In The News

Omicron Origins, Barbados Reborn, Messi’s 7th

👋 Tashi delek!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Barbados is finally fully independent, we learn more about the origins of the Omicron variant and Santa gets a boyfriend in Norway. Chilean-based business magazine America Economia also looks at how airlines are reconfiguring cabins and enlarging seats in hopes of boosting a recovery in air travel.

[*TIbetan]

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Micronations, A World Tour Of 8 Bizzaro Spots Barely On The Map

A journey through the unlikely phenomenon of microstates, which have been founded on nothing more than a personal whim or nothing less than a diehard political stance.

Taiwanese businessman James Chang has been mired in a long battle with municipal authorities over what he sees as "excessive" taxes on the hotel he owns on the eastern coast of Australia.

So when all traditional legal and political means have been exhausted, what do you do?

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What Is The True Risk Level For The Great Barrier Reef?

In case you missed it, the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO recently revealed its draft decision to list the Great Barrier Reef as "in danger" — a decision that appeared to shock the Australian government.

In an opinion piece published June 30th in The Australian newspaper, Environment Minister Sussan Ley acknowledged climate change is the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef, and that it "has been through a few rough years."

She has also suggested, however, UNESCO's draft in-danger decision is a surprise and was politically motivated. Neither of these claims is credible.

So let's look at Australia's reaction so far, and why criticisms of UNESCO's draft decision don't stack up.

The poster child for climate change

An in-danger listing of a World Heritage property recognises a decline in the "outstanding universal value" that makes the site internationally significant. It sets off alarm bells to identify the underlying causes of decline, and triggers stronger interventions to prevent further damage.

Ley foresees a negative effect of the proposed in-danger listing on reef tourism. However, there's no evidence from the Galapagos Islands, the Belize Barrier Reef or the Everglades National Park — all World Heritage properties and tourism hotspots — that an in-danger listing led to any discernible impacts on tourist numbers.

Most tourists, international or domestic, are already well aware of the pressures facing the Great Barrier Reef, but they are still keen to see it. From 2015–2018, more than two million visitors each year used a tourism operator to visit the reef. During 2020, COVID led to significant decline in visitor numbers so this period has been particularly difficult for the tourism industry.

Ley also claimed Australia, and the reef, didn't deserve to be the poster child for climate change perils. But why can't they be? The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most obvious examples of the costs of inaction on anthropogenic climate change.

The Great Barrier Reef was inscribed as a World Heritage Area in 1981. And for the past two decades Australia has meticulously documented its ongoing deterioration.

According to Australia's regular reporting to UNESCO, the major causes of the reef's decline in outstanding universal value is pollution from agricultural runoff, which has now been eclipsed by heat stress from climate change.

Extreme summer temperatures in 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017 and 2020 have reduced coral cover and changed the mix of species, altering the biodiversity and other World Heritage attributes of the reef for many decades to come.

Clown fish in the Great Barrier Reef; a World Heritage Area since1981 — Photo: David Clode

Unless global warming is stabilised soon, the reef will become unrecognisable. Indeed, in 2019, Australia's latest five-yearly Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report projected the future of the reef as "very poor."

Is Australia doing enough?

Ley also suggests Australia is doing everything it can to protect the reef — but is it really?

UNESCO certainty doesn't think so. The draft decision from UNESCO, which will be considered next month by the World Heritage Committee, noted that interventions to reduce inshore pollution over the past five years have been "largely deficient."

There have been some positive achievements in reducing water pollution levels. But the slow progress in meeting many of the water quality targets is documented clearly in the 2017–2018 and 2019 reef Water Quality Report Cards, produced jointly by the federal and Queensland governments.

UNESCO cites Australia's poor progress on reducing emissions as an additional area requiring considerable improvement, to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement and Australia's responsibilities under the World Heritage Convention.

Australia's record on protecting ecosystems and people from climate change is very poor.

UNESCO has also asked Australia to work with it to develop corrective measures and to ensure the revised Reef 2050 Plan — the overarching framework for protecting the reef to 2050 — addresses the threats.

An in-danger listing is a call to arms to all countries to work together to save the reef from human-caused heating. So the ongoing collaboration between Australia and UNESCO could then enable the Great Barrier Reef's removal from the in-danger list.

Is Australia suddenly being singled out?

Ley wrote that the Great Barrier Reef was suddenly and unexpectedly "singled out" for an in-danger listing, which she interpreted as a suggestion that "Australia can single-handedly change the emissions trajectory of the whole world."

However, the dialogue between UNESCO and Australia on the Great Barrier Reef's protection has a long history. And in making its in-danger recommendation, UNESCO acknowledged Australia "on its own cannot address the threats of climate change." But UNESCO does appear to have concerns about Australia's record on emissions reduction.

For example, in 2011 the World Heritage Committee expressed "extreme concern" over the approval for liquefied natural gas facilities on Curtis Island within the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. A year later, it asked Australia to ensure coastal development isn't permitted if it effects the outstanding universal value of the property.

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, prior to the annual meetings of the World Heritage Committee, UNESCO raised the possible inscription of the Great Barrier Reef on the in-danger list.

There have been some positive achievements in reducing water pollution levels around the Great Barrier Reef — Photo: Axiom/ZUMA

Significantly, in 2017, the World Heritage Committee emphasized the importance of state parties (countries adhering to the world heritage convention, such as Australia) undertaking the most ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement. This is an important pathway to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change on World Heritage properties.

UNESCO invited all state parties to act on climate change under the Paris Agreement "consistent with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities."

So what are Australia's responsibilities?

Ley is correct to point out that all 29 World Heritage listed coral reefs, scattered throughout the tropics, are extremely vulnerable to human-caused climate change.

However, Australia is responsible for the world's largest coral reef system, and has far higher capabilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than other, less wealthy countries.

But Australia's record on protecting ecosystems and people from climate change is comparatively very poor. And despite being responsible for 20 World Heritage Areas, we have one of the highest per capita emission rates in the world.

The federal government continues to spruik a fossil-fuelled, gas-led COVID recovery, with ongoing subsidies for new coal mines. This support for coal and fossil gas is inconsistent with Australia's commitments to the World Heritage Convention.

Rejecting the science-based assessments by UNESCO is further damaging Australia's reputation as a laggard on addressing climate change. Surely, Australia can do better.

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Koala Crosses Highway, Causes Six-Car Pile Up

Why did the bear cross the road?

A koala was blamed for a six-car crash in southern Australia, as reported by 9News Adelaide. Just after 7 a.m. Monday, a driver stopped to help a koala cross the South Eastern Freeway, around the city of Adelaide. The driver's vehicle was rear-ended, resulting in a chain of collisions. Though no serious injuries were reported, there were major traffic delays through the morning.

But did the koala get to the other side of the road? Luckily, the wandering marsupial (which national environmental laws include in a list of vulnerable species) was unharmed and taken back to safety in the wild — but not before taking the time to be filmed behind the wheel of its rescuer's car.

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Geopolitics

Worldcrunch Today, Dec. 15: Dutch Lockdown, Barr Resigns, Jakarta Burials

Welcome to Tuesday, where Trump's Attorney General resigns, Somalia cuts diplomatic ties with Kenya and we meet one weird-looking dinosaur. Meanwhile, t'is the season to look at how the world is getting ready for a very special kind of Christmas.

SPOTLIGHT: EUROPE IS RIGHT TO CALL UP BIG GUNS AGAINST BIG TECH

Europe is moving forward in a united front to force Big Tech that could lead to a historic showdown on the future of how the digital economy functions. This, writes David Barroux in French daily Les Echos, is a good thing:

Facing the rise of Big Tech, which by now has crossed the line far too many times, European states had forgotten the three basic requirements that make any police force effective: political will and backing; the right laws to give it the means to take action; and, finally, it needs to be armed.

But now, the European Commission has finally decided to act by presenting the Digital Market Act and the Digital Service Act — two texts with historic significance.

For the first time, Europe is declaring that Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and the other digital giants of today and tomorrow aren't players like the others. Twenty years after the emergence of the Big Four, big tech companies are no longer children who can be left unattended, but adults who must be supervised. These acts aren't about preventing them from continuing to grow or cutting them into pieces, but rather a way to make sure that they don't abuse their dominant position and accept that they have special responsibilities.

No one can deny it: Big tech companies have achieved unparalleled economic and technological power. They are everywhere in our daily lives and have become essential for consumers, citizens, companies and states — up to the point that they are now platforms which, by making the best use of billions of pieces of personal data, can slow down the emergence of competition, promote their own services or wield viral influence on the democratic debate. They are both systemic and specific players.

For years, these digital players have tried to make us believe that the online and offline worlds aren't the same, that it's impossible to enforce the same rules in a real and physical world as in a virtual and digital world. But this argument is no longer relevant: Just as banks contribute to the fight against dirty money or the media battles against fake news, big tech companies are rich and innovative enough to be subjected to an obligation of both means and result.

No single state in Europe could alone face such giants, supported by the United States government, which retaliates as soon as the question of the Tech Giants' power is challenged. Europe is right to go on the offensive by combining its members' forces. While it is arming itself on the legal level now, it will also have to create a specific police force to take concrete actions to monitor and, potentially, to sanction.

— David Barroux / Les Echos

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Migrant Lives
Sarah Deardorff Miller

Do Anti-Xenophobia Campaigns Work?

At best, pro-migrant advocacy raises awareness. At worst, it reinforces tensions, new research shows.

NEW YORK — Even as the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants and twin UN-led global compact processes seek to improve the global response to people on the move, states are increasingly hostile toward them. Indeed, anti-refugee rhetoric seems to be everywhere these days.

From right-wing populist governments in Europe to President Donald Trump in the United States, forced migrants fleeing for their lives are being framed as dangerous, illegal and unwelcome. And in some cases, xenophobic rhetoric is being taken further still — transforming into acts of hate.

In 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that "xenophobic and racist responses to refugees and migrants seem to be reaching new levels of stridency, frequency and public acceptance." In Australia, policies that place asylum seekers in detention are often seen to be underpinned by the desire to preserve "white Australia." Hungary has seen extensive fearmongering and anti-migrant messaging, as has the United States during its recent midterm elections and throughout the Trump administration.

What specific actions can be taken to combat xenophobic acts against foreigners?

Likewise, a number of attacks on Somali refugees in Nairobi have been reported in Kenya, as have attacks on Venezuelans seeking refuge in neighboring countries. New research has shown that "transnational dynamics like the ‘war on terror" have increased far-right extremism, prejudiced attitudes toward migrants, and international xenophobia."

Unintended consequences

Broadly speaking, governments need to be held accountable for keeping refugees and other migrants safe on their soil. But what specific actions can be taken to combat xenophobic acts against foreigners? Research shows that when local actors link up with transnational advocacy organizations, it can help pressure governments to alter insufficient policies or offer protection; it can also name and shame authorities to respect rights they otherwise might neglect.

Likewise, public awareness campaigns have sought to address bias and emphasize shared humanity. South Africa's Roll Back Xenophobia campaign, for example, enlisted the help of refugees, migrant workers, police, civil society and the media to frame xenophobia as a human-rights issue with roots in the Apartheid era.

However, sometimes pro-migrant programming can backfire. It can isolate migrants or minorities within the host population by reinforcing existing boundaries and fueling tensions. According to Loren Landau and E. Tendayi Achiume of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, "heavy-handed anti-xenophobia campaigns aimed at protecting the rights of foreign minorities risk drawing them out into the open, enhancing their visibility, and making their foreignness the issue where it might not have been." Indeed, emphasizing that these groups have international allies can build resentment and anger among disadvantaged citizens who feel forgotten and excluded.

Anti-xenophobia march in Cape Town — Photo: Janah Hattingh

Moreover, to protect their own security, some displaced persons wish to stay out of the spotlight. Many prefer not to be clustered in camps, but blended into communities where they will not stand out to those who may pose a threat. They want to keep a low profile and choose not to register as refugees — particularly if they are in danger of persecution by the authorities, who may have contributed to their displacement.

In addition to posing a potential danger, it is also unclear how well pro-migrant programs actually work. "Progressive political movements championing an inclusive response to in-flows of migrants and refugees have struggled to counter extremist narratives and social distrust in host communities," write United Nations University researchers Nicola Pocock and Clara Chan. They also note that anti-racism and anti-prejudice reduction campaigns on TV, and public service announcements on radio and billboards, have not yet proven effective.

Furthermore, initiatives such as community dialogues and cultural and sports festivals can bring people together, but are usually one-off events and may not be effective in reaching those responsible for violence motivated by xenophobia. At best, they are good ways to generate awareness, but they do not address situations in which political leaders may actually benefit from stirring tensions. At worst, these initiatives can become politically charged and divisive — separating people even more.

Creative thinking

So what steps can be taken to combat xenophobia? Responses should first and foremost recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, coordination and collaboration on how to combat xenophobia should take place among different groups, including migrants, refugees, civil society groups, NGOs, UN actors, host communities and government actors.

Those looking to combat xenophobia should also look for ways to piggyback anti-xenophobia efforts on top of other, widely popular policies and priorities. Journalistic reporting should not emphasize extremes that paint migrants as either criminals or gifted/prodigies, as this is not helpful or realistic. More broadly, consistent, meaningful interactions among refugees, host communities and governments are needed to prevent violence that is motivated by xenophobia in the first place. Further research and new, creative thinking around how to foster these interactions is therefore an important part of the path forward.

Certainly, politicians in the United States and Europe have used such tactics.

Research also shows that instead of focusing on attitudes, which are unreliable predictors of behavior, programs should look at the motivations of those committing violence against refugees. The Diversity Initiative in Ukraine, for example, sought to do just this through a multi-pronged approach that drew together different actors for coordination and advocacy. This might mean targeting government officials and law-enforcement agents who participate in extortion, harassment, arbitrary detention and selective enforcement of the laws.

Programs that target the instigators, political entrepreneurs and local leaders who capitalize on distrustful climates and who get political or economic gains from discrimination and violent exclusion of "outsiders' are more likely to be effective. Many of these instigators were found to be motivated by rewards related to land, jobs or political office. Stirring up reactions to policies — often by painting a negative picture of immigrants — is sometimes the basis for xenophobic acts and can offer political advantages. Certainly, politicians in the United States and Europe, such as Trump and Marine le Pen, have used such tactics.

Pocock and Chan also write that anti-discrimination interventions should try to target "prejudices harbored by front-line public sector workers and policymakers, which could translate into discriminatory treatment." Focusing on these drivers is thus a way to deal with the root causes of xenophobic behaviors, such as marginalization and exclusion, rather than just their consequences. This will contribute to the effectiveness of anti-xenophobia campaigns, thus improving the situation for host communities and refugees alike.

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Sources

Watch: A Toast To Australia's Favorite Tap-Dancing Mutant

Asked in a mock interview by fellow actor Ryan Reynolds: "Do you ever age?" Hugh Jackman replied, "Not since 2008."

The Sydney-born actor seems to share something with Wolverine, the fast-healing mutant from the X-Men franchise that made him a Hollywood superstar. Jackman is also an accomplished singer, which led him to be cast as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables and P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman.

Now, 10 years after being named People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive," everyone's favorite Australian hunk is turning 50 — Happy birthday, mate!

Hugh Jackman — Photo: © Keystone Press Agency/ZUMA/OneShot

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LA STAMPA
Mattia Feltri

Private Lives And Public Service, An Australian Story

-OpEd-

TURIN — Everyone knew that Australian politician Rachel Carling-Jenkins had filed for a divorce, but nobody knew why. She explained it herself, a few days ago, standing up to speak before the state parliament of Victoria, of which she is a member. In February 2016 she had found images on her husband's computer of children forced into sexual acts with adults. Carling-Jenkins did not wait for her husband to come home, instead heading straight to the police to turn over the evidence.

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Sources

Spreading Uranium And Radioactive Relations

-Analysis-

"The DPRK North Korea is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S." Coming in response to the U.S. deployment of a navy battle group to the Korean Peninsula, this chilling statement from the North Korean foreign ministry suggests that Donald Trump's muscle-flexing has only raised the stakes in what words come from Kim Jong-un's regime. And the regime's actions? Intelligence reports saying that Pyongyang could be less than two years away from being able to strike the U.S., and with a potential sixth nuclear weapon test this Saturday to mark the birth of late leader Kim Il-sung, the risk of an actual nuclear strike, though remote, is increasing.

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Sources
Laurent Favre

Excalibur To Australian Open, An Ode To The Knights Of Tennis

Like the jousting events of the Middle Ages, modern-day tennis tournaments combine skill and courage with unparalleled excitement and drama.

MELBOURNE — New year, new perspective. As usual, the year in sports begins with the Australian Open, which isn't just a competition but a tournament. It is a gathering, in other words, of all the world's best players, who pair off until the designation, through successive elimination, of a champion.

Of the four main types of sports competitions — the others being: championship, race and contest — the tournament is perhaps the most codified, the most symbolic. It respects the three unities of classical theater (time, place, and action), and the way it unfolds orchestrates a slow but unstoppable crescendo to the final denouement.

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blog

Hacking, From Submarines To A News Bureau

Although conventional warfare makes headlines, a more insidious conflict also warrants attention. Cyber warfare, in its many forms, is arguably still in its infancy. But the new-age combat is a growing concern — so much so that the latest NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, chose to focus on cyber defense.


The list of government agencies, companies and even news organizations targeted by hackers gets longer everyday. Today is no exception: The Australian reports that DCNS, a submarine company mostly owned by the French government, suffered a massive leak that exposed in detail the ­entire secret combat capability of its Scorpene submarines.


This has enormous implications, not least in Asia. DCNS built a fleet of these submarines for India, meaning it would be an "intelligence bonanza" for rivals like Pakistan and China to obtain the 22,400 pages of leaked documents, the newspaper reports. Other countries that use similar submarines, from Malaysia to Chile, could also be affected. Reuters cited a DCNS spokeswoman as calling the hack "tools in an economic war" even as she said the information had yet to be authenticated.


This is not the only breach to be reported this week. In Russia, the Moscow bureau of The New York Times said it had been targeted, though unsuccessfully, by hackers. The announcement came days after hacking tools were apparently stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency in what whistleblower Edward Snowden said might be a "warning." Technology has, undeniably, brought us great benefits. But the truth is, we're all much more vulnerable as a result. These hacks are just the beginning.

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blog

Australia Under Fire For "Appalling Abuse" Of Refugees

SPOTLIGHT: AUSTRALIA'S REFUGEE PROBLEM

While Europe's migrant crisis has made headlines over the past year, another continent's treatment of refugees has received far less scrutiny — until now. In a joint report published yesterday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch took the Australian government to task over what they describe as the "appalling abuse" and "neglect" of refugees.


An agreement between Australia and the South Pacific island of Nauru allows migrants to be detained on the tiny island nation before they reach Australia by boat. Nauru apparently charges foreign journalists more than $6,000 for a visa so global media coverage of the topic has been weak. Last month, however, researchers from the two rights groups managed to spend 12 days there and conducted scores of interviews.


The watchdogs report that refugees on the detention facility live in crowded and suffocating vinyl tents where temperatures can reach 50 °C (122 °F). The researchers note that refugees receive minimal health care and often face abuse from locals. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accuse the Australian government of willfully ignoring, and even condoning, the miserable conditions in an effort to deter other refugees from trying to reach the country.


Migration is a defining issue of our time and investigating stories about refugees in depth from across the world should be a key area of media coverage.

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blog

Cruz & Sanders Win Wisconsin, Slippery Iceland, Virtual Meatballs

CRUZ'S BIG WIN OVER TRUMP, SANDERS TOPS CLINTON

The Republican party's improbable presidential frontrunner Donald Trump suddenly looks vulnerable after a stinging double-digit loss to Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the Wisconsin primary. The New York Times reports that by early today Cruz had received 48% of the vote to 34% for Trump. Wisconsin also saw the Democratic race continue to tighten, as challenger Bernie Sanders racked up his sixth straight victory, even as Hillary Clinton continues to hold a commanding lead in the overall delegate count.

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