The World Today for August 11, 2017



Ghosts of the Past

With almost 1,000 miles of Mediterranean coastline and fertile land in the country’s north, Algeria served as the Roman Empire’s breadbasket – and a regional jewel for subsequent empires including the Ottomans and the French.

And after decades of turmoil in the latter half of the 20th century, it’s emerged again as a diamond – but a gem in the rough.

That’s because it still hasn’t quite managed to put its recent past behind it, observers say.

In 1962, Algeria won independence from its French colonial masters – after a bloody, eight-year war of independence. The decades that followed saw swings between democratic reforms, military coups and Islamic uprisings – and a brutal 11-year civil war.

The country has experienced a period of relative calm since the millennium, boosted by industrialization and vast oil and natural gas reserves: These have transformed Algeria into one of the region’s most stable nations, the Economist reports.

Cheap labor, low production costs and proximity to Europe have ratcheted up exports and fueled growth. Algeria has also shown a commitment to social programs and modernization, promoting stability.

Still, structural problems linger, mostly due to blatant distrust in Western interests – a hangover from its colonial past.

The Algerian government – led by octogenarian, wheel-chair-confined President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999 – is struggling with economic diversification and foreign investment. Abdelaziz and his cohorts cling to antiquated isolationist policies, such as capping foreign ownership in Algerian enterprises at 49 percent.

That’s contributed to a national debt surging to 17 percent of GDP and high youth unemployment.

The nation’s colonial past has created mistrust with neighbors also.

Algeria refuses to take part in the French-led anti-terror force, the so-called G5 Sahel, in favor of its own regional security initiatives.

Instead, the country embraces close ties to Russia – which supplies weapons for the nation’s military – and controversial Islamic political movements like Hamas.

It’s also distanced itself from neighbor Morocco, whose openness to Western travel, culture and investment have created strong business relations with Europe.

Algeria is resistant to such moves – one reason why those 1,000 miles of pristine beaches go largely unvisited by foreigners.

Recently, French President Emmanuel Macron inflamed Algeria by insinuating that it isn’t doing enough to prevent Islamic terrorism.

But France has a point. Algeria has aggressively fought for years to squash extremism within its borders, given its civil war legacy. However, armed groups of militants continue to operate in mountainous areas, the desert and especially on the Libyan border.

Still, the security situation, say observers, isn’t the main reason why there isn’t more investment, or political and economic development in Algeria.

Instead, its refusal to let go of the past is preventing this diamond from getting buffed

[siteshare]Ghosts of the Past[/siteshare]



Au Revoir, ‘Fake Jobs’

The French parliament has passed a public ethics bill designed to end the so-called clientelism that shadowed recent elections and handed President Emmanuel Macron a victory, France 24 reported Thursday.

Last week, parliament also approved another law that bans lawmakers and ministers from employing family members.

The move was a Macron campaign promise – he took over as president in May – that won popular support after his right-wing rival, Francois Fillon, was hit by allegations that he used public funds to employ his wife, despite little evidence of her having done any work, the news agency said. Fillon denies any wrongdoing.

The latest law will prevent lawmakers from spending public funds on special interest areas and NGOs of their choice. Fillon’s party, the Republicans, voted against the law, claiming it would “anchor” lawmakers to their constituencies, Reuters noted.

Meanwhile, Macron has quickly worn out his honeymoon phase, taking fire for his labor reform program as well as cuts to the national budget and public spending. He has also been criticized for trying to create an official First Lady position for his wife.

Critics could not swallow that idea while Macron was backing legislation to end the problem of “fake jobs” for relatives, France 24 wrote.

[siteshare]Au Revoir, ‘Fake Jobs’[/siteshare]


Making Friends

Japan is playing a new diplomatic hand by providing the Philippine military with parts to keep its helicopters airborne, thereby competing with China’s influence over the South China Sea nation, Reuters reported on Thursday.

“In order to strengthen national security, we want to push ahead with defense equipment cooperation,” a spokesman for the procurement agency of Japan’s defense ministry told the news agency.

The agreement is the first since Japan did away with a rule in June barring giveaways of surplus military equipment as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks a new assertiveness after decades of state pacifism.

With deals under discussion with other Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, the pact with Manila could be the first in a series of similar arrangements intended to counter China’s territorial designs in the South China Sea.

China has offered to donate $14 million in military hardware to the Philippines, in addition to a soft loan for $500 million in Chinese arms, Reuters noted.

[siteshare]Making Friends[/siteshare]


Give Us Your Tired…

Canadian soldiers are building a camp in southern Quebec for the mostly Haitian asylum seekers crossing the border from the US, Deutsche Welle reported Thursday.

As many as 250 displaced people are crossing every day into Canada from New York state, up from 50 two weeks ago, the news agency said. The crossings have been spurred by President Trump’s threat to end the Temporary Protected Status given to 58,000 Haitians who entered US after the 2010 earthquake.

The program was extended another six months, but those seeking asylum in Canada fear they will never gain legal status in the US, the New York Times wrote.

The refugees avoid getting sent back because they are using non-official border crossings. Based on a US-Canadian agreement, asylum seekers have to assert their claim at the country they arrive in first, but only if they cross at official points.

More than 4,300 people have entered Canada in the first half of this year, most into the province of Quebec. Last week, Montreal converted the city’s Olympic Stadium into a temporary shelter.

Canada’s Immigration Ministry has published a Facebook post discouraging the unauthorized crossings, the news agency said.

[siteshare]Give Us Your Tired…[/siteshare]


Rinse, Don’t Repeat

When your kitchen sponge inevitably starts to stink, resist the urge to be thrifty by cleaning and reusing it – you may end up making your sponge nastier than it was in the first place, according to a study published recently in Scientific Reports.

According to the study conducted by a team of researchers at Germany’s University of Furtwangen, as many as 82 billion bacteria can occupy just one cubic inch of space on a frequently used sponge.

That’s the same bacteria density that can be found in a human stool sample, the New York Times reports.

Used sponges – with their warm, porous surfaces filled with food stuffs – are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria like Moraxella osloensis, a microbe living on human skin that’s responsible for the typical smell of dirty laundry.

Many may be tempted to try to microwave, boil or disinfect the sponge at its apex of stink.

But this may just exacerbate the problem, according to the study. Researchers found that pathogenic bacteria like Moraxella osloensis develop a resistance to disinfectants and thrive on sponges that are routinely cleaned.

Solution: When that stink sets in, reach for a new sponge, not the antiseptic.

[siteshare]Rinse, Don’t Repeat[/siteshare]

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