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06 Jan

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Federal officials investigating lead pollution in Flint’s drinking water as Governor Rick Snyder makes state resources available to help recovery

Bottled water Michigan

Stacks of bottled water are held at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan warehouse and will be distributed to the public, after elevated lead levels were found in the city’s water in Flint. Photograph: Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Michigan governor Rick Snyder has declared a state of emergency in Flint over problems with lead in the city’s drinking water as federal officials confirm they are investigating the matter.

Snyder announced the action on Tuesday. It makes available state resources in cooperation with local response and recovery operations.

Federal prosecutors also said on Tuesday they are working with the US Environmental Protection Agency on an investigation into problems with lead in Flint’s water supply.

The city temporarily switched from Detroit’s water system to Flint river water in a cost-cutting move in 2014, while under state financial management.

Residents complained about the water’s taste, smell and appearance and children were found to have elevated levels of lead.

Last week, Snyder apologized and Michigan’s top environmental regulator resigned…………….

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North Koreans gather in a square in Pyongyang to watch state television announcements of a successful miniaturised hydrogen bomb detonation on Wednesday. Many react to the news with smiles and applause. Two young men welcome the detonation

Chosen Exchange, which runs regular business workshops in North Korea, said the test and the likely sanctions to follow, will disrupt trilateral corporation between South Korea, Russia and China.It will probably mean business as usual, with new sanctions creating a slightly more inconvenient environment, but with Koreans and their Chinese (and other) partners finding ways to evade enforcement. The most significant effect may well be the death of potential North Korea-Russia-South Korea cooperation on major economic development projects.Certainly, new UN sanctions seem inevitable, designating more companies, individuals and industries as out of bounds, while also reaffirming everybody’s frustrations.As usual, China will be the pivot. Beijing has shown a willingness to pass resolutions after each nuclear test, but has been less interested in enforcement than Washington would like it to be. How much pressure can the US apply to have China tighten up on transactions and trade of sensitive or luxury goods?China is frustrated with the DPRK’s nuclear program, for sure, but they still want to see Pyongyang experiment with economic policy and integrate its economy with the Chinese northeast……………..

President expands background checks for online sellers and gun shows and calls on Congress to expand funding for mental health treatment and gun research

Barack Obama made an emotional plea on Tuesday in defense of his administration’s plan to increase background checks for buyers of firearms over the internet and at gun shows, saying current exceptions do not make sense. Obama shed tears while talking about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school killed 20 children in 2012

A tear-stained Barack Obama marked his final year in office with a last-ditch call for US gun control on Tuesday as he outlined new rules that will close important background check loopholes but leave much of the political heavy lifting to his successor.

In a much-anticipated speech that focused more on what still needed to be done than the limited set of executive actions announced in advance by the White House, the president painted gun reform as the last great civil rights challenge of his generation.

“In Dr King’s words, we need to feel the fierce urgency of now, because people are dying,” a visibly emotional Obama told an audience of mass shooting victims and relatives in the East Room.

“Our inalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown,” he added, his voice shaking. “First-graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”

The president had been introduced by Mark Barden, the father of Daniel, one of the 20 young children killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown three years ago. As his speech rose to its climax, with tears rolling down his cheeks, Obama said: “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad and, by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”

In a rhetorical twist designed to undermine arguments against reform, the president insisted his plan to force all buyers of guns to undergo background check was not a “plot to take your guns” but comparable to going through metal detectors to board a plane and merely “the price of living in a civilised society”…………….

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US politics

Don’t let Trump fool you: rightwing populism is the new normal – video

It might be tempting to view the political success of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as something uniquely American. But, argues Gary Younge, rightwing populism and scapegoating of society’s vulnerable is cropping up all across the west. This, he says, is what happens when big business has more power than governments

Opinion

This should be a wake-up call: racism, bigotry and sexism are alive and well, and Trump could get elected by stoking that hate. We better start taking him seriously

Donald Trump<br>Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Biloxi, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

We should be scared. Not of the Mexican bogeyman. Not of American Muslims or Muslims overseas. We should be scared of Trump and scared of how he reflects who we are. Photograph: Rogelio V Solis/AP

What should be Donald Trump’s gaffes are now his campaign platform. With renewed calls for a ban on Muslims and a “keep the darkies out” approach to the border, Trump’s foray into the campaign ad world Monday is a sort of bigot’s revenge fantasy carried out against Mexicans, Muslims – and anyone who gets in his way.

His views about what’s actually involved in making America great again include: barring all Muslims from entering the US, miraculously taking all of Isis’s oil and building an enormous wall at the border that somehow Mexico is forced to pay for despite the fact that most the people crossing it are actually from Central America (depicted in a video using footage from Morocco, not the Mexican border).

His larger message is even more insidious – that America’s best days are behind it and only need be dredged up again, which prompts the question: what exactly would he have us resurrect in the name of progress? Prohibition maybe, or Japanese internment camps? What about that sweet golden era before 1920 when women couldn’t vote? You wonder, watching his campaign unfold in earnest, just how far he’d have us rewind.

This should be a wakeup call for a party and a country still half paralyzed by disbelief; yes, racism, bigotry and sexism are alive and well in America. Yes, Trump could well get elected by stoking that hate. And yes, we’d better start taking him seriously.

But Republicans haven’t censured him. Instead, they’ve emboldened him with their weak-kneed criticisms and paltry poll numbers; Republicans have been going around calling him sophomoric, a clown and unserious when he has a better shot at winning the nomination than any of them. (When Jeb Bush made an attempt to attack Trump in the last debate, Trump’s counterpunch was tellingly: “You’re a tough guy, Jeb. I’m at 42 and you’re at three,” referring to their respective polling percentages.)

Even if Jeb’s numbers were better, his attacks – and everyone else’s – would still be too meek. Of the wall in Trump’s ad, Bush has said “it’s not realistic” and that it “can’t be built”. He’s also said it “does not embrace American values”. But nobody’s ever succeeded in branding Trump as un-American, and as for unrealistic? That’s never hurt him either.

The guy who’s actually best positioned within the Republican Party to thwart Trump, Ted Cruz, is actively courting him and his voters. When asked about his outrageous call to ban all Muslims from entering the country, Cruz said: “I disagree with that proposal. I like Donald Trump.” Later, he softened even that to: “I understand why Donald made that proposal.” This in a debate that featured actual back slaps between the two men.

The establishment’s best hope, Marco Rubio, who’s actively trying to make his mark on foreign policy and national security, had nothing more damning to say than that Trump’s call for banning all Muslims is a distraction. “If you look at the statements he made this week, obviously I think he made them partially to recapture the limelight after having lost it,” he said. But Trump never lost the limelight; he owns it. And that he’s planning to spend $2m a week on such messages in Iowa and New Hampshire, is just the latest, surest, sign of that……………..

 

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