The Daily Visionary: Monday, December 10, 2018

Photo Credit: Eric Lalmand, AFP

Photo Credit: Eric Lalmand, AFP

Yellow Vest protests spread to Brussels


For the second time in a week, approximately one thousand Yellow Vest protestors faced police riot squads who used water cannon and tear gas to keep people away from the European Union (E.U.) headquarters and the nearby Belgian government quarter. Belgian police detained more than four hundred protestors on Saturday who threw rocks and firecrackers and damaged shops and cars on their path to E.U. government buildings. The movement in Belgium demands the removal of Belgium’s center-right coalition government, six months before a national election is due in May, and complaints on the cost of living.


For the fourth weekend in a row, French police said more than 30,000 people demonstrated and more than 30 people were injured. Anti-government protesters threw stones, torched cars, and vandalized shops and restaurants. The Eiffel Tower and several museums closed their doors for security reasons, as well as high-end Paris department stores, despite it being two weeks from Christmas. A banner hung from the statue of Marianne, the symbol of the French republic, that read, “Give back the money”. Across the city, bank branch offices, toy shops, opticians, and other retail outlets had boarded up storefronts smashed by protesters, and walls were covered in anti-Macron slogans.


Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said French President Emmanuel Macron would make “important announcements” early in the coming week. The government has warned of slower economic growth that will have “a severe impact” on the French economy, according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire as he toured an upmarket central Paris neighborhood that had seen heavy looting Saturday night. “We must expect a new slowdown of economic growth at year-end due to the “yellow vest” protests,” Minister Le Maire said.


Yellow Vest protesters are specifically demanding lower taxes, with some arguing for higher minimum wages and better pension benefits, though protestors range across the political spectrum.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters


Germany's CDU chooses status quo with Angela Merkel's replacement


With a narrow margin of victory, Germany’s governing Christian Democrats (CDU) elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to replace Angela Merkel as party leader, over Friedrich Merz. Often, internal party elections, voted on by delegate members, result in an outcome favorable to delegate’s interests as they jockey for power inside the party and would not necessarily be reflected in a vote available to a broader base of members.


One of the deepest divisions among CDU supporters is over migrant policy, and Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer must now close the internal division prior to European Parliament and four state elections in 2019. On Sunday, Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer vowed to change the party’s migrant policies before next year’s European election in May, saying, “I want to convene a ‘workshop discussion’ on migration and security with experts and critics of migrant and refugee policies to work on concrete improvements. Our program for the European election will build on these results.


Former Social Democrats (SDP) Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told German media the CDU had made a mistake with its choice, saying, “[Mr.] Merz would have been the chance to set the two main parties further apart from each other so the fringes on the left and right would get weaker. That is not just important for the CDU and SPD but for all Germany.”


Many CDU voters turned to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has campaigned on an anti-migrant stance. The AfD are now the main opposition in Parliament to Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’ of the CDU, with its conservative Bavarian allies and the Social Democrats (SPD), as they are represented in all sixteen federal states and polling around 15 percent. An Emnid poll conducted on Sunday gave the CDU’s coalition 29 percent support, unchanged from before the leadership vote, and down from 33 percent in 2017’s federal election. This is the lowest result for the CDU since 1949. The SPD has also dropped to 15 percent from 20.5 percent in the election.


Chancellor Merkel’s open-door approach to migrants since 2015 has significantly eroded her popularity and led to losses in regional elections, culminating in her October decision to stand down as party leader. However, Ms. Merkel said she intends to stay on as Chancellor until the next federal vote in 2021, which is more likely with the election of her protégé Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who said, “You stand on the shoulders of your predecessor. What is good is continued and where there is room to change things, we will make changes.”

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters


President Trump to appoint a new Chief of Staff this week


American White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will leave his job at the end of the year. He led the Department of Homeland Security before serving as President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff. “He’s a great guy, I appreciate his service very much,” the President said. Speaking to reporters as he left the White House to attend the annual football game between the Army and Navy military academies in Philadelphia, President Trump said he would name a successor for Mr. Kelly, possibly on an interim basis, in the next day or two.


The top choice is Nick Ayers, who currently serves as Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence. A White House official said the President and Mr. Ayers are still working on terms, where President Trump wants Mr. Ayers in the role for two years, until the next presidential election, however Mr. Ayers is unable to make that time commitment because of his young family. Mr. Ayers had already intended to leave his current role at the White House this month.


Mr. Ayers has advised a number of high-profile Republican governors and would bring a political edge to the President’s inner circle that was not integral to Kelly’s background.  He secured his first political win at age nineteen, when he left college to join Sonny Perdue’s successful gubernatorial campaign in Georgia; Perdue is now Agriculture Secretary and a key link to President Trump’s rural supporters. Mr. Ayers has worked with many Republican governors and overhauled the Republican Governors Association (RGA) when he ran it from 2007 to 2010, boosting the group’s coffers and making it more politically powerful.


Bill Palatucci, a national committee official of the Republican Party and senior advisor to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, credits Mr. Ayers’ work at the RGA with helping Mr. Christie get elected in an overwhelmingly liberal state. “His strategic skills are unsurpassed. He understands both the policy and politics of the big issues,” Mr. Palatucci said. Mike Pence then chose Mr. Ayers to help him with his 2016 Indiana gubernatorial re-election and kept him on as adviser when he became Mr. Trump’s vice-presidential running mate. After the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Ayers helped found America First Policies, a political group that advocates for President Trump’s policies.


President Trump also made announcements on Friday regarding his government. William Barr will head the Justice Department, returning to the same role Mr. Barr held, as Attorney General, under former President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s. President Trump selected Heather Nauert, currently a spokeswoman at the State Department, to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, replacing outgoing Nikki Haley.


Report finds over-prescription and use of statins cause greater health issues from side effects


Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world. A study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, provides evidence to suggest that statins may have been significantly overprescribed since the mid-1990s, and for many, the risks of taking them as a preventative measure could outweigh their benefits. The study examined the four most commonly prescribed statins using data from forty previously published randomised clinical trials. Researchers found that statins were likely to provide benefits at a substantially higher health risk than expected, suggesting that the 10-year risk thresholds used in the current guidelines are set at a level that could be doing more harm than good.


Since the mid-1990s, statins have been regarded by many as miracle drugs, which lower cholesterol and combat heart disease in people with a cardiovascular condition. They are seen as a turning point in medicine from cure to prevention, and until now, have been presumed to have an overwhelming ability to potentially save millions of lives. Now, prominent voices are questioning the current widespread use of statins, including Sir Richard Thompson, the Queen’s former personal physician and past president of the Royal College of Physicians. Additionally, the British Medical Journal has in recent years increasingly taken a position against the widespread use of statins.


Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and health authorities have allocated huge resources over the last few decades to fight it. Much of this effort has been based on the idea that one of the main causes of heart disease is cholesterol. As a result, cholesterol-lowering medications, statins in particular, have become, by far, the most widely used intervention for the prevention of heart attacks.


Studies show that statins can cause a range of health problems including muscle damage and weakness, memory issues, Type II diabetes, and erectile dysfunction. A study published in the journal Nature earlier this year also found that they inhibit the growth of some potentially useful bacteria in the gut, allowing other bacteria to flourish and become superbugs resistant to antibiotics. There are also a number of studies suggesting that statins, paradoxically, could be bad for the heart. It is already known that they block the production of a substance called coenzyme Q10, which is a critical component in the production of cellular energy and something that the heart, in particular, has high requirements for.


China demands that Canada releases Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou


China’s Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canadian Ambassador John McCallum on Saturday to protest the detention of Chinese tech giant Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is reportedly suspected of trying to evade American trade sanctions on Iran.


In a statement, Mr. Le told Mr. McCallum that Ms. Meng's detention at the request of the United States (U.S.) while changing flights in Vancouver was a "severe violation" of her "legitimate rights and interests" and "Such a move ignores the law and is unreasonable, unconscionable, and vile in nature … China strongly urges the Canadian side to immediately release the detained Huawei executive ... or face grave consequences that the Canadian side should be held accountable for."


A Canadian prosecutor urged a Vancouver court to deny bail to Ms. Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei's founder.  Ms. Men was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport on December 1, the same day that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China agreed over dinner to a 90-day ceasefire in a trade dispute that threatens to disrupt global commerce.


The U.S. alleges that Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, and that Ms. Meng and Huawei misled American banks about its business dealings in Iran. Canadian prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley said in a court hearing on Friday that a warrant had been issued for Ms. Meng's arrest in New York on August 22, 2018. He said Ms. Meng, who was arrested en route to Mexico from Hong Kong, was aware of the investigation and had been avoiding the United States for months, even though her teenage son goes to school in Boston. Mr. Gibb-Carsley alleged that Huawei had done business in Iran through a Hong Kong company called Skycom. Ms. Meng, he said, had misled U.S. banks into thinking that Huawei and Skycom were separate when, in fact, "Skycom was Huawei." Ms. Meng has contended that Huawei sold Skycom in 2009. In urging the court to reject the bail request, Mr. Gibb-Carsley said the Huawei executive had vast resources and a strong incentive to bolt, as she also faces fraud charges in the U.S. that could put her in prison for thirty years. The hearing will resume on Monday.


Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies and has been the target of deepening US security concerns over its ties to the Chinese government. The US has pressured European countries and other allies to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information. In a brief statement, Huawei said that "we have every confidence that the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will reach the right conclusion."

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