27 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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Le Monde diplomatique

Okinawa as sacrificial victim

Japan’s problem with positive pacifism

The US promised in 1996 to hand back its huge Marine Corps base at Futenma in Okinawa unconditionally within seven years. But Okinawa is still waiting and, despite strong local opposition, the Japanese government wants to build an even bigger base to replace it.

by Gavan McCormack

For 18 years, the people of the Okinawa archipelago (Ryukyu Islands) in southern Japan have blocked plans drawn up in Tokyo and Washington to construct a huge new US Marine Corps base at Henoko in the north of Okinawa Island. The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has made this project high priority but opposition to it has increased.

The US Congress acclaimed Abe when he declared his commitment this April to the “shared values” of democracy, rule of law and human rights, as well as specific goals such as the construction of the base. But Abe’s words sounded hollow to Okinawans because in their experience constitutional and democratic rights are always subordinate to US military privilege. A month after Abe’s US visit, the governor of Okinawa Prefecture, Takeshi Onaga, arrived in Washington to make it clear that Okinawa would not tolerate construction of a new base.

The Okinawa islands stretch for 1,000km from Kyushu, the southernmost mainland island of Japan, almost to Taiwan. To the Chinese they are potentially a maritime Great Wall controlling access to the Pacific, so their status is crucial to any East Asian order. For centuries the islands, as part of the kingdom of Ryukyu, were affiliated to both China and Japan, and benefited from 500 years of friendly relations across the East China Sea under the Chinese tribute system (1). In the 1850s Ryukyu was independent enough to negotiate treaties opening relations with the US, France and the Netherlands.

This relative autonomy ended in the 1870s. The modern Japanese state, founded in 1868, abolished the kingdom as punishment for attempting to retain its links with China, incorporated the islands as Okinawa Prefecture and converted Shuri castle, overlooking the capital, Naha, into Okinawa’s first military base. Okinawans were forbidden to use their own language and forced to adopt Japanese names and the imperial Shinto religion. Incorporation into Japan meant hostility to China and later the US; a quarter of all Okinawans died in the US invasion of 1945 (2), many executed as spies or forced to commit suicide by the Japanese army. The trauma deeply marked Okinawa.

Seventy years later, US forces still occupy 20% of Okinawa Island itself (75% of the US military presence in Japan is concentrated there) and retain a sovereign, extraterritorial, authority little diminished since the time when the archipelago was under direct US military rule, from 1945 to 1972.

‘Most dangerous base in the world’

The new base at Henoko is intended to replace the Futenma base, situated in the centre of the city of Ginowan, its hangars and runways surrounded by schools, hospitals and homes. Former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld described it as “the most dangerous base in the world”. Okinawans remember the helicopter that crashed on the campus of Okinawa International University in 2004 (luckily during the August vacation, so there were no casualties).

The new base, far larger than Futenma, would provide facilities including a deep-water port, on a 160-hectare site to be reclaimed from the sea, fronting Henoko Bay to the east and Oura Bay to the west. The base would be built on a concrete platform rising 10 metres above sea level with two 1,800-metre runways and a 272-metre-long quay. The site is in one of the most bio-diverse and beautiful coastal zones in all Japan, which the environment ministry wants to have listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is home to hundreds of species of coral, sea cucumber, seaweed, shrimp, snails, fish, tortoises, snakes and mammals, many rare or endangered.

The Henoko base would likely be one of the largest concentrations of military power in East Asia for the rest of the 21st century, a key element of the Obama “pivot” (3). Okinawans reflect bitterly that it is almost 20 years since they were promised the unconditional reversion of Futenma. The Abe government insists the Marines are essential to Japan’s defence and must be based at Henoko, although the defence minister, Gen Nakatani, conceded last year that there was no military or strategic reason why base functions could not be dispersed, including to Kyushu, the nearest of Japan’s four main islands; only mainland opposition made that impossible.

The US occupation of Futenma is in fact illegal: the base is built on land originally seized from its owners “with bayonets and bulldozers” (as remembered in Okinawa) and in breach of article 46 of the annex to the 1907 Hague Convention, forbidding occupying armies from confiscating private property. For this reason, quite apart from the danger, noise and nuisance, Futenma should be closed.

From 1996 (date of the initial decision to build Henoko) to 2013, popular resistance in Okinawa successfully blocked construction. Most Okinawans opposed it, as did the governor, prefectural and city assemblies, the prefectural chapters of the major national political parties, and Okinawa’s main newspapers, the Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times. But since 2013 the second Abe government has concentrated on neutralising opposition, inducing the five Okinawan Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members of the Diet to change their position, then the prefectural chapter of the LDP, and eventually the governor, Hirokazu Nakaima.

Opposition dismissed

Outraged, the anti-base camp has fought back. It won elections in 2014 for mayor and assembly of Nago City, and for four Okinawan lower house seats of the National Diet. In the November election for governor, the conservative Takeshi Onaga advocated “all-Okinawa” politics, a slogan that allowed political parties from communists to conservatives to unite in resisting the Henoko project. Onaga promised to do everything in his power to stop Henoko and won by 360,800 votes to 261,000, with a record turnout of 64%.

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How the world got hooked on palm oil

Orangutans rescued near a palm oil plantation in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photograph: Vier Pfoten/Four Paws/Rex

It’s the miracle ingredient in everything from biscuits to shampoo. But our dependence on palm oil has devastating environmental consequences. Is it too late to break the habit? By

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there grew a magical fruit. This fruit could be squeezed to produce a very special kind of oil that made cookies more healthy, soap more bubbly and crisps more crispy. The oil could even make lipstick smoother and keep ice-cream from melting. Because of these wondrous qualities, people came from around the world to buy the fruit and its oil.

In the places where the fruit came from, people burned down the forest so they could plant more trees that grew the fruit – making lots of nasty smoke and sending all of the creatures of the forest scurrying away. When the trees were burned, they emitted a gas that heated up the air. Then everybody was upset, because they loved the forest’s creatures and thought the temperature was warm enough already. A few people decided they shouldn’t use the oil any more, but mostly things went on as before, and the forest kept burning.

This is a true story. Except that it is not magic. The fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis), which grows in tropical climates, contains the world’s most versatile vegetable oil. It can handle frying without spoiling, and blends well with other oils. Its combination of different types of fats and its consistency after refining make it a popular ingredient in packaged baked goods. Its low production costs make it cheaper than frying oils such as cottonseed or sunflower. It provides the foaming agent in virtually every shampoo, liquid soap or detergent. Cosmetics manufacturers prefer it to animal tallow for its ease of application and low price. It is increasingly used as a cheap raw material for biofuels, especially in the European Union. It functions as a natural preservative in processed foods, and actually does raise the melting point of ice-cream. Palm oil can be used as an adhesive that binds together the particles in fibreboard. Oil palm trunks and fronds can be made into everything from plywood to the composite body of Malaysia’s national automobile.

Worldwide production of palm oil has been climbing steadily for five decades. Between 1995 and 2015, annual production quadrupled, from 15.2m tonnes to 62.6m tonnes. By 2050, it is expected to quadruple again, reaching 240m tonnes. The footprint of palm oil production is astounding: plantations to produce it account for 10% of permanent global cropland. Today, 3 billion people in 150 countries use products containing palm oil. Globally, we each consume an average of 8kg of palm oil a year.

Of this, 85% comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, where worldwide demand for palm oil has lifted incomes, especially in rural areas – but at the cost of tremendous environmental devastation and often with attendant labour and human rights abuses. Fires set to clear forests and create land for more palm plantations are the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia, a country of 261 million people. The financial incentive to produce more palm oil is helping to warm the planet, while destroying the only habitat of Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos and orangutans – driving them towards extinction.

Yet consumers are often unaware they are even using the stuff. Palm Oil Investigations, which dubs itself “the palm oil watchdog”, lists more than 200 common ingredients in food and home and personal care products containing palm oil, only about 10% of which include the telltale word “palm”.

How did palm oil insinuate itself into every corner of our lives? No single innovation caused palm oil consumption to soar. Instead, it was the perfect commodity at the right moment for industry after industry, each of which adopted it to replace ingredients and never turned back. At the same time, producing nations view palm oil as a poverty-reduction scheme, while international finance organisations view it as a growth engine for developing economies. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pushed Malaysia and Indonesia to produce more

As the palm industry expanded, conservationists and environmental organisations such as Greenpeace started to raise the alarm about its devastating effects on carbon emissions and wildlife habitat. (However, it is not impossible to produce palm oil sustainably, and several organisations certify sustainable producers.) In response, a backlash against palm oil has developed: last April, the supermarket Iceland pledged that it would cut palm oil from all its own-brand foods by the end of 2018. In December, Norway banned imports for biofuel production.

But by the time awareness of palm oil’s impact had spread, it was so deeply embedded in the consumer economy that it now may be too late to remove it. (Tellingly, Iceland found it impossible to fulfill its 2018 pledge. Instead, the company ended up removing its branding from foods containing palm oil rather than removing palm oil from all of its branded foods.)

Determining which products contain palm oil, let alone how sustainably it has been sourced, requires an almost supernatural level of consumer consciousness. In any case, greater consumer awareness in the west will not have much impact, given that Europe and the US account for less than 14% of global demand. More than half of global demand comes from Asia.

It was a good 20 years after the first alarms about deforestation in Brazil that consumer action slowed – not stopped – the destruction. With palm oil, “the reality is that the western part of world is [a small share] of palm oil consumption, and the rest of the world doesn’t give a shit”, said Neil Blomquist, managing director of Colorado-based Natural Habitats, which produces palm oil in Ecuador and Sierra Leone to the highest level of sustainability certification. “So there’s not much incentive to change.”

Palm oil’s world domination is the result of five factors: first, it has replaced less healthy fats in foods in the west. Second, producers have pushed to keep its price low. Third, it has replaced more expensive oils in home and personal care products. Fourth, again because it is cheap, it has been widely adopted as cooking oil in Asian countries. Finally, as those Asian countries have grown richer, they have begun to consume more fat, much of it in the form of palm oil.

Widespread adoption of palm oil began with processed foods. In the 1960s, scientists began to warn that butter’s high saturated fat content may increase the risk of heart disease. Food manufacturers, including the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever, began to replace it with margarine, made with vegetable oils low in saturated fat. By the early 1990s, though, it became clear that the process by which the oils in margarine were made, known as partial hydrogenation, actually created a different kind of fat – trans fat – that was even unhealthier than saturated fat. The Unilever board of directors saw a scientific consensus forming against trans fat and decided to get rid of it. “Unilever was always very conscious of the health interests of consumers of its products,” said James W Kinnear, a Unilever board member at the time

The switchover happened suddenly. In 1994, a Unilever refineries manager named Gerrit van Duijn received a call from his bosses in Rotterdam. Twenty Unilever plants in 15 countries needed to remove partially hydrogenated oils from 600 fat blends and replace them with trans-fat free components.

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More On The Environment:

Cardinal Pell is remanded in custody following his conviction for child sexual assault, which judge calls ‘callous, brazen offending’

Cardinal Pell

George Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter says child abuse was ‘plain vanilla’ sex. Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AFP/Getty Images

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sexual abuse, has been taken in custody following a sentencing hearing in which his lawyer described one of Pell’s offences as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”.

After the hearing, with Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, having withdrawn his application for bail, the chief judge said: “Take him away, please.” Pell will be sentenced on 13 March after his conviction for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old boys.

The Vatican on Wednesday also said its doctrinal department will open its own investigation into Pell. “After the guilty verdict in the first instance concerning Cardinal Pell, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will now handle the case following the procedure and within the time established by canonical norm,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told reporters.

The former Australian prime minister John Howard was among those who provided character references for Pell as the cardinal’s legal team tried to argue for a lower-end sentence in Melbourne’s county court on Wednesday morning.

That claim was rejected by the chief judge, Peter Kidd, who said he saw Pell’s behaviour as “callous, brazen offending” and “shocking conduct”.

“He did have in his mind some sense of impunity. How else did he think he would get away with this? There was an element of force here … this is not anywhere near the lower end of offending.”

Pell’s lawyer tried to argue there were “no aggravating circumstances” to one of the offences.

It was “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”, Richter said.

Kidd responded: “It must be clear to you by now I’m struggling with that submission. Looking at your points here – so what?”

Richter also tried to suggest that an incident in which Pell grabbed one of the boys by the genitals in an attack that lasted seconds was “fleeting” and not worthy of a jail sentence. Kidd disagreed.

“That wasn’t just a trifling sexual assault,” he said.

“Nothing is to be gained here by comparing different forms of sexual abuse of children. Of course I need to make a judgement of the overall gravity of this. But there is a limit to these kinds of comparisons.”

Abuse survivors and advocates present in the court gasped as Richter made his arguments for a lower-end sentence. He said at one point that if Pell’s victims were “truly distressed” after being abused, they would have returned to their homes exhibiting that distress.

Richter said he was in a difficult position because he could only propose a sentence based on the jury’s finding of guilt, not on the basis that Pell maintained his innocence. He said Pell did not have a pattern of offending and had not planned the attack, and so would have been “seized by some irresistible impulse”.

Kidd responded: “You put to the jury only a madman would commit these offences. The jury rejected that. There are no medical records suggesting he is mad. The only inference I can make is that he thought he could get away with it. People don’t go ahead and do what he did without thinking about it. People make choices.”

Prosecutors described Pell as having “a degree of callous indifference” as he “humiliated, degraded” and sexually abused the boys. This offending, prosecutors said, should attract a significant sentence.

Prosecutor Mark Gibson said the offending of Pell was serious, especially given his position of authority at the time.

“These acts … were in our submission humiliating and degrading towards each boy and gave rise to distress in each boy as referred to in the evidence [the complainant] gave. [The victim] recalled voicing objection.”

He said Pell’s offending implied “a degree of callous indifference in relation to those objections”.

“His state of mind suggests he had some degree of confidence as to the unlikelihood that these two boys would complain,” he said.

In response, Richter submitted a book of sentencing arguments to Kidd, which included medical records and character references from high-profile figures including Howard and the president of the Australian Catholic University, Greg Craven. Richter said he could have provided the court with “hundreds” of character references for Pell, but had narrowed the list down. All those who gave references knew of Pell’s conviction, he said.

The character references spoke of Pell’s kindness and generosity “above and beyond that of a priest”, of “a man who has a great sense of humour” who relates “to everyone “from prime ministers to street cleaners”, Richter said.

The hearing was attended by dozens of abuse survivors and advocates, as well as supporters of Pell. The survivors wore badges emblazoned with quotes about child abuse from Pell over the years; “it was not of much interest to me” and “it’s all gossip until it’s proven in a court”.

Pell was found guilty in December of one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.

Each conviction carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.

At the trial the complainant, now 35, said he and the other choirboy had separated from the choir procession as it exited the church building. He and the other boy sneaked back into the church corridors and entered the priest’s sacristy, a place they knew they should not be. There they found some sacramental wine and began to drink. The complainant alleged that Pell had walked in on them.

Pell then manoeuvred his robes to expose his penis. He stepped forward, grabbed the other boy by the back of his head, and forced the boy’s head on to his penis, the complainant told the court. Pell then did the same thing to the complainant, orally raping him. Once he had finished, he ordered the complainant to remove his pants, before fondling the complainant’s penis and masturbating himself.

A few weeks later Pell attacked the complainant again as he passed him in the church corridor, pushing him against the wall and squeezing his genitals hard through his choir robes, before walking off.

A victim impact statement from the complainant was submitted by prosecutors at the sentencing hearing. A second impact statement was submitted from the father of the second boy Pell abused. That victim died in 2014 of a drug overdose, when he was 30.

There was some argument from Richter as to whether the entirety of the father’s victim impact statement should be submitted, given his statement made in February was “so lacking in proximate impact” to the offending.

Kidd said he would not be swayed by the argument.

“I think a parent where a child is a victim of a crime … the impact of the fact of that crime and the distress that would cause to a parent is self-evident and almost inevitable,” Kidd said. “My view is the parent can stand in as victim in those circumstances.”

On Wednesday afternoon Pell’s solicitor Paul Galbally issued a statement saying the bail application had been withdrawn because Pell “believes it is appropriate for him to await sentencing”.

“An appeal has already been lodged to be pursued following sentencing,” the statement said. “Despite the unprecedented media coverage, Cardinal Pell has always and continues to maintain his innocence.”

World Politics

United States

President’s former lawyer expected to say Trump knew of Roger Stone’s contact with WikiLeaks during 2016 campaign

Michael Cohen is to accuse Donald Trump of being a “racist”, a “conman” and a “cheat” who had advanced knowledge that a longtime adviser was communicating with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, according to opening testimony he will deliver to Congress on Wednesday.

Cohen’s prepared remarks, confirmed by the Guardian, include a series of explosive allegations about the presidential campaign.

The president’s former lawyer, who will publicly testify before the House oversight committee on Wednesday, will state that Trump was told by long-time confidant Roger Stone that WikiLeaks would publish emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr Trump put Mr Stone on the speakerphone,” Cohen’s opening statement reads.

“Mr Stone told Mr Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr Assange told Mr Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr Trump responded by stating to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great.’”

“Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates,” he will add.

Trump hit back from Hanoi, where he is attending a summit with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

“Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also,” Trump tweeted.“He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time,” Trump wrote.

In his statement, Cohen also suggest his instructions to lie to Congress about a possible Trump Tower deal in Moscow during the 2016 campaign came from the president – albeit not directly.

“In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing,” Cohen will say. “In his way, he was telling me to lie.”

“Mr Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates,” he will add.

Cohen will also tell the committee he believes Trump is a “racist”.

“The country has seen Mr Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries ‘shitholes’,” he will say, according to the testimony. “In private, he is even worse.”

He is set to provide the committee with copies of the wire transfer he made to the porn actor Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, during the closing days of the presidential campaign and of a $35,000 check dated 1 August 2017 that Cohen alleges he received from Trump to reimburse him for those efforts.

“The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws,” Cohen is expected to allege.

Cohen is also expected to depict Trump as an opportunist. “He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign – for him – was always a marketing opportunity,” Cohen writes in the opening statement.

Cohen’s public testimony comes one day after he was interviewed under oath by the Senate intelligence committee in the first of three congressional appearances this week.

Cohen, who once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump but has since turned against his former boss, appeared before the Senate panel in a closed session on Tuesday.

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