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21 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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Women’s March draws thousands as Trump term enters second year

Women’s March draws thousands as Trump term enters second year

Text by NEWS WIRES

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of US cities on Saturday for a second Women’s March opposing President Donald Trump on the first anniversary of his inauguration.

The coordinated rallies in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and about 250 other cities are a reprise of the mass protests that marked the beginning of Trump’s presidency. Sister rallies were also planned in Britain, Japan and other countries.

“We will make our message heard at the polls this fall,” Emily Patton, a rally organiser, told thousands of demonstrators at the Reflecting Pool on Washington’s National Mall. “That is why we are urging people to register to vote today.”

The rallies also come during what has been seen as a pivotal year for women’s rights with the #MeToo and #TimesUp social media effort against sexual harassment and abuse that was born out of a string of scandals in Hollywood, Washington and elsewhere.

The Washington rally featured Democratic politicians from neighboring Virginia, including Senator Tim Kaine, who blamed Trump and Republicans for the shutdown of the government on Saturday.

The inability of the Republican Party to do basic governing’

“The Trump shutdown is due to the inability of the Republican Party to do basic governing, like making a budget,” he said to cheers.

Many of the protesters wore pink knit “pussy hats,” which were created for last year’s march as a reference to a comment made by Trump about female genitalia, The caps quickly became a symbol of women’s empowerment and opposition to the new president in the early days of his administration.

“We want to continue the fight to resist this president and the policies we’re against,” said Sara Piper, 59, a geologist from Reston, Virginia.

Some critics said this year’s march lacked a focus. Targeting an issue such as immigration would have greater impact, said Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.

“Beating the feminist drum just seems to me beside the point. Maybe they are trying to cast as wide a net as possible,” Dalmia said by telephone.

One of the biggest marches is expected in New York, where 37,000 people had signed up on the march’s Facebook page. But the number of participants in this year’s rallies is likely to fall well short of the estimated 5 million who marched on January 21, 2017, and made that one of the largest mass protests in US history.

In Chicago, thousands of mostly female marchers gathered ahead of a rally in Grant Park, carrying signs that read “Strong women raising strong women” and “You can’t cure stupid but you can vote it out.”

‘Power to the polls’

Michelle Saunders, 41, a software saleswoman from Des Plaines, Illinois, came to the rally with her 14-year-old daughter Bailey. They attended last year’s march and anticipated that the crowd this year would not match the 250,000 that attended last year, but for them the message is just as strong.

“A smaller crowd will not mean people are any less angry,” Michelle Saunders said. “We are unhappy with the current administration and what it stands for and want our voices to be heard.”

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At major rallies in Washington, New York, LA and beyond, some said Trump’s ‘disastrous’ first year has left women angrier than ever

A year after millions of women and men demonstrated in cities around the globe in an extraordinary rebuke of Donald Trump, crowds returned to the streets on Saturday.

Tens of thousands turned out in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and hundreds of other cities across the US and the world. Many women wore pink knit “pussy hats”, an enduring symbol of the Women’s March and the so-called “resistance” to Trump.

In Washington, where the federal government was shut down amidst gridlock in Congress, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial were dotted with pink hats and handmade placards. A group of protesters held large block letters to spell “impeach”.

The rally stretched along the national mall towards the Washington monument. A few dozen daring protesters watched the rally from atop the frozen reflecting pool. Under a warm sun, the pool began to melt. Several people had to be fished from the icy water.

I think maybe there’s more anger this year. You can feel the pressure in the pressure cooker

Liz Weiderhold, teacher

Crowds were generally upbeat, basking in the sunshine. Activists said they were encouraged by a string of liberal victories in the past year, including the election of Democrats in state elections in Alabama and Virginia. But there was also a sense of challenges still ahead, especially as the 2018 congressional midterms approach.

“I think maybe there’s more anger this year,” said Liz Weiderhold, a teacher in Virginia who said she marched in Washington last year as well. “You can feel the pressure in the pressure cooker. We’re more exasperated now that he’s been in office for more than a year and we’ve seen what a disaster it’s been.”

The 2017 protest touched off a year of political resistance to Trump’s presidency often led by women.

As speakers including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand noted during their remarks to the Washington rally on Saturday, women are running for office in record numbers and aiding grass-roots efforts to protest, flooding lawmakers with calls and emails.

“If you care about winning back the House, flipping the Senate, then I urge you to support Democratic candidates all across the country,” Gillibrand said, to booming cheers. “This is our moment to stand tall, to fight back and be heard.”

The year of protest has also seen sweeping cultural and political change around sexual harassment in the workplace, through the social-media-fuelled #MeToo movement.

Organizers said they hoped the anniversary rallies and marches would help galvanize the movement ahead of the 2018 midterms.

“We started 2017 with perpetual outrage and now we are at the moment when we have perpetual outrage plus a plan in place for 2018,” Linda Sarsour, a co-chair of the Women’s March, told the Guardian.

Last year, embarrassed that the Women’s March in Washington dwarfed attendance for his inauguration the day before, Trump forced then-press secretary Sean Spicer to falsely claim the president drew the “largest audience to witness an inauguration, period”.

This year – if facetiously – Trump sought to embrace the marches.

“Beautiful weather all over our great country, a perfect day for all Women to March,” the president tweeted from the White House on Saturday afternoon, as frantic negotiations with congressional leaders over the shutdown continued.

“Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!”

Trump was not supposed to be in Washington to witness the march. He had planned to be 1,000 miles away at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, celebrating the anniversary at a lavish party with Republican donors.

Outside the White House, marchers carried wry placards. Some turned Trump’s recent reported derogatory comment about “shithole countries” in Africa and Central America back on him, while others accused him of being Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” or begged him to tweet less, especially about North Korea.

In New York, thousands of people marched through Manhattan. The streets on the west side of Central Park were packed. One of the closest subway stations to the start of the march was Columbus Circle – right by the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

Lots of people posed for pictures in front of the Trump sign, among them Deborah Paray and Marteen Dinzes, both from New Jersey. They had fashioned a sign depicting Trump with a large hole for a mouth.

“A lot of shit comes out of that hole,” Dinzes said.

In Los Angeles, protesters were greeted by shouting vendors selling buttons, pink “pussy hats” and branded scarfs. One vendor, Walter Lopez, said he woke up at 3am to get to the march from Redondo Beach.

“I’m impressed by how many people showed up,” he said. “And I’m all about women, people, human beings. It’s a good thing I woke up.”

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World Politics

Romania

People return to the streets in the graft-plagued EU member to oppose laws that would weaken judicial independence

Protesters

 

Tens of thousands of Romanians marched through heavy snow in Bucharest on Saturday in protest against proposed laws that critics say will make it harder to prosecute crime and high-level corruption.

An estimated 50,000 people marched towards parliament, blowing whistles, waving flags and chanting, “thieves”. Protesters briefly scuffled with riot police as they massed in the capital’s University Square, while thousands more demonstrated in cities across Romania.

March

Anti-government demonstrators march on Romania’s parliament in Bucharest. Photograph: Inquam Photos/Reuters

The left-wing government pushed through a judicial overhaul through parliament in December, despite criticism from the European Commission, the US state department, thousands of magistrates and the centrist president, Klaus Iohannis.

Critics say the bills would weaken judicial independence and they have been challenged in the constitutional court, where they await a ruling.

“I came out today because I have two little boys and they deserve a better life in this European country,” said Florentina Caval, 34. “I honestly don’t think we will manage to overturn the judicial bills, but we need to try.”

Diana Gradinaru, a 45-year-old economist, said the new legislation could result in “terrible thefts” by high-level officials, citing legislation that meant video and audio recordings could no longer be used as evidence in prosecutions.

Protesters

Demonstrators hold Romanian flags as they stage an anti-corruption protest. Photograph: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

An attempt by the ruling Social Democrats to decriminalise several corruption offences at the start of 2017 triggered Romania’s largest street protests since the 1989 fall of communism.

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United States

Women’s marches protest Donald Trump on anniversary of inauguration – as it happened>>

Trump’s first anniversary – in pictures>>

US government shutdown: anniversary of Trump inauguration marred by chaos>>

Republican axed from ethics body after report on alleged sexual misconduct>>

Missouri governor speaks out about his affair with hairdresser amid calls to quit>>

 

As the country’s economic problems mount, towns and cities have been hit by an outbreak of looting and violence

A supermarket with its security shutters partially closed as a precaution against looting in San Cristobal.

 

Amid desperate food shortages Venezuelans are picking up new survival skills.

On the night of 9 January, for example, a hungry mob took just 30 minutes to pick clean a grocery store in the eastern city of Puerto Ordaz. By the time owner Luis Felipe Anatael arrived at the bodega he’d opened five months earlier, the looters had hauled away everything from cold cuts to ketchup to the cash registers.

“It makes you want to cry,” said Anatael in a telephone interview. “I think we are headed for chaos.”

Evidence for his prediction can be found in towns and cities across Venezuela that have been hit by an outbreak of looting and mob violence. Angry about empty supermarket shelves and skyrocketing prices, some people are breaking into warehouses, ransacking food trucks and invading outlying farms.

During the first 11 days of January the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict, a Caracas rights group, recorded 107 episodes of looting and several deaths in 19 of Venezuela’s 23 states.

But the figures don’t fully capture the level of desperation. Recent headlines from Venezuela read like notes from the Apocalypse:

  • On Margarita Island dozens of people waded into the ocean and forced their way aboard a fishing boat, making off with its catch of sardines

  • In the city of Maracay, just west of Caracas, thieves broke into a veterinary school, stole two pregnant thoroughbred horses and slaughtered them for meat.

  • A recent video from the western state of Merida shows a group of people cornering a cowing before stoning it to death as bystanders yell: “the people are hungry!”

There have been previous incidents of looting but analysts fear that the current wave could linger amid the Venezuela’s economic free-fall.

President Nicolás Maduro blames the country’s woes on an “economic war” against his government by rightwingers and foreign interests.

But his critics say his government has disrupted domestic food production by expropriating farms and factories. Meanwhile, price controls designed to make food more widely available to poorer people have had the opposite effect: many prices have been set below the cost of production, forcing food producers out of business.

Meanwhile the government has less cash to import food because of its mismanagement of the oil sector, where production has fallen to a 29-year low. Hyperinflation and the collapse of the currency have put the prices of foodstuffs available on the black market beyond of the reach of many families.

But rather than reforming the economy, the government has resorted to handouts and far-fetched schemes.

A newly formed Ministry of Urban Farming encourages people to grow tomatoes and raise chickens on their patios and rooftops. Another campaign encourages Venezuelans to breed rabbits for the table. At a recent news conference, Freddy Bernal, the urban farm minister, declared: “We need people to understand that a rabbit is not a pet. It’s two and a half kilos of meat.”

But as they grow thinner some Venezuelans insist they have a right to take matters into their own hands. That was the case in the western city of Maracaibo, where residents recently swarmed into the streets, stopped two trucks filled with flour and candy, and emptied them.

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This is how democracies die

Defending our constitution requires more than outrage

by and

Blatant dictatorship – in the form of fascism, communism, or military rule – has disappeared across much of the world. Military coups and other violent seizures of power are rare. Most countries hold regular elections. Democracies still die, but by different means.

Since the end of the Cold War, most democratic breakdowns have been caused not by generals and soldiers but by elected governments themselves. Like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, elected leaders have subverted democratic institutions in Georgia, Hungary, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Ukraine.

Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box. The electoral road to breakdown is dangerously deceptive. With a classic coup d’état, as in Pinochet’s Chile, the death of a democracy is immediate and evident to all. The presidential palace burns. The president is killed, imprisoned or shipped off into exile. The constitution is suspended or scrapped.

On the electoral road, none of these things happen. There are no tanks in the streets. Constitutions and other nominally democratic institutions remain in place. People still vote. Elected autocrats maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its substance.

Many government efforts to subvert democracy are “legal”, in the sense that they are approved by the legislature or accepted by the courts. They may even be portrayed as efforts to improve democracy – making the judiciary more efficient, combating corruption or cleaning up the electoral process.

Newspapers still publish but are bought off or bullied into self-censorship. Citizens continue to criticize the government but often find themselves facing tax or other legal troubles. This sows public confusion. People do not immediately realize what is happening. Many continue to believe they are living under a democracy.

Because there is no single moment – no coup, declaration of martial law, or suspension of the constitution – in which the regime obviously “crosses the line” into dictatorship, nothing may set off society’s alarm bells. Those who denounce government abuse may be dismissed as exaggerating or crying wolf. Democracy’s erosion is, for many, almost imperceptible.

How vulnerable is American democracy to this form of backsliding? The foundations of our democracy are certainly stronger than those in Venezuela, Turkey or Hungary. But are they strong enough?

Answering such a question requires stepping back from daily headlines and breaking news alerts to widen our view, drawing lessons from the experiences of other democracies around the world and throughout history.

When fear or miscalculation leads established parties to bring extremists into the mainstream, democracy is imperiled

A comparative approach reveals how elected autocrats in different parts of the world employ remarkably similar strategies to subvert democratic institutions. As these patterns become visible, the steps toward breakdown grow less ambiguous –and easier to combat. Knowing how citizens in other democracies have successfully resisted elected autocrats, or why they tragically failed to do so, is essential to those seeking to defend American democracy today.

We know that extremist demagogues emerge from time to time in all societies, even in healthy democracies. The United States has had its share of them, including Henry Ford, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy and George Wallace.

An essential test for democracies is not whether such figures emerge but whether political leaders, and especially political parties, work to prevent them from gaining power in the first place – by keeping them off mainstream party tickets, refusing to endorse or align with them and, when necessary, making common cause with rivals in support of democratic candidates.

Isolating popular extremists requires political courage. But when fear, opportunism or miscalculation leads established parties to bring extremists into the mainstream, democracy is imperiled.

Once a would-be authoritarian makes it to power, democracies face a second critical test: will the autocratic leader subvert democratic institutions or be constrained by them?

Institutions alone are not enough to rein in elected autocrats. Constitutions must be defended – by political parties and organized citizens but also by democratic norms. Without robust norms, constitutional checks and balances do not serve as the bulwarks of democracy we imagine them to be. Institutions become political weapons, wielded forcefully by those who control them against those who do not.

This is how elected autocrats subvert democracy – packing and “weaponizing” the courts and other neutral agencies, buying off the media and the private sector (or bullying them into silence) and rewriting the rules of politics to tilt the playing field against opponents. The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy – gradually, subtly, and even legally – to kill it……………….Two basic norms have preserved America’s checks and balances in ways we have come to take for granted: mutual toleration, or the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals, and forbearance, or the idea that
politicians should exercise restraint in deploying their institutional prerogatives.

These two norms undergirded American democracy for most of the 20th century. Leaders of the two major parties accepted one another as legitimate and resisted the temptation to use their temporary control of institutions to maximum partisan advantage. Norms of toleration and restraint served as the soft guardrails of American democracy, helping it avoid the kind of partisan fight to the death that has destroyed democracies elsewhere in the world, including Europe in the 1930s and South America in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, however, the guardrails of American democracy are weakening. The erosion of our democratic norms began in the 1980s and 1990s and accelerated in the 2000s. By the time Barack Obama became president, many Republicans in particular questioned the legitimacy of their Democratic rivals and had abandoned forbearance for a strategy of winning by any means necessary.

Trump may have accelerated this process, but he didn’t cause it. The challenges facing American democracy run deeper. The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization – one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.

America’s efforts to achieve racial equality as our society grows increasingly diverse have fueled an insidious reaction and intensifying polarization. And if one thing is clear from studying breakdowns throughout history, it’s that extreme polarization can kill democracies.

There are, therefore, reasons for alarm. Not only did Americans elect a demagogue in 2016, but we did so at a time when the norms that once protected our democracy were already coming unmoored.

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