The World Today for July 13, 2016

Need to Know

A Running Start

Theresa May is Britain’s new Iron Lady.

And it wasn’t long after Conservative Party members anointed May as their new leader this week that Iron Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany gave the incoming prime minister her marching orders.

“The task of the new prime minister will be to get clarity on the question of what kind of relationship Britain wants to build with the European Union,” Merkel said

Merkel’s comments were a reminder that, after her slated appointment as prime minister on Wednesday, May’s first order of business is to bring order to the chaos that erupted throughout the EU after the June 23 Brexit vote.

There is a long to-do list.

First, she needs to form a new cabinet that balances supporters and critics of Brexit, the BBC noted.

Then comes Brexit. She expects to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the mechanism to leave the EU, before the end of the year. “Brexit means Brexit,” she has said repeatedly, even though she was in the camp that wanted to remain in the EU prior to the referendum.

Before triggering Article 50, May wants to speak informally to Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. But they’ve said they don’t want to talk until she officially invokes Article 50. The reason: Invoking Article 50 will set the clock ticking to a two-year deadline, which would seriously undermine Britain’s bargaining position in what are expected to be tough negotiations with European leaders who have little patience with British exceptionalism.

May also likely wants a conversation with American President Barack Obama to affirm Britain’s “special relationship” with its second-most-important trading partner.

But Obama, remember, cautioned British voters to reject Brexit. Incidentally, he has been one of the least Anglophile presidents in memory. Some have suggested he harbors grudges against Britain, because colonial officials tortured his Kenyan grandfather. Maybe that’s just talk. But, unlike House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has suggested the US propose a new free trade deal with Britain, Obama hasn’t offered any lifejackets.

Things don’t look rosy on the home front for May, either.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is eager to speak with May about her concerns over Brexit. Sturgeon has raised the prospect of another referendum to determine whether Scotland should secede from the UK and become an independent country that could then rejoin the EU.

May also has relatively routine but important and controversial issues of state to address: On July 18, parliament votes on the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The question of expanding Heathrow Airport is also pressing.

In short, May will be busy in a job that might be impossible, a bizarre turnabout of fortunes.

The Financial Times pointed out that, ironically, a politician who did not support Brexit will now fulfill the will of the people and steer the country through the consequences of their decision. Nobody in the leave camp was up to the job, the newspaper said.

“Given their sanguine certainty about the consequences of exit, it is magnanimous of them to let others govern the beatific Shangri-La that is surely around the corner,” the newspaper wrote.

Want to Know

Cold War II?

The Russia-NATO council will meet in Brussels on Wednesday to try to hash out some common ground, as both sides beef up their forces in border areas. Only the second meeting of its kind over the past two years, it hasn’t inspired much optimism. The council was created to deal with crises, but every time a crisis emerges, NATO cuts off contact, one Russian legislator noted.

“At this point,” Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, told CNN, “There is no point.”

At last week’s NATO summit in Warsaw, Cold War II became “official policy in Washington and at NATO headquarters in Brussels,” argues Salon, citing developments like the decision to station rotating battalions in the front-line states of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. That could well mean that the only “deliverable” outcome from Wednesday’s council meeting is an accord to prevent so-called “close calls” between the US and Russian warships and fighter jets – which have become frequent in Syria and the Baltic.

The Flag Pastor

Controversial Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is facing the greatest threat yet to his 36-year reign, as economic turmoil sparks widespread anti-government protests. On Tuesday, police arrested the leader of the movement, ahead of a planned two-day demonstration and rolling marches by thousands of women over the weekend.

“Let me warn the instigators behind the intended protests that they will face the full wrath of the law,” said Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo, after Baptist minister Evan Mawarire called on supporters to proceed with the planned demonstrations despite his arrest.

Mawarire has become a household name since he began a social media campaign against Mugabe in April. Known as “This Flag Pastor” because he wears the national flag draped around his neck and Tweets under the hashtag #ThisFlag, Mawarire has called for the dismissal of corrupt ministers, among other measures.

Still, a planned two-day strike failed to materialize Wednesday, as schools and businesses opened normally with police deployed throughout the capital, Bloomberg reported. The government had announced that it would pay civil servants their June salaries on Wednesday, a day earlier than planned.

Selective Transparency

Like China, India and a host of others, Israel is cracking down on foreign funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). And in Israel, too, critics say the move – which they say will primarily hit groups that speak out for Palestinians – is geared to silence dissent.

Described as a “transparency law,” the measure passed in Tel Aviv this week will require NGOs to give details of overseas donations if more than half their funding comes from foreign governments or bodies such as the European Union.

Still, critics like Human Rights Watch say focusing solely on foreign government funding and excluding private donations means that around 25 groups, most of them opponents of the current government, would fall under its ambit, while many groups that support Israeli settlements in the West Bank would not.

The requirements “go beyond the legitimate need for transparency and seem aimed at constraining the activities of these civil society organizations,” the European Commission said.

Discoveries

Ninja Warrior Boom

Interested in uzura-gakure – Japanese for curling up into a ball to resemble a rock – or disappearing out a window using a kaginawa, or grappling hook?

If so, enroll now in a Bujinkan school, where instructors train young warriors in the ways of ninjutsu, or the martial art of stealth.

Enrollments in Bujinkans and the popularity of ninjas, in general, has exploded in Japan as the country’s tourism sector prepares for an influx of visitors for the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics a year later, the Guardian reported

Cartoon ninjas festoon tourist spots like the castle town of Iga-Ueno near Kyoto. Visitors enjoy a nearby ninja house that offers hidden rooms, weapons caches and other attractions.

Like most other flashy imaginations of the past, the ninjas we know today probably never existed, however, say historians. In Japan’s feudal days, ninjas were likely simply irregular soldiers, spies or bandits who didn’t ascribe to the more chivalrous code of Bushido that the samurai supposedly followed.

Then again, plenty of samurai probably didn’t adhere closely to Bushido, either.

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