The Daily Visionary: Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

France protests continue against President Macron’s fuel tax, supported by citizens instead of unions


French President Emmanuel Macron refused to drop the fuel hikes that sparked nationwide protests but promised to make them fairer. Citizens are angry over planned hikes in “green taxes” on diesel and petrol which has morphed into a wider revolt against basic living costs, high taxes, and a sense of state abandonment in suburban and provincial France. The federal government will increase fuel taxes in January, which protesters say penalises rich and poor alike. Almost eight in ten French citizens support the "Yellow Jacket" protests, according to a poll published last week.


The fuel tax has become an outlet for people to express their discontent with the high cost of living in France and with Macron's presidency generally. A poll published last Friday found that only 26 percent of French citizens have a favorable opinion of Macron. On January 1, the tax on gasoline will go up by 12 cents per gallon and on diesel by 28 cents per gallon, according to French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne. Gas taxes will go up by another 5 cents per gallon by 2020, with diesel jumping an additional 2 cents. As of this week, gasoline cost around USD $6.26 per gallon in Paris, while diesel was around USD $6.28 a gallon.


During the two weeks of protests by protesters dubbed “yellow vests” due to the high-visibility jackets they wear, two people have been killed and more than six hundred injured across France. President Macron said he understood the anger but criticized riots this past weekend on Paris’ Champs-Elysées as “war scenes” that risked tarnishing France’s image abroad. In one minor concession, President Macron proposed to review fuel tax rates quarterly to consider global oil prices. “The end of the world and the end of the month: we will and must manage both,” he said. He invited “yellow vest” representatives to take part in three months of grassroots discussions on how to create a "popular energy transition" that doesn't penalise the poor. Protesters were unimpressed and reiterated their anger and sentiment that the President is not genuinely listening to their concerns.


Despite showing sympathy for provincial voters affected by the rising fuel prices, President Macron said there's a "paradox" in the country where people wanted to cut taxes but keep a generous welfare state. He said his government had to “change method” to ensure there was no "two-speed France" where workers living outside cities felt forgotten by an urban elite. The President also announced plans to shut down fourteen of the country's fifty-eight nuclear reactors currently in operation by 2035, with between four and six closed by 2030. The government is also encouraging more people to car share and take public transportation instead of driving. Macron said he will also encourage the manufacturing of electronic cars and a better insulation of existing buildings. President Macron reiterated his support for reducing nuclear energy to 50 percent in 2035.


Joseph Downing, an expert in French politics at the London School of Economics, agreed that the protests were about "much more" than taxes on gas. "It's this entire idea of the squeezed middle or the squeezed upper working-class person who feels an entitlement to an ever-increasing standard of living but is something that no politician can deliver," he said. "This is where we've seen disenfranchisement with Sarkozy, with Hollande and now with Macron."


Emmanuel Macron is a 40-year-old former investment banker who swept to power last year under a new political party brand promising to end decades of high unemployment and to reform the European Union by aiming to loosen French labour laws and reform the social security system. Protests in France are typically organized and led by the country’s powerful unions, who President Macron has positioned himself against the unions with his labour market reforms, which made it easier for companies to hire and fire employees. Since President Macron’s election, French unions have failed to attract large crowds to demonstrate against the reforms. This "Yellow Jacket" movement has been organized for the most part over social media with Facebook groups and trending hashtags resulting in supporters descending into the streets. Mr. Downing said this self-organized approach was a relatively new phenomenon in France which has historically relied on unions to organize dissent. "I think there is a lot of disillusionment with the unions as well," he said. Mr. Krumbmüller said the fact that this protest was not organized by unions suggests it represents a "broader population" of people.


International lawmakers investigate Facebook's effect on politics


Twenty-four official representatives from nine countries form an international committee on disinformation and 'fake news', which is questioning Facebook in the British parliament. Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Zuckerberg, left his seat vacant next to the company’s Vice President of policy solutions, Richard Allan, who is fielding questions from the committee. Facebook is being investigated by lawmakers in Britain after consultancy Cambridge Analytica obtained the personal data of eighty-seven million Facebook users from a researcher, drawing attention to the use of data analytics in politics.


Concerns over the social media giant’s practices, the role of political advertisements, and possible foreign interference in the 2016 Brexit vote and United States (U.S.) elections are among the topics being investigated by British and European regulators. Mr. Zuckerburg appeared in front of the American Senate judiciary committee earlier this year.


At the special international hearing at Britain’s parliament, Canadian lawmaker Charlie Angus said, "We've never seen anything quite like Facebook, where, while we were playing on our phones and apps, our democratic institutions ... seem to have been upended by frat-boy billionaires from California … So, Mr. Zuckerburg's decision not to appear here in Westminster to me speaks volumes".


Mr. Allen said Facebook complies with European Union (E.U.) data protection laws but admitted the company has made mistakes, “I’m not going to disagree with you that we’ve damaged public trust through some of the actions we’ve taken.


Dairy remains a sticking point between the U.S. and Canada in a new North American trade pact


During negotiation talks for the new U.S. – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA) American negotiators objected to Canada’s protected internal market for dairy products, which remains a problem ahead of the trade agreement signing at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina this weekend.


During negotiations, United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump repeatedly demanded concessions on dairy and accused Canada of hurting U.S. farmers with high tariffs. Canada agreed to scrap a class of milk that U.S. producers said was tantamount to circumventing anti-dumping rules and offered 3.5 percent of the domestic market. In exchange, the U.S. backed off efforts to force Canada to scrap supply management, a complex arrangement of production quotas and import tariffs designed to protect the domestic industry.


There’s been good progress but it’s true that not everything is done. There is some concern on dairy; there are transparency issues with Canada’s pricing scheme,” said one U.S. source. Michael Dykes, President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Dairy Foods Association, said Washington has sought to ensure any loopholes that would prevent access on dairy are closed. “The U.S. wanted greater transparency to avoid any trickery ... (it) has a long history of challenges trying to determine what exactly the dairy policy is in Canada,” he said in an interview.


Google faces major fines from the E.U. for the "deceptive" way it track users’ locations


Consumer agencies in seven European Union (E.U.) countries have asked privacy regulators to take action against Google for allegedly breaching the bloc's new privacy law, claiming Google has failed to give users "straightforward information" about how their data is being used through location data tracked by Google, which they argue could reveal someone’s religious beliefs, political activity, health and sexual orientation. The allegations come in the wake of the discovery that tracking by Google continues even if users turn off "Location History"; a separate function, Web & App Activity, must be turned off to fully prevent GPS tracking.


Director General of E.U. Consumer Organisation, BEUC Monique Goyens said, “Google’s data hunger is notorious but the scale with which it deceives its users to track and monetise their every move is breathtaking. [Google] is not respecting fundamental GDPR principles, such as the obligation to use data in a lawful, fair and transparent manner… The situation is more than alarming. Smartphones are being used for spying on our every move.”


The E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, came into force on May 25, 2018. Under the rules, companies must provide details about how data is collected and retained. They must also give users the “right to be forgotten” and notify the E.U.’s Information Commissioner’s Office of breaches within 72 hours.

Failure to do so could result in a 4 percent fine of the previous year’s annual global turnover, or €20 million, whichever is higher.


A Google spokesman said, "Location History is turned off by default, and you can edit, delete, or pause it at any time. If it’s on, it helps improve services like predicted traffic on your commute. If you pause it, we make clear that – depending on your individual phone and app settings – we might still collect and use location data to improve your Google experience. We’re constantly working to improve our controls, and we'll be reading this report closely to see if there are things we can take on board."


Google is already facing a lawsuit in the United States (U.S.) for tracking the location of users using their searches and web activity. San Diego resident Napoleon Patacsil issued the legal challenge in California, U.S., stating Google's "principal goal was to surreptitiously monitor [the claimant] and to allow third-parties to do the same."


Alternative bible seeks to 'end submission” and empower women in holy text


Two female professors from Geneva University in Switzerland have joined theologians from around the world in creating a new take on the bible, which seeks to show women mentioned in the holy text in a new light. Twenty Protestant and Catholic women theologians across four generations ranging from thirty years old to over seventy years old, from Quebec, Switzerland, France, Africa, Belgium, and Germany came together to produce the alternative book of women.


Professor at Geneva University's Faculty of Theology Elisabeth Parmentier said they were inspired to take the action because they were tired of seeing the bible "legitimise" a “submission of women,” and "this is a book not just for women but for men, too." Ms. Parmentier said, “Our older women are the most powerful of feminists and are the strongest women in feminism. The younger people are also strong feminists, and this is interesting because it shows we have to again take-up women’s liberation today. We have come back to those old stereotypes which makes our looks more important than wisdom and also the liberation of sexual harassment. So, we really have to fight again. It’s a difficulty.”


Ms. Parmentier said the book isn’t really a bible, adding, “It’s more a series of commentaries on biblical texts used in the past for the domestication of women. We wanted to show that bible text was very empowering for women, even those (texts) which were considered to silence women or domesticate women. For example, in Gospel of Luke, there’s the famous story of Martha and Maria, the two sisters. Jesus visits them, and Martha was serving the meal and Maria was sitting at the feet of Jesus and listened to his words and this text was used to show that women one side are to serve and the other to be silent and listen to words of the church. Actually, if you read the text in Greek, the verb is not serving, the word is holding a service which can also be doing the ministry, like a deacon. In the Greek original, Martha is not serving a meal and that she could be serving communion. That she’s not just a housewife but could be a disciple who has a responsibility to serve in the church.”


When asked why men translated the bible to make women subservient, Ms. Partmentier said it was too dangerous at the time to allow women a voice as it was not acceptable in the culture and would have changed the models of behaviour. She said, “It's nothing new, but now we think that women must know this. The bible is no longer an instrument to help dominate them. It’s not right and we want the bible to be known in another way as it’s empowering for women. We want to share it with people who do not know the bible. It’s not for specialists. It’s for people who don’t know the bible to let them know that we must look at it in another way.”