Looking back at 2020

In our last lesson before Christmas we brainstormed what has happened during the autumn of 2020, since we have discussed the events in class on a weekly basis, but not maintained the blog for future reference. We proved to ourselves that not only are we able to dig deep into our memories and remember the important events when we put our heads together; we are also better at seeing how events are linked, influence each other and how they can twist, turn and develop in expected and unexpected ways. The items below are the most important events of the last half year, even though we touched upon other topics as well.

The US Supreme Court

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on 18 September 2020. That started a race for the president to get a third justice nominated and approved before the election, ending in the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett on 29 September and her confirmation on 26 October 2020. The Democrats were none too pleased that the Republicans refused to confirm President Obama’s nominee 10 months before the 2016 election, arguing that the electorate should have their say in choosing the president who would get to nominate someone for such an important position. That did not stop the Republicans from doing a one-eighty four years later, nominating and confirming their candidate only weeks before the presidential election on 3 November 2020. Rather they can congratulate themselves on having confirmed three Supreme Court Justices during one single presidential term.

The US presidential election

On 3 November 2020 the US experienced record voter turnout. It took days to count and recount the votes, though by the Saturday Joseph R. Biden, Jr was announced the winner and for the first time in American history a woman, and a woman of colour, was elected vice president: California Senator Kamala Harris. The incumbent president, Donald J. Trump, has filed more than 50 lawsuits in a pursuit to overturn the election results in several states. Most have been rejected, some are still being processed. The two Senate seats in Georgia could not be filled in the November election, so they held a runoff election on 5 January 2021. That proved to be quite exciting, since the November Senate election left the Republicans with 50 Senators, the Democrats with 48.

Campaigning for the presidential election and the aftermath of the election has been highly partisan and with some unprecedented behaviour and accusations. The first presidential debate, for instance, did not leave either candidate a good option for the American electorate and the candidates failed gravely in both rhetoric, behaviour and appeal. Trump’s later comment to the right-wing organization Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” did nothing to calm matters.

The pandemic

Under the current Administration, Covid 19 has run rampant in the American society making the USA one of the hardest hit countries during the entire 2020. In October it reached the White House. Central politicians in the administration took part in so-called “superspreader events” both at the White House and at campaign rallies through the summer and autumn, all the while rejecting wearing face masks as effective. Well, the problem might really have been that many people in the USA do not regard Covid 19 as particularly dangerous the President even initially claiming that the common flu is more lethal.  

The UK has not got off scot-free either. They have had several lockdowns, central politicians have been affected just like in the US, and the UK are exhausted and tired from the restrictions in society, like everyone else. Additionally, they, like in the USA, are experiencing higher unemployment and a growing number of poor people. It has gone so far that UNICEF has started a domestic emergency response in Britain.

Congress in the USA has had difficulties agreeing on financial relief funds for their citizens as well.

#BlackLivesMatter

The year has seen many killings of and attacks on people of colour. It all came to a peak with the death of George Floyd in May. But many Black people have been killed both before and after, in intentional and accidental attacks, by civilians and police alike. During the summer and autumn of 2020 there have been several attacks on police headquarters, many demonstrations and protests, more violent than non-violent, and the national guard has been sent to help (or incite) in many affected areas.

Brexit

After years of negotiations and changing Cabinets thrice since the 2016 Brexit referendum, the UK and the EU finally agreed on an exit deal in December. The deal was officially approved by both Houses of Parliament on 31 December 2020, ensuring soft Brexit and not a no-deal hard Brexit.

The British monarchy

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex stepped down as senior members of the royal family in 2020. They also left the UK and moved to California. The Duke is still the sixth in line to the throne.

In the news – read and discuss

On the topic of homelessless: In A-magasinet this Saturday (28.2.20) there was an article on people living in hotels in the USA because they cannot afford their own place to live… sounds nice, doesn’t it? Well, only at first glance… The Norwegian photographer Monica Strømdahl has made a photo documentation of this, see picture below.

Ett av flere bilder i serien «Flophouse America», om de som velger å bo på billige amerikanske hotell på ubestemt tid. Dette bildet er nå utstilt på kunstsenteret Hennie Onstad og publisert i 2019-boken fra Norwegian Journal of Photography. Foto: Monica Strømdahl
Ett av flere bilder i serien «Flophouse America», om de som velger å bo på billige amerikanske hotell på ubestemt tid. Dette bildet er nå utstilt på kunstsenteret Hennie Onstad og publisert i 2019-boken fra Norwegian Journal of Photography. Foto: Monica Strømdahl

https://journalisten.no/dokumentarfoto-foto-henie-onstad/i-2005-sa-monica-stromdahl-etter-et-billig-sted-a-bo-det-startet-et-14-ar-langt-fotoprosjekt/374102

On any given night last year, 568 000 people in the USA were homeless, up 3 % from the year before, after a period of steady decline. About 37% of the homeless live on the streets. in cars, in tents or vacated buidings. The rest got shelter in temporary housing like for example cheap motels and emergency centers (A-Magasinet/Anette Aasheim: De som sjelden sjekker ut, 28.2.20)

  • What do you think are the biggest challenges of being homeless?

From the UK: you have probably heard of the artist Banksy, who uses street art to get his message across? Now there’s another oppositional voice critisizing the British establishment; Stormzy. Check out the article below:

Stormzy at the Mercury prize ceremony – of which he was a judge – London, 19 September 2019.
Stormzy makes cover of Time magazine as ‘next generation leader’ 
The rapper features alongside Greta Thunberg on the magazine’s annual list of young trailblazers
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/oct/10/stormzy-makes-cover-of-time-magazine-as-next-generation-leader-great-thunberg-annual-list
  • Had you heard of this artist & activist before? What are his songs about? He calls himself a “political analyst” – why?
  • One of the issues he addresses is the rise in knife crimes in the UK. In 2018 alone, 76 people were killed in knife crimes in Lodon. You can read more about that in the post from May 14, 2019 below.
  • Another issue is Grenfell Tower – What happened here in 2017?

Another person you need to have heard about is Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez. She is a Democratic Congresswoman from New York, elected to the House of Representatives in 2018. Her story is told in the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House (2019): https://knockdownthehouse.com/

Bilderesultater for alexandria ocasio cortez full speech religious freedom
  • Read this article and discuss the speech she gave on religious freedom and its implications.

Election Day

Bilderesultat for election day uk 2019

Today is Election Day in the UK. The latest polls show the Tories still slightly ahead, maybe increasing their majority in Parliament… But what will happen with Britain, with Brexit – how united can the United Kingdom be after all this? Read this fascinating story about London Road in different parts of the UK: https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2019/12/world/divided-kingdom-gbr-ge19-intl/

And while the British are voting, the House of Representatives in the USA have filed their articles of impeachment against President Trump. The first article charges him with abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to assist him in his re-election campaign by damaging Democratic rivals. The second article charges him with obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and refusing to provide documents in response to House subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry. The impeachment trial against the President could start as early as next week. Will Trump be impeached, or stand stronger than ever before the election in 2020? Here’s an interesting commentary on similarities between the UK and the USA in the way people are voting: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50717536

Trump promised to “Make America great again”. Are British voters hoping for the same for Britain?

Update after the election:

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=2595887153825540

Write a short blog post where you sum up the results of the election and comment on what you think might be some of the consequences.

Issues in British politics

It’s hard to believe these days, but British politics is not all about Brexit… In class today, you’ve read about other political issues that are of importance to the British public. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/01/political-issues-2018-homelessness-universal-credit-social-care-child-poverty

https://uk.isidewith.com/poll/49841143

Write a blog post about one or more of these issues that you find interesting and/or surprising. Include facts and viewpoints in your post.

Northern Ireland

The UK , Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

Today you will learn about Northern Ireland’s present and past, and we will start by looking at some tragic, recent news from the country:

Recent news

Northern Ireland has a history of religious and political conflict. On April 18, the young 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee was shot and killed during a riot in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. McKee was killed on the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of sectarian conflict.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wh89V0ImAMM

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4o3xYIoHGVE

In groups, discuss:

Why was she killed? And what are the concerns of Northern Ireland today?

Research. Find out: Who are the new IRA?

Read this text (either online or on paper):

https://passage-new.cappelendamm.no/c453153/artikkel/vis.html?tid=498532

option: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61JisaFGHFY&t=140s

For those of you who want to know more about Brexit and the border issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRMwCz_Q9b4

Write: In a blog post, sum up what you have learned about Northern Ireland and what sort of challenges the country faces today.

Dreams

From M.L. King Jr.’s I have a Dream to Theresa May’s British Dream- a slight difference in content, country and decade. One from 1963, the other from 2017. Today’s task:

Compare and contrast the two speeches in terms of content (message) and identify the literary/linguistic devices May uses to enhance her message to the participants at the Conservative Party’s conference.

For background information, see https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/oct/04/theresa-may-british-dream-cap-on-energy-bills-housing-tory-conference-speech,

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-41506032

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdMcbLT3jSY

Vote of no confidence

The Brexit drama has produced another episode and makes sure that newspapers all over the world have something to write about!

Yesterday, PM of the UK Theresa May experienced another setback as the agreement she has negotiated with EU leaders on leaving the European Union was voted down by the House of Commons, or parliament. More than a third of conservative MPs rejected the plan. This was a major defeat for May. It remains unclear whether the UK will be able to come up with an agreement on leaving the EU by March 29 or not. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, has tabled a vote of no confidence which means that May (worst case scenario) might have to step down as prime minister. This, however, is very little likely as the Conservatives hold the majority in the House along with DUP. On Wednesday there was a debate in Parliament and after that, a vote. May’s government survived the vote and she says she will continue to work towards a Brexit agreement. To learn more about this, I recommend the BBC.

Discuss: What is a vote of no confidence, what will happen next with Brexit and what is May’s greatest challenge?

Theresa May’s turmoil

Londoners bike past the Brexit protesters

The drama in British politics seems to never end!  It appears as if the Brits have misunderstood the saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. After the Brexit referendum in 2016, Prime Minster May has carried out what many define as mission impossible:  negotiating Brexit with the EU while keeping the MPs at home satisfied AND trying her best to ensure that this deal will make as little damage to the UK economy as possible. 

Yesterday, May survived the confidence vote, although a third of her own MPs are against her. But what happens next? CNN states that the Brexit chaos remains. To learn more about Britain’s tumultuous time, it’s interesting to read what US media writes about it. Washington Post’s columnist Anne Appblebaum shares a comment that is worth reading. 

The NYT also shares some interesting aspects of this recent development which you can read about here. To be continued!

Election Day Nov 6

Today is election day in the US and the battle is over Congress, the US legislative branch. The midterm elections are important and are seen as a referendum on Trump’s presidency. Although the voter turnout is usually lower than at a presidential election,  this year seems to be different. Many influential Americans have encouraged Americans to vote. Will the Republicans keep the majority of seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate? What issues are at stake? Today we will look into the US midterms. Find out:

midtermelections-600_1bMNtrd

what political issues are important for the Democrats and the Republicans?

why is there so much interest in an election that does not involve electing a President?

how will the election results affect the average American?

Post your findings on your blog!

Some useful links: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2018/sep/17/midterms-2018-vote-election-date-senate-house-who-will-win-candidates-all-you-need-to-know-explained