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22 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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Commentary: Gov’t shutdown exposes chronic flaw in U.S. political system

by Xinhua writer Liu Chang

BEIJING, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) — Washington loves to brand itself as a “shining city on the hill”, yet the latest government shutdown in the heart of Western democracy has once again exposed its chronic flaws.

The shutdown, the fourth in the past 25 years, is another product of the political battle between the Republicans and Democrats.

What’s so ironic is that it came on the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency on Saturday, a slap in the face for the leadership in Washington.

With the election of Trump and the continued control of both houses of Congress by Republicans, the GOP seemed to have finally got revenge for eight years of a Democratic White House. Their most recent victory was the highly controversial tax reform package introducing tax cuts that critics claimed would make the rich richer.

The Trump administration has backtracked on almost every notable policy Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama had put in place, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Paris climate accord.

If there was any legacy that has survived the transfer of power, it was the spirit of noncooperation across party lines.

The U.S. federal government was shut down when the Obama administration and the Republicans in Congress were locked in a battle on Obama’s healthcare plan in 2013.

Now that another lockdown is underway again, the two major political parties are as usual busy accusing each other of not doing their job.

Thanks to their unrelenting rivalry, many of America’s long-standing problems remain unresolved.

Last year, gun crimes became more rampant,the wealth gap continued to widen, and the politics grew unprecedentedly polarized.

The Western democratic system is hailed by the developed world as near perfect and the most superior political system to run a country.

However, what’s happening in the United States today will make more people worldwide reflect on the viability and legitimacy of such a chaotic political system.

After all, for most people, the most important criterion for an effective political system is how it helps to resolve their problems, not telling them whom to blame.

World Politics

United States

Schumer calls Trump ‘dysfunctional’ as government shutdown enters day two – video

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer blames the US president, Donald Trump, for the government shutdown in Washington DC. Branding it the ‘Trump Shutdown’, Schumer says the president walked away from two bipartisan deals

US government shutdown continues into third day – video>>

US shutdown: White House phone message blames Democrats>>

Government shutdown: Republicans float minor immigration deal to end ‘Dreamers’ deadlock>>

Government shutdown: Trump attacks Democrats and calls for ‘nuclear option’>>

On the 45th anniversary of Roe v Wade, it’s time to highlight a hidden truth: restricting abortion means more maternal deaths

 

Ever since the anti-abortion movement claimed the “pro-life” label in the 1970s, the battle over reproductive rights has taken an apocalyptic tone. If the anti-abortion side is pro-life, then the other side – the millions of women who rally every January to keep abortion legal and safe – must be composed of the gaunt, gray-winged handmaidens of death.

This polarizing rhetoric turns every clash between the two sides into a prelude to Armageddon, the final showdown between life and death, good and evil. When charged with caring only for life in its fetal form, the anti-abortion side hoists its mythological claim that abortion is a risk factor for breast cancer, lifelong depression and suicide. Thus they can say that they do not only save fetal lives, but the lives of the women who carry these fetuses.

On 22 January, on the 45th anniversary of the legalization of abortion, supporters of women’s rights need to go beyond refuting false claims about the dangers of abortion.

We should take back the mantle of life.

There is mounting evidence that it is not abortion, but the lack of access to abortion that is a deadly threat to women. This conclusion comes from careful state-by-state monitoring of maternal mortality, including deaths occurring at birth and around the time of birth. The less access to abortion, the greater the chance that women will die in childbirth or pregnancy.

Maternal mortality has long been considered a third world problem, almost unthinkable in a society, like ours, that spends $3.3tn a year on healthcare. So it was shocking, in the late 2000s, when public health researchers began to see an uptick in US maternal mortality, and to some even more shocking that the excess deaths were concentrated in the states imposing the highest number of restrictions on access to abortion.

Texas, for example, saw its maternal mortality rate more than double between 2010 and 2014, as the state closed more than half of its abortion clinics and severely cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Thanks to Texas and a few other states with strong “pro-life” lobbies, mostly in the south, the US now bears the ghastly distinction of having the highest maternal mortality rate of all the world’s wealthy democracies.

What does the presence or absence of abortion services have to do with the chances of a woman’s surviving pregnancy and childbirth? No one knows exactly what’s going on, but most people seem to agree that the relationship is indirect: states that make abortions hard to get also tend to be stingy about health services like prenatal and postnatal care, hence less likely to catch the escalating blood pressure or anomalous bleeding that can presage a woman’s death.

Experts on reproductive health, like Terri-Ann Thompson of IBIS Reproductive Health, a nonprofit research organization, conclude that access to abortion is a measure of a state’s commitment to women’s – and children’s – health in general.

Sometimes, though, the relationship between lack of access to abortion and maternal death is much more direct.

Take the not-at-all-hypothetical case of a woman who wants an abortion because of a pre-existing health condition, like diabetes, that could lead to problems with pregnancy, but is unable to find one. Or, as Thompson points out, to find one in time, because most states ban abortions before a specified time in the pregnancy – around 18 to 20 weeks. It can take time to assemble the funds for an abortion, say from a payday loan, or to arrange for transportation to a clinic that may be hundreds of miles away.

When the outcome is tragic, it is fair to say that the lack of abortion caused the woman’s death. But we won’t know for sure until each case of maternal mortality is scrutinized with the forensic zeal of a homicide investigation.

Also in urgent need of investigation is the fact that America’s maternal mortality crisis is disproportionately concentrated among black women, and not just because black women tend to be poorer than women of other races.

ProPublica reported in December 2017 that “black mothers who are college-educated fare worse than women of all other races who never finished high school … And black women in the wealthiest neighborhoods do worse than white, Hispanic and Asian mothers in the poorest ones.”

One conjecture is that the stress of experiencing racism, in hospitals as well as in the general society, can fatally compromise women’s health. Patrisse Cullors, a founder of Black Lives Matter, says the issue is very much on their radar, as a matter of “reproductive justice”.

Now imagine, just as a thought experiment, that the overall findings were reversed, and that access to abortion was correlated with increased maternal mortality.

The FBI would be investigating. Photos of the dead mothers would be displayed at high-profile prayer breakfasts in Washington. Republican elected officials would be demanding the immediate closure of all abortion clinics and perhaps the razing of the buildings that housed them to prevent any lingering contamination.

But the actual findings haven’t had much public impact at all, at least not so far. The anti-choice movement refuses to take responsibility for rising maternal mortality.

Oxfam calls for action on gap as wealthiest people gather at World Economic Forum in Davos

A garment worker holds sweaters made in Bangladesh for an international brand.

 

The development charity Oxfam has called for action to tackle the growing gap between rich and poor as it launched a new report showing that 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population.

In a report published on Monday to coincide with the gathering of some of the world’s richest people at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam said billionaires had been created at a record rate of one every two days over the past 12 months, at a time when the bottom 50% of the world’s population had seen no increase in wealth. It added that 82% of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy 1%.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe awards

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and world’s richest man, arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe awards. Photograph: Michael Buckner/Variety/Rex Shutterstock

The charity said it was “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. It called on world leaders to turn rhetoric about inequality into policies to tackle tax evasion and boost the pay of workers.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy, but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.”

Booming global stock markets have been the main reason for the increase in wealth of those holding financial assets during 2017. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, saw his wealth rise by $6bn (£4.3bn) in the first 10 days of 2017 as a result of a bull market on Wall Street, making him the world’s richest man.

Oxfam said it had made changes to its wealth calculations as a result of new data from the bank Credit Suisse. Under the revised figures, 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, compared with 61 people last year and 380 in 2009. At the time of last year’s report, Oxfam said that eight billionaires held the same wealth as half the world’s population.

The charity added that the wealth of billionaires had risen by 13% a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015, with the increase of $762bn (£550bn) in 2017 enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. It said nine out of 10 of the world’s 2,043 dollar billionaires were men.

Mark Goldring: ‘We need to ensure ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions’

Mark Goldring: ‘We need to ensure ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions.’ Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Goldring said: “For work to be a genuine route out of poverty we need to ensure that ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions, and that women are not discriminated against. If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we – and they – should be willing to pay.”

An Oxfam survey of 70,000 people in 10 countries, including the UK, showed support for action to tackle inequality. Nearly two-thirds of people – 72% in the UK – said they want their government to urgently address the income gap between rich and poor in their country.

In the UK, when asked what a typical British chief executive earned in comparison with an unskilled worker, people guessed 33 times as much. When asked what the ideal ratio should be, they said 7:1. Oxfam said that FTSE 100 bosses earned on average 120 times more than the average employee.

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Opinion

Yes, LBJ was a crude warmonger. But in today’s climate, a leader who also declares war on poverty comes over as an inspiration

President Lyndon Johnson in 1968

 

I wish I had a normal hero from history. Maybe Frederick Douglass, or Rosa Parks, or the person who set the video of Richard Spencer getting punched to the tune of Never Gonna Give You Up. But I don’t. I have an irrational fascination with Lyndon B Johnson, the 36th president of the United States. He is my ultimate problematic fave: obnoxious, crude, responsible for the escalation of the Vietnam war and the death of thousands of innocent civilians – and yet also the architect of so much of the modern (now crumbling) American welfare state. Johnson died 45 years ago today, and it’s hard to know what reaction is appropriate – commemoration, condemnation, or something in between.

The first thing to appreciate about LBJ’s presidency is the sheer amount of stuff that happened during it. From the fallout of JF Kennedy’s assassination to the passage of the Civil Rights Act to Vietnam, the subsequent protests and the Watts riots in LA – it was like the news fell asleep during the 1950s and was trying to make up for lost time. As a result, Johnson’s legacy is hazy: is he the patronising face of white America stopping progress in the civil rights movement? Is he a warmonger desperate for American dominance around the world? Is he the man who killed Kennedy with the help of the CIA because he didn’t like how JFK and Bobby made fun of his accent as vice-president (an upsettingly genuine conspiracy theory)?

Johnson can be portrayed as an accident – the rootin’ tootin’ southerner who fell into the presidency at the worst possible time, was in office during the disastrous war in Vietnam and resigned to let in the most corrupt president of all time (pre-2017, at least). This narrative can be tempting, but it ignores the fact that Johnson had been planning for this job his entire life. LBJ had been a congressman, a senator, a Senate minority and majority leader and vice-president before ascending to the presidency, and he transformed the scope of the federal government, pushing through social security acts that created Medicare and Medicaid, the first civil rights acts since reconstruction, the 1965 Voting Rights Act that tackled racial discrimination in southern polling centres, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the Higher Education Act of 1965.

These are not forgotten, discarded relics. Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start and the Food Stamp Act – all fundamental parts of LBJ’s Great Society legislation – serve tens of millions of eligible Americans to this day. The modern Republican party – or at least the part that is southern-facing, anti-big government and obsessed with “law and order” – was born as a direct response to LBJ’s own expansive and moralistic attitude towards the presidency: that the immense power of the country could be used to improve the lot of the poor.

He represents the foolishness of trying to separate leaders into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – and that is a vital lesson

Having said all that, it’s impossible to get away from the fact that Lyndon B Johnson was also a truly awful man. Anyone who nicknames his penis Jumbo and whirls it around whenever he’s in the john, shouting “Woo-eee, have you ever seen anything as big as this”, should probably be disqualified from any great man of history awards. In Joseph Califano’s brilliant The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson, the president spends a distressing amount of the book naked. If Johnson were president today, the sheer number of sexual assault allegations against him would be so high that he would have no choice but to … actually, no, that’s a bad example. Let’s say that if he were playing a president in a Netflix series, he would be quietly written out and replaced by Robin Wright.

Johnson was also famously crude: his line about difficult politicians – that it’s better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in – isn’t even close to the worst thing he said. That award goes to the extremely graphic description he gave of the mating season of his bulls and cows, again in Joseph Califano’s book, which is so disgusting I can’t actually repeat it here (my mother reads these articles). Just imagine hardcore bovine erotica written by Yosemite Sam.

Johnson’s reputation was ruined by 1968 – the disastrous Tet offensive in Vietnam, riots throughout the US, and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King contributed to the idea that the country was falling apart, as demonstrated by a haunting Richard Nixon attack ad. Johnson didn’t seek re-election, and instead retreated back to his Texan ranch. He survived just four years after leaving the White House, dying on 22 January 1973, at 64 years old.

In today’s climate, where politics is portrayed as a game of winners and losers and not as a system designed to benefit the actual population, there’s something inspirational about Lyndon Johnson. That’s not to say that he didn’t care about optics. He was an incessantly vain man, constantly measuring his achievements against those of former presidents, and feeling inferior. Indeed, there is something tragically ironic that a man as thirsty for glory as Johnson could achieve as much as he did and yet still be a relative unknown in popular culture compared with Kennedy, Eisenhower and even Nixon.

Unlike most presidents, it is hard to come up with a single narrative thread for LBJ. But to me, his presidency represents moral rectitude despite the political consequences. Johnson privately acknowledged that signing the Civil Rights Act would lose the Democrats the south for a generation, but he knew that it had to be done. He spent his vast political capital on the war on poverty not because it was a vote-winner – far from it – but because he saw America’s inequality as a stain on the country. Johnson represents the foolishness of trying to separate leaders into “good” and “bad” – and in a time of increasing polarisation and militancy, this is a vital lesson.

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