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08 May

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

Recommended:

Irish Examiner>>

France 24>>

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The Age>>

The Observer>>

The Anti-Environment Party AfD Hopes to Win Votes by Opposing Climate Protection

German populists are adopting climate change denialism as a new campaign strategy. The far-right Alternative for Germany party has begun directing its unscientific claims at global warming activists like 16-year-old Greta Thunberg and says it wants to be the party that “saves diesel.”

By Vera Deleja-Hotko, and

Photo Gallery: Denying Climate Change to Win Votes .

It was hot on a recent Tuesday evening in Velten, a small town in the eastern German state of Brandenburg. The only way to stay cool was to keep the doors and windows open. The speakers were sweating. So was the audience.

A good 200 people had shown up to listen to speeches by Jörg Meuthen, the national spokesman for the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, and other party leaders. Surely no one would deny that the venue was so hot because of all the people inside. But asked whether humanity was also responsible for heating up the planet, the attendees’ answers would probably be less affirmative.

Meuthen recalled an “awakening experience” in the European Parliament in mid-April, explaining that a guest had come to visit: “Hold on to your hat, this was a very, very high-ranking state visit, the holy Greta from Sweden.” The audience laughed. “But seriously,” Meuthen said, getting worked up, the parliament’s president had greeted “this 16-year-old student.” And what’s more, he told the audience, Greta had received “thundering applause.”

“Unbelievable,” grumbled one man in the front row. Meuthen continued: “She got standing ovations from the entire parliament. For what, one has to wonder, for what?” He followed up with a joke: “The next day, she met the Pope, and gave him a small audience.” More laughter.

Has the icon of the student-led “Fridays for Future” protests become a target of far-right populist scorn? Has a 16-year-old student been painted as the political opponent of the AfD? Yes, indeed.

Low Hanging Fruit

The far-right German party has adopted a new issue to score points with voters: environmental policy. The party addresses it in the federal parliament, the Bundestag, and out on the campaign trail. It fosters connections to climate change deniers in the orbit of U.S. President Donald Trump. But more than anything, it is trying to drum up support ahead of upcoming elections in May for the European Parliament as well as elections in three East German states, which are scheduled for late summer.

After the euro and the refugee crisis, it is the third major theme the party is using to bring people on its side. The AfD didn’t just decide to shift its message out of the blue: It recognized some time ago that scolding migrants and warning of Muslim conspiracies don’t have the same pull they did two or three years ago. This is mostly because there are far fewer refugees entering the country now than a few years ago. The AfD needs to find a new rallying cry.

Environmental policy has become a ubiquitous, hot-button issue. There are the “Fridays for Future” protests instigated by Greta Thunberg, the debate over diesel vehicles and proposed driving bans on those cars in some cities due to dangerous emissions, the never-ending squabbling over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia and, most recently, the push by German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze to implement a carbon tax. Not to mention the images of melting glaciers and plastic floating in the ocean, or the memories of the drought-stricken summer last year.

“We would be foolish to not take up the subject,” said Meuthen. It is one of the most important issues, especially for his party, Meuthen added. “As a politician, you have to tackle the subjects people care about.”

The week in wildlife – in pictures

Experts warn numbers are collapsing as 300,000 are killed for sport every year

A hare in a grass field in the UK

Brown hare numbers in the UK are believed to have fallen from four million in 1880 to around 800,000 now. Photograph: Alamy

The nation’s deep affection for the hare, once a common sight in fields, is recorded in prose, pub names and poetry. Writers including Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll and Ted Hughes have paid tribute to the UK’s fastest land mammal, while any English county will boast at least one pub with the word hare in its name. But now a failure to revive numbers after a century of decline from an estimated four million to under 800,000 has triggered moves to protect hares during their breeding season.

Former agriculture minister George Eustice is introducing a private member’s bill that would make it illegal to shoot hares from February to September. “England and Wales are among the few remaining European countries that do not have a modern close season on shooting hares during their breeding season, which is a terrible oversight,” Eustice said.

One of Lewis Carroll's original paintings of Alice sitting sulkily with the March Hare, Dormouse and Mad Hatter.

The March Hare features in the tea party scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Born Free Foundation claims that more than 300,000 hares are shot for sport each year. Most of the shoots take place in February, when the pheasant season ends, and the female hares are already pregnant or nursing their young.

Born Free said that this results in the death of leverets through starvation or predation, and the loss of breeding females.

“Seeing a spring hare sitting bolt upright or zigzagging at speed across a field is a real treat. Sadly it is one that is becoming increasingly rare on our islands,” said Dr Mark Jones, head of policy at Born Free. “Concerted action is urgently needed to protect these magical and mystical animals, not least from those who would shoot them for sport during their critical breeding season.”

Both brown and mountain hares are listed as “priority species” under the UK biodiversity action plan, but government attempts to increase their numbers have been unsuccessful.

“A former government action plan to double hare numbers by 2010 failed disastrously and now hares face a new threat from disease,” said Paul Tillsley, head of conservation and education at the League Against Cruel Sports. “Scotland introduced a close season for killing brown hares and mountain hares in 2011, so it is long overdue that England and Wales follow suit.”

A 2011 early day motion calling for a close season attracted 146 MPs’ signatures. “Mr Eustice does have influence as a recent agriculture minister, and we would hope that, even if his bill doesn’t succeed directly, it will put the issue on the government’s agenda, with the possibility of the government tabling its own bill,” Jones said.

Calls to save the hare follow the row over farmers’ rights to kill pigeons and crows. This was made illegal last month following a legal challenge from animal rights groups, only to be revoked following protests by countryside campaigners.

Currently, hares are protected under an arcane act more than a century old. Eustice said: “Even the Victorians recognised the importance of protecting hares during their breeding season, but the 1892 Hares Preservation Act was delivered through a ban on sale and its provisions are no longer effective, nor enforced.”

Several are in critical condition, sheriff’s department spokeswoman says, and the two shooters are in custody

Officials guide students off a bus and into a recreation center to be reunited with their parents after a school shooting in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

Officials guide students off a bus and into a recreation center to be reunited with their parents after a school shooting in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP

One 18-year-old student was killed and seven teenagers were injured when two students opened fire Tuesday inside a charter school in an affluent community in Denver, Colorado.

Douglas county sheriff Tony Spurlock said the pair walked into the Stem School Highlands Ranch, which is located not far from Columbine High School, and began shooting students in two classrooms. Within minutes, deputies at a nearby sheriff’s department substation entered the school and arrested the two suspects after a struggle.

“As officers were arriving at the school, they could still hear gunshots,” Douglas county undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth said.

“I have to believe that the quick response of the officers that got inside that school helped save lives,” Spurlock said.

Douglas County sheriff’s officials said Devon Erickson, 18, and a younger student walked into the Stem School Highlands Ranch Tuesday afternoon and opened fire on students in two classrooms, prompting students to run shouting through the halls or to hide out of sight as gunfire echoed through school. Police said that two handguns were used and the juvenile suspect is a female.

Josh Dutton, 18, told The Associated Press that he was close friends with Devon Erickson in middle school but hadn’t seen him for four years as he went to a different high school. On Sunday, he spotted Erickson at a local light rail station and said he was shocked at how much his friend had changed.

Erickson wore all black, a hat and sunglasses, was significantly skinnier and didn’t seem interested in talking. “He said he’d just turned 18 and he owned rifles,” Dutton said.

The shooting occurred at Stem School Highlands Ranch, a public charter school with more than 1,850 students in kindergarten through 12th grades about 15km south of the center of Denver.

Stem Highlands Ranch students were taken to a nearby recreation center after at eight students were injured during a shooting.

Stem Highlands Ranch students were taken to a nearby recreation center after at eight students were injured during a shooting. Photograph: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Lines of firetrucks, ambulances and law enforcement vehicles from multiple agencies were at the school, and medical helicopters landed on a grassy field.

The sheriff’s office directed parents to a nearby recreational center to pick up their children. A fleet of school buses arrived and dropped off students, many of them young children. Some of whom were crying and holding hands with their classmates as they were helped off. An ambulance also pulled up and let out a half-dozen children, none of whom appeared to be physically injured.

The shooting came nearly three weeks after neighboring Littleton marked the grim 20th anniversary of the Columbine school massacre that killed 13 people. The two schools are separated by about 11km in adjacent communities south of Denver.

“Tragically, this community and those surrounding it know all too well these hateful and horrible acts of violence,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. President Donald Trump had been briefed on the shooting and was in touch with state and local officials, Deere said.

The Stem school is a public charter school with more than 1,850 students in kindergarten through 12th grades.

Student Christian Paulson told television station KMGH that he was in study hall when he saw kids running and shouting, “School shooter!”

“And I’m like, ‘What? Is this real or fake?’ And then I just went after them,” Paulson said. “And apparently, this is all real. And I tried to run with my life, but I’m out of breath.”

Stem school parents gather in a circle to pray after a shooting at the Highlands Ranch school.

Stem school parents gather in a circle to pray after a shooting at the Highlands Ranch school. Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP

Rocco DeChalk, who lives near the school, told television station KUSA that he saw so many students running past his house that at first he thought it was a gym class. He went outside and saw a teenage boy who had been shot in the back being helped by a teacher and another student.

They brought the boy into his kitchen and alerted a police officer, who sent for an ambulance.

“He made a comment, ‘Oh, I’m starting to feel it now’,” DeChalk said. “I told him that was probably the adrenaline kicking in and he was going into shock.”

Three area hospitals reported treating eight people in connection with the attack. Two were listed in serious condition, two were listed as stable, one was in good condition and three were released.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis said in a statement that he was making state public-safety resources available to help secure the site and evacuate students. “The heart of all Colorado is with the victims and their families,” he said.

Democratic representative Jason Crow, a gun-control supporter whose congressional district includes the Highlands Ranch school, said the gun violence cannot continue.

“It is not enough to send thoughts and prayers. It is empty. It is weak, and it does an injustice to our children who are on the front lines of this violence,” he said.

 

World Politics

Europe

Research says malign actors online tried to craft individual narrative for each EU state

The focus of the disinformation in Germany was on provoking division following the rise of the far-right AfD.

The focus of the disinformation in Germany was on provoking division following the rise of the far-right AfD. Photograph: Jens Meyer/AP

Around half of all Europeans could have been exposed to disinformation promoted by social media accounts linked to Russia before the European elections, an analysis suggests.

Evidence of 6,700 so-called “bad actors” posting enough content to reach up to 241 million users was discovered by researchers examining the scale of the threat.

There was no “all-purpose” content but locally created material was being amplified to craft a narrative for each EU member state, according to the study of a 10-day period from 1 to 10 March.

The report’s authors found specific evidence of malign actors seeking to shape specific news developments in Europe, including the debate over whether the Commons should back Theresa May’s Brexit deal during which divisive content was actively spread.

On 4 March 2019, an article published by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, about the future of Europe provoked a 79% increase in activity within 24 hours by accounts mostly promoting or sharing content attempting to discredit his ideas.

In Germany, the focus was on building a divisive narrative over immigration policy in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis and the rise of the far-right AfD party.

The disinformation was pushed via automated bots programmed to pick up specific text cues and by humans sometimes using software to communicate through multiple accounts at the same time and potentially avoiding bot detection algorithms.

The company that produced the research, online security firm SafeGuard Cyber, said it had a database of more than 500,000 known troll and bot accounts and had confidence of their Russian links, although this could not be independently verified by the Guardian.

The European commissioner Sir Julian King said the evidence “underlines the dangers of disinformation online”.

He said: “Malicious actors, whether they be state or non-state, will not hesitate to use the internet to attempt to influence and interfere in our democratic processes.

“We have achieved a lot in the past year in our work to counter this threat. But more remains to be done on all sides, including by the big internet platforms – it is vital we ensure the security of our elections.”

King was one of a number of EU officials that the research suggested were also being targeted by malign actors. Thirteen percent of his Twitter followers were found to be suspicious.

Otavio Freire, the co-founder of SafeGuard Cyber, said: “The scale of the problem is tremendous. The rise of disinformation campaigns is abetted by the fact that it is incredibly difficult to stop their spread on social platforms.

“Bad actors realise that hacking election infrastructure, and hacking the perception of reality and facts, are ultimately tactics to accomplish similar outcomes.

“The former you need to get past firewalls, while the latter continues to be unprotected. Our report reinforces the need for a new approach to security, as today’s bad actors are not at all hindered by the cybersecurity tactics of yesterday.”

SafeGuard Cyber said it identified likely Russian-backed actors on social media through examining the content of their posts, location, time of posting and relationship to other bots.

Freire said: “To use an analogy, we have a copy of the blueprint that Russia uses to build its accounts, but we cannot go into too great a level of detail for revealing things that they will then figure out how to engineer around”.

United States

New York Times found that Trump’s core businesses, including casinos, hotels and apartments, lost $1.17bn from 1985 to 1994

Trump broke with a decades-old precedent by refusing to release his tax returns as a presidential candidate in 2016 or since being elected.

Trump broke with a decades-old precedent by refusing to release his tax returns as a presidential candidate in 2016 or since being elected. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Donald Trump’s businesses lost a total of more than $1bn from 1985 to 1994, enabling him to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The newspaper, which said it obtained printouts from Trump’s official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts, found that Trump’s core businesses, including casinos, hotels and apartment buildings, lost $1.17bn over a decade.

Trump posted losses in excess of $250m in both 1990 and 1991, according to the records, which appeared to be more than double any other individual US taxpayer in an annual IRS sampling of high-income earners.

The New York Times report comes amid a fresh battle between Democrats in Congress and the Trump administration over the release of the president’s tax returns.

On Monday, the US Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, refused a request by the congressman Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House ways and means committee, for Trump’s tax returns.

Democrats want Trump’s tax data as part of their investigations of possible conflicts of interest posed by his continued ownership of extensive business interests, even as he serves as president.

Responding to the New York Times’ revelations, Charles Harder, a lawyer for the president, said the tax information was “highly inaccurate”.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump broke with a decades-old precedent by refusing to release his tax returns as a presidential candidate in 2016 or since being elected, saying he could not do so while his taxes were being audited.

Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testified on Capitol Hill earlier this year that he did not believe the president’s taxes were, in fact, under audit. The IRS has also said being under audit does not bar people from making their tax returns public.

Trump, a real estate magnate who turned over the running of his businesses to his sons after his election in 2016, touted his business acumen and negotiating skills on the campaign trail.

 

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