The World Today for January 01, 2018



A New Year

The international hotspots that garnered headlines in 2017 will still be generating stories in the New Year.

The militant group Islamic State might be a shell of itself. But just because it is diminished doesn’t mean the group has no capacity to wreak havoc, CNBC explained. In Egypt, for example, the jihadists are still fighting an insurgency on the Sinai Peninsula.

Replacing the fight against the Islamic State as the prime conflict in the Middle East could be the escalating rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Budding disputes across the region reflect the influence of the two feuding Muslim powers, which follow different branches of Islam.

As the Council on Foreign Relations noted, Iran did well in 2017. Tehran’s allies in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria have largely vanquished their enemies and remain strong. Newsweek wrote that Hezbollah, a Shiite Lebanese group, and Hamas, a Sunni Palestinian group, might even band together under the aegis of Iran to redouble their efforts against Israel.

In Asia, North Korea will remain on the front burner, too, especially as the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, kick off in February. Most recently, disputes over China’s reported delivering of oil to the Hermit Kingdom are going to make life tough for American diplomats and others trying to prevent North Korea from using its nuclear arsenal, the Guardian reported.

The fate of Venezuela, long resting on a razor’s edge, could be decided this year.

Even as NPR reported that the country’s embattled leftwing president, Nicolas Maduro, is surrounding himself with military officers so he can remain in power, the New York Times wrote that Venezuela’s public oil company – which funds those officers’ salaries – is on the verge of collapse.

Europe faces big questions over Brexit. British and European officials are heatedly discussing how the United Kingdom is going to leave the European Union without shaking the foundations of the global financial system. The Brits are seeking to split their European counterparts between those who want to strengthen and weaken the union’s hand on the continent, the Financial Times argued.

Democracy in Africa will also be a big story in 2018.

Presidential elections are due in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Zimbabwe. Campaigns will be heating up for 2019 elections in Nigeria and South Africa, too, Quartz wrote. Whether those processes go off as planned is the question, given how African leaders almost always manage to remain in power.

The American midterm elections could shake up world events, too. Any change in power on Capitol Hill could shake up US foreign and economic policy.

2017 was a year of surprises: Count on the unexpected in the new year, too.



Paying the Price

Two Iranians were killed Saturday and Tehran shut down social media and issued a stern warning to demonstrators Sunday, following four days of anti-government protests over rising food and gasoline prices.

Iranian officials on Sunday restricted access to social media apps Instagram and Telegram, which have been used by Iranians to share news about the protests, and President Hassan Rouhani warned demonstrators that the government would not tolerate violence, CNN reported.

“We are a free nation … and the people are free to express their criticism and even their protests,” Rouhani said. “But criticism should not be accompanied with violence or vandalizing public property.”

Earlier Sunday, Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli warned that protesters who cause public disorder would “be held legally responsible and must answer for their behaviors and pay the price for it.”

The protests began Thursday in the northeastern city of Mashhad before spreading to various other cities. On Saturday, two people were killed during protests in the western city of Doroud. A local government official confirmed the deaths but denied security forces were to blame.


Bolder Still

Israel’s governing Likud party approved a draft resolution urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to formally annex large parts of the West Bank, a move that is expected to further anger Palestinians.

More than 1000 Likud central committee members voted unanimously Sunday night to endorse exercising Israel’s sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, the Jerusalem Post reported. While the organizers of the vote said it obligated Likud’s current ministers and Knesset members to act, the paper quoted a source close to Netanyahu as saying the decision “does not obligate him at all.” Notably, Netanyahu did not attend the meeting at Avenue Hall in Airport City.

Also on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority temporarily recalled its ambassador to Washington in response to the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Trump has positioned the move as a tactic to eventually iron out a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. But so far his declaration has alienated Palestinians and other Arab and Muslim nations.


Terror Tax

Britain’s security minister proposed a tax punishment for Internet companies for failing to remove radical content posted online fast enough.

Facebook, Google and YouTube have been too slow to act, forcing governments to spend millions to monitor online content, said security minister Ben Wallace, calling such firms “ruthless profiteers,” the BBC reported.

Facebook said it does not put profits before safety, while YouTube said violent extremism was a “complex problem” and addressing it was a “critical challenge for us all.”

The idea echoes the so-called “Google tax” once proposed in Germany as compensation for the widespread violation of copyright online. It’s unclear how effective it might be. Tech firms’ worldwide revenues are so massive, the UK tax might not be a very strong motivator, though it might help the government score some points with the public. Meanwhile, firms based overseas are almost completely out of reach of any measures imposed by the UK government, the BBC noted.


An Uncooperative Brain

At the turn of the year, people set New Year’s resolutions, often involving the improving of daily habits and the achievement of personal goals. But studies suggest that fewer than 10 percent succeed in keeping those resolutions.

Despite the poor odds of success, there is a science behind failed resolutions, as well as a solution, USA Today reported.

Making New Year’s resolutions is easy, an exercise of the imagination that the brain rewards with a boost of dopamine for a feel-good moment, the newspaper wrote.

After that, though, the brain refuses to oblige – remembering failed attempts.

To counteract that memory, a dose of old-fashioned motivation and commitment is necessary as is a better examination of the resolution: Instead of a simple goal, it’s important to make the resolution a mission with a meaningful purpose.

For example, instead of pledging to work out at the gym every day to get into better shape, the successful resolution would include the broader goal of a healthier lifestyle to have a better – and longer – quality of life with loved ones.

Get it? Now start setting those goals, and enjoy achieving them.

Happy New Year!

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