The World Today for June 26, 2018

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The Cost of Discord

Eurozone leaders recently gave a sop to Grecian taxpayers, giving Greece more time and other concessions to make it easier to pay back the billions it still owes from bailouts in the wake of the economic crisis a decade ago.

The Greek bailout technically ends on Aug. 21. One would think Europeans, investors and others would be celebrating this milestone in financial history.

The Wall Street Journal was cautious, though.

“Continued questions about whether Greece’s debt is sustainable in the long-run, and fresh worries about Italy’s finances under its new populist government, show how far the eurozone remains from resolving its underlying problems,” wrote the newspaper.

Indeed, lingering economic instability, Euro-skeptical populists, the American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear pact and President Donald Trump’s budding trade wars spell trouble for Europe.

“Everything is a bit more complicated,” Maria Antonietta Ventura, chairwoman of railroad infrastructure builder Gruppo Ventura, told the New York Times.

Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf argued that Italy was already uncompetitive. For years, Italian leaders have reneged on their pledges to reform their markets and regulations, curb deficit spending and boost productivity. Italian voters’ recent election of populists who criticize those policies ensures that little if anything will be done.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Greece and Italy are but two of the Eurozone’s many straining connections.

Stratfor, a think tank, lists Spain as one of the problem children, too.

Amid a spate of political scandals, Spanish lawmakers ousted Mariano Rajoy as prime minister and replaced him with the former opposition leader, Socialist Pedro Sanchez.

Sanchez has said he’ll reverse some of the austerity measures adopted as part of the EU’s bailout for his country (for a nice reprise of eurozone bailouts, check out this Expatica piece) and hold talks with Catalan separatists. But it doesn’t look as if Sanchez wants to challenge the EU or cause problems. The Wall Street Journal noted that Sanchez appears to be following the example of Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, a model of “fiscal rectitude.”

But Sanchez is in a minority government that could topple if the new pressures on the continent increase.

Everyone should be concerned when the world’s largest trading bloc is on such thin ice, especially when many of its wounds are self-inflicted. The Europeans wanted the eurozone, after all.

“The euro was supposed to bring shared prosperity, which would enhance solidarity and advance the goal of European integration,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in the Guardian. “In fact, it has done just the opposite, slowing growth and sowing discord.”

The EU’s motto is “United in diversity.” Perhaps it should move a bit closer to “out of many, one.”



Dudley Do Wrong

Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), aka “the Mounties,” have been hit with a C$1.1 billion lawsuit from two employees over accusations of bullying, intimidation and harassment.

Lodged in the country’s federal court last week by staff sergeant Geoffrey Greenwood and sergeant Todd Gray, the case could become a class action lawsuit joined by thousands of former and current staff and volunteers, the UK’s Independent newspaper reported.

Greenwood alleged that he was persecuted and eventually charged in an internal investigation after he reported allegations of corruption against colleagues working a drug case in Yellowknife in 2007.

Gray said he faced similar bullying and blacklisting as part of the RCMP’s equestrian show team.

Earlier, the RCMP settled a 2016 case over claims of sexual harassment and discrimination that involved thousands of female officers. More recently, the Mounties have come under fire due to allegations that the organization doesn’t treat cases of missing Indigenous women seriously, often dismissing them as sex workers or addicts – prompting a formal apology from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki this week.


Street Noise

Tehran was rocked by protests again Monday in the first widespread demonstrations to hit Iran since protests against the country’s economic policies spread to about 75 cities and towns at the end of 2017.

While those protests were largely confined to the provinces, Monday’s demonstrators clashed with police outside Parliament, a day after similar protests broke out in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, long a center of conservatism in Iranian politics, the Associated Press reported.

Iran’s semi-official news agencies, Fars, ISNA and Tasnim said the immediate trigger was a further drop in the Iranian rial to 90,000 to the US dollar on the country’s black market, despite government attempts to control the currency rate. However, they also reflect “widespread unease” following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal that has allowed Iran to come out of a sanctions regime that has strangled its economy for years.

Saying it’s not yet clear who is behind the fresh movement, AP suggested it could be linked to hardline calls for new elections or for a military-led government to replace current President Hassan Rouhani.


Own Goal

Moscow’s decision to propose an increase in the retirement age on the day the World Cup opened in Russia has resulted in a rare blow to the popularity of President Vladimir Putin, polls show.

Despite the fan frenzy, the proposal to increase the retirement age for men to 65 from 60, and for women to 63 from 55, did not go unnoticed, Reuters reported.

Opposed by 90 percent of Russians, the plan to shore up government coffers caused the number of citizens who said they’d vote for Putin again to drop to 54 from 62 percent in one poll. Another one said his approval rating had dropped 5 percent as a result of the scheme.

Re-elected in a landslide in March, Putin said in 2005 that he would never raise the retirement age. But the government is keen to cut expenditures due to fluctuating oil prices and Western sanctions, and a shrinking workforce is putting more pressure on the pension system.


Deep Breath

If humans are to colonize Mars, they’ll need oxygen.

As luck has it, Earth might already be equipped with an organism to provide it: cyanobacteria.

These reclusive, oxygen-producing microorganisms can be found in some of Earth’s most inhospitable environments. Unlike typical plants which require an abundance of sunlight for photosynthesis, these bacteria can thrive in environments with very little light because they have a special chlorophyll that can convert low-energy, “far-red” light into boundless energy.

According to a study published recently in the journal Science, the bacteria’s ability to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen in low-light environments could be the key to supporting human life on Mars, Futurism reported.

And the fact that cyanobacteria can be found in the Mojave Desert, Antarctica, and even on the exterior of the International Space Station, means the organism can surely survive the harsh conditions on the Red Planet.

“This might sound like science fiction but space agencies and private companies around the world are actively trying to turn this aspiration into reality in the not-too-distant future,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Elmars Krausz. “Photosynthesis could theoretically be harnessed with these types of organisms to create air for humans to breathe on Mars.”

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