August 13, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

IRAQ

Bombs and Potholes

Sangar Khaleel was a Mosul resident who became a fixer – a journalistic term referring to an assistant or interpreter – for reporters covering the Iraqi government’s fight against Islamic State. Two years after the militants’ defeat, the northern Iraqi city remains a shell of its former self, Khaleel said.

“Not all of Mosul has been destroyed, but the heart has been destroyed,” he said in an interview with Roads and Kingdoms, an international news and lifestyle site that is perhaps best known for its partnership with the late Anthony Bourdain. “When the heart is destroyed, it means the whole city is destroyed.”

Much of central Mosul’s Old City lies in ruins, France 24 reported. Around 300,000 people who used to live in those bombed-out neighborhoods are still displaced. The United Nations has an $84 million budget to clear unexploded bombs, landmines and improvised explosive devices from the city. But the work is slow and the toll is high.

“Some of the biggest victims of unexploded ordnance are children, because [the explosives] often look like toys,” photojournalist Cengiz Yar told Wired. “I’ve met children who picked up bombs and were injured, as well as parents who have lost kids to bombs.”

Mosul is representative of the state of Iraq after decades of wars with Iran, US-led invasions, international sanctions, and a near-collapse of central authority that gave Islamic State a chance to take control of more than a third of the country between 2014 and 2017, explained the New Humanitarian.

Almost 7 million Iraqis need humanitarian aid. Camps for the displaced are showing signs of wear and tear. Meant to help folks for as long as six months, the camps have become permanent housing for 500,000 people. Hospitals lack doctors. Saving people hurt when an unexploded bomb detonates is a challenge. Iraqis suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and other common conditions sometimes must compete for care.

Politics and internecine battles between religious divisions don’t help. Sunni Muslims – a majority in Mosul but a minority in mostly Shiite Muslim Iraq – have accused the Shiites of trying to seize control of Sunni-operated religious sites, hospitals and other community services, for example, Al Jazeera reported.

Mansour al-Mareed, the newly elected governor of Nineveh Province, where Mosul is located, admitted that rebuilding has been slow, but he pledged to speed up the pace of reconstruction, Chinese news service Xinhua reported. His successor, by the way, stands accused of embezzling $10 million in public money that was meant to help displaced people. Officials close to the ex-governor are accused of siphoning $60 million more from the province’s budget.

American mayors take pride in filling potholes. Sadly, the problems in Mosul – and throughout Iraq – are much, much bigger.

WANT TO KNOW

GUATEMALA

Deal or No Deal?

Alejandro Giammattei won Guatemala’s run-off presidential election on Sunday, possibly paving the way for a reversal of the immigration deal inked between former President Jimmy Morales and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Early results Monday suggested that Giammattei, a former head of the country’s prison system, secured around 60 percent of the votes to defeat former first lady Sandra Torres, CNN reported.

Before the election, he was an outspoken critic of the immigration agreement that essentially sets up Guatemala as a so-called “safe third country.” Like similar arrangements inked to alleviate the refugee crisis in the European Union, that means that anyone who passes through Guatemala to seek asylum in the U.S. would have to wait out the process in the Central American country.

That could be a huge headache for Giammattei, considering that gang violence and the sad state of Guatemala’s economy prompted nearly 3 percent of its own citizens to hightail it for the U.S. since late last year. But the prospect of destructive tariffs on goods destined for America – the market for 40 percent of Guatemalan exports – might well make it an offer he can’t refuse.

ARGENTINA

Macro to Micro

Argentinian incumbent Mauricio Macri suffered a surprise drubbing in the primary presidential vote over the weekend, suggesting voters may choose his leftist opponent by a large enough margin in the first-round elections on Oct. 27 to avoid a run-off.

The conservative Macri, who has tried to steer Argentina’s economy back on track with harsh austerity measures, managed to win just 32 percent of the ballots, compared with 48 percent for the unorthodox opposing ticket, the New York Times reported.

It’s unorthodox because the big name, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has been indicted in 11 corruption cases, is running as vice president alongside a virtually unknown presidential hopeful named Alberto Fernández. That has some concerned Fernández will be nothing more than a figurehead if elected.

But it’s worrying to investors because Kirchner’s previous turn at the helm was built on unsustainable subsidies and other populist measures that the country could not then and cannot now afford.

The results caused the Argentinian stock market to drop 35 percent and the country’s currency, the peso, lost 25 percent of its value, CNBC reported.

SOUTH KOREA

Hurry Up and Wait

South Korea removed Japan from its list of favored trading partners in connection with deteriorating bilateral relations, raising the prospect of delays all along the world’s tech supply chain.

Known to be on the cards since Japan took a similar decision earlier this month, the move will increase the time it takes for Japan to import certain Korean goods to 15 days from the five it takes the country’s favored trading partners, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The spat originated with rulings by Korea’s Supreme Court last year ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to Korean workers who were forced to work for the Japanese war effort during the occupation of their country in 1944, the Washington Post reported. Japan says the issue was settled with a $500 million payout in 1965, but 10 or more similar cases are pending in Korea’s court system.

In the meantime, the downgrade may result in production delays and a subsequent shortage of Apple’s iPhones, Amazon’s cloud-computing data servers and other gadgets.

DISCOVERIES

Happily Ever After

People love the idea of happiness. A happy ending is an important component of many books and movies, and the pursuit of happiness underpins an $11 billion a year self-help industry.

It’s also one of the “unalienable rights” in the US constitution.

Even so, happiness remains a mere human construct, according to Rafael Euba, a lecturer in old-age psychiatry at King’s College London. Humans aren’t designed to actually be happy, or even content, he says, because happiness is an abstract idea that has no biological basis.

Instead, Euba argues in the Conversation, nature programmed humans, like all other creatures, to survive and reproduce. A sustained state of happiness could possibly even threaten those goals, he writes.

“We should take comfort in the knowledge that unhappiness is not really our fault,” he said. “It is the fault of our natural design. It is in our blueprint.”

This doesn’t mean that humankind is doomed to unhappiness: People can still strive to be happy, but they need to understand that a balance of positive and negative emotions is better in the long-term.

“If you are unhappy at times, this is not a shortcoming that demands urgent repair, as the happiness gurus would have it,” Euba concludes. “Far from it. This fluctuation is, in fact, what makes you human.”