Heat waves – signs of a wider problem

Several parts of the northern hemisphere are suffering from heat waves, but raised temperatures are a wider problem.

AccuWeather: Intense heat wave to build across western Europe as wildfires rage in Sweden

A hot July across much of western Europe will climb to another level this week as a heat wave builds from Spain to Scandinavia.

The Guardian: Why is Europe going through a heatwave?

Scientists say this ‘extreme’ weather in the northern hemisphere may soon be the norm

Partly, it’s just the luck of the weather. The jet stream – the west-to-east winds that play a big role in determining Europe’s weather – has been further north than usual for about two months. A stationary high-pressure weather system has left the UK and much of continental Europe sweltering. Iceland, by contrast, has been hit with clouds and storms that would normally come further south.

“The current hot and dry spell in the UK is partly due a combination of North Atlantic ocean temperatures, climate change and the weather,” said Len Shaffrey, a professor of climate science at the University of Reading.

The heatwaves in the northern hemisphere are undoubtedly linked to global warming, scientists say. “There’s no question human influence on climate is playing a huge role in this heatwave,” said Prof Myles Allen, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford.

RNZ: Japan declares heatwave a natural disaster

Japan’s weather agency has declared a heatwave sweeping the country a natural disaster, with at least 65 deaths recorded in the past week.

An agency spokesman warned that “unprecedented levels of heat” were being seen in some areas.

The heatwave shows no sign of abating, forecasters say.

An here in New Zealand we are experiencing another relatively mild winter with signs of an early spring already. This is a virtual repeat of the past few years (here in Dunedin at least).

Trump versus NATO

The NATA summit in Brussels has started with Donald Trump on the offensive.

RealClearPolitics:  In Testy Exchange, Trump Hits Germany for Being ‘Captive’ to Russia

In a combative start to his NATO visit, President Donald Trump asserted Wednesday that a pipeline project has made Germany “totally controlled” by and “captive to Russia” and blasted allies’ defense spending, opening what was expected to be a fraught summit with a list of grievances involving American allies.

Trump, in a testy exchange with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, took issue with the U.S. protecting Germany as it strikes deals with Russia.

“I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said at breakfast with Stoltenberg. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate.”

The president appeared to be referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring gas from Russia to Germany’s northeastern Baltic coast, bypassing Eastern European nations like Poland and Ukraine and doubling the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany. The vast undersea pipeline is opposed by the U.S. and some other EU members, who warn it could give Moscow greater leverage over Western Europe.

Trump said “Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia” and urged NATO to look into the issue.

Will Trump install a gas pipeline from the US to Germany to keep them captive to him?

Stoltenberg pushed back, stressing that NATO members have been able to work together despite their differences. “I think that two world wars and the Cold War taught us that we are stronger together than apart,” he told the president, trying to calm tensions.

Guardian: Angela Merkel hits back at Donald Trump at Nato summit

Angela Merkel has pushed back against Donald Trump’s extraordinary tirade against Germany on the first day of the Nato summit in Brussels, denying her country was “totally controlled” by Russia and saying it made its own independent decisions and policies.

In less blunt language than the US president’s, the German chancellor made the point that she needed no lessons in dealing with authoritarian regimes, recalling she had been brought up in East Germany when it had been part of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.

Arriving at Nato headquarters only hours after Trump singled out Germany for criticism, Merkel said: “I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions. That is very good, especially for people in eastern Germany.”

She also hit back at Trump’s criticism that Germany contributed too little to European defence. “Germany does a lot for Nato,” she said.

“Germany is the second largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to Nato and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan. In that we also defend the interests of the United States.”

Merkel has much more experience dealing with other countries than Trump, something that is essential in a part of the world where there are a lot of countries in close proximity.

Europe comprises 50 countries, has a population of about 740 million,and has an area of 10,180,000 km2.

The United States is a single country with 50 states and has a population of about 345 million, and has an area of 9,833,520 km2.

So about the only thing similar is the land area.

Russian influence in Latvia and Estonia is far more real. The Baltic countries  have been directly controlled by Russia twice (and by Germany once). They border Russia and have many ethnic Russian citizens.

NY Times: Trump Derides NATO as ‘Obsolete.’ Baltic Nations See It Much Differently

As President Trump joins his second NATO summit meeting — having called the alliance “obsolete,” derided its members as deadbeats and suggested that American military protection is negotiable — there is deep unease on the alliance’s eastern flank. And that sense has only been heightened by Mr. Trump’s scheduled one-on-one meeting next week with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The United States ambassador to Estonia, James D. Melville Jr., became so exasperated with the constant statements from Mr. Trump disparaging the alliance and the European Union that late last month he quit in disgust.

And as the Trump-Putin meeting approached, a popular Russian-language Latvian newspaper ran a picture of the two men, cheek by jowl, with the ominous headline: “What Will Trump and Putin Agree On: The End of the E.U.?”

For the nations of Latvia and Estonia, nestled between Russia and the Baltic Sea and with large ethnic Russian populations, NATO is no abstraction.

Long before the debate over the Kremlin’s interference in the American election, there was alarm in the Baltic nations over Russian attempts to influence public opinion and exploit the complicated issues of ethnic identity in a region reshaped by war and occupation. In both the annexation of Crimea and its actions in Ukraine, the Russian government has used protecting the rights of ethnic Russians as a pretext for intervention. About one-third of the populations of Latvia and Estonia are ethnic Russians.

Most of the ethnic Russians arrived after the war, when the country was under Soviet domination. They have long been educated in separate schools and formed different social bonds as the nation has struggled to integrate them into society.

But the assimilation process has been made harder by increasingly aggressive propaganda campaigns in the Russian-language news media, narratives widely believed to be directed from Moscow with the intent of heightening divisions.

The inter-relationships between European countries are complex, with long histories.

I don’t know if Trump understands any of this. His bully and bluster approach to achieving what he wants may work in some ways for the US, but it is unlikely to reduce Russian influence (or Chinese influence) – and it is at real risk of doing the opposite.

He continues to drive wedges between different countries and the US. His selfish isolationist is likely to reduce  influence over time, as the rest of the world learns to rely less on the United States – especially if the tempestuous Trump stays in charge for any length of time.

 

The star of Donald?

The Trump versus Iran situation is a high risk international play, with Trump having isolated the US from Europe and other allies, apart from Israel, and he is talking big on threats against Iran (who is close to Russia and China).

Who knows what might happen now? No one can do anything but guess and hope.

Perhaps the star of Donald will shine peace on the Middle East. It would be an unprecedented international success.

But it could as easily turn to custard in an already very lumpy region of the world. In distance countries we must hope that it doesn’t become nuclear custard – the level of Trump’s current rhetoric can easily be interpreted as threats of a big bang.

The danger is that one day Trump may paint himself into a corner, and either have to back down bigly, or push a very dangerous button.

We may end up with the mushroom of Donald.

On Ardern’s fence sitting on Syrian attacks

Jacinda Ardern stood out from allies by not giving a strong endorsement of the US/UK/French missile attack on Syria. Neither did she take a stand against violence and war.

Her careful positioning on a wobbly fence may have disappointed both sides of a bitter war argument.

Chris Trotter points this out in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a bob each way on bombing Syria

The latest strike against Syria marks a further deterioration in the conduct of international affairs. Of more concern, however, is the quality of the response it elicited from Jacinda Ardern. The New Zealand Prime Minister’s remarks were not the sort to inspire either confidence or respect.

In matters of this kind, a prime minister has two viable choices. Either, she can line up behind New Zealand’s traditional allies and deliver a hearty endorsement of their actions. Or, she can take a stand on principle and distance her country from the justifications, decisions and actions of the nation’s involved.

What a leader should not do is attempt to have a bob each way. Why? Because, as the Ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, pointed out some 2500 years ago: “He who tries to please everybody, ends up pleasing nobody.”

Ardern may not have strongly annoyed anyone by her middling muddy response, but pleasing nobody could be a bigger problem on the left, where her support comes from.

Had Ardern denounced the vetoing, by the United States, of a Russian Federation proposal for an international inquiry into the alleged chemical warfare attack on Eastern Ghouta, as well as the Russians’ tit-for-tat vetoing of a similar proposal put forward by the US, she would have elicited widespread support from UN member states.

That support would have grown if she had further declared her disappointment that military action had been initiated by the US, France and the United Kingdom (all permanent members of the Security Council) before inspectors from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had been given a chance to examine the scene of the alleged attack, gather samples, and make their report.

Perhaps Ardern had other international considerations (Prime Ministers always do). She may wanted to appear to stay onside with France and the UK ahead of her European trip this week.

She could also have announced that, if the Eastern Ghouta incident was confirmed by the OPCW as a chemical attack, then New Zealand would be seeking a vote explicitly condemning its perpetrators at the UN General Assembly, as well as a re-confirmation of the UN ban against the deployment and use of chemical and biological weapons.

Such a course of action would have identified New Zealand as an outspoken defender of the UN Charter and encouraged other small states to take a stand against the precipitate and unsanctioned military actions of the United States and the two former imperial powers most responsible for the century of instability which has beset the nations of the Middle East –  France and Britain.

At a more pragmatic level, such a response would undoubtedly have strengthened New Zealand’s relationship with that other permanent member of the Security Council, the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese have consistently and vehemently opposed unsanctioned and unprovoked military attacks against the sovereign territory of fellow UN member states.

Such would have been the high road for New Zealand: coherent, consistent and principled.

Alas, it was not the road Ardern chose to take.

Instead, having lamented the Security Council’s veto-induced paralysis, the statement issued by New Zealand’s prime minister went on to say:

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.”

Using fewer than 30 words, Ardern telegraphed to the world that New Zealand’s fine words about diplomacy and multilateralism should be dismissed as mere rhetoric. In reality, her country is perfectly willing to set aside its commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts between nation states, and the rule of international law, if the United States, the United Kingdom and France ask them to.

Rather than take an unequivocal stand for peace, the UN Charter and the rule of international law, New Zealand’s prime minister has chosen to talk out of both sides of her mouth. An opportunity to assume moral leadership and demonstrate political courage has been heedlessly squandered.

That’s fairly harsh criticism from a fairly left leaning commentator – and it’s not the first time Ardern has been accused of talking out of both sides of her mouth.

This may blow over most voters unnoticed, but it also has risks for Ardern.

I wonder what Trotter and the left think of the trade deals Ardern is trying to progress in Europe and the UK.

‘Full steam ahead’ on Trump agenda

The White House is trying to show it is “full steam ahead” with President Trump’s agenda, but steam emitting ears still often dominate the news.

Washington Times: White House says ‘full steam ahead’ on Trump agenda

Returning from an overseas trip that was both celebrated and controversial, President Trump is plowing “full steam ahead” with his domestic agenda, the White House said Tuesday, brushing aside jibes by foreign leaders and new questions about top aides’ links to Russia.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer looked for momentum from the president’s history-making journey across the Middle East and Europe, hoping to break free of the unyielding news coverage of alleged collusion with Russia and other criticisms that have distracted from Mr. Trump’s accomplishments.

“We’re back at home now, and the president and his Cabinet are moving full steam ahead on the president’s agenda,” Mr. Spicer said at the daily White House press briefing. “We’ve got a pretty bold agenda.”

Little had changed in Washington during Mr. Trump’s nine-day trip, however, and Mr. Spicer again clashed with reporters and accused them of peddling “fake news.”

He insisted the president’s agenda was on track and gaining steam, although he acknowledged some frustrations with the pace of Congress.

Having a bold agenda and making progress can be different things.

Mr. Trump’s plans to replace Obamacare, overhaul the tax code and launch a massive infrastructure program remained bogged down in Congress.

“The U.S. Senate should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy. Dems would do it, no doubt!” tweeted Mr. Trump.

The suggestion that the Senate do away with the filibuster rule, a proposal that would dramatically alter the nature of the chamber, had virtually no support from GOP senators.

What’s more, the two bills Mr. Trump named are, under current rules for certain budget bills, already exempt from filibuster.

Again Trump is contradicting Spicer, or Spicer is contradicting Trump.

He also tweeted about the stalled agenda, which has denied him a major legislative victory after five months in office.

And momentum from Trump’s first overseas trip has not always been in a positive direction.

Mr. Trump repeatedly took to Twitter to vent about news reports focusing on Russia and on comments by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that were presented as an indictment of the president’s diplomatic skills.

“We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change,” the president tweeted.

There have been mixed reactions to Trump’s visit to Europe.

And it looks increasingly likely that Trump will announce a US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, which will put them at odds with most of the world.

Steaming ahead? Or just steaming?

An older missing link

Missy posted this fascinating article:

A new find in the Eastern Mediterranean has led some scientists to believe that there is a possibility that humankind began there rather than in Africa as previously believed.

The fossil find is approximately 200,000 years earlier than believed to be the beginning of humans. The scientists believe that this find shows the beginning of the change from apes to humans.

That’s an accurate description, less so the headline and opening paragraph.

From: Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not Africa, scientists find

The history of human evolution has been rewritten after scientists discovered that Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not Africa.

That’s not what was found. The new discovery is of human fossils from Europe that are older than the oldest ones found in Africa, but that doesn’t rule out older human ancestors having lived in  Africa or elsewhere.

The new discovery just sets the timeline back a bit more, but there is still a lot that’s unknown.

Currently, most experts believe that our human lineage split from apes around seven million years ago in central Africa, where hominids remained for the next five million years before venturing further afield.

But two fossils of an ape-like creature which had human-like teeth have been found in Bulgaria and Greece, dating to 7.2 million years ago.

The discovery of the creature, named Graecopithecus freybergi, and nicknameded ‘El Graeco’ by scientists, proves our ancestors were already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the earliest African hominid.

An international team of researchers say the findings entirely change the beginning of human history and place the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans – the so-called Missing Link – in the Mediterranean region.

It doesn’t “entirely change the beginning of human history”, it just provides another piece of the jigsaw that pushes knowledge back a another couple of hundred thousand years – if the dating is accurate.

The article also says as much.

“To some extent this is a newly discovered missing link. But missing links will always exist , because evolution is infinite chain of subsequent forms.

Probably  El Graeco’s face will resemble a great ape, with shorter canines.”

Someone has had a shot at visualising that.

An artist's impression of Graecopithecus 

An artist’s impression of Graecopithecus 
Credit: National Museum of Natural History – Sofia, Assen Ignatov

Fascinating, but this is unlikely to be the first link in the human chain.

And another point:

During the period the Mediterranean Sea went through frequent periods of drying up completely, forming a land bridge between Europe and Africa and allowing apes and early hominids to pass between the continents.

If the Mediterranean was dried up completely then Africa and Europe were effectively not separate continents, they were part of a continuous land mass.

UK & Europe

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

UK-EU


See suggested posting changes in World news

UK & Europe – French election

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

UK-EU


The first round of the French presidential election is due to be held next weekend, on 23 April. There are 11 candidates, and if no candidate wins a majority the top two candidates will have a run-off election on 7 May.

Current president François Hollande of the Socialist Party (PS) has had low approval ratings and won’t stand for re-election.

Front running candidates:

Fillon’s chances took a hit when it was alleged that he has used family members in fictitious jobs as parliamentary assistants in what became known as Penelopegate.

And now French prosecutors seek to lift Le Pen immunity over expenses inquiry

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen over an expenses scandal, deepening her legal woes on the eve of the election.

The move comes just nine days before France heads to the polls for a highly unpredictable vote, with Le Pen – who heads the Eurosceptic Front National (FN) – one of the frontrunners in the 23 April first round.

The request was made at the end of last month after Le Pen, who is a member of the European parliament, invoked her parliamentary immunity in refusing to attend questioning by investigating magistrates.

From the Guardian: French elections: all you need to know

UK & Europe – Maundy Thursday

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

UK-EU


Missy posts from London:

I know many on here don’t care about the Royal Family – or christianity, but I do love the traditions around both, and Maundy Thursday is one such tradition.

Today HM went to Leicester Cathedral to dispense coins for Maundy Thursday – though these days they are not a case of distributing coins to the poor, but rather a ceremony of dispensing especially minted coins to those specially selected who serve the community.

The Queen has now conducted Maundy service in every Anglican Cathedral.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/13/smiling-queen-charms-maundy-money-recipients-leicester-cathedral/


Daily Mail: Germany urges Kosovo to pass border deal with Montenegro

Germany’s foreign minister urged Kosovo’s political parties on Thursday to approve the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro to end their status as the only Western Balkan country without free travel rights in Schengen zone countries.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-4408800/Germany-calls-Kosovo-pass-border-deal-Montenegro.html#ixzz4e9IVgDO5
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-4408800/Germany-calls-Kosovo-pass-border-deal-Montenegro.html
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

 

UK & Europe

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

UK-EU


BBC: No G7 deal on Russia sanctions over Syria

The UK proposal fails to win support, with the US secretary of state now in Moscow for talks.

BBC: Syria: Boris Johnson denies defeat over sanctions call

The UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has denied he suffered a “defeat” after the G7 group of nations rejected his proposal for sanctions against Russia.

The two-day meeting of foreign ministers was aimed at hammering out a unified approach to Syria before the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went to Moscow.

The plan was put forward at the G7 summit in Italy in the wake of a deadly chemical attack the countries say was carried out by Moscow’s ally, Syria.

Italy’s foreign minister said the group did not want to back Russia into a corner and preferred dialogue.

The Lib Dem leader Tim Farron called it a “failure of British diplomacy”.

Mr Johnson denied he had suffered a defeat, saying there was support for sanctions if further evidence of the chemical attack were gathered.

One thing that did appear to unite the group was the future of Mr Assad.

Mr Tillerson summed it up, saying: “It is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”