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The Yellow Vests, A Wake-Up Call For France And The World

The 'yellow vest' uprising is about more than Macron's ill-conceived fuel tax. It's symptomatic of a system-wide failure that must be fixed before it's too late.

Yellow vests protesting in front of Paris' Arc de Triomphe
Yellow vests protesting in front of Paris' Arc de Triomphe
Edouard Tétreau

-OpEd-

PARIS — The crisis that is underway in France — and in most other developed countries, for that matter — is serious. But, in equal measure, it also offers hope and brings with it an opportunity for reinvention.

Everyone feels, given the deployment of verbal and physical violence in the country, that there's more to this an ill-conceived carbon tax hike, for which Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has finally announced a six-month suspension, to try to quell the uprising of the gilets jaunes ("yellow vests").

This tax was inappropriate for several reasons. First, because it's based on a falsehood: the idea that by upping taxes on the estimated 40 million motorists in the country — representing less than 1% of the world's population — France will contribute to the fight against global warming. The latest forest fires in California alone represent one year of CO2 emissions from France.

This tax was also inappropriate because it was deeply socially unjust. It would have hit millions of French people, especially large families, who were pushed tens of kilometers away from our cities because of the high housing costs in metropolitan areas, and who have no choice but to drive tens of kilometers to work, live or survive.

These are all symptoms of a larger problem.

The French executive will have to fix this mistake and at the same time restore public order, which has been allowed to drift seriously in recent weeks. But that's just the starting point. Our leaders will then have to focus on the long-term crisis that is being expressed today in France.

It's a crisis of meaning, first of all: What exactly are we working for, if we cannot make ends meet or prepare a future for our children? Or when 48% of the wealth we produce is taken by a state that we can hardly hold accountable? Why do we continue to be together on this piece of land in Western Europe? Are we still a French nation with a common past, present, and destiny? Or are we already pieces of heteroclite ethnic, religious and social communities, corseted by such an undemocratic "thing" — to use General de Gaulle's description of the UN — as the European Union?

Offering technocratic solutions to adapt the current model won't break the deadlock. Rather, we need the courage to rethink the model in all its dimensions. Deep down, even the high-earning readers know very well that the excessively financialized capitalism of 2018 is not sustainable in the long term. The next financial crash linked to global over-indebtedness is only a matter of time. New technologies are pushing entire sectors of the population out of work. Inequalities are widening across the globe, in every country. These are all symptoms of a larger problem.

"The yellow vests will triumph," graffiti in Paris on Dec. 1 — Photo: Karine Pierre/ZUMA

We must rethink this system, which has had no adversary — and therefore no challenge — since the fall of Communism in 1989, just as we must get out of the false European pretenses that produce fine speeches but are not followed by any sort of reality. The European army will never see the light of day because nobody wants it. And the Franco-German partnership? Mrs. Merkel's inertia, her crazy and unilateral decisions on nuclear power and migrants have wiped out this fine dynamic. Despite all the efforts of France's German-speaking finance minister, the Merkel government's delaying tactics to avoid the rapid adoption by the European Union of the much-needed and urgent "digital tax" on the GAFA (which would largely cover the revenue shortfall of the carbon tax) are the latest example of this apathy, which is also contrary to common European interests.

Rather than fight global warming, let's anticipate it in terms of land planning, from our coasts to our vineyards, and in terms of new sources of energy. Should we really disfigure our landscapes — which are the face of France at the same time as an essential source of tourist income — with unproductive wind turbines? What about biomass? Solar energy?

France can no longer be ruled from top to bottom.

Since no one respects European balances, starting with Germany and its dangerous trade balance surpluses, let's prepare a major infrastructure policy aimed at strengthening our sovereignty and securing our sources of national wealth for the coming decades. If the collapsed France of 1944 was able to acquire nuclear weapons just 10 years later — thanks to its still-living industrial genius, and to General de Gaulle — why on Earth wouldn't the France of 2018 be in a position to, in a few years, rebuild its current sources of sovereignty and prosperity? I'm referring here to digital technology, "green" industries, health — a sector in which we had world leadership and have been abandoning — and, of course, our military defense and civil security tools, which we are rediscovering as a priority in the wake of recent events in France and growing hostilities around us.

We need a new perspective and a change in how government operates. In the age of digital networks, France can no longer be ruled from top to bottom by a Parisian Jacobinism as ineffective and illegitimate as the centralism of Brussels. On the contrary, the time has come to revive the initial intuition of the En Marche movement that got Emmanuel Macron elected, by giving local authorities, town halls, departments and regions the power to set up local initiatives and then test, evaluate and possibly extend them nationwide.

"Men are like apples: When you pile them up, they rot," French Revolution leader Mirabeau once wrote. It's by applying the principle of local subsidiarity — that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate level consistent with their resolution: by setting up a human and incentive-based ecology, and by making it its priority objective to reclaim our sovereignty that the French executive will finally be able to give a new perspective and meaning to a French nation that is suffocating.

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."

— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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