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14 Jan

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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Isolated in Berlin Trump’s Ambassador Finds Few Friends in Germany

Since arriving in Berlin as U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell has flouted diplomatic conventions and attempted to interfere in domestic politics. He has since become politically isolated in the German capital.

By

Photo Gallery: Trump's Man in Berlin

Tucker Carlson’s worldview doesn’t come across as particularly complex. It can be summed up in three words: Foreigners threaten America. That’s all that’s needed for good ratings.

His show on the right-wing Fox News channel is among the most successful political shows on American cable TV. The mouthpiece of the American neo-Nazis, the Daily Stormer, has described him as “literally our greatest ally.” His most prominent viewer is Donald Trump.

In late November, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” once again tackled the subject of immigration, and, not for the first time, Germany. On the show, “Lessons from Germany” appeared in big red letters next to a photo of a grim German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her face framed by a Russian and a Turkish flag.

Carlson was joined by a special guest from Berlin, a man with short, gelled hair sitting before a backdrop of the nighttime Brandenburg Gate dressed in a suit jacket but no tie: U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell. The 52-year-old has been Trump’s man in the German capital since May.

Carlson was happy to cede the spotlight for the interview. After all, Grenell didn’t need much encouragement. He had been a pundit on Fox News for a long time and knew what was expected of him. He is not known for keeping his opinions to himself.

The ambassador made it clear in just a few sentences how little he thought of the chancellor’s refugee policy. “There was no plan in place,” he said, “so the policy really fell apart.” He claimed that anyone calling for secure borders in Germany today faces an “overreaction.” The discourse, he said, is largely being controlled by “elites in Berlin” and he argued that anyone who speaks openly about the issue runs the risk of being portrayed as being part of the “radical far-right” by the German media.

Sebastian Kurz, Grenell said, “won in a very big way” in Austria because he called for clear immigration rules. As a result, he said, the young chancellor was becoming popular “throughout Germany,” adding that everyday Germans and Europeans were yearning for leaders who want secure borders.

Grenell’s TV interview was a thinly veiled call for a change of government in Berlin. It was akin to a German ambassador in Washington attacking the American president’s immigration policy on German public television and then touting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a role model.

Refrain from Meddling

Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relationships obligates diplomats to refrain from meddling in their guest country’s domestic affairs. Their duty is to cultivate discreet contacts within the country’s government apparatus and to further their own government’s positions.

In Berlin, the representatives of Germany’s most important ally usually have the easiest jobs. Many previous U.S. ambassadors were major political and social figures in the capital, enjoying excellent connections to the Chancellery and federal ministries, and playing host to the most powerful and influential personalities in Germany.

Barack Obama’s ambassador, Philip Murphy, invited longtime adversaries Helmut Kohl and Merkel to his dining room in 2012 for discreet talks aimed at reducing the tensions between them. By the time his tenure was over after four years, he had made so many friends he had to rent out the Olympic Stadium for his goodbye party.

Grenell has taken a different path. On the day he took up his post, he tweeted that “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.” Martin Schulz, the former head of the center-left Social Democratic Party, compared his behavior to that of “a right-wing extremist colonial officer.” Four weeks later in Breitbart, the main organ of the pro-Trump, right-wing “alt-right” movement, Grenell essentially called for regime change. “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe,” he said.

These days, the spotlight on Grenell seems to have grown dimmer, though not necessarily by choice. He still tweets assiduously and he never seems to say no when Fox News calls, but in Berlin, he has largely become isolated. The powerful avoid him. Doors have been shut. Few politicians to the left of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AFD) and the populist-conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), want to be seen with him.

Anti-Americanism

In the week before Christmas, Grenell wrote a letter to DER SPIEGEL about the Relotius case, in which longtime DER SPIEGEL journalist Claas Relotius was revealed to have invented reporting for several of his stories, including about the United States. Grenell was justifiably angry, but he didn’t stop there. He accused DER SPIEGEL of anti-Americanism, writing that the United States was clearly “targeted by institutional bias.”

DER SPIEGEL editors and reporters, he argued, had regularly published reports “which could have been proven untrue if they had checked the facts with the Embassy first.” He also wrote that “unfortunately, it is common practice for Spiegel reporters to not even call us before writing.”

DER SPIEGEL has been reporting this article since October and sent multiple interview requests to Grenell since early December, to no avail. On Thursday, the embassy answered a list of questions with a written statement: “All seven of your questions are based on fabricated stories that are not true. Every one of the questions assumes something that is false. Konstantin von Hammerstein uses the same tactics as Claas Relotius by pushing a false narrative with anonymous sources.”

Because the ambassador was unwilling to grant an interview, DER SPIEGEL focused its reporting on conversations with more than 30 sources who have come into contact with Grenell. These include numerous American and German diplomats, cabinet members, lawmakers, high-ranking officials, lobbyists and think tank experts. They were all willing to speak openly but did not want to be quoted by name.

Almost all of these sources paint an unflattering portrait of the ambassador, one remarkably similar to Donald Trump, the man who sent him to Berlin. A majority of them describe Grenell as a vain, narcissistic person who dishes out aggressively, but can barely handle criticism. His brash demeanor, some claim, hides a deep insecurity, and they say he thirsts for the approval of others. After one of his appearances, we were told, he asked almost shyly how he had done.

They also say Grenell knows little about Germany and Europe, that he ignores most of the dossiers his colleagues at the embassy write for him, and that his knowledge of the subject matter is superficial. “Ric only scratches the surface,” said one person who regularly interacts with him.

Read Full Article>>

Tucker Carlson’s worldview doesn’t come across as particularly complex. It can be summed up in three words: Foreigners threaten America. That’s all that’s needed for good ratings.

His show on the right-wing Fox News channel is among the most successful political shows on American cable TV. The mouthpiece of the American neo-Nazis, the Daily Stormer, has described him as “literally our greatest ally.” His most prominent viewer is Donald Trump.

In late November, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” once again tackled the subject of immigration, and, not for the first time, Germany. On the show, “Lessons from Germany” appeared in big red letters next to a photo of a grim German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her face framed by a Russian and a Turkish flag.

Carlson was joined by a special guest from Berlin, a man with short, gelled hair sitting before a backdrop of the nighttime Brandenburg Gate dressed in a suit jacket but no tie: U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell. The 52-year-old has been Trump’s man in the German capital since May.

Carlson was happy to cede the spotlight for the interview. After all, Grenell didn’t need much encouragement. He had been a pundit on Fox News for a long time and knew what was expected of him. He is not known for keeping his opinions to himself.

The ambassador made it clear in just a few sentences how little he thought of the chancellor’s refugee policy. “There was no plan in place,” he said, “so the policy really fell apart.” He claimed that anyone calling for secure borders in Germany today faces an “overreaction.” The discourse, he said, is largely being controlled by “elites in Berlin” and he argued that anyone who speaks openly about the issue runs the risk of being portrayed as being part of the “radical far-right” by the German media.

Sebastian Kurz, Grenell said, “won in a very big way” in Austria because he called for clear immigration rules. As a result, he said, the young chancellor was becoming popular “throughout Germany,” adding that everyday Germans and Europeans were yearning for leaders who want secure borders.

Grenell’s TV interview was a thinly veiled call for a change of government in Berlin. It was akin to a German ambassador in Washington attacking the American president’s immigration policy on German public television and then touting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a role model.

Refrain from Meddling

Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relationships obligates diplomats to refrain from meddling in their guest country’s domestic affairs. Their duty is to cultivate discreet contacts within the country’s government apparatus and to further their own government’s positions.

In Berlin, the representatives of Germany’s most important ally usually have the easiest jobs. Many previous U.S. ambassadors were major political and social figures in the capital, enjoying excellent connections to the Chancellery and federal ministries, and playing host to the most powerful and influential personalities in Germany.

Barack Obama’s ambassador, Philip Murphy, invited longtime adversaries Helmut Kohl and Merkel to his dining room in 2012 for discreet talks aimed at reducing the tensions between them. By the time his tenure was over after four years, he had made so many friends he had to rent out the Olympic Stadium for his goodbye party.

Grenell has taken a different path. On the day he took up his post, he tweeted that “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.” Martin Schulz, the former head of the center-left Social Democratic Party, compared his behavior to that of “a right-wing extremist colonial officer.” Four weeks later in Breitbart, the main organ of the pro-Trump, right-wing “alt-right” movement, Grenell essentially called for regime change. “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe,” he said.

These days, the spotlight on Grenell seems to have grown dimmer, though not necessarily by choice. He still tweets assiduously and he never seems to say no when Fox News calls, but in Berlin, he has largely become isolated. The powerful avoid him. Doors have been shut. Few politicians to the left of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AFD) and the populist-conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), want to be seen with him.

Anti-Americanism

In the week before Christmas, Grenell wrote a letter to DER SPIEGEL about the Relotius case, in which longtime DER SPIEGEL journalist Claas Relotius was revealed to have invented reporting for several of his stories, including about the United States. Grenell was justifiably angry, but he didn’t stop there. He accused DER SPIEGEL of anti-Americanism, writing that the United States was clearly “targeted by institutional bias.”

DER SPIEGEL editors and reporters, he argued, had regularly published reports “which could have been proven untrue if they had checked the facts with the Embassy first.” He also wrote that “unfortunately, it is common practice for Spiegel reporters to not even call us before writing.”

DER SPIEGEL has been reporting this article since October and sent multiple interview requests to Grenell since early December, to no avail. On Thursday, the embassy answered a list of questions with a written statement: “All seven of your questions are based on fabricated stories that are not true. Every one of the questions assumes something that is false. Konstantin von Hammerstein uses the same tactics as Claas Relotius by pushing a false narrative with anonymous sources.”

Because the ambassador was unwilling to grant an interview, DER SPIEGEL focused its reporting on conversations with more than 30 sources who have come into contact with Grenell. These include numerous American and German diplomats, cabinet members, lawmakers, high-ranking officials, lobbyists and think tank experts. They were all willing to speak openly but did not want to be quoted by name.

Almost all of these sources paint an unflattering portrait of the ambassador, one remarkably similar to Donald Trump, the man who sent him to Berlin. A majority of them describe Grenell as a vain, narcissistic person who dishes out aggressively, but can barely handle criticism. His brash demeanor, some claim, hides a deep insecurity, and they say he thirsts for the approval of others. After one of his appearances, we were told, he asked almost shyly how he had done.

They also say Grenell knows little about Germany and Europe, that he ignores most of the dossiers his colleagues at the embassy write for him, and that his knowledge of the subject matter is superficial. “Ric only scratches the surface,” said one person who regularly interacts with him.

Read Full Article>>

Trial is notable for highlighting land and nature defender murders that ordinarily go unpunished

Demonstrators outside court during the murder trial of activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras.

Demonstrators outside court during the murder trial of activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras. Photograph: Jorge Cabrera/Reuters

The sentencing on Thursday of seven men accused of murdering the Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres is only partial justice, but it should inspire anyone committed to ending the slaughter of land and nature defenders around the globe.

A court in Tegucigalpa handed down guilty verdicts on all but one of the eight accused, including two employees of the hydro-electric dam company that the indigenous Lenca woman had been campaigning against before her assassination on 2 March 2016.

The Goldman environmental prize winner was shot in her home by armed intruders along with Gustavo Castro, a Mexican environmentalist, who survived by pretending to be dead.

The judge ruled the murder was carried out by a gang of hitmen on the orders of executives of the Agua Zarca dam company Desa, who were frustrated at costly delays caused by the protests.

A number of those accused of murdering environmental leader Berta Caceres in a courtroom in Tegucigalpa.

A number of those accused of murdering environmental leader Berta Caceres in a courtroom in Tegucigalpa. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Two Desa managers were sentenced: Sergio Ramón Rodríguez, communities and environment manager; and Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, the company’s former security chief.

Yet the verdict has not fully satisfied Cáceres’s family, who believe the prosecutors imposed a ceiling on who they were willing to hold accountable for the killing. They are convinced the masterminds are still at large because high-level authorisation would have been needed for the killing of such a globally renowned activist.

The trial has been tainted by highly dubious procedures. Castro, the only witness to the killing, was not invited to testify, though he offered to fly to Tegucigalpa to identify the assassin. The Cáceres family’s lawyers were also barred from participating and their access to the evidence has been restricted.

The most senior executive implicated – Roberto David Castillo, who was executive president of Desa at the time of the killing, is still awaiting trial. He and Desa have denied any wrongdoing.

Senior politicians and powerful families who were involved in the construction of the dam have not been called to account. There has also been inadequate focus on the international financial institutions who initially refused Cáceres’s request to stop providing loans to a dam that was opposed by local people. Dutch bank FMO, Finnish finance company FinnFund and the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (Cabei) only pulled out after the murder.

Yet there has been progress of a sort. It is unlikely that anyone would have gone to prison without the huge domestic and international outcry that followed Cáceres’s murder. The vast majority of the 200-plus defender killings in the world each year go unpunished and uninvestigated. A trial of this prominence is almost unheard of and should make those in power think twice in the future about approving assassinations.

For most of the past decade, Honduras has been one of the world’s deadliest countries for land and environmental defenders, according to the watchdog group Global Witness. But there has been a marked decrease in the past year. One reason may be that the powerful interests behind the killings have been given notice that they can no longer rely on impunity.

People honour the late assassinated environmentalist Berta Cáceres with a religious ceremony on the Gualcarque River near Tegucigalpa in 2016.

People honour the late assassinated environmentalist Berta Cáceres with a religious ceremony on the Gualcarque River near Tegucigalpa in 2016. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

This shows global public opinion can make a difference, particularly when focused through international institutions and NGOs. Cáceres’s murder probably would not have gained as much attention if she had not been awarded the Goldman environmental prize. It would be harder to understand the context without watchdog groups like Global Witness. And the news would have reached fewer people without environmental and human rights campaigning organisations such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Human Rights Watch.

Cáceres’s case is also often cited by the United Nations in its efforts to lobby member states to recognise the human right to a healthy environment. This would provide a legal instrument for campaigners to challenge polluters, land grabbers and extractive industries. It would also serve as a vehicle to encourage judges, police and prosecutors to pay more heed to environmental cases.

As John Knox, the former UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, noted in a call earlier this year for more support for the defenders like Cáceres: “If we can’t protect them, then how can we protect the environment we all depend on?”

Related:

Berta Cáceres, Honduran human rights and environment activist, murdered

Fellow Honduran activist Nelson García murdered days after Berta Cáceres

World Politics

United States

Donald Trump speaks in the cabinet room of the White House on Friday.

Donald Trump speaks in the cabinet room of the White House on Friday. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The FBI launched an investigation into whether Donald Trump had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests – and Trump went to extraordinary lengths to conceal from his own administration the details of his conversations with Russian president Vladimir Putin, according to two bombshell reports.

The New York Times reported on Friday that law enforcement officials were so concerned about Trump’s behavior after he fired James Comey as FBI director that they launched a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was acting as a Russian agent, either intentionally or unwittingly.

According to another report by the Washington Post, Trump has taken unusual steps to conceal the contents of his discussions with Putin. After meeting with the Russian president in Hamburg in 2017, the Post reported, Trump took his interpreter’s notes and instructed him not to disclose what was discussed to other US officials.

On Saturday night, Trump was asked by a Fox News host whether he had ever worked for Russia.

“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he said.

Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin?

Senator Dick Durbin

He did not give a yes or no answer.

As for his conversations with Putin, he said: “I’m not keeping anything under wraps, I couldn’t care less.”

On Sunday, Democrats said the latest revelations raise serious questions about Trump’s relationship with Putin and Russia.

“Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin – this man who is a former KGB agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world, and tries his damndest to undermine our elections?” Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said on ABC’s This Week.

“Why is this President Trump’s best buddy? I don’t get it.”

Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said it was suspicious that Trump has “parroted” the policies of Putin.

“I do think it’s curious that throughout that whole summer when these investigations started, you have Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union.

This is not a traditional president. He has unorthodox means

Senator Ron Johnson

“You had Trump say only nice things about Putin – he never spoke ill about Russia. The Republican campaign doctrines softened on Russia and decreased their willingness to defend Ukraine.”

Warner said the US government still does not know what took place in Trump’s meetings with Putin, including another in Helsinki last summer where Trump appeared to embrace Putin’s claim, rejected by US intelligence, that his country had nothing to do with an interference effort in the 2016 election.

“The American government does not know what was discussed between Trump and Vladimir Putin in that frankly pathetic, embarrassing encounter,” Warner said.

Republicans defended the president, saying the US during his administration has imposed tough sanctions against Russia in response to its interference campaign during the 2016 election and its aggression in Ukraine.

“We’ve been very tough on Russia,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “Look at the sanctions that we have taken with this administration. I know this administration and I know this Congress is very tough on Russia and we will continue to be so. But I want this president to be able to build a relationship, even on a person level, with all the world leaders.”

Trump meets Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, last July.

 

Trump meets Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, last July. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican senator and chair of the homeland security committee, said he had only heard “innuendo” about Trump’s interactions with Russia, not any evidence of improprieties. He said there were legitimate reasons to want to guard the president’s conversations with Putin.

“This is not a traditional president,” he told CNN. “He has unorthodox means, but he is president of the United States. It is pretty much up to him in terms of who he wants to read into his conversations with world leaders. He was burned by leaks in other areas and he was pretty frustrated.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of the president, was more forceful, telling Fox News Sunday: “I am going to ask the FBI director: ‘Was there a counterintelligence investigation opened up regarding the president as being a potential agent of the Russians?’ I find it astonishing.

“If this really did happen, Congress needs to know about it. How could the FBI do that? What kinds of checks and balances are there?”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not answer specific questions about whether he was aware of the FBI counterintelligence work when he directed the CIA.

“The notion that President Trump is a threat to American national security is absolutely ludicrous,” he told CBS.

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