February 28, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Waiting for Godot

As the Geneva Conference for Human Rights and Dignity kicked off last week, many hoped the meeting would put an end to the bloody civil war in Syria that has killed 500,000 and displaced almost 12 million people over the last six years.

That is not likely to happen.

Instead, violence back in Syria has been threatening to derail the talks or, even worse, render them irrelevant.

On Monday, the representatives of the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime asked Moscow to intercede to keep the talks from falling apart, reported Al Jazeera.

That’s an interesting twist: Russian bombers, remember, dealt the rebels a crippling blow by helping Assad take their stronghold of Aleppo recently.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State and other jihadists are not part of the Geneva talks even though they are a major force in the fight. Controlling massive swaths of territory, they might suffer defeat in one region but win battles and expand in others.

Free Syrian Army fighters heavily backed by Turkish troops retook last week the Islamic State stronghold of al-Bab, some 20 miles from the Turkish border.

But moderate rebels largely backed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey recently lost control of the strategic outpost of Idlib in the country’s northwest to al-Qaeda-linked groups, the Washington Post reported.

The opposition’s back is against the wall. Fighting Assad and the terrorists, it’s not clear how long the rebels can sustain themselves or prove their value to the US and other backers.

“This might be the end of the opposition as understood by the opposition’s backers abroad,” said Aron Lund, a fellow with the Century Foundation. “They won’t have any reason to support it.”

As a result, the millions of refugees who fled Syria at the outset of war are digging in for the long haul.

Despite international pressure to return home, many of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees currently living in neighboring Lebanon have begun creating infrastructure in camps once thought temporary, the New York Times reported.

“Syria is finished,” said Khaled Khodor, 23, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. “We need a miracle. We need to make Syria vanish, and then make a new Syria.”

WANT TO KNOW

The Customer’s Always Right

China raised the specter of a boycott following a decision by South Korea’s Lotte Group that will make it easier for the country to deploy a US missile defense system.

After Lotte’s board approved a land swap with the government on Monday that will help with the deployment of the so-called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system – which is designed to protect against the threat of missiles from North Korea – China’s state-run Global Times said people should boycott South Korean music and films, as well as cars and cell phones, Reuters reported.

“Chinese consumers can absolutely say no to this kind of company and their goods based on considerations of ‘national security’,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a similar comment late Monday.

China is the top importer of South Korean goods, accounting for a quarter of its overseas shipments.

The ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said via its WeChat account that cutting diplomatic ties should also be considered, the agency reported.

A Kidnapping, A Death

German and Philippine authorities confirmed the veracity of a video depicting the beheading of a German man by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines.

Posted on the internet on Monday, the video shows the killing of 70-year-old Jurgen Kantner after a deadline to pay his ransom passed, CNN reported. Kantner had been held by the Islamist militants for three months, and was previously abducted by Somali pirates in 2008.

Philippine Secretary Jesus Dureza said his country had done everything possible to secure Kantner’s release.

“Up to the last moment, many sectors, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, exhausted all efforts to save his life. We all tried our best. But to no avail,” CNN quoted him as saying in a text message to the news channel.

The Philippines has been fighting the fragmented militant group – which demands an independent Islamic state on the southern island of Mindanao – since the early 1990s.

Deal or Delay

The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union – aka Brexit – should be delayed if negotiators can’t work out a trade deal by the end of the two-year negotiation process, British business leaders said.

That’s looking quite far down the road, but it confirms that invoking Article 50 to trigger Brexit proceedings, as Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to do by the end of March, will not end the seemingly endless discussion of the issue. Earlier, former Prime Minister Sir John Major warned that the chances of no agreement being reached within the time limit were “very high.”

The British Chambers of Commerce, which opposed Brexit to begin with, also wants businesses to continue to be allowed to recruit skilled and low-skilled EU workers after the UK leaves, the BBC reported. But that’s likely to be rough going, considering that May has declared that Brexit must mean controls on the number of people who come to Britain from Europe.

“Business communities across the UK want practical considerations, not ideology or politics, at the heart of the government’s approach to Brexit negotiations,” the news channel quoted chamber head Adam Marshall as saying.

DISCOVERIES

Shiny, Bald Heads

Forget about hair plugs or comb-overs. Tsuruta City in northern Japan has a better remedy for those shiny pates: the Bald Men’s Club.

Founded in 1989, the club encourages people to “view baldness in a positive manner” and “brighten the world” with their shiny, bald heads, wrote Reuters.

More than 30 of the club’s members recently convened in a hot spring facility in Tsuruta City for an annual tournament. Members competed in a unique version of tug-of-war, sticking suction cups attached to a rope to their heads and attempting to pull the cup off their opponent’s head.

Some say the club helped them overcome insecurities.

“I feel proud. Or maybe I should say, I feel good about being a bald man,” one first-time participant told Reuters. “And that is thanks to this bald men’s club.”

But Teijiro Sugo, the club’s chairman, has even bigger aspirations for the group.

“I want all the bald men all over the world to gather here so we can organize a bald men’s Olympic tournament,” said Sugo.

Check out a video of the games they currently play here.