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What We're Watching: Macron unfazed

What We're Watching: Macron unfazed

Macron not backing down over pensions – Despite six days of mass unrest that has paralyzed Paris' public transport system and dented both tourism and Christmas retail, the government will stand firm on a proposal to reform and unify the country's 42 different pension plans. France's pension system, one of the most generous of any major industrialized country, has major budget shortfalls that contribute to the country's ballooning deficit. Last year, Macron abandoned a proposed fuel price hike that ignited the Yellow Vest movement. But overhauling France's "welfare state" was central to his 2017 election platform, and acquiescing to protesters this time around would be political suicide. France's prime minister – tapped to lead the pension reform project – is expected to announce the plan's final details tomorrow. We're watching to see how this might escalate things further.


The future of Muslim migrants in India – India's parliament is currently debating a controversial bill that would open a new path to Indian citizenship for migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh— provided that they are not Muslims. Supporters of the measure say it offers safe haven to persecuted minorities from those countries, but critics say playing religious favorites violates the secular principles of the Indian state. Since first coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist BJP party and its hardline affiliates have taken steps to boost the primacy of Hinduism in India's public life, creating a climate of deepening uncertainty for the country's 200 million Muslims.

Saudi Arabia ends restaurant gender segregation – In a landmark decision Sunday, Saudi Arabia scrapped a decades-old rule that required restaurants to segregate seating areas and entrances according to sex and marital status. Over the past two years, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) – the country's de facto leader and the first from a new generation– has led a major effort to liberalize Saudi Arabia's extremely conservative society, lifting restrictions on women driving, welcoming in movie theaters for the first time in decades, and permitting women to travel without their male relatives' approval. But these moves have been accompanied by a sustained crackdown on dissent – in many cases, the authorities have targeted precisely the women who fought for some of the freedoms recently granted.

What We're Eating

Grandma's Little Ears – Earlier this year, the Times reports, a restaurant in the southern Italian city of Bari illegally received a large shipment of orecchiette, the "little ear" pasta native to the area, without recording where it came from. This violated strict EU and Italian laws on food origin. Suspicion immediately fell on an unlikely target: le nonne (the grandmas) who sell homemade orecchiette on the streets of the old town. The grandmas earn little for selling small packets of the stuff to individual buyers. Had they secretly banded together to sell on a more industrial scale? Their artisanal trade is now in danger of being regulated by the authorities in a battle that pits old traditions against modern regulation. We have our money on le nonne and our fork in a bowl of orecchiette con cime di rapa.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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