Why the US and Britain are not democracies

Surely the United States and Britain are democracies. After all, they have free and fair elections and representative governments; freedom of speech and association means that dissent and demonstrations are tolerated; all citizens are deemed equal before the law; and individual civil liberties are respected.

In fact these countries are electoral oligarchies. Political power is closely allied with wealth and immigrants are regularly scapegoated for the inequalities fostered by state policies. Donald Trump’s recent ban on travel for citizens from Muslim countries is but the next stage in the increasingly obsessive and racist policing of those deemed foreign to the polity.

A cursory examination of the word democracy demonstrates that we no longer live, if we ever did, in democracies. True democrats must reject the exclusions and the inequalities which have become the acceptable face of liberal democracy.

Democracy against democracies

Let’s begin with the ancient Greek word “democracy”. The term does not denote a political regime as many have come to understand it. Monarchies and oligarchies are political regimes. They concentrate sovereign power in the hands of the wealthy few. In a democracy, by contrast, the people (the demos) – without qualification – govern. Who counts as a member of this group is an open question. Representative democracies of today, however, bound democracy to citizenship, and neurotically exclude those deemed to have no qualification. As the novelist Tom McCarthy recently argued, for the Athenians of ancient Greece a citizen was first and foremost a citizen of the world. As such they constantly put into question any attempt to restrict the demos.

Recent debates about immigration into Europe tragically confirm the terrible consequences of bounding democracy to a “legitimate” public, for those classified as foreign. Democrats must enact equality in the name of a common humanity, against political regimes which lay claim to the name of democracy.

The power exercised by the demos – or “kratos” in ancient Greek – signified the capacity to act politically, the collective ability to do good. For the ancient Athenians, public office, and representation, were very limited ways of exercising this power.

Democratic power rests on the presupposition that everyone is equal. It tests all political regimes, notably those which assume that democracy is only about voting. In both Britain and the US the representative system allows political parties with a mandate from only one third of the voting public to rule. Moreover limiting democracy to citizens who vote ignores the consequences of how citizens in the UK and the US live for distant others. Those who produce its food, are affected by its wars, produce the energy and goods – all the products which oil the wheels of Western lives. Democracy implies that such limits can never be justified.

Radical ways of thinking

The implications of this argument are radical and go well beyond considerations of immigration policy, although this is a salient place to start. It means that we should never simply equate democracy with existing political regimes. Liberal democracies radically limit the powers of the people. Freedom of information is restricted in the name of state security; every aspect of life is calculated according to the measure of profit, as value becomes almost completely monetary; inequalities of wealth and of pay are extraordinarily high; and equality is daily sacrificed on the altar of individual freedom while millions live their lives in debt, getting by from day to day.

Solon of Athens. Wikipedia Commons

It was no mistake that in 594BC, Solon of Athens insisted that Athenian citizens could not participate fully in public life if indebted. In Britain and the US today too many are marginalised by apparently poor credit ratings, and by state policies which privilege monetary rather than democratic accountability.

All democratic regimes undermine the equality they espouse. In securing borders they exclude others who might be deemed members of “the people”. In protecting against possible challenge and in institutionalising the “best” forms of rule these regimes police the equality which they simultaneously proclaim. It is an equality which rings hollow. Long before the revolutions against the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes, citizens of these states knew that the proclamations of those in power were ruses without foundation.

In the democratic regimes of the “West” today, citizens also live in a world of Orwellian double speak. A topsy-turvy world that tells us that the economy is growing, the stock market is at historic highs, satisfaction ratings have sky rocketed – yet these measures are a semblance which politicians use to pat themselves on the back. Our democracies are oligarchies which protect wealth yet blame those with nothing for the inequalities generated by their own practices.

What then is democracy?

Democracy takes place when equality is enacted in the name of the people. Those committed to democracy should ask themselves the question posed by philosopher Jacques Rancière: “What happens when we act as if all are equal?” To start with, the gross inequalities in wealth preserved by democratic regimes would be challenged. We would recognise that all are capable of participating in rule. Borders separating us “from them” are fictions which preserve inequality. We would reject a society which purchases the future of the young by tying them up in debt, and would ensure that everyone has a decent home not subject to the change in fortunes of a market in property – another one of those measures used to demonstrate the “health” of the economy.

There are instances when political regimes do foster such democratic practices, but these are few and far between. More interesting are the many instances, often unseen, sometimes banned and condemned, when democracy is enacted by the men and women of no property. In Newham in east London in 2014 the Focus E15 mothers’ group occupied housing owned by the local council, on the all but empty Carpenters estate. They were responding to the closure of a nearby hostel for the homeless, to cuts in housing benefit, and to a lack of affordable housing in the city.

The occupiers opened the empty “real estate” to the public as a social centre organising daily events and debates – much to the chagrin of the local mayor and his council who had proposed relocating the mothers and their families to Birmingham in the West Midlands and Hastings in the south. The campaign briefly gained national coverage as the mothers shamed the council into providing social housing on the Carpenters estate.

These women exercised extraordinary power. They did not ask the council for housing. They took what they claimed everyone is entitled to: a home. They refused to accept the council’s claim that there was no affordable housing. Having occupied the homes they engaged the wider public in a debate about the social cleansing of London. Their actions did not stop with this occupation. In the two years since they have lent support to immigrant communities victimised by racists. Other groups fighting social cleansing have sprung up across the south-east. They have lent support to those excluded from the bubble economy that is London, including Deliveroo workers demanding the right to unionise.

Having enacted the equality which democracy promises, these activists now have in their sights the equality distorted by Britain’s political regime. The test of democracy is that whether or not a practice enacts equality without limit in the name of a people unbounded by any prior principle. On this test the US and Britain are not, and never have been, democracies.


Read more in our series, On Freedom.

You can read more on the Conversation here

They Did Not Know Where A $13 Billion Ship Was????

On the 9th of April, it was reported that the US navy had deployed a strike group towards the western Pacific Ocean, to provide a presence near the Korean peninsula. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said China agreed with the Trump administration that “action has to be taken” regarding North Korea. “President Xi clearly understands, and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken,” Tillerson said.

“US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson strike group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the western Pacific,” said Commander Dave Benham, spokesman at US Pacific Command.

“When you a see a carrier group steaming into an area like that [it] is clearly a huge deterrence.” – White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, 11 April 2017

“We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. We have the best military people on Earth.  And I will say this: he is doing the wrong thing.” – Donald Trump, 12 April 2017

In light of all this, the world held its collective breath, understanding that two madmen, each with very short emotional fuses and the capability of starting Armageddon, were playing a very high-stakes game of chicken.

map-1But guess what?  There was no “armada” headed to the Korean peninsula.  The USS Carl Vinson was not even pointed in the direction of North Korea.  There was not so much as a tiny sailboat aimed at the Korean peninsula.  The USS Carl Vinson and its accompanying flotilla were, in fact, sailing south to take part in a preplanned training exercise with the Australian navy!

The question arises:  Did the entire Trump administration perpetuate this lie in order to threaten North Korean President Kim Jong-un and make the world sit up and take notice?  Or did they truly have no clue where the naval flotilla was?  Either way … this is the most blatant example yet of the mass incompetence and chaos in the White House!

Allegedly, now that the Carl Vinson and its strike force are finished training with the Australian navy, they are heading to the Korean peninsula, though it will be next month before they reach their destination.  I have no idea if this is true, given the propensity of Trump & Co. to lie, and the entire fleet may well be in dry-dock for all I know.  However, Sean Spicer, asked to clarify why he lied, fell back on newspeak:

“The statement that was put out was that the Carl Vinson group was headed to the Korean peninsula. It is headed to the Korean peninsula.”  Newspeak.

spicer-air-quotes

Defense Secretary James Mattis also refused to say that he had wrongly contributed to the narrative that an American flotilla was racing toward the Korean peninsula:

mattis“In our effort to always be open about what we’re doing, we said that we were going to change the Vinson’s upcoming schedule. We’re doing exactly what we said, and that is, we’re shifting her. Instead of continuing in one direction, as she pulled out of Singapore, she’s going to continue part of her cruise down in that region, but she was on her way up to Korea.”  Doublespeak.

Joel Wit, a co-founder of the 38 North programme of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the confusion was “very perplexing”. “If you are going to threaten the North Koreans, you better make sure your threat is credible. If you threaten them and your threat is not credible, it’s only going to undermine whatever your policy toward them is.”  Makes sense, but I think we can all agree that there is no policy … policy has been replaced with spur-of-the-moment tweets and off-the-cuff rants.

It is clear that what we mostly believed to begin with is true.  We can never believe anything we are told by this administration.  This lie was beyond ‘alternative fact’ … is was a bald-faced lie whose only possible purpose was to threaten and bully Kim Jong-un and deceive the American public.  I, for one, am incensed.

Games like this are NOT how we keep America safer, NOT how to make America ‘great again’, but instead are how we endanger every life, not only here, but around the globe.  Donald Trump and his minions must be removed from office as quickly as possible … there is no other choice if we wish to preserve the human race.

Featured image ocean

You can follow Jill Dennison at her webpage Filosofa’s

 

The Case For Compulsory Voting …

There are a number of reasons that we in the U.S. find ourselves with a madman at the helm.  Certainly, the Russian connection played a role, though it remains to be seen just how much of a role.  James Comey, perhaps pressured by another, played a role.  Voter laws that disenfranchised members of certain groups had a role.  But perhaps the largest reason was voter apathy … many were simply too lazy or too disgusted with both candidates to take an hour out of their year to go vote.

Only about 25% of eligible voters voted for Donald Trump.  Let that one sink in for a moment.  About ¼ of citizens over the age of 18 voted for Trump, yet he now sits in the Oval Office.  Voter turnout in the 2016 election was only around 55%.* Barely half of all those who had the opportunity to make their voices heard chose to do so.  That, my friends, is pathetic. It should be criminal … and in some places it is.

In Australia, voting is compulsory for federal and state elections for citizens aged 18 and above. A postal vote is available for those for whom it is difficult to attend a polling station. Early, or pre-poll, voting at an early voting centre is also available for those who might find it difficult to get to a polling station on election day. Eligible citizens who fail to vote at a State election and do not provide a valid and sufficient reason for such failure, will be fined. The penalty for first time offenders is $20, and this increases to $50 if you have previously paid a penalty or been convicted of this offense.

While compulsory voting is not widespread around the globe, there are 22 countries with mandatory voting laws on the books, of which 11 actually enforce said laws.  In most cases, penalties for failure to vote are minimal, a slap on the wrist, but the law does compel most to vote.  Higher voter turnout leads to governments with more stability, legitimacy and a genuine mandate to govern. Let us look at some of the pros and cons of compulsory voting.

Pros

  • A higher degree of political legitimacy: the victorious candidate therefore represents a majority of the population.
  • High levels of participation decreases the risk of political instability created by crises or charismatic demagogues.
  • Removes obstacles for minorities and other marginalized groups who are typically disenfranchised by voter laws.
  • Makes it more difficult for extremist or special interest groups to get themselves into power or to influence mainstream candidates. If fewer people vote, then it is easier for lobby groups to motivate a small section of the people to the polls and influence the outcome of the political process.
  • Since campaign funds are not needed to goad voters to the polls, the role of money in politics decreases.

Cons

  • It is essentially a compelled speech act, which violates freedom of speech because the freedom to speak necessarily includes the freedom not to speak.
  • People do not wish to be compelled to vote for a candidate they have no interest in or knowledge of.
  • Certain religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, may be against political participation.

I believe the ‘pros’ far outweigh the ‘cons’, and the arguments against compulsory voting are easy enough to overcome.  A system for compulsory voting may include an exclusion based on religious beliefs.  I have no sympathy with the argument that people may not have knowledge of a candidate.  Perhaps 50, or even 20 years ago I might have, but today, with the touch of a button people can educate themselves about the candidates and their platforms.  To fail to do so is simply a matter of laziness.  When it comes to not liking either candidate, there may be an option on the ballot to select ‘none of the above’.  At least in this case, it is understood that the voter is making a statement, stating a preference.

As for the argument that it may infringe on a person’s right to free speech, I would claim that along with rights come responsibilities.  The right to vote is equally a responsibility to participate in the election of the people whose decisions will affect every person within the country.  Voter apathy is either not caring or being too lazy to spend one hour a year going to the polls to make your voice heard.  Voter fatigue, however, is something entirely different, and I believe that it was this, more than anything, that led to the low turnout in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The campaign began in earnest in July 2015, and from that time forward we were subjected to almost non-stop debates, media coverage, rallies, political advertisements, and divisive vitriol.  Campaigns and election seasons have become almost non-stop, as we have seen by the fact that Trump is already campaigning for re-election in 2020.  I would very much like to see a moratorium on all campaign advertisements and events until three months prior to the actual election.

One final argument in favour of compulsory voting is that it is likely to lead to more moderate, less extremist candidates winning office.  According to political scientist, Waleed Aly:

“In a compulsory election, it does not pay to energize your base to the exclusion of all other voters. Since elections cannot be determined by turnout, they are decided by swing voters and won in the center… That is one reason Australia’s version of the far right lacks anything like the power of its European or American counterparts. Australia has had some bad governments, but it hasn’t had any truly extreme ones and it isn’t nearly as vulnerable to demagogues.”

While I understand that, especially in today’s political climate, it is highly unlikely we will adopt a system of mandatory voting, I would be in full support of such a measure.  The current system under which only 25% of the population selected the leader whose chaotic leadership is wreaking havoc in our nation makes our system far less of a democracy than we believe. (I found an interesting breakdown by state of voter turnout in the 2016 election.)

Compulsory voting would solve only a part of the problem with U.S. elections.  The other two remaining issues that render our current system less than fully representative of the population are gerrymandering and the electoral college.  An overhaul of both these would certainly lead to more representative outcomes, but until every person who is eligible to vote chooses to do so, We The People will continue to be led by leaders who were not elected by the majority of the citizenry, but rather the most outspoken.

* Interestingly, the highest voter turnout in the past two decades was in 2008, when 62.2% of voters participated in the election of Barack Obama.

You can follow Jill Dennison at her webpage Filosofa’s

 

 

 

In The Name Of Compassion???

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” — Albert Schweitzer

“We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.” — Ellen DeGeneres

“I do not challenge the conservatism of this administration. I do challenge its failure to exhibit a compassionate conservatism that adapts itself to the realities of a society ridden by class and race distinction.” – Vernon E Jordan, Jr., (1981) in response to conservative cuts under Reagan to programs designed to help the needy

“Compassionate conservatism is dead; Trump and his band of backward-thinking devotees killed it.” –– Charles M. Blow, New York Times, 23 February 2017

Definition of ‘compassion’:  sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. – Merriam-Webster


Last month, as Trump sent his preliminary budget to Congress, White House Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, made the following statement:

“The president knows who his voters are. His voters are folks who pay taxes as well. And I think for the first time in a long time, you have an administration that is looking at the compassion of both sides of the equation. Could I, as a budget director, look at the coal miner in West Virginia and say, ‘I want you please to give some of your money to the federal government so that I can give it to the National Endowment for the Arts?’ I just think we finally got to the point in the administration where we couldn’t do that.”

Never mind that the money spent on such things as the arts and PBS might well be the key to helping educate that coal miner’s children so that they can grow up to have a better life than their father.  And never mind that the money saved by dropping the arts and PBS is earmarked to go toward military expansion.  Apparently Mr. Mulvaney would have no problem asking that coal miner for some of his money to build more tanks, planes and warships.

But it doesn’t even end there.  The budget calls for cuts to other humanitarian programs:

  • Meals on Wheels – delivers meals to individuals, typically elderly people at home who are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals.
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance – helps low-income families pay their heating bills.
  • The Choice Neighborhoods program – rejuvenates public housing and provides a safe space for low-income families to live in their communities.
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – assists with healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five.
  • The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) – provides emergency food assistance for Americans living in poverty.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers – helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to low-income families.
  • The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant – provides up to $4,000 per year for low-income students trying to pay for college.

The Trump budget calls for significant cuts, and in some cases complete de-funding, of each of these humanitarian causes, and yet Mick Mulvaney calls it a ‘compassionate’ budget.  It isn’t as if, by cutting the above programs, taxes will be reduced on the struggling middle class, or on that coal miner Mulvaney is so concerned about, since the funds will simply be shifted to the expanded military budget.  Little Donnie wants more tanks and army men to play with but cares not a whit about people starving or freezing to death.

“You’re only focusing on half of the equation. Right? You’re focusing on recipients of the money,” Mulvaney said to a reporter who balked at his “compassionate” defense of the cuts. “We’re trying to focus on both the recipients and the folks who give us the money in the first place, and I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard earned money anymore”.  But MICK … you will still be taking our hard-earned money, just to provide unnecessary and costly military equipment instead of food, shelter and heat for people … human beings.  How the Sam Heck do you call that compassionate?

Might I inform you, Mick, as a citizen, a voter, and a long-time taxpayer, that I would much prefer my tax dollars going to feed, shelter, clothe, and educate people in need than to expand an already bloated military!  Would you mind listening to me?  I believe, that put that way, at least 75% of my fellow-citizens will agree with me!

For eighty-two days now … 82 long, tiresome, contentious, stressful days, we have been subjected to ludicrous lies, ‘alternative facts’, petulant temper tantrums, destructive policy proposals, and worse.  Now, add to the list the re-definition of certain words, starting with the word ‘compassion’.  In the Not-So-Brave-New-World of Trump & Company, compassion no longer means concern or caring about others.  I do not know quite what it does mean to Messrs. Trump and Mulvaney, but it does not really matter, for it will likely take on another new meaning in a week or so.

In the words of poet Harley King: “Nothing stays the same and nothing changes. What is old today will be new tomorrow. What is new today will be forgotten tomorrow.”

You can follow Jill Dennison at her webpage Filosofa’s

Featured image Red Raiph

 

CAT IN THE HAT DONALD TRUMP

I do not like him or his hair

I do not like his angry glare

Or riding on a Camel hump

I do not like that Donald Trump

I do not like his orange face

His policies are a disgrace

I do not like his suit and tie

I do not like his beady eyes

He’s about as smart as Forest Gump

I do not like that Donald Trump

I do not like his fascist chums

And his crazy views on the Muslims

I do not like his tiny hands

I do not like for what he stands

I do not like the things he says

Or where on women his hand lays

He is the chief of all the chumps

I do not like that Donald Trump.

I do not like his Mexican wall

To make them pay takes some gall

He moans about the fake news

I hope it’s giving him the blues

You can only ask him stuff he likes

Just like Hitler and his Third Reich

Get rid of him I do beseech

This president we should impeach

With climate change he’ll do the trees in

He’s not afraid of committing treason

In the bin he should be dumped

I do not like that Donald Trump.

I do not like his nuclear expansion

While living in a gilded mansion

He’s got his hand upon the button

His face is like a cut of mutton

I do not like his Stepford wives

Just look at her she has no live

This man child he is a bully

A simpleton with brain so woolly

This bad man he is a racist

He sees the colour in our faces

He treats women like they are strumpets

He grabs a leg and then he’ll hump it

This planet really took a slump

When they elected Donald Trump.

 

You can Follow John Scott on twitter at @JohnScottComedy or at JohnScottComedy Dissent

A Most Concerning Situation …

 

 

 

 

 

The headline this afternoon reads:

U.S. Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on ISIS Caves in Afghanistan

And my first thoughts are:

  • Why? Has Donnie, having gotten a taste of the power of his office, simply decided to play war?
  • How many civilians did we kill this time?
  • How many people could have eaten for a week on what this cost?
  • What ramifications can we expect?

 

bomb.jpg

GBU-43/B MOAB … aka … Mother of All Bombs

The bomb was allegedly dropped on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan. According to New York Times writer Helene Cooper, “It was unclear whether any civilians were killed. The military insisted that it took every precaution to avoid such casualties. But the Pentagon has come under increasing criticism that as it has intensified the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the civilian death toll has risen sharply.”

Forgive my cynicism, but last week the U.S. released 59 Tomahawk missiles on an air base in Syria that did minimal damage, and the air base was operating again within hours.  Then on Tuesday, an airstrike by the American-led coalition killed 18 of our Syrian allies.  This was the third time in a month that American-led airstrikes have killed civilians and/or allies.  Is anybody looking where we are lobbing all these expensive weapons?  Is killing members of Daesh more important than all other lives?  And even earlier on in the Trump regime, there was Yemen …

In his first military operation, just over a week after taking office, Trump ordered an attack on Yemen which killed civilians, as well as one U.S. soldier.  President Obama’s aides had proposed this operation, but President Obama did not act, fearing the risk of costing innocent lives was too great. Trump, however, had no such compunctions.

So, we have a little boy in a man’s body in the White House who has discovered the toys in his new toy box and is using them, willy-nilly, to cause unrest around the world.  But perhaps the most dangerous situation lies in North Korea, where an unstable dictator, Kim Jong-un, may well be preparing to rise to the occasion of Trump’s poorly considered speech.

“North Korean state media warned on Tuesday of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression, as a U.S. Navy strike group steamed toward the western Pacific – a force U.S. President Donald Trump described as an “armada””.Reuters, 12 April 2017

FILE PHOTO - Sailors man the rails of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, as it departs its home port in San Diego, California

USS Carl Vinson

Trump, trying to be either funny or mysterious, when questioned about his intent toward North Korea, said, “You never know, do you? You never know.” This is the answer I would expect from a five year old who was asked if he needed to go potty, not a 70+-year-old man who is the leader of a nation of 330 million people!

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with Trump by phone and urged a ‘peaceful resolution’ on Wednesday, as the aircraft carrier strike group steamed toward the Korean Peninsula.  Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, “We hope that the relevant parties do not adopt irresponsible actions. Under the current circumstances, this is very dangerous.”

Trump tweeted the following two tweets:

  • North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.

  • I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!

“What is clear from this posturing is that the White House is focused on North Korea, and likely attempting to deter North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from testing a weapon on April 15, the 105th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. What’s not clear is exactly what U.S. policy toward North Korea is right now. Deterrence is not going to work. Kim Jong Un is extremely likely to call the U.S. bluff. Then what?”Foreign Policy, 13 April 2017

A general view of an annual central report meeting in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang

One possibility that I have heard posited and argued in the last few hours is that Trump may have sent the “armada” as he calls it into the Korean Peninsula in hopes that Kim Jong-un will fire at the ships, thus giving Trump an excuse for further military action.  I certainly cannot deny that possibility, but hope it is not the case and that the more rational, intelligent minds of McMaster and Mattis are calling the shots.

I have said since long before the election that Donald Trump is nothing more than a large playground bully, and the past 83 days have borne this out.  However this aggression toward a nation with nuclear capacity AND a madman at the helm, is irresponsible, at best.

Everything I have read indicates that North Korea does not likely have the capability at this time of hitting a major U.S. city with a nuclear warhead, and that such capability remains a few years into the future.  While this is reassuring, what is not reassuring is the temperaments of the two leaders in question here, and the current tensions do not bode well for the future of, not only the U.S. and North Korea, but the entire human race. Somebody needs to take little Donnie’s toys away from him before he plunges the world into disaster.

You can follow Jill Dennison at her webpage Filosofa’s

 

Has the US invented a Chemical Weapons Attack?

President Trump has ordered an attack on an airbase in Syria in response to an apparent sarin gas attack in Idlib province. However, the stricken airfield is a Russian base of strategic importance and Moscow is not taking this well.

Early on Tuesday social media in the Syrian province of Idlib began to report a gas attack, describing how planes were seen and heard dropping shells on civilian targets. As the day progressed it became obvious the province’s few functioning hospitals were not able to cope with the numbers of those injured. In what was quickly determined to be a sarin gas attack, over 70 people were killed and hundreds seriously injured – children were among the dead and wounded. International outrage was immediate.

In both the United States and the United Kingdom the incident was described as a war crime and the finger of blame was again pointed at President Bashar al Assad. During trade negotiations with Chinese premier Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, President Trump order retaliatory action. According to the Pentagon, in what was described as a “legal proportional strike,” naval destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross launched a combined tomahawk missile assault on Shayrat airbase near Homs from locations in the eastern Mediterranean. Despite the Trump administration alerting Russia – which had personnel at the airbase – before Congress, the attack now raises the possibility of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the United States in Syria.

Black – the Senator for Virginia – pointed to the questionable reliability of the witnesses, the White Helmets – who he describes as “terrorists” and “an arm of al-Qaeda.” The sexed up nature of the dossier against Assad doesn’t end here. In 2013 a sarin attack in Damascus almost triggered an international intervention, to avoid which the Syrian government surrendered its entire stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. Later the same year Turkish authorities intercepted al-Qaeda agents attempting to cross into Syria with sarin gas and the chemical components needed to produce it. Even the UN confirmed that munitions captured from “rebel militants” contained sarin.

020

Sarin gas, or GB (G-series, ‘B’), is lethal even at very low concentrations.

Without any real investigation into the attack in Idlib, it would appear to be the case the Trump administration has leapt upon this incident as a pretext for military involvement. Russia – allied with Syria – has responded by cancelling its agreement with the US to avoid engagements with US forces in the country, a step that does bring us closer to a widening of the conflict. The UK has said that it fully supports the actions taken by the United States, thus indicating that it may be prepared to commit ground troops to the US-led coalition in the event that Russia refuses to back down.

All of this – from beginning to end – smacks of fake news. The photographic evidence for the sarin attack has been called into question by independent experts who have pointed out the absence of the protective clothing required to deal with such a deadly neurotoxin – lethal even at very low concentrations. International monitors doubt that Assad has such an arsenal, and we know that the rebels do. Yet without waiting for an investigation the US has upped the ante, creating all the conditions necessary for a more serious global conflict that will undoubtedly involve Britain. The only thing that is clear is that the news is the last place we will get reliable information.

 


‘Why would Assad attack civilians not military? It’s simply irrational’ – U.S. Senator

You can follow Jason Michael at his twitter page @Jeggit or at his webpage The Random Public Journal
Jason Michael is a  Scottish journalist and blogger based in Dublin. Writing on politics and society. Columnist for iScot Magazine and author of the Random Public Journal.

The Risk of Victory: Race and Liberal Spectacle

Today we live in a society in which we have a firm notion of what ought to be said and more importantly what should not be said. Since the 1960s, in the West, the liberal left have won great victories based on outward civility and the idea that bellowing a racial or sectarian slur in someone’s face – or putting on a white hood and going for a night time, cross burning right are to be seen as disgraceful. Bravo. But in this victory over the outward manifestations of prejudice lies the seeds of our current malaise and possible defeat. We know what we ought not to say in the public realm but have nothing to substantially roll back the hidden insidious sentiments which plague societies across the globe. As Martin Luther King once said, “a law can stop a man lynching me, but it can’t make him love me.”

Like many from ethnic minority backgrounds, both Brexit and the rise of Trump have not been surprises but natural coup de graces in the waiting. It is a torment to be able to see a train crash in super slow motion while many friends and progressives around you aren’t even aware of the tracks. Whatsmore it breaks down your confidence in being part of a nation or movement that can protect you psychologically or physically. In my mind throbs the damning preposition – If they didn’t see this coming…they’re not ready for the real battle. The seeds of Trump were laid in the Southern Strategy of Nixon’s 1968 campaign and earlier. As for Brexit, that battle was lost before it had begun and the left still does not quite understand why it lost.

To paraphrase the words of Alasdair Gray who in his seminal work Lanark said, “you make the gravest mistake in politics…you think you can achieve change by talking to leaders, leaders are the effects of changes, not the cause”. Much the same could be applied to events which have been building up for decades under the official culture of a socially liberal veneer. We’ve confused the gentleness of British public life and liberal hounding of social faux pas for actual progress. Especially the English left which has spent the past 50 years pretending England does not exist and if it does, deserves in body and soul to be yielded up to the Tory vision of identity. After leaving London and going to university in York and traveling around England outside liberal circles, you can clearly feel and hear a reactionary undergrowth. The actual perceptions and attitudes of folk.

It additionally comes as a surprise to liberal friends when I say that I am not offended or too cornered with Trump from a personal perspective. Imagine it, there I am at a friend’s meal, black and silent as a bat and all around me swirls the self-congratulatory crowing of liberal victory. This is bad comrades and we are good at showing how bad we think bad things are. Bad.

Of course I find his politics an anathema and the very essence of cheap bigotry found in the locker rooms of Dallas ballparks. But I am  also   fond of it. You see – I like my racists out in the open where I can see them and have no sympathy with a liberal culture which first, creates the conditions by which racist populism rises, then  engages in the pantomime of “a decent white narrative.” This is the idea of firing out all the curses and blows against a prejudiced candidate  one can  in order to look decent and appear enlightened while all the while holding rotten racial views one self or doing nothing practical to build   substantial alternative. This liberal hypocrisy has a natural home in the media – the Guardian, New York Times (even some Scots pro-independence outlets) and mainstream socially liberal political parties.

If this is unclear, let me give you an example. A thought experiment if you will. What would you say, as a reader of any race, is more insidious and lethal to ethnic minorities in America? The vulgarities of Trump on the podium or the quiet acquiescence that many liberals/centrists deploy when confronted with systematic abuse by police, an imbalanced criminal justice system and employment discrimination of their “coloured” hombres. What kills? The word of hate or the silence after the bullet. A prescient question since I know acquaintances who would howl about Trump but will make wry comments about black lives matter or the odd side comment about Arabs or Muslims….the latter two are freely interchanged. The jury that acquits a police officer of shooting an unarmed black male or the policemen himself may never have uttered a slur or dubious comment in their lives, but live drenched in the unconscious odour of bias and dormant prejudice. In other words, all of klan men are racists but not all racists are members of the klan.

Then we see media outlets that decry racial demagogic language yet fail to empower the voices of Muslims, Afro-Caribbeans, southeast Asians or Arabs. Your kind word means nothing if you do not work to fix the structural imbalances at the root of cheap racism. What use is a “male ally” of feminism is he can not understand that his voice is only relevant, not as a chorus to feel good, but his actions must become a tool to uplift and practically empower those being abused? If we narrow the topic down to Scotland we can note that I am the only black journalist at a ‘major’ news outlet in Scotland. Yes, yes, I hear it now – “there aren’t that many of you.” But the point is also relevant if you widen the question to any ethnic minority group.

Scots Asians are criminally left out of regular reporting or commentary except if they are exceptions of high profile. Name five regular mainstays of Scottish news writing who are of Asian extraction. Ya can’t do it can you bruh? And they are there, for I have met young Asian and Muslim women who are desperate to express their experience but alas there is no vehicle. As a unit the media – liberal, bourgeois and reactionary in righteousness can not offer to practice a thing deeper than what it preaches.

Decry Trump all you want but remember you’re not going to get a sticker for that low hanging fruit.

Racism isn’t a game for me. It is an existential crisis. So is the rise of right-wing populist movements on the continent and the US.

Unless we are ready to tackle the underlying sources of discrimination even in ourselves we can not hope to genuinely end discrimination.

 You can follow Robert J Somynne  on twitter at @RobertJSomynne  and at his blog robertsomynne.blogspot.co.uk

 

“The Trump Card” – How the EU is countering US escalation on Iran

.

Now I have a confession to make about my political leanings on the EU. I am a eurosceptic. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has read any of my other writings or previous analysis on the intersection of racial identity with the “European ideal”. But it is nonetheless where I stand on the line between bat shit crazy Brexiteer and EU high romanticism. The details of my Euroscepticism we shan’t go into much detail – save to say that it should be noted as the context which frames the argument in this short piece. The main premise of my polemic is that it is the EU that has maintained a crucial geopolitical peace. And I nor do I mean peace on the continent of Europe but the prevention of cataclysmic war in the Gulf. A war that would make the tragic but resilient battle for Iraq’s soul appear mere child’s play in its effects.
.
EU member states have done more the past month to stop the slide to another Gulf war than the combined political influence of the Anglosphere. For on coming to power in January of this year, the Trump administration sought to escalate tensions and fulfil the policy aims of the last 8 presidents of the US – which is militarised regime change in Iran and not to the benefit of the Iranian people. Interestingly it was President Obama who broke with the usual course of US policy direction deciding that it was logical and advantageous to American interests to see an Iran woven back into the political and economic network of the “international community” than relegated to a “resistance economy” outside it.
.
As Trump took the US back to a more familiar attitude of blaming Iran for all that is wrong with the middle east while ignoring its de facto ally status fighting ISIS; the EU and its member states did something very few expected. It resisted by on one level making it clear that it collectively believed in the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran Deal. But additionally, its member states started flying to Tehran like drones from the hive of Brussels to make deals with the Iranians much to the irritation of the White House.

Although ignored in Washington and the wider dominant US political class, it was clear to Europeans that Iran was not the main source of instability and terrorism in the region.

Europe’s industrial powers have shown great enthusiasm for closer trade ties with Iran since the JCPOA, a nuclear agreement between Iran and the Group 5+1 (Russia, China, the US, Britain, France, and Germany), came into force in January 2016. These deals meant several things. Although ignored in Washington and the wider dominant US political class, it was clear to Europeans that Iran was not the main source of instability and terrorism in the region. Indeed Iran uses proxies such as Hezbollah and is fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad but compared to the transparent interference of Turkey in expat communities in Europe and the exportation of Wahhabist ideology from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, this misbehaving is seen as next to nought.
.
Added to that, the role of Iran and it’s special forces and trained allies as the only effective fighting force against ISIS on the ground is fully accepted by the EU member states even as they maintain their NATO position and solidarity with the US. Reality rests it seems in Europe.
.
The final point is that the EU is crafting its own definitive foreign policy far exceeding the constraints and political difficulties of the common security and defence policy. Federica Mogherini, an Italian politician and the current High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has repeatedly told members of the press that Europe “does not see any need to undo the JCPOA. It’s working and we believe in its implementation.” This could be, partially a Europe spitefully scorning the US for its president’s previous statements on NATO – or simply a symbol of a renewed sense of collective confidence in what a European policy should be regarding the Gulf states.

“Europe does not see any need to undo the JCPOA. It’s working and we believe in its implementation.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault recently show his country’s support for the expansion of economic relations with Iran and was among the first of the EU member states to condemn Trump’s travel ban. In January Ayrault told a meeting of Iranian-French business leaders that the Iran nuclear deal had “opened a new era” that had already led to a major expansion of relations between the two countries. He also said that protecting the Iran nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – was “extremely important” for Paris.
.
In fact, Iran has already signed deals with French companies Total, Renault and Airbus and five memoranda of understanding (MoU) were also signed between the two countries. The biggest included a document of cooperation on development of Mashhad Airport, a document on the construction of a bioethanol factory in Kermanshah, and two more documents in the field of fisheries with the aim of producing caviar and technology transfer for advanced surgery.
.
Another MoU was signed between Alborz Chamber of Commerce and a French company on holding aviation training courses and pilot training for Iran and regional countries. Peugeot, which pulled out of Iran in 2012, will once again return to the nation to modernise a Khodro factory near Tehran. It’s expected to produce 200,000 vehicles a year starting in 2017. In all, up to 20 MoUs have been signed and counting.

Iran and Sweden signed five Memorandum of Understanding to develop ties and cooperation in IT and telecommunication, mining and industry areas.

Iran and Sweden signed five MoUs to develop ties and cooperation in IT and telecommunication, mining and industry areas. During his visit to Italy, the Iranian President Rouhani began a serious charm offensive to reboot the two countries’ relations in political, economic, cultural, tourism, scientific and technological fields. This was mirrored in success by his trip to Italy, which has gone on to sign a total of 14 MoUs and a cooperation roadmap for joint cooperation.
.
Moreover, last October the former German economy minister, now foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel visited Iran with representatives of over German 100 firms, including Siemens and Volkswagen. During the delegation, 10 MoUs were signed between Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance and Germany’s Minister of Economy and Energy, covering a wide range of areas for cooperation including project financing, mutual investment, joint ventures, banking and insurance cooperation, infrastructure in oil, gas and petrochemical sectors, renewable energy, railway, environment, roads and urban development, automotive, airlines and technology transfer. German car manufacturers and train companies have followed.
.
The pouring on of investment into Iran is not a benefit because we must worship at the feet of capital or believe in its automatic ability to bring freedom and human rights. Inside Iran, there are various centres of power vying for influence and authority alongside the undemocratic authority of the supreme leader. I remain convinced that by ensuring that a reforming force such as Rhouhani is successful in developing and diversifying Iran’s economy; the West can have a more constructive and equal relationship with a country that has long been treated with scorn and unfair disdain. These economic relationships are the first attempts by the EU to desire to be seen as an honest broker in a region scarred by imperial interference and unrealised dreams of dignity.
You can Follow Robert J Somynne on twitter at @RobertJSomynne  and at his blog robertsomynne.blogspot.com