The World Today for January 23, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

THE EUROPEAN UNION

Losing A Limb

Brits who fancy fresh tulips can now pop over to the corner shop to pick up the flowers, thanks to the seamless supply chain between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

“The Hook of Holland, a stretch of land outside Rotterdam sliced by canals, functions in many ways like Britain’s backyard,” wrote the Washington Post.

But in the wake of Parliament’s rejection of Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for Britain’s exit from the European Union, business between the UK and its main trading partner in Europe could drop off precipitously on March 29 – the official date for the separation.

While the UK Parliament is moving closer to extending that deadline in a bid to avoid a no-deal Brexit, according to Bloomberg, the Dutch are scrambling to limit the damage if that occurs.

British citizens who live in the Netherlands will have 15 months to apply for a residence permit in the event of a “hard Brexit,” or a departure without a treaty or other formal arrangement to manage trade and other issues between the UK and the bloc, reported Euractiv.

Germany, France and other nations have also adopted arrangements while girding for other changes.

France is spending $57 million to enhance security at the Eurotunnel and airports. “What’s certain is that the scenario of a no-deal Brexit is more and more likely,” Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said in France 24.

Portugal will open special airport lines for British tourists. Germany is investigating bureaucratic problems that could arise if nothing replaces the EU rules that now govern interactions between the two countries.

“We want to keep the damage — and there will certainly be damage from Britain’s departure — as small as possible,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Associated Press. “That’s why we will of course do everything to find an orderly solution, but we are also prepared if there is no orderly solution.”

The German business daily Handelsblatt reported that the Dutch and Germans were seeking to accommodate the British with new concessions over the Irish border question in order to avoid chaos in March. But, as Reuters reported, Dutch leaders discounted that claim. They were sticking with the position EU leaders took in December, saying the border issue would not be renegotiated.

Writing in an op-ed for the Guardian, German journalist Alan Posener dismissed British dreams of Europeans like Merkel acceding to a plan that Parliament might accept. Allowing Britain a painless exit would empower populists throughout Europe who want to dismantle the EU, he argued. That would dismantle the commercial zone that gives Germany the international heft necessary to compete and trade as an equal with the US and China.

If and when Britain leaves the EU, Europe will suffer like a tree losing a limb. It’s painful. The tree suffers. But it survives. The limb, on the other hand…

WANT TO KNOW

CHINA

Cut and Spend

China unveiled plans for more deficit spending – focused on more tax cuts for small firms — in a bid to stimulate the economy after growth fell to its slowest pace since 1990 despite similar measures in 2018.

Beijing slashed about 1.3 trillion yuan worth of taxes and fees in 2018, but nevertheless managed to meet its revenue targets, Reuters reported. China will make further cuts this year and is mulling a reduction social security fees to help small companies, Finance Minister Liu Kun said.

Such statements have raised expectations that China may again loosen its fiscal deficit target, after reducing it in 2018 to 2.6 percent of gross domestic product from the previous target of 3 percent.

China announced Monday that GDP growth fell to 6.6 percent in 2018 from a revised 6.8 percent a year earlier, though industrial output and retail sales ticked up in December, CNBC reported. Separately, commentator Jim Cramer speculated that the slowdown could help US President Donald Trump in trade negotiations with the world’s second-largest economic power.

RUSSIA

Locked Up Abroad

Paul Whelan, a former US marine being detained in Russia on allegations of espionage, was denied bail on Tuesday in a court session that marked his first public appearance since his arrest at the end of December.

Family members told USA Today they are convinced he “was entrapped and is not guilty of espionage,” following a report from the state-owned Russian news agency TASS that Whelan was confined to a metal-reinforced cage for his court appearance.

“Unfortunately, today’s ruling merely confirms that Paul will remain wrongfully detained for many more months,” said a statement from his family, who say Whelan was in Russia to attend a friend’s wedding.

According to a report by Russia’s Rosbalt news service, Whelan received a flash drive containing a list of employees of the Russian defense ministry. Minutes later, Russian agents raided his room and arrested him.

Born in Canada, Whelan holds US, British, Canadian and Irish passports. He lives in Michigan, where he is head of global security for BorgWarner, an auto parts firm. He received a bad-conduct discharge from the Marines in January 2008 after he was convicted of several larceny-related charges by a military court.

BRAZIL

Family Values

Allegations swirling around the son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro overshadowed his efforts to sound the death knell for the left in Latin America in his international debut in Davos for the World Economic Forum on Tuesday.

Already the target of corruption allegations, Flávio Bolsonaro now faces claims from O Globo, a leading Brazilian newspaper, that he previously employed both the mother and wife of the alleged leader of a Rio de Janeiro death squad called the Escritório do Crime (The Crime Bureau), the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

The Crime Bureau is suspected in the unsolved murder of Rio city councilor Marielle Franco in March last year.

While Flávio Bolsonaro rejected the report and earlier questions about his financial dealings as part of “a defamation campaign,” the media focus has tarnished the new president’s image as a crusader against graft and other crime.

In Davos, Jair Bolsonaro – who does enjoy a relatively clean reputation in Brazil — delivered an unusually short six-minute speech in which he promised “to govern by example.”

DISCOVERIES

Reading By Touch

The visually impaired won’t have to carry thick copies of novels like Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” in Braille with them anymore.

That book and many others are coming soon to a Braille e-reader.

British company Bristol Braille Technology has developed Canute 360, the first “Kindle for the blind,” Reuters reported.

The device displays nine lines of text at a time – nearly a third of a page – and the company says it supports any literature that has been translated to Braille, making it possible to have an extensive library on the go.

A Braille-printed copy of the Bible, by comparison, can occupy about five feet of shelf space.

The main drawbacks of the device are that it’s a bit bulky and needs to be plugged in, but the company hopes to make a battery-powered version in the future.

The new gadget, however, comes at a period when Braille literacy is falling due to advances in audio description technology.

Bristol Braille believes that learning to read via touch can boost literacy and numeracy rates among the blind, making them more employable and improving their lives.

“Innovations in the field of Braille technology make this a very exciting time for Braille readers,” said Claire Maxwell, senior product developer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

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