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22 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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Spiegel>>

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World Politics

Italy

Ismaele La Vardera, who stood for mayor in Palermo, used secret cameras to capture dealmaking

Ismaele La Vardera has a selfie taken with Matteo Salvini.

Ismaele La Vardera, left, has a selfie taken with Matteo Salvini during his campaign to become mayor of Palermo. Photograph: le lene

In early 2017, Ismaele La Vardera, a 22-year-old Sicilian journalist, surprised the Italian political scene when he announced his candidacy for mayor in the southern city of Palermo. Even more surprising was his decision to stand for the League, whose leader, Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has repeatedly denigrated southern Italians.

On election night on 12 June La Vardera secured just 2.7% of the vote. But there was a twist in the tale: he had taken a hidden camera with him on the campaign trail, and recorded his experience.

The footage has been made into a documentary called Italian Politics for Dummies. Scheduled for release at the end of November, the film shines a light on the workings of Italy’s populist parties, as well as alleged mafia interference.

“While I was on the campaign trail, I was amazed by certain things that were happening to me,” La Vardera said in an interview. “That’s when I decided it might be worth it to record everything.”

La Vardera styled himself as a David battling the Goliaths of the political establishment. He was immediately courted by Salvini’s party, who were interested in marketing him as an anti-establishment outsider. Salvini formalised the party’s endorsement during a two-hour conversation with La Vardera that was secretly filmed. He told the young candidate the party would present him as “something totally new in the swamp of old politics”.

A campaign poster for Ismaele La Vardera.

A campaign poster for Ismaele La Vardera. Photograph: le lene

La Vardera was also courted by Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right party Fratelli d’Italia, who offered to put him on the party slate.

The most striking segment of the film takes place in the basement of an apartment building in the Kalsa neighbourhood of Palermo, a Sicilian mafia stronghold. La Vardera had been accompanied to the apartment by a former Palermo councilman to meet a relative of the imprisoned mafia boss Gino “U Mitra” Abbate.

The relative offered a deal: “We can deliver 300 votes in this district, but they’ll cost you €30 (£26) each. Here, people need food. Here, we decide who people will vote for, otherwise they don’t vote.”

“I was astonished,” La Vardera said after. “I thought, is this really happening to me?” As for his League endorsement, La Vardera said the party would never have found out about the deal. “Anyone who makes a deal with a boss doesn’t talk about it,” he said.

In another scene from the film, La Vardera is invited to the home of the former Sicilian governor Salvatore Cuffaro, who served nearly five years in prison for aiding the Cosa Nostra. In the event of a second ballot, Cuffaro tried to convince him to support the candidate running for mayor with another party, Forza Italia.

In exchange, Cuffaro suggested he could work out a position for La Vardera in local government or “in a coalition during the next round of Italian elections”. “If you play with us, I will do what it takes so that you’ll be elected,” Cuffaro said. The implication, La Vardera said, was that despite his criminal conviction, Cuffaro was acting as political matchmaker.

When La Vardera went public after the election and admitted to having recorded his meetings on hidden camera, a frenzied debated ensued around the ethics of his work. Had he offered a fake candidacy with the sole purpose of making a film? A judge has since ruled that his campaign was authentic.

After the vote the journalist went back to the people he had secretly filmed, including Cuffaro and Meloni. “There are already tons of wiretaps about me in court,” Cuffaro joked. “The conversations you have recorded between me and you, will not change anything’’.

Meloni, who had publicly endorsed La Vardera, said she was “disappointed with him”. “If you are trying to prove we all suck then do it,” Meloni told him. She said she would not pursue him in the courts. Salvini declined to comment.

Davide Parenti, one of the most famous television producers in Italy, co-produced the film. He said he hoped it would shed light on the workings of Italian politics. “The logic of the old system was ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine,’” Parenti said. “Today’s politicians in Italy work toward immediate consensus,” he added, referring to the advances made by the League and Fratelli d’Italia towards La Vardera.

The irony, Parenti said, is that for Italy’s populists, “everything is live and measurable by social media, as if no action makes sense unless it’s recorded by someone. Who knows how they’ll react to the fact that we recorded everything? Even them.”

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United States

  • New York Times cites government memo

  • Gender would be defined at birth as only male or female

Activists gather at Philadelphia’s Love Park for the annual Philly Trans March, earlier this month.

Activists gather at Philadelphia’s Love Park for the annual Philly Trans March, earlier this month. Photograph: Michael Candelori/REX/Shutterstock

The Trump administration is attempting to strip transgender people of official recognition by creating a narrow definition of gender as being only male or female and unchangeable once determined at birth, the New York Times reported.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has undertaken an effort across several departments to establish a legal definition of sex under title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex, the Times said, citing a government memo.

That definition would be as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals a person is born with, the Times reported.

Such an interpretation would reverse the expansion of transgender rights that took place under Barack Obama.

It would also set back aspirations for tolerance and equality among the estimated 0.7% of the population that identifies as transgender. Most transgender people live with a profound sense that the gender assigned to them at birth was wrong and transition to the opposite sex. Others live a non-binary or gender-fluid life.

An HHS spokeswoman declined to comment on what she called “allegedly leaked documents” but cited a ruling by a conservative US district judge as a guide to transgender policy.

In Texas in 2016, ruling on a challenge to one aspect of the Affordable Care Act, judge Reed O’Connor found there was no protection against discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

A leading transgender advocate called the government’s reported action a “super aggressive, dismissive, dangerous move”.

“They are saying we don’t exist,” said Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Rights.

The Obama administration enacted regulations and followed court rulings that protected transgender people from discrimination, upsetting religious conservatives.

The Trump administration has sought to ban transgender people from military service and rescinded guidance to public schools recommending that transgender students be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice.

A draft of the Trump administration memo says gender should be determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable”, the memo says, according to the Times.

Medical science seeking to explain what makes people transgender is in its infancy. Psychiatrists no longer consider being transgender a disorder and several US courts have found the Obama interpretation of protecting transgender people against discrimination to be sound.

But the Trump administration has chosen to abide by the ruling of O’Connor, the Times said.

“The court order remains in full force and effect today and HHS is abiding by it as we continue to review the issue,” Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement.

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There’s a 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming, but most Americans are unaware

Donald Trump hold a rally in Elko, Nevada on October 20, 2018.

Donald Trump hold a rally in Elko, Nevada on October 20, 2018. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

When queried about the most recent IPCC report, Republican lawmakers delivered a consistent, false message – that climate scientists are still debating whether humans are responsible. The previous IPCC report was quite clear on this, attributing 100% of the global warming since 1950 to human activities. As Nasa atmospheric scientist Kate Marvel recently put it, “We are more sure that greenhouse gas is causing climate change than we are that smoking causes cancer.”

Donald Trump articulated the incorrect Republican position in an interview on 60 Minutes:

We have scientists that disagree with [human-caused global warming] … You’d have to show me the [mainstream] scientists because they have a very big political agenda

To paraphrase, ‘I know scientists. I have the best scientists.’ And of course Trump thinks he has “a natural instinct for science” which, as astrophysicist Katie Mack noted, is not a thing:

There is no “natural instinct for science.” This is not a thing. There is curiosity, there is exploration, and there is the desire to learn & grow & test one’s naive notions against cold hard data. Believing in a “natural instinct for science” is anathema to everything science is.

Americans badly underestimate the expert climate consensus

Numerous papers have shown that over 90% of climate science experts agree that humans are the main cause of global warming since 1950, and when considering peer-reviewed papers, the consensus exceeds 97%.

John Cook discusses his team’s 2016 climate consensus paper.

And yet as surveys by Yale and George Mason universities have found, only about 15% of Americans are aware that the expert climate consensus exceeds 90%. More recently, the Yale and George Mason team broke down American’s perceived expert consensus by their ‘Six Americas’ categorizations:

The Alarmed are fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and are already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it. The Concerned are also convinced that global warming is happening and a serious problem, but have not yet engaged the issue personally.

Three other Americas – the Cautious, the Disengaged, and the Doubtful – represent different stages of understanding and acceptance of the problem, and none are actively involved. The final America – the Dismissive are very sure it is not happening and are actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As would be expected, the Alarmed and Concerned have the highest perception of the expert consensus, with the Dismissive having the lowest, and the Disengaged not having much of a clue about the level of agreement. However, the important finding in the Yale and George Mason survey is that even Americans who are Alarmed and Concerned about climate change badly underestimate the level of expert agreement on its human cause……………….Some have argued that efforts to communicate the consensus won’t work – that Americans’ opinions on climate change simply break down by political ideology (realism on the left, denial on the right) and in our age of ‘alternative facts,’ new information doesn’t change peoples’ beliefs.

However, numerous social science papers have found that the perceived consensus acts as a “gateway belief,” meaning that when people are aware of the high level of expert agreement on human-caused global warming, they’re more likely to accept that reality and support policies to address the problem.

The Yale and George Mason data also support the notion that political polarization isn’t the only problem here. If it were, the Alarmed and Concerned would realize there’s a 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming. Instead, they think it’s only 84% and 73%, respectively. That tells us the 97% consensus figure just hasn’t been effectively communicated to the public, and therefore consensus communication will make a difference.

In fact, a 2017 study showed that communicating the 97% not only increases perceived consensus across the political spectrum, it makes a bigger difference in conservative perceptions and thus shrinks the partisan gap. And in a follow-up study, the scientists showed that consensus messaging also increased acceptance of human-caused global warming, even among conservatives.

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