The World Today for September 05, 2016


Two Twilights

As US President Barack Obama manages the end of his tenure in office, he’s also arguably presiding over the twilight of the United States’ status as the world’s indispensable superpower.

Or so some pundits say.

Over the weekend, on the eve of the G20 summit in China, the substantive news was that the US and Beijing had agreed to formally adopt the international climate change agreement hammered out in Paris late last year, as well as other measures to reduce greenhouse gases.

That’s a big deal, the New York Times reported, considering that developing countries like China, despite their often-smoggy skies, have been reluctant to embrace constraints on industrial production that has lifted millions of their citizens out of poverty.

Some argue that China’s move is not as Earth-conscious as it seems, however. The country is seeking to shift away from energy-intensive industries to services. It also wants to dominate the growing market in clean energy. Reaching an agreement over the Paris deal was not necessarily masterful diplomacy, in other words.

But other developments on Sunday cast a shadow on the news.

The obvious and petty issue was the kerfuffle over Obama’s arrival.

As the BBC detailed, the Chinese laid out ceremonial steps and the red carpet for Western leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. But they failed to do so for Obama, forcing him to disembark from a rear hatch of Air Force One. Later, the Chinese argued with American reporters over access to the president.

The Economist argued that the snub likely reflected broader tensions, like the US challenging China’s continuing saber-rattling in the South China Sea, even as the ASEAN nations move to ease pressure on the country. Perennially cool Obama waived off the slight.

Meanwhile, however, the US was suffering a much more serious setback.

On Sunday, a deal between the US and Russia continued to disintegrate, CBS News reported. The two sides had supposedly agreed to share intelligence and partner in Syria to fight the Islamic State and al Qaeda. But the Russians are now “wavering,” citing problems with the nitty-gritty details of identifying who is a jihadist and who is a run-of-the-mill rebel.

The problem is that while both the US and Russia might want to bomb the jihadists, the US doesn’t want to be involved in fighting rebels who oppose Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, an ally of Russia.

When Russia first became involved in Syria – bombing run-of-the-mill rebels and jihadists alike – the US said Moscow faced a “quagmire,” according to CBS News. Clearly, the Americans were thinking about Iraq.

But the Russians’ experience has been much different. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Syrian adventures have given him the international status that he’s sought since the fall of the Soviet Union. Now he dangles and retracts deals with the US the way a cat plays with a mouse.

Obama and Putin met in China Monday, and it wasn’t on a red carpet. They agreed to continue to keep seeking a deal.

That’s Diplo-speak for no deal.


Look Mommy, No Votes

For years, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been nicknamed “Mutti,” or Mommy, because of the implicit trust she inspires in the German public. But these days her brave commitment to embracing refugees from the world’s many ongoing wars is turning that relationship dysfunctional.

In the latest sign of her fading popularity, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party suffered its worst defeat since the reunification of Germany 20 years ago in the chancellor’s home district late Sunday.

The center-left Social Democrats won the eastern state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania’s local elections with 30.6 percent of the vote. More worrying for Merkel, the far-right, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party took second place, edging out Merkel’s party with 20.8 percent, compared with the CDU’s 19 percent, USA Today reported.

With the AfD capitalizing on the discontent resulting from Merkel’s decision to allow more than 1 million refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to settle in Germany since last year, pundits saw the vote as a key test before German parliamentary elections in 2017. And it doesn’t look good for Mutti – whose approval rate has fallen in recent opinion polls.

“Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship today,” local AfD leader Leif-Erik Holm told supporters.

If Merkel doesn’t act fast, say pundits, he may be right. On the other hand, as both her supporters and opponents say, there is no one else on the horizon who could, or would, run against her.

Apres Karimov, the Deluge?

Dictators rarely go gentle into that good night, but Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov’s “official and unofficial” death presents a particularly curious case.

President of Uzbekistan for the past quarter century, Karimov was buried in his home city of Samarkand on Saturday. But even though a public transition of power began after his death, he leaves behind a power vacuum and questions about how the government handled his demise, according to the BBC.

Some may recall that the first reports of Karimov’s death began appearing immediately after his hospitalization on Aug. 28, and various world leaders had already expressed their condolences before an official announcement was finally made on Sept. 2.

The delay compelled the government to release a “long and detailed medical report” on the circumstances of his death to quell speculation that he had been the victim of a palace coup. Meanwhile, some pundits have theorized that the time lag resulted because of an ongoing power struggle – and a desire to come to a clear agreement on Karimov’s successor before revealing he was dead.

Russia, the United States and China all have a lot riding on a smooth transition in volatile Central Asia’s most populous state, as Islamist militants who want to make Uzbekistan part of an Islamic caliphate could exploit the resulting instability if the ruling elites fail to agree on a transfer of power, Reuters reported.

A Train-yard Tussle

Under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted routine railway repairs scheduled for Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, over the weekend. But the resulting commuter chaos in the country may be only the beginning, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reports.

The country’s ultra-Orthodox parties have homed in on the issue recently. A special parliamentary panel is looking into requiring businesses to close on the Sabbath. And Netanyahu is reportedly keen to keep his ultra-Orthodox backers in the fold.

Already, Netanyahu’s coalition government devotes large budgets to ultra-Orthodox schools and seminaries, according to the New York Times. And a recent effort to make military service compulsory for Orthodox youth, as it is for most other Israelis, has been scrapped.

Apart from signaling the continued difficulties that any Israeli leader will face in making peace with the Palestinians, the wrangling suggests Netanyahu is battling a growing threat to his leadership of the Likud party from Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, whom the prime minister blamed for fomenting the crisis.


The Disappearing Cup of Joe

For many, the long-term effects of climate change seem far off and even nebulous, but those addicted to their morning fix of caffeine might want to sit up and take note.

A new report by Australia’s Climate Institute, commissioned by Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand, says that climate change will halve the amount of area suitable for coffee production.

In fact, climate change is already affecting coffee crops around the world, according to the report. Tanzania has seen roughly a 50 percent decline in coffee production since the 1960s thanks to slowly creeping temperatures on farms. South and Central America have also been affected.

These changes also impact the estimated 120 million people – many of whom already rank among the world’s poorest – who depend on the coffee economy for their livelihoods.

And wild coffee – important for the genetic diversity of farmed coffee – could be extinct by 2080, impacting the flavor, aroma and price of coffee consumed the world over.

That’s enough to give any coffee drinker the morning jitters.



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