The World Today for December 20, 2018

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Ignorance and Consequences

A gunman murdered Ko Ni while his two-year-old grandson was in his arms.

A member of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority, Ko Ni was a legal advisor to the government of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. He had been trying to lessen the power of the military generals who ruled Myanmar with an iron fist from 1962 to 2011, a period that the United Nations said featured genocide against the Rohingya.

Police have accused military officers of organizing the assassination. “A bullet punched a small hole in the back of Ko Ni’s head and then blew out his teeth on the other side,” wrote Reuters. “His grandson went tumbling.”

Such violence, the travails of Rohingya refugees and other human rights violations have become common in Myanmar.

Too bad so many people are choosing to ignore it.

The Internet exploded, for example, when Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey touted his meditation while on vacation in Myanmar, Fast Company reported.

“Myanmar is an absolutely beautiful country. The people are full of joy and the food is amazing,” he tweeted. “I visited the cities of Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan. We visited and meditated at many monasteries around the country.”

Dorsey later apologized, saying he needed to “learn more.”

His colleagues in tech are similarly in the dark, according to Burma Campaign UK, a group that claimed Facebook and 48 other American and European companies had provided “arms, infrastructure, technology, engineering and expertise to the Burmese military,” the Guardian wrote. On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it has completed its third and largest purging of pages, groups, and accounts that have been linked to the Myanmar military, eliminating 425 Facebook Pages, 17 Facebook Groups, 135 Facebook accounts and 15 Instagram accounts, Fortune reported.

US President Donald Trump might want to prick up his ears. He’s been silent on Myanmar. But the House of Representatives, in a near-unanimous vote, recently approved a bill to label the treatment of the Rohingya as genocide, reported the Washington Post.

Similarly, the UN is trying to educate the government of Bangladesh about the situation in Myanmar, urging Bangladeshi officials to postpone their plans to repatriate Rohingya refugees because it’s not safe for them at home, said Voice of America.

Ignorance has its consequences.

Heroin used to be the illicit drug of choice in Asia. Now it’s methamphetamines – or Yaba, or “crazy drug” in Thai – that sell for around 20 cents a pill. “Much of that meth gets cooked in Myanmar’s ungoverned borderlands,” the Economist claimed.

To politicians in faraway Washington and Beijing and techies in Silicon Valley, turning a blind eye to an unstable country where unaccountable troops and restive minorities rule remote areas might not have seemed like a bad idea, some say. It was.



Another Bombshell

US President Donald Trump stunned his advisers Wednesday by suggesting a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of American troops from Syria in an apparent concession to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Opposition to the plan to pull out the 2,000 US soldiers tasked with training local forces to fight ISIS is mounting within Trump’s own Republican party, however, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

A US official told Reuters that the plan calls for the withdrawal of US troops in 60 to 100 days, saying that the groundwork for the scheme had been laid in a phone call between Erdogan and Trump.

“All US State Department personnel are being evacuated from Syria within 24 hours,” the official said, Reuters reported.

The unexpected announcement (via Twitter) came as Russia, Iran and Turkey failed to reach a compromise on the composition of a United Nations-sponsored Syrian constitutional committee intended to usher in elections next year, Al Jazeera reported.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels have each submitted a list of 50 names, but the stakeholders are still haggling over the final 50 members from civil society and “independent” backgrounds, Al Jazeera said.


Reality Check

Italy’s populist government swerved at the last minute Wednesday in its game of chicken with the European Union, agreeing to pare back a spendthrift budget that violated international rules associated with Italy’s high levels of debt.

The decision marked a reality check for the populist coalition about the penalties and “potentially debilitating economic punishment” associated with flouting the EU’s financial rules, the New York Times reported.

Despite existing debts equal to 131 percent of its gross domestic product, the eurozone’s third-largest economy had proposed deep tax cuts and costly welfare programs that the rightwing League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement claimed would stimulate the economy. For the EU and international investors, the spendthrift budget – which included deficit spending equal to 2.40 percent of gross domestic product – raised fears of disaster.

On Wednesday, Italy agreed to shave billions off the total, bringing deficit spending down to 2.04 percent of GDP, chiefly by delaying its plans to introduce a universal income scheme and to roll back pension reforms, the paper said.


Coup De Grace

South Africa issued an arrest warrant for Grace Mugabe, the former first lady of Zimbabwe, on charges of assaulting a model with an extension cord in 2017.

Police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo said on Wednesday that the warrant had been issued nearly a week earlier, according to the BBC. “I can confirm that a warrant for the arrest of Grace Mugabe was issued last Thursday,” Naidoo said, adding that the South African authorities are seeking the assistance of Interpol to enforce the warrant.

A South African court stripped Mugabe of diplomatic immunity in July.

Gabriella Engels has claimed that Mugabe beat the “hell out of me” with an electric extension cord in a hotel room in Johannesburg. Mugabe, the second wife of former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, says she acted in self-defense when the “intoxicated and unhinged” model attacked her.

The alleged assault took place about three months before a military takeover in Zimbabwe resulted in Robert Mugabe’s resignation after 37 years in power.


Rock of Life

A NASA spacecraft recently discovered traces of water on an asteroid.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft recently picked up traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules while flying close to the surface of Bennu, an asteroid the size of a skyscraper.

“We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, Dante Lauretta, told the Independent.

The spacecraft – whose name is an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer – was launched in 2016 and arrived near the asteroid earlier this month.

Scientists hope that a thorough analysis of the asteroid might support the hypothesis that comets and asteroids delivered organic compounds to Earth eons ago.

The probe will study the giant rock from orbit for more than a year, then briefly fly close to its surface around July 2020 to collect bits of its surface matter.

“When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system,” NASA scientist Amy Simon said in a statement.

Hopefully, scientists may also learn something about how to prevent the celestial body from moving too close to our planet, since there’s a chance it might swing by in the late 22nd century.

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