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Jeff Israely

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Experts Agree, It's A Small World After All

Experts Agree, It's A Small World After All


For the record, I am writing this from home. On a late winter Monday, with most of our crew either off-the-clock or working remotely, I decided to spare myself (and a few others) the day's commute to hash out the news from our office in eastern Paris. So again, for the record: Yes folks, I do have an office to go to each day.

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Spotlight: Crises Of Democracy, Pick Your Poison

We can be judged by our own strength, but also by the relative strength of our adversaries. Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. election was also the defeat of Hillary Clinton, and all of what she represented. Last night's unprecedented announcement that embattled French President Francois Hollande would not seek a second term will no doubt offer a boost to any number of political rivals, both in Hollande's own Socialist party, as well as those on the center-right and far-right parties.

Yet those who run for office, ready to present themselves to the public as a solver of their problems and a vessel of their trust, must be aware of a weakness in the system that runs deeper than any one candidate. The obvious case in point was last June's "Brexit" vote, where British voters registered their disgust with the entire ruling class in a referendum that was proposed by the prime minister himself. We know how that ended — it sent David Cameron packing and threatened to unravel the entire European Union. Now in Italy, on Sunday, another referendum may have major consequences for the prime minister, as well as international ramifications of its own.

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Is Vladimir Putin Richer Than Carlos Slim?


MOSCOW - Vladimir Putin, comfortably back in the Russian presidency, presents himself as a humble, down-to-earth man of average means.

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Living it up, President Kirchner style

The Argentinian First Family's Shady Real Estate Deals

EL CALAFATE - This town of around 8,000 in Patagonia holds a particular place in the world of Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner. It is full of luxurious hotels that are open, but with barely any tourists, at least now in the (Southern Hemisphere’s) winter.

It was full of stray dogs a few years ago, but now they are nowhere to be seen. A municipal neutering plan wiped them off the map. But one thing is still on the map - the plots of land sold at a low price to family and close friends of the Kirchner clan.

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Russian fires rage on

Forest Fires Threaten Siberia During A Dry And Hot Summer - Again

MOSCOW - They say that the most expensive lunch enjoyed by anyone in the world was when the head of Greenlight Capital, David Einhorn, spent ‘only’ $250,100 for the right to dine with Warren Buffet, who he had always admired.

Nikolai Taishikhin, who lives in a small town on Russia’ border with Mongolia, didn’t quite reach that record. But the bill for his picnic in the forest added up to around $107,784, including the court-ordered damages that he has to pay. You see, Nikolai didn’t extinguish his campfire after eating, and it sparked a major forest fire.

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Diplomacy And Divas: Did An Argentine Pop Star Steal Paraguayan Jewels?

Diplomacy And Divas: Did An Argentine Pop Star Steal Paraguayan Jewels?

Don't cry for her, Moria Casán...or the $85,000 diamond and sapphire set

BUENOS AIRES/ASUNCION - Argentine actress and pop star Moria Casán is still in trouble for supposedly stealing a sapphire and diamond necklace and earring set worth around $85,000. Paraguayan officials have issued an international arrest warrant for Casán, her manager and her assistant.

Her lawyers have requested that she be exempt from preventative incarceration, and have also requested that she be allowed to make all of her court appearances from Argentina, saying that they do not trust that she will be treated fairly in Paraguay.

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On trial

Why The Pussy Riot Trial Is The Biggest Blow Of All To Russia's Reputation

MOSCOW - The three members of Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band accused of hooliganism for anunauthorized performance in a Moscow cathedral, had their last words in court on Wednesday after a weeklong trial. The verdict will be announced on August 17. For those outside Russia, this whole affair has been a litmus test for Russia’s democracy - and nobody seems to be happy with the test results thus far.

According to numbers from the Pew Research Center, in 2012 there was a significant change in the way that the rest of the world sees Russia - a change for the worse. In the U.S., people with a positive view of Russia went from 49% of the population in 2011 to 37% this year. There were similar changes around Europe: in Britain, people with a positive view of Russia dropped by 12 percentage points, to 38%; in Germany those numbers dropped by 14 percentage points to 33%; and down in France 17 percentage points to 36%. These are the lowest numbers in the past four years.

In a July meeting between the Russian President and the country’s diplomatic corps, Vladimir Putin lamented the fact that in his view, Russia’s reputation abroad is “distorted and doesn’t reflect the real situation.” In a closed-door meeting, the president said that improving Russia’s image should be one of the diplomats’ most important goals. But at the same time, many experts think that mission will turn out to be impossible, in light of the West’s reaction to recent events in Russia, notably the prosecution of the young women from Pussy Riot.

The wave a criticism directed at the Russian government has lifted up human rights’ defenders - Amnesty International has called the punk rock group members ‘prisoners of conscience.’ Several well-known western artists have joined the campaign to support Pussy Riot - from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Pet Shop Boys to Sting and Madonna. The affair has already been on the front pages of western newspapers for several weeks. Time Magazine wrote that in Russia “a kangaroo court goes on a witch hunt,” while the Economist baptized the Russian Orthodox Church “a force of conservatism and xenophobia,” in a “symbiotic embrace” with the Kremlin. The Guardian called the Pussy Riot trial a “theatre of the absurd.”

Finally, European and American politicians have joined the campaign. The U.S. State Department has called the affair “politically motivated.” Karel Shvartsenberg, the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that he “admires” Pussy Riot. Denis MacShane, British MP and former Minister for Europe, has said that photographs of the courtroom remind him of the time of Gulags. Even the leader of the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, which is usually loyal to the Kremlin, has called the Russian government’s behavior “scandalous.”

All the politicians agree: they don’t support Pussy Riot’s actions, but consider that the government’s reaction disproportionate.

Estonian European MP Kristiina Ojuland told Kommersant that her colleagues are preparing a report on the situation in Russia, and that a large part of the report will be dedicated to the status of democracy and human rights. The European Parliament is also working on recommendations for the European Commission on the best policies for the European Union in relation to Russia. “The Pussy Riot affair will be in the report,” Ojuland said. “The European Commission is carefully following the trial, and in general, we tend to think that it is politically motivated.”

“The Pussy Riot prosecution, combined with the prosecution against (pro-democracy activist Alexsei) Navalniand the participants in the protests on May 6, has had an extremely negative, catastrophic effect on Russia’s image in the West,” said German expert on Russian affairs Hans-Henning Schroeder. “This is a sort of test for the Russian government: If the girls are given real prison time, even if it is not long, for many people in the West that will be confirmation of the opinion that Russia turning into a dictatorship.”

On the other hand, Arkady Moshes, expert on Russian-EU relations from the Finish Institute of International Affairs, doubts that a worse image will have serious consequences for Russia’s political and economic relationship with Western partners. “Russia’s image abroad is negative, there are even elements of disgust,” he told Kommersant. “But emotion is one thing, and politics is another.”


Subway Strike Brings Buenos Aires To A Standstill

LA NACION (Argentina) CLARIN (Argentina)


BUENOS AIRES - The Argentine capital was at a virtual standstill for a fourth straight day Tuesday as a major subway strike began to take its toll on both people and businesses, La Nacion reports. The strike, which started Friday evening, is expected to continue for at least another day.

The striking subway workers are demanding a 28% pay raise and better working conditions, Clarín reports.

The strike is also bringing to light the difficulty the municipal and national governments have in working together. Federal administrators say the problem with subway workers falls to municipal authorities, while the mayor’s office insists that the strike should be the responsibility of the federal government, La Nacion reports. So far, neither one has contacted the striking workers or their representatives, and union leaders say the strike will continue until someone agrees to negotiate.

The national transport secretary, Alejandro Ramos, asked the mayor not to “take the people hostage,” and to take care of the subway system service. He said, ironically “The head of the city is not taking charge. What does he want, for me to do it? In that case, tomorrow I’ll just take over a whole city.”

Meanwhile, the city is moving slowly. The avenues are choked with cars, and long lines wait hours to get a bus or a taxi, Clarín reports.

François Hollande in Rennes in January

In Mitterrand's Shadow: Can François Hollande Forge A New French Left?

Op-Ed: François Hollande's winning campaign was cut from the cloth of the last Socialist to lead France, François Mitterrand, who swept into office in 1981. But to best serve France (and the French left) Hollande must break from his onetime mento

PARIS - A whiff of 1981 was in the air on Sunday, Place de la Bastille in the French capital: newly elected President François Hollande did not forget to recognize what he owed to François Mitterrand.

To win the presidential election, both in his tactics and his voice Hollande was inspired by his mentor. His unconscious mirroring of Mitterand went so far that he won with a very similar result: 51.7%, whereas his Socialist predecessor won with 51.8% of the vote.

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