05 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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Populists Fight for Their Right to Racism

German right-wing populists are blasting a new law regulating hate postings on Twitter and Facebook, saying it destroys freedom of opinion in the country. But their tirades are misplaced.

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Beatrix von Storch of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party

Hannibal Hanschke / REUTERS

Beatrix von Storch of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party

The Cologne police this year took to Twitter to wish users of the social media platform a happy new year. And they did so in four languages: German, English, French and — Arabic. The content of the message was the same in all four cases, namely best wishes for a healthy and successful 2018.

Twitter user Abo Omar Sannib was delighted by the gesture and sent seven messages of gratitude back to the Cologne police account, embellished with virtual flower bouquets, Christmas trees and smileys. Mohamed Fares, another Twitter user, likewise politely thanked the police.

It could have been such a harmonious start to the year, but peaceful Muslims or even Arabic new year’s wishes sent out by officials in Germany doesn’t fit into the worldviews of people like Beatrix von Storch, deputy floor leader of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. “What the hell is going on in this country?” she tweeted. “Why is an official police account … tweeting in Arabic. Do you think that will appease the barbaric, Muslim, group-raping gangs of men?”

Storch’s message, one which blanketly accused Arab men like Mohamad Fares and Abo Omar Sannib of being violent criminals, was blocked a short time later for Twitter users in Germany while Storch’s account was suspended for 12 hours. Facebook also took action against Storch, while Twitter likewise targeted the account of AfD floor leader Alice Weidel, who had rushed to support Storch with aggressive postings of her own.

It would have been difficult for the social media giants to give the AfD a bigger new year’s gift. The right-wing populists suddenly dominated the headlines in a post-holiday period in which there wasn’t much competition in the news cycle. And they were able to present themselves as a victim of one of the AfD’s most hated enemies: Justice Minister Heiko Maas.

Since Jan. 1, 2018, a new law called the “Act to Improve Enforcement of the Law in Social Networks” has been in full effect in Germany, a measure that requires social media sites to become more proactive when it comes to illegal postings by their users. The penalties leveled almost simultaneously against Storch and Weidel by the two Internet companies hand the AfD a powerful propaganda tool, with the party claiming that the beginning of 2018 has meant “the end of the freedom of opinion,” as AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland said. He added that the new law reminds him of “Stasi methods,” a reference to the notorious East German secret police.

Impenetrable and Contradictory

None of that is true, however, and there are several factors that have become muddled in the debate. The behavior of private companies is being confused with action taken by the police, state prosecutors and the federal government. The AfD isn’t the only beneficiary of this confusion. Twitter and Facebook are also likely to be pleased that the fury of internet users is being directed at Maas — and not at the internet companies’ own problems when it comes to applying the new law. The standards adhered to by the social media giants when dealing with hate, race baiting and legal violations have always been impenetrable and contradictory. Those employed with patrolling such postings have long been overwhelmed by the task, and the companies in question have never taken their clear shortcomings seriously enough.

But since new year’s day, their silence and the associated problems have reached a new level. Twitter, in particular, is taking a tough stance, even taking action against harmless satirical postings, while company officials seem to have gone into hiding. But here too, the anger of internet users hasn’t been directed at the multibillion-dollar companies in Silicon Valley, but at Heiko Maas.

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Women’s rights set for big year

Referendums mark pivotal moment for women’s equality in Ireland

Amy Scollard and Leah Merriman at the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment rally outside Leinster House last May. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Amy Scollard and Leah Merriman at the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment rally outside Leinster House last May. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

In 2018 we will be celebrating the centenary of women’s right to vote in Ireland. The Taoiseach. Leo Varadkar, has publicly committed to recognising the centenary year with significant advancements for women’s equality.Tomorrow, on Nollaig na mBan, which traditionally is the day women get together and celebrate their Christmas while the men do the housework, it is a unique opportunity to look at how far women have come in Ireland in terms of women’s representation and the changes we need to make in 2018 for women’s equality.

While Constance Markievicz was the first woman elected in Ireland and the first woman to be appointed to cabinet in 1919, it took another 60 years until another woman, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, became a senior minister. Josepha Madigan recently became only the 19th woman to be appointed Cabinet Minister. Since women’s suffrage was introduced in 1918, the representation of women in the Oireachtas has also increased at only a snail’s pace, with women comprising only 15 per cent of TDs elected in 2011.

However, the introduction of gender quotas for candidates in 2012, as advocated by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) for many years, increased the number of women TDs to a historic high of 22 per cent following the 2016 general election. All indicators suggest women’s representation in Dáil Éireann is likely to continue to increase over the course of the next elections to reach a critical mass of 30 per cent. We must now replicate the successful gender quota for candidates at the forthcoming local elections and quotas for senior decision-making positions at board level in the public and private sector in our society.


When we are celebrating women’s suffrage in 2018, we will also be discussing two referendums for which the voices and lived experiences of women will be absolutely vital.

The Government will hold a referendum on the removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution in May or June. This will be a historic opportunity for all of us in Ireland to ensure the way forward for comprehensive healthcare services for all women and girls, including abortion, and for doctors to care for all of their patients without fear of prosecution.

The NWCI has put forward the every woman model for accessible, affordable healthcare options for all women and girls, which highlights that every pregnancy is different and, like all healthcare decisions, pregnancy decisions are private and personal. This complexity has no place in our Constitution. The report by the Oireachtas Joint Committee clearly shows that the party who can best protect a developing life is the pregnant woman, in consultation with her doctor, and not the Constitution.

We are mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces and grandmothers. Every day, we care for our families and loved ones. Valuing this important care work without prescribing specific gender roles will be at the heart of the second referendum scheduled for October on the article on women in the home.

Symbolic statement

The article states that “the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”. The article never reflected the complexity of women’s lives but rather led to restrictions for women’s leadership outside of the home, for example through the marriage bar. A referendum in October will be a chance to include in the Constitution a broad, inclusive symbolic statement about the importance of care and care work done by both women and men in Irish society. This is why the NWCI proposed a gender-neutral wording during the Constitutional Convention which recommended the holding of a referendum on the “woman in the home” article in 2014.

The symbolic importance of such a change in the Constitution should not be underestimated.

However, 2018 will also be the year in which the Government will need to take concrete measures to rectify how care work is recognised, particularly in our pension system, which discriminates against women who took time out from paid work to care for their children or other family members. Many of the women who will celebrate Nollaig na mBan, particularly in rural areas, are the older women from across the country who campaigned over the past years to reverse changes made to the pension system in 2012 that particularly affected their access to pensions.

World Politics

United States

Ben Jennings on Trump v Bannon – cartoon

Donald Trump’s lawyer issued a cease-and-desist letter to the book’s publishers. Wolff said: ‘It is extraordinary that the president of the would try to stop the publication of a book.’

Donald Trump’s lawyer issued a cease-and-desist letter to the book’s publishers. Michael Wolff said: ‘It is extraordinary that the president of the would try to stop the publication of a book.’ Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The author of an explosive new book about Donald Trump’s first year in office has said he stands by his reporting and that the president’s threat of legal action is only boosting his sales.

Michael Wolff also stood by his account that many in the administration think Trump is incapable of meeting the demands of his role – claims which have prompted a furious backlash from the White House.

The author noted testimony that Trump keeps repeating himself: whereas once he would tell the same three stories in 25 or 30 minutes, he said, now he does so in 10.

“I will quote Steve Bannon,” Wolff said. “‘He’s lost it.’”

Discussing Trump’s response to the book on NBC’s Today show on Friday, in his first interview since publication of excerpts from book by the Guardian triggered a political firestorm, Wolff asked: “Where do I send the box of chocolates?

“Not only is he helping me sell books, but he’s helping me prove the point of the book.

“I mean, this is extraordinary that a president of the United States would try to stop the publication of a book. This doesn’t happen, has not happened from other presidents, would not even happen from the CEO of a mid-sized company.”

He has a need for immediate gratification. It’s all about him. He just has to be satisfied in the moment

Michael Wolff on Trump

Trump’s lawyer demanded a halt to publication of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House or excerpts. Its publisher instead brought forward the release date to Friday. The book offers a scathing portrait of a dysfunctional White House and a president out of his depth.

Trump attacked Wolff on Thursday evening, tweeting: “I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist.”

Wolff, a media critic and columnist, responded: “What was I doing there if he didn’t want me to be there? I absolutely spoke to the president. Whether he realised it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record.”

The author spent about three hours with Trump during the election campaign and in the White House, he continued, “so my window into Donald Trump is pretty significant”.

He added: “But even more to the point, and this was really sort of the point of the book, I spoke to people who spoke to the president on a daily, sometime minute-by-minute basis. In a sense there was one question on my mind when I began this book: what is it like to work with Donald Trump, how can you work with Donald Trump, and how do you feel having worked with Donald Trump?”

Wolff’s new book is drawn from what he said was regular access to the West Wing and more than 200 interviews, including with Trump. Asked how he gained such extraordinary access, Wolff said: “I certainly said whatever was necessary to get the story.”

The White House has repeatedly dismissed the book as “tabloid gossip”, “sad”, “pathetic” and full of “lies” and some media commentators have cast doubt on Wolff’s credibility.

Wolff said that, like any journalist, he has recordings and notes and is “in every way comfortable” with everything he reported in the book.

“My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on earth at this point,” he said.

Pressed on whether he stands by everything in the book, Wolff replied: “Absolutely everything in the book.”

A recurring theme in Fire and Fury is the question of Trump’s fitness for office. Wolff suggested that even the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and daughter, Ivanka Trump, have lost faith in his ability to do the job.

“Certainly Jared and Ivanka, in their current situation, which is a deep legal quagmire, are putting everything on the president,” he said. “‘Not us, it’s him.’”

Read Full Article>>

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Areas starved of oxygen in open ocean and by coasts have soared in recent decades, risking dire consequences for marine life and humanity

A fisherman on a beach blanketed with dead sardines in Temuco, Chile. In coastal regions, pollution can cause algal blooms and when the algae decompose oxygen is sucked out of the water.

A fisherman on a beach in Temuco, Chile that is blanketed with dead sardines, a result of algal blooms that suck oxygen out of the water. Photograph: Felix Marquez/AP

Ocean dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950, scientists have warned, while the number of very low oxygen sites near coasts have multiplied tenfold. Most sea creatures cannot survive in these zones and current trends would lead to mass extinction in the long run, risking dire consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the sea.

Climate change caused by fossil fuel burning is the cause of the large-scale deoxygenation, as warmer waters hold less oxygen. The coastal dead zones result from fertiliser and sewage running off the land and into the seas.

The analysis, published in the journal Science, is the first comprehensive analysis of the areas and states: “Major extinction events in Earth’s history have been associated with warm climates and oxygen-deficient oceans.” Denise Breitburg, at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in the US and who led the analysis, said: “Under the current trajectory that is where we would be headed. But the consequences to humans of staying on that trajectory are so dire that it is hard to imagine we would go quite that far down that path.”

“This is a problem we can solve,” Breitburg said. “Halting climate change requires a global effort, but even local actions can help with nutrient-driven oxygen decline.” She pointed to recoveries in Chesapeake Bay in the US and the Thames river in the UK, where better farm and sewage practices led to dead zones disappearing.

However, Prof Robert Diaz at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who reviewed the new study, said: “Right now, the increasing expansion of coastal dead zones and decline in open ocean oxygen are not priority problems for governments around the world. Unfortunately, it will take severe and persistent mortality of fisheries for the seriousness of low oxygen to be realised.”

The oceans feed more than 500 million people, especially in poorer nations, and provide jobs for 350 million people. But at least 500 dead zones have now been reported near coasts, up from fewer than 50 in 1950. Lack of monitoring in many regions means the true number may be much higher.

The open ocean has natural low oxygen areas, usually off the west coast of continents due to the way the rotation of the Earth affects ocean currents. But these dead zones have expanded dramatically, increasing by millions of square kilometres since 1950, roughly equivalent to the area of the European Union.

Furthermore, the level of oxygen in all ocean waters is falling, with 2% – 77bn tonnes – being lost since 1950. This can reduce growth, impair reproduction and increase disease, the scientists warn. One irony is that warmer waters not only hold less oxygen but also mean marine organisms have to breathe faster, using up oxygen more quickly.

There are also dangerous feedback mechanisms. Microbes that proliferate at very low oxygen levels produce lots of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

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