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Brazil's Bolsonaro

Cartoon by Rayma Suprani

Why Brazil’s far-right challenger Jair Bolsonaro has already won

By Julia Blunck

The New Statesman: Rio de Janeiro can rarely be characterised as “bleak”. But there is no other means of describing the mood that overcame the Laranjeiras district after the first round of the Brazilian presidential election on 7 October.

Laranjeiras is an upper-middle-class leftist haven; it consistently elects progressive politicians and hosts marches for causes such as feminism and gay rights. On the district’s streets, residents feared that Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right leader of the incongruously named Social Liberal Party, would surpass 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, eliminating the need for a run-off. Other voters muttered darkly about “exile” and “repression”, words that had long been consigned to historical accounts of the 1964-85 military dictatorship. These were not defiantly subversive cries in the face of coming authoritarianism: this was a dying world, not no pasarán (“they shall not pass”), but more y ya pasarán (“and they will pass”).

Elsewhere, there was celebration on the streets. In the equally upper-middle-class district of Barra da Tijuca, Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old former army captain who was stabbed by a voter during the campaign, was hailed as a “legend”, cheered on through a mixture of military slogans and evangelical dogmas.

“Brazil above all, God above everything else,” his supporters chanted, a somewhat less catchy line than the Trump-style “make Brazil great again” but much more revealing in its alliances.

Later that evening, the group found that power was not yet theirs: Bolsonaro failed to surpass the 50 per cent margin needed for outright victory (he won 46 per cent, easily trumping Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad’s 29 per cent).

Though this dampened the initially boisterous mood, there was a justified sense of triumph. For decades, Bolsonaro, who entered Congress in 1991, had been considered too toxic to be taken seriously: a racist, misogynist and homophobe; a defender of dictatorship and a supporter of torture. Now, people wonder if he can be stopped at all.

It is tempting to view the Brazilian election as a beginning: a new duel between democracy and authoritarianism; another rise of the global populist tide. From the outside, it’s an understandable view; the truth, however, is that, like a revelation in the comic book Watchmen, Brazilian democracy is not “at risk”. It died “35 minutes ago”.

When did Bolsonaro’s rise truly begin? The most obvious moment was in 2016 when he praised the military torturer Brilhante Ustra during the successful impeachment of former Workers’ Party president Dilma Rousseff (who held office from 2011-16). No moment better crystallised what was to come: Ustra had tortured the dissident Rousseff – but nothing came of Bolsonaro’s words.

If Brazilian democracy no longer exists, nor do its promises. If a man such as Bolsonaro can speak as he did in Congress in 2016 with no consequences, then Brazilians no longer believe in democracy as an ideal worth defending. If half of the country chants “queers, Bolsonaro will kill you” at the other half, how can unity later be forged?

It does not truly matter whether, as opinion polls suggest, Bolsonaro wins the second round against Haddad on 28 October. The insurgent candidate has given hatred a political possibility; whatever he might shy away from, his followers will attempt.

There was a second beginning to Bolsonaro’s rise. Fittingly for the farce that is Brazilian politics, it occurred during the candidate’s appearance on the humorous TV programme CQC, which supposedly mixes comedy and journalism to “expose hard truths”. Bolsonaro’s presence was intended to demonstrate how backwards Brazilian politicians could be. Instead, he captured hearts and minds.

Every time Bolsonaro was mocked, the public’s sympathy for this errant national uncle grew. This is Bolsonaro’s biggest lesson for other far-right populists. Like Donald Trump, he is permitted to speak his mind without fear of the consequences. How can you debate someone who is always “just kidding”? Liberals are inclined to believe that exposing quasi-fascist rhetoric will negate it. In fact, this merely increases its appeal to voters.

In Britain, Boris Johnson has made a career out of  benefiting from ridicule. But in Brazil, “he doesn’t mean it” acquires a different tone when what we are being asked to forget is the systematic murder of Brazilian minorities.

The earliest beginning for Bolsonaro was, in fact, the return of democracy to Brazil in 1985 and successive governments’ decisions not to promote accountability and fight corruption. “Yes, I’m in favour of a dictatorship! We will never resolve grave national problems with this irresponsible democracy,” Bolsonaro told Congress in 1993.

There would be no Bolsonaro if we had shown blood-soaked generals to be monsters. Through decades, Brazil lived with a wound it was told would soon scar. Instead, it festered and took over. Like a gangrenous limb, the dictatorship was never cut off from the body; now it threatens to consume it.

If there are beginnings aplenty to Bolsonaro’s success, there is one distinct middle. In mid-March, Brazilian city councillor Marielle Franco was shot dead in her car as revenge for her campaign against a local Rio militia composed of corrupt policemen. Franco was not a polarising politician; she was attentive to policemen’s widows and mothers frightened for their troubled sons. A normal country would be able to mourn her and ensure the passage of justice.

Instead, Franco was killed a second time: slandered as the wife of a drug lord and derided for her bisexuality – many of Bolsonaro’s supporters called her death well deserved. The candidate himself, when asked about Franco’s murder, declared that anything he said would be too polemical. That was the final warning to Brazil’s people. Hope, it now seems, can no longer grow here; this is a country of endings. 

Selling arms to Saudi Arabia

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte

Trump has it ‘totally and completely backwards’ on Saudi arms sales 

By Josh Rogin

The Washington Post: When President Trump argues that the United States can’t halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the Saudis’ alleged murder of journalist and Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, he’s giving up a key piece of leverage over Riyadh for no reason at all. What’s worse, Trump is also turning one of America’s best strategic assets into a liability, a massive unforced error that could weaken the United States worldwide.

Trump has said repeatedly he doesn’t want to halt — or even threaten to halt — U.S. arms sales to the Saudi regime because (he says) it would cost U.S. jobs and hand over a sweet contract to Moscow or Beijing.

“They are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it,” Trump said on “60 Minutes” Sunday. “I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that.”

Set aside that Trump’s claim of $110 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia as announced last year is hugely exaggerated, considering that number mostly refers to deals struck during the Obama administration and new deals that haven’t yet materialized. The significant arms-sales relationship we do have with Saudi Arabia gives us enormous leverage over them, leverage Trump should use to pressure King Salman to reveal what his regime knows about Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Saudi Arabia’s military is already built around U.S. and British defense platforms, meaning they can’t easily switch to Russian or Chinese systems. Riyadh is especially dependent on U.S. arms right now because their bloody war in Yemen requires a constant flow of U.S. munitions, not to mention U.S. intelligence, maintenance and refueling support.

U.S. arms sales are not simply a financial deal or a jobs program; they represent a strategic advantage of the United States. Countries want U.S. weapons because they are the best. That gives us connections, influence and, yes, leverage over these countries. That’s how arms sales have always worked, until Trump flipped the script.

“The White House seems to be saying that Trump Doctrine is that the U.S. will ignore your human rights abuses, assassinations or war crimes as long as you buy things from us. He’s got it totally and completely backwards,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told me. “What’s the point of being a military superpower if we lose leverage when we do business with another country?”

“What the president doesn’t realize is that this makes him look weak and small. World leaders will now know they can act with impunity so long as they are buying American weapons. That’s an insane message to send,” Murphy said. “The United States should never be boxed in because of who we sell weapons to — countries who buy U.S. weapons should feel enormous pressure to stay on our good side.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made a similar point Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper.

“Arm sales are important, not because of the money, but because it also provides leverage over their future behavior,” he said. “You know … they will need our spare parts. They will need our training. And those are things we can use to influence their behavior.”

Congress does have a role to play in approving arms sales, and all indications are that they plan to intervene on sales to Riyadh if it is shown that the Saudi regime had a hand in Khashoggi’s death. The State Department approved a $15 billion sale of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to Saudi Arabia this month. The Pentagon said last week Saudi Arabia has signed letters of offer or acceptance of $14.5 billion worth of American helicopters, tanks, ships, weapons and training.

In June, the Senate narrowly voted down a resolution to halt the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of precision-guided munitions to the Saudi military out of concern they could be used to target Yemeni civilians. After the vote, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Democrat Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he opposed the sale, placing it in limbo.

The threat of congressional action would be more effective if the president of the United States wasn’t publicly undermining Congress’s message, said William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

“Trump is not even trying to use this leverage,” he said. “He’s completely given it away, and not only that, he’s announced to the world that he’s giving it away.”

Through a basic misunderstanding of national security and diplomacy, the president has once again undermined U.S. interests and made the work of his own team — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — much more difficult. Thinking of arms sales purely in dollar terms doesn’t make any sense.

Populism & Democracy

Cartoon by Stephane Peray

Could populism actually be good for democracy? 

By James Miller

The Guardian: Everyone seems to agree that democracy is under attack. What is surprising is how many of its usual friends have come to fear democracy itself – or perhaps to fear that a country’s people, too inflamed by narrow passions, risk turning politics into a distasteful blood sport, pitting The People vs Democracy, in the startling words of one recent book title.

Observers have understandable qualms about political programmes that are alarmingly illiberal, yet obviously democratic, in that most citizens support them. In Poland and Hungary, democratically elected ruling parties attack Muslim migrants for undermining Christian identity. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte rules with an iron fist, pledging to put drug pushers in funeral parlours, not prisons.

Modern democracies all rest on a claim of popular sovereignty – the proposition that all legitimate governments grow out of the power of a people, and in some way are subject to its will. Yet when a large majority of a country’s people vehemently supports policies a critic finds abhorrent, many liberals, even avowed democrats, recoil in horror.

Thus arises the possibility of a painful paradox: that “democracies end when they are too democratic”. So concluded a 2016 piece by the US political observer Andrew Sullivan, resurrecting an argument made two generations earlier by Samuel Huntington (in a 1975 report called The Crisis of Democracy, issued in the wake of the international student revolts of the 1960s).

Even the leftwing scholar Chantal Mouffe, who has long championed raw populist conflict as the essence of “radical democracy”, seems distraught at current events. “Democracy that is in good working order – with conflict, but where people accept the existence of their adversaries – is not easy to re-establish,” she recently told an interviewer, gesturing implicitly toward tolerance, one of the most jeopardised liberal norms in the current context: “I’m not that optimistic.”

Current affairs may seem especially bleak, but fears about democracy are nothing new. At the zenith of direct democracy in ancient Athens, in the fifth century BC, one critic called it a “patent absurdity” – and so it seemed to most political experts from Aristotle to Edmund Burke, who considered democracy “the most shameless thing in the world”. As the American founding father John Adams warned, “there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”.

For almost 2,000 years, most western political theorists agreed with Aristotle, Burke and Adams: nobody could imagine seriously advocating democracy as an ideal form of government. It was only at the end of the 18th century that democracy reappeared as a modern political ideal, during the French Revolution.

Ever since, popular insurrections and revolts in the name of democracy have become a recurrent feature of global politics. It needs to be stressed: these revolts are not an unfortunate blemish on the peaceful forward march toward a more just society; they form the heart and soul of modern democracy as a living reality.

It is a familiar story: out of the blue, it seems, a crowd pours into a city square or gathers at a barnstorming rally held by a spellbinding orator, to protest against hated institutions, to express rage at the betrayals of the ruling class, to seize control of public spaces. To label these frequently disquieting moments of collective freedom “populist”, in a pejorative sense, is to misunderstand a constitutive feature of the modern democratic project.

Yet these episodes of collective self-assertion are invariably fleeting, and often provoke a political backlash in turn. The political disorder they create stands in tension with the need for a more stable, peaceful form of collective participation. That is one reason why many modern democrats have tried to create representative institutions that can – through liberal protections for the freedom of religion, and of the press, and the civil rights of minorities – both express, and tame, the will of a sovereign people.

Thus the great French philosopher Condorcet in 1793 proposed creating a new, indirect form of self-rule, linking local assemblies to a national government. “By ingrafting representation upon democracy,” as Condorcet’s friend Tom Paine put it, the people could exercise their power both directly, in local assemblies, and indirectly, by provisionally entrusting some of their powers to elected representatives.

Under the pressure of events, another ardent French democrat, Robespierre, went further and defended the need, amid a civil war, for a temporary dictatorship – precisely to preserve the possibility of building a more enduring form of representative democracy, once its enemies had been defeated and law and order could be restored.

But there was a problem with these efforts to establish a modern democracy at scale. Especially in a large nation such as France or the US, representative institutions – and, even worse, dictatorial regimes claiming a popular mandate – inevitably risk frustrating anyone hoping to play a more direct role in political decision-making.

This means that the democratic project, both ancient and modern, is inherently unstable. The modern promise of popular sovereignty, repeatedly frustrated, produces recurrent efforts at asserting the collective power of a people. If observers like the apparent result of such an effort, they may hail it as a renaissance of the democratic spirit; if they do not, they are liable to dismiss these episodes of collective self-assertion as mob rule, or populism run amok.

No matter. Even though the post-second world war consensus over the meaning and value of liberal democratic institutions seems more fragile than ever – polls show that trust in elected representatives has rarely been lower – democracy as furious dissent flourishes, in vivid and vehement outbursts of anger at remote elites and shadowy enemies >>>

Of Unproven Allegations...

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Empty pockets

Toka Neyestani

Teachers, factory workers, truckers,....are on strike.

Iranians have become increasingly poorer under the rule of Islamist fascists.

The gang's all here :)

Source: Unknown

Climate Change

Cartoon by Paresh Nath

Creating a ‘green wave’ 

The Guardian: Among the motivating issues for voters in US elections, the environment is typically eclipsed by topics such as healthcare, the economy and guns. But the upcoming midterms could, belatedly, see a stirring of a slumbering green giant.

“The environmental movement doesn’t have a persuasion problem, it has a turnout problem,” said Nathaniel Stinnett, founder of the Environmental Voter Project, which is aiming to spur people who care about the natural world and climate change to the ballot box. “This group has more power than it realizes. In the midterms we want to flood the zone with environmentalists.”

Any such voting surge would go some way to heeding the increasingly urgent warnings from scientists about climate change. A major UN climate report released this week said the world risks worsening floods, droughts, species loss and poverty without “rapid and far-reaching transitions” to energy, transport and land use.

“We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry,” said Jim Skea, a co-author of the exhaustive report. “The final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that.”

An obstacle in the US is the large pool of environmental voters who don’t actually vote, according to public records and polls analyzed by the Environmental Voter Project. It estimates more than 15 million people who rank the environment as a top tier issue didn’t vote in the 2014 midterms. Since its creation in 2015, the voter project claims it has increased turnout of target voters by as much as 4.5% in elections.

In 2018, it is aiming to reach 2.4 million of these voters across six states as part of a turnout effort that could help swing some key races. An army of 1,800 volunteers will knock on doors, fire off text messages, make calls, send mailouts. The “punchline” of the Environmental Voter Project, Stinnett said, is that it doesn’t talk to voters about the environment at all. It simply tries to get them out to vote.

“We are already targeting people who care about the environment, all we want to do is get them to vote on election day,” he said. “Peer and social pressure are the best ways – we will send someone a letter saying ‘did you know 93 people in your building turned out to vote last time?’ We play to societal norms and expectations.

“Our focus isn’t to change the outcome of particular elections but there’s no doubt the number of non-voting environmentalists in some districts is so large that they will have an impact. We need to hold politicians’ feet to the fire on the environment, but first of all we need some fire.”

Americans of voting age who care strongly about the environment have been unusually reticent to make their voice heard, for reasons that are still unclear. Stinnett said demographics are part of it – the young, Latinos and black people are simultaneously most worried about climate change and least likely to vote – but this doesn’t explain the full story.

“It’s hard to figure out why,” he said. “Even among young people, for example, environmentalists are less likely to vote. The environmental movement has done a lot of things to change the way we eat, travel and work, but it hasn’t flexed its political muscles yet.

Beyond disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, most politicians and the media, particularly broadcast news, rarely dwell for long on environmental matters. In 2017, the costliest year on record for climate-related disasters, a total of just 260 minutes coverage of climate change was broadcast across the six major TV networks, according to one analysis >>>

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