The World Today for June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016


Taking a Step Back?

When the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994, it was heralded as a milestone on the road toward a new era of globalization. Widespread peace and prosperity awaited the world, President Bill Clinton and others said at the time.

Today, when the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States meet in Ottawa under the auspices of NAFTA, they confront a worldwide backlash against globalization and everything free trade represents.

Last week’s Brexit vote is the latest and perhaps the greatest example of the trend. Despite how most of the British establishment opposed leaving the European Union, voters chose to risk hobbling an organization that has helped create the longest peace in Western and central Europe for centuries.

It’s not the first example of anti-EU sentiments in Europe, however.

The xenophobic, anti-EU National Front in France cheered Brexit. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been thumbing his nose at Brussels for years. Poland’s new conservative government is skeptical of the EU, too.

Germany emerged from the Greek financial crisis looking dictatorial and harsh. Similarly, Spain’s government is deadlocked amid the far left’s calls to abandon the austerity measures that German officials have said is crucial to improving the continent’s anemic economy.

Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the agreement.

Still, NAFTA defenders said the Ottawa meeting was an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of free trade.

“There are opportunities to highlight the significance of North America,” Mark Feierstein, senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the White House’s National Security Council, told the Wall Street Journal.

But events keep getting ahead of folks like Feierstein.

TransCanada, for example, is now suing the US government for $15 billion for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline under a NAFTA provision that lets foreign corporations challenge the American government’s decisions and laws.

That kind of corporate challenge is exactly what critics deride about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TTP, a US-Asia-South America trade deal, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or the TTIP, a US-EU pact.

Canadian views of NAFTA are telling.

Ten years ago, a 2003 Ipsos Reid survey found that 70 percent of Canadians supported NAFTA, the National Post reported. Today, half of Canadians are neutral about the pact. A quarter doesn’t like it. Another quarter supports it. But the same poll found that most Canadians don’t want to scrap NAFTA.

Americans are less enamored with NAFTA, in part because of their negative views of Mexicans, another poll found. Still, Mexico is widely viewed as not profiting significantly from NAFTA.

But lukewarm support for NAFTA means no heady momentum for other trade agreements either

Politico reported that Brexit has “dashed” hopes for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and the EU in 2016. Facing pressure from Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, another free trade critic, Congress has been less than enthusiastic about TTIP, too.

And then there is the trade pact with Asia, the TPP, which has just been negotiated…

Will the world take a step back if those trade deals wind up in the dustbin of history? It depends on one’s point of view. We can sure that perspective will be discussed, but not shared, by the leaders in Ottawa.


On Multiple Fronts

Turkish officials say that Islamic State militants are likely behind the attack at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport last night that killed 36 people and wounded nearly 150.

The three suicide bombers opened fire at the airport – one attacker fired shots in the international departures hall – before all three blew themselves up in or around the arrivals floor. Police fired shots in an attempt to stop two attackers but failed to prevent them from detonating their explosives.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim condemned the attack as “a vile, planned terrorist act” and said that preliminary evidence points to IS – although the terrorist organization has not yet claimed responsibility.

The Istanbul airport attack is one of the deadliest suicide bombings in Turkey, which forms part of the US-led coalition against IS.

The country is under pressure on multiple fronts, as it is struggling to contain spillover from neighboring Syria while warding off an insurgency by Kurdish militants in the country's southeast.

Old Allies, New Drills

South Korea, Japan and the US joined forces Tuesday in an unprecedented missile-tracking exercise in waters off of Hawaii.

No missiles were fired, but each country tested its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System – which enables ships to shoot down enemy missiles while they are still in space – as well as communications and data collection, said US military officials.

The drills come on the heels of North Korea's repeated tests of mid-range ballistic missiles in recent months. While most of North Korea's missile tests have ended in failure, last week's apparently successful launch alarmed its neighbors.

US military said the trilateral exercises – dubbed Pacific Dragon – would enhance “the already strong relationship of all three nations participating,” the BBC reported.

North Korea has criticized the drills as a “military provocation” and said that it would reinforce its commitment to developing ballistic and nuclear weapons of its own in response.

Britain vs. Britain

Scotland's leader Nicola Sturgeon is meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Wednesday to speak about how Scotland can remain in the bloc. This comes as many in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are already rushing to get applications for Irish passports.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament met Tuesday to discuss the Brexit referendum in favor of the UK's exit from the European Union in a contentious session that was marked by boos and cheers from MEPs.

In a heated exchange, president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker asked UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, a prominent figure in Britain's Leave campaign, “Why are you still here,” noting that Farage and his ilk had been “fighting for the exit” from Parliament.

Farage for his part criticized the MEPs, saying that many of them had never held “a proper job” in their lives and that the European institutions and currency were failing.

There is a silver lining to Brexit, however, according to Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. He later told Farage that, “OK, let’s be positive, we are getting rid of the biggest waste of EU budget: your salary.”


Fighting the Meter Maids

A 19-year-old British techie has created an amazing computer program that has helped 170,000 people successfully appeal their parking violations.

Created by Joshua Browder, a Londoner studying at Stanford University, DoNotPay asks users questions and then generates an appeal letter explaining why they shouldn’t pay their parking tickets. He got the idea when he, a lowly student, needed to pay around 30 tickets last year.

“I think the people that are getting parking tickets and can’t afford them are the most vulnerable in our society,” he told the Daily News.

In London, the free app won 160,000 out of 250,000 cases, a 64 percent win rate that saved drivers from paying $4 million in charges.

Browder recently launched the site in New York. He’s fought around 25,000 tickets and won 10,000, saving drivers around $1 million.

The Big Apple should be concerned. Parking tickets are an important source of revenue for the biggest city in the United States, generating $565 million last year, the newspaper reported.

See how it works here in this video.

Wed, 06/29/2016 – 06:19

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