The World Today for September 08, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

FRANCE

Forward March

Security services were swarming Athens in expectation of French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to Greece, where he called for reforms in the Eurozone.

French presidents – especially dashing, newly elected 39-year-old French presidents – excel at such pomp and circumstance.

But Macron’s popularity is in the dumps, slipping to a dismal 30 percent approval rating in early September compared to 43 percent in July, according to Quartz.

He has suffered embarrassments, like spending $31,000 on makeup in his first three months in office. But his plunging ratings most likely stem from Macron’s policies at home, especially his charge to reform France’s rigid labor laws.

France’s pro-worker rules provide a “35-hour workweek, the five-week annual vacation and, best of all, the ‘contract of indeterminate length,’” the Washington Post reported.

It’s great for some. But Macron, a former investment banker, argues that the rules are an obstacle to hiring and firing new people, stifling business growth – and the French economy.

He and Prime Minister Édouard Philippe – a Republican – put forward a raft of deregulation, including making it easier to fire people.

“This reform brings a radical change, a big bang in the functioning of the French labor market,” University of Aix-Marseille Economist Gilbert Cette told the New York Times. “This is a new approach that turns the market upside down completely.”

Macron’s poll numbers have taken a beating, but these recent reforms are just the start, the New York Times wryly noted.

Macron is also set to tackle pension and unemployment benefits. He’ll have very little political capital for those battles unless he convinces the French public of the wisdom of his plans.

More likely, he’ll get his plans through, be thrown out of office during the next elections, and his successor will reap the benefits, in a situation reminiscent of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, observers say.

Nevertheless, Macron retains his shine abroad.

His victory over National Front leader Marine Le Pen in May marked the turn of the political tide in Europe that fueled Brexit, led to far-right surges in Austria and Italy and bolstered illiberal governments in Hungary and Poland.

On the campaign trail, in contrast, Macron criticized the European Union’s bureaucracy but upheld its ideal of a politically and economically unified continent of democracies.

The Greeks kept that legacy in mind.

Like the French left, the leftwing Greek government doesn’t approve of Macron’s labor reforms. But they embrace his calls to reform the EU to end the “financial carnage” wrought by the Greek impoverishment that began in 2009 and continues today.

Reforming France and the EU? Ambitious. But he’s starting somewhere.

[siteshare]Forward March[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

SYRIA

New Kid on the Block

Israel launched an air strike against a military site in Syria’s Hama province believed to be linked to chemical weapons production, in what analysts say could mark a new phase of Israeli involvement in the conflict.

The air strike killed two soldiers and caused damage near the town of Masyaf, Reuters quoted a Syrian army statement as saying. Syria warned that the “aggressive action” could have “dangerous repercussions” for the security of the region.

Notably, the strike came on the morning after United Nations investigators said the Syrian government was responsible for a sarin poison gas attack in April.

Some analysts suggest that the strike signals Israel’s dissatisfaction with how the US and Russia are negotiating the tangled conflict as they cooperate to crush the Islamic State. Of topmost concern: Israel fears that Iran is attempting to broaden its military foothold in Syria as the fight against the militants winds down. Jerusalem is also worried about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s close ties with Hezbollah.

[siteshare]New Kid on the Block[/siteshare]

SPAIN

Let’s Stay Together

Spain’s constitutional court suspended a law that set the stage for an independence vote for Catalonia next month. But Catalan leaders say they will press ahead with the vote on Oct. 1 even as the country’s top authority deliberates over whether it breeches the country’s constitution.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Thursday he had appealed to the court to declare the referendum illegal, describing the law as an “intolerable act of disobedience,” the BBC reported.

The court ruling came just a day after the pro-independence majority in Catalonia’s parliament passed the referendum law.

The wealthy northeastern region is already autonomous, but the regional government says it has popular support for full secession.

In March, former Catalan president Artur Mas was found guilty of disobeying the constitutional court and banned from holding public office for two years for holding a symbolic independence referendum in 2014.

In that vote, more than 80% of participants opted for independence – though only 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.4 million eligible voters took part, the Guardian noted.

[siteshare]Let’s Stay Together[/siteshare]

PHILIPPINES

Encrypted Ink

In a theatrical turn, the son of controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte appeared before the country’s senate on Thursday to answer accusations that he facilitated a $125 million shipment of narcotics as vice mayor of Davao City.

Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte called the accusations “baseless,” and refused to answer “allegations based on hearsay,” NBC News reported. But with his father facing criticism for a brutal anti-drug campaign, the story is just salacious enough to gain traction.

Though he has now recanted, earlier a customs broker testified that he heard Paolo’s name and the name of his brother-in-law mentioned in connection with a $125 million shipment of crystal methamphetamine brought into the country from China. And an opposition senator who is a bitter rival of the controversial president has testified that Paolo has a “dragon-like” tattoo on his back with a secret code linking him to a criminal syndicate.

Would he show the tattoo to the court, or provide a picture of it to the US Drug Enforcement Agency so it could decode the secret symbols?

“No way,” Paolo told legislators.

[siteshare]Encrypted Ink[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Holy Guacamole

Guacamole has become a beloved accompaniment to any Mexican feast in the United States.

Now, this traditional avocado dip is getting political as well, Reuters reports.

When negotiators from Canada, Mexico and the United States met recently to discuss new trade stipulations for the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, avocado growers from Mexico’s Jalisco state set about breaking the record for the world’s biggest serving of guacamole.

It took 25,000 avocados and 1,000 people to make a decadent 6,600 pounds of the dip for thousands of local onlookers, a new Guinness World Record.

Mexican avocado growers taking part in the event said the colossal batch of guacamole included a special ingredient: a political message.

Some 80 percent of American avocado consumption is sourced from Mexican orchards – a fact that would change if stricter tariffs on Mexican produce were implemented.

While world leaders hashed out specifics on NAFTA, local chefs and other volunteers whipped up a reminder of what Americans could lose from new trade restrictions: that delicious green gold.

[siteshare] Holy Guacamole[/siteshare]

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