2019
August
09
Friday

Welcome to your Monitor Daily. Today’s offerings explore the effects of body cameras on policing, apparent contradictions of U.S. talks with the Taliban, the historic roots of the latest tiff between South Korea and Japan, the sense of isolation felt by many conservatives in Canada’s midwest, and the evolving portrayal of motherhood on screen.

But first, there is some primordial link between politicians and corn dogs. Maybe they want to be seen eating the food of the people. Maybe they’re hungry. 

If I had to guess where this candidate-corn dog link was first made, I’d pick a state fair. Politicians have been buzzing around them for decades. In 1901 then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Minnesota State Fair and famously said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” (Was he foreshadowing the ultimate corn dog?) 

The actual corn dog came along a few decades later, with vendors at the Minnesota and Texas state fairs both claiming to have popularized it. That brings us to the Iowa State Fair, which opened Thursday. 

Just as many Democrats are running for president, many foods are vying to topple the corn dog. New entrees in Iowa include dill pickle popcorn and deep-fried deviled eggs. Neither seem to have much chance against the shrimp corn dog, which the fair lists as a healthy food choice.

With the important Iowa caucuses just six months away, more than 20 presidential hopefuls are scheduled to speak at the fair. Who’ll stand out? The most telling survey may come from the Des Moines Register, which is asking people to weigh in on which candidate reminds them of a fair food, like funnel cake (“tastes great, but no real substance”).

No word yet on who most resembles a corn dog, which the newspaper describes as “still popular despite flashier options.”

Share this article

shadow

1. The body cam revolution: What it has, and hasn’t, accomplished

Body cameras aren’t a perfect solution to the need for police accountability. But they are still an important way to provide the public at least some facts about crucial law enforcement actions.

Alfredo Sosa/Staff/File
A police officer wearing a body camera stands in the downtown area of Wausau, Wisconsin, June 6, 2018. Body cameras have become an integral part of policing in recent years.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

The spread of body cameras has been one of the most profound changes in U.S. law enforcement since the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, five years ago. Two-thirds of all American police departments now regularly film the activity of police officers via silent eyes clipped to uniforms.

By some measures body cameras have not had much effect. Studies show they have not led to fewer police shootings of unarmed Americans, or more prosecutions of police for misconduct.

But experts say the cameras have still led to some important and positive consequences for police activity. They provide corroboration in today’s YouTube era, when controversial policing actions go viral due to citizen phone video. For a public that demands answers about police shootings, especially of minorities, they provide at least some facts, though not always complete narratives.

Body cameras have also provided evidence in egregious misconduct cases in recent years.

“They have the unique potential to reduce those sorts of instances where there’s an inability to take action because people can’t agree on the facts,” says Christy Lopez, a former Department of Justice official. 

Collapse

The body cam revolution: What it has, and hasn’t, accomplished

When former Baltimore cop Peter Moskos returned to his old beat during a ride-along recently, the banter was lighthearted until his partner turned to him and said, “Body camera on.”

The mood in the squad car darkened. “You instantly thought, ‘God, what might I say?’” says Mr. Moskos, now a criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

In that moment Mr. Moskos understood some of the fundamental changes to policing and society brought on by the police shooting of a young black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, five years ago.

Body cameras are one of those changes. In law enforcement, they’ve gone from rare to ubiquitous. Roughly two-thirds of all U.S. police departments now film regularly via silent eyes clipped to a shoulder strap or shirt pocket.

The cameras have put a lens on a job that’s already fraught, difficult, and often thankless. And some say it is all for naught. Indeed, studies show the body camera revolution hasn’t curbed police shootings of unarmed Americans, nor has it led to more prosecutions of police officers for misconduct.

Yet the cameras, veteran police monitors say, have nevertheless had profound and often positive impacts on policing, if in subtle ways. For officers, they have become important backup in a video era when controversial arrests go viral. And for a public demanding answers about police shootings of Americans, particularly people of color, they provide fact-studded narratives that, while rarely complete, offer a way forward.

And they have provided crucial evidence in a few egregious cases of law enforcement misconduct.

“We have seen how easy it is for people to view or frame facts differently, and we’ve seen how difficult it is to make any progress on any issue where people aren’t working from the same set of facts,” says Christy Lopez, a former Department of Justice official and primary drafter of a searing Justice report into Ferguson’s policing and court practices.

“[Body cameras have] the unique potential to reduce those sorts of instances where there’s an inability to take action because people can’t agree on the facts,” adds Ms. Lopez, currently a visiting professor at Georgetown Law School.

The revolution happened in a flash

The spike in body cameras occurred in 2016, when 25 large U.S. cities bought them. That time frame means they are still relatively new. At least 16 states now have rules for how to maintain citizen privacy with body camera footage, and how the videos should be released to the press.

The expectation among many police critics was that widespread adoption of cameras would curb police misconduct, lead to more prosecutions of officers on murder charges, and reduce the number of killings per year.

That largely hasn’t happened.

Police in the line of duty shot and killed nearly 1,000 people in 2018, according to a database kept by The Washington Post. According to data compiled by The Guardian, that’s about the same number as in 2014, the year Mr. Brown was killed, unleashing violent protests that culminated in the Black Lives Matter movement and an increased focus on police accountability.

To be sure, early on, industry-led studies had shown improvements in police relations and use-of-force violations when cameras were filming. But a more comprehensive and neutral study carried out by the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department in 2017 showed fairly conclusively that officers with live body cams used force and faced civilian complaints at about the same rates as officers without cameras. Another study found that black officers are just as likely to shoot a civilian as white officers.

What’s more, prosecutions of police officers have remained steady at about 10 per year since 2005 – about one officer charged for every 100 deadly shootings. There has been one uptick: Three officers were convicted of murder in the last year, compared with only one since 2005.

“The anti-police crowd thought body cameras would show the inner workings of policing, but it turns out that the inner workings of policing are mundane and often what the cops say,” says Mr. Moskos, author of “Cop in the Hood.” “As that cloak was lifted and there wasn’t that much there, that surprised some people. Like the police radio, the body camera has, in fact, fundamentally changed policing. But it hasn’t been an earth-shattering, groundbreaking thing.”

Meanwhile, public opinion about law enforcement has become only more polarized as the Trump administration has largely ended the Obama era’s focus on federal oversight of troubled and prejudicial departments.

According to Gallup data, the percentage of conservatives who say they have confidence in the police has risen from 60% to 70% since 2014, and the percentage of liberals who feel the same has fallen from 50% to 40% in the same time frame.

That’s happening even amid drastic regional differences in police shootings. For example Mr. Moskos, using data analysis, says a civilian is 15 times more likely to be shot by a police officer in Oklahoma City than in New York City.

Such results “suggest we should recalibrate our expectations” of cameras’ ability to make a large-scale behavioral change in policing, concluded the Washington study.

An unexpected result

Police are increasingly seeing benefits to cameras. In one survey, 92% of district attorneys said they had used body cam footage to prosecute civilians, while only 8% reported using such footage to prosecute a police officer.

And many states still have loose rules about when and if to release footage. That means that exonerating videos are often released quickly while incriminating ones are buried behind layers of bureaucracy. Meanwhile, several high-profile shootings – including that of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana – were filmed but did not result in prosecutions of police.

However, “if you look at the small proportion of cases where officers are actually indicted following a shooting, those do involve video footage,” says Samuel Sinyangwe, a data scientist and activist who co-founded Campaign Zero, a group that proposes policies to reduce police shootings. ”Video evidence is almost a requirement to hold officers accountable, and body cameras can provide that video evidence. But there has not been the scale of impact that body cameras were framed as being able to have.”

In some cases, body cam footage can be exonerating for law enforcement.

Last month, Pooler, Georgia, police Chief Ashley Brown at first declined to release a video that showed the arrest of an older man. A viral video of the arrest seemed to imply police brutality. But after the social media uproar failed to die down, Chief Brown released the body cam video. It shows patient professionalism from officers who find themselves berated by an angry older man wielding a tire iron and telling the officers, “Go ahead, draw your gun.”

“I didn’t see there was anything to defend,” the chief told a local TV station before the footage was released. “I watched the video and they did everything right. I shouldn’t have to explain anything.”

But eventually he released the footage. “It just got to the point they needed to see the other side and quit making assumptions and guesses at what happened and why it happened,” he said.

In other cases, police have belatedly recognized that body cams might have made it easier to deal with the aftermath of controversial incidents.

In Florida’s Hillsborough County, Sheriff Chad Chronister had long questioned the costs and privacy concerns, holding off on ordering the cameras even as the majority of large Florida jurisdictions adopted the technology.

This spring, Hillsborough County deputies shot three people in three separate incidents in which all the perpetrators were allegedly carrying knives and threatening others. Critics noted that none of the shootings were filmed, and that they all were defended with a similar rationale. For some, this suggested that official explanations lacked credibility.

The department put out a call for bids this summer to begin equipping the force with cameras.

“I am confident in the professionalism and integrity of our deputies, but I recognize the need for transparency to our citizens, particularly as it relates to the use of deadly force or the drawing of a firearm,” Sheriff Chronister tells the Monitor in an email.  

A sharper perspective

Perhaps most importantly, body cameras don’t just show the scene as an officer observes it. They also shine a dispassionate lens on the profession itself. Camera footage gives police captains and majors a chance to look at objective evidence of officer performance, making it easier to promote police officers who exhibit professionalism, tact, and restraint in the field.

Initially, the shooting of African American teenager Laquan McDonald in Chicago was widely defended by police officers. But after footage of the shooting was finally released, one Chicago officer told Mr. Moskos that most of his fellow officers eventually agreed that it “was a bad shooting.”

Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was eventually convicted of second-degree murder in Laquan’s death and sentenced to 81 months in prison.

And Ms. Lopez of Georgetown Law, who has overseen reforms in troubled police departments like the ones in Oakland, California, in New Orleans, and in Ferguson, recalls an internal affairs investigator being rocked by the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. The police officer involved, Michael Slager, is now in federal prison for manslaughter.

“Until that [investigator] saw it on video, they were not able to believe that a police officer could do such a thing,” says Ms. Lopez. “That’s why it is difficult to discount the importance of body cameras, even if you can’t point to fewer shootings here or less misconduct there.”

  

shadow

2. Talking in Qatar, bombing in Kabul. How to explain the Taliban?

As U.S. peace talks appear close to a milestone, a surge of attacks is questioning the logic of the Taliban’s “fight and talk” approach. What does it signal about the durability of a deal?

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

The news on Afghanistan this week was decidedly mixed. U.S. and Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar, made “excellent progress,” according to a tweet from U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad. But he also condemned a Taliban bombing in Kabul, which killed 14 people and wounded nearly 150 Wednesday, as “indiscriminate.” The “focus should be on immediately reducing violence as we move closer to intra-Afghan negotiations that will produce a political roadmap and a permanent cease-fire,” he added.

But it is far from clear whether the Taliban at the negotiating table – who describe their movement as evolving to accept power-sharing and women’s rights and education – have the means or desire to control their own military commanders in Afghanistan.

“If the Taliban were to deliver on a cease-fire and participate in a power-sharing government, this would open up a genuine way to end the 40-year conflict,” says Michael Semple, a conflict resolution specialist at Queen's University Belfast. “But the Taliban have taken no practical steps in support of the fine words. And the fighters I am in touch with do not take the peace process seriously, but expect to continue the war until victory.”

Collapse

Talking in Qatar, bombing in Kabul. How to explain the Taliban?

The news is hopeful from Qatar, where Afghanistan peace efforts are underway, and where both the United States and the Taliban this week indicated a deal might soon be announced on a U.S. troop withdrawal from America’s longest-ever war.

But on the ground in Afghanistan, the news is far more sobering. In Kabul Wednesday, Taliban militants claimed responsibility for a suicide truck bomb that killed 14 people and wounded nearly 150 others.

It was the latest in a monthslong surge of attacks that is raising questions about whether the Taliban role in diplomacy is less about peace, and more about an extension of the military campaign to seize control of the country.

President Donald Trump has vowed to quickly end the war. But as the 10-month peace effort led by U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad appears close to reaching a milestone, the spike in attacks is intensifying concerns about the logic behind the Taliban’s “fight and talk” approach. What does it signal about the durability of any deal?

The Americans have outlined a conditional withdrawal of the 14,000 U.S. troops that remain, with the core deal being an exchange for Taliban promises to prevent Afghan soil from being used to launch attacks abroad.

But a cease-fire is not yet part of the deal, nor is a power-sharing plan. Both are potential stumbling blocks that could stall any U.S. drawdown. Those critical elements are meant to be worked out in direct talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, with which the Taliban have so far refused to speak.

“We have defeated the Americans”

“The Taliban have specifically been broadcasting that [the U.S. withdrawal] is not conditions-based,” says Michael Semple, an Afghanistan and conflict resolution specialist at Queen’s University Belfast.

“They are telling their people: ‘We have defeated the Americans, the Americans are fleeing, and as they are fleeing they are handing us the keys to Kabul. We’re taking over.’ There is no reconciliation message,” says Professor Semple.

The Taliban have also vowed to disrupt elections scheduled for Sept. 28, in which President Ashraf Ghani – who leads what the Taliban call a “puppet” government – is seeking a second term.

July was the most lethal month for civilians in two years, with 1,500 dead or wounded, according to the United Nations. And this fighting season the insurgent violence has been matched by stepped up U.S. and Afghan security force airstrikes and operations against the Taliban, which in the first six months of 2019 caused more civilian deaths than insurgent actions.

“There is a complete disconnect between the reality of what the Taliban are doing on the ground, and what their political representatives are discussing in peace talks,” says Mr. Semple, who was in Afghanistan last week. “On the ground, Afghans experience relentless Taliban violence and the tightening of their grip over areas they control, while in peace talks Taliban promise respect for everyone’s rights.”

“If the Taliban were to deliver on a cease-fire and participate in a power-sharing government, this would open up a genuine way to end the 40-year conflict. The happy ending would be a peaceful Afghanistan,” adds Mr. Semple. “But the Taliban have taken no practical steps in support of the fine words. And the fighters I am in touch with do not take the peace process seriously, but expect to continue the war until victory.”

Positive sounds from Qatar talks

Ambassador Khalilzad and senior leaders of the Taliban – the arch-conservative jihadist group that hosted Al Qaeda when it ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s before being ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001 – have held multiple rounds of negotiations and are making positive sounds.

The two sides this week made “excellent progress” in the Qatari capital, Doha, Mr. Khalilzad tweeted, and “mechanisms required for a successful implementation” of the four-part deal are being discussed.

But he also condemned the Taliban attack in Kabul as “indiscriminate,” causing “injury to civilians,” and tweeted that the “focus should be on immediately reducing violence as we move closer to intra-Afghan negotiations that will produce a political roadmap and a permanent cease-fire.”

The Taliban, however, are divided, and it is far from clear whether those at the negotiating table – who describe their movement as evolving to accept power-sharing and rights for women that include education and working outside the home – have the means or desire to control their own military commanders in Afghanistan.

“Time, as always, is on the Taliban’s side,” says Javid Ahmad, a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council, contacted in Kabul. “The Taliban are violence entrepreneurs. The only leverage they seem to have at the moment is an active fighting force, which they don’t shy away from using.”

“Although it’s early to make a judgment until we see the final details of the deal, the very fact that the U.S. is hurriedly trying to reach a paper deal has made the Taliban see themselves as victorious,” says Mr. Ahmad, who is also a fellow at the Modern War Institute at the United States Military Academy. “This has motivated them to see themselves as the incoming government, and they are busy rallying national and international support for themselves.”

Indeed, in Qatar the Taliban have insisted on using the words “Islamic Emirate” to describe any new political entity created by the deal. It is the name they used to describe their hyper-religious state when they ruled Afghanistan two decades ago.

No concrete Taliban concessions

Such signs are yielding doubt among critics of the emerging deal.

“The Taliban still refuse a critical component of actual peace: negotiations with the Afghan government. This leads many to believe that what the Taliban want is to get powerful foreign forces out so that the Taliban can win militarily,” wrote Ronald Neumann, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, in an opinion article in The Hill.

“An agreement on paper does not mean peace, particularly if it is only a commitment to talks or procedures that are supposed to fill in the details,” Mr. Neumann wrote. “In Afghanistan the list of those who relied on promises is long, and they are mostly dead.”

After nearly a year in Qatar, the Taliban have so far made no concrete concessions, while their political chiefs enjoy all-expenses-paid luxury hotels, cars, and per diems.

“Until now, everyone has gone along on the basis that it is all quite serious and a remarkable process of diplomacy,” says Mr. Semple of Queen’s University Belfast. “But, if we do not get tangible results soon, somebody could turn around and say the emperor is stark, stark naked. The Taliban haven’t done anything.”

“A harsh reading of it would be that the only apparent progress that has been achieved at any stage is through U.S. concessions,” adds Mr. Semple, noting that initial expectations of a cease-fire appear to have been dropped at this stage.

“Without evidence to the contrary, the Taliban are still committed to the fight,” adds Mr. Semple. “Nobody’s told them to change gear. They have no intention of doing so yet.

“But obviously, if we get an initial U.S. agreement, move toward political talks, and get a cease-fire, this will be a moment of truth to see if the Taliban military is prepared to hold back.”

shadow

The Explainer

3. A trade war over history? Sort of. Why Japan and South Korea are feuding.

As if one trade war weren’t enough. The play-by-play of Japan and South Korea’s dispute may seem hard to understand, let alone their motivations. But one thing it highlights is regional dynamics in flux – due, in part, to D.C.

Lee Jin-man/AP
A member of the Confederation of Korean Government Employees' Unions holds a banner near the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, amid a weekslong trade dispute between the two countries.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Japan and South Korea are trading blows in a conflict that threatens to impact businesses around the world – and to deepen divides between allies the U.S. relies on in East Asia.

Their trade spat kicked off in July, with Tokyo imposing export restrictions on chemicals key for South Korea’s heavily high-tech economy. But to understand the roots, most observers say, we need to look back to at least 1910, when Japan annexed Korea. Ever since the end of World War II, the two countries have disagreed over how Japan should make amends. Last year, South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled two Japanese companies should pay reparations to Koreans who were forced into labor, propelling tensions back into overdrive.

But if the escalating trade spat started with history, it also points to how East Asia is changing today, and where it may be headed. If unresolved, the conflict could have ripple effects for manufacturers. And it’s growing the gap between key U.S. allies who counterbalance China and North Korea. As the U.S. role in the region changes under the Trump administration, Japan and South Korea are increasingly turning their backs on one another.

“This is a problem not just for Japan and South Korea. This is a problem for the world,” says Don Hellmann, a professor at the University of Washington.

Collapse

1. A trade war over history? Sort of. Why Japan and South Korea are feuding.

As nationalist sentiments rise around the world, Northeast Asia has not been immune. Propelled by decades-old resentments, Japan and South Korea are trading blows in a conflict that threatens to impact businesses around the world – and deepen divides between two allies the U.S. relies on to help counterbalance China and North Korea.

The trade spat kicked off with Tokyo imposing restrictions on chemicals key to South Korea’s high-tech industry, citing unspecified security concerns. Most observers, however, see the trade war as historical frictions spilling over into economic and national security arenas – underscoring how large the past looms in East Asia today.

The solution, experts say, requires a multilateral approach. But that, in turn, raises questions about evolving leadership roles of not only the United States, but China. 

How did all these tensions start?

Animosity and mistrust originated in Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonization of Korea, when Japan forced an estimated hundreds of thousands of Koreans to work as unpaid laborers or to serve as sex slaves in military brothels. Ever since, the two countries have disagreed over what Japan must do to fully make amends.

Japan and South Korea normalized relations in 1965 and agreed Japan would pay South Korea $800 million in economic aid and loans. Japan asserts the 1965 government accord resolved the issue, but the South Korean public has long supported individual claims for compensation.

The latest flare-up followed rulings last year by South Korea’s Supreme Court that ordered two Japanese companies to award reparations to Korean laborers, infuriating Tokyo.

“This is incredibly important. Whose side of the story gets told is part of the national narrative, it’s part of a leader’s narrative, it’s a country’s identity,” says David Kang, director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California.    

Both countries are “showing resolve, they are showing how much they care. They are showing, ‘We are willing to suffer costs over this issue,’” Professor Kang says.

What is happening in the trade dispute?

Japan in July tightened controls over the export to South Korea of key chemicals and other materials that South Korea’s tech industry needs to produce smartphone screens and semiconductors. As a result, Japanese firms must undergo a lengthy government approval process to sell these products to South Korea.

On August 2, Japan announced plans to remove South Korea from its list of favored trading partners by August 28, which would impact exports of more than 1,000 different products.

In response, South Korea announced it would also move to revoke Japan’s preferential trade status. Many South Koreans have called for boycotts of Japanese products.

Japan’s new export restrictions threaten to have international ripple effects. Japan controls 90% of the world supply of special chemicals needed for semiconductors and smartphone displays, of which South Korean companies are the world’s dominant producers. If South Korean companies run out of the chemicals, global tech supply chains for everything from Apple iPhones to TV sets would suffer.

“This is a problem not just for Japan and South Korea. This is a problem for the world,” says Don Hellmann, a Japan expert and professor at the University of Washington.

What is the United States doing – or not – to help smooth tensions?

The United States has always been reluctant to intervene in historical disputes between Japan and South Korea. But the Trump administration is being particularly hands-off, some experts say, as “fatigue” grows over the allies’ inability to bury the hatchet.

“Now frankly there’s both Seoul fatigue and Japan fatigue,” says Bruce Klingner, a Northeast Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “[Japan and South Korea] are still arguing over the issues of the last millennium, when we are on to the issues of this millennium, like a rising China and North Korea.”

Others note that the Trump administration is thin on mid-level officials with Asia expertise. In past administrations, such officials held “regular trilateral meetings … that encompassed anything that risked disturbing the working relations among us,” says James Schoff, a former adviser for East Asia policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “You definitely don’t see that now.” 

He acknowledges that the Trump administration faces a “much more challenging environment” as the historical dispute spreads into economics and security. But as the dispute widens to areas of greater concern to Washington, the U.S. should be more active in quelling the storm, Mr. Schoff and other analysts say.

Mr. Klingner notes that the Obama administration “played a strong private role that included very stern private conversations with both sides,” he says. “That was an example of what the U.S. role is – to be more of a marriage counselor than a divorce judge who makes rulings about who’s wrong and who’s right.” 

How does this reflect on U.S. diplomacy, more broadly?

The growing gap between the two key U.S. allies highlights an evolving U.S. role in Asia, many regional analysts say.

First, the U.S. is no longer the dominant power it was in Asia even a decade ago. And second, President Donald Trump’s disregard for post-World War II alliances has decreased U.S. influence in the region, loosening the ties that bind allies like Japan and South Korea. 

“U.S. standing in the region is somewhat diminished, and then add to that Trump’s view of our allies as taking advantage of us, not paying their fair share, and of alliances as business deals, and all of that hurts the United States’ image and our ability to lead based on common values,” says Mr. Klingner.   

As the U.S. role has waned, Japan and South Korea increasingly turn their backs on one another to pursue perceived national interests. Amid the trade dispute, Seoul has threatened to pull out of an intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo.

“If indeed there are real questions about the dependability of the U.S. alliance with the region, you might think that would drive Japan and South Korea – with their highly interdependent economies and common security interests – closer together, but that has not happened,” says Mr. Schoff, now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Instead, Japan is looking to Australia and elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific, while South Korea focuses on North Korea and figuring out a way forward with China.

shadow

4. A sense of ‘western alienation’ mounts in ‘Canada’s Texas’

Divisions in Canadian society, once primarily about linguistic identity, are starting to resemble those in the U.S. – a geographic split between energy-industry conservatives and environmentalist liberals.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Paul Lemieux sells and rents out industrial and residential equipment in Edson, Alberta. His company lot has been packed lately due to the downturn in Canada’s oil and gas industry.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

Alberta, often called the Texas of Canada, is a frustrated place these days. Albertans are frustrated at Liberal policies under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at other provinces protesting the pipelines they want to build, and more recently at activists who have made the oil sands of Alberta one of the flashpoints of global environmental protest.

This frustration is not particularly new. Alienation is part of the identity of western Canada, says author Mary Janigan, and traces back over a century when the western provinces were created and control of their resources was given to Ottawa. “There’s a lingering resentment about any central interference in resources,” says Ms. Janigan. “Alberta’s hackles remain up.”

Yet today the consequences might be greater, as environmental concerns become more pressing. Paul Lemieux, who worked for 25 years in the oil business, says the rest of Canada can sometimes make Albertans feel like “a bunch of money-grubbing polluters.” 

He says that diminishes the common ground that exists. He calls Canadian standards on resource extraction some of the best in the world. “I’m not saying we couldn’t do things better, for sure,” he says. But they all have children and grandchildren whose futures they want to preserve too. “I don’t think any of us wants to be environmentally unfriendly.”

Collapse

A sense of ‘western alienation’ mounts in ‘Canada’s Texas’

Paul Lemieux’s back lot is as good a gauge as any with which to assess the vigor of Canada’s oil and gas industry – and the mood in rural Alberta. In good times, the heavy equipment he rents out to the oil patch is mostly gone. These days it’s packed.

Henry Goulet determines his well-being by looking at the state of people’s roofs. He owns a repair business, and when the industry is in good shape, people keep up their homes. Right now, they aren’t.

And for Pat Matvie, the measure is all around her. After 25 years as an oil field consultant, she was laid off over Christmas. On a recent day she packs her things: At age 62 she is taking a job as a grade operator, three hours north of Edson, and is living in her recreational vehicle for the summer.

These Albertans are fed up: at Liberal policies under Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at other provinces protesting the pipelines they want to build to bring their product to market, and more recently at activists at home and abroad who have made the oil sands of Alberta one of the flashpoints of global environmental protest. “Left out, neglected, kind of like the poor second cousin,” is the way Mr. Lemieux puts it.

This frustration is not particularly new. “Western alienation” goes back to the 19th century. But in many ways the feelings of isolation have deepened as they’ve grown beyond a political clash between Canada’s conservative heartland and a Liberal government in Ottawa. They’ve gotten wrapped up in the bigger battle between the resource economy and the environment, putting residents in places like Edson right in the middle.

Indeed, if Canada’s fault lines once ran along English- and French-speaking populations – with Quebec separatism the nadir – today it’s between “east” and “west,” which has put social unity at risk, and raised questions about how to find middle ground.

“The sense of emotional fracture is pretty strong. The level of discontent in Alberta is very high, and it’s also jumped. I think it’s fair to say that it’s never been higher,” says Andrew Parkin, executive director at Environics Institute for Survey Research, which recently polled Canadians on challenges to the confederation. “And this is landing at the moment where people are taking sides for and against a carbon-based economy. Almost every country in the world is trying to find the right balance. ... But the problem in the Canadian context is you’ve regionalized those sides of that discussion.”

Us vs. them

In their survey from April, Albertans emerged as the Canadians most likely to say they don’t get the respect they deserve, at 71% – far higher than historically separatist Quebec, where currently 54% feel disrespected. Alberta’s number is a spike from 49% in 2010, when Albertan politician Stephen Harper was prime minister, giving westerners confidence they had an authentic voice in Ottawa.

For the first time since 1987, when attitudes were first tracked, a majority agrees that “Western Canada gets so few benefits from being part of Canada that they might as well go it on their own.” That is a common gripe on the street, where residents will often muse about Alberta separating from Canada, although there’s no real political momentum behind that sentiment as there once was in Quebec. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Henry Goulet, owner of Horsebreaker Roofing, says his business is slow.

Still, western alienation is part of the identity of the west, says Mary Janigan, author of “Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark.” It traces back over a century, when the western provinces were carved out to join Canada. Notably, neither Saskatchewan nor Alberta were granted control over their own resources when they joined the confederation in 1905 (nor was Manitoba in 1870), a constitutional inequality that remained in place until 1930.

Tensions flared again in the 1970s and ’80s amid federal price controls. Most recently, delays to the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline that carries product from the Albertan oil sands to British Columbia, a major infrastructure project that sits at the heart of pipeline protests, have resurfaced many of those old feelings.

“There’s a lingering resentment about any central interference in resources, and that has lingered to this day,” says Ms. Janigan. “Alberta’s hackles remain up.”

Yet today the consequences might be greater, as environmental concerns become more pressing – and more mainstream – and Albertans fear their prized industry is at stake.

In April, Albertans overwhelmingly elected Jason Kenney, who ran on an “us versus them” platform, to be premier (analogous to a U.S. governor). “Your days of pushing around Albertans with impunity just ended,” he said in his victory speech to wild cheers.

Alberta, often called the Texas of Canada, is not a monolith; the outgoing premier hailed from the left. But Mr. Kenney is the face of a group of conservative premiers opposing the Liberals in the lead-up to October’s federal election. They have fought the government’s signature climate change policy, a carbon tax. At home Mr. Kenney announced the creation of a “war room,” a $30 million (Canadian, U.S.$22.6 million) initiative intended to debunk misinformation about Alberta’s oil industry, which he says is held to the highest Canadian environmental standards.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Pipes that recently arrived on the railroad for the Trans Mountain Pipeline are trucked to a holding area outside Edson, Alberta.

Mr. Kenney rails against a national tax equalization program – in which federal dollars are sent to poorer provinces to help support their public services – finding a sympathetic audience here. But the program is poorly understood. The conception held by many Albertans, and played up by Mr. Kenney, is that the money is coming out of an Albertan provincial cache and being given to other provinces like Quebec, which the west has always perceived as having more power (and, along with British Columbia, happens to be among the loudest critics of the oil industry).

But in reality, the program is funded with money from all Canadian taxpayers, not individual provinces – the revenue being redistributed was never in Alberta’s purse. And while Albertans do pay a higher share than residents of other provinces, that is because, despite the downturn, Albertan per capita incomes are among the highest in Canada.

“This is the first time recently that I’ve actually seen political leaders openly trading on that lack of understanding, because they think it will win them votes,” says Melanee Thomas, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. “And it does. But there are consequences for social cohesion.”

“We need to stop this bickering”

Mr. Kenney’s constituents don’t seem to care. “I’m glad he’s making a lot of noise,” says Mr. Goulet, the roofer in Edson.

Edson is a friendly town of about 8,500 that sits right on the path of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. A federal court in June approved the mega project – after a yearlong delay – and Edson is humming again. Pipeline parts arrive daily via train and then are trucked to a stockyard at the edge of town. The mood should be brighter, but it’s not.

For starters, many worry the project won’t actually take off, keeping their natural resources landlocked. The expansion had already been approved once last year, before a federal court delayed it for lack of environmental and indigenous consultation. In the meantime, the town deals with economic malaise. The Spanish energy company Repsol just announced layoffs of 30% of its operations, some in Edson. The unemployment rate is already high, 10% in 2016, according to provincial statistics, up from about 5% in 2011.

Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara says Ottawa doesn’t understand the local ramifications. “The federal government doesn’t have a clear understanding of how big of an impact the project has on our communities,” he says.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara poses with Eddie the Squirrel, the town mascot.

Jim Eglinski, a Conservative MP who represents this riding, faults the federal government for creating divisions. “We need to stop this bickering between provinces,” he says. “We are one country. We have to stand united. Let’s face it, Canada has always been a country that’s recognized as rich in natural resources.”

It’s not that Albertans want to leave Canada, Mr. Parkin says. When looking closer at the actual issues, including tax equalization or climate policy, most Canadians say they want to find a solution that benefits all. “There’s not a lot of evidence of people wanting to turn their backs on each other and thinking that’s the solution,” he says. 

But climate politics has a way of widening divides here in a new way.

From Alberta’s point of view, the province is sitting on an asset they can’t sell. “And no one else in the country seems to think this is a huge problem,” Mr. Parkin says. “Whereas a number of other Canadians, in Quebec for instance, are saying, ‘What part of the climate emergency memo did you not get?’”

The mention of climate change here raises defenses unlike any other issue. It’s given rise to a patriotic movement plastered on T-shirts and bumper stickers that read “I love Alberta’s Oil and Gas.” Callie Hermanson, the coordinator of Edson’s local history museum, wrote her college dissertation on Jane Fonda’s visit to the Alberta oil sands – in a helicopter.

“I’m all for being green and doing your part for the environment,” says Ms. Hermanson. “But you can’t be a hypocrite. You can’t go drive your car and fly your plane across the country.” Or your helicopter.

Meanwhile Mr. Lemieux, who worked for 25 years in the oil business, says the rest of Canada can sometimes make Albertans feel like “a bunch of money-grubbing polluters.” 

He says that’s flawed – and diminishes the common ground that exists. He calls Canadian standards on resource extraction some of the best in the world. “I’m not saying we couldn’t do things better, for sure,” he says. But they all have children and grandchildren whose futures they want to preserve too. “I don’t think any of us wants to be environmentally unfriendly.”

shadow

On Film

5. Meet Hollywood’s newest superheroes: Righteous moms

Traditional mothering roles on film are giving way to ones featuring heroism and independence. What does the shift signal about society?

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

How can we portray motherhood in the movies in ways that make sense to us now? Allowing, of course, for vast exceptions, the traditional mothers, stretching back to film’s beginnings, have firstly been wives, helpmates, homemakers, deeply maternal, deeply sacrificial. The apex of this was probably Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in “Stella Dallas,” which demonstrated how talent can transform a tearjerker into art. The exceptions, such as Faye Dunaway’s scabrous turn as Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest,” proved the rule.

Despite movies like “Lady Bird,” in which the vitriolic mother-daughter bickering only highlights how much they love (and resemble) each other, what we are increasingly getting now are films in which motherhood is portrayed as a fraught profession. Being a mother, as in next Friday’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” can wrongfully wrench you away from your creativity. Bernadette’s separation from her family – and this is a modern touch – is intended to be liberating, not alienating. But the real issue is this: Mothers are supposed to protect us, to shoo away the monsters from under the bed. But how do mothers keep their children safe, keep themselves safe, when the world has seemingly become such a minefield?

Collapse

Meet Hollywood’s newest superheroes: Righteous moms

Some of the most powerful recent moments in movies for me have been the ones in which mothers have been at their most righteous: Regina King in “If Beale Street Could Talk” fiercely seeking out the woman who falsely accused her daughter’s incarcerated fiancé of rape; Sienna Miller in “American Woman” pushing through her grief following the unsolved disappearance of her daughter; Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong in “First Man” insisting Neil tell their boys he may never come back from his moon mission; Sarah Greene as the Irish mother in the underseen “Rosie” battling moment to moment her family’s homelessness. These women are the true superheroes in our movies. 

Now to the mother mix comes the movie version of Maria Semple’s 2012 bestseller “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” The novel was a jaunty mishmash about an agoraphobic Seattle architect who retreated from her stellar career and has now settled into uneasy domesticity with her indulgent husband, Elgin, and fiercely loyal 15-year-old daughter, Bee. Faced with an impending Antarctica family vacation, a dream trip for Bee grudgingly promised to her by her parents, Bernadette abruptly disappears.

Starring Cate Blanchett as Bernadette, Billy Crudup as Elgin, and Emma Nelson as Bee, the movie Richard Linklater has fashioned from Semple’s novel – which incorporated emails, letters, phone transcripts, and police reports from multiple voices – could have taken its cue from any number of colorations. He chose, according to an interview in Entertainment Weekly, to focus on what “the book was really about at its emotional core, which was an intense portrait of motherhood.” 

With works ranging from “School of Rock” to “Boyhood” and the great “Before” trilogy (starting with “Before Sunrise”), Linklater is perhaps the most gifted, and certainly the most versatile, director of his generation. But he falters in “Bernadette” because, ultimately, his sensibility may be too conventional, too sane, to encompass the human maelstrom that is Bernadette. And Blanchett’s performance, while intensely watchable, is also a species of shtick. She’s done this sort of thing before, most recently in “Blue Jasmine,” and her attempts at psychological disjunction are starting to look rote. By design, her performance, and the movie itself, doesn’t descend into the dark turbulence of Bernadette’s psychoneurosis. To do so would upset the film’s enforced composure. It’s a safe movie about people who don’t feel safe in this world. 

The film does nevertheless raise a pertinent issue: How can we portray motherhood in the movies in ways that make sense to us now? Allowing, of course, for vast exceptions, the traditional mothers, stretching back to film’s beginnings, have firstly been wives, helpmates, homemakers, deeply maternal, deeply sacrificial. The apex of this was probably Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in “Stella Dallas,” which demonstrated how talent can transform a tearjerker into art. The exceptions, such as Faye Dunaway’s scabrous turn as Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest,” proved the rule.

Despite movies like “Lady Bird,” in which the vitriolic mother-daughter bickering only highlights how much they love (and resemble) each other, what we are increasingly getting now are films in which motherhood is portrayed as a fraught profession. Being a mother, as in “Bernadette,” can wrongfully wrench you away from your creativity. Her separation from her family – and this is a modern touch – is intended to be liberating, not alienating. But the real issue is this: Mothers are supposed to protect us, to shoo away the monsters from under the bed. But how do mothers keep their children safe, keep themselves safe, when the world has seemingly become such a minefield?

A movie like “Room,” where a kidnapped mother, played by Brie Larson, ruthlessly protects her little boy from a real-life monster, is perhaps the clearest metaphor for this modern-day maternal survivalism. In “Ben is Back,” Julia Roberts is rived by another monster, her beloved son’s drug habit; as is Mary Kay Place in “Diane.” In “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Frances McDormand, furious that her daughter’s murderer has not been caught, turns herself into a figure of almost biblical wrath.

The heroism of these mothers reverberates in a world where their traditional roles can no longer stand up to the enormity of their challenges. Something more is needed. Whatever their virtues and faults, such films represent signposts to a new direction. 

shadow

The Monitor's View

For frictions in global commerce, the world tries a new grease

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

As if in defiance of the prevailing winds against trade, 46 countries signed a treaty Wednesday aimed at helping international companies resolve their disputes through the consensus-making process of voluntary mediation.

This relatively new type of dispute settlement in global commerce should boost the confidence of a world economy currently unsettled by political disputes. Yet the real wonder of the signing ceremony was that China and the United States also inked the document.

The key to the treaty was that it will ensure enforcement of mediated settlements by a court, something both parties would need to agree to. The city-state of Singapore, which is a global legal hub with more than 130 foreign law firms, hopes to become the center for assisting businesses that opt for mediation.

If commercial mediation takes off in countries that approve the treaty, it could set a new tone in a world now engulfed in trade battles driven by a notion that “might is right.” What’s right is that businesses want good relations and can fix broken ones if a trusted mediator helps them find what is right for both sides.

Collapse

For frictions in global commerce, the world tries a new grease

As if in defiance of the prevailing winds against trade and commerce, 46 countries signed a treaty Wednesday aimed at helping international companies resolve their disputes through the consensus-making process of voluntary mediation.

This relatively new type of dispute settlement in global commerce should boost the confidence of a world economy currently unsettled by political disputes from Brexit to Iran’s disruption of Gulf oil.

Yet the real wonder of the signing ceremony in Singapore was that China and the United States – despite a trade fight between the world’s two largest economies – also inked the document. The Trump administration was fully on board with an initiative, begun under President Barack Obama, designed to bring neutral mediation as an alternative to the traditional methods of court litigation or forced arbitration between quarreling parties.

“Mediation is cheaper and faster,” said Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, at the ceremony. “It preserves harmony and business relationships, which is in line with many cultures, particularly in Asia.”

The key to the treaty, which will take effect after three countries ratify it, was that it will ensure enforcement of mediated settlements by a court, something both parties would need to agree to. The city-state of Singapore, which is a global legal hub with more than 130 foreign law firms, hopes to become the center for assisting businesses that opt for mediation.

By providing a trusted space for two parties to talk, mediators can focus “on solving the problem rather than on deciding who is right,” said Mr. Heng. He said the current settlement rate for Singapore’s mediation center is 85% compared with a global average of 70%. Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of the new treaty will be construction companies caught up in disputes over building infrastructure projects. A mediator can help the parties bridge differences, find solutions, and restore their working relationship.

If commercial mediation takes off in countries that approve the treaty, it could set a new tone in a world now engulfed in trade battles driven by a notion that “might is right.” What’s right is that businesses want good relations and can fix broken ones if a trusted mediator helps them find what is right for both sides.

shadow

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Effecting change

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

Long-standing issues in the world may weigh on us at times, but that doesn’t mean we should ever stop praying. Through persistent prayer that continually acknowledges God as good and all-powerful, we can witness shifts in thought taking place and contributing to the change that’s needed.

Collapse

Effecting change

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

“Is this ever going to budge?” a friend asked recently about a political situation that was troubling her. She then went on to list a whole series of political issues where there’s either been no change for years, or worse, where things seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

My friend’s question reminded me of my own prayers for change, in which I’d found two examples from history helpful. In both instances, what looked like an intractable political situation had suddenly shifted.

One was the Berlin Wall, which came down after almost 30 years of a division of Berlin, and of the entire country into East and West Germany. The other was the abolition of apartheid in South Africa after 45 years of institutionalized racial segregation.

What caused the changes? There are a variety of reasons why those changes finally happened, but one thing is clear: A major shift in thought took place, and change was the natural outcome. But how does a shift like that happen, when everything seems like it’s at a total standstill?

In my own experience, that kind of shift has come about through prayer: Persistent, unyielding prayer that acknowledges the supremacy of God no matter how long a problem seems to have been going on; prayer that is based on spiritual perception, which makes room for the power of Spirit to move human thought. In her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes: “The effect of this Science is to stir the human mind to a change of base, on which it may yield to the harmony of the divine Mind” (p. 162). In another place Science and Health refers to “the leaven of Spirit” which “changes the whole of mortal thought, as yeast changes the chemical properties of meal” (p. 118).

It’s through this kind of prayer that the human mind gives up a false perception of evil as real and powerful for the understanding of God’s creation, where good alone is real and harmony reigns. The first chapter in the Bible speaks of this harmony: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The collective and persistent recognition of God’s goodness and all-power, despite what the headlines report, is an essential aid to bring about human progress. Christ Jesus said that faith the size of a mustard seed would move mountains.

Two friends of mine, one a German and the other a South African, were devoted to praying about the situations in their respective countries that I mentioned earlier. Each one had seen evidence in their own lives of the power of prayer to bring about good. They were Christian Scientists and found hope and guidance for their prayers in the Bible and in Science and Health.

My friends’ prayers were based on a recognition of God as good, as omnipotent and omnipresent. This spiritual reality can be discerned as our thought comes into rapport with the fundamental truth that we are created by God, divine Mind, and that each of us innately expresses our spiritual source. This kind of prayer turns us confidently and expectantly to Mind to receive assurances of the power of God to bring about whatever progressive changes may be needed.

My friends felt that their prayers, along with the prayers of many, were a positive factor in bringing about changes that took place in Berlin and South Africa – evidence that the omnipotence of spiritual good must eventually predominate in practice.

When we struggle with frustration at seemingly intractable political problems, we can remind ourselves of the underlying reality of the infinite goodness of God. Waiting for change to appear on the human scene may take great patience, but together we can trust in the ultimate victory of God’s supreme power. This God-based shift in our perceptions gives us confidence that good really exists and predominates. As that happens, we can expect to witness God’s love and all-power operating increasingly in our lives and in the world around us.

shadow

Viewfinder

The green grass grows all around

Carlos Barria/Reuters/File
President Donald Trump tries to get the attention of Frank Giaccio, who had offered to work the White House grounds for the president in 2017. The hum of lawn mowers is summer’s song in many suburbs across America. Turf grass is the largest irrigated “crop” in the United States. Americans use 9 billion gallons of water daily for landscape irrigation. But more people are turning to environmentally conscious alternatives: planting native wild flowers or installing drought-resistant gardens. With these shifts, perhaps summer’s song will change, too.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
shadow

In Our Next Issue

( August 12th, 2019 )

Be sure to come back Monday, when we look at Woodstock and its impact 50 years later.  

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 09, 2019
Loading the player...

More issues

2019
August
09
Friday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.