The World Today for May 19, 2017


A League of Its Own

President Donald Trump will embark on a string of foreign visits Friday that includes Saudi Arabia and Israel before he circles back through Europe.

But while the president has high hopes that the trip will “begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support” with Muslim allies in the region – including a $100 billion arms deal with Riyadh – he’s wading into tempestuous waters.

In Saudi Arabia, the president will meet with Middle Eastern leaders to discuss terrorism and other topics, the New York Times reported. Those leaders are slated to include Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on genocide charges in the International Criminal Court. It’s not clear if he and Trump will meet directly.

Trump is also seeking to pave the way for talks to revive the Middle East peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. That won’t be an easy task, however.

Much of the global community continues to condemn Israeli settlements that Palestinians claim are encroachments on their territory. Around 15,000 more settlements were recently announced in Jerusalem, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to accuse Palestinian authorities of funding terrorism.

Other crises in the region also look thorny, if not intractable.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Iranian leaders won’t attend the Saudi meeting. But those two countries and Turkey and Russia are now planning to create demilitarized zones in Syria in an effort to de-escalate the seven-year conflict. The US is only indirectly involved in that plan.

Rebel groups, however, have scoffed at the agreement. Because terror groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda are excluded, they say, it will give Russian and Syrian forces free rein to crack down on opposing militias under the guise of stopping terrorist activities. Meanwhile, US-led coalition forces hit a convoy of Syrian army soldiers and Iranian-backed militiamen with airstrikes Wednesday night, CNN reported.

Antipathy for President Trump is also a hurdle.

A recent survey of young Arabs across 16 countries in the Middle East showed that 83 percent viewed Trump unfavorably. Many cited his travel ban on citizens from six Muslim-majority nations, which was later tied up in court proceedings, as evidence that the president was anti-Muslim.

“For many of the affected populations, the ban confirmed a long-held belief that the US war on terror is in reality a war on Islam,” Abdullah Al-Arian, an assistant professor of history at Georgetown University in Qatar, told Al Jazeera.

Few presidents have scored big wins in the Middle East. But for a president battered at home, a trip to the region is likely to present challenges in a league of its own.


Holding Sway

Brazilian President Michel Temer vowed he would not resign Thursday, after the country’s Supreme Court authorized an investigation into allegations that he authorized bribes paid to silence a witness in a huge corruption scandal.

The investigation concerns a disputed audio recording in which Temer allegedly tells the chairman of meatpacking giant JBS that he needs to continue paying bribes to silence the jailed former Speaker Eduardo Cunha, the BBC reported.

“I did not buy the silence of anyone,” Reuters quoted Temer as saying. “I will not resign.”

Earlier, the Supreme Court both authorized an investigation and allowed plea-bargain testimony and the audio recording, placing Temer in a tenuous position.

Brazilian markets plunged on concerns the investigation could derail reforms designed to cut spending and revitalize the flagging economy.

Temer – who assumed office after the impeachment and ouster of his predecessor – is already unpopular, but has managed to hold sway at the head of a coalition. The opposition has demanded snap elections and his impeachment, however, and the social democrat PSDB is making noises about withdrawing its support for the coalition, the BBC said.

An Outstretched Hand

Chinese President Xi Jinping told a visiting envoy from South Korea that Beijing is willing to set aside concerns about a US-built missile shield that has strained relations between the two Asian powers.

“We’re willing to work with South Korea to preserve the hard-won results, properly handle disputes, put China-South Korea relations back onto a normal track and benefit both peoples on the basis of mutual understanding and mutual respect,” Reuters quoted Xi as saying after a meeting with Lee Hae-chan – an envoy for South Korea’s newly elected president.

South Korea’s Moon Jae-in – who opposed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system prior to his election — had said in its first speech as president that he would seek to mend relations with China.

Though the US and South Korea have insisted that the shield is only intended as a defense against a possible missile strike from North Korea, China views it as part of a US containment strategy. South Korea says several of its companies have faced problems in China as a result.

Judicial Censure

The US issued another set of sanctions against high-ranking Venezuelan officials, this time targeting eight members of the country’s Supreme Court.

With an executive order issued Thursday, the US blacklisted eight government-friendly justices who signed a ruling in late March that nullified the opposition-controlled congress, the Associated Press reported. The US and other world powers have alleged that the decision was meant to undermine democracy and bolster the fortunes of beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The new sanctions follow a February decision by the US to freeze the assets of Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, whom Washington accuses of playing a major role in international drug trafficking.

As street protesters clamor for Maduro to hold fresh elections, US Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin came a hair’s breadth from explicitly offering Washington’s support, saying, “By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country.”


Snooze Button

From bloodshot eyes to a pale complexion, a bad night’s sleep is usually written all over your face.

But that sleep-deprived look won’t just affect your appearance for the day. It could affect your social life as well.

Over millennia, humans have been socialized to steer clear of the sickly as a survival tactic to avoid infection, the Guardian reports.

According to psychological research recently published in the journal Open Science, coming in contact with the sleepy can yield similar effects.

When scientists asked 122 people to rate photos of those who had rested the night before and those who hadn’t, respondents were 20 to 30 percent less inclined to socialize with those who looked very tired as compared to those who looked very alert.

The tired were thought to be less attractive and less healthy.

“If you want to go out and have a good time, it might not be much fun if the person looks really sleepy,” said John Axelsson, who led the research team.

Hitting the snooze button just got a lot more justifiable.

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