Warm Words Won't Beat Climate Change - But a New Global Finance Deal Still Could

David Nussbaum   |   July 24, 2015    2:55 PM ET

Visiting Kenya last weekend, Barack Obama stirred hearts and minds with his words on the country's potential to become a development success story. Gracing a summit on African entrepreneurship, the President rightly celebrates the efforts of the inspirational men and women working to bring prosperity to the country and the wider continent.

Kenya is one of WWF-UK's focus countries, where we support work to protect and restore nature as the basis for peoples' livelihoods and well-being. We know very well that Kenya, and developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, need far more than warm words - they need predictable and reliable funding for their efforts to lift their people out of extreme poverty.

These efforts are threatened by challenges often not of their making. Climate change and its impacts - increasingly being felt today across the world - is one such challenge. The World Bank has repeatedly warned of the threat that climate change poses to poverty eradication. Conversely, the New Climate Economy panel has highlighted the opportunities that the low-carbon transition offers developing countries to end extreme poverty and achieve broadly-based prosperity, while protecting the climate.

Obama's visit to Kenya comes at a critical juncture. It closely follows the UN's Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, comes ahead of a UN summit in New York in September to agree the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, and in the run-up to COP21 climate change talks in Paris in December.

As WWF has been pointing out for some time, sustainable development and climate change are inextricably linked and need an integrated approach. Our latest report Twin Tracks, jointly produced with CARE International, clearly shows the substantial synergies between the UN negotiations currently underway on post-2015 development and UNFCCC. It highlights opportunities for mutual support towards sustainable outcomes on climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable energy and agriculture.

Coinciding with Obama's visit, Kenya has published its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) as part of the UN climate process on the run-up to Paris. This outlines how Kenya will look to achieve a 30 percent cut in green house gas emissions than would otherwise be emitted over ten years from 2020, off the back of a deal in Paris. Combining steps to both reduce emissions and address the impact of unavoidable rises in temperature, a range of measures - from the expansion of renewable energy to ensuring at least 10 percent of the country is covered by trees - will be used to achieve the reductions.

Developing countries, including Kenya, justly argue that they need support from the international community, and especially from those countries with historic responsibility for past CO2 emissions, to respond to climate change. Even today, Kenya's carbon dioxide emissions per head of population are just one sixth of the global average.

They rightly stress that the international community has pledged to provide this support: at the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, the rich world committed to provide at least $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020.

They stand a long way from meeting this commitment. Less than $20 billion a year in public finance is flowing to developing countries to help them take action on climate change. The vast majority of these funds are dedicated to mitigating emissions, rather than also helping them adapt to a warming world. This needs to change and money to follow commitments.

Looking ahead, the issue of finance is unsurprisingly central in securing agreement in Paris: there will be no new climate treaty if those countries most impacted, and with the least means to adapt to its effects, are left behind. A deal will also rely on agreement on sharing the technologies necessary for low-carbon development.

These issues are not new; resolve is what is lacking, as we can see from the agreement struck at the Financing for Development summit. Addis Ababa resulted in fewer concrete commitments than many would have liked. This includes little progress towards meeting the long-standing official development assistance target.

The agreement is nonetheless a significant step towards financing the sustainable development agenda. It brings together national governments, business, philanthropy and development partners, and aims to bolster traditional aid with other funding streams. It is also critical in bridging the finance shortfall otherwise faced which creates an opening within the Paris agreement for bolder ambition on climate finance - ambition that would inject much-needed trust into the climate talks.

Without doubt, momentum within and without the UN climate process is building. Bilateral climate agreements between the US and, respectively, China and Brazil, have, ahead of the Paris talks, helped address long-standing rifts between the industrialised world and major developing countries. The Pope's recent encyclical on climate change has added even more moral weight to the scales. Investors are voting against fossil fuels with their asset allocations and $310 billion investment in clean energy in 2014 alone. This progress and growing momentum will continue apace, regardless of what happens in Paris.

But the UN climate process remains the primary means to ensure equity in a world of international, globalised markets. Obama's visit to Kenya will give him first-hand insights into the challenges that Kenya and other developing countries face as they seek a more sustainable path to security, growth and prosperity in the face of growing climate impacts. This should certainly serve as a reminder of the need for him and his peers - including the United Kingdom - to honour their promises on climate finance. They too will be left behind if they fail.

Jack Sommers   |   July 24, 2015    2:04 PM ET

A gunman killed himself and two others in a packed Louisiana cinema just hours after Barack Obama said the failure to restrict gun ownership was his biggest disappointment as president.

The man stood up about 20 minutes into the showing of 'Trainwreck' and began firing into the crowd, killing two and injuring at least seven others on Thursday night before fatally shooting himself.

"We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker," witness Katie Domingue told The Louisiana Advertiser.

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Bystanders look on as emergency personnel respond to the scene of the deadly shooting at the Grand Theatre late on Thursday night

"He wasn't saying anything. I didn't hear anybody screaming either," said Domingue, who added that she heard about six shots before she and her fiance ran to the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse.

Obama had just told the BBC that trying to pass "common sense" gun ownership laws was what had left him "most frustrated" in his presidency.

He told the BBC: "If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands,

Police said the shooter as a 58-year-old "lone white male" with a "criminal history" but did not disclose his name. They evacuated the entire theatre complex and conducted a sweep inside the building.

Investigators found suspicious items inside the shooter's car and set off explosions in the vehicle.

Stories of heroism immediately began to emerge with Bobby Jindal, the state's governor and presidential hopeful, telling reporters that a teacher who was in the theatre jumped in front of a second teacher, saving her life.

The second teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm to alert other moviegoers, he said.

"Her friend literally jumped over her and, by her account, actually saved her life," Jindal said.

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Federal investigators outside the cinema

Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said at a news conference that police know who the gunman is, and that he had a "criminal history," but they are not immediately releasing his name.

Edmonson said the body of the shooter and "at least one other person" were still inside the theater. He said there were about 100 people inside the theater at the time of the shooting.

Edmunson added that police believe the gunman fired shots only at the theater and had not waged an attack anywhere else beforehand. However, authorities said they were not releasing his name immediately in part so police could safely track down and interview friends or family who knew the shooter.

"We have no reason to believe that this individual acted beyond this location here," Edmonson said.

He said police saw something suspicious inside the shooter's car and that a bomb-sniffing dog "hit on three different locations" in the vehicle, "so out of an abundance of caution we brought in the bomb squad."

One of the stars of "Trainwreck," Amy Schumer tweeted:

Jindal called the shooting "an awful night for Louisiana."

"What we can do now is we can pray," he said. "We can hug these families. We can shower them with love, thoughts and prayers."

Lafayette is about 60 miles west of the state capital of Baton Rouge. Outside the movie theater complex hours after the shooting, a couple of dozen police cars were still at the scene, which authorities had cordoned off with police tape as onlookers took photos with their cellphones.

Landry Gbery, 26, of Lafayette, was watching a different movie, 'Self/less' at the time of the shooting when the lights came up and a voice over the intercom told everyone there was an emergency and that they needed to leave.

Gbery said he never heard gunshots, and assumed the emergency was a fire until he got outside and saw a woman lying on the ground.

"I was really anxious for everybody at that point," Gbery said. "Fortunately I was lucky. I took the right exit."

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Bobby Jindal speaks to reporters at the scene

Tanya Clark was at the concession stand in the lobby when she saw people screaming and running past her. She said she immediately grabbed her 5-year-old daughter and ran.

"In that moment, you don't think about anything," Clark, 36, told The New York Times. "That's when you realise that your wallet and phone are not important."

Clark's son Robert Martinez said he saw an older woman run past with blood streaming down her leg, and screaming that someone had shot her.

The Louisiana shooting occurred three years after James Holmes entered a crowded movie theater in suburban Denver and opened fire during the premier of a Batman film, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others.

The shooting took place a week after the man who shot and killed 12 people at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, was convicted and on the very day a jury said his attack was cruel enough to consider sentencing him to death.

A jury last week quickly convicted Holmes on 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and other charges, rejecting defense arguments that he was insane and suffering delusions that drove him to the July 20, 2012, attack.

Prosecutors said Holmes planned and carried out the massacre to assuage the pain of his failures in graduate school and in romance. Defense lawyers said schizophrenia had been growing inside Holmes' mind for years and eventually overwhelmed him, creating a delusion that he could improve his self-worth by killing others and absorbing their value.

Paul Waugh   |   July 24, 2015    8:08 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Friday July 24, 2015...


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1) ESPECIALLY FOR EU

Barack Obama is getting more and more bold in his second term. And after several similar hints and winks at the G7 this year, his BBC interview again makes crystal clear his worries about Brexit.

“The European Union… is part of the cornerstone of the institutions built after World War Two that has made the world safer and more prosperous and we want to make sure the United Kingdom continues to have that influence,” he said. Previously he had said he was ‘looking forward’ the UK staying in the EU. Now the US ‘want to make sure’ it does, which suggests a lot more pressure to come next year, Obama’s last in office. (Note too Obama’s line that there had been an ‘honest conversation’ between the pair of them on the 2% defence target)

Dan Hannan and UKIP’s Patrick O’Flynn were quick to Tweet their dismay at such foreign interference. Curiously, a new intake backbencher Tom Pursglove, has been put up to put the Tory view. He said the issue of EU membership was "a matter for the British people". "It isn't for anybody else to tell the British people what they are going to do”.

Just as interesting is the Indy story that a group of former UKIP businessmen are to launch a £20m campaign to persuade the public to vote to leave the European Union in the referendum. The ‘know.eu’ campaign is already causing worries among some Tories that it could split the No camp.

2) COR BLIMEY CORBYN

The race to ‘stop’ Jeremy Corbyn hots up. It’s not always an accurate guide to party support, but the battle for Constituency Labour Party nominations is fierce and as of this morning it stood at Corbyn 91, Burnham 83, Cooper 79, Kendall 14. The Cooper camp were delighted at winning a surge of 14 CLPs last night.

The Burnham camp point to a new Standard/MORI poll showing their man as the public’s (not just the party’s) choice as best Prime Minister among the leadership rivals. He’s ahead of the others, but the 27% figure ain’t that high, the Tories will point out. Still, he’s the only Labour candidate without a net negative rating among the public.

Charlie Falconer, a surprise Blairite backer of Burnham, tells the Times his man can beat Corbyn in a way Kendall and Cooper can’t. It’s a measure of Labour’s challenge that he focused on beating Corbyn not Boris. But Kendall herself is furious with Falconer's suggestion that only Burnham is upto the job (and with that Times headline that 'Women In Leadership Race Not Upto Challenge'. "It is depressing to see a senior man in the party dismiss the contribution of women so easily," she said just now.

Kendall adds: "For Charlie to say that women somehow aren't tough enough to lead the Labour Party is a gross insult and, as for standing up to Jeremy Corbyn, I'm the only candidate who has been saying he would be a disaster for our party and that I wouldn't serve in his shadow cabinet, unlike the candidate Charlie is supporting." Ouch.

And one Cooper-supporting MP just sent a text on Falconer's column: "Surely the issue with Andy is not so much the depth of his convictions but how often they change. Little doubt he feels deeply about things...before he changes his mind on them." Double ouch.

The infighting continues. Alan Milburn says Labour would have a ‘death wish’ if it opted for Corbyn. David Miliband told Sky Labour needs ‘new ideas, not old ones’. John Mann tells the Sun that Corbyn ‘did nothing’ to investigate child abuse scandals in Islington in the 1980s. Mann was swiftly labelled a ‘scumbag’ by Corbynites. Corbyn says in the Mail the slight on him is a 'new low'.

New Labour was often ridiculed as SDP Mk II. But could we get a close encounter of the third kind if Corbyn wins the Labour leadership, with mainstream MPs and activists splitting off? Tony Blair was swift to dismiss that this week and vowed to stay and fight. The Guardian splashes on an interview with Labour donor John Mills (who seems to get far too much attention simply because of his donor status) in which he says ‘You would have an SDP-type party’. Ken Livingstone just told BBC News Blair was 'very lucky' to win three elections because the Tories were 'having a psychiatric breakdown'.

The final official Labour organised hustings is this weekend folks and I'm in the chair in Warrington tomorrow. Let's hope they all seize their chance to make it interesting...


3) UNBELIEVABLE PROOF

Amber Rudd is proving herself the most subsidy-allergic of Energy and Climate Change Secretaries since the post was created under New Labour. And today Rudd has a speech whose prebrief has already got environmentalists up in arms. She will say in effect that the Left and its ‘loudest voices’ cannot be allowed to ‘dictate’ solutions to climate change. The key passage is this: "So I can understand the suspicion of those who see climate action as some sort of cover for anti-growth, anti-capitalist, proto-socialism.”

To Labour and the groups she was attacking, that sounded very much like a sop to climate change-denying Tory backbenchers and peers like Lord Lawson. Caroline Flint says Rudd’s words are ‘unbelievable’ and proof that the Conservatives are tearing up the cross party consensus on the issue.

The PM himself risked ridicule yesterday when he did a clip repeating his claim that his was ‘the greenest government ever’. This came on the same day as Whitehall axeing the Green Deal for home insulation, and in the same week as Rudd slashing solar and wind subsidies. Add in fracking, a lifting of a pesticide ban and other moves and you can see why campaigners say the PM really doesn’t have time for ‘green crap’.

Still, Rudd sounds like she’s trying to make a case for market-led solutions in a way that the ineffective ‘mate of Dave’ Greg Barker (one of just six who backed Cam in 2005) failed to do. As a mate of George, Rudd certainly has the clout to fend off barbs from her critics. And I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that she and the PM will try to pull off a surprise at the Paris climate talks this year, seizing on Obama’s desire for a legacy and Chinese geopower play.


BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR

Watch these Jedi chipmunks fight it out with light sabres in a recreation of Obi Wan v Anakin.


4) BLACK BOOKS RECORDER

The Indy has a nice follow-up to the revelation that secret Cabinet papers revealed officials decided not to do anything about allegations that a senior MP had ‘a penchant for boys’. The paper reports that ‘catalogued and unregistered’ papers - known as the Civil Service ‘black book’- contain the private records of Cabinet Secretaries from the 1950s until 2007.

Many of the memos were ‘too hot to handle’ and kept away even from ministers, an expert told the Indy. The papers should have been handed over the National Archive years ago and are only now being trawled through. A team of officials has been given until 2020 to go through them all to work out what can be published. As well as details on the Profumo affair there are also confidential assessments of other MPs and ministers’ private lives.

Meanwhile Lord Armstrong, the former Cab Sec who was warned by MI5’s Anthony Duff about the possible paedophilia of a senior MP, has denied any cover up. He tells the Daily Mail: ‘I thought MI5’s actions were correct at the time. I think they were right to report the rumour.. I don’t think this is a matter of important people being protected. You can’t pursue inquiries unless you have evidence on which you can base the enquiry. A shadow of a rumour is not enough.’ Lord Armstrong said he knew the identity of the MP in question but refused to name him, saying: ‘I think he was interviewed but he denied it’. Armstrong, older readers will remember, became famous for his phrase ‘economical with the truth’...

5) TAXES FOR DAVE N GEORGE

The Sun has a scoop that David Cameron and George Osborne were both undercharged for tax to the tune of about £2,000. The sum is what they should have been paying as tax for a benefit in kind for living in ‘grace and favour’ accommodation in Downing Street. Instead of calculating the impact on their entire MP and ministerial pay, officials only assessed the latter. Treasury bosses were forced to admit the error to HMRC.

A Treasury spokesman admits the benefit in kind of living in No10 and No11 was ‘misreported’ in annual accounts for 2014.

Acting Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie says: “If the Treasury cannot get the Prime Minister and Chancellor’s own houses in order literally, how will they close the widening tax gap?”

ONES TO WATCH

The FT says the Treasury ‘direction of travel’ is to get broadband firms to pay a £500m levy to foot the bill for the final rollout of internet connections to all Britions by 2020.

The Telegraph splashes its undercover probe that has found that senior NHS England staff in charge of drugs policy are being paid to work as consultants for pharmaceutical companies.

A Times investigation has found Whitehall paid a half a billion pound cheque to a Swiss-based global fund to combat malaria, only days before a deadline to meet the UK’s 0.7% overseas aid target.

The Sun splashes a photo photograph showing about 40 illegal migrants arriving in the UK on a freight train through the Channel Tunnel.

AND FINALLY...

The WaughZone is taking a summer break (like many politicos I haven’t been off since a few days in February). I’d like to thank you all for your kind words and support. See you the other side of August.


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Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Paul Waugh (paul.waugh@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com), Graeme Demianyk (graeme.demianyk@huffingtonpost.com) and Owen Bennett (owen.bennett@huffingtonpost.com)

Paul Vale   |   July 23, 2015   10:31 PM ET

Barack Obama has warned that the UK must stay in the European Union to retain its influence on the global stage. In an interview with the BBC, the president, who referred to Britain as America’s “best partner,” said the UK’s membership of the EU gives him “much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union.”

Obama lauded the European project as making the world “safer and more prosperous,” while congratulating Cameron for meeting NATO's 2 percent of GDP target for defence.

"We don't have a more important partner than Great Britain. For him to make that commitment when he has a budget agenda that is confined, a budget envelope that is confined, is significant," he said.

In June, US defence secretary Ashton Carter said would be a "great loss to the world" if Britain "disengaged" by cutting its defence spending, noting that the nation had historically "punched above its weight."

He said: “The European Union… is part of the cornerstone of the institutions built after World War Two that has made the world safer and more prosperous and we want to make sure the United Kingdom continues to have that influence.”

He added that Britain's strength derived from its "willingness to project power beyond its immediate self-interests to make this a more orderly, safer world".

In response, MEP Daniel Hannan, a Conservative eurosceptic, tweeted: “I accept that there may be some arguments for Britain staying in the EU. Humouring Barack Obama is not one of them.”

Ukip MEP Patrick O’Flynn was equally dismissive, saying: “We need to look to our own national interest first."

Obama struck a similar tone at the G7 summit in Germany in June, the president urging Britain not to abandon Europe. He told reporters: "I would note one of the great values of having the United Kingdom in the European Union is its strength and leadership on a whole host of global challenges. So we are looking forward to the United Kingdom staying part of the European Union."

In an attempt to placate members of his party's right flank, Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU ahead of a referendum scheduled for 2017. The prime minister has repeatedly stated he wants Britain to remain part of the union, but only if it reforms its rules.

Also in the interview, Obama revealed the biggest frustration from his time in office was not being able to pass "common-sense gun safety laws... even in the face of repeated mass killings."

He said: "If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands."

"For us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing," he reflected.

SEE ALSO:

The Cry of Kenyan-Somalis: Is Anyone Listening?

Catherine Wyatt   |   July 23, 2015    3:59 PM ET

The Kenyan state has an ethnicity problem. By presenting their conflict with the terrorist group al-Shabaab as a conflict of ethnicity, ethnic Somalis living in Kenya are at increasing risk of discrimination, marginalisation, and human rights abuses.

Ethnic Somalis in Kenya are marginalised based on the fear that they are supporters of, or related to, al-Shabaab. This marginalisation of ethnic-Somalis includes harsh measures used against the group in order to 'weed out Shabaab sympathisers'. Operation Usalama Watch, which began in April 2014, arrested over 4000 Muslims in four months. Police use extreme force, stealing items such as phones and watches from suspects, with a high number of reports of physical violence and rape. When Human Rights Watch interviewed 101 refugees and asylum seekers in Eastleigh about their experiences of police custody in 2013, almost all of them reported that the police repeatedly called them 'terrorists' or 'al-Shabaab'.

The government's monopoly on citizenship means that 60% of Somali residents living in the North Eastern Province of Kenya, the area most densely populated with Somalis, do not have ID cards. Upon failure to produce an ID card, Somalis can be arrested and punished. Video footage captured by Al Jazeera shows the military forcibly bundling innocent men and women into trucks, with one man shouting 'I am not al-Shabaab'. Somalis are being deliberately kept in a state of vulnerability.

The Kenyan authorities are conflating immigration issues with terrorism issues, giving legitimacy to the violation of the rights of ethnic-Somalis. This is a conscious tactic on behalf of the Kenyan government: focus on ethnicity forces focus away from issues such as government corruption and unfair allocation of resources.

This tactic is working. In 2014, the Managing Editor of Kenya's most popular newspaper the Daily Nation, Mutuma Mathiu, wrote 'Are we going to sit around and wait to be blown to bits by terrorists?...every little, two-bit Somali has a big dream - to blow us up...terrorists are pouring across the border'. Ethnic tension is the harmful consequence of the Kenyan state's insistence in conflating Somali ethnicity with terrorism.

However, Somalis living in the NEP are fighting back. Last month, a small group of Somalis embarked on a 1000 kilometre walk from Garissa to Mandera. They arrived in Mandera this week, significantly larger in number than when they started. Their trek encouraged others to join, providing hope and inspiration to the communities they walked through.

Named the #WalkofHope, the month long trek's aim was to bring international attention to the plight of Kenyan-Somalis. Unfortunately, the walk did not feature in the international media at all: it seems that Somalis are destined to only make the news when al-Shabaab attack, as they have been doing with increasing frequency in the past year.

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By reporting on al-Shabaab but not the Somalis who aim to separate themselves from the Islamist group, we as journalists play into the hands of the Kenyan state, who use fear of al-Shabaab as a way of legitimising discrimination of Somalis.

Hearing the stories of Somalis in the NEP is the first step in fighting prejudice and discrimination. We must listen to the voices of those who are suffering. With President Obama currently visiting Kenya, now is the perfect time to bring to light the plight of one of the world's most disadvantaged ethnic groups.

Paul Vale   |   July 22, 2015    8:25 PM ET

NEW YORK -- The White House is planning to close controversial detention centre Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a spokesman for the administration. Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge of closing the facility ahead of the 2008 election, but Congress has repeatedly block attempts to decommission the prison during his tenure in office.

guantanamo

Obama has called the closing of Guantanamo a 'national imperative'

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Wednesday that the administration is in the “final stages” of drafting a plan, adding that it remains a priority to close Guantanamo. Earnest noted that terrorists use Guantanamo Bay as a recruiting tool.

The prison, which holds terror suspects, currently houses 116 inmates and costs $100 million per year to maintain. US law does not allow prisoners to be transferred to facilities within the US, and requires 30 days’ notice for inmates to be moved from Cuba. More than 800 detainees have passed through Guantanamo since 2002.

Having been thwarted by Congress, plans have been mooted suggesting the President would use an executive action to close the facility, circumnavigating the ban on transferring detainees to the mainland.

SEE ALSO:

What If Gun Laws Aren't the Solution?

Eirik Bergesen   |   July 22, 2015    3:19 PM ET

As Norway marks four years after the Utøya massacre, the country might have a few lessons to teach. Especially to the US.

Picture a 12-year old riding the bus alone across town. With a rifle on his back. Imagine the commotion had it happened in the US.

Instead it happened in Norway. Two times a week, all through high school. The kid was me. On my way to biathlon training.

The national sport of biathlon is in itself probably the best illustration of Norway's relaxed attitude towards guns. Could the sport of skiing and shooting ever find an American equivalent of skateboarding interrupted by target shooting? Hardly.

It's no secret that the US has one of the highest densities of weapons in the world. Fewer people know that the small, socially liberal country of Norway ranks very close.

On a global level, private gun ownership in Norway is high. 31.32 firearms per 100 people. Still a lot less than the US with 88.82 firearms per 100 people ("Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City," Cambridge University Press), however, Americans are in a league of their own in this field.

Add the fact that 75% of Norwegians are members of the protestant church, and you can safely say that we "cling to guns or religion", as Obama once said. So, how did these nature-loving tree huggers also become gun huggers?

When the Vikings stopped pillaging neighbouring villages, weapon in hand, they remained hunters, continuing to harvest the forest-covered country. And with a history of Nazi occupation, well-armed military reserves at least create an illusion of heightened resistance. Although the Germans no longer scare us outside of the football field, we do share a border with a certain bear wrestling, bareback riding, bare-chested president.

Gun ownership is common. But gun violence is not. Norway has one of the lowest per-capita homicide rates in Europe. It is not a given that a country has to rank high in both categories. So how is this possible?

Up until July 22, 2011, Norwegians were not known to use their guns to kill each other. That's not to say there weren't killings. Let's just say that a high gun density often implies that people who decide to end their own lives have a higher rate of success.

Then the Utøya massacre happened. Norwegian-born and -raised, blond and blue-eyed - "one of us" - Anders Behring Breivik chose to aim his rage towards national immigration policies at a Labor Party youth camp. 69 young people died. Eight others were killed when the same person set off a bomb by a building housing several ministries, including the Prime Minister's Office.

Finally, this open and trusting little society was up for some serious law reforms, right? Surely, one needed to make sure that another insane person, or rather someone with insane political ideas (the court-appointed psychologists were divided on the issue), couldn't get their hands on weapons?

No. Then Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was quick to phrase that the terror would be met with "more openness and more democracy." Future will tell if the now Secretary General of NATO will attempt to implement such a strategy at that organisation.

Political Norway was intent on one thing: Not letting this frightening, but still singular, incident change society's structures. Instead of more rules and restrictions, the government applied even more of the original medicine: faith in social trust. Perhaps even more interesting, a year later, scientists found that social trust had actually grown.

Seriously, not one adjustment to gun restrictions? Actually, there was one notable change. For the first time in history (outside of the Second World War) Norwegian police were allowed to carry a gun.

But, and this but is big, the change came only half a year ago and was not linked to the Utøya shootings. The background was the very same ISIS threat that every other Western country is scaring itself with these days. Yes, Norway is no better than the rest when it comes to loosing its cool when the threat is not "one of us", but has darker eyes and hair and belongs to a different religion.

Also, the permission for the police to carry guns has now been revoked. Mostly because the government weren't able to describe the threat in a credible way. Parliament was not satisfied with the threat description of "someone, somewhere, sometime - maybe".

Today, one can still park a van next to the parliament building. Politicians and royalty are easily approachable. Surveillance has been tightened, but nowhere close to American measures or those suggested by EU's now-debunked Data Protection Directive.

Less judgemental political dialogue was immediately encouraged. People with similar ideas about restricting immigration were not to be assorted guilt by association.

The killer had some years earlier been involved in party politics within a local branch of the right wing Progressive Party. Very few have held this against the party, underlined by the fact that they now for the first time are in government.

In his famous play "Peer Gynt", Norwegian Henrik Ibsen wrote that trolls burst when exposed to the sun. The same is often said in Norway about net trolls. Is is true? Can xenophobic people shed their extreme political views through online deliberation?

Not necessarily, most Norwegians still shed more of their fair skin than their unfair politics under solar exposure. But it doesn't mean the extreme views translate to extreme actions. Such views are perhaps more tolerated, although still not acknowledged.

The Utøya terrorist got his guns and bomb-making fertilizer according to rules and regulations. His record was clean. Four years later, it is still difficult to make the case that stricter laws could have prevented the attacks. There has been no call for "strong leaders".

Emphasis has been placed elsewhere. The government has strengthened psychiatric health care, which together with physical health care, is offered free. A high level of social trust makes it easier to maintain collective dialogue and coordinated action.

Guns don't kill people. People kill people. Although people with guns kill people, people with guns also don't kill people. In any case, one can't escape the fact that somebody is pulling the trigger and it's not the guns. Ultimately, it's with the people you have to put the effort.

Ryan Barrell   |   July 22, 2015   11:30 AM ET

We've reached another emotional moment in the journey to Jon Stewart's retirement - his last ever interview with President Barack Obama.

The Commander-in-chief took the opportunity to issue a sweeping executive order, jokingly banning Stewart from leaving.

Since Obama is also leaving his job soon, they both spent twenty minutes reflecting on recent years. It was emotional, interesting, and informative. Here's the full interview:

It was the president's seventh appearance on the popular current affairs show, which will be taken over by South African comedian Trevor Noah when Jon Stewart vacates his seat after 16 years at the helm.

Meanwhile, it's looking a lot like Obama's hot seat will be taken up by either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in 2017.

SEE ALSO:

Paul Vale   |   July 21, 2015    8:19 PM ET

NEW YORK -- A TV news anchor’s flag-waving commentary on the Chattanooga shooting went viral on Monday due to some provocative lines suggesting the US should respond by sending bombers to the “desert.”

Tomi Lahren took aim at President Obama’s response to the threat of radical Islamism, decrying his “be friendly to jihadists mentality.” The jingoistic outburst was performed in front of a backdrop featuring an American eagle soaring across Old Glory.

“Four United States Marines are now dead,” she said. “Climate change didn’t kill them, lack of free community college didn’t kill them, the income gap, wage inequality, nope, not those things either. Gay marriage? Nope. Oh, white racism? Not that either. So what did? President Obama, if you won’t say it, I will: radical Islam.”

“It’s about time we bring the fight to them, full force,” she continued. “Let’s show them [the 'radical jihadists'] what the United States looks like up close and personal. Show them what a B1 bomber looks like flying overhead; show them what they’re messing with. Put the fear of God in their desert.“

Unfortunately, Miss Lahren didn’t explain how bombing a “desert” might have curtailed what appears to be a domestic terror attack.

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Daniel Welsh   |   July 17, 2015    4:19 PM ET

With best friends like Nicola McLean and Maria Fowler, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace’s life couldn’t get any more A-list, but she’s now revealed that she’s in regular contact with none other than Barack Obama.

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True, the conversation is completely one-sided, but that’s hardly the point, is it?

The ‘Big Brother’ housemate - who returned to the house during this year’s series, as part of a ‘Time Warp’ twist - recently confessed that she often sends private messages to the US President when she’s feeling a little merry.

aisleyne

Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace

She told The Mirror: “I DM Barack Obama every time I've had one too many because he does follow me.”

When asked what kind of messages she sends Obama, Aisleyne responded that she tells him : “I love what you've done with our country… You're amazing. You're everything a president should be.”

Our country, Aisleyne? She does release we’re not… oh never mind.

barack obama

President Obama, who presumably doesn't watch 'Big Brother'

For anyone concerned for Obama, who we’re positive spends his Sunday mornings trawling his DMs to see which British reality stars have messaged him, never fear - Aisleyne is insistent she always sends him an apology the next day, usually along the lines of: “I'm so sorry I sent you that message! Like cringing."

Still, DMing the US President is still better than tweeting personal details, like she did earlier this month, when she posted the phone number of her ‘BB’ rival, Helen Wood, on her official account.

Aisleyne later alleged that she wasn’t at this year’s ‘BB’ final due to a “security risk” - and while we initially thought that might be due to her feud with Helen, it turns out it might actually be because of her high-profile connections with the world’s most powerful man...

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Paul Vale   |   July 16, 2015    3:15 PM ET

NEW YORK -- How best to greet America’s first African-American president? For a group of protesters in Oklahoma, the answer was to form mob and wave a symbol of slavery outside his hotel room.

The Confederate flag may have been removed from the South Carolina statehouse and purged from retailers’ stock rooms following the murder of nine people in Charleston last month, but the banner of armed insurrection against the United States remains a potent symbol for some.

Barack Obama stayed in an Oklahoma City hotel on Wednesday night ahead of a visit to a federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma. So out came the "stars and bars," though protesters were quick to inform the watching media that the demonstration definitely wasn't "racist.

confederate flag oklahoma

People wave Confederate flags outside the Obama's hotel, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Oklahoma City

"It is about history," protester Trey Johnson told a local TV station. "We're not gonna stand down from our heritage,” he added. Presumably that's the history in which the southern states went to war with the US government over their right to own other human beings, specifically black slaves.

“You know, this flag's not racist,” he added. “And I know a lot of people think it is, but it's really not. It's just a southern thing, that's it.”

Make of that what you will…

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Paul Vale   |   July 15, 2015    8:02 PM ET

NEW YORK -- On the command of Barack Obama, the US Army invaded Texas on Wednesday, one of several Republican southern states now subjugated under martial law. American service personnel, covertly aided by soldiers from the People's Liberation Army of China and fighters from the Islamic State, moved quickly to rest control of the local populace.

Food distribution centres were establish in Walmart stores across the state, with a curfew in place restricting the movement of non-military personnel to between 9am and 9pm. A statement from the White House is scheduled for Thursday, with Obama expected to declare a state of emergency and the suspension of all local and national elections pending confiscation of civilian firearms...

jade helm

Eric Johnston, the Texas organiser for the counter Jade Helm 15 exercise, talks on the phone, Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Bastrop, Texas

The above paragraphs would have been my introduction had the Jade Helm 15 exercise been revealed as a military campaign to subdue much of the Southwestern United States.

There’s nothing new about American conspiracism; an unpleasant coda to every mass shooting is the tedious reflex claiming an “inside job” or a "false flag," usually with the aim of tighter gun control. However, Jade Helm has gone far beyond the usual conspiratorial bent, gaining such a large following that national politicians have been unwilling to dismiss its tenets for fear of alienating the electorate.

Here are the basics: Jade Helm 15 is a realistic military training exercise in which US forces are faced with a fictitious counterinsurgency in the Southwestern states -- from California to Texas. The exercise is to last from July 15 to September 15.

Conspiracy theorists contend it is not an exercise, but a real mission to place Texas under martial law. Specific details vary: some say the Chinese are complicit; others say soldiers will go door-to-door to disarm citizens. Some predict Vladimir Putin will arm a Texas rebellion. But why has this nonsense gained such traction?

USASOC_map

The initial paranoia was whipped up by radio talk show host Alex Jones, who started trumpeting a military takeover in March after a member of his staff obtained a map detailing the exercise with Utah, southern California and Texas listed as "hostile." Soon thereafter, Jones was warning his listenership of the impending "invasion.”

The frenzy escalated in April when Texas Governor Greg Abbott was confronted by a concerned mob. Rather than dismiss their anxiety, he instead penned a letter to the Texas State Guard requesting that they “monitor the proceedings.” In May, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, plotting a presidential bid, also refused to dampened fears, preferring to ask the Pentagon for reassurances, while using the opportunity to bash the Obama administration.

Both directly lent the paranoia legitimacy, while highlighting how the American system creates politicians that have to reflect their constituents, rather than lead them.

And there's Chuck Norris, the martial artist turned actor who penned an opinion piece for the WorldNetDaily website, suggesting there was more to the training exercise than officials disclosures. "It’s neither over-reactionary nor conspiratorial to call into question or ask for transparency about Jade Helm 15 or any other government activity,” he wrote.

The psychosis reached such a pitch that by late April the US military dispatched an official to Texas to speak to residents of Bastrop Country, southeast of Austin. In a packed meeting room, Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria tried to reason with the crowd, assuring them that Jade Helm was not an intelligence gathering exercise, nor would it lead to confiscation of property.

The soldier even had to assure attendees that the United Nations was not involved, and was jeered when he said he didn’t know about “Agenda 21” (the UN’s sustainability planning programme that conspiracy theorists claims is a forerunner to a one-world government).

As laughable as this might appear, some of the underlying reason for the distrust are not. Speaking to the Washington Post, Bastrop’s former mayor Terry Orr gave what he perceived as the root cause: “The truth is, this stems a fair amount from the fact that we have a black president.” He added that local residents think Obama is only concerned with African-Americans and “illegal aliens” and that the government "is just not on the side of the white guy.”

Though race is woven into the fabric of American political culture, other factors are also at play, including a long-standing distrust towards the federal government, a national trait that would persist regardless of the colour of the President.

More pertinently, America is a changing nation -- demographically, socially, economically and politically. Declining religious affiliation, healthcare reform, changing attitudes towards LGBT rights, fear of another recession and America’s perceived waning as a global power all feed a anxiety. In the 2014 paper “Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of American Politics,” researchers Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood argue that people often turn to conspiracies to cope with the difficult emotions uncertainty begets.

Interestingly the researchers found that conspiratorial thinking cuts across the political divide (conspiracism isn’t the preserve of the right wing), nor is it an affliction of the perennially paranoid. Yet one of the real drivers could be religion, with conspiracy theorists likely to also hold supernatural or paranormal beliefs. That's not in short supply in Texas or beyond.

Whatever the reasons, the Lone Star state is not (at the time of publication) under martial law, a fact likely to be spun by Jones et al as a victory for an alert, well informed citizenry that has thwarted Obama's tyranny (for now). In the absence of an armed takeover, the Internet stepped in, reminding us what it would be like had the Texas fallen to Obama's ISIS-Chinese hordes. Here are some more:

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Paul Vale   |   July 15, 2015    4:15 PM ET

NEW YORK -- A political group is to confront President Obama with 5,000 naked men and women on his forthcoming trip to the Kenya, a protest against Obama’s "open and aggressive support for homosexuality."

The demonstration is the plan of the country’s ultra conservative Republican Liberty Party, an organisation vocal in its opposition of extending rights to the LGBT community. Homosexuality is currently illegal in Kenya, with acts carrying a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Obama is to visit the African country later this month, with Republican Liberty Party leader Vincent Kidala having already sought permission to hold a “peaceful protest,” which involves thousands of men and women stripping naked to show the President the “differences” between the genders.

According to the Nairobi Times, Kidala sent a notification for the march on Tuesday.

His letter read: “The procession shall be carried out by approximately 5,000 totally naked men and women to protest over Obama’s open and aggressive support for homosexuality. The party’s main objective is for him to see and understand the different [sic] between a man and a woman.”

According to Pink News, Kidala confirmed authenticity of the missive, telling local media that his party is to hire “prostitutes” to bolster numbers for the protest. He added that the prostitutes would work for free as they’ll lose business should homosexuality be made legal.

Anti-LGBT groups in Kenya have advised Obama not to talk about gay rights on his visit, however White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the President will confront the issue, telling reporters last week: “I’m confident the president will not hesitate to make clear that the protection of basic universal human rights in Kenya is also a priority and consistent with the values that we hold dear here in the United States of America.”

Last month, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage would be legal across all 50 states, a move decried by social conservatives and the majority of the Republican presidential field.

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The Nuclear Deal Is Good for Iran and Bad for US Allies

Nehad Ismail   |   July 14, 2015    1:43 PM ET

The media reported that a landmark Iran nuclear agreement has been finally reached on Tuesday July 14th after two weeks of intensive political bargaining in Vienna, reported Reuters quoting Iranian diplomats.

The deal is said to allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits to Iran's military sites as part of their monitoring duties - a compromise between Washington and Tehran. Iranian media rejected such a demand earlier today.

"All the hard work has paid off and we sealed a deal. God bless our people," one diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. A second Iranian official confirmed the agreement.

But access at will to any site would not necessarily be granted and even if so, could be delayed, a condition that critics of the deal are sure to seize on as possibly giving Tehran time to cover any sign of non-compliance with its commitments

Death to America:
Meanwhile on Friday July 10th 2015 whilst the nuclear talks were taking place tens of thousands of protesters in Tehran and cities across Iran Friday chanted "Death to America" in the Islamic republic's annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day of Demonstration.
Even in stifling heat approaching 100 degrees (38 Celsius), the crowds were undeterred. Participants in the demonstrations included President Hasan Rouhani and other top Iranian officials.
Analysts believe Iran is the winner. The US negotiating team has been the weakest link giving away more and more concessions whilst the Iranian team remained stubbornly firm. The Iranians were aware of the fact that both President Obama and his secretary of State John Kerry were desperate to sign a deal. In June news leaked that Obama had written letters to Iranian President Rouhani virtually begging him to sign a deal. Both Obama and Kerry are desperately seeking some kind of foreign policy success.

The Iranian leaders will celebrate by announcing to their people that the world super powers have acknowledged Iran's right to become a nuclear power. Obama's advisors will tell him that such rhetoric is for local consumption. But this doesn't alter the fact that Iran will squeeze more and more concessions from a weak US President. Obama's weakness was starkly reflected in his refusal to take a tough stance against the Assad regime which is Iran's ally and client. According to Washington sources Obama was afraid any action against the Syrian regime would alienate Iran and derail the nuclear talks.
President Obama is rushing to sign a nuclear deal with Iran at any price. Iran's negotiators have won generous concessions from the Obama administration.

Many issues still remain unresolved:

The Iranians have failed to provide satisfactory answers to several questions:
In March the IAEA asked about the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of their nuclear program. Iran refused to answer. No clear answer has been given in the recent talks either.
According to latest reports the agreement announced Tuesday, Iran has NOT agreed to allow unfettered, unlimited access and intrusive inspection of suspected sites military and non-military without prior consultations. Iran had said it would implement the Additional Protocol (AP) of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but the supreme leader had balked at its implications, declaring inspections of military sites a red line.
Critics of the nuclear deal such as John Bolton former US Ambassador to the UN warn of Iranian concealment, cheating, delay and obstruction to defeat whatever is agreed in writing. Bolton even dismisses the "snapback" mechanism to revive economic sanctions as questionable and will be subject to endless disputes and delays.

The Economist (Tuesday July 14th) referred to "worrying differences between the detailed American account of what had been agreed and the far vaguer public interpretation of the accord by the Iranians. These were subsequently amplified by statements about "red lines" by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he appeared to reject key provisions of Lausanne, particularly those relating to inspection of suspicious sites".

However the Financial Times cautiously welcomed the deal:
"Iran has accepted unprecedented international control and surveillance over its nuclear programme as well as cuts in its uranium stocks and in the number of centrifuges. Yes, it might cheat. But the terms imposed by the US and the other members of the P5+1 group of leading powers will not make that easy".

Many in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and Israel think that Iran will at some point in future become a nuclear threshold state, as a result of the P5+1 agreement. The lifting of sanctions will embolden Iran to escalate its funding to its proxies and continue its strategy of sponsoring and supporting terrorism.
As far as the Middle East is concerned Obama's speech celebrating the deal has not impressed or reassured the allies. Obama just repeated what he has been saying for the last two years.