Front Page News: May 4, 2015

Good morning, Pine Tree Republic citizens! This week’s Front Page News includes:

Please share your thoughts on these and other news of the week in the comments, and don’t forget to vote in our Pine Poll of the Week!


1. “Five Things the International Community Shouldn’t Do After a Disaster“, by Shirin Jafaari (The World)

Source: The Telegraph

Source: The Telegraph

The Story: A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Asian country of Nepal on April 25, causing widespread destruction in the capital Kathmandu and many villages in the surrounding countryside. As of the time of writing (May 3), an estimated 6,500 people have been killed, and the death toll is expected to keep rising as relief workers still make their way to remote villages. In the meantime, survivors are attempting to put their lives back together as they start to rebuild their homes, incinerate the dead, and collect enough food and water to subsist over the coming days. Aid agencies are also beginning to fly into Nepal to assist with the rebuilding effort, as national governments and large international non-profits announce pledges to help with the relief efforts. In this interview, journalist Jonathan Katz provides lessons learned from a similar large-scale earthquake and rebuilding effort in Haiti five years ago. Katz warns that one of the largest mistakes made by the international community at that time was to neglect the perspectives of local survivors in determining priorities for disaster relief, actually causing more societal problems in Haiti that have lasted years after the initial disaster.

The decision to not take seriously what people’s needs were in terms of recovery – to look at people as if no time had passed from the earthquake, that they weren’t going to try to set up homes again; the decision to flood in food instead of working with people to try to figure out ‘where were you getting food from before, how could we help you get food now’ … all of these decisions that were made and treated people as obstacles in their own recovery ended up creating these tent camps that ended up being an enormous, enormous focus of the relief and reconstruction effort for years to come.” – Jonathan Katz, Associated Press reporter in Haiti in 2010

Context: Jonathan Katz’s set of lessons from the Haiti earthquake is an important reminder that beyond the initial devastation wrought by a natural disaster, the response of well-meaning countries and international aid organizations can also impact a country years after the initial event. Within a year of the Haiti earthquake, for example, a cholera epidemic believed to have been started by United Nations workers led to over 2,500 deaths, despite the presence of over 12,000 aid agencies and more than $9 billion in foreign assistance. Three years later, 400,000 Haitians still lived in tents provided by international aid organizations as a means of “temporary” shelter. While there are naturally difficulties in providing effective aid to a developing country that has just suffered a major disaster, these examples illuminate some of the problems with the current global aid system: thousands of organizations respond to disaster through appeals to donors for funds, and as a result are compelled to demonstrate leadership of high-visibility projects. Without coordination and an in-depth understanding of local culture, this massive influx of money has the potential to overwhelm a country’s economic, social, and political make-up. This will be a significant challenge in the effort to rebuild Nepal, particularly given its international appeal for tourism and Buddhist culture. Whether the international community contributes to supporting pre-existing local institutions will be a good test of the lessons it learned in Haiti.


2. “Black Culture is Not the Problem“, by N.D.B. Connolly (The New York Times)

Source: Al Jazeera America

Source: Al Jazeera America

The Story: This past week was marred by violence in Baltimore, Maryland, as several in the city’s African-American community protested police brutality in the wake of the death of 25-year old Freddie Gray at the hands of local police. While six police officers were charged on Friday with crimes ranging from murder to manslaughter in relation to the death, much of the local and national debate centred around how to react to the violent protests earlier in the week, which left a dozen police officers injured and a local drugstore burned down. In this analysis, Johns Hopkins University Professor N.D.B. Connolly urges readers not just to focus on individual criminal acts that occurred during these events, but also broader systemic policies and market forces that incentivize persistent segregation in many of America’s cities. Until these factors are addressed, Connolly argues that the conditions leading to the recent events in Baltimore will continue to fuel urban unrest.

Specifically, the problem rests on the continued profitability of racism. Freddie Gray’s exposure to lead paint as a child, his suspected participation in the drug trade, and the relative confinement of black unrest to black communities during this week’s riot are all features of a city and a country that still segregate people along racial lines, to the financial enrichment of landlords, corner store merchants and other vendors selling second-rate goods.”

Context: Professor Connolly’s analysis of the “profitability” of racism provides an important perspective on the wider systems that expose a city like Baltimore to conflict between its police force and the African-American community. It’s notable that the latest outburst of violence is taking place in a city where a majority of the political leadership and the police force itself is African-American, unlike the previous round of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, demonstrating that this issue cannot be simply reduced to a lack of individual black leaders in positions of power. Though the specific events of the past two weeks were sparked by individual actions, at least part of the kindling was fuelled by the economic systems that benefit different capitalist groups at the expense of the urban poor. This includes landlords that prey on tenants with few rights, leading to unstable housing situation for families; lenders that target low-income families with speculative loans that often drive them into further debt; and municipalities that face a constant funding crunch and are enticed to raise revenue through increased police fines, further inflaming tensions between the police force and the urban poor. These systems have especially worsened the situation in “Rust Belt” cities, like Baltimore and St. Louis, whose economies have struggled since the flight of manufacturing jobs to lower-cost locales over the past few decades. Fixing the racial tensions in these communities goes beyond reshaping the police force, or finding the individuals who start riots – it will necessarily include rethinking how our current economy exploits the poor.


3. “Canadian Research Advocates Criticize ‘Big Science’ Budget” by Ivan Semeniuk (The Globe and Mail)

Source: Sky and Telescope

Source: Sky and Telescope

The Story: The Canadian government announced its 2015-2016 budget on April 21, and experts in several fields are analyzing the plan’s potential impacts on their fields of expertise. One group with ambivalent views is the country’s scientific research community: while the government announced financial support for multiple high-profile science infrastructure projects (e.g. the multinational Thirty Meter Telescope planned for construction in Hawaii), the overall pool of $2.7 billion CAD to support basic research has declined since last year (when corrected for inflation), at a time when other countries are strengthening their commitments to research. In an election year, several researchers are speculating that the Conservative government is favouring high-profile initiatives that draw headlines, at the expense of growing the rest of the country’s research infrastructure that serves as the “nuts and bolts” for advancing scientific progress.

Whether or not science becomes an issue in the upcoming election campaign, some research advocates say the budget shows that the government’s approach to science is still too narrow. While it renews necessary commitments to research infrastructure, they fear not enough money will be left for people doing the kind of work that expands knowledge but does not always produce an immediate economic return.”

Context: The latest federal budget for science research reflects a common imperative for the Conservative government – focusing limited funding and attention on top-level initiatives that attract private sector support, while cutting back on the “meat-and-potatoes” programs that have traditionally served as the backbone of Canadian institutions. This approach can be seen in sectors as diverse as foreign aid, in which the government focuses funds on 25 countries it deems high priority; and the Olympic “Own the Podium” program, in which funding is focused on sports and athletes that Sport Canada believes have a chance to medal, at the expense of other Olympic athletes. An argument could be made that this increased focus is a necessary response to keeping up with increasing global competition in each of these domains, especially as developing countries grow in their international influence. That philosophy is at least implicitly based on the importance of branding a country in order to attract international media attention and investment in an increasingly globalized world. However, this approach risks reshaping Canadian programs into top-heavy institutions that reward a few promising individuals and groups, without providing enough broad support to produce the next set of world-renowned scientists or athletes. More significantly, it is quietly reshaping Canada into a country that prizes high-visibility achievement over equal access to opportunities, for better or worse.


4. “Can Prentice Forge a Miracle, Days Before Alberta Election?” by Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail)

Source: CBC

Source: CBC

The Story: The Alberta election campaign comes to an end when voters go to the polls on Tuesday, May 5. Throughout the month-long campaign, the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) has gained ground and even eclipsed the incumbent Progressive Conservative (PC) party in the polls, punctuated by a debate that NDP leader Rachel Notley was widely perceived to have won. Whether the NDP’s surge in the polls translates to an actual win on election day remains to be seen, as much of its support is concentrated in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary. Nevertheless, even the prospect that the NDP could take power is surprising in a province that has been governed by the PCs for the past 44 years. In this article, Gary Mason seeks to unearth the recent changes in Alberta that have led to this new political landscape, including general dissatisfaction with the long-governing PCs, the province’s increasingly urban population, and the emergence of two progressive, popular mayors who may have a wider impact on Alberta’s politics.

To outsiders, an Alberta governed by anything but a party with a strong conservative bent seems inconceivable. But for anyone paying attention, it’s clear Alberta has been undergoing a demographic change for some time. The population has increasingly aggregated in expanding Edmonton and Calgary, both now governed by mayors with a progressive-minded focus.”

Context: If Tuesday’s election leads to an NDP government, or even a PC minority government, it could signal the growing influence of Alberta’s two largest cities and their popular mayors. At a time when federal governments around the world struggle with partisan gridlock, and even state/provincial governments are sometimes stymied by partisanship, cities increasingly find themselves best positioned to tackle today’s complex challenges, including economic growth, immigration, and climate change. Albertans in particular can testify to this, where the provincial PC government has sagged in popularity as it failed to properly adapt its government model to a low oil price environment, despite enjoying virtually unchallenged power for 44 years. By contrast, the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary – Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi, respectively – have enjoyed great popularity among their citizens through alternative examples of how politics can be conducted in the province. If their progressive political styles help make the NDP a more politically acceptable choice for a growing number of Albertans, it could have an outsized effect on national politics, particularly as the next Alberta premier will play an important role in representing Canada at the December international climate negotiations in Paris. This election may be an example of emerging “trickle-up” politics – in which municipal politics and trends increasingly influence the political scene at the provincial/state and federal levels.

Questions to Follow:

      • Has the international aid system fundamentally changed since the Haiti earthquake five years ago?
      • What economic or societal groups benefit from continued segregation and economic malaise of urban African-American communities?
      • What are the benefits of Canada’s current “top-heavy” approach to funding government programs? What are potential drawbacks?
      • How are relationships between cities, provinces/states, and federal governments changing? Which entities are increasing in power, and which are decreasing?


Pine Poll of the Week:

Last Week’s Poll Results: Poll results indicated a preference for a military campaign targetting human traffickers as a response to the ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

I look forward to reading your perspectives on this week’s news in the comments.

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