Let Them Eat Cake At Their Retirement Party
January 10, 2020
“Men travel faster now, but I do not know if they go to better things.”
“Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.”
– Willa Cather
Let Them Eat Cake At Their Retirement Party
The ‘official’ retirement age in France is 62; actual retirement age varies widely across a complex system of 42 pension regimes, mostly tailored to match specific professions. Train drivers can retire at 52, public utility workers at 57, and national ballet dancers at 42, just to illustrate some stark differences. President Emmanuel Macron wants to untangle that labyrinthine system and standardize all the different public and private pension schemes into one state-managed plan.
The first week of December nearly a million French citizens demonstrated nationwide to protect the current system; railway workers went on strike, grinding trains to a halt just as the busy holiday season was ramping up. It was the biggest domestic showdown for Macron since the Yellow Vest movement last year.
Initially public support for striking union members was high. But strikes have affected transportation more than any other sector. Train transport is at the heart of French life, and the strike is now in its sixth week. Reduced train service has cut the provinces off from Paris, and the subway’s virtual absence in the capital has cost millions in lost sales.
While Macron’s finance-manager’s-eye view of France’s pensions problem may be favored by his upper-middle-class supporters, some intellectuals, and analysts, it decidedly is not by workers and their union leaders. It’s these individual regimes — fought for tooth-and-nail over the years by the different working groups, and jealously guarded as embodying rights, not privileges — that are at issue. Macron wants to do away with them. To the strikers it boils down to a simple, historical French confrontation: haves versus have-nots, rich against poor, the protected against the exposed — with frustrated travelers and weary commuters caught in the middle.
Aircraft Tragedy: Who Is To Blame?
- Multiple sources now say it was an Iranian surface-to-air missile that shot down a Ukrainian commercial airliner carrying 176 passengers and crew shortly after takeoff early Wednesday morning. The incident occurred just hours after Iran fired missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops in retaliation for America’s killing of its top general at an airport in Iraq.
- CNN obtained a video Thursday that appears to show a missile being fired into the Tehran sky and striking an object just about the time the plane crashed into a field not far from the city’s airport.
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost 63 citizens in the crash, said at a news conference in Ottawa: “This may have been unintentional.” Among those lost were a Canadian-Iranian husband and wife, both award-winning professors at the University of Alberta, and their two young daughters, and a newlywed couple, graduate students at the university who had traveled to Iran to get married. (NYT, CNN, Guardian)
We Are The World Trade Leaders, We Are The Children
- Chinese President Xi Jinping’s chief trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, will lead a 10-member delegation to visit Washington next week, where he will sign the phase-one trade deal reached with the US on December 13. The terms of the deal call for China to greatly increase its purchase of US farm goods and other products, further open its financial sector, pledge not to devalue the Chinese yuan to help the country’s exporters, and better protect American intellectual property.
- In exchange the Trump administration canceled new tariffs on roughly $156 billion in Chinese imports that were set to take effect December 15, and agreed to cut in half the existing 15 percent tariff rate on roughly $120 billion of Chinese goods that had been imposed on September 1.
- President Trump said work would soon begin on the second phase of a trade deal with China but indicated he doesn’t expect a resolution until after the November presidential election. Chinese officials have said that any future negotiations would depend on how the phase-one deal is implemented. (WSJ)
- Trump says China trade deal could wait until after 2020 election (CNBC)
- World’s fastest driverless bullet train launches in China (Guardian)
- Taiwan Ruling Party Tells China There’ll Be No Surprises if It’s Re-Elected (WSJ, $)
Additional World News
- What Will It Take To Finally End Congo’s Ebola Outbreak In 2020? (NPR)
- Mexico: first journalist found dead in 2020 after high number of 2019 killings (Guardian)
- UK Lawmakers Approve Brexit Bill (WSJ, $)
- ‘They don’t help’: refugees condemn UN over failures that drove them to sea (Guardian)
- Facebook Says It Won’t Back Down From Allowing Lies in Political Ads (NYT, $)
- Some of Australia’s Smallest Species Could Be Lost to Wildfires (NYT, $)
Secrets Secrets Are No Fun, Secret Service Costs Someone
- When President Trump was campaigning he promised to “rarely leave the White House.” But since taking office in January 2017, he’s made more than 50 visits to his properties outside Washington. Democrats argue travel and security expenses for the president’s extended “working-vacations” at his resorts in Florida and New Jersey should be in the public record. The administration, via Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, wants any public accounting of the cost to taxpayers of protecting the president and his adult children postponed until after the November election.
- Trump frequently criticized the travel expenditures of his predecessor Barack Obama, which were estimated to be $96 million over eight years. A report by the Government Accountability Office put Trump’s travel expenses at $13.6 million for four trips to his Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago club through February and March 2017. At that spending pace, Trump’s travel costs would have exceeded Obama’s total before the end of his first year in the White House. But Trump has made 22 more trips to Mar-a-Lago at an estimated cost of $28 million to the Secret Service alone.
- Trump’s adult sons Eric and Don Jr. have made frequent overseas trips to countries including Ireland, Scotland, Dubai and India. A 2017 visit to Uruguay by Eric Trump cost taxpayers $97,000. (Guardian)
- Trump Jr and Ivanka Trump ‘knew they were lying’ over ploy to sell condos, book claims (Guardian)
Come None, Come Not At All!
- One of the ways the Trump administration discourages undocumented people from seeking asylum in the US is to place them in a program officially called Migrant Protection Protocol (MMP), but known colloquially as “Remain in Mexico.” Under the program, migrants wait in Mexico and are allowed into the US only for court hearings on their asylum claims. To speed up migrant processing the administration has set up “tent courts” where the immigration judge flanked by an interpreter appears on a giant screen, and the government lawyer cannot be seen at all.
- Two tent courts opened in Texas last September, but sessions were closed to everyone but federal immigration authorities and attorneys representing migrants, assuming the migrants could find and afford representation.
- After months of complaints from immigration lawyers and advocates about the lack of transparency, the Department of Homeland Security said in December it would open the tent courts to the public starting this month. (WSJ)
- This Migrant Won In Immigration Court, And The U.S. Sent Him To Mexico Anyway (NPR)
- Appeals Court Allows Use of $3.6 Billion in Military Construction Funds for Border Wall (WSJ, $)
Additional USA News
- US House votes to limit Trump war powers on Iran (BBC)
- Killing Iran general delivered ‘American justice’, Trump tells rally (Guardian)
- Boeing Employees Mocked FAA In Internal Messages Before 737 Max Disasters (NPR)
- Abandoned stores, empty homes: why San Francisco’s economic boom looks like a crisis | Adrian Daub (Guardian)
- Around the Country in 17 Hours With Michael Bloomberg (NYT, $)
- Pelosi Expects To Send Impeachment Articles To Senate ‘Soon’ (NPR)
- Is It Fair To Refuse To Hire People Who Use Nicotine? : Shots – Health News (NPR)
- Minimum Wage Hikes Fuel Higher Pay Growth For Those At The Bottom (NPR
- US Alcohol-Related Deaths Rise, Especially Among Women, Study Says (NPR)
- The biggest voting rights win in recent US history – and the Republicans trying to thwart it (Guardian)
- After a Measles Scare, Seattle Cracks Down on Vaccine Compliance (NYT, $)
Take 2 And Then Take 2 And Then Take 2 And Then Call Me When You Need More
- The world desperately needs new antibiotics to tackle the rising threat of drug-resistant superbugs, but drug manufacturers have little incentive to develop them.
- Makers of newly approved antibiotic drugs are struggling to generate sales because doctors prescribe the treatments sparingly. The new drugs compete with older, cheaper products, and patients typically take them for only a week or two at a time.
- Melinta Therapeutics Inc. is one of America’s biggest antibiotics specialists. The company filed for bankruptcy in December, citing slow sales growth and high costs. Melinta’s collapse followed that of Achaogen Inc. last April, less than a year after it launched a new antibiotic for difficult-to-treat urinary-tract infections.
- Other makers could soon face a similar fate, saying their cash will run out before the end of 2020. “We don’t know the fate of those drugs for our patients,” said the chief of infectious diseases at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. “As a physician, that’s my biggest concern.” (WSJ)
- Polly Share A Cracker? Parrots Can Practice Acts Of Kindness, Study Finds (NPR)
- What to Do if You Overspent During the Holidays (NYT, $)
- My journey into the dark, hypnotic world of a millennial guru (Guardian)
- Electric scooter injuries tripled in one year among US millennials, study finds (Guardian)
- The Gene Drive Dilemma: We Can Alter Entire Species, but Should We? (NYT, $)
- More Americans are killing themselves at work (WaPo, $)
- Reasons not to scoff at ghosts, visions and near-death experiences (Aeon)
- Loud Fitness Classes Take a Toll on Instructors’ Voices (NYT, $)
- America has turned its back on big department stores (CNN)