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Obama torches Trump like American democracy depends on it



POLITICO’s Lara Seligman and Dan Diamond discuss how they broke the story on the Pentagon’s $2.2 billion health care controversy — and what it’s like to have the president confirm your reporting.

“None of this should be controversial,” Obama said, with the characteristic exasperation he exhibits when he can’t believe that others don’t see something that is so blindingly obvious to him. “These shouldn’t be Republican principles or Democratic principles. They are American principles. But at this moment, this president and those who enable him have shown they don’t believe in these things.”

Of course, that’s the big obstacle the Biden convention faces this week: the blinding obviousness of the Trump threat as Democrats see it is not shared by roughly half the country and 90 percent of Republican officeholders. Not only is it not shared by them, but it is passionately denied. The president himself has invented an entire counternarrative that Obama is a criminal — guilty of ”treason” — who masterminded a fraudulent Russia investigation to kneecap his administration from its earliest days.

In a previous era, Obama would have spent some time trying to talk to those on the other side who believed such things. But it’s no longer 2004, when Obama became famous for arguing that the blue/red divide was a fiction invented by pundits. “I know that in times as polarized as these, most of you have already made up your mind,” he conceded.

His pitch was to those on the fence, Americans “still not sure which candidate you will vote for or whether you will vote at all.” He tried to empathize with these Americans and cast them as essentially people who have given up on democracy: a white factory worker with stagnant wages, a Black mom who believes the government “never looked out for her at all,” a new immigrant who wonders “whether there is still a place for him here,” and a cynical young person turned off from politics because of “the circus of it all, the meanness and the lies and conspiracy theories.” His point was that democracy can’t be taken away, but it can be given away when enough voters are encouraged to opt out of the system.

Before he was a U.S. senator from Illinois, Obama was a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago. His view of American history is that the Constitution was an imperfect document that excluded most Americans from citizenship and yet still gave future generations the best system to fix the original document’s deficiencies, and that progress is the story of our country.

He closed by retelling that history — the fights for abolition, and labor rights, and religious equality — and reminding voters that however bad things seem now, there is always the chance for renewal.

“If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work and could not work, it was those Americans, our ancestors,” Obama said. “They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from them then. And, yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and they said somehow, some way we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words in our founding documents to life.”

In most Obama speeches that tell the story of American progress and how we have always worked to live up to the promise of our founding documents, he seems optimistic and confident that that history will continue. In Wednesday’s speech, the question of whether America will get this right this time — at least in his view — seemed uncertain.

This is the same uncertainty Obama has been wrestling with since Trump was elected. According to one of his adviser’s memoirs, in late 2016 Obama’s confidence in his understanding of the American mood was shaken by Trump’s victory.

Since then, Democrats have regained a lot of political turf, mostly in 2018. But after Trump’s victory, Obama turned to his aides and asked a question that still hangs over the 2020 campaign.

“What,” he wondered, “if we were wrong?”



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Democracy, budget, solidarity, climate : what Europe post-Covid19 ?


In the long run, Europe has greatly contributed to the process of globalization that has been underway since the time of the great explorations. In a short time, Europe has been hit very hard by the pandemic and a historic recession is on the way.

Nothing prevents from reviving the plans of the European Community for Health  proposed in 1952. In economics, on the other hand, it is pointless to expect a new Marshall plan from the United States of America. 

This continent is not starting from scratch, Europe’s architects built a shared European house where peace, freedom, democracy, prosperity, the rule of law and a certain solidarity prevail. Determined, drawing their convictions from a shared trauma, that of the horrors of war, they were resistors and death camp survivors  and their ideals and values formed the backbone of the European Union. “Nothing is possible without men, nothing lasts without institutions” explained Jean Monnet who had imagined this organisation: a European Commission seeks the common European general interest and makes its proposals to the Ministers of States (Council) and citizens’ representatives (European Parliament) under the supervision of a Court of Justice. This revolutionary architecture – of shared sovereignty – has allowed to peacefully unite 27 countries, to conduct common policies (agriculture, Erasmus, trade, common currency, European GPS Galileo, research …) and to form regulations that inspire the whole world (data protection, energy efficiency, etc.).

Today the European Union needs progress to ensure autonomy and power to Europe. The time has come for new generations to live up to the European heritage. Taxation, budget, external or social action, the EU must decide more by (qualified) majority as unanimity is not democratic and does paralyze it. To move forward, energize industry and materialize a solidarity felt by everyone, its common economic capacity must be increased tenfold (the European budget weighs 1% of its wealth, against 24% for the American federal state) and the EU must be able to borrow.

A helping hand from Europe must definitively supplement the invisible hand – with shared unemployment insurance or a real supranational European reserve of citizens who can be mobilised during crises (doctors, firefighters, etc.) for example – to keep European peoples hopes up. The EU motto “United in diversity” could then be supplemented as follows: “United in diversity and solidarity”. Europeans have the means to be united without being uniform, in solidarity rather than solitary, democrats rather than vetocrats, but there is still an additional meaningful role to be found, an universal ambition to meet its historical greatness.

The Covid-19 has revealed Europe’s vulnerability. It should be better prepared for the crises on which scientists alert us, and climate change is the most frightening: collapse of ecosystems, inhabitable regions, fall in agricultural yields if we continue the current trajectory. Therefore the EU must urgently mobilise all its tools for economic recovery and debt to fight global warming through a decarbonised and fair transition. The EU has an historic opportunity to do so and a duty to the younger generations from whom budgets will be borrowed. The “never again” united its oldest ones, the “everything but not that” linked to an uncontrollable climate change unites all Europeans today (93% according to a survey).

Just seventy years ago, six European countries gathered around the shared management of coal to maintain peace between states, Europe must now clearly unite towards full decarbonisation in 2050 to save ecosystems, but also and above all convince and inspire the world to take action. There will be no prosperity, no resilience of humanity without protected ecosystems. Like Ulysses after a long journey, the European civilisation will only have a lasting existence by completing this last test which will bring it the recognition of all.

This generation is the last to be in capacity to act, so let’s be bold, ambitious and inspiring, keeping in mind the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “We do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children”.



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Instrumentalising the Health Crisis. On Herd Democracy and Human Dignity


In the series of Debates Digital online events, Dubravka Stojanović and Anna Lengyel talk to Debates on Europe’s Carl Henrik Fredriksson about how authoritarian politicians are using the Covid-19 pandemic to limit political freedom and further illiberal democracy.

They add elements of understanding of the situation in their respective countries to their articles we have published on Serbia and on Hungary, and evoke their personal experience.



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Internet Democracy in ‘New’ India


This era in India earmarks the journey of globalisation that began formally in the wake of the LPG (Liberalisation Privatisation and Globalisation) Policy in 1991. This is controlled almost entirely by means of information technology. It was initiated first by Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister. That initiative was, however, vehemently criticised by the Leftists. It does not actually explain if there is essentially any linkage between technology and richness. Alternatively speaking, it fails to identify if technological prosperity promotes or lessens poverty. Albeit a polemic issue, it has to be accepted that technology gives a poor person the opportunity to eclipse manual labour to a great extent and prosper better. Even Marx never suggested use of improvised and rudimentary articles. What he meant for was rather socialistic management of industrialisation instead of its abolition altogether.

Whatever the case, information technology entered the Indian economy gradually in the wake of the LPG (Liberalisation Privatisation Globalisation) Policy that was undertaken by the P. V. Narasimha Rao regime in India with the help of the then Finance minister and later Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. This Policy ushered a new era to India. Apart from the economic changes, it was also due to the versatile uses of information technology. It justifies globalisation as an extent of capitalism particularly in the sense that this is an age of finance capitalism where the movement of values is in terms of invisibles. The national income is well generated, the national growth is well quantified and the national power is well articulated particularly in terms of trade and commerce except the lacunae in the mode of that change. In other words, jobs are plentiful but most of them are volatile. As a result, pressure on the public jobs is continuously high on rise. Therefore, the worries of unemployment haunt the youth. Yet, it being the age of true competition, it requires every individual to be excellent on his/her capability to contribute to the cause of globalism of growth. Information technology is indispensable equipment in this regard.

Internet does have so many tentacles, positive as well as negative. It gives people convenient medium of exchanging news of different locations across the globe itself. As a result, any unethical incident happening at one place gets spread very fast through internet, that is, by means of various Social Networking Sites (SNSs). In this way, the emotional outburst gets the opportunity to take place in the forms of movements. These are mostly new social movements which are basically anomic in nature and mobilise people who irrespective of socio-economic backgrounds take to march in manners of civil disobedience. Thus, in case of the Nirbhaya Incident and the Anna Hazare Movement, the civic movements across the country in general and in New Delhi in particular invited State to come to terms with them in such a way that they would yield more fuel to continue their protests. Therefore, it can be said that the role of the SNS(s) ranged from public corruption to harassments of women. The magnitude of these movements was so decisive that they promoted change in political power through the General Election to the Lower Chamber (Lok Sabha) of the Parliament of India in 2014. In this way, the role of internet highlighted its communication potentials to the tune of supposing Indian democracy with strong cybernetics, which is more of a viable merit of globalisation that helps democracy being limited not only to politics but to social and economic aspects, too, that veers round again to reflect upon political democracy.

Internet is also exploited by some people with perverted characteristics. This is one of the toughest challenges to the State to overcome. In order to bridle such obnoxious usage of internet, India made legislation of the Information Technology Act in 2000 with necessary amendments following the first enactment. In 2015, the Narendra Modi regime took a commendable initiative by issuing a notification to all Internet Service License Holders regarding blocking access to the pornographic sites. But in the face of protests, that mainly took place through the SNS(s), the government had to step back by proscribing the child pornography sites only. Only legislations and strict implementations thereof cannot ensure prosperity. The proper sense of responsibility of the common people has to be very honest and respectful towards the moral aspects of life.

In conclusion, in today’s India, information technology has given primacy to the citizens the opportunity to harness their personality out of self-assessing their conditions of living amidst the surrounding happenings. This is no more an item of refreshment rather an essential equipment to move at par with the government. The government(s) nowadays are oriented to be digital. E-governance becomes an important orientation in the public sector nowadays. While on the one hand, it aims at dissolving the minimum chances of corruption, on the other, it appears to be universally accessible. E-governance aims at upliftment of the poor for whom reduction in transport cost, time and labour to that effect becomes invisible primarily but very much significant at the roots. It also makes the governance reach the citizens continuously, without any regular interruption that was a usual thing in case of providing utility services manually. Thus, there is an opportunity of utilising a 24-hour-day in its entirety. In this age of globalisation, when the public sector becomes a serious competitor of the private ones, digitisation is also a basic item that equips the public sector in that way by right. Therefore, the internet has given privileges as well as challenges to India which is new in the sense of the economic and according socio-political transformations. Overcoming challenges should be an essential target not only on the part of the State itself but also its members, that is, the citizens, even the imminent citizens as this group of population is now well versed in using internet at will.





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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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