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04 Oct

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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.

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Irish Examiner>>

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Fallout from the fight for the Supreme Court

The repercussions from the explosive testimonies at the Senate judiciary committee last week will be felt in the US for years to come, according to Helen Coster

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court is in question due to allegations of sexual assault made by Dr Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor and high school acquaintance of Kavanaugh’s.

Last Friday, Senate Republicans agreed to delay the vote by one week in order to make time for an FBI investigation into Ford’s claims.

Amy Steigerwalt, a Georgia State University political science professor whose research focuses on the federal judicial selection process, as well as the influences on courts’ operations and decision-making, spoke with Reuters’ Helen Coster about the politicisation of the confirmation process, why the US Supreme Court isn’t as partisan as it’s made out to be, and why women who seem aggressive or combative are still penalised.

US Chief Justice John Roberts once compared the role of judges to that of umpires — applying the rules, not making them. Yet the Supreme Court is often portrayed as partisan. Is that an accurate description?

Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, last Thursday, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Picture: Tom Williams/Pool Image via AP

The reality is that the court is unanimous — seriously, all of the justices agree — about 50% of the time. As colleagues and I detail in our book, The Puzzle of Unanimity, there’s quite a lot of cases where the rules and law are clear and all of the available evidence points towards a single, legal answer.

In those cases, which we argue reflect a high level of legal certainty as to the “correct” legal answer, unanimity and consensus are much more likely.

Where we start to see divisions and partisanship/ideology appearing is in those cases where the law is simply less clear — where the statute or constitutional provision is ambiguous, or precedent is confusing, or where a new question has arisen due to changes in society, etc.

So, there will always be “political” decision-making, and courts will always make policy. What can be done is to ensure those who sit on the court are willing to keep an open mind — that they do not suggest that certain parties to cases should be favoured, or certain interest groups or certain arguments.

What do you make of the politicisation of the confirmation process itself, and what do you expect to be the fallout from the past few weeks?

What we’ve seen recently is a much more hyper-partisan process, and one where the underlying procedures that help ensure a fair (even if political) process have truly been abandoned.

And that started before last week: There’s never been a hearing for a US Supreme Court nominee before the National Archives have finished collecting their records, there’s never been an instance where a US Supreme Court nominee was denied even a hearing before the US judiciary committee, or where documents were blocked from senators without a bipartisan process, and so on.

READ MORE: Kavanaugh sexual assault hearing evokes early Soviet mock trials>>

The judiciary committee was long known for its bipartisan nature — there was little enmity on it, senators served together well, and a lot of the squabbles were really happening on the floor, rather than in the committee.

The past few years have changed that, and the hearings this past week were quite surprising in terms of the open animosity members were expressing for other members on the committee.

I think what will be difficult is returning to past procedures. That said, I also think the developments last Friday afternoon of delaying for a week for an FBI investigation were a (small) step towards trying to restore that sense of collective action.

Do you think the partisanship Kavanaugh displayed at last Thursday’s hearing would have been considered disqualifying in previous eras?

Yes. As an academic, I’m not normally that blunt, but what I was struck most by was the blatantly partisan tone of his opening testimony.

He did not simply deny the accusations, or even express concern about being the target of such accusations, but rather launched a very direct attack against the Democratic members of the committee.

He mentioned “Democrats” or “the left” 11 times in his opening testimony; for comparison, Clarence Thomas did so zero times in his hearings.

A ‘pan-European picnic’ helped defeat communism. This time the enemy is populism

East Germans cross the Hungarian border into Austria, 19 August 1989.

East Germans cross the Hungarian border into Austria, 19 August 1989. Photograph: VOTAVA/AP

On 19 August 1989, just outside the small Hungarian city of Sopron, in a meadow only metres from the barbed wire and armed guards at the border with Austria, civil society representatives from east and west held a “pan-European picnic”, a day in the country that aimed to put an end, through small symbolic steps, to cold war division. In a small though surprising gesture of openness, this “déjeuner sur l’herbe” was authorised by the communist government. Nobody expected, however, that thousands of people, many of them East German citizens on holiday in their “brother nation”, would decide to join the gathering and head towards the line of demarcation, intent on peacefully breaking through the iron curtain.

Heedless of all risk to their safety, they decided to cross the border on foot. Taken by surprise, the communist regime’s police didn’t fire a shot, giving rise to a popular movement that, a few months later, brought down the Berlin Wall. It marked the beginning of Europe’s reunification, brought to fruition in the following years with the construction of a common democratic space that would include (albeit controversially) a large number of countries that, after 1945, had been abandoned to Soviet oppression.

Last August, I made my way along the former iron curtain from Slovenia to Germany, passing through abandoned checkpoints. Portions of the wall were still intact, and old military posts testified to how quickly history can get out of hand. I thought of that picnic 29 years ago – how that simple gathering started a process that changed the course of history. I also thought of how today, as dark clouds gather once more above Europe, the time has come for all citizens of good will to mobilise. To gather as they did at Sopron in the summer of 1989, and resist any return to division, xenophobia, exclusion, discrimination and barriers. In short, to prevent any return to a past of pain and oppression.

Democracy itself and the European Union – the most formidable political construction in modern history – are today under attack. Donald Trump’s US and Vladimir Putin’s Russia are united in their intention to dismantle the political union, and work daily to that end, with the support of local extremist political parties. The time has come for sincere European democrats to react to this deadly threat. It is time to wake up and resist the extremist forces that mask their intentions under assurances that they do not want to resort to violence and the destruction of the constitutional and democratic equilibrium.

In reality, however, wherever they have taken power, these forces call into question liberal principles and stigmatise minorities, the opposition and outsiders. They antagonise civil society organisations and dissident voices, reignite old ethno-nationalisms, fuel fake news and foment hatred in their constant search for scapegoats.

Back in the 1930s, extremist parties systematically resorted to terror and violence. Now, in the early 21st century, they rely on disinformation, defamation and intimidation. But beware of underestimating the tragic endgame of these policies. Who would have imagined even a few years ago the demonisation of non-governmental organisations, the violent rejection and murder of refugees, the persecution of foreigners, the conspicuous increase in xenophobic acts or, as seen recently in the US, the separation, segregation and incarceration of children, guilty only of having tried to cross the border with Mexico? All this while dictatorship, illiberal democracy or bloody conflict run wild in nearly all the countries surrounding the European Union.

Peaceful coexistence is under serious threat, as much as the European Union which embodies it.

The crisis we face is no longer one of legitimacy and the evident dysfunctioning of Brussels, as illustrated by the recent migration challenge. It is the very existence of the postwar democratic and social pact that is, little by little, being called into question.

The peace memorial that stands on the site of the 1989 pan-European picnic in Sopron, Hungary.

The peace memorial that stands on the site of the 1989 pan-European picnic in Sopron, Hungary. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Everywhere, democratic and progressive forces are distressed by the re-emergence of ghosts thought to be confined to the past. How to combat the tendencies and assertions of parties that exploit the confusion of populations faced with economic crisis, the disruption of globalisation and the loss of traditional reference points? A democratic uprising should inevitably begin with the convergence of forces, associations, groups and individual citizens who were until now divided by misunderstandings, old grievances, different sensitivities.

Now is the time for genuine democrats to find their feet, and unite against a common nemesis that could displace them and bury liberal democracy for good. We cannot remain unarmed against projects such as that planned by the far-right American Steve Bannon to build an international alliance of European sovereignists. As in August 1989, the time has come to call on citizens to organise, gather together, and change the course of history.

“Where there is danger, there also rises that which saves,” wrote the poet Friedrich Hölderlin. All of us who are conscious of the dangers currently threatening Europe, Italy especially, and who feel we are facing a turning point in our lives and those of our children, cannot just wait for this threat to fade away.

Many are assuming that those at the top WANT the world to be a better place. Those controlling this ship (America and here..) are religious zealots and need Armageddon to occur to validate thier religious beliefs. The policies they create appear to be designed to tear it all apart for a reason..

“Only one in a hundred is gonna get on that ark son. And every other poor soul’s gonna drown.”

From memory there will be only 100,000 “taken up” in the rapture, so go figure how many fundamentalist “christians” will have to suck it up with the rest of us?. Many do have a self inflated opinion of how godly they are though.

Very well spoken (written), sir.
Unfortunately, everything you have pointed at is equally relevant to European countries.
Only a minuscule minority will give up their car, or even reduce its usage, while hundreds of thousands suffer the pollution impacts. The “govt” continues to subsidise the oil and gas industry while side-lining renewables (eg. Swansea), ignoring the consequences.

It isn’t just America that will suffer the impact of climate refugees – Europe is where possibly billions of people will head for, when their own countries become inhabitable.
And in a way, we have earned, and deserve, the hell that lies before us.

Trump’s team used last week to sneak in disastrous, linked policies on climate change and child refugee camps 

The Trump years are a fantasy land where we pretend we can go on living precisely as in the past, unwilling even to substitute electric SUVs for our gas guzzlers

The Trump years are a fantasy land where we pretend we can go on living precisely as in the past, unwilling even to substitute electric SUVs for our gas guzzlers. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

In the cloud of toxic dust thrown up by the Kavanaugh hearings last week, two new Trump initiatives slipped by with less notice than they deserve. Both are ugly, stupid – and they are linked, though in ways not immediately apparent.

In the first, the administration provided the rationale for scrapping President Obama’s automobile mileage standards: because Trump’s crew now officially expects the planet to warm by 4C . In the environmental impact statement they say it wouldn’t make much difference to the destruction of the planet if we all keep driving SUVs.

The news in that statement is that administration officials serenely contemplate that 4C rise (twice the last-ditch target set at the Paris climate talks). Were the world to actually warm that much, it would be a literal hell, unable to maintain civilizations as we have known them. But that’s now our policy, and it apparently rules out any of the actions that might, in fact, limit that warming. You might as well argue that because you’re going to die eventually, there’s no reason not to smoke a carton of cigarettes a day.

Meanwhile, reporters also discovered that the administration has set up what can only be described as a concentration camp near the Mexican border for detained migrant children, spiriting them under cover of darkness from the foster homes and small shelters across the nation where they had been staying.

Not an extermination camp – these aren’t Nazis – but a camp that literally concentrates this “problem” in one place: a tent city in the middle of the desert. Schooling is not available there, as it was in the shelters they came from; instead the kids are given “workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited.”

That camp is linked to climate change because, first, it’s in a desert. If you searched high and low across the North American continent, you could barely find a place hotter and drier than Tornillo, Texas, where in June the average high is 96F and where, as one climate data source succinctly puts it, “there is virtually no rainfall during the year”.

But the link goes much deeper. Most of those migrants are from Central America and Mexico, and they might as easily be described as refugees fleeing gang violence (much of it rooted originally in the US) and a changing climate. Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras first saw an outbreak of coffee rust linked to higher nighttime temperatures; the El Niño that began in 2015 led to years of unprecedented drought. Deep new droughts this summer wiped out more harvests: “total or partial loss of crops means that subsistence farmers and their families will not have enough food to eat or sell in coming months,” the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warned. The author Todd Miller, writing in the Nation, described meeting men trying to jump a train in Guatemala headed north toward the border. “When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, “No hubo lluvia.” (“There was no rain.”)

This will, of course, get steadily worse in the years ahead – every climate forecast shows deserts spreading and water evaporating across the region. And of course more migration will follow, in every corner of the world. The World Bank predicts we may see 140 million climate migrants before long, and given the chaos that even a million people fleeing the (partially drought-fueled) crisis in Syria created, we better come to grips. Some of that migration will be internal – perhaps six million people will abandon their coastal property in Florida alone, according to recent reports. And much of it will be international, as people flee because their lives depend on it.

Telling people to stay home is not an option – when there’s no water, or when the floods come each year, or when the sea rises into your kitchen, people have to leave. Period.

And telling people to stay home is not a moral option, either. Because the climate chaos setting off waves of refugees is born above all from the unconstrained migration of carbon dioxide molecules from America over the last century. No wall can prevent the exhaust from our armada of oversized cars from raising the temperature in Mexico; if Guatemala could ship its changed climate back north it doubtless would, but it can’t. We have to realize that global warming stems from the fact that we are a world without atmospheric borders, where the people who have done the least to cause the problem feel its horrors first and hardest. That’s why, over the last half-decade, the environmental and migrant-rights movement have grown ever closer.

The Trump years are a fantasy land where we pretend we can go on living precisely as in the past, unwilling even to substitute electric SUVs for our gas guzzlers, and able to somehow insist that the rest of the world stay locked in place as well. It’s impractical, it’s unfair, and when it ends up with camps for kids in the desert it’s downright evil.

Three key Republicans condemn Trump for mocking Christine Blasey Ford>>

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New York tax authorities investigating Trump fraud allegations>>

You’re funding the Koch brothers>>.

This corrupt, illegal war on wildlife makes losers of us all

An elephant is killed for its tusks every 25 minutes. The time for treaties is over – we need to halt the trade in animal parts 

Seized tusks are burned in Nairobi national park, Kenya.

Seized tusks are burned in Nairobi national park, Kenya. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Civil war is devastating. Until the Taliban booted me out of Afghanistan in 1998 – I was the last western diplomat to go – I had a front-row seat on the impact that sustained war has on a people and an economy. I returned to work in Afghanistan twice in the years after that expulsion, and by the time I left Kabul last year, after a stretch as the British ambassador to Afghanistan, I had seen change for the better.

Coming to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), I have a front-row seat on a different kind of war: the war on wildlife. The illegal wildlife trade has catastrophic impacts on people and animals. The annihilation of wildlife by organised criminal gangs is violent, bloody, corrupt and insidious. It robs communities of their resources, their independence, their opportunities and their dignity. It strips their homes of beauty and diversity. It may even cost some people their lives. And we are all losers as the creatures with which we share this planet are pillaged to extinction.

While war and terrorist atrocities make daily headlines, the horrors being waged on wildlife slide under the radar: 100 million sharks killed every year, mostly for their fins; 20,000 African elephants slaughtered annually for their ivory; more than 1,000 rhinos poached every year from South Africa alone. And there has been a huge decline in the size of wildlife populations since 1970. In human terms, that’s like losing the entire population of Asia from the world. Wildlife crime is a key factor in those losses, sharing blame with overpopulation, deforestation and agriculture, to name but a few.

Around 100 million sharks are killed a year, mostly for their fins.

Around 100 million sharks are killed a year, mostly for their fins. Photograph: Ecuador’s Attorney General/AP

Perhaps the illegal wildlife trade lacks the visceral fear factor of novichok or terrorism to wake the world up to the harm being perpetrated. But while we dither, more species are being wiped out – an elephant is killed for its tusks every 25 minutes. The growth of the illegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest causes of extinction. It is driven by well-armed and resourced criminal gangs operating on an industrial scale.

Next week the government is convening an international conference on the illegal wildlife trade in London. It is a critical opportunity to shine another spotlight on the atrocity of wildlife crime and to ensure the international community works together on collective solutions.

What we don’t need is to negotiate more treaties or agreements. We have already got the mechanisms we need to halt the trade. We need political will and action to implement the laws that are already in place and to address demand. China’s closure of its domestic ivory market is welcome, but only a first step. We also need to support the people on the frontline – the rangers who risk their lives to protect wildlife, and the communities reliant on wildlife to survive. This is a war that, together, we can win.

Dominic Jermey is director general of ZSL and former British ambassador to Afghanistan

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