The World Today for July 15, 2019

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Islands in the Stream

When the longtime dictator of Indonesia, Suharto, lost power in 1998 after three decades in office, he was estimated to have embezzled $35 billion.

Following Suharto’s example, the Atlantic reported, nearly every government official or bureaucrat was once on the take in his South Asian archipelago nation. In 1995, Indonesia was last in Transparency International’s well-regarded corruption index. In 2002, however, the government gave prosecutors free rein to clean up the system. Last year, Indonesia came in 89th out of 180 countries on the corruption index.

Such changes have consequences. Freed at least partially from rampant graft, Indonesia is on the rise.

Fresh off his successful re-election campaign early this year, President Joko Widodo recently announced that he would build the country’s longest sea bridge to connect two islands near Singapore with the goal of boosting trade. The 4.3-mile bridge would cost almost $300 million, wrote Bloomberg.

Internationally, Indonesia was emboldened enough recently to return more than 200 metric tons of trash to Australia, saying the containers held hazardous materials and household rubbish, rather than solely waste paper. Officials said the country would not be a “dumping ground,” Al Jazeera reported.

Domestically, Indonesians feel empowered to file lawsuits against the government for failing to act upon terrible air pollution in the capital, Jakarta, a metropolis of 30 million people, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Meanwhile, government officials are actually considering building a new capital, perhaps moving it to Borneo, which is more of a geographical center of the sprawling nation of thousands of islands, the South China Morning Post wrote. Jakarta also suffers earthquakes and is sinking. By 2050, parts of the city could be underwater.

Widodo is also planning a government shakeup so he can embark on an infrastructure program, reforming the state-owned enterprise sector and labor and tax laws to attract more foreign investment, wrote Bloomberg.

He faces headwinds, including trade tensions between the US and China that are disrupting world markets. In response, Widodo has been aggressively seeking to improve relationships in Asia. That could put him at odds with China.

“Indonesia is the one country (in Asia) that has (as) strong (a) gravity force as […] China,” University of Indonesia international relations expert Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad told ANTARA, a state-owned Indonesian news agency.

But WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, noted that China is seeking a closer relationship with Indonesia, a nearby resource-rich country, amid the global unease.

Astride a mighty nation, Widodo has some choices to make. Luckily, with the country moving forward, he has some tactical advantages.



This Is Ground Control…

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) aborted the launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission to the moon minutes before the scheduled 2:51 a.m. blast off early Monday morning, saying a “technical snag” had been detected in the launch vehicle system.

ISRO said the mission will go ahead later, but it did not provide a specific date, the Times of India reported. Had the launch gone ahead and the Chandrayaan-2 succeeded in landing on the surface of the moon, as planned, it would have made India just the fourth country to accomplish the feat, along with the US, Russia and China.

India has spent around 10 billion rupees on the project ($146 million), compared with a price tag of about $1.5 billion per flight for the US space shuttle program. When the landing does happen, it will mark a milestone comparable to India’s success putting the Mangalyaan satellite in orbit around Mars in 2014 for a mere $74 million – as well as another step in India’s quest to become a major space power, noted the Washington Post.


Fear the First

The Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed the first case of Ebola in Goma, a city of more than 2 million people in the eastern part of the country near its border with Rwanda.

Confirmed late Sunday, the patient is a pastor who had been in the hard-hit town of Butembo, in North Kivu province, the Associated Press reported. The detection of the deadly and highly contagious disease in a major population center marks a serious escalation in the outbreak – which is already the second deadliest in history.

So far, around 1,600 people have died since the latest epidemic began last August, partly because the conflict-torn areas where the disease is spreading are too dangerous for health workers to access. Another problem is that many locals are reluctant to accept an experimental vaccine that has shown some success in preventing infections. Some believe Ebola itself is a poison invented by the international community to facilitate the trade in body parts, the BBC reported.


No Entry

Guatemala on Sunday postponed President Jimmy Morales’ planned visit to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump, saying it would not accept a potential deal to designate Guatemala a “safe third country” for asylum seekers.

Guatemala said in a statement that the meeting was postponed pending a ruling by the Guatemalan Constitutional Court on legal challenges related to the potential pact, Reuters reported.

Last week, five former senior officials appealed to the court to block any deal that would designate Guatemala a “safe third country” – which would force it to offer asylum to migrants from Honduras and El Salvador passing through Guatemala en route to Mexico and the US. That followed reports by CNN and others that Washington was close to negotiating such a deal, as well as a tweet to that effect from Trump himself.

“The government of the republic reiterates that at no point it considers signing an agreement to convert Guatemala into a safe third country,” the Guatemalan government statement noted.


Goliath’s Journey

For many, many years, the mystery of the Philistines, an ancient group of people who get bad press in the Bible, has puzzled archeologists: Where did Goliath and Delilah come from?

The theory was that they were from the northern part of the Levant region of the Middle East but no one was sure.

But now, a team of researchers believes this ancient civilization – the enemy of the Israelites – actually came from Europe in the 12th century BC, or between the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, according to a new study.

That theory arose after archaeologists excavating the ancient Philistine city of Ashkelon in Israel sent more than 100 skeletal samples to Germany’s Max Planck Institute to trace their origins. DNA studies revealed that the genetic material found in the inner bones of 10 individuals originated from different regions in southern Europe.

“We didn’t show it by showing similar styles of pottery, we didn’t show it by looking at texts, we showed it by looking at the DNA of the people themselves,” Daniel Master, director of the research team, told Reuters. “We can see at Ashkelon new DNA coming in from this immigrant population that is really changing the whole region.”

The team plans to gather more data to pinpoint the exact origin of ancient arrivals.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Philistines are depicted as warlike and lacking culture. Today, calling someone a “Philistine” means that person is crass or uncivilized. But as history is usually written by the victors, the team believes the Philistines were victims of a smear campaign, Reuters reported: Excavations of the 3,000-year-old cemetery show burials that indicate the civilization had evolved to a high level, even burying bodies with jewelry and perfumed oil.

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