Age: 56 |
Birth City: آبادان |
Joined on October 02, 2012
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.
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.
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 >>>
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 >>>
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.
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.
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? >>>
UN court: US must lift some sanctions on Iran
Vox: The UN’s top court ruled on Wednesday that the United States must ease its sanctions on Iran for humanitarian reasons, a month before the administration planned to reimpose some of the most stringent sanctions on Tehran.
The decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), located in the Netherlands, mandates that the US not restrict exports to Iran of food, medicine, and parts to make civil aviation safer because doing so threatens the lives of everyday citizens there. President Donald Trump had announced the reimposition of economic sanctions back in May when he withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal.
The court’s ruling is binding, but it’s unlikely the US will abide by the mandate for three reasons.
First, the ICJ has no way to force America to comply, which means the US can willfully ignore the decision with no legal repercussions.
Second, following the decision would undercut the Trump administration’s goal. It wants to squeeze Tehran financially so the country stops acting so aggressively in the Middle East, like supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad militarily and meddling in Iraq’s domestic politics.
And third, the White House has already expressed deep skepticism toward the authority of international courts. In September, National Security Adviser John Bolton openly lambasted the International Criminal Court — a separate and unconnected body from the ICJ — for attempts to investigate the US for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, and for considering an investigation of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.
But Iran still took the ruling as a victory: it “vindicates the Islamic Republic of Iran and confirms the illegitimacy and oppressiveness” of the United States, Iran’s foreign ministry said in a Wednesday statement. US Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra, though, tweeted that “this is a meritless case over which the court has no jurisdiction.”
What each side argued
The job of the ICJ, which started its work in 1946, is “to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies,” according to the court’s website.
Iran, which has previously ignored the court’s rulings, went to the ICJ in July because it formally complained and argued it had a case against the United States.
Iran claimed that it had not violated the terms of the nuclear deal, as repeatedly certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog. The country also argued the US sanctions violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity between Washington and Tehran, which regulates ties, including economic ones, between the two countries. The treaty, Iran said, gave the ICJ jurisdiction over the case.
After the decision, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the US would terminate the agreement. “This is a decision frankly that is 39 years overdue,” he said.
America’s defense was that the ICJ had no jurisdiction over the issue and therefore had no authority to rule.
Obviously, the court felt it could — and ruled in favor of Iran for now. The US will surely appeal the decision in a future case. But it goes to show that one of the world’s leading legal bodies is concerned that Trump’s policy decision may threaten the lives of people in Iran, and wants the US to reverse course.
The dark European stain: how the far right rose again
The New Statesman: When the last zoning war is won, and the Donald J Trump Presidential Library finally opens for business in Manhattan, it is not hard to imagine future historians idling inside the gift shop, regretting that their subject had not done them all a favour and gone full fascist. How much easier the history would be to write if one could date the beginning of the end of the democratic era to the day Trump took office? How much more convenient if the echoes of the 1930s had been of perfect pitch: if Trump had locked up Hillary Clinton, if the trade wars had turned hot; if, instead of withdrawing security clearances from his enemies, Trump simply had them shot.
The intellectual reflex of today’s Western liberals is to invoke the spectre of fascism. It is the most solemn way of registering their revulsion at the course politics has taken. Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state and herself a child of fascist Europe, writes that fascism “pose[s] a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of the Second World War”. Fintan O’Toole, Ireland’s leading liberal intellectual, declares fascism is under way. “What we are living with is pre-fascism,” he writes. Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times agrees: fascism “is already here”.
Liberal historians have certified the mantra. “The attempt to undo the Enlightenment as a way to undo institutions,” the Yale historian Timothy Snyder says, citing Trump’s first two years as president, “that is fascism.” Nor is the fascist wave confined to the United States. Upstanding liberals are supposed to take it as given that France only narrowly escaped a second round of Vichy under Marine Le Pen, that Italy has undergone a new “March on Rome”, and that even Scandinavia now has a right-wing “model” in the Sweden Democrats. During the recent bout of political deadlock late last year in Berlin, when Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union could neither form a coalition, nor stomach running a minority government, the Harvard historian Charles Maier published a pie chart comparing the voting patterns of the Weimar Republic with current German ones, coyly noting that they were not exactly the same.
The definition of fascism is notoriously hard to pin down. The recent coinages – twee-fascism, gonzo-fascism, schizo-fascism – no less so. With understandable caution, some historians insist the term only applies to the social conditions in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s, when the term was first used by Mussolini and his squadristi to describe their vision of society and the state. But most agree that fascism at least applies to the broader phenomenon of right-wing regimes in the interwar years, when parties and groups such as the Nazis, Romania’s Iron Guard, the French Popular Party, the Spanish Falange, and others, came to the fore. These parties forged a new political form by blending together different features, which were sometimes at odds with each other: the idolisation of the beauty and efficacy of violence, the need to construct a mythical past for the people that could only be fulfilled by the instincts of a charismatic leader, and the belief that socialism could only be achieved through a corporatist economy that met the needs of a racially defined group and co-ordinated the interests between workers and capitalists.
Many fascist movements took aim at the idea of not only liberal democracy – but “democracy” tout court – which they took to be a political form that, in its vagueness and elasticity, threatened to dilute the special life force of the chosen people. The problem with invoking fascism today is less that it doesn’t work as a historical parallel or that it doesn’t summon the correct response in populations already numb to every form of invective. Rather, the comparison mistakes the symptoms of decaying liberal democracies – anti-refugee sentiments, the return of anti-Semitism, the attraction to right-populists – for the cause. Worse, it serves as an exculpatory manoeuvre for political elites who, however inadvertently, helped soften the ground for the current upsurge of the right.
In the broadest sense, fascism is not a useful word. Almost none of the right-wing populist movements of our time pit themselves against the principles or rhetoric of democracy. Instead they view liberalism as an alien spore that has infected real democracy. The bluntest besieger of liberal democracy in Europe today is the Hungarian president, Viktor Orbán. In a Transylvanian spa town this summer, Orbán made the case for the fundamental incompatibility between democracy – specifically, Christian democracy – and “liberalism”. Untraditional families, immigration and cultural pluralism – Orbán wants to weed them all out of Hungary. But more notable is that he plans to do it through the EU. “Let us steel ourselves for the European Parliament elections,” Orbán told his audience, “we are on the threshold of a great moment.” He may not be wrong. Orbán’s political party, Fidesz, is a member of the European People’s Party, alongside Merkel’s Christian Democrats, whose right flank is far from repelled by Orbán’s calls for a more exclusionary politics >>>
South Korea says Kim Jong Un could have 60 nuclear weapons
AP: A top South Korean official told lawmakers that North Korea is estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons, in Seoul's first public comment about the size of the North's secrecy-clouded weapons arsenal. Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told parliament Monday the estimates on the size of North Korea's nuclear arsenal range from 20 bombs to as many as 60. He was responding to a question by a lawmaker, saying the information came from the intelligence authorities.
The National Intelligence Service, South Korea's main spy agency, couldn't immediately comment.
Cho may have unintentionally revealed the information. His ministry said Tuesday Cho's comments didn't mean that South Korea would accept North Korea as a nuclear state, suggesting Seoul's diplomatic efforts to rid the North of its nuclear program would continue.
The South Korean assessment on the North's arsenal is not much different from various outside civilian estimates largely based on the amount of nuclear materials that North is believed to have produced.
According to South Korean government reports, North is believed to have produced 110 pounds of weaponized plutonium, enough for at least eight bombs. Stanford University scholars, including nuclear physicist Siegfried Hecker who visited North Korea's centrifuge facility at Nyongbyon in 2010, wrote earlier this year that North Korea is estimated to have a highly enriched uranium inventory of 550 to 1,100 pounds, sufficient for 25 to 30 nuclear devices.
Many foreign experts say North Korea are likely running additional secret uranium-enrichment plants.
The North entered talks with the United States and South Korea earlier this year, saying it's willing to negotiate away its advancing nuclear arsenal. Nuclear diplomacy later stalled due to suspicions over how sincere North Korea is about its disarmament pledge, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to visit Pyongyang this month to set up a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.