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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 >>>

Tell the truth

Cartoon by John Cole

It’s time for Saudi Arabia to tell the truth on Jamal Khashoggi

The Washington Post: WHEN TURKISH authorities first told reporters last Saturday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, they offered few details and no evidence to back up the sensational claim. To the credit of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that has now changed.

The Post has obtained video recordings and other evidence showing how a group of 15 Saudi operatives entered the country on Oct. 2, the day Mr. Khashoggi visited the consulate. The private-plane flights the Saudis took from Riyadh have been documented, along with the Saudis’ movements around Istanbul. Their names and photographs have been published in a Turkish newspaper. According to Reuters, which reviewed social and Saudi media, one is a forensic scientist, while others are military officers.

Official Turkish sources said the men are believed to have killed Mr. Khashoggi and transported his body out of the consulate. The officials have described more evidence that has not yet been publicly released: One of our sources says the Turks possess an audio recording of the murder. U.S. officials have been briefed on the evidence, and The Post reports that U.S. intelligence intercepts revealed that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ordered an operation to lure Mr. Khashoggi back to the kingdom from Washington, where he has been living in self-imposed exile and contributing commentaries to The Post.

The publicly available evidence is not entirely conclusive. But it clearly shows that Saudi officials, including the ambassador in Washington, were not telling the truth when they denied the existence of the Saudi team. The Saudis have been saying that Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after arriving, and that they have no knowledge of what happened to him; the ambassador to the United States, Khalid bin Salman, even professes to share the concerns about Mr. Khashoggi’s welfare. That cynical stance has been shredded. As Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told us on Wednesday, “The burden of proof is now on the Saudis” to show they were not responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.

In the absence of an adequate response, the regime must be held responsible. As Mr. Kaine rightly put it, “We will have to analyze everything about the U.S.-Saudi relationship,” including military sales and cooperation.

The crown prince is not the only one who needs a new response to the Khashoggi case. Until Wednesday, President Trump, who has treated the Saudi ruler more favorably than the leaders of Canada and Germany, professed not to know what might have happened to the journalist. On Wednesday, he said, “It’s a very serious situation for us and this White House. . . . I think we’ll get to the bottom of it.”

That’s better than claiming ignorance, but it is still a tepid reaction. Mr. Trump ought to consult his own intelligence officials and diplomats, who are well informed about the evidence. He should accept that a regime that is vicious and reckless enough to oversee the killing of a journalist in a diplomatic facility, then blatantly lie about it, cannot be a trustworthy partner of the United States. If the crown prince’s government does not immediately explain what happened to Mr. Khashoggi, and punish those responsible, it must be punished with sanctions — by Congress, if Mr. Trump cannot bring himself to act.

She was no moderate

Cartoon by Steve Benson

Nikki Haley, Donald Trump's global enabler, was no moderate

Deutsche Welle: At this point it is almost moot to decry this White House's ongoing revolving door mentality. It is still unclear whether the amicable-seeming announcement of Nikki Haley's departure was long-planned, or if, notwithstanding her unprompted rejection, she might be plotting to run against Donald Trump for the United States presidency in 2020.

Ultimately, the speculation adds little to evaluating how the US has conducted itself on the world stage. Let's instead focus on what we do know, and that is Haley's record as US ambassador at the United Nations.

Put bluntly, her record is bleak. Sure, during her two-year tenure in New York she has given vocal support to certain human rights issues and was one of the more outspoken administration figures criticizing Russia.

Exit from UN bodies

But this is not what she will be remembered for. Haley, one of the earliest and most high-profile female members of Trump's Cabinet, will be remembered for what happened during her tenure: With her support, the US pulled out of the UN-backed international climate deal, the UN Security Council-backed Iran nuclear deal, the UN cultural organization UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council.

She will be remembered for threatening other UN members via Twitter that the US "will be taking names" of nations that supported a purely symbolic resolution denouncing Washington's decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

She will be remembered for advancing a new and dangerous principle whereby the US only gives aid to nations it deems friendly, meaning that they have conducted themselves, and voted at the UN, in line with the Trump administration's positions.

And she probably won't be, but should be remembered for the fact that during her tenure Washington ended its funding for the UN Population Fund, the body's reproductive health agency, and reinstated the so-called Global Gag Rule that prohibits the US government from funding international health groups that also advocate for abortions.

Enabler of 'America First' on the global stage

Taken together, Haley has been an ardent supporter of Trump's "America First" policy, which openly advocates a winner-take-all approach that is fundamentally at odds with the core principles of the UN. Her personal style may have helped to cloak and blunt her full-throated support for Trump's hostile attitude to multilateralism — nevertheless, it was there.

In her defense, some might say that she was trying her level best to prevent Trump from doing even more damage, and they may warn that her replacement could be even worse — but that ship sailed a long time ago. At this point in the Trump administration's tenure, and considering all the damage that has already been done on numerous fronts, we simply cannot allow the argument that "it could be worse" to stand and serve as a benchmark.

By any traditional party standard, Haley cannot be described as a moderate or mainstream Republican. She has been the leading advocate for and enabler of Trump's politics on the global stage. There is no reason the world need shed a tear about her impending departure.

Dollar bait

Ahmad Barakizadeh

Kavanaugh Confirmation!

Moral compass

Cartoon by Bill Day

Forget Politics: America Is Undergoing A Moral Revolution

By Neal Gabler

Forward: On any given day, one doesn’t have to look very far — no farther than your newspaper or news broadcast — to see a world spinning wildly out of control, to see every single decent human value trashed and then trashed again, to see egregious behavior treated as if it were normal, to see the worst people empowered and the already dispossessed further disempowered and even abused. This past week it was Brett Kavanaugh who provided the examples and the lessons: Lying shamelessly doesn’t matter. Assaulting a woman doesn’t matter. Self-control doesn’t matter. Nothing really matters. It should go without saying that if there are no minimal standards of character for candidates to the highest court in the land, where probity is the whole point, or used to be, then are there any standards left anywhere?

Of course, that hasn’t been the central question in the debate over his confirmation. That debate, like everything else in America today, has been political. The country is divided, we read endlessly. A “second civil war,” New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman called it this week. And the Kavanaugh nomination is just another sign of the divide. Conservatives love Kavanaugh, and his lies and behavior be damned, because he promises to upend every liberal value that survives, while liberals detest him for the same reason. Tribalism is the term du jour.

But I think that framing, which is always the framing now, misstates things, and misstates them to our peril. Forget the political divide. The real divide in America is a moral divide, with those who have basically dispensed with traditional moral values for political ones on one side, and those who still believe in old values, on the other. To call it a civil war understates the situation too; it is a full-scale revolution – one of the most serious transformations in the country’s history, and it is happening right under our noses.

Forget politics, for the moment. Real revolutions aren’t political. Politics simply provide an opportunity for real revolutions to take root, and real revolutions are inevitably moral. Germany didn’t become the most reprehensible nation in the history of mankind in the 1930s because of politics. Politics enabled it to loosen its moral strictures, to spin its moral compass; the loss of any moral bearings enabled it to do what it did. One can say the same thing of Russia under Stalin or China under Mao or now America under Trump. Madmen unleash the cruelty lurking within society. Or put another way, morality is the first casualty of political extremism. We are now living within a moral crisis of epochal proportions.

It matters to frame what is happening to us this way not only because I think it is accurate, but also because it helps us to better process it and see what those of us who still believe in moral values are up against. Politics can be remediated. We can elect a Democratic Congress this fall, maybe even a Democratic president two years from now, and politically things may eventually get back to normal. Perhaps. But that will hardly heal the breach because morality isn’t that easily remediated. Once you lose it – and make no mistake, we have lost it – you can’t just get it back with a new political regime. The deep and angry white male resentment that fuels this moral revolution and that has targeted women, minorities, immigrants, the LBGQT community, and the poor isn’t going away. It was moral opprobrium that had restrained them, shamed them. Then Trump legitimized them, as Hitler legitimized the worst excesses of Germany, and those resentments, once released, don’t cool so easily.

And yet we don’t hear about moral warfare. Pundits don’t talk morality. They are uncomfortable with it. They don’t feel they are in the morality business, which, unfortunately, makes them inadequate to the moment. They hesitate even to call a lie a lie. If ever we needed moral discourse, this is the time, and Donald Trump, a moral bankrupt, is the occasion. Granted, morality seems messier than politics, more ambiguous, too complicated. There are too many moralities, too many divergent views about right and wrong, too much credible disagreement between people. If you think that a fetus is a person, then abortion is murder. If you think it is a cluster of cells that hasn’t achieved personhood, it isn’t. Who is right? What is the moral course of action?

But that argument is something of a copout, an abdication. Most issues, most circumstances, are not especially complicated, morally speaking. If anything, what we should be learning from this moment is that morality is actually pretty simple. We know right from wrong. Many of us have learned it from our parents, and teach it now to our own children. Those old platitudes – love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, honesty is the best policy— became platitudes because we understood their moral legitimacy. Many of us, myself included, learned them as well from our religious upbringing, and while I remember very little from my days in temple, to which my parents sentenced me on Saturday mornings, I do remember the lessons of the parables our rabbi gave, if not the parables themselves. I remember the morals of stories about honor, compassion, love, spirituality, humility, modesty, and one that has always stuck with me for some reason, the idea that a man or woman’s good name is the most important asset he or she has, and that one must do everything to maintain it, even if it means surrendering worldly success. I remember all those things. I felt compelled to try to live them. I still do. And when I was growing up, I saw other people try to live them too. Living them may have been hard, but morality was simple. Lest we forget, it still is.

So what happened? In truth, long before Donald Trump, our morality had been eroding. America’s civic religion was never an essentially moral one. While our parents, schools, churches and temples preached old verities, the popular culture emphasized new ones: material success at whatever cost, power, celebrity, hubris – the very things that Trump personifies and from which he has profited. One could almost say that the modern American system, the one conservatives tout so loudly, is predicated on amorality, on looking out for your own interests and screwing everyone else. And while conservatives love to put on the fig leaf of Edmund Burke to give themselves some high-minded cover, they have made a politics based on that Social Darwinist idea: survival goes to the fittest, which usually means the richest. The same could be said of religion, which, in a devil’s bargain, all-too-often has allowed itself to be politicized, thus losing its way and its moral authority: overlook Trump’s amorality if you can get an anti-abortion judge on the Supreme Court. I always wonder, what do evangelicals tell their children: Hate thy neighbor? >>>

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