The World Today for April 13, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Wanted: A Compelling Alternative

South African President Jacob Zuma has been called the Teflon Don thanks to his unflappable ability to bounce back from scandal after scandal.

The 74-year-old leader of the African National Congress, or ANC, has survived attempted ousters and a court ruling holding him guilty of violating the constitution last year.

But it remains to be seen how – and if – Zuma will rebound from what some say is the gravest threat yet to his eight-year-old presidency.

On Wednesday in the capital of Pretoria, more than 30,000 demonstrators called on Zuma to resign in what Al Jazeera called an unprecedented show of unity among opposition groups.

Zuma’s latest crisis is largely of his own making, too.

In a dramatic midnight cabinet reshuffle last month, Zuma purged his government of ten ministers – including South Africa’s internationally esteemed finance minister Pravin Gordhan – to replace critics calling for his resignation with more reliable allies.

And by not consulting leading members of the ANC beforehand, Zuma plunged the party into its worst crisis of the post-apartheid era, wrote the Independent.

Zuma’s surprise move also sent South Africa’s currency, the rand, and banking stocks tumbling, they added. Investors became spooked over Zuma’s ability to manage the country’s economy.

Last week, Fitch Ratings became the second agency to downgrade South Africa’s credit status to “junk” within a week, reported Bloomberg.

Concerns were also raised about Gordhan’s replacement, Malusi Gigaba.

As a Zuma loyalist with little real-world experience in economics, many wonder whether Gigaba will take the same hardline as his predecessor against Zuma’s rising corruption and spendthrift ways, wrote the Financial Times.

These crises culminated in protests across the country Friday that saw tens of thousands of South Africans take to the streets to call for Zuma to step down – sometimes clashing with police.

The ANC is standing by Zuma and said its members in the South African parliament will reject against an upcoming vote of no confidence on Zuma later this month, reported Reuters.

Those supporters also say they embrace the president’s program of “radical socio-economic change,” wrote the BBC.

That includes moving forward with controversial plans to redistribute land held by white farmers among the country’s still largely impoverished black majority.

Similar policies were catastrophic in neighboring Zimbabwe.

But even if those reforms – or the protests – lead to Zuma’s downfall, it still won’t cure South Africa’s ills, wrote the Guardian.

That’s because the opposition still lacks a critical ingredient for a fresh start: a compelling alternative to Zuma’s rule.

WANT TO KNOW

Strategic Doctrine of the Unexpected

The atmosphere on the Korean peninsula is as fraught as anytime in recent memory as North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un prepares to celebrate a “big and important event” that some fear might feature a fresh nuclear test or even a pre-emptive strike on the Hermit Kingdom by US forces.

In an effort to calm its worried citizens, South Korea said on Thursday it believed Washington would consult leaders in Seoul before any such strike, Reuters reported. But US President Donald Trump’s strategic doctrine of the unexpected – illustrated by the airstrikes on the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – has eliminated 100 percent certainty.

The agency cited Washington-based think tank 38 North as saying that satellite images taken on Wednesday showed continued activity around the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site on the east coast – indicating it was ready for a new test.

Saturday will be the big day, when North Korea celebrates the 105th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-sung – the so-called “Day of the Sun.” Some 200 foreign journalists have been invited to cover the event but in past years, similar braggadocio has culminated in little more than by the numbers dances and parades.

Will He, Won’t He?

Two-time former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday submitted his name for registration as a candidate for the May 19 presidential election, abandoning an earlier pledge not to run again.

In September, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei advised Ahmadinejad not to return to politics “both for his own and the country’s good,” the Tehran Times noted. But Ahmadinejad has made clear that was advice, not a ban.

Previously, cleric Ebrahim Raisi was seen as the main challenger to incumbent President Hassan Rouhani – a moderate reformer who has sought better relations with the West. But some experts believe Ahmadinejad poses a more serious threat to Rouhani.

The 2005-2013 “Ahmadinejad era” featured “bad governance, suspected financial irregularities, heavy market intervention, and data rigging,” the newspaper said. Also during that time, Iran’s foreign relations reached a low point.

It remains possible that the 12-member Guardian Council – which screens candidates based on their political and Islamic qualifications – will bar him from running.

Egged Before Easter

Protesters pelted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with rocks and eggs at a government rally marking an important battle in the country’s war for independence from Spain in the early 19th century.

Several people were reportedly arrested after the Tuesday rally in relation to the incident, which was broadcast on state television, UPI reported.

The same day, anti-government protests spread to poor areas across the country, resulting in at least two deaths, said Reuters, adding that the TV footage of the assault on Maduro had galvanized the protesters.

Tapping into anger over disastrous economic policies that have resulted in widespread shortages of food and medicine, protests have raged more or less nonstop since Maduro allies on the country’s Supreme Court moved to co-opt the powers of the legislature late last month – even though it immediately revoked the most controversial part of that decision.

Meanwhile, the opposition plans more rallies Thursday in Venezuela’s more than 300 municipalities and the “mother of all marches” on April 19.

DISCOVERIES

Masters of Improv

Octopi, squid and other cephalopods are extremely intelligent.

They have unsurpassed dexterity and problem-solving skills, are clever hunters and can even communicate with one another by changing their colors and other aspects of their outward appearance.

Now researchers claim that intelligence has everything to do with genetic improv.

Cephalopods can rapidly edit the genetic messages that govern the construction of their nervous systems, according to a study published recently in the scientific journal Cell.

DNA is a blueprint for life that’s realized by a molecule called RNA. RNA snaps amino acids into chains of proteins according to the instructions imprinted in DNA.

But after the RNA copies that blueprint, it can alter the end product of DNA in a process called RNA editing.

The effects of RNA editing are pretty inconsequential in most mammals, which mostly live life according to the rules of their DNA.

But for octopi and other cephalopods, RNA editing directly affects the nervous system, allowing them to rapidly adapt to extreme changes in their environment – and likely contributing to their heightened intelligence.

While the process ultimately slows down the evolutionary process, it makes for some pretty clever creatures.

Click here to take a look for yourself.

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