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26 Nov

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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Fresh Poland protests over judiciary reform

Fresh Poland protests over judiciary reform

WARSAW: Thousands of people have protested in Poland after MPs from the ruling party gave initial backing to controversial bills to reform the judiciary.

If approved, the two bills would give parliament and the president a greater say over the nomination of judges.

In July, President Andrzej Duda vetoed a version of the bills.

But the Polish opposition as well as the EU say the revised versions drafted by Mr Duda’s office still threaten the rule of law.

On Friday, protests took place in dozens of cities across Poland, with a large crowd gathering in the capital, Warsaw.

Demonstrators chanted, “Free courts, free elections, free Poland!”

They say that hardly anything has changed in the revised bills that violate the country’s constitution.

The European Commission has already said it is concerned that certain aspects of the bills – such as forcing 40% of Supreme Court judges to retire – are not compatible with EU law.

The PiS (Law and Justice) government – which is backed by a majority in parliament – says the reforms are needed to curb inefficiency, corruption and the influence of the former communist elite.

However, details of the revised bills are yet to be made public.

In July Mr Duda vetoed two bills which would have allowed the justice minister to appoint senior judges.

But he approved a third, which gave the government the right to name the heads of lower courts.

The bills prompted a wave of mass demonstrations.

The EU has threatened to impose sanctions if the bill were adopted.

Since coming to power in 2015, the PiS has been at loggerheads with the EU over the governing party’s push to toughen Poland’s migration policies and media laws.__BBC

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World Politics

Germany

Angela Merkel has struggled to form a coalition, as the rising influence of extreme parties in Germany transforms the political landscape

Angela Merkel arrives in the rain to meet east European leaders in Brussels on Friday.

Angela Merkel arrives in the rain to meet east European leaders in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AFP/Getty Images

Danyal Bayaz has experienced many things during his first few weeks as a new MP, but boredom is not one of them. Two months after entering Germany’s parliament as a Green party candidate, Bayaz, 34, from Heidelberg, has watched rightwing politicians give each other standing ovations for Eurosceptic diatribes, leftwingers heckle the far right as racists and a former climate activist with dyed hair form unlikely alliances with Christian Democrats in tailored suits.

Last week Bayaz saw the dramatic collapse of coalition talks that would have seen his Green colleagues catapulted into government and now faces the possibility that his seat may come up for grabs again in fresh elections next spring. “Right now I am not even sure if it’s worth me getting a loyalty card here,” he quips as he orders a cappuccino in the Bundestag’s canteen.

For years, German politics were both mocked and admired for being too uneventful to the point of tedium. Only recently the lack of drama inside the reconstructed Reichstag’s circular plenary chamber led to calls for a more confrontational, Westminster-style approach. But as old geopolitical certainties have crumbled over the past 18 months, Berlin’s consensual, unexcitable style of policymaking has won new admirers.

The collapse of talks to form the next coalition government have exposed Angela Merkel’s diminished authority. Many are now beginning to wonder if the division wrought on Britain and the US by Brexit and Donald Trump has also descended on Europe’s biggest economy.

With Merkel’s last coalition partners, the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the Free Democrats (FDP), more eager on parliamentary opposition than on government posts, and an already ultra-oppositional Alternative für Deutschland hoping to receive a further boost from the political standstill, commentators in Germany have started to evoke the darkest days of the Weimar Republic, when short-lived minority governments ruled by emergency decrees.

“Like in Weimar, the federal republic is now a multiparty system in which extreme parties have begun to paralyse the working of the parliamentary democracy,” wrote Stephen Szabo, an expert on US-German relations.

“Germany’s obsession with stability was largely a result of reforms aimed at avoiding the mistakes of the Weimar Republic,” said Anthony Glees, a historian at the University of Buckingham. “In spite of a proportional vote system, a 5% threshold for smaller parties guaranteed that postwar Germany was for decades a two-party state, where the power would lie safely in the centre.”

With polls for possible fresh elections next year predicting that both Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the SDP could drop below 30% while support for the FDP, the AfD, the Greens and the Left party continues to grow, Glees said, “that system is now biting Germany in the leg”.

Many historians warn of hastily drawn comparisons, however. “What’s wrong with Germany becoming more like multiparty democracies in the Netherlands or Scandinavia?” asked Andreas Schulz, a researcher on the history of German parliamentarianism.

Merkel has announced she is sceptical about forming a minority government, either on her own or with the Green party, which would have to form majorities with other parties vote by vote. But Schulz said the traumatic experience of seeing minority governments collapse and allow the rise of Adolf Hitler obscured the fact that minority governments worked efficiently elsewhere in Europe and even at a German state level. As the centre-left SPD is waking up to the potential cost of new elections and mulls over tolerating a minority government, it is possible that Merkel could eventually come to agree.

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United States

Joe Biden’s new book describes a year of unbelievable sensory overload, from his son Beau’s cancer to the dilemma of whether to run for president

Joe Biden: would he have been able to beat the Trump juggernaut?

Joe Biden: would he have been able to beat the Trump juggernaut? Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Promise Me, Dad is Joe Biden’s poignant account of the most challenging year of his vice-presidency and the second-most difficult year of his life.

The first time he had been knocked down by what he calls “the Irishness of life” was immediately after he was first elected senator from Delaware, in 1972. Less than six weeks later his wife and his daughter were killed and his two sons were injured in a car accident.

The second time came four decades later, when his son Beau, by then attorney general and likely next governor of Delaware, was found to have brain cancer.

Biden’s book describes a year of almost unbelievable sensory overload, when the vice-president was juggling frequent visits to the hospital to comfort his son with regular phone calls to the prime minister of Iraq and the president of the Ukraine, and a big initiative to stabilize Central America after thousands of children started to stream across the southern US border.

Folded into all of this activity was Biden’s struggle to decide whether he would try to succeed Barack Obama, or leave the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

We get a handful of surprising vignettes. There is Biden looking into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and saying “I don’t think you have a soul”, and the Russian president replying: “We understand each other.”

There is Obama telling Biden he doesn’t think he can beat Hillary, but also offering to loan him money when the vice-president says he may need to mortgage his house to raise funds to help his son.

And there is the vice-president making sure that each of his children and grandchildren visits a Nazi concentration camp, to give them a “visceral jolt” and to remind them that “this can happen again” and that “silence is complicity.”

The book is a reminder of the importance of politics: how much elections can change the trajectory of a country

More than anything else, the book is a reminder of the importance of politics: how much elections can change the trajectory of a country, and how different America has become one year after Donald Trump was elected president.

Here we have a portrait of two politicians, Obama and Biden, devoted to each other and to doing whatever they can to improve America and encourage democracy around the world. Instead of a president like Trump, in thrall to Putin, we watch these two lobbying European allies to engage in the sanctions they think are necessary to punish Russia for stealing Crimea.

And rather than tweets and press conferences giving aid and comfort to white supremacists, we see a vice-president visiting the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina twice in three days after nine of its parishioners were shot dead by a crazed racist – partly because Biden had known one of the victims, the Rev Clementa Pinckney.

Biden gives himself some well-deserved credit for the supreme court decision to make marriage equality the law of the land in 2015, partly because he came out in favor of that position before Obama did and partly because he played an important role in the effort to stop Robert Bork joining the court in 1987, when Biden was chairman of the Senate judiciary committee.

When Bork’s nomination failed, he was replaced by Anthony Kennedy, who was supported by Biden and who has written all of the important pro-gay decisions the court has rendered. The difference between Bork and Kennedy is perhaps the strongest evidence of all of the power of politics.

Biden repeatedly asserts that he would have been successful if he had run for president in 2016. But first his decision was delayed by his son’s cancer, and then it was made for him by his son’s death. Although Beau Biden had repeatedly urged his father to run, in the end he was just too drained by the tragedy to run for president.

The author explains that the grieving process “doesn’t respect or much care about things like filing deadlines or debates and primaries and caucuses. And I was still grieving.”

If his son hadn’t died, and if he had prevailed over Clinton in the primary, Biden would have campaigned for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, free tuition at public colleges, real job training, onsite affordable child care, equal pay for women, strengthening the Affordable Care Act and modernizing the country’s roads and bridges and water and sewer systems.

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Charles Barkley decries Roy Moore links to ‘white separatist’ Steve Bannon>>

Sexual violence in war zones at ‘worst ever’ as drive to protect women falters

Fall in global funding and weak UK initiative hamper attempts to save Rohingya and help victims in other conflict areas

Rohingya women and children rest after crossing into Bangladesh at Cox’s Bazar on Friday, a day after the two governments signed a refugee repatriation deal.

Rohingya women and children rest after crossing into Bangladesh at Cox’s Bazar on Friday, a day after the two governments signed a refugee repatriation deal. Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

The head of UN Women has condemned the inadequate response to the widespread use of rape and sexual violence in conflicts, and warned that the amount of money dedicated to fighting such war crimes is shrinking.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of the UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and empowerment, said “new types of violence and torture, worse than anything we’ve ever seen before” have been used against Rohingya women in Myanmar, yet only 2% of money sent to conflict settings is spent on improving women’s rights, while funding for UN Women fell 5% between 2013 and 2016.

Her warning follows criticism of the UK’s preventing sexual violence initiative, which since November 2012 has deployed 74 experts to 13 countries, but which campaigners say has been slow to respond to the Rohingya crisis. The initiative, set up in 2012 by Angelina Jolie and the then foreign secretary William Hague, established a team of experts who specialised in gathering evidence of sexual violence in conflict zones and who could respond promptly to crises.

Sources close to the Foreign Office say the initiative has also been hampered by a lack of leadership from the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. “To make a difference, you have to have leadership from the very top,” said one source . “The policy shouldn’t be an irritant, it should be something we’re proud of … if we as a country stand for anything, these are the moments where we need to show what we’re made of.”

Andrew Mitchell, the former secretary for international development, said the initiative has the potential to bring perpetrators to justice, but that it needs to be used effectively. “The Foreign Office has seen some very good work collecting evidence of human rights abuses in the Syrian conflict, so its capacity to help and do work on this is real,” he said. “William Hague’s initiative needs to be used effectively to help and protect people who are going through hell.”

Campaigners say the initiative has helped raise the profile of sexual violence but, five years after its launch, it is unclear what impact it has had. “There have been a lot of questions around the amount of money that has gone into it versus what has come out of it and whether that money has been used in terms of on-the-ground services,” said Hillary Margolis, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Measuring outcomes and then reporting very transparently on that would be very welcome,” she added.

Mlambo-Ngcuka called on the international community to provide support and resources to Bangladesh, where more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled since a military crackdown on the minority group in Myanmar. “What I would encourage them to do is to make up and do their best because the need is still there and it’s [happening] now.” The level of brutality, and the vast numbers of people displaced, mean the situation is especially challenging, she said.

“The killing of babies and girls, throwing them in the water to poison the water so it’s not drinkable, the gang-raping of women and girls – it is very gruesome,” she said. “The situation, even if there is not violence, is complex, [because] there are a lot of unaccompanied children, and the girls among those children are destined to be exposed to violence. It has been going on for such a long time and it is not abating yet. We need sustained attention and we need to mobilise more resources in order to help the government in Bangladesh.” Providing safe accommodation to women was a priority, she said.

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