The World Today for November 16, 2016


The Wheel of Fortune

Hundreds of thousands flocked to see Senator Barack Obama when he spoke in Berlin in 2008.

In the twilight of George W. Bush’s administration, the first African-American to receive a major American political party’s endorsement was a breath of fresh air to Europeans. In fact, he was a star.

But when Obama lands in Berlin today, his welcome won’t be quite as euphoric, and his star won’t shine as brightly.

The failure to close Guantánamo Bay, the stepped-up drone wars, the National Security Agency snooping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, the much-maligned Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the so-called pivot to Asia and the absence of strong US leadership in Syria have left Europeans somewhat disillusioned with the outgoing president.

“The man once seen to share European interests is now seen as pursuing purely American interests and values, favoring profit and big corporations over the environment, consumers and workers,” wrote author Madhvi Ramani in an op-ed piece in the New York Times on Tuesday.

Obama likely scheduled his final overseas trip to Greece, Germany, and Peru thinking he’d be running a victory lap after Hillary Clinton’s win. Now he’s seeking to calm nervous world leaders about President-Elect Donald Trump, even as Trump’s rise is just another negative in the US’ deteriorating foreign relationships, the Atlantic noted.

Obama already received a cool reception in Greece.

Protesters clashed with police as he arrived in Athens on Tuesday, Reuters reported. Yelling “We don’t need protectors!” and “Yankees go home!” the demonstrators illustrated how many Greeks, downtrodden after years of economic crisis, are sick and tired of leaders from rich countries offering them prescriptions for their problems.

Ioanna-Maria Gertsou, a 38-year-old child psychologist from Greece, told USA Today that she would stay home rather than attend events surrounding Obama’s visit. “Greece is not going to get out of this crisis whatever he says,” said Gertsou.

Indeed, Bloomberg reported that Trump’s election likely meant that Obama’s influence on Greece’s creditors would not help the country renegotiate its crushing debts.

Lastly, in Peru, a maudlin air might dominate Obama’s meeting with other world leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was the keystone of Obama’s efforts to stitch together a closer economic alliance of Pacific Rim countries. Now, it’s widely accepted as dead on arrival in Congress.

The silver lining in Peru is that Obama could meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to hammer out new steps for Syria, where Washington and Moscow have been cooperating in fits and starts, CBS reported.

It’s a sign of how the geopolitical wheel of fortune turns that Obama is now looking to Putin to bring success home to the American people.


The Trouble with Cronies

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been accused of a lot of things – but never called a crusader for truth and probity in government affairs.

That’s why his ouster of Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev on Tuesday is raising eyebrows.

Ulyukayev is accused of extorting a $2 million bribe from top oil producer Rosneft – the kind of thing that’s believed to be routine in today’s Russia. But the case could expose fault lines in the Russian leader’s inner circle, writes Reuters.

It signals a faceoff between Putin ally Igor Sechin, who heads Rosneft, and rivals attempting to prevent him from acquiring more state assets on the cheap due to low oil prices and Western economic sanctions.

A Russia expert told Reuters that Ulyukayev’s detention must be intended to clear the way for the planned privatization of Rosneft – with a 20 percent stake in the company on the block – while a Kremlin spokesman said the case “does not concern the deal in any way.”

The infighting could hamper Putin’s prospects for the presidential election in 2018, when he’s expected to run for a fourth term.

Conflicts and Complexity

The Houthi rebels agreed to a ceasefire with the Saudi-led coalition they’re fighting against in Yemen, but the government that the rebels aim to replace swiftly rejected the deal – illustrating the complexity of the conflict.

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the ceasefire on Tuesday, ignoring the government’s objections that it had been bypassed, the Guardian reported. That’s because the internationally recognized regime has little choice but to go along with Saudi Arabia.

After traveling to Oman and the United Arab Emirates to try to hammer out a truce between the Saudi-backed government and Iran-backed rebels, Kerry said he presented the Houthis with a document outlining a ceasefire and a peace deal. The rebels agreed to honor the ceasefire if the other side did.

But the response of Yemen’s foreign minister – who said via Twitter he wasn’t “aware of” nor “interested in” Kerry’s announcement — suggests that establishing a national unity government will be difficult indeed.

Memento Morsi

Ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who was convicted of colluding with foreign militants in 2015, will not be executed anytime soon, if at all – but his troubles are far from over.

Egypt’s highest court of appeal overturned death sentences against ousted Morsi and five other Muslim Brotherhood leaders this week, the BBC reported. Meanwhile, the court ruled that the six men must face a retrial in connection with a mass prison break during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak and overturned 21 life sentences for other Brotherhood members.

Morsi could again be sentenced to death at the retrial, according to the New York Times. But even if that happens, the penalty is unlikely to be carried out because of the unrest his execution would likely engender, says H.A. Hellyer, a scholar at the Atlantic Council.

Regardless, Morsi, who was the country’s first democratically elected president and was ousted in 2013 by the military, is serving three lengthy sentences in association with other convictions.


The Simple Life

Would-be colonists can now get a glimpse of life on Mars – or at least what it might look like.

That’s thanks to a new exhibition unveiled by National Geographic at London’s Royal Observatory, Greenwich that displays a mock human home set against the backdrop of a rocky Martian landscape.

The dwelling is more design prototype than functioning model – it lacks the necessary technology needed for survival on the Martian surface. However, its pod design is giving way to some stellar add-ons that its designers say could provide everything a space explorer would ever need on Mars.

“It will make oxygen for people to breathe and it will supply its own water by sucking in the Martian atmosphere, which is about 100 percent humid most nights, and pull out water through a very simple dehumidifier,” science writer and co-designer of the display Stephen Petranek told Reuters. “You’ll have a 3D printer which will make almost everything that you need.”

While lacking essential technology, the display evokes the primal human need for comfort that could make all the difference for the lasting psychological health of a future cosmonaut, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

“They miss the smells of nature, or the smell of food cooking,” said Gloria Leon, a NASA advisor on astronaut selection and psychologist at the University of Minnesota. “On a Mars voyage, Earth will be out of view. It will be the equivalent of twilight, looking out of the porthole.”

Click here to check out the Royal Observatory’s display.

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