Tag: Democracy

Fairfax cuts: the tension between capitalism and the news has reached breaking point | Jeff Sparrow | Opinion | The Guardian

It doesn’t take a genius to understand the consequences for democracy if we lose investigative reporters to an army of Perez Hiltons. Should we consider public funding?

Source: Fairfax cuts: the tension between capitalism and the news has reached breaking point | Jeff Sparrow | Opinion | The Guardian

Israel releases Palestinian journalist after 10 months with no trial | 972 Magazine

After 10 months of administrative detention, it appears the army no longer views Omar Nazzal as a dangerous threat — just like countless other administrative detainees who sit in prison for months, if not years. Palestinian journalist Omar Nazzal was released from Israeli prison on Monday after 10 months in administrative detention. Upon his release, Nazzal, a member of the General Secretariat of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, was welcomed by family members and supporters outside Ofer military prison, near Ramallah. [tmwinpost] Nazzal, 55, was first detained in April at Allenby Bridge while trying to leave the West Bank en route to an…

Source: Israel releases Palestinian journalist after 10 months with no trial | 972 Magazine

‘The Best Democracy Money Can Buy’ Claims Donald Trump Stole the Election (Video) – Truthdig

Greg Palast’s documentary told how millions of minority votes were discounted through a voter crosscheck program. Now, Palast demands that the DOJ investigate the crosscheck system.

Source: ‘The Best Democracy Money Can Buy’ Claims Donald Trump Stole the Election (Video) – Truthdig

Donald Trump Is the Greatest Threat to American Democracy in Our Lifetime | The Nation

Donald Trump’s tweets yesterday about “the millions of people who voted illegally in 2016” and “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California” cannot be dismissed as just another Twitter meltdown from the president-elect.

Source: Donald Trump Is the Greatest Threat to American Democracy in Our Lifetime | The Nation

In praise of our ABC – » The Australian Independent Media Network

By Loz Lawrey ABC radio grew my mind. I mean it. Each working day, throughout my career in the building industry, I listened exclusively to one of our public broadcaster’s fine radio stations as I toiled at my trade. While my body performed familiar routine activities on this physical plane, my mind travelled the world,…

Source: In praise of our ABC – » The Australian Independent Media Network

Clarke and Dawe: Democracy in Australia, a work in progress – Clarke and Dawe – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Australian Electoral Commission regional manager, Mark Eachbox

Source: Clarke and Dawe: Democracy in Australia, a work in progress – Clarke and Dawe – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Iran’s Rouhani calls for ‘united front’ against extremists – Your Middle East

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday called for a united front to fight extremists in the Middle East and said Tehran was ready to help “bring about democrac

Source: Iran’s Rouhani calls for ‘united front’ against extremists – Your Middle East

home australia world opinion selected sport football tech culture lifestyle fashion economy travel media environment browse all sections Greece Comment is free Greece is the latest battleground in the financial elite’s war on democracy

Irish famine, original illustration

From laissez-faire economics in 18th-century India to neoliberalism in today’s Europe the subordination of human welfare to power is a brutal tradition

Starving people clamour at the gates of a workhouse during the Irish famine,’One eighth of the population was killed – one could almost say murdered – by the British refusal [to set] policies that offended the holy doctrine of laissez-faire economics.’ Photograph: Hulton

Greece may be financially bankrupt, but the troika is politically bankrupt. Those who persecute this nation wield illegitimate, undemocratic powers, powers of the kind now afflicting us all. Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes.

The IMF is controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and all the means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.
The euro will be stuck with austerity unless it learns to embrace democracy

The same programme is imposed regardless of circumstance: every country the IMF colonises must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise its banking system; reduce government spending on everything bar debt repayments; and privatise assets that can be sold to foreign investors.

Using the threat of its self-fulfilling prophecy (it warns the financial markets that countries that don’t submit to its demands are doomed), it has forced governments to abandon progressive policies. Almost single-handedly, it engineered the 1997 Asian financial crisis: by forcing governments to remove capital controls, it opened currencies to attack by financial speculators. Only countries such as Malaysia and China, which refused to cave in, escaped.

Consider the European Central Bank. Like most other central banks, it enjoys “political independence”. This does not mean that it is free from politics, only that it is free from democracy. It is ruled instead by the financial sector, whose interests it is constitutionally obliged to champion through its inflation target of around 2%. Ever mindful of where power lies, it has exceeded this mandate, inflicting deflation and epic unemployment on poorer members of the eurozone.

The Maastricht treaty, establishing the European Union and the euro, was built on a lethal delusion: a belief that the ECB could provide the only common economic governance that monetary union required. It arose from an extreme version of market fundamentalism: if inflation were kept low, its authors imagined, the magic of the markets would resolve all other social and economic problems, making politics redundant. Those sober, suited, serious people, who now pronounce themselves the only adults in the room, turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult.

Those sober, suited, serious people turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult

All this is but a recent chapter in the long tradition of subordinating human welfare to financial power. The brutal austerity imposed on Greece is mild compared with earlier versions. Take the 19th century Irish and Indian famines, both exacerbated (in the second case caused) by the doctrine of laissez-faire, which we now know as market fundamentalism or neoliberalism.

In Ireland’s case, one eighth of the population was killed – one could almost say murdered– in the late 1840s, partly by the British refusal to distribute food, to prohibit the export of grain or provide effective poor relief. Such policies offended the holy doctrine of laissez-faire economics that nothing should stay the market’s invisible hand.
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When drought struck India in 1877 and 1878, the British imperial government insisted on exporting record amounts of grain, precipitating a famine that killed millions. The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited “at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices”. The only relief permitted was forced work in labour camps, in which less food was provided than to the inmates of Buchenwald. Monthly mortality in these camps in 1877 was equivalent to an annual rate of 94%.

As Karl Polanyi argued in The Great Transformation, the gold standard – the self-regulating system at the heart of laissez-faire economics – prevented governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries from raising public spending or stimulating employment. It obliged them to keep the majority poor while the rich enjoyed a gilded age. Few means of containing public discontent were available, other than sucking wealth from the colonies and promoting aggressive nationalism. This was one of the factors that contributed to the first world war. The resumption of the gold standard by many nations after the war exacerbated the Great Depression, preventing central banks from increasing the money supply and funding deficits. You might have hoped that European governments would remember the results.
Greek debt crisis: Tsipras gets ultimatum to reach deal or face Grexit – as it happened
On Sunday, European leaders will meet for a summit that will decide whether Greece gets another bailout or leaves the eurozone
Read more

Today equivalents to the gold standard – inflexible commitments to austerity – abound. In December 2011 the European Council agreed a new fiscal compact, imposing on all members of the eurozone a rule that “government budgets shall be balanced or in surplus”. This rule, which had to be transcribed into national law, would “contain an automatic correction mechanism that shall be triggered in the event of deviation.” This helps to explain the seigneurial horror with which the troika’s unelected technocrats have greeted the resurgence of democracy in Greece. Hadn’t they ensured that choice was illegal? Such diktats mean the only possible democratic outcome in Europe is now the collapse of the euro: like it or not, all else is slow-burning tyranny.

It is hard for those of us on the left to admit, but Margaret Thatcher saved the UK from this despotism. European monetary union, she predicted, would ensure that the poorer countries must not be bailed out, “which would devastate their inefficient economies.”

But only, it seems, for her party to supplant it with a homegrown tyranny. George Osborne’s proposed legal commitment to a budgetary surplus exceeds that of the eurozone rule. Labour’s promised budget responsibility lock, though milder, had a similar intent. In all cases governments deny themselves the possibility of change. In other words, they pledge to thwart democracy. So it has been for the past two centuries, with the exception of the 30-year Keynesian respite.

The crushing of political choice is not a side-effect of this utopian belief system but a necessary component. Neoliberalism is inherently incompatible with democracy, as people will always rebel against the austerity and fiscal tyranny it prescribes. Something has to give, and it must be the people. This is the true road to serfdom: disinventing democracy on behalf of the elite.

Is Iran Conquering the Middle East? When you thought things were getting easier don’t!!

Iranian flag (Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader)

Juan Cole on March 30

The rise of the Houthi movement in Yemen, the militias of Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and even the Syrian Arab Army of Bashar al-Assad are being configured by many analysts as evidence of a wide-ranging Iranian Shiite incursion into the Middle East. The Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, Israel’s recent bombing of Hezbollah bases in southern Syria, and Gulf Cooperation Council unease about Iraq’s Tikrit campaign are all a result of this theory of “the Shiite Crescent,” a phrase coined by King Abdallah II of Jordan. But is Iran really the aggressor state here, and are developments on the ground in the Middle East really being plotted out or impelled from Tehran?

It is an old fallacy to interpret local politics through the lens of geopolitics, and it is a way of thinking among foreign policy elites that has led to unnecessary conflicts and even wars. Polarized analysis is only good for the military-industrial complex. The United States invaded Lebanon in 1958, ostensibly on the grounds that Druse shepherds protesting the government of Camille Chamoun were Communist agents. A retired State Department official once confessed to me that many in Washington were sure that the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini was planned out in Moscow. On the other hand, I met a Soviet diplomat at a conference in Washington, DC, in 1981 who confessed to me that his country simply could not understand the Islamic Republic of Iran and was convinced that the CIA must be behind it. I would argue that Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and many Saudi and Gulf analysts have fallen victim to this “geopolitics fallacy.”

Iraqi Shiite militias can’t be read off as Iranian instruments. The Peace Brigades (formerly Mahdi Army) of Muqtada al-Sadr are mostly made up of Arab slum youth who are often suspicious of foreign, Persian influences. They became militant and were made slum-dwellers as a result of US and UN sanctions in the 1990s that destroyed the Iraqi middle classes and then of the US occupation after 2003. The ruling Dawa Party of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi does not accept Iran’s theory of clerical rule, and in the 1980s and ’90s many Dawa Party stalwarts chose to live in exile in London or Damascus rather than accept Iranian suzerainty. At the moment, Iraq’s Shiite parties and militias have been thrown into Iran’s arms by the rise of ISIL, which massacres Shiites. But the alliance is one of convenience and can’t just be read off from common Shiism.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah is strongly aligned with Iran. But it was formed around 1984 under the tutelage of the Iraqi Dawa Party in exile, and its main project was ending the Israeli occupation of 10 percent of Lebanon’s territory, which began in 1982. Its rival, the Amal Party, was more middle-class and less connected to Iran, even though it was also made up of Shiites. Exit polling suggests that some half of voters who vote for Hezbollah among Lebanese Shiites are nonreligious; they are supporting it for nationalist reasons and seeking self-defense against Israeli incursions. Lebanon is a country of only 4 million, and the Twelver Shiites are only about a third of the population, some 1.3 million, most of whom are children. The way in which Hezbollah has been built up in the Western imagination as a major force is a little bizarre, given that they have only a few thousand fighters. At the moment, they have a strong alliance with Lebanese Christians and Druze because all three generally support the government of Bashar al-Assad in neighboring Syria. But Lebanese politics are kaleidoscopic, and that political dominance could change abruptly. Lebanese Shiites are no more cat’s paws of Iran than are Lebanese Christians, many of them now allied with the Shiites and Alawites as well.

In the case of Syria, the Baath regime of Assad is a coalition of Alawite Shiites, secular Sunnis, Christians and other religious minorities. It has no ideological affinity with Iran’s right-wing theocracy. Even religious Alawites bear little resemblance to Iranian Twelver Shiites, having no mosques or ayatollahs and holding gnostic beliefs viewed as heretical in Tehran. But the question is moot, since those high in the regime are secular-minded. Iran has sent trainers and strategists to help Damascus against hard-line Salafi Sunni rebels, and is accused of rounding up some Afghan and other mercenaries for Damascus. Syria’s geopolitical alliance with Iran came about because of Syria’s isolation in the Arab world and need for an ally against nearby threats from Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

In neither Iraq nor Syria has Iran invaded or even sent infantry, rather supplying some special operations forces in aid of local Iraqi and Syrian initiatives, at government request. In both countries, Iran has Sunni clients as well as Shiite ones. In both countries, local forces reached out to Iran for patronage in the face of local challenges, not the other way around.

In Yemen, as well, the Zaydi Shiites, about a third of the population, bear no resemblance to Iran’s Twelvers. It is like assuming that Scottish Presbyterians will always support Southern Baptists because both are forms of Protestantism. The rise of the Houthi movement among Yemeni Zaydis involved a rural, tribal revolt against an authoritarian nationalist government and against the attempts by Saudi Arabia to proselytize Zaydis and make them into hard-line Sunnis, called Salafis. The Houthi family led a militant counter-reformation in favor of renewed Zaydi identity. Since the nationalist government of deposed president for life Ali Abdullah Saleh got crucial foreign aid from the Saudis, he gave the Saudis carte blanche to influence Yemeni religious culture in the direction of an intolerant form of Sunnism. The nationalist government also neglected the Zaydi Saada region in the north with regard to services and development projects. Yemeni tribes in any case do not necessarily foreground religion when making alliances; many Sunni tribes have joined the Houthis politically. While Netanyahu and the Saudis, along with deposed president number-two Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, accuse Iran of fomenting the Houthis, they are a local movement with local roots, and there is no reason to think that that their successes owe anything to Iran. Indeed, most of their success since last summer apparently derives from a decision by former president Saleh to ally with them and direct elements of the Yemeni army to support them or stand down in the face of their advances. To turn around and blame these developments on distant Iran is absurd.

The motley crew of heterodox forms of Shiite Islam, Arab socialist nationalists of the old school, rural tribal good ol’ boys and slum-dwelling youth that are shaking the Middle East status quo are not evidences of Iranian influence, or, in Netanyahu’s words, “conquest.” In each case, these local forces have reached out to Iran for patronage, and perhaps there was some broad, vague, Shiite soft power involved. As noted, however, Iran also has many Sunni clients, from the Iraqi Kurds to Hamas in Gaza.

From the 1970s forward, the Egyptian nationalist regime under Anwar El Sadat turned conservative and allied with the United States and Saudi Arabia, promoting political Islam culturally and unregulated markets economically. Thereafter, a status quo prevailed in the Arab world of nationalist presidents for life and monarchs and emirs, most of them US clients and amenable to neoliberal economic policies stressing the market and distributing wealth upward from the working classes. Either explicitly or implicitly, they gave up opposition to Israeli expansionism. They crushed formerly powerful socialist, Communist and labor movements, and used oil money to bribe the public into quiescence or deployed secret police to torture them into going along. That status quo was latently Sunni, in that most elites were drawn from that branch of Islam, including the president of Iraq and the prime minister of Lebanon—neither of which are Sunni-majority societies.

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In the past decade, that cozy order has broken down, in part at the hands of a new generation of Arab millennials unwilling to put up with it, but also at the hands of working-class grassroots movements. It also broke down internally. On the one hand, the nationalists in the Arab world are increasingly suspicious of the Saudi fondness for promoting Salafi fundamentalism. Thus, the Algerian and Egyptian officers are not as enthusiastic about the rebellion in Syria as are the sheikhs. And even the Americans, big champions of anti-Communist fundamentalism from Eisenhower to Reagan, have now drawn a line at Al Qaeda and ISIL, finding even Iran preferable. On the other hand, disadvantaged insurgents have risen up from below. The most important thing about these challengers is probably not that many have a Shiite coloration but that they reject the condominium of the Egyptian officer corps and the Saudi monarchs, with their American security umbrella, their free-market policies and their complaisance toward Israeli militarism (though, not all the pro-Iran movements have all of these concerns—Syria went neoliberal in the past two decades, for example). Iran is being entrepreneurial in supporting these insurgents against the prevailing order. It hasn’t conquered anything. If it has become more influential, that is an indictment of the old Sadat status quo.

What Is the Real Greek Morality Tale?

IMF GET OUT GREECE

NEW YORK — When the euro crisis began a half-decade ago, Keynesian economists predicted that the austerity that was being imposed on Greece and the other crisis countries would fail. It would stifle growth and increase unemployment — and even fail to decrease the debt-to-GDP ratio. Others — in the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and a few universities — talked of expansionary contractions. But even the International Monetary Fund argued that contractions, such as cutbacks in government spending, were just that – contractionary.

We hardly needed another test. Austerity had failed repeatedly, from its early use under U.S. President Herbert Hoover, which turned the stock-market crash into the Great Depression, to the IMF “programs” imposed on East Asia and Latin America in recent decades. And yet when Greece got into trouble, it was tried again.

Greece largely succeeded in following the dictate set by the “troika” (the European Commission the ECB, and the IMF): it converted a primary budget deficit into a primary surplus. But the contraction in government spending has been predictably devastating: 25 percent unemployment, a 22 percent fall in GDP since 2009, and a 35 percent increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio. And now, with the anti-austerity Syriza party’s overwhelming election victory, Greek voters have declared that they have had enough.

So, what is to be done? First, let us be clear: Greece could be blamed for its troubles if it were the only country where the troika’s medicine failed miserably. But Spain had a surplus and a low debt ratio before the crisis, and it, too, is in depression. What is needed is not structural reform within Greece and Spain so much as structural reform of the eurozone’s design and a fundamental rethinking of the policy frameworks that have resulted in the monetary union’s spectacularly bad performance.

Greece has also once again reminded us of how badly the world needs a debt-restructuring framework. Excessive debt caused not only the 2008 crisis, but also the East Asia crisis in the 1990s and the Latin American crisis in the 1980s. It continues to cause untold suffering in the U.S., where millions of homeowners have lost their homes, and is now threatening millions more in Poland and elsewhere who took out loans in Swiss francs.

Given the amount of distress brought about by excessive debt, one might well ask why individuals and countries have repeatedly put themselves into this situation. After all, such debts are contracts — that is, voluntary agreements — so creditors are just as responsible for them as debtors. In fact, creditors arguably are more responsible: typically, they are sophisticated financial institutions, whereas borrowers frequently are far less attuned to market vicissitudes and the risks associated with different contractual arrangements. Indeed, we know that U.S. banks actually preyed on their borrowers, taking advantage of their lack of financial sophistication.

Every (advanced) country has realized that making capitalism work requires giving individuals a fresh start. The debtors’ prisons of the 19th century were a failure — inhumane and not exactly helping to ensure repayment. What did help was to provide better incentives for good lending, by making creditors more responsible for the consequences of their decisions.

At the international level, we have not yet created an orderly process for giving countries a fresh start. Since even before the 2008 crisis, the United Nations, with the support of almost all of the developing and emerging countries, has been seeking to create such a framework. But the U.S. has been adamantly opposed; perhaps it wants to reinstitute debtor prisons for over indebted countries’ officials (if so, space may be opening up at Guantánamo Bay).

The idea of bringing back debtors’ prisons may seem far-fetched, but it resonates with current talk of moral hazard and accountability. There is a fear that if Greece is allowed to restructure its debt, it will simply get itself into trouble again, as will others.

This is sheer nonsense. Does anyone in their right mind think that any country would willingly put itself through what Greece has gone through, just to get a free ride from its creditors? If there is a moral hazard, it is on the part of the lenders — especially in the private sector — who have been bailed out repeatedly. If Europe has allowed these debts to move from the private sector to the public sector — a well-established pattern over the past half-century — it is Europe, not Greece, that should bear the consequences. Indeed, Greece’s current plight, including the massive run-up in the debt ratio, is largely the fault of the misguided troika programs foisted on it.

So it is not debt restructuring, but its absence, that is “immoral.” There is nothing particularly special about the dilemmas that Greece faces today; many countries have been in the same position. What makes Greece’s problems more difficult to address is the structure of the eurozone: monetary union implies that member states cannot devalue their way out of trouble, yet the modicum of European solidarity that must accompany this loss of policy flexibility simply is not there.

Seventy years ago, at the end of World II, the Allies recognized that Germany must be given a fresh start. They understood that Hitler’s rise had much to do with the unemployment (not the inflation) that resulted from imposing more debt on Germany at the end of World War I. The Allies did not take into account the foolishness with which the debts had been accumulated or talk about the costs that Germany had imposed on others. Instead, they not only forgave the debts; they actually provided aid, and the Allied troops stationed in Germany provided a further fiscal stimulus.

When companies go bankrupt, a debt-equity swap is a fair and efficient solution. The analogous approach for Greece is to convert its current bonds into GDP-linked bonds. If Greece does well, its creditors will receive more of their money; if it does not, they will get less. Both sides would then have a powerful incentive to pursue pro-growth policies.

Seldom do democratic elections give as clear a message as that in Greece. If Europe says no to Greek voters’ demand for a change of course, it is saying that democracy is of no importance, at least when it comes to economics. Why not just shut down democracy, as Newfoundland effectively did when it entered into receivership before World War II?

One hopes that those who understand the economics of debt and austerity, and who believe in democracy and humane values, will prevail. Whether they will remains to be seen.

The damage of Global Capitalism

It’s a lot easier for most of us in America to talk about the excesses of global capitalism when we’re still beneficiaries of the system. For billions of people with less geographic luck, capitalism’s excesses directly translate to necessity’s wants. Arundhati Roy tells some of those stories in her new book is Capitalism: A Ghost Story.

Arundhati talks with Chuck about how democracy went from powerful threat to pointless brand, why India’s fascist Prime Minister victimizes his own citizens yet is applauded by audiences of Western suckers, and the damage American NGOs like the Ford Foundation do to Indian domestic politics.

Arundhati Roy is a writer and political activist.

Princeton Study Uses the ‘O’ Word to Describe American Politics does it apply to Australia? For the record, the technical definition of an oligarchy is a country or institution controlled by a small group of people.

  Frequent presidential candidate and all-around rich guy Mitt Romney, who once referred to the poorest 47 percent of Americans as “takers.” Maria Dryfhout / Shutterstock.com

This won’t come as a total shock, but there’s some new hard data to back up what we already suspect anecdotally: Our democracy is really an oligarchy.

Looking at actual policy and polling, researchers at Princeton concluded that the wealthiest Americans tend to get what they want, or at least they did between 1981 and 2002 (the time frame on which the study focuses).

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” write Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Another quote from the peer-reviewed study: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Further reading (and depression) can be found at TPM and the Telegraph.

For the record, the technical definition of an oligarchy is a country or institution controlled by a small group of people.

The theory of “biased pluralism” that the Princeton and Northwestern researchers believe the US system fits holds that policy outcomes “tend to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.” Over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy

Israel and Mississippi: Racist Plans for Second Class Citizens and Religious Legislation:

Israeli activists dressed up as members of the Ku Klux Klan as a critique of right-wing politicians at the annual human rights march in Tel Aviv in 2011.

The Guardian reports that

“A controversial bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has been approved by cabinet despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character.

Opponents, including some cabinet ministers, said the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not for its minorities, and rights groups condemned it as racist.

The bill, which is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language.”

Netanyahu’s measure is much worse than that of Mississippi fundamentalists who want to declare Mississippi a principally Christian state and want to celebrate the white-supremacist Confederacy as part of the state’s heritage.

I wrote earlier of this kind of development when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was planning it out:

“So either way Netanyahu defines Jewishness, it disenfranchises substantial numbers of self-identifying Israeli Jews. If it is a matter of maternal descent, it leaves 300,000 or so out in the cold. If it is a matter of belief and observance, it leaves nearly 2 million Israeli Jews out of the club.

In addition, of course, 1.7 million Israelis, about a fifth of the population, are Palestinian-Israelis, mostly Muslim but some Christians. They are, in other words, a somewhat greater proportion of the Israeli citizen population than Latinos are of the US population (Latinos are about 17% of Americans). If current demographic trends continue, Palestinian-Israelis could be as much as 1/3 of the population by 2030.

Saying Israel is a “Jewish” state in the sense of race would be analogous to insisting that the US is a “white” state and defining Latinos as “brown.”

And saying Israel is a Jewish state in the sense of observant believers would be like asserting that the United States is a Christian state even though about 22% of the population does not identify as Christian (roughly the same proportion as non-Jews in Israel). The point of the US first amendment is to forbid the state to to “establish” a religion, i.e. to recognize it as a state religion with privileges (the colonists had had bad experiences with Anglicanism in this regard). While we can’t stop other countries from establishing state religions, we Americans don’t approve of it and won’t give our blessing to it, as Netanyahu seems to want. In fact our annual State Department human rights report downgrades countries that don’t separate religion and state.

While some countries have a state or official religion, that is different from what Netanyahu is demanding. Argentina’s constitution says Roman Catholicism is the state religion. But Argentina is not a “Catholic state” either in the sense of being mainly for people of Catholic religious faith (only 20% of Argentines are observant) or for being for persons descended from traditionally Catholic populations. Indeed, Argentina has about half a million Muslims, who are not discriminated against in Argentine law the way Palestinian-Israelis are discriminated against (their villages not ‘recognized’) in Israel. Anyway, as I said, in the U.S. we don’t approve of that part of the Argentine constitution. If all Netanyahu wanted was that Judaism be the ‘state religion’ of Israel, that could surely be achieved by a simple vote of the Knesset. He wants something much more, something that requires that outsiders assent to it.

Netanyahu’s demand is either racist or fundamentalist and is objectionable from an American point of view on human rights grounds either way (and I’m not just talking about the human rights of Palestinian-Israelis).”

Elsewhere I pointed out that Israel is moving in the opposite direction from Morocco, Tunisia and other more successful Middle Eastern states, which have new constitutions affirming citizen equality and freedom of conscience and avoiding specifying Islamic law (sharia) as the main source for law, in the way this new Israeli measure specifies Jewish law (halakha) as the inspiration for Israeli legislation.  Netanyahu’s Israel looks more and more like the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt of now-deposed President Muhammad Morsi.

“Netanyahu is also moving in the opposite direction from the more positive developments in the Middle East itself. Iraq’s old Baathist Arab nationalism (qawmiya) had racialized Arabness (which is really just a linguistic group) and had excluded the Kurds, who speak an Indo-European language, from full membership in the Iraqi nation. Interestingly, many Arabic-language news items on Netanyahus speech translate his use of “national” by the Arabic qawmiya, which has overtones of extremist nationalism of a racist sort. The new Iraqi constitution rejects that kind of racist nationalism. It recognizes Kurdish as a national official language (and Turkmen and Aramaic as provincial ones). Without denying the Arab or Muslim identity of the majority, it recognizes the right of the minorities to their own ethnic identities within the nation. It doesn’t say that Iraq is only a homeland for the Arab-Shiite majority.

And Morocco suffered deep political divisions between its Arab majority and Berber/ Amazigh minority in earlier decades. But its new constitution finally recognizes Berber/ Amazigh as an official language and celebrates Amazigh identity as one of the key heritages of all Moroccans, including Arabic speakers. The constitution does say that Islam is the religion of state, while guaranteeing freedom of belief and religion to the country’s Jews and adds:

… the Kingdom of Morocco intends to preserve, in its plenitude and its diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity, is forged by the melting together of its Arab-Islamic, Berber [amazigh] and Saharan-Hassanic components, nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences.”

So could we really expect Netanyahu to say that Judaism is the religion of the Israeli state and that:

… Israel intends to preserve, in its plenitude and its diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity is forged by the melting together of its Jewish and Palestinian components, nourished and enriched by its Hebraic, Arab and Mediterranean influences.”

No. Netanyahu is talking of an indivisible national identity, but its unity is achieved by exclusion, not by melting and inclusion. He does not celebrate Israel’s Arab heritage, but wants to exclude it from any claim on the national homeland, wants to make it lesser. (Arabic is an official language of Israel, but Netanyahu’s rejection of the idea of a binational state makes it clear he thinks it is very much a de facto and unfortunate component of Israel, not something to be celebrated).

Interestingly, the Israeli left has a different objection. They mind the idea of Israeliness, of the Israeli national identity (akin to the Moroccan national identity in the constitution, quoted above) being demoted in favor of a Jewish identity. Haaretz’s Hebrew edition wrote on May 5:

“Yesterday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu explained why he is promoting a new Basic Law: ‘The Nation State of the Jewish People’: ‘Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people is not given sufficient expression in our Basic Laws, and this is what the proposed Basic Law is meant to do’… For 66 years now ‘Israeliness’ has attempted to gain recognition and win independence, and has been rejected repeatedly by the establishment. It has been described as the ‘slivers of people-hood’ whose existence has not been proven, while at the same time, no one seeks to enact a law that will define and protect it. Again and again it is forced to bow before its ‘big sister’, the Jewish state… The creation of Israeli literature, Israeli art, Israeli music, Israeli theatre, Israeli humour, Israeli politics, Israeli sports, an Israeli accent, Israeli grief – are these not enough to speak of an ‘Israeli people’…?” [From [Hebrew language] editorial of left-of-centre, independent broadsheet Ha’aretz]. – [Trans. via BBC Monitoring]

Democracy in the hands of idiots. Part III

Democracy in the hands of idiots. Part III. 53898.jpeg

Okay world, that ritualistic, vacuous exercise in futile optimism, known as an “election” in America, is over, and the idiots again have spoken.

But how could they not?  After all, the entire concept of “democracy” in America’s corrupt, two-party system is nothing more than a farcical illusion, and the extent of this corruption has only been magnified by the Koch brothers controlled majority on the United States Supreme Court, who, in recent rulings, gave billionaires and corporations unbridled power to buy politicians of their choice.

In previous Pravda.Ru articles, I have argued that history is nothing more than a pendulum incessantly swinging back and forth between overreaction and regret, and the recent elections in America have vividly confirmed this thesis.

The coup of 2000, for example, that-thanks to a heavily politicized Supreme Court-saw George W. Bush steal the election from Al Gore, forever shattered the myth that politicians are concerned about “public service.”  If this were the case, then Bush, and indeed any person with a modicum of integrity, would have conceded defeat instead of defying the will of the people.

If there is one reality that slimy politicians can count on in America, it is the fact that Americans are notoriously devoid of long-term memories.  Although Bush entered office amid great outrage, the (conveniently timed?) attacks on 9/11/2001 quickly elevated him, and likeminded filth like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, to almost godlike status.

Segueing off of this deification, these kleptocrats decided to both ensure Bush’s reelection and further enrich themselves and their cronies in the military-industrial complex by manufacturing fictitious reasons to invade Iraq.

After all, history has shown that American voters are loath to change presidents during wartime, and, as Bush’s reelection demonstrated, it doesn’t matter who instigated the war, or for what reasons.

By the time the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld lies were exposed, it was too late.  But the regret it caused did result in the election of Barack Obama.

And, once again, optimism reigned supreme, especially amongst progressives who, for decades, were compelled to hold their noses while voting for Democratic candidates who championed none of their interests, but who represented the lesser of two evils.

It didn’t take long for Obama to prove that his campaign promises of progressive reform were empty words.  In many ways, with the increased spying on American citizens, the targeting and imprisonment of reporters and whistleblowers, the extrajudicial executions of American citizens, and the zealous defense of Bush-era abuses and abusers, Obama demonstrated that his administration was no better than the previous one, and, in some cases, perhaps even worse.

This disillusionment with Obama recently caused American voters, who just a few years ago were incensed by the lies, venality, and racism exhibited by the Republican party, to put Republicans back into power.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic!

After all, America’s two-party system is designed for nothing more than stagnation, and politicians schmoozing with lobbyists to obtain lucrative jobs after leaving the political arena.

In America, the strategy for political victory of one party over the other is simple.  Even without a majority in one or both Houses of Congress, there are usually enough minority party members (especially in the Senate) to foment obstruction and delay.  While this would seem to be a formula for political suicide, the reality is the President usually gets the blame for failing to “get things done”; therefore, Republicans simply blocked anything Obama attempted to do, despite the best interests of the people they supposedly represented.  This, in turn, gave them the ability to denounce Obama for the very stagnation they created.

Now that Democrats are the minority party in Congress, they will assume the role as architects of obstruction and delay, so, in 2016, they can castigate the Republican-controlled Congress for failing to get anything meaningful done.  

And the pendulum of idiocy swings on.

I realize I may sound harsh for condemning the idiocy of American voters, because the reality is that oftentimes they really have no choice.  Politics is a loathsome, dishonest, and corrupt business that repels decent human beings; therefore, only the loathsome, dishonest, and/or corrupt aspire to become politicians.

For example, a prank telephone call made by a disc jockey to governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin proved Walker is firmly in the pockets of the billionaire Koch brothers.  He was reelected anyway.  And Greg Abbott won the governorship of Texas, even though, while serving as attorney general, he went to extraordinary lengths to impede investigations into whether a man named Cameron Todd Willingham had been wrongfully executed.

Still, voters cannot be absolved from blame.  Political appeals to the basest instincts in human nature; the creation of contempt for the poor and working classes to obscure the economic inequalities that are causing the middle-class to vanish while the rich get richer; negative campaign ads that attack opponents instead of promoting a candidate’s own merits; and the exploitation of hatred and bigotry that causes people to act against their own economic interests are only effective because voters have habitually and predictably allowed them to be.

This is why many critics of American-style democracy have argued that voting as a means of social change is nothing more than an illusion.  Some have even argued that the only way to create a nation where human rights are more important than corporate rights; where being “pro-life” does not just focus on birth and death, but also on enhancing the quality of life during the years in between; where “natural” and “human” are viewed as more than just resources; and where the Bill of Rights applies to everyone, not just the rich and powerful, is through a revolution.

Unfortunately, it is too late.  Tactics that have been rubber-stamped by America’s so-called “justice” system-the indefinite detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution of American citizens; GPS, cameras, drones, and satellites tracking everyone’s movements; facial recognition technologies; and the unrestrained spying by the NSA, CIA, and FBI-will cause any revolutionary overtures to be decimated in their infancy.

So here America stands, a rudderless ship occupied by idiots elected or appointed by idiots.  And when it sinks, Americans will only have themselves to blame.