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Tuesday, 26 September


The eternal Chancellor "IndyWatch Feed"

Is Germany ready for a new social contract, more adequate to the global age? Or does it want to continue under the comfortable protection of a reassuring Mutti?

lead CDU Gen.Sec. Peter Tauber and Angela Merkel in party HQ for a meeting on Germany's election results, 25 September 2017. Michael Kappeler/Press Association. All rights reserved.She is known as die Mutti, the mama, and she is once again at the helm of Germany, in spite of a far from exciting election performance.

Do German citizens truly need a mother to guide them through the perils of the global age? With or (now much more likely) without the support of a Grand Coalition, Angela Merkel might stay in power until 2021, which would mean 16 years as Chancellor, even more than Adenauer (14 years) and on a par with her mentor, Helmut Kohl. Is this good for Germany and for Europe itself, which is sometimes regarded as slightly more than an appendage of Germany and its old partner, France? These polls demonstrate that, beyond appearances, Germany does have problems, which is not a good omen for the Old Continent as a whole.

By contrast with a stereotypical media representation, not everything is alright in the Bundesrepubliks economy. First of all, there is no economic miracle. In the years 2013-17 economic growth has been rather modest, unless we consider a rate of 1.5-2% an outstanding achievement. Furthermore, a large part of this growth has occurred because of one sector construction which is usually very volatile.

Unemployment has declined to a historical low of 4.16%, but millions of Germans work in much-debated (and little paid) mini-jobs. Inequality has risen and the same applies to poverty rates (approximately 16% in 2015). Then, Germanys top banks have often raised concerns. A colossus like Deutsche Bank recorded losses for almost 1.4 billion Euros in 2016 and since 2017 is interestingly partnered by a Chinese conglomerate, HNA, which has bought 1...


What will it take to end child sexual abuse in India? "IndyWatch Feed"

In 2012 new legislation was passed to protect children against sexual abuse. But the gap between the law and ground realities remains large.

Chattisgarh child rights training, warm-up exercise. Chattisgarh child rights training, warm-up exercise. Photo: Prita Jha.It is only in the last decade or so that the Indian state has acknowledged that child sexual abuse is an issue which requires government intervention. In 2007, a landmark survey (the first and last of its kind) revealed rampant physical and sexual abuse across 13 states. It interviewed 12,447 children; 53% had suffered some kind of sexual violence and around one in five said they had suffered serious sexual assault.

The most worrying statistic was that 70% of children had not disclosed the abuse to anyone, confused about what to say, afraid of their abuser, or afraid that they would not be supported but blamed. Most children said they knew their abuser who was often a neighbour, relative or friend. When they did disclose abuse, many were told to keep quiet, or were blamed for the abuse. Too many caregivers took no action, even denying the disclosure of abuse.

Active engagement with children, parents, teachers and schools is needed to counter such deafening silence, and create an environment that enables children to speak out. I lead an organisation called Peace and Equality Cell (PEC) which has worked with more than 150 survivors of child sexual abuse in the last four years. We have observed that poverty adds an additional layer of vulnerability when parents are too poor to afford suitable childcare and the child is assaulted whilst both parents are out working.

'poverty adds an additional layer of vulnerability when parents are too poor to afford suitable childcare'

The st...


Truth, memory and democracy in Latin America "IndyWatch Feed"

For collective remembrance of crimes to go beyond storytelling and momentary indignation, citizens should be involved in the ideation, creation and dissemination of memory. Espaol

Photo: Anyone's Child.

During the 1970s and 1980s, in the midst of a wave of military dictatorships and while armed conflicts between guerrilla groups and paramilitary forces were paving their way into Latin Americas tumultuous political history, numerous processes of remembering and forgetting started to sprout throughout the region. 

These early civil society initiatives, later institutionalized within the States executive, legislative and judicial branches, played a central role in thematizing the experiences of violence and terror. By responding to the urgent need of gathering evidence concerning human rights violations, they came to complement, even replace State functions in times of authoritarian rule, and shed light on the possibility of peace. The resistance of the Latin American societywhose allure has been broadly documented and consisted in all sorts of institutional and extra-institutional actions aimed at accountability and justice left a mark on the public sphere that continues to shape todays political debate and the role of civil society during times of State repression and terrorism.

The mobilizations occurred under hoarse circumstances and blatant impunity, and were triggered by numerous members of the civil society, including journalists, activists, students, artists, associations of victims and their families, together with NGOs, religious leaders, and international institutions. They did so with the purpose of denouncing, both nationally and internationally, the abuses and crimes committed by those wielding absolute power in their home countries. By demanding the acknowledgment and active protection of human rights, these groups promoted the understanding of complicated, often unspeakable realities; gathered the testimonies of survivors...


The day after the vote in Dsseldorf "IndyWatch Feed"

Everybody knows that something has changed even here.

lead Frauke Petry of AfD leaves a press conference unexpectedly announcing that she won't become a member of the AfD in the Bundestag on the day after the elections, September 25, 2017. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved.Its been a funny day in Dsseldorf. The day after an election always feels odd, but this was something different. After Brexit happened, and again after Trump, the city woke up in shock. Last year, on the mornings of June 9 and November 9, everybody at the tram stop was glued to their phones. In fact, public transport on those days was eerily quiet throughout as though the inhabitants of this prosperous, cosmopolitain city forty minutes down the motorway from Holland and a four hour train-ride from Paris had reached an unspoken decision to tread gently, aware that the ground underneath their feet might not be as solid as theyd always supposed.

Id been expecting September 25 2017 to have a similar hushed quality, but the inner-city rail-link I use to get my protesting toddlers to nursery was buzzing. Nobody seemed to be looking at their phones and nobody thank goodness seemed to pay any attention to the aforementioned toddlers. Instead, snatches of feverish conversations some anxious, some excited kept spilling over the seats with one word raw and ugly amongst them: AfD.

Germanys far-right immigration party only (only!) got eight percent of the vote in Dsseldorf five percent below the national average. The local paper, The Rheinische Post, is even claiming that when its reporter showed up to the partys modest after party, only a dozen or so supporters were there. Contrast that with those ecstatic scenes from Saxony, where the AfD scooped up nearly thirty percent of the vote, and you could forgive Dsseldorf for thinking it had got off lightly. Still, everybody knows that something has changed even here.

You cant seriously spend eight weeks of your life shopping, working and socialising under posters and giant roadside billboards demanding more safety for our wives and daughters! without realising that even Dsseldo...


5 reasons why Facebook should be in (global, cooperative) public ownership "IndyWatch Feed"

Facebook is a private monopoly running a public service. It should belong to all of us. 

Just like the railway, Facebook is a private monopoly running a public service. We, the public, don't have real competition and consumer choice, but we don't have a democratic say as citizens either. The internet has been a virtual wild west, fast-moving and little regulated, with tech companies competing for territory. But now there are clear natural monopolies developing. Author Jonathan Taplin points out that Google has an 88% market share in search advertising, Facebook (and subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77% of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74% share in the e-book market. Economic theory - and real life experience - suggests monopolies need to be regulated, if not brought into public ownership. Here are five reasons why all of us should own Facebook.

1) Public ownership needn't mean state control

Nick Srnicek argued today in the Guardian that Google, Amazon and Facebook are 'platform monopolies' and suggested they should be nationalised. He explains that reaching a critical mass of users is key to the success of these businesses, and it's why they're so entrenched. He's right. But if you're shouting "I don't want Theresa May getting hold of my Facebook data", we'd agree! The solutions we need here are surely international, not national. And these companies have powerful data about private individuals - we should be wary about how governments could use this, especially in dangerous political situations. Could we create some kind of new cooperative, democratic, accountable institution rather than relying on nation states? We believe in a broad definition of public ownership. It can be local, regional, national or international. And it can involve different models like cooperatives and community ownership - as long as profits are reinvested and there is democratic control. We could think really imaginatively about what it would mean for the public to collectively own some of the public spaces on the internet. Put aside the practical challenges for a moment - we'll come back to those. But what's the problem anyway? Those clever people at Facebook and Google know exactly what we want, don't they? And they're delivering? Not really..

2) Tech companies profit when you're addicted to the internet...


Armenias parents dream of having sons "IndyWatch Feed"

Armenia still has one of the worlds highest rates of sex-selective abortions. Here are the mothers stories.

Two boys play in a slum outside Echmiadzin, Armavir Province, Armenia, 2001. Photo (c): R. Mangasaryan / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared on Open Caucasus Media. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.

Although their number is slowly decreasing, Armenia still has one of the highest rates of sex-selective abortions in the world. oDRs partners at OC Media talked to a number of women who faced pressure from their families after falling pregnant with a daughter about the decision they were forced to make, and the consequences theyve had to live with. 

An unexpected daughter 

I got married at the age of 17, and five months later I was already pregnant. The pregnancy was expected in our family, it was even considered late because my husbands family subscribes to the view that the purpose of a bride is to have a baby, and that she should get pregnant after the first night of sleeping with her husband, says Gayane (a pseudonym), a resident of Aragatsotn Province in the west of Armenia.

Gayane started to visit a local clinic with her mother-in-law to monitor the condition of her pregnancy.

We went to the doctor very often so often that [at one point] they wouldnt even receive us telling me all my tests were fine. I was already ashamed to go, but my mother-in-law made me go, saying Im afraid something will happen to my boy, Gayane recalls. 

By boy, the mother-in-law meant Gayanes baby she was convinced that her daughter-in-law would have a boy. During one of the visits, when she was 13 weeks pregnant and the doctor was able to see the babys sex, Gayane was told she would have a baby girl. 

It was probably the most terrible day of my life. When my mother-in-law learnt I was going to have a gir...


Do we have a right to justice? "IndyWatch Feed"

As new research reveals the devastating impact of legal aid cuts, Labour is considering not only reversing some of those cuts but enshirining in law our right to justice.

From 2009/2010, there has been an 84% reduction in the number of civil cases funded by legal aid. Image: Edward Lich. Pixabay/Creative Commons CC0.

Do we have a right to justice? And, if we do, does it include the right to publicly funded legal representation to ensure that we have genuine access to justice?

Labour might be about to answer these questions in the affirmative by endorsing a new Right to Justice Act, as proposed in a report launched at the party conference in Brighton this week by an independent commission chaired by Labour peer Lord Willy Bach (the report can be downloaded here). The Bach Commission on Access to Justice was formed shortly after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in order to carry out a comprehensive review of legal aid, following drastic cuts made by the Coalition government.

The right to justice

In its report, The Right to Justice, the Commission recommends a Right to Justice Act to establish an enforceable right for individuals to receive reasonable legal assistance without costs they cannot afford. The report also calls for the creation of a Justice Commission to monitor and enforce the right to justice, and for reform of the financial eligibility and scope rules for legal aid to create a simpler, more generous system which enables many more people to access publicly funded legal help.

The radical proposals are intended to "help lift the provision of justice above the political fray.
The Commission believes that its radical proposals would create a new legal framework that will, over time, transform access to justice....


Borders, open borders, or no borders? "IndyWatch Feed"

If freedom of movement is a human right, is Brexit good or bad? A Q&A

As migration within the EU has been liberalised, deportations of non-EU citizens have increased.

Are the borders of the EU a hypocrisy, or the movement within them the path to a world of healthier understanding of national frontiers? Guy Aitchison, researcher in Politics and International relations at University College Dublin, explains the tightening of EU borders since the 1990s, some lessons of free movement between South American nations and, crucially, suggests that the EU is better seen as a floor and not a ceiling in setting the limits of a progressive immigration policy for the UK left to be proud of.

1. Are the frontiers of the EU compatible with ideas of a borderless world?

The existing frontiers of the EU are a site of death, violence and cruelty. The current situation isnt compatible with international law and with the EUs own rules on border checks and asylum, let alone with the more utopian ideal of a borderless world. Many Europeans wince at Trumps talk of building a wall, but hundreds of miles of guarded, barbed-wire fences have been built along the EUs own borders.

While the EU is rhetorically committed to support for refugees, it does everything it can to prevent them from reaching EU territory where they can claim asylum and those found to have entered illegally risk being detained or deported without regard for their case. Along with this direct coercion and violence, the border contributes to upholding a profoundly unequal global economic system where ones life chances depend to a great extent upon the citizenship one happens to be born with. The geographer Reece Jones links this system to historical efforts by states to control the movements of the poor and access to resources through serfdom and anti-vagrancy laws. By restricting the movement of the global poor, border controls maintain pools of cheap labour that can be easily exploited thanks to lax regulations and safety standards. The average income of a citizen of Germany, say, is twenty times greater than that of a citizen of Bangladesh.

The EUs border zone is the most dangerous in the world as a direct result of the lack of legal, accessible means for migrants to enter. Prior to the 1990s, ther...


EU Freedom of Movement - A gateway drug "IndyWatch Feed"

Commissioning letter on Freedom of Movement and the Corbyn manifesto - from the more Lemain series editor

Is free movement good for ordinary Europeans?

This letter is part of a Looking at Lexit series, edited by myself and Xavier Buxton. Over the next 12 months, as Brexit themes emerge in the news agenda, we will respond by posting our respective commissioning letters. Xavier questions continued free movement here. These letters will be sent to relevant experts, inviting them to contribute. But this is open commissioning : if you want to have a go at an answer, please PM me (@juliansayarer) or Xavier (@xjb20) with your thoughts. Well read everything we receive and then edit and publish those pieces that really move the question forward.

If the debate over Brexit has often been little more than a debate over immigration, then the left-wing incarnation of the ideological struggle has been spared none of the acrimony. Where the arguments of the economic left have posited that some curbs on migration are necessary to protect the conditions of both UK workers and EU workers within the UK, the arguments of the social left have held strong in affirming that the borderless EU is implicit to the spirit of internationalism and liberal values to which any left worth its salt must commit.

The truth, of course, is not so simple. Non-UK, EU citizens working in underpaid and under-protected sectors make for a poor emblem of liberalism. The borderless nature of the EU extends only as far as the fortress frontier that defines the EUs limits, and the liberal argument for EU freedom of movement holds little sway in the universities of Istanbul, Mumbai, Nairobi. The question, then, becomes whether the freedom of a veterinary surgeon from Timisoara, plying her trade - without barriers - in Devon, is a sufficiently virtuous opportunity for mobility that it makes worthwhile the enhanced barrier that her peer from across the border with Ukraine will face.

Doubtless, there is...


Developers can get away with murder an interview with Kensingtons Emma Dent Coad "IndyWatch Feed"

One short week in May exposed the fault lines at the heart of our communities. Three months on from a shock election result, as the Grenfell inquiry opens, Kensingtons new Labour MP talks housing, education, poverty and politics with Nathan Akehurst.

Image: Emma Dent Coad MP, at the Grenfell Tower inquiry preliminary hearing. PA Images, all rights reserved.

The night after the general election, a crowd throwing flowers greeted Emma Dent Coad at Kensington and Chelseas red-brick town hall on Hornton Street. After four recounts, I watched the veteran councillor snatch the home of Kensington Palace and the Daily Mail by twenty votes.

Days later crowds were back at Hornton Street, this time in shock and desperate grief. Missing posters, police cordons and debris lined the roads after a blaze ripped through Grenfell Tower in the worst civil disaster in London since World War II. The scene wouldnt have looked out of place in a war zone. Emma lives a few minutes walk from the tower.

Three months on, I meet her in Parliament on a busy lunchtime sandwiched before the Grenfell inquiry opening and after the EU Withdrawal Bill. Brexit was present in my campaign but not as much as everyone thinks, says Emma. The areas political ecosystem - thrown into the spotlight by the fire - is far more complex; and few understand it better than its new MP, who I first encountered fighting funding cuts whilst still at school.

There are lifelong Conservative voters who say I understand the constituencys DNA, that theyre embarrassed by the government and theyd vote for me again. Well see surprises, in next years local elections, she predicts.

Then there are people inspired by the leadership and manifesto who returned to Labour, and people whod never voted. And lots fed up with the previous incumbent.

She adds wryly, Its difficult for me to judge her as Ive not seen her anywhere much at all.


Stop messing around and get back to work! "IndyWatch Feed"

If I woke up tomorrow and decided I couldnt get on with my colleagues nor did I want to strike an agreement on a direction for a project we were working on Id be in trouble.

Worse still if I just simply decided not to turn up to my job, Id no doubt be sacked and someone else would be found to replace me.

As the talks to restore the Northern Ireland Executive seem to be stuck in a Groundhog Day-like fiasco I, like many other people across the country, have been getting increasingly irritated by the lack of progress.

You would think wed be used to this diabolical behaviour by now but sadly too many of us live in hope and are therefore still shocked and disappointed by the actions of our politicians.

Public services, schools, our local NHS, the arts and the voluntary and community sector are being starved of resources, before long the doors will be closing and redundancies announced.

Come November the reality of there being no money to fund Northern Irelands services will be here. If theres no agreement by then the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, will have the difficult choice of calling an election or implementing Direct Rule.

Lets be honest the UK Government and Opposition are more interested in the complexities of Brexit and their internal squabbling than the problems our wee thorn in their side brings.

Its highly doubtful they intend to prioritise the need for bringing forward legislation to allow even limited Direct Rule for the release of funds.

If such a piece of legislation was to come into force it may allow a small amount of cash to filter through the economy in order to alleviate the budgetary crisis. But its not a solution, nor is it really an effective stopgap.

In the meantime, our two major parties continue to play table tennis with our lives with a standalone Irish Language Act being the main sticking point.

Shockingly the current running costs of the Assembly that isnt sitting in any manner at all is set to hit around 4m since the election.

Our health and social care trusts are talking about multi-million-pound reductions to operations and nursing home servicesthis isnt fictionits our reality.

Of course, the MLAs arent about to hand over their wages. Both the DUP and SinnFin have backed themselves so far into a corner neither are willing to compromise a way out.

And it doesnt seem to be doing either much harm. Why?

Theyre busier thinking of ways to save face than to save the lives of those being failed by our dwindling health service. Theyve decided green and orange politics is more important than the education and wellbeing of our children.

On World...


EU Freedom of Movement: Is it really worth fighting for? "IndyWatch Feed"

Commissioning letter on Freedom of Movement and the Corbyn manifesto - from the more Lexit series editor

This letter is part of a Looking at Lexit series, edited by myself and Julian Sayarer. Over the next 12 months, as Brexit themes emerge in the news agenda, we will respond by posting our respective commissioning letters. Julian makes a case for EU free movement here. These letters will be sent to relevant experts, inviting them to contribute. But this is open-commissioning : if you want to have a go at an answer, please PM me (@xjb20) or Julian (@juliansayarer) with your thoughts. Well read everything we receive and then edit and publish those pieces that really move the question forward.

My central question today is this: from an internationalist perspective, how serious are the problems with the EUs free movement policies? And from a labour-rights perspective, should the left be campaigning for closer regulation of EU workers in the UK? What would a truly left-wing immigration policy look like? Is this policy possible within the EU?

Some old frontier-posts have become historical curiosities, complete with tourist information.

Free movement has been one of the great benefits of EU membership, allowing young British people to explore the continent, study abroad and fall in love. No visas, no work permits, and, within the Schengen area, no passport checks. Indeed, in much of Europe, the borders, often unmanned and sometimes unmarked, have all but disappeared. The douanes that litter the frontiers of Western Europe have taken on the appearance of pillboxes, the relics of a darker and divided past. The British left has, on the whole, appreciated these freedoms and this peace, and defended them vigorously against the ceaseless calumnies of the tabloid press.

Starmers announcement in August, therefore, that Labour will seek restrictions on immigration while not ruling out single market membership, has angered many. Labour, they say, has capitulated to the xenophobic rhetoric of the right, and privileged the EUs economic benefits over its social and cultural ones. Continued...


Reforming Interpol: boldly, and from the bottom-up "IndyWatch Feed"

One of the key flaws still present in the system is the failure of Interpols internal review mechanism to effectively distinguish between genuine criminal cases and those that are politically motivated.

lead A female fugitive wanted for graft under an Interpol red notice returns from the United States to China and turns herself in.September 20, 2017 Fan Jun/Press Association. All rights reserved.The struggle to ensure that Interpol not be used as a tool for political prosecution continues today even as the worlds premier international policing institution approaches its 100th birthday. Although some substantial reforms have been implemented by Interpol starting in 2016, today nondemocratic states continue to issue international arrest warrants to dissidents, journalists, and political rivals. The fact that this problem persists suggests that regimes are adapting, and ultimately that these new reforms fall short of their mark.

In response to these issues, the Open Dialog Foundation has put forth what can be best described as an update to existing reforms that were initiated by Interpol in 2016. This is an undeniably practical approach to the century-long challenge of isolating the Interpol system from political influence. But the question remains, can a bureaucratic behemoth armed with the mandate of international security take cues from bottom up?    

Ongoing issues

Back in late August Angela Merkel criticized Turkey for its misuse of the Interpol system after the Turkish government issued a red notice against the German writer Dogan Akhanli. Akhanli, who is known for his writings on the Armenian genocide, and for being a critic of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was detained in Spain and was only released after Merkel and the German Foreign Ministry spoke out against his arrest. Akhanli now must remain in Madrid until the Spanish government evaluates the validity of the Turkish governments extradition request, a process which should take about 40 days.

Since the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, the Turkish government has revoked over 150 thousand passports and asked Interp...

Monday, 25 September


The caring state: how Russias new babushkas are filling in the welfare gaps "IndyWatch Feed"

Expectations of babushki taking care of their grandchildren, shaped by the Soviet history of family and economic policies, are hard to implement in a radically different post-socialist context.

Vyborg playground. Photo: passer-by/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Some rights reserved.Little Alesha is pushing his stroller down the boulevard. While he practices his new walking skills, Nadia, Aleshas mom, laments the insufficiency of daycare in the city: Ive heard that there is a new law now, according to which they must offer you a slot in a municipal daycare when your child turns three. Still, I hear about all these kids who couldnt get in. I have no idea what I am going to do. I wanted to get Alesha into daycare soon, when he turns two, but I hear that its close to impossible these days.

Nadia lives in a large provincial city that, similarly to other cities in Russia, suffers from a shortage of daycare facilities, which often contradicts the official state rhetoric encouraging women to have multiple children. Although this issue has been at the centre of national and regional politics, municipal and regional governments find it hard to keep pace with the growing demand for daycare. Nadias older daughter is in municipal daycare already. After she was born, Nadia took maternity leave and stayed at home for 18 months. Less than a year after resuming work, she got pregnant again and took maternity leave again. Nadia can, of course, stay at home until Alesha turns three, she told me, but it is hard on the family financially (as only the first year and a half are paid) and she was actually eager to go back to work. I asked Nadia if she was considering private daycare or a nanny. No, she replies without much hesitation. Its either municipal daycare or babushka [grandmother]. I dont trust anyone else when it comes to caring for my kids.

Nadias story is only one of many I heard during the year I spent in a large provincial city in the Urals, where I was conducting an ethnographic study of Russias so-called demographic crisis.

While encouraging young families to have more children, the state fails to provide them with adequate childcare support. Thus, freshly baked parents turn t...


Is it time to let go of Nationalism? "IndyWatch Feed"

This Saturday I attended an event organized by representatives from the Irish News and Slugger OToole which took place in Killough Youth and Community Hall titled, Six into 32? Finding a place for Northern Ireland in a United Ireland. This was apparently part of the Killough Lighthouse Summer School but with blustery winds outside and a rough sea pelting the nearby coast it felt decidedly autumnal.

I had initially deliberated over whether or not to go- What if its all hardline political types in the audience and I end up in a photo alongside them? being one of my concerns. In the end though, curiosity had its way and so I set out with an open mind.

Well, lets stop there because thats not really true is it? Being born and bred in Northern Ireland means that very few of us start out with an open mind when approaching any political discourse. The tribal moulds of our families, communities and segregated school system have seen to that. A more accurate description would be that I set out trying to maintain an open mind.

At this point I would like to state that I am not writing this as someone who is trained in political science or journalism, but simply as a citizen. I also do not intend to produce an in-depth analysis of the discussion or comb over the finer details; Ill leave that to the experts. Instead, I offer only my thoughts and opinions on some of todays talking points.

Firstly, due to the make-up of the panel (i.e. No actual representatives from a Unionist party) this wasnt so much a debate about Irish Unity but more a debate about the best way of achieving Irish unity. Maybe I didnt read the title closely enough or maybe this was never meant to be a cross-community debate. The only pro-union sentiment from the panel came from the Alliance representative, Kellie Armstrong. The Strangford MLA argued that Irish unity would be disastrous from an economic perspective. A position which was inevitably challenged by Sinn Fein MP for South Down, Chris Hazzard and some members of the audience.

It was at this point that a problem became apparent. With the mention of the economy, GDP, the cost of the health service (North and South), road conditions and the flippant use of figures in billions I switched off. I was suddenly overwhelmed by memories of watching endless Question Time debates on the lead up to Brexit. These debates featured lots of facts and figures (including the infamous 350m per week for the NHS) but arguably lacked any actual truths. Anyone can throw out figures that suit his or her argument during the debate. The problem with this, however, is that these figures cant be checked at the time, requiring some research and data mining after the event. By then, however, its too late. People havent time to wait for the pedantic fact-checkers to unearth the contextualized sources from the previous...


Free Movement Plus: a third way on the Brexit/migration debate "IndyWatch Feed"

On Brexit and migration, there is an alternative to such a lurch backwards. We call it free movement+ where the plus refers to a new deal on workers rights.

Shadow Minister for Brexit, Keir Starmer. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.What do football stadiums in Qatar, farms in Canada, and the palatial houses of Londons super rich all have in common? The answer provides a clear and present warning to the UK as it considers its options for a post-Brexit immigration policy with the EU. These places have all seen highly exploitative employment practices that arise from a toxic mix of poor labour standards, unscrupulous employers, and a migrant workforce with no right to remain beyond the period specified in their work permit.

In our new report published today, Brexit and Immigration: Prioritising the Rights of All Workers, we show how across these case studies a lack of security in immigration status has persistently weakened workers ability to challenge exploitative employers.

Unfortunately, these issues have become all too relevant to the policy context in the UK where the idea of replacing EU free movement with time-limited and employer sponsored visas has been repeatedly raised in our immigration debate. When Tony Blair launched the UK points system for non-EEA (European Economic Area) migrants back in 2005 he promised a system that would allow immigration where it is in the countrys interests and prevent it where it is not.

Typically for Blair this ceded far too much ground to the right and anticipated many of the arguments of the EU referendum. The strict conditions in the system for non-EEA nationals would provide a continuous point of comparison for the pro-Brexit right and give credence to the idea that EU membership had led to a loss of control over immigration policy.

Fast-forward to today and...


Inside Tomsks political machine "IndyWatch Feed"

Tomsks recent governor elections, rigged and managed from above, illustrate how the electoral system really works in many Russian regions. RU

The voting day in Tomsk is a mirror image of the electoral system in the rest of Russia. 10 September 2017, photo from the authors personal archives.Tomsks recent gubernatorial election had a little bit of everything: the incumbent governor as the frontrunner, spoiler candidates on the ballot, the ruling partys haughty and occasionally rude attitude, a low-grade campaign with an attempt at some fake intrigue at the end, some modest self-enrichment by talentless spin doctors, a low turnout and a lot of indifference from the voters, a few irregularities at the polls In a word, everything as it should be.

The filter and the opposition

Tomsks first gubernatorial election campaign in 15 years was supposed to go off without a hitch. In February this year, when the incumbent governor Sergey Zhvachkin gave his notice, president Putin endorsed him for the coming election. Everything seemed so predictable. The political field was cleared, what other option could there be? To take part in the gubernatorial election, anyone aspiring to become a candidate had to overcome the so-called municipal filter by collecting signatures from 156 municipal deputies or heads of local administrations. No party had half that number of deputies, as almost all local councillors are members of the ruling party. Thus, getting through the filter without prior approval from United Russia was impossible.

This approval (of the highest order, by Tomsk standards) was duly bestowed: mere minutes after officially announcing his candidacy at a United Russia press conference, the then and future governor declared that his party supported political competition and was happy to share its filter on request with anyone who asked.

The requests came from two spoiler candidates, Natalya B...


Why regulators like Ofcom are dropping the ball on Fake News, dark advertising and extremism "IndyWatch Feed"

Ofcoms position on Facebook and Google is inconsistent, illogical and incoherent.

Image: Hrag Vartanian/Flickr, Creative Commons License.

During the course of 2017, the large big tech internet intermediaries have come under an unprecedented degree of scrutiny worldwide.  Facebook posts and Google search listings have come under fire as enablers of so-called fake news and propaganda by extremist, terrorist and hate groups, with Facebooks role in dark advertising by hostile foreign powers particularly in the spotlight. Googles YouTube has been hit by a backlash from advertisers. Google is currently fighting a heavy European Commission fine for steering customers to its own platform.

But the dominance of Facebook and Google on digital and particularly mobile markets continues to grow, outpacing all others. They are the main recipients of the growth of digital and mobile advertising revenue in the UK, at the expense of the rest of the media landscape.

Yet the UKs media regulator, Ofcom, does not currently regulat...


The Cumhuriyet seventeen face hearing amid continuing press crackdown in Turkey "IndyWatch Feed"

Two weeks ago, judges refused to release the five remaining journalists detained from Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper under false charges. Today, they face another hearing in a country where more than 100 journalists are behind bars.

"Cumhuriyet keep quiet". Can Erok/PA Images. All rights reserved.Today, in a crowded courtroom in Istanbul, a group of 17 employees of Cumhuriyet newspaper will stand trial, accused of a ludicrous range of charges related to terrorism, some facing up to 43 years in jail. Their real crime? Their journalism for a newspaper that fiercely maintains its independence, that refuses to shy away from criticising the Turkish authorities, even in the face of tremendous pressure, as the country has become the worlds most prolific jailer of journalists.

I witnessed this mockery of justice first-hand two weeks ago, when I travelled to Turkey to monitor the last session of the trial of the Cumhuriyet 17 on 11th September. Our determined group of observers gathered early that Monday morning, leaving the hotel shortly after 6:30 am to make the 100-kilometre journey outside Istanbul to Silivri, the site of a large prison campus that included a courtroom where the 17 journalists were to be tried that day, in the second hearing of their trial, which had started in July.

It is unclear why that hearing was set to take place so far away, when the previous session and the one to follow would be held in the city centre, but it seemed intended to discourage observers from attending. Regardless, observers were plentiful. Among our international group were activists, lawyers, journalists, diplomats, and politicians, including a Member of the European Parliament. Local supporters were also out in full force: family members, lawyers, NGO representatives, and opposition activists, many of whom did not get in as the courtroom was full.

Having read We Are Arrested by C...


Time for imaginative thinking about switching to voluntary coalition? "IndyWatch Feed"

For good reason, it makes sense to treat the Belfast Agreement as a key historical document. It does not make sense to treat it as an immutable constitution, not least because as we are seeing now, its provisions are so subject to political whimsy.

Daithi argues it is unionists who are not ready, whilst most other parties willingly concede it is Sinn Fein which does not want to re-engage with the institutions of Stormont. Whatever the case the fragility of our peacekeeping democracy is plain.

As Sam McBride noted at the weekend, even parties who share a platform on progressive social issues are coming to the reluctant conclusion that this is an unsustainable state of affairs

unlikely voices have joined in what is not quite a chorus but is no longer merely a lone singer. A fortnight ago the Green Party leader, Steven Agnew someone who politically disagrees with Mr Allister on almost everything said that it seemed that Sinn Fin has no intention of going back into government and that as a consequence voluntary coalition needed to be examined.

One of the most eloquent cases for a voluntary coalition comes from Allison Morris column last week, in which she more or less asks Sinn Fein and the DUP to stop pretending and get on with constructing a system that can bear political disagreement:

Mandatory coalition was never intended as a long-term form of government, nor was it intended to have two political enemies in power. It was a forced form of rule originally designed with the SDLP and UUP in the two top jobs.

The change in voting patterns will not be reversed any time soon and neither can the fact that the DUP and Sinn Fin are just too different to share power.

They aspire to very different things, they hold polar opposite views.

It is time they were honest and admitted that sharing power with a party you dont agree with or even respect will never work on a long term basis.

We do need to govern ourselves but its time for imaginative thinking about how we do that with voluntary coalition, despite all the associated risks, now seemingly the more desirable option.

The current talks are never going to produce anything other than a sticking plaster and we deserve better than stop start political dodge ball.

Its time for Arlene Foster and Michelle ONeill to come clean and admit mandatory coalition has had its day.

If we are to have real lasting political...


Saints in politics: Aung San Suu Kyi and the dilemmas of political desire "IndyWatch Feed"

We delude ourselves by projecting qualities onto politicians who have no intention of embodying them.

Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech in Yangon, Myanmar, 17 January 2012. Credit: By Htoo Tay Zar (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The recent escalation of violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar and their subsequent mass flight from the country has triggered a wave of opinion pieces demanding that the head of government, Aung San Suu Kyi, speak out to denounce the actions of the army and militant citizens against this Muslim population. Her failure to do so has resulted in escalating calls to revoke the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to her in 1991. In countless articles, radio features and online posts, an international public is shaking its figurative head over the seeming ethical decay of a figure previously imbued with unquestionable moral authority.

But there are several reasons for Aung San Suu Kyi not to speak out in the ways we expect her to. None fall into the moral order paradigm of how politicians should act if we lived in an ideal world; all of them are in line with the practicalities of real-life politics.

In the case of Myanmar, we are in danger of reducing a complicated reality to an imaginary that we try to bring into being through sheer desire. We attribute the qualities required to make change possible to a person who is then expected to be both saintly and powerful. That person is thus saddled with the impossible task of doing what is morally just, while at the same time acting strategically in order to maintain the power required for any sort of political action.

In fact Aung San Suu Kyis saintly status has become a burden to her for at least three reasons. First, her image as a saintly figure consistently intensified during her fifteen years of intermittent house arrest. During this period, all she could do was become the icon against which her political actions are now measured. After the generals released her, she worked her way out of the position of non-engagement and detachment that she had cultivated in isolation, in order to re-enter the realm of power as a successor to her fath...

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