Authoritarian populism on the rise across Europe

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Carlo Bastasin writes: Migration, inequality, middle class decline, the euro crisis, mistrust of the establishment — there is no shortage of explanations for the angry message voters in European countries are delivering with their ballots. However, most of the time, we dismiss the message as a temporary burst of irascibility that will eventually self-modulate. For at least 20 years, we have deemed public irritation as a negligible price for democracy.

In reality, support for radical parties has only grown. Traditional parties favoring European integration — Christian democrat and social democrat — are threatened all across the Continent. New radical parties, particularly on the far right, are popping up everywhere. They represent a powerful and minatory force with time on its side. Every four years, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) loses one million voters for purely demographic reasons. The same applies to the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Victims of the area’s high youth unemployment, young voters in Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain, and elsewhere often vote differently and unpredictably.

Those who claim that a new era is about to dawn have never understood the era in which they live. It is past time to consider these developments for what they are — a permanent change in the European political landscape. Last Sunday, Austrian presidential elections once again demonstrated that the traditional parties, elbowed aside by a xenophobic nationalist formation such as the Austrian Free Party, attract a negligible share of voters.

There are reasons to believe that this is not an occasional protest, but a step toward a new form of authoritarian populism. This trend is taking hold of Europe in much the same manner as what happened in the first half of the previous century. This may sound alarmist if not for the fact that European societies are on a slippery slope that provides momentum for authoritarian politics — a slope formed by the combined effects of the economic and migrant crises, which makes the prospect of closing national borders compelling for voters. We have already assented to barbed wire fences going up in Eastern Europe to keep refugees out. Now, Austria is erecting “walls” on the Slovenian and Italian borders. [Continue reading…]

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A surprising number of Americans dislike how messy democracy is. They like Trump

John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse write: Donald Trump’s candidacy – or more to the point, his substantial and sustained public support — has surprised almost every observer of American politics. Social scientists and pundits note that Trump appeals to populists, nativists, ethnocentrists, anti-intellectuals and authoritarians, not to mention angry and disaffected white males with little education.

But few have noticed another side of Trump’s supporters. A surprising number of Americans feel dismissive about such core features of democratic government as deliberation, compromise and decision-making by elected, accountable officials. They believe that governing is (or should be) simple, and best undertaken by a few smart, capable people who are not overtly self-interested and can solve challenging issues without boring discussions and unsatisfying compromises.

Because that’s just what Trump promises, his candidacy is attracting those who think someone should just walk in and get it done. His message is that our country’s problems are straightforward. All we need is to get “great people, really great people” to solve them. No muss, no fuss, no need to hear or take seriously opposing viewpoints. Trump’s straight-talking, unfiltered, shoot-from-the-hip style promises a leader who will take action – instead of working toward a consensus among competing interests. That sounds perfect to the millions of Americans who are just as impatient with standard democratic procedures. [Continue reading…]

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How democracy can turn into tyranny

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Andrew Sullivan writes: As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

This rainbow-flag polity, Plato argues, is, for many people, the fairest of regimes. The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.

The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable. Patriarchy is also dismantled: “We almost forgot to mention the extent of the law of equality and of freedom in the relations of women with men and men with women.” Family hierarchies are inverted: “A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher … is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen.

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment. [Continue reading…]

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David Vincenzetti: How the Italian mogul built a hacking empire

David Kushner reports: The Blackwater of surveillance, the Hacking Team is among the world’s few dozen private contractors feeding a clandestine, multibillion-dollar industry that arms the world’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies with spyware. Comprised of around 40 engineers and salespeople who peddle its goods to more than 40 nations, the Hacking Team epitomizes what Reporters Without Borders, the international anti-censorship group, dubs the “era of digital mercenaries.”

The Italian company’s tools — “the hacking suite for governmental interception,” its website claims — are marketed for fighting criminals and terrorists. But there, on Marquis-Boire’s computer screen, was chilling proof that the Hacking Team’s software was also being used against dissidents. It was just the latest example of what Marquis-Boire saw as a worrying trend: corrupt regimes using surveillance companies’ wares for anti-democratic purposes.

When Citizen Lab published its findings in the October 2012 report “Backdoors are Forever: Hacking Team and the Targeting of Dissent?” the group also documented traces of the company’s spyware in a document sent to Ahmed Mansoor, a pro-democracy activist in the United Arab Emirates. Privacy advocates and human rights organizations were alarmed. “By fueling and legitimizing this global trade, we are creating a Pandora’s box,” Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told Bloomberg.

The Hacking Team, however, showed no signs of standing down. “Frankly, the evidence that the Citizen Lab report presents in this case doesn’t suggest anything inappropriately done by us,” company spokesman Eric Rabe told the Globe and Mail.

As media and activists speculated about which countries the Italian firm served, the founder and CEO of the Hacking Team, David Vincenzetti — from his sleek, white office inside an unsuspecting residential building in Milan — took the bad press in stride. He joked with his colleagues in a private email that he was responsible for the “evilest technology” in the world.

A tall, lean 48-year-old Italian with a taste for expensive steak and designer suits, Vincenzetti has transformed himself over the past decade from an under-ground hacker working out of a windowless basement into a mogul worth millions. He is nothing if not militant about what he defines as justice: Julian Assange, the embattled founder of WikiLeaks, is “a criminal who by all means should be arrested, expatriated to the United States, and judged there”; whistleblower Chelsea Manning is “another lunatic”; Edward Snowden “should go to jail, absolutely.”

“Privacy is very important,” Vincenzetti says on a recent February morning in Milan, pausing to sip his espresso. “But national security is much more important.”

Vincenzetti’s position has come at a high cost. Disturbing incidents have been left in his wake: a spy’s suicide, dissidents’ arrests, and countless human rights abuses. “If I had known how crazy and dangerous he is,” Guido Landi, a former employee, says, “I would never have joined the Hacking Team.” [Continue reading…]

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Hillsborough: Anatomy of a disaster brought on by a failure in public service

The 1989 tragedy in which 96 Liverpool fans died while attending a football match in the North of England might to some distant observers sound like a local story of concern primarily to the bereaved and their fellow citizens, but what happened in Sheffield that day speaks to the wider issue of state powers and responsibilities as they are exercised in every democracy.

During an era in which politicians never tire of speaking solemnly about their duty for protecting national security against the threat of terrorism, the task of providing public safety now (as in the past) has much less to do with thwarting foreign and domestic threats, than it does with an ongoing commitment to public service. In turn, serving ordinary people hinges on viewing and treating them with respect.

The victims at Hillsborough were betrayed by authorities (and the media) which placed the protection of their own interests above those they were meant to serve.

The events leading up to the disaster are described in this video:

The Guardian reports: It was a year into these inquests, and 26 years since David Duckenfield, as a South Yorkshire police chief superintendent, took command of the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, that he finally, devastatingly, admitted his serious failures directly caused the deaths of 96 people there.

Duckenfield had arrived at the converted courtroom in Warrington with traces of his former authority, but over seven airless, agonisingly tense days in the witness box last March, he was steadily worn down, surrendering slowly into a crumpled heap. From his concession that he had inadequate experience to oversee the safety of 54,000 people, to finally accepting responsibility for the deaths, Duckenfield’s admissions were shockingly complete.

He also admitted at the inquests that even as the event was descending into horror and death, he had infamously lied, telling Graham Kelly, then secretary of the Football Association, that Liverpool fans were to blame, for gaining unauthorised entry through a large exit gate. Duckenfield had in fact himself ordered the gate to be opened, to relieve a crush in the bottleneck approach to the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

The chief constable, Peter Wright, had to state that evening that police had authorised the opening of the gate, but as these inquests, at two years the longest jury case in British history, heard in voluminous detail, Duckenfield’s lie endured. It set the template for the South Yorkshire police stance: to deny any mistakes, and instead to virulently project blame on to the people who had paid to attend a football match and been plunged into hell. [Continue reading…]

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Hillsborough: At last, the shameful truth is out

By Jared Ficklin, University of Liverpool

Following two years of harrowing evidence, the verdicts in the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 are a complete vindication of the 27-year campaign for justice for the 96 victims and their families. It is difficult to imagine the fortitude required to continue their fight for justice against the arrayed institutional might of the police, government and even sections of the media for so long.

But this fight for the truth did not take almost three decades, millions of pounds, and the longest court hearing in UK history because of its complexity. It was because within hours, the South Yorkshire police organised a conspiracy to protect themselves by defaming the dead and injured.

It is now clear that the police did not take blood from children to run alcohol tests or send a photographer to find empty beer cans because they wanted to understand what had really happened. It was simply to find any prop that could support the false narrative that the fans were drunk and abusive and were somehow responsible for their own deaths, and that the police had done their best under the circumstances.

We now know, from evidence heard at the inquest and admissions of senior police officers themselves, that this was so far from reality that the police had to collude to invent evidence. But even that wasn’t enough to hide the truth. There were thousands of fans there that day who knew what really happened – even in an age before everyone carried a phone with a camera, images existed that didn’t tally with the police’s claims.

But at the time the police had the most powerful allies there were: South Yorkshire police had been instrumental in breaking the miners’ strikes in 1984-1985, during which then prime minister Margaret Thatcher deployed them like her army in the north of England. The force also had form for blaming victims: we now know that South Yorkshire police had committed perjury during failed prosecutions of miners following the battle between police and strikers at Orgreave in 1984, and that senior officers were well aware of it and said nothing.

In 1989, the police needed support for their cover-up, and the Conservative government was happy to help. Thatcher herself toured the ground the morning after the disaster, and was aware that privately there were serious questions about the police propaganda, but it didn’t stop her government from backing the police. Her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, relied upon what he was told about the disaster by the police and blamed “tanked-up yobs” for the deaths. “Liverpool,” he later said, “should shut up about Hillsborough.”

[Read more…]

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Hillsborough disaster: Those responsible could face criminal charges

The Guardian reports: Officials implicated in the unlawful killing of 96 Liverpool fans in the Hillsborough disaster could face prosecution for criminal negligence and perjury, Theresa May has said.

The home secretary warned of potential criminal proceedings against police officers and other responsible groups over the 1989 tragedy while speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Reporting to MPs on the damning findings of the Hillsborough inquests, which gave their verdicts on Tuesday, May said the Crown Prosecution Service would decide later this year whether charges should be brought when two criminal investigations into the disaster were complete.

“It was this country’s worst disaster at a sporting event. For the families and survivors, the search to get to the truth of what happened on that day has been long and arduous,” May said. [Continue reading…]

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Obama counsels Black Lives Matter activists: ‘You can’t just keep on yelling’

The Washington Post reports: President Obama, speaking to young activists and leaders at a town hall meeting here Saturday, offered some unsolicited guidance to those pressing for change back home and had some tough words for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The president was asked about the social movements that made him change his mind about issues in the White House. He credited the campaign for marriage equality for gay Americans for leading him to reverse his position, and then he pivoted to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The young black activists have been “really effective in bringing attention to problems” of the criminal justice system and police violence, Obama said.

But he cautioned that the group’s leaders had been too dismissive of elected officials. “Once you’ve highlighted an issue and brought it to people’s attention … then you can’t just keep on yelling at them. And you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” Obama said. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. corporations have $1.4tn hidden in tax havens, claims Oxfam report

The Guardian reports: US corporate giants such as Apple, Walmart and General Electric have stashed $1.4tn (£980bn) in tax havens, despite receiving trillions of dollars in taxpayer support, according to a report by anti-poverty charity Oxfam.

The sum, larger than the economic output of Russia, South Korea and Spain, is held in an “opaque and secretive network” of 1,608 subsidiaries based offshore, said Oxfam.

The charity’s analysis of the financial affairs of the 50 biggest US corporations comes amid intense scrutiny of tax havens following the leak of the Panama Papers.

And the charity said its report, entitled Broken at the Top was a further illustration of “massive systematic abuse” of the global tax system.

Technology giant Apple, the world’s second biggest company, topped Oxfam’s league table, with some $181bn held offshore in three subsidiaries. [Continue reading…]

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These days, the worst multinational corporations have names you’ve never heard

Michael Hobbes describes how Joyce Chachengwa, a farmer in Zimbabwe, lost the land upon which she, her daughters and grandchildren depended, after a corporate takeover turning the land over to sugarcane for ethanol production. He writes: You know where I’m going with this, right? I’m about to tell you that the company behind all this is Monsanto, or Shell, or Coca-Cola. That your car is running on the ethanol this plant is producing. That the U.S. government is funding or facilitating or failing to prevent what is taking place here.

But none of that is true. The company responsible for all this is called Green Fuel. It is headquartered in Zimbabwe, it isn’t listed on any stock exchange, it doesn’t sell any products in the United States, and it has no Western investors.

And it is, increasingly, the rule rather than the exception. When you think of the worst abuses in poor countries — land grabs, sweatshops, cash-filled envelopes passed to politicians — you probably think they’re committed by companies based in rich ones: Nike in Indonesia, Shell in Nigeria, Dow in Bhopal, India.

These are the cases you’re most likely to hear about, but they are no longer representative of how these abuses actually take place — or who commits them. These days, the worst multinational corporations have names you’ve never heard. They come from places like China and South Africa and Russia. The countries where they are headquartered are unable to regulate them, and the countries where they operate are unwilling to.

For the last 10 years, I’ve worked at an NGO dedicated to preventing multinational corporations from violating human rights. Here’s why every actor in the West that could have prevented what happened in Chisumbanje — the media, the international agencies, my own NGO — is becoming increasingly powerless to do so. [Continue reading…]

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How French secularism became fundamentalist

Robert Zaretsky writes: For nearly a century, laïcité [which originally assured “the liberty of conscience” for all French citizens] worked well enough. It ensured public space for both those who believed — not just Catholics and Protestants, but Jews as well — and those who did not. But with the 1980s and 1990s came a growing number of immigrants, most of whom were Muslim, from North Africa. And so a different kind of conflict between the French state and established religion began to take shape.

Emblematic of this new tension was a series of battles over a simple strip of clothing. In 1989, a few Muslim girls were expelled from school when they refused to take off their hijabs, or headscarves, which the principal believed was an assault on the secular character of public schools. Shortly after, the French administrative court, the Conseil d’État, ordered them to be reinstated. But two years after 9/11, when similar incidents were repeated at other schools, the court reversed its original finding. While all “ostentatious” signs of religious faith — be they Jewish yarmulkes or Sikh turbans — were declared verboten in public schools, everyone knew that the principal target of the law was the hijab.

In the subsequent sound and fury, the banner of laïcité was unfurled in ways that would surely have been unrecognizable to the 19th-century statesmen like Jules Ferry and Aristide Briand, who helped write the original law. The once-straightforward guarantees of “freedom of conscience” and “free exercise of religious faiths” — rooted in and restricted to the constitutions of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Republics — were transformed under the forces of political passion and mounting existential anguish into the defining French values, and any form of retreat from a fundamentalist interpretation was a failure to defend the republic.

Today, public intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut, Régis Debray, and Elisabeth Badinter, when discussing laïcité, invoke the very future of France. Badinter, a renowned feminist philosopher, as if in anticipation of the Charlie Hebdo editorial, declared in January that she was not afraid to be called an Islamophobe, arguing that accusations of racism are a weapon against secularism. In a recent essay on secularism, diversity, and national identity titled L’identité malheureuse (“Unhappy Identity”), Finkielkraut confounds myth with history when he declares his sympathy for those “who miss the good old days when native-born Frenchmen and women (Français de souche) mingled with their own kind and who are now shedding a tear over their sepia-colored France that has lost its homogeneity.”

The xenophobic and anti-immigration National Front, too, has weaponized laïcité, turning it into an ideological cudgel to be used against French Muslims. Last year, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the party’s rising star — and granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen — asserted that the National Front is “laïque,” or secular. Yet she then offered an interpretation of the state of religion in France that had very little to do with laïcité as most of the world understands it, exposing the cognitive dissonance shared by the extreme right and left: “If French Muslims wish to practice their faith, they need to accept the fact that they are doing so on soil that is culturally Christian. This means that they cannot have the same rank as the Christian religion.”

Then, last week, the minister for families, children, and women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, lambasted fashion designers for offering lines of Islamic wear-inspired clothing, including the so-called “burkini,” a full-body bathing suit sold by Marks and Spencer. These brands, Rossignol declared, had “irresponsibly” lent their prestige to clothing designed to oppress women. As for those Muslim women who freely choose to wear religious garb, Rossignol shrugged her shoulders: “There were also American negroes who favored slavery.”

In a single phrase, Rossignol not only let drop a racial slur, but also let slip the implications of how she — a member of government — sees the meaning of laïcité today: No normal French woman, Rossignol seems to believe, would choose to wear Islamic dress as a sign of her religious faith. Tellingly, Rossignol’s use of the word “négre” sparked more outrage in the media than her claim that burkini-wearing women have no place in a truly secular society. [Continue reading…]

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The politics of backlash

Roger Cohen writes: There is a global backlash against rising inequality, stagnant middle-class incomes, politicians for sale, social exclusion, offshoring of jobs, free trade, mass immigration, tax systems skewed for giant corporations and their bosses, and what Pope Francis has lambasted as the “unfettered pursuit of money.”

The backlash takes various forms. In the United States it has produced an angry election campaign. The success of both Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left owes a lot to the thirst for radical candidates who break the mold. Trump is unserious and incoherent; Sanders is neither of those things. But they both draw support from constituencies that feel stuck, reject politics as usual, and perceive a system rigged against them.

Hillary Clinton’s chief predicament, apart from the trust issue, is that she represents the past in a world where the post-cold-war optimism that accompanied her husband’s arrival in the White House almost a quarter-century ago has vanished. To embody continuity these days is political suicide.

In an interesting essay in the journal STIR, Jonna Ivin writes: “People want to be heard. They want to believe their voices matter. A January 2016 survey by the Rand Corporation reported that Republican primary voters are 86.5 percent more likely to favor Donald Trump if they ‘somewhat agree or ‘strongly agree’ with the statement, ‘People like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”’ [Continue reading…]

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Is Donald Trump actually a fascist?

The Toronto Star reports: Google Donald Trump, and it won’t be long before the “f” word comes up.

The word is “fascist.” And it’s back in a way that hasn’t been seen for years, as opponents grope for a term that matches the repulsion that a majority of Americans feel for The Donald.

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox has all but called Trump a fascist — and used another “f-word” for his proposed border wall.

Historian Fedja Buric compared him with founding fascist Benito Mussolini. And New Republic editor Jamil Smith said it straight out: “yes, Donald Trump is a fascist.”

Trump even went too far for tub-thumping far right radio host Glenn Beck, who lumped him with “Adolph Hitler in 1929,” on ABC-TV.

But those who have made an academic study of fascism say although Trump and his Coalition of the Chilling may share some of the characteristics of past fascists, the jaw-jutting reality star doesn’t quite squeeze into the classic 20th-century mould. [Continue reading…]

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How to hack an election

Bloomberg Businessweek reports on the confessions of Andrés Sepúlveda, a political hacker who rigged elections throughout Latin America for almost a decade: His teams worked on presidential elections in Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Venezuela. Campaigns mentioned in this story were contacted through former and current spokespeople; none but Mexico’s PRI and the campaign of Guatemala’s National Advancement Party would comment.

As a child, he witnessed the violence of Colombia’s Marxist guerrillas. As an adult, he allied with a right wing emerging across Latin America. He believed his hacking was no more diabolical than the tactics of those he opposed, such as Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega.

Many of Sepúlveda’s efforts were unsuccessful, but he has enough wins that he might be able to claim as much influence over the political direction of modern Latin America as anyone in the 21st century. “My job was to do actions of dirty war and psychological operations, black propaganda, rumors — the whole dark side of politics that nobody knows exists but everyone can see,” he says in Spanish, while sitting at a small plastic table in an outdoor courtyard deep within the heavily fortified offices of Colombia’s attorney general’s office. He’s serving 10 years in prison for charges including use of malicious software, conspiracy to commit crime, violation of personal data, and espionage, related to hacking during Colombia’s 2014 presidential election. He has agreed to tell his full story for the first time, hoping to convince the public that he’s rehabilitated — and gather support for a reduced sentence.

Usually, he says, he was on the payroll of Juan José Rendón, a Miami-based political consultant who’s been called the Karl Rove of Latin America. Rendón denies using Sepúlveda for anything illegal, and categorically disputes the account Sepúlveda gave Bloomberg Businessweek of their relationship, but admits knowing him and using him to do website design. “If I talked to him maybe once or twice, it was in a group session about that, about the Web,” he says. “I don’t do illegal stuff at all. There is negative campaigning. They don’t like it — OK. But if it’s legal, I’m gonna do it. I’m not a saint, but I’m not a criminal.” While Sepúlveda’s policy was to destroy all data at the completion of a job, he left some documents with members of his hacking teams and other trusted third parties as a secret “insurance policy.”

Sepúlveda provided Bloomberg Businessweek with what he says are e-mails showing conversations between him, Rendón, and Rendón’s consulting firm concerning hacking and the progress of campaign-related cyber attacks. Rendón says the e-mails are fake. An analysis by an independent computer security firm said a sample of the e-mails they examined appeared authentic. Some of Sepúlveda’s descriptions of his actions match published accounts of events during various election campaigns, but other details couldn’t be independently verified. One person working on the campaign in Mexico, who asked not to be identified out of fear for his safety, substantially confirmed Sepúlveda’s accounts of his and Rendón’s roles in that election.

Sepúlveda says he was offered several political jobs in Spain, which he says he turned down because he was too busy. On the question of whether the U.S. presidential campaign is being tampered with, he is unequivocal. “I’m 100 percent sure it is,” he says. [Continue reading…]

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As long as there is no real democracy in the Middle East, ISIS will continue to mutate

David Hearst writes: The betting is that neither the pro-Assad coalition nor the Saudi-backed one will prevail in Syria. The likeliest outcome of a ceasefire is a Syria permanently fragmented into sectarian statelets in the way Iraq was after the US invasion.

This could be regarded as the least worst option for foreign powers meddling in Syria. Jordan, the Emirates and Egypt will have stopped this dangerous thing called regime change. Saudi will have stopped Iran and Hezbollah. Russia will have its naval base and retain a foothold in the Middle East. Assad will survive in a shrunken sectarian state. The Kurds will have their enclave in the north. America will walk away once more from the region.

There is just one loser in all this – Syria itself. Five million Syrians will become permanent exiles. Justice, self-determination, liberation from autocracy will be kicked into the long grass.

The history of the region has lessons for foreign powers. It proves that fragmentation only leads to further chaos. The region needs reconciliation, common projects and stability as never before. That will not come from creating sectarian enclaves backed by foreign powers.

The Islamic State is a distraction from the real struggle of the region, which is liberation from dictatorship and the birth of real democratic movements. IS is not a justification for the strong men. It is a product of their resistance to change. History did not start in 2011 and it won’t stop now. The revolutions of 2011 were empowered by decades of misrule. There is a reason why millions of Arab rose – peacefully at first – against their rulers and that reason still exists today.

As long as there is no real democratic solution in the Middle East, the Islamic State group will continue to mutate like a pathogen that has become antibiotic-resistant in the body politic of the Middle East. Each time it changes shape, it will become more virulent. [Continue reading…]

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