The World Today for January 05, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

IRAN

Spring Is Not Here

The sight of thousands of Iranian protesters raising slogans against not only the country’s president but also Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may be a welcome one for most Americans and others who view it as a fight for democracy.

But an Iranian version of the Arab Spring is not here.

Since late last week, protesters have thronged cities and towns across Iran. The largest anti-government rallies since protests related to the 2009 presidential elections, the demonstrations have gone beyond the usual urban elite to draw the rural masses. Even more rare, demonstrators have directed as much ire toward Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader since 1989, as toward President Hassan Rouhani, Reuters reported.

That prompted online cheering and a vague promise of “support” from US President Donald Trump and inspired some pundits to hope a democratic revolution could soon be on the way, noted the Washington Post. But by sheer numbers, the protests never came close to matching those in 2009, the Economist argued. Tehran faces none of the limitations that prevented Egypt or Tunisia from ruthlessly crushing their own popular uprisings. And the regime’s “thug elements — including the Revolutionary Guard Corps — appear to remain fanatically loyal,” opines David French in the National Review.

On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Guard deployed forces to three provinces to put an end to the protests – redoubling their efforts when demonstrations cropped up again. Thousands of Iranians took part in state-sponsored, pro-government rallies where marchers waved Iranian flags and portraits of Khamenei. And the head of the Revolutionary Guards declared that the “seditious” protesters had been defeated, reported CNN.

It’s also not clear that the protests are such a good thing for Washington and others keen on a new form of government in Iran.

While they have since spun beyond the control of any one group, the Economist noted that the demonstrations were begun by hardliners seeking to cause trouble for Rouhani – who is a moderate and a reformer, despite butting heads with Trump over the status of Iran’s nuclear program. And disgust with Rouhani’s failure to deliver economic prosperity on the back of the nuclear deal he negotiated could linger on after criticism of Khamenei is silenced.

The immediate spark for the protests, after all, was Rouhani’s most recent budget, New York Times reporter Thomas Erdbrink told PBS Newshour. Revelations in the budget about spending on religious institutions and the Republican Guards, as well as price hikes for fuel and the elimination of a monthly cash handout to 30 million Iranians, sparked angry responses on social media.

Before that, hardliners had already been making hay over Trump’s decertification of the nuclear deal, saying the US betrayed and made a fool out of Rouhani. Though Iran’s economy has grown since the nuclear deal, thanks to resumed oil exports, unemployment among young people, half of Iran’s population, is at 40 percent, the New York Times reported. On Thursday, the US sanctioned five new entities it says are involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program, Reuters said.

Meanwhile, the demonstrations have broadened in scope. Protesters were chanting slogans like “We don’t want an Islamic republic” and “People are paupers while the mullahs live like gods,” noted the Economist, but not those alone.

“No to conservatives and reformers alike,” was another popular slogan.

WANT TO KNOW

NORWAY

Mixed Messages

As President Donald Trump’s administration unveiled a plan to open almost all US offshore territory to oil and gas drilling, including previously protected areas, the government of Norway won an important court victory against a lawsuit by environmental groups that sought to curb oil drilling in its Arctic waters.

An Oslo District Court ruled Thursday that the government acted lawfully in awarding exploration licenses in the Arctic Barents Sea to companies such as Statoil ASA and Chevron in 2016, Bloomberg reported.

It ordered Greenpeace and Nature and Youth – which brought the suit – to pay 580,000 kroner ($72,000) in court costs. The environmental groups had claimed the government had breached the constitution and acted against its Paris Agreement commitments.

On the flip side, the Norwegian Road Federation said more than half of the new cars sold in 2017 were electric or hybrid cars, up from 40 percent the previous year, Quartz reported.

PAKISTAN

Rap on the Knuckles

Washington froze almost all security aid to Pakistan, following through on a threat alluded to in the US president’s first tweet of the new year.

The decision could affect $1.3 billion in annual aid, the New York Times reported, calling it “the most tangible sign yet” of Washington’s frustration with Pakistan.

The freeze could be lifted if Pakistan changes its behavior, US officials emphasized. Washington is pressing Islamabad to cut off contact with militants and reassign intelligence agents with links to extremists, among other measures.

Recently, the US was angered by Pakistan’s refusal to grant American interrogators access to a member of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network who was captured during the rescue of Canadian-American hostages in October. But Washington has long been frustrated by Islamabad’s failure to take action against terrorist groups.

While Pakistan itself suffers many terrorist attacks, experts claim that its military and intelligence services support other terrorist groups for use in a proxy war against India – hurting Washington’s war on terror.

MEXICO

Tortillas and Amnesties

The left-wing frontrunner in this year’s Mexican presidential election vowed to revamp his country’s long-running fight against drug-related violence – even as rising prices for tortillas are causing headaches for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Unveiling his team of security advisers, presidential contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday that the country’s military approach to fighting the drug trade was failing and he wanted to create more opportunities for the rural population to discourage them from turning to crime, Reuters reported. Fueled by battles between drug gangs, murders in Mexico spiked to a record high last year.

Obrador’s proposed security chief, Alfonso Durazo, said his plans might include an amnesty for farmers growing illicit crops but not one that would forgive cartel bosses.

Meanwhile, prices for fuel and corn are expected to rise in 2018 as the election approaches, further eroding support for the PRI-led government, Reuters said.

DISCOVERIES

No Layers Needed

Seeking shelter from the cold is a natural instinct for humans and other mammals, but some rodents are simply not bothered.

A recent study discovered that the thirteen-lined ground squirrel and the Syrian hamster – aptly named the Teddy bear hamster – can adapt their body temperatures to match the air around them, the New York Times reported.

Scientists discovered that a protein known as TRPM8, which mainly serves as a body thermometer in humans and other mammals, operates differently in these rodents.

While in other animals it helps to determine the environmental temperature, causing the organism to respond to its surroundings with responses such as shivering, scientists discovered that the protein made the two rodents impervious to cold down to a certain temperature.

It is not clear how the rodents’ bodies respond to the cold, but the discovery could assist in explaining the mystery of hibernation and help in solving allodynia, a nerve condition where people misperceive some warmer temperatures as painful.

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