The World Today for September 12, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

PUERTO RICO

Puerto de Dolor

Angry Puerto Ricans have been marching against their government’s plans to hike taxes and cut spending to manage billions in debt that the island is struggling to pay back.

“They’re taking advantage of us poor workers,” retired 70-year-old government worker Eva Feliciano told the Associated Press recently.

Holding up a sign reading, “We did not steal. We are not corrupt,” Feliciano said she sometimes can’t afford to eat.

Then Hurricane Irma hit.

The worst of the Category 5 hurricane that tore through the Caribbean and hit Florida over the weekend missed Puerto Rico, though hundreds lost their homes and three perished.

But the storm took its toll. Around 70 percent of Puerto Rico lost power, for example, exposing the pitiful state of the island’s infrastructure before the winds and rains hit.

“I don’t want to point fingers, but the truth is it’s been periods of over a decade with very little or no investment in the maintenance of our infrastructure, and that makes us more susceptible,” Governor Ricardo Rosselló told the New York Times.

Now many are asking if heavily indebted Puerto Rico can ever recover.

CNBC reported that some financiers believed the disaster could spur investment that would improve Puerto Rico’s public services. Others wondered why anyone would purchase bonds issued by the island’s public utilities given how they performed during the storm.

In truth, however, the public utilities haven’t worked well in years. The Times reported that many Puerto Ricans lost power a few times a week before Irma, for example. Those blackouts certainly were one reason 446,000 people left the island between 2005 and 2015 in search of jobs and other opportunities.

“This town in Puerto Rico looked like a hurricane hit it – long before Irma,” read a Miami Herald headline. The newspaper described boarded-up windows and hanging signs on empty shops in Fajardo on the eastern coast.

Congress already appointed a financial review board to oversee how the island deals with its $70 billion in debt and $50 billion in pension obligations. That’s around $35,000 for each of its 3.4 million residents. The government-owned utility defaulted on $9 billion of that debt in July, NPR explained.

It’s possible the review board could force major changes, like privatization and further paring down retiree benefits.

But that gets us back to square one. What new storm might Governor Rosselló and others trigger when they seek to rebuild from this one?

[siteshare]Puerto de Dolor[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Honestly Corrupt

Russia’s pro-democracy bloc scored an “unbelievable success” in district council polls over the weekend, winning control over several districts in Moscow as the party allied with President Vladimir Putin dominated national gubernatorial elections.

The district councils have limited power, but opposition candidates had targeted them for symbolic victory after being blocked from participating in higher-profile races in many cases, Bloomberg reported.

The United Democrats movement took 11 out of 12 council seats in the Tverskaya district, a wealthy neighborhood adjacent to the Kremlin. It also secured all 12 seats in the Gagarinsky district, where Putin cast his vote on Sunday, the Guardian noted.

On the other hand, United Russia still managed to secure about 75% of district council seats across the city, and ruling party candidates won in all 16 gubernatorial polls.

Significantly, the Kremlin relaxed its usual stranglehold on the district elections, where opposition candidates are frequently barred from running for office. Citing the opposition victories as a positive sign, officials called the Moscow polls “the most honest elections ever”.

[siteshare]Honestly Corrupt[/siteshare]

YEMEN

Partners in Crime

Human Rights Watch has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in Yemen, where it says air strikes killed 39 civilians including 26 children over two months.

The coalition has repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes and says the strikes targeted fighters affiliated with the Houthi rebels and not civilians. But the rights group says coalition forces hit four family homes and a grocery store either deliberately or recklessly, Reuters reported.

The Saudi-led coalition has the support of the US and Britain, while the Houthi rebels are backed by Iran. The war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than three million and ruined much of Yemen’s infrastructure.

The Saudis are conducting their campaign with US made bombs, intelligence, and refueling aircraft, Foreign Policy noted, while the coalition has blocked humanitarian efforts to alleviate suffering including the worst outbreak of cholera in modern times – affecting some 600,000 people.

[siteshare]Partners in Crime[/siteshare]

FRANCE

Popular Disapproval

One of France’s largest trade unions will take to the streets Tuesday in the first such demonstration against the planned economic reforms of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Members of the CGTFrance’s second largest trade union, will march to oppose some 36 measures designed to make it easier for employers to negotiate contracts and hire and fire workers, France 24 reported.

Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe believe labor reforms are needed to make France more competitive and stimulate economic growth. But many see the country’s strong protections for workers as part of what it means to be French.

Meanwhile, a high abstention rate and polls indicating that many voters chose Macron without being convinced about his agenda have suggested that his victory in the recent election may not have been as decisive as originally believed.

Some polls even put Macron’s approval ratings after 100 days in office lower than his “wildly unpopular” predecessor Francois Hollande’s.

[siteshare]Popular Disapproval[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

One Dog, One Sneeze

Different organisms throughout the animal kingdom have their own ways of communicating with one another when they want to move as a group.

For African dogs, it’s sneezing – a unique method of communication never before observed in the wild.

According to new research published recently in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, wild African dogs snort and sneeze to affirm a proposal to go hunt. The more members of a pack that sneeze, the more likely they are to go on the prowl.

But the process isn’t exactly democratic, the New York Times reports. Pack members aren’t limited to one sneeze, and affirmations by the pack’s top dogs outweigh those from underlings.

Scientists are still unsure whether the sneezes are voluntary, like a vote, or simply part of the dogs’ nature. But what they can say is that a sneezing pack is a good indication of one likely to soon embark on a search for prey.

Click here to watch an explainer of the process.

[siteshare]One Dog, One Sneeze[/siteshare]

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