The World Today for January 30, 2019

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A technical problem caused distortion in the audio version of yesterday’s newsletter. We have corrected it and apologize to our subscribers for the inconvenience – The Editors.



From Miracle to Mire

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently justified his prohibition against Israeli athletes competing in his majority Muslim country.

“Every country has the right to accept or refuse entry of anybody,” said Mohamad, according to Agence France-Presse. “You can see that in America now they are erecting a very high wall to prevent Mexicans from going to America. We have the same idea, that people who are undesirable for our country will be kept out of our country.”

The athletes were hoping to compete in a qualifying swimming event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Mohamad claimed his move was a legitimate protest against the Israeli treatment of people in Gaza. Maybe. But he has a history of making anti-Semitic comments.

Analysts say the episode illustrated how the politics of a country that American Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz once ballyhooed as a miracle of growth and social progress has descended into embarrassment.

In early January, the country’s monarch, Sultan Muhammad V, resigned. It was a historic first that followed his apparent wedding to a former Miss Moscow shortly after he went on medical leave, the BBC reported.

Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah of central Pahang state was elected as Malaysia’s new king last week, CNN reported. He is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday for a five-year term under Malaysia’s unique rotational monarchy.

Amid the political ructions, a world-class financial scandal is unfolding, too.

As Business Insider explained, Malaysia filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs in December, alleging that the New York-based investment bank helped corrupt officials linked to ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak abscond with $2.7 billion from the state-owned 1MDB fund.

“The misrouted money went to lavish parties with celebrity guests like Alicia Keys, a $35 million jet, works by Monet and Van Gogh, property in New York, Los Angeles and London, and (ironically) the funding of the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’” wrote gonzo journalist Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone.

Goldman Sachs chief executive David Solomon apologized for the role of bank employees in the scandal, and his bank has denied the charges, but Malaysian officials weren’t satisfied. They want $7.5 billion in damages.

That money could help the country shore up its economy as the World Bank and others forecast a slowdown and other turbulence due to the trade war between the US and China and the low price of oil, a major export, reported the New Straits Times.

Money can’t fix everything, though.



Tough Talks

The US and China are set to begin a fresh round of trade negotiations Wednesday, but the US-led campaign against Huawei and its tough demands for structural reforms from Beijing make a deal unlikely before the US is set to hike tariffs on Chinese goods March 2.

America is demanding that China step up protection of intellectual property and end practices that force US companies to transfer technology to their Chinese partners, but analysts and people familiar with the negotiations said Beijing has shown no signs of capitulating, Reuters reported.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump used claims that Chinese hackers were stealing US trade secrets to justify tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, and he has threatened to increase tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent on March 2 if the two sides can’t reach a deal.

Complicating matters, the US Justice Department on Monday filed criminal charges that accuse Huawei of stealing trade secrets, obstruction of justice, bank fraud and evading US sanctions on Iran. But US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that he nevertheless expects “significant progress” on market access and technology transfer issues.


Stepping Down or Stepping Up?

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah resigned Tuesday amid jockeying for power between President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blasted the move as part of bid to set up “a new separatist government” that serves Abbas and his Fatah party’s interests, the Times of Israel reported.

The two groups have been struggling to implement a reconciliation deal signed two years ago to allow the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, to govern Hamas-dominated Gaza as well, Reuters explained.

Following Hamdallah’s resignation, Fatah now aims to form a new government comprising factions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and prepare for fresh elections, Abbas said.

Analysts also see the move as a step toward finding a replacement for 83-year-old Abbas, as his health may not permit him to lead Fatah much longer, Israel’s Haaretz reported. To that end, they expect Fatah to propose a new prime minister from the movement’s middle generation.


After the Deluge

Brazil’s Vale SA vowed to dismantle 10 dams that are similar to the one that collapsed on Friday, as the country continues to come to grips with the deadly disaster.

The official death toll from the collapse climbed to 84 people on Tuesday, with 276 still unaccounted for, Reuters reported. Local authorities arrested five people in connection with the disaster, including employees of Vale and consultants with a German company that certified the dam for safety, NPR said.

Munich-based TÜV Süd checked the dam twice last year and certified it as safe, despite concerns raised by a representative of a local environmental protection agency that the dam could burst and set off a chain reaction, Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper said.

Because its reservoir held mining waste for Vale, an iron ore producer, the collapse released a flood of brown slurry that killed fish and prompted warnings to the indigenous people who depend on the river for bathing and irrigation of possible health hazards.


Fantasy, and Fitness

People sometimes turn into mermaids in fairy tales.

Now this fantasy is turning into reality.

Finnish trainer Maija Mottonen has been teaching adults in Espoo, Finland, to swim like the legendary aquatic creatures in her workout classes, Reuters reported.

“It’s my childhood dream come true,” said the former kindergarten teacher. “When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a mermaid or a dolphin. But I think it’s easier to become a mermaid because it’s half-human.”

Since August, more than 200 people have been learning to swim using a mermaid or mermen “tail” – a monofin flipper with fabric from the waist down – and practicing several tricks.

The classes are a combination of fantasy and fitness, and it’s not only females who attend.

“People think, or mostly men, are thinking that this is only for girls or women,” construction worker Markus Parviainen told Reuters. “But I disagree, this is for everyone … as long as you love swimming.”

Winter’s not really a popular period, but Mottonen hopes that the summertime can encourage people to practice tail flipping in Finland’s roughly 180,000 lakes.

“We have a lot of lakes so it’s easy in summer,” she said.

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