The World Today for May 15, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

The Iron Mainstream

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position as the most powerful leader in Europe appears secure after her party won local elections in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday, unseating their Social Democrat rivals.

The defeat humiliated Social Democratic leader Martin Schulz, who has been trying to capitalize on the unpopularity of Merkel’s open door policy towards the more than 1 million Syrian and other refugees who have flooded into the country since 2015, reported Bloomberg.

Schulz had predicted that a Social Democratic victory in his home state would ensure his success in federal polls in September. The party has run the state – German’s most populous – almost uninterrupted since 1966.

“This was a whopping defeat,” said Schulz, a former European Parliament president. “It’s a tough day for the SPD and also tough for me personally.”

The election was the third regional ballot that Schulz’s party lost this year.

“Almost everybody in Europe expects that Merkel will stay in power,” said political consultant Famke Krumbmueller.

Quartz recently called Germany the “indispensable nation” because Merkel has stood up for values under threat since last year when British voters opted to leave the European Union and Americans voted in favor of President Donald Trump’s nationalist, protectionist agenda.

Merkel supports free trade and the EU. She has warned British Prime Minister Theresa May that their Brexit negotiations won’t be easy. And she has pushed back on Trump’s demands that Germany hike military spending.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s victory earlier this month over the pro-Brexit, Trump-like Marine Le Pen provided Merkel with a likely ally in the coming years, too. Populist losses in Austria and the Netherlands this year also lent momentum to the forces that Merkel represents, CNN said.

Ironically, Merkel won by criticizing the Social Democrats handling of the mass sexual assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve in January 2016 – allegedly the perpetrators were mostly migrants – as well as local authorities failing to detain a Tunisian who drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin last year, killing 12.

But she also blasted the state government’s handling of infrastructure projects and other bread-and-butter issues where her position is solid, the Associated Press wrote.

The German unemployment rate is 4.1 percent, the New York Times reported. Last week, the country posted record exports and tax revenues are expected to shatter forecasts within the next few years.

Smart people can disagree on Merkel’s politics. But her bona fides as an effective campaigner and competent manager are beyond reproach. Populists beware.

WANT TO KNOW

Increased Urgency

South Korea’s newly elected president got his first missile test from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un over the weekend.

The North said Monday that the new ballistic missile it tested a day earlier is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, increasing the urgency of new South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s avowed plans to de-escalate tensions across the region, the New York Times reported.

North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sunday believed to have a longer range than any it has tested so far. The test prompted angry comments from Moon, as well as US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

At least one expert estimated the missile would have a range of 2,800 miles, making it possible for it to strike US military bases in the Pacific. However, Reuters quoted South Korean military sources as saying more analysis would be required to verify the North’s claims about the missile’s capabilities.

The launch comes as Moon is seeking ways to soothe Chinese concerns over the deployment of a US-built missile shield in South Korea that he opposed before his election. The United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the incident.

Error Message

The cyber pandemic caused by the WannaCry “ransomware” virus hit some 200,000 victims across 150 countries, but it caused more damage on Monday as workers booted up their machines.

“At the moment, we are in the face of an escalating threat,” Reuters quoted the head of the European Union’s police agency as saying in a TV interview on Sunday. “I am worried about how the numbers will continue to grow when people go to work and turn (on) their machines on Monday morning.”

Europol Director Rob Wainwright said the attackers are demanding $300 to $600 to release the infected computers, but very few people are caving. “Most people are not paying this, so there isn’t a lot of money being made by criminal organizations so far,” Wainwright said.

Early Monday, various Asian governments and businesses reported disruptions as the virus hit at least 200,000 computers in China – including payment systems at some PetroChina petrol stations.

The virus has hit hospitals, companies, and universities worldwide, forcing hospitals and clinics in Britain to turn away patients after their computers failed on Friday.

Dual Discussions

The original, US-backed Syrian peace talks are set to reopen Tuesday in Geneva, even as the Russian-backed talks in Kazakhstan have overshadowed the long-stalled effort, and the Syrian government inflicts heavy losses on the opposition on the battlefield.

Agence France-Presse quoted experts as saying the United Nations is scrambling to match the progress made in Astana, Kazakhstan, where negotiators pushed through a deal to create four “de-escalation” zones earlier this month.

“In practice, the Geneva track has largely been sidelined by the Astana track, at least for now,” the agency quoted Aron Lund, a fellow at The Century Foundation, as saying.

The biggest difference between the two sets of talks, and also the reason the talks in Geneva have made no progress, is that the Geneva talks hinge on the replacement of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

As important as the UN negotiators may see this demand – due to accusations that Assad has committed war crimes and other human rights violations – it has marginalized the Geneva talks, Lund said.

DISCOVERIES

Kicking Up Sand

It’s not often that beaches go missing. It’s even more uncommon that they suddenly return overnight – after 33 years.

But that’s exactly what happened in the tiny village of Dooagh on Ireland’s remote Achill Island last month, when unusually strong tides dumped hundreds of tons of sand on the island’s rocky coastline.

The 984-foot beach vanished in 1984 when storms stripped away the sands of the island off the west coast of Ireland, reducing it to a series of rock pools.

But following those high spring tides, locals awoke to discover the Atlantic Ocean had decided to return their sand.

Now they’re hoping the beach – one of six on the island – can reclaim its title as one of Achill’s top tourist and surfing spots.

“Those waves and that beach make for a perfect combination for surfers,” Achill Cliff House hotel owner JJ McNamara told the Guardian. “Even on a calm day like today they would be good enough to ride on a surf board.”

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