December 07, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Dangerous Spin

It took a couple days for China’s propaganda machine to respond to President-elect Donald Trump’s supposed slights.

The Hill on Tuesday cited a sharp-elbowed opinion piece slamming Trump in the People’s Daily: “Provoking friction and messing up China-US relations won’t help ‘make America great again,’” said a front-page article in the Communist Party’s mouthpiece publication.

The state-owned China Daily was more measured.

“To stop acting like the diplomatic rookie he is, the next US president needs help in adapting to his forthcoming role change,” wrote the newspaper, as reported by Time. “Otherwise, he will make costly troubles for his country, and find himself trying to bluster his way through constant diplomatic conflagrations.”

Their bluster stemmed from Trump daring to break diplomatic protocols and speak to the president of Taiwan last week.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province. The US technically respects that status. But nobody believes the United States is not Taiwan’s ally. Last year, for example, the US sold weapons to the island over Beijing’s objections. “The United States and Taiwan enjoy a robust unofficial relationship,” reads a US State Department fact sheet.

Trump might have scored points among many for pursuing a more transparent foreign policy if he had not let fly with an antagonistic tweet storm against the government of the world’s most populous country on the day after the call.

Maxing out his 140-character limits, Trump rhetorically asked if China could devalue its currency (and therefore make its cheap products cheaper, further undercutting American workers who voted for Trump) and build military installations in the South China Sea.

“I don’t think so!” the president-elect wrote in response to his own question, the BBC reported.

The Guardian waived off the seriousness of the episode, noting in a column that after the usual initial sky-is-falling response to Trump talk, many realized that “a recalibration of the US-Taiwan relationship, and as a consequence the US-China relationship, is overdue.”

Taiwan emphatically said the call didn’t represent a policy shift, too.

The episode probably won’t mean much in a week. But it contains an important lesson.

Trump defenders and critics have argued that too many people take Trump literally while too few people take him seriously.

China appears to have done both.

But Beijing is not a democracy whose people are empowered to demand a military response to Trump’s call. Instead, the commissars answered irresponsible rhetoric with empty words.

The world might not be so lucky next time, especially if foreign leaders don’t understand the weird nature of political spin that’s likely to become even more commonplace over the next four years.

Holiday Promo

WANT TO KNOW

Saving Face

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for banning the full-face burqa “wherever it is legally possible” in Germany in a move likely intended to shore up waning support from her center-right constituency due to her refugee policies.

At a meeting of her Christian Democratic Union party, Merkel said the burqa should be prohibited in schools, courts and other state buildings, even though a total ban would violate Germany’s constitution, the BBC reported.

Though Merkel still enjoys widespread support and was re-elected chief of the CDU on Tuesday with a whopping 89.5 percent of the party delegates, her popularity has waned due to her decision to allow more than a million asylum seekers into Germany during last year’s Europe-wide migrant crisis.

Meanwhile, she faces a strong challenge from the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, which has pivoted from a Eurosceptic party led by bland economists to a more vociferous, anti-immigration message. She’s still seen as the last line of defense against far-right populism in Europe – but it looks like that line in the sand may need to be redrawn.

Top Cop

The man charged with implementing a state of emergency in France following the 2015 Paris attacks will become the country’s new prime minister after Manuel Valls stepped down to make a run at the presidency.

Socialist President Francois Hollande named Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve as Valls’ replacement Tuesday, the New York Times reported.

The 53-year-old leader said as prime minister he will endeavor “to protect, progress, prepare the future” in the lead-up to presidential elections early next year.

Valls, who faces several other candidates in an open primary next month to choose who will represent the left, aims to unite the Socialist party to hold onto power in the two-round election this spring. But at present the unpopularity of Hollande suggests it will likely be a two-horse race between Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front and Francois Fillon of the conservative Republicains.

Under Siege

Syrian government troops have captured three-quarters of the besieged city of Aleppo, putting dictator Bashar al-Assad the closest he has been to an absolute victory since 2012.

Syrian troops and their allies captured Aleppo’s al-Shaar neighborhood from rebels Tuesday, giving Assad control over 75 percent of the city, even as the Syrian government and Russia rejected calls for a ceasefire, the Associated Press reported.

The rebels, who controlled large parts of eastern Aleppo for nearly five years, have lost around two thirds of their territory in the city over the past two weeks, Reuters said.

That makes any future ceasefire unlikely, as Syria and Russia now aim to push on to a military victory and claim that the rebels use such truces to regroup for new fighting. The Syrian Foreign Ministry said it won’t now accept a truce in Aleppo, while Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution Monday calling for a week-long ceasefire.

The siege has created a humanitarian crisis, and many fear the recapture of Aleppo will not end the conflict, because millions of Syrians still see Assad’s government as a brutal enemy.

DISCOVERIES

Heavy Metal

High school chemistry class just got a little bit harder.

That’s because the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) approved the addition of four new heavy metals to the periodic table of elements.

Nihonium (Nh), mosovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts) and oganesson (Og) are the newest manmade elements to grace the table’s lineup since 2011.

They were discovered almost a year ago, but scientists only recently landed on their names. It was a process not taken lightly by scientists – or the public.

“Overall, it was a real pleasure to realize that so many people are interested in the naming of the new elements, including high-school students,” said Jan Reedijk, president of the Inorganic Chemistry Division at IUPAC in a press release.

The IUPAC adhered to strict guidelines in naming the newest elements: The Union dictates that all elements must be named after a place, scientist, property, mineral or mythological concept.

Organesson is named after the “grandfather of superheavy elements,” while the other three are named after the locations where the elements were discovered: Japan, Moscow and Tennessee.

“Biologists get to do… more whimsical namings, because they have so much more to work with,” Janan Hayes, a professor emeritus at Merced College in California told the Christian Science Monitor. “In chemistry, we have so little that we really need to put deeper thought into it every time.”