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Saturday, 24 February

05:44

And man created the nation in his own image Slugger O'Toole

When we say we belong to a particular ethnicity or nationality, we are implicitly saying that we share traits in common with the other members of this group. Or are we saying that the other members of this group share traits in common with us? There is a subtle but important distinction.

In the popular imagination, the formation of an ethnic or national identity is an objective process whereby the members of the group find commonalities amongst themselves and thereby come to regard each other as kinsmen. But people are rarely objective. Our views of ourselves do not necessarily match those others have of us, and our views of them will not always match their self-image.

This is particularly problematic when disparate groups come (or are forced) together to form a larger grouping. Group A may see themselves as kinsmen of group B, but the feeling may not be reciprocated. This is because even though As self-image may correspond to their image of B, Bs self-image may not correspond to their image of A. This error can come about in two ways either one does not fully understand ones own identity and fills in the blanks from an outside source (so-called false consciousness), or one does not fully understand the identity of others and projects ones own identity onto them. This can be illustrated by considering the relationships between the English, the Scots, and Irish unionists and nationalists (being aware of course that these terms are woefully inadequate).

Many people consider the English and the Scots as kinsmen in a British nation. But if you ask a sample of Englishmen and a sample of Scotsmen to define Britishness you will get a wide range of answers. John Majors famous response to this question long shadows on cricket grounds and warm beer would strike most outside observers as a description of Englishness rather than Britishness. In this case an Englishman has projected an English identity onto Britain as a whole. The Scots and the Welsh are less likely to make this error, having a heightened awareness of their relative size and status.

Unionists are often accused of a similar offence, although this time as a minority projecting their own identity onto a much larger group. It has been remarked that the Ulster-Unionist vision of Britishness is not the same one that the English or Scots see, Orangeism being one notable divergence. In addition, many unionists self-identify solely as British, without even any regional qualification. This has led to accusations of false consciousness, of adopting anothers identity to replace their own.

But this is a misunderstanding one only has to watch an international football match to understand that unionists are viscerally aware of the distinction between their own identity...

05:39

Equality has arrived but the DUP and Sinn Fein have yet to face up to what it means Slugger O'Toole

Equality has always been a Sinn Fein buzzword. To nationalists generally it is an essential outcome after centuries of oppression. To some unionists who are behind the times, its an excessive demand which nationalist numbers dont warrant and a debased term extracted from the virtuous vocabulary of human rights to deploy as weaponry in the continuing war by other means. Just as many resent a false reading of history that implies that rights are only about justice denied to nationalists.

In its original state, equality is fundamental to human rights, which is first of all a construct for the individuals benefit.   Collectively it invokes supporting concepts like parity of esteem and equal opportunity for disadvantaged groups to redress imbalances, both present and historic. Equality does not mean uniformity and much effort is needed to apply it to a diverse or divided society.  Invariably for the bigger group comprised of smaller groups, it requires compromise between different or competing rights in the smaller groups.

The Good Friday Agreement entrenched rights and equality in the political system as never before.  With the  winding up of paramilitarism, the road to ending our worst problems lay open.  Institutional discrimination abolished, terms for power sharing between equals under the law finally agreed.   But instead, the struggle or struggle   shifted.   Rather than move to a new rhythm, politics retained  the counterpoint of the drive of Sinn Feins determinist  slogan,  tiocfaidh r l and the DUPs  defensive shout of  No Surrender.   Both sides learned to game the system, rights and all,  but only to the point of stalemate.

Tensions blew up over rights claimed by one  group  but denied by the other, building up  more and more raucous disputes  to become identity politics  which came to define a near-impotent  Assembly.  Too often, the cause of promoting the cherished heritage degenerated into culture wars to win territorial or general dominance.

Where possible political aims were translated into rights as for example in  same sex marriage, with the aim of avoiding subjecting it to the chances of political decision in the Assembly.  In deadlocked disputes over the Troubles legacy, the DUP argued against one-sided justice while Sinn Fein insisted on no hierarchy for victims. The list goes on, showing the limitations of competing rights in solving problems as much political as legal.

Times are changing. The ethnic unionist majority is dwindling and the block majority already disappeared in the last Assembly election.  Unionists are starting to employ the same l...

02:55

Debating the Nolan Show (and wider media) and its role in our political discourse Slugger O'Toole

This is a really interesting exchange between Stephen Nolan and Professor Brian Walker this morning which is worth listening to in full.

I have often debated this myself with other people in the media more generally. Are platforms, including Slugger part of the problem in a divided society?

This is something I know people do ask themselves. Am I making the right calls? Am I just pandering in some respects to an instinct?

Is there more we can do? Or is it our role to do anything?

Since its Friday, I thought this would be appropriate to throw it open to you for you thoughts.

02:51

Russian protester gets one-year prison sentence for waving his leg in the air (while he was carried off by police) openDemocracy

This week, a Russian activist was prosecuted in a landmark trial that is being used to restrict freedom of assembly and punish citizens who try to assert it. 

Dmitry Borisov at court. Source: Irina Yatsenko.

This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.

The latest person to prosecuted in connection with the 26 March protest has been sentenced to one year in a prison colony. Prosecutors had asked for a three-year sentence.

Dmitry Borisov is a Muscovite and activist of the 14% movement who works in a small hotelier business. He was arrested on 9 June. According to the investigators, when four police officers were carrying Borisov to a police van, he freed his left leg and twice kicked police officer Ilya Erokhin in the head. Erokhin suffered no physical harm and did not request medical care. The first time Erokhin remembered he had been hurt, according to the prosecution, was in mid-May, about two months after the events.

Watch the following video (in Russian) for the incident in question:

The Investigative Committee has finally begun a review of complaints about torture by the anti-fascist activist...

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Friday, 23 February

22:45

RHI: the energy team did not include that crucial detail in the submission to her. Slugger O'Toole

And, whats happening in the public inquiry into the RHI scheme? It seems like Northern Ireland lost its representative democracy for a departmental cock up not by Arlene Foster, but by an official(s):

The cost of the ongoing subsidy scheme which became the RHI scheme was estimated to cost over 100m more than it had done in the report the previous month, meaning it cost significantly more than the other option.

Mrs Foster decided to go for the subsidy option on the basis of the draft report, rather than the final one.

The former DETI minister has said she would have expected officials to draw any significant or material changes affecting my prior decision directly to my attention, adding: This was not done.

Ms Hepper accepted that what the minister has said is factually correct and the energy team did not include that crucial detail in the submission to her.

As the BBC report has it: Not very good public policy, is it? Sir Patrick replied.

19:48

As Afrin burns, where is the left? openDemocracy

Kurds, it seems, have the misfortune of being victims of a non-western power and so their suffering barely registers.

Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua News Agency/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. Syrian Kurdish people stay in a cave in a village in the countryside of the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, northern Syria, on Feb. 8, 2018. Civilians in the countryside of Afrin have been fleeing since the Turkish-led military campaign started against Kurdish fighters in Afrin. Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua News Agency/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.The unofficial motto of the Kurdish people is, as countless opinion pieces have reminded us recently, Kurds have no friends but the mountains. They make strategic alliances with great powers from time to time; but these, predictably enough, tend to end in betrayal. The vagaries of realpolitik do not lend themselves to lasting friendship.

What is less predictable is the lack of support the Kurds have received from progressives.

Turkeys invasion of Afrin should be bringing the international left out onto the streets of all major capitals. Protesters should be pouring into Hyde Park with the red, white, green and yellow of the Kurdish flag as the chant We are all PYD now! fills the air.

But theyre not. The streets are quiet save a few Kurdish activists and displays of solidarity are scarce.

Compare this with the situation of another stateless people: the Palestinians. When the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) razes Gaza to the ground, activists waste no time in donning keffiyehs and marching on Whitehall; violence in the Holy Land permeates the major periodicals and Israel is fiercely denounced on social media.

Why, then, the relative silence when it comes to the persecution of the Kurds?

An Islamist-nationalist government, headed by the demagogic Recep Tayyip Erdoan, has invaded a foreign country with the help of local jiha...

19:47

Framing the economy: how to win the case for a better system openDemocracy

New research shows how changing the way we talk about the economy can help win public support for a progressive economic agenda.

In 2010, the British right wing media and political parties told a very convincing story about the economy that persuaded the public we had no choice but to make massive cuts to public spending. You probably know it already: there was no money left, the economy was like a household budget, wed maxed out the nations credit card, and it was time to tighten our belts. Anyone who watches the news will be familiar with this story, and if youve ever gone door knocking, you will have heard people repeat it back to you with total conviction.In 2010, the British right wing media and political parties told a very convincing story about the economy that persuaded the public we had no choice but to make massive cuts to public spending. You probably know it already: there was no money left, the economy was like a household budget, wed maxed out the nations credit card, and it was time to tighten our belts. Anyone who watches the news will be familiar with this story, and if youve ever gone door knocking, you will have heard people repeat it back to you with total conviction. Since 2010, there have been 120,000 excess deaths linked to austerity, the Red Cross declared a humanitarian crisis in the NHS, and use of foodbanks has soared. Why, in light of all of this, did people still support it? This was the backdrop for the Framing the Economy project. We believed the public endorsed a right wing story about the economy because progressives had failed to come up with an alternative. There werent that many progressive spokespeople on current affairs programmes, and when they were it was like they didnt know what to say. So four organisations came together to understand how British people understood the economy and what new story could be told to persuade them to share our ideas. The four organisations that led the project were NEF (New Economics Foundation), NEON (New Economy Organisers Network), PIRC (Public Interest Research Centre) and the Frameworks Institute. Of course a lot has changed since 2010. We didnt expect the host of The Apprentice to become the American President, for example. But the tumultuous politics of the last ei...

18:30

#MeToo, dialogue and healing openDemocracy

To give voice to our deepest experiences is to cultivate connection and collective healing.

Credit: Pixabay/Chulhwan. CC0 Public Domain.

Washington University, St Louis, 2002. We sit on the floor, friends and others, each of us holding vigil.

I wonder if I will even be able to find the words if I choose to speak. There are fewer facts than I wish formore self-judgments and denials than cohesive narrative.

It is the story of a date gone badbroken but intrusive memories, tainted, tamed, and tortured by reoccurrence and repetition.

Heavy, loaded, and strange, the words that come out feel foreign on my tongue as if the story were not mine.

There was the taxi cab, the woman giving herself a pedicure in the living room, my hurrying down the stairs and out the door only to realize I was locked in. There was having to go back inside to ask him to let me out of the gates.

There was, if I let myself feel it, the sensation of watching my body on the bed from far up above where the wall met the ceiling by the doorway to the room. There was voicelessness and fearthe shame of knowing that I did not yell or fight.

There was my wandering of the streets not knowing if I would find my way home or if I even wanted to. There was the feeling of a disorienting sense of safety or freedom in those dark, foreign streetshe was not there.

For the first time, that night I give voice to the words: I was raped.

I wonder if the sentence will ever feel real. I do not cry. I just sit in the room, on the floor, where we have all come to share our stories. I stay still and listen to others after I speak. The candles around us seem to offer some comfort of illumination and the darkness in which they flutter holds the safety of an emerging connection to myself and to something else unfolding and unseen.

Daring to break our silences, even those that have kept us safe, is vulnerable work, no matter when or where or how we make the choice. Giving voice to stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault carries with it uncertainty, fear, and the possibility of re-traumatization. Those of us who have experienced the trauma of sexualized violence run the pros and cons of whether to tell people in our lives or offices or communities a million times over.

Times may be changing. Our societies may be ready to receive these stories without questioning them or us. #MeToo has given us a sense of solidarity and...

16:12

One Chechen mans quest for a real education openDemocracy

On this day in 1944, thousands of people in Russias North Caucasus were deported to Central Asia. They had few rights in exile and had to fight every step of the way. RU

Soviet authorities loading Chechens and Ingush onto trains for deportation, likely taken in February 1944. Source: Wikipedia. Fair use. In February-March 1944, fires burned in Grozny and other settlements of the former Chechen-Ingush autonomous republic fires made of books printed in Chechen and Ingush. The readers of these books some 500,000 Chechens and Ingush people were deported to Central Asia as part of Soviet security forces so-called Operation Lentil, which began before dawn on 23 February. Over several days, thousands of people were crammed into livestock carriages and transported thousands of kilometres by rail to the Soviet East.

Chechen and Ingush children did not learn their native languages in exile in Kazakhstan and other parts of Central Asia. They went to Kazakh- and Russian-language schools. Between 1944 and 1955, there were no books, newspapers, magazines nor radio shows published in Chechen and Ingush. No national cultural institution existed, and limits were placed on the number of places available in higher education. These were part of the conditions of the so-called special settlement, the forced resettlement of peoples under Soviet rule.

Satsita Yandarova, a senior lecturer at Chechnya State University, cites the following figures: In the first years of deportation, many children did not receive an education In 1944, out of 50,323 school-age children of special settlers in Kazakhstan, 16,000 went to school. In 1945, 6,643 children out of 21,015 in Kyrgyzstan went to school. In Kazakhstan in the 1945-1946 academic year, 22,020 children went to school out of 89,102. In 1946, in Kyrgyzstan, 4,560 children out of a possible 21,240 went to school.  

In exile, the struggle for the right to education required particular courage.

Execution

In January 2000, some time after the start of Russias Second Chechen War, the body of an executed man was found in the basement of a half...

16:02

The prisoner of Yerevan: an American's unfortunate journey back to Armenia openDemocracy

In Armenia, repatriates from the US enjoy comfortable middle-class lives unless they engage in political activism.

July 2014: police officers block activists from "Stand up, Armenia!" from moving towards Yerevan's Freedom Square. (c) Asatur Yesayants / VisualRIAN. All rights reserved.Over the last decade, President Serzh Sargsyan has ruled over Armenia in a style that Freedom House ambiguously calls soft authoritarianism. Sargsyans rule is characterised by widespread police violence and unlawful detention of journalists and activists. Falling short of the outright dictatorship in force in neighbouring Azerbaijan, Sargsyans authoritarian regime has managed to maintain a tight grip on power. It has steadily cleared the political field, leaving the electoral politics a doomed adventure for any force except the ruling party, but has maintained relative press freedom and freedom of speech, especially online.

Halfway into Sargsyans second term as president, there are few political opposition forces independent from his administration. One non-parliamentary group, known as Founding Parliament, has attracted attention for its nationalist rhetoric, radical social justice platform and refusal to engage in electoral politics. The groups core of Karabakh veterans from the 1990s has ensured a uncompromising stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict a position common to Armenians inside and outside the country, as well as the majority of politicians and activists across the political spectrum.  

Indeed, the brief, but tragic flare-up of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in April 2016 provoked a wave of national unity and public calls for a firmer position on the disputed territory of Karabakh. Three months later, an armed group seized a Yerevan police station, accusing the Armenia...

05:27

The mystery of the Russian planes that never were openDemocracy

Is Russia a military threat to the west? A larger past and closer detail offer fresh light.   

lead An overhead view of Admiral Kuznetsov, aircraft carrier, August 2012. Wikicommons, Ministry of Defence. Some rights reserved.Most analysts blame Vladimir Putins aggressive political stance for the renewed hostility between Russia and the western states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). The deteriorating relationship has been evident for a decade and more. The fallout from Moscow's interventions in Georgia / South Ossetia (2008), Ukraine / Crimea (2014), and Syria (2015), as well as its reported disruption in the United States presidential election (2016), are but the main episodes. Lesser ones include displays of military strength that attract wide coverage in the western media.  

Before looking in more detail at the latter, it is worth offering a touch of historical perspective on great-power interference. In particular, at a time when Moscow's role in the US election is hotly disputed, a certain degree of hollow laughter is appropriate given Washington's (and London's) own dedicated efforts to influence elections and other political processes in many countries over many decades.

Weve been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947.  Weve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners you name it. Weve planted false information in foreign newspapers. Weve used what the British call King Georges ca...

04:29

Sex and Charity openDemocracy

Regarding the massive scandal involving chief executives of big NGOs, the situation must be considered through the lens of how we have dealt with sexual abuse. But we must be wary of how this is used to justify budget cuts. Espaol

People queue for water at Place de La Paix Internally displaced peoples (IDP) camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. PA Images. All rights reserved.

What I am about to say may offend certain sensibilities. In fact, I hope they are offended.

It is very likely that the women, some of which without a doubt were minors, that had sex with Oxfam workers in Haiti, did so to obtain resources that otherwise would have been out of their reach.

They chose to engage in such acts to obtain money to find food to take home, medicine or perhaps even because being locked up in those brothels meant escaping hell in a country utterly devastated by earthquakes and many other conflicts. Desperate, it is very likely that none of them were professional prostitutes, but simply victims of a catastrophic situation. 

What is certain is that the men that bought those women knew all of this and had no qualm in using their power to create an obscene and miserable reality, as if they were taking them from one kind of hell to another.

When dealing with war zones and extreme human conditions, women and especially underage girls are extremely vulnerable to abuse.

Nothing New

All of us who have worked in situations of extreme vulnerability (including armed conflict zones) know that humanitarian assistance, if provided by the wrong hands, can result in abuses of power. Sexual exploitation is one of the oldest abuses of them all, however is also the most common.

But care must be taken here. I am not saying that conflict ridden countries like Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo are immense brothels where anyone can go, offering money in exchange for sex on any corner. But no, there is much more dignity than what that would imply.

What I would like to explain is that when dealing with war zones and extreme human co...

02:49

Want a real spy scandal? How about the aristocratic Conservative spy who was NEVER prosecuted? Pride's Purge

Heard the one about the Tory Old-Etonian Lord who despite being caught spying for the Japanese  giving them the know-how to take out Pearl Harbor and to capture Singapore resulting in 100,000 allied prisoners being taken, many of whom died in brutal Japanese PoW camps was so well-connected he was never even prosecuted?

No? Take a bow Conservative peer William Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill.

Scottish Tory Lord Sempill was an active member of several far-right, fascist and anti-Semitic organisations including the Anglo-German Fellowship, the pro-Nazi Link Organisation and Archibald Ramsays The Right Club, a secretive organisation with the aim of ridding the Tor...

01:09

How Scotland's beavers came back, and how you can help openDemocracy

The Scottish government is consulting on whether to let reintroduced beavers stay.

A beaver in Perthshire. Image, Bamff.co.uk

Beavers were extirpated from Scotland by about the 16th century. Our ancestors hunted them for their pelts and for castoreum, a secretion that contains natural aspirin. They were so valuable that as soon as they had more or less wiped out the species across Europe they started on their North American cousins, founding fortunes on their furs. In fact, the vast amounts of money made by the Hudson Bay Companys slaughter of beavers and other fur-bearers provided a significant part of the capital that funded the industrial revolution. 

After a discussion that began in 1994, and a consultation in 1998 European beavers finally arrived back in Scotland in the early 2000s, by which time around 22 other European countries had already reintroduced them.

I got interested in beavers through the enthusiasm of my husband Paul, who campaigned for their return from the early days, when reintroduction was first discussed. In the event they arrived back in Scotland by a number of means. First, some escaped from a wildlife park in 2001. Then, in 2002 we got some for a demonstration project on our land in Perthshire, and some other landowners did the same. In 2009 an official trial project got underway in Argyll and meanwhile, as the years went by and the enclosed beavers bred and reached dispersal age, it seems likely some must have been flooded out or in, in the exceptionally wet years that followed, and bred with the other escapees in the catchment.

By 2010 SNH had decided that the unofficial ones should be rounded up and put in zoos and we started a campaign on Facebook and Twitter to allow them to remain in the wild. With such delays to the official reintroduction, and its reduction to a small trial on a remote peninsula, and such ongoing opposition from c...

00:21

Four ways Labour could be by the many, not just for the many openDemocracy

Why we must build new institutions of economic democracy, and how we can do it.

Jeremy Corbyns call for an economy that works for the many has proved a revitalising rallying cry for a new social settlement beyond neoliberalism.Jeremy Corbyns call for an economy that works for the many has proved a revitalising rallying cry for a new social settlement beyond neoliberalism. But the democratic socialism that inspires Corbyn and McDonnell promises more than a redistributive agenda delivered for ordinary people from on high. Just over one week ago, the Labour leadership used their "alternative models of ownership" conference to launch a set of proposals for economic democracy: an attempt to transfer power away from both private capital and government bureaucrats, giving control to workers and service users. The plan here is a return to public ownership for public services and utilities. Then, the devolution of control to regions and municipalities where possible, and the inclusion of workers and users on governing boards. In the private sector, were promised the mass rollout of co-operatives and mutuals. But as encouraging as these proposals are, is there anything that new? In healthcare, for instance, attempts have been made to involve patients in service design and delivery for some time. Are Clinical Commissioning Groups really the stuff of mass democratic renewal? In Germany, the incorporation of workers on boards has seen German trade unions increasingly co-opted into the internal operations of capital. Is making M&S work a bit more like John Lewis really taking back control? In sum: How can these plans be more than the hollow and tokenistic forms of stakeholder involvement championed by Blair onwards? Why, actually, would anyone want to give up their free time to help run their energy company or post office? Would you give up your Thursday evening pub trip to deliberate the small print of procurement policy? Actually, maybe I would. But only if I truly believed that doing so would really enrich my life, and the lives of others around me. If Labour really wants a New Economics, we need to commit to something really new. Just as it took the creation of a host of new institutions and processes to build the welfare state, equally it will take new i...

Thursday, 22 February

23:04

secrecy produced agreement but stopped DUP from walking its supporters through each compromise. Slugger O'Toole

For a substantially more sanguine view on where the talks breakdown leaves us than my own, heres Newton Emerson in the Irish News

The meaning of progress in this instance relates to DUP talks negotiator Simon Hamiltons statement last July that Sinn Fin cannot demand a ten-nil win.

From what is known of last weeks deal, it looks more like a one-all draw. Most items on the talks agenda have simply melted away. RHI and Arlene Fosters return as first minister Sinn Fins original red lines are no longer mentioned.

Legacy and a bill of rights are to be kicked into further committees, although both have already been subject to a decade of deliberations, which in legacys case keep on arriving at the same conclusions, while the bill of rights just turned into an academic farce.

Same-sex marriage has apparently been abandoned. On that point, Sinn Fin must be happy enough to let the DUP continue disgracing itself before British mainstream opinion.

The petition of concern will not be reformed. The DUP does not want to lose it and Sinn Fin may feel it is only one possibly imminent election away from being able to raise petitions on its own.

The big win for republicans is an Irish language act, yet activist demands have been substantially watered down. There will be no public sector recruitment quotas the one unquestionably legitimate unionist concern.

Bilingual signage has been fudged, Irish in the courts will be permitted but not required and the language commissioner will be more of an ombudsman, with no powers of compulsion let alone prosecution.

In practice, this is little more protection than Irish has already.

The DUP conceded the principle of Irish language legislation after last Marchs assembly election and initially thought it could balance it with Ulster-Scots or cultural provisions.

That survives in last weeks deal but only as a face-saving exercise.

Soundings last autumn quickly revealed to the DUP that its supporters were not buying Ulster-Scots as a consolation prize.

Now, I think we shouldnt assume this was a draft deal (square brackets do matter), but Newton makes a more senior point in regard to the DUPs unwillingness to deal:

while there is no excuse for this ill-preparedness, there is a reason for it intrinsic to the deal-making process.

What trust has built up between the DUP and Sinn Fin over the past year has been due to the confidentiality of their negotiations.

Talks have been almost watertight occasional statements like that from Hamilton, or the promotion of Ulster-Scots before last autumn, have revealed the outline of what was being discussed.

This secrecy produced an agre...

21:56

Brazil militarizes its war on crime openDemocracy

Even if expanding the use of military operations to combat crime has shown little success in the past, the current Brazilian government has decided to carry on. Espaol

The Armed Forces occupy the Complejo del Alemn, in Rio de Janeiro, to ensure security during the municipal elections in 2008. Image: Wilson Dias/ABr, CC BY-3.0 BR.

President Michel Temer met with politicians and members of his cabinet on February 19 to discuss an executive decree he signed on February 16 allowing the military to assume control of security operations in Rio de Janeiro.

Following that meeting, Wellington Moreira Franco, a close advisor to Temer, told the Associated Press that he hoped to see the model of federal military deployments spread throughout Brazil.

Sergio Etchegoyen, the presidents top cabinet member for military and security matters, said that Rio de Janeiro is a laboratory.

During the meeting, the speaker of the lower house of congress, Rodrigo Maia, described federal military interventions as a weapon in the war on crime.

The military has repeatedly been called in to assist civilian police in Rio de Janeiro in recent years, but Temers decree subject to congressional approval that is expected this week represents the first time that the government is using the constitutional provision allowing the federal armed forces to assume control over civilian police since the end of the countrys military dictatorship in 1985.

The proposed federal takeover has been met with some controversy by opposition politicians, who say the move is legally questionable and politically motivated.

Moreover, the head of Brazils army, Eduardo Villas Bas, recently cautioned against using the military for domestic crime-fighting, arguing that such actions increase the risk of politicization and corruption of the troops.

The in...

20:33

Does Brexit threaten rights protection for Irish citizens in the North? Slugger O'Toole

What happens to a raft of human rights when we leave the European Union and the European Charter of Human Rights no longer applies? The question is raised by the leading constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor.  Successive UK governments (and I!) thought we had opted out of it for years, but the European Court of Justice ruled in 2013 that we hadnt. Inevitably there is an Irish angle to this that may be of  particular concern to Irish-EU citizens in Northern Ireland. After Brexit how would those rights be protected if the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg is fully withdrawn, as is the British governments formal position? Are they content to leave the future of those rights to the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament and the British courts, taking account of that other European Court at Strasbourg which which is not an EU institution and  will continue to apply to the UK.

The solicitor Martin Finucane has presented a letter from Irish citizens in the North to Leo Varadkar, stating that theyre: shocked at the level of permanent inequality in respect of access to rights that people in the North are expected to endure. In summary, marriage equality, language equality and access to justice before a court of law...

The letter calls on Mr Varadkar to ensure that equality, human rights and respect afforded to Irish citizens in the South are enshrined as inalienable rights in the North.

How this might be done isnt explained.

You might have thought these matters were already protected by the GFA including legislation by the Assembly. And indeed, the draft agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP  reopened the question of a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights, provided for in the GFA but  long blocked by the unionist parties.

Bogdanor has written a pamphlet on the topic, extracted in the Times:

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill, presently before parliament, seeks to secure legal continuity after Brexit by providing for the incorporation of 44 years of EU law not already part of our domestic law. The bill does something quite unprecedented in modern constitutional history.

Since December 2009 the EU constitution has included the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Its 54 articles contain many rights that are not in the European Convention of Human Rights, including a very wide right to non-discrimination on grounds such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation. In addition it provides a genui...

20:19

A St Patricks Day Grand Slam showdown at Twickers? Probably. Slugger O'Toole

Ireland last won a Grand Slam back in 2009. In odd years, like 2009, Ireland play England and France (the 2 traditional heavyweights) at home and odd years were therefore deemed Irelands best chance of winning a 6 Nations Championship and particularly a grand slam.

But in more recent times, Frances form has fallen off a cliff and Ireland has taken to beating them both home and away. In contrast to France, Ireland has moved up the pecking order and won the 6 Nations Championship in consecutive years (on points) in 2014 and 2015.

England, of course, have continued to retain their heavyweight tag and now look to winning their 3rd consecutive title a first in the 6 Nations.

Last year, 2017, an odd year and Ireland were many peoples favourites to defeat England in Dublin on the final day of the season and claim the Championship. We were expected to beat France at home and give Italy a good thrashing in Rome which we duly did. 

We were also expected to out-muscle Wales and Scotland on their respective home patches except it didnt quite work out like that. With yours truly in attendance (the only 2 games I managed to go to), Ireland was deservedly beaten by both and I watched in dismay as my investments with Paddy Power (for Ireland to win the 6 Nations Championship) heading for a zero return.

And so to this year. Ireland, (as 2nd favourites for the title), with victories against France and Italy in the bag and 2 home games to come before heading to Twickers where they  are once again expected to challenge England  for the Championship  on the final day of the 6 Nations. 

What could possibly go wrong.

Well, although Ireland are unbeaten at home in the 6 Nations since 2013 there is just the little  matter of a rejuvenated Wales on Saturday followed by an improved Scotland the following week   both  very keen (and able) to once again spoil the (Irish) party.

Wales, in particular, look very dangerous. Yes, they have injuries (e.g. Warburton and Jonathan Davies) but a returning Liam Williams, George North, Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Bigger coupled with Waless adoption of the Scarlets game plan of attacking from anywhere, will guarantee the Irish team will be rightly very wary of their opponents.

...

20:12

Russian interference in the virtual world is not the problem openDemocracy

If there were no Russian "influence operations" in the virtual world, no disinformation campaign spearheaded by Russian bots and trolls, would the western world look much different today?

Robert Mueller. (c) James Berglie/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.It's Mueller time, again. Or rather, it's time to charge up the headline generators about Russian interference and Putin's "master plan" to undermine the west. In the wake of the recent indictments of 13 Russians for attempted meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections, the international media produced a hail storm of articles and op-eds about Russian trolls and bots on social media apparently capable of influencing political outcomes and more in the west.

It doesn't seem to matter that most of the revelations were already known and first reported on by Russian media. Instead, it appears that the "Russian threat" is now more real than ever and will impact anything from the upcoming elections in Italy to the mid-term elections in the United States. Even Silicon Valley's Tech Giants are now apparently dismayed that their products might have indeed changed the world, though not in the way they intended. But this should not be surprise us. After all, we are living in an era of "hybrid war" in which social media are a "tool" for Russian bots and trolls to succeed in what the erstwhile Soviet propaganda and intelligence network could only have dreamed of during the Cold War.

The techno-fetishism surrounding social media, compounded by the hours per day millions of us spend on Twitter or Facebook, has managed to blur the lines between wishful thinking and reality, between the "virtual world" and the real world beyond the immediate vicinity of o...

20:05

The Backlash podcast episode 1: Women and the far right openDemocracy

We talk to three women who know more about the far right than most: councillor Jolene Bunting in Northern Ireland, researcher Marilyn Mayo in the US, and Akanksa Mehta at the University of Sussex.

Jayda Fransen (right), deputy leader of of far right group Britain First, 2017. Jayda Fransen (right), deputy leader of of far right group Britain First, 2017. Picture: Claire Doherty/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.50.50, openDemocracys gender and sexuality section, is investigating the global backlash against womens and LGBTQI rights. Rising nationalist and extreme right-wing populism have been identified including by UN experts as major threats to our rights. And yet women around the world are also joining some of these movements.  

In the first episode of 50.50's new podcast The Backlash we speak to three experts on womens participation in the far right: councillor Jolene Bunting, a Belfast politician and supporter of the far-right, anti-Muslim group Britain First; researcher Marilyn Mayo, senior fellow at the Anti-Defamation League in the US; and Akanksha Mehta, at the University of Sussex. 

Listen to the episode here. You can also read a (lightly edited) transcript below. Follow The Backlash podcast on Twitter and let us know w...

18:59

King of the Belgians **** Jonathan Fryer

King of the BelgiansLast night I was at Birkbeck Colleges cinema in Gordon Square for the launch of a mini-season of Belgian films: Focus on Belgian Cinema. It was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me, as for most of the eight years I was based in Brussels as a journalist, I had a nice little side-line reviewing films for the English-language weekly there, The Bulletin (all of which figures in my forthcoming memoir of those Brussels years). At last nights event, there were two excellent presentations by Belgian film critics/professors, outlining what has been happening in both French-speaking and Flemish-speaking movie making over the three decades since I left. The interesting point was made that films made (in French) in Wallonia-Brussels attract much bigger audiences outside Belgium than they do at home, whereas many of the Flemish films are locally popular. Belgium being Belgium, however, many films are effectively multi-lingual, including both French and Flemish (the latter sometimes in its very particular regional dialects), as well as German, English and so on. In fact, the film that followed the two talks King of the Belgians (2016), directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth included Turkish, Bulgarian and a snatch of Albanian, too. The film is a comic mockumentary, theoretically commissioned by the Belgian Queen, to try to mak...

18:27

Support Sven! Schrijfmiddag Anarchistische Groep Amsterdam

(English below) Op 24 februari wordt er in de anarchistische bieb te Amsterdam vanaf 14 uur een schrijfmiddag georganiseerd voor Sven, die een gevangenisstraf van 5 jaar moet uitzitten voor zijn strijd tegen het grootste proefdierenlaboratorium van Europa, HLS/Envigo. Ook later op de dag kan je nog terecht voor het sturen van een kaartje, de bieb is [...]

18:10

G.A.R.I.! 1974 een film van Nicolas Rglat Anarchistische Groep Amsterdam

Zaterdag 24 februari (English below) 19:00 uur Soep, salade en brood 20:00 uur 15 min.inleiding over de MIL, GARI en de hoofdpersonen zoals Octavio Albarola, Marc Roulian. Daarna vertoning van de documentaire: Spanje, maart 1974. Verschillende leden van de M.I.L. (Movimiento Ibrico de Liberacin) staan op het punt om ter dood veroordeeld te worden door de franquistische justitie. Vijf [...]

18:00

Elections and the Egyptian movement of 2011: thinking with Alain Badiou about the current situation openDemocracy

For French philosopher Alain Badiou, elections pose a more important question for the movement in Egypt beyond the issue of participation.

Image from La poltica en cajas (Politics in boxes) by Alfons Freire, 2010. Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The effectiveness of mathematics in the sciences is due precisely to the fact that mathematics formalises the scientific idea. Politics equally needs the capacity to quickly formalise the analysis of a situation and the tactical consequences of this analysis.This is the sign of a strategic vitality Alain BadiouIn politics, time and timing of political action matter! In 2013, for example, when a genuine opposition took to the streets to contest the controversial policies of President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after one year in power, the movement was hijacked and then side-lined by the military establishment. Instead of renegotiating the social contract through democratic means, as intended by the movement, the military removed President Morsi from office by force. The timing allowed the military to claim a second revolution that heralded its political comeback to power, leaving many in the democratic opposition shocked, angry and with a confounding sense of failure.

Throughout the first term of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, heightened repression in the face of even mild demonstrations of dissent led many of those previously galvanized by the political possibilities of 2011 to retreat from formal politics altogether. In recent months, however, on the cusp of new presidential elections scheduled for March 2018, the prospect of contesting al-Sisis rule has reinvigorated political opposition. The Khaled Ali campaign for presidency, in particular, has served an important purpose. On the one hand, it has strengthened the coalition between parties, social movements, and individual activists. On the other, it has revived the spirit of 2011 movement, provi...

18:00

: openDemocracy

  . English

Image from La poltica en cajas (Politics in boxes) by Alfons Freire, 2010. Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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10:55

Bring the electorate back into the deal and provide voters with both a carrot and a stick Slugger O'Toole

If you missed it, and you want a reliable account of that agreement that wasnt an agreement let Brian Rowan take you through it in his usual careful and measured way

The only aspect of it that seems well worked is the language section (a milk and water version, according to Rick Wilford) and the breaking point there seems to be that the DUP wont sign up to a stand-alone Irish Language Act.

Nothing on the petition of concern, a committee to deal with a Human Rights Act (which the two parties have already tried twice and failed), nothing on equal marriage, and a promise of negotiation on a military covenant.

Richard Haass is also worth listening to for his reading that none of this is about what it seems..

In particular

When I was involved in the talks the Irish language issue was really a tertiary issue at most. It is interesting that it seems to have come to the fore here. One of the questions I would have is is this really about the Irish language issue?

Its not as that many more people have become fluent in the language, or has this become a proxy for both sides for the problems between the north and the republic or the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

And reflecting on his experience from before

There was certainly a lack of empathy, and a lack of a willingness to walk in the other persons shoes, always a tremendous sense of baggage from the past, of a bitterness.

It was very hard for them not to recount all the slights and injustices as they perceived them from the past and, to put it bluntly, to get on with it.

Would an independent chair make a difference? He shrugs and points out that such a chair can only add 5% to the outcome and that negotiations only success if the parties are willing and able to compromise.

I demur slightly at Brians optimism. The half-life of any signed agreement between these two parties is vanishingly short. Haass rightly locates the real problem as being beyond any issue currently being talked about.

Mary Lous pugnacious accusation this evening that Theresa May is refusing to take on the DUP has...

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