The World Today for December 21, 2016


Drip, Drip, Drip

“Berlin Loses Its Innocence” read the headline in the global edition of the German business daily Handelsblatt on Tuesday, a day after a terrorist drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and injuring 50.

Germany had been curiously free of mass terror attacks like those that occurred in France and Belgium in recent years. No more.

The New York Times called the attack a “cruel test,” noting that rightwing xenophobes with an eye toward next year’s elections were already blaming Chancellor Angela Merkel’s controversial acceptance of Syrian and other refugees for the carnage.

Merkel couldn’t ignore their logic. As USA Today noted, it was impossible to ignore the parallels between the Berlin incident and the massacre in Nice, France in July when an Islamic State-inspired French citizen of Tunisian origin mowed down Bastille Day revelers in a truck.

“It would be particularly difficult for all of us to bear if it is confirmed that this deed was carried out by a person who sought protection and asylum in Germany,” she said in a nationally televised address.

Terror in Europe still shocks. Individuals suffer. But the cumulative effects of the attacks are becoming the issue now. Leaders in Berlin and Paris and Brussels have stopped the endless cycle of wars that dominated Europe for centuries. Now, when Europe welcomes diversity, fanatics are killing people in the streets.

Europeans can keep calm and carry on – like Americans who for better or for worse have come to accept mass shootings as the price of the liberty afforded by the Second Amendment – or they can pursue a host of lackluster alternatives.

As the widespread criticism of Merkel’s open door policies suggest, many Europeans aren’t enthusiastic about trying to convince would-be terrorists to assimilate and pursue careers as street sweepers or brain surgeons – even though the continent’s aging population needs people to perform those jobs.

Problem is, the alternative – a crackdown on would-be terrorists – is reactive.

It’s not clear who drove the truck in Berlin. German authorities arrested a Pakistani asylum seeker, then let him go after they found no evidence that he was connected to the vehicle. A manhunt is now on, The Telegraph reported.

Based on the success of manhunts in France and Belgium, there is a good chance police will find the perpetrator. The world will then know whether or not he or she was a refugee or Muslim.

In France and Belgium, the terrorists were often citizens or legal immigrants. Few seem to remember those revelations, however, because the investigations necessarily occur after the fact.

Terror today is designed to sow fear and chaos while undermining confidence in liberal democracy in the long term. While terrorists succeed occasionally in their former goals, they are a long way from achieving their ultimate mission. But many are rightfully starting to see that the drip, drip, drip is taking its toll.



Mexican Disaster

A disaster in Mexico has once again proved that the making of fireworks is a dangerous business in the developing world.

A massive explosion gutted Mexico’s biggest fireworks market, killing at least 29 people and injuring 70 on Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

The entire market of some 300 stands was wiped out, the head of the country’s civil protection service told the agency. Some nearby homes were also destroyed. At least two other similar accidents have occurred in Mexico – where fireworks feature in Independence Day and New Year’s Eve celebrations — over the past decade.

In April this year, a fire killed more than 100 people in southern India after fireworks stored in a Hindu temple in the state of Kerala exploded, while a factory accident in Tamil Nadu in 2012 killed nearly 40 people. Similar accidents have occurred in China and Turkey.

Mexico’s fireworks production is concentrated in small factories and family-owned businesses that have proved difficult to regulate – resulting in many accidents.

Jammeh Drama

Gambia’s president has dashed hopes he might be convinced to step down – setting the stage for a protracted struggle in the courts and on the streets.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said on state television on Tuesday that he would not step down despite the efforts of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS to convince him to honor the results of the country’s Dec. 1 election – in which he lost to opposition candidate Adama Barrow.

“The ECOWAS meeting was a formality. Before they came, they had already said Jammeh must step down. I will not step down,” Reuters quoted Jammeh as saying.

After initially accepting the results of the election, Jammeh said Dec. 9 that he would challenge his defeat in the country’s Supreme Court. However, he has a history of stacking the court in his favor and human rights groups accuse him of the detention, torture and killing of perceived opponents during his 22-year rule.

Europe Unfriends

European officials filed charges against Facebook for allegedly making misleading statements to secure approvals for its $19 billion acquisition of the web-based messaging service WhatsApp in 2014.

Another instance in which European policymakers have taken issue with the massive commercial power of US-based web giants like Facebook and Google, the case could lead to a fine of as much as 1 percent of Facebook’s annual revenue – which translates to around $200 million, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The central question is whether Facebook misled regulators when it claimed that it was unable to reliably match user accounts between Facebook and WhatsApp at the time of the merger – a practice it officially began two years later.

That practice, too, has led to several legal cases against the social media giant, which says it honors European privacy laws. Germany’s privacy watchdog ordered the company to stop collecting data from WhatsApp in September, while regulators in Ireland, the U.K. and France have also been looking into its merging of user data.


Killer Strategy

If you thought sharks were the top predators in the sea, think again.

Whale watchers in California on an observation tour were alerted to a pod of offshore killer whales near their location last Thursday right at the onset of their trip.

At the coordinates, they found a rare, slightly eerie site: A pod of a dozen or so killers feasting on a live shark.

“They kind of take turns,” said Slater Moore, a photographer with the expedition company. “One grabs the shark. The other ones peel off and circle around.”

Offshore killers are the least observed of their species – they prefer deep ocean waters when they hunt. That makes their hunting grounds difficult to reach for scientists who only now are able to confirm the whales’ taste for shark meat.

Using his drone, Moore captured unprecedented footage of the killers’ hunting tactics. The whales flip the shark upside down, triggering a chemical paralysis.

They then engage in what scientists call “prey-sharing,” where members of the pod pass their prey back and forth between members.

“For me, killer whales are so interesting because they’re very socially bonded,” Deborah Giles, a research director for the Washington state-based Center for Whale Research, told the Washington Post.

“It’s one of the most beautiful things about the drone footage…as different technologies come out, we’ll learn more about offshores.”

Check out footage of the whales’ killer strategy here.

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