The World Today for June 04, 2024

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SWITZERLAND

Around 60 years ago, when rabies was widespread in Europe’s fox population, Switzerland invented an innovative way to stop the disease. Officials in the wealthy Central European country stuffed chicken heads with vaccines and dropped them from helicopters.

The vulpine scavengers gobbled up the laced meat, wrote the Times of India. By 1999, rabies disappeared in Switzerland, and other countries have since adopted the approach, which is much more efficient than catching individual critters and giving them a shot.

Today, the Swiss are still trying to innovate how vaccines are delivered, though now more controversially.

When Swiss voters cast their ballots in a referendum on June 9, they will decide whether or not to “exclude any obligation to vaccinate,” in order to preserve the “freedom of physical integrity,” reported Swissinfo.ch, a state-owned news outlet.

A routine part of Swiss politics and society – as this government website explained – the referendum question would ensure that citizens suffer no “penalty or social or professional prejudice” from refusing a jab. Current law prohibits officials from forcing anyone to submit to a vaccination, but the referendum would stigmatize stigmas associated with the issue.

Swiss leaders have recommended that voters say no to the idea, le News wrote. First, they argued, enforcing the law could be difficult. The government can hardly tell people whether or not they can harbor opinions. Secondly, they acknowledged that sometimes people who have not been vaccinated must be treated differently for medical reasons. Doctors and people with compromised immune systems might want to know if someone else is unvaccinated, for example.

Swiss leaders, meanwhile, are generally not excessive in their promotion of vaccines. Last year, for instance, according to the National Desk, they opted to suggest that citizens, even high-risk folks, not receive Covid-19 vaccinations because they likely had already been exposed to the virus and didn’t need extra protection.

The populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party is backing the idea.

Opponents, however, say the measure is unnecessary and even damaging to the public interest: For example, physical and mental integrity are already protected under the Swiss constitution, which guarantees the right to ‘self-determination’ in matters of health and life in general, wrote the Local.ch. As a result, nobody can be forced to be immunized against their will in Switzerland.

More interesting, the Local says, is “Since the initiative doesn’t specifically refer to medical interventions but generally covers any actions by the federal government, cantons and communes that involve physical contact, it implies that police would no longer be able to arrest a suspect without his or her authorization – as such actions would involve physical contact that could impact a person’s mental state.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Something Old, Something New

MEXICO

Former mayor of Mexico City Claudia Sheinbaum won Mexico’s presidential elections Sunday by a landslide, a victory that makes her the country’s first female president, while also underscoring the continuation of the policies of her predecessor, outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, NPR reported.

With more than 80 percent of the votes counted, Mexico’s electoral agency estimated that the left-leaning Sheinbaum won more than 58 percent of the vote. Her closest rival, Xóchitl Gálvez secured a little more than 28 percent of the vote.

Sheinbaum said in her victory speech Sunday that her opponents had conceded. Her mentor, López Obrador, also congratulated her on social media.

The 61-year-old president-elect previously served under López Obrador as environmental minister. She had been a leading candidate in the polls for more than a year and her historic win is seen as a referendum on her predecessor’s presidency.

López Obrador can only serve one six-year term, according to Mexico’s constitution.

The populist president remains a popular but divisive figure in Mexico: He has been hailed for his social programs benefitting the country’s poor, but has been criticized for alleged democratic backsliding, undermining judicial independence and empowering the country’s military.

Many voters who voted for Sheinbaum cited support for the outgoing leader. However, those who voted for the opposition said they feared that López Obrador and his Morena party would return Mexico to the days when one party ruled the country, as happened for seven decades until 2000.

Sheinbaum has pledged to pursue her mentor’s policies, saying that the government will have “republican austerity, financial and fiscal discipline and autonomy,” adding that the country “will never have an authoritarian or oppressive government,” according to CNBC.

Even so, analysts said she will face a series of economic and security challenges when she is sworn in office on Oct. 1.

Violence continues to rage in the country: It came to the forefront during the election campaign after 37 candidates were killed ahead of Sunday’s vote, Reuters noted.

Mexico is still experiencing lagging economic recovery after the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The International Monetary Fund predicts the nation of more than 132 million people will record GDP growth of 2.4 percent this year, compared with a 3.2 percent expansion in 2023.

The new government will also face fiscal and structural difficulties, including balancing investment plans, financing the popular welfare programs and handling the debt levels of Mexico’s state petroleum company, Pemex.

Talking Trash

SOUTH KOREA

South Korea plans to suspend a 2018 military pact with North Korea, the government announced Monday, after tensions escalated in recent weeks because Pyongyang sent hundreds of balloons carrying trash to its southern neighbor, the Independent reported Monday.

Last month, North Korea began launching balloons filled with cigarette butts, waste paper and vinyl to South Korea, spreading garbage across the country.

Over the weekend, Pyongyang sent out around 600 trash balloons, prompting anger from South Korean officials.

On Monday, South Korea’s National Security Council proposed suspending the military agreement put in place to lower military tensions between the two neighbors.

A full suspension would allow Seoul to conduct military drills near the border and take immediate measures in response to North Korea’s provocations.

Soon after Seoul’s announcement, North Korean officials said they were suspending the launching of the garbage-filled inflatables.

Observers said Pyongyang’s move was part of a retaliatory campaign against propaganda balloons sent to North Korea from defectors and South Korean activists. The propaganda inflatables contained anti-Pyongyang leaflets with food, medicine, money, and USB sticks containing popular K-pop songs.

North Korean officials had previously complained about the propaganda balloons and warned it would resume its trash deliveries if activists in Seoul did not refrain from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets.

Changing the Tune

NIGERIA

Nigeria adopted a new national anthem by taking up a previous version dropped decades ago and that had been written by a British expatriate, a decision that has sparked widespread criticism especially because critics say it was rushed through the legislature, the Associated Press reported.

Last Tuesday, both chambers of Nigeria’s parliament – dominated by the governing party – passed the bill authorizing the change less than a week after introducing it. President Bola Tinubu signed it into law a day later.

The new anthem replaces “Arise, O Compatriots,” which was introduced in 1978 by Nigeria’s then-military government and composed when the country was still reeling from a deadly civil war. The older anthem spoke of national unity and honored the efforts of past heroes.

Instead, Nigerians will now sing “Nigeria We Hail Thee,” which was originally introduced in 1960 when the West African country gained independence from the United Kingdom and was written by British expatriate Lillian Jean Williams.

Supporters of the “new” anthem said it was inappropriate to maintain an anthem instituted by a military regime.

But the change has garnered substantial public backlash, with many Nigerians expressing their anger on social media and refusing to sing the new anthem.

Oby Ezekwesili, a former education minister, criticized the adoption of an anthem with colonial connotations, pointing out that its terms “Native Land” and “Tribes” are outdated and offensive.

Observers said, meanwhile, that the bill’s speedy approval surprised many Nigerians because parliament usually takes weeks or months to consider important bills.

The changes come amid Tinubu’s turbulent first year in office, which has been marked by widespread criticism and protests against his economic reforms. Chief among these controversial measures was the removal of fuel subsidies that had previously kept essentials more affordable for Nigerians, Voice of America wrote.

DISCOVERIES

Alive and Furious

Earth’s neighbor, Venus, is not “dead” – at least in terms of volcanism, a new study revealed.

Recent re-analyses of data collected by NASA’s Magellan spacecraft in the 1990s unveiled compelling evidence of ongoing volcanic activity on Venus.

“Using these maps as a guide, our results show that Venus may be far more volcanically active than previously thought,” lead author Davide Sulcanese said in a statement for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “By analyzing the lava flows we observed in two locations on the planet, we have discovered that the volcanic activity on Venus could be comparable to that on Earth.”

He and his team discovered changes in the radar signal brightness in two of Venus’ areas: The Sif Mons volcano and the Niobe Planitia plain. These variations point to active lava flows, challenging the long-held belief that Venus is a “dead” planet.

The researchers confirmed the volcanic origin of these changes by ruling out other causes such as atmospheric interference or observational errors. Their findings indicate that the two locations are producing lava at rates similar to average terrestrial volcanoes, with estimated annual outputs of 1 to 1.5 cubic miles.

This suggests that Venus’s total volcanic activity may be comparable to Earth’s.

The findings build on a 2023 study that identified volcanic activity near the Maat Mons volcano near Venus’ equator. Both studies relied on radar images from Magellan, which mapped 98 percent of the planet’s surface between 1990 and 1992.

These findings have significant implications for upcoming missions to Venus.

NASA’s VERITAS and the European Space Agency’s EnVision, both set to launch in the early 2030s, will focus on these regions to further investigate Venus’s volcanic activity. These missions aim to provide more detailed observations than Magellan.

“Our spacecraft will have a suite of approaches for identifying surface changes that are far more comprehensive and higher resolution than Magellan images,” said VERITAS principal investigator Suzanne Smrekar. “Evidence for activity, even in the lower-resolution Magellan data, supercharges the potential to revolutionize our understanding of this enigmatic world.”

Correction: In Friday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “Into the Fire” item that Mexico was Latin America’s most populous country. In fact, Brazil is the most populous country in the region. We apologize for the error.

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