The World Today for November 14, 2016


Pulling Apart

President-Elect Donald Trump divided America. Now he’s dividing Europe.

European Union foreign ministers met on Sunday to talk about Trump. Europe’s top diplomats usually hold special meetings to discuss crises like Russia invading Crimea. So sounding alarms after an American election is unprecedented.

But, coming after the Eurozone financial crisis, the Syrian refugee crisis and Brexit, Trump’s election is rightly giving European leaders cause for concern. The future is uncertain for NATO, the Iranian nuclear deal and the Paris climate change agreement.

Before EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini convened the Sunday meeting, she said the EU could be a “superpower” as Trump throws out America’s international commitments.

That’s wishful thinking.

“The argument that Europeans finally pull together as a result of the election of Trump could be very wrong, as it may well sharpen their differences and help pull them even further apart,” German Marshall Fund Senior Fellow Hans Kundnani told the New York Times.

The “pulling apart” is already happening.

The Telegraph reported on Sunday that British Prime Minister Theresa May was facing a backlash from within her Conservative Party after Nigel Farage became the first British politician to meet Trump since the election.

As the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Farage pushed for Brexit, which is now widely viewed as having been a harbinger of Trump’s victory.

May told her cabinet members not to talk to Farage. But the ministers are balking. They want to learn more about the incoming U.S. administration. The fissures spell trouble for May as she navigates the tricky Brexit process.

In Bulgaria, newly elected President Rumen Radev is a “political novice” whose campaign rhetoric targeting immigrants and corruption and promising to rebuild the military echoes Trump’s, said Bloomberg.

The big question now is France.

There, the leader of the anti-immigrant National Front, Marine Le Pen, told the BBC that Trump “made possible what had previously been presented as impossible.”

Le Pen has long called on France to look after itself rather than pan-European or global interests. French voters have repeatedly cast their ballots for the National Front as a protest vote against mainstream politicians. But they have always withheld the presidency from the party.

But now, French President François Hollande’s popularity stands at around 4 percent. Sunday marked the first anniversary of the Islamic State’s attacks at the Bataclan music hall, bistros and cafes of the 10th and 11th districts of central Paris and the Stade de France. Hollande’s likely main opponent in the next elections in April, ex-President Nicholas Sarkozy, is no fresh face – and many pundits don’t believe he can win.

Why would anyone be surprised if fed-up French voters felt as if they had nothing to lose and put Le Pen in the Élysée Palace?


From Bulgaria, With Love

Pro-Russia newcomer Rumen Radev won Bulgaria’s presidential election run-off over the weekend, prompting a vow to resign from Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on Sunday.

Radev, a former commander of the air force who was backed by the opposition Socialist Party, soundly defeated the center-right candidate backed by Borisov – winning 58 percent of the vote. Tsetska Tsacheva, the center right candidate, got only 35 percent, according to the BBC.

Borisov’s impending resignation will mean months of uncertainty – likely leading to new elections as soon as March. Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s tilt toward Russia is a blow to the country’s Western European allies and underscores Moscow’s growing influence in southeastern Europe, Reuters said.

While Radev has not advocated abandoning NATO, he has called for an end to EU sanctions on Russia and cautioned against taking a hard line against Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

Second Round

Colombia may forge a peace deal after all.

The government inked a new peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Saturday, the Associated Press reported. The new deal attempts to address concerns that a previous one – which was rejected by voters in a referendum – allowed the rebels to escape punishment for their role in the 50-year civil war that has claimed more than 220,000 lives.

Humberto de La Calle, the chief negotiator for the government, described the revised agreement as “much better” than the previous one. But he did not say whether this one, too, would be subject to a popular referendum, the news agency said.

President Juan Manuel Santos – who has since been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – initially reached a peace deal with FARC on Sept. 26, after more than four years of negotiations. But voters rejected it on Oct. 2 by just 55,000 votes.

Raze and Burn

Iraqi troops recaptured a town near Mosul where Islamic State militants destroyed priceless archeological artifacts in 2014, setting the stage for an eventual assessment of what has been lost and what can be saved.

The recapture of Nimrud – home to ancient Assyrian royal tombs discovered in the 1980s – was the most significant gain in several days for government forces, the New York Times reported. But Iraqi forces have struggled to hold onto other recaptured territory in Mosul proper in the face of suicide bombers and other entrenched resistance, the paper said.

Of perhaps greater concern, the fight for Mosul has already displaced some 50,000 civilians, and human rights organizations say those who have reached refugee camps tell horror stories of being herded from neighborhood to neighborhood by the militants for use as human shields.

Kurdish troops are also destroying Arab homes in areas they have recaptured from the Islamic State, according to Human Rights Watch.


A Surgeon and a Macaque

Like most neurosurgeons, Jocelyne Bloch of the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland usually operates on humans.

But a few months ago, Bloch spent 10 hours operating on a rhesus macaque whose spinal cord had been partially cut – rendering his brain unable to communicate with his two legs.

Bloch and her colleagues were testing whether electrodes attached to the monkey’s brain could circumvent the injured nerves and restore communication with his legs via a wireless transmitter and a leg implant.

A few days after the operation, Bloch and her team turned the device on to pick up electrode signals from the monkey’s brain, run them through a computer and send them to electrodes in his spine.

“In a few seconds you saw the leg moving, and that’s something that would not have happened naturally,” Bloch told NPR. Normally it would have taken months for the leg to move at all, but within a few days, the monkey was on his feet again, she added.

The findings of the study, published in the journal Nature last week, report that the brain and legs could communicate sufficiently for the monkey to walk on a treadmill – although his balance remained shaky.

The results could someday be transferred over to operations on humans, said scientists.

“It seems the principles learned in rats are now translating into primates,” said Jen Collinger, a bioengineer not involved in the study. “And that gives more confidence that it might also translate into humans.”

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