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18 Jan

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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World Politics

United States

In speech to Senate, Flake said president’s use of terms ‘fake news’ and ‘enemy of the people’ should be source of shame for Republicans

in Washington and agencies

‘Our President uses words used by Joseph Stalin’, says Republican senator

Donald Trump’s use of the terms “fake news” and “enemy of the people” is shameful and reminiscent of words used by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies, Republican senator Jeff Flake said Wednesday.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Flake, of Arizona, called Trump’s repeated attacks on the media “repulsive” and said Trump “has it precisely backward”. Despotism is the enemy of the people, while a free press is the despot’s enemy and a guardian of democracy, Flake said.

Flake, a frequent Trump critic who is retiring this year, said that when Trump calls news stories he doesn’t like “fake news,” he “should be the figure of suspicion, not the press”.

Noting that Trump said he would give out awards for “the most corrupt and dishonest” media, Flake said “it beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle”.

Trump had said he would announce the mock awards on Wednesday. It did not appear on his official schedule but White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at the daily briefing: “It’ll be something later today. I know you’re all waiting to see if you’re big winners, I’m sure.”

Flake has said he is not comparing Trump to Stalin, who was responsible for the deaths of millions. But he said Trump’s use of a term favored by the Soviet dictator – “enemy of the people” – is chilling.

Flake said: “This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party.”

Arizona’s other Republican senator, John McCain, also decried Trump’s use of the term “fake news”. He said Trump was encouraging autocrats around the world “to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens”.

In an opinion column in the Washington Post, McCain said Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press “make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable”. Constant cries of “fake news” undercut legitimate reporting and “strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent”, McCain wrote.

The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated

Jeff Flake

Flake said Trump’s first year in office “was a year which saw the truth – objective, empirical, evidence-based truth – more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government.”

Trump’s use of the term “fake news” has encouraged authoritarian leaders around the world, who now routinely dismiss criticism as “fake news”, Flake and McCain said, citing comments by Syrian president Bashar Assad, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte and Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, among others.

Flake also denounced Trump’s frequent claim that investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election are a “hoax” and said ignoring or denying the truth about Russia’s actions leaves the US vulnerable to future attacks.

“We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security,” Flake said, yet Trump has done little or nothing to investigate the Russians or defend America against future attacks.

A president, such as Trump, who cannot take criticism, “who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame – is charting a very dangerous path,” Flake said. “And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.”

The White House responded with a bitter attack of its own. Sanders drew attention to Flake’s recent trip to Cuba, where press freedom has long been curbed and journalists harassed or detained by the communist government.

“I found it quite interesting that he is coming out to attack this president considering he’s one that was recently defending an actually oppressive regime,” the press secretary said. “He went to Cuba a few weeks ago and served as a mouthpiece for the oppressive Cuban government.”

Flake, who has long advocated improved relations with Cuba, met high-ranking officials there earlier this month. At the time, he said classified US briefings gave him no reason to doubt Havana’s denial that it was behind a mystery illness that struck American diplomats.

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World’s confidence in US leadership under Trump at new low, poll finds>>

Human Rights Watch report accuses western politicians of driving global misrule by feeding off public fear and discontent

Donald Trump

 

Rising intolerance in many western countries has created an “open field for murderous leaders” around the world, a leading human rights group has warned.

In an annual report assessing more than 90 nations, Human Rights Watch warned of a “frontal assault on the values of inclusivity, tolerance, and respect” across states that have previously championed rights.

Kenneth Roth, the group’s director, pointed to Donald Trump, saying he won the US presidency “with a campaign of hatred against Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees, and other racial and ethnic minorities, and an evident disdain for women”.

Roth warned that the rise of intolerance has caused western powers, including the UK, to become more inward-looking. “With the United States led by a president who displays a disturbing fondness for rights-trampling strongmen, and the UK preoccupied by Brexit, two traditional if flawed defenders of human rights globally are often missing in action,” the report said.

Germany, France and their EU partners, many of which are struggling with anti-refugee rhetoric domestically, have failed to fill the vacuum. Instead, Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have “aggressively asserted an anti-rights agenda”. This has allowed mass atrocities in Yemen, Syria, Burma and South Sudan to continue with near impunity.

While Human Rights Watch is known for documenting abuses in conflict zones and under repressive regimes, its report criticised intolerance across the US and EU, which Roth warned should not become complacent. Creeping authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary is a “fundamental threat to the entire European project”, he said.

“It’s not enough to say this is just something that is affecting a couple of relatively small countries,” he said. “If you allow any member of the European Union to undermine democracy, undermine the rule of law, undermine judicial independence you are allowing exceptions to core EU values – and that’s when you begin to eat away at those values.”

Roth accused the EU of hypocrisy for cooperating with the Libyan authorities in order to reduce the number of refugees and migrants reaching Europe. “The conditions there are deadly, nightmarish, and to force somebody back is a blatant violation of international law,” he said. “To pretend they can do that indirectly by training the Libyan coastguard to keep people in, instead of pushing people back, is basically a distinction without a difference.”

The report urged the EU to do more to oppose Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, military abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Turkey’s crackdown on press freedom.

Roth said that while the advocacy group does not have a stance on Brexit, citizens’ human rights will be weakened if the UK withdraws from the European convention on human rights.

“We’re also frankly concerned about some of the rhetoric of the Brexiteers, which is not only anti-European Union but also anti-European convention on human rights. And there’s a real tendency to demagogue the issue. It’s a very short-sighted approach,” he said. “As much as possible, people should be able to maintain established lives without new restrictions imposed on them because of Brexit.”

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North and South Korea to march under one flag at Winter Olympics ‘peace games’

Neighbours agree to field a joint women’s ice hockey team after third day of talks on February’s Winter Olympics

Bora Lee and Jong-In Lee, carrying a unification flag, lead their teams into the stadium during the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Turin.

 

North and South Korea have confirmed they are to field a joint women’s ice hockey team and will march under a pro-unification flag at next month’s Winter Olympics, in the clearest sign yet of a thaw in tensions between the two countries.

The two sides are to present their plan for a “peace games” to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the weekend, following three days of talks in the border village of Panmunjom.

The South Korean unification ministry said the two countries had also exchanged opinions on the size of the North Korean team, joint cultural events and the possible use of the Masikryong ski resort in North Korea.

North Korea also offered to send 230 members of its all-female cheerleading squad to the Games in Pyeongchang, which open on 9 February.

Reports said the delegation would probably walk across the demilitarised zone, the heavily armed border separating the two Koreas, in a highly symbolic move.

Arrangements for North Korean athletes to compete in Pyeongchang have been made at breakneck speed since the start of the year, when North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, offered to send a delegation to the Games.

“Inter-Korean relations have been strained for almost 10 years,” the North’s chief delegate, Jon Jong-su, said as the Panmunjom meeting started. “We hope that ties can open,” he added.

Three officials from each side took part in the talks and the results will be discussed by both Koreas with the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday.

“This will then enable the IOC to carefully evaluate the consequences and the potential impact on the Olympic Games and the Olympic competitions,” an IOC spokesperson said. “There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating NOCs [national Olympic committees] and athletes.”

Pyongyang and Seoul must work out how the North Korean delegation – which could comprise up to 500 athletes, cheerleaders, musicians, officials and journalists – will cross the border into South Korea, and who will pay for their accommodation and other costs.

South Korea is under pressure not to agree to any proposals that could violate sanctions against the North, particularly if the delegation includes senior government officials blacklisted by UN security council measures agreed in response to Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests.

The two Koreas have previously sent joint teams to major international sports events twice, both in 1991. One event was the world table tennis championships in Chiba, Japan, and the other was soccer’s World Youth Championship in Portugal.

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Exclusive: Guardian investigation points to culture of impunity as UN employees allege offences including rape

A ripped UN flag.

 

The United Nations has allowed sexual harassment and assault to flourish in its offices around the world, with accusers ignored and perpetrators free to act with impunity, the Guardian has been told.

Dozens of current and former UN employees described a culture of silence across the organisation and a flawed grievance system that is stacked against victims.

Of the employees interviewed, 15 said they had experienced or reported sexual harassment or assault within the past five years. The alleged offences ranged from verbal harassment to rape.

Seven of the women had formally reported what happened, a route that campaigners say is rarely pursued by victims for fear of losing their job, or in the belief that no action will be taken.

“If you report it, your career is pretty much over, especially if you’re a consultant,” said one consultant, who alleged she was harassed by her supervisor while working for the World Food Programme. “It’s like an unsaid thing.”

The UN conceded that under-reporting is a concern but said the organisation’s secretary general, António Guterres, has “prioritised addressing sexual harassment and upholding the zero tolerance policy”.

Employees working in more than 10 countries spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, partly because they are precluded from talking publicly by UN rules governing staff, partly for fear of retaliation.

Three women who reported sexual harassment or sexual assault, all from different offices, said they had since been forced out of their jobs or threatened with the termination of their contract in the past year. The alleged perpetrators, who include a senior UN official, remain in their posts.

One of the women, who alleges she was raped by a more senior UN staff member while working in a remote location, said: “There are no other options to get justice, and I have lost my job too.”

She said that despite medical evidence and witness testimonies, an internal investigation by the UN found insufficient evidence to support her allegation. Along with her job, she says she has lost her visa and has spent months in hospital due to stress and trauma. She fears she will face persecution if she returns to her home country.

In internal documents seen by the Guardian, two of the women cite concerns with the investigations. They claim that the UN’s investigation’s team, the office of internal oversight services (OIOS), failed to interview key witnesses. They also say that transcripts contain errors and information from inquiries has been leaked.

Alleged perpetrators have been allowed to remain in senior positions – with the power to influence proceedings – throughout investigations.

One woman allegedly assaulted while working for the UN says she was told by her agency’s ombudsman that there was nothing more he could do to help her pursue a complaint, because he was being threatened by senior UN staff. Seven other alleged victims who spoke to the Guardian were told by an ombudsman or colleague that they should not try to pursue a complaint.

Four current or recent UN employees, including some who did not pursue formal complaints, said they were not given adequate medical care or counselling. One woman who lost her job said she saw three separate gynaecologists in the 24 hours following an assault, because the first medical team provided by the UN lacked the expertise to deal with such cases. She said she did not receive crisis rape counselling until six weeks later………………A woman who works on a UN peacekeeping mission in the Middle East fears the situation facing victims has worsened. She pursued a complaint a decade ago, which resulted in the perpetrator being disciplined. She is unsure the same would happen today.

“I am loth to encourage people to complain,” she said. “If you are willing to go through hell, go for it.

“It’s atrocious, because this is an organisation that’s supposed to stand up for everyone’s rights … We’re such hypocrites.”

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Opinion

Trump is angrier and more self-absorbed than when I first knew him. We must not let his culture of fear stop us speaking out

Illustration by Bill Bragg.

 

“I alone can do it.” These five extraordinary words kept coming back to me as I reflected on Donald Trump’s first year as president of the US. He made this claim during his speech accepting the Republican nomination in July 2016. At the time, it struck me simply as a delusional expression of his grandiosity. Looking back, I also hear the plaintive wail of a desperate child who believes he is alone in the world with no one to care for him. “I alone can do it” is Trump’s survival response to: “I must do it all alone.”

There are two Trumps. The one he presents to the world is all bluster, bullying and certainty. The other, which I have long felt haunts his inner world, is the frightened child of a relentlessly critical and bullying father and a distant and disengaged mother who couldn’t or wouldn’t protect him.

“That’s why I’m so screwed up, because I had a father who pushed me so hard,” Trump acknowledged in 2007, in a brief and rare moment of self-awareness.

Trump’s temperament and his habits have hardened with age. He was always cartoonish, but compared with the man for whom I wrote The Art of the Deal 30 years ago, he is significantly angrier today: more reactive, deceitful, distracted, vindictive, impulsive and, above all, self-absorbed – assuming the last is possible.

This is the narrative I’ve been advancing for the past 18 months. With the recent publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, it turns out that even those closest to Trump recognise his utter lack of fitness to be president, even if they are too cowed and cowardly to do anything about it.

Fear is the hidden through-line in Trump’s life – fear of weakness, of inadequacy, of failure, of criticism and of insignificance. He has spent his life trying to outrun these fears by “winning” – as he puts it – and by redefining reality whenever the facts don’t serve the narrative he seeks to create. It hasn’t worked, but not for lack of effort.

In his first year in office, Trump has lambasted any facts he dislikes as “fake news”, while making nearly 2,000 false or misleading claims of his own – more than five a day. In a single half-hour interview with the New York Times in late December, he made 24 such claims. This is the very definition of gaslighting – lying until you get people to doubt their own reality – and it is both frightening and disturbing. Because the office Trump now occupies makes him the most powerful man on Earth, his fears, and the way he manages them, have necessarily become ours.

The Trumpian world view is narrow, dark and deficit-driven

We fear Trump because he is impulsive, irrational and self-serving, but above all because he seems unconstrained by even the faintest hint of conscience. Trump feels no more shame over his most destructive behaviours than a male lion does killing the cubs of his predecessor when he takes over a pride.

Trump has made fear the dominant emotion of our times. This, I believe, is his primary impact on the body politic after a year in office. He began his campaign by describing immigrant Mexicans as rapists, Muslims as terrorists, and more recently all black and brown people, and entire countries, as inferior. Trump skilfully exploited the fears of supporters who felt powerless and disenfranchised by presenting himself as their angry champion, even though the policies he has since pursued are likely to make their lives worse.

About the only thing Trump truly has in common with his base is that he feels every bit as aggrieved as they do, despite his endless privilege. No amount of money, fame or power has been enough to win him the respect he so insatiably craves. His anger over this perceived injustice is visceral and authentic. Trump’s unwinding of government programmes such as Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act will fuel yet more fear among the millions of people will lose their health care in the year ahead. The tax plan Trump pushed through most benefits him, his family and his fellow billionaires and provides the least relief to those who need it most. In both cases, the victims of these policies will include millions of his supporters who may find someone else to blame, but whose suffering will inexorably increase.

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