Monthly Archives: May 2016

Facts, and Opinions, this week: From the G7 to pregnancy meds, Brexit to Taiwan

Leaders attend the the first Outreach Session during the second day of the Group of Seven (G7) summit meetings in Ise Shima, Japan, May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Watson/Pool

Leaders attend the the first Outreach Session during the second day of the Group of Seven (G7) summit meetings in Ise Shima, Japan, May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Watson/Pool

G7 warns of risks to economic growth, health, by F&O  Report

The G7 wrapped up its 2016 summit with warnings, of risks to economic growth, health threats from microbes resistant to antibiotics and the handling of health emergencies, as well as a loss of public trust in tax systems to the need for infrastructure investment and trade agreements.

Which Brexit forecast is trustworthy? by Nauro Campos

At one extreme, Economists for Brexit predict that the main economic consequence of Brexit is that UK incomes in 2030 will be about 4% higher. In the middle, studies suggest UK incomes by 2030 will be will be unaffected. And At the other extreme, various studies (including the Treasury, the LSE, the OECD, and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research reports) indicate substantial losses to the UK economy, of about 7% by 2030. How does one think this through? An economist offers suggestions.

Rio Olympics should be delayed or moved — health experts, by Toni Clarke and William Schomberg

More than 100 medical experts, academia and scientists on Friday have called for the Rio Olympic Games to be postponed or moved because of fears that the event could speed up the spread of the Zika virus around the world.

 

Pharmaceuticals in pregnancy are untested. How safe are they? by Nina Martin  Report

A healthy baby is the universal goal of pregnancy, shared by women and doctors, researchers and regulators alike. But  the same desire to protect each fetus deters scientists and drug makers from studying expectant mothers. When it comes to drug safety, pregnancy is a largely research-free zone, women’s health experts say. The consequence? Treatment that often is based on informed guesswork rather than solid evidence, in which medications that have never been approved for use during pregnancy, and whose long-term dangers may not be known, become the standard of care.

DPP Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai gives a speech during a news conference to promote her campaign for the 2016 presidential election in TaipeiBeijing tests mettle of Taiwan’s Iron Lady President, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

Since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in January, the Chinese regime of Xi Jinping has done everything it can to inflame cross-strait relations by goading her into making an outraged response. Tsai, who was inaugurated President of the island nation of 23 million people on May 20, has refused to react in the way Beijing wants.

Canada’s ambassador to Ireland: Once a Cop, Always a Cop, by Brian Brennan   Column

It’s hard to tell from the raw television footage if the shaven-headed protester posed any real danger to the Irish and British dignitaries gathered at a Dublin military cemetery this week to honour British soldiers killed during the 1916 Irish rebellion against British rule. But clearly the Canadian ambassador, Kevin Vickers, felt there was a threat. He made a beeline for the shouting protester, grabbed him by the sleeves of his leather jacket, marched him away from the podium and turned him over to police.

What I know now that I’m 60, by Tom Regan   Column

Six decades gives you a lot of material to work with. I can’t list all of it, but here is a partial list of what I now know.

 

US election: manufacturing the masks, by Aly Song   Photo-essay

There’s no masking the facts. One Chinese factory is expecting Donald Trump to beat his likely U.S. presidential rival Hilary Clinton in the popularity stakes. At the Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory, a Halloween and party supply business that produces thousands of rubber and plastic masks of everyone from Osama Bin Laden to Spiderman, masks of Donald Trump and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton faces are being churned out. The factory management believes Trump will eventually run out the winner.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs

Canada’s ambassador to Ireland: Once a Cop, Always a Cop

By Brian Brennan
May 28, 2016

It’s hard to tell from the raw television footage if the shaven-headed protester posed any real danger to the Irish and British dignitaries gathered at a Dublin military cemetery this week to honour British soldiers killed during the 1916 Irish rebellion against British rule.

But clearly the Canadian ambassador, Kevin Vickers, felt there was a threat. He made a beeline for the shouting protester, grabbed him by the sleeves of his leather jacket, marched him away from the podium and turned him over to police, who led the man away in handcuffs. The protester, Brian Murphy, was later identified as a republican sympathizer who disrupted the remembrance ceremony to draw attention to the case of two Northern Ireland men convicted and sentenced to life in the 2009 slaying of a Northern Ireland police constable. Their supporters claim the men were wrongly convicted. Murphy has now been criminally charged with a public order offence.

If Vickers had still been the sergeant-of-arms of Canada’s House of Commons, a position he held before being appointed ambassador to Ireland in 2015, his instinctive reaction at the Dublin ceremony would have earned him praise. A former Mountie, he was hailed as a national hero in 2014 when he helped take down a gunman who had stormed Parliament after killing a sentry at the nearby National War Memorial.

But was his action in Dublin appropriate for a diplomat? The people at the Canadian embassy in Ireland aren’t saying and Prime Minister Trudeau, at the G7 conference in Japan, says he has no comment pending a full briefing on the incident. The Irish government hasn’t commented either.

My inclination is to give Vickers the benefit of the doubt. He saw Murphy emerge from the seats set aside for invited guests (he wangled an invitation by claiming to be a relative of someone buried in the cemetery) and walk toward the ceremonial guard, brandishing a document and shouting “this is an insult … a disgrace.” No security person, soldier or police officer moved in to stop him. That’s when Vickers, with his raincoat flapping, rushed into action. Undoubtedly his police training kicked in.

Why would Vickers have felt Murphy posed a threat? Probably because the remembrance ceremony was being held at a time of heightened security in Ireland. Security forces in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland expressed concern earlier this month about increasing violence by dissident republicans linked to a group calling itself “the new IRA.” British intelligence raised the alert level for a Northern Irish terrorist attack from “moderate” to “substantial.” The remembrance ceremony, boycotted by the Irish republican political party Sinn Féin, was expected to generate controversy because it celebrated what Sinn Féin called “the enemy of the Irish.”

Canadians on social media say Vickers had no right to do what he did: interfere with a “peaceful” Irish protester on Irish soil. Maintaining civil order in Ireland is the job of the Irish authorities, they say. What would Canadians say if China’s ambassador were to take on a Tibetan protester in Ottawa?

I say that Vickers was right to do what he felt was right. He wasn’t acting as a diplomat in this instance. He was acting as someone who has stared violence in the face and didn’t flinch. In the absence of any action on the part of the security forces present, he tackled Murphy and held on to his sleeves to prevent him from grabbing any possible concealed weapon.

“I engaged the suspect and the suspect is deceased,” he said after the armed attack on Parliament in 2014. This week he engaged a suspect and the suspect is now charged. For that, Kevin Vickers deserves our respect.

Copyright Brian Brennan 2016

You might also wish to read this story:

Remembering the Pillar. By Brian Brennan

A century ago, on April 29, 1916, the Irish Republic ended its brief existence with an unconditional surrender. Though successfully thwarted, it set off a series of events that led to the outbreak of an Irish war of independence between 1919 and 1921. Brian Brennan writes about his experience of Ireland’s independence movement halfway between then, and now.

Links:

Canadian ambassador Kevin Vickers tackles protester at Easter Rising event in Dublin, BBC:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36390617

Wikipedia page for Kevin Vickers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Vickers

Twitter thread on Kevin Vickers: https://twitter.com/search?q=Kevin%20Vickers&src=typd&lang=pl

Brian BrennanBrian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , |

Beijing tests mettle of Taiwan’s Iron Lady President

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 28, 2016

A television in a sales showroom features Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen during a televised political debate in Taipei, Taiwan, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

A television in a sales showroom features Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen during a televised political debate in Taipei, Taiwan, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in January, the Chinese regime of Xi Jinping has done everything it can to inflame cross-strait relations by goading her into making an outraged response.

Tsai, who was inaugurated President of the island nation of 23 million people on May 20, has refused to react in the way Beijing wants. She is far too experienced a politician, especially in dealing with the slippery fish in Beijing, to be easily trapped into saying things that can be use against her, especially with Taiwan’s indispensable ally, Washington.

Xi and his boys certainly didn’t plan it this way, but all that their bully tactics in the last four months have done is reinforce what ought to have been evident to everyone for many years.

The relations between Taiwan and China are not a threat to regional security because Taiwan’s people want to keep their status as an independent country. They are a threat because of the imperialist instincts of the Beijing regime, which, without any historic, legal, moral or political justification, claims to own the island and its people.

The friction in this fault line in Asian security is growing not because Tsai and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won for the first time both the presidential and parliamentary elections in January.

The tectonic plates are grinding because Xi in Beijing is a belligerent and vengeful autocrat who is trying to use manufactured patriotism to divert public attention from the economic, social and political failures of his regime.

Beijing has sneered and questioned the sincerity of Tsai’s commitments to maintain stable relations with China; statements made in both her victory speech in January and at her inauguration a week ago.

A major reason a clear majority of Taiwan’s voters elected Tsai and the DPP was the party’s pledge to revive the economy and lessen its dependence on trade with China. But within hours of Taiwan’s election day Beijing made it clear it intends to use every weapon in its arsenal to foil the new government’s efforts to rebuild the island’s economy. This crass and indefensible attack on the internal affairs of a foreign country has continued Beijing’s bile is not just institutional. It has shown it can and will abduct Taiwanese citizens anywhere and at any time it chooses.

The personal attacks on Tsai have become more and more pointed. A few days ago a senior Beijing official responsible for China’s relations with Taiwan wrote in state-controlled media that Tsai is not fit to lead a government because she is a women, and therefore temperamentally unsuited to the task.

In fact, there are few elected leaders around today who have come to office with as many accomplishments or essential experience as does Tsai. She is a lawyer who got her first degree at Taiwan’s National University, went on to do a masters degree at Cornell and gained her doctorate at the London School of Economics. On her return to Taiwan she taught law for several years before being spotted as one of the brightest and best of her generation by then-President Lee Tung-hui of the Kuomintang party. Lee was the island’s first Taiwanese president and also the first directly elected leader. In the 1990s Tsai worked for him both as a national security adviser and as a drafter of China policy. She also negotiated Taiwan’s entry in 2000 into the World Trade Organization.

When the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian won the presidency in 2000, Tsai became the main adviser on relations with China. This marked Tsai’s transition to political commitment to the DPP. She has been through the political mill, running unsuccessfully both for mayor of New Taipei, and for president, before her victory in January.

She has a wealth of political, economic, diplomatic and administrative experience.

Tsai has taken some risk in the very measured statements she has made about her approach to cross-Strait relations. Tsai has repeated that she wants to maintain the status quo in relations with Beijing and that she will respect the agreements made by the previous Kuomintang government of Ma Ying-jeou with China.

This has been disappointing for many of her supporters, who want to call Beijing’s bluff and move to have the reality of their independence recognized internationally.

But Tsai’s measured caution is not enough for Beijing. It has ranted against the “ambiguity” of her statements. In particular, Beijing officials have railed against her for not explicitly recognizing the so-called “1992 Consensus.” In this agreement Taipei and Beijing said there is “One China,” but without saying what that entailed. For Taipei it meant there is one China, but Taiwan is not part of it. For Beijing it means Taiwan is a renegade province and should submit to China’s sovereignty or risk military invasion.

Tsai comes to office with an ambitious five-point plan to revive Taiwan’s economy and enhance the island’s social structure.

Taiwan has a formidable international reputation for high-tech innovation. But in recent decades Taiwanese companies have followed the international trend and moved their manufacturing and assembly operations to China. Tsai wants to reverse this and to encourage development of new specializations in such areas as biotechnology that are not dependent on supply chains involving China

In the same vein, she wants to lessen Taiwan’s dependence on exports to China by expanding the island’s reach into the Southeast Asian and Indian markets. Tsai is also intent on seeking membership in the U.S.-led, 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes the 10 countries of Southeast Asia, China, India and Japan.

Her problem is that Beijing has a long history of using its economic muscle to blackmail other countries not to admit Taiwan to trade or other international organizations without China’s agreement.

Beijing has made it clear it intends to continue its economic warfare against Taiwan. Soon after the DPP’s election victory Beijing announced it was cutting the number of Chinese tourists allowed to visit the island. This did not have the desired effect, as many Taiwanese breathed a sigh of relief. The Chinese visitors have become notorious for their ill manners and arrogance, just as they have in Hong Kong, where the administration had to plead with Beijing to cut the visa quotas so as to avoid a serious backlash against the tourists.

In Taiwan, Chinese tourists had swarmed famous attractions like Sun Moon Lake and the Taroko Gorge in such numbers that local visitors have been driven out. And in the National Palace Museum the ill manners and discourtesy of the Chinese tourists reached the level where museum staff found it necessary to post dozens of notices with information about how to behave in a public place.

If Beijing’s tourist gambit misfired, another ploy did not. Taiwan has formal diplomatic relations with only 21 countries. Most nations have downgraded their diplomatic representation in Taipei as the price of having full bilateral relations with Beijing. Several small countries, however, found regularly switching diplomatic relations between Taiwan and China was a very profitable business. During his eight-years in office former Taiwan President Ma negotiated an unofficial end to this “dollar diplomacy.” But in March, the small African state of Gambia, which had previously recognized Taiwan, announced it was establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing. This move clearly came after pressure from China and is undoubtedly intended as a warning to Taipei that Beijing will step up its efforts to enforce Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation.

There was an even nastier example of Beijing’s vengeful nature in April, when Kenya was persuaded to force 45 Taiwanese on to planes to China. The 45 had been implicated in a fraudulent telemarketing scheme aimed at China. All were tried in Kenya and most acquitted. But China told the Nairobi government it wanted the Taiwanese, claiming they are Chinese citizens. Kenya herded the first batch of eight Taiwanese onto a China-bound plane on April 8. When another 28 Taiwanese, being held in jail, heard what had happened they barricaded themselves in their cells, Kenyan police stormed the prison and took the prisoners to the airport.

Taipei accused China of “extrajudicial abduction,” but Beijing insists it has the right to detain and try the Taiwanese.

Beijing’s abuse has also been aimed directly at Tsai. A long and thorough assessment of her was published this week in the International Herald Leader, a subsidiary of the state-controlled Xinhua news agency. The article was written by Wang Weixing, a council member of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, Beijing’s arms-length organization for dealing unofficially with Taipei. Wang is also head of the foreign military studies department of the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences.

What caught contemptuous international attention this week was that half way through the essay Wang comments that “as a politician who is single, Tsai is unencumbered by feelings of love, and is without constraints of a family or the need to care for children, her political style and action strategy commonly incline toward emotionalism, individualism and extremism.”

The article concludes that “Tsai Ing-wen’s personality is clearly two-faced.”

While the reaction has focused on Wang’s misogyny, his overall judgement on Tsai should give Beijing cause for concern. He described a very tough, determined and experienced person who will not be easily manipulated by Beijing and who is a formidable opponent.

For Tsai, her major day-to-day problem will be satisfying the expectations of the people who voted for her and the DPP. In 2014 thousands of mostly young Taiwanese occupied the parliament, the Legislative Yuan, to block an expanded free trade deal with China planned by the Ma administration. The protesters succeeded, but also established that as well as being deeply suspicious of economic relations with China, young Taiwanese are confident of their own identity and are increasingly frustrated that their nationhood is not internationally recognized.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Correction, May 30:  Tsai Ing-wen ran for mayor of New Taipei, not Taipei, as stated in the original column. New Taipei was called Taipei County until 2010 and is in fact the large area around downtown Taipei, the capital.

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Links:

Translation of Tsai Ing-wen profile, by Wang Weixing, International Herald Leader, a subsidiary of the state-controlled Xinhua news agency: http://solidaritytw.tumblr.com/post/144997215206/aratspla-officials-contentious-tsai-ing-wen

You might also enjoy these Jonathan Manthorpe columns:

REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

Taiwan set to complete the transition to democracy

Taiwan has surged over the hump of its 35-year voyage from a military-ruled, one-party state to one of the most successful and vibrant democracies in Asia.

Party dissent in China as time for a new mandate for Xi nears

China’s leader Xi Jinping is facing serious criticism from within the ruling Communist Party as the time approaches when he must be reconfirmed as party boss and the country’s president. Since being selected by the party at the end of 2012 for China’s two top posts, Xi has raised hackles by using an anti-corruption drive to remove his political rivals, fostering an unseemly cult of personality, ramping up censorship and suppressing of dissent, and grasping more personal power than any leader since Mao Zedong.

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public DomaineChina’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

China’s island building in the South China Sea shows the challenges awaiting America’s next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Riot police arrests a protester after a clash at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Familiarity with China breeds contempt in Hong Kong

The only surprise in the Monday night clashes between Hong Kong police and demonstrators demanding self-rule is that it hasn’t happened before.  In all likelihood the Mong Kok riots herald increasingly violent clashes as Hongkongers vent their frustrations with Beijing’s refusal to keep its promises of political reform and the steady erosion of the territory’s freedoms. The Chinese government has only itself to blame for the alienation of Hong Kong’s seven million people.

Beijing bristles as Taiwan prepares to elect pro-independence opposition

Taiwan’s voters are preparing for a rocky ride as they appear set to elect an opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration dedicated to preserving the independence of the island and its 23 million people. If the voters in next year’s presidential election do what they are now telling pollsters they intend, the result will excite anger in Beijing and send a frisson of anxiety through the corridors of power in Washington.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , |

Facts, and Opinions, that matter this week

The Story of the Komagatu Maru, by Rod Mickleburgh, report

At long last, a formal apology was delivered in the House of Commons for Canada’s racist behaviour in its shameful treatment of Sikh passengers aboard the Komagata Maru who had the effrontery to seek immigration to the West Coast more than a hundred years ago. Not only were they denied entry, they were subjected to two months of exceptionally inhumane treatment by unflinching immigration officers. While many now know the basics of the ill-fated voyage, the story has many elements that are less well known.

The toddler tied to a rock while parents work, by Amit Dave, report

There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India’s booming cities. Across the country it is not uncommon to see young children rolling in the sand and mud as their parents carry bricks or dig for new roads or luxury houses.

Yemen yearns for peace, by Mohamed al-Sayaghi  Photo-essay

Anxiety reigns in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, where ordinary people await the outcome of almost a month of peace talks they hope can end a devastating war.

Commentary

Venezuela’s drawn-out agony nears crisis, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs column

A non-operative water tank is seen in a neighbourhood called "The Tank" in the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, April 3, 2016. Although their nation has one of the world's biggest hydroelectric dams and vast rivers like the fabled Orinoco, Venezuelans are still suffering water and power cuts most days. The problems with stuttering services have escalated in the last few weeks: yet another headache for the OPEC nation's 30 million people already reeling from recession, the world's highest inflation rate, and scarcities of basic goods. President Nicolas Maduro blames a drought, while the opposition blames government incompetence. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins This weekend’s largest military exercises ever by Venezuela may reveal whether the country is heading merely for an accelerated political and economic melt-down, or a full-blown civil war.

The triumph of fear in America, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda column

Photo by Ren Rebadomia, Creative Commons

There isn’t a fear that Americans won’t embrace. Fear controls almost every aspect of America society, seeps into every part of our lives. And that fear is used to manipulate us.

European data suggests the gig economy helped create Trump, Sanders. By Jonathan J.B. Mijs  Expert Witness

Politicians and pundits in America wonder where the rip-roaring popularity of protest candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders originated. The answer may lie in Europe. My coauthors and I link the success of Trump’s kind of politics to the worldwide adoption of neoliberal economic policies, government measures that shift control from the state to the market.

In case you missed it –a selection of our most recent stories:

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs

Venezuela’s drawn-out agony nears crisis

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 21, 2016

A non-operative water tank is seen in a neighbourhood called "The Tank" in the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, April 3, 2016. Although their nation has one of the world's biggest hydroelectric dams and vast rivers like the fabled Orinoco, Venezuelans are still suffering water and power cuts most days. The problems with stuttering services have escalated in the last few weeks: yet another headache for the OPEC nation's 30 million people already reeling from recession, the world's highest inflation rate, and scarcities of basic goods. President Nicolas Maduro blames a drought, while the opposition blames government incompetence. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A non-operative water tank is seen in a neighbourhood called “The Tank” in the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela, April 3, 2016. Although their nation has one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric dams and vast rivers like the fabled Orinoco, Venezuelans are still suffering water and power cuts most days. The problems with stuttering services have escalated in the last few weeks: yet another headache for the OPEC nation’s 30 million people already reeling from recession, the world’s highest inflation rate, and scarcities of basic goods. President Nicolas Maduro blames a drought, while the opposition blames government incompetence. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

This weekend’s largest military exercises ever by Venezuela may reveal whether the country is heading merely for an accelerated political and economic melt-down, or a full-blown civil war.

Besieged President Nicolas Maduro authorised the demonstration of military might as public clamour mounts for a referendum to depose him. Nearly two million people have signed a petition demanding his recall. Four million signatures are needed under the constitution — and polls show about 70 per cent of the country’s 30 million people want Maduro out of office this year.

Maduro has dismissed the referendum call, and he imposed a state of emergency a week ago, giving himself added powers to impose civic order and control the economy. On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that Maduro’s emergency decree is constitutional in the face of “the extraordinary social, economic, political, natural and ecological circumstances that are gravely affecting the national economy.”

Maduro was also responding to a tidal surge of street demonstrations sparked by shortages of even the most basic commodities, regular power cuts, and water rationing. Protesters have been dispersed by riot squads using truncheons and tear gas.

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On Thursday, Maduro warned that the country faces “a state of internal upheaval,” and threatened to ratchet up the response by security forces. In this climate, the military exercise and the Supreme Court ruling are far more likely to heighten tensions, with the prospect of expanding violence, than to damp them down.

One element of the economic crisis is that many factories have stopped working, saying they cannot buy the necessary components and ingredients for their products. Even the country’s main brewery has pulled down the shutters because the owners say they cannot import the barley they need to make beer. On Friday, Coca Cola announced it is suspending production in Venezuela because of a shortage of sugar.

Maduro this week threatened to take control of closed factories if their owners do not re-open them. The factory closures, he says, are part of a right-wing conspiracy to eject his government. Maduro, blames the country’s ills on opposition to his party’s socialist revolution by Venezuela’s conservative business and industrial classes, and United States “imperialism.” He accused the U.S. of sending spy planes into Venezuela’s airspace, an echo of past accusations by Caracas governments that Washington is attempting to engineer regime change.

Venezuela’s simmering political discord came to a head in December when the opposition Unity Movement won a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. That win came after a campaign in which the opposition pledged to remove Maduro from office before his six-year term is up in 2019. The plan is to demand a referendum to recall Maduro, and to trigger a new election rather than have him succeeded by his Vice-President, Aristobulo Isturiz.

Maduro is a former bus driver and union leader who rose to be Vice-President in the United Socialist Party administration of the buffoon braggart, President Hugo Chavez. When Chavez died in 2013, Maduro succeeded him, but won only a shade over 50 per cent of the vote in a special election held soon afterwards. Since then, Maduro has ruled by decree, though to say he has “ruled” is overgenerous. His three years in power are marked by an extraordinary inability to come to grips with any of the ills besetting Venezuela.

But then, he inherited a poisoned chalice.

Chavez, an army captain, dreamed-up the authoritarian socialist “Bolivarian Revolution” that has destroyed what was once one of Latin America’s best performing economies. This socialist theology was based on a selective and myth-infused reading of the story of South America’s 18th and early 19th century “liberator,” Simon Bolivar. Chavez first used his soap opera philosophy to try to launch a military coup in 1992. When that failed, he went semi-legit, and won the presidential election in 1999. He remained president until he died of cancer in 2013. In a move worthy of the iconography of North Korea’s ruling Kim family, Chavez in July, 2014, was declared Venezuela’s “Eternal President.”

As he struggles to cling to power, Maduro is evoking the revolutionary imagery and verbiage of the 1960s and 1970s that inspired Chavez and made him the best friend of the withering Castro brothers’ regime in Cuba. “We are going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other … to defend this sacred land,” Maduro said this week.

Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves – larger even than those of Saudi Arabia – has one of the world’s worst-performing economies. The economy shrank by about 10 per cent last year according to the International Monetary Fund. The economic performance is expected to be even worse this year.

Seldom, if ever, has there been a more pitiable example of the perils of the “Dutch Disease” – the deplorable effects on the economy or over-reliance on the export of natural resources. Oil accounts for 95 per cent of Venezuela’s exports and 50 per cent of its gross domestic product. The Caracas government formerly needed international oil prices of only about $US50 a barrel to cover all its spending obligations. While the price has been up around $US100 a barrel for the last few years, Chavez and Maduro should have been stuffing money away for non-oil economic development and a sovereign wealth fund. Instead the money wafted off into clouds of corruption and ideology-inspired economic nonsense. The result is that the government now needs the international price of oil to be up around $US120 a barrel in order to cover its budget. That is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

The fall-out from nearly 17 years of this comic opera is tragic.

Inflation is running up around 300 per cent, and could approach 1,000 per cent by next year. Unemployment is at 17 per cent, is much higher among younger work-age Venezuelans, and will probably reach at least 21 per cent this year.

More than 70 per cent of Venezuelans live below the World Bank poverty line, of incomes worth less than $US2 a day. This too will likely get worse over the course of this year.

One social consequence of the government’s gross ineptitude is that Venezuela has the second highest murder rate in the world, just behind Honduras. The capital, Caracas, has the worst murder rate of any city outside declared war zones.

What is surprising is that the ruling United Socialist Party has not removed Maduro to try to avert the looming crisis. One reason is that the party’s name is inaccurate. It is not united. It is a grab-bag of querulous factions who, like their strutting rooster founder Chavez, are unable to demean themselves to compromise, even as the driverless bus rushes towards the cliff.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said this week Venezuela is “a time bomb that can explode at any given moment.” His Unity Movement and other opposition groups have promised further demonstrations demanding Maduro’s departure, even in the face of Maduro’s threat to use the army against protesters.

Capriles says Venezuela is approaching a “moment of truth.” Truth has little to do with it. What will determine the outcome is what the army decides to do in the next few days and weeks.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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You might also enjoy these stories:

Venezuela’s struggle to keep the lights on, by Reuters  Report/Photo-essay

Residents of Venezuela’s southern city of Puerto Ordaz enjoy pleasant views of the Orinoco and Caroni rivers and are a half hour’s drive from one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric dams. Yet most days they suffer water and power cuts.

Oil slump devastates Venezuela, by Jonathan Manthorpe, column

Venezuela’s grey and featureless President, Nicolas Manduro, the default successor to that preening, strutting rooster Hugo Chavez, is set to become the first head of government felled by tumbling oil prices. It’s just a matter of who gets their boot lined up first to kick him out the door.

Venezuelan opposition fractures over ballots or bullets to win power. by Jonathan Manthorpe, column (from our 2014 archives)

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Facts, and Opinions, this week

 

Arcelia Leandro poses for a picture at the kitchen of her house, while she waits for the power to return, during a power cut in Puerto Ordaz in Bolivar state, Venezuela, April 12, 2016. Although their nation has one of the world's biggest hydroelectric dams and vast rivers like the fabled Orinoco, Venezuelans are still suffering water and power cuts most days. The problems with stuttering services have escalated in the last few weeks: yet another headache for the OPEC nation's 30 million people already reeling from recession, the world's highest inflation rate, and scarcities of basic goods. President Nicolas Maduro blames a drought, while the opposition blames government incompetence. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins SEARCH "SERVICES TANK" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES

Arcelia Leandro poses for a picture at the kitchen of her house during a power cut in Puerto Ordaz in Bolivar state, Venezuela. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

When governments go rogue, fail, or are toppled by forces outside their control, things break down. Quickly, ordinary people suffer. Venezuela, once oil-rich and the fat cat of Latin America, is in trouble: the government is fighting for its political life and declared a state of emergency on Friday. The Americans are eyeing it with concern.

To put the politics into context, in this weekend’s lineup F&O offers a photo essay from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela,  that shows what happens on the ground when basic services like electricity and water are interrupted.

Also in our good reads for the week, Jonathan Manthorpe predicts a Donald Trump presidency in the US will wake up Canada, which has for too long relied on its southern neighbour. Two French academics analyse how American democracy is broken; Tom Regan writes on the disgraceful quality of North America’s media, and we take you to the town of Cremona, Italy, a town renowned for its violin makers. And our long read, we offer a tale that touches on life after death — post-mortem sperm donation.

Happy reading, and thank you for your interest in and support of our boutique journalism.

Before you continue: please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We are on an honour system and survive only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story.  Contribute below, or find more details here. Thanks for your interest and support.

Venezuela’s struggle to keep the lights on, by Reuters

Residents of Venezuela’s southern city of Puerto Ordaz enjoy pleasant views of the Orinoco and Caroni rivers and are a half hour’s drive from one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric dams. Yet most days they suffer water and power cuts.

Canada’s Navy: Dying From Neglect, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

HMCS Toronto flies a Canadian flag in the Arabian Gulf during Operation Altair with the US Navy, a 2004 mission to monitor shipping in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by MCpl Colin Kelley, Canadian Armed ForcesOne highly desirable result of an isolationist Donald Trump presidency is that it would expose in short order the philosophical, economic, political and moral corruption that has been at the heart of Canadian defence policy since the year dot. Trump says he wants to jettison those allies who are freeloading on the United States and its taxpayers. By any measure, Canada is the worst freeloader of the whole lot.

Trump and Clinton prove America’s voting system is broken. By Michel Balinski and Rida Laraki

Democracies everywhere are suffering. Voters protest. Citizens don’t vote. Support for the political extremes are increasing. One of the underlying causes, we argue, is majority voting as it is now practiced, and its influence on the media.

Commercial journalism can’t die fast enough, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda columnist

They say we get the government we deserve. The same is true of media. If so, then we are a stupid, shallow people, easily manipulated, poorly informed and a greater danger to democracy that any al-Qaeda or ISIS fighter. Commercial media – almost all cable TV news networks, most “news” websites and many, many papers – pay little more than lip service to quality journalism in the second decade of the 21 century.

Cremona — Italy’s City of Violins, by Stefano Rellandini. Photo-essay

Making violins is a passion in Cremona, the ancient Italian town that has been producing them since the 16th century, but turning passion into profits has not been easy.

Magazine:

Dead man’s sperm, by Jenny Morber

When the partners of men who have died to try and have their babies, they enter the legally and ethically fraught world of post-mortem sperm donation.  Some countries have laws in place. Some don’t. Some are permissive. Some aren’t. It’s a global mess.

In case you missed these:

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs

Commercial journalism can’t die fast enough

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
May 14, 2016

Friends, North Americans, country men (and women), I come to bury commercial journalism, not to praise it. First of all because there is almost nothing to praise. And unlike Marc Anthony with Caesar, I want to bury it deep in the ground where it belongs. And drive a stake through its heart. And fill its mouth with garlic.

They say we get the government we deserve. The same is true of media. If so, then we are a stupid, shallow people, easily manipulated, poorly informed and a greater danger to democracy that any al-Qaeda or ISIS fighter.

The click-bait story that tells you nothing and is often completely fabricated. The he said-she said interviews that create mountains out of molehills and provide people with a completely false impression of reality. The endless stories about Kardashians – a family that has accomplished little of real value but who are famous for being famous (not to mention their various celebrity clones). Cable networks that create Godzilla-like political candidates or blow up one story into an all-consuming meaningless mess as a way to make money, money, money. The repetition of grossly misreported stories on politics, science, food, medicine, etc., etc.. Websites that exist only to print rumors and lies because they can make money that way. So much dreck, so little substance.

Commercial media – almost all cable TV news networks, most “news” websites and many, many papers – pay little more than lip service to quality journalism in the second decade of the 21 century. There are many reasons why, most of them involving money over quality. Journalism now is a commodity, like shoes, or handbags or dish soap.

Commercial media and their audiences share the blame for this. Media have trained their audiences to expect meaningless, low-quality nonsense. And then when challenged on the inferior quality of their product, their response is often well, that’s what the people want. And they are right – many people want information that entertains, not enlightens, them. The commercial media seldom challenge them with complexity and nuance, as this reduces ratings and advertiser dollars. It is a self-fulfilling loop, both sides feeding off the other. Ignorance blossoms, misinformation spreads, and cunning people like Donald Trump know they can manipulate this system to their benefit.

Trump knows he can lie and lie, and lie about lying, because the commercial media won’t really challenge him on it as long as he keeps helping them make hundreds of millions in profits. He understands the way the game is played better than anyone before him on the GOP side.

There are exceptions in North America. There are still a few quality print newspapers left, and some good magazines. There is almost nothing in the wasteland of TV. And the web has some good options. Radio is largely worse than TV. Not to mention most media is concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy people or organizations like Disney or General Electric, corporations that make sure the journalism done on their outlets never endangers the bottom line.

But the quality news outlets that remain on TV, radio, and the web in particular have one thing in common – they receive outside support of some kind. Public broadcasters, support by government dollars in Canada, or pledge drives supplementing government dollars in the US, bring us quality radio and TV. Websites like ProPublica do great journalism day after day, but are dependent on support from the public, foundations and donors who want good journalism to survive.

Which brings us to a moment whose time has come, so to speak. Journalism that matters, that makes a difference, that protects democracy and the public (even if they don’t care) can only survive in a non-commercial format. Quality journalism will need to be supported in ways that might seem controversial, but have actually been around for many years, including government supported journalism. Public broadcasters in Canada, the UK and Australia certainly have their problems, but tend to produce the best journalism in their respective countries.

It’s time for the US to look into a similar system. Yes, there will be problems, and no it’s not perfect, and sometimes mistakes will be made. But there will also be a lot of quality journalism done on the left and the right, by reporters who won’t have to worry about their stories being pulled or toned down for fear of what advertisers, or even the government itself, have to say. If more media outlets received government funding, combined with support from the public or foundations, we would have a stronger democracy. I don’t think that better journalism necessarily leads to a better informed public, but it will help reduce the misinformation and manipulation of the system, by unscrupulous vulgarians with small hands, for instance.

But we can’t wait. The problem created by inferior commercial media is dragging down all media. These days journalists rank only higher than child molesters and atheists on public opinion polls. Journalists don’t have to be popular – we’re not the Kardashians. But we should be respected. And until we change the way journalism is done, we won’t win that respect back.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Canada’s Navy: Dying From Neglect

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 14, 2016

One highly desirable result of an isolationist Donald Trump presidency is that it would expose in short order the philosophical, economic, political and moral corruption that has been at the heart of Canadian defence policy since the year dot.

Trump says he wants to jettison those allies who are freeloading on the United States and its taxpayers. By any measure, Canada is the worst freeloader of the whole lot. What is almost worse, successive Canadian governments of all political stripes have been utterly shameless in the eagerness with which they suckle the American taxpayers’ milk.

HMCS Toronto flies a Canadian flag in the Arabian Gulf during Operation Altair with the US Navy, a 2004 mission to monitor shipping in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by MCpl Colin Kelley, Canadian Armed Forces

HMCS Toronto flies a Canadian flag in the Arabian Gulf during Operation Altair with the US Navy, a 2004 mission to monitor shipping in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by MCpl Colin Kelley, Canadian Armed Forces

According to NATO figures, Canada’s defence spending amounted to one per cent of gross national product last year, and is already lower this year. In NATO’s league table, that puts Canada down among bottom feeders like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia. Mind you, the country is still a bit ahead of Luxembourg’s defence spending of 0.47 per cent of GDP, but heading in that direction.

If President Trump took the U.S. out of NATO and the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), the corridors of power in Ottawa would echo with politicians shrieking like stuck pigs, while deputy ministers and the mandarinate of the Privy Council Office would be overcome by apoplexy and faint away in their corner offices.

In its purest form, Trump’s vision of the U.S. as a self-sufficient, gated community decorated with an endless supply of Stepford Wives would for the first time cast Canada out into the cold. For the first century of Canada’s nationhood we relied on Britain to keep us safe. Since the Second World War we have happily clung to Washington’s coattails.

In Trump’s world, Canada’s model for maintaining its security and defending its sovereignty would be Australia. That’s not such a bad thing. Canada doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to Australia as it should. The countries have the same cultural and political heritages. They both have small populations relative to vast landmasses. They are both now immigrant societies wrestling with the challenges of multi-culturalism. Both economies are anchored by resource industries at one end and some of the world’s leading and innovative technological industries at the other.

The big difference is that Canada has got fat and lazy because easy access to the U.S. market has driven the competitive and entrepreneurial genes out of its national DNA, and it’s handed over responsibility for its sovereignty and security to Washington.

Australians, in contrast, have always had to be lean and mean. Their continent is out there at the end of the world. In trade, diplomacy and defence they have never had anyone to rely on but themselves. They have risen to the challenge with fortitude, pragmatism and imagination. In most aspects of international relations, Canada looks naïve, irresolute and terminally short-sighted in comparison.

Australia currently spends 1.8 per cent of its GDP on defence, according to the World Bank. The Canberra government announced in February it intends to increase that to 2 per cent by 2021. There will probably be an election well before then, but one of the significant differences between Australian and Canadian defence policy is that in Australia it tends to be a bi-partisan issue. Defence policy, and especially equipment purchases, tends to carry on relatively seamlessly despite changes of government.

An excellent account of the criminal neglect of its armed forces by successive Canadian governments of both major political stripes was set out by Jack Granatstein in his 2004 book “Who killed the Canadian Military?”

In Canada, of course, cancelling a previous government’s plans to purchase new military equipment has become an almost essential demonstration of machismo. Thus when Jean Chretien became prime minister in 1993 he ostentatiously cancelled the previous Tory government’s contracts to buy new naval helicopters to replace the ageing and dangerous Sea Kings. Officially that cancellation cost about $500 million — though my contacts in the defence business say the real number was about twice that – and 23 years later Canada still doesn’t have replacements for the Sea Kings. It now takes 30 hours of maintenance to keep them in the air for one hour.

The truth is Canada lacks a fleet air arm of any utility. Indeed, it doesn’t have a blue water navy any more. What is left of the Canadian Navy cannot operate independently, and the only warships of any significance  left –  12 Halifax Class frigates – are too limited in their range, armaments and surveillance capabilities to be allowed out alone. The best that can be said is that Canada has a coastal defence force on a par with that possessed by Bangladesh.

The full horror of what has happened to the Canadian Navy was set out last year in a thorough and depressing article in Macleans Magazine by Scott Gilmore. It is worth nailing up this article and seeing what the Australians have done when confronted by very similar demands and pressures as Canada.
As Gilmore describes, fulcrum moments in the destruction of the Canadian Navy came last year. One tipping point was the death form old age and infirmity of the three remaining Iroquois-class destroyers — HMCS Athabaskan, HMCS Huron and HMCS Algonquin. With their superior weapons and radar, these warships were essential to putting a battle group to sea. But, like the Sea King helicopters, the destroyers had got to an age when they just didn’t work properly any more. Without them, the Halifax-class frigates are of limited utility.

The second important development was the beaching of the two supply and replenishment ships – HMCS Protecteur on the west coast, and HMCS Preserver on the east. Without these ships it is impossible for Canada to deploy vessels for a prolonged operation, such as the anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia. But these supply ships were so old that it was no longer possible to get parts for them. Members of the crews are reported to have even resorted to eBay in their hunt for spares.

Protecteur hastened its trip to the knacker’s yard by having a terminal engine fire while off the Hawaiian coast. An American tug was persuaded to tow her back to Esquimalt in return for the value of the fuel oil in her tanks.

The ignominy doesn’t stop there and this is a good point to start looking at what the Australians are doing – and in this case the British Navy as well — when they needed new supply ships in a hurry.

For some years successive governments in Ottawa have been rabbiting on about replacing the supply ships. But they are still only in the design phase and sea trials won’t be until 2021 at the earliest. So, when confronted by the brutal reality last year that the Canadian Navy couldn’t go far out of the sight of land, the then Conservative government rushed to adopt a two-pronged rescue bid. One prong was to rent a supply ship from the Chilean Navy for the west coast and another from the Spanish Navy for the east coast for around $1 million a month each. Meanwhile, Davie Shipyards of Levis, Que., was contracted to convert a commercial tanker into a naval supply and refuelling ship. This will not be ready until 2017 at the earliest.

This is all a classic piece of Canadian defence procurement tomfoolery. While failing to renew equipment in time, governments also insist for reasons of patronage, if not outright corruption, that new ships must be built in Canada. But by the time Ottawa gets around to each contract for more ships, the shipbuilding industry has died, because its last round of construction was a generation prior. So task number one, every time, is to rebuild a Canadian ship-building industry. To put it politely, that doesn’t make much sense.

In 2012 the British Navy decided it needed four modern, twin-hulled resupply and refuelling ships, known as Fleet Auxillaries, and it needed them quickly. So it went to the South Korean shipbuilders Daewoo Shipbuilding and Engineering and bought four tankers. The basic ships were then taken to Britain where they were kitted out with all the value-added, high-tech stuff that made them part of the Royal Navy.

The lead vessel in the class, called Tidespring, was laid down in December 2014 and launched in April 2015 – four months. The second vessel was laid down in June 2015 and launched in November last year. The keel for the third vessel was laid last December and it was launched in March. The first steel for the fourth ship was cut last December and it will be in the water any day now. All four ships will be in service with the Royal Navy by the end of this year.

When a navy needs ships quickly it makes perfect sense to buy hulls and power plants from countries that make them fast and well, such as South Korea, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, and then focus on adding the CanCon high-tech components here at home.

The Australians have become masters of this approach to building and sustaining their navy.

Canberra also needs to replace supply ships that will come to the end of their usefulness in 2021. Australia is doing a deal with the Spanish naval shipbuilder Navantia to supply two fleet auxillary supply and refuelling ships. Navantia will deliver the basic ships and then Australian companies will supply and fit the combat and communications systems.

Canberra has considerable experience of dealing with Navantia. It has already bought what are euphemistcally called “landing helicopter docks,” or “amphibious assault ships.” Again, Navantia supplied the hulls and the Australians put in the clever stuff.

And to you and me these ships look like aircraft carriers, which is what they in fact are. Australia is only equipping them with helicopters at the moment. But that ski-jump over the bow is not there just for fun. If it ever needs to, the Australian Navy can fly warplanes off these ships, some of the 100 F35s Australia plans to buy, for example. But for now they will be used as, in essence, large and capable supply ships that can move large numbers of troops, equipment and humanitarian aid to wherever they are needed.

Navantia is also a partner in the building of three, and perhaps four new Hobart-class destroyers. Again, Navantia is building the hulls in segments, which are then shipped to Australia for welding together and fitted out. The first of what are described as “air-warfare destroyers,” but which in reality are fully capable air, submarine and surface warships, will be delivered in June next year and the third by mid-2020.

The Canberra-class aircraft carriers and the Hobart-class destroyers are good examples of the Australian Navy’s aspirations and the seriousness with which it takes its responsibility to sustain the country’s security and sovereignty. A major element in any naval fleet for a maritime country is submarines. These vessels provide security at many times their value because any potential intruder can never be sure they know exactly where all the submarines are.

Australia gets this. Canada has never quite managed to make two and two add up to four. In the 1980s, when I was working in the Ottawa Bureau of what was then Southam News, I was given a copy of a letter from the Australian Ministry of Defence to the Canadian counterpart. At the time, then Canadian Defence Minister Perrin Beatty was toying with the idea of buying nuclear-powered submarines from either the French or the British. The Australians, meanwhile, were in the process of developing the program for what became their Collins-class submarines. The letter that I saw from Canberra asked if Ottawa would like to sign on to a joint venture with Australia to produce, use and perhaps sell the Collins-class boats. I was told the Australians never got an answer to their letter.

Since then the Collins-class boats have been produced, served with mixed reviews and are now approaching the time when they must be replaced.

Over the same 30-year period Canada went off the whole idea of submarines for a decade. Twenty years ago Ottawa finally plucked up the courage to again contemplate buying submarines. But instead of doing the sensible thing, Canada somehow got itself bushwacked into buying four old conventional boats laid up as surplus by the British Navy. Well, someone should have spent a little longer kicking the tires and checking the mileage. From the moment they were rolled off the lot the submarines suffered a series of breakdowns, including a deadly fire while one was in passage across the Atlantic. The repairs and equipment changes to make them compatible with other Canadian warships have cost twice the original sticker price on the British used boat lot of $750 million for the four. These modifications included, believe it or not, having to change the entire torpedo tube assemblies so they can fire Canada’s stock of veteran Mk48 torpedoes.

It is a feature of submarines that every time a hole has to be cut in the hull and patched it weakens the whole structure, and limits the depths to which it can dive thereafter. It also affects the life expectancy of the vessel.

The four Victoria-class boats all finally got to sea last year, but what use they are will remain a question. In the Macleans article, Gilmore quotes the commander of the navy, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, as saying the capabilities of the Victoria-class submarines are “fragile.”

That’s just what one needs in a warship.

Australia, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with a $US38 billion program to acquire 12 long-range submarines to replace the ageing Collins-class boats.

It looked for a while as though Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in partnership with Kawasaki Heavy Industries had a lock on the contract for their highly-regarded Soryu-class submarines. So it came as a surprise late last month when the Canberra government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the contract will go to the French armaments company DCN for a conventionally powered adaptation of its Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarine.

The Japanese made many mistakes in the campaign against the French and the other competitor, Germany’s Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems. Arms sales abroad is new territory for Japanese companies. Laws have been re-interpreted only recently to allow it to happen, so Japanese companies are still neophytes in the field. Their major mistake, however, was not to appreciate that Australia wanted between 70 and 80 per cent of the construction work to be done in Australia, even if it is under the supervision of the winning company. The Japanese companies have no experience of this kind of offshore build, and their negotiators shrank from putting this option on the table. Instead, the Soryu salesmen relied on the growing strategic partnership in Asia between the Australian and Japanese navies in the face of Chinese aggression.
It was not enough. Australian governments of all parties are keen to keep their shipyards functioning and the shipbuilding skills constantly renewed. So while Canberra is never slow to buy in ready-made ships when it makes sense, it also realises that maintaining and sustaining an effective navy needs foresight and nurturing the necessary store of skilled workers.

Ottawa finds that thought impossible to grasp.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com
Links:
NATO: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_49198.htm
World Bank: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS
The Sinking of the Canadian Navy, Macleans, by Scott Gilmore

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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From fiery Alberta to North Korea, America’s genie to London’s mayor: Facts, and Opinions, this week

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

Fort McMurray: Boom, bust …burned, by Rod Nickel and Liz Hampton

A convoy of evacuees from the Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray drove through the heart of a massive wildfire guided by police and military helicopters as they sought to reach safety to the south of the burning city. “Our life is here. We will go back and rebuild,” vowed one. … read more

By Unknown - http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/ourl/res.php?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&url_tim=2014-06-25T15%3A39%3A41Z&url_ctx_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=3592868&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fcollectionscanada.gc.ca%3Apam&lang=eng MIKAN no. 3592868, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4928941

Athabasca oil sands on the banks of the river, c. 1900 Photo: Collections Canada

Fort McMurray: from “black pitch” and salt to oil sands. By Brian Brennan

The story of Fort McMurray is one of long hibernation followed by rapid growth. The oilsands developments turned it from a sleepy little northern frontier town into Alberta’s most explosive boom city. But it took almost two centuries for the development to happen. The boom had been foretold from the time fur trader Peter Pond explored the region in 1778 …read more

Sadiq Khan: British dream reality for London’s first Muslim mayor, by Parveen Akhtar

In Pakistan, the chances that the son of a bus or rickshaw driver could secure a high-ranking political position in the country’s capital city are minuscule. But now, the people of London have elected Sadiq Khan – the son of an immigrant Pakistani bus driver – to be their first Muslim mayor.

The Irreconcilable Narratives of America’s South, by Ruth Hopkins, Wits Justice Project

In Montgomery the narrative of a proud confederacy is visceral and dominant and is echoed in its street names, buildings, signs and statues. But the Equal Justice Initiative, instead of protesting the display of Southern pride and honour, has started an elaborate and ambitious remembrance project that not only includes the collection of soil from sites of lynchings to remember the victims.  Alabama’s huge slave population and Montgomery’s central role in the confederacy are intimately connected. … read more

Commentary:

North Korea’s Kim rattles the bars of his cageNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

A good rule of thumb is to always be deeply suspicious of optimistic projections for the future of North Korea. There have been some rose-tinted forecasts wafting from Pyongyang this week as the Workers’ Party of Korea holds its first congress since 1980. The congress was called to endorse the leadership of Kim Jong-un, 33, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il at the end of 2011. … read more

Trump has made racism and violence “OK” in the US, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda columnist

Donald Trump is not the real problem in the rise of racism  in the US . He is merely the catalyst. It’s his ham-handed ridiculous racism masquerading as “policy” or “outreach” that’s the problem. He has let the racist and bigoted genie out of the bottle and it won’t go back in peacefully. America needs to prepare for scenes of violence and hatred it may not have seen since the 60s in the South. … read more

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Elsewhere ….

On World Press Freedom Day, May 3,  Reporters Sans Frontieres/Reporters Without Borders launched a campaign called “Great Year for Censorship.” Its aim is to draw attention to “a deep and worrying decline in the ability of journalists to operate freely and independently throughout the world,” and especially targets leaders in 12 countries who have “trampled on media freedom and gagged journalists in various spectacular ways.”

RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, released in April,  reveals “a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests,” said the organization.

capture_decran_2016-05-04_a_18.31.00

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Fort McMurray: Boom, bust … burned

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

 

By Rod Nickel and Liz Hampton
May 7, 2016

CONKLIN/LAC LA BICHE, Alberta (Reuters) – A convoy of evacuees from the Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray drove through the heart of a massive wildfire guided by police and military helicopters as they sought to reach safety to the south of the burning city.

Some 1,500 vehicles began making the 30-mile (50-km) trip at 4 a.m. Friday May 6 in groups of 50 cars. The residents had fled to oil camps and settlements north of the city earlier in the week and had to retrace their route through thick smoke on the only highway out of the area as the fire continued to spread.

“It reminded us of a war zone,” said Marisa Heath, who spent 36 hours in her truck on the side of the highway with her husband, two dogs, a cat and seven kittens. “Eerie. All you could see was cement foundations of houses.”

Helicopters hovered overhead watching for flames, and police set up emergency fuel stations along Alberta Highway 63 to keep the line of cars moving. They headed towards safety south of Fort McMurray in towns including Lac La Biche 180 miles (290 km) away and the provincial capital Edmonton.

Cecil Dickason, a Fort McMurray resident who was part of the convoy, said the battered city looked “awful.” Others described the city as dark and smoke-filled, pockmarked with charred and abandoned vehicles and roadside spot fires.

Bill Glynn, who took part in the convoy, told the Edmonton Journal newspaper that he traveled through smoke so thick he lost sight of the car in front of him as they crept through the city.

“It was awful. It was scary,” evacuee Sarah Babstock told the newspaper. “We came through with clothes over our mouths so we could breathe.”

A Canadian Joint Operations Command aerial photo shows wildfires near neighborhoods in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada in this image posted on twitter May 5, 2016. Courtesy CF Operations/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE

A Canadian Joint Operations Command aerial photo shows wildfires near neighborhoods in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada in this image posted on twitter May 5, 2016. (Reuters Handout)

The fire enveloping Fort McMurray has grown to 247,000 acres (101,000 hectares) in Canada’s energy heartland, forcing 88,000 people to flee this week and threatening two oil sands sites south of the city. Winds will push the main fire northeast on Friday, away from town but parts of the city still burned.

“The city of Fort McMurray is not safe to return to, and this will be true for a significant period of time,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. “So the town site is going to be secured and protected by the RCMP,” she said, referring to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The Alberta government has approved emergency funding for wildfire evacuees, and will be giving out C$1,250 ($966) per adult and $500 per dependent.

Fort McMurray resident Crystal Maltais buckles in her daughter, Mckennah Stapley, as they prepare to leave Conklin, Alberta, for Lac La Biche after evacuating their home in Fort McMurray on Tuesday May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Topher Seguin

Fort McMurray resident Crystal Maltais buckles in her daughter, Mckennah Stapley, as they prepare to leave Conklin, Alberta, for Lac La Biche after evacuating their home in Fort McMurray on Tuesday May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Topher Seguin

“Our life is here. We will go back and rebuild.”

After she and her husband fled in different directions as a wildfire burnt mercilessly through Canada’s Fort McMurray, Erin Naughton faces another difficult task: how to keep her family going until they can return to the city they call home.

She fled north to pick up one child, while her husband drove south as traffic and evacuation routes forced them apart on Tuesday.
Believing she will not be able to return to her scorched community for months, the restaurant manager is preparing to send her son and daughter to live with family in Edmonton in Alberta, and Victoria in British Columbia, so they can finish the school year, hundreds of kilometres (miles) apart.

“I’m going to be splitting up the family again,” said a tearful Naughton at the campsite near Conklin, a way station for evacuees from the massive wildfire that has burnt much of Fort McMurray to the north.”But that’s what a mom does, what’s right for her kids.”

The wildfire forced 88,000 people to evacuate this week and burnt at least 1,600 buildings in the oil sands city in western Canada. Residents are not likely to return anytime soon, even to assess damage, according to officials.

In the evacuation centres in Lac La Biche or Edmonton, south of Fort McMurray, jugglers entertained and a Santa gave out toys, trying to bring smiles to little faces.

While some families are sticking together, many others are being forced to consider a fresh start elsewhere – or separate from loved ones – after their homes were destroyed in a city where thousands were already unemployed from the oil industry slump.
Suncor contractor Derek Edwards said he may drive his family, including a daughter, 9, and son, 3, across the country to Ontario for work. Suncor has cut production due to the fires and dropping oil prices. He has a job lined up, but is hesitant.

“There is so much uncertainty right now,” he said at the combination hockey arena-high school in Lac La Biche that is housing evacuees. “I need to take a few days before making decisions that impact my family long term.”

Philippines-born Kirby Abo is convinced it is time to leave.
Abo who works at a Fort McMurray bottle recycling plant is worried about lost income and pondering a move to much-larger Edmonton, 500 km (320 miles) away, to support his wife and three children, who joined him from the Philippines this year. “I think (Fort Mac) is going to be a ghost town for quite awhile.”

A Mountie surveys the damage on a street in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada in this May 4, 2016 image posted on social media. Courtesy Alberta RCMP/Handout via REUTERS

A Mountie surveys the damage on a street in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada in this May 4, 2016 image posted on social media. Courtesy Alberta RCMP/Handout via REUTERS

Leslie Booker, a mother of two who works in Fort McMurray schools in early childhood development, does not plan to leave. Her house, visible through an online security camera video, has survived.
She plans to read and write with her kids, ages 11 and 7, instead of enrolling them in a new school this late in the academic year.
“Our life is here. We will go back and rebuild.”

OIL IMPACT

As exhausted evacuees stranded north of the fire-ravaged Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray sped through the only route out on Friday, about one-third of Canada’s daily oil sands crude capacity was knocked out and some pipelines were closed.

While oil sands facilities are not in the fire’s path, several production companies and two pipeline operators have curbed activities and moved workers and others.\

At least 720,000 barrels per day (bpd) of capacity were offline on Friday, according to calculations by Reuters. That does not include the unspecified reduction in Syncrude output and some other reductions, so some analysts have estimated about one million barrels were shut in.

Following is a list of what oil producers and pipeline companies have said about nearby operations:

– Suncor Energy Inc, whose oil sands operations are closest to the city, said its main plant 25 km (16 miles) to the north and other assets in the area were safe. It has closed its main mining site as well as its MacKay River and Firebag thermal oil sands operations. It cited the precautionary shut-in of takeaway pipelines and limited availability of diluent.

Prior to the fire, Suncor said it was operating at reduced rates of approximately 300,000 bpd because of a turnaround. The main mining site can produce up to 350,000 bpd. Suncor said it expects to promptly return to full production and restart planning is well advanced.

Separately, it said Syncrude continues to operate at reduced rates due to limited labour.

– The Syncrude oil sands project, owned by a consortium of companies including Suncor, said it was reducing operations to help support employees affected by the fire. Syncrude has 2,000 evacuees staying at its camp.

– Imperial Oil Ltd said that as a precaution, workforce levels at its Kearl oil sands mining project have been reduced to essential staff only. Production has been reduced by an unspecified amount. It said its physical plant is unaffected by the fires.

– Athabasca Oil Corp said it shut the Hangingstone project and evacuated all personnel. The fire front is estimated to be within 3 miles (5 km) of the Hangingstone site.

The company said it was in the process of shutting down the well sites and the central facility. On its website, the company said that with a production ramp-up underway, the project was expected to produce 12,000 bpd by the fourth quarter 2016

– Statoil ASA said production at its Leismer oil sands project has been cut by 50 percent to 10,000 bpd to preserve supplies of diluent, which is added to viscous oil sands bitumen so it can flow through pipelines.

– Canadian Natural Resources Ltd said there were some operation outages at its Horizon project, but current operations are stable.

– ConocoPhillips said it shut its 30,000-bpd Surmont operations and evacuated people and workers from the site.

– Nexen Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of China’s CNOOC said late on Wednesday it was shutting its Long Lake oil sands facility.
Long Lake can produce about 50,000 bpd of synthetic crude but has been operating at reduced rates since late January, when an explosion at the plant left two employees dead.

– Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it closed its Muskeg River and Jackpine oil sands mines, whose combined capacity is 255,000 bpd.
– Husky Energy said it cut production at its Sunrise oil sands project to 10,000 bpd from 30,000 bpd after a pipeline that supplies the project with diluent was shut down.

– Connacher Oil and Gas Ltd said on Thursday it was bringing its Great Divide production back up to 8,000 bpd, after cutting it to 4,000 bpd on Wednesday. Great Divide is 80 km south of the city, and produced 14,000 bpd in the fourth quarter.

– The following oil sands companies with operations in the region said they were not affected: Cenovus Energy Inc, MEG Energy Corp and Japan Canada Oil Sands Ltd.

PIPELINE COMPANIES:

– Enbridge Inc said it shut all pipelines in and out of Cheecham Terminal on Wednesday evening.

The Cheecham facility was evacuated and the Athabasca Terminal reduced to a minimum staff for safety reasons. Line 19 south of Kirby Lake continues to operate, it added.

– Midstream energy company Keyera Corp said its South Cheecham rail and truck terminal, 75 km (47 miles) south of Fort McMurray, has been evacuated and shut down. South Cheecham is a joint venture between Keyera and Enbridge.

– Inter Pipeline Ltd said on Thursday it reopened its Polaris diluent pipeline to the Fort McMurray area and is ready to reopen its Corridor pipeline system that serves Shell’s oil sands facilities when that operation reopens. No pipeline assets incurred significant damage as a result of the wildfires.

– TransCanada Corp said it does not expect the wildfire to affect deliveries of natural gas. The nearest pipeline is about 20 km (12 miles) west of the current wildfire.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary and Euan Rocha and Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto; Compiled by David Gaffen and Josephine Mason in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jeffrey Benkoe Additional reporting by Ethan Lou, Allison Martell in Toronto, Nia Williams in Calgary, Catherine Ngai, David Gaffen in New York, David Ljunngren, Leah Schnurr in Ottawa; Writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Cynthia Osterman)

 

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