Alternative Media: You Are What You Eat

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Fake news. It’s the finger that everyone likes to point, except for at themselves. It’s the new schoolyard insult. And it’s what now sums up the relationship between politics and the media.

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I like many others have been constantly reading throughout mainstream media about Trump’s rocky relationship with the top news organisations. Most recently they’ve been deemed by the president as the ‘enemy of the American people’. But he holds a special place for other news organisations, those that view the mainstream media as a whirlwind of conspiracy theories. While most of the world have their head in their hands wondering what the heck is going on, you have to ask what lies on the other side of the fence. Low and behold: Alternative news.

This week in an effort to understand the other side, I delved into what Wikipedia calls “Alternative media (U.S. Political Right)”. What I didn’t realise in the offset of this experiment was just how intense it would be. I initially aimed to cover as many news sources in this category as possible, but ended up mesmerised by two big ones: Breitbart News and Infowars.com. This is by no means an accredited method of research, but I do have three general observations that quickly emerged in my mission to understand the overwhelming phenomenon that is American political opinion.

  1. They’ve clearly picked a side.

First of all, I should be transparent about the fact that I typically consume left-wing media, or ‘neutral’ media, that is, organisations that claim to practice unbiased journalism (although I strongly believe there is no such thing). This meant that even from the start, everything I was about to consume was obviously going to seem much more infused with opinion than my typical sources. I was surprised however at how much nuanced bias was injected into alternative media. In the coverage of the terrorist attack in Manchester for instance, Breitbart News wrote a story ‘update’:

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Probably similar to most people who would’ve read this living in the UK – which is likely few and far between – I found it extremely far-fetched that before they even knew the identity of the attacker, they predicted it was purposely timed to coincide with the murder of a well-known American soldier. All I could think was ‘I can’t imagine this jihadist ‘loser’ (Trump’s word, not mine) knows who Lee Rigby even is’. Okay, perhaps that’s presumptuous, but it was such a loose connection slipped into the central synopsis of this unfolding news story out of Manchester. And this seemed to be a repeated occurrence at Breitbart. The only way I could really make sense of it was to think of their readership. They need a relatable aspect of the story that brings foreign shock and fear closer to home. After all, where even is this city called Manchester?!

  1. It’s simple.

When I watch news on TV or read a newspaper article, I expect to see multiple angles of a story. The world is not black and white and nor should be the way we portray it. Or so I thought. In my week of alternative media, the Alex Jones Show on infowars.com was a revelation. Every day of listening was like being at a heavy metal concert with strobe lights flashing and having a preacher screaming into your ear all at once.

In their coverage of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, I was surprised at how critical they were of their beloved President – to be fair, they blamed his team for most of it, but they weren’t particularly thrilled with the trip’s outcomes and here are two main reasons why: 1. There isn’t enough money for Trump to save global economies, only to save the American economy. To add some profound colour to this statement, they added “I don’t want to sell out for a trinket the way the Indians sold Manhattan for some beads.” And 2. There is no difference between Saudi Arabia and ISIS, with a small side note to this one: “There’s a bit of a distinction but no difference and it’s because of Sharia law”.

Wow. On the first point – I mean, if economics is that simple, why on earth is the US in a mountain of debt? Surely Trump would’ve been able to sort that out by now… And on the second, if it’s all the same, why isn’t the so-called Islamic State a UN member yet?

It’s not hard to see some of the inherent issues with these claims. Global issues cannot be broken down quite that easily and in trying to do so, Alex Jones raises some serious ethical questions. But then again the show is appealing to a certain audience, where perhaps the world is less overwhelming, and more digestible when described in these terms. I also noticed the show has a tendency to spell out tricky words – does that say something about their audience? Your guess is as good as mine…

  1. They have EPIC advertising.

If you thought the shopping channel was full on, listen to the Alex Jones Show. I found myself on multiple occasions cracking up on the tube home at just how much their ads matched everything stereotype of Southern USA. My personal favourite was for 10-year shelf life pre-cooked bacon. Yum! You could also fuel up with a supplement using plant derivatives from the Amazon – perfect to prepare your body for the battle against liberalism. Or you could just enjoy silly ‘mocumentary’ ads on those idiot liberal shmucks out in California. While ads are not news coverage or commentary, they are targeted to audiences most likely to make a purchase. So what do these ads say about their potential customers? Again, you don’t have to read between the lines to get to the bottom of the tactics here. They very purposefully shove it right in your face.

And so after all was said and done, my week of acquainting myself with alternative media was done. And I could breathe a big sigh of relief. It was tough work! On Monday I was engaged and giggling about the humour and irony of what I was consuming. By Friday, I avoided listening to anything at all – I just couldn’t take any more. I reached a point where I felt more at ease not knowing any news at all. Was there a silver lining of the week? It definitely made me rethink the media I normally consume. If one side seemed so arbitrarily biased, could it be possible I was blinded to this on the other side? Bias may be more subdued in some media than others, but in the end we don’t always look for it. We become accustomed and seek the stories we can accept as truth. It must go to show – you really are what you eat.

Some of my favourites courtesy of Breitbart:

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words: How Did France Skip the Populist Vote?

When I initially began preparing this blog post, my knowledge of French politics was admittedly narrow. I knew Hollande was out (and all I knew of him was his scandalous affair), and I knew the pressure was on to see if France would follow in the UK’s footsteps of taking a step away from the European Union and a step towards nationalism. Marine Le Pen is the headline of this election. Her party, The National Front (“Le Front National”), won only 18% of the votes when her father had led them into a presidential election in 2002, but when the first round of voting came to an end, she stood firmly in second place.

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Le Pen and her party are infamous for the legacy of her father’s far-right policy positions, based around xenophobia, and anti-Semitic statements. The difference between Marine and Jean-Marie Le Pen? Well, to state the obvious, it creates an innate difference when the new leader of a male dominant right-wing party is a woman. Marine had to adapt. Part of that process involved kicking her dad to the curb (who later denounced his daughter for presidency). Fighting for the votes of the right and centre-right, Le Pen brought an anti-immigration message, but still managed to appear as a strong woman, defining herself as a ‘quasi-feminist’. She also made her feelings for global events clear, celebrating the vote for Brexit and the triumph of Trump.

But low and behold, her populist, France-first stance failed, and the new face of the centre-left, Emmanuel Macron, took home the victory. With the undeniable momentum she built over such a short period that not only penetrated France, but the world, how was it that the title of President was not written in her future? What happened in France is a clear and strong statement that while the stirrings of populist views are creating a wave the world over, the voice of an inclusive, globalised world, still stands firm. And it’s not going to cower down.

An article in the Washington Post, explains that while rises in immigration and the threat of terrorism have rocked the country in recent years along with a high unemployment rate, there are two distinctive reasons why the far-right was not viewed as the answer to France’s problems: the country’s history and a lower level of inequality. The article goes on to explain how the far-right Vichy government during the rule of Nazi-Germany, which led to the deportation of French Jews to camps, created a synonymous view of the far right as anti-democracy. Beyond that, while the UK and the US underwent economic reform and privatisation in the 1980s to stimulate economic growth, France held on to its public welfare style of governance, the legacy of which instils greater trust in the left.

But is it really just about historical legacy? Perhaps these legacies combined with a Eurocentric ideology and a new younger generation of voters who have grown up in a globalised world have created a new kind of voice. Perhaps they see beyond fear tactics and have grasped the underlying fact: Islamophobia and increased nationalism will not solve domestic issues. Embracing our rapidly shifting world is the only way forward, and as we are seeing in turbulent times for both British and American politics, shifting the other way can backlash.

I recently attended a talk by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres in London. While he largely spoke of today’s biggest challenges such as security and conflict and climate change, he was faced with several audience questions of the future of the younger generation and the shift towards populism. His answer was simple: the only way that we can fight the uprising of nationalism is by fostering inclusive societies.

Perhaps France understood this message a little sooner than the rest of us.

 

A BBC article on the history and political positions of Marine Le Pen: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-38321401

An overview of the UN Secretary General’s speech in London:
http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56726#.WSG1TRPyvBI

Feature Image: Lorie Shaull, Celebrations at the Louvre, May 2017 ©CreativeCommons

 

 

 

Polarising the Picture

Trumping the Audience

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Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona. ©Gage Skidmore

It seems every day now there are news stories erupting that trump the last (no pun intended). From Brexit, to extremist terrorist attacks, to the chaos of American politics leading into November’s election, the world is continually on edge and appears to be tearing at the seams. But is this simply a trend of media storms, or is our world shifting to a more extreme place where shock and bold actions are the only way to provoke change?

There’s nothing the Western media bites at quite like American politics. As arguably the most powerful player of the West, the US has a tendency to shock the rest of us with conservative, out-of-date policies that protect so-called ‘American values’ (I say it like this because it has been made abundantly clear that a large portion of the US do not live and breathe these stereotypes, for instance the Second Amendment). But this has become only the bare bones of what has evolved into one of the most heated, controversial, and comedic elections in American history that has the rest of the world scratching their heads. Donald Trump has somehow managed to overshadow the usual Republican stances and turn up the temperature with bold statements on immigration (I think most of us have lost count of how many countries he’s commented on at this point), domestic racism, sexism and violence, torture of war criminals, and abortion, just to name a few. The bigger issue is that he can’t seem to keep his mouth shut and contradicts himself, making wishy-washy statements left and right – to the point that even some of the most notorious right-wing Republicans struggle to stick by his side.

After all that’s been said and done – including bad-naming a Gold Star family, which is probably the most un-American thing you can do – how has he managed to keep support and still even have a minute shot at the grand prize? As a starting point, let’s break down his support. According to a study by the Washington Post, Trump voters are primarily white, male, and poor. There is also a significant gap between male and female support, with women voters 19 percentage points less than men. Unsurprisingly, he also holds the vote for the less educated population and people who identify as white non-evangelicals or Catholics – although this study was done shortly before Pope Francis denounced Trump for his brilliant ‘Mexican wall idea’. Now to my knowledge, there is no statistical evidence to correlate Americans who have never left the US (i.e. without a passport) to the uneducated demographic of Trump supporters, but I think in this case it may be safe to assume that there is a high correlation. This means that public opinion of what occurs beyond the US borders is fed through media and key influencers, namely politicians. But what’s different about Trump is he has done a masterful job at speaking their language. To some of us, his speeches sound like a bad YouTube rant; he repeats himself constantly with buzzwords like ‘terrific’, ‘fantastic’, losers vs. winners, the list goes on. But to others – say white, poor males – these are easy words to live by and believe in.

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Supporter of Donald Trump at a rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. ©Gage Skidmore

A meme circulated online not too long ago stating that in a 1998 interview with People magazine, Donald Trump said if he ran for presidency, he’d run as a Republican because “they’re the dumbest group of voters in the country”. Turns out not only was the quote a fake, but the image was taken from an interview he did with Oprah that touched on politics, specifically America’s trade deals. If you watch the clip, what Trump says makes a lot of sense – and funnily sounds more intelligent than most of what he’s spat out throughout this campaign. On the opposing side of this, wealthy Republicans have been mixed on support for Trump, including the Koch brothers who chose to support Ted Cruz in the primaries and are only now agreeing to meet with Trump. On the podcast This American Life, a Republican donor talks about how his view of Trump flipped a switch through one meeting with him, saying his personality and charm won them over without even discussing his political views. Some might say this is predictable, being that Trump spends his life schmoozing with the top dogs of Wall Street, but what we may be looking at is a mastermind of communication. From either side of the spectrum, there’s no doubt that Trump has an artistry in manipulation, to the point that I would argue ‘knowing his audience’ has been the pinpoint of his success.

But let’s get back to my initial question: is this all just a media stunt taking headlines or does it represent a significant shift in political extremism? Turns out, his communication is a key component to the answer. As we’ve seen Trump makes big statements with big implications using simple words. As a businessman, he knows what sells and what’s memorable, both at home and abroad. And because he took a different approach that took little consideration of ‘political correctness’, the people that support him not only finally feel like they have a voice, but an influencer that they understand. American society has not necessarily been benefitting these people – the recession of 2008 hit the lower tiers of the American population and with manufacturing industries continually shifting away from the West, many populations have been left in the dust with little guidance or hope. As we saw with Brexit (which will be the subject of a future blog), people are looking for change and are seizing opportunities, whether it’s the right path or not. What Trump has tapped into is a cry for help, even from those who don’t necessarily know what to cry for.

I imagine it’s fairly obvious from this blog that I do not support the ol’ Donald. I sincerely hope for the sake of global security that he does not take the win come November. But what I do hope is the world pays attention. Not to the loud statements and outlandish headlines coming out of this, but to how this represents our global society. This, if anything, should act as a reminder that our world is changing faster than anyone, including the West, can keep up and more and more people will become frustrated, polarising societies. Trump isn’t the real problem here. The problem, as Donald puts it so well, is there are ‘winners and losers’, but the losers may be finally getting their time.

Feature image: ©Thomas Bresson (Creative Commons)

It’s not looking so green: Is climate change media coverage missing a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’?

With Earth Day upon us, world leaders are gathering today to sign the Paris Climate Agreement, an international accord that came as an output of negotiations between 200 countries, and sets the target of capping global temperatures changes by 1.5°C versus 2°C, which scientists argue is beyond humanity’s adaptive capabilities, by 2020. While this declaration undoubtedly acts as a step in the right direction, it is fuelling controversy over questions of its impact. As we’ve seen with the UN Millennium Development Goals – which have now fed into the UN Sustainable Development Goals – global agreement on targets doesn’t always filter down to the national level, and most definitely to the community level, especially in developing countries with varying agendas. And to rectify our inability to translate a statement into practice, goals are extended into new timeframes and amended targets, masking our struggle to paint a happy picture of progress. So is the Paris Agreement any different or more promising? Or will it prove, like so many other international initiatives do, to be a media grab with its fifteen minutes of fame, and barely be even referred to when natural disasters strike in the future?

First of all, before this turns into a pessimistic rant on our all-encompassing shortcomings as humanity, let me highlight that there is a positive message here. When the mainstream media is provoking a discussion around climate change, it is undoubtedly a plus for NGOs and the international community that fight for this cause every day. It also has a chain effect and feeds down the media line, getting picked up by local content producers in global communities, relaying that message in a way that speaks to people’s everyday lives. And this is strictly speaking from a media perspective; of course in the political realm, it is a strong statement of global bureaucracy to unite over 150 countries as signatories over such a pertinent issue. And as noted by a NPR commentary, the mainstream media is focused on showing this success, with the New York Times and the Washington Post praising the action. The Guardian headline reads: “The world’s greatest diplomatic success” (I for one would say that may be slightly melodramatic).

The kicker here is in the fine print: the agreement doesn’t actually commit signatories to take action until 2020, which sceptics argue is too late to change our inevitable fate of a warmer planet. This means that if public interest doesn’t sustain, political agendas could be at risk of de-prioritising climate action, and before you know it, the hype of the Paris Agreement is but a mirage of the past.

The key in this case could be, as I previously hinted, in local media. Starting at the top, looking at the BBC coverage, they list the top ten countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. Unsurprisingly, China is double its next perpetrator at 24% (with the US sitting in second at 12%). But to an American sitting in the Midwest countryside, the severity of emissions in China is a bit of a mystery, and frankly, completely irrelevant to their life. But how are emissions – whether it be in China, the US, or anywhere else for argument’s sake – affecting that countryside? Is it reducing crops and therefore affecting the community’s wealth? Is it creating wildly weather patterns affecting the community’s ability to support their infrastructure and build resilience? Regardless of what that impact is, it’s up to local media to find it and expose it. It’s a sad truth: too often the bigger picture is not translated into the digestible picture that people need.

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Photo by Alisha Weng; Instagram (published 5 July 2015 by VancityBuzz)

I’ll give a personal example that may seem minor, but was quite thought-inducing for myself as a Canadian, a nature-lover, and an average middle-class consumer. A few years back, British Columbia, Canada had record-breaking numbers of forest fires – an obvious impact of drier than usual summer temperatures. Local news coverage mapped the fires, showed impact on residents of the areas, and investigated how the fires were initiated. And yes, they did cover temperature records over several years., at a minimum hinting at the bigger issue of climate change. There was a point in the summer where the downtown core of Vancouver was engulfed in a cloud of smoke that had wafted in from a relatively nearby fire (though it posed no direct threat to the urban areas). Walking downtown was like being in an apocalyptic parallel universe – the streets were fairly empty and the definitive smell weighed on your lungs. It also happened to be the same weekend as the women’s FIFA tournament final, bringing American and Japanese fans into the city centre. I was working at a restaurant at the time and tourist customers continually asked what was going on, or commented on how despite the smoke, they were still enjoying their visit. What occurred to me though was the complete disregard for the connection between our excessive food consumption (and waste) and drier climates that created the smoke to begin with. Okay, I admit this seems like a bit of a stretch and perhaps an extremely indirect connection, but the point is there is a responsibility for these connections to be made. And even if you’re not reporting the absolute full picture of climate change – which undoubtedly wouldn’t fit into editorial word counts – the blatant connection must be made and must matter to a local audience.

Although it may seem cliché, what is abundantly clear is that paying attention to our planet one out of 365 days of the year is inadequate, and media plays an essential role in repainting the global picture with a bit more green.

“What’s your Favourite Colour of Jelly Bean?”

Disclosure: This blog is based on genuine experience… Unfortunately.

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Recently the fate of circumstance led me to dive into the world of online dating – or more accurately, social media dating. Downloading Tinder was really more of a choice to boost personal morale (spoiler alert!) than a serious effort to meet ‘that special someone’, but I quickly learned this love-to-hate-but-still-a-secret-addiction app brougtinder_blog_image1ht about all kinds of unusual behaviour from my social circle. Within a matter of days, I had friends telling me how ‘great it was because the people on it aren’t overly desperate’, or ‘how it was just a hook up app’, or how ‘there are hilarious one-liners that have 100% success rate of response’ (one of which inspired the title of this article). But what amazed me was the way in which social interaction is manipulated and the boundaries of appropriate social commentary are altered by the virtual world.

So has face-to-face interaction lost its value? Or are people just becoming increasingly comfortable and perhaps even more connected on a personal level through social media platforms? Research shows that, unsurprisingly, when people are looking to meet a dating partner for the first time, they will adjust their self-presentation and behaviour to what they think that potential partner desires (Ellison et al., 417). But further research puts forward that with this ideal image, we also feel the need to present our authentic self; this is what creates a foundation for intimacy in our relationships. Now while it could be argued that our genuine and true nature can be expressed in an online environment, do we not communicate primarily through body language? How can you truly establish intimacy without knowing someone’s mannerisms? Or to a greater extent, how can you do something as simple as practice the art of flirtation through touch?

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What Tinder has revolutionized is the simplification of the social process of dating. Just like Google Maps eliminated our need for paper maps and Facebook messages provided an alternative to sending postcards, Tinder has broken down dating to its skin and bones. A name, an age, some carefully selected photos, and perhaps a sentence or two. With that we form a split second decision of if this person is a love match. In a Huffington Post article, Joshua Pompey argues we’ve been ‘Tinder-ing’ since the beginning of time – after all, isn’t it an initial physical attraction that drives us to approach a love interest in any public setting? Perhaps yes, but the follow-up is what throws this theory off (an opening liner in a bar or café of ‘how hot you look’ or ‘hey sexy’ is more likely to send you running than engaging in a deep and meaningful conversation).

Beyond the endlessly complex world of dating, social media has brought about a new kind of social addiction. It’s called ‘Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)’, according to a 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health. It works like many other addictions: we get a good feeling when we’re engaging with it, and a bad feeling when we’re not (which blogger Jason Thibeault assumes is related to a dose of Dopamine that our body rewards us with when we’re using it and craves when we’re not). In short, we become a narcissistic version of ourselves that thrives off the approval – or ‘Likes’ – of other users. This behaviour can arguably be applied to the world of Tinder: when we get a match, that self-gratifying feeling kicks in for a short moment and perpetuates a desire to experience it over and over again. So is Tinder really about dating then? Or is it about fulfilling a certain personal desire or emotional need? Perhaps it can be a blurred line between these two ideas, but like any social media, it is always essential that we are the moderators of the app – not the other way around.

Needless to say, my venture on Tinder ended almost as fast as it began. As connected as I am to the constant online flow of information, I’ll leave the real social relationships to exactly how they should flourish – in reality.

Ellison, N. et al. (2006). Managing impressions online: Self-Presentation Processes in the Online Dating Environment. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 415-441.

CBS News article on ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-real-a-risk-is-social-media-addiction/

A Guardian article on Tinder as the millennial dating method:
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/nov/23/tinder-shallowest-dating-app-ever

 

 

The Migrants’ Fifteen Minutes of Fame

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On 2 September – just a month and a half ago – the world was horrified by the mass publication of a graphic yet undeniably honest image of a Syrian toddler’s body, washed up on the shores of Turkey. Already bogged down by the incredible influx of refugee migration, world leaders were pressed to find a solution – and fast. Global media, often sensitized to publishing images of dead bodies, was swamped with images of the migrants’ struggle, from being lost at sea, to threatened by authorities, to arriving off the trains in Germany with rounds of applause.

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Fast forward to mid-October, media has undoubtedly slowed down on the uptake of this imagery, with snippets of updates on policy decisions, or migrant shootings and deaths. For global news media, the story held a shocking appeal for selling out newsstands that lasted several weeks. But for the subjects of this story, the tragedy that peaked in papers was just the beginning of a lifelong struggle.

 

As an avid engager in international relations and media (as should be abundantly clear by this blog), the migrant crisis immediately caught my attention, but it became a much more personal and connected story for me when I came across an Afghan refugee. He was my cab driver on a long trip from Heathrow, and when he told me he had a refugee status here in the UK, I couldn’t help but spark a profound conversation on his experience. The man told me of how he came to the UK stuffed in the back of a truck (funny enough, this didn’t seem to phase him at all and was in fact a more mundane part of the story for him). He told me of the interview process he experienced with British authorities – ten hours in a room being questioned everyday, a formality that landed him with a diagnosis for depression. Having worked in government in Afghanistan, it was ruled that his life was in danger should he return, and the man had now held refugee status in the UK for eight years. He told me about his citizenship test and showed me the book he was studying in preparation. I glanced over it, noticing chapters on ‘How to interact with your neighbors as to be a good member of a community’, or details of British history (something I am fully willing to admit I know nothing about despite my own ability to live and work in this country as an immigrant). Even with the hardship this man had endured, he was unbelievably optimistic about his future. He could not wait to get his passport, so that he could once again travel, and even return to Afghanistan to help his country. He told me about the value of education, how he wanted his children to go to school in the UK. All the while, I couldn’t help but reflect on the monumental difference between our experiences as immigrants in this country.

Meanwhile the political battle of how to manage the nearly 600,000 migrants who have reached the EU so far this year continues – an ongoing saga of Eastern European leaders tightening up borders with Western European leaders balancing an image of diplomacy with conservation. According to the BBC, The EU has now backed an action plan with Turkey, agreeing to re-energize talks of Turkey joining the EU (a debate which I predict will slowly whither away yet again). And though attention has been predominantly on the effects in Europe, countries closer to the battlegrounds have seen far greater numbers: NPR reports that 1.9 million refugees have gone to Turkey, and 1.1 million to Lebanon. But while these talks occur in the offices and conference rooms of the world, what happens to the hundreds of thousands waiting in limbo for someone to seal their fate? Are there prospects of hope for the future, or are they doomed to be lost in the flood of headline stories soon to overshadow their plight?

Unfortunately policy outcomes tend to work off political agendas, and so often function in the short term – not the lifespan of the migrant community. It is therefore essential that policymakers and global leaders establish a solid groundwork to build off of into the future. After all, the fate of this generation of migrants is bound to set new standards and make a strong statement for those affected by the wars and tragedies of the future.

An article on the story of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/31/syrian-refugees-lebanon_n_4568617.html

A newscast demonstrating the continual movement of war torn populations:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/09/02/europe-migrants-crisis/71562286/

 

Who Knew Canada Had (Aggressive) Politics?

OTTAWA - May 30, 2013 - (L-R) Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, prime minister Stephen Harper and NDP leader Tom Mulcair debate each other in the House of Commons during the week of May 27, 2013. For 0531-col-Den-Tandt ORG XMIT: POS1305301530472063

Leading up to this fall’s federal elections, the race is in full swing, and unlike previous years, this time it’s a three-way race. The NDP has stepped up their game and, frankly, Thomas Mulclair is a fit leader. After seeing Alberta turn orange in provincial elections and watching the polls, Conservatives and Liberals alike are awakening to the true competition. Bigger than the reality of the threat however is the media behind it. I argue that too many Canadians lack the knowledge they need to truly represent their interests in a Canadian leader, but beyond that, the media that is easiest to access may not be the best source of information.
KillTheMessengersEvery election, I make the same argument to my colleagues: this country is too convoluted by the image of American politics. Our political system is much more about numbers and overall representation than it is about one particular leader. Sure, Harper is an aggressive leader and definitely pushes his personal policies into the public eye, but there is a majority government behind him (which lest we forget we elected). So how has Harper managed to reign in media for eight years? In Mark Bourrie’s book Kill the Messengers, the award-winning Canadian journalist criticizes Harper’s ability to minimize media attention by going to the source and cutting the ability of government information to be passed to the public. Working hand in hand with a crumbling traditional media industry, the increasingly limited resources of small, local newspapers works to Harper’s advantage by keeping correspondents out of Ottawa and streamlining the core messaging leaving Parliament Hill. Beyond that, Harper’s government has taken media production into their own hands by producing infomercials on strategies such as the ‘Economy Action Plan’ aired during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There’s no doubt in recent days our ears have been privy to Conservative attack ads aimed at bringing down Trudeau. Personally I haven’t understood the logic behind some of their arguments, such as their suggestion that instead of having a national defense strategy against ISIS, Trudeau wants to send winter coats to Syria. Looking more closely at Trudeau’s address in Edmonton in November, there is a clear undertone that Canada’s stance on the issue in Syria should be focusing our efforts on those affected by war such as refugees and displaced people. And aren’t peace missions and talks what Canada has built an international reputation on? Interestingly, when I interviewed war correspondents (aka the ‘media’) as part of my research at the LSE, the real stories were about the displaced people and the citizens that had become the true victims of war.

But back to politics: the new kid on the block of political attacks has become Mulclair. The Conservatives have claimed Mulclair was to be assigned as environmental adviser to the Harper government in 2007, but rejected the job because they did not meet his demand for a $300,000 salary (and instead was offered a ‘moderate’ $180,000). Mulclair has responded to Maclean’s magazine stating that it wasn’t the paycheck, but the Conservative policy that turned him off; it was clear to him that the party had no intention of respecting the Kyoto Protocol. In my opinion, if this is the Conservatives’ idea of a so-called ‘scandal’, then they’re clearly lacking dirt on the NDP candidate. On a separate note, recent polls showed the NDP to be dragging in the race for social media. While some may view this as a minor setback, it could impact the younger vote and shift a more dynamic youth in the direction of Liberals or even Greens.

Trudeau in my opinion is the real wildcard. Media has focused on some of his more loose statements. Perhaps his extreme and outlandish comments will work in his favour and draw in curiosity and attention, but they may also show a lack of prioritization and political maturity. Going back to my earlier statement however, it’s not about the leader, it’s about the whole package. And Liberals stand on a solid platform that goes back to some of Canada’s more forward-thinking, yet globally recognized policies and core values. At the end of the day, it’s about looking past the media messages and reading between the lines of policies to see their direct impacts. How will our economy look in five years under each party? Is our environmental policy productive? Are we taking enough initiative on issues of international relations and global security, and what should that initiative look like? As Canadians, we are the deciders of our own fate, and we must remember, collectively, we hold more power than these three candidates combined.

A review of Kill the Messengers

Canada, Do Your Research!
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Conservative Party of Canada
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