The World Today for February 01, 2018



Welcome to the Badlands

A recent tweet from the Oval Office notwithstanding, Mexico is not the most dangerous or most violent country in the world. But as a presidential election approaches, the country logged a record high number of murders last year, and the carnage shows no signs of slowing.

Just before Christmas, six men were found hanging from bridges in the state of Baja California Sur, CNN reported. A teenager famous for posting drunken videos on YouTube was riddled with bullets after he insulted the leader of the New Generation Cartel of Jalisco online, noted the Washington Post. And this month, police discovered at least 33 human skulls buried in the western part of the country that they believe are casualties of fighting between the Jalisco outfit and the Sinaloa Cartel, Reuters reported.

Such news has become routine in Mexico. But 2017 marked a new burst of violence, driving home the impression that the country’s war on drugs is failing and the changes made by departing President Enrique Peña Nieto have only made things worse.

Following a then-record 22,852 murders in 2011, Peña Nieto temporarily reduced the killings by scaling back the drugs war – which often escalates fighting between cartels whose leaders have been successfully targeted by the police, the Economist reported. But in 2017, violence came roaring back, as Mexico recorded 23,101 murders in the first 11 months of the year, Reuters reported. At the same time, the number of people in prison fell by a fifth compared with 2014, as the result of reforms designed to curb police excesses, Reuters said.

To many, such statistics lend credence to US President Donald Trump’s call for a wall along America’s border with Mexico. And earlier this month Trump capitalized on the spike in the murder rate to declare on Twitter that Mexico had become “the number one most dangerous country in the world.”

That’s not the case, noted Mexico’s 25,000-odd murders totaled less than half the number recorded in Brazil, and El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala all have far higher per capita rates of homicide.

Meanwhile, there are various explanations for the spike – including aggressive crime fighting. The Economist argued that the re-arrest of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, for instance, triggered conflicts within the Sinaloa gang and clashes with the Jalisco New Generation cartel. More broadly, the drugs war has broken large cartels into smaller gangs that focus on local distribution and crimes like kidnapping and extortion – which are more violent than large-scale trafficking.

As a result, at least two candidates running for president in July are promising to again de-escalate the war on drugs. Leftist frontrunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has suggested some form of amnesty to reduce violence by rehabilitating gang members, Reuters noted. And former first lady Margarita Zavala has pledged to strengthen the police force while withdrawing the thousands of troops that her husband, former president Felipe Calderon, deployed in the fight against drug traffickers in 2006, the agency said.



Blame Game

Poland’s Senate approved a bill Thursday that would make it illegal to accuse Poles of complicity in the Holocaust, setting up a potential confrontation with Israel.

Passed by the lower house last week, the bill must be signed by the president before it becomes law, the BBC reported. However, it has already angered Israel, which said over the weekend that Poland is attempting to rewrite history.

“I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Sunday.

The bill prohibits describing Nazi death camps in Poland as Polish and sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term as punishment.

When Nazi Germany attacked and occupied Poland during World War Two, millions of its citizens were killed, including three million Polish Jews. Death camps located in Poland were built and operated by the Nazis, so it is wrong to imply Poles bear any responsibility for them, Warsaw maintains.


It Takes Two

Most of the rebel groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refused to attend the Russia-sponsored peace talks in Sochi on Tuesday, while some who did travel to Russia refused to leave the airport.

Some of the 1500 delegates who did attend said there was no point in drafting proposals because the talks’ final statement was agreed upon before the meetings began, the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Assad’s Russia-backed aerial assault on rebel positions continued Sunday, killing at least 35 people, the paper said. Last week, a rebel mortar killed eight people in Damascus.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arranged the Sochi talks as an alternative to the stalled UN-led peace negotiations, with the stated objective of ending the seven-year civil war. However, a representative of Assad’s opponents said the real goal was to “control us,” and analysts said Putin seeks to replace the United States as the most engaged global power.


Take That Back

The head of a Philippine anti-corruption agency defied an order from President Rodrigo Duterte’s office and refused to suspend her deputy, who stands accused of disclosing confidential information to the media about a probe into Duterte’s alleged undeclared wealth.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said the order was “patently unconstitutional” and would endanger the constitutionally guaranteed independence of her agency, the Associated Press reported.

Duterte’s office had called for Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang to be suspended for 90 days in connection with the charges.

Duterte’s legal adviser said that officials could face criminal sanctions if they refuse to enforce or impede the enforcement of the order unless a court rules it invalid. Meanwhile, opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said the order itself should be grounds for impeachment.

Carandang is investigating undeclared bank accounts with huge deposits that Duterte allegedly maintained with his daughter when he was still a city mayor. Duterte has denied any wrongdoing and publicly vowed to resign if anyone proves he or any of his children were involved in corruption.


Brains Over Brawn

Humans make weapons to protect themselves or inflict harm, but for other animals, body armor and clever evasion tactics are much more common.

Horns and spikes on animals’ heads and limbs are common, but a tail with deadly armaments is rare – so scientists naturally took it upon themselves to find out why.

In a study published recently in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, American and Canadian scientists concluded that throughout history, owners of such deadly tails were usually larger, armored herbivores – almost all of which have long been extinct.

Those species may have originally used their tails to ward off predators, but later used them against one another as their tails became more elaborate and deadly, Gizmodo reported.

But those large species no longer roam the earth. Living animals that can fight with their tails often have evolved other defense mechanisms, like camouflage or speed, that allow them to evade predators without coming into close contact with their pursuers.

In other words: Evolution may not favor the size of the weapon, but how you use it.

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