From Vimy to Gibraltar, Obamacare to Russia: Journalism Matters at F&O

New on F&O this weekend:  Sunday April 9 marked the 100th anniversary of the WWI battle of Vimy Ridge — said to have marked Canada’s passage from colony to country status. Read our report with photo-essay by Reuters, France, Canada leaders mark centenary of Vimy Ridge WWI battle. In Commentary Tom Regan notes that for Canada and the United States, the battle and World War I have very different meanings.  Read Regan’s column,“War to End All Wars” fading from history, here.

Jonathan Manthorpe this week considers Gibraltar — “The Rock” Caught In A Hard Place — in a new column about the territory in British hands since 1713, and is now emerging as an issue in negotiations with Brussels to leave the European Union. Read more about Gibraltar.  Manthorpe’s previous column, Beijing brings order to its colonial “Savage Reservations,” contends that Beijing is reaching back into the excesses of Maoist Stalinism and forward into the high-tech social control of Aldus Huxley’s “Brave New World” to try to contain the restive natives of its colonial outposts, Tibet and Xinjiang, setting the stage for grief for Hong Kong. Click here for the column on China, or here for the list of all of Manthorpe’s F&O works.

Americans turn Canadian about health care, writes Penney Kome in a new piece about how U.S.  public opinion is forcing Republicans to think “expansion,” not “repeal,” of the Affordable Care Act. Read the column, or find Kome’s complete  F&O OVER EASY columns here.

Jim McNiven has been pondering the fuss made by America over Russia, and asks this week, Why Does America’s President Bother with Russia? That column is here, or find all of McNiven’s THOUGHTLINES columns for F&O here.

Noteworthy items elsewhere on the web:

“Why do so many in the news media love a show of force?” asks Margaret Sullivan in the Washington Post.
Good question. The answer is probably found in audience ratings and social media shares– and so, as with everything in the world of commerce, with citizen’s demands.

First Draft News produced a well-received “Field Guide to Fake News,” launched this month at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. The Columbia Journalism Review reports.
Stories about America’s political meltdown have become a flood. As mentioned earlier, these diverse, authoritative and credible news sites are worth following for breaking news: Reuters, the New York TimesPolitico,Washington PostBBC, The GuardianAl Jazeera, France24Financial Times, and The Economist.

Last but not least, here are some of our other recent stories, in case you missed them:

Trump Staffers’ Financial Disclosures /ARIANA TOBIN & DEREK KRAVITZ, ProPublica

Trump and Russia: “There is a smell of treason in the air”/TOM REGAN    Column

Beijing brings order to its colonial “Savage Reservations”/JONATHAN MANTHORPE  Column

European leaders renew fraying Union’s vows/ALASTAIR MACDONALD & JAN STRUPCZEWSKI  Report

Lights go out around the world for 10th Earth Hour/REUTERS   Slideshow

Fukushima still in hell/PENNEY KOME    Column

McGill University mangles academic freedom/TOM REGAN   Column

America’s Republican Quandary/ JIM McNIVEN   Column

Sri Lanka’s slow shuffle to lasting peace/JONATHAN MANTHORPE  Column

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.

Note: this post was updated April 9 to include our report on the Vimy Ridge event in France.

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , , , |

Americans’ Addiction to Drinking the Kool-Aid

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
March 11, 2017

Jim Jones at a protest at the International Hotel in San Francisco, in 1977. Photo: Nancy Wong, Creative Commons, Wikipedia

Jim Jones at a protest at the International Hotel in San Francisco, in 1977. Photo: Nancy Wong, Creative Commons, Wikipedia

The United States is singularly prone to producing charlatans, messianic faith healers, snake oil merchants, flim-flam artists and all kinds of Pied Pipers who beguile, befuddle and bemuse large numbers of the population.

Donald Trump is a representative example of this flaw in the U.S. cultural DNA. But he is not the first American to have ridden charismatic demagogy into the White House, and nor is he, so far, the most horrific cult figure to feed his narcissism with the breath of the baying crowd.

That crown must go to Rev. James Warren Jones, who on November 18, 1978, was responsible for the deaths of 918 people, including nearly 300 children. Almost all died by knowingly drinking poison on Jones’ instructions, with the parents killing their children first.

This was the largest number of Americans to die in a civilian act of violence until the attacks on New York and Washington in September, 2001.

Now, Donald Trump is no Jim Jones. The paths of the two men are different, even though Russia plays a significant role in both stories.

But the story of what led to the mass murder-suicide at the Jonestown commune in the jungles of Guyana in 1978 is a timely reminder that there are usually evil outcomes when large numbers of frightened and gullible people fall under the spells of immoral mesmerists.

Jones was born in 1931 and grew up dirt poor in rural Indiana during the Great Depression. Jones’ sense of being a social outcast pushed him towards communism, evangelical Christianity, and — unusually at that time – sympathy for the plight of African Americans. These three strands in his early life run through Jones’ entire story.

As a 20-year-old, while at Butler University, Jones joined the U.S. Communist Party in Indianapolis, and his emotional loyalty to the Soviet Union intensified during the McCarthy era of persecution of Marxists during the 1950s.

There can be no doubt that at this time, as a young idealist, Jones’ desire to pursue social change in the U.S. was entirely genuine. And with the political routes of communism or socialism closed to him, Jones opted to use Christianity.

“I decided, how can I demonstrate my Marxism? The thought was, infiltrate the church. So I consciously made a decision to look into that prospect,” Jones said later in a recording of biographical ramblings.

In 1952 he became a student pastor in the Methodist Church, but quickly fell out with his overseers because they wouldn’t allow him to have a racially integrated congregation.

As a result, a seminal moment came in Jones’ story when he attended a faith healing service at a Seventh Day Baptist Church. He was stunned by the amount of money the congregation donated while overcome by the full flood of the emotionalism of the event. Jones concluded that this kind of evangelical Christianity could provide him the money necessary to fulfil his Marxist social goals. He was well aware that the so-called healings were entirely fake theatrical events staged by the church with the only aim of separating the members of the congregation from their money.

Jones, like most of his kind, including Trump, was brimming with self-confidence and the capacity for self-promotion. He set out to stage his own massive theatrical faith healing event. It is a testament to Jones’ gift of the gab that he was able to get one of the most well-known and dynamic faith healing evangelists of the time, Rev. William M. Branham, to be the headliner at his “convention” in Indianapolis in June, 1956, that attracted about 11,000 people.

Jones continued to organize similar faith healing conventions and had soon made enough in profits to be able to start his own church. It started out as the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel and went through several name changes until at the time of its death it was simply the Peoples Temple.

Jonestown Memorial at the Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland, California. Photo taken July 31, 2015 by Wayne Hsieh, Creative Commons via Flickr

Jonestown Memorial at the Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland, California. Photo taken July 31, 2015 by Wayne Hsieh, Creative Commons via Flickr

At this time – the late 1950s – Jones began minimizing his communist beliefs as the depredations of Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin became known, and Moscow’s violent response to the 1956 uprising in Hungary turned even committed Marxists away from the faith.

Instead, Jones began formulating what he later called “apostolic socialism.” He attended a service of the International Peace Mission at Delaware Street Temple, led by the African American cult figure “Father Divine.” Divine’s real name may or may not have been George Baker, but he preferred to refer to himself as “God,” the name used for him in his Federal Bureau of Investigation file.

Jones was bewitched by Divine’s outlandish, fire-and-brimstone preaching style, and adopted it himself. At the same time, Jones began imposing the brainwashing and systems of psychological control over his followers that have always been the hallmark of cults that prey on people with fragile self-esteem. Followers were pressed into seeing the Temple as their family, abandoning contact with their blood relatives and committing their lives to Jones’ goals.

At the same time Jones made the highly significant move into becoming an arm of the reformist establishment. Jones was rigorous in ensuring that about half the congregation of the Temple was African Americans, which brought him to the approving attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In 1960 the Democratic Party mayor of Indianapolis appointed Jones director of the city’s Human Rights Commission. Jones became a highly public activist promoting the integration of churches, the police department, and public facilities such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres and parks. This was the beginning of Jones being seen by many in the American political establishment, especially Democrats, as a legitimate agent of social reform.

When it finally became apparent to many that Jones was nothing more than the leader of a venal, self-aggrandizing cult, this political support held back the denouement until disaster was inevitable.

In Indianapolis in the early 1960s there was a backlash against Jones’ integrationist activism. There was a number of apparent attacks on the Temple, though there is more than a suspicion that Jones was responsible for several of them to boost his mystique.

Probably, not all the racist daubings on the Temple walls and dead animals left on the door step were Jones’ fabrications because he started to show the signs of paranoia – the conviction that the shadowy “secret state” was out to get him – at this time. Though in cults, and, indeed, in ordinary life those with political power like to instill a degree of paranoia – of irrational fear – among the populous to make social control easier.

In 1962 Jones decided the Temple needed to find a new home. He spent much of the following year in Brazil looking, without success, for a suitable location. Back in Indiana, Jones decided to move the Temple to Redwood Valley, California, which was completed in 1965.

This was the beginning of the heyday of Jones’ cult. The Temple soon established branches in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which became the driving centres of the cult. The headquarters was eventually moved to San Francisco, which in the 1960s and early 1970s was the feeding ground for countless anti-establishment movement. Coupled with this was the establishment of an authoritarian organizational structure for the Peoples Temple, complete with armed guards for Jones, and a membership whose highly controlled lives were dedicated to garnering both donations for Jones and new members.

By the early 1970s, Jones claimed the Peoples Temple had about 20,000 members. This was an exaggeration, but the cult’s work with the homeless, the poor and addicts gave it significant influence with the cities’ and the states’ administrations. That gave Jones political clout, and in 1975 he mobilized his followers on behalf of the mayoral campaign of George Moscone.

After Moscone won a narrow victory he made Jones chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission. This seal of respectability brought Jones and the Peoples Temple the overt support of California Governor Jerry Brown — who has again held that post since 2011 — Assemblyman Willie Brown, and Harvey Milk, the first openly gay candidate for public office who became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. Being seen with Jones became a necessity for political candidates, and in 1976 vice-presidential candidate Walter Mondale praised the Peoples Temple and its work. Later, First Lady Rosalynn Carter not only met Jones many times, she corresponded with him regularly on matters of national concern.

But Jones’ fame and success also brought disillusionment among some Temple members, and, as a result, scrutiny from the media and others.

In 1977 San Francisco Chronicle reporter Marshall Kilduff wrote a seven-part series about the Temple based on the testimony of defectors that they were sexually, emotionally and physically abused. The Chronicle, whose publisher and senior editors had been lobbied with great effect by Jones, refused to run its reporter’s articles. Kilduff took the material to the New West magazine. Just before publication of the articles, the editor of the magazine called Jones to read him some of the highlights. She later explained she did this because of all the letters of support for Jones the magazine had received, including from California Governor Jerry Brown.

Jones realized instantly that his game was up; publication of the details of how his scam cult operated would be the beginning of the end. While still on the phone with the New West editor Rosalie Wright, Jones scribbled a note to senior Temple members in the room with him: “We leave tonight. Notify Georgetown.”

Jones’ unsuccessful tour of Brazil did not end his hunt for a foreign sanctuary, safe, as he believed, from the scrutiny of U.S. intelligence and police agencies. In 1974 he had approached the Georgetown government of Guyana, the former British colony and only English-speaking country in South America. He had signed a lease to rent 3,800 acres of jungle-clad land – 15.4 square kilometres – about 240 kilometres west of Georgetown.

About 500 temple members had worked to establish what was officially called the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project,” but which everyone called Jonestown. Jones said he envisaged his Guyanese colony as a rural communist utopia, and the embodiment of social and racial harmony. However, the reality was very different. The arrival of Jones and the other 500 exiles from California began the rapid decline of the experiment

Away from the U.S., Jones dropped all pretense of advocating “Apostolic Socialism” and became a pure Soviet propagandist. Evenings at Jonestown were spent with the enforced viewing of Soviet documentaries and preparation for what Jones said was a coming apocalypse. During what were called “White Night” sessions Jones commanded his followers to prepare for “revolutionary suicide” when U.S. agents attacked Jonestown. On many occasions followers were commanded to drink grape-flavoured Flavor Aid juice they were told was laced with poison. All did so.

The beginning of the end was in January 1978 when a defector from Jonestown, Timothy Stoen, joined with others to form a group of concerned relatives of followers of Jones. Stoen went to Washington, where he wrote a paper on Jones’ mistreatment of his followers. Stoen lobbied members of Congress and talked to officials at the State Department. California congressman Leo Ryan, understandably, was especially interested in Stoen’s case and took up the cause of the relatives of the Jonestown people.

In November 1978 Ryan led a fact-finding delegation to Guyana, which included several relatives and half a dozen journalists. The group arrived in Georgetown on November 15 and two days later flew to Port Kaituma, the nearest airfield to Jonestown. Jones sent cars for them and on the evening of November 17 hosted a reception for Ryan and his group in the central pavilion at Jonestown.

The group stayed overnight at Jonestown, but left hastily the following afternoon when Ryan was attacked with a knife by Temple member Don Sly.

Ryan insisted on leaving and with taking 15 Temple members with him who had said they wanted to go home to the U.S. Jones gave every appearance of acquiescing, and assigned transport to take the enlarged group back to the Port Kaituma airstrip.

But as Ryan and the group started to board the two planes at the airstrip, a contingent of Jones’ armed “Red Brigade” arrived and started shooting. Ryan and four others were the first to die as they tried to board a Guyana Airways Twin Otter plane. Meanwhile, one of the defectors turned out to be a plant. Larry Layton pulled out a gun and began shooting at other people who had already boarded the second plane, a smaller Cessna. Five people died in the airstrip shootings.

That evening, November 18, Jones ordered all members of the temple to gather at the Pavilion and in a 45-minute rambling speech, a recording of which was later found by the FBI, and told them to commit “revolutionary suicide.” He told them he had for months been negotiating with Moscow to try to arrange for the group to emigrate to the Soviet Union. However, since the air strip killings he did not believe the Soviet Union would take them, and that he expected U.S. agents would soon “parachute in here on us.” He warned the U.S. agents would shoot and torture them and their children. Those children that were not killed would be brainwashed and “converted to fascism.”

Tubs of the cyanide-laced Flavor Aid juice were produced and Jones is heard on the tape instructing followers to first kill their children and then drink the juice themselves. “We didn’t commit suicide,” Jones says at the end of the tape. “We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”

The body of Jones himself was later found sitting in a deckchair with a bullet wound to the head and a pistol by his side.

In all, 909 people in Jonestown died that day, 304 of them children killed by their parents. Four other people at the Temple’s office in Georgetown committed suicide on Jones’ orders.

But four of the Temple followers managed to survive by hiding under beds and in the jungle. Three young senior Temple officials were later arrested and detained by Guyanese police as they headed for Port Kaituma with $US550,000.00 and the equivalent of $US130,000.00. They said they had been instructed by Jones to take the money and give it to the Soviet embassy in Georgetown. The three also had letters for a Soviet embassy official saying the money was to go to the Soviet Communist Party, as was another $US7.3 million in accounts detailed in the letter.

Somehow in the story of Jonestown it has become fixed that it was poisoned Kool-Aid that was used for the mass murder-suicides. Hence, the grim lasting legacy of Jonestown is that people who blindly follow the orders of a demented leader are said to have “drunk the Kool-Aid.”

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Further information:

Transcript of Jim Jones’ speech on “revolutionary suicide,” before the killings, Department of Religious Studies, San Diego State University: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jones

Wikipedia page for Jim Jones: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jones

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and 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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Thank you to our supporters. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free, and will continue only if readers like you chip in. Please, if you value our work, contribute a minimum of.27 per story/$1 per day pass via PayPal — or find more payment options here.

 

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

Fresh Sheet: Facts, and Opinions

Trump’s Hot Air Far From Greatest Climate Threat, by Andrew Revkin, ProPublica  Report

The real risk for climate change in a Donald Trump presidency, according to close to a dozen experts interviewed for this story, lies less in impacts on specific policies like Obama’s Clean Power Plan and more in the realm of shifts in America’s position in international affairs.

Extremist terrorism Germany’s biggest threat: Merkel  Reuters Report

German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to improve security from extremist terrorists in her New Year’s address, urged Germans to forsake populism and to lead the effort to solve European Union challenges. Merkel is seen as a liberal anchor of stability and reason in a year that saw the Donald Trump elected as U.S. president, Britain vote to leave the EU and U.S-Russia relations deteriorate to Cold War levels.

After looking into Trump’s soul, Japan’s Abe seeks new allies, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

There would be a delicious irony if Japan were driven out of the arms of Donald Trump, and into the arms of  Vladimir Putin because of Shinzo Abe’s suspicions about the reliability of the man who U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously believe was helped into the Oval Office by Putin’s spy agencies.

In case you missed them:

 

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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

Season’s Greetings

solstice2016_gsl0898

Winter arrived in the Northern hemisphere with the 2016 solstice, and with it comes a welcome lengthening of daylight hours. Photo of Conception Bay, Newfoundland, by Greg Locke © 2016

The December solstice marks our turn from autumn to winter in the North, from spring to summer in the South. It’s a time of celebrations, renewal, and tradition — and for many, a welcome break in routine and a fresh start.

F&O will now take a break, and until our return on Dec. 31 we send our best wishes for your Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year’s celebrations. And for your break — or perhaps as a last-minute gift item — may we recommend the following outside works by F&O members Greg Locke, Brian Brennan, Jim McNiven, and Jonathan Manthorpe.

Brief Encounters column: Brian Brennan was told he could interview Sophia Loren so long as he didn’t ask her about two things … (subscription)

Brief Encounters column: Brian Brennan was told he could interview Sophia Loren so long as he didn’t ask her about two things … (F&O subscription  required)

Brief Encounters: Conversations with Celebrities, by Brian Brennan

Why did Sophia Loren go back to Italy to serve a jail term for tax evasion? Why does the song “Amazing Grace” still occupy a very special place in the repertoire of singer Judy Collins? Why did Michael Nesmith quit The Monkees to start making music videos? Why did Shari Lewis start conducting symphony orchestras after she had endeared herself to kids all over the world with a comedy ventriloquism routine involving a cute sock puppet named Lamb Chop? Why did Chubby Checker go through 20 pairs of platform boots a year to keep his audiences twisting the night away?

Brian Brennan, a founding F&O feature writer and arts columnist, compiled some of the best morsels from his Brief Encounters series, based on interviews with celebrities over 15 years.

The collection of stories, based on conversations he had with celebrities during his 15 years as a newspaper entertainment reporter, are in F&O’s Arts section here — make even a small donation through our Subscription page,  to be taken to the page with the code  to access them. However may we recommend buying an ebook edition for $9.99 on Kindle,  Kobo, or iTunes , to have all 63 columns in one place.

The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern Americaby Jim McNiven

Who is a Yankee and where did the term come from? Though shrouded in myth and routinely used as a substitute for American, the achievements of the Yankees have influenced nearly every facet of our modern way of life.

Join author Jim McNiven as he explores the emergence and influence of Yankee culture while traversing an old transcontinental highway reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific — US 20, which he nicknames “The Yankee Road.”

A Class Act: An Illustrated History of the Labour Movement in Newfoundland and Labrador, by Bill Gillespie (Photography by Greg Locke)

classact-coverUnion activists rarely make it into the history books and when they do the picture is seldom flattering. In this new edition of A Class Act, journalist Bill Gillespie confronts the myth.

This is the story of how Newfoundland and Labrador union members turned the nation, the colony and the province into the most highly organized jurisdiction in North America. Gillespie’s research reveals union losses and victories, their weaknesses and strengths and ultimately, their success. The narrative is illustrated with more than a hundred photographs.

From the archives:

Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan, by Jonathan Manthorpe 

For over 400 years, Taiwan has suffered at the hands of multiple colonial powers, but it has now entered the decade when its independence will be won or lost. At the heart of Taiwan’s story is the curse of geography that placed the island on the strategic cusp between the Far East and Southeast Asia and made it the guardian of some of the world’s most lucrative trade routes. It is the story of the dogged determination of a courageous people to overcome every obstacle thrown in their path. Forbidden Nation tells the dramatic story of the island, its people, and what brought them to this moment when their future will be decided.

Touched by Fire: Doctors Without Borders in a Third World Crisis, by Elliott Leyton and Greg Locke

When the rapes and massacres, the plagues, the famines, the floods, or the droughts erupt in far-off places, the world stands still. MSF does not. They are the “smoke jumpers” among international aid organizations. While others are often stymied or delayed by bureaucratic red tape, the men and women of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) move in. They provide food and clean water. They dig latrines. They set up first-aid stations and field hospitals. They treat all-comers according to need. Often they are the last to remain in situations abandoned by others as too dangerous.

The risks they take are moral and ethical as well as mortal. They are acutely aware that giving aid is controversial. Does it really do any good to save a child from murder one day when it will probably starve in the weeks ahead? Is it appropriate to bring expensive western medicine into a country that, in the long run, can’t afford it? Should relief be given to civilians who are being starved on purpose, as part of a cynical political game, by a local warlord?

Elliot Leyton and Greg Locke saw something of the implications of these and other questions when they travelled to Rwanda in the fall of 1996. There they found themselves plunged into a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Hundreds of thousands of people were on the move. Armed militias and hostile armies lurked in the background. Mass starvation, plague, and an eruption into civil or criminal violence were immediate possibilities. The two Canadians, one an internationally recognized expert on the psychology of killing, the other an experienced photo-journalist, had a rare opportunity to observe MSF in action at a time when the stress was enormous and its resources were stretched to the limit.

They watched and listened, to the perpetrators of violence and their victims, to the survivors and those who gave them assistance, and, above all, to the people of MSF who dedicate themselves to saving lives because, in the words of one MSFer: “The world can afford a humanitarian ideal.”

The result of Leyton and Locke’s research is an extraordinary written and visual record of small miracles performed in the midst of catastrophe.

Newfoundland …journey into a lost nation, by  Michael Crummey and Greg Locke

journey-into-a-lost-nationGreg Locke had been away from Newfoundland for years, working as a photojournalist in Canada, the United States, and in many of the world’s most troubled regions, when he decided to go home – and stay. The photographs in Newfoundland were taken over a period of more than a decade. They chronicle the passage of Canada’s easternmost province from a time when cod were still plentiful and the fishery shaped the lives of most of the island’s inhabitants, to the present, when a vibrant economy, propelled by oil and mineral development, is recasting the island’s identity in a new mould.

What Locke’s photographs reveal is at once forward-looking and nostalgic, beautiful and harsh. Above all, his Newfoundland is populated by survivors: a people who are resourceful, funny, resilient, and strong.

Poet and novelist Michael Crummey draws upon deep-seated memories of his own and of his father’s experience to evoke passing traditions and a disappearing way of life. But, just as Locke’s photographs reveal the emergence of a new, more urban and cosmopolitan Newfoundland, so does Crummey’s writing emphasize the continuing sense of belonging and the determination to persevere that are characteristic of his compatriots. He writes admiringly of a “culture deep enough to accommodate a world of influences without surrendering what makes it unmistakably of this place. Something alive and leaning towards the future.” This book embodies both a vision and a voice of rare power.

Hibernia:  Promise of Rock and Sea. Edited by Lara Maynard. Photography by Greg Locke and Ned Pratt

Hibernia is a platform which will lead to the development of a new offshore oil and gas industry for Newfoundland and Labrador (Canada). The official Hibernia book is a record of the highly commendable effort by so many groups and individuals, from geophysicists and provincial politicians to Hibernia management, staff, and workers, to fully realize the opportunity of the Hibernia project. A generous selection of impressive photos by Ned Pratt and Greg Locke complemented by engaging text records the many facets of the undertaking: faces and feats, construction progress and milestones at the Bull Arm site. These varied elements are combined in a record of history in the making, a quality keepsake chronicling the inception and development of a great enterprise fuelled by a remarkable blend of perseverance and skill.

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Last but not least, here is the trailer for Greg Locke’s latest project, as a photographer for True North: The Canadian Songbook, a musical initiative celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday. The massive project, by Eleanor McCain, includes thirty-three iconic Canadian pop and folk songs reimagined for full orchestras, from Victoria to St. John’s.

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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, Gyroscope

Facts, Opinions, and Findings of the week

Foreign banks in Britain pay fraction of tax rate, by Tom Bergin

A man walks into the JP Morgan headquarters at Canary Wharf in London May 11, 2012. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

A man walks into the JP Morgan headquarters at Canary Wharf in London May 11, 2012. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

Some of the biggest foreign investment and commercial banks operating in Britain paid an average tax rate of just 6 percent on the billions of dollars of profits they made in the country last year, a Reuters analysis of regulatory filings shows. That is less than a third of Britain’s corporate rate of 20 percent. There is however nothing illegal about this.

Battle Ends, Bloody Syrian War Grinds On, by Laila Bassam, Angus McDowall and Stephanie Nebehay  Report

Rebel resistance in the Syrian city of Aleppo ended in December after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment. The battle was one of the worst of a civil war that has drawn in global and regional powers, and ended with victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and regional Shi’ite militias. The larger Syrian war, however, endures.

Commentary:

Earth on the Docket: Americans join wave of climate litigation, By Mary Wood, Charles W. Woodward, IV, and Michael C. Blumm  Expert Witness

Two days after America’s presidential election a court in Oregon issued a path-breaking decision in Juliana v. U.S. declaring that youth – indeed, all citizens – hold constitutional rights to a stable climate system. The case is part of a wave of atmospheric trust litigation in several countries.

Our Time to Rebel, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda   Column

It’s our turn, as American Democrats. This will be a ‘take no prisoners’ fight. Donald Trump and his minions have already shown that they will lie, obscure the truth, manipulate and deny facts, and threaten all who oppose them. And then there are the attacks and threats to be launched by his slavish, zombie-like, mainly-white-supremacist alt-Reich followers.  There are several ways to participate in this peaceful ‘rebellion.’

Britain’s tortuous road to “hard” Brexit , by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs Column

It is becoming clearer just how wrenching a process it will be for Britain to leave the European Union, and beyond doubt that Britain is headed for a “hard” Brexit.

A Tale of Two Crashes, and Their Aftermaths, by Jim McNiven, Thoughtlines   Column

There are a lot of rough parallels between events in history that suggest that what one generation learns is forgotten over time. One of these is between the political/financial events in the United States between 1830-1850 and 2000-2020.

Arts:

Scandinavia Tackles Fairy Tale Gendering, by Gabrielle Richard, Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC)

In Stockholm’s Nicolaigarden pre-school, the teachers do not read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the students. Rather, its library holds children’s books that show different types of heroes and a diversity of family models (including those with single parents, adoptive children, and same-sex parents).

Magazine:

Have I Inherited the Trauma of China’s Cultural Revolution? by Shayla Love  Magazine

Shayla Love’s mother and grandparents lived through China’s Cultural Revolution – now, in a tale that traces its lineage from Chairman Mao’s brutality to scientific research on epigentics, she seeks to know the biological traces of their trauma she carries within her today.

Findings:

The launch of a massive fund chaired by Bill Gates, to invest in a carbonless future and provide “reliable, affordable energy for the world.”   The Breakthrough Energy Coalition pledged to to invest more than $1 billion in emerging energy breakthroughs “to deliver affordable and reliable energy with the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to near-zero.” You can read the press release here.  The fund predicts increased demand for energy, but “to get there, we need different tools than the ones that have served us in the past. Breakthrough Energy is committed to investing in new technologies to find better, more efficient and cheaper energy sources. The global energy market is massive, and finding a way to open it up is an investment opportunity worth getting right.”

China and the United States engaged in brinkmanship this week over China’s seizure of a research drone in international waters claimed by China. China agreed to return the drone. Read the New York Times report here.

This year broke all records for the numbers of  migrants and refugees on the move, and also for deaths,  on average 20 each day, said a report by the International Organization for Migration. More than half of the deaths, about 7,189, were in the Mediterranean, it said. Read the IOM press release here.  Meanwhile Germany’s Parliament, responding to the political backlash to migrants in Europe, demanded the country make more effort to integrate newcomers culturally. (Read the Reuters report here.)

For something entirely different, take a break from the world-wearying news.

Alan Watts & David Lindberg – Why Your Life Is Not A Journey from David Lindberg on Vimeo.

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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

Scandinavia Tackles Fairy Tale Gendering

Raphael’s angels were gender-neutral

Raphael’s angels were not obviously gendered

By Gabrielle Richard, Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC) 
December, 2016

In Stockholm’s Nicolaigarden pre-school, the teachers do not read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the students. Rather, its library holds children’s books that show different types of heroes and a diversity of family models (including those with single parents, adoptive children, and same-sex parents).

Titles include One More Giraffe, about two giraffes caring for an abandoned crocodile egg, and Kivi and Monsterdog, whose protagonist, Kivi, is a child of unspecified gender. The idea is to present a more diverse and realistic image of the world kids live in and to avoid representations that reproduce gender stereotypes.

They present a stark contrast to classics of children’s literature, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which has recently come under scrutiny for the way it portrays women and, to a lesser extent, men. The heroine is naïve (she is tricked by her stepmother twice) and lacking personality (she has to be told what to do and not to do by the dwarfs), while the evil stepmother is obsessed with beauty.

Prince Charming, sweeping in at the last minute to save his future wife, is only attracted to her physical appearance. This is clear because she is thought to be dead when he first sees her.

At Nicolaigarden, teachers don’t just avoid tales such as that of Snow White. The pre-school is one of five that are rethinking their entire pedagogical approach to ensure equality between genders. Egalia, perhaps the best known of the group, has had numerous documentaries made about it in recent years.

Gender-neutral pedagogy is the latest trend in trying to remove gender bias in education, along with other initiatives such as single-sex schooling. And the efforts of Scandinavian countries have lessons for everyone when it comes to gender equality in education.

The Scandinavian model

The Swedish pronoun hen is adopted by gender-neutral schools. Image by Myskoxen, Creative Commons

The Swedish pronoun hen is adopted by gender-neutral schools. Image by Myskoxen, Creative Commons

Sweden consistently ranks as one of the world’s most gender-egalitarian countries in the world, as do its Scandinavian neighbours. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden have had the most success at closing the gender gap. That’s the “gap” prohibiting full equality between men and women in education, health, the economy and politics.

Although some have questioned their inclusivity, Scandinavian countries’ success in working towards gender equality has been attributed to the efficiency of policies tackling the issue.

In Sweden, for example, the 1998 amendments to the Education Act called for schools to adopt “gender-aware education” guidelines. These suggested that it was the schools’ responsibility to provide children with equal opportunities regardless of gender, to work against sex-based discrimination and to “counteract traditional gender patterns”.

To implement the guidelines, Nicolaigarden teachers filmed their interactions with their six-year-old pupils, and realised that they acted differently with boys and with girls.

Come recess, they let the boys run into the playground, while asking girls to wait patiently for help zipping their coats. They spent more time comforting girls who had hurt themselves, while quickly exhorting boys to “go back and play”. The results were a wake-up call for teachers, who considered themselves proponents of gender equality.

Under director Lotta Rajalin, Nicolaigarden school staff developed a gender-neutral pedagogy with the goal of insuring no child is limited by gender expectations.

All children are given equal access to a variety of games, toys and costumes, in the same play space. Library books present strong male and female protagonists in similar proportions. Hiring practices encouraging male applicants have led Nicolaigarden to have up to 30% male caretakers, the highest rate for preschools in the country.

Schools also aim to use gender-neutral language, to avoid gendering whenever it is not necessary. The pronoun hen – a genderless alternative to “hon” (she) and “han” (he) – is one of many ways to refer to children, along with the word friends, or calling them by their first names. Other preschools in Stockholm have also adopted these inclusive guidelines.

The Scandinavian model of gender equality in schools is not limited to gender-neutrality initiatives such as the ones developed at Nicolaigarden or Egalia, nor to young children.

Gender constructs

The Macho Factory program (Machofabriken) provides schools and associations with training aimed at 13- to 25-year-olds. Its objective is to help them question prevailing gender norms and to break the association between masculinity and violence.

The program is based on 17 short films providing participants and educators with a basis for discussing the downsides of hegemonic masculinity.

The short film På golvet (On the floor) is presented first in the training session. The boxes in the film represent society’s expectations of how men should behave.

Like the adolescent in the short film, teenagers tend to adopt gender standards without questioning them, boxing themselves in with conceptions of masculinity or femininity they haven’t necessarily chosen. By highlighting the social construction of masculinity, Machofabriken gives teenagers the tools to question how limiting dominant gender norms can be.

Teachers’ gendered expectations

The models put forth by schools such as Nicolaigarden and Egalia, or in programs such as the Macho Factory, underscore the very real problems documented by studies on the different school experiences of girls and boys.

Decades of research based on classroom observations indicate that teachers interact differently with boys and girls, though they’re convinced they give them equal treatment. They call on boys more often, involving them with new learning materials and giving them extensive feedback. They turn to girls when it comes to social topics or support learning, having them repeat what has been previously discussed. Even nonverbal teacher behaviours, such as smiles, have been shown to favour boys over girls.

 

Teachers are not explicitly trained on gender socialisation, and it shows. Such gender biases penalise all pupils. According to a 2013 study, teachers’ gendered assessment of their students worked both in favour and against boys.

Researchers found that boys who held a negative attitude toward learning were downgraded compared to girls who had performed similarly. Boys who performed well and showed a positive attitude toward schooling, however, received better grades than girls in the same boat did.

Teachers’ gender biases also do girls a disservice. If teachers consistently expect girls to be good, they may not pay attention to those with behavioural problems, or act more harshly toward them.

“Our kids are not neutral”

Still, initiatives to create more gender-neutral environments for kids often receive ferocious criticism. In 2015, for instance, the US-based chain Target decided to remove gender divisions from their toy sections, opting instead for classification by type of toy (such as construction or costume). Evangelical Christian Reverend Franklin Graham responded by saying, “Our kids are not neutral, they are boys and girls as God has created them.” He asked his followers to boycott the stores.

In France, Système U stores launched a Christmas publicity campaign called Noël sans préjugés (Gender Free Christmas) in 2015. It presents children explaining on camera how they know if a toy is intended for boys or for boys.

This ad, televised nationally, put the chain at the centre of a Twitter storm in December 2015, with hashtags #NoëlSansSystèmeU (Christmas without Système U) and #BoycottSuperU proliferating.

Detractors against gender-neutral initiatives tend to say things like a child is either a boy or a girl, and this difference should necessarily come with distinct preferences.

Between the lines, one can discern a certain apprehension that these initiatives might encourage homosexuality, especially in young boys. “A little boy who plays doll and wears makeup isn’t shocking to you? Well it is to me! Wake up, for Pete’s sake” read one Tweet after the 2015 Système U campaign.

Other comments suggest such initiatives cause damaging gender confusion. This is clear from these tweets about Egalia’s work: “Pathetic, but mostly sad. So a child is no longer a he or a she, but a this?” and “We are talking about experimenting on an entire generation of kids. I can’t help but think we will raise a lot of confused individuals”.

Such comments fail to acknowledge that these initiatives no more impose a model than does regular store signage indicating that one set of toys is appropriate for girls and another for boys. They are no more confusing than someone who’s expected to act a certain way that just doesn’t feel right.

Part of the success of the so-called Scandinavian approach to gender equality might lie in its willingness to question and uncover everyone’s role in imposing gender expectations on others.

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

Gabrielle Richard is a researcher at the  Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC). This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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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 , |

Battle Ends, Bloody Syrian War Grinds On

By Laila Bassam, Angus McDowall and Stephanie Nebehay 

Rebel resistance in the Syrian city of Aleppo ended on Tuesday after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment that culminated in a bloody retreat, as insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire.

The battle of Aleppo, one of the worst of a civil war that has drawn in global and regional powers, has ended with victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and regional Shi’ite militias….

However, the war will still be far from over, with insurgents retaining major strongholds elsewhere in Syria, and the jihadist Islamic State group holding swathes of the east and recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra this week. …. Read our full report here  

Related on F&O:

In 2013 F&O partner Jonathan Manthorpe called Syria our modern Gordian knot. Here are F&O’s works that explain and put Syria’s agony in context:

Aleppo will fall, but Syrian war will go on — Analysis, by By Samia Nakhoul October, 2016

Syria’s mobile amputee clinic, photo-essay, By Khalil Ashawi April, 2016

Heartbreak in starving Syrian town, By Lisa Barrington and Stephanie Nebehay January 12, 2015

Our selective grief: Paris, Beirut, Ankara, and Syria, by  Tom Regan November, 2015  Column

Syria: new weaponry test bed By David StupplesCity University London  October, 2015

Ethnic groups flee as Syrian Kurds advance against Islamic State, By Humeyra Pamuk July, 2015

Al-Qaida Jihadists Suspicious of Iraq-Syria Caliphate, by Jonathan Manthorpe July 16, 2014   Column

Putin supports Syria for fear of revolution spreading to Russia’s Muslims, by Jonathan Manthorpe  : September 6, 2013 Column

Cutting Syria’s Gordian knot no simple feat, by Jonathan Manthorpe   August 28, 2013  Column

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Recommended:

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 Tagged , , , |

Fake News and Our Happiness Disorder

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
December, 2016

How do we “know” what we “know?”

Nope, this isn’t a trick question on an epistemology course. It’s the key to our lives, from the mundane (is that food safe to eat?) to social (can I trust that person?) to the most technical of calculations (how do I design a sound airplane?). Our world is built on evidence-based decision-making.

In democracies, we depend on having enough citizens who know about enough stuff to make enough smart decisions — based on the best evidence available — to keep us alive. We depend on having enough citizens willing  to confront problems and fix them. And if there’s anybody left who doubts that our democracies are in crisis, the events of 2016 dispelled our illusions.

Will democracy last? Some fear for this grand experiment; see this study showing a drop in support for the very concept. Its detractors might consider which system they’d prefer: Rule by royals? Tyranny by dictators? Authoritarianism posing as Communism? Personally, I agree with Winston Churchill, who considered democracy the least bad of the options. But our willingness to accept lies as facts — like the lies told during this year’s UK vote on Brexit and the American presidential election — could be democracy’s death knell.

Here’s why I think fake news is so widespread today: real news can be depressing. We are a society that avoids sadness, suppresses reflection with distraction, and stocks an arsenal of drugs and therapy for depression. And, increasingly, we refuse to embrace facts delivered as news.

The root cause of “Fake News” is deeper than the culprits most often blamed:  the venality of the deceivers, the glee of those who profit, manipulations by the Russians, distrust in traditional media, the gullibility of sheeple.

I contend that “Fake News” flourishes because we have a pandemic of Happiness Disorder.

Happiness is, obviously, a good thing. But happiness is neither real, nor achievable, if the only way we can feel happy is by turning a blind eye — especially when there’s a cliff in our road. Staring crises in the face is hardly happy-making — but ignoring a crisis is deadly. Democracy requires that enough of us keep watch to avoid driving off cliffs. Without enough people with clear sight — without some willingness to seek “knowledge” — where will we find ourselves?

©  Deborah Jones 2016

Return to Free Range

Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for republishing.)

If you value this story, the author would appreciate a contribution of .27 cents, Canadian, to help fund her ongoing work and pay for this site. Click on paypal.me/deborahjones to be taken to Deborah Jones’s personal PayPal page.

 

 

 

DebJones in Spain

Deborah Jones is a partner in Facts and Opinions.

Bio 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged |

Red Kettles, Fake News, Corruption: Facts and Opinions this week

Viola Desmond the choice for portrait on Canada’s next $10 bill 

Our journalism boutique lineup this week features an essay by Jeremy Hainsworth, weighing discrimination against the good done by the Salvation Army in saving lives. We focus on corruption with three pieces: Jonathan Manthorpe’s column on Transparency International’s latest findings; India’s secretive war against corruption, and how America welcomes foreign high-rollers suspected of corruption at home. Fake News is on our horizon, too, with Tom Regan’s Déjà vu  perspective and thoughts in the Notebook section below. But first, give a minute of your time to the video of Viola Desmond, and don’t miss our brief story about her, below.

Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Fund choice between LGBT rights and saving lives, by Jeremy Hainsworth The annual hullabaloo about the allegedly homophobic and discriminatory activities of the Salvation Army has begun. I'm torn: the Salvation Army has discriminatory policies affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people issues. It also runs detoxes and rehab facilities for those seeking recovery from addiction. Bottom line: someone who is dead can’t help fight inequality.Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Fund choice between LGBT rights and saving lives, by Jeremy Hainsworth

The annual hullabaloo about the allegedly homophobic and discriminatory activities of the Salvation Army has begun. I’m torn: the Salvation Army has discriminatory policies affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people issues. It also runs detoxes and rehab facilities for those seeking recovery from addiction.

Fake News: Déjà vu all over again, by Tom Regan   Column

We’ve been here before. Overwhelmed by fake news. Making important political and social decisions based on lies, half-truths and deliberate manipulation of facts, shaping them into something quite hideous. Perhaps even ignoring them altogether.

Canada, Fraudster’s Nirvana, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

Canada was slammed in a new report on corruption. It matters because tricks –blind trusts, shell companies, anonymous accounts in tax havens — are spurring the kind of populist, enraged politics that elected Donald Trump and is behind Brexit.  Unless Ottawa ensures that Canada’s privileged classes play by the same rules as everyone else Canada, too, will experience a tide of outrage.

People queue outside a bank to withdraw cash and deposit their old high denomination banknotes in Mumbai, India, December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

People queue outside a bank to withdraw cash and deposit their old high denomination banknotes in Mumbai, India, December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Who knew? Modi’s secretive attack on black money, by Douglas Busvine and Rupam Jain

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi staked his reputation and popularity on a secretive flash attack on the corrupt “black money” his government has struggled to eradicate.

Suspected of Corruption, Finding Refuge in the U.S. by Kyra Gurney, Anjali Tsui, David Iaconangelo, Selina Cheng

Wealthy politicians and businessmen suspected of corruption in their native lands are fleeing to a safe haven where their wealth and influence shields them from arrest: the United States, an  increasingly popular destination for people avoiding criminal charges.

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Notebook:

How do we “know” what we “know?” Nope, this isn’t a trick question on an epistemology course. It’s the key to our lives, from the mundane (is that food safe to eat?) to social (can I trust that person?) to the most technical of calculations (how do I design a sound airplane?). Our world is built on evidence-based decision-making. In democracies, we depend on having enough citizens who know about enough stuff to make enough smart decisions — based on the best evidence available — to keep us alive. We depend on having enough citizens willing  to confront problems and fix them. And if there’s anybody left who doubts that our democracies are in crisis, the events of 2016 dispelled our illusions.

Will democracy last? Some fear for this grand experiment; see this study showing a drop in support for the very concept. Its detractors might consider what system they’d prefer: Rule by royals? Tyranny by dictators? Authoritarianism posing as Communism? I agree with Winston Churchill, who considered democracy the least bad of the options.  But our willingness to accept lies as facts — like the lies told during the UK vote on Brexit and the American election — could be its death knell.

This week F&O partner Tom Regan argued in his column, Fake News: Déjà vu all over again, that untrustworthy “news” is hardly new.

But here’s why I think fake news is so widespread today: real news can be depressing. We are a society that avoids sadness, suppresses reflection with distraction, and stocks an arsenal of drugs and therapy for depression. And, increasingly, we also refuse to embrace real news.

The root cause of “Fake News” is deeper than the culprits most often blamed:  the venality of the deceivers, the glee of those who profit, manipulations by the Russians, distrust in traditional media, the gullibility of sheeple. I contend that “Fake News” flourishes because we have a pandemic of Happiness Disorder.

Happiness is, obviously, a good thing. But happiness is neither real, nor achievable, if the only way we can feel happy is by turning a blind eye — especially when there’s a cliff in our road. Staring crises in the face is hardly happy-making — but ignoring a crisis is deadly. Democracy requires that enough of us keep watch to avoid driving off cliffs. Without enough clear sight — without some willingness to seek “knowledge” — where will we find ourselves?

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Viola Desmond, civil rights leader, circa 1940. Photo Nova Scotia Government

Viola Desmond, civil rights leader, circa 1940. Photo Nova Scotia Government

The image of civil rights leader Viola Desmond will grace Canada’s next new $10 bill, being designed for issue in 2018, the Bank of Canada announced this week.

In 1946 Desmond, a successful businesswoman in Nova Scotia, refused to sit in the “coloured” section of a theatre in Cape Breton. Police dragged her out and locked her in jail. She was later convicted and fined on a tax technicality. She lost her appeal, but her story spread far and wide, and by 1954 segregation in Nova Scotia was abolished. Desmond, who died in 1965 aged 50,  was pardoned posthumously in 2010 — by Mayann Francis, also a black Nova Scotia woman, and Nova Scotia’s then-Lieutenant Governor.

Nine years after Viola Desmond’s defiant stand rocked Canada,  Rosa Parks, by refusing to sit in the “coloured” section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabma, became America’s symbol of civil rights.

Suggested reading elsewhere: Viola Desmond deserves better than a once-only holiday, by Stephen Kimber, 2014;  BLACK HISTORY MONTH: REMEMBERING CANADIAN CIVIL RIGHTS ICON VIOLA DESMOND, by  Asha Tomlinson, CBC News.

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Findings:

“The breakup of Europe, the rise of plutocrat-populists such as Trump, the failures of Mark Carney and the technocratic elite: he has anatomised all of them,’ writes Aditya Chakrabortty in a Guardian profile about Wolfgang Streeck: the German economist calling time on capitalism. “Not so long ago, such catastrophism would have been the stuff of Speakers’ Corner. Today, it goes right to the brokenness of politics.”

A remarkable multi-media New York Times feature examines the slaughter underway in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has launched a war on drugs unlike any the world has seen. They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals” by Daniel Berehulak is a gripping photo essay, grisly and sometimes heart wrenching, documenting 57 killings.

— Deborah Jones 

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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, Gyroscope

Matters of Facts, and Opinions

A man hangs shirts out to dry in an open-air laundry in Mumbai, India August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD PACKAGE Ð SEARCH ÒBUSINESS WEEK AHEAD SEPTEMBER 12Ó FOR ALL IMAGES - RTSNAG5

Is Your T-Shirt Clean of Slavery? Science Will Tell. Above, a man hangs shirts out to dry in an open-air laundry in Mumbai, India August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade

F&O’s Dispatches this week:

Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks, by Alastair Macdonald

 Islamic State will attack Europe again, security chiefs warned on Dec. 2, and may add car bombs, cyber and chemical warfare to its local arsenal as European militants drift home after reverses in Syria and Iraq.

Donald Trump’s Constitutional Problem, by Richard Tofel, ProPublica  Report

Despite the presence of armed forces in the street, the most violent neighbourhoods of Honduras are plagued by insecurity. Children can rarely go out and play, even during daytime. Families’ movements are restricted by gangs, who impose “invisible borders” between their gang territories. European Commission photo, by A. Aragón 2016/Flickr

Honduras is plagued by insecurity. EU/A. Aragón 2016/Flickr

Far from ending with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s announcement that he will separate himself from the management of his business empire, the constitutional debate about the meaning of the Emoluments Clause — and whether Trump will be violating it — is likely just beginning.

Porous Texas Fence Foreshadow’s Trump’s Wall Problems, by Jon Herskovitz

The rose-coloured border security fence starts in a dusty field on the Loop family farm in South Texas – about 15 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico and a mile north of the southern U.S. border. From there, near Brownsville, it stretches about 60 miles west, but with plenty of gaps to drive or walk through. Where it exists, the fence doesn’t always stop illegal immigrants.

Is Your T-Shirt Clean of Slavery? Science Will Tell, by Liz Mermin  Report

Shoppers lured by a bargain-priced T-shirt but concerned about whether the item is free of slave labour could soon have the answer – from DNA forensic technology.

Commentary:

Disappearing the Middle East, by Tom Regan  Column

The Middle East has disappeared from American media, despite the billions the US has spent and continues to spend in the region. Americans have moved on. But here’s the rub — it won’t just go away.

Fidel Castro and the Defeat of South African’s Apartheid, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

Many people questioned it then and continue to question it now, but Nelson Mandela had no doubt that Fidel Castro played a central and critical role in the defeat of apartheid in South Africa.

Castro and Trudeau, Kindred Spirits, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

Canada’s Pierre Trudeau and Cuba’s Fidel Castro were brothers under the skin. It is no wonder they became life-long friends, for each could see a reflection of himself in the other.  The similarity in the backgrounds of the two men is compelling.

Starve the Beast! by Jim McNiven   Column

During America’s Ronald Reagan presidency, the phrase ‘starve the beast’ was shorthand amongst conservatives for the idea that by simply cutting back on expenditures — either through disciplined spending or by giving money away through tax cuts— people would be forced to accept smaller and less expensive government. It didn’t really work — but the idea persists, on the “left” and the “right.”

Necropolitics in Mexico and Central America, by By Ariadna Estévez, Expert Witness

There’s a standard narrative, that gang violence is forcing people to flee Central America and Mexico. But this overlooks two facts about the  humanitarian crisis and regional tragedy, and criminal violence is just part of a dangerous cocktail.

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Notebook: on the death of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro dies, age 90. Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo

Fidel Castro dies, age 90. Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

Before I first went to Cuba, in 1995 on a magazine assignment, a good friend who travelled widely on government business said it was the only Latin American country she knew where no children begged in the streets. I kept her comment in mind as I read up on the criticism of Cuba’s human rights and economic record.

At the airport at Holguin I encountered armed guards, enforcing Cuba’s then-rule against bringing in magazines, books or newspapers. Buildings everywhere were riddled with bullet holes, mementoes of the revolution. People were thin and food –mostly consisted rice and beans — was scant, following the collapse of its ally the U.S.S.R. Cuba’s air roiled with black oily exhaust belching from ancient vehicles; taking public transit required clambering into the back of a dump truck.  Once in Santiago, a tour guide noted matter-of-factly that Cuba used firing squads for capital punishment.

But my friend was right: there was not a beggar to be seen. Children dressed in sparkling white walked to school in lines. Almost all of the adults I met had post-secondary education; my assigned driver had a PhD in anthropology and was married to a physician. Everyone had health care. Though Cubans were poor, no one I saw was downcast to the point of being broken; I still can’t say the same of other places I’ve been in the Americas — including the U.S.

Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution has had mixed results, but as with most things in life, it’s not all good nor all bad. Cuba ranks 67th in the UN Human Development Index. Had Castro not revolted against the American corporate pirates who were then raping and ransacking the country, would it now rival perhaps Haiti (163), Nicaragua (125) or Honduras (131)?

My driver in 1995 said he hoped Cuba would change, open up to the world, allow him to travel. He was tired of being poor and hungry, he said. Then he frowned, and added, “But we have to be careful. We don’t want to lose what we’ve gained.”

Those gains — by a small, isolated and impoverished country — are revealed in an adult literacy rate of 99.8 %, and statistics that put the far wealthier United States to shame in areas like infant mortality (Cuba’s rate of 4, lower than 6 in the US); life expectancy (Cubans live to 79.1 years, Americans 78.8 years. Sources: UNICEF Cuba; UNICEF U.S.  Such are the things I’ve kept in mind lately while listening to modern critics of Cuba’s human rights and economic record.

Our works about Cuba and Fidel Castro include two columns this week by International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe — Fidel Castro and the Defeat of South African’s Apartheid, and  Castro and Trudeau, Kindred Spirits — adding to the earlier news: Fidel Castro, dead at 90. A Life in Photos; with Fidel Castro, Facts and Quotes, and an analysis by academic Mark Beeson, Fidel Castro: Anachronism, Achiever, With Tarnished Legacy.

— Deborah Jones       

Finding:

“Do you live in a bubble?” asks PBS. The American public broadcaster developed a 25-question quiz anyone can fill out to see how disconnected we might be from “from the average white American and American culture at large.” Adapted from one used by Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and author, it assesses how thick or thin the walls of a respondent’s bubble might be. It’s American, of course, but this Canadian guesstimated the local equivalent of US-specific questions. Find the quiz here.

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Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope