The World Today for February 21, 2017


Playing Catch Up

Australia has garnered headlines recently, but not for the happy-go-lucky stories usually associated with the island nation.

After US President Donald Trump dissed a refugee exchange deal between Australia and the previous American administration as “dumb” earlier this month, the Land Down Under has come under scrutiny for its poor handling of a litany of political and economic issues.

Take its stance on refugees. The long-negotiated deal between the US and Australia was an attempt by the so-called Lucky Nation to offload 1,200 refugees caught in bureaucratic limbo due to what the Washington Post calls “draconian immigration policies.”

The Australian government notoriously blacklists asylum seekers who arrive by boat, rarely allowing them to permanently settle. Many end up in detention centers on the islands of Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus. International agencies have condemned the facilities for alleged human rights abuses.

Even after refugees undergo extreme vetting, many complete the requirements of citizenship only to be denied due to the boat rule. Now some 10,231 refugees living in Australia are trapped in an indeterminate state due to their “undocumented arrivals,” the Guardian reported.

A December court ruling challenging the process may provide closure for many. But progress toward a just evaluation will likely be slow.

“Our government has denied them basic rights to stability and, importantly, family reunion, through slow and targeted decision-making,” said Tim O’Connor, the Australian Refugee Council’s acting chief executive.

Meanwhile, Australia is struggling to shore up its economy and assert itself on the international stage.

After a slight economic contraction last year, economists remain unsure about whether the country will experience further economic stagnation or post gains for 2017, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Perhaps to bolster growth, Australia has been seeking to push through the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a trade deal considered dead-on-arrival by many analysts following the US’s departure from the pact. Much of the world appears confused by Canberra’s stance.

At the same time, Australia even withdrew itself from United Nations’ talks next month on a global nuclear weapons ban, drawing even more double takes from international players.

To make optics worse, Australia has also been mired in a large-scale investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in which 7 percent of the nation’s Catholic priests abused thousands of children over the course of six decades. The Church issued a settlement of $213 million earlier this month to be shared among victims.

Upon his return home from a stint abroad, Australian executive Harold Mitchell opined that his nation was falling behind on the global racetrack. The country needed to get its act together, he said.

“Australia can be very quickly dealt out of the game,” he wrote in the Brisbane Times.


On the Brink

The United Nations declared an official state of famine in two counties of South Sudan, noting that more than 100,000 residents are already facing starvation and another million are on the brink, thanks to the ongoing civil war that began in 2013.

Even more grim, roughly 5.5 million people, about 50 percent of South Sudan’s population, are expected to be severely lacking access to food and at risk of death in the coming months, the UK’s Independent newspaper quoted a UN report as saying.

The declaration highlights the human suffering caused by South Sudan’s three-year civil war. Meanwhile, President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s government continues to block food aid to some areas.

As a case in point, more than one third of the people in South Sudan’s traditional breadbasket, Central Equatoria, are facing crisis or emergency levels of hunger, due to fighting and ethnically targeted killings that have displaced residents and disrupted farming.

A Smooty Stick

China suspended all coal imports from North Korea even as Beijing continues to say the dispute over Pyongyang’s program to develop nuclear weapons can be solved through negotiations.

“Despite participating in UN sanctions, Chinese society’s friendship to the North remains unchanged,” Reuters quoted an editorial in the state-run Global Times as saying on Monday. However, the article dismissed as a “fantasy” the idea that Beijing suspended its coal imports in reaction to the apparent assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in Malaysia – which South Korean officials have blamed on the North.

Regardless of Beijing’s motives, the decision could push the Hermit Kingdom to return to the negotiating table. China imported about $1.89 billion of coal from North Korea last year, a significant proportion of the $2.5 billion in total Chinese imports from North Korea that year.

However, Bloomberg noted that China could exert still further pressure by stopping its exports of other products, such as fuel and commodities, to the North. Beijing provides up to 90 percent of the country’s energy supplies, for instance. But pulling the plug could result in dangerous instability.

Still Going….

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe celebrated his 93rd birthday by confirming his plans to run for re-election once again in 2018.

One of Africa’s longest-serving heads of state, Mugabe told state television that “the majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, successor who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” CNN reported.

Earlier, speculation was rife that the leader’s wife, Grace Mugabe, would replace him on the ballot due to his advancing age – which was highlighted by a fall in February 2015 at Harare airport and an incident in which he read a speech to parliament apparently unaware that he had delivered exactly the same address a month earlier.

In power since 1980, Mugabe presently faces a significant grassroots threat from the #ThisFlag movement launched by pastor Evan Mawarire, who was arrested last month and charged with “subverting a constitutionally elected government.”

That should come as no surprise. Known for his lavish birthday celebrations and for bringing his country to the brink of economic collapse, Mugabe has long suppressed opposition to his government, effectively running unopposed in at least two elections, CNN noted.


One-Star Mistake

Le Bouche à Oreille is a pleasant but run-of-the-mill roadside bistro in Bourges in central France.

It is open only for lunch, when its two employees – Jacquet and a part-time cook – serve typical French fare to local workers on the restaurant’s 20 tables.

So Jacquet was understandably nonplussed when her friends began calling her asking how she managed to receive a single star in the latest edition of the prestigious Michelin Guide, the arbiter of the world’s finest dining.

The mistake was an honest one, the New York Times reported.

The guide writer meant to give the star to a restaurant of the same name around 100 miles away in Boutervilliers near Paris. The Bourges joint was on the route de la Chapelle, the other on rue de la Chapelle. The former charges around $13 for a meal. The latter costs diners $55.

Now imagine how the owner of Le Bouche à Oreille in Boutervilliers felt: Chef Aymeric Dreux had lost his star, and friends were calling to ask if he had opened a second location in Bourges.

The guide sheepishly admitted to making a mistake.

Meanwhile, the kerfuffle had a silver lining: Jacquet and Dreux became friends. They intend to share a meal together.

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