The World Today for April 19, 2024

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Kitchen-Table Politics


The upcoming parliamentary election in India is expected to go well for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Surveys show that Indians are concerned about unemployment, inflation, and other kitchen-table issues, reported Reuters. But a majority of the billion voters who cast ballots from April 19 to June 4 in the world’s largest democratic exercise will still support Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda, pro-business policies, and plans for further improving India’s stature on the global stage.

In terms of what they supported about Modi’s two previous terms in office, for instance, 22 percent most liked Modi’s decision to build a Hindu temple to Lord Ram in Ayodhya in northern India. An Islamic mosque built by a Mughal ruler in the 16th Century formerly stood on the site. A Hindu mob destroyed it in 1992.

The new temple was Modi’s way of showing how Hinduism came before other faiths in the technically secular country, which is also the world’s largest democracy, Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University political scientist Zoya Hasan told the World.

The BJP is even expected to make gains in southern India, a wealthier part of the country where many folks speak languages other than Hindi and don’t necessarily feel enthusiastic about Hindu nationalism. In Kerala, for example, noted the Financial Times, beef-eating Muslims and Christians comprise half the population. Hindus venerate cows.

Still, critics of Modi abound. Editors at World Politics Review argued that the prime minister has been corroding India’s democracy by privileging India’s Hindu roots. His nationalist agenda has put him on a collision course with Pakistan and China; moved him to attempt to strip Indian citizenship from Muslims of Bangladeshi origins and fast-track non-Muslim immigrants’ citizenship status; and led him to turn a blind eye to Hindu-perpetrated violence.

He has suppressed religious minority communities, sometimes through violence – as the Council on Foreign Relations documented – and silenced journalists with terrorism charges and other assaults on the freedom of the press.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam anthropologist Sandhya Fuchs wrote in the Conversation that Modi has also been seeking to expand his powers through reforms that would increase his influence over the justice system, the kind of moves that so-called illiberal, democratically elected leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán have perfected.

Chatham House researchers, on the other hand, admitted that India’s government had probably become less liberal. But they also thought that the country had become better governed. Modi has instituted digitally based government services that have been remarkably effective and efficient. He’s built millions of toilets to address India’s serious public health problem of open defecation, added CNET. He approved new laws guaranteeing seats for women in parliament, too, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And he’s toughened penalties for rape, even as sexual assaults have risen during his tenure.

Those, say commentators, are the kitchen-table issues that matter to voters.


Magical Thinking


Venezuelan officials criticized the United States’ decision this week to reimpose oil sanctions, after Washington said that the government of President Nicolas Maduro has failed to allow “an inclusive and competitive election” to take place this year, the Financial Times reported.

In October, the Biden administration offered temporary authorization that would allow transactions with Venezuela’s national oil and gas sector without fear of sanctions – formally known as General License 44.

The license – which expired Thursday – was issued after Maduro and the US-backed opposition coalition signed an election agreement in Barbados that month that would allow free and fair presidential elections later this year.

Under the deal, Venezuelan authorities would set an election date, update the electoral register and allow international observers to monitor the vote.

US officials noted that while Maduro upheld “certain aspects” of the agreement, he had “fallen short” on commitments to hold a free and fair election scheduled for July 28.

Since the relief was issued, Venezuelan officials have barred the main opposition candidate María Corina Machado from running, arrested members of her campaign team and refused to allow Machado’s replacement candidate to register for the election.

Following the US decision to reimpose sanctions, the president of Venezuela’s congress, Jorge Rodríguez, accused Washington of breaking a commercial agreement reached with Caracas.

Oil Minister Pedro Tellechea told CNN that Venezuela was ready to bear the cost of levies.

Holding the largest oil reserves in the world and once a top oil producer, Venezuela’s industry collapsed to producing below 400,000 barrels per day in 2020 following years of economic mismanagement and Trump-era “maximum pressure” sanctions intended to oust Maduro.

The temporary authorization helped boost crude production this quarter and allowed Caracas to sell its oil directly without using black market intermediates charging massive fees.

Analysts noted that the reintroduction of sanctions would have a limited short-term impact on Venezuela’s current production and exports, but would hurt its long-term recovery.

Blast Off


Indonesian authorities shut down a provincial airport and evacuated hundreds of people this week following the eruption Wednesday of Mount Ruang in the north of the archipelago, prompting officials to also issue tsunami warnings, the New York Times reported.

The volcanic eruption on a remote island in the province of North Sulawesi saw fiery lava, incandescent rock and ash spewing nearly two miles into the sky.

The country’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency said more than 800 people were evacuated from nearby villages, with officials saying they are widening the evacuation zone after the volcanology agency raised the alert status, Reuters added.

They added that around 1,500 of those in high-risk areas needed to be immediately evacuated, while almost 12,000 more stand to be affected. Authorities have also issued a tsunami warning if parts of the mountain collapse into the ocean below.

Before the eruption, researchers detected more than 300 volcanic earthquakes over a period of at least two weeks, but are still unclear as to why Mount Ruang erupted when it did.

Indonesia, the largest archipelago nation, lies within the volatile Ring of Fire, where tectonic activity triggers earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The last major eruption in Mount Ruang took place in 2002, which saw a pyroclastic ash cloud reach over 14 miles in altitude.

In recent years, Indonesia has witnessed numerous volcanic eruptions.

In December 2023, an eruption on Mount Marapi claimed the lives of 11 hikers on the island of Sumatra, with an ash column reaching more than 9,000 feet.

In late 2022, more than 1,900 people evacuated following Mount Semeru’s eruption in the province of East Java.

Unwelcome Guests


Italian lawmakers passed an amendment this week to allow anti-abortion activists to enter family planning clinics, a move that supporters hailed but the opposition and pro-choice advocates called a “heavy” blow to women’s rights, the Washington Post reported.

The amendment is part of the right-wing government’s new healthcare package, with officials saying it will not change the 1978 law that allows abortion.

They added that it will clarify aspects of the legislation, such as allowing “nonprofit groups with qualified experience in supporting maternity” to be given access to family planning counseling centers that issue the certificates needed to obtain an abortion.

Pro-life activists were previously not permitted into those centers.

Opposition lawmakers decried the changes as another instance of authorities restricting women’s right to choose. They added that some Italian regions, including Umbria and Marche, have already restricted access to the abortion pill.

Under Italian law, a woman can seek an abortion in the first 90 days of pregnancy. After that, terminations can only be conducted if there is a risk to the woman’s life or serious issues with the fetus.

Following the vote, Italy’s biggest antiabortion organization, Pro Vita e Famiglia (Pro-Life and Family), said that while it does not plan to enter abortion consultation clinics, it must return to its “original function of helping women find concrete alternatives to abortion.”

Observers noted that the recent amendment further renewed the focus on the issue of abortion in Europe: In February, France became the first country in the world to enshrine abortion rights in its constitution.

Earlier this week, an independent commission recommended legalizing abortion in Germany during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion is considered illegal in Germany, but not punishable if a woman undergoes mandatory counseling and a three-day waiting period before she has the procedure, according to the Associated Press.


Waterhole Routes

The Toba super-eruption 74,000 years ago left a lake 62 miles long and 1,600 feet deep in Indonesia, a testament to the largest known natural disaster in the last 2.5 million years – its effects were felt around the globe.

For decades, the common belief has been that it nearly wiped out humanity.

Now, findings at an archaeological site in Ethiopia may suggest that our ancestors were able to adapt to the radical changes in climate, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

A study revealed that humans in the Horn of Africa started eating more fish during dry periods linked to the Toba eruption.

The scientists discovered and dated fossil mammoth teeth and ostrich eggshells at the Shinfa-Metema 1 site, which helped them establish that people lived in the area before and after the blast, 4,000 miles away.

Compared with other contemporaneous sites, there was an unusually large amount of fish there. This suggested that humans fished more as waterholes became shallower because of drought induced by the eruption.

Fishing is a more “sophisticated behavior” than hunting animals, the researchers said, arguing that humans 70 millennia ago already had the behavioral flexibility we enjoy today.

This may have helped these individuals migrate out of Africa. Previous research posited that our ancestors took advantage of humid periods to move to other continents. However, the Shinfa-Metema 1 findings suggest they may also have embarked upon their migratory journeys during dry periods, moving from one small waterhole to another.

The theory has left researchers in the field divided because of the short-term character of Toba’s effects on climate.

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