The World Today for March 01, 2018



High-Stakes Game

Islamic State may be all but eradicated from its strongholds in Syria, but that doesn’t mean tensions have subsided between outside players in the Syrian conflict.

In fact, quite the opposite has happened, CNBC reported.

It’s been seven years since pro-democracy protests in Syria exploded into a full-blown civil war that’s drawn regional and international players with competing interests into the conflict.

Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, an arm of Tehran, have worked in tandem to prop up the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have thrown their weight behind maneuvers dedicated to his defeat.

Meanwhile, the United States and other Western powers have banded together to train and arm local militias in the fight against Islamic State, a campaign that’s proven fruitful over the past year.

Even so, it was revealed last week that President Donald Trump’s administration is planning to keep American troops in Syria for an undefined period of time to curb influence from players like Iran and help stabilize the fractured state, the New York Times reported.

In a letter outlining the United States’ continued involvement in Syria, Mary K. Waters, the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, wrote that while the US isn’t seeking to fight Assad or his backers directly, it “will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition, or partner forces engaged in operations to defeat ISIS and degrade Al Qaeda,” the Times reported.

Such rhetoric didn’t sit well with other players jockeying for influence in this high-stakes game: The Washington Post reported that Syria and Russia called the American presence in Syria “illegal” after a recent spat between US and pro-government forces.

A long-term American presence in the region could also mean a continued partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance in opposition to Assad led by the controversial Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the Guardian reported.

Turkey sees the YPG as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ party, or PKK, which has fought a separatist conflict with Turkey for decades.

Ankara fears that with US protection, the YPG will seek to carve out its own autonomous region in Syria and band together with Turkish counterparts to wage an offensive against Turkey.

Such beliefs led Turkey to step up fighting in the Kurdish stronghold of Afrin, a move condemned by the White House for distracting “from international efforts to ensure the lasting defeat” of Islamic State, Bloomberg reported, citing White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

But Ankara shows no signs of backing down, only adding to the tensions between these two NATO members.

“They refused to give arms to us with money but they are giving weapons to the terrorist organization free of charge,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said recently of US backing for the YPG. “Why are we strategic partners? Why are we strategic allies?”



Bans and Buys

A court ruling allowing cities to ban diesel vehicles and the purchase of a substantial stake in one of the country’s flagship brands are shaking up Germany’s automotive industry.

On Tuesday, Germany’s top administrative court ruled that cities could ban diesel engines to improve air quality – a controversial move that could affect some 12 million vehicles, the Guardian reported.

While good for the lungs, the ban could prove costly for car companies and troublesome for Chancellor Angela Merkel, due to calls for a compensation scheme, wrote the Washington Times.

Meanwhile, the country is mulling tighter rules on disclosures by investors after the Chinese carmaker Geely surprised the market by snapping up a $9 billion stake in Daimler, the owner of the iconic Mercedes-Benz brand, noted the New York Times.

The purchase brings Geely’s share in Daimler to nearly 9.7 percent – a feat it accomplished without triggering present disclosure requirements through the use of derivatives.

Germany last year tightened rules on foreign takeovers, fearing that China was acquiring vital technical know-how from German firms while restricting German purchases of their Chinese rivals.


Economic Might

The Chinese military has a different kind of economic might in mind: Angling for bigger funding increases with a display of hardware and troop exercises in the leadup to the release of the defense budget next week.

The People’s Liberation Army is not pleased with the single-digit funding increases it received in the past two years and is arguing it needs more money due to a more bellicose US president, the possibility of a nuclear-armed North Korea, and an intensified border dispute with India, Reuters reported.

The PLA has blanketed state media outlets with coverage of military drills and advanced new equipment – as well as co-operating on a new film based on China’s evacuating people from Yemen’s civil war in 2015, the agency said.

By official figures, China’s defense spending is only about one-quarter that of the United States. Last year, the budget increased just 7 percent – the smallest boost in more than a decade.


The Forest for the Trees

Brazil’s supreme court upheld controversial changes to laws designed to protect its rainforests in a ruling that environmentalists say will encourage further deforestation.

The changes to the 2012 law offer amnesty to those owing fines associated with illegally clearing trees before July 2008, and reduce the amount of land that owners must restore as forest by 112,000 square miles, the BBC reported. In total, the Amazon rainforest comprises millions of square miles of forest.

Brazil has reduced deforestation in recent years – losing less than 2,000 square miles in 2012 after a high of more than 10,000 in 2004. But recent research argues that a surge in small-scale deforestation may put that success in question, according to the environmentalist website

While Brazilian farmers say that amnesty for past transgressions is needed to stimulate economic growth, environmentalist Nurit Bensusan from the nonprofit Instituto Socioambiental told BBC the plan “creates the impression that if you deforest today, tomorrow, you are handed an amnesty.”


Mind Bender

A stroke can be devastating for an adult. But for young children and babies, the brain is more adept at rewiring itself.

Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center found that a stroke in a baby doesn’t have the same lasting impact as in adults due to the brain’s ability to rework pathways after trauma, the medical center reported.

Studying 12 individuals between the ages of 12 and 25 who suffered a stroke in the left side of the brain shortly before, during, or after birth, researchers discovered that all participants had switched to using the right side of their brains to communicate with “normal” results.

Usually, the left side of the brain deals with language control, but brain imaging revealed the opposite was true for these stroke patients.

“There are very specific regions that take over when part of the brain is injured, depending on the particular function,” said Elissa Newport with Georgetown University’s School of Medicine, adding that children up to age four can process language in both sides of the brain before functions in language eventually split between sections.

Newport and her team are hoping to use the discovery to develop better methods to rehabilitate adult stroke victims in the future.

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