The World Today for December 18, 2018

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Emergencies, and a Calm Groove

The United Nations added reggae music to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity last month.

“Reggae, which rose to prominence in the 1960s, often celebrates Jah, or God; ganja, or marijuana; and Ras Tafari, also known as Haile Selassie, the former Ethiopian emperor, whom Rastafarians revere as the messiah,” wrote the New York Times, succinctly encapsulating lore exchanged in many a dorm room over the years. “It is also meant to put listeners in a calm groove.”

Unfortunately, thinking reggae represents a complete picture of Jamaica would be a mistake.

The Caribbean island has the fifth-highest per-capita murder rate in the world, according to the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. That’s 10 times the US rate and 50 times Britain’s, noted the Independent.

“Violent crime, such as home invasions, armed robberies, and homicide, is common. Sexual assaults occur frequently, even at all-inclusive resorts,” the US State Department warned travelers in January. “Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.”

Earlier this year, facing a spike in crime, Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared states of emergency throughout the island to combat the problem. The emergency declarations allowed authorities to detain people without warrants and search anyone using roads in and out of specified zones.

But last week Holness failed to garner sufficient votes to extend the measures.

“We don’t need a State of Emergency to feel safe,” said Opposition Leader Peter Phillips, the news site Caribbean360 reported.

Holness disagreed, telling Parliament the police needed more time to complete what has been a successful crackdown on crime. Murders and shootings both decreased by almost 22 percent, rapes fell more than 12 percent, and 11 percent fewer aggravated assaults occurred, Holness said, according to the Jamaican Information Service.

The emergency measures, however, had been coming under intense criticism.

The government quashed opposition attempts to hear from detainees, raising questions about their treatment and whether the prime minister was upholding people’s civil and human rights. Holness denied wrongdoing. But folks were skeptical.

In a report to Parliament, the public defender in Saint James blasted the state of emergency in that parish, saying police gave “very little thought” to processing and accommodating detainees.

The head of the European Union’s delegation of diplomats in Jamaica, Malgorzata Wasilewska, noted that report in remarks last week.

“It reignited the debate regarding whether it is justifiable to suppress individual rights for national security reasons,” Wasilewska said, the Jamaica Observer reported.

That’s a debate going on around the world. Will Jamaica be able to settle it? If it can, it would be worth watching how.



Any Moment Now

Just as we thought peace might break out in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday he’s apt to launch a fresh military operation there at any moment, declaring that he has the backing of US President Donald Trump.

Erdogan had said earlier Turkey planned a cross-border operation against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to the east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria, Al Jazeera reported. Ankara considers YPG to be a terrorist organization.

Erdogan said he had agreed to ensure “more effective coordination” between US and Turkish military operations in Syria in a phone conversation with Trump Friday – which will be vital considering US troops are also stationed east of the Euphrates.

Separately, Russia, Iran and Turkey edged closer to a deal on forming a Syrian constitutional committee that could revitalize the peace process, Reuters reported, and the White House said Monday that Trump didn’t commit to extraditing Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey at the G20 summit, as Turkey’s foreign minister had suggested to CNBC, the Voice of America reported.

Erdogan blames Gulen for the failed coup attempt against him in 2016.


We Love You, Now Change

The European Union’s top court said Monday that Poland must immediately suspend a controversial law that critics say undermines the independence of the judiciary, effectively ending the debate over the EU’s dispute with Warsaw.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party had already agreed to scrap the law, which lowered the mandatory retirement age for judges in a move that critics said allowed the party to stack the court in its favor.

PiS originally argued the changes were needed to improve the efficiency of the courts and weed out the remnants of Communism, Reuters noted. But with elections approaching next year, the party has shown signs of softening its stance on several issues.

President Andrzej Duda formalized the scrapping of the law on Monday, which means that a third of the country’s Supreme Court judges will now be reinstated, the BBC said.

Notably, however, PiS already controls the Constitutional Tribunal, which has the power to veto legislation, and the body that nominates all judges in Poland, the news channel said.


The Sober Socialist

Newly inaugurated Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador presented what the Economist called a “surprisingly sober” 2019 budget, easing fears he’d embark on a populist spending spree.

His finance minister hiked the target for the budget surplus to 1 percent of GDP from the 0.8 percent surplus expected this year, the conservative British magazine noted. And AMLO took a moderate approach to spending on programs he’d promised during his campaign, doling out only a third of what he’d originally suggested for scholarships and around $5 billion for a universal pension for the elderly. That’s about 17 percent less than his original plan.

Similarly, though he has made much of a scheme to spend $5 billion a year to discourage migration from Central America to the US, most of that money will come through repackaging existing programs in southern Mexico, the Economist said.

Those moves may not completely ease investor concerns over his efforts to scrap a new $13 billion international airport in Mexico City midway through the project. But they raised hopes he could be a “fiscally responsible” populist all the same.


Mega Jaws

As big as a school bus, the ancient megalodon was the biggest shark ever.

The extinct beast received a lot of attention this year, thanks to the monster movie “The Meg,” which is basically “Jaws” cranked up to 11.

However, to this day, scientists have various hypotheses on why megalodon went extinct.

According to Live Science, a team of researchers used geochemistry to examine the carbon and oxygen isotopes of the shark’s teeth, concluding that a high body temperature – about 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit – may help explain its demise.

Creatures with that warm a body temperature would have required frequent feeding. But most prey started moving to cooler waters as the oceans heated up, robbing the shark of food as it faced new competitors like killer whales.

In a separate study, another team theorized that the explosion of one or more supernovae approximately 2.6 million years ago contributed to the extinction of 36 percent of large marine animals, including megalodon, Newsweek reported.

The celestial event would have bombarded the planet with cosmic rays that penetrated oceans, causing cancers and other health problems for the big fish. Regardless of what killed them, such monsters remain the province of scary movies, not beaches.

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