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05 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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When Is the Right Time to Discuss Gun Control?

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump once again echoed an NRA talking point, saying that now wasn’t the appropriate time to discuss gun control. If America doesn’t face up to some inconvenient truths, that time will never come.

A Commentary by in New York

The White House called it the “heroes meet and greet.” U.S. President Donald Trump spent just short of four hours in Las Vegas on Wednesday to pay his respects to the victims of Sunday’s massacre. He visited with the wounded in a hospital, met with first responders and vowed that “you never want to see it again, that I can tell you.”

When asked about gun control, though, he merely replied: “We’re not going to talk about that today.”

But when will that conversation take place? After the dead have been buried? Following the next mass shooting? When the horrors of Las Vegas have been forgotten? What moves you to collective action if not the senseless deaths of dozens of fellow human beings? When is the appropriate time? Sadly, the answer is: In the U.S., that time might never come.

Twenty children and seven teachers were killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Nothing changed. Forty-nine revelers, many of them gays and lesbians, died last year at the Latino nightclub Pulse in Orlando. Nothing changed. Six people were shot at a Congressional baseball practice this June, among them Representative Steve Scalise. Nothing changed.

That stasis, that lack of change in the face of horrific mass shootings, will continue for as long as people refuse to recognize the dishonesty of the entire gun debate in America.

“The answers do not come easy,” Trump said. Yet they are perfectly obvious. The U.S. has seen 313,000 gun fatalities in 10 years, with more than 1,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook alone. The country has the most lenient gun ownership laws in the Western world. No other country exhibits such statistics. And no other country could change things more easily.

Some Inconvenient Truths

Instead, the same rituals are trotted out each time: flags at half-mast, vigils, moments of silence and skyscrapers darkened “in solidarity.” The life stories of the victims are told and the heroism of the rescuers lauded, dutifully recounted by the media to sad stock music.

These brief moments may temporarily unite the country in pain. But that unity is fleeting – and it most certainly does not extend to the debate over gun control. That issue cannot be discussed. It is instead automatically reduced to ideological reflexes that smother any true conversation: pro versus contra, Republicans versus Democrats, gun lovers versus gun haters. Those seeking political benefit simply pour fuel on the fire. On the campaign trail, Trump frequently repeated the lie that Hillary Clinton “wants to take your guns away.” His supporters would chant back: “Lock her up! Lock her up!”

The issue is much too complex for such a simplistic approach. But to tackle it successfully, the U.S. must first admit some inconvenient truths:

First: The gun debate is shaped by racism. Guns were long considered an element of white privilege. The Ku Klux Klan arose from posses who took guns away from African-Americans. The National Rifle Association (NRA), America’s extremely powerful gun lobby, has a majority white membership. If whites invoke the Second Amendment, they are considered patriots while if blacks do so, they’re thugs. If whites commit mass murder, they’re “lone wolves.” If non-whites do so, they’re terrorists.

Second: Statistically, Christian Americans present a greater threat to average Americans than Islamist fanatics. But rather than addressing this – often right-wing extremist – domestic terrorism or even calling it by name, the president prefers to issue travel bans for Muslim-majority countries.

Third: The NRA – which donated more than $30 million to Trump’s presidential campaign – is not a citizens’ group, it is the gun industry’s lobby. Its henchmen are conservative politicians who keep the laws lax in exchange for campaign donations. This week, they had planned to debate a bill to ease regulations on gun silencers – out of concern for the hearing of gun owners. The debate had originally been scheduled for June 14, but it was postponed after the baseball shooting, arguably to wait for the return of Steve Scalise, who limped back into Congress for the first time on Thursday. It has now been postponed again – presumably to wait for national ADD to return.

Fourth: Stricter laws alone won’t do it. But addressing the intricate causes of gun violence – including terrorism, mental-health issues, dysfunctional families, America’s class system, growing hatred on all sides and others – continues to be taboo. So, too, are imaginative solutions such as “smart guns,” which include biometric “safeties” to ensure that only the weapon’s owner can fire them. Congress long ago canceled funding for such research anyway.

Fifth: The Democrats don’t do enough either. They bemoan the status quo but don’t find the courage to speak out clearly. Even in Las Vegas, some politely stuck to platitudes. “Las Vegas is a safe place to visit,” proclaimed Steve Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission and Democratic candidate for mayor of Nevada, hours after the attack. “We encourage everybody to come here.”

Among those visitors will be the attendees of several gun shows scheduled for the near future. In two weeks, for instance, the Cashman Field Center, an exhibition complex just north of downtown Las Vegas, will host the Crossroads of the West Gun Show. Two days of shotguns, handguns, knives and other weapons for an entry fee of only $14 per person. Children under 12 get in for free.

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World Politics

France

Emmanuel Macron’s appeal has already worn thin

Despite careful image management, inside six months France’s youngest president is now looking like the old guard as his poll ratings plummet

Members of the CGT union march through the streets of Paris on Tuesday, protesting against President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed loosening of labour laws. Unions prevented previous attempts to do the same thing but this time there is comfort for Macron: two unions, including the largest – the CFDT – declined to join the protests

Emmanuel Macron has been called a saviour: of Europe, of liberalism, and indeed of “progressives” the world over. The hallmarks of his presidential campaign have been well documented: an insurgency from the vacant centre-ground, a party built from scratch that managed to win a sweeping majority in the French parliament, and a slick communications strategy to consolidate a polished image.

This last aspect has won him the adulation of the international media: most notably for his détournement of Donald Trump’s electoral slogan, in which Macron called on Trump to “make the planet great again” in response to the latter’s repugnant decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement.

But the “saviour” image he has conjured among neoliberal centrists the world over is one-dimensional. The dimension missing from this conventional account is crucial: namely, the way in which Macron’s domestic image has changed since becoming president – both because of, and in spite of, his extraordinarily calculated communications strategy.

His victory marked an abrupt turning point. Gone were the chummy interviews with journalists and the down-to-earth friendliness of the campaign trail – President Macron’s inauguration was marked by an icy, authoritative look that was here to stay.

This new image is what Macron himself has described as the “Jupiter” model. Keen to mark himself out from his predecessor François Hollande (who wanted to be seen as a “normal president”), Macron’s communication team opted for Jupiter, the Roman sky god, as the symbol of the new president’s style: all-powerful, aloof, removed from the daily cut-and-thrust of politics.

The aim, according to the president himself, is none other than to found “a new form of democratic authority” based on a “universe of symbols” that can stand in for France’s traumatic loss of a monarchic head of state.

Key messages are diffused via carefully staged set-pieces in which Macron refuses to answer any journalistic questions outside the topic of the day – which is, of course, the topic of his choice. Access to the Élysée and interviews are meted out sparingly. Lengthy communication is kept to a minimum – an image, so the cliche goes, is worth a thousand words. Hence tweets of the strapping young president being winched from a helicopter on to a nuclear submarine, or the seemingly never-ending handshake with Trump. Such moments are highly orchestrated and endowed with explicit meaning (“support for the military” or “resolve on the world stage”) by his press team for anyone who didn’t pick up on the heavy hints in the images themselves.

It took six years for Blair to lose the sheen of youthful popularity. It has taken Macron less than six months

Despite this supposedly fresh Jupiterian branding, such micro-managed communication is nothing new. It places Macron in a long line of dashing saviours of late capitalism: from Tony Blair to Barack Obama, both of whom controlled their image to the letter. And yet, much has changed in politics since Blair, and even Obama, were first elected. The rules of the game are different. In an era of social media, as argued by the sociologist William Davies, politicians are no longer able to control their images with such precision.

Rather than diffusing their messages exclusively through painstakingly staged set-pieces at moments of their choosing, they are subjected to a constant 360-degree scrutiny online – including the traces of their past that form a kind of internet archive to which everybody has access. In such an environment authenticity rules. Figures such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn (and Trump, in a markedly different way), who have long, well-documented histories of campaigning for social justice, emerge victorious. Robotic performers are exposed.

United States

Rohingya people await assistance in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Insiders claim a report that foretold the Myanmar crisis and predicted the UN was ill-prepared for it was held back. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The UN commissioned and then “suppressed” a report that criticised its strategy in Myanmar and warned it was ill-prepared to deal with the impending Rohingya crisis, sources have told the Guardian.

The review, written by a consultant and submitted in May, offered a highly critical analysis of the UN’s approach and said there should be “no silence on human rights”.

The report, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, accurately predicted a “serious deterioration” in the six months following its submission and urged the UN to undertake “serious contingency planning”.

“It is recommended that, as a matter of urgency, UN headquarters identifies ways to improve overall coherence in the UN’s system approach,” wrote independent analyst Richard Horsey, the report’s author.

Security forces would be “heavy-handed and indiscriminate” in dealing with the Rohingya, said Horsey – a prediction that rang true when Rohingya militants attacked dozens of outposts on 25 August, prompting a massive military crackdown.

In little more than a month, more than half a million Rohingya have fled over the border to Bangladesh amid allegations of massacres by Myanmar’s armed forces and Rohingya insurgents.

The report, entitled The Role of the United Nations in Rakhine state, was commissioned by Renata Lok-Dessallien, the UN resident coordinator and the organisation’s most senior figure in Myanmar. It made 16 recommendations. Horsey outlined the need for new staff positions and “frank” discussions with government, and called for the report to be widely distributed among aid agencies.

The UN was urged to ensure that the human rights up front initiative, a strategy introduced by former secretary general Ban Ki-moon to prevent mass atrocities, was fully implemented. Horsey said the initiative should “be at the core of how the UN operates”, adding that there should be “no silence on human rights and protection concerns”.

However, sources within the UN and humanitarian community claimed the recommendations were ignored and the report was suppressed.

A source close to events, who asked not to be named, said the paper was “spiked” and not circulated among UN and aid agencies “because Renata [Lok-Dessallien] didn’t like the analysis”.

“It was given to Renata and she didn’t distribute it further because she wasn’t happy with it,” said another well-placed source.

The 28-page document said its author would be expected to provide feedback to the UN’s humanitarian country team, a group consisting of UN agencies such as the World Food Programme and the UN refugee agency as well as other aid groups such as Save the Children. The Guardian understands this meeting never took place.

A media representative for the office of the resident coordinator in Myanmar said a briefing meeting on the initial findings, open to all UN agencies, took place in April.

“The UN agreed with the document’s outline of some of the challenges of providing peace, humanitarian and development assistance in Rakhine state, and the risk of further outbreaks of violence.

“In fact, the UN in Myanmar was already putting in place some of the changes suggested in the document prior to its release,” said the representative, adding that this included the “crucial” human rights up front mechanism.

The UN must acknowledge a significant share of blame in letting this situation descend this far, this fast

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch

The final report was “shared with some senior officials”, said the representative, who declined to identify the individuals concerned. Sources in Myanmar said the report was “mentioned at meetings on two occasions” before it “disappeared off the agenda”. No one was able to access the document subsequently.

A senior aid official said the final report was “kept very low-key”.

“Criticisms, constructive ones, are rarely taken as learning opportunities but are received as personal attacks and provoke defensive responses,” the source added.

Meanwhile, Lok-Dessallien faces fresh charges that she undermined attempts to publicly promote the rights of the Rohingya, the stateless Muslim minority. Aid workers said the UN prioritised good relations with the Myanmar government over humanitarian and human rights advocacy.

A spokesperson for the UN secretary general denied the allegations. “The resident coordinator has been a tireless advocate for human rights,” said the spokesperson. “Human rights stand at the centre of everything the UN does.”

The Guardian approached Horsey, the author of the report, for comment. “The UN knew, or should have known, that the status quo in Rakhine was likely to evolve into a major crisis,” he said in an emailed response.

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Carles Puigdemont calls for dialogue with Madrid but says he will press on with plans for declaration of independence

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont makes an address on television.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont makes an address on television. Photograph: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images

Catalonia’s president has accused King Felipe of Spain of acting as a mouthpiece for the Spanish government as the country wrestles with the region’s secession crisis and has vowed to press on with plans to declare independence over the next week.

Speaking three days after his government’s unilaterally held independence referendum was marred by police violence, Carles Puigdemont said Catalans were united as never before but added he was disappointed by the king’s recent intervention.

“The king endorses the discourse and policies of the government of [prime minister Mariano] Rajoy, which have been catastrophic for Catalonia and deliberately ignore the millions of Catalans who do not think like them,” he said.

Addressing himself directly to the king, he added: “Not like this. Your decision yesterday disappointed many people in Catalonia.”

King Felipe had said on Tuesday night the Catalan authorities were attempting to break “the unity of Spain” and said their push for independence could put at risk the country’s social and economic stability.

In a rare and strongly worded television address he described the regional government’s actions as “an unacceptable attempt” to take over Catalan institutions, adding that it had placed itself outside democracy and the law.

Puigdemont on Wednesday repeated his calls for dialogue and mediation with Madrid but said his government was still planning to take the results of the referendum to the Catalan parliament over the next few days to prepare for a declaration of independence.

“I have to represent all of Catalonia’s citizens,” he said. “On Sunday we had a referendum under the most difficult circumstances and set an example of who we are. Peace and accord is part of who we are. We have to apply the results of the referendum. We have to present the results of the referendum to parliament.”

The Spanish government, which has accused Puigdemont of engaging in blackmail, was quick to respond. The deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, said that he had squandered an opportunity to steer the region back toward co-existence, adding: “If Mr Puigdemont wants to talk or negotiate or send mediators, he knows perfectly well what he needs to do: get back on the legal path that he should never have abandoned.”

In an interview with the German newspaper Bild on Thursday, Puigdemont said he had not discounted the possibility that he could be arrested, but said he was not afraid.

“I’m not surprised any more about what the Spanish government is doing,” he said. “My arrest is also possible, which would be a barbaric step.”

More than 900 people were injured on Sunday after Spanish police attempted to halt the vote by raiding polling stations, beating would-be voters and firing rubber bullets at crowds.

Despite the Spanish authorities’ attempts to stop the referendum, which both the government and the country’s constitutional court had declared illegal, 2.26 million of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters took part.

The figures suggest that that turnout was only around 43% as many Catalans who oppose independence boycotted the poll for fear of lending it legitimacy.

According to the Catalan government 90% of participants voted for the region to become independent.

Puigdemont told the BBC on Tuesday that Catalonia would not abandon its quest for independence and warned the Spanish government that any move to stop the independence process by using article 155 of the constitution to take control of the region could be the “ultimate mistake”.

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