As we turn the page on the first half of 2015 and the first four months of PineTreeRepublic, we take a look at some of the top news articles of 2015 so far. Each of the journalists in these articles provided an important perspective on some of the year’s most significant developments, and helped further our understanding on the systems driving current events. From the tragedies in Paris and Charleston, the exploding migrant crisis and quiet ebbing of the Ebola crisis, and economic and political transformations, read (or re-read) these stories to catch up on the state of the world in mid-2015.
Jan. 8: “Paris Attacks Illustrate the Power of Mockery“, by Doug Saunders (Globe and Mail)
The year began with the startling attacks by Islamic extremists on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and subsequent shooting at a kosher supermarket in Paris. While the world struggled to make sense of this latest act of terrorism, the Globe and Mail‘s Doug Saunders placed the work of Charlie Hebdo, which sometimes featured blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, within a rich tradition of political satire. In this column, Saunders argues that political satire – from the French Revolution to Charlie Chaplin’s mockery of Adolf Hitler, to more contemporary examples such as the spoof movie The Interview and Russia’s Pussy Riot – has a long history of chipping away at the foundations of authoritarianism. While his article doesn’t acknowledge the vulnerability of minority Muslim communities in France, it nonetheless reframes the importance of political mockery and the potential consequences of silencing it.
In recent decades, we’ve come to think of [satire] as a colourful decoration on the side of Big Politics: an entertainment rather than a direct attack. But, as we’ve seen over and over recently, it is mockery, far more than rhetorical or logical criticism, that reaches its target and drives its wounded victims to paroxysms of revenge.”
Feb. 1: “As Ebola Ebbs in Africa, Focus Turns from Death to Life“, by Norimitsu Onishi (New York Times)
It already seems so far removed, but it was less than a year ago when there were real fears that an Ebola epidemic in West Africa would spiral out of control and lead to a global crisis unlike any other pandemic of recent memory. Quietly, however, the hardest-hit countries – Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone – began to turn the tide against the virus. In this article, Norimitsu Onishi details how these countries, with some timely outside help, miraculously stopped the spread of Ebola in its tracks starting around October of last year. What comes through in his story is the resilience of communities that is often underestimated – perhaps most remarkably in Liberia, where communities’ past experiences with civil war instilled the reflex of organizing neighbourhood watchdog groups that helped stop the transmission of the virus.
While many have emphasized the enormous assistance hauled into the region but eh United States and international organizations, there is strong evidence, especially here in Monrovia, that the biggest change came from the precautions taken by residents themselves. ‘Fundamentally, this is about the extent to which societies change their behaviors, how they change them, and the speed at which they change them’, said Dr. David Nabarro, the United Nations special envoy on Ebola…”
April 25: “The Real Reasons Why Migrants Risk Everything for a New Life Elsewhere“, by Doug Saunders (Globe and Mail)
This past spring saw the explosion of Europe’s migrant crisis: As multiple boats carrying hundreds of migrants from Africa and the Middle East tragically capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, leaders in Europe struggled to form an effective, consensus approach to rectifying its burgeoning humanitarian crisis. The common narrative across much of the media was one of an unstoppable flow of poor migrants seeking to settle into a new life in Europe. In this feature article, Doug Saunders explains the phenomenon of migration from a migrant’s point of view, and deconstructs many of the inaccurate beliefs that have led to ineffective responses. Saunders demonstrates how many of the would-be migrants are connected to middle-class or even wealthy networks of other migrants from their countries, and often seek temporary work to make enough money to support their families back home, rather than attempting a permanent move to a new home. Without the flexibility to do so by legal means, argues Saunders, migrants end up trapped in a system that keeps them stuck in Europe without many opportunities to improve their situation.
By cracking down on these informal and seasonal movements – something that began in the early 1990s with the formation of the EU – Europe turned migration into an all-or-nothing proposition: Once you were in Europe, legally or otherwise, you stayed, because you might not get in again. As a result, Africans now come in, do some agricultural or service work, and then knock around the continent, without opportunities, once they’re done. That’s the paradox of Europe’s response to the migrant crisis: By making entry tougher, it makes illegal entry more commonplace.”
May 9: “In Deep: The High Risks of Canada’s Growing Addiction to Debt“, by Tavia Grant and Tamsin McMahon (Globe and Mail)
Grant and McMahon document an alarming ballooning of household debt in this comprehensive analysis of Canadians’ personal finances. Since 1990, Canadians’ debt-to-income ratio has nearly doubled from 85.34 (meaning Canadians on average had more income than debt) to 163.26 in 2015 (meaning that Canadians on average now carry far more debt than they do income). Not unlike the sub-prime mortgage crisis of the late 2000s, much of this trend has been driven by sky-high housing prices in Canada’s real estate hotspots of Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary, combined with consumer-friendly low interest rates to counteract sluggish economic growth. Additionally, the authors note, much of Canada faces the unique problem of a natural resource-fuelled economy – which amplifies the country’s exposure to risk due to the boom-and-bust cycles of commodities. This debt balloon potentially portends an economic crash in Canada, or at a minimum, far greater instability for many Canadians as they look to the future.
People often say, ‘Will Canada experience a U.S.-style housing crisis and a U.S.-style debt de-leveraging crisis?’ And I always used to say no. I think it’s going to experience a Canadian-style housing crisis.” – Mark Hopkins, Senior Economist, Moody’s Analytics
June 14: “Labor’s Might Seen in Failure of Trade Deal“, by Noam Scheiber (New York Times)
The past three weeks have brought repeated twists and turns for the prospects of a massive free trade deal among 12 Pacific Rim countries, known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In the United States, President Barack Obama confronted members of his own party in requesting (and ultimately securing) authorization to negotiate conditions for the TPP while avoiding the possibility of amendments from the U.S. Congress. Initially, when it seemed that Obama’s pitch would fail and cast the success of the TPP in serious doubt, Noam Scheiber analyzed the impact of the American labor movement in lining up Democratic votes against the president. He details a sophisticated campaign against the TPP that began in earnest two years ago, and united private sector unions with their public sector cousins, who were keen to assert the movement’s might after repeated attacks from Republican governors. Although negotiations for the TPP now appear to be back on track, the re-emergence of American labor is likely to reverberate well into next year’s primary and general elections.
The across-the-board mobilization by labor unions reflected two pivotal developments since the late 1990s. First was the dawning realization that even public sector workers who appear to be insulated from global competition could ultimately feel its dislocating effects… More recently, the public sector unions, under increasing assault from Republicans in Congress and in several big states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, found that the rapid decline of industrial unions had left them politically vulnerable as well.”
(Bonus) June 22: “With a Stirring Show of Unity and Faith, Charleston Leaves the World in Awe“, by Marcus Gee (Globe and Mail)
The first half of 2015 was bookended by terrorist attacks in Paris at the beginning of the year, and a recent wave of terrorist acts in France, Kuwait, Tunisia, and Charleston, South Carolina. The murder of nine people in an African-American church by a white supremacist eerily echoed racial violence of past generations in the American South. Yet this time, black and white residents of Charleston have seemingly banded together in mourning the dead, punctuated by Barack Obama’s eulogy of the Reverend Clementa Pickney. In this article, Marcus Gee reflects on the significance of black churches as an integral survival system for African-Americans throughout the course of American history, and how it became a symbol of reconciliation between the races, at least temporarily, over the past week.
The church has always been a outlet for grievances, a place for people to express their pain, a place for people to have hope under lynching and segregation and hardships. Even if you were a street sweeper, when you walked into a church you were somebody.” – Dimas Salaberry, a New York pastor