The World Today for May 22, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

GAZA

Dreaming a Different Day

Ahmad Abu Artema describes himself as a dreamer.

“I looked up at the birds in the sky, flying through the trees on both sides of the barbed wire fence without being stopped,” he told CNN. “What is simpler than this? The birds decide to fly so they fly. Is it not the right of people to move freely like birds as they wish?”

Such whimsy inspired Abu Artema, a Palestinian, to launch the Great March of Return, a protest at the border between Gaza and Israel in support of the Palestinians’ goal of returning to property they lost to Israel in the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war, CNN wrote. The BBC produced a history of the situation.

But if Abu Artema envisioned a peaceful demonstration, he was disappointed.

Fueled by Palestinian anger over the recent move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – an acknowledgment of realities on the ground that Rolling Stone argued also threw away an American bargaining chip in future peace talks – clashes at the border between protesters and Israeli forces have killed at least 58 Palestinians, according to the New York Times in a detailed piece about the chaos and violence that led to those casualties.

Israeli forces have also struck other parts of Gaza in retaliation for gunfire and other attacks on Israel from the territory, reported the Guardian. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens said those attacks arise from Palestinian leaders’ design.

Specifically, Hamas has backed the movement, leading many to accuse the group – designated a terrorist organization by the US but viewed as a political party by many others – of orchestrating the violence.

“It was a tragedy created by the Hamas terrorists in Gaza and their enablers in the Palestinian Authority, who feed their people the poison that Israel can and must be destroyed,” wrote the editorial board of the New York Daily News. “Who tells them that, should they lose their lives while endangering or ending the lives of Israelis, they will be rewarded with a place in paradise.”

But others described Israel’s use of force as excessive, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after a Canadian doctor became one of hundreds injured, according to the CBC.

In Al Jazeera, British law professor Robert Wintemute likened the situation to that of Soweto in South Africa. Like apartheid, he argued, this unsustainable division between neighbors would also collapse. The Economist split the difference, saying Israel was responsible for the deaths but calling on Palestinians to launch a genuine nonviolent justice movement.

Not as easy as birds flying across imaginary lines in the sky.

WANT TO KNOW

ITALY

Send in the Technocrat

Italy, finally, might have a leader.

On Monday, Italy’s new governing coalition consisting of the anti-immigration League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement asked the Italian president to accept the relatively unknown law professor Giuseppe Conte, 53, as prime minister.

Conte is expected to be approved today.

After finalizing their coalition deal last week – which includes populist tax cuts and welfare expenditures that have unsettled European leaders – the parties spent the weekend finding a compromise candidate to lead their new government, the Financial Times reported.

Especially during times of conflict or coalition building, it’s typical in Italy that the prime minister be a political outsider as opposed to a party leader in the spirit of compromise, Business Insider reported.

Conte fits that bill: As a lecturer in public administration law at the Universities of Florence and Bologna who doesn’t “have a clue about politics,” according to Italian media, he comes into the cutthroat realm of Italian politics as a complete outsider.

Conte’s appointment must still be approved by President Sergio Mattarella, but it moves Italy one step closer toward ending the political stagnation that’s plagued the country since its March 4 election produced no conclusive winner, but provided the largest share of votes to the nation’s two populist political forces.

CHINA

Détente

The US and China agreed on a plan that would provide a lifeline to drowning Chinese telecom giant ZTE, a crucial step in quashing the two countries’ trade dispute.

On Monday, both sides commended their agreement to continue talks on increasing Chinese imports of energy and agricultural commodities to decrease the current $335 billion annual US goods and services trade deficit with China, Reuters reported.

Although the logistics of the arrangement remain fuzzy, China received a stay on the $50 billion in tariffs threatened by the Trump administration, and has now agreed to lift tariffs on American agricultural products in exchange for the US removing its ban on American companies doing business with ZTE. That embargo had almost sunk the company, a major Chinese player.

Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi told CNBC Monday, however, that neither side has any reason to celebrate these initial steps: Both parties are merely kicking negotiations down the road until the US can decide what it really has to offer Chinese markets, seeing as how its biggest bargaining chip, technology, is a thorny issue.

CONGO

Scrambling For Containment

Aid workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo unveiled an experimental vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus Monday after reports began surfacing in April of at least 49 suspected new cases and at least 26 deaths, NPR reported.

The unlicensed drug has been fast-tracked for use, with 7,500 doses now available in Congo and another 8,000 on the way, according to the World Health Organization.

The vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, was initially tested during West Africa’s massive Ebola outbreak in 2015, in which more than 11,300 people died, mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Its current distribution in Congo marks the first time the vaccine has been widely administered since then.

Medical workers said it’s being used to safeguard against another high-magnitude outbreak – four new cases have already been confirmed in the port city of Mbandaka, a sprawling urban center with more than 1 million inhabitants.

To prevent the spread of disease in close quarters, health workers and first responders, as well as funeral workers and those with close contact to the infected, have been prioritized for vaccination.

DISCOVERIES

Virtual Wealth

Venezuela’s economy is in freefall, and the nation’s currency, the bolivar, is becoming worthless.

So worthless, in fact, that virtual gold from the popular computer game “World of Warcraft” (WoW) is now seven times more valuable than actual cash from Venezuela, CNN reported.

At recent exchange rates, the cable news network noted, one American dollar was worth nearly 69,000 bolivars – a 98-percent slump in value for the bolivar, as compared to last year’s rate of 3,100 bolivars for every dollar.

As for the videogame, an in-game credit, known as a token, is worth about $20, which players can buy and sell for virtual gold through worldwide auctions over the platform.

With the price of a token recently hovering above 200,000 virtual gold pieces, the math shows that one dollar is worth more than 10,000 gold pieces in WoW.

That means that the fake money is nearly seven times more valuable than the bolivar.

In a bid to improve the economic situation, the South American country launched its own cryptocurrency, the petro, in February, with one token costing $60. But it’s still unclear how investors will be able to sell it.

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