The World Today for January 24, 2018



Home and Away

The US Department of Homeland Security has generated occasional controversy since its creation in 2002.

But the latest debate focuses on a new area: The domestic anti-terrorism agency’s rapid expansion of its operations on foreign soil.

Around 2,000 Homeland Security employees are deployed to more than 70 countries around the world, the New York Times reported, while hundreds more patrol the skies and seas of Central America, the Pacific and the Caribbean. Washington and various US allies say these patrols are making the world safer for everybody, as well as preventing threats from ever reaching American soil. But skeptics see Homeland’s activities as an unregulated and often clandestine infringement on national sovereignty and individual rights.

In countries like Ecuador, South Africa and Kenya, Homeland Security agents have helped make massive drug busts and trained local security forces in counterterrorism. And France, Germany and various other countries have not only at times sought deeper partnerships with the agency, but also moved to reshape their own anti-terrorism outfits in its image.

After a meeting with former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in 2016, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere pushed for the creation of a similar outfit in Germany – where such agencies spark disturbing associations with the hated East German Ministry for State Security, more commonly known as the Stasi, Handelsblatt Global reported. Among his maneuvers: an airline passenger data-storage law that requires airlines to pass on passenger data for flights to and from Germany to the country’s Federal Criminal Police. This includes names, credit-card numbers, luggage information and dietary preferences, Deutsche Welle reported.

Similarly, in December Canada passed legislation that, when fully ratified, will expand the authority of US customs and border-control officers working at Canadian airports, the National Post reported.

The legislation, known as Bill C-23, or the Preclearance Act of 2016, allows Homeland Security employees to carry firearms and conduct strip-searches in Canadian airports, and gives them the authority to detain Canadians should they decide to withdraw from preclearance procedures, Al-Jazeera reported.

“The Government of Canada is committed to making the Canada-United States border more efficient and secure,” Ralph Goodale, Canada’s minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said after the bill’s passage. He also assured Canadians their rights would be protected.

Not everybody is convinced.

In Germany, lawmaker Andrej Hunko has criticized that nation’s empowering of Homeland Security agents to investigate and interrogate travelers before they board planes bound for the US. The agency’s procedures are not transparent, he complained, and likely include racial profiling – despite Germany’s profession that it has “no evidence that such profiling is carried out.”

Union workers in Canada also protested that added security checks could eliminate union jobs – and tacitly reject Canadians based on their religion or ethnicity.

Meanwhile, the law “provides explicit blanket immunity” to US preclearance officers “from anything done or omitted” in the exercise of their powers and duties, according to the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association.



The Art of the Deal

With NAFTA negotiations still underway, Canada joined 10 other nations in signing the revised version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP – which was excoriated as a terrible deal by US President Donald Trump.

Billed as the largest free trade pact in the world, the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership was finalized in Japan on Tuesday, the Toronto Star reported.

The future looked dark for the pact when Trump pulled the US out soon after taking office, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to be waffling late last year. By entering the pact, Canada gains better access to the coveted Japanese market, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Mexico.

Meanwhile, it could complicate NAFTA negotiations, the Canadian Press reported. The new TPP allows more content into automobiles from non-free-trade partners like China, as the US is seeking to toughen restrictions on Asian parts suppliers in NAFTA.


Roll Call

The government of beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro wrong-footed the opposition by announcing elections before the end of April, after months of refusing to hold fresh polls.

“This announcement sends a debilitated opposition running to find a candidate in a very short time frame,” Bloomberg quoted Carlos Romero, a political analyst at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, as saying.

The government announced the plan shortly after the European Union blacklisted seven key allies of the president, adding to US sanctions on more than a dozen top government officials – including Maduro himself. The sanctions were a response to Maduro’s move to create a constituent assembly in July to rewrite the constitution and bypass the national legislature. He was already facing protests demanding new elections.

That same constituent assembly – composed entirely of loyalists from Maduro’s socialist party – approved the new election. Otherwise, the constitution called for the next presidential polls to be held in January 2019.

“The more sanctions, the more elections,” Maduro said following the announcement.


Sudden Justice

Egypt’s military has developed a sudden concern for justice.

On Tuesday, following retired general Sami Anan’s announcement he would run against incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in an election scheduled for March, the army detained Anan for questioning. In an official statement, the army accused Anan of “violations and crimes” including document forgery and “incitement against the armed forces,” the New York Times reported.

Anan, 69, was not considered a strong challenger. But his detention comes after three other potential presidential candidates have already dropped out of the race, including former prime minister Ahmed Shafik, who reportedly withdrew due to threats he’d be prosecuted on corruption charges. Anwar Sadat, a nephew of the former president, also withdrew, citing official intimidation and harassment. Sisi’s last significant challenger, the leftist lawyer Khaled Ali, faces disqualification if he fails to overturn a criminal conviction for public indecency on March 7.

The move on Anan shows Sisi still enjoys complete control over the military, despite recent moves to replace the army chief and head of the spy agency.


Mirror, Mirror

Humans aren’t the only species that can recognize themselves in a mirror.

Chimpanzees, elephants, magpies and bottle-nosed dolphins also have that ability, scientists say.

Dolphins recognize themselves when they’re as young as seven months old – five months earlier than humans, according to a study published recently in the journal PLoS One.

Dolphins “may put their eye right up against the mirror and look in silence,” Diana Reiss, a co-author of the study, told the New York Times. “They may look at the insides of their mouths and wiggle their tongues.”

Over several years, Reiss and an associate observed how a pair of young dolphins reacted to their reflections. Early on, the animals showed a fondness for blowing bubbles and striking a pose, and later in life they developed the ability to recognize blemishes on their bodies.

The revelations come as no surprise to scientists, who have long known that dolphins mature more quickly than humans.

But nailing down when dolphins can recognize themselves could help scientists pinpoint other physical and social developmental milestones, suggesting that a little bit of vanity has its upside.

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