The World Today for May 26, 2017


Two Presidents

It was a peculiar moment in world politics yesterday as US President Donald Trump and his predecessor, President Barack Obama, nearly crossed paths during their respective trips to Europe.

“The contrast between their visits may be a reminder of just how differently the two leaders view the continent — and perhaps, just how differently the continent views them, too,” wrote the Washington Post.

Around 80,000 people joined Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a public discussion to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. They cried “Barack, Barack,” according to the Guardian.

“We can’t hide behind a wall,” said Obama at a monument that the Berlin Wall once cut off from the western half of the divided city.

After the event, Merkel rushed off to Brussels to meet with Trump.

In Brussels, the American president told European leaders that the Germans were “bad, very bad” because of their trade surplus. “Look at the millions of cars they’re selling in the US. Terrible,” said Trump, reported USA Today. “We will stop this.”

Later, meeting Merkel and other NATO leaders, Trump castigated them for not spending more on their militaries like the US, the New York Times wrote. It was awkward to say the least as Trump lectured his allies, experts told CNN.

Obama is wildly popular in Europe, and he of course had the enviable advantage of not having to make important decisions on his trip.

But the Times noted that Trump and Obama visited after Obama’s preferred candidate in the recent French election, the young, charismatic, moderate Emmanuel Macron, defeated Marine Le Pen, a nationalist in Trump’s camp. That election has been billed as the Waterloo of the recent wave of populist victories like Brexit and the American presidential election.

So Obama’s legacy is arguably still shadowing the current occupant of the White House.

But some of the ex-president’s legacy was also shadowing him.

The Guardian noted that a student questioner compelled Obama to defend his record, asking him if his conscience was “pricked” by American drone strikes killing innocent civilians.

Obama said he had little choice.

“One of the biggest challenges as president of the United States … is how do you protect your country and your citizens from the kinds of things that we just saw in Manchester, England, just a few days ago, or the things that we saw in Berlin or in Paris or in Nice,” Obama said.

That was a sentiment Trump could surely understand.


Breaking the Fast

Foreigners held in Japanese immigrant detention centers ended a two-week hunger strike over poor conditions without winning any concessions from the authorities.

Activists and inmates say the poor conditions have led to mental health problems and the death of inmates. Since 2006, 13 people have died, including a Vietnamese detainee who died in March, Reuters reported.

About 20 men at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau went on hunger strike on May 9 in protest, and at the protest’s peak they were joined by as many as 100 detainees, including asylum seekers and some inmates at an immigration facility in Nagoya, southwest of Tokyo.

The last of the strikers broke their fast this week in the hope that the authorities might make some concessions after the protest attracted media attention. But the official response did not sound particularly promising.

“We will continue to respond appropriately as we have done in the past. We won’t change anything in particular,” a justice ministry official told Reuters, saying authorities were already doing what they could to improve conditions.


Thousands of residents fled the city of Marawi as the Philippines deployed attack helicopters and special forces to drive Islamic State-linked rebels out of the besieged city on the island of Mindanao.

Ground troops exchanged fire with the militants in the streets as helicopters circled overhead, strafing the fighters of the Maute rebel group with machine guns, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Earlier this week, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao, and said the condition might be extended to the entire country if that’s required to stop the rise of Islamic State.

Much of Marawi is sealed off, so reliable information is hard to come by. But Duterte claimed that the militants had beheaded a local police chief, and army chief of staff General Eduardo Ano said the militants erected IS flags at several locations. The militants had also reportedly seized a Catholic priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers from the Marawi Cathedral.

Part and Parcel

Former Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos suffered injuries to his right thigh and upper body when a letter bomb exploded inside his car in Athens Thursday.

Two Bank of Greece employees were also wounded in the explosion, for which no group has yet claimed responsibility, the Associated Press reported.

Militant far-left and anarchist groups – including one called Conspiracy Cells of Fire – have targeted Greek politicians in the past. Earlier this year, Conspiracy Cells of Fire claimed responsibility for parcel bombs sent to the German Finance Ministry and the Paris office of the International Monetary Fund, and had also claimed responsibility for a spate of parcel bombings in 2010 targeting several embassies in Athens and the offices of European leaders abroad.

The explosion comes as Euro zone finance ministers wrangle over the disbursement of new loans to Athens that are needed to stave off default in July. Papademos was prime minister for six months in 2011-2012. He is also a former deputy governor of the European Central Bank, and was governor of the Bank of Greece between 1994 and 2002, when the country adopted the euro.


Gone to Food Heaven

Blue whales currently hold the crown for being the biggest animals that have ever existed on Earth.

But it turns out these mammals became massive relatively recently – about three million years ago, according to a new study on the fossil record of baleen.

That’s when changing ocean temperatures caused a growth spurt among blue whales, which have been relatively small for most of their 50 million years of existence, wrote the BBC.

Those changes in climate – likely caused by the onset of the ice ages – turned the oceans into a “food heaven” where whales’ favorite prey like krill became highly concentrated in places, allowing whales to evolve into their present-day size.

The study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B was based on the Smithsonian’s collection of cetacean bones.

It’s a fascinating reminder that some of the largest creatures in history still roam the planet, said study author Nick Pyenson of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

“People kind of think of gigantism as being a fact of the geologic past,” Pyenson told the BBC. “But here we are, living in the time of giants on Planet Earth.”

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a new, regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

What Now?

On the eve of his death, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cádenas told the host of Mexico’s El Almohadazo TV show that the narco world was now a firmly entrenched part of the country’s political life.

“Politicians no longer have to go to the narcos to seek their backing,” he said. “Nowadays the narcos are the ones who create the politicians from the start, and then nurture and promote them.”

A few hours later, he was dead, shot by armed assailants.

Cádenas wasn’t the first journalist to be killed in Mexico – a country only slightly less dangerous for journalists than Syria and Afghanistan – and he won’t be the last. But he was a frontline responder in the drug war that has caused almost 200,000 deaths in the past decade – and he was a tireless crusader against it.

Before his death, many journalists had already shied away from reporting on crime and the narco economy – and by extension the powers that be: the government and the army.

But his death has provoked outrage – and a desire for it not to be another “pointless one.” This week, journalists in the country began banding together to find a way to speak truth to power and stay alive while doing so.

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