The World Today for December 20, 2017



The Georgian Offender

Even as they wage war against each other, Ukrainian and Russian leaders agree on one thing:  they both dislike the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili.

Saakashvili is at the center of a political crisis that’s threatening to upend Ukraine as Russian-backed separatists consolidate their control over eastern sections of the former Soviet republic.

“Is Ukraine on the brink of another Maidan?” read the headline in Al Jazeera, referring to the square in central Kiev where protests led to the ouster of the pro-Russian ex-president of the country in 2014.

At issue is corruption, which Saakashvili has made the focus of a crusade against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

As CBC News explained, Poroshenko and Saakashvili were pals when they studied together in Kiev in the late 1980s.

They surely had no idea how their careers would mirror each other. Georgia is also an ex-Soviet republic. In 2003, Saakashvili led the so-called Rose Revolution against Moscow’s influence, which resulted in Russian troops cleaving off pro-Russian territories in the country on the Black Sea.

In 2015, as Saakashvili lost popularity and faced criminal charges at home, Poroshenko granted him Ukrainian citizenship, made him governor of Odessa and tasked him with fighting corruption in the city.

But Saakashvili couldn’t get anything done because, he said, Poroshenko was not really interested in cracking down on graft. Saakashvili then launched a political campaign against the Ukrainian president. In response, Poroshenko stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship. He’s now a citizen of no country since he gave up his Georgian passport.

In September, he slipped into Ukraine via the Polish border.

On Dec. 5, Ukrainian police attempted to arrest Saakashvili, the New York Times reported. But a crowd of his supporters stopped the police and freed him from a police van. The cops nabbed him the next day.

But then a court released Saakashvili, saying the arrest was unwarranted. Now he’s vowing to organize more protests against Poroshenko, the Irish Times wrote. He’s also taking pot shots at Putin, saying his arrest was a gift from Poroshenko to the Russians – a damning statement considering Ukraine’s experience.

Ukrainian authorities are appealing. “I can’t imagine a country where a stateless person breaks through a border crossing, then organizes a movement to overturn a government and nonetheless a judge releases him,” said Ukraine’s top prosecutor.

Putin echoed those sentiments. “I believe that what Saakashvili has been doing is a spit in the face of the Georgian and Ukrainian peoples,” Putin said at his annual news conference.

There’s an old saying in journalism that might apply here: if everyone hates you, you must be doing something right.



The Fifth Season

Folks around Asia have begun calling the annual descent of choking smog a “fifth season.”

But for the rest of the world, that could be a reason to hope.

Cutting economic growth to fight global warming is a tough sell. Avoiding death by asphyxiation is a better motivator, China’s new, ambitious plan to start a giant market to trade credits for the right to emit planet-warming greenhouse gases suggests.

The nationwide market will at first be limited to the world’s largest polluter’s state-dominated power generation sector, which produced almost half of the country’s emissions from the burning of fossil fuels last year, the New York Times reported.

No hard timeline was announced, past carbon trading markets have been failures and environmentalists won’t be pleased that the plan ignores China’s booming car culture, industrializing agriculture sector and massive chemical, cement and steel factories.

But it’s a welcome development given US President Donald Trump’s retreat from action on climate change – not to mention the choking air in Beijing, Karachi, New Delhi and other cities across the region.


Missile Diplomacy

Saudi Arabia shot down another ballistic missile it claimed had been fired into its territory by the Houthi rebels fighting for control of Yemen, in what could escalate the ongoing proxy war between the US ally and Iran.

Reuters quoted the rebels as saying they had aimed the missile at the Saudi royal court at al-Yamama palace, hoping to hit a meeting of Saudi leaders. The Houthis described the Tuesday attack as a new chapter in the conflict.

The Saudi-led coalition said it had been directed at residential areas and caused no damage.

The missile follows several others that the Saudis say were smuggled into Yemen from Iran in violation of the United Nations resolution that put the Iran nuclear deal into international law. Also on Tuesday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the UN secretary general’s fourth report on Iran’s failure to comply with that resolution is the “most damning yet” in proving that Iran is illegally supplying arms to Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition began military operations in Yemen in March 2015 after the Iran-aligned Houthis forced Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile.


Changing the Rules

Argentina’s lower house approved an important pension reform bill on Tuesday that clears the way for President Mauricio Macri to push through other plans to narrow the budget deficit.

Legislators approved the bill by 128-116 votes and two abstentions, despite more than 15 hours of debates, a riot that briefly halted the session and a general strike against the changes, Bloomberg reported. The bill had already been approved by the Senate.

Part of a broad shift to the right in Latin America, Macri said Tuesday he will continue to pursue other reforms, including changes to the tax system and labor laws. His aim is to slash the fiscal deficit, which is forecast to widen to 6.1 percent of gross domestic product this year.

The peso rose 0.2 percent to 17.53 per dollar Tuesday, the first gain in four days, the agency noted.

Others weren’t so pleased. Demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks outside Congress during the debate, before redoubled efforts by police using water cannons and rubber bullets managed to disperse them. More than 80 officers were injured and more than 50 people were arrested Monday.


No Shakespeare

Between fears of journalists being replaced with artificial intelligence and the robot newly gifted Saudi citizenship, one could get the impression that robots are slowly encroaching on human territory.

But at least one area remains safe, the Guardian reported: the seven-part Harry Potter series.

After researchers at Botnik fed their computer with all seven books of the beloved franchise, artificial intelligence kicked in and the computer began writing the first chapter of a new Harry Potter story: Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.

The chapter started pretty well and the AI was able to keep up a cohesive writing style.

But then things got a bit wacky, the Guardian reported.

“[Ron] saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family. Ron’s Ron shirt was just as bad as Ron himself.”

The chapter continued with similar absurdity, the paper reported.

Aware of the program’s imperfections, Botnik claims that the tool isn’t meant to replace human authors, but rather clear the way for humans and machines to develop a natural, integrated workflow and synergy.

Bottom line: Artificial intelligence won’t be replacing Shakespeare any time soon.

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