The World Today for January 26, 2017


What’s Normal?

Russia wants to normalize relations with the United States and Europe.

But what’s normal?

“We need to work in a businesslike way,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his country’s lawmakers on Wednesday.

Among other issues, Lavrov’s proposed normalization referred to the US and European Union ending sanctions imposed on Russia after the seizure and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its continuing support of separatists who have established breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine, CNN reported.

US President Donald Trump has signaled that he might be open to lifting those sanctions.

Europe, however, must lose its “Russophobia,” said Lavrov.

Poland, Estonia and other East European countries that were in thrall to Moscow for decades are understandably nervous about President Vladimir Putin’s meddling in Ukraine, Russian military moves in the Baltics and Arctic and other provocations.

In response, the US has deployed more troops to Europe than ever since the end of the Cold War.

Lavrov on Wednesday said that Russia would have to respond. “Russia is a peaceful country but we have to be ready and prepared to provide the security and safety of our citizens,” he said.

That tit for tat is the normal state of relations between Russia and the West, a cynic might argue.

But other differences between the West and Europe – excluding the thorny question of whether Russia interfered in the American presidential election – illustrate the real reason why many Americans and Europeans simply don’t trust Moscow.

On the same day Lavrov spoke, Russian lawmakers softened the country’s domestic violence laws, for instance.

Currently, domestic abusers face battery charges that could land them in prison for two years, Agence France-Presse reported.

If Putin signs the new bill into law – he’s been pushing a “traditional family values” agenda supported by the Russian Orthodox Church – abusers would only face criminal charges if their victims suffered concussions or broken bones, the New York Times wrote.

First offenses would be considered administrative offenses that incur fines of $500 or 15 days in jail.

Proponents of the measure said it would allow families to discipline their children, a veiled pushback against bankrupt modern (read: America and European) values.

But a Russian gender studies expert who spoke to the Times said the proposed law illustrated how Russian lawmakers weren’t conservative or traditional, but “archaic.”

Domestic abuse is rampant in Russia, the expert said, claiming that more than a quarter of the murders committed in Russia in 2014 occurred within families. Forty percent of violent crime in Russia occurs in family environments, the Sydney Morning Herald noted.

Has the time for a more business-like relationship with Russia come? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, the need for the phobia hasn’t ended.


Fences and Neighbors

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said Wednesday night that he “regrets and disapproves” of US President Donald Trump’s push to build a wall along the border of the two countries, but he didn’t say whether he’d cancel his planned summit with Trump in Washington next week.

Buzzfeed catalogued a series of tweets from Mexicans “begging” their president to cancel the trip, while Pena Nieto repeated in an address to the nation that Mexico will not be paying for the infamous “impassable physical barrier,” the BBC reported.

Trump signed an executive order for construction to begin on the 2,000 mile long wall on Tuesday, a move that bypasses the legislature. Meanwhile, a leading contender to replace Pena Nieto as Mexico’s president called for the country to bring a lawsuit before the United Nations charging the US government with the violation of human rights and racial discrimination, Reuters reported.

Who said good fences make good neighbors?

Wrong Foot

Haiti’s president-elect is not off to a great start.

President-elect Jovenel Moise, who is due to be sworn into office next month, spent four hours answering questions from a judge investigating accusations that Moise engaged in money laundering and received favorable loans before he entered politics, the BBC reported.

Moise, a former banana exporter, said his political opponents cooked up the charges and he went to the court voluntarily without a lawyer.

Though the probe was launched in 2013 in connection with routine bank regulations, the investigating judge took no action until four opposition senators demanded information about the findings. It’s not clear whether he’ll find that there’s enough to warrant a case against Moise before he takes office on February 7.

Moise was elected in November, but his three main rivals contested the results in court and have refused to concede. Moise was also elected a year earlier, in October 2015, but that vote was annulled due to allegations of widespread fraud that resulted in popular unrest.

Isn’t That Special

British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to reaffirm the “special relationship” between Britain and the US in a planned meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington on Friday.

The New York Times quoted May’s office as saying she will link the Brexit vote with Trump’s election victory.

“As you renew your nation just as we renew ours” there’s an opportunity “to renew the special relationship for this new age,” May is slated to say in a speech to the Republicans’ annual Congressional retreat in Philadelphia on Thursday.

She won’t be able to make Brexit happen by executive order, however.

On Tuesday, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that May must get parliamentary approval before pulling the UK out of the European Union, Bloomberg reported. The court eschewed high-flown rhetoric, relying on a straightforward interpretation of a 1972 law that the court judged makes EU law equivalent to domestic law. As a consequence, the decision to leave the EU would alter the existing legal rights of British subjects, and thus should require an act of parliament.


Ancient Preferences

DNA analysis can map out one’s genome and better prepare people for pesky genetic problems that might show up later in their lives.

But a new study in the Journal of Archaeological Science found a more anthropological use for DNA: mapping ancient trade routes.

Until recently, archeologists’ only insights into the lives of Ghana’s ancient Koma Land culture were from the ritualistic clay figurines they left behind.

Many of the figurines have human characteristics, which had scientists wondering if they’d been used in rituals to serve up liquid offerings.

Using sterile swabs, they probed into the tiniest cavities of the figurines and conducted a thorough DNA analysis.

Surprisingly, they found the residue of plantains and bananas, both of which aren’t native to Ghana and couldn’t have been cultivated by the Koma Land people, who occupied the region between 600 and 1300 C.E.

They also found pine needle residue in the clay sculptures. Koma Land residents boiled such needles into valuable medical salves, even though the closest pine trees would have been found on the other side of the Sahara.

While the intricacies of Koma Land life remain largely a mystery, we now have an inkling of the lengths they could go to practice their traditions.

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