In defense of equality

In a review of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, by Danielle Allen, Gordon S. Wood writes: This is a strange and remarkable book. There must be dozens of books on the Declaration of Independence written from every conceivable point of view — historical, political, theoretical, philosophical, and textual — but no one has ever written a book on the Declaration quite like this one. If we read the Declaration of Independence slowly and carefully, Danielle Allen believes, then the document can become a basic primer for our democracy. It can be something that all of us — not just scholars and educated elites but common ordinary people — can participate in, and should participate in if we want to be good democratic citizens.

Allen, who is a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, came to this extraordinary conclusion when she was teaching for a decade at the University of Chicago. But it was not the young bright-eyed undergraduates whom she taught by day who inspired her. Instead, it was the much older, life-tested adults whom she taught by night who created “the single most transformative experience” of her teaching career.

As she slowly worked her way through the 1,337 words of the Declaration of Independence with her night students, many of whom had no job or were working two jobs or were stuck in dead-end part-time jobs, Allen discovered that the document had meaning for them and that it was accessible to any reader or hearer of its words. By teaching the document to these adult students in the way that she did, she experienced “a personal metamorphosis.” For the first time in her life she came to realize that the Declaration makes a coherent philosophical argument about equality, an argument that could be made comprehensible to ordinary people who had no special training.

By reading and analyzing the words of the Declaration deliberately and with care, her night students

found themselves suddenly as political beings, with a consciousness that had previously eluded them. They built a foundation from which to assess the state of their political world. They gained a vocabulary and rhetorical techniques for arguing about it.

The entire experience with her students “re-gifted to me a text that should have been mine all along. They gave me again the Declaration’s ideals — equality and freedom — and the power of its language.”

Allen is most interested in the idea of equality, and rightly so. Equality has always been the most radical and potent idea in American history. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt two years after the military coup

Amnesty International: Generation Jail: Egypt’s youth go from protest to prison [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s attack on Greek democracy

Joseph E. Stiglitz writes: The rising crescendo of bickering and acrimony within Europe might seem to outsiders to be the inevitable result of the bitter endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors. In fact, European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics.

Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018.

Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend. [Continue reading…]

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Greek destiny, the future of the EU and of democracy is on the line

Costas Douzinas writes: A man visits the Australian consulate in Athens and asks for a work visa. ‘Why do you want to leave Greece?’ asks the official. ‘I am worried that Greece will leave the euro’ answers the man. ‘Don’t worry’ responds the consul ‘I was talking to my German colleague yesterday who assured me that Greece will stay in the euro.’ ‘This is the second reason why I want to emigrate.’

The story expresses the impossible dilemma facing the Greeks. On one side, a continuation of the catastrophic austerity that has destroyed the country. On the other Grexit, a prospect that will further hit, for an unpredictably long period, the living standards of a people who have seen their income halved. Premier Alexis Tsipras’ announcement, early on Sunday, that the people will be asked to vote on the final proposals of the Europeans and the IMF is an attempt to divert this typical aporia (lack of passage) towards a more manageable question: Do the people back the government’s rejection of the worst effects of austerity while accepting its commitment to keep the country in the Eurozone? The stakes are high: besides the Greek destiny, the future of the European Union and of democracy is on the line.

The immediate context of the referendum is the behaviour of the European partners in the last few months. The Syriza government was elected with a clear mandate to put an end to austerity policies. These policies were carried out on two fronts, fiscal austerity and internal devaluation. Fiscal austerity was pursued through the reduction of public spending, the privatisation of key state assets and the increase of tax revenues. Large numbers of civil servants were dismissed, the social services were slashed with the health service in particular unable to meet basic needs. The humanitarian crisis that followed is well documented and there is no point in detailing it again. The creditors’ logic aimed to generate primary budget surpluses, which would not be used to restart the stalled economy but to repay the escalating debt. The previous governments had accepted the obligation to create annual surpluses of up to 5% of GDP in the next seven years, something that no government since Ceaușescu’s Romania has either attempted or achieved.

The internal devaluation was carried out through the repeated reduction of private sector wages and the abolition of the bulk of labour law protections, such a collective bargaining. At the same time, the repeated increase of taxes, including the regressive tax on real estate, meant that the bleeding of the economy reached unprecedented levels. The pauperisation of the working people, the IMF argument goes, would improve competitiveness and help economic growth. But the result was abject economic failure. The economy shrank by 26%, unemployment jumped to 27%, youth unemployment went up to 60% and more than 3 million people on or below the poverty line. The IMF admitted a couple of years ago that it had under-calculated the adverse effect of austerity on the economy – the so-called fiscal multiplier – by a factor of three.

It is against this background that the Greeks elected in January 2015 the Syriza government committed to reverse these policies. A period of negotiations followed. But these were not proper negotiations. The huge gap between the two parties in power resources and ideology made the talks brutally asymmetrical. I have called these ‘negotiations’ a European coup, an attempt at ‘regime change’ using banks and not tanks. The economic stakes for the lenders are relatively small – the Greek economy is only 2% of European GDP – and does not justify the risk of a breakdown in relations. The precautionary principle of risk theory, inscribed in the European DNA, demands that the unpredictable effects of Grexit on the European and world economy should be avoided. If the collapse of Lehman Brothers created such a huge crisis, even the consideration of Grexit is more dangerous. [Continue reading…]

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Why cyber war is dangerous for democracies

Moisés Naím writes: This month, two years after his massive leak of NSA documents detailing U.S. surveillance programs, Edward Snowden published an op-ed in The New York Times celebrating his accomplishments. The “power of an informed public,” he wrote, had forced the U.S. government to scrap its bulk collection of phone records. Moreover, he noted, “Since 2013, institutions across Europe have ruled similar laws and operations illegal and imposed new restrictions on future activities.” He concluded by asserting that “We are witnessing the emergence of a post-terror generation, one that rejects a worldview defined by a singular tragedy. For the first time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we see the outline of a politics that turns away from reaction and fear in favor of resilience and reason.”

Maybe so. I am glad that my privacy is now more protected from meddling by U.S. and European democracies. But frankly, I am far more concerned about the cyber threats to my privacy posed by Russia, China, and other authoritarian regimes than the surveillance threats from Washington. You should be too. [Continue reading…]

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Nomi Prins: Jeb! The money! Dynasty!

Money, they say, makes the world go round. So how’s $10 billion for you? That’s a top-end estimate for the record-breaking spending in this 1% presidential election campaign season. But is “season” even the right word, now that such campaigns are essentially four-year events that seem always to be underway? In a political world stuffed with money, it’s little wonder that the campaign season floats on a sea of donations. In the case of Jeb Bush, he and his advisers have so far had a laser-focus on the electorate they felt mattered most: big donors. They held off the announcement of his candidacy until last week (though he clearly long knew he was running) so that they could blast out of the gates, dollars-wise, leaving the competition in their financial dust, before the exceedingly modest limits to non-super PAC campaign fundraising kicked in.

And give Jeb credit — or rather consider him a credit to his father (the 41st president) and his brother (the 43rd), who had Iraq eternally on their minds. It wasn’t just that Jeb flubbed the Iraq Question when a reporter asked him recently (yes, he would do it all over again; no, he wouldn’t… well, hmmm…), but that Iraq is deeply embedded in the minds of his campaign team, too. His advisers dubbed the pre-announcement campaign they were going to launch to pull in the dollars a “shock-and-awe” operation in the spirit of the invasion of Iraq. Now, having sent in the ground troops, they clearly consider themselves at war. As the New York Times reported recently, the group’s top strategist told donors that his super PAC “hopes to ‘weaponize’ its fund-raising total for the first six months of the year.”

The money being talked about$80-$100 million raised in the first quarter of 2015 and $500 million by June. If reached, these figures would indeed represent shock-and-awe fundraising in the Republican presidential race. As of now, there’s no way of knowing whether they’re fantasy figures or not, but here’s a clue to Jeb’s money-raising powers: according to the Washington Post, his advisers have been asking donors not to give more than a million dollars now; they are, that is, trying to cap donations for the moment. (As the Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote,“The move reflects concerns among Bush advisers that accepting massive sums from a handful of uber-rich supporters could fuel a perception that the former governor is in their debt.”) And having spent just about every pre-announcement day for months doing fundraisers and scouring the country for money, while preserving the fiction that he might not be interested in the presidency, Jeb, according to the New York Times, bragged to a group of donors that “he believed his political action committee had raised more money in 100 days than any other modern Republican political operation.”

Let’s not forget, of course, that we’re not talking about anyone; we’re talking about a Bush. We’re talking about the possibility of becoming number three (or rather Bush 45) in the Oval Office. We’re talking about what is, by now, a fabled money-shaking, money-making, money-raising machine of a family. We’re talking dynasty and when it comes to money and the Bushes (as with money and that other potential dynasty of our moment), no one knows more on the subject than Nomi Prins, former Wall Street exec and author of All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power. In her now ongoing TomDispatch series on the political dynasties of our moment, fundraising, and the Big Banks, think of her latest post as an essential backgrounder on the election you have less and less to do with, in which Wall Street, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and the rest of the crew do most of the essential voting with their wallets. Tom Engelhardt

All in
The Bush family goes for number three (with the help of its bankers)
By Nomi Prins

[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Powerrecently out in paperback (Nation Books).] 

It’s happening. As expected, dynastic politics is prevailing in campaign 2016. After a tease about as long as Hillary’s, Jeb Bush (aka Jeb!) officially announced his presidential bid last week. Ultimately, the two of them will fight it out for the White House, while the nation’s wealthiest influencers will back their ludicrously expensive gambit.

And here’s a hint: don’t bet on Jeb not to make it through the Republican gauntlet of 12 candidates (so far). After all, the really big money’s behind him. Last December, even though out of public office since 2007, he had captured the support of 73% of the Wall Street Journal’s “richest CEOs.” Though some have as yet sidestepped declarations of fealty, count on one thing: the big guns will fall into line. They know that, given his family connections, Jeb is their best path to the White House and they’re not going to blow that by propping up some Republican lightweight whose father and brother weren’t president, not when Hillary, with all her connections and dynastic power, will be the opponent. That said, in the Bush-Clinton battle to come, no matter who wins, the bankers and billionaires will emerge victorious.

[Read more…]

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The West’s betrayal of Egypt will reap a bitter harvest

Amr Darrag writes: When the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in April, in a trial internationally condemned as unconstitutional, unfair and deeply politicised, many saw it as a test of the international community’s resolve to stand up to the series of show trials currently under way in Egypt. For those who back democracy and human rights, the wall of silence from the international community was as predictable as it was tragic. At that time, I predicted that such silence would be interpreted by the Sisi regime as a green light to a death sentence for Morsi.

Where once politicians from Downing Street to the White House lauded the ideals and actions of the 2011 revolutionaries, now they were rendered mute as Egypt’s first democratically elected president was effectively sentenced to a life behind bars. Many also saw the sentence as a nail in the coffin for the ideals and dreams of the Arab Spring.

This week, the gradual purge of this first democratic government in Egypt took a darker turn. The Sisi regime, buoyed by the clear apathy of its international partners, upheld a death sentence handed down in May to Morsi and more than 100 people. The trial was nothing but a farce. Amnesty International called it a grossly unfair charade, which demonstrated a “complete disregard for human rights”. [Continue reading…]

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A rebuke to military tribunals

An editorial in the New York Times says: In 2008, Ali al-Bahlul, a propagandist for Al Qaeda who has been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since early 2002, was convicted by the military tribunal there and sentenced to life in prison. But officials had no evidence that Mr. Bahlul was involved in any war crimes, so they charged him instead with domestic crimes, including conspiracy and material support of terrorism.

Last Friday, a panel of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., reversed Mr. Bahlul’s conspiracy conviction because, it said, the Constitution only permits military tribunals to handle prosecutions of war crimes, like intentionally targeting civilians. (The court previously threw out the other charges on narrower grounds.)

The 2-1 decision, by Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, was a major rebuke to the government’s persistent and misguided reliance on the tribunals, which operate in a legal no man’s land, unconstrained by standard constitutional guarantees and rules of evidence that define the functioning of the nation’s civilian courts. [Continue reading…]

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The myth of Magna Carta seems to matter more than the reality

Tom Ginsburg writes: Magna Carta, on which King John placed his seal 800 years ago today, is synonymous in the English-speaking world with fundamental rights and the rule of law. It’s been celebrated, and appropriated, by everyone from Tea Party members to Jay Z, who called his latest album “Magna Carta Holy Grail.”

But its fame rests on several myths. First, it wasn’t effective. In fact, it was a failure. John was a weak king who had squandered the royal fortune on a fruitless war with France. Continually raising taxes to pay for his European adventures, he provoked a revolt by his barons, who forced him to sign the charter. But John repudiated the document immediately, and the barons sought to replace him. John avoided that fate by dying.

The next year, his young son reissued Magna Carta, without some of the clauses. It was reissued several times more in the 13th century — the 1297 version is the one on display in the National Archives and embodied in English law. But the original version hardly constrained the monarch. [Continue reading…]

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British police carrying guns almost never use them

The Washington Post reports: To join the few and the proud who police Britain’s streets with a gun, first you have to walk the beat unarmed for years.

Then there is the rigorous selection process — an unforgiving complement of fitness tests, psychological appraisals and marksmanship exams. Finally, there is the training, which involves endless drilling on even the most routine scenarios.

“They rehearse those situations like a SEAL team trying to get into Osama bin Laden’s compound,” Cambridge University criminologist Lawrence Sherman said.

Yet, in a country where the vast majority of police officers patrol with batons and pepper spray, the elite cadre of British cops who are entrusted with guns almost never use them. Police in Britain have fatally shot two people in the past three years. [Continue reading…]

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Gottesdiener and Garcia: How to dismantle this country

They say that imperial wars come home in all sorts of ways. Think of the Michigan that TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener describes today as one curious example of that dictum. If you remember, in the spring of 2003, George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of that country’s autocratic ruler, Saddam Hussein. The invasion was launched with a “shock-and-awe” air show that was meant to both literally and figuratively “decapitate” the country’s leadership, from Saddam on down. At that time, there was another more anodyne term for the process that was also much in use, even if it has now faded from our vocabularies: “regime change.” And you remember how that all worked out, don’t you? A lot of Iraqi civilians — but no Iraqi leaders — were killed in shock-and-awe fashion that first night of the invasion and, as most Americans recall now that we’re in Iraq War 3.0, it didn’t get much better when the Bush administration’s proconsul in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, disbanded the Iraqi military and Saddam’s Baathist Party (a brilliant formula for launching an instant insurgency), appointed his own chosen rulers in Baghdad, and gave the Americans every sort of special privilege imaginable by curiously autocratic decree in the name of spreading democracy in the Middle East.

It now seems that a version of regime change, Iraqi-style, has come home to roost in parts of Michigan — but with a curious twist. Think of Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, as the L. Paul Bremer of that state. He’s essentially given himself regime-change-style powers, impermeable to a statewide recall vote, and begun dismissing — or, if you will, decapitating — the local governments of cities and school districts, appointing managers in their place. In other words, his homegrown version of regime change involves getting rid of local democracy and putting individual autocrats in power instead. What, you might ask yourself, could possibly go wrong, especially since the governor himself is going national to limn the glories of his version of austerity and autocratic politics?

As it happens, TomDispatch dispatched our ace reporter, Laura Gottesdiener, who has been traveling the underside of American life for this site, to check out what regime change in Michigan really looks like. As with all her reports, this time with photographer Eduardo García, she offers a grim but startling vision of where this country may be headed. Tom Engelhardt

A magical mystery tour of American austerity politics
One state’s attempt to destroy democracy and the environment
By Eduardo García

Something is rotten in the state of Michigan.

One city neglected to inform its residents that its water supply was laced with cancerous chemicals. Another dissolved its public school district and replaced it with a charter school system, only to witness the for-profit management company it hired flee the scene after determining it couldn’t turn a profit. Numerous cities and school districts in the state are now run by single, state-appointed technocrats, as permitted under an emergency financial manager law pushed through by Rick Snyder, Michigan’s austerity-promoting governor. This legislation not only strips residents of their local voting rights, but gives Snyder’s appointee the power to do just about anything, including dissolving the city itself — all (no matter how disastrous) in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

If you’re thinking, “Who cares?” since what happens in Michigan stays in Michigan, think again. The state’s aggressive balance-the-books style of governance has already spread beyond its borders. In January, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appointed bankruptcy lawyer and former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr to be a “legal adviser” to Atlantic City. The Detroit Free Press described the move as “a state takeover similar to Gov. Rick Snyder’s state intervention in the Motor City.”

[Read more…]

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The man who could save Turkish democracy

Der Spiegel reports: Everybody wants to catch a glimpse of Selahattin Demirtas, the man who will supposedly save Turkey from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Young students and men with grey beards stream into the lecture hall at Bogazici University in Istanbul. All of the seats are occupied; people are sitting on the floor and standing against the walls. Demirtas steps on to the stage, and when he sees people thronging at the entrance, he calls out: “Just come on the stage!”

The spectators cheer, and a few boisterous ones make a dash for Demirtas, who patiently poses for selfies. A young man presses a baby in his arm and takes a photo. The bodyguards watch in frustration, but Demirtas smiles.

The words “Büyük Insanlik,” meaning “great humanity,” are written on the screen behind him. It is the slogan of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), an alliance between the Democratic Regions Party (BDP) and Turkish left-wing groups that is led by Demirtas. He is Kurdish, 42 years old, a human right’s lawyer from Diyarbakir and a challenger to the president. By running for office, he is hoping to end the omnipotence of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

His success or failure could decide whether Turkey will finally become the land of Erdogan — or whether democracy still has a chance. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon offered ‘FOIA terrorist’ Jason Leopold a stack of documents to just shut up and go away forever

TechDirt: Jason Leopold has so thoroughly aggravated naturally-secretive government agencies that he has earned the nickname “FOIA terrorist.” He routinely files two dozen FOIA requests a week, along with MDRs (Mandatory Declassification Reviews), which force the government to more closely examine documents it has previously withheld in full.

In the course of these activities, Leopold has also filed numerous FOIA lawsuits against government agencies for withholding documents, not performing thorough searches or exceeding the statutory time limits for responses.

Several government agencies hate him. One government agency hates him so much it offered him a one-time deal bordering on illegality.

In his testimony in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Leopold gave up both the agency and its questionable offer.

Leopold: The Office of Net Assessment (ONA) is the Pentagon’s in-house think tank. They spend millions and millions of dollars putting together reports — reports that they contract out about perhaps some futuristic warfare, or what the situation in the Middle East is going to look like with regards to oil. I asked for those reports. I filed a FOIA request; they refused to comply with my FOIA request. They said it was too broad. I narrowed it, they still said it was too broad. I sued them. Recently they said that ‘We’ll give you some documents as long as you promise to never file a FOIA request again and don’t have anyone else file a FOIA request on your behalf.’

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.): How is that legal?

Leopold: I don’t know but they put this in writing and I’m really looking forward to the day when I write this story up.

This is what one agency was prepared to do just to keep Leopold out of its file cabinets.

But it’s not just overt actions like these. It’s the little things agencies do to frustrate FOIA requesters, especially journalists like Leopold who are looking for timely information rather than just information. [Continue reading…]

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Extremist activity: don’t even think about it in the UK pre-crime state

By Maria W. Norris, London School of Economics and Political Science

The UK government has announced plans to bring in a new extremism bill in yet another attempt to strengthen its counter-terrorism powers. If enacted, the bill will join dozens of other pieces of legislation aimed in the same direction.

This latest addition to the already swollen terrorism statute book takes the UK further down a dangerous path, giving the government power to punish citizens even before they commit a crime.

It is hard to imagine that just 15 years ago, the UK did not have a single permanent piece of terrorism legislation. The threat of the IRA was handled with temporary provisions that were renewed each year, rather than with permanent measures.

The government powers that have accumulated since then have a direct effect on the presumption of innocence – a fundamental legal principle. Most terrorism powers now essentially distribute punishment before someone has even been charged – let alone convicted of a terrorism offence.

The new extremism bill seems to be made up primarily of such administrative measures. It includes banning orders and employment checks aimed at enabling companies to look into whether a potential employee is considered an extremist. The UK does not currently have a working definition of extremism so there is no consensus on what activities, attitudes and beliefs could lead to someone to be labelled an extremist.

Significantly, the new bill includes the creation of extremism disruption orders. These would give the police powers to apply to the high court to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. Those activities might include the risk of public disorder, harassment, alarm, distress or creating “a threat to the functioning of democracy”.

This is particularly concerning due to its vagueness. What exactly is a threat to the functioning of democracy? Not voting, or encouraging people not to vote, as comedian Russell Brand did in the run up to the 2015 election undermine the democratic process – is that enough for Brand to be subject to such measures?

These powers, dubbed extremism ASBOs by some, were first proposed last March, but were vetoed by the Liberal Democrats. The idea is to “stop extremists promoting views and behaviour that undermine British values” but by criminalising belief and behaviour without the need for a trial, these powers mark another step towards making the UK a pre-crime society.

[Read more…]

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Syria’s long walk to freedom

Kristyan Benedict writes: Freedom from fear doesn’t come easy. That’s especially the case in Syria. For over four years Syrians who’ve wanted to build a new country based on equality, dignity and human rights have been blockaded, disappeared, tortured, exiled, bombed and betrayed.

On top of wide-scale human rights abuses by Assad’s forces, by ISIS and by numerous armed groups, these Syrians have largely been ignored by the mainstream media and in many cases, have been ridiculed as being wildly out of touch with the ‘realities’ on the ground.

It’s little surprise that many of those not engaged with Syria, think what’s going on is essentially Assad’s ‘secular’ forces pitted against the genocidal religious-extremist thugs of ISIS. In reality, these two masters of torture actually feed off each other and perpetuate the Syrian war.

Thankfully, war doesn’t last forever, and it won’t last forever in Syria either. And what comes next? is one of those questions which is asked by those who genuinely want to see a human rights based transition in Syria.

Asking ‘what comes next?’ is key to creating a vision and a plan to steer Syrians out of this darkness and towards a reality where they are genuinely free from fear.

With that focus on long-term transition and protecting the rights of all Syrians in mind, it was Amnesty International UK’s pleasure to recently host Rafif Jouejati and her organisation, FREE-Syria (the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria), to talk about a potentially ground-breaking initiative which could help shape a future Syria — a Syria which has a government that doesn’t terrorise its own people.

The Freedom Charter, modeled on the South African Freedom Charter, is a much-needed reminder that there are still many Syrians who believe in freedom, justice, dignity and democracy. It reminds us that there are still many Syrians who reject authoritarianism, whether it is of the Ba’ath party variety, the ISIS type or that promulgated by some armed opposition groups. [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s charade of democracy

Hagai El-Ad writes: Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories is nearing the half-century mark, and Israel’s new right-wing government offers little hope of ending it. Nevertheless, the new government promises something else of value: clarity. And with that clarity, the opportunity to challenge the prolonged lie of the occupation’s “temporary” status. For if the occupation has become permanent in all but its name, what about the voting rights of Palestinians?

Two months ago, on election day in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel’s Arab citizens were flocking to the polls “in droves”— a clear effort to cast the voting of one-fifth of Israel’s citizens as a danger to be counteracted. That undermined basic democratic principles, but it paled in contrast to the status of the Palestinian population living next door in territories under direct or indirect Israeli rule. They have no say at all in choosing the government of the occupying power that is in ultimate command of their fate.

If you look at all the land Israel controls between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, that area contains some 8.3 million Israelis and Palestinians of voting age. Roughly 30 percent — about 2.5 million — are Palestinians living outside Israel under varying degrees of Israeli control — in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They have some ability to elect Palestinian bodies with limited functions. But they are powerless to choose Israeli officials, who make the weightiest decisions affecting them. [Continue reading…]

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Can Turkey survive Erdoğan?

Graham E. Fuller writes: On 7 June Turkey’s democratic system will be deeply tested in a fateful parliamentary election; at stake is preservation of rule of law and liberal democracy against an increasingly authoritarian-minded President.

Bottom line: if President Erdoğan’s AKP party is able to win big, the entire system of separation of powers in Turkey will likely reach breaking point. Erdoğan will have gained the carte blanche he seeks to mold, shape and steer the state any direction he wants in a semi-legal form of one man rule. And this comes at a time when his presidency has become ever more erratic, arbitrary, error-prone, corrupt, vengeful and out of touch.

I find it surprising to be writing this. My book published one year ago, “Turkey and the Arab Spring: Leadership in the Middle East,” examined the extraordinary first decade of the AKP party in Turkey under Prime Minister Erdoğan’s leadership. Up until 2011 it may have been the best government Turkey has ever had since it adopted democratic rule in the 1950s. Erdoğan’s successes can be measured in terms of deeper democratization, astonishing economic growth and prosperity, expansion of social services, the successful removal of the military from politics, the forging of an expansive and visionary foreign policy (with new emphasis on independence from failing US policies in the Middle East), and a modern reconsideration of what an Islamic-leaning government can mean in a democratic order. At that time Turkey became the preeminent model of success for a region that possessed little leadership, vision or progress.

A great degree of the credit for Turkey’s foreign policy successes — a huge expansion of the range of Turkish ties, interests and outreach — belongs to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the chief architect of these policies. Under Erdoğan’s AKP Turkey underwent profound, and, I argue, irreversible change in reinventing itself as a major regional power extending its activities and interactions across all of Eurasia, the Middle East, Africa and even into Latin America. Turkey accepted and normalized its Islamic heritage. The AKP had won three successive elections with growing proportion of votes each time — unprecedented in Turkish political history due to broad public satisfaction with the party’s accomplishments.

But it was not to last. After ten years in power, few governments anywhere can remain immune from corruption. [Continue reading…]

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Democracy doesn’t stop at the election – and Britain’s is broken

By Colin Crouch, University of Warwick

It’s only after an election is over that real politics begins. The polls themselves are designed to preserve almost perfect equality among citizens in the electoral process.

But that’s just the formal side of democracy. Election campaigns have become almost liturgical, heavily choreographed events. And what takes place during the rest of the five years is the informal side – a much rougher affair, with no gestures towards equality at all.

The contrast between the two parts of politics has been stretched to breaking point as campaigns become ever more artificial, while inequalities of wealth and income grow more extreme and play an ever greater political role.

That rising inequality is creating economic and social problems is now widely understood, but there’s been far less discussion of the threats it poses to democracy. The issue really comes into focus when we recognise these differences between the formal and informal sides of democracy, and the very different ways in which they treat inequality.

In the electoral process, we quite rightly insist on important principles of perfect equality. We stick to one citizen, one vote and punish those who try to cheat, hold the parties’ broadcast presentations to strict fairness rules, ban party materials from polling stations, and closely limit individual candidates’ spending.

But democracy isn’t just about voting. It’s about campaigning, discussing, lobbying and imposing pressure – things that go on all the time, not just during elections. This is the informal part of the political system, and if it did not exist we could hardly say we lived in a democracy.

The problem is that these parts of our democracy offer no guarantee at all of equality among citizens.

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