Freeing up the rich to exploit the poor – that’s what Trump and Brexit are about

George Monbiot writes: Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today, the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.

When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought, for instance, without harming others. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.

When corporations free themselves from trade unions, they curtail the freedoms of their workers. When the very rich free themselves from tax, other people suffer through failing public services. When financiers are free to design exotic financial instruments, the rest of us pay for the crises they cause.

Above all, billionaires and the organisations they run demand freedom from something they call “red tape”. What they mean by red tape is public protection. An article in the Telegraph last week was headlined “Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels”. Yes, we are choking, but not on red tape. We are choking because the government flouts European rules on air quality. The resulting air pollution frees thousands of souls from their bodies.

Ripping down such public protections means freedom for billionaires and corporations from the constraints of democracy. This is what Brexit – and Donald Trump – are all about. The freedom we were promised is the freedom of the very rich to exploit us. [Continue reading…]

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Marine Le Pen’s tricky alliance with Donald Trump

The Washington Post reports: In the early hours of Nov. 9, Marine Le Pen was the first foreign politician to congratulate the new U.S. president-elect.

In the weeks that followed, the leader of France’s far-right National Front did everything she could to tie her presidential campaign to the upset victory of Donald Trump, claiming that she would be the next chapter in a global populist revolt against the “establishment.”

On the morning after the U.S. election, she took to the stage at her party’s headquarters outside Paris, heralding Brexit and Trump as part of an unstoppable worldwide phenomenon — “democratic choices that bury the old order and steppingstones to building tomorrow’s world.”

But a month before the first round of the French elections, Le Pen’s tone has markedly changed: no more President Trump — at least not for now. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration brags about how many wealthy people it has

The Washington Post reports: Starting Friday evening, the White House will begin to release financial disclosure forms filed by about 180 members of the Trump administration who are either commissioned officers or paid more than $161,755.

Already, the administration is bragging that its members are way wealthier than those who worked for former president Barack Obama — a point of pride that doesn’t quite match the president’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” of wealthy GOP donors, lifelong political operatives and those who are simply out-of-touch with everyday Americans. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, will remain the beneficiaries of a sprawling real estate and investment business still worth as much as $740 million, despite their new government responsibilities, according to ethics filings released by the White House Friday night.

Ms. Trump will also maintain a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hotel, just down the street from the White House, has drawn protests from ethics experts who worry that foreign governments or special interests could stay there in order to curry favor with the administration.

It is unclear how Ms. Trump would earn income from that stake. Mr. Kushner’s financial disclosures said that Ms. Trump earned between $1 million and $5 million from the hotel between January 2016 and March 2017, and put the value of her stake at between $5 million and $25 million. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Stephen K. Bannon was running an investment banking company in Beverly Hills when his partner called with urgent news: a potential $10 billion deal was about to unfold in New York City involving a company they hoped to continue representing — and they didn’t want to be left out of the action.

Bannon, then in his mid-40s, told his business partner to meet him at the Los Angeles airport in an hour. Soon, they appeared at the Manhattan offices of PolyGram, a worldwide music company that they had previously represented in a film deal and now was for sale.

Before long, Bannon came up with an angle. He had represented Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in a prior deal, and now he proffered the royal-family member, one of the world’s wealthiest Arabs, as a bidder. PolyGram was impressed and eventually paid Bannon a sizable fee for work on the overall deal. [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s no populist, but he can gain from populist movements worldwide

Yulia Netesova and Torrey Taussig write: To what extent does the rise of populist forces around the world benefit Russian president Vladimir Putin? Many right-wing and nationalist parties sweeping across Europe have proven more pro-Russian than their mainstream counterparts. They see Putin as an ad hoc ally in their rebellion against the liberal and globalized world order, while Putin sees them as an opportunity.

Contrary to popular belief, the Russian president is no fan of populism. His support for populist parties in Europe and the United States is simply opportunistic: he will seek to bolster their chances, if they can fracture support for mainstream parties that tend to view Russia as a threat and the transatlantic bond as vital for countering it. His support is a pure calculation in order to survive.

Nowhere is the rise of populism more consequential for Russia than in the United States. But will Trump’s populist flair and desire to shake up the Washington establishment benefit Putin in the long run?

Despite Putin’s support for antiestablishment forces abroad, he stands as a bulwark against populism at home. For Putin, populism is the “headless chicken” that destroyed the Soviet Union, unleashing unprecedented and uncontrollable political and economic forces for which no one was prepared. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s climate change shift is really about killing the international order

Amanda Erickson writes: President Trump has done what he promised: kneecapping America’s efforts to fight climate change. In a sweeping executive order Tuesday, the president rolled back rules limiting carbon emissions and regulating fossil fuel producers.

Trump explained this dramatic shift in economic terms, saying that he wants to put coal miners back to work and make manufacturing cheaper. His critics suggest financial motives, too, albeit more nefarious ones: that he’s interested in little more than lining the pockets of his rich friends in the oil and gas industry.

Really, though, Trump’s policy reflects a deeper truth. Climate change denial is not incidental to a nationalist, populist agenda. It’s central to it. And that’s not a coincidence.

Combating global warming requires international cooperation, multinational agreements and rules. Done right, no country is exceptional, and some might have to sacrifice for others. In other words, it strengthens the international order that Trump and his team are so assiduously trying to dismantle in the name of “America First.”

As Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, explains:

“Climate change is a highly inconvenient truth for nationalism, as it is unsolvable at the national level and requires collective action between states and between different national and local communities. Populist nationalism therefore tends to reject the science of climate change however strong the evidence.”

That reality is reflected in populist platforms around the world. In France, for example, the far-right National Front traffics in climate change skepticism. They’ve rolled out a “patriotic” environmentalist platform that opposes international climate talks as a “communist project. “We don’t want a global agreement or global rule for the environment,” the party’s Mireille d’Ornano told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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Stopping the advance of the right-wing populists

In an editorial for Der Spiegel, Ullrich Fichtner writes: Populists like to claim that they alone have the courage to tell the truth. That only they are bold enough to say what the aloof elite and the politically correct mainstream deliberately hold back. The result are truths such as Mexicans are rapists and North Africans are gropers. And that no upstanding German wants a neighbor with dark skin. And more such nonsense.

Convicted racist Geert Wilders sought to win the Dutch election last week with the truth that Moroccans are “scum.” And now those who don’t share Wilders’ view are relieved that only 13 percent of voters agree with him.

But while Wilders’ election defeat may be pleasing, it is still too early to sound the all-clear. This election too delivered plenty of evidence that right-wing populists dominate the public debate.

As things currently stand, the multimedia circus frequently delivers absurdly distorted images of political reality, particularly here in Europe. In the weeks leading up to the Dutch election, a Geert Wilders festival was celebrated in print, radio, television and internet outlets, almost as though the other 27 parties participating in the Dutch vote didn’t even exist. The same can currently be said of France, where the press makes it seem as though only Marine Le Pen’s ideas are up for debate. And there is hardly an article about Italian politics that doesn’t include images of the slobbering populist Beppo Grillo. Here in Germany, entire media seminars could be held focusing on the hysterical attention being paid to the ups and downs of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The dual shock of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election may have magnified the tendency to exaggerate the ugly. In both cases, the inability to see what was coming increased the media’s self-doubt, shook the political classes and unsettled entire societies. But it would be a cardinal error to conclude from Brexit and Trump that the theories and tirades of right-wing troublemakers automatically represent the “voice of the people” and are thus the expression of justifiable concerns. [Continue reading…]

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Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are re-emerging

The New York Times reports: Head bowed in reverence, Robert Svec gently placed a bouquet of blood-red flowers at the foot of the only known statue of Jozef Tiso, Slovakia’s wartime fascist leader, in a weedy monument park known as the Pantheon of Slovak Historical Figures.

For years, Mr. Svec’s neo-fascist cultural organization, the Slovak Revival Movement, was a tiny fringe group. But now his crowds are growing, as 200 people recently gathered with him to celebrate the country’s fascist past and call fascist-era greetings — “Na Straz!” or “On the guard!” Mr. Svec is so emboldened that he is transforming his movement into a political party, with plans to run for Parliament.

“You are ours, and we will forever be yours,” Mr. Svec said at the foot of the statue, having declared this as the Year of Jozef Tiso, dedicated to rehabilitating the image of the former priest and Nazi collaborator, who was hanged as a war criminal in 1947.

Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are stepping back out, more than three-quarters of a century after Nazi boots stormed through Central Europe, and two decades since a neo-Nazi resurgence of skinheads and white supremacists unsettled the transition to democracy. In Slovakia, neo-fascists are winning regional offices and taking seats in the multiparty Parliament they hope to replace with strongman rule. [Continue reading…]

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The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built

Matea Gold reports: The champagne was flowing as hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah hosted a reception during the Cannes Film Festival last May to promote “Clinton Cash,” a film by their political adviser Stephen K. Bannon and the production company they co-founded, Glittering Steel.

The Mercers, Republican mega-donors who had spent millions on the failed presidential bid of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bannon, then executive chairman of Breitbart News Network, were still weeks from formally aligning with Donald Trump’s campaign. But the festivities that balmy evening aboard the Sea Owl, the Mercers’ luxurious yacht, marked the growing influence of their financial and political partnership in shaping the 2016 campaign — and in encouraging the populist surge now reverberating around the world.

The Mercers’ approach is far different from that of other big donors. While better-known players such as the Koch brothers on the right and George Soros on the left focus on mobilizing activists and voters, the Mercers have exerted pressure on the political system by helping erect an alternative media ecosystem, whose storylines dominated the 2016 race.

Their alliance with Bannon provided fuel for the narrative that drove Trump’s victory: that dangerous immigrants are ruining the country and corrupt power brokers are sabotaging Washington.

The wealthy New York family and the former investment banker-turned-media executive collaborated on at least five ventures between 2011 and 2016, according to a Washington Post review of public filings and multiple people familiar with their relationship. The extent of their partnership has not previously been reported.

Through those projects, the Mercers and Bannon, now chief White House strategist, quietly built a power base aimed at sowing distrust of big government and eroding the dominance of the major news media. [Continue reading…]

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Dutch prime minister claims victory over anti-Muslim candidate Geert Wilders

The Washington Post reports: The Dutch political establishment appeared Wednesday to fend off a challenge from anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders in a national election, according to exit polls, a victory that heartened centrist leaders across Europe who are fearful of populist upsets in their own nations.

The result confirmed Wilders as a powerful voice on immigration in the Netherlands. But it would leave in place Prime Minister Mark Rutte and do little to alter the fundamental dynamic in a country unhappy with the status quo but deeply divided among many political parties.

The vote in the prosperous trading nation was seen as a bellwether for France and Germany, which head to the polls in the coming months and have also been shaken by fierce anti-immigrant sentiment. The British vote to exit the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, a skeptic about NATO and European integration, have cracked the door to a fundamental reordering of the post-World War II Western order. [Continue reading…]

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How the Netherlands made Geert Wilders possible

The Atlantic reports: In the 17th century, Dutch settlers flocked to the southern half of what is now Manhattan to establish New Amsterdam, a fur-trading post that would welcome Lutherans and Catholics from Europe; Anglicans, Puritans, and Quakers from New England; and Sephardic Jews who were, at the time, discouraged from settling in America’s other nascent regions. Though its English conquerors would rename the city New York, the values of diversity and tolerance that the Dutch introduced would remain the region’s hallmarks for centuries to come.

In the modern-day Netherlands, however, the Dutch Republic’s founding pledge that “everyone shall remain free in religion” will soon collide with the ambitions of one of the country’s most popular politicians.

“Islam and freedom are not compatible,” claims Geert Wilders, the Party for Freedom (PVV) leader who campaigns on banning the Quran, closing Dutch mosques, and ending immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. “Stop Islam,” the phrase that sits atop Wilders’s Twitter page, aptly summarizes his party’s platform. In December, Dutch courts found Wilders guilty of carrying his rhetoric too far, convicting him of discriminatory speech for rallying supporters in an anti-Moroccan call-and-response. Nonetheless, Wilders is a leading contender to receive the plurality of votes in the country’s parliamentary elections on March 15.

The nation’s peculiar path from “live and let live” to “Make the Netherlands Ours Again” (as Wilders recently said) has as its guideposts a changing definition of tolerance, some instances of political opportunism—and a pair of grisly assassinations.

From the mix of faith groups that inhabited New Amsterdam to the peaceful coexistence of Protestants, Catholics, and socialists throughout the Netherlands in the 20th century, the Dutch brand of multiculturalism has often been more “salad bowl” than “melting pot.” Each sect of society had its own schools, media outlets, and social groups; tolerance was the act of respecting those boundaries.

“Historically, Dutch tolerance has been more of a pragmatic strategy,” said Jan Rath, a professor of urban sociology at the University of Amsterdam. “Tolerance has been a way to contain oppositions or complications.” [Continue reading…]

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Sweden, immigrants and Trump’s post-Enlightenment world

Anne Applebaum writes: The Enlightenment belief that we can know and understand reality — that we can measure it, weigh it, judge it, use reason to explain it — underlies all of the achievements of Western civilization, from the scientific revolution to the Industrial Revolution to democracy itself. Ever since René Descartes asked himself how it was possible to know that melting wax is the same thing as a candle, we have believed that reason, not mythology, sensibility, emotion or instinct, provides a superior way to understand the world. But is that still true?

If the strange case of Sweden and its immigrants is anything to go by, then the answer is probably no. This odd story began last month, when President Trump began ranting, memorably, about dangerous immigrants at a rally in Florida: “You look at what’s happening last night, in Sweden! Sweden! Who would believe this, Sweden!” The following morning, puzzled Swedes woke up to find the world’s media asking them what, actually, had happened last night. The answer — other than some road closures — was nothing.

In an Enlightenment world, that would have been the end of the story. In our post-Enlightenment world, things got more complicated. Trump explained that what he had seen “last night” was not a terrorist attack — though that was certainly implied in his speech — but a filmmaker named Ami Horowitz who was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox News. The interview was indeed terrifying: For those unfamiliar with the techniques of emotional manipulation — and they are the same, whether used by Fox News or Russia Today — it should be mandatory viewing. As the two were speaking, a clip of an aggressive, brown-skinned man hitting a policeman, presumably in Sweden, alternated in the background, over and over, with a clip of a burning car. The repetitive, frightening images were bolstered by more clips from Horowitz’s film, in which Swedish police officers appeared to be confirming a massive rise in crime linked to immigration. Carlson, meanwhile, marveled at the stupidity and naivete of the Swedish nation helpless to confront this menace. No wonder the president was upset.

But the next day, the Swedish police officers protested: Horowitz had never asked them about immigration, and had cut their interviews to make it seem as if they were answering different questions. Moreover, while Sweden did — generously and admirably — accept 160,000 refugees in 2015, and while there are genuine problems absorbing and acculturating them, Swedish crime rates remain low, particularly if you compare them with crime rates in, say, Florida.

A faked film had inspired the president to cite an imaginary crisis — but the story didn’t end there. [Continue reading…]

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The spat between Turkey and the Netherlands is all about winning votes

Ishaan Tharoor writes: The escalating crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands is a startling example of how this year’s crucial election campaigns can flare into international incidents.

The Dutch go to the polls this Wednesday for a parliamentary election seen as a bellwether for Europe’s political future, and all eyes are focused on far-right, Euroskeptic, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders. Meanwhile, Turkey will hold a referendum next month on constitutional revisions that would scrap the country’s parliamentary system in favor of an executive presidency under the powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In their electoral bids, Erdogan and Wilders have found useful bogeymen in one another’s nations.

“The explanation for the Dutch-Turkish ‘crisis’ this weekend is pretty straightforward,” wrote Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde in a message to Today’s WorldView. “Both countries are currently engulfed in electoral campaigns that are dominated by authoritarian nativism.” [Continue reading…]

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A Vermont mayor wanted to take in refugees. He lost his job

Slate reports: For the past year, the national drama over refugees has played out in miniature in the small city of Rutland, nestled in Vermont’s Green Mountains.

The mayor, Christopher Louras, hatched a plan in 2015 for Rutland to settle 100 refugees from Syria and Iraq. The initiative was publicly announced last March, and in September, Rutland was granted State Department approval. It was the right thing to do, supporters said. But Louras, a five-term mayor who was first elected as a Republican but is now an independent, made an economic case for the program.

“The benefits, economically and culturally, that we will recognize is exactly what the community needs at this time,” he told the Boston Globe in May. “As much as I want to say it’s for compassionate reasons, I realize that there is not a vibrant, growing, successful community in the country right now that is not embracing new Americans.”

On Tuesday, the backlash swept Louras from office. His opponent, city Alderman David Allaire, strongly criticized the secrecy surrounding the town’s decision to accept refugees. Announcing his candidacy in December, Allaire stressed that he was not anti-refugee. “I’m sure if this had been handled differently, you would not see the divide you see in this community right now,” he said at the time. “We are a thoughtful, helpful community.”

But the opposition group that supported Allaire, Rutland First, was more evidently against any refugee deal. In addition to local politics, its Facebook page shares content like the Sweden refugee video that prompted Donald Trump’s famous “last night in Sweden” outburst. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: A Florida man who attempted to set fire to a convenience store told deputies that he assumed the owner was Muslim and that he wanted to “run the Arabs out of our country,” according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff later said the store owners are actually Indian, appearing to make this the latest in a string of incidents targeting South Asians mistaken for people of Arab descent.

Around 7:40 a.m. Friday, police received calls that a white male was acting suspiciously in front of the Met Mart convenience store in Port St. Lucie, officials said.

Deputies arrived to find the store closed, with its security shutters intact — as well as a 64-year-old man named Richard Leslie Lloyd near a flaming dumpster.

“When the deputies arrived, they noticed the dumpster had been rolled in front of the doors and the contents were lit on fire,” St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Upon seeing our deputies, the man put his hands behind his back and said ‘take me away.’ ”

Lloyd “told deputies that he pushed the dumpster to the front of the building, tore down signs posted to the outside of the store and lit the contents of the dumpster on fire to ‘run the Arabs out of our country,’ ” Mascara said. [Continue reading…]

The Rutland voters who thought that putting Rutland first required excluding 100 refugees and the Florida man who took the law into his own hands in trying to drive foreigners out of America, can be described as xenophobes, nativists or in several other ways. But beneath these multifaceted expressions of fear lies one simple emotion: cowardice.

Cowardice is what brought Trump to power and is what animates the fear and hatred that can now be found all across this nation.

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Congressman Steve King endorses ‘Dutch Trump,’ Geert Wilders, in battle over ‘civilization’

The Daily Beast reports: The Republican Party has long been a comfortable home for anti-Europeanism, from the “America First” opponents of U.S. participation in World War II to the “let them eat Freedom Fries” movement responsible for renaming French fries in congressional cafeterias during the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003.

But as far-right political parties gain power and prominence on the Continent, many members of the Grand Old Party are cozying up to European politicos with unprecedented enthusiasm — well, nearly unprecedented.

Among the most fawning of the newly Europositive wing of the Republican party: Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a nativist hawk from the heartland with a long and unapologetic history of making incendiary statements regarding immigrants, Islam, and racial “sub-groups.” On Sunday, however, King surprised even his sharpest critics by tweeting what amounts to an endorsement of Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom who is days away from his potential election as prime minister of the Netherlands. [Continue reading…]

 

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The Dutch far right’s election donors are almost exclusively American

Quartz reports: While Europe has been busy fretting about Russian meddling in its politics, a few Americans have been quietly doing their part to boost the continent’s far right.

Wealthy American conservatives have poured large sums into the electoral campaign of far-right leader Geert Wilders of the Netherlands’ Dutch Freedom Party, in support of his anti-Islam, anti-EU views.

Three American donors gave €141,668 ($150,430) to Dutch political parties between 2015 and 2017, according to campaign finance documents released this week by the Dutch interior ministry. Two of these donors funded the far-right Dutch Freedom Party. [Continue reading…]

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Geert Wilders: The peroxide-blond crusader who could soon top Dutch elections

The Washington Post reports: He warns about the perils of Muslim immigrants. A single well-lobbed tweet can ignite his nation’s political scene for days. And in a time of relative prosperity, he has succeeded in focusing dark fears about what is happening in mosques across his land.

The peroxide-blond Dutch politician Geert Wilders was executing the Trump playbook long before the U.S. president started his insurgent campaign for the White House. And in Dutch elections Wednesday, Wilders has a strong chance to come out on top, cementing the influence of a politician who wants to ban the Koran, shut down mosques and upend his nation’s sleepy political scene.

Nervous leaders across Europe are looking to the Netherlands this week for clues about elections this year in France and Germany. There, anti-Islam, anti-European Union candidates also are capitalizing on fears about a wave of mostly Muslim refugees and migrants who have surged over their borders in recent years. [Continue reading…]

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