The World Today for June 12, 2017



Number 51

In this time of secession, civil wars and bitter disputes between opposing ideological camps around the world, Puerto Rican voters decided Sunday that they wanted their island to become the 51st state of the union.

“The time for Puerto Rico’s equality has come,” said Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, the island’s non-voting representative in Congress, speaking to the Hill.

The referendum was nonbinding. Only 23 percent of the people voted, the Associated Press explained. It’s not clear the federal government approved the vote. Many Americans will have legitimate concerns about Puerto Rico, which is an unincorporated US territory, becoming a state.

But it’s important to take a step back and compare the result of the Puerto Rican vote to events elsewhere.

Today, many Brits are hell bent on leaving the European Union. Many Scots want out of Britain. Some residents of Northern Ireland are hoping to rebuild the border barriers that once separated the Irish Republic to the south from their slice of the United Kingdom.

Catalonia is trying to secede from Spain. Quebec is making noise about leaving Canada.

Those are the peaceful conflicts. Consider Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are battling their fellow Ukrainians who want to keep their country together. Tibetans and Uyghurs live under draconian Chinese rule as the price for their ongoing separatist movements.

Farther along the spectrum, the Islamic State has erected a self-described theocratic superstructure to replace national governments in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, want to join.

Their decision was practical. The island is suffering from a Greek-like financial crisis: it simply can’t pay its $123 billion in debts and pension obligations. If it were a US state, it would likely benefit from more federal aid and friendlier bankruptcy laws that would help it restructure its obligations.

Currently, the island is in bankruptcy proceedings created exclusively for its troubles. Meanwhile, as the island’s leaders and its creditors negotiate, the New York Times wrote that 150 schools are closing on the island as residents leave for jobs on the mainland.

So of course Puerto Rico would see advantages from statehood. Every state that joined the union sought similar benefits.

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump said he might be open to making Puerto Rico a state.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello hoped the president would live up to his pledge in terms that suggested he too was thinking about the state of things internationally.

“It would be highly contradictory for Washington to demand democracy in other parts of the world, and not respond to the legitimate right to self-determination that was exercised today in the American territory of Puerto Rico,” Rossello said.

[siteshare]Number 51[/siteshare]



Forward, March

French President Emmanuel Macron can boast of more than a firm handshake.

He can also lay claim to a firm grip on the French parliament, where his infant centrist party is poised to win an overwhelming majority following the first round of elections Sunday, the Guardian reported.

Macron’s Republic on the Move and ally MoDem won 32.32 percent of votes in the first round, trouncing the conservative Republicans and their allies, who notched 21.56 percent. The far-right National Front and Socialist party managed only 13.20 and 9.5%, respectively.

“France is back,” was the reaction of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

Notably, Macron needs a strong parliamentary majority to push through planned economic reforms that include loosening France’s strict labor laws and slashing pensions and unemployment benefits. At the same time, if he does go on to win a landslide victory in the second round of voting June 18, it will “redraw the landscape of French politics,” the Guardian said.

Many believe the young president – he has never held elected office and started his party just over a year ago and yet has marginalized the two establishment parties dominating French politics since World War II – already has.

[siteshare]Bouncing Back[/siteshare]


Riding the Broom

A trenchant critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to leverage public anger over government corruption to unseat him next year.

It’s a long shot, at best, for opposition leader Alexei Navalny. But a planned protest Monday where thousands are expected to take to the streets of Moscow and other cities should provide some guidance on his odds, Reuters reported.

A similar event in March, where protesters called on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to resign, boasted the biggest turnout of any such event since a wave of anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2012 – and resulted in more than 1,000 arrests.

Putin remains too popular to be in any imminent danger. But Navalny’s anti-corruption drive has struck a chord, with a video he made accusing Medvedev of living far beyond his means in a luxurious estate attracting more than 22 million views online.

The prime minister says there’s nothing to the rabble-rouser’s claims, and Navalny lost a defamation suit to another oligarch mentioned in the video last month, however.

[siteshare]Riding the Broom[/siteshare]


First Strike

The US military hit al-Shabaab militants with its first drone strike in Somalia since President Donald Trump relaxed the rules governing such strikes in that country in March.

The New York Times quoted the US military as saying the strike on a command and logistics center in one of the militants’ camps is believed to have killed eight fighters, and that there have been no reports of civilian casualties so far.

At least one armed Reaper fired multiple Hellfire missiles on the Shabaab camp, which American military surveillance aircraft had been monitoring for months. An American official told the Times to expect more such strikes imminently.

Last month, one US marine was killed and two others were injured in the first American combat operation in Somalia since the notorious 1993 Blackhawk Down incident. Somalia has been fighting al-Shabaab – an affiliate of al Qaeda that aims to establish Sharia law across the country – since around 2007.

[siteshare] First Strike [/siteshare]


Amber Relics

As any fan of the film Jurassic Park knows, amber is an excellent material for safekeeping prehistoric specimens from the dinosaur age.

Now, scientists say they’ve found the remains of a baby bird frozen in time in a 99-million-year-old piece of Burmese amber, according to a new study published in the journal Gondwana Research.

The tiny hatchling – a member of the bird group known as enantiornithines, which went extinct 65 million years ago – is the most complete fossil to be discovered yet in Burmese amber, wrote National Geographic.

Nearly half of the tiny bird’s body – including its head, wings and some feathers – was preserved in the three-inch sample.

And the young enantiornithine – nicknamed “Belone” – is a welcome source of information on how these ancient, toothed birds differed from their modern descendants, they added.

In particular, the presence of a full set of flight feathers on the bird’s wings suggests these enantiornithines were born with the ability to fly, reducing their dependence on parental care compared to modern birds.

They paid a high price for their youthful independence with vulnerability, however – and the high number of juvenile fossils suggests many never made it to adulthood.

[siteshare]Amber Relics[/siteshare]

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