Monthly Archives: May 2015

New Facts and Opinions that matter

Ethiopian immigrants arriving in Israel, 1991. Photo by Israel government press office.

Ethiopian immigrants arriving in Israel, 1991. Photo by Israel government press office.

New on F&O this week:

Flight Out of Ethiopia, by international affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

This week’s riots by thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv mark the latest episode in a drama that stretches back well over 3,000 years, and 24 years  after Operation Solomon, one of the most extraordinarily successful rescue missions in modern history. The Ethiopians were protesting what they see as systemic racism by Israeli society against their community of about 130,000 people. The spark for the violent protests was a video posted on social media of two policemen beating a young Israeli-Ethiopian soldier, Demas Fikadey, who did not promptly respond to their order to move away from an area they were clearing.

Free speech in America: Not so absolute, by Seeking Orenda F&O columnist Tom Regan 

The funny thing about absolutes is that sometimes they’re not. A recent competition that invited Americans to submit cartoons of the prophet Mohammed is illustrative. Organized by a woman whose attacks on the Muslim community have generated much publicity across the United States, the competition had two purposes, one explicit, one implicit. The stated purpose was to demonstrate that in the United States speech is free, and that Americans can do or say whatever they want. The unstated purpose was to provoke a violent response against the contest and to help the contest organizer, a New Yorker by the name of Pam Geller, promote her racism and bigotry.

The Whistleblower’s Tale: How An Accountant Took on Halliburton. By Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica

If you want to know why whistleblowers can seem a little crazy, it’s because anybody who is not a little bit crazy would back away from the ordeal of confronting a corporate behemoth or grinding government bureaucracy. Meet Tony and Ondy Menendez — who were not crazy, but gave years of their lives to a long and agonizing fight against a powerful corporation. Theirs is a story of what it takes to be a whistleblower in America – and what it takes out of you.

Elections mattered this week:

Alberta, Canada’s right-wing province that’s sometimes called the “Texas of Canada,” elected a social democratic government. In an essay titled Alberta once again the New Jerusalem, Alberta historian, author and journalist Brian Brennan eloquently explains how and why. NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta, includes fierce public-information defender’s Sean Holman on Alberta’s lack of transparency, and author and thinker Penney Kome on the background to Rachel Motley’s rise to power.

The UK election mattered this week, and into the future. Here are select recommended readings on an event that portends great change for Britain, Europe and perhaps the world:

 UK Election primer: who, what, where, when, why, a F&O blog post

Why the polls got it so wrong in the British election, by British economics and finance professor Leighton Vaughan Williams,  The Conversation

Those who invested their own money in forecasting the outcome performed a lot better in predicting what would happen than did the pollsters. The betting markets had the Conservatives well ahead in the number of seats they would win right through the campaign and were unmoved in this belief throughout. Polls went up, polls went down, but the betting markets had made their mind up.

Election earthquake has opened chasms David Cameron will struggle to bridge, by Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian

…the coming five-year period is likely to be a tale of two unions. In his victory speech outside Downing street, David Cameron reaffirmed his promise to stage a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. That will happen before the end of 2017, which means a two-year-long campaign to get Britain out of the EU is under way now.

Those who marvelled at the power of last year’s plebiscite on Scottish independence to stir the deepest questions of identity and belonging should brace themselves. Just such a debate is coming to the entire UK, one that will rouse profound and unresolved questions. What is Britain’s place in the world? Where do we really belong? Are we one of many – or do we stand alone?

Post-Election Britain: A Disunited Kingdom,by Kenan Malik, New York Times 
An unexpectedly decisive election masks Britain’s profound political fragmentation.

One of the most anodyne election campaigns in living memory has left Britain with a result that few expected — and one that could transform Britain both internally and externally. This was an election that recast the political geography of Britain. It may redraw the boundaries of the nation. And it raises questions about the future shape of the European Union.

Oh what a lucky man, Mainly Macro blog by Simon Wren-Lewis, Oxford University economics professor

A few weeks ago I was having dinner with David Cameron. Well, almost – we were at the same restaurant but on tables at the opposite side of the room. He was taking a break from campaigning. I remember thinking he must be one of the luckiest Prime Ministers the UK has ever had. Two strokes of luck in particular stand out: the economy and Scotland. They stand out because between them they enabled him to win an election that he really should have lost.

In Case You Missed It, recent F&O dispatches and features include:

Watch for our feature package next week, on continuing coverage of Nepal, and check our Contents page regularly for new works. You’ll find our evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis, arts and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES, and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS.

Some of our original works are behind a paywall, available with a $1 site day pass, or with a subscription from $2.95/month – $19.95/year. Tell others about us. If you value our journalism, please help sustain us.

 

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Omar Khadr’s next life

Omar Khadr as a child, and an adult prisoner at  Guantánamo Bay.

Omar Khadr as a child, and an adult prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. Photo: Amnesty International

“Abused child.” “Child soldier.” “Brainwashed boy.” “Terrorist.” “Killer.” “Guantánamo prisoner.” “Victim of torture.” “War criminal.” “The only child soldier put on trial in modern history.”

On Thursday Omar Khadr, 28, launched the next of his many lives: “Free man  — with conditions.”

Born in Canada, Khadr was taken as a child to Afghanistan by his father, to fight with al-Qaeda. In 2002, aged 15, he was captured by American soldiers in a firefight in which he was injured. He was accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, Sgt. Christopher Speer.

Khadr was shipped to Guantánamo Bay, and convicted in 2010 of war crimes for Speer’s death. Under a plea agreement, he was to serve eight more years. He was later transferred to a jail in Canada. He repudiated his legal plea, on the grounds he agreed only to get out of Guantánamo Bay. His case is now winding its way through Canadian courts.

Meantime, the Alberta Court of Appeal released Khadr on bail, with strict conditions.

In the video below he speaks with media outside his lawyer’s house in Alberta, where he must live as one condition of his bail. 

Resources:

Omar Khadr, free on bail, vows to prove he is ‘a good person’, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Omar Khadr, Former Guantánamo Detainee, Is Released on Bail in Canada, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/08/world/americas/omar-khadr-canada-guantanamo-detainee-released-on-bail.html?emc=edit_tnt_20150507&nlid=18460284&tntemail0=y&_r=0

Amnesty International file on Omar Khadr: http://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/issues/security-and-human-rights/omar-khadr

Child Soldier for Al Qaeda Is Sentenced for War Crimes, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/us/02detain.html?action=click&contentCollection=Americas&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

 

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UK Election primer

DSC_0051

Photo: Ale/Flickr, Creative Commons

By Louise Thompson, University of Surrey
May 7, 2015

What is Britain voting for on May 7?

Britain is voting for a new parliament, and, by extension, a new government. The election will decide the composition of the House of Commons, and ultimately, who will be prime minister. At the same time, there will be elections for local tiers of government in certain parts of the country.

Who could be prime minister afterwards?

Although there are a large number of parties competing in this election, only the leaders of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party have any real chance of becoming prime minister. Either Conservative incumbent David Cameron will win a second term and so continue as prime minister, or Labour leader Ed Miliband will walk into Downing Street once a new government has been formed.

What does the Queen do?

The Queen has very little to do on election day. It is constitutionally frowned upon for her to vote, and she does not do so. Her constitutional role is simply to appoint the prime minister when the votes have been counted.

If David Cameron can form a governing coalition, his government will continue; if Ed Miliband wins, Cameron will need to resign and the Queen will then invite Miliband to form a government. If there is no clear winner, she will not be involved in coalition negotiations; her role is to take a back seat until it is clear which party leader has been able to put together a coalition which can maintain the confidence of the House of Commons.

It is traditional for the incoming prime minister to be driven to Buckingham Palace where he/she will have a short meeting with the monarch. They will usually then head back down the road to Downing Street, making a short speech to the waiting press outside Number Ten.

So what actually happens on May 7?

The UK is split into 650 parliamentary constituencies, each of which elects one representative to sit in the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the UK parliament. So there are essentially 650 mini-elections happening at once. Most of the candidates will be standing under the banner of one of the main political parties: Conservative, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party (SNP – only in Scotland), Plaid Cymru (only in Wales), the Green party, and the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

David Cameron is the leader of the Conservatives, but he still needs to stand as a parliamentary candidate in a constituency of his own, as do all party leaders. This means that while the competition to be prime minister is between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, they will only appear on the ballot paper in their own constituencies and nowhere else in the country. Cameron represents Witney in the west, Miliband is seeking election more than 100 miles away in the constituency of Doncaster North.

Votes are counted constituency by constituency, and the candidate in each constituency with the most votes becomes the Member of Parliament. If a party wins an overall majority of MPs (in this case 326), their leader will become the prime minister. This system is known as “first-past-the-post” – and it’s not terribly popular.

What happens if no party has a majority of seats?

In British politics, it’s unusual for no party to get an overall majority of MPs. But this did happen in 2010, and it is likely to happen again this time around.

Where no party wins an overall majority of seats, there are several options available. Parties can try to form a coalition government with one or more other parties, as Cameron’s Conservatives did with the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

They could also try to form a minority government, whereby the largest party or group lacks a majority but still manages to get legislation through, an arrangement not uncommon in continental Europe and Scandinavia. Taking this approach is more complicated, and would put the prime minister in a more vulnerable position as it would be much more difficult to pass legislation through the House of Commons.

What will they be negotiating over?

To form a coalition government, two or more political parties and their leaders would need to get through an intense period of negotiation. In 2010, it took five days for the coalition negotiations to be completed.

The discussions will inevitably revolve around the key policies put forward in each party’s election manifesto. Each side will have assorted “red lines” – limits to their cooperation which may come in the form of specific policies such as the Conservative Party’s wish for an EU referendum or the SNP’s wish to stop the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent, targets for both increased spending and cuts, or perhaps even possible other coalition partners.

Some leaders have proved more willing than others to talk about these before the election. Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg, for instance, has said that he would not join any coalition that also included the controversial Eurosceptics of UKIP.

Ed Miliband has ruled out a formal coalition with the SNP, but could still have to work with them in another, less binding arrangement. He has gone so far as to have his main pledges carved into a stone obelisk – although his election vice-chair then backpedalled, saying “I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the fact that he’s carved them into stone means that he is absolutely not going to break them or anything like that.”

What are some of the likely outcomes?

Since neither party looks set for a majority, a coalition government is almost guaranteed. If David Cameron remains prime minister, he is likely to have to continue to work with the Liberal Democrats – or perhaps even UKIP. If Ed Miliband wants to be prime minister, he is likely to have to work with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, and/or some of the very small parties (the Greens, Plaid Cymru, or parties from Northern Ireland).

In recent weeks this has all become even more complicated, as the two main party leaders have all refused to say who they would work with and act as if they’re likely to get a majority. Ed Miliband has ruled out a coalition with the SNP, while the Liberal Democrats have said they will not take part in a government that includes the SNP or UKIP.

So whatever happens, the 2015 negotiations are likely to be much more difficult than they were after the last election.

How does Scotland fit into this?

The House of Commons represents the whole of the UK – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Scottish voters will elect MPs on the same basis as the rest of the UK, but they will have the chance to vote for different parties. The Scottish National Party (SNP) is the largest of these.

What is particularly interesting about Scotland in this election is that the SNP is expected to do much better than it ever has before. Thanks to a surge in membership and support since the 2014 independence referendum, it is forecast to win across many constituencies that have traditionally been won by Labour – potentially stopping Miliband from winning a clear majority of MPs.

He has ruled out a formal coalition with the SNP, but if his party is decimated north of the border, as some predict, he may have no other way of putting a government together.

Creative Commons

Louise Thompson is Lecturer in British Politics at University of Surrey. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Recommended resources:
BBC Election 2015
Financial Times election data hub
Financial Times collected election coverage
Code of Silence, George Monbiot, The Guardian: “Almost all the issues worth debating are left unmentioned in this election.”
Media Coverage Of Close U.K. Elections Finds Much To Mock, National Public Radio (U.S.)by Krishnadev Calamur
Economist election roundup

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. 

Subscribe by email to our free FRONTLINES, a blog announcing new works, and the odd small tale. Look for evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. Some of our original works are behind a paywall, available with a $1 site day pass, or with a subscription from $2.95/month – $19.95/year. If you value journalism, please help sustain us.

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Rachel Notley was born to lead Alberta NDP

Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Alberta’s newly-elected NDP premier, Rachel Notley Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Alberta is once again the New Jerusalem, writes historian, author and F&O columnist Brian Brennan. An excerpt of his dispatch:

Alberta, the home province of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been viewed for 80 years – ever since the right-wing Social Credit Party was elected in 1935 – as Canada’s bastion of rock-ribbed conservatism. Or, as Alberta author Aritha van Herk put it, Alberta has been stereotyped as a province defined by such terms as “redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.” Until now, after Albertans went to the polls to elect a new provincial government and change that image.

 Click to read Alberta once again the New Jerusalem.

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. 

 

 

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Alberta election: is change in the wind?

 

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, on May 3. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

Polls suggest Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley has a shot at governing. Photo: Don Voaklander, creative commons

Could Alberta be the bellwether for shifting politics in North America’s oil patch communities?

Alberta citizens vote in a provincial election today.  Alberta — world famous as home of the oil sands — has been ruled by the Progressive Conservative party for more than four decades, and it is the base of Canada’s hard-right federal Conservative government. Now the socialist New Democratic Party, which received less than 10 per cent of the popular vote in 2012,  is on a wave of massive popular support, and numerous opinion polls give it a shot at governing.

The election of a socialist government in right-wing Alberta would have been unthinkable until now — but amid social and political upheaval, global oil prices are volatile and plunging, and communities almost entirely reliant on oil and gas extraction are suffering. 

Alberta-based journalists Penney Kome and Sean Holman consider aspects of the issues.

The election, writes Holman, is “a missed opportunity to change that indifference, raising awareness among Albertans about why their information rights are important and how those rights can prevent another 44 years of unaccountable governments in this province.”  

“Alberta, the province that elected North America’s first Muslim mayor, is flirting with another surprise: a feminist New Democrat government — or at least Opposition,” writes Kome.

Click here to read NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta?

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Fracking: Canada’s top court to review Alberta’s duty to citizens

Gas flare from drill rig near a home in Hythe, Alberta, Photo by Greg Locke © 2009

Gas flare from drill rig near a home in Hythe, Alberta. Photo by Greg Locke © 2009

By Chris Wood

Does a Canadian provincial government have any responsibility to protect your natural security? Nope. Nada. Rien. It can pretty much do as it likes, wrecking your water and any other part of the environment that it likes in the process. And you can just go pound sand.

That, in non-legal language, was pretty much what an Alberta Court ruled in the case of Jessica Ernst, a former oilfield biologist who lost the use of the water wells on her small ranch east of Calgary after a gas company hydro-fracked several drill-holes nearby. Ernst had appealed for help to the Alberta public agency that supposedly oversees its oil and gas industry, and was not only turned away but vilified for her efforts. The provincial court upheld the agency’s dismissal of Ernst’s complaint.

It was an astonishing ruling, but it’s about to get a second look. The Supreme Court of Canada has now agreed to hear Ernst’s appeal of the Alberta ruling. Its verdict, of course, is months away and impossible to predict. But the high court has already overturned a series of attempts by the federal government to illegally circumvent Canadians’ Charter-guaranteed Rights and Freedoms. It now has a chance to re-affirm that provinces also have an obligation to protect their citizens, and cannot simply set that duty aside in order to provide carte blanche to corporations.

To meet Jessica Ernst and learn more about her case and the risks and alleged benefits of hydro-fracking, read my article Risky Business: The facts behind fracking,  on Facts and Opinions. (subscription required)

References:

Risky Business: The facts behind fracking,  by Chris Wood, Facts and Opinions (paywall)

Search for “Ernst” for background and links to previous judgements in the Bulletin of Proceedings, Supreme Court of Canada, May 1, 2015

Landmark Fracking Case Gets a Supreme Court Hearing, The Tyee : http://thetyee.ca/News/2015/04/30/Ernst-Heads-to-Supreme-Court/

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

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New Facts and Opinions this week

If Facts and Opinions were published on old-fashioned print, we’d be selling a thick, heavy book on newsstands this week — glossy pages packed with photos and scintillating text plus, given the prohibitive costs of print, scads of advertising to sway your minds and empty your wallets.

Tom Regan is appalled at American media coverage of Baltimore. Above, Baltimore resident Kwame Rose challenged Fox News celebrity Geraldo Rivera over news coverage of Baltimore . Photo: screen shot from YouTube video

Tom Regan is appalled at American media coverage of Baltimore. Kwame Rose challenges Geraldo Rivera of Fox News over its coverage. YouTube

Instead, F&O is a digital journal, non-partisan, owned by its contributors. And we’re different from most in our reliance only on subscribers – neither we, nor your eyeballs, can be bought; no advertisers are welcome on our pages. And this week we’ve put out a great digital “book” — thought-provoking, informative, packed with terrific photos  — including a bit of fun.

Bhaktapur, Nepal, in the wake of the April 25 earthquake. Photo: Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi/UNDP

 Bhaktapur, Nepal. Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi/UNDP

New Dispatches:

New in Commentary, the Loose Leaf Salon, and Arts:

In case you missed them: 

Check our Contents page regularly for our new works. Look for evidence-based reporting in Reports. Find commentary, analysis, arts and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES, and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. Some of our original works are behind a paywall, available with a $1 site day pass, or with a subscription from $2.95/month – $19.95/year. Tell others about us. If you value our journalism, please help sustain us.

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