The World Today for January 30, 2020

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An Exit from Crisis

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido recently defied a travel ban to attend an international conference in Colombia, where he met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the BBC reported.

The two men had plenty to discuss.

The speaker of Venezuela’s national legislature, 36-year-old Guaido last year declared himself interim president of the South American country, saying that President Nicolas Maduro’s election in 2018 was fraudulent.

The US and around 60 other countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s leader. Maduro has the support of Russia, China, and other powerful nations.

A socialist ally of the late Hugo Chavez who rules like an autocrat, Maduro has overseen a collapse in his country’s economy as he has sought to dominate every corner of the government. Rolling blackouts, debilitating inflation, and food shortages have sparked an exodus of Venezuelan refugees. An estimated 5,000 people flee the country every day, wrote the Los Angeles Times. Many face sickness and malnourishment as they walk hundreds of miles to Colombia, Ecuador or farther.

Despite the crisis, Maduro’s grip on power remains strong. Russia has helped his government bypass American sanctions – imposed due to Maduro’s crackdown on protests and political dissidents – in order to pay for the pork legs that he promised he would distribute to his hungry people, for example, Al Jazeera noted.

But things might be changing.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Maduro recently said he would be open to negotiating with the US. “If there’s respect between governments, no matter how big the US is, and if there’s a dialogue, an exchange of truthful information, then be sure we can create a new type of relationship,” he said. “A relationship of respect and dialogue brings a win-win situation. A confrontational relationship brings a lose-lose situation. That’s the formula.”

The moment might be ideal for Guaido to propose negotiations for new elections that would let the Venezuelan people decide if they wanted to stay with Maduro’s regime or try a new leader, argued Wilson Center fellow Michael Penfold in the New York Times.

The US has leverage here. Recently, American leaders granted special licenses to oil company Chevron and four other US companies to continue drilling in Venezuela. Critics have said those companies are propping Maduro up with foreign currency, the Associated Press reported. That might be true, but pulling the licenses now would remove them as a potential bargaining chip for Guaido and his allies.

For the sake of Venezuelans, everyone might need every tool possible during the coming days.




Germany’s government on Wednesday approved plans to phase out coal as an energy source by 2038 as part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to protect the climate and restore her coalition’s green credentials, Reuters reported.

The draft law is part of a broader plan to use more renewable energy sources such as wind and solar while ceasing to use nuclear power by 2022 and coal by 2038.

The phase-out plan includes a $44 billion package to compensate workers, companies and regional governments as Germany shuts down coal-fired plants.

Utility companies will also receive $4.8 billion in compensation for closing the plants before the planned ends of their operating lives.

The oldest, dirtiest plants are slated to be closed first. The government plans to shut down stations using brown coal – or lignite – which generate about 19 percent of Germany’s electricity. Brown coal is considered the most environmentally harmful type of coal.

Despite the announcement, environmental activists staged protests in Berlin, arguing that the planned law falls far short of what is needed for Germany to fulfill its climate promises, Agence France-Presse reported.

Last year, Merkel’s cabinet launched a major climate package targeting a 55 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2030.


Pyrrhic Victory

The Syrian army said Wednesday that it captured a key town in the northwestern region of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, the Associated Press reported.

The capture of Maaret al-Numan marks a significant achievement for President Bashar Assad, whose troops control most of Syria after a nearly nine-year civil war that left more than 400,000 people dead and displaced half of the country’s population.

Government forces have been fighting with insurgents in Idlib for more than a month. They recently captured more than a dozen villages in the region.

Maaret al-Numan is located on the highway linking the capital Damascus and Aleppo, once Syria’s main commercial hub. Its capture showed that the Syrian army is closer to retaking the critical north-south highway.

The government’s recent offensive in Idlib has led to the displacement of thousands of people from areas close to Turkey. The United Nations warned of a humanitarian catastrophe along the border as a result.


Saving a “Lost Generation”

Bangladesh announced earlier this week that it will lift restrictions on education for young Rohingya refugees, a move that was welcomed by activists and human rights organizations, the Guardian reported.

The government’s decision will allow schooling for children aged 11 to 13, easing bans in place since the existing refugee camps were built 30 years ago.

“We don’t want a lost generation of Rohingya,” said Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen. “We want them to have education. They will follow Myanmar curricula.”

More than 700,000 Muslim Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh from neighboring Myanmar in 2017, after Myanmar’s military carried out several campaigns that UN investigators described as having “genocidal intent.”

Activists have since demanded access to education, while many Rohingyas have built their own centers to provide basic schooling without governmental approval.

Some refugees even forged Bangladeshi identification cards to secretly enroll in schools. In 2019, the government ordered local schools to dismiss all Rohingya children.

Many Rohingyas welcomed the government’s move and expressed hope Bangladesh will consider allowing children over the age of 14 to pursue continued education.


Stay Chill

German physician Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich concluded in 1851 that the average body temperature in humans is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

While body temperature varies depending on age, sex, environment and other conditions, that magical number has stuck around since then.

A recent study, however, found that humans have been cooling off since Wunderlich’s study, Discover Magazine reported.

Researchers at Stanford University’s School of Medicine reviewed more than 677,000 temperature measurements recorded from 1862 to 2017.

They found that the average temperature in men has decreased to 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but women have only cooled down to 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

The new study confirmed some of Wunderlich’s results, such as that younger people have higher resting temperatures than their seniors, and women have slightly higher temperatures than men.

How did people become so chill? The team laid out a few theories.

The researchers noted that during Wunderlich’s period, the average life expectancy was 38 years and chronic infections, such as tuberculosis and syphilis, were quite common.

The population’s younger age and the prevalence of infectious diseases meant that a lot of people were running hotter back then, in contrast with today’s higher life expectancy and advanced medicine.

The authors also speculated that people today live in more climate-controlled environments, which influence how hot or cold they run.

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