Sure the winter Olympics is fun to watch, and yes there are broad social consequences, such as the diversionary nature of the spectacle, the reaffirmation of largely illusionary nationalism, and the power of legitimacy that the games hold, affecting future budget distributions and what young people decide to do with the rest of their lives. However, not encountering any articles on these topics this week here is this Weekly Wednesday’s list of nine important articles of broad social significance:
1. Reports from aid workers claim that ongoing attacks by Assad’s forces (backed by Iran and Russia) are killing hundreds of civilians in eastern Ghouta (a region outside Damascus). Hospitals appear to be targeted and there are claims that the Syrian government are using indiscriminative barrel bombs (use of which amounts to a war crime). There are fears that this will be a humanitarian catastrophe eclipsing atrocities in the past seven years of the war.
2. Another high school mass shooting in America. This time in Florida where a 19-year-old shot 17 people dead. The shooting in itself wouldn’t be enough to make this list (much more people are being shot dead in disadvantaged neighbourhoods on a daily basis in the US overall and around 200 people were killed in Ghouta Syria this week). However, the broader social implications of another shooting carried out by a male is very significant. Since 1982 only three mass shootings involved female perpetrators. This article views this violence as part consequence of conforming to gender stereotypes or normative masculinity – such as not looking for help, asserting dominance, resorting to guns to reassert this dominance when other stereotypical manly qualities are lacking.
3. While mass shootings make the headlines the massive crisis in disadvantaged and predominantly minority communities continues to be overlooked. Gun violence in the US results in tens of thousands of deaths annually. Here’s an article on the city of Baltimore where a ceasefire has managed to be called amid a record murder rate (341 homicides in 2017). Multiple theories are bandied about in this article as to why violence has escalated in the last three years – including links to the US opioid crisis and right-wing de-policing theories. While it remains unclear as to why the escalation has occurred the obvious underlying systemic poverty and lack of opportunity are clearly a huge part in the general continuation of violence.
4. While the Democrats really need to look deeper than blaming the Russians into why so many would favour such a demagogue as Trump over their candidate, the indictments in the past week against 13 Russian nationals point towards some severe distortion of US democracy. Despite the sensationalism of current coverage this type of grassroots manipulation is now an old tactic (look up the ‘astroturfing’ (fake grassroots) that corporate lobbyists have already utilised). However, the extent of the operation and its nefarious cunning make for disturbing reading. They didn’t just target voters who were going to vote for Trump regardless but also channeled their online presence towards Black Lives Matter and Jill Stein (Green candidate) supporters to encourage them either not to turn out to vote or vote for a third party. It really does make you wonder as to how effective it actually was.
5. A poignant article on how Trump’s travel bans (both de facto and legal) on Yemenis has banned people who are themselves the main victims of terrorist attacks. The initial Yemeni conflict started between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government, supported by a Saudi-led and U.S.-armed coalition. The war has killed thousands and threatens to starve millions. The conflict has encouraged terrorist group activity from the likes of al-Qaeda and ISIS which has been used to justify the bans.
6. We don’t hear much about conflicts involving terrorism that are not seen as a threat to Europe or the US. Reports from defectors of Somalia’s AL-Shaabab militants, suggest they are using tactics more associated with ISIS despite being al-Qaeda affiliated. Brutal punishments are inflicted on the local population for minor crimes and charges of fornication and homosexuality. Forced to retreat to rural areas seven years ago by regional armies they have resorted to massive extortion of the local poor Muslim community who have to pay for everything. Children are forced into indoctrinating schools from the age of eight where they are being trained to take up arms in their mid-teens or carry out suicide attacks. The tight squeeze on the group, and the oppressive nature of their response it seems has encouraged declining morale, massive distrust, and large defections. Part of their appeal, however, was based on the failures and corruption of local government services.
7. The Intercept continues its coverage of the phenomenon of ‘blowback’ whereby interference in other countries leads to unintended consequences. There is evidence to support claims Israel adopted a policy of divide-and-rule whereby it backed Islamic fundamentalist groups to create a “counterweight” to the secularists and leftists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah party, led by Yasser Arafat. The result is Hamas – a group which has gone to war with Israel three times in the past decade (the wars resulted in 2,500 Palestinian civilian deaths), and has killed far more Israeli civilians than any secular Palestinian militant group.
8. This article is a review of a book on how an encroaching climate change is affecting Megacities. The interesting part of this article is the books central argument: “world’s “megacities” burn fossil fuels to drive the global economy, drawing hundreds of millions of people from the countryside to the slums to find work. But the more the economies prosper, the poorer the slum dwellers become, the more the climate deteriorates, and the more the poor suffer as a result of monster storms and floods — and rebuilding that favours the rich”. The centrality of class to climate change is an incredibly important component of responding to the crisis but is often overlooked by a largely science and tech dominated debate.
9. Trump’s US will spend billions of dollars upgrading 150 B61 nuclear bombs positioned in Europe – with some thought to be in Turkey (70 miles from Syrian border), which has recently been shown to lack stability with an apparent coup attempt and has an increasingly tense relationship with the US. An arms expert report argues the weapons may be useless as a deterrent and a potentially catastrophic security liability.
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