The World Today for January 02, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Excelsior

The New Year’s Day attack in Istanbul occurred at the end of a bloody year in Turkey.

The Associated Press on Sunday provided a long list of bombings, shootings and other attacks that occurred in the past year there – a tragic but important dose of realism at the start of 2017.

Battles in Congress over Obamacare, immigration and other conservative causes are likely to dominate Washington during President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, Roll Call predicted.

But the Istanbul attack was a reminder that terrorism – or the global instability resulting from terror – was among the top challenges facing world leaders in 2017.

A US ally, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has leaned toward authoritarianism as he’s solidified his grasp on power. Meanwhile, Turkey has been a key player in the Syrian Civil War and other international crises. Terror attacks have thrown wild cards into the country’s politics.

A tenuous truce holds in Syria, a potentially major headache off the table for Trump. But terror incidents like those in Turkey and Europe, Iraq’s slow progress against the Islamic State, Israeli-Palestine tensions and other hotspots – think Orlando, Florida – ensure that 2017 will include surprises of all kinds.

In that climate, the goal is to prevent small conflicts from ballooning, warned The National Interest.

The right-leaning magazine provided a list of nightmare scenarios. They ranged from Russian aggression in the Baltic Sea to an India-Pakistan conflict drawing in China and the US. “The Trump administration enters office in an unsettled time,” the magazine wrote. “The great powers face more uncertainty than at any time in recent memory.”

The backdrop to the fight against terror and violence, meanwhile, is halting the march of technological progress and warts-and-all democracy in much of the rest of the world.

CBS made a convincing out-of-left-field prediction that automation would be among the earth-shaking innovations that would be forcing people to think in whole new ways – a kind of meteor change from nowhere that would upend concepts of labor and time. The story included a video of a robotic pizza restaurant in California.

Al Jazeera’s Europe correspondent noted that France and Germany faced epic battles in 2017 between mainstream politicians and far-right leaders who promote xenophobic policies that would be sure to stoke the culture wars between West and East.

Austrian voters last year bucked the trend and elected a former Green Party leader and economist as their president. But Brexit and other votes in 2016 demonstrated that many Europeans are as fed up with the status quo as the Americans who voted for Trump.

The ride is not over this year, in other words. Anything can happen.

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WANT TO KNOW

Missile Resolution

For his New Year’s resolution, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un isn’t planning to shed a few pounds or give up smoking. He has his sights set on his first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Kim said in a speech Sunday that the Hermit Kingdom had reached “the final stages” of preparations to test launch an ICBM, the New York Times reported.

In the face of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation, he said North Korea would continue to develop such weapons as long as the United States remained hostile and continued its joint military exercises with South Korea, the paper added.

Kim’s speech indicated that North Korea might conduct several long-range missile tests this year. But the first one is likely to occur during the early days of the Trump administration or even before his inauguration on January 20 – taking advantage of leadership changes in the US and South Korea, where President Park Geun-hye faces impeachment proceedings.

Storming the Wall

Fences and walls have their limits.

More than 50 Moroccan and Spanish border guards were injured when around 1,100 African migrants tried to storm a border fence and enter Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta, the Associated Press reported.

The group tried “to force open some of the doors in the external fence, using iron bars, wire cutters and large stones with which they assaulted Moroccan forces and (Spanish) Guardia Civil (police) agents,” the Guardian cited a statement by the Spanish authorities as saying. Five Spanish policemen and 50 members of the Moroccan forces were injured during the incident, the paper said.

Last month, around 400 such migrants succeeded in breaching the fence, in what has become almost a monthly routine for Ceuta. This time, about 100 African migrants made it across. However, all but two who sustained injuries that required hospitalization were immediately sent back to Morocco.

Exit Strategy

Amid unrest over a delay in holding presidential elections, opposition leaders in Congo inked a deal with the party of President Joseph Kabila paving the way for him to step down.

With the mediation of the Catholic Church, Kabila’s party and opposition leaders signed an agreement under which Kabila will step down following elections, which would mark the first peaceful succession of leadership in Congo’s turbulent history, Reuters reported.

However, it’s likely that the elections in question won’t happen until 2018 – more than a year after they were originally scheduled – and many still think Kabila may back out of the agreement rather than step down. Several of his supporters have suggested amending the constitution to allow him to run for another term.

If that happens, or if Kabila finds another way to justify remaining in office, it’s likely to engender more violence of the type that has resulted in scores of deaths over the past four months, the agency said.

DISCOVERIES

Magic Number

Drinking and voting ages vary from country to country because people remain unsure about when childhood ends and adulthood begins.

Recent brain mapping research has made big advances but researchers still haven’t pinpointed the magic age when the brain fully develops.

Brain development is complex and can continue well past age 18. According to a commentary recently published in the journal Neuron, the brain reaches its full size as early as age 10 but continues to forge new neurological connections past age 20.

“It challenges the notion of what ‘done’ really means,” article author Leah Somerville told the New York Times.

Teenagers possess the mental faculties to reason like adults, but their immature emotional centers can impair their decision making into the 20s.

“Most crime situations that young people are involved in are emotionally arousing situations – they’re scared, or they’re angry,” said Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University psychologist who conducts similar research but wasn’t involved in the Neuron study.

We might want to reconsider traditional categorizations of minors becoming adults at 18.

“Nothing magical occurs at that age,” Somerville said.

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