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18 Feb

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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  • First sitting US president to visit the island in nearly nine decades
  • White House is planning to make the announcement on Thursday
US president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro met in Panama in 2015.

Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro met in Panama in 2015. The year before, they announced their countries would begin normalizing relations. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Barack Obama will travel to Cuba in the coming weeks, becoming the first sitting US president to make a state visit to the island in nearly nine decades.

The White House is planning to make the announcement on Thursday, a senior administration official told the Guardian.

Obama and Cuban president Raúl Castro announced in late 2014 that they would begin normalizing ties. The Obama administration is eager to make rapid progress on building trade and diplomatic ties with Cuba before Obama leaves office. The two nations signed a deal Tuesday restoring commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades.

During a town hall in South Carolina for Republican presidential candidates, senator Marco Rubio of Florida said that Obama’s plan to visit Cuba was foolish, and that he would not consider such a trip unless it was under very specific circumstances.

“Not if it’s not a free Cuba,” Rubio, a Cuban American, said. “A year and two months after the opening to Cuba, the Cuban government remains as repressive as ever.”……………..

Study of 500 of the nation’s largest community water systems found that Flint residents paid $864 a year for water service – roughly double the US average

Flint’s water became contaminated in April 2014 after the city, operated at the time by a governor-appointed emergency manager, switched its drinking water source to a corrosive local river.

Flint’s water became contaminated in April 2014 after the city, operated at the time by a governor-appointed emergency manager, switched its drinking water source to a corrosive local river. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Despite having to deal with the effects of lead-contaminated water for nearly two years, Flint residents paid the highest water bills in the US, according to a study released Tuesday.

The study, conducted by Washington DC-based public interest group Food & Water Watch, reviewed 500 of the nation’s largest community water systems and found Flint residents paid $864 annually for water service – roughly double the US average.

Flint’s water became contaminated in April 2014 after the city, operated at the time by a governor-appointed emergency manager, switched its drinking water source to a corrosive local river. The city wasn’t required by Michigan’s environmental department to use anti-corrosion agents to treat the water, which allowed lead to leach from pipes and flow into households.

The water bill rates cited in the study were calculated as of January 2015, and assume 60,000 gallons are consumed by each household per year. Flint residents have also criticized efforts to collect payment on their water bills, even as the lead-contamination problem continues to unravel. In August, a local judge ordered Flint to reduce its rates by 35% and end a service fee, but some Flint residents say they still have to pay exorbitant bills.

Food & Water Watch’s executive director, Wenonah Hauter, took aim at Michigan’s emergency manager law, which has been heavily criticized in wake of the Flint water crisis.

“From emergency management in Michigan to failed privatization experiments across the country, corporate influence has failed US water systems,” Hauter said in a statement……………..

Europe has grown accustomed to being babysat by the US – but profound global power shifts put us all in danger

David Cameron

David Cameron is using most of his own energy, and a lot of his EU neighbours’ time, to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

So this is how it happens, how great states drift towards disaster. Is it happening again today? It might be. A lot of bad things are coalescing all over the place and no one seems to be in charge. A combination of opportunist ambition, of myriad weaknesses, systemic and personal, and of profound global power shifts put us all in danger.

We have been here before.

You must have read with alarm, or watched flickering black and white newsreels, how imperial Europe, rich and complacent, drifted towards fatal civil war in 1914. Schoolchildren are taught how 25 years later it all happened again, this time after self-deluding efforts to duck unpleasant realities ended in Hitler’s war.

“How could they be so blind?” we wonder as we read the latest history book or watch those TV documentaries. Yet look at us. Our own elected national leader, David Cameron, is currently using most of his own energy, and a lot of his EU neighbours’ time, to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe.

There’s a case for that, of course. Europe could do with a shake-up. But context matters. Everyone knows that Cameron’s primarily motive is parochial calculation of domestic party management on a battleground of his own devising.

When not trying to cut a deal that will satisfy all 28 member states (they have elections too), those EU leaders grapple ineffectually with more pressing existential problems – the eurozone crisis and the refugee crisis to name but two……………

US politics

Election 2016

the minute

A wild elephant in a city, a grey wolf in the snow and monk parakeets munching on guava are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

A mother and baby orangutan rescued by International Animal Rescue, a British charity, after they were found starving and days away from dying in the burnt-out forests of West Borneo.

Photograph: International Animal Rescue/PA

Opinion

As a fan of the zombie genre, perhaps I should welcome the resurrection of George W Bush. The former president has been largely discreet and absent since his calamitous reign ended more than seven years ago: perhaps hoping that, if temporarily forgotten, we would all forget his misdeeds, and history would eventually look at his presidency more kindly. But as he takes to the stump in an effort to re-energise his brother’s flagging presidential campaign, there is little doubt that Jeb Bush is a victim of the political polarisation his elder sibling helped unleash.

Not that it’s as simple as to say we live in the world Dubya built. A US foreign policy that, all too often, engaged in disastrous wars and backed dictatorships and terror groups predates his reign: so does the stagnation of living standards for millions of Americans. US power – after its temporary post-Soviet boost – was already in relative decline. And faced with the ranting demagoguery of Donald Trump, a certain nostalgia for Bush’s refutation of anti-Muslim bigotry is almost understandable.

But if history ever does one of those “Ah, was he really all that bad?” revisions, the answer has to be: “Yes, he was.”

One reason Barack Obama hasn’t always received the scrutiny he deserves – there would be justifiable howls of fury if the horror show that is the Libya war had taken place with Bush in the White House – is because of the sheer relief at Bush’s departure. From the orange jumpsuits of Guantánamo Bay to the foreclosures of the subprime mortgage crisis, from piles of prisoners surrounded by sickly grinning soldiers at Abu Ghraib to the white phosphorus dropped over Fallujah, the world remains stalked by Bush’s demons……………..

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