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Finnish Politician Sanna Marin Set to Become Youngest World Leader

Finland, like many other Nordic countries, is known for its progressive social and political environment, as countries in this part of the world tend to favor policies associated with socialism and other liberal forms of government. Finland recently held an election that resulted in the election of a historically young and mostly female parliament, led by the 34-year-old Sanna Marin. When she is sworn in later this week, she will become the youngest prime minister in the world. Additionally, young women in Finland will soon hold many high-level government positions, with five women holding top spots in parliament, four of whom are younger than 35.

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In an interview with a Finnish publication, Marin commented that she had “not actually ever thought about [her] age or gender,” adding that she thinks the reason her party won the election have more to do with their policies and their ability to connect with their electorate. While such a comment from a nation’s future leader might be unimaginable in many parts of the world, not the least of which is the United States, which has had a predominantly male government for the entirety of the country’s history. However, Finland and other Nordic countries has a far more egalitarian culture than much of the Western world, as many of the barriers preventing women from holding positions of power are mitigated. The country elected its first female prime minister in 2003, and women make up almost half of its parliament after this year’s election.

In fact, the country’s political landscape is so progressive that its former prime minister, Alexander Stubb, who is a conservative, praised his country for its modern and progressive stance on female political representation, saying that one day “gender will not matter in government.” In Finland, the fact that these newly elected leaders are so young may actually be more culturally significant than the fact that they are mainly female, as the country has for years had a large percentage of women in its government. Whereas roughly half of Finland’s government officials are women, less than a quarter of American representatives and senators are female, and hopes for the country’s first female president were dispelled after Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, in an apparent rejection of progressive social policies like gender equality.

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A number of potential explanations exist for why Finland and other Nordic countries are so far ahead of the rest of the world in this area, many of which have to do with social policies that enable women to advance in their careers at a similar rate as their male counterparts. For instance, Finland has a generous paid parental leave policy, which applies to both mothers and fathers, which makes it easier for women to keep their careers while also raising families. The country has had robust reproductive health policies since the 1970s, including widespread access to abortion and birth control as well as comprehensive sex education in public schools.

While Finland should be commended for its success in promoting gender equality, it’s also important to point out that the country also has problems with discrimination, like virtually everywhere in the world. Specifically, immigrant women and indigenous women are the most likely to face discrimination, as these populations have much greater difficulty finding employment, and growing rates of immigration to Nordic countries from places like Afghanastan and Russia are fueling anti-immagrant sentiment. Still, the country has taken tremendous steps from the point of view of its embrace of progressive policies and representation, and serves as a model for gender activists in the rest of the world who are fighting for equality and fair representation.


Far-Right Canadian Candidate Maxime Bernier Gains Traction

Like the President, he is infamous for using Twitter as a political weapon, and has been accused of posing a danger to his country’s system of government.

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Ellen DeGeneres Draws Criticism for Friendship with George W. Bush

On Sunday, Ellen DeGeneres drew attention for what seemed to be an unlikely occurrence: she was spotted in a suite at AT&T Stadium watching a football game while seated next to none other than former President George W. Bush. Initial reactions to the pairing were ones of humorous bewilderment; it seemed inconceivable that DeGeneres, a Hollywood liberal who is happily married to her wife Portia de Rossi, would be so close with a President who infamously supported a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being a union between one man and one woman. 

This surprise turned into outrage as Twitter users argued that Bush, responsible for starting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was in fact a war criminal whom DeGeneres ought not associate herself with. The controversy, which continues to unfold even after DeGeneres addressed the criticism by urging kindness among people with political disagreements, speaks to the increased polarization of modern American culture and raises questions about the role of celebrity in shaping the image of politicians even after they leave office.

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Adopting her trademark cheeriness and sunny disposition, DeGeneres sought to downplay criticisms of her friendship with the former president by stressing the importance of remaining civil even with people who don’t “think the same way you do,” and asserted that it’s okay not to share beliefs with people whom you consider to be your friends. Reaction to DeGeneres’ monologue were split; while many viewers applauded the talk show host for her willingness to extend an olive branch across the ideological divide that characterizes much of American political life, other, more vocal critics accused DeGeneres of leveraging her privilege as a celebrity to whitewash Bush’s image when she had an obligation to instead call him out for his crimes. 

This is but one criticism of the event; other denizens of the Internet pointed out, in detail, the former president’s long history of advocating policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people, and some argued that DeGeneres’ philosophy of kindness was ill-suited to the modern political era. The general consensus among internet thinkpiece authors was that DeGeneres enjoyed the privilege and freedom of being able to maintain friendships with people who represent harmful political ideologies because her celebrity status protects her from the consequences of these ideologies.

The fact that several other celebrities, including Kristen Bell, Blake Shelton, and Reese Witherspoon quickly took to social media to rush to DeGeneres’ defense did little to satisfy critics who saw DeGeneres’ friendship as an example of how celebrity privilege can whitewash criminal behavior. Rather, these same critics interpreted this wave of celebrity defenses as an example of class unity, as rather than engaging with the arguments of people with genuine political grievances, the celebrities simply protected a member of their tribe.

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That being said, a handful of celebrities were among those voicing their dissent. On Twitter, Mark Ruffalo suggested that “we can’t even begin to talk about kindness” until Bush was “brought to justice for the crimes of the Iraq War,” among which he claimed were “American-lead torture, Iraqi deaths & displacement, and the deep scars—emotional & otherwise—inflicted on our military that served his folly.” And Susan Sarandon, quoting a piece from, suggested that Degeneres’ lighthearted framing of her friendship with Bush was disingenuous, as she treated the former president as someone of differing opinions rather than acknowledging his numerous accusations of being a war criminal.

Whether or not one considers DeGeneres’ handling of the controversy to be responsible, the episode has opened up a broader conversation about celebrity privilege and how fame enables even members of marginalized groups to tacitly support oppression under the guise of friendship. While DeGeneres and her allies would argue in favor of reconciliation between political groups as an opportunity for healing during an era of extreme partisanship, those who are on the receiving end of political oppression would beg to differ.


Trump’s Targeting of Homeless Californians Just Another Battle in the Culture War

Donald Trump, apparently, has declared war on California. After the state, in cooperation with automotive companies, developed its own set of regulations on carbon emissions in response to the E.P.A.’s planned rollback of goals for automotive manufacturers to improve gas mileage, Trump took action to try to limit California’s authority to set environmental regulations, stymieing the state’s plan. Fueled by apparent anger towards the liberal state, Trump also recently took the bizarre step of pressuring the E.P.A. to declare California’s homeless population an environmental risk. Of course, it is shockingly obvious that the population in question pose no such threat whatsoever, and this political pressure has no basis in reality. The truth, in fact, is the opposite: homeless people both contribute the least of any population to climate change, which is the primary environmental concern, and suffer the most from its effects, as their capacity to find shelter during extreme weather events and migrate to more habitable areas is extremely limited. Rather, Trump’s decision to berate the homeless, blaming them for an issue they clearly have nothing to do with, is simply part of a pattern of behavior in which the President cruelly exploits the disenfranchised for his own political and personal ends.

This tactic is useful for authoritarian leaders such as Trump. A political coalition which is united against a common enemy is a powerful one, and the easiest enemies to unite against are those who do not have political, social, and economic power. Whether it’s a deliberate strategy on Trump’s part or a manifestation of his psychological pathology, the demonization of minority groups has been the Trump campaign theory since the beginning. The idea of the wall on the southern border has always drawn its power from being a symbol of the strength granted by minority oppression, and the US’s policy of deliberate cruelty towards immigrants serves as evidence of this political theory. While his targeting of Hispanic immigrants is the most obvious, Trump has also gone after other minority groups, infamously claiming there were “some fine people on both sides” of a deadly incident in Charlottesville involving a group of white nationalist protestors, and taking executive action in an attempt to limit the number of Muslim immigrants shortly after assuming the presidency.

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The White House claims that San Francisco’s homelessness problem breaks environmental rules because used needles, originating in homeless communities, wind up in the ocean. San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, was quick to refute this claim, citing the city’s advanced sewer system which prevents debris from flowing into the bay. The mayor also described how the city was already committed to helping homeless people, noting that the city was investing in improving homeless shelters, affordable housing, and programs to help people with mental illnesses and drug addiction. Meanwhile, under Trump, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is imposing additional limits on federal public housing opportunities, and in interviews Trump has shown his sympathies lie more with the taxpayers and others who have to deal with the problems created by homeless people rather than the homeless themselves, suggesting the real victims of the problem are people like police officers who catch diseases from the homeless. Any apparent concern Trump has for homeless people is at best insincere, or more likely a political ploy to demonize a vulnerable and underserved population for political ends.

By issuing claims that are, by their very nature, fundamentally and obviously anti-truth, Trump and his administration are asserting political dominance over facts themselves

From this perspective, the motivations behind Trump’s newest target become clear. By associating California with homelessness, Trump attempts to illustrate the failure of liberal politicians and policies, bolstering his oppositional political position. Because they are an easy target, homeless people are exploitable for the purpose of consolidating authoritarian power. Californian politicians are in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with Trump on the nature of the issue of widespread homelessness but disagreeing about potential solutions to the problem. Given Trump’s temperament and the nature of the political theory that drives his behavior, it is unlikely that any proposed solutions from the White House will actually involve benefiting the homeless. Rather, the White House supports a plan to move homeless people into the government’s care, which sounds appropriate until you consider the overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane conditions of these facilities. The cruelty, of course, is the point, as Trump sees this posturing towards California as a means by which to punish the liberal state, just as he views the cruelty of detention centers as a punishment for illegal immigration.

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The fact that the belief that homeless people are an environmental threat is not only clearly false, but also the opposite of the truth, is also the point. By issuing claims that are, by their very nature, fundamentally and obviously anti-truth, Trump and his administration are asserting political dominance over facts themselves, a useful position in the establishment of a totalitarian state. Similar political behavior, in which government agencies present the opposite of truth as truth itself, was used to great effect during the rise of fascism in Europe in the 20th century and is chronicled in George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four. In an authoritarian state, the various branches of government are gradually repurposed to serve as instruments with which tyrants can destroy their opposition; this is seen in the E.P.A.’s abandonment of concerns about climate change in favor of punishing homeless people, just as it is in N.O.A.A.’s knowingly false assertion that a hurricane was originally forecast to hit Alabama after the President said it was. In the culture war between the two major political parties, which Donald Trump deliberately stokes for political gain, the least privileged and culpable are the most victimized.

Featured image credit: Garry Knight, “Homeless by a Wall.


Revelations of Justin Trudeau’s History of Racist Costumes Hurt His Campaign

In the midst of a difficult re-election campaign plagued by personal and political scandals, new evidence has been unearthed that shows Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing blackface or brownface on at least three occasions. A photograph of Trudeau wearing a turban and robes in addition to dark makeup at an “Arabian Nights” themed party in 2001 was found by TIME magazine. After the revelation, Trudeau apologized, saying that he did not think such an action was racist at the time but realizes now the racism of his behavior, and added that he wore blackface on another occasion, when he was a student in high school and performed the song “Day-O” during a talent show. Within a day, evidence of a third instance of Trudeau wearing a racist costume emerged in the form of a video depicting the now-Prime Minister wearing a white T-shirt, ripped jeans, dark makeup and a fake afro. Though the exact circumstances around the video are unknown, as it’s not clear where and when it was shot, the depiction of Trudeau in this costume further damages Trudeau’s political chances as it shows that Trudeau was not being entirely truthful recounting all of the times he wore blackface or brownface while apologizing for the first incident.

These new revelations are particularly troublesome for Trudeau because he has spent his political career depicting himself as an avowed progressive, liberal, and feminist dedicated to furthering social justice causes like eliminating the gender pay gap and expanding immigration to accept a greater number of migrants and refugees. Though Canadians are not likely to consider Trudeau a racist, the emergence of old photographic and video evidence of the Prime Minister behaving unprofessionally, to say the least, generates the sense that he is insincere, inauthentic, and not a serious person. 

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This recent scandal is not the only one Trudeau has to worry about. In 2018, Trudeau drew criticism for wearing flashy traditional Indian garb during a visit to India, which many Canadians of Indian descent considered offensive and an example of cultural appropriation. And Trudeau is currently in the midst of a political scandal over accusations from the country’s then-Attorney General, who claimed Trudeau improperly interfere in a corruption investigation involving Quebec-based construction company SNC-Lavalin. The Attorney General, who has since resigned, said Trudeau directed her to stop an investigation into the company’s business affairs for fear that the results of the investigation would hurt Canadian workers. While seemingly tame in comparison to the daily scandals that impact American political life, this scandal is one of the most serious political scandals in Canadian political history.

Despite the extent of the various controversies surrounding Trudeau’s candidacy, Canadians are a notoriously forgiving people, and considering the Prime Minister’s impressive political accomplishments it’s not impossible to imagine he will win his reelection campaign regardless. But when voters go to the polls on October 21st, this incident, among other scandals surrounding Trudeau, is sure to be on their minds.