Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what’s happening around some of the day’s most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.
- From burning transit buses to trash piling up in the streets, Rome has a major city maintenance — and image — problem
- Canada’s unseasonably cold spring has caused a maple syrup shortfall
- Besides the corporate interests affected by the U.S. pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, the sanctions will have a major impact on small producers and retailers of … rugs
- Missed The National last night? Watch it here
The fall of Rome
If you are planning a summer trip to Rome, you might want to stay away from the public transit system. And watch your step in the streets.
Yesterday, two city buses caught fire and burned to a crisp, with one of them exploding in the heart of the city, near the famous Trevi fountain.
The twin infernos brought the number of city bus fires this year to 10 — all believed to have been caused by mechanical and maintenance issues. This follows 20 bus blazes in 2017.
Rome’s transit system, known as Atac, has been in disarray for quite some time. Last summer, the man who had been parachuted in to fix the problems quit after just three months on the job, saying that the authority was unable to cope with its €1.3 billion debt ($1.98 billion Cdn) and should declare bankruptcy.
“It is an appalling scandal,” Bruno Rota told la Repubblica newspaper. “The situation is worse than you can imagine.”
Most of the blame goes to Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, and her 5-Star Movement colleagues.
The anti-establishment party has been in control of the Eternal City for almost two years now, a tenure marked by a series of missteps and scandals. Infrastructure is crumbling, uncollected garbage fills the piazzas, and the streets are riddled with potholes. Thousands of migrants — unable to find affordable housing or space in emergency shelters — squat in abandoned buildings.
In March, a late-season dusting of snow shut the city down for two full days, as untrimmed trees fell and buses had to stay in their depots because they only had summer tires.
Even the municipal Christmas tree showed signs of neglect this season — a 21-metre Norway Spruce that Romans nicknamed Spelacchio (threadbare) because of its conspicuous lack of needles.
The decay has inspired a website and Twitter feed called Roma fa Schifo (Rome is disgusting), filled with photos of graffiti and garbage.
Siamo a San Pietro in Vaticano. Praticamente i cassonetti stanno crollando in strada sotto la spinta della montagna di rumenta pic.twitter.com/iMKVqoRQhg—@romafaschifo
Raggi says her administration will fix the problems, but that it takes time — Rome wasn’t built in a day.
“Investigations are underway to ascertain the causes,” of the bus fires, Raggi told reporters, saying that the root issue is the aging Atac fleet. “Since the beginning of the year, we have put 200 buses on the road, but they are not enough. The number of buses burned since the beginning of the year, in any case, is falling.”
Still, Rome’s difficulties didn’t stop Italians from making Five Star the big winner in March’s national elections.
Talks to form a coalition governmenthave been dragging for two months now.
A sticky situation
Canada’s unseasonably cold spring threatens the breakfast table.
Maple syrup production in Quebec fell by 27 per cent this spring — almost 50,000 metric tonnes — according to new figures released by the Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec. Which is rather a large deal, since the province produces 72 per cent of the world’s supply of the sticky, sweet pancake topping.
The culprit was low daytime temperatures that kept the sap flow to a minimum.
That’s the same syrup depot that made international headlines in 2012, when it was discovered that thieves had broken in and made off with 3,000 tonnes of the tawny gold, worth $18.7 million.
Richard Vallières, the ringleader of the syrup bandits, was sentenced last April to eight years in jail and fined $9.4 million. Two co-accused, his father Raymond and New Brunswick syrup retailer Etienne St-Pierre, were also found guilty for their roles in the robbery.
At his trial, Richard Vallières had argued that he had been coerced into the robbery by a gun-toting man who made off with the syrup and forced him to refill the empty barrels with water.
In late April, a fire destroyed a family-run operation in Cape Breton. Highland Gold Maple Products in Boisdale, N.S., tapped about 8,000 trees a year.
Its entire production run — around 3,000 tonnes — was lost in the blaze.
- Enjoying this newsletter? Sign up and have it delivered by email. You may also like our early-morning newsletter, the Morning Brief — start the day with the news you need in one quick and concise read. Sign up here.
Pulling the rug out from under Iran
Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal will have immediate and devastating consequences — for Americans who buy and sell Persian carpets.
Yesterday, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a comprehensive list of economic sanctions that will be reimposed after a 90 or 180 day “wind-down” period. The controls will prohibit Americans from selling Iran U.S. dollars, trading in gold or precious metals, and a variety of materials including coal, steel and aluminum.
There are huge financial impacts on big corporate deals around things like oil and aircraft. But among the sanctions that will bite average Americans the most are renewed bans on imported foodstuffs and Persian carpets.
In 2017, the United States imported $63.2 million worth of goods from the Islamic Republic, and 84 per cent of those purchases — $53.4 million — were hand-made rugs.
Carpet imports were worth almost 10 times the next biggest category, artwork, antiques and stamps, at $5.6 million. Then came fresh fruits and frozens vegetables ($1.1 million), tea ($693,000) and baked goods ($592,000).
The U.S. first placed an embargo on Persian rugs back in the fall of 2010. The lifting of that ban at the beginning of 2016 was cause for celebration at high-end rug stores in New York and Los Angeles. That year, Americans imported $56.5 million worth — 64 per cent of all Iranian goods that entered the country.
Still, the renewed U.S. sanctions will mostly end up hurting American businesses. In 2017, the U.S. exported $137.7 million worth of goods to Iran — mostly agricultural products like wheat and soybeans — for a positive trade balance of $74.5 million.
And Trump’s decision will kill two major deals that Seattle’s Boeing had signed to sell its 777 passenger jet to Iran Air (80 planes) and Iran Aseman Airlines (30 jets.) Throw in the parts-and-maintenance side of agreements, and the two contracts were worth $19 billion. (An Airbus agreement for 100 jets may also now be in jeopardy, because the planes use so many American-made parts.)
The 2015 Iran deal reopened the Middle East’s second largest economy to foreign trade. European nations were certainly quick to take advantage. Trade between EU nations and the Islamic Republic grew to €21 billion ($25 billion US) in 2017, with major corporations like Total and Airbus inking multibillion-dollar deals to develop oil fields and sell passenger jets.
It wasn’t always that way. Back before the Iranian revolution in 1979, the United States exported $3.7 billion in goods ($12.7 billion in today’s dollars) and imported $2.9 billion worth ($9.97 billion today) — mostly oil.
The Persian carpet ban might also hurt some former friends and associates of Donald Trump.
Part of the money-laundering indictment against Paul Manafort revealed the ex-Trump campaign manager’s taste for high-end rugs.
He spent $1.03 million on antique floor coverings for his suburban Washington, D.C., condo between 2008 and 2010 — just before the last embargo started.
Quote of the moment
“When Canada denied asylum to the 907 German Jews on board the MS St. Louis, we failed not only those passengers, but also their descendants and community. It is our collective responsibility to acknowledge this difficult truth, learn from this story, and continue to fight against anti-Semitism every day, as we give meaning to the solemn vow: ‘Never again.'”
– Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement announcing his government’s intention to offer a formal apology to Canada’s Jewish community for the “none is too many” treatment of a boatload of German refugees in 1939.
What The National is reading
- Canadians will spend more on pot than hard liquor, bank predicts (CBC)
- Russia unveils new missiles, jets at Victory Day parade (Guardian)
- Three Americans released from North Korean prison (CBC)
- Doctor who helped locate Osama bin Laden may soon be freed (Asia Times)
- Defiant Miguna Miguna set to return to Kenya (Africanews)
- World of Warcraft virtual gold is 7 times more valuable than Venezuela’s real currency (CNN)
- Scientists train spider to jump on demand (Science Daily)
Today in history
May 9, 1954: Setting the stage at the Stratford Festival
It takes two full days to put up the Stratford Festival’s first home — the largest tent of its kind in the world. Skip Manley, the man in charge of construction, “refuses to change clothes, sleep or eat while the tent is going up,” and insists on being the one to climb the 100-foot main pole to check the ropes and wires. “Every tent is a fickle woman to him,” explains the narrator. Perhaps they’d get along better if he took a shower.
Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.
Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to [email protected].