The World Today for June 15, 2017



A Terrible Question

Every day for the past three weeks, the remaining residents of the lakeside southern Philippine town of Marawi watch the Philippine military pound their city with bombs to try and cleanse it of militants.

And every day, they wonder, will there be a city left after it’s all over?

Three weeks after a new alliance of Islamic militants seized the town – and hostages – and holed themselves up in the city’s center, office buildings, homes and minarets lie in ruin. The death toll tops 300. Most expect that to climb.

“It feels impossible that this is happening,” Abdul, 45, one of a few dozen residents that remain, told the Associated Press. “I see the bombings…I can’t help but cry.”

The Islamic State’s insurgency in the Philippines – an overwhelmingly Christian country – has shown the strength of the jihadists influence abroad even as American-led coalition forces have the group on the outs in Syria and Iraq, Voice of America reported.

“The Philippines has always been a weaker link in the war against terror,” said Antonia Contreras, a political scientist at De La Salle University in the Philippines. “We have a very porous border.”

Hundreds of militants – a constellation of Islamic extremists from the Maute militant group led by brothers Omarkhayam and Abdulla Maute, and the Islamic State’s satellite in the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf – seized Marawi on May 23 after Filipino troops attempted to capture the “emir” of Islamic State forces in the country, Isnilon Hapilon.

Despite greatly outnumbering the militants, the government army has faced difficulties, likely indicating that the military under President Rodrigo Duterte has been preoccupied and ill-prepared for urban combat, the New York Times reported.

“The government has largely been in denial about the growth of ISIS and affiliated groups,” said Zachary M. Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington told the newspaper. “Duterte has been preoccupied with his campaign of gutting the rule of law by using police and other security forces for the extrajudicial killing of drug pushers.”

Soon after the Islamic State’s takeover of Marawi, President Duterte declared martial law on the entire island of Mindanao, which is home to both Marawi and the president’s hometown, Davao City.

The United States now has boots on the ground and is working in conjunction with Filipino troops against Islamic State-linked terrorists. Until now, military officials claimed that US forces have only been providing the Filipinos with technical assistance without directly engaging in combat, Reuters reported.

That’s because providing full support has been a diplomatic quagmire for the US. While having pledged to fight Islamic State anywhere in the world, US officials believe President Duterte’s brutal and bloody war on drugs raises ethical concerns, wrote the Washington Post.

But with US troops now more directly involved, it seems questions over President Duterte’s handing of the crisis may soon have their answer.

[siteshare]A Terrible Question[/siteshare]



In the Crossfire

Airstrikes by the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State have killed hundreds of civilians in and around the Syrian city of Raqqa, the terror group’s last stronghold in the war-torn country, even as militants themselves pose as civilians and shoot those attempting to flee the city.

Along with the hundreds of civilians killed, the coalition airstrikes have displaced some 160,000 people, the New York Times cited a United Nations panel as saying Wednesday. The panel’s investigators found that 300 civilians had been killed in the airstrikes since March 21, including 200 civilians killed when an airstrike hit a school in the town of Mansoura that month.

Human rights organizations have cited the death toll to raise concerns that the greater autonomy the Trump administration has allowed military commanders on the battlefield has diverted attention from protection of civilians, the newspaper said.

Separately, a Syrian who escaped the city told Reuters that IS used gasoline to burn the cars of people attempting to flee and hauled people out to shoot them down in the street.

[siteshare]In the Crossfire[/siteshare]


Bad Medicine

Critics are blasting a new anti-terror law passed in Japan as a cure that’s worse than the disease.

Passed Thursday by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition, the new laws are designed to help to crack down on terrorism and organized crime in Japan ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by allowing police to arrest individuals and groups planning to commit offenses.

But critics say the definition of planning is so vague that even groups protesting at a building site could be targeted, and despite their avowed intention the laws cover a broad range of offenses that are apparently unrelated to terrorism or organized crime.

Both the Japanese Bar Association and the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur have claimed the new “anti-conspiracy” law is a threat to civil liberties, CNN reported.

The new laws make it illegal to plan to commit 277 criminal actions, from arson to copyright infringement, CNN said.

[siteshare]Bad Medicine [/siteshare]


State Capture

South Africa’s Public Protector launched a probe into three state-owned firms, following a leak of thousands of emails that appeared to detail corruption in the issuing of lucrative tenders.

The Public Protector’s office is investigating Eskom, Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), following media reports that more than 100,000 leaked emails show that the wealthy Gupta family and various ministers interfered with the issuing of high-value contracts, Reuters reported.

The investigation follows “The State Capture” report issued by the Public Protector in November, which alleged that businessmen Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta (who are brothers) had influenced the appointment of ministers.

President Jacob Zuma, too, has been accused of allowing the Gupta brothers undue influence on his government, with a deputy finance minister claiming that one of the brothers offering to make him the finance minister.

With Zuma drawing fire for the surprise ouster of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in March, the fresh controversy is deepening divisions in the African National Congress ahead of a December meeting where Zuma’s successor as party leader will be chosen.

[siteshare]State Capture[/siteshare]


The Science of Al Dente

Choosing the right pasta for a particular dish can be a science in and of itself.

But the rigid, complex shape of some noodles can take up lots of space, resulting in inflated shipping costs for manufacturers.

To solve this problem, scientists at MIT engineered a flat pasta that only reveals its true form once exposed to water.

The secret ingredient for this recipe is a thin coating of gelatin with varying degrees of thickness on the noodle’s surface, Quartz reported.

Gelatin expands differently in water depending on how it’s layered. Denser layers absorb more water, so by changing the viscosity of the gelatin coating in different locations along the noodle’s surface, scientists were able to orchestrate how the noodle would bend and fold while cooking.

While the morphing noodles were originally designed with ease of shipping in mind, scientists are now working on software that would allow consumers to design their own custom pasta shapes.

Who ever thought that science would justify playing with your food?

[siteshare]The Science of Al Dente[/siteshare]

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