Welcome to Thursday, where Biden lays out his vision for America, Northern Ireland leader quits over Brexit and a Navalny mural appears in Saint Petersburg (as he appears gaunt in a remote court hearing). We also turn to Germany, where Die Welt sounds the alarm about the male infertility crisis afflicting the Western world.
• Biden's address to Congress: To mark 100 days in office, U.S. President Joe Biden gave his first address to the nation Wednesday night, unveiling huge investments for jobs, education and care plans, while addressing white supremacy and systemic racism.
• Two Myanmar air bases attacked: Attacks have been launched against two Myanmar air bases on Thursday, as blasts and rocket fires have been reported. No attackers have been identified yet.
• A gaunt Navalny makes first appearance since hunger strike: Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny appeared in court via video link for an appeals hearing, criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government in his first public appearance since he went on hunger strike.
• India maintains state elections despite COVID surge: Residents of the Indian state of West Bengal are voting in the last phase of elections amid a deadly second wave of coronavirus.
• Northern Ireland first minister resigns: Northern Ireland First Minister and majority party leader Arlene Foster has announced her resignation, following protests over post-Brexit borders.
• First step for China's new space station: China has launched a module of a new space station, amid hopes that Beijing will have the new station operational by 2022.
• 5,000-year-old tombs discovered in Egypt: Some 110 pre-Pharaonic tombs have been discovered in the Nile Delta by Egyptian archaeologists, shedding light on major transitional periods in ancient Egypt.
Italian daily Il Messaggero reports on the arrests in France of seven Italian leftist terrorists, who had been on the run for decades following their conviction in Italy. The issue had long poisoned relations between the two countries.
Male infertility: the hidden pandemic
Across the Western world, the number of men unable to have children without medical intervention is growing. Health specialists are raising the alarm and scientists are struggling to find the cause, while politicians are ignoring the issue, reports Benedikt Schwan in German daily Die Welt.
When a couple is having trouble conceiving, doctors traditionally assume the issue lies with the woman. However, it has been clear for some years now that the problem often actually lies with the man's fertility — or lack of. In 2017, Israeli epidemiologist Hagai Levine and his team brought together numerous studies carried out since the 1970s, which collected data on sperm count and health through so-called spermiograms. The results were shocking: Over the last four and a half decades, men's sperm count in Western countries has dropped by 52%.
The search for the cause of this dramatic drop is complicated. Levine speculates that for a long time now people in the West have been exposed to the chemical revolution: pesticides, plastics and other potentially harmful substances are everywhere. Sometimes problems begin in the womb, where the organs responsible for producing semen fail to develop properly. This has far-reaching consequences, not only in terms of fertility. Levine refers to studies that have shown infertile men are more likely to get cancer. But little is known about any direct connection between the two.
Men can be very affected when they discover that they have reduced fertility. "Many say that they don't feel like real men if they can't have children," says fertility therapist Petra Thorn. She often hears them say things like, "I'm worried that other people will question my masculinity and my sexual potency." Thorn is one of very few specialists in male infertility. She has a practice in Frankfurt and says men often find it difficult to come to terms with their infertility.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Mexican riot police training turns into a riot of its own
As Mexican National guardsmen were busy training to learn new methods to limit street violence, they began to, well, fight among themselves.
The National Guard, founded in 2019 as a better-trained, more disciplined gendarmerie corps to fight organized crime, confirmed that videos circulating of the sordid incident were real — and training in San Luis Potosí in northern Mexico, had "gotten out of control," Azteca television and La Jornada newspaper reported this week.
Footage of the session shows it began well enough, with one group of officers acting as rioters and others fending them off with plastic shields. At one point two colleagues appeared locked into a real fight, which led to some flying kicks — and it wasn't clear anymore if this was part of the training — and one officer going to the back of the defensive line to give his peers a piece of his mind.
The two groups then devolved into the kind of mêlée that they were being trained to defuse, with whistling and calls by female officers to call it off. The National Guard stated Internal Affairs would investigate the matter and vowed it would not tolerate any conduct "degrading the institution's image."
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
Over the last 20 years, glaciers have lost about 267 gigatons of ice per year, with the total loss accelerating by about 48 gigatons per year per decade, because of climate change and warmer air, a study published in Nature journal found. The meltwater now accounts for nearly one fifth of global sea-level rise. (A gigaton is equivalent to 1 billion tons or more than 6 million blue whales.)
We are working again. Dreaming again. Discovering again. Leading the world again.
— U.S. President Joe Biden said during his first address to the nation on Wednesday, to mark his first 100 days in office.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet & Emma Flacard
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
- Long Shielded, Thailand's Monarchy Facing Hard Questions Amid ... ›
- French Monarchist Lessons For A Broken American Democracy ... ›
- Thailand To Belarus: The Divides Of Democracy Protesters ... ›