Tag Archives: Europe

Mainstream must act fast against eurosceptics

Credit: European Parliament

THE EUROSCEPTICS ARE marching and their ranks are swelling. The initial threat to the EU might seem manageable, if a little unnerving; but these European elections could foreshadow unpleasant times to come.

It looks likely that pulling in the same direction will prove a difficult proposition for the disparate groups of sceptics now sitting in the European parliament. Their very disdain for the institutions that they are joining could well obstruct their work in the first place (take a look at UKIP MEPs’ attendance record), while the right-wing parties are keen to disassociate from many of their peers – potential allies – in other countries.

Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands appears to have suffered this election in part due to greater association with France’s Front National. UKIP remain unwilling to align with FN themselves – but for how long? After the 2015 general election – however they fare there – UKIP might well feel more pragmatic, with greater freedom to manoeuvre once the election spotlight dims.

And it bears bottom-lining that the European parliament now has representatives of neo-Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn (Greece) – a real cause for alarm.

Toehold

That is the threat. There are now a significant number of people in Brussells with unsavoury and alarming views. It is not so much what they do with their new offices as the toehold those offices represent. A platform is a platform and the fact that these people’s voices will now be amplified is of prime concern.

Certainly in the UK, voter apathy and disillusionment with Europe is compounded by the main parties’ failure to take European elections seriously enough. They are merely one piece in a bigger puzzle.

But we are a dangerously short distance from a scenario where all these same factors produce the same result in general elections – the reserve we like to tell ourselves is well enough fortified to withstand the woes of local council and European elections.

Simple

The comments made on Monday by Mario Draghi, president of the ECB, were a grim reminder that recovery could still be a long way off for the eurozone. These issues are not going to go away, these voices will not quieten down by themselves.

The mainstream needs to take five minutes away from its usual games and put together a comprehensive putdown of the growing political dangers both at home and in Europe. It is not enough to merely keep swatting them away, failing to deal with the root issues that drive them and refusing to take seriously the platforms they are building.

It sounds simple, it’s hardly a fresh point – but we’re still not doing it.

Words: Sean Gibson

Photo: European Parliament

The Danish view on the Ukraine: Danish Fast News

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

Denmark is characterized by high taxes and high welfare benefits. However the Danish government worries, that EU legislation is making it possible for outsiders to exploit the Danish system. Tinuke Maria Iyore highlights the most important Danish news this week. 

The influence of EU-laws on the Danish welfare system has caused an explosive debate the past week. According to EU regulations, EU citizens can earn the right to unemployment benefits in any EU nation and take these benefits with them across the union. Danish politicians are concerned that this will lead to exploitation of the generous Danish welfare system.

Denmark and Finland are the only EU-countries that require vetting for foreign citizens to receive unemployment benefits. The Danish prime minister recently announced that she wants to tighten these rules, making it even harder for EU-citizens to obtain benefits in Denmark. However this might be a violation against EU’s laws on discrimination and freedom of movement.

The Danish welfare system is funded by a high income tax, and EU-citizens working in Denmark are obliged to pay this high income tax, but are not given the same rights as Danish citizens.

Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen of the Social Democratic Party, adds that the Danish government wants to increase control with EU-citizens exploitation of the Danish welfare state, in order to prevent welfare tourism. “The free movement in the EU creates economic growth and jobs, but we have seen an increase in EU-citizens, particularly from Eastern Europe, receiving unemployment and social benefits. We take this development seriously, and must make sure that EU-citizens can meet the requirements for receiving benefits in Denmark”, she says to Danish newspaper Politiken.

More useful degrees

Eight Danish universities will be working towards lowering unemployment rates by comparing programmes to employment statistics. This year the regulation of admissions will be a cooperative effort from these eight universities. Some universities have previously made similar attempts to prevent educating young Danes on career paths that lead to unemployment. However this cooperation between universities is a first. The programmes will be assessed each year using the same procedure, ensuring that Danish universities are educating according to business and industry demands.

A signal to Russia

Denmark’s Liberal Party and other liberal parties in the European council have agreed on a proposal to deny Russia voting rights in the council, due to the ongoing Ukrainian conflict.  The council’s purpose is to ensure the respect of human rights and democracy. These principles have been violated by Russia on numerous occasions and the spokesman of the council’s group of liberal parties, Michael Aastrup Jensen, thinks it is important to send a strong signal to Russia. This would not be the first time Russia has lost its voting rights in the council. In 2000, the country was “punished” for the Russian army’s behavior in Chechnya.

Equality or discrimination?

Flickr: HBarrison

The University of Copenhagen wants to attract more female applicants to research positions. A gender action plan has been set in motion, and is to be implemented by the end of 2014. Tinuke Maria Iyore investigates what Danish student media are writing about the plan.  

COPENHAGEN UNIVERSITY HAS presented a new action plan for gender balance. One of the proposals is that both genders have to be represented in the applicants for research positions.

The proposal has received a lot of attention in Danish media and was recently up for debate at a Copenhagen University board meeting, where several board members expressed their concern about this requirement. Certain members of the Danish Parliament have even called the proposal discriminating.

However a close look at the pile of applications shows that the university might be facing an even bigger problem. The pile is simply too small.

Gender vs. Qualifications

According to the rector of Copenhagen University’s Ralf Hemmingsen, the proposal is not gender-discriminating. “We’re testing the proposal, because we find that there are too few female professors. I don’t think it is discriminating to make sure that we have at least one female and one male applicant.

“I would like to emphasize that qualifications remain the determining factor,” he says to the Danish newspaper Berlingske.

At the most recent board meeting, members agreed that the main goal of the action plan should be to attract more qualified applicants. Some board members believed emphasis should be put solely on qualifications, while others thought that the main focus should be attracting more qualified female applicants, due to the notion that this minority within academia holds a great deal of talent.

Danish Equality Laws

The minister for gender equality, Manu Sareen of the Social Liberal Party, welcomes the proposal. “I think it is important that the universities work towards a more equal gender composition. It’s about making the most of all talents”, he says to Berlingske.

He also states that it is equally important that the university stays within the Danish equality laws. The University of Copenhagen has previously obtained a waiver from this law with their 2008 action plan; ‘Diversity – more women in management’.

Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl, who is Research Spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, is sceptical of the proposal. He calls it  “very discriminating” and thinks it diverts attention from simply hiring the most qualified applicant.

The Bigger Problem

The lack of applicants seems to be a problem that goes beyond gender. The board of Copenhagen University is concerned that every third research position receives only one application – thus granting no certainty that the most qualified researcher is actually the one who gets the job.

This might actually pose a larger problem than the lack of female applicants. “The universities should concentrate on attracting highly skilled employees. Not by making special proposals for women, but by creating a more attractive work environment, so more qualified applicants – both men and women – apply for the university’s research positions,” says Merete Riisager, spokeswoman on gender equality for the Liberal Alliance party, to Berlingske.

– – –

Do you think the University of Copenhagen is engaging in positive discrimination?  Is this an appropriate response to uneven employment figures?  Where should the university’s priorities lie regarding top reseach jobs?  Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Photo credit: HBarrison [Flickr]

Based on the following articles from Universitetsavisen:

 

http://universitetsavisen.dk/politik/rektor-ingen-diskrimination-her

 

http://universitetsavisen.dk/politik/konsdebat-i-bestyrelsen-kun-en-ansoger-til-hver-tredje-forskerstilling-er-kaempe-problem

Woolwich Murder Trial co-opted by UK Far-Right Extremists

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The trial of Lee Rigby’s murderers gained national attention  in UK media because of the brutal and public nature of his death. Ben Parr discusses for Bristol University’s Epigram how the British ‘Far Right’ used the trial of  his murderers to voice views on the death penalty. 

The murder of Lee Rigby shocked the entire country. The idea of such a brutal killing taking place on the streets of London was almost surreal, only made more so when a video went viral of one of the killers, Michael Adebolajo, brandishing his bloodied murder weapon and making a religious and political speech to the camera. The killers have now been sentenced,. Adebolajo received the ultimate sentence available (the whole-life prison term) whilst his accomplice Michael Adebowale was given a life sentence of a minimum of 45 years.

What was most shocking about the sentencing was not the drama inside the court house, but what was taking place on the streets outside. Amongst other protests, there was a noticeable presence of the British National Party and the English Defence League. The members of these far-right, extremist organisations were using the publicity of the event to stage a call for the revival of the death penalty. To highlight their cause in their typically tasteless and repugnant manner they had erected a set of gallows outside of the Old Bailey. This was accompanied  by placards baring images of a hangman’s noose.

These grotesque images highlight how the barbaric call for the death penalty to return is still very much alive today. Whilst it may seem to be an extreme minority who acted in the way the EDL and BNP did, the opinion is still very much alive. On the day after the sentencing, the Daily Star ran the headline “Justice for Lee? If only”. This type of headline makes it is easier to see where much of the propaganda in support of capital punishment comes from. Unfortunately the old arguments which should have been binned along time ago are still in use. Such claims as the death penalty gives the ultimate deterrent are simply false and, furthermore, impractical. Studies have been conducted which reveal that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that people are less likely to commit a crime which carries the punishment of death compared to a life sentence in prison. In addition, it has often been the case that members of juries will be more likely to set a defendant free, even if they believe they are guilty, if the death penalty is what awaits the accused if they are found guilty.

It seems needless to list all of the reasons why capital punishment is a ludicrous form of justice, practically and morally. However, what is concerning is just how many people still want to bring it back. According to a YouGov poll conducted as recently as 2011, 65% of the population believe that the death penalty should be brought back for at least some crimes. This is in sharp contrast to the way parliament voted on the matter though. The most recent attempt to bring it back saw parliament rejecting the motion by 403 votes to 159. What does this say about the wider issue of how democratic the UK is? Well, it shows that parliament do not truly represent the views of the general public. That said, this is something which I am incredibly glad is the case. By the public voting in a government consisting of, for the most part, educated people to make these choices for them, we stop the emotionally fuelled propaganda of those who do not actually understand the issues at hand influencing public policy. Under a true democracy, in which the politicians did exactly as the majority of the people at the time wished, we would have capital punishment, we would have left the EU and probably would never consider playing a part in any form of foreign affairs except in issues directly effecting ourselves.

Lee Rigby’s murder was a tragedy and truly shocking. It is needless to say that the acts and beliefs of Adebolajo and Adebowale are truly repulsive. However, the only thing that I will take away from the gallows that were erected outside of the Old Bailey, is just how disturbing, barbaric and malicious members of our own society can, and would be, if law permitted them the chance.

UK: The Bottom Line

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Radicalization, heavy drinking, bullying and a high profile library ban are just some of the major topics in this week’s UK press. Rachel Barr looks at everything from the army, and controversy in the London Mayor’s office to the Nek-nominate craze in this week’s Bottom Line.

Army Chaplain Conducts Memorial Service in Helmand, Afghanistan

Warrior Shepherd

ALLEGED RAPE AND BULLYING were the factors included in the suicide of British soldier Anne-Marie Ellement, in a recent inquest into her death. It was reported that the two men alleged to have raped her were not prosecuted, inspiring  the coroner present to call on the Ministry of Defence to review its help with vulnerable soldiers. Speaking out to the BBC, the Corporal’s mother said that her daughter had been “bullied, belittled and overworked and driven to the depths of despair”. The Army’s director of Personal Services has responded by stating that future lessons to be learnt and their priorities to prevent this kind of tragedy will come from the coroner’s report, and that they were deeply sorry for the ministry’s failures.

 

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MUSLIM CHILDREN at ‘risk of radicalization’ should be put into care, argues London Mayor Boris Johnson, deeming extremist indoctrination a form of child abuse. Writing in his weekly column in The Telegraph, he claims that political correctness is preventing counter-terrorism officers from doing their jobs and stopping “the infection of radicalisation” on vulnerable young people “before it is too late”. In response, the Muslim Council of Britain has stated to the BBC that Johnson’s column looked more at generating headlines than solving problems, and that young people of all faiths should not have to worry about the risks of living in a ‘Big Brother’ society.

 

 

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SCOTTISH FIRST MINISTER Alex Salmond risks being banned from all Council buildings in Aberdeen, in a move the Scottish National Party has deemed “an act of madness”. Aberdeen’s Labour led council will debate a motion this week which would ban the First Minister and his ministerial team from everything from council offices to schools and libraries, after claims of his ‘bullying tactics’ emerged last year. The council and Salmond have had some years of disagreements, which will come to a head in the decision of the ban, to be made on Wednesday.

 

Meanwhile, The Student Press are talking about….

NEK-NOMINATE, the “social drinking game for social media”, which involves downing something alcoholic within 24 hours of someone nominating you, filming it and then tagging three other ‘nominees’ to do the same – or worse –  when you post it online. The game has become an online craze and is now ‘out of control’, according to an interview with the Irish Rugby player responsible for it’s success. Speaking to The National Student, Ross Samson said the game had ‘snowballed’ and he wanted nothing further to do with it – after videos emerged with people having sex on camera while downing their drinks, and others had drank theirs mixed in with dead, blended mice.

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Blogging for Warwich Student Union, Zoe Buckland is concerned that peer pressure for the drinking game might be even stronger because it is online. Her concern derived from the three deaths which have implicated the craze as a possible cause – calling out to students to “stay safe” and reassuring them that it’s “okay to say no”.

Death or no death, the game involves  two “really unsurprising, predictably lame, facets of the culture of our generation”. Writing for Durham’s Palatinate, Toby Hambly points a figure at the ‘narcissistic culture of social media’ and lad culture – a ‘double whammy’ of internet predictability when the two are combined. In knowledge of this age of vanity and binge drinking, Hambly concludes,  we should reserve our outrage for things truly deserving of it, not something so predictable and determinable as Nek-nominate.

 

 

 

Victims of Abstract Ideals: Protests across the Globe

From protests to civil war, the international stage has seen a sandstorm of political unrest. Luis Barrueto looks at these conflicts across the globe, with focus on the rising tensions in Ukraine and Venezuela in a Special Report for Pandeia.

In Ukraine, clashes between protesters and policy have turned deadly, amassing a death toll of over 100 people after a short-lived truce. In Venezuela, protesters have been on the streets for over a week now in demonstrations against their government that are rapidly becoming violent, with the death toll at 8 people so far amidst increasing tension with the government. While each of these conflicts may seem unique at first glance, all of the clashes began as a struggle by populations against their governments’ abuses and have intensified by state tyranny. Although admittedly with different levels of clearness, underlying each struggle is a shared conviction that their citizens should live their lives in peace and tolerance. Yet, their governments continue to silence the cries for freedom.

Venezuela

“The average person faces the fear of being murdered, kidnapped or assaulted not only by criminals but by the state itself”

Gabriel Salas, from Estudiantes por la Libertad Venezuela, has summarized the situation, above. The current protests began as a peaceful demonstration against the high degree of insecurity, the growing scarcity of common consumer products, inflation and the abuse of power that has been common since Nicolás Maduro rose to power in April 2013. Last February 12, the protest that demanded the release of several students detained without their due process resulted in violence that counted 3 killed people, 23 hurt and hundreds of detainees.

12593095174_9dc2826c7e_bFollowing this, counts rose to 13 official deaths, dozens of tortured individuals and many more captured, including that of Leopoldo Lopez, the assumed leader of the opposition after his call to the 12F protest. After his surrender to the state forces, the Venezuelan people seem to have awoken from the stagnation that the opposition leaders Henrique Capriles and his Democratic Unity Roundtable had found themselves in. Declarations by Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, show this by asking for his formal support, long absent since the beginning of this crisis.

Constant repression has shown in two fronts:  the National Guard and so-called “collectives”, paramilitary organizations that have been used by the officialism to strike against the opposition in cases where policy involvement is too crude of a prospect. At the time of this writing, militarization seems even a bigger threat, though those who go off to the streets find the protest as the only alternative to the increasingly crude conditions of life in Venezuela.

Ukraine

In Ukraine, the movement endured a different sort of birth. President Viktor Yanukovich gave up on a trade agreement with the European Union, in exchange for a 15 billion bailout, three months ago. Maria Semykoz, Young Voices Advocate, explains that the motifs have changed since then:

“It started with the EU treaty. The regime used violence to crack down the peaceful protest. This shocked the society. From that point on,the protest was increasingly about holding those guilty in the first blood dropped on Maidan to accountability and ensuring police and state forces will not be able to beat up 11878993505_331302ebe6_binnocent citizens in the future. However, the regime didn’t get the message”.

Progressively, violence escalated towards its peak between February 17 and 19, rising the death toll to 26. “Citizens had little choice but to demand the president’s resignation – and with it, the dismantling the whole regime, wired to steal, lie, kill and torture. As we saw over the last 2 days, people are ready to stand behind this demand until death”, adds Semykoz.

After this escalade in violence, President Yanukovich declared a short lived truce that was broken within hours and added up to a 100 killings in total since the beginning of the protests. At the time of writing, the elite Berkut police unit seen as responsible for many of the deaths have been disbanded in attempts to quell the ever heightening tensions.

Thailand and Venezuela ignited protests domestically, whereas the shadow of Russia and the West have been all the more present in Ukraine and also, in Syria. “Russia’s involvement is complex, as it delves into power relationships surrounding the energy markets as well as Putin’s dream to resurrect Russian domination in the region”, explains Irena Schneider, expert in political economy for post-Soviet countries, adding that “Though Russia has tried to promote paranoia and fear of destabilization, too much blood has been spilled for the Eurasian project to maintain a shred of credibility for all free thinking, critically-minded people in the world”.

Dissent taken to the streets

All of these countries are struggling between the people’s will and the politicians’ impositions. Schneider argues that “the open society has a universal attraction, and has touched the hearts and minds of citizens in both Russia and Ukraine. The ideas of liberty are stronger than those of brute force and oppression”. Salas has argued that “young Venezuelan students go to the streets because they fear that life and all their dreams are shattered by policies that suppress individuality and prosperity”.

Both Venezuela and Ukraine show – with a difference of degree –  that when a government overreaches from its proper limits, citizens are willing to fight for ideals like democracy, liberty and justice.  As Benjamin Constant said, abstract ideas take concrete individuals as their victims.

Elie Wiesel wrote that “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”. From a distance, readers of this article can do best by taking a side, get informed and put pressure on their own governments not to remain silent when they witness injustice.

 

 

 

Oil Hungry: Spanish Government Plan Controversial Drill in Canaries

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The global energy company Repsol has finally obtained permission to begin drilling for oil next May near the Canary Islands, amidst protests and failed attempts to halt the project. Victoria Medina assesses the Canary Islands government’s referendum request to ask citizens whether they approve or reject the initiative.  

There has been nothing but controversy since the Spanish Conservative Party led by Mariano Rajoy announced it would be allowing Repsol to explore the seabed in hopes of finding oil, less than 70 kilometers from the coasts off the Canary Islands. Politicians and experts have warned of the devastating effects oil spill could have on the Islands economy and how it would also be harmful to the rich wildlife that inhabits the area.

Plans to extract oil were first announced in 2001 when then president, José María Aznar, also  Conservative, put forward a motion to claim the valuable fuel that allegedly lies underground between the Islands and the African continent. Repsol was to be the sole beneficiary and the only company that would have the right to drill for oil, but the Canary government was quick in appealing to the Supreme Court and achieved a suspension due to the inexistence of an environmental impact report.

More than a decade later and still without the pertinent report the Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism, José Manuel Soria, born and raised in Gran Canaria, reopened the case and set the final date. Years of dispute will end in less than three months when the work finally begins without a general consensus.

Referendum proposal
The Canary Islands has the highest rate of unemployment in Spain, 33% versus the nations average of 26% that equates to a total of more than 4.800.000 people. Furthermore, the seven Islands are one of the most attractive holiday destinations in Europe and depend enormously on the tourism industry to sustain their unsteady economy. According to the Canarian Institute of Statistics (ISTAC) in 2013 more than 12 million tourists visited, one million more than the previous year.

The regions president, Paulino Rivero, recently argued during an interview on the public news channel ’24 Horas’ that he had followed proper procedure when presenting the Spanish president Mariano Rajoy with his plans to summon a referendum. He also defended his actions against claims issued by Soria stating it was illegal to request such a referendum.

On the same news channel and during the same program aired on the 12th of February, ex TV presenter Cristina García Ramos shed light on the existing dilemma between oil and tourism. She said it would be significant to control such an energy resource but “at what cost” would it come if it meant serious environmental issues and conflict.

According to the Spanish Constitution, article 92.1, “political decisions of special importance may be referred to a consultative referendum of all citizens”. However, it is still unclear whether the Canarian population will have a say about the matter.

The population is divided, as there are still those who believe oil drilling could generate thousands of jobs for the unemployed. Repsol claimed in 2012 that it would create 5.000 jobs, but experts say that these would only be for the extremely qualified and would not help significantly reduce the local unemployment statistics.

A national issue
The Balearic Islands have also been dragged into the spotlight regarding the same issue since the government decided to search for oil near their coasts using seismic tests. This has been met with protests that it could affect the fishing industry and eventually result in an environmental hazard if any oil were to spill into the ocean. Both national authorities and oil companies say that this rejection is based on a “profound lack of understanding” and that there is no risk involved.

The Spanish government long ago set out to reduce its oil dependency that currently generates the importation of 1.4 million barrels of oil a day to satisfy the high demand of the product. Furthermore, Soria has stated this week before the Senate that if the Canarian Islands proved to be rich in oil it would mean a 10% reduction of all imports from other countries. Environmentalists, however argue that there are far more valuable energy sources that are not being exploited to their maximum potential, such as solar energy and wind power amongst the many renewable and clean resources that the islands have to offer.

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An Uprising of 1 Billion – Were You With Them?

On Friday the 14th, One billion people across the world rose up against gender inequality. Svanlaug Arnadottir took a look at what went on in Europe for Pandeia.

 Vagina Monologues: London

To promote V-Day’s ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE campaign, a special one-off performance of the Vagina Monologues 107474587_d00cbdcfa5_oby its creator Eve Ensler  took place last Friday. The play hailed by critics as “funny, poignant and a theatrical tour de force” has been running on and off for more than 16 years. Ensler’s work gives much thought to the mystery, humor, pain, power, wisdom, outrage and excitement buried in women’s experiences, through her interviews with over 200 women.

What is seen as her liberation of one word has become a movement of empowerment for women. V-Day’s campaign was a global call for women survivors of violence and their loved ones to gather safely in in places where they are entitled to justice. They create works of art that unshackle their stories and promote tolerance and diversity. V-Day in London was, as promised, a powerful experience.

Rise, Release and Dance in Reykjavík

Last year in Reykjavík over 2100 people came together in Harpa Music Hall in Reykjavik to rise up against violence against women, demanded justice and danced in unity for a better world. This year, the Icelandic Committee of UN Women raised the bar even further and gathered over 3000 people together to dance for justice. In cooperation with Lunch Beat Reykjavík and Sonar Music Festival the event took place in Harpa Music Hall at 12 pm –  Dj Margeir  made sure you could rise, release and dance with your heart and joy against violence against women.

Martial Arts in Oslo                                            

In Oslo, Norway citizens gathered and rose together at the Norsk Taiji Senter for a session of Tai Chi and afterwards moved to the streets of Kvadraturen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congo, Crime and Discrimination: Norwegian Fast News

The Olympic Comittee

The Olympic Comittee

Ingunn Dorholt gives a brief overview of last week’s dominating news.

Last week Norwegian media were anticipating the second sentence of the British/Norwegian ex- soldier Joshua French, who has been imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo for almost five years. The final sentence has been postponed several times, most recently due to a report about his current mental health.

The case started in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009, when the two Norwegians, Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland, were convicted for a number of charges, including the murder of their private driver, keeping weapons illegally, performing armed robbery and for attempting to start a private criminal association. The two Norwegians were sentenced to capital punishment on three court levels, however The Congo no longer performs actual executions. Neither of the men has admitted to committing the murder. Instead they claim that their car was attacked by a local group, who killed the driver.

The Norwegian foreign department sent an enquiry to Congolese authorities to have the two Norwegians  sent back home, but so far nothing has happened.

On 18 August 2013, Tjostolv Moland was found dead in his cell. Joshua French is now awaiting the sentence for the murder of his friend, as Congolese governments claim that he drugged Moland, and strangled him to death. The Norwegian police department Kripos, went to Congo to investigate the case, but did not find any reason to believe there was anything criminal behind the death. There were no traces of drugs in Moland’s blood.

Moland and French were running a private security company in Uganda. Their original plans in Congo are disputed, but anonymous sources within the military claim they were recruiting other soldiers to private armed missions around Africa.

Norwegian arrogance

Norwegian media are of course also busy following the Olympic Games in Sochi. Norway received two warnings from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during the first weekend of the winter games, and the Norwegian representative in IOC, Gerhard Heiberg, has warned Norwegian contestants about their behaviour. He claims that “Norway is already known for being arrogant, and this is not exactly helping the image”. The first warning came after bronze-medal winner, Martin Johnsrud, decided to change skiing tracks just before the finish line. The other one was because the women’s skiing team were wearing black armbands as a symbol of grief, after one of the Norwegian skiers lost her brother on the night of the opening ceremony in Sochi. According to the IOC, the “Olympic competition is not an arena to show grief”.

Norwegian representative in IOC, Gerhard Heiberg.

Norwegian representative in IOC, Gerhard Heiberg

Inequality in insurances

Pandeia’s theme this week is Inequality, and equality has been a much debated topic in Norwegian media lately. It has been revealed that disability insurances are twice as expensive for women as for men. While Norwegian equality laws prohibit differentiating the genders in relation to car insurances, there is so far no law that prevents the insurance companies from making the distinction on other insurances. In 2011 the EU established a law that made such discrimination illegal. However Norway is not a part of the EU, and can choose whether or not to implement the law.

 

Photos: Martin Hafsahl and Sjur Stølen

A tale of two worlds: Inequality in the 21st century

A month ago, Oxfam released a report on the increasing gap between the super rich and poor. Rebecca Thorning Wine takes a look at the report and the power structures that enable the gap to widen as well as the possible mentality behind billionaires.

On Monday January 20, 2014, Oxfam released a report on the growing global threat of economic inequality. Some of its major findings were that 85 of the wealthiest individuals now own the same as the poorest 3.5 billion people in the world, half the world’s wealth is acquired by one percent of the population, and that seven out of ten people reside in countries where economic disparity has widened over the past 30 years. The report was released just in time for the World Economic Forum in Davos, and asked that those empowered enable change, pledge to enforce a ‘living wage’ within companies that they control, and support the taxation of wealth – among a long list of other recommendations.

The following is a summary of how the Oxfam report contextualised the state of economic disparity in the US, Europe, India, Pakistan, and Africa.

Power structures that rig the game in the US

Oxfam took a look at how money in politics effectively skews representation and increases inequality in the US. Since the 1970s corporations have successfully weakened regulations of money in politics through lobbying, which as a result have helped to create policies with tax loopholes that favour these same corporations. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank bill that attempted to increase regulation in order to prevent a second crash. However, lobbyists for the financial district have spent over a billion dollars in an attempt to delay the implementation of the bill.

Europe and inequality

As a result of regressive taxes and excessive spending cuts in education, healthcare, social security and diminishing labour rights, the combination of these actions has led to economic inequality in Europe. Recently the IMF has admitted that these measures have hindered growth and recovery, and have been detrimental to the hope for growth and equality.

The roots of corruption and power in India

India is a case where half of the country’s dozen billionaires have acquired their wealth in ‘rent-thick’ sectors. These sectors include real estate, telecommunications, construction and mining, “where profits are dependent on access to scarce resources, made available exclusively through government permissions and therefore susceptible to corruption by powerful actors – as opposed to creation of wealth”

Tax loopholes in Pakistan

Pakistan’s parliament is made up of the country’s richest elites who use their position to advance their own interests through the creation of tax loopholes and non-disclosure laws. For example, 10 million people qualify to pay taxes yet only 2.5 million are registered to do so. Furthermore, the average income of a parliament member is $900,000, with the richest member earning $37 billion, yet only 61% of lawmakers paid income tax in 2010. The Oxfam report draws the conclusion that, without a real tax base, the government cannot adequately provide its citizens with any form of basic services like education, healthcare and a functional infrastructure – thus economic disparity is only ever reinforced.

Continuing inequality in Africa

Credit: Liane Greeff

As new natural resources are being discovered in Africa, exports of oil, natural gas, metals, and minerals are behind booming growth in Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Namibia. Yet poverty and inequality remains intact in these countries. Oxfam cites a study that in fact proves a correlation between the level of resources in African countries, and the level of inequality determined by the GINI coefficient. The report therefore concludes that due to weak regulations, corporations can ally themselves with political actors which results in a decrease in the emphasis on poverty reduction.

Is it just human nature?

85 billionaires are not solely responsible for these policies put in place, but it begs the question: how can they actively try and grow their unequivocal wealth and power, in the face of such inequality. Paul Piff, who studies the psychology of wealth at University of California, Berkeley, created a study of the game Monopoly, and what happens when the game is engineered so that one player wins, in attempt to answer this question.

They had 100 pairs of strangers come in and flip a coin where the winner received extra privileges throughout the game (like getting extra money for passing ‘Go’ and being able to always roll twice in a row). Then, through hidden cameras they watched the players’ behaviour, and as the game unfolded dramatic differences occurred. The rich players showed signs of dominance by smacking their pieces as they moved across the board, and became more boisterous and rude towards the losing player. At the end of the game, when questioned about why they won, the rich players talked about how they had bought different properties, but did not mention that the flip of the coin had allowed them to receive far more opportunities to win.

After Piff and his colleagues had carried out dozens of studies across the country, and surveyed thousands of people, they found that as an individual’s wealth increases so does their feeling of entitlement, and that their ability to empathise decreases. They are then able to moralise greed to be good as well as the preservation of self-interest.

Another study done by three psychological researchers, Michael W. Kraus, Stéphane Côté and Dacher Keltner in 2010, looked at how social class might be an indication to what degree an individual can empathize with others. There were three parts to the experiment, the first looked at how participants processed emotions based on pictures. What they found was the more upper class the participant; the less able they were in correctly identifying emotions. The second experiment found that upper class participants were less able to identify emotions in the context of a job interview. The last experiment found that lower socioeconomic status participants were more equipped to identify 36 sets of emoting eyes. The researchers thus concluded that rich people suffer from empathy deficits, ill-equipped to pick up on subtle emotional cues.

In Paul Piff’s Ted Talk about his study, he quotes Bill Gates: “Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity”. In line with this, Oxfam calls for a redistribution of power and stronger social schemes to increase upward mobility for the poor. Piff further states that reminding the rich of the effects of poverty can increase their likeliness to help the poor. With income inequality functioning as a global threat, this needs to be a daily reminder.