The World Today for April 25, 2017


A Looming Flashpoint

Events in France, Germany and the United Kingdom have overshadowed those in Spain this year due to national elections and referendums that threaten to change the trajectory of the European Union.

But as the UK grapples with Brexit and Germany and France attempt to restrain the rise of right-wing populism, Spain is dealing with its own particular brand of woes.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been called to testify in front of Spain’s National Court in a major graft trial involving former members of his Popular Party.

While Rajoy himself isn’t accused of anything, 37 defendants from the Popular Party, including two former treasurers, are believed to have accepted kickbacks in exchange for government contracts that fueled Spain’s economic boom in the late 1990’s, Politico EU reported.

With his party mired in controversy, Rajoy desperately needs to scrape together support in order to salvage what little control he still has over the government, Bloomberg reported.

“The chain of corruption cases, which could probably keep making news, is reducing the room of maneuver for Rajoy to move his political agenda ahead in parliament,” said Pablo Simon, a political science professor at Carlos III University in Madrid. “The freeze-up in parliament means the chances of new elections as soon as 2018 are increasing.”

But that move may actually serve to destabilize Rajoy’s already rocky situation. He was only narrowly reelected last year after 10 months of political stalemate following two consecutive, inconclusive elections.

The allegations have undermined Rajoy’s already unpopular minority government: 45 percent of Spaniards describe corruption as one of the country’s top three problems, the Financial Times reported.

Even though Spain’s economy has made a nominal economic recovery since a crippling recession that required a bank bailout in 2012, its unemployment rate is still one of the worst in the EU.

Almost 20 percent of the population is out of work. Among 15- to 24-year-olds, that figure increases more than twofold.

The poor economy is one reason why Spain’s population is on the downswing, setting the stage for more problems as the young struggle to care for older generations, the New York Times reported.

To add insult to injury, Spain’s most powerful economic region, Catalonia, now governed by secessionists, has said it will hold an independence referendum by October of this year. If Catalonia detaches itself from Spain, the nation would lose almost one-fifth of its gross domestic product.

On a continent shaken by terror and political uncertainty, it may now be Spain’s turn to reach its flashpoint.

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Fire Drill

North Korea once again opted against a sixth nuclear test for the celebration of the founding of its military on Tuesday, instead conducting a massive live-fire drill with long-range artillery units on its eastern coast.

The demonstration came as the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered guided missile submarine, docked in South Korea as a show of America’s force in the region, Reuters reported.

The agency also quoted South Korea’s Navy as saying it would conduct its own live-fire exercise with US Navy destroyers on Tuesday in waters west of the Korean peninsula. Afterward, it will rendezvous with the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group approaching the region.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump called for tougher sanctions on Pyongyang by the United Nations in the wake of a series of missile tests and dictator Kim Jong-un’s refusal to abandon the country’s nuclear weapons program. Trump has also sought to use America’s economic relationship with China to pressure Beijing to do more to rein in Kim.

Concrete Measures

The chief executive of French cement giant Lafarge is resigning, following an internal investigation that revealed that its Syrian plant managers paid off armed groups to keep the factory running as the country descended into violence.

The company said chief executive Eric Olsen was not responsible for or aware of the activity, the New York Times reported. He will oversee remedial measures and efforts to ensure against similar “misconduct” in the future before he steps down in July.

Opened in 2010, Lafarge’s facility in Jalabiyeh, a town near the Turkish border, continued to produce cement even as other foreign companies fled the country until the Islamic State seized it in September 2014.

Dubbed “the Lafarge scandal” by the French media, the case has also resulted in the French economic ministry suing the company for possible violations of international sanctions after an NGO accused the company of doing business with the Islamic State in November.

Lafarge has refused to name the local armed groups it paid off, but admitted that they included “sanctioned parties.”

Still Simmering

Hundreds of Maoist rebels killed at least 25 police officers and injured six others in an ambush on a convoy in central India.

CNN quoted police superintendent Jitendra Shukla as saying that around 70 members of India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were patrolling a road construction project in the state of Chhattisgarh when they were ambushed. It was the second such attack in two months.

Road-building, which facilitates the movement of security forces and promises to bring development to neglected tribal peoples, is among the government’s chief weapons against the long-simmering insurgency, which started in the 1960s but made a resurgence in the early 2000s. Since 2010, Maoist rebels have killed about 2,100 civilians and 800 security force personnel.

Fighting for a communist revolution like the one initiated in China by Mao Zedong, India’s various Maoist groups receive less media attention but kill far more people than Islamist terrorists or separatist militants in Kashmir, according to data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal.


Can We Be Friends?

No matter how mad we get at our dogs, it’s impossible to stay angry when confronted with their bowed, guilt-ridden stare – it’s a go-to for any pooch that finds itself in the doghouse with its owner.

But that sad, obsequious look isn’t one exclusively reserved for humans. It’s actually a survival technique passed on to dogs from their wolf ancestors, writes Nathan H. Lents, a molecular biologist with the City University of New York, in Psychology Today.

According to Lents, young wolves use what he calls “apology bows” as a form of social integration.

Like any canine, young wolves engage in horseplay that can get a bit violent. If a wolf gets carried away and bites too hard, however, the pack will reject the overzealous pup until he atones for the mistake with an apology bow.

“Dogs have inherited this behavior and they will use it after any kind of infraction that results in being punished,” writes Lents. “As social animals, they crave harmonious integration in the group and neglect or isolation is painful for them.”

Puppy dog eyes have taken on a whole new meaning, and as USA Today wrote, sometimes it means, ‘Can we be friends again?’

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