The World Today for August 24, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

GEORGIA

A Strengthening Undertow

Georgia is hailed as a success story of the post-Soviet era.

The peaceful Rose Revolution at the turn of the millennium saw the ouster of Soviet-era leaders, and ushered in a period of modernization and economic growth.

It also ushered in President Mikheil Saakashvili, who waged an anti-graft campaign that has lasted to this day. Georgia ranks better than both Spain and Italy on Transparency International’s political corruption index. The country has also cleaned up its judicial system and bolstered civil society groups in recent years, the Economist reports.

Those strides have provided momentum for Georgia’s bid for membership in the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  Already, Georgians enjoy visa-free travel and free trade agreements with Europe.

That’s the good news. Now for the bad: New constitutional changes could stop that momentum in its tracks.

The governing Georgian Dream Party gained a majority in parliament after last year’s elections, but not without spurts of violence and voting irregularities.

With its support clearly declining, Georgian Dream has proposed amending the constitution to ban minority parties from forming alliances. They also want to implement a 5 percent threshold to enter parliament. That rule exists in other countries, such as Germany. But Georgian Dream also wants to mandate that votes for those parties that don’t make the cut be redirected to whichever party comes in first.

Those changes would cement the current government’s power for a decade, according to Euractiv.

That means, “Georgia is quickly turning into another oligarchic regime in the region, where political competition and free speech are on the wane,” the news site wrote.

That especially matters now, say analysts, because Russia, which likes to meddle in former Soviet states, is trying to destabilize the country.

It invaded the separatist region of South Ossetia in 2008, and holds on to it and another separatist region, Abkhazia, to this day. But despite domestic and international outrage, Russia has been extending the borders of both regions into Georgian territory, Business Insider reports, jeopardizing Georgia’s bid to join NATO.

And that jeopardizes Georgia’s past gains, too.

“The true success story of Georgia is its full-pledged membership in the European Union and NATO,” wrote opposition lawmaker Salome Samadashvili in Euractiv. “Going through another change of government by free and fair elections is the necessary condition, signaling a maturity of Georgia’s democracy…The proposed constitutional change is delaying any prospect of such change by at least a decade. A decade, which Georgia does not have, thanks to the daily growth of Russia’s political and economic influence.”

[siteshare]A Strengthening Undertow[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

CUBA

Sonic Sickness

The US State Department confirmed that 10 US officials formerly stationed in Cuba are suffering from distressing physical symptoms, which unnamed sources say are suspected to be the result of some kind of sonic device.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the situation “unprecedented” in a press briefing where she noted that the first “reported activity” took place in December 2016 but it took some time before officials were able to ascertain a pattern in the complaints, ABC News reported.

The Cuban government has denied any involvement in the incidents.

Those affected suffered headaches, vision issues, balance and walking issues and memory loss. Experts say exposure to powerful sound waves above and below the range that is audible to humans can cause permanent damage.

Cuban authorities are working with the US in the investigation to determine the cause of the injuries, which includes agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

[siteshare]Sonic Sickness[/siteshare]

SYRIA

Tragic Ending

The fight for Raqqa and a potential end to the war against Islamic State in Syria has already killed hundreds of civilians and looks to be even bloodier before it’s over.

Amnesty International says Russia-backed Syrian government forces are indiscriminately attacking civilians and deploying cluster and barrel bombs in a separate campaign against the militants south of Raqqa city, Reuters reported.

“It is imperative that all the parties to the conflict take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians,” the rights group said, criticizing the US-led campaign for artillery and air strikes on areas containing civilians.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it documented the deaths of 789 civilians, 200 of them children, in Raqqa city as a result of bombardment by the US-led coalition and Syrian Defense Forces.

Hundreds more have died under fire from Islamic State or while attempting to cross minefields, according to Airwars, another monitoring group.

[siteshare]Tragic Ending[/siteshare]

YEMEN

War, Then Pestilence

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen resumed air strikes around the capital city of Sana on Wednesday, after nearly two months of endeavoring to avoid civilian casualties.

At least 30 civilians were killed, the New York Times cited a United Nations official as saying.

Supporting the internationally recognized government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the Saudi’s have been fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels for more than two years. The resumption of airstrikes in the area around the capital comes as there are signs of a fracturing of the Houthi alliance, as the rebels accuse former president Ali Abdullah Saleh of trying to negotiate separately with the Saudi-led coalition.

Even if that does turn out to be a sign that an end to the fighting is imminent, however, Yemen already faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis due to an outbreak of diseases that most countries have confined to the history books, the Times noted separately.

In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million.

[siteshare]War, Then Pestilence[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

How to Say ‘I Love You’

There are thousands of languages humans use to communicate with one another.

Thanks to a new website translator, humans now have to ability to communicate with elephants as well.

The Hello in Elephant website, a joint venture between the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and ElephantVoices, an elephant conservation organization, quickly translates an emoji, voice message or piece of text from English to an elephant call with one click.

It’s the result of years of intensive study into vocal communication between elephants, National Geographic reports. Researchers are hoping to save a dying language.

The website, which launched earlier this month, can relay a range of elephant calls back to the user that correspond to typical English phrases, such as “I love you” or “let’s go.”

Researchers have also extensively researched elephant body language, a complex dance of postures that include digging into the dirt with their tusks, kneeling and rolling around with one another.

Joyce Poole, an elephant conservationist and co-founder of ElephantVoices, hopes the website will clue in users to the amazing range of elephants’ empathy.

“In so many ways they’re like us – they empathize, they care about one another, they learn to read body language – but there is so much we still have to learn about them,” she said.

[siteshare]How to Say ‘I Love You'[/siteshare]

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