21 Mar

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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Execs from firm at heart of Facebook data breach say they used ‘unattributable and untrackable’ ads, according to undercover expose

The Cambridge Analytica Files

Everything you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica exposé – video explainer

Senior executives from the firm at the heart of Facebook’s data breach boasted of playing a key role in bringing Donald Trump to power and said they used “unattributable and untrackable” advertising to support their clients in elections, according to an undercover expose.

In secretly recorded conversations, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, claimed he had met Trump “many times”, while another senior member of staff said the firm was behind the “defeat crooked Hillary” advertising campaign.

“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape,” said the executive. “And so this stuff infiltrates the online community, but with no branding, so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”

Caught on camera by an undercover team from Channel 4 News, Nix was also dismissive of Democrats on the House intelligence committee, who had questioned him over Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Senior managers then appeared to suggest that in their work for US clients, there was planned division of work between official campaigns and unaffiliated “political action groups”.

That could be considered coordination – which is not allowed under US election law. The firm has denied any wrongdoing.

Cambridge Analytica said it had a firewall policy in place, signed by all staff and strictly enforced.

The disclosures are the latest to hit Cambridge Analytica, which has been under mounting pressure since Sunday, when the Observer reported the company had unauthorised access to tens of millions of Facebook profiles – and used them to build a political targeting system.

In Tuesday’s second instalment of an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News in association with the Observer, Nix said he had a close working relationship with Trump and claimed Cambridge Analytica was pivotal to his successful campaign.

“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy,” he told reporters who were posing as potential clients from Sri Lanka.

The company’s head of data, Alex Tayler, added: “When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3m votes but won the electoral college vote that’s down to the data and the research.

“You did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on election day. That’s how he won the election.”

An investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed how Cambridge Analytica claims it ran ‘all’ of President Trump’s digital campaign – and may have broken election law. Executives were secretly filmed saying they leave ‘no paper trail’.

Another executive, Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division, was recorded saying: “He won by 40,000 votes in three states. The margins were tiny.”

Turnbull took credit for one of the most well known and controversial campaigns of the last presidential campaign, organised by the political action group Make America Number 1.

“The brand was ‘Defeat Crooked Hillary’. You’ll remember this of course?” he told the undercover reporter. “The zeros, the OO of crooked were a pair of handcuffs … We made hundreds of different kinds of creative, and we put it online.”

Turnbull said the company sometimes used “proxy organisations”, including charities and activist groups, to help disseminate the messages – and keep the company’s involvement in the background.

When the undercover reporter expressed worries that American authorities might seize on details of a dirty campaign, Nix said the US had no jurisdiction over Cambridge Analytica, even though the company is American and is registered in Delaware.

“I’m absolutely convinced that they have no jurisdiction,” he told the purported client. “So if US authorities came asking for information, they would simply refuse to collaborate. “We’ll say: none of your business.”

Turnbull added. “We don’t talk about our clients.”

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World Politics


Fears over safety of England fans, as Russia expels liaison diplomat and closes British consulate

Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson told the foreign affairs committee the “chain of responsibility” for Skripal poisoning led back to Russian state. Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty Images

Boris Johnson has predicted the Russian president Vladimir Putin will glory in the World Cup this summer in the same way that Adolf Hitler did over the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, and suggested the UK will need to advise English soccer fans not to travel to Russia for their own safety.

Johnson’s warning came as Anglo-Russian relations plummeted in the wake of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the former Russian agent poisoned in Salisbury.

Johnson revealed the number of fans currently expected to travel to Russia are about a quarter of the number who travelled to watch England in Brazil in 2014. He said only 24,000 people had purchased tickets, as opposed to 94,000 at the same point in the run-up to Rio.

He also revealed the British diplomat responsible for liaising with UK fans had been expelled as part of the diplomatic tit-for-tat expulsions.

Russia is also closing the British consulate in St Petersburg, restricting the ability of the UK embassy to help visitors in the event of violence.

Johnson said he would be seeking urgent assurances from Russia that it would fulfil its obligations under the World Cup contract to ensure the safety of fans. “I think it is up to the Russians to give us an undertaking that they will be safe,” he said.

Both Russia and England have a history of violent football fans, but the prospect of fierce fighting between the two sets of fans is increased by the atmosphere of political tension between the two countries.

Johnson was speaking to the all-party foreign affairs select committee, and responding to remarks from the Labour MP Ian Austin, who called for the UK to pull out of the World Cup altogether. “Putin is going to use it in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics,” Austin said.

The Foreign Secretary replied: “I think that your characterisation of what is going to happen in Moscow, the World Cup, in all the venues – yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right.” However, he said he did not think it would be fair to the English team to ban them from competing……………The foreign office also seized on a Russian admission that it would not accept the results of an inquiry into the source of the poison being undertaken by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, insisting it wanted a joint inquiry with the UK.

Asked why Moscow would feel it could carry out such an attack, he said: “It was a sign that president Vladimir Putin, or the Russian state, wanted to give to potential defectors in their own agencies that this is what happens to you if you decide that you support a country with a different set of values such as our own: you can expect to be assassinated.

“I think the reason that they picked the United Kingdom is very simple: it’s because this is a country that does have that particular set of values, it does believe in freedom, and in democracy and in the rule of law, and has time and again called out Russia over its abuses of those values.

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United States

  • Other western leaders had stopped short of endorsing Russian poll

  • Trump says pair likely to meet in ‘not too distant future’ after call

in Moscow and in Washington

Trump congratulates Putin, saying he will meet him ‘in the not too distant future’ – video

Donald Trump has called to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his landslide victory in Sunday’s elections, breaking a taboo among western leaders in appearing to endorse the Russian leader’s re-election to a fourth term in power.

Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Trump confirmed he had called Putin to “congratulate him on his electoral victory”, and said the two would “probably get together in the not too distant future so that we can discuss the arms race”.

But the two leaders did not discuss Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election or the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the former double agent targeted with a nerve agent in the UK.

The former US presidential candidate John McCain was quick to criticize Trump for his failure to raise allegations of widespread voter irregularities.

“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections” McCain said in a statement. “And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country’s future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin’s regime.”

The US president has consistently refused to criticise Putin, or acknowledge that Moscow might have played any part in putting him in the White House.

But any meeting between the two leaders would be controversial, given the ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 elections.

The phone callcame just days after the United States imposed sanctions against 19 Russian nationals and five entities over Russian interference in the US elections.

Those sanctioned included a wealthy businessman nicknamed “Putin’s chef” and the Internet Research Agency, a producer of politically charged online content which has gained notoriety as a “troll factory”.

Western leaders had avoided offering direct congratulations to Putin, as is customary after an election win, to avoid legitimising Sunday’s elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the elections, said they were well administered but had a “lack of genuine competition”.

German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and President Emmanuel Macron of France called Putin but both avoided explicitly using the word “congratulated”. Instead both “wished success” to Putin.

The White House struggled to explain the details of Trump’s congratulatory call to Putin on Tuesday, which came amid escalating tensions over Russian meddling in US politics.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, repeatedly declined to say if the Trump administration believed the Russian election was free and fair.

“We’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Sanders told reporters.

“What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them how they operate.”

She claimed that Russian interference in the US election “didn’t come up” during Trump’s call with Putin. Sanders also said the poisoning in the UK “was not discussed”.

Of a potential meeting between Trump and Putin, Sanders said there were “no specific plans made at this time”, while adding: “We disagree with the fact that we shouldn’t have conversations with Russia.”

Trump and Putin did not discuss the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the former double agent, the Kremlin told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday.Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump said that the two leaders would probably discuss the “arms race, which is getting out of control. We will never allow anybody to have anything close to what we have.”

Talk of an “arms race” has increased since Putin recently showed off Russia’s newest nuclear weapons.

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Donald Trump Trump reportedly defied warning from security team not to congratulate Putin>>

Trump confirmed he had called Putin to ‘congratulate him on his electoral victory’.

Figures show a majority of young adults in 12 countries have no faith, with Czechs least religious

Two pilgrims hold candles at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland

Two pilgrims hold candles at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. Photograph: Beata Zawrzel/Pacific Press/Barcroft Images

Europe’s march towards a post-Christian society has been starkly illustrated by research showing a majority of young people in a dozen countries do not follow a religion.

The survey of 16- to 29-year-olds found the Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe, with 91% of that age group saying they have no religious affiliation. Between 70% and 80% of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands also categorise themselves as non-religious.

The most religious country is Poland, where 17% of young adults define themselves as non-religious, followed by Lithuania with 25%.

In the UK, only 7% of young adults identify as Anglican, fewer than the 10% who categorise themselves as Catholic. Young Muslims, at 6%, are on the brink of overtaking those who consider themselves part of the country’s established church.

The figures are published in a report, Europe’s Young Adults and Religion, by Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London. They are based on data from the European social survey 2014-16.

Religion was “moribund”, he said. “With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practising religion.”

The trajectory was likely to become more marked. “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years,” Bullivant said.

But there were significant variations, he said. “Countries that are next door to one another, with similar cultural backgrounds and histories, have wildly different religious profiles.”

The two most religious countries, Poland and Lithuania, and the two least religious, the Czech Republic and Estonia, are post-communist states.

The trend of religious affiliation was repeated when young people were asked about religious practice. Only in Poland, Portugal and Ireland did more than 10% of young people say they attend services at least once a week.

In the Czech Republic, 70% said they never went to church or any other place of worship, and 80% said they never pray. In the UK, France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, between 56% and 60% said they never go to church, and between 63% and 66% said they never pray.

Among those identifying as Catholic, there was wide variation in levels of commitment. More than 80% of young Poles say they are Catholic, with about half going to mass at least once a week. In Lithuania, where 70% of young adults say they are Catholic, only 5% go to mass weekly.

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Authors of report on bird declines say intensive farming and pesticides could turn Europe’s farmland into a desert that ultimately imperils all humans

A red-legged partridge in Burgundy. Eight in 10 partridges have disappeared from France in 23 years, a study showed.

A red-legged partridge in Burgundy. Eight in 10 partridges have disappeared from France in 23 years, a study showed. Photograph: Pierre Vernay / Biosphoto/Alamy

The “catastrophic” decline in French farmland birds signals a wider biodiversity crisis in Europe which ultimately imperils all humans, leading scientists have told the Guardian.

A dramatic fall in farmland birds such as skylarks, whitethroats and ortolan bunting in France was revealed by two studies this week, with the spread of neonicotinoid pesticides – and decimation of insect life – coming under particular scrutiny.

With intensive crop production encouraged by the EU’s common agricultural policy apparently driving the bird declines, conservationists are warning that many European countries are facing a second “silent spring” – a term coined by the ecologist Rachel Carson to describe the slump in bird populations in the 1960s caused by pesticides.

“We’ve lost a quarter of skylarks in 15 years. It’s huge, it’s really, really huge. If this was the human population, it would be a major thing,” said Dr Benoit Fontaine of France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the new studies, a national survey of France’s common birds. “We are turning our farmland into a desert. We are losing everything and we need that nature, that biodiversity – the agriculture needs pollinators and the soil fauna. Without that, ultimately, we will die.”

Farmland makes up 45% of the EU’s land area, but farmland bird populations in France have fallen by an average of a third over the past 15 years. In some cases, the declines are worse: seven out of 10 meadow pipits have disappeared from French fields over that period, while eight in 10 partridges have vanished over 23 years, according to a second French study which examined 160 areas of typical arable plains in central France.

A meadow pipit.

A meadow pipit. Photograph: Stephane Bouilland/Biosphoto/Alamy

According to the survey, the disappearance of farmland species intensified in the last decade, and again over the last two summers.

Thriving generalist species such as wood pigeons, blackbirds and chaffinches – which also breed in urban areas and woodlands – are increasing nationally but even they are decreasing on farmland, which has led researchers to identify changing farming practices as the cause of big declines.

Scientists point to the correlation between bird declines and the drastic reduction in insect life – such as the 76% fall in abundance of flying insects on German nature reserves over 27 years– which are linked to increasing pesticides and neonicotinoids in particular.

Despite the French government aspiring to halve pesticide use by 2020, sales have climbed, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures.

“All birds are dependant on insects in one way or another,” said Fontaine. “Even granivorous birds feed their chicks insects and birds of prey eat birds that eat insects. If you lose 80% of what you eat you cannot sustain a stable population.”

Fontaine said that EU agri-environment were “obviously not” reversing bird declines but he said farmers were not to blame and it was possible to farm to produce food and preserve wildlife.

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