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06 Feb

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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World Politics

Italy

Antifascists say authorities have no will to stop ‘unconstitutional’ far-right parties

Far-right activists perform fascist salutes during a rally in 2012.

 

More than 70 years after Benito Mussolini’s death, thousands of Italians are joining self-described fascist groups in a surge of support that antifascist groups blame on the portrayal of the refugee crisis, the rise of fake news and the country’s failure to deal with its past.

The shooting in Macerata on Saturday that left six Africans injured was only the latest in a series of attacks perpetrated by people linked to the extreme right. According to the antifascist organisation Infoantifa Ecn, there have been 142 attacks by neofascist groups since 2014.

As Luca Traini, 28, was questioned over the Macerata shooting, four North Africans in Pavia told police on Sunday that they had been beaten up during the night by a group of 25 skinheads. On 13 January in Naples, dozens of people belonging to the far-right association Forza Nuova broke into a bar where a meeting on Roma culture was being held, causing damage and wounding a female organiser.

In 2001, Forza Nuova had just 1,500 members. Today, it has more than 13,000 and its Facebook page has more than 241,000 followers, almost 20,000 more than the Democratic party, Italy’s biggest leftwing party. The fascist-inspired CasaPound party has almost 234,000 followers. Its secretary, Simone Di Stefano, is running for prime minister in the 4 March general election.

“We grew up on our own, without the help of the media,” Adriano Da Pozzo, a Forza Nuova leader, told the Guardian. “The other parties aimed at promoting their candidates, while we aim for the promotion of our ideas.” The far-right group has offered legal support to Traini.

Antifascist groups say an apparent reluctance to take action against the far-right groups is allowing their rise. A bill introduced last year into the chamber of deputies, the parliament’s lower house, by the MP Emanuele Fiano to prohibit fascist propaganda would have allowed up to two years in jail for those who sold fascist souvenirs or performed the Roman salute, which is illegal in both Germany and Austria. After the opposition of Silvio Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia, and the Lega Nord, the bill was blocked in the senate.

“We are very worried,” said Carla Nespolo, the president of the National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI), a group founded by members of the Italian resistance against Mussolini. “These new fascists attack our offices and there seems to be no will to stop them. We asked the government to prevent the participation of fascist-inspired parties in the upcoming elections, because they were unconstitutional, and we never received an answer.”

The Italian constitution forbids the “promotion of any association that pursues the aims of the Fascist party or anyone who exalts its principles.” Yet the authorities have never intervened against CasaPound and Forza Nuova, whose members show off swastikas and fascist flags during their demonstrations.

The ANPI last year drew up a list of 500 internet sites praising fascism in Italy, asking that they be blocked. Nothing was done.

“These are sites that spread hatred among people, especially against migrants,” said Nespolo, “especially against migrants. “And they do it by spreading fake news about refugees on the social networks.’’ False accounts of rapes perpetrated by asylum seekers are shared by thousands on Facebook and Twitter.

“Fake news has played a crucial role in the propaganda of the extreme right,” said Francesco Pira, a communications sociologist at the University of Messina and expert on fake news. “There seems to be no vigilance on them. The problem does not only concern the totally false news, but also news items where the word ‘clandestine’ is used to describe migrants, marking asylum seekers out as criminals, a notion that seems to be one of the most welcomed pieces of propaganda by the right.”

Laura Boldrini, the president of the chamber of deputies, is a frequent target of fake news: she has both proposed fines and even imprisonment for those who spread false stories and, as a former spokeswoman for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, was known for having a humanitarian approach to the migrant crisis. Immediately after the shootings in Macerata, a photo depicting Boldrini’s “severed head’’ appeared with the inscription: “Decapitated by a Nigerian: this is the end she needed to meet in order to appreciate her friends’ customs.”

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France

Macron to visit Corsica as demands for greater autonomy gain weight>>

Political strength of nationalists means question of island’s status may have to be finally addressed

Germany

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and centre-left SPD are ‘on final stretch’ of talks

United States

Senators set to pitch a bipartisan immigration bill that would grant permanent legal status to Dreamers and increase border security

The three-week patchwork funding deal that ended the January shutdown is set to end on Thursday.

 

Less than three weeks after the first government shutdown in nearly five years, Washington is poised for yet another showdown over immigration and government funding.

The three-week patchwork funding deal that ended the January shutdown is set to end on Thursday.

Protections for so-called Dreamers, children brought to the US illegally who have grown up in the country, are set to expire on 5 March.

Republicans in the House have mooted a proposal to fund the government through 22 March. This has raised concern among Democrats, as it would keep the government open past the deadline for replacing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), the Obama-era policy protecting Dreamers that Trump rescinded last year.

Under the agreement that ended the January shutdown, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell pledged to allow the Senate to vote freely on immigration after 8 February, provided the government was not closed.

As part of efforts to reach a compromise, the Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons was set to introduce a bipartisan immigration bill with John McCain, an Arizona Republican, on Monday.

The bill is modeled on a proposal in the House, authored by Texas Republican Will Hurd and California Democrat Pete Aguilar, that would grant permanent legal status to Dreamers and increase border security.

Coons said on a conference call with reporters on Monday that he saw his proposal as “a strong bipartisan option” to advance the immigration debate.

He added that the bill does “not have robust investments for security” and instead requires a plan to be submitted to Congress for protecting the border. Coons noted that he would be “open to adding funding” as a potential compromise.

The bill was offered as a more limited compromise than broader proposals offered by Donald Trump and by another pair of senators, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.

Trump’s proposal, which offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers but also demands $25bn to build a wall on the border with Mexico, has been panned by Democrats.

Coons said his limited deal was an opportunity to create “a base ball” on immigration, allowing the Senate to move forward and “resolve all the unfinished work that is months past due”.

Any Senate immigration bill would face a difficult path in the House. In 2013, a bipartisan deal on comprehensive immigration reform passed the Senate 68-32. It never received a vote in the lower chamber, under then-speaker John Boehner.

Boehner’s successor, Paul Ryan, leads an even more fractious Republican caucus, in which some are even opposed to Trump’s relatively draconian proposal, because of it offers a path to citizenship.

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While the hole over Antarctica has been closing, the protective ozone is thinning at the lower latitudes, where the sunlight is stronger and billions of people live

The greatest losses in ozone occurred over Antarctica.

 

The ozone layer that protects people from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is not recovering over most highly populated regions, scientists warned on Tuesday.

The greatest losses in ozone occurred over Antarctica but the hole there has been closing since the chemicals causing the problem were banned by the Montreal protocol. But the ozone layer wraps the entire Earth and new research has revealed it is thinning in the lower stratosphere over the non-polar areas.

Reduced protection from cancer-causing UV rays is especially concerning towards the equator, where sunlight is stronger and billions of people live. The reason for the falling ozone at lower latitudes is not known, though scientists suspect a chemical used in paint stripper and a change in atmospheric circulation caused by climate change.

“The study is in lower to mid latitudes, where the sunshine is more intense, so that is not a good signal for skin cancer,” said Prof Joanna Haigh at Imperial College London, a member of the international research team. “It is a worry. Although the Montreal protocol has done what we wanted it to do in the upper stratosphere, there are other things going on that we don’t understand.”

Anna Jones, an atmospheric chemist at the British Antarctic Survey and not involved in the new study, said: “To identify what action might be needed to prevent further decreases, it is extremely important to understand what is causing the observed downward trend.” Scientists say budget threats to US satellite monitoring programmes must be reversed.

The new research, published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, carefully combined measurements of atmospheric ozone from 11 different datasets to produce a record of the last 30 years. It looked at ozone levels between the 60th parallels, an area that ranges from Scandinavia, Russia and Alaska in the north to the tip of South America. (London is 51 deg N, Sydney is 34 deg S and New York city is at 41 deg N.)

The stratosphere stretches from 10km above the Earth to 50km and ozone is slowly rising in the upper stratosphere, back towards the levels seen before CFC chemicals caused their damage.

But in the lower stratosphere, when there is the most ozone, levels are falling. Overall, the effects balance out but this means the ozone layer over the area studied is remaining in its depleted state.

The cause of the decline is unknown but might be the result of global warming. Ozone is produced by chemical reactions in the atmosphere over the tropics and then distributed towards the poles world by large air circulation currents. But warming trends could be strengthening these currents, moving more ozone to the poles and leaving less at lower latitudes.

Another suspect is so-called “very short lived substances” (VSLS) – industrial chemicals that destroy ozone. It was thought they broke down too quickly to reach the stratosphere, but that may need to be re-examined.

Research published in July by Ryan Hossaini, at Lancaster University, UK, and colleagues showed that levels of a key VSLS, called dicholoromethane and used in paint stripper and aerosol sprays, have doubled in the last decade. It is not banned by the Montreal protocol and little is known about where it is leaking from or why emissions have risen so rapidly.

William Ball, an atmospheric scientist at ETH Zurich university in Switzerland, who led the new research, said: “The finding of declining low-latitude ozone is surprising, since our current best atmospheric circulation models do not predict this effect. Very short-lived substances could be the missing factor in these models.”

Hossaini welcomed the “important” new study, but he argues that the current concentrations of VSLS in the atmosphere are too low to explain the falling ozone in the lower stratosphere.

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University of Oxford project finds Trump supporters consume largest volume of ‘junk news’ on Facebook and Twitter

Trump supporters

 

Low-quality, extremist, sensationalist and conspiratorial news published in the US was overwhelmingly consumed and shared by rightwing social network users, according to a new study from the University of Oxford.

The study, from the university’s “computational propaganda project”, looked at the most significant sources of “junk news” shared in the three months leading up to Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address this January, and tried to find out who was sharing them and why.

“On Twitter, a network of Trump supporters consumes the largest volume of junk news, and junk news is the largest proportion of news links they share,” the researchers concluded. On Facebook, the skew was even greater. There, “extreme hard right pages – distinct from Republican pages – share more junk news than all the other audiences put together.”

The research involved monitoring a core group of around 13,500 politically-active US Twitter users, and a separate group of 48,000 public Facebook pages, to find the external websites that they were sharing.

Users who shared similar collections of links were grouped together depending on what they were discussing: on Twitter, some identified cohorts included “Conservative Media”, “Trump Supporters” (a distinct group from “Republican Party”) and “Resistance”; on Facebook, those audience groups included “Hard Conservative”, “Women’s Rights” and “Military/Guns”.

The findings speak to the level of polarisation common across the US political divide. “The two main political parties, Democrats and Republicans, prefer different sources of political news, with limited overlap,” the researchers write.

But there was a clear skew in who shared links from the 91 sites the researchers had manually coded as “junk news” (based on breaching at least three of five quality standards including “professionalism”, “bias” and “credibility”). “The Trump Support group consumes the highest volume of junk news sources on Twitter, and spreads more junk news sources, than all the other groups put together. This pattern is repeated on Facebook, where the Hard Conservatives group consumed the highest proportion of junk news.”

One thing the study did not find is evidence of substantial amounts of Russian news sources being shared. “The political conversations on social media exclude a Russian audience group,” the researchers concluded.

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