The World Today for June 06, 2024

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Rightward Ho

EUROPEAN UNION

Expect right-wing parties to win big when 400 million voters in 27 countries elect new members of the European Parliament from June 6 through June 9, the Guardian said.

After a tough five years since the last election thanks to Brexit, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, an energy crisis, and inflation – voters want change.

Traditionally, the centrist-conservative European People’s Party and the centrist-liberal Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats vie for control of the European Union’s legislature. The former is still expected to win a majority. The latter group’s fortunes are likely to fall, however, reported Euronews, while a coalition of far-right, populist, anti-immigration, Euroskeptic parties collectively called Identity and Democracy is forecast to win a big chunk of seats.

Identity and Democracy want to crack down on crime, reverse policies designed to fight climate change, staunch the flood of African, Asian, and Middle Eastern migrants who have sought asylum and economic opportunities in Europe, and uphold the continent’s traditional Christian identity and values, according to Politico.

Surprisingly, young voters are helping to drive the trend, though they might not share the concerns of older voters who will cast the same ballots. “They’re not necessarily xenophobic but they are deeply angered by the costs of living, housing, and healthcare crises which traditional parties haven’t been able to solve,” wrote Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno.

Concern over those mounting problems has especially undermined support for leftist Green parties, added World Politics Review, explaining that people don’t care about carbon emissions when they can’t afford rent.

While its members enact laws and adopt the EU’s budget, the European Parliament is not particularly powerful compared with, say, the US Congress or the British Parliament. One of its main jobs however is electing the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body. Current Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – a former German defense minister whom critics, like those at the British Spectator magazine, have described as incompetent – is especially under pressure as the electoral landscape shifts.

Von der Leyen has been courting rightwing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, for example, to support a second term in the presidency. As the Financial Times noted, however, other centrist leaders like French President Emmanual Macron have threatened to pull their support for Von der Leyen if she allies herself with the right.

Identity and Democracy is not a monolithic bloc, either. Composed of national political parties from across Europe, some of the coalition’s members support Ukraine, for example, while others advocate for pro-Kremlin policies.

As a result, as the Economist predicts, the European Union is likely to end up in gridlock after this election.

“Those assuming things can only get better may be in for a reckoning,” the magazine wrote, and “the probable outcome of the election will be a period of political rudderlessness … If these were quiet times, having Europe indulge in a bout of political navel-gazing would be no grave matter. But these times are not quiet.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Remains of the Day

ISRAEL/ GAZA STRIP

Israel launched a new military campaign against Hamas in central Gaza Wednesday, an offensive that comes ahead of crucial ceasefire talks, as well as ongoing international pressure on Israel over its actions in the Palestinian enclave, Reuters reported.

The offensive, aimed at eliminating Hamas, has involved ground and air operations in areas such as Al-Bureij and Deir Al-Balah. Palestinian medics had reported at least 44 were killed in Israeli strikes since Tuesday, with dozens more reported dead following an overnight strike on a United Nations-run school in the Nuseirat refugee camp.

The recent military action comes amid hopes for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel in a war that began on Oct. 7, when Hamas and its allies launched an attack from Gaza that killed around 1,200 people and saw more than 240 people taken hostage.

Afterward, Israel launched a military offensive in the territory that has created a humanitarian crisis and resulted in the death of more than 36,000 people, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Talks mediated by the US, Egypt and Qatar are focusing on a proposed ceasefire deal that includes the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and some Palestinian prisoners in Israel. However, Hamas has insisted on a permanent truce and a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, conditions that Israel has so far rejected.

Amid ongoing negotiations, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to sanction the International Criminal Court (ICC) following its decision to seek arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over alleged war crimes in Gaza. The bill aims to revoke US visas for ICC officials and block their entry into the country, CBS News wrote.

Meanwhile, international pressure over Israel’s campaign in Gaza continued to mount this week in the Muslim world. For example, the Maldives announced a ban on Israeli passport holders entering the country, the Guardian said. The archipelago’s decision aligns with broader actions against Israel, including economic and academic boycotts.

Turkey banned the import and export of goods to and from Israel, leading to significant shortages. Israel – which relies on Turkey for 40 percent of its concrete – now must purchase more expensive European concrete, observers said.

Also this week, Slovenia’s parliament voted to recognize a Palestinian state, joining a growing list of countries that have taken similar steps, according to the Associated Press.

The European Union member state framed the vote as a message of hope and a push for a two-state solution in the Middle East. Slovenia’s move follows similar recognition by Spain, Norway and Ireland.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian state is not mentioned in the ceasefire deal.

Moscow Rules

GEORGIA

Georgia’s ruling party is planning a new bill that would strip same-sex couples of their rights and target so-called “LGBT propaganda,” a move that marks another break from the former Soviet republic’s aspirations to join the European Union and a pivot toward its former master, Politico reported.

On Tuesday, Shalva Papuashvili – speaker of Georgia’s parliament and a leader of the governing Georgian Dream party – unveiled a new legislative package that would ban same-sex marriages from being registered and only allow adoption to “heterosexuals.”

The proposed legislation will also criminalize changing gender and remove any references to LGBTQ+ people from public spaces. Broadcasters, advertisers and movie theaters must also censor content that features same-sex relationships.

The proposal mirrors similar measures in neighboring Russia that banned “propaganda” against traditional values and outlawed “the international LGBTQ+ public movement.”

The bills come days after Papuashvili approved a contentious law that would label non-governmental organizations receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad as “foreign agents.”

That bill sparked weeks of mass protests against the ruling party and international criticism alleging that the law undermines Georgia’s efforts to join the EU. Critics added the legislation is very similar to Russian laws targeting non-profits, which have been used to stifle dissent, Euronews noted.

But despite public outrage, Papuashvili signed that bill into law Monday after the parliament – dominated by the Georgian Dream party – repealed a veto by President Salome Zourabichvili.

Georgian Dream has defended the bill as necessary to defend the country from foreign actors allegedly seeking to destabilize it. They have also accused Georgia’s Western partners of using NGOs to spread “LGBT propaganda,” stage a coup and drag the country into conflict with Russia.

Banning Showoffs

CHINA

Chinese Internet regulators are banning online influencers known for their luxurious lifestyles from social media, amid a government crackdown to tackle individuals who “create a ‘wealth-flaunting’ persona … in order to attract followers and traffic,” NBC News reported.

Last week, Chinese users on Douyin – China’s version of TikTok – were unable to view content from influencer Wang Honquan after his account was blocked “due to violations of Douyin’s community guidelines.”

Wang is shown in his videos claiming to own seven properties in the capital, Beijing, and never leaving his home without wearing an outfit worth less than $1.38 million. His posts also highlight his maids, his collection of Hermes handbags and luxurious sports cars.

He was also banned from other Chinese social media platforms, including Weibo and Xiaohongshu, according to the New York Post.

Wang was just one of a number of influencers who have been blocked for posting similar content.

The recent restrictions come weeks after China’s Cyberspace Administration launched a campaign to ban users “deliberately showcasing a lavish lifestyle built on wealth.”

This is not the first time that Chinese officials have cracked down on social trends considered undesirable. In 2022, they issued a “code of conduct” prohibiting livestream anchors from showing or “hyping a large number of luxury goods, jewelry, cash and other assets.”

Observers and former influencers suggested that the restrictions have arisen because China is experiencing an economic slowdown that has impacted the country’s middle class.

Lyla Lai, a former beauty influencer, told NBC that the government efforts are “really necessary,” but noted that a better economy was more important than restrictions in that it should give people “a greater sense of fulfillment and happiness in their lives.”

DISCOVERIES

The Case of the Missing Lungs

When earthlings came out of the water and started walking on terra firma some 365 million years ago, their bodies adapted to their new living conditions. Lungs were one of the innovations of that period, allowing animals to survive on the oxygen found in the air.

Some rare species of tetrapods – animals that have four limbs – have since lost their lungs. And for over a decade, scientists thought that the Borneo flat-headed frog was among those that did.

That was the conclusion of a team from the University of Singapore who in 2008 dissected specimens of what’s scientifically known as Barbourula kalimantanensis, an endangered species of frogs that thrives on the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo.

Their analysis found no trace of lungs and suggested that the frogs had lost their lungs to adapt to the cold, fast currents where they live.

David Bickford, who led the study, had told National Geographic this was an “evolutionary enigma.”

Now, 16 years later, researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History established that B. kalimantanensis did, in fact, have lungs.

In their study, they used a high-resolution micro-CT scanner to analyze the frogs’ soft tissue. There, they found a glottis and very small lungs.

When inflated, the lungs are “substantially smaller than your pinky fingernail,” lead author David Blackburn told Popular Science.

The size of the lungs implies that the animals mostly rely on other ways to extract oxygen, namely through their skin when they’re underwater, the study said.

Bickford said he agreed with Blackburn’s conclusions, and added that he was “very happy” that new discoveries were made on B. kalimantanensis.

The recent findings were made possible by technological advances, analysts added. Bickford explained that in 2008, he and his team could only use “histology (the study of cells and tissues through a microscope) and gross physical dissections.”

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