The World Today for November 18, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Pins and Needles

President-elect Donald Trump is known for being candid – though some might choose a less flattering synonym.

But in his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader since his election on Thursday, he was also “warm” rather than fiery, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after a 90-minute chat with the controversial US president-elect in New York’s Trump Tower, according to the BBC.

With the makeup of Trump’s cabinet still undecided and leaders and pundits around the world looking for signals of how closely he will stick to his more bellicose campaign promises on trade and foreign relations, it was a reassuring sign that he likely does not plan a radical shakeup across the board.

“We were able to have a very candid talk over a substantial amount of time. We held it in a very warm atmosphere,” Abe said after the meeting. “As the outcome of today’s discussion I am convinced Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have great confidence.”

Although his toughest rhetoric on trade and tariffs was reserved for Beijing, during his campaign Trump had vowed to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP – a 12-nation free trade pact that excludes China and Abe therefore views as strategically vital for Japan, USA Today noted.

Candidate Trump also raised the possibility that Japan and other Asian nations might be allowed or encouraged to develop nuclear weapons and questioned whether Tokyo and other Asian allies were paying enough to foot the bill for US troops stationed in the region.

No details on the future of those off-the-cuff suggestions surfaced from Thursday’s meeting.

It’s virtually certain that Abe made a strong pitch for TPP as aligned with Trump’s avowed goal of curtailing China’s trade dominance. The Japanese prime minister had threatened to pivot to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement in a speech before the Congressional committee on TPP the day before. The key difference between the two deals? RCEP includes China – purportedly Trump’s biggest bogeyman.

But the two leaders may have found more common ground on military matters. Abe has already been moving toward higher defense spending and moving away from the country’s post-World War II commitment to pacifism – pushing through new security laws last year that permit Japan’s troops to participate in overseas combat missions, for instance.

Elsewhere, the 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) will meet US President Barack Obama on Friday in Lima, where the outgoing commander-in-chief is expected to throw more balm on the troubled waters, the Associated Press reported.

They’ll also have a chance to mull over a joint US-China study ordered in 2014 about the feasibility of a vast free trade area including all APEC members – the antithesis of Trump’s promised protectionism.

It remains to be seen how warm that discussion gets.

WANT TO KNOW

Realpolitik

President Barack Obama very openly warned his successor of the dangers of pursuing a cozy relationship with Russia during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin Thursday.

While the president hopes the new president-elect will find common ground with Russia where “our values and interests collide,” he also urged Trump to be “willing to stand up to Russia when they deviate from our values and international norms.”

The president-elect’s policy on Russia has been largely based on building closer ties to President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump considers a higher-caliber leader than Barack Obama.

President Obama, however, has called for a halt to the “realpolitik” with Russia, citing the nation’s election “meddling” veiled as “intelligence-gathering” as evidence of the dangerous game in which President-Elect Trump may soon find himself.

“Do not take for granted our systems of government and our way of life,” said President Obama. “Democracy is hard work.”

No Day in Court

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was once again the target of world leaders’ ire yesterday when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he would consider leaving the “useless” institution.

Duterte’s comments come in response to Western criticisms of the spate of killings that have been unleashed from Duterte’s war on drugs.

They also come only one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin, who Duterte wants as an ally, removed Russia’s signature from the ICC’s founding treaty, wrote Reuters.

“They are useless, those in the (ICC),” said Duterte. “(Russia) withdrew. I might follow. Why? Only the small ones like us are battered.”

If so, the Philippines wouldn’t be the first country to withdraw from the beleaguered tribunal. Three African nations, including continental heavyweight South Africa, have already announced their plans to pull out of the ICC over criticisms that the court unfairly targets African leaders for prosecution.

Money For Nothing

Nine days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned the nation’s highest-value bills from circulation, the government is learning that less money begets more problems, not the other way around.

The outlawed 1000 ($15) and 500 ($7.50) rupee notes comprise some 80 percent of the country’s currency, the New York Times reports. Amid much resistance from his parliament, Prime Minister Modi implemented the ban to weed out so-called black money that weighs down on the economy.

But Indians have become impatient with the plan’s botched enforcement and its consequences on their everyday lives. Retail commerce has stagnated, and farmers with cash-run business aren’t finding buyers anymore.

To alleviate a bit of the strain – and reduce lines at the ATM – the government has increased previously set limits on the amount that certain individuals can withdrawal in one transaction. It being wedding season in India, for example, families are now allowed to have more cash on hand.

Despite the immediate relief, former government officials warned that Indians would have to have a bit of patience for a return to normalcy – the currency switch could take months to complete.

DISCOVERIES

Strange Clouds

It’s happened to the best of us.

You’re walking down the street and all of a sudden a bird flies by drops a stinky gift directly onto your new sneakers.

But what you consider a terrible start to the day may actually be beneficial for the environment, researchers report in the journal Nature Communications.

When migratory sea birds return to the Arctic for the summer, the rocky terrain quickly becomes covered in their guano, or poop.

Bird poop is rich in ammonia, and that ammonia is emitted into the atmosphere once the birds do their business – about 33,000 tons of it.

The ammonia then interacts with sulfuric acid and water, condenses around water particles and creates low-lying, ammonia-laced clouds.

These super charged clouds help to reflect incoming sunlight, ultimately cooling the region and yielding significant ecological effects.

“There is a connection between ecology and climate that certainly surprised me. The environment is very interconnected,” the study’s co-lead author Gregory Wentworth, a Canadian atmospheric scientist, told the Christian Science Monitor.

“How often do you hear about bird droppings being able to affect climate?”

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