Covid in Scotland: What's the state of the epidemic?



Using World Health Organization measures, it is possible to chart Scotland’s progress in tackling Covid-19.

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Now the Centre Party is needed


It is pretty common for The Centre Party to be the target of malicious comments in “Etelän media”, the media in southern Finland. The party is antediluvian, an anomaly, a special interest party that always betrays, and a treacherous negotiator that introduces last-minute proposal that favor them, to force the other’s hand. Already twenty years ago, it was said that The Centre Party was past its prime, but the party still managed to hold the fort.

Presently the antagonists unfortunately seem to be correct. The poll ratings are plummeting, and it could turn out to be a disastrous municipality election. The Finns Party are predicted to overtake the role of The Centre Party in many municipalities. Instead of celebrating the downfall of the old Centre Party, the other parties and political commentators should take a minute to think.

What does it mean for our national politics if The Centre Party is banished to fourth or fifth place in the party hierarchy? That would cause The Finns Party to take on a key position, regardless of if they become largest or second largest. This would, in turn, lead to complications in formation of future governments; when The Centre Party is not strong enough to secure a middle-block based on the so called red-soil (punamulta) alternative, with The Centre Party and SDP as foundation.

This, in turn, could lead to The National Coalition party having to choose between SDP and The Finns Party, which would probably cause a hard divide between the conservative right and liberal fractions within the party. If the Green League will suffice as adhesive depends on its future strength.

Why does The Centre Party seem to lose grip of their old voters? The process began during Sipilä’s business-minded cabinet, and was bolstered when the party joined today’s cabinet, despite their loss in the election. According to Paavo Väyrynen, the decline was due to the “city liberals” having taken control of the party. He probably labels anyone who does not share his opinions on the EU, the euro, and government-participation, as suspect “liberals”.

Perhaps the Centre Party has not fully realized the gravity of the powerlessness felt by rural people due to the quick urbanization? It awoke too late, when The Finns Party already spread their poison: ´The Centre Party has abandoned the countryside, are ruling together with The Green League, no wolf-hunting, and the fuel tax will be increased`. It is not until now that a new program for a living, decentralized and spacious country with flexible settling rights and advantageous online connections is developed.

If the Finns Party successfully latch on to The Centre Party’s traditional voter-areas, it would also be a loss for democracy. This populist party continues to question the legitimacy of the political system and would replace a party that has deep roots in the history of Finnish democracy. In a way, history repeats itself; backwoods communism (korpikommunismi) also spread false promises of salvation in the poorest rural areas after the war.

Without a serious and influential party of the countryside, close to a million Finnish people could lose trust in our democracy if the Finland they know is impoverished; if the countryside-school, police, and service disappears.

I have often criticized the politics of The Centre Party, but that does not mean that I do not see the importance of it. It is not needed in coastal areas. In these surroundings, I am hopeful that voters are immune to all forms of political conmanship.

Pär Stenbäck


 




Pär Stenbäck is a former Finnish politician who has been an MP, Minister of Education, and of Foreign Affairs in the years before 1985. For a period of twenty years, he held leading positions in the Red Cross movement, among these as Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Geneva). He is a founding member of ICG and the European Cultural Parliament ECP. He received the honorary title as Minister in 1999. Today he is chairing the New Foreign Policy Society in Finland (NUPS) since 2017. He contributes regularly to news media. 

 

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Franco: Melilla enclave removes last statue of fascist dictator on Spanish soil



Workers carry away the monument of the fascist dictator in the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

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Danny Baggish Takes Aim at PDC Darts Tour


After years of working construction in Florida and playing in not especially lucrative darts events in the United States, Danny Baggish finally made his big breakthrough earlier this month. At age 37, he qualified for the PDC Pro Tour, the top level of world darts.

Although a few Americans played on tour a decade ago, Baggish is the first player from the United States to earn his place through the qualifying school tournament. He has now qualified to play against the best players in the world for the next two years, mostly in Britain.

Baggish, from Winter Haven, Fla., will make his debut on Thursday in the Players Championship in Bolton, England. He spoke to The New York Times about his recent success, why microgrooves matter, and what happens when he goes to the carnival dart booth.

The following interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

How did you get involved in darts?

I was 11. My dad was really big into darts. Every time I’d come home from school, instead of going outside and playing football or basketball with my friends, I’d hurry up and get my homework done and sit in the living room and play darts with my dad for hours. It was more just for fun. I didn’t play in tournaments until I was 15, 16 years old.

What was it like, the moment you realized you had made the Tour?

I didn’t know the situation. You advance under a point system or if you win the tournament outright. I thought I had to win outright, because I had zero points after three days. So when I lost, 6-2, in the finals, I didn’t think I was in. I held my head down, and shook hands. Then I looked and saw my manager smiling. At that point I knew I was in.

I wear my emotions on my sleeve, I’m a very emotional player. I kind of just started tearing up and let it go.

What are your goals now that you’re on Tour?

I want to stay on the Tour. I have to finish in the top 64 after two years.

I wouldn’t say I have high expectations, because I know it’s going to be a battle — you’re playing with the best in the world. My expectations are to compete and stay with them, and maybe be lucky enough to win one.

You’ve competed in two world championships. The atmosphere at a big darts event, at least before the pandemic, is remarkable. At the big events in Britain, the fans are raucous and many are drinking. What’s it like to throw darts in front of a crowd like that?

It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of. They love their darts there.

How much do you practice?

Before I took darts seriously, I kind of relied on my natural hand-eye coordination. When I started taking it seriously, that’s when I started putting the practice in. It went from 30 minutes a day to an hour to now, two to four hours a day.

I focus in practice on scoring power. I try to throw as many trip-20’s, trip-19’s, trip 18’s as I can. That’s my philosophy.

Does every player have a different style, how they stand, how they throw? What’s yours?

Techniques are all over the place. There’s no correct answer. I stand straight up, I might lean in a little. I’m steady and don’t move my body. I hold the dart more toward the front. I have a lot more microgrooves on my dart.

Microgrooves?

They drill grooves into the barrel of the dart, toward the front. I have more microgrooves than some others do. The groove where I hold my dart is right where the thumb is. If there are no grooves there, like some players have, I feel like it slips on my thumb where I’m resting the dart. The grooves kind of catch my thumb so it doesn’t move and I have more control over it.

Many of the top darts players have nicknames, like The Power, the Iceman and Snakebite. Do you have one?

I’m the Gambler. Growing up, I loved making crazy bets. flipping a coin, whatever. It stuck. My father died of a heart attack in a casino, and it’s in honor of him as well.

What’s the difference between someone who maybe throws darts at a bar or in their rec room occasionally, and a pro?

The drive and the time you put into the game. A lot of people complain that two, three, four years in, they’re not getting good. I tell them, it took me 26 years. It’s the time and effort you put into it.

What other sports are you a fan of, and are there athletes that you especially admire?

I’m a die-hard Chicago Bulls fan, and a New York Rangers fan from the Mark Messier days. I grew up watching Michael Jordan. His determination, his will to win, his closing ability inspired me.

You mentioned closing. In darts, there are moments when you’ve got to hit the double, and if you miss you’re pretty sure the other guy’s going to win. Is there anything different about those moments?

Absolutely. You can play great, you can play average, but ultimately darts is about timing. If you have the right timing at the right moments. you can win any match. Those are the moments you have to grasp. You can’t be nervous. You can’t be scared. You have to attack. I feel like that’s one of my strongest suits. Mentally, I have that ability to close it out.

I have to ask: Do you ever play those carnival booth darts games?

Of course! I usually try to negotiate with them. I say, I’ll give you 10 bucks, I’ll take nine darts and if I hit all nine balloons, I get the big stuffed animal.

Do they usually agree?

No.

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Protection plates – Why Corsican number plates are popular | Europe


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Biden readies his first major penalties on Russia



“Suffice it to say,” the official added, “we won’t stand by idly in the face of these human rights abuses.”

Navalny’s poisoning by Russian security forces last August and his recent jailing in Moscow has been deemed urgent enough to warrant a response, even if the broader review of U.S.-Russia policy — launched by the administration in January — is still ongoing, said the people familiar with the internal discussions.

Several Russia experts have said the U.S. should not wait to respond, especially after a Russian court paved the way last week for Navalny to be transferred to a penal colony.

“They’re right to do this broader review, but on Navalny they should take action sooner,” said Daniel Fried, who served as assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the State Department from 2005 to 2009.

“I don’t think we can stop [Russian President] Putin from sending Navalny to a penal colony,” said Fried. “But by acting quickly now, at least it’s in Putin’s calculation that the U.S. is willing to act.”

Navalny, 44, was poisoned last August with the nerve agent Novichok, a lethal substance considered a banned chemical weapon by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Kremlin denied involvement, but the State Department publicly attributed the attack to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in December. After months of treatment in Germany, Navalny recovered and flew home to Moscow, where he was promptly arrested for breaking the terms of a probation agreement. He was sentenced to nearly three years in prison earlier this month, sparking massive protests across Russia and condemnation by the international community.

It’s not the first time Russian security forces attempted to assassinate Putin’s foes using Novichok. Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer who served as a double agent for the British, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, were poisoned with the substance in March 2018 in England. In December, Navalny tricked an FSB agent into detailing the plot against him, which involved planting Novichok in the opposition leader’s underwear.

While the new National Security Council’s broader Russia review has yet to be completed, the Biden administration is not starting from scratch on the Navalny issue — it inherited a comprehensive sanctions package from the previous administration, which was handed over during the transition process, two of the people familiar with the transition said.

The package proposed three types of sanctions: Magnitsky Act sanctions on the individuals who detained Navalny; sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act); and sanctions under Executive Order 13382 — which is “aimed at freezing the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters,” according to the State Department. The Trump sanctions package also proposed revoking certain Russian officials’ visas and restricting the export of certain dual-use items to Russia that could be used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.

It is not clear why the sanctions proposal, which former officials said was ready to go by early January, stalled at the end of Trump’s term. But the former president was notoriously reluctant to penalize the Kremlin or confront Vladimir Putin directly, and the sanctions package would have required his approval.

However the new administration chooses to respond, it is unlikely to use the exact blueprint left by Trump’s national security team. The current National Security Council views that package as overly unilateral and not in line with Biden’s commitment to working more closely with U.S. partners on major foreign policy moves, two officials said.

Still, the U.S. has lagged behind allies on this issue. In response to Navalny’s poisoning last year, the European Union sanctioned six Russians and a state-run scientific institute in October, and this week announced its intention to sanction four additional senior Russian officials over Navalny’s treatment.

Ryan Tully, who served as Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on the NSC in the final six months of the Trump administration, said U.S. sanctions will be a key next step — along with working to end Nord Stream 2, an export gas pipeline running from Russia to Europe across the Baltic Sea that Biden has so far resisted imposing further sanctions on. Germany in particular is bullish on Nord Stream 2, complicating multilateral action, especially as the U.S. tries to repair relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel following tense relations in the Trump era.

“Sanctioning Russia using the CBW Act, Magnitsky Act, and/or EO 13382, for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny is an important step in that it reinforces the global norm against chemical weapons use,” Tully said. “Ultimately, these tools won’t change Putin’s calculus or behavior however. Putting a stake in the heart of Nord Stream 2 could, and would, drain billions from Putin’s coffers.”

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Lukashenko ‘grateful’ for Russian aid as Belarus leader meets Putin in Sochi


Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko for talks on Monday, amid media reports suggesting that the guest from Minsk was seeking another loan.

The Kremlin extended both economical and political support to Lukashenko after his re-election in August, widely viewed as rigged, triggered the largest and the most sustained wave of mass protests in Belarus” history.

The latest repressive moves have seen two journalists jailed for covering the demonstrations, and more detained. Rights groups say hundreds have been arrested over the past six months.

In September, Putin said Moscow would provide a $1.5 US billion loan to its ex-Soviet neighbour.

The two leaders met in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi and ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana.

“I’m very grateful for the assistance that you provide for the Belarusian economy. I must inform you that this is not for nothing and the money hasn’t been thrown to the wind,” Lukashenko told Putin.

Earlier this month, the Kommersant newspaper said another loan, this time of over $3 US billion, would be discussed during Lukashenko’s visit to Russia.

The Belarusian leader denied the reports last week and said that he was “not going there to ask for anything.”

Lukashenko’s COVID conversion

Lukashenko also praised the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, the first batch of which arrived in Belarus in December after it became the second country besides Russia to give the shot regulatory approval.

He said production of Sputnik V will begin in Belarus in March, adding that the country will develop its own coronavirus vaccine by the autumn.

Putin pointed out that Russia had provided Belarus with the necessary technology.

“It’s serious support. If we didn’t have this we would have a very tough time with vaccinations,” Lukashenko replied.

Last spring the Belarusian leader was criticised and ridiculed for refusing to take the coronavirus outbreak seriously. While the rest of Europe locked down Belarus carried on as usual, with Lukashenko reportedly comparing the disease to the flu and advising people to drink more vodka to resist it.

Meanwhile, Putin also said Russia looked forward to mutual efforts to produce the coronavirus vaccine with European partners, noting an agreement reached between Russia’ Gamaleya Institute and the AstraZeneca multinational pharmaceutical company.

Blowing hot and cold

The two leaders were later filmed skiing, riding snowmobiles and having lunch.

Russia and Belarus have a union treaty envisaging close political, economic and military ties, but they have often engaged in acrimonious disputes. Before the August 9 election, Lukashenko repeatedly accused the Kremlin of pressing Belarus to abandon its independence.

But with the US and the EU criticising the election and imposing sanctions on Belarus, Lukashenko had to rely squarely on Russia’s support.

Despite frictions in the past, the Kremlin abhorred the prospect of public protests forcing the resignation of the Belarusian leader, fearing it could embolden Putin’s critics at home.

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UK temporarily bans Boeing B777s with certain engine after two incidents | Business News


Boeing 777s with the same engine as the one which caught fire after taking off from Denver will be temporarily banned from entering UK airspace.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the move on Twitter after two incidents involving Boeing 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines.

In one, a plane’s engine caught fire and parts were reported to have dropped to the ground in the Netherlands.

A woman was injured by falling debris when the Boeing 747-400 cargo plane dropped engine parts after taking off from Maastricht Airport on Saturday.

That came after a United Airlines 777 bound for Hawaii was forced into an emergency landing on the same day as its right engine was seen engulfed in flames and debris plunged towards the ground.

All 231 passengers and 10 crew onboard, as well as those on the ground, were unhurt.

Boeing has said operations of all 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney engines should be suspended until the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) finds an appropriate protocol for inspections.

Currently, there are 69 such planes in service and 59 in storage.

Boeing said in a statement released on Monday: “Boeing is actively monitoring recent events related to United Airlines Flight 328.

Image:
Debris fell on Denver after the plane’s engine caught fire

“While the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] investigation is ongoing, we recommended suspending operations of the 69 in-service and 59 in-storage 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines until the FAA identifies the appropriate inspection protocol.

“Boeing supports the decision yesterday by the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, and the FAA’s action today to suspend operations of 777 aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines.

Pic: Broomfield Police
Image:
Pic: Broomfield Police

“We are working with these regulators as they take actions while these planes are on the ground and further inspections are conducted by Pratt & Whitney.”

In the Dutch incident, witnesses heard one or two explosions shortly after take-off and the pilot was informed by air traffic control that an engine was on fire, Maastricht Airport spokesman Hella Hendriks said.

“The photos indicate they were parts of engine blade, but that’s being investigated,” she said. “Several cars were damaged and bits hit several houses.”

Pic: Broomfield Police
Image:
Pic: Broomfield Police

The development represents a fresh blow to Boeing as its 737 MAX returns to the skies nearly two years after the fleet was grounded following two deadly crashes.

In the case of the 777, the FAA had earlier ordered inspections of the hollow fan blades, unique to the engine model, be “stepped up”.

Pic: Broomfield Police
Image:
Large pieces of debris were found in Denver. Pics: Broomfield Police

Other recent incidents involving Pratt & Whitney engines include an engine explosion six minutes after take-off which forced a flight between Okinawa and Tokyo to turn back in November.

And another Pratt & Whitney 4000 series engine failed when a blade broke off on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Hawaii in 2018

In each of the incidents, no one was hurt.

Two of the engine’s fan blades from the Hawaii flight were fractured and the rest of them “exhibited damage”, according to a separate statement from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

However, it added it was too early to draw conclusions about how the incident happened.

United Airlines, the only US airline to use the engine model in its fleet, is temporarily removing affected planes from service.

It said it will work closely with the FAA and the NTSB to “determine any additional steps that are needed to ensure these aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards and can return to service”.

Japan has gone a step further and decided to stop operating a total of 32 planes with that engine, according to Nikkei Asia.

The country’s ministry of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism also ordered the planes out of service.

Boeing’s 737 MAX fleet was grounded in March 2019 following two fatal crashes in which 346 people were killed.

In November, the US aviation regulator cleared the way for its return to US skies, followed a week later by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the UK’s CAA.



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The week in pictures


Here are some of the most eye-catching pictures of the week, from all around the world.

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