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26 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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In the face of nuclear weapons and climate change, scientists moved the clock forward, putting much of the blame on the Trump administration

The risk to global civilisation is as high today as it has ever been in the face of twin threats, nuclear weapons and climate change, a group of leading scientists has announced, putting a significant share of the blame on the Trump administration.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its symbolic Doomsday Clock forward 30 seconds, to two minutes to midnight, in a reflection of how the scientists view the dangers facing the world.

The only other time the clock was set so close to catastrophe in its 71-year history was in 1953, after the US and the Soviet Union detonated their first thermonuclear bombs.

In the immediate aftermath of the cold war, the clock was set back to 17 minutes to midnight, but optimism about humanity’s future has steadily eroded since then.

“To call the world’s nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger and its immediacy,” said Rachel Bronson, the bulletin’s president and CEO, told journalists in Washington.

In explaining their decision on Thursday, scientists from the bulletin’s widely respected science and security board said that they were disturbed by the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, the increasing emphasis and expenditure on nuclear weapons by major powers, the absence of arms control negotiations around the world, and the wavering political will to combat climate change.

In the year since the hands on the Doomsday Clock were last adjusted, North Korea has carried out its sixth nuclear test, the most powerful to date and almost certainly its first hydrogen bomb. It has also made three successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the third of which, in November, appeared to be capable of reaching New York or Washington.

At the same time, Trump has engaged in a highly personalised exchange of insults with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. He has threatened “fire and fury” against the nation, and vowed to “totally destroy” if Pyongyang continued to threaten the US American strategic bombers have flown north of the 38th parallel that divides the peninsula, along the North Korean coast.

The bulletin’s scientists repeatedly singled out the Trump administration as a major factor behind the increased risks to the planet, pointing out the president’s volatility as expressed in his tweets and statements; the inconsistency of the administration’s foreign policy; and its apparent disdain for science, reflected in its high-level appointments, which have included climate change deniers.

“Our allies and adversaries alike are being forced [into a] thicket of conflicting policy statements, from a US administration weakened in its roster of foreign policy professionals and unable to develop, coordinate and clearly communicate a coherent foreign – much less nuclear – policy,” said Robert Rosner, the chair of the bulletin’s science and security board. “This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management and global stability.”

Sharon Squassoni, a professor at George Washington University’s institute for international science and technology policy also pointed to Russia’s role in heightening tensions. Last year, for instance, it fielded ground-launched cruise missiles, violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

“Russia has engaged in provocative and illegal behaviours thought to be part of cold war history,” Squassoni said.

Some experts argue that the comparison with the height of the cold war was an exaggeration.

“During the height of the cold war there was a nontrivial risk of global nuclear annihilation,” Vipin Narang, a North Korea and nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in a tweet. “Today, the risk of single use may be higher but it’s unlikely to threaten global destruction.”

The bulletin scientists said that climate change also weighed heavily in their deliberations. After flattening out for some years, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise and the levels of the polar ice caps are at new lows.

“Here in the US, the incoming President Trump promptly appointed a cadre of avowed climate denialists and quickly started reversing existing climate measures,” said Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute.

Trump was also criticised for downgrading the science in his administration. Lawrence Krauss, the chair of the bulletin’s board of sponsors, said that 2017 marked that the first time since the position was created more than a half-century ago that there was no presidential science adviser.

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War of words continues as Aung San Suu Kyi claims US diplomat was dropped from Rohingya advisory panel, while he says he quit

Bill Richardson

 

Myanmar has deepened its row with US diplomat Bill Richardson, saying it made the decision to dump him from an advisory panel on the Rohingya crisis and accusing the veteran politician of a “personal attack” on Aung San Suu Kyi in his stinging resignation letter.

The war of words has heaped embarrassment on the Burmese leader whose star as a rights defender continues to plummet over her failure to speak out for the Rohingya in the face of overwhelming evidence of the Muslim minority group’s suffering.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said that during discussions in Myanmar’s capital on 22 January “it became evident” that Richardson was not interested in providing advice as one of five international members of a new panel on a crisis that has seen nearly 690,000 Rohingya flee a military crackdown to Bangladesh.

“In view of the difference of opinion that developed, the government decided that his continued participation on the board would not be in the best interest of all concerned,” the office said in an English statement posted on Facebook.

The Burmese-language version said they decided to “terminate” his participation.

Myanmar’s explanation stands in stark contrast to Richardson’s, who after his three-day visit to the country said he could not in “good conscience” sit on a panel he feared would only “whitewash” the causes of the Rohingya crisis.

He tore into the Nobel laureate for an “absence of moral leadership” over the problem and described her “furious response” to his calls to free two Reuters journalists arrested while covering the crisis.

Carpenters work at a newly-built repatriation camp being prepared for Rohingya refugees who are expected to return from Bangladesh.

Carpenters work at a newly-built repatriation camp being prepared for Rohingya refugees who are expected to return from Bangladesh. Photograph: Thein Zaw/AP

A Myanmar government spokesman hit back earlier on Thursday, accusing the former New Mexico governor of overstepping the mark.

“He should review himself over his personal attack against our state counsellor,” government spokesman Zaw Htay told AFP, using Aung San Suu Kyi’s official title.

Urging understanding instead of blame, Zaw Htay said the issue of the arrests was beyond Richardson’s mandate and he should not have brought it up at his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi.

The heated discussion left Myanmar’s leader “quivering” with rage, Richardson told the New York Times.

The military operations started after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts in August.

Though Myanmar says it is ready to start repatriating refugees, many fear returning, and some 300 more families crossed the border in recent days after several houses were burned down in Buthidaung township, said Chris Lewa from the Arakan Project, a monitoring group that closely tracks Rakhine.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s tepid response to the crisis and failure to openly rebuke the military has punctured her reputation as a rights icon.

Myanmar analyst Khin Zaw Win said Richardson’s words could deliver a “much-needed jolt for Aung San Suu Kyi and for the people around her who are not reporting the truth to her.”

Aaron L Connelly from the Lowy Institute for International Policy told AFP that the description of the conversation between Richardson and Aung San Suu Kyi should “finally dispel the myth that she privately holds views which she cannot express publicly”.

Richardson joined the Myanmar board as a private citizen, but the US State Department said the Washington administration shared many of his concerns.

After his trip to Myanmar, the diplomat said he was shocked by the panel members’ disparagement of the media, the UN, human rights groups and the international community.

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World Politics

United States

President was dissuaded from firing Robert Mueller when counsel threatened to quit rather than carry out order, New York Times reports

Former FBI director Robert Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

 

Donald Trump has denied a report he ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but was persuaded against it after the White House counsel threatened to resign.

The New York Times, citing four people familiar with the matter, said the president ordered the White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election including possible contacts with the Trump campaign. McGahn refused and said he would resign before carrying out the directive.

“Fake news, folks, fake news,” Trump told reporters in Davos, when asked about the report.

The report said Trump had outlined a case for why he believed Mueller should be fired, citing three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the Russia investigations.

First, Trump alleged, a dispute over membership fees at Trump National Golf Club in northern Virginia led Mueller to resign as a member in 2011. Trump saw another potential conflict because Mueller had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. Lastly, Trump said Mueller had been interviewed to return as the FBI director the day before he was appointed special counsel.

Ty Cobb, the president’s lawyer, said in a statement to the Times: “We decline to comment out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process.” A spokesman for the special counsel also declined to comment.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion or obstruction.

Senator Mark Warner, the vice-chair of the Senate intelligence committee, which is conducting its own investigation into Russian interference, warned that firing Mueller was a “red line” the president “cannot cross”.

“Any attempt to remove the special counsel, pardon key witnesses, or otherwise interfere in the investigation, would be a gross abuse of power, and all members of Congress, from both parties, have a responsibility to our constitution and to our country to make that clear immediately,” Warner said in a statement responding to the story.

The report follows developments that the special counsel interviewed attorney general Jeff Sessions for several hours last week. Sessions announced in March 2017 that he would recuse himself from any role in it after it was revealed that he had two meetings with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, during the 2016 campaign. The former Alabama senator endorsed Trump in February 2016 and was a key surrogate during the campaign.

It was also reported this week that former FBI director James Comey was interviewed by the special counsel as part of the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling.

Trump fired Comey in May 2017, raising concerns that he tried to obstruct the FBI investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russians. Comey reportedly met last year with the special counsel to answer questions about contemporaneous memos he wrote regarding interactions with the president that concerned him.

In one instance, Comey testified, Trump asked him for loyalty and asked him to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. Comey said he evaded those demands and was soon fired.

Earlier this week, the New York Times- reported that the special counsel was seeking to interview Trump about the president’s decision to fire Flynn and Comey. Mueller’s reported focus on their firings is the latest indication that the special counsel’s team is zeroing in on potential obstruction of justice issues.

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Toilet humour: Guggenheim responds to White House Van Gogh request – video

The Guggenheim Museum has reportedly turned down a White House request to borrow a Vincent Van Gogh painting, and has instead offered the Trump administration the use of a golden toilet. The Guggenheim’s chief curator, Nancy Spector, turned down the request, offering White House an 18-carat toilet created by artist Maurizio Cattelan instead.

White House asks for Van Gogh loan – but Guggenheim offers gold toilet instead>>

More than 100 scientists have urged the museum to sever its ties with Mercer, one of Donald Trump’s top donors

Robert Mercer and Rebekah Mercer at a Jazz at Lincoln Center gala on April 2017.

 

The American Museum of Natural History is under pressure to sever its ties to Rebekah Mercer, one of Donald Trump’s top donors who has used her family’s fortune to fund groups that seek to undermine scientists’ work on climate change.

More than 200 scientists have put their names to a letter that urges the museum to “end ties to anti-science propagandists and funders of climate science misinformation” and axe Mercer from its board of trustees, a position she has held since 2013.

A separate missive also calling for Mercer’s dismissal has been circulated among the museum’s own curators amid growing concern that the New York institution risks having its mission subverted by Mercer.

Freshly obtained donation records, shared with the Guardian, show that the Mercer Family Foundation, overseen by Rebekah and her billionaire hedge fund father, Robert, funneled more than $2m to organisations that actively deny or obfuscate mainstream climate science during the election year.

The donations include $800,000 to the Heartland Institute, a conservative group famous for its regular conferences for those who dismiss the scientific consensus that human activity is changing the climate, and half a million dollars to the Heritage Foundation, a free market group that promotes fossil fuel extraction and claims that spells of cold weather demonstrate that the planet is not warming.

In 2016, the Mercers funded two other groups for the first time – giving $125,000 to the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and $150,000 to the CO2 Coalition. Both groups seek to sow doubt over the consequences of climate change. The CO2 Coalition’s chairman is William Happer, a Princeton University physicist who has been touted as a potential science adviser to Trump.

The Mercers were a crucial backroom force behind the political rise of Trump. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, last year said: “The Mercers laid the groundwork for the Trump revolution.” Brietbart News, the rightwing outlet previously run by Bannon, has also received large donations from the Mercer foundation.

“Since Trump’s election, the Mercer family has been flushed out of the shadows and revealed to be major supporters of the climate denial machine,” said Kert Davies, founder of a climate-focused transparency group who analysed the donations’ declarations. “Their support for climate deniers appears to be growing over time.”

The Mercer foundation’s 2016 donations also include $200,000 directed to the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, a group founded by Arthur Robinson, a biochemist who helped set up a widely discredited petition of purported experts denying that global warming is harmful.

The signatories had no vetting, however, prompting green groups to add singer Geri Halliwell and the entire cast of M*A*S*H to the list. More recently, Robinson has been storing thousands of samples of human urine in the belief that he will find a way to extend lifespans. Rebekah Mercer has reportedly suggested to Trump that Robinson be the president’s chief science adviser.

In their letter, concerned scientists and curators warned the American Museum of Natural History that while it is a “treasured and influential institution”, it could suffer a “loss of public trust” through its association with Mercer. As well as being a trustee, Mercer has donated more than $4m to the museum since 2012, records show.

“Rebekah Mercer is one of the greatest funders of the bad faith attacks on climate science and climate scientists,” said Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climate scientist and one of the letter’s signatories.

“It is an abomination for her to be sitting on the board of trustees of any science-themed institution let alone one of the greatest natural history museums in the world.”

Katherine Hayhoe, another prominent climate scientist who signed the letter, said it is imperative that museums “convey … information accurately, without either explicit or implicit pressure to downplay or even alter the facts”.

Museums and galleries have come under increasing scrutiny as they attempt to balance the need for funding with concerns over climate change. In 2015, the Science Museum in London said it would not continue a controversial sponsorship deal with Shell, although BP continues to back several of the city’s major cultural institutions, such as the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House.

This month, the American Museum of Natural History was criticised for an exhibit in its dinosaur wing that said warmer periods, such as the current one, are caused by variations in the Earth’s orbit around the sun and that there is “no reason to believe another ice age won’t come”. The wing is funded by David Koch, a high-profile funder of climate change denying groups, although the museum said Koch had no influence over the content, which was merely outdated.

“This country is having a crisis of trust, museums are the last bastions of trust and we have to be very careful of preserving that,” said Jon Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences, which doesn’t accept money from fossil fuels.

“The American [Museum of Natural History] is one of the best museums in the world and it’s sad that we are talking about this rather than their great work.

“It’s troubling if donors are supporting museums on one hand and funding anti-science on the other. Public science institutions need to pick people aligned to their mission, not just for their wealth. We are in a hypercharged atmosphere at the moment, science is under attack. This is an issue museums will have to navigate.”

Foley, not a signatory to the scientists’ letter, said he gets calls “all the time” from donors about exhibits based on issues such as climate change or evolution. “The job is to listen and relay that the exhibits are based on the best available science,” he said. “You never let donors or trustees micromanage the content of exhibits. It’s more about the perception. But that perception is important.”

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