The World Today for July 19, 2017



The Setting Sun

In the Land of the Rising Sun, political tumult may be on the horizon for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Earlier this month, Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, sustained a stunning defeat at the hands of a novice political group in Tokyo’s municipal elections, a contest normally viewed as a political bellwether for the nation.

The Tokyo Citizens First party, led by Tokyo governor and former defense minister Yuriko Koike, won 49 of the assembly’s 127 seats. Voters sent all but one of the party’s candidates to Tokyo’s prefectural parliament, the Associated Press reported.

In contrast, the LDP won an abysmal 23 seats, a record low for a party that once controlled 57 seats in Tokyo.

Abe and the LDP have been comfortably in power since the prime minister’s surprising return to office in 2012. During his first term in 2007, Abe resigned his post amid growing unpopularity and health issues.

But landslide victories for the LDP in three national elections since then – which provided his party with an absolute majority in both houses of the Diet – masked the tepid support for his recent policies due to record-low voter turnout, the South China Morning Post reported.

Specifically, many voters are skeptical of Abe’s ambitions to rewrite the decades-old, post-war constitution that prohibits Japan from having a powerful military. Regardless, the amendment has become a point of pride for his premiership, Deutsche Welle wrote.

Abe’s popularity has also been weighed down by accusations that he used his influence to help a friend establish a new school in a state-run economic zone. And his party recently pushed through an anti-conspiracy bill without committee approval that critics fear will grant too much power to surveillance apparatuses, Reuters reported.

Abe’s support has slid to around 30 percent, according to the most recent polls.

The Tokyo municipal defeat is “a wakeup call for Abe to refocus on the things that are important to the people of Japan,” Ed Rogers, CEO of Rogers Investment Advisors, told Bloomberg. “And I think focusing on the constitution and the constitutional changes are his issues, not Japan’s issues.”

Japan’s issues are rife.

The island nation is quickly aging, but remains resolute against opening its borders to immigration, a move that could compensate for Japan’s shrinking workforce, the Financial Times reports.

And as tensions rise between Japan and its neighbors in the South China Sea, some question whether Abe’s decision to stand with the United States and its unpredictable president is a smart move in turbulent times, the Japan Times opined.

The prime minister can only hope it’s always darkest before the dawn.

[siteshare]The Setting Sun[/siteshare]



Trial Balloon in Little Russia

Pro-Russian separatists based in the city of Donetsk proposed the formation of a new state called Little Russia (Malorossiya) from two self-proclaimed republics carved out of Ukraine.

The move may not gain any traction, as rebels from the rival Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) rejected the proposal and Moscow warned it could harm ongoing peace talks aimed at stabilizing the region, Bloomberg reported. Notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin has in the past used the term Novorossiya, or New Russia, in reference to land like eastern Ukraine that was once owned by the Russian empire.

The proposal “is something that’s certainly an area of concern to us, but I just don’t – beyond that, I don’t want to dignify it with a response,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted a US State Department spokeswoman as saying.

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DPR) trial balloon comes as Moscow and Washington spar over Ukraine-related sanctions and the seizure of Russian assets in the US in connection with allegations of collusion in the hacking of the US presidential election campaign.

[siteshare] Trial Balloon in Little Russia [/siteshare]


Precautions, and Sparks

Israel’s move to install metal detectors around Jerusalem’s Noble Sanctuary-Temple Mount compound has sparked clashes with the police that left several Palestinians injured after Muslim evening prayers on Tuesday.

Reuters quoted a hospital official as saying one man had suffered a serious head wound from a rubber bullet fired from close range, but added that an Israeli police spokesman denied that rubber bullets had been used. A senior Muslim cleric was also hurt, according to witnesses.

Three Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli policemen outside the complex on Friday, prompting authorities to close the site. When they reopened the complex on Sunday, they installed metal detectors. But many Muslim worshipers refused to go through them and instead performed their rituals outside the compound in protest.

In a separate incident, a Palestinian driver rammed his vehicle into a group of Israeli soldiers Tuesday in the West Bank and was shot dead by the troops, even as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah called on the international community to make Israel remove the metal detectors and Gaza-based militants warned the move would be “the spark that ignites the entire region.”

[siteshare] Precautions, and Sparks [/siteshare]


Catastrophic Meltdown

Venezuelan legislators warned Tuesday that US sanctions blocking the country’s crude exports could result in a “catastrophic” meltdown of the economy – which is already in dire condition.

The White House has confirmed it’s considering a ban on Venezuelan oil imports and other sanctions if President Nicolas Maduro goes ahead with plans to rewrite the country’s constitution despite widespread opposition, the Miami Herald reported. But the medicine might well be worse than the disease.

“The consequences for Venezuela would be catastrophic,” the paper quoted Venezuelan opposition congressman Angel Alvarado as saying. “It would be a collapse without precedent.”

Venezuela’s 2016 oil exports to the US accounted for around 75 percent of the country’s export revenue, or about $11 billion. More importantly, the US pays in hard currency, rather than pre-purchasing fuel through loans or bartering with goods and services like China, Cuba, Nicaragua and Jamaica.

Without the US cash, Venezuela would be unable to pay to import food and medicine, worsening shortages that have already reached crisis levels.

[siteshare] Catastrophic Meltdown [/siteshare]


Bird Brainiacs

Just 10 years ago, scientists believed that humans’ ability to neurotically plan ahead was our unique gift and burden.

But scientists in Sweden have been awed to discover that ravens can also prepare for the future.

In a study recently published in the journal Science, researchers displayed just how savvy and responsible these birds of prey can be when put to the test.

First, researchers trained the birds how to use a rock that could trigger an opening mechanism in a box that contained a tasty treat.

Then, they tested the birds’ staying power, mixing the rock among other distraction tools, then withholding the box with the treat from the birds for as many as 17 hours.

Amazingly, the birds navigated this grueling obstacle course with over 80 percent success rate – a rate that only increased the longer they had to wait. They could even comprehend barter in subsequent trials, wrote Scientific American.

While a complex social hierarchy could be the reason behind these bird brainiacs, scientists say more tests are needed.

[siteshare]Bird Brainiacs[/siteshare]

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