led to many losing their government jobs and assistance.

Simmer, and Boil


Iranians staged renewed anti-government protests this week following the recent death of 16-year-old Armita Geravand, which occurred following a confrontation with Iran’s morality police, Radio Free Europe reported.

Demonstrations occurred in a number of cities, including the capital Tehran, with protesters carrying placards with anti-government slogans and scrawling graffiti in memory of Geravand. Some demonstrators called for the death of the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

There were reports of arrests and violent clashes with security forces, including scuffles during Geravand’s funeral on Oct. 29.

Geravand died over the weekend, days after authorities said she was brain-dead after weeks in a coma.

Last month, the teenager and her two friends were stopped on a Tehran subway car by officers enforcing the country’s strict Islamic headscarf law.

Video footage showed the three girls entering the subway car without the mandatory hijabs, but then showed Geravand’s unconscious body being pulled by her two friends back onto the platform.

Iranian officials claimed Geravand fell into a coma after she fainted and hit her head. But they did not allow family or friends to visit her in the hospital. Allegations emerged that authorities also pressured the people around Geravand to avoid talking about the situation or commemorating her death.

But critics and people familiar with the incident countered that an officer pushed the teenager, who hit her head on a metal object as she fell, during an argument in the subway car.

During the demonstrations, protesters refuted the government’s official narrative.

Geravand’s case came a few weeks after the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old woman died in the custody of the morality police after being detained for allegedly flouting the hijab rules.

Her death sparked months-long protests against Iran’s strict dress code and the ruling clerics, who in recent months have cracked down on flouting the country’s hijab laws for women. Even so, many women are continuing to defy the laws.


Living Paint

Scientists have created an innovative paint that goes beyond traditional aesthetics – it contains cyanobacteria capable of producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, New Atlas reported.

Cyanobacteria, often referred to as blue-green algae, are well-known for their photosynthetic abilities. They can capture carbon dioxide from the environment and convert it into organic compounds, all while thriving in challenging conditions.

For their paper, researchers developed a water-based paint that uses a tough type of cyanobacteria, known as Chroococcidiopsis cubana. This microorganism is known to endure extreme conditions, such as high temperatures, different pH levels, dry environments and radiation.

To create their “green living paint,” they immobilized the cyanobacteria within a biocoating made of polymer particles in water. This mixture was fully dried and then rehydrated.

The team noticed that C. cubana remained viable throughout the process: The rate of oxygen production steadily increased, ultimately reaching levels of 0.4 grams of oxygen per gram of biomass per day. They also estimated that carbon capture reached 0.31 grams of carbon dioxide per gram of biomass per day.

The study’s goal was to create a sustainable, robust and ready-to-use biocoating that can help address environmental challenges, such as rising greenhouse gas levels and climate change. One significant advantage of such coatings is their potential to reduce water consumption.

But the authors are also hoping that C. cubana’s toughness can also help in developing biotechnological applications for space exploration.

“The photosynthetic Chroococcidiopsis have an extraordinary ability to survive in extreme environments, like droughts and after high levels of UV radiation exposure,” said lead author Simone Krings. “This makes them potential candidates for Mars colonization.”

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