Quitting to save planet
France’s high-profile environment minister, former TV presenter and eco-activist Nicolas Hulot, resigned live on the radio this week, saying he could not continue in his position knowing the world isn’t doing enough to mitigate climate change. “I don’t want to create the illusion that my presence in government means that we’re up to standard on these issues,” he said. Hulot, who had not told President Emmanuel Macron of his surprise decision, said the last straw for him was attending a meeting with Macron about hunting and finding a hunters’ rights lobbyist there. “This is symptomatic of the presence of lobbies in the circles of power,” he said. “It is a problem for democracy.” Getting the prominent Hulot in the cabinet had been considered quite a coup for Macron.
No birthright citizenship
Canada’s opposition Conservative Party has amended its platform to include a pledge to end birthright citizenship. Canadians should “fight for our own babies,” lawmaker Alice Wong said at the party’s annual convention, adding that children born to non-Canadian parents should not automatically be granted citizenship. Andrew Griffith, a former top immigration official, said so-called passport babies were a problem in some Canadian cities and that “birth tourism” should be stopped. But he said ending birthright citizenship in general would be “using a hammer to squash a fly.” According to Canada’s national statistics agency, just 313 babies were born to non-Canadian mothers in 2016 in all of Canada. But a single hospital near Vancouver said it recorded 383 births to nonresident mothers, mostly Chinese, in 2016–17.
VW vs. the weather
Volkswagen has promised to reduce its use of weather-altering technology after local farmers accused the company of causing a drought during the rainy season. The German automaker had installed hail cannons, which fire sonic booms into the atmosphere to prevent ice formation, at its Puebla factory to protect finished vehicles parked outside from hail damage. Local farmers said VW used the devices even when hail wasn’t predicted, blasting away rain clouds and wrecking 5,000 acres of crops. VW said there was no evidence the cannons had caused a drought, but added it now plans to install “anti-hail nets” over more than 150 acres of parking lot.
Serena’s outfit nixed
French Open officials are set to ban players from wearing catsuits on the court, after Serena Williams appeared at this year’s tournament in a tight black number. Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism after the birth of her daughter last year, and said the compression from the catsuit helped prevent blood clots and made her feel like “a superhero.” But the president of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, said a dress code would be introduced for the 2019 tournament. Referring to Williams’ catsuit, he said, “One must respect the game and the place.” Tennis fans cried foul, with some saying that Williams had been singled out as a black woman. But the American tennis star shrugged off the controversy. Wearing a poofy black tutu and compression tights, she defeated Poland’s Magda Linette at the U.S. Open this week, 6-4, 6-0.
The fatal stabbing of a German man this week sparked massive neo-Nazi rallies in the city of Chemnitz. A 35-year-old named only as Daniel H. was knifed there during a street festival, and two men, a Syrian and an Iraqi, were arrested in connection with his death. Far-right groups organized an anti-immigrant protest the next day, drawing 7,000 people, some chanting “Close the borders!” About 1,000 anti-fascist demonstrators marched in opposition. At least 10 people are being investigated for wearing Nazi symbols or giving Nazi salutes, which are banned in Germany. Friends of the deceased said he was brown-skinned and had a Cuban father, and would have been horrified by neo-Nazis marching on his behalf.
Chauffeur tells all
Two swank homes owned by former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner were raided last week as part of an investigation into massive corruption. Prosecutors say construction and power companies paid Kirchner and her late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, $165 million in cash bribes in exchange for lucrative public contracts from 2005 to 2015, while they were in office. The case rests on notebooks that belonged to a former government chauffeur. He kept detailed, handwritten notes on cash deliveries to the Kirchners by recording dates, people, and amounts of bribes. Kirchner is a sitting senator, but the Senate partially lifted her immunity from prosecution so her homes could be searched. She denies any wrongdoing.
War games with China
Russia is preparing to stage its largest military exercise since the fall of the Soviet Union, and it will include Chinese troops for the first time. The war games in central and eastern Russia will involve 300,000 Russian troops, 36,000 tanks and armored vehicles, and 1,000 aircraft, as well as about 3,200 Chinese troops. “There is nothing on paper, but they are building a de facto military alliance,” Vasily Kashin, of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, said of China and Russia. Beijing said the maneuvers, scheduled for mid-September, would not target “any third party,” but Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu compared them to the Soviet exercise known as Zapad-81, a show of force against NATO. “In some ways they will repeat aspects of Zapad-81,” he said, “but in other ways the scale will be bigger.”
Opposition leader tortured
Ugandan pop star and parliamentarian Bobi Wine was released from prison on bail this week, after being beaten so badly in detention that he can’t walk unaided. Two weeks ago, at a campaign event, police shot his driver dead and arrested Wine and 34 other members of the opposition. They were charged with treason against President Yoweri Museveni, whose car had been hit with a rock during a violent demonstration. Wine’s lawyers say that when they first got to see their client, his face was swollen beyond recognition and he could not sit or walk; at his arraignment, he kept passing out. Known as “the ghetto president,” Wine, 36, is a huge Afropop star in Uganda, singing songs about poverty and corruption. He has publicly challenged Museveni, who is 74 and has ruled for 32 years, to step down.
Faced with a graying population and a shortage of young workers, China is planning to scrap its two-child limit—reversing nearly 40 years of family-planning regulations. Beijing lifted its one-child policy in 2016, but the birth rate didn’t rise significantly. Now, officials say family size limits will be abolished in 2020. In a nod to the change, the new postage stamp for 2019, Year of the Pig, shows two adult pigs with three happy piglets. Implemented in 1979, the one-child policy was brutal, forcing women to abort a second pregnancy or face heavy fines. The results skewed the population: Mothers often terminated a first pregnancy if the fetus was female, and China today has 30 million fewer women than men.
The United Nations says that Myanmar’s top generals should face trial for genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority. A three-member fact-finding mission accused Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the army’s commander, and five other generals of overseeing a brutal campaign of murder, torture, and gang rape that has killed at least 10,000 people. Troops torched entire villages, forcing at least 725,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The investigators also sharply criticized the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, for not doing enough to stop the massacres. Myanmar has refused to cooperate with the U.N. investigation and says its troops were merely battling terrorists.
Economic blame game
In a humiliating public rebuke of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s parliament summoned the president to publicly answer questions about the country’s economic crisis, and then rejected his explanations. Rouhani blamed the nation’s woes on U.S. sanctions that were reimposed after President Trump in May pulled the U.S. from an international deal to limit Iran’s nuclear programs. Since then, international businesses have fled Iran, unemployment has risen, and the rial has collapsed. Hard-liners in the parliament, who oppose Rouhani’s reformist agenda, said they would debate whether to refer his mismanagement of the economy to the judiciary, which could lead to impeachment.
Israel and Hamas are closing in on a cease-fire deal that would ease Israel’s blockade of Gaza and provide the territory with hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed investment. But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to block the agreement, saying only his West Bank–based authority can negotiate on behalf of Palestinians, and that it must first regain control of Gaza—seized by rival Palestinian faction Hamas in 2007. One Abbas ally told Israeli TV that Abbas had said, “Over my dead body, there will be a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.” In an attempt to pressure Hamas into submitting to PA control, Abbas has cut Gaza’s budget and the salaries of its state employees, pushing its economy to the verge of collapse. ■