Autocracies breed terror in Middle East, says Qatari foreign minister

The Guardian reports: Qatar’s foreign minister has claimed the root cause of Middle East terrorism lay in authoritarian rulers, and lack of human rights, presenting Qatar as a more reliable western ally in the fight against terror than “impulsive, crisis-making” Saudi Arabia.

Speaking in front of British ministers at a Qatar-sponsored anti-terror conference in London, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani stressed his country’s commitment to use political and economic policies, as well as security measures to attack extremism’s “breeding ground of injustice and authoritarianism”.

Qatar is run by a royal family and critics claim the Doha-based broadcaster al-Jazeera is more free to criticise other Gulf states than its hosts, but the emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, announced this month that Qatar would hold elections for a 45-strong consultative shura council in 2019.

Such elections have been delayed three times, but pressure from the publicity of holding the World Cup in 2022, and the country’s ongoing dispute with Saudi Arabia, is thought to make a fourth postponement less likely. Qatar is also revising its much-criticised labour laws and plans to grant citizenship rights to some expatriates. [Continue reading…]

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Thankfully recommitting to resistance

Charles M Blow writes: Last Thanksgiving I wrote a column titled, “No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along,” in which I committed myself to resisting this travesty of a man, proclaiming, “I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.”

I made this promise: “As long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.”

I have kept that promise, not because it was a personal challenge, but because this is a national crisis.

Donald Trump, I thought that your presidency would be a disaster. It’s worse than a disaster. I wasn’t sure that resistance to your weakening of the republic, your coarsening of the culture, your assault on truth and honesty, your erosion of our protocols, would feel as urgent today as it felt last year. But if anything, that resistance now feels more urgent.

Nothing about you has changed for the better. You are still a sexist, bigoted, bullying, self-important simpleton. But now all of the worst of you has the force of the American presidency. [Continue reading…]

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How Assange, Snowden, and other radical libertarians have allied with Russia in their opposition to liberal democracy

Julian Borger writes: At a time when strange alliances are disrupting previously stable democracies, the Catalan independence referendum was a perfect reflection of a weird age. Along with the flag-waving and calls for ‘freedom’ from Madrid, the furore that followed the vote unleashed some of the darker elements that have haunted recent turbulent episodes in Europe and America: fake news, Russian mischief and, marching oddly in step, libertarian activism.

From his residence of more than five years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Assange tweeted 80 times in support of Catalan secession, and his views were amplified by the state-run Russian news agency, Sputnik, making him the most quoted English-language voice on Twitter, according to independent research and the Sydney Morning Herald.

In second place was Edward Snowden, another champion of transparency, who like Assange had little by way of a track record on Spanish politics. Together, Snowden and Assange accounted for a third of all Twitter traffic under the #Catalonia hashtag. [Continue reading…]

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Thirty countries use ‘armies of opinion shapers’ to manipulate democracy, says Freedom House report

The Guardian reports: The governments of 30 countries around the globe are using armies of so called opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas and repress their citizens, a new report shows.

Unlike widely reported Russian attempts to influence foreign elections, most of the offending countries use the internet to manipulate opinion domestically, says US NGO Freedom House.

“Manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 17 other countries over the past year, damaging citizens’ ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate,” the US government-funded charity said. “Although some governments sought to support their interests and expand their influence abroad, as with Russia’s disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe, in most cases they used these methods inside their own borders to maintain their hold on power.”

Even in those countries that didn’t have elections in the last year, social media manipulation was still frequent. Of the 65 countries surveyed, 30, including Venezuela, the Philippines and Turkey, were found to be using “armies of opinion shapers” to “spread government views, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics on social media”, according to Freedom House’s new Freedom on the Net report. In each of the 30 countries it found “strong indications that individuals are paid to distort the digital information landscape in the government’s favour, without acknowledging sponsorship”. [Continue reading…]

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Too many Americans can’t tell fact from fiction

Timothy Egan writes: It would be much easier to sleep at night if you could believe that we’re in such a mess of misinformation simply because Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million people on Facebook.

The Russians also uploaded a thousand videos to YouTube and published more than 130,000 messages on Twitter about last year’s election. As recent congressional hearings showed, the arteries of our democracy were clogged with toxins from a hostile foreign power.

But the problem is not the Russians — it’s us. We’re getting played because too many Americans are ill equipped to perform the basic functions of citizenship. If the point of the Russian campaign, aided domestically by right-wing media, was to get people to think there is no such thing as knowable truth, the bad guys have won.

As we crossed the 300-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday, fact-checkers noted that he has made more than 1,600 false or misleading claims. Good God. At least five times a day, on average, this president says something that isn’t true.

We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing.

Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government. When NPR tweeted out sections of the Declaration of Independence last year, many people were outraged. They mistook Thomas Jefferson’s fighting words for anti-Trump propaganda.

Fake news is a real thing produced by active disseminators of falsehoods. Trump uses the term to describe anything he doesn’t like, a habit now picked up by political liars everywhere.

But Trump is a symptom; the breakdown in this democracy goes beyond the liar in chief. For that you have to blame all of us: we have allowed the educational system to become negligent in teaching the owner’s manual of citizenship. [Continue reading…]

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British and Spanish leaders say Russian trolls meddled in their elections

The Washington Post reports: In a remarkable one-two punch aimed at Russian hackers, bots and trolls, the prime ministers of Britain and Spain have separately accused Russian entities — including some allegedly supported by the state — of meddling in European elections and have vowed to foil them.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Tuesday that an “avalanche” of bots spread “fake news” about Spain during Catalonia’s independence referendum last month and that Spanish authorities think that more than half of the originating accounts are in Russian territory.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday night charged that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia was attempting to “undermine free societies” and “sow discord” in Britain and among its Western allies by “deploying its state-run media organizations to plant fake stories.”

“So I have a very simple message for Russia,” May said. “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”

The allegations leveled by May and Rajoy stand in stark contrast to remarks made over the weekend by President Trump, who appeared to defend the Russian president. [Continue reading…]

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How social media fires people’s passions – and builds extremist divisions

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Passionate feelings can lead to extreme divisions.
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By Robert Kozinets, University of Southern California

The people of the United States continue to learn how polarized and divided the nation has become. In one study released in late October by the Pew Research Center, Americans were found to have become increasingly partisan in their views. On issues as diverse as health care, immigration, race and sexuality, Americans today hold more extreme and more divergent views than they did a decade ago. The reason for this dramatic shift is a device owned by more than three out of every four Americans.

Americans’ political beliefs have become increasingly polarized. Pew Research Center

As social media has emerged over the last two decades, I have been studying how it changes innovation, and researching the effects of internet communications on consumer opinions and marketing. I developed netnography, one of the most widely used qualitative research techniques for understanding how people behave on social media. And I have used that method to better understand a variety of challenging problems that face not only businesses but governments and society at large.

What I have found has shaken up some of the most firmly held ideas that marketers had about consumers – such as how internet interest groups can drive online purchasing and the power of stories, utopian messages and moral lessons to connect buyers with brands and each other. In one of my latest studies, my co-authors and I debunk the idea that technology might make consumers more rational and price-conscious. Instead, we found that smartphones and web applications were increasing people’s passions while also driving them to polarizing extremes.

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Trump is part of the Saudi story

Anne Applebaum writes: There are countries in which you are accused of an act of corruption and then you are arrested. And then there are countries in which someone decides to arrest you and only then are you called corrupt.

Saudi Arabia belongs to that second category. Last week, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, used the excuse of “corruption” to arrest several dozen people, including close members of his family, and to lock them up in the posh confines of the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh.

Nobody took the charges at face value. “Corruption” — theft from the state — is not easily defined in Saudi Arabia, a place where the ruling family is the state, and vice versa.

Instead, those who know the country have argued that these arrests are part of a major political transition, an assault on the country’s sclerotic, traditional power structure. The crown prince appears to be “deliberately dismantling the traditional governance system in Saudi Arabia,” wrote The Post’s David Ignatius. The arrests were preceded by other changes: Talk of social modernization, for example — one of the world’s most misogynistic societies will soon allow women to drive — as well as of the diversification of an economy almost entirely dependent on oil.

But if those are the goals, these arrests also represent another setback for U.S. leadership in the era of President Trump, and a major blow to the prestige of a very different model of modernization and political transition. Most European countries were once monarchies like Saudi Arabia, but they handed over power to parliaments. The United States once denied women many rights, but it slowly enfranchised them. That Western model — to expand rights and freedom, to establish the rule of law and independent courts, to pass sovereignty from an aristocracy to a broader group of citizens — was long promoted by Americans as a matter of course. During what is remembered as the “Third Wave” of democratization, from the 1970s to the 1990s, dozens of countries in Latin America, Asia and central Europe sought to emulate this tradition and carry out this kind of reform.

Now that model is in retreat. Instead of following a Western model of modernization and reform, the crown prince has taken the path of China and Russia, where “political transition” means that power is retained by a tiny, very wealthy elite. [Continue reading…]

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In Tuesday’s elections, women won big. Here are three things we learned about women and politics

Jennifer L. Lawless and Danny Hayes write: The story line emerging from Tuesday’s statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey revolves around Donald Trump. Observers have focused on what the Democrats’ big night means for Trump’s political fortunes, the future of “Trumpism” in the Republican Party, and the 2018 midterms.

But on a night that saw a record number of female candidates, and major wins by women in Virginia, what do the results tell us about women and politics? We see three takeaways.

1. There was a Trump effect.

For a year now, Democratic women have been angry, energized and active. And last night, their dismay with the president appears to have been a key factor in both states’ election outcomes.

In Virginia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam won 61 percent of the vote among women, according to exit polls. In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy won the governor’s race thanks to 55 percent of the women’s vote. It’s not unusual for women to support Democratic candidates, but these margins proved to be a significant advantage, especially for Northam on a night when Democrats turned out to vote at high rates.

The results of a Politico/American University/Loyola Marymount University poll from May 2017 help explain why women may have so strongly backed Democratic candidates on Tuesday.

The survey found that 70 percent of Democratic women were “appalled” by Trump’s victory, more than two-thirds were “shocked” by it, and more than half reported feeling “angry” and “depressed.” Nearly three-quarters of Democratic women reported “a sick feeling” when they saw Trump on the news. The women with the most visceral reactions were roughly four times as likely to engage politically after Trump’s victory than they were before it. For Democratic women in New Jersey and Virginia, casting a ballot may have represented yet another way to express their displeasure with Trump.

The Trump effect goes beyond voters, however. Virginia and New Jersey also saw a record number of female candidates running for state legislative office. In Virginia, 53 women appeared on the ballot — an 18 percent increase from a previous record of 45. In New Jersey, the 79 women on the ballot also represented a high point, up nearly 10 percent from 72 in 2013. [Continue reading…]

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The resistance to Trump is being led by women

LA Kauffman writes: There’s a shiny bright spot on the dismal American political landscape: one year after the 2016 election, it’s now abundantly clear that this extraordinarily toxic and menacing presidency has sparked a truly unprecedented grassroots response, different in both scale and character from anything we’ve seen before.

The activist resistance to Trump played a vital role in the impressive wave of progressive electoral victories this week, after having already succeeded in stalling or derailing key parts of Trump’s agenda, most dramatically the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Galvanized by huge protests at the beginning of the new presidency, the ground-level opposition to this presidency has evolved into a sprawling and decentralized movement of many movements, using many different tactics to pursue its aims.

While established progressive organizations have seen important upswings in membership and provided important guidance and resources, the most striking and novel aspect of the resistance has been the creation of an astounding number of new grassroots groups, at least six times the number the Tea Party could boast at its height. Locally focused, self-organized, and overwhelmingly led by women, these groups show every sign of digging in for the long haul. [Continue reading…]

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Catalonia crackdown evokes memories of the dark days of Spain’s dictatorship

The Washington Post reports: As Spanish leaders and Catalonia’s separatists battle over the fate of the would-be breakaway region, a shadow from the past is looming over the conflict: Francisco Franco, the dictator who held his nation in an iron grip from 1939 to well into the 1970s.

With Catalan leaders exiled and locked behind bars, Catalan media outlets under threat and national police using truncheons to break up last month’s independence referendum, many here in Catalonia say that their repressive history is making an ugly return.

They point to the no-negotiation stance by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who they say has sought to quell separatism not by persuasion but by force and fear. And they say his center-right People’s Party never fully purged itself of its past after having been founded by Franco-era officials.

Rajoy and his allies dismiss the criticism, saying they are democratically elected leaders operating within the bounds of Spain’s constitution. But they, too, have occasionally reached toward the opposite side in their nation’s bitter history. Government spokesman Pablo Casado recently warned that if Catalan President Carles Puigdemont declared independence, he could wind up with a fate similar to a previous Catalan leader during the Spanish Civil War who was executed by firing squad in 1940. [Continue reading…]

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Totalitarian ideologies never die. Not even in America

Anne Applebaum writes: Nothing is ever over. No historic trauma is ever resolved. No historic villain is ever buried, and no historic lessons are permanently learned. Everything and everyone can be revived, and anything can be unlearned — even in the most settled civilizations.

Evidence of this is all around us. After two generations of atonement, an elected German politician — Björn Höcke, speaker of the parliamentary group of the new far-right party Alternative for Germany — wants Germans to stop apologizing for Nazi crimes; he describes the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a “monument of shame.” In China, a government once embarrassed by Maoism is peddling a sanitized version. Last year, 17 million Chinese made pilgrimages to the chairman’s home to pay homage to the man whose madness starved far more of his countrymen than that.

In Russia, Stalin has returned. Nearly half the country now views him with sympathy, respect or admiration. Stalin sent millions of Russians — and others — to die in labor camps, deprived millions of food so they starved to death, ordered hundreds of thousands executed, and left his country stunted and impoverished. In his own lifetime, Russians were terrified of him; soon after his death, he was denounced by his successors. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, it seemed, briefly, as if the victims of his terror might finally come to terms with his legacy.

Instead, a slow drip of imperialist propaganda, carefully supplied by the Kremlin, has successfully implanted a different memory. Over and over, Vladimir Putin’s government reminds Russians that under Stalin, Soviet citizens might have been poor and terrified, but the U.S.S.R. ruled half of Europe. Hagiographic biographies fill Moscow bookstores. An annual parade, complete with soldiers marching in Soviet uniforms and waving Soviet flags, now celebrates Stalin’s 1945 victory over Germany.

For a long time, Americans thought they were immune to this sort of thing. But are we really? In the United States of my childhood, there seemed no more settled question than the Civil War. In school I was taught that slavery had been defeated, that Lincoln was a hero and that the remaining wrongs were at least partly righted by the civil rights movement. Even the Old South/“Gone With the Wind” nostalgia had faded and shrunk to a small group of battlefield-visiting enthusiasts.

But it never faded away altogether — and now it’s back. With a president who looks at white-supremacist marchers and sees “very fine people” and a White House chief of staff who describes Robert E. Lee as an “honorable man” who “gave up his country to fight for his state,” we may not be as far as we once thought from a revival of Southern exceptionalism, and even treachery on a broader scale. Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the Senate in Alabama, has said repeatedly that the “law of God” is higher than the law of the Constitution itself.

In each one of these cases, the men who are carefully cultivating defeated ideas from the past think they can then control the impact. Putin wants Stalin to shore up his legitimacy; Xi Jinping hopes Mao can help him stave off opposition; Höcke thinks the shock value of his comments will win him votes. As for Trump and Moore, they think they can win power by appealing to the white-supremacist minority and offending the rest. But violent, racist, totalitarian emotions, once unleashed, can go in a lot of unpredictable directions. [Continue reading…]

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Bots stoke racial strife in Virginia governor’s race

Politico reports: Twitter bots are swarming into the Virginia governor’s race and promoting chatter about a racially charged Democratic ad days before Election Day, according to a report commissioned by allies of Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign.

The activity centers on an ad from Latino Victory Fund, depicting a child’s nightmare in which a supporter of Republican Ed Gillespie chases immigrant children in a pickup truck bearing a Confederate flag. Gillespie’s campaign reacted furiously to the ad, which barely ran on TV but got major attention online, and has made backlash to the Democratic ad a major part of its closing message.

That backlash erupted quickly, and Latino Victory Fund later retracted the ad. But the reaction has been amplified on Twitter by automated accounts. Out of the 15 accounts tweeting most frequently about the Latino Victory Fund ad, 13 belong to fully or partially automated bots, according to an analysis from Discourse Intelligence. (The other two accounts are Republican political operatives.)

“Highly scripted, highly robotic accounts are being used to boost this message into the Twitter conversation,” said Tim Chambers, the report’s author and the U.S. practice lead for digital at the Dewey Square Group. The firm was retained by the National Education Association, whose Virginia affiliate has endorsed Northam.

Of the 15 accounts most frequently sending out messages about the ad from Latino Victory Fund, just two accounts belonging to GOP operatives were human, while 13 belonged to either fully or partially automated bots, according to the report from Discourse Intelligence. The National Education Association, whose Virginia affiliate backs Northam, paid for the report.

The 15 accounts highlighted in the report have the potential to reach 651,000 people, the report says. It notes these accounts just make up less than 1 percent of the nearly 3,000 accounts with tweets including both “Latino victory” and either “Gillespie” or “Northam.”

A spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who is helping lead the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said the incident mirrors past bot attempts to “manipulate” social media conversations. Warner and other senators, including Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have also warned during their investigation about attempts to interfere in future American elections as well. [Continue reading…]

While this report may be used to highlight the ever-present threat of foreign interference in U.S. elections, what it really underlines is the corrosive effect on democracy presented by the existence of social media.

Twitter and Facebook weren’t created to damage democracy, so this isn’t an issue of malevolent intent. But given that social media has already become — globally — the preeminent instrument for manipulating public opinion, at some point attention needs to turn away from Russia’s opportunistic use of social media and the internet to further its national interest, and focus more intently on the broad political repercussions of the digital age and the extent to which connectivity, far from creating a global village, has become the most effective means for promoting division. This doesn’t simply result in online spats — it can lead to ethnic cleansing and a refugee crisis.

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How the politics of the Left lost its way

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Wrong end of the stick.
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Geoffrey M Hodgson, University of Hertfordshire

One hundred years ago, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and set up the first long-lasting Marxist government. The Russian Revolution’s impact was wide-ranging. One important – and overlooked – effect was how it changed the idea of the term “Left” in political terminology. Following the Bolshevik takeover, the term Left became more strongly associated with collectivism and public ownership.

But originally the term Left meant something quite different. Indeed, collectivism or public ownership are not exclusive to the Left. The word fascism derives from the fasces symbol of Ancient Rome, a bundle of rods containing an axe, which signify collective strength.

Another effect of 1917 was to undermine further the democratic credentials of the Left. These had already been undermined by early socialists such as Robert Owen, who had been opposed to democracy. After Soviet Russia and Mao’s China, part of the Left was linked to totalitarian regimes with human rights abuses, execution without trial, little freedom of expression and arbitrary confiscation of property.

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World’s witnessing a new Gilded Age as billionaires’ wealth swells to $6tn

The Guardian reports: The world’s super-rich hold the greatest concentration of wealth since the US Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century, when families like the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast fortunes.

Billionaires increased their combined global wealth by almost a fifth last year to a record $6tn (£4.5tn) – more than twice the GDP of the UK. There are now 1,542 dollar billionaires across the world, after 145 multi-millionaires saw their wealth tick over into nine-zero fortunes last year, according to the UBS / PwC Billionaires report.

Josef Stadler, the lead author of the report and UBS’s head of global ultra high net worth, said his billionaire clients were concerned that growing inequality between rich and poor could lead to a “strike back”.

“We’re at an inflection point,” Stadler said. “Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about. The problem is the power of interest on interest – that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?” [Continue reading…]

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Sen. Jeff Flake: ‘Anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy’

 

Full transcript: Jeff Flake’s speech from the Senate floor.

Politico reports: Just hours after publicly trading insults with a key GOP senator, President Donald Trump kept to the script and held a “productive,” hour-long meeting with Senate Republicans, according to several senators.

Trump outlined at length his accomplishments since taking office, and then asked for Senate Republicans to help him push through a major tax-reform package. The assembled GOP senators responded to Trump’s appearance with three standing ovations.

While the “feel good” moment only papered over serious divisions in the party — both personal and policy — Senate Republicans were hopeful that it signaled a chance to cooperate with Trump on taxes, which many rank-and-file lawmakers consider critical to keeping their majorities on Capitol Hill.

Yet soon after the meeting ended, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) made a stunning announcement that he would not run for reelection, quickly diverting attention from what had been a hopeful moment for Trump and Senate Republicans. [Continue reading…]

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George W. Bush rebukes Trump’s ‘America first’ foreign policy

 

Josh Rogin writes: For the second time this week, a prominent Republican has made a speech rebuking President Trump’s vision for the United States’ role in the world. On Monday, it was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Today, President George W. Bush joined the call for the United States to reject the “America first” principle in world affairs.

Although he did not mention Trump by name, the 43rd president gave a thorough and detailed rebuttal to Trump’s nationalist, values-neutral, anti-refugee, anti-immigration and anti-free-trade ideology. Bush also called on the United States to reject attempts to play down Russia’s interference in our democracy and warned Americans not to fall for conspiracy theories and fake news.

Bush, who made the freedom agenda a key pillar of his presidency, also called on the United States to lead a rejuvenation of the Western, liberal world order, which he described as under attack.

“The health of the democratic spirit itself is at issue, and the renewal of that spirit is the urgent task at hand,” Bush told a meeting of the Bush Institute on Thursday in New York. “We know that when we lose sight of these ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy.” [Continue reading…]

While Bush’s defense of democracy and rebuke of Trumpism is, I believe, sincere, the freedom agenda promoted by the neoconservatives who guided the Bush administration, certainly bears a large share of responsibility for breeding widespread cynicism about American democratic values.

By launching a catastrophic war against Iraq whose destablizing reverberations still rock the Middle East and by fighting in the name of democracy, it was inevitable that as popular U.S. support for the war soured, this would lead many Americans to conclude that the promotion of democracy had never been anything more than an excuse for ill-conceived and costly expansionism. A reaction, in the form of America-first isolationism, is part of the backlash.

That said, there is now less value in apportioning blame for the corrosion of democracy than there is in recognizing that it is indeed under threat and that the defense of democracy is a responsibility shared by every single citizen who benefits from its existence.

For us to understand how we are the beneficiaries of a democratic system, demands we look beyond our parochial preoccupations and see what it means to live in societies across the globe where freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, free and fair elections are rights that are constrained or withheld. And it means recognizing that we too stand at risk of losing these freedoms.

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Move over, America. China now presents itself as the model ‘blazing a new trail’ for the world

Simon Denyer writes: American presidents are fond of describing their nation as a “city on a hill” — a shining example for other nations to follow. But China is now officially in the business of styling itself as another polestar for the world, with a very different political, economic and cultural model.

“The banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is now flying high and proud for all to see,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a mammoth speech to the Communist Party elite on Wednesday.

“It means the path, the theory, the system, and the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics have kept developing, blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization,” he said in the Great Auditorium of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

“It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence, and it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.”

The extent to which the Chinese model is successful or even applicable to other countries is, of course, very questionable. (Although it is also true that many people outside the United States do not see Washington’s foreign policy as an unquestioned global good, or its social system as a model.)

China’s economic growth has been stunning since the country’s move from communism to state-directed capitalism, but per capita income is still a fraction of places such as Taiwan, Singapore or Chinese-controlled Hong Kong. China may have the world’s second-largest economy in aggregate, but it ranks between 70 and 80 on a ranking of nations on a per capita basis.

Rising wealth has been accompanied by rising inequality, massive environmental pollution, rampant corruption and one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.

The country has generated cheap capital for industry by keeping real interest rates negative and preventing money from leaving the country, creating an effective tax on its citizens that would not be possible in many other nations. Yet it also has benefited from the incredible industriousness of its own people together with the huge size of its own internal market.

Still, China’s Communist Party has seen events in the West — from the 2008 financial crisis to the election of Donald Trump, and even Brexit — as a vindication of its own political and economic system. On Tuesday, state news agency Xinhua spelled it out: Western democracy was divisive and confrontational, and beset with crises and chaos.

It is a message that resounds in other authoritarian states with big development ambitions, such as Ethiopia. There is no doubt that China’s economic record does attract the envy of the people in many poorer nations, especially perhaps in Africa, where the track record of Western influence — and the brand of neoliberal economics often preached by the IMF and World Bank — has not always been rosy. [Continue reading…]

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