The World Today for September 14, 2017



Running on Fumes

It’s been over a year since German automaker Volkswagen had to cough up over $20 billion after being caught red-handed in the US selling diesel vehicles designed to cheat American emissions tests.

It was a shocking revelation in Europe, where tax incentives over the past three decades branded diesel as a cleaner and cheaper alternative to gasoline, the Atlantic reports. Today, diesel dominates the market, comprising 50 percent of all European vehicles.

Policymakers on the continent are starting to regret that push on consumers. Diesel is more fuel-efficient than gas and emits less CO2, but it’s a less refined fuel. Diesel cars spew out more particulate matter and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere, a toxic recipe that’s plagued European cities with choking air pollution.

Amid recent revelations that other German automakers were in on the scam to sell Europe on diesel as well, Europeans are being forced to adjust to a new reality that diesel has to go. But scrapping these vehicles is proving more difficult than taking a drive to the chop shop.

The most popular solution has been to draft legislation to ban diesel vehicles all together. The mayors of Athens and Madrid have declared that their cities will be diesel-free by 2025, while France and the United Kingdom have announced they’ll halt assembly lines for diesel and petrol cars by 2040. Even China is mulling over an eventual ban on combustion engines, the Financial Times reports.

But in Germany, Europe’s auto-making giant and economic engine, policymakers are running scared. One in five jobs in Germany and more than half of the country’s trade surplus depends on the health of the auto industry, Bloomberg reports.

Local courts in Germany have forced cities like Stuttgart, Düsseldorf and Munich to institute driving bans by as early as next year, a move that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative government vehemently rejects. Her administration argues that such bans would greatly inconvenience drivers in a country where one in three motorists drives a diesel.

Instead, siding with industry analysis, the government says that diesel should be gradually phased out and used as a bridging fuel while new technologies are developed. After all, it could be decades before technology and infrastructure are mature enough to supplant diesels with electric vehicles, the Washington Post reports.

But as Merkel stalls and searches for a cozier solution with the auto industry, the market is already running on fumes. Looming urban bans on diesels impact their resale value, and the registration of new diesel cars already decreased by almost 14 percent last month in Germany, the New York Times reports.

Before Europe is ready to change course on diesel, the tank may already be running on empty.

[siteshare]Running on Fumes[/siteshare]



Glass Houses

China refused to condemn Myanmar’s crackdown on Rohingya residents of Rakhine state, even as the UN secretary general described the operation as “ethnic cleansing.”

“The stance of China regarding the terrorist attacks in Rakhine is clear, it is just an internal affair,” Reuters cited China’s ambassador, Hong Liang, as saying in a state-run Myanmar newspaper on Thursday.

As a rule, Beijing opposes intervention anywhere on humanitarian or ideological grounds, making the recognition of the sovereignty of states the lynchpin of its foreign policy.

The stance makes sense, considering its opposition to foreign interference in Tibet. It has also allowed China to enjoy good relations with various resource-rich pariah nations over the years – including Myanmar, where it is now competing for influence with the US.

In contrast, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council on Wednesday urged Myanmar to end the crackdown, which Guterres called “ethnic cleansing.”

“When one-third of the Rohingya population had to flee the country, could you find a better word to describe it?” Guterres said in a news conference in New York.

The public censure by the Security Council was the first such statement against Myanmar in nine years.

[siteshare]Glass Houses[/siteshare]


Rattling the Saber

Russia begins a week of combat exercises in NATO’s backyard on Thursday, raising the specter of more actions like the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Staged in Russia and Belarus — across the border from NATO members Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – the Zapad 2017 drills involve 12,700 troops, 70 aircraft, 250 tanks and 10 warships, USA Today cited the Russian defense ministry as saying. The scenario for the exercises is that extremist groups have infiltrated Belarus and the Kaliningrad region to commit terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, Germany and several NATO members claim that the drills will involve as many as 100,000 troops, which would put Russia in violation of an agreement with NATO that any drills involving more than 30,000 troops should be subject to international monitors.

“We have seen before that Russia has used big military exercises as a disguise,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said. “That happened in Georgia in 2008 when they invaded Georgia, and it happened in Crimea in 2014 when they illegally annexed Crimea.”

[siteshare]Rattling the Saber[/siteshare]


Semiotic Spat

Amid America’s continuing debate over symbols of the confederacy, Italy’s parliament voted to outlaw the stiff-armed Roman salute and the distribution of fascist or Nazi symbols and propaganda.

Though it has yet to pass the Senate, the proposed law would carry prison sentences ranging from six months to nearly three years, Deutsche Welle reported.

Opponents from the center-right Forza Italia (Forward Italy) party and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) have argued that the law violates Italy’s principle of freedom of speech.

The move comes following four years of advances from the neo-fascist party Forza Nuova (New Force), as the country attempts to absorb large numbers of migrants from North Africa.

Forza Nuova has dismayed mainstream Italians with a call for a “march of patriots” in Rome to coincide with the 95th anniversary of the installation of dictator Benito Mussolini by armed fascist militias in 1922.

[siteshare]Semiotic Spat[/siteshare]


Traveling Gals

Bronze Age women got around.

German researchers found remains of ancient families in southern Germany where the men were local but the women appeared to have travelled from Bohemia or Central Germany – as far as 300 miles away, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research suggests that women were key to transferring culture in the earliest days of mankind – oops, humankind.

“We all know these stories about warrior men out fighting and bringing home food while the women and children stayed at home but it appears things were quite different,” study co-author Philipp Stockhammer of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich told the Telegraph.

The researchers reached their conclusions by analyzing DNA and other data from around 84 bodies dating from 2500 and 1650 BC.

Not only did the women come far, but judging from burial patterns they also integrated into the community, a lesson that showed how migration has shaped people from the dawn of time.

[siteshare]Traveling Gals[/siteshare]

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