SYRIA TALKS COLLAPSE
Opposing sides in the Syrian conflict have accused each other of being responsible for the collapse of peace talks in Geneva yesterday. French French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the Syrian governmentâ€™s offensive near Aleppo, backed by Russia, had â€œtorpedoed the peace efforts.â€ The head of the Syrian delegation, Bashar al-Jaafari, blamed the failure on having not â€œone opposition, but a number of oppositionsâ€ at the table, receiving â€œorders from external powers and masters,â€ Syrian news agency SANA reports. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov agreed that the break in talks should be â€œas short as possible,â€ and Kerry urged Russia to halt bombings in Syria. â€œI see no reason to stop these airstrikes â€¦ until we truly win over terrorist groups ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and such,â€ Lavrov replied.
- Jalal Baleedi, Yemen's al-Qaeda leader, has reportedly been killed in a U.S. drone strike. Another 11 Islamists were also among the dead.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country would donate $2.6 billion in humanitarian aid to Syria until 2018, more than one-quarter of the total $9 billion raised by the UN and charities.
GERMANY ARRESTS ISIS SUSPECTS
During early morning raids in three different cities, German police arrested two Algerian men who lived in refugee centers and are suspected of connections with ISIS, Deutsche Welle reports. Police are reportedly looking for two other suspects, believed to be preparing an attack in Germany. According to police sources quoted by AFP, at least one of the two arrested has received military training in Syria and is wanted in Algeria over his links with ISIS. The arrests come amid security concerns coinciding with the start of Germanyâ€™s traditional Carnival celebrations. In Cologne, where more than 500 women were sexually assaulted by migrants on New Yearâ€™s Eve, police presence has been increased and party-goers have been warned to be careful.
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is planning to cut 10,000 jobs after reporting its worst profits in years, International Business Times reports. The companyâ€™s 2015 profits fell by a staggering 80% compared to 2014, hit by the steep decline in oil and gas prices.
- Crédit Suisse has posted a pre-tax annual loss of $2.4 billion for 2015, a first for the bank since 2008. The Switzerland-based group announced it would cut 4,000 jobs.
- Another alarming sign that the global economy is slowing comes from the Baltic Dry, an index that tracks the price of shipping raw materials and is therefore considered a leading indicator of global economic activity. The index, at an all-time low of 303, has lost 35% this year and is yet to register a single session of gains. In May 2008, the index peaked at 11,793.
A new study shows that income and asset inequality in China has reached epic proportions, with the top undertaxed and the bottom at grave social risk because of a lack of civil protection. â€œOne group represents the top 1% of Chinese households, which a recent Beijing University study says own one-third of the national wealth,â€ Chinaâ€™s Economic Observer writes. â€œIn other words, income and asset inequality is worsening. Meanwhile, the bottom 1% is comprised of the 13 million so-called hei-hu or â€˜black households,â€™ families whose parents gave birth to several children while the countryâ€™s notorious one-child policy was in force. They are overwhelmingly poor families, whose parents still risk being charged the â€˜social compensation fee,â€™ a severe financial penalty, for violating the policy that finally ended in October.â€
Read the full article, Chinaâ€™s Worrying 1%, Wealth Inequality Of Epic Proportions.
ASSANGE ACCEPTS FATE
â€œShould the UN announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the United Kingdom and Sweden, I shall exit the embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by British police,â€ WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement today. Heâ€™s been staying inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex assault claims that he denies. He complained to the UN in 2014 that he was being â€œarbitrarily detainedâ€ given that he could not leave without being arrested and, he feared, deported to the U.S. â€œHowever, should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me,â€ he said. According to the BBC, the UN panel examining his case has already ruled in Assangeâ€™s favor.
Australiaâ€™s controversial policy of diverting immigrants to tiny Pacific Islands dominated the Australian media today after the countryâ€™s highest court ruled it was legal for the government to fund and participate in offshore detention. Read more about it and see how The Sydney Morning Herald featured the story on its front page here.
MINISTERS SIGN TPP AMID PROTESTS
Trade ministers from the 12 countries participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership have signed whatâ€™s being hailed as the â€œbiggest trade deal in a generationâ€ in Auckland, New Zealand. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters blocked the streets to denounce â€œthe corporations that are wanting to take over,â€ The New Zealand Herald reports.
Photo: Ben Weller/ZUMA
Men are seen launching handheld fireworks yesterday at Inaba Shrine in Gifu, central Japan, as part of a Setsubun ceremony marking the beginning of spring.
GOOGLE NAMES NEW SEARCH ENGINE CHIEF
Google continues to bolster its artificial intelligence sector, and news that the company has appointed A.I. expert John Giannandrea as its new head of search algorithms suggests a â€œsea change in one of the core technologies of the Internet,â€ the Financial Times writes.
ON THIS DAY
Feb. 4, the day George Washington founded Facebook at the Yalta Conference. No, wait. â€¦ Get it right in todayâ€™s 57-second shot of history.
UKRAINE ANTI-CORRUPTION MINISTER RESIGNS
Ukraineâ€™s Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius resigned yesterday, claiming that senior figures inside the government of President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk blocked attempts to fight widespread corruption, newspaper The Kyiv Post reports. â€œMy team and I have no desire to be a screen for brazen corruption or puppets for people who want to take control over state funds in the style of the old government,â€ Lithuanian-born Abromavicius said, explaining he wanted his resignation â€œto serve as a warning call, a cold shower.â€
MY GRAND-PÈREâ€™S WORLD
â€œTrump is, as you know, a well-known scientist â€" brilliant scientist. And he has concluded after years of studying the issue that climate change is a hoax *dramatic pause* brought to us by the Chinese. Now, that shocked me, Anderson, because I thought that he would have thought it was a hoax brought to us by the Mexicans or the Muslims.â€ â€" Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at last nightâ€™s Democratic town hall, when asked by Anderson Cooper what he would say to independent voters wavering between him and Donald Trump.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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