The World Today for March 30, 2023

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Banking On It


Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB) recently told European Union leaders that the banking sector on the continent was strong, reported Bloomberg.

Yet on the same day Lagarde spoke, shares of Deutsche Bank plunged as traders worried that the massive German bank would default on its debts, wrote Market Insider. Similar fears fueled selloffs of shares of Switzerland’s UBS, France’s Societe Generale, and Germany’s Commerzbank.

These moves were happening as investors, economists, policymakers and others were trying to figure out the implications of the banking crisis that is now sweeping across the globe. The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank this month in the US, as well as the Swiss government’s sponsoring of UBS’s purchase of troubled financial institution Credit Suisse, have sent ripples of fear through markets that resemble the financial panic of 2008.

As a Bloomberg analysis argued, these changes reflect how the era of easy money is over. In the wake of the 2008 crisis, central banks reduced interest rates to zero and offered discounted capital to lenders to spur investment. They kept rates low through the coronavirus pandemic starting in 2020, when governments hiked spending to fill the vacuum that occurred when businesses closed and consumers stayed home during lockdowns.

Now, as older folks in Western countries retire, helping to trigger labor shortages, the Russian-Ukraine war causes energy and food prices to spike, and other negative factors emerge, inflation is in danger of spiraling out of control. Comedian Jon Stewart, who recently interviewed high-profile economist Larry Summers, also argued that corporate greed played a role in the trouble. Executives, he said, have taken advantage of inflation headlines to raise prices that yielded record fat profits that also stoke inflation.

Everyone is playing a waiting game to see if other banks fall as they grapple with costlier financing. Many hold bonds that are now worth far less than a year ago due to higher interest rates that have slashed their value, the Japan Times wrote.

In the meantime, central bankers worldwide have teamed up to make sure a steady flow of dollars continues throughout the global economy to prevent further shocks, Axios explained. Central banks like the Bank of England, the ECB, and the US Federal Reserve have been further raising interest rates to tackle inflation. As the Financial Times warned, however, these efforts arguably work at cross purposes. They are designed to cool down overheated economies – not necessarily a good approach when a banking crisis is unfolding.

Still, as Spanish newspaper El País noted, most financial authorities and analysts don’t believe the world is headed for another financial crisis. They say they will be able to contain the contagion because they have tools ready from previous crises.

Maybe they learned lessons. But as the Economist noted, some bankers obviously didn’t. Because they had no reason to.


Financial Walls


The European Union this week defended its record of helping migrants in Libya as “essential” against accusations by United Nations investigators that the bloc was facilitating crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses in the war-ravaged North African country, Africanews reported.

On Monday, investigators released a report by an UN-fact finding mission to Libya, saying that EU assistance to the Libyan migration department and the coast guard among other entities “helped and encouraged the commission of these crimes.”

The report said that migrants – some of whom could have been granted asylum – were captured, arrested, and disembarked in Libya “with the sole aim of preventing their entry into Europe, as a corollary of the European policy on immigration and the economic agenda of migration in Libya, through their subsequent detention and exploitation.”

Libya is a significant starting point for people from North Africa and beyond who want to traverse the Mediterranean Sea in dangerous boats in pursuit of a better life or sanctuary in Europe.

The Libyan Coast Guard apprehended more than 24,000 migrants attempting to leave the country. Last year, at least 529 migrants died and 848 went missing off the coast of Libya, according to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.

The report added that investigators also believe that the bloc and EU nations aided Libyan officials with some form of financial and technical support – as well as equipment such as boats – to intercept and detain migrants.

The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, responded that it took the allegations “very seriously.” EU officials countered that its work in Libya was essential and often coordinated with UN agencies.

Commission spokesman Peter Stano said that the EU mission in Libya cooperated with investigators and rejected allegations that the bloc financed Libyan entities to keep migrants in the country.

Meanwhile, in Greece, a voluntary scheme by EU nations to take unaccompanied migrant children from the country ended on Tuesday, increasing concerns about the fate of minors traveling alone until long-delayed asylum reforms are finalized, according to the Associated Press.

EU legislators have completed the European Parliament’s negotiating stance on the reforms, and they expect that countries can reach an agreement on the following steps before the next European elections in May 2024.

Curtains, Please


Myanmar’s military government dissolved the pro-democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi this week, a move that comes as the junta prepares for general elections more than two years after a coup that ousted the civilian leader, Bloomberg reported.

The country’s election commission said the National League for Democracy (NLD) was among 40 other parties that failed to register to compete in elections scheduled for August.

Under a new law passed by the junta earlier this year, political organizations must apply for registration to participate in the polls within 60 days – the deadline was Tuesday. Failure to do so results in the automatic disqualification of a party from an election and its dissolution.

So far, 63 parties – including 50 existing ones – have submitted the application.

NLD representatives, however, said they are boycotting the elections and demanded the release of their leaders, including Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint.

The dissolution comes as the junta attempts to stabilize Myanmar following a February 2021 coup that ousted Suu Kyi and the democratically-elected government. Military officials said the takeover was necessary because of alleged fraud in the November 2020 election, in which the NLD secured more than 80 percent of seats in parliament.

Since then, the junta has faced mass popular protests, armed ethnic groups and a faltering economy. The tense security situation in the country has made it difficult for officials to set a specific date for the elections.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and Western nations have criticized the planned polls as a “sham.”

War of the Roses Redux


A French-language association sued Notre-Dame Cathedral this month for only translating its signs into English, a case that some say is another volley in the battle by language purists to prevent the dominance of English, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Association for the Defence of the French Language demanded in its suit that the iconic cathedral provides information and signage in at least two other languages besides French, citing an oft-ignored law from 1994 that stipulates as such.

Since the 2019 fire, many of the signs explaining Notre-Dame’s reconstruction are written in French and English.

The association previously forced the Eiffel Tower to add Spanish to its signs alongside English and French. It added that only translating signs into English helps increase the international dominance of that language.

The group is suing 20 other public institutions, including the national postal service over the name of its banking service, “Ma French Bank.”

The 1994 legislation was passed to keep the French language a “fundamental element of the personality and heritage of France,” according to the Local France.

Although enforcement is rare, failure to respect the law can result in a maximum fine of more than $4,000.

Typically, only around 30 penalties are imposed every year, although courts can require companies to translate information into French.


Ancestral Spin

New research has found evidence that great apes spin themselves around on ropes or vines to get dizzy for fun, Science Alert reported.

In a new study, a research team analyzed 40 online videos of great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans – spinning on ropes or vines.

They counted 132 bouts of “rope spinning” in the videos, with a total of 709 revolutions noted. Their findings showed the animals seemed to be voluntarily seeking out and engaging in experiences that altered their self-perception and location in space.

Researchers explained that these behaviors were similar to those that toddlers or Sufi dancers engage in, noting that these patterns are “beyond coincidental.”

Hanging upside down or spinning around in circles can give humans a psychological high and can teach us important lessons about how our bodies and minds operate.

The findings suggest that our primate relatives may have a similar proclivity for losing control over their bodies and minds as humans. The researchers speculate that early humans used “whirling” to deliberately alter their state of mind before learning how to make alcohol or use psychedelic mushrooms.

However, the primates they observed engaging in this behavior were mostly captive individuals, which may be bored and trying to stimulate their senses in some way.

Further research could help confirm whether great apes show a proclivity for spinning as a deliberate means of shaking up their perception of the world, just for fun.

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