The World Today for February 06, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

A Wave of Civic Creativity

Democracy still works, at least in Romania.

On Sunday, Romanian protesters remained on the streets of Bucharest and elsewhere despite their apparent victory the day before, when the government scrapped a controversial decree that would have weakened corruption laws in the country.

The rallies were the biggest since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, a heady time that in retrospect was the highpoint for the West in the 20th Century.

Since then, the rise of China, contested elections and political gridlock, the War on Terror and financial crises have made the confidence expressed by American and European leaders in those years look downright naïve today.

The Romanian protesters, on the other hand, were politically astute and, therefore, skeptical.

“Why are we still here now?” demonstrator Ana Puiu told the New York Times in Bucharest. “Because we can’t trust this new government.”

How could they trust Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu?

CNN reported that Grindeanu proposed decriminalizing corruption that involved less than $48,000 – per capita gross domestic product in Romania is $22,300 – freeing some officials imprisoned on corruption charges, suspending current corruption investigations and stopping further cases related to those investigations.

Romanians have endured terrible corruption since they embraced democracy and capitalism. Perhaps they had grown inured, or at least accustomed, to it as they struggled to rebuild their economy and cope with the social turmoil associated with their revolution.

But the baldness of the decree was a step too far, explained Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a professor of democracy studies at Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance, in Euronews.

“Is there any other country in Europe where the No. 2 politician (head of the Senate) and the No 3 politician (head of the Chamber of Deputies), who have just won elections with a comfortable majority, fear imminent arrest and conviction?” asked Mungiu-Pippidi.

Most members of Romania’s parliament have hired their relatives, flouting nepotism laws, Mungiu-Pippidi wrote. Eighteen cabinet ministers and an ex-prime minister are in jail. Another former prime minister has been indicted. And yet, lawmakers responded by gutting anti-corruption agencies and passing laws that helped them avoid prosecution.

The decriminalization proposal would have especially benefited the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, who faces charges of defrauding the state of around $26,000, the BBC noted. Dragnea is now facing abuse-of-power charges and serving a suspended two-year sentence for vote rigging. The decree would have allowed him to become prime minister.

Rescinding the decree won’t fix corruption in Romania, clearly. But it was a rare victory for democracy that could be a foundation for more reforms.

Grindeanu has refused to resign, for example, despite calls for his ouster.

“Romania’s streets are the main guardians of democracy in this country, and the good news is when governments tighten the screw, it inspires a wave of civic creativity,” wrote Claudia Ciobanu in the Guardian. “In many ways this past, intense week was just the start.”

WANT TO KNOW

A New Sweep

Turkey detained as many as 690 suspected members of Islamic State (IS) terror cells on Sunday.

The sweeping raids marked another sort of crackdown from the one targeting alleged supporters of the failed July coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Turkish authorities claimed that the raids thwarted at least one terrorist attack, the Associated Press reported.

The widespread police action also marked a significant change in Turkey’s counterterrorism strategy, which had previously only detained small numbers of suspected jihadists at a time. But it remains to be seen whether the police crackdown can hold up to court scrutiny and result in actual prosecutions, the agency said.

Turkey’s judiciary has in the past ordered the release of suspected jihadists when police have not been able to produce sufficient evidence to justify holding them, and it’s possible that the large number of suspects may overwhelm the police with paperwork and interrogations, Turkish counterterrorism experts said.

‘Two Totalitarianisms’

Far-right populist Marine Le Pen warned French voters that the country faces the threat of “two totalitarianisms” that seek to “subjugate France”: globalization and Islamism.

In an hour-long speech kicking off her presidential campaign on Sunday, Le Pen praised US President Donald Trump and the voters who elected him, saying Americans had “kept faith with their national interest,” and urging French voters to do the same, the New York Times reported.

Polls show that Le Pen’s National Front party is very likely to reach the second round of voting in France’s two-stage electoral process this spring and may possibly win the presidency for the first time in more than 40 years.

As far as campaign promises, Le Pen said she’d hold a referendum on France’s European Union membership within her first six months in office, secure the country’s borders and pull France out of NATO. Sound familiar? She also called France’s membership in the EU “a nightmare.”

Not in this Generation

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he plans to scrap peace talks with communist rebels that were scheduled to resume later this month in Norway, asking leaders who were freed to attend the negotiations to return to prison or face arrests.

“Peace with the communists might not come in this generation,” Duterte said at a late-night news conference over the weekend, the Associated Press reported.

The cancellation of the negotiations follows the lifting of a six-month old ceasefire deal with the rebels, after the guerillas killed six soldiers “like wild pigs.”

The move dealt a serious blow to the prospects for peace, as the negotiations had formed a major pillar of Duterte’s presidential campaign, along with his now infamous war on drugs. Prior to breaking down, the Norway talks had “progressed steadily” toward ending the 48-year Marxist insurgency, which has left about 40,000 combatants and civilians dead, the agency said.

DISCOVERIES

Adult Wrapping

New mothers in Japan are turning to a new health trend to treat post-pregnancy aches and pains.

Funnily enough, it recreates an experience mothers often employ to calm children after birth –swaddling them in tightly wrapped blankets.

It’s called Otonamaki, or “adult wrapping.”

Developed by a Kyoto midwife who thought the technique could help new mothers overcome post-labor shoulder and hip pain, the Otonamaki procedure wraps women head to toe in a white bag. The women lie on their backs with their knees on their chest. Caregivers then help them rock gently from side to side and over cushions for 20 minutes.

Mothers who have tried the technique were positive about the treatment, but not overly so. They told Reuters the experience was “hard to describe properly.”

Others are skeptical of Otonamaki’s healing powers and recommend treating back pain by visiting an old-fashioned doctor.

“I just can’t think of how people can benefit from this even as a form of reflexology or exercise,” said chiropractor Shiro Oba.

Check out a video of Otonamaki here.

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