The World Today for March 31, 2016

March 31, 2016


Myanmar: Turning the Corner

If you are of a certain age, it's easy to recall once-unthinkable transformations: The collapse of the Soviet Union; the reunification of Germany; the demise of Apartheid in South Africa; the so-called Arab Spring.

Now there is another such moment: Myanmar (Burma) has sworn in its first democratically elected, civilian leader in more than 50 years.

It's been a long time coming. But will anything change?

Yes, if it is up to Htin Kyaw of the National League for Democracy, who was sworn in Wednesday, and the shadow power behind him – the party’s founder and leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The stubborn resilience of Aung San Suu Kyi – a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent years under house arrest and even more time fighting a determined and non-violent campaign to oust Myanmar’s military regime – has shown its power to overcome obstacles.

Still, it won't be easy.

The military junta, in power since 1962, first granted elections in 2010, but the NLD boycotted them. After the party’s landslide victory last year, the military worked hard to retain control over the country.

Now, at a swearing-in ceremony Wednesday, many wonder how far the country’s former military leaders will let the country's new president go. They still have deep influence on the federal and local level under the country’s new constitution.  

The wild card is Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains enormously popular and has serious clout internationally.

Myanmar’s constitution banned her from standing for election because her late husband was British – a clause surely written by the junta with her in mind. But already Kyaw has plans to revisit that rule, though he will have to overcome pro-military lawmakers to do so. Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi is now officially in charge of four government ministries, including foreign affairs.

There is much to do beyond the tug-of-war between the military and the new government: Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the world and development is high on the new president’s agenda. So is reconciliation between warring parties in its civil war and the integration of its Muslim Rohingya population and other minority groups.

But in spite of the looming challenges, watching the new president being sworn in was a stirring moment, said observers. And as the country turned a corner, most understood that history was being made.


Nukes on the Backburner

At a time when North Korea is amassing nukes, Islamic State might be targeting Belgian atomic reactors and nuclear-armed Russia and China are as bellicose as ever, you’d think President Barack Obama's Nuclear Security Summit Thursday would be high on the international community’s agenda.

It’s not.

Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t attending the Washington, DC, event. Meanwhile, Obama will speak with Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leaders about North Korea, but such talks have yielded little in the past. And astoundingly, the Belgians only recently posted armed guards at their nuclear facilities, according to U.S. News & World Report.

In a speech in Prague in 2009, Obama said nuclear weapons were among the greatest dangers facing the US. He was right, of course. But so much has happened between then and now. Curbing nuclear proliferation is still on the world’s to do list. It’s just on the backburner.

More US Troops For Europe

The US is moving to shore up its troop presence in Europe “in the wake of an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and elsewhere,” US Army officials said Wednesday.

The US has been intermittently rotating about 4,200 troops in and out of Europe since 2014, on top of the roughly 62,000 U.S. military personnel assigned permanently on the continent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Pentagon now wants to rotate in an Army armored brigade each year, and divide the rotational force of 4,200 among six Eastern European countries – Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria – the paper said.

Some Eastern European allies have been concerned over their vulnerability to Russia following its intervention in Ukraine in 2014. The move is intended to calm fears.

“(Our NATO allies) will see a more frequent presence of an armored brigade with more modernized equipment in their countries,” said General Philip Breedlove, the US Army's top commander in Europe.

Libya's Risky Boat Ride

Risky boat trips across the Mediterranean are too common these days but one tricky journey Wednesday morning was not bringing refugees.

Instead, the leaders of Libya's UN-backed unity government defied an air blockade implemented by rival groups, and arrived in Tripoli in an attempt to break the country's ongoing political stalemate.

Prime Minister Fayez Serraj says his goal is to broker a cease-fire among warring factions in Libya and confront Islamic State. Even so, heavy gunfire erupted in Tripoli after the unity government's arrival. It seems the plan is not so welcome by some.

In fact, some observers worry that the country faces a new wave of violence – Serraj's success relies in part on being accepted by armed groups.

In addition to dealing with Islamic State – the militant group controls large swathes of the coast –the new government will have to grapple with Khalifa al-Ghwail, the prime minister of Libya's rival government.

He has called for supporters to fight the UN-backed “infiltrators”: “We won't leave the capital until the revolution is protected.”


Everyone's 'Not Face'

Facial expressions are usually tied to culture and language but Ohio State University researchers have discovered one facial expression that crosses linguistic barriers – the 'not face.'

This expression is the one we wear after expressing negative sentiments with the word “not,” for example: “a combination of a furrowed brow, pressed lips, and a raised chin.”

Unlike other expressions, the “not face” persists across cultures: subjects who spoke English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and even American Sign Language (ASL) all made the “not face” when making negative statements such as “I do not agree” or “I am not getting a third cup of coffee” according to the study.

Meanwhile, researchers hope the discovery could shed new light on the origins of human language. They say the “not face” is part of our language, serving as punctuation.

So next time you say “yes” and really mean “no,” don't forget your poker face.


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— Compiled and written by Jabeen Bhatti

Thu, 03/31/2016 – 05:26

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