The World Today for June 26, 2024

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Sharing the Wealth

MONGOLIA

Mongolian judges recently visited Plainview, Texas to learn about American justice. They also visited the Cadillac Ranch art installation, which features half-buried, colorfully painted cars, and the Big Texan Steak Ranch, home of the famous 72-ounce steak-eating challenge, reported My Plainview.com.

The Mongolian judges may have found these lessons useful as their country – wedged between China and Russia – prepares for a parliamentary election on June 28.

Corruption is the biggest issue on voters’ minds, wrote the Diplomat. Many especially want the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP), which dominates the legislature and holds the executive branch under President Khurelsukh Ukhnaa, to share the wealth that the country’s massive mining sector now generates – but for what many believe is only an elite few.

Opposition parties were especially excited this year to gain at least some power because the number of legislative seats has increased from 76 to 126, giving them a chance to win more offices.

But the MPP is entrenched. Observers at Fitch Solutions, for example, believe that opposition groups have little or no chance to gain significant seats in parliament.

Meanwhile, the party appears determined not to leave anything to chance. A leader of the Democratic Party (DP), who was also governor of the district of Sant Sum, for example, was beaten to death recently while meeting with MPP representatives. DP leaders blamed the oppressive political climate that has grown worse in recent years under the ruling party.

“A star of democracy … has lost his life at the hands of others,” said a DP statement to Agence France-Presse. “This election is going on under all possible pressures, such as heavy government pressure and spying.”

Mongolian voters might have to wait to see the benefits of the extractive industries in their midst, too, even though, as the Foreign Policy Research Institute explained, it can easily trade with China and Russia – while also playing both off against the US.

Record-high coal exports have yielded record revenues for the country, while the new Oyu Tolgoi copper mine promises even more cash as demand for the metal has skyrocketed, noted the East Asia Forum. But Mongolia might need to wait until the 2030s before revenues from these industries make up for the economy having tanked during the coronavirus pandemic.

Unfortunately, the “dzud” (disaster) – or extreme weather involving droughts and severe snowy winters – has also killed more than 7.1 million head of livestock in Mongolia this year, further eroding the economy in a country where herding is also a cornerstone of culture, the Associated Press added.

Nomadic herding is so important to the country’s 3.3 million people that its constitution refers to the country’s 65 million camels, yaks, cattle, sheep, goats, and horses as its “national wealth,” the riches that are actually shared.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Conditional Freedom

NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was released from a British prison and appeared before a court in the Northern Mariana Islands to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge as part of a US Justice Department plea deal, ending a prolonged legal battle over his publication of classified documents, NBC News reported.

Under the agreement, Assange pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single charge of conspiracy to obtain and disclose US national defense information, according to court documents.

The court in Northern Mariana – a US-controlled territory – sentenced him to 62 months in prison, with time served: Assange was released and flew on with his legal team back to his native Australia because he had already spent years in prison in London.

This charge stemmed from Assange’s involvement in one of the largest leaks of classified information in US history.

Between 2009 and 2010, WikiLeaks, under Assange’s direction, published tens of thousands of classified US military documents and diplomatic cables. These included the Afghan War Logs, Iraq War Reports, State Department cables, and assessment briefs from Guantánamo Bay detainees, which were provided by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

The plea deal ends a years-long legal saga that saw Assange face extradition requests and a slew of charges, including sex crimes in Sweden – charges which were later dropped.

In 2012, he sought asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he remained until April 2019 when he was kicked out for bad behavior. Afterward, British authorities detained him and put him in Belmarsh Prison, where he spent the next five years fighting extradition to the US.

The publication of sensitive military documents by WikiLeaks sparked global debate, with critics accusing Assange of endangering the lives of US troops and local staff, while supporters saw him as a whistleblower of government misdeeds, according to the Washington Post.

The Most Wanted

RUSSIA

The International Criminal Court (ICC) this week issued arrest warrants for two senior Russian officials accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, the Netherlands-based tribunal accused former Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and military chief of staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov of being responsible for civilian attacks in Ukraine.

The allegations center on the period between October 2022 and March 2023, when Russia launched a wave of missile and drone strikes on Ukraine that killed thousands and damaged key infrastructure, including its energy system.

The court alleged there was reasonable ground to believe that Shoigu – who served as Russia’s defense minister at the time – and Gerasimov were responsible for “missile strikes carried out by the Russian armed forces against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure” during that period.

Moscow has insisted that the strikes mainly targeted military installations, despite the civilian casualties. However, ICC judges stated that the attacks targeted civilians and that any potential military targets would have caused excessive civilian harm compared with any anticipated military advantage.

Shoigu and Gerasimov are two of the key figures in Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Shoigu, a long-time ally of Putin and defense minister for 12 years, was replaced last month by economist Andrey Belousov, CNN wrote.

Gerasimov has led Russia’s armed forces for over a decade and was key in planning the Ukraine invasion. He was appointed overall commander of the campaign in January 2023.

It is unlikely that either suspect will be detained because Russia is not a member of the global court, does not recognize its jurisdiction and has refused to hand over other individuals.

Tuesday’s announcement marks the third time the court has issued arrest warrants against Russian officials: Last year, the ICC made headlines when it requested the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin after accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine.

Separately, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia committed human rights violations in Crimea since its annexation in 2014, Radio Free Europe noted.

The court found that Russia harassed and intimidated priests and journalists, and unlawfully detained and prosecuted Ukrainian political prisoners.

Kyiv alleged that Russia – which has controlled Crimea since February 27, 2014 – has tortured and killed police and civilians, accusations that Moscow denies.

No Exceptions

ISRAEL

Israel’s supreme court ruled Tuesday that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men are not exempt from being drafted into military service, a decision that threatens the stability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, the Guardian reported.

In a unanimous ruling, the court said the state could no longer protect ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from mandatory military service, ending decades of blanket exemptions. This decision follows the expiration of the original law in June 2023 that allowed for such exemptions. The court also ruled that yeshivas – Jewish Orthodox seminaries – would be ineligible for state funding unless their students enlisted.

The ruling came amid heightened tensions because of the ongoing conflict in Gaza and Netanyahu’s struggle to maintain his coalition, which includes the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) parties.

These parties have threatened to leave the coalition over the issue, potentially forcing new elections. Netanyahu – who faces corruption charges – is reliant on his coalition partners to stay in power.

Mandatory military service is an important aspect of Israeli national identity. However, ultra-Orthodox men have traditionally been exempt from service, and instead were expected to focus on religious studies. This situation has been opposed by military officers and reservists, complaining that it fosters inequality and undermines the readiness and inclusiveness of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The court did not specify enlistment quotas, leaving the implementation to the government and military.

The ultra-Orthodox community makes up 13 percent of Israel’s population and it is estimated to rise to 21 percent by 2042. Currently, about 63,000 ultra-Orthodox men are eligible for conscription, according to the court. The IDF has indicated it could draft 3,000 men in the upcoming year, according to the Times of Israel.

Following the court’s verdict, the pro-democracy group and principal petitioner, Movement for Quality Government in Israel, hailed the ruling as “a historic triumph” for equality and the rule of law.

The military, worried about its soldiers’ exhaustion from the war, has stepped up pressure on extending the draft to the ultra-Orthodox.

Meanwhile, government lawyers warned the court during the hearings that enforcing conscription on ultra-Orthodox men would “tear Israeli society apart.” UTJ minister Yitzhak Goldknopf called the decision “unfortunate and disappointing,” while emphasizing the importance of the Torah as “the cornerstone” of Israel’s existence.

DISCOVERIES

The Little Engineer That Could

Shipworms have been the bane of ships, ports and dykes for thousands of years.

The marine creatures are the termites of the sea: They are capable of digesting wood – a feat that few animals can do.

Measuring up to six inches in length, they have gone down in history for wrecking San Francisco’s Bay a hundred years ago and contributing to the destruction of the Spanish Armada by the English in 1588.

Even so, American poet and naturalist Henry David Thoreau paid homage to them in the poem “Through All the Fates.”

Now, scientists have discovered how the shipworm – technically, a mollusk species – is able to consume wood.

In their paper, a research team dissected and analyzed the insides of Teredo navalis shipworms to understand their timber-gobbling abilities.

Wood is not easy to digest because it contains a very tough component known as lignin, requiring special enzymes to break it down.

The team found that the enzymes weren’t produced by the intestines or the stomach, but originated from a sub-organ, typhlosole.

A closer examination showed that bacteria known as Alteromonas produced the special enzyme, a finding that underscores a symbiotic relationship between shipworms and microbes.

The study challenges previous assumptions that the shipworm’s guts were “nearly sterile,” while also underscoring the practical applications of the mollusk’s ability.

“(Shipworms) are found throughout the world’s oceans and not only have they changed history, they are also ecosystem engineers and play a fundamental role in cycling carbon in aquatic environments,” co-author Reuben Shipway said in a statement.

Shipway and his colleagues explained that this discovery interests biotech companies seeking new methods to break down certain materials.

Each year, massive amounts of wood enter the oceans, with mangroves alone contributing nine gigatons of biomass, 70 percent of which is digested by shipworms. Understanding this process helps climate scientists refine models of carbon dioxide release from wood decomposition, the BBC Wildlife magazine explained.

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