Algerian Crash, Kerry's Truce Proposal, Space Geckos

Men dressed as Phi Ta Khon take part in Bangkok's "happiness party" organized by the Thai military.
Men dressed as Phi Ta Khon take part in Bangkok's "happiness party" organized by the Thai military.

Friday, July 25, 2014

French President François Hollande confirmed in televised comments today that French soldiers reached the wreckage of Algerian Airlines flight AH5017 in Mali, and retrieved one of the plane's two black boxes. None of the 110 passengers and six crew members survived.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL Radio that the government was considering the possibility the plane had been shot down by Islamists who have been fighting French troops in Mali. “We think the plane went down due to weather conditions, but no hypothesis can be excluded as long as we don't have the results of an investigation.” Cazeneuve said. “Terrorist groups are in the zone. ... We know these groups are hostile to Western interests.”

The Telegraph has pieced together heart-breaking details about many of the victims on the flight.

After more than 800 deaths in Gaza in 18 days of fighting, including a deadly attack on a school yesterday in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is proposing a weeklong humanitarian truce beginning Sunday, The New York Times reports.

Among the key sticking points: Hamas wants economic blockades on Gaza lifted, while Israel wants to be able to maintain its forces in Gaza during any negotiated ceasefire.

Yesterday’s elementary school attack came after hundreds of Palestinian evacuees seeking shelter in a UN-run school came under heavy fire, leaving 16 people dead and more than 100 wounded. Among the casualties were women, children and infants, The Washington Post reports.

Violence has spread to the West Bank where demonstrations were held in response to the UN school bombing. At least two protesters were killed Thursday night in clashes with Israeli police in Ramallah city, just north of Jerusalem, Al Jazeera reports. Palestinians have called more demonstrations for today.

In an air strike today in Gaza, two women, one of them pregnant, were killed.

Hamas also said today that it had fired three rockets at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.

International concerns continue to grow over the war’s impact on civilians, which rights groups estimate account for about 80% of the casualties so far. One-quarter of those are children. UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has said it’s “almost impossible" for Palestinians to shelter from Israeli air strikes in the densely populated territory.

Thailand’s military is doing its best to “return happiness to the people” by organizing a six-day street festival in Bangkok.

Turkish daily Radikal’s Fehim Tastekin reports on the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) in Syria, and what it means for the Assad regime and its opponents in the war-torn country. “The opposition groups hope the new situation will pave the way for more weapons to come their way,” Tastekin writes. “However, the outside supporters of these opposition groups, the United States foremost, wants them to direct all their energy to the battle against ISIS.” Will a rising division among rebels mean less credibility for the Syrian opposition?
Read the full article, From Syria To Iraq, Can Allies Of Circumstance Take Down Jihadists?

This video captures the emotion of a Palestinian mother, who finds her son in a clinic after thinking he had been killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

Amid criticism of its mostly toothless reaction to Russian aggression, European governments decided to “turn the screw on Russia a notch tighter Thursday in response to Moscow's actions in Ukraine,” The Wall Street Journal writes. EU officials are considering sanctions that “would disrupt Russian financing and imports of energy and defense-related products, a significant shift in Europe's approach so far of mainly penalizing individuals.” Read more here.

It has been a black week in aviation history, possibly one of the worst in terms of deaths, as 464 people have died in airliner disasters over the past seven days. The question of civilian aviation safety above war zones is the subject of this Süddeutsche Zeitung piece in English via Worldcrunch: MH17, Costs And Consequences Of Open Air Space.

Reuters reports that McDonald’s has stopped selling chicken nuggets in Hong Kong after realizing that its Shanghai supplier, a U.S.-owned company in China, was implicated in a Chinese food scandal. A TV report Sunday showed workers at the company, Shanghai Husi Food, using long-expired meat and using food that had fallen on the floor.


A Russian satellite with five mating geckos, some plant life and insects — all put on board for experimental purposes — has, perhaps not shockingly, ceased responding to mission control, The Washington Report reports. It is unclear if a Barry White CD is on board.

— Crunched by Liz Garrigan.

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How Low Trust In Government Fuels Violence Against Politicians

The deadly stabbing of UK MP David Amess confirms this researcher's ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad.

Tribute to slain UK MP David Amess in Leigh-on-Sea on Oct. 15

James Weinberg

The killing of British Conservative MP David Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on October 15, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councillor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

This is to say nothing of the 2018 attack on the Palace of Westminster that left police officer Keith Palmer dead and MPs in a state of shock.

Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

Between the divisive politics of Brexit and the growing polarization of British party politics, MPs currently work in a low-trust, high-blame environment. Even before the existential angst and subsequent politicking of the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent Hansard Society audit of political engagement concluded that “opinions of the systems of governing are at their lowest point in the 15-year Audit series – worse now than in the aftermath of the MPs' expenses scandal."

The ramifications of governing in such an age of distrust are significant for the mental health and wellbeing of politicians. With colleagues, I've argued that such visceral and endemic distrust is a key stressor in political life. People are not simply wary or skeptical of politicians, they now routinely criticize their personalities and dismiss their good intentions. At its most severe, this “distrust stressor" manifests in the growing threat of physical violence faced by politicians.

Unfortunately, the distrust stressor is commonplace in the febrile climate of post-millennial UK politics. Serious cases of stalking and harassment have become a “common experience" for MPs. In the UK general election of 2017, for example, 56% of surveyed parliamentary candidates expressed concern about the levels of abuse and intimidation they had received and 31% said they had felt “fearful" during the campaign. Misuse of anonymous social media accounts has intensified these problems and created a toxic environment for elected politicians that regularly exposes them to online rape and murder threats.

Governing under threat

As part of an ongoing study of trust and governance in five democracies around the world, I recently carried out more than 50 in-depth interviews with junior and senior politicians in national legislatures, including questions on the stresses and strains of political life.

Reflecting on the ramifications of simply doing their job, one Conservative MP commented:

There have been votes that have been controversial, and you can then get a lot of abuse as a result of picking a side. My office has been vandalized, I've had stuff sent to me in the post, I've received death threats. And you do build up a very thick skin doing this job, there's no shadow of a doubt. Because one week in it, if you're not able to roll with the punches, you won't see through a whole term.

Almost 40% of interviewees were able to cite more than one instance of serious abuse or threats of physical violence. Not only are these experiences felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK, but they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile. As one MP in New Zealand told me:

I've had some pretty horrible death threats and I've had a lot of abuse, particularly through social media. But also, funnily enough, in writing and phone calls. Unfortunately it's becoming more part of our political life.

Another, this time in South Africa, said:

What [this group of constituents] were saying is that if the water supply was not fixed by a certain time, they were going to kill me. And what they did is they took a tyre and said that this tyre was going to go around my neck and they're going to light it and that was going to be my demise. Listen, when you see your life flash before your eyes… you start to question whether it's worth it.

In the UK, analysis of data from the Representative Audit of Britain (a survey of all parliamentary candidates who stood in general elections between 2015 and 2019) suggests that the harassment, abuse and intimidation of elected and aspiring politicians is also highly gendered. Women politicians, and black and minority ethnic women in particular, experience a disproportionate share of sexualized abuse online. They also receive more aggressive and sexualized threats offline.

Contact between politicians and the public is at the very heart of effective democratic representation.

It is relatively easy to understand why all this would be detrimental to politicians' professional competence and their sense of personal worth and wellbeing, but it is harder to find solutions to this crisis.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has called for increased security measures in the wake of Amess's death. This is welcome but it's an instrumental response which might not be easy to implement. Political contact between politicians and the public is at the very heart of effective democratic representation – and it is unlikely that most MPs will agree to suspend constituency surgeries or fill their offices with armed guards at a time when governor-governed relations are already so strained.

Photo of \u200bNew Zealand's parliament in Wellington

New Zealand's parliament in Wellington

Guo Lei/Xinhua/ZUMA

Compassion and education

While specific issues around MPs' security and training are grappled with, we also need a call for conscious restraint and compassion in political discourse. When some politicians themselves resort to dog-whistle populism, verbal abuse and infighting, it broadcasts an image of politics as an arena for incivility. At the same time, it perpetuates a binary worldview that crowds out the possibility of empathy and compromise.

Alongside this, we need to overhaul the media coverage of politics. Increasingly intent on personalizing the political and politicizing the personal, a 24-hour news media too often drip feeds blunt stereotypes about politicians' personalities and motives. In contrast to much news coverage of politicians, my own research with hundreds of elected MPs and councillors has shown that the majority enter politics with an extraordinary dedication to improving the lives of others that is rarely perceived or appreciated by those they govern.

A deficit in democratic education leads to inflated public expectations about what is possible.

Equally important, nations around the world must commit to fully funded and well-resourced programmes of democratic education. Politics is messy and full of contingencies, and a deficit in democratic education leads to inflated public expectations about what is possible or desirable. In turn, this breeds disappointment and lowered self-efficacy, which together disrupt the positive potential of deliberative participation.

Ultimately, there is no place for political violence, harassment or intimidation in a functioning democracy. At the very least, politicians are ordinary humans attempting to undertake an extraordinary job on behalf of everybody else. Whatever their political views, nobody who has the courage to "step into the arena", to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, deserves to fear for their life in the pursuit of public service. To say that we need to rediscover civility and respect in our politics is once again an understatement of a devastating truth.The Conversation


James Weinberg is a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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