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Year in Review 2019: Politics – IcelandReview

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The political scene in Iceland in 2019 was chaotic like it most often is. Even though the political scene isn’t large by any means, with 63 MPs in the Icelandic Parliament and 23 seats in the Reykjavík City Council, the close quarters lead to intense fighting. Often, the only saving grace for Icelandic politicians is the fact that Icelanders move on to the ‘next scandal’ extremely quickly. Yesterday’s news becomes yesterday’s news in a matter of days. That’s why we have a recap such as this one. From Eurovision scandals and Mike Pence’s controversial visit to nefarious Namibian dealings, and everything between. Step into the tumultuous political scene in Iceland with us.

Fallout from Klaustur

The year started with the fallout from the Klaustur Scandal, where six MPs made sexist, ableist, and homophobic remarks about their colleagues at the Klaustur bar in downtown Reykjavík. Even though the scandal took place in 2018, the case rattled Icelanders so that ripples were felt through the new year. The court case of whistle-blower Bára Halldórsdóttir came to an end as Miðflokkur (The Central Party) MPs had charged her for invasion of privacy. Bára was made to delete the recordings. Meanwhile, The Central Party became the second-largest party in Iceland, polling at 14.8% of voters in October.

Third Energy Package

The Third Energy Package sounds like something you would guzzle down while running a marathon, but it’s anything but. The matter split opinions at the beginning of the year as politicians and the public alike debated it hotly. The Third Energy Package was approved by the EU in 2009, and was to be adopted by EU and EEA member states. Ten years later, Iceland was the only country not to have approved the package. Many believed Iceland would give up a part of its sovereignty, and force Iceland to build up a power link to the EU. Eventually, the package was approved in September by a Parliamentary vote of 46 to 13.

Strikes, strikes, strikes

The gap between the lowest and highest earners of society has led to wage disputes and strikes. The spring of 2019 saw tourism industry workers strike for higher wages, with hotel staff striking and bus drivers following in their wake. Later in 2019, journalists striked to demand fair wages. That debate is currently still ongoing, but newspaper Morgunblaðið saw it fit to have part-time staff members violate the strike as well as laying off fifteen journalists.

On a happier, yet still, somewhat grim, note – the youth in Iceland took part in the global youth climate strike movement led by Greta Thunberg. Minister of Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson met with protesters.

Flags and dishwashing brushes

Anti-capitalist, BDSM wearing, industrial techno band Hatari represented Iceland at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Israel and managed to stir the pot. Band members held up banners bearing the Palestinian flag during the revelation of the votes, much to the displeasure of Israeli officials. Eventually, national broadcaster RÚV received a fine and the flag-scene was removed from the official Eurovision DV.

In June, a dishwashing brush and an airport wait strained the diplomatic relationship between Turkey and Iceland. A Belgian man stuck a dishwashing brush in star players’ Emre Belozoglu’s face like a microphone while he was being interviewed by reporters. This happened following an unusually long wait at the airport. The Turkish government issued a diplomatic note to Iceland denouncing what it is calling “disrespectful” and “violent” behaviour against the country’s men’s national football team. Iceland won 2-0, but Turkey has not lost a single match since then.

Bills, bills, bills.

Bills, bills, bills is not only a Destiny’s Child song but also what the Parliament started to approved in droves in the spring- and summertime. A new plan was approved to build up tourism infrastructure, while a plan to ban single-use plastics was approved, a widely supported move.

In May, the Government passed an abortion bill which legalises the termination of a pregnancy within the first 22 weeks regardless of circumstances. Abortion was previously legal within the same timeframe, however, a person’s decision to terminate a pregnancy after the 16th week required approval by a committee. That decision is now solely in the hands of the pregnant person.

This June, the Directorate of Health proposed a sugar tax on soft drinks and sweets to work towards long term goals in public health. The Icelandic Dentist’s Association has yet to release a statement on the matter. Later that summer, calls for stricter regulations on foreign land ownership started to rear their head. It’s an oft and long-discussed subject which appears to be stuck in political purgatory. But what should be done, and who’s land is it anyway?

USA – Iceland and Mike Pence

This summer, the Iceland – USA relationship was a hot talking point. US military presence is returning to Iceland, as the US Air Force and US Navy will construct facilities at Keflavík airport. The Air Force had facilities there from 1946 to 2006 and is going to spend ISK 7 billion ($56.2 million/€49.5 million) on military infrastructure. Meanwhile, Iceland increased its defence budget by 37%, due to “…increasing temporary presence of NATO forces at Keflavík Airport due to worsening security conditions in Europe, including in the North Atlantic.”

Vice President’s Mike Pence’s official visit to Iceland in August hit the news. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir originally intended to miss the meeting due to commitments at the convention of Nordic trade unions. Eventually, Pence extended his stay to speak to Katrín about Arctic issues as well as defence matters. His visit was controversial and proved to somewhat unpopular with road closures, high cost and last but not least it was protested by numerous organizations due to his pro-war and anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.

Deportations debated

The public has called for the government to make major improvements to the handling of asylum seekers in Iceland. In August, authorities’ handling of two Afghan families seeking asylum in Iceland were heavily criticized. Later, in November, the Directorate of Immigration deported an asylum seeker who was just shy of 36 weeks pregnant. Both cases were met with outrage, as they were considered inhumane.

Move the clock – or not?

Few issues have garnered as much attention – and feedback – as the contentious suggestion to move the Icelandic clock back one hour to better align with solar time. Should Iceland move the clock?

Fishrot Files

Last but not least are the Fishrot Files. Icelandic fishing company Samherji is accused of tax evasion and bribery in Namibia to ensure access to fishing quotas in the country. Samherji is one of Iceland’s biggest companies and the fallout has been according to that. The government issued additional funding to investigate Samherji’s wrongdoings, and Icelandic tax authorities have opened an investigation into the case. Namibian ministers have resigned, as well as the CEO of Samherji. The case is still being resolved.

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Plan to rebuild defence early-warning system means political, fiscal headaches for Trudeau government – CBC.ca

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It’s not the SHIELD you’re probably thinking of — the one with the super-spies and flying battleships from Marvel comics and movies.

In fact, the SHIELD at the centre of the upcoming evolution of NORAD — the six-decade-old North American defence pact — shares nothing with its fictional counterpart but the acronym. But those trying to sell pandemic-weary, deficit-swamped governments on the proposed Strategic Homeland Integrated Ecosystem for Layered Defense may be hoping for a little reflected glamour for their multi-billion-dollar idea.

The current Liberal government committed to the renewal of NORAD early on; it was the top item in the first meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and now-former U.S. president Donald Trump in 2017. The proposal now presents a host of thorny political and financial problems for Canada.

The SHIELD concept is not your grandfather’s version of NORAD — which was simply a chain of radar stations across the North primed to warn of approaching Russian bombers and missiles.

A NORAD for now

The new strategy was first sketched out last fall in a paper written for the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute by the former U.S. NORAD commander, retired general Terrence O’Shaughnessy, and U.S. Air Force Brig.-Gen. Peter Fesler, the current deputy director of operations at the U.S. air defence headquarters.

Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. (Carolyn Kaster/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Fesler and O’Shaughnessy argued that, faced with a variety of new and improved weapons — everything from hypersonic glide vehicles to next-generation cruise missiles — North America needs a defence surveillance system that knits together space, air and land-based surveillance in real time.

Such a system “pools this data and fuses it into a common operational picture,” said the paper, published last September. “Then, using the latest advances in machine learning and data analysis, it scans the data for patterns that are not visible to human eyes, helping decision-makers understand adversary potential courses of action before they are executed.”

What they’re talking about is predictive analysis and artificial intelligence. The SHIELD concept envisions a “global sensing grid” that can sniff out threats as they develop by drawing on data from “traditional and nontraditional sources,” such as civilian air traffic control grids.

To an extent, the SHIELD concept is being put to work already by NORAD through operational testing of a cloud-based data fusion system called Project Pathfinder.

A hard sell

The U.S. Air Force signed off on the Pathfinder prototype and has ordered a production model through an $8 million US contract, according to Air Force Magazine.

The NORAD refurbishment was never costed in the federal government’s 2017 defence policy and it presents a host of challenges and tough decisions for the Liberal government now, ranging from the fiscal to the political to the military.

The arrival of the Biden administration in Washington seems to have made government-to-government negotiations more politically palatable in Ottawa. Many in Canada’s defence community were convinced there was little appetite among federal officials to haggle with Trump over NORAD after the bruising experience of re-negotiating the NAFTA trade deal.

One of the first challenges for government officials will be to present the NORAD renewal project to a Canadian public and political establishment overwhelmed by the pandemic, said one defence expert.

A crew bus leaves the the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station complex — command centre for NORAD — outside Colorado Springs, Colo. on May 10, 2018. (Dan Elliott/The Associated Press)

An economic argument

“If you try to quickly sell this in the context of ‘the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming,’ that is politically problematic, I think, particularly for this government,” said James Fergusson, deputy director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba.

Framing it in economic terms — highlighting the opportunities for innovation and high-tech jobs — likely would help, he said, but the overall cost will be an issue given the damage done to the economy and government balance sheets by the pandemic.

Estimates of the cost of NORAD’s renewal range between $11 billion and $15 billion. Whatever it ends up costing, Canadian taxpayers would be on the hook for 40 per cent of the total.

The price tag is “the elephant in the room,” said Fergusson, adding that he’s skeptical about the assurances he’s heard from senior government officials that the money for NORAD will be in addition to already-promised defence policy funding.

Belt-tightening and BMD

He said he attended a conference in Ottawa a year ago that heard a senior Department of National Defence (DND) official state that the department had “been promised we’re going to get extra money for NORAD …”

“No, you’re not,” Fergusson added.

He said he believes it’s more likely that DND will be asked to cover Canada’s NORAD contribution within its existing budget — forcing the department to make cuts elsewhere.

The NORAD project also promises to drag a reluctant federal government back into a political debate over ballistic missile defence (BMD).

This image made from video broadcast by North Korea’s KRT shows a military parade with what appears to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Oct. 10, 2020. (KRT via The Associated Press)

The recent Liberal defence policy reaffirmed the 2005 decision by Paul Martin’s government to remain on the sidelines of any continental BMD effort, despite pleas from both the Senate and House of Commons defence committees to reconsider joining.

BMD is a non-starter for New Democrats and for some experts in the defence community who argue that missile defence merely contributes to the arms race.

Fergusson said recent advances in technology and military doctrine may force the government’s hand.

“The United States is moving very quickly to integrate air and missile defence into single units, rather than have them separated,” he said. “So that has big implications for us. We can’t simply do air defence without having to work with or having to do missile defence.”

And embedded in the concept of a “global sensing grid” is the expectation that threats — once identified — would be taken out.

Instead of focusing on the missiles — the “arrows,” to use NORAD parlance — the expectation is that a defensive network would focus its response on the “archers,” or the launch platforms. Russian bombers circling far outside of North American airspace, for example, would be targeted under the SHIELD strategy.

“That will be unpalatable to the Canadian government,” said Fergusson, pointing out that the Canadian military doesn’t have the long-range capability to conduct those kinds of defensive operations.

It’s a conversation Canada can’t avoid for much longer, he said, because much of the existing North Warning System reaches the end of its operational life by 2024.

“The United States cannot defend itself without Canada and we can’t defend ourselves without the United States.”

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Politics Podcast: The Lawmakers Who Will Determine What Gets Through Congress – FiveThirtyEight

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Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Maggie Koerth join the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast to discuss their reporting on partisan discord and violence in the United States. They discuss the factors that have contributed to Americans not just disagreeing with each other on policy, but actually seeing each other as “evil.” The crew also looks at the dynamics in Congress that will determine whether or not President Biden can pass his agenda.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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So long to these Canadian politicians only Donald Trump could be proud of – Toronto Star

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It appears to be sweeps week in Canadian politics — when troublesome political players get swept right out of the action.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals tossed an MP out of caucus on Monday amid controversy over conspiracy theories, just a few hours after Sen. Lynn Beyak decided to shut down her racism-infused political career, effective immediately.

These exits come hot on the heels of last week’s resignation of governor-general Julie Payette and the ouster of a neo-Nazi funded MP, Derek Sloan, from the Conservative caucus.

One is tempted to give Donald Trump credit for kicking off this cleansing trend that’s spread north of the U.S. border. Just as Americans are getting ready to shake off the hangover of the Trump years, Canadian politics seems to be going through its own detoxifying exercise as 2021 begins.

The idea of this being a co-ordinated effort, though, would veer toward being a conspiracy theory all on its own. No great political huddle has taken place to de-Trumpify Canadian discourse, appealing as that scenario would be to many here — especially after the Jan. 6 rampage on Capitol Hill.

It was the news release issued by the Liberals about now-ousted Brampton Centre MP Ramesh Sangha that hinted most strongly of an effort to be more zero-tolerant about the brand of politics practised by Trump and those Capitol Hill rioters.

Sent out as a succinct, “he’s fired” missive by Chief Government Whip Mark Holland, it said Liberals were shutting down that kind of trouble in its tracks, within its own ranks.

“We all know where this can lead,” the statement said in its denunciation of the “conspiracy theories” and “dangerous and unfounded rhetoric” that Sangha had been found to be spreading. Details were sparse in the news release, but the picture it painted was not. “Trump politics not welcome here,” might well have been the headline.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has been drawing some sharper lines too; not just with his own ouster of Sloan last week for taking donations from a neo-Nazi, but also with some subtle nuance to his criticisms of Liberals. “We want the government to succeed,” is one such phrase cropping up now in O’Toole’s remarks about the pandemic — intended to demonstrate, one presumes, that opposition is more than a tear-down-the-Liberals exercise.

Of course, later on Monday, one of O’Toole’s Conservatives, Kerry Diotte, was standing up in the Commons to call Trudeau “wimpy” and Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner was being chided for shouting “what the hell” in the direction of the government. So this is clearly a work in progress.

Meanwhile, no one was lamenting the surprise announcement of Lynn Beyak’s self-imposed retirement, which she billed as a promise kept to serve only eight years in the Senate. While the senator’s nerve seemed to be limitless, apparently her time in public service was.

Beyak is the Conservative-appointed senator who gained fame for defending the legacy of residential schools and then digging herself deeper into the mire by refusing to apologize and allowing anti-Indigenous comments to remain on her website.

She had become an embarrassment to the Conservatives long ago, losing her place in caucus, and she was a standing advertisement for Senate-appointment reform. Her farewell statement was wholly unrepentant.

“Some have criticized me for stating that the good, as well as the bad, of residential schools should be recognized. I stand by that statement,” Beyak wrote. “Others have criticized me for stating that the Truth and Reconciliation Report was not as balanced as it should be. I stand by that statement as well.”

Trump might well be proud of the ex-senator’s ability to see the good people on both sides of the racist divide, as he did with the “very fine people” he said were involved in the deadly riots incited by the far right in Virginia in 2017.

As mentioned, Beyak won’t be missed.

Three weeks ago, with the U.S. capital in a riot lockdown and North America reeling from the post-Christmas surge of COVID, it was easy to imagine how politics in Canada might make some New Year’s resolutions to up its game here.

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A flurry of personnel departures in the past week, all greeted with relief, would seem to point to steps taken in that direction. A bad boss at Rideau Hall is gone, a regrettable (but sadly regretless) senator has retired, Conservatives and Liberals have given the boot to MPs who have flirted with extremist ideas.

It’s not a total sweep in the Canadian political world, but it’s a good start.

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