The World Today for August 04, 2016


Desperate Times

Desperate times call for desperate measures, the saying goes.

In Venezuela, those measures provide as good a yardstick as any for how desperate the situation has become.

Not only has beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro appointed a general indicted by the U.S. for drug trafficking to a key cabinet post in an apparent bid to blame “imperialism” for the country’s crippling debt problems. But he’s also reinstated the barter system for international trade and called for something close to slavery to address grim food shortages resulting from what at least one economist characterizes as a “suicidal” approach to dealing with the crisis, according to CNN.

That’s right. Facing possible ouster after the opposition successfully garnered enough signatures to bring about a recall referendum on Monday, Maduro “has resorted to denial and grandstanding,” as The Guardian puts it.

Late Tuesday he unveiled a shakeup of his cabinet that indicates he’s doubling down on the so-called “Chavismo” he inherited from former President Hugo Chavez, Bloomberg reports. The reshuffle ousted a pro-market reformer from the commerce ministry and ushered in General Nestor Reverol as the interior and justice minister.

Reverol is accused of being part of an international cocaine distribution conspiracy, according to court documents that were unsealed in New York on Monday. But to Maduro that only means that “he’s been attacked by the U.S. empire,” much like Venezuela itself.

Along with that move, Maduro has arranged to barter oil for food from Jamaica, as well as use oil instead of Venezuela’s rapidly depreciating currency to cover the payments on the country’s whopping $65 billion debt to China.

And in late July, he used the executive powers he holds due to the declaration of a state of emergency to issue a formal decree allowing the government to force citizens to work 60-day sojourns in the country’s fields to grow much-needed food.

It’s not clear how long his presidency will survive. Though polls show that 64 percent of Venezuelans would like to see him ousted, some 8,000 legal challenges have already been filed to slow or block the recall process.

More discouragingly, by sticking to his guns on “Chavismo” and blaming U.S. imperialism for his country’s woes – rather that his predecessor’s foolish economic policies — Maduro has painted himself into a corner from which it will be difficult to accept foreign aid.

Some 87 percent of Venezuelans don’t have enough money to afford food, according to a recent poll, and the only constraint on the looting of grocery stores these days is empty shelves. As of May, Venezuelans had looted shops — or tried to do so — more than 254 times this year. Every month there are hundreds of food-related protests across the country. Hundreds of people have been arrested for rioting, and dissidents have alleged they have been tortured or otherwise abused in custody.

Meanwhile, the shortages stem from a much more banal cause than a dastardly conspiracy of imperialist financiers.

During boom times when oil was selling for more than $100 a barrel, Chavez not only amassed massive debts to finance well-meaning social programs for the poor. He also set strict price controls to make sure food was affordable to all – with the result that local producers shut down and even staples like corn and rice had to be imported.

The country could afford to do that when oil prices were high. But as prices plunged to less than $50 a barrel last year, something had to give. The country is now hovering on the brink of default, and Maduro has essentially chosen to keep making its debt payments rather than import food and medicine.

It’s no surprise so many Venezuelans would like to see him go.


An Open Motive?

Five people were injured and one woman in her 60s was killed in multiple stabbings that took place in central London last night.

The suspect, a 19-year-old man, is currently being held at a south London police station on suspicion of murder. He launched the attack at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night in Russell Square, located near the British Museum and University College London, and was arrested after police stunned him with a Taser at the scene.

British counter-terror officials have said that mental health may have been a factor in the attack. Scotland Yard has said that it was keeping an “open mind” about the suspect’s motive, although terrorism has not been ruled out in connection with the incident.

A Helping Hand

Saudi Arabia said it will assist thousands of Indian workers stranded in the kingdom without money or food thanks to layoffs and state spending cuts caused by the sharp drop in oil prices, according to Indian officials.

After a meeting with the Saudi labor minister, India’s junior foreign minister V.K. Singh said the Saudi government had assured India that it would resolve the crisis and that workers’ financial claims would be addressed – even if they returned home.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia has directed officials to resolve these problems at the government’s expense and hire lawyers on behalf of these workers to pursue their claims, said Mr. Haqbani.

Construction companies have been hit particularly hard by the worldwide fall in oil prices and laid off tens of thousands of foreign workers.

A Troubling Alliance

Islamic State (IS) announced that Sheik Abu Mossab al Bornawi has been appointed as the new leader of Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist insurgency group.

The article in the IS weekly newsletter Al Naba on Tuesday didn’t mention what had happened to the former leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, who hasn’t been seen in videos since early 2015. Nor is it clear whether Shekau’s followers support al Bornawi’s appointment.

Boko Haram declared its loyalty to IS in 2015. In the newsletter, Al Bornwai said that the two groups have decided “to fight and unite under one umbrella.”

Al Bornawi didn’t explicitly say who appointed him, but the language used in the article suggests that Islamic State itself promoted him to his new role, writes the WSJ.

While Boko Haram has lost significant territory and seen several leaders killed over the past 18 months, observers say the announcement is alarming proof that Islamic State is backing and supervising the Nigerian insurgency, whose war with the Nigerian government has killed more than 30,000 people so far.


The Story of O

The female orgasm is a mystery, and not just to legions of clueless men. Actual scientists haven’t figured it out either.

While the male orgasm is directly linked to ejaculation, and therefore to reproduction, nobody is certain what evolutionary purpose the female orgasm serves. There are at least 18 different theories, according to Indiana University Professor Elisabeth A. Lloyd, author of “The Case of the Female Orgasm.” (Lloyd’s version: The female orgasm doesn’t serve any purpose. It’s vestigial, like nipples on men).

Now, however, a study by evolutionary biologists Mihaela Pavlicev and Guenter Wagner has presented new evidence that the female orgasm originated in mammals more than 150 million years ago as a way to release eggs to be fertilized after sex, according to the New York Times.

Unlike most studies of the orgasm, Pavlicev and Wagner’s research delved into the sexuality of mammals only distantly related to humans to look for clues.

Here’s what they found.

Women ovulate on a schedule, whether they’re having sex or orgasms or not. But other mammals, such as rabbits and camels, release an egg only after mating with a male. Meanwhile, ancient mammals actually evolved a clitoris inside the vagina, which the researchers argue could send a stimulus to the brain to release an egg – much the way that friction from the sharp spines on a tiger’s penis induces ovulation.

The scheme helped solitary animals make the most of rare sexual encounters. But when mammals such as humans and other primates began living together in social groups and having sex regularly, the researchers posit, there was no longer any need for induced ovulation, so the regular monthly cycle evolved.

Somewhere along the way, the clitoris also migrated to its current location.





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