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Syria: WTF Do We Do Now?


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Women Acquitting Themselves Well


My grandfather was one of the vice presidents of J.P. Morgan Bank in the mid-20th century.  He was V.P. in charge of the Department of Statistics, which was, apparently, the unit at the time that made the bank’s investment decisions.  He never saw himself as one of the bank’s great leaders; he talked of himself, while I was growing up, more as a functionary despite the fact that he sat on the board of directors of the bank, as well as several other corporations and organizations on Wall Street. While I was adopted from a mixed-race context (Philippine was considered “Black” by many Americans at the time), I nonetheless grew up with my grandfather’s social context rather nearby, as he and my grandmother retired to be near us when I was young.  When I was seven or eight years old, he and my grandmother hired me, for the first time, to act as “hostess” at their annual open house on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont, where I met some now very famous people.  I was paid $12 to greet everyone who came to the door, to take their coats, to put the coats in a guest room, and to direct guests to the living room or kitchen where hors d’oeuvres awaited them.  Once everyone was there, I was to help spell my grandmother in taking hors d’oeuvres around to everyone in their various parts of the house where they stood.  The jazz pianist who filled the living room with quite beautiful music stood out to me the most in the whole affair, as I was then, as now, highly motivated by music and was studying classical piano.

In the course of this event, and several others that came in the years after it, my grandmother and grandfather trained me in a number of the rules of etiquette when greeting guests: things to say, things not to say, smile as much as possible, keep it positive, look people in the eye, and keep shoulders straight.  Somehow, with all of this, they did not need to press very much the need not to sneer or make random, strange facial expressions.  I knew, instinctively, to hold head high and avoid facial tics to the extent humanly possible. Because I began to learn these lessons at a ripe age, it was, needless to say, disappointing to me to see our country’s highest ranking woman official act with all the grace of a Hippopotamus at the State of the Union Address in February.  Perhaps ironically, pundits on the right have given Nancy Pelosi a pass on her atrocious facial tics, rolling her tongue across her teeth, shoving her hands into the President’s personal space, and hand gesticulations toward her women (apparent) compatriots during the speech.  It seems that no one ever taught her, with all of her millions, that statesman-like or stateswoman-like self-restraint and politesse is incumbent upon one sitting in that chair.

I cannot join pundits on right and left in giving her a pass.  Why?  Because, as a feminist, it is important to me that our women officials comport themselves with all the statesman-like and stateswoman-like etiquette required, still today, in order not to look like a buffoon on stage, in front of the camera, and before the world.  It reflects poorly on all women when our highest ranking woman official is unable to control her facial tics while sitting as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives during the State of the Union Address (and then stands and plays with papers and notes as though she were at an academic conference!).

As someone who was, in fact, required to read Emily Post’s 1922 Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home as a kid, I found Pelosi’s using her tongue to play with her teeth throughout the entirety of the State of the Union Address – as though it made her look cool and political and oppositional – to be appalling.  It read more adolescent than oppositional.  It was, frankly, an embarrassment.

So, while Emily Post’s 1922 edition may need updating for today’s world, many of the basic rules still stand, above all for a state event: stand up straight, sit quietly, and smile politely. Do not run your tongue across your teeth, sneer, smirk, or gesticulate wildly as though you are trying to be the center of attention at Woodstock or Summer Stock rather than standing as third in command of the United States intended to listen to the President give the State of the Union Address.  Speak when it is your turn.  Do not try to steal the stage when it is someone else’s turn to speak.  These are pretty basic rules.  Nor are they gendered rules.  Vice President Pence was a bastion of polite tranquility by comparison to the frenetic Pelosi sitting next to him.  (Honestly, it was such an insult to our national pride and honor that I have to say, I have a Chihuahua-Jack Russell with a very similar tic in regard to his tongue and his teeth.  I have been gently trying to teach it out of him, and he is not an officer of state.)

I should add that, while Emily Post was required reading for me, along with learning both  American and British etiquette for arranging table settings, I was also allowed to get dirty, play in mud puddles, and other normal wholesome American kid behaviors.  Technology and changing social norms accounted for, Emily Post still, apparently, has something to teach us about basic manners that some of us have not sufficiently internalized.

If you think I am being too harsh, consider:  Women are quite capable of statesman-like and stateswoman-like demeanor.  Excusing Pelosi does a disservice to women writ large.  Let us call it what it is instead of trying to hide it.  In so doing, we can avoid allowing the well-meaning and the not-so-well-meaning, in terms of women’s equality issues, to use Pelosi’s impish behavior as an excuse to say that women just do not have what it takes to be serious in politics.






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‘That’s no joke’: Taking aim at Trudeau, Trump’s campaign chief compares U.S. job numbers to Canadian losses


For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it seems the fallout from his Buckingham Palace video slip-up is set to run and run.

In the days since the PM’s unguarded remarks showed him cracking a joke at U.S. President Donald Trump’s expense at a NATO summit in England, he has found the clip being used both by Trump’s allies and foes to further their own needs.

At a reception on Tuesday evening, Trudeau was caught on camera with France’s Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Boris Johnson and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands laughing at Trump’s long press appearances. “You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” said Trudeau. Trump said the clip showed Trudeau was “two-faced.”

In a news conference after the summit, Trudeau said his “jaw drop” comment had been referring to Trump’s unexpected announcement that the next G7 summit will take place at Camp David and he had meant no offence.

However, that doesn’t seem to have appeased the Trump side, and on Friday Trudeau was taken to task by Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale.


Brad Parscale, campaign manager for the Trump 2020 reelection campaign, attends a campaign rally for U.S. President Donald Trump in Bossier City, LA, U.S., November 14, 2019.

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

On Friday Bloomberg reported that Canada’s job market weakened, unexpectedly, for the second month in a row. Citing Statistics Canada figures, Bloomberg reported that Canada shed 71,200 jobs in November — the biggest drop since 2009. In total, Canada has added 285,100 jobs in 2019.

Pouncing on the November drop Parscale, citing Bloomberg reporting run online by the Financial Post, highlighted the fact that American job gains under Trump compare favourably to Canada’s numbers. The most recent U.S. Labor Department figures show the U.S. gained 266,000 jobs in the same month.

“Let’s see,” Parscale wrote in a post on both his Twitter and Facebook accounts, the latter of which was shared by Trump’s own Facebook page.

“President Trump is fighting for America and our economy just ADDED 266,000 jobs. Justin Trudeau was laughing it up in London and the Canadian economy just LOST 71,200 jobs. That’s no joke. Trump wins. Again.”

Parscale’s stinging rebuke came soon after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had chimed in on the Trudeau clip, posting a campaign video to Twitter in which he used the video to take down Trump, suggesting he is a laughingstock to other world leaders.

“The world is laughing,” read the text over that clip and others of Trump’s trips abroad. “We need a leader the world respects.”

As of Thursday evening, Biden’s Twitter video had garnered more than nine million views. The campaign soon posted it to Facebook and told Reuters it was also promoting it to likely caucus-goers in the early presidential nominating state of Iowa on Instagram, YouTube and Hulu.

The Biden campaign also used the video in a fundraising pitch on Thursday, asking supporters to help turn the online ad into a TV spot.

— with files from Reuters and Bloomberg



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To the Brink of Democracy and an Unholy Alliance with the US


With the installation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the second of the (self-declared) oldest democracies of the world, has, alongside political developments in the United States, reached a tipping point. The political system(s), and most importantly the traditional principle of the division of powers, of both will have to demonstrate their resilience against anti-democratic leaders. If this principle fails to show its working order and effectiveness, then democratic politics and the recognition of the rule of law in the US and the UK are seriously endangered. There can be no doubt that Johnson and his cabinet suffer from democratic illegitimacy: a handful of people, namely the party members of the Conservatives and Conservative Members of Parliament at Westminster, have voted for a new Prime Minister, while the nation’s electorate has been ignored. The counterargument that Johnson’s legitimacy derives from the mandate of the Conservatives’ win in the 2017 general election is, however, an invalid argument as the electorate mandated, and arguable rightly so, a prime minister (Theresa May) who promoted and pursued a very different agenda to Johnson. This is what received a public mandate, not Johnson.

As a consequence, Johnson’s premiership resembles a democratically illegitimate coup d’état by an elitist minority, now established with power over life-impacting decisions on future generations – namely the outcome of Brexit. New elections to receive a mandate, or not, would be the only democratically acceptable way forward. New elections to receive democratic legitimacy applies to Johnson as this demand similarly would have applied to Gordon Brown’s succession of Tony Blair in 2007. But Johnson would not be Johnson if he called for new elections as this would exhibit uncharacteristic honesty and democratic attitudes. As an alternative example in a comparative perspective, the then spiritual brother of Margaret Thatcher, the previous German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998), launched a similar change of government (although through a confidence vote, not party leadership change), but immediately announced new elections after his toppling of the previous government in 1983.

This points to the question of honesty in politics; and this brings us back to the reference to the US. With Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, the US and the UK, two Western nations that pride themselves as the oldest democracies worldwide, have two supreme political leaders who have a proven record of public naughtiness with regard to their uneven and erratic tempers, their disrespectful language and misbehaviour towards their likewise erratically chosen enemies (often in public through social media), their ignorance or dismissal of their fellow citizens’ sentiments and fair-mindedness; and whose behaviour is influenced, if not determined by egomania. Thus, the question arises inevitably: how could it come to this? One might probably have to admit that politicians have always twisted their arguments, even lied, have always pursued bipartisan ideologies, and have always needed a strong ego to sustain and be successful in political competition. This is very likely true. But what causes dismay and disgrace is the blatant and unashamed impertinence with which the Trumps and Johnsons of this world present their divisive ideologies time and again. (It is noteworthy that Trump has been the first well-wisher to Johnson, via Twitter, of course, in his typically gauche language, calling him a ‘good man’ and a ‘very good guy’).

But also this has been the case in history, one might say: there have always been nasty politicians, and the inversion of democratic values and political ethics into activist, thoughtless, and aggressive battle-cries is not only what we know from political literature, but also from history. (The analogy to fascism of Trump’s stirring-up rants during his rallies, for example, is not (yet) what Johnson does, but one does not need to stretch the imagination too far to imagine Johnson acting like this). However, the crucial point is: even if there are historic precedents of politicians acting and speaking like Trump and Johnson, this only raises suspicions of how far down politics has declined the UK and the US to have two supreme leaders who relentlessly violate democratic public goods and political ethics, foremost of which is their complete lack of respect for plurality, equality, law, and honesty.

Likewise, this points to another conclusion. There is no doubt that there are millions of decent people in the UK and the US who are offended and disgusted by the likes of Johnson and Trump. But the fact that such men have risen to the highest leadership raises, too, the question of the moral fabric of societies which create the conditions for them to rise to power. Just one simple question: We would be unlikely to accept a person who constantly lies and cheats in our circle of friends, but society has made it possible that they become installed as national leaders. As potential friends we would not grant them enough credibility to be trustworthy and we would turn around and tell them to leave a dinner party. But what do we do when such people occupy national executives and heavily influence our, and our children’s future? The founder of investigative journalism, the US journalist Walter Lippmann, in the 1920s stated that a society which cannot detect lies is not fit for freedom. Hence, are we fit for freedom?

Parts of British and American society appear to be sleepwalking into Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: amusing themselves so to not realise their loss of freedom. And there is a sheer endless number of trivial daily amusements in the modern, image-flooded, technological world. So, we have to be on our toes and relentlessly vigilant to master the challenge of our times: namely to work for the cultivation of public mores which would not allow the likes of Trump and Johnson to hijack politics. Such mores, i.e., foremost respect for plurality, equality, law, and honesty, would link the public mandate of leadership with esteem and decency which it has lost. Some may say that this was never the case, however, we should not forget about the differences between, for instance Jimmy Carter or John McCain and Donald Trump, or Boris Johnson’s record of dishonesty and amateurishness as Mayor of London and before. Loud activism seems to render politics ill-founded and desultory. But we as people should not accept this. We deserve better. But we have to get involved and make our disagreements and discomfort heard. We need to detect and unveil the twists and tweaks of their politics; and we must use all legal means to fight for our freedom and future which is threatened by egocentric and ill-prepared demagogues whose only skills are outrage and noisy political behaviour. However, to not sleepwalk like Huxley’s protagonists and not amusing ourselves to death (i.e., losing freedom) without noticing it, we need a further awareness because Trump’s and Johnson’s lies are creating deeper labyrinths. Their language is ‘gaslighting’, i.e. psychologically manipulative and distorting our perception of reality, reminding us of the eponymous 1944-movie with Ingrid Bergmann. To not have our political perception of what is ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’, ‘democratic’ and ‘undemocratic’, ‘respectful’ and ‘disrespectful’ destroyed and inverted, and to not get used to regard politics as per se evil and selfish, but to uphold certain standards of public life and mandate, we must cultivate our awareness and sharpness observing and critically commenting on politics; and not only amusing ourselves while drifting into the dystopia of a brave new world.

Coming back to Lippmann’s warning: It emphasises another indispensable condition for freedom to detect lies, namely to the value of education. Education is here understood not as specialised education in a particular subject, discipline, or profession, but as the cultivation of general knowledge and of political and ethical judgement, parallel to the German concept of “Bildung”. In other words, this skill of political judgment and knowledge would theoretically allow every individual to scrutinise the knowledge claims made by politicians. It would allow to check those claims for evidence, consistency, and factual truth. It would thus detect lies or “gaslighting”. This is a crucial target for primary, secondary, and HE in order to build and save democracy; and every democracy that really wants to be one should aspire this critical skill in its people. Many conclusions for the educational system and the national curriculum follow-on from this which to develop I do not have time here. But critical issues touch upon questions of student fees, elitism, social mobility through education, and curriculum development. The neo-liberalisation and the development of education into a market commodity seem detrimental to Lippmann’s plea and the conditions of its realization. Indeed, and this is last point I wish to make, there is seems to be a silent, but ever stronger and harmful complicity between the neo-liberalisation of education and authoritarian government – that is authoritarian precisely as it abolishes a critical civil society.

This aspect becomes visible through the application of a Foucauldian perspective on the relation between power and knowledge and would suggest that knowledge is organised in such a way that it produces a certain kind of society to make a certain kind of power organisation and execution possible. When applying this to the power of capitalist market ideology, then knowledge would be organised so that it produces a non-reflective, non-critical consumer: in large, a consumer society which does not critically explore politics, government, elections, public morality, the limits of law and ethics, but is complacent in superficial happiness, with money-making, and consumerism. Such critique of modern, industrial society is not new – we know such critique since the 1960s with Herbert Marcuse’s One-dimensional Man – but such critique receives novel topicality through the current overwhelming degree of political disenchantment and retreat into the private sphere. In this vein, it would be important research to study comparatively the structure, content, and historical developments of national curricula in the UK, the US, and elsewhere in order to determine and assess this ‘soft skill’, so-to-speak, of democracy and the future of democratic society.





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