Monday, February 27, 2017

Envoy calls for probe into abuse against Rohingya in Myanmar

An Obama-era human rights envoy, Keith Harper, has called on the UN to set up a commission to probe human rights violations in Myanmar's Rakhine state and not let its leader Aung San Suu Kyi off the hook because of the "iconic status" she holds in the eyes of the West.
Harper served as ambassador to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) under former US president Barack Obama's administration from 2014 till January this year.
He accused Suu Kyi of "utterly" failing to address the plight of ethnic Rohingya Muslims in the restive state. He said her image as a hero in front of human rights advocates and Western diplomats has overshadowed the issue and spared her from being held responsible for the persisting issues.
He urged the UNHRC to launch a probe like it has done against Syria, South Sudan, North Korea and Eritrea.
"For far too many, her iconic status as pro-democracy crusader makes it difficult to hold accountable a Suu Kyi-led government no matter the well-documented human rights violations," Harper wrote on the New York-based Just Security online forum.
"Her Nobel Prize has become a most awful kind of shield from proper scrutiny," he said.
To read the full story, click here.

Communalising Population Growth: Understanding Demographic Data

Fascists around the globe have always been able to use the population growth amongst the targeted minority to justify their horrendous crimes against them.
This has been the story against the Rohingyas of Myanmar who are the worst persecuted people on earth in the hand of fascist Buddhists of Arakan state in particular, and other Myanmar Buddhists. This is the story of Muslim minorities and Dalits in  India who face daily discrimination and periodic extermination campaigns in the hands of Hindu fascists of the RSS and the BJP and their sister organizations inside India. This is the story of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestine faced by the natives in the hands of outsiders - the Zionists - who want them to find other Arab states to settle down.
Prof. Ram Puniyani takes a look at this issue in India. You can read this, by clicking here.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Is America heading towards fascism?

Recently I was shaken to learn that the son of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was detained for hours by immigration officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on Feb. 7 after returning from speaking at a Black History Month event in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

They were pulled aside while going through customs because of their Arabic-sounding names, according to family friend and lawyer Chris Mancini. Immigration officials let Camacho-Ali go after she showed them a photo of herself with her ex-husband, but her son did not have such a photo and wasn't as lucky. Mancini said officials held and questioned Ali Jr. for nearly two hours, repeatedly asking him, "Where did you get your name from?" and "Are you Muslim?"

When Ali Jr. responded that yes, he is a Muslim, the officers kept questioning him about his religion and where he was born. Ali Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1972 and holds a U.S. passport.

When this kind of racial and religious profiling and harassment happened to Ali Jr., what chance does an ordinary Abdullah or Amina has to be spared when he or she doesn’t have a legendary father? It is simply shocking!

Trump’s unbridled remarks against ‘radical’ Muslims surely have something to do with such profiling. His anti-immigrant rhetoric is also emboldening many white supremacists to unleash their hate crimes against the ‘others’ – who don’t look like a white American.

This week, two Indians (who had legal permits) were shot in a bar in Kansas by an anti-immigrant bigot - Adam W. Purinton (wearing military medals) who tossed ethnic slurs at them and suggested that they did not belong in the United States. He killed one and wounded the other Indian. The assailant was captured in Missouri state.

The attack, which the federal and local authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime, reverberated far beyond both states. It raised new alarms about a climate of hostility toward foreigners in the United States, where President Trump has made clamping down on immigration a central plank of his “America first” agenda.

Early in February, a trial began in federal court in Tennessee of a self-professed Christian minister Robert Doggart - who plotted to kill Americans of another faith (Islam) to prove his “commitment to our God.” The trial did not get much publicity simply because the man on trial is not Muslim. If he were Muslim, Dean Obeidallah says, we would of course have heard of his sinister plot. But as we have seen time and time again, terrorist plots by non-Muslims are met with a collective yawn by most in our media.

Undercover FBI agents allege that Doggart was plotting to travel to upstate New York to kill Muslims there using explosives, an M-4 assault rifle and even a machete to cut the infidels to shreds. The FBI’s investigation also found that Doggart viewed himself as a religious “warrior” who wanted to kill Muslims to show to his commitment to his Christian God. Doggart even boasted that the attack on the Muslims “will be cruel. And we will burn down their buildings [Referring to their mosque and school.] … and if anybody attempts to harm us in any way… we will take them down.”

As rightly noted by Dean Obeidallah, this man “sounds no different from an ISIS terrorist wanting to kill people of other faiths in accordance with their own perverted interpretation of their religious faith.”

In December 2016 white supremacist Glendon Scott Crawford was sentenced to 30 years to life for trying to build a radioactive weapon to kill Muslim Americans. Crawford, a Navy Veteran and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was an electrical engineer who has carried out extensive research on his radiation dispersal device designed to target a Muslim community.

In September 2016 three men known as “The Crusaders” were arrested for plotting to kill Muslim refugees in Kansas. Per the FBI, the three had been engaged in surveillance of the apartment complex where primarily Somalian Muslim refugees lived. The FBI also noted that the three spoke of dipping their bullets in pig’s blood before shooting the Muslims—which was reminiscent of a Trump’s campaign stump speech when he wrongly claimed that General Pershing had done the same when fighting in the Philippines.

This Saturday, dozens of headstones at Mt. Carmel Jewish cemetery in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia have been broken and overturned. Last week, vandals toppled and damaged more than 100 headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in the St. Louis suburb of University City within the past week. The defacement was discovered on a weekend when 11 Jewish Community Centers received bomb threats. A Muslim-American group has helped raise more than $80,000 to help the vandalized Jewish cemetery in Missouri.

All these criminal activities, attacks and harassment of religious minorities in recent months are warning signs for the USA – the land of the immigrants, and parallel the evil activities of the old fascists of Italy and Germany against the so-called undesirables – the Jews and gypsies.

Is America heading towards fascism? To answer, let’s first look at how does fascism emerge. An analysis of the events leading up to the emergence of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s point to some important findings. These are –

1. High unemployment (1921 in Italy and 1932 in Germany.)

2. Destabilized government in the wake of WW I.   Both countries were at the mercy of factional strife, coups, and street fighting.

3. Fear of Communism.   When the Communists came to power in Russia, they executed Tsar Nicholas II, cruelly bayoneting his daughters.   This sent a down every royal spine in Europe (many of whom were related to Nicholas.)  The wealthy also feared for their power and riches.   Communists were active in both countries, trying to get themselves elected or take the government by force.   Both Mussolini and Hitler exploited this fear to secure help from the wealthy and powerful.

4. Wounded national pride in the wake of WW I.  Although Italy was among the victors of WW I, it was quickly marginalized by the other victors.   It received none of the spoils of war and no voice in the armistice.   Germany lost the war, much territory, and had to endure the Treaty of Versailles which inflicted total blame and financial reparations.

5. Many war veterans from WWI.   The streets were full of experienced soldiers, jobless, often still armed.   They were ripe to be organized against other political parties.   Political disputes often spilled over to gunfire in the streets.   These conditions favored the most ruthless political party.

In the light of current events, is the USA witnessing the birth of fascism? After all, there are much similarities that make the case for fascism, if one were to replace the word ‘communism’ with ISIS (DAESH) or the so-called Radical Islam as part of that fear tactics.

For instance, millions of jobs, esp. in the manufacturing sector have moved away from the USA to countries, at least since the 1990s, where the costs of manufacturing are lower. Most of these jobs never returned to the USA. Many of those former employees are either out of job or are forced to work for low-paying jobs in parts of the USA that are commonly called these days as ‘rust belts.’ The 2008 economic melt-down, brought about by Bush Jr.’s hawkish policy, financial deregulation and neo-Crusades - the perennial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - saw many of their life-time savings evaporate; many lost their homes and businesses. [The 2008 financial crisis led to the Great Recession when housing prices fell 31.8 percent, more than during the Depression of the 1930s. Two years after the recession ended, unemployment was still above 9 percent.] Although by the end of Obama’s presidency in 2016 the unemployment rate had declined to below 5% many low wage-earners, and surely unemployed Americans, remain bitter, angry and frustrated. They like to see a change for the better. They have been the major force along the ‘rust belt’ to elect Donald Trump as the 45th POTUS.

Ever since Barack H. Obama was elected as the 44th president, the USA has witnessed a series of tense events along racial fault lines (mostly involving police). The election outcome in November 2008 was undesirable to many White Americans who refused to accept the evolution of their country and government that has increasingly become diverse, slightly more tolerant on sensitive issues. Many of them joined white supremacist militia groups, preparing to bring about a race war against non-Whites and a federal government that they considered illegitimate and run by a ‘disguised Muslim’ (and not a ‘faithful’ follower of Jesus Christ) who – in their faulty understanding - was not even born within the USA.

After the loss of the Democrats to the Republicans in both the Houses in the 2010 mid-term election the Obama administration was weak to tackle a plethora of internal problems facing the divided country. The right-wing extremists and conservatives (including Christian evangelicals) saw the Obamacare as too expensive and thus, unhelpful to general public and rallied for its annulment. They also saw several of the executive orders of Obama, e.g., on LBGT, as warning signs for the conservatives to wake up and rally behind the Republican candidates.

The voices of these disgruntled White Americans found a very powerful advocate, or more correctly a provocateur, in ultra-right Fox TV News, owned by the neoconservative Rupert Murdoch. With a non-stop barrage of propaganda, based on ‘fake news’, fed by the conservative media outlets (including radio talk show hosts), the last couple of years of Obama administration saw the Congress as a lame-duck, which would not allow Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court to even get a hearing.

Even after the election win of Trump, voter anger is at an all-time high now. They want to see their problems solved immediately by the Trump administration with the supporting casts in the Capitol Hill – the Republicans controlling both the Houses. But what they are hearing (or not hearing) is not allaying their anxieties. Many Republican lawmakers are afraid of facing their electorates in town-hall meetings.

There is widespread perception that the electoral system is rigged, a constant theme during Trump’s election campaign, where the party insiders are stifling dissenting views and choices. The two-party system is apparently failing Americans. This also explains why voters chose Trump, as an outsider to politics, who seemed the least corrupt who was going to clean-out the mess in Washington D.C.

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9/11 had already dug a gigantic, deep wound in American pride that had defined American psyche and politics ever since. No time in its history was the US mainland ever attacked by non-state actors that killed so many - nearly three thousand citizens. Rather than finding the root causes of the attack, the USA and its western partners attacked first Afghanistan and then Iraq savagely, killing in the process nearly a million unarmed citizens of those countries that had nothing to do with 9/11. Those regimes were soon toppled, the entire infra-structure of those countries destroyed, and puppet regimes installed. The rest is history!

More than a trillion dollars has already been spent in the Bush-initiated and Obama-continued ‘Global War on Terror’ in those countries to keep America ‘safe’ here from terrorists. [With all the expenses piling up for health care needs of injured veterans, the cost of the war may rise to six trillion dollars.] And yet, the illegal wars, started by the chicken-hawk, neocons within George W. Bush’s administration, have not ended with the American soldiers still dying there.

In spite of its gaping flaws, America’s war in faraway countries that did not attack the USA was sold to the general public and soldiers as a necessary and justifiable war. As part of the military’s rule of engagement, unarmed civilians – old and young, including toddlers and infants - were mercilessly killed or maimed unprovoked.

As a result of the evil that they committed in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, many of the soldiers are now suffering from chronic PTSD. The Veterans Administration has failed them. Consequently, many of the returning soldiers are now dependent on drugs to temporarily forget their war crimes. Some of them have also committed homicides. Many of them remain jobless and are very critical of the government for what they consider their abandonment. Many are joining private militias for a ‘higher’ cause and some are even killing non-Christians to that end.

Thanks to western savagery and the sectarian heavy-handed practices of the U.S.-supported Iraqi government, a new nemesis – Daesh (more commonly called ISIS/ISIL), an un-Islamic terrorist outfit – has emerged in the scene, which seems to be more dangerous and determined to not only take over the ownership of Iraq and Syria but also to encourage terrorism in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Their mindless nihilism has killed and injured mostly Muslims; a much smaller number of Europeans and Americans has also been victimized by their brainwashed comrades. Daesh has recruited thousands - Muslims and non-Muslims alike - to join the rank and file to kill and be killed in an imbalanced war with the West. They remain a formidable force unless they are defeated both ideologically and materially.

As a result of continuing wars in vast territories of Asia and Africa, tens of millions of affected people are on the move now. While a vast majority of these refugees have found temporary shelters in nearby Muslim countries, a much smaller fraction of the refugees has also poured into Europe, Canada, Australia and the USA, which are overwhelmingly Christian countries, where the old racism of the past has resurfaced under the new insignia of anti-immigration movement. Not surprisingly, in the hands of racists and bigots the fear of ISIS and immigration has filled the vacuum left over by communism in many parts of Europe, Australia and the USA.

As psychologists would tell us anxiety and fear are what often draws people to leaders. Many astute political leaders, including Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and other neo-fascists know this truth too well to turn people to their respective platform. They continuously remind their audience that they are under attack by these outsiders who are trying to steal their jobs, by murderers and rapists, by terrorists (coming as immigrants), and by the liberal media (feeding ‘fake’ news). And, then, if you trust them as your protectors, they would make their country ‘great’ again; you will be safe and secure to pursue your goals freely without any worry. To put succinctly, they are master manipulators of the human anxiety response.  

Like the fascism of the past, while the perceived enemy’s face has changed, the new fascism glorifies war (by suggesting that if ‘we’ don’t defeat and crush ‘them’ ‘they’ will make ‘us’ inferior and force ‘us’ to alter our lifestyle) and promotes authoritarianism. It is populist. It is opposed to the free press and sees its function only as a vehicle to promote and propagate its agenda.

It is no accident that Senator McCain, an old guard of the Republican Party, sees fascist leanings in President Trump’s attacks against the media.

Like Mussolini and Hitler – Donald Trump has been able to exploit the dissatisfaction among the jobless White Americans, the fear of illegal Latinos and Muslim immigrants (from war-torn countries), let alone the so-called Islamic radicals and the ISIS, an erosion of conservative values, a divided Congress with a ‘rigged’ political system, the wounded pride of the Americans and the anger of the returning veterans to his advantage. His toxic formula to present himself as a populist leader, albeit an outsider, succeeded so well that in spite of his brazen and offensive utterings about women, many White Americans (including women) voted for him.

Many political observers imagined that once elected, and with time, Trump’s behavior would modify. But so far he has proven them wrong. He has also surrounded himself in the White House with advisers who are known more for espousing their despicable hatred and intolerance against ‘others’ than anything either noble or good, except probably the inclusion of two generals – one (retired) ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis and the other (a serving general) McMaster. Both the latter individuals are level-headed, honest and visionary leaders. Only time would show whether they would have a sobering effect on Trump to modulate his allegedly fascist-like behavior or become a casualty themselves.

There is no doubt that the USA is going through an unusual time under a new president whose rhetoric has made the world leaders jittery and wary of his intentions. There are many tasks ahead for Mr. Trump to deliver fast. He has to be careful what he says and what he tweets, esp. in this age of social media. Whatever his personal likings or leaning may be, he ought to know that what was possible for Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s is almost impossible to replicate in this digital age of alternative media.

Mr. Trump claims to know how to defeat Daesh. Still, let me lend him a free advice.

As I have noted in the past, history has repeatedly shown that it’s very difficult to defeat neo-Khawariz organizations like today’s Daesh, and yesterday’s Hashishyyin (Assassins). Even after their political defeat, they continue(d) to wreak havoc. Their task has become very easy in this era of social media; with a laptop computer they can continue to recruit ‘loan wolves’ anywhere to do their evil. The prudent way is to defeat them ideologically. It is there that the Muslim community can be an unmatched asset to mortally defeat them. [Sadly, the ‘travel ban’ plus hateful rhetoric against Muslims by the fascist-leaning leaders in many parts of the world (esp. Europe and the USA) is not helpful at all.] I am glad to note that this age-old wisdom is understood quite well by Generals McMaster and Mattis who are smart students of world history.

Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster told the staff of the National Security Council last Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic.” [He’s right. Truly, a terrorist cannot be Islamic. The phrase “Islamic terrorists” is an oxymoron. Muslims find the phrase very offensive.] That is a repudiation of the language regularly used by both the president and General McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week after admitting that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about a phone call with a Russian diplomat. It is also a sign that General McMaster, a veteran of the Iraq war known for his sense of history and independent streak, might move the council away from the ideologically charged views of Flynn. If he succeeds, this would be a great victory for all – here inside the USA and abroad.

Perhaps not everything is moving in the wrong direction in the USA. May be that common sense would prevail and the wiser few within the Trump administration would act as a deterrent force against the dark forces of fascism that surrounds Mr. Trump!

In order to stop fascism from becoming a reality in the USA, the media has a vital duty. It must be authentic and fair. It cannot afford either ‘yellow’ journalism or ‘embedded’ journalism -serving causes that make our world less safe, less peaceful and less inclusive. It must report on the threats by white supremacists and Christian radicals plotting to kill Muslim Americans and other religious minorities with the same intensity as when a Muslim suspect is involved. Otherwise, it won’t be too late when we shall all fall prey to an emerging fascism that the USA has never seen before. That would be a catastrophe for everyone everywhere in this small planet of ours!

 
 

Tha anatomy of populist economics

Brigitte Granville is Professor of International Economics and Economic Policy at the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London. She is the author of Remembering Inflation. Here below Economist Brigitte Granville taps insights from Anne Krueger, Jan-Werner Mueller, Michael Sandel, and other Project Syndicate commentators to examine why so many voters have embraced facile policies and populist politics.
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For at least the past year, populism has been wreaking havoc on Western democracies. Populist forces – parties, leaders, and ideas – underpinned the “Leave” campaign’s victory in the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States. Now, populism lurks ominously in the background of the Netherlands’ general election in March and the French presidential election in April and May.
But, despite populism’s seeming ubiquity, it is a hard concept to pin down. Populists are often intolerant of outsiders and those who are different; and yet Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch populist leader, is a firm believer in gay rights. In the US, Trump’s presidential campaign was described as an anti-elite movement; and yet his administration is already practically a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs.
While today’s populist resurgence comes from the nationalist right, some of the leading populist exponents in recent decades – such as Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chávez – were firmly on the left. What they share is a zero-sum view of the world, which necessitates the creation of scapegoats who can be blamed for all problems. Moreover, because populist leaders claim to embody the uniform will of a mythical “people,” they consider democracy to be a means to power, rather than a desirable end in itself.
But populists have more in common than an obsession with cultural boundaries and political borders. They also share a recipe for economic governance, one that Project Syndicate commentators have been tracking since long before today’s brand of populism began dominating the world’s headlines. Guided by their insights, we can begin to understand the origins of today’s populist resurgence, and what is in store for Western countries where its avatars come to power.

Diagnosing the Problem

Given populism’s many faces, is it really possible to identify a root cause? For Warwick University’s Robert Skidelsky, it is no coincidence that the two major political upheavals of 2016 – the Brexiteers’ success in last June’s referendum and Trump’s election victory – occurred in “the two countries that most fervently embraced neoliberal economics.” The US and the UK’s economic model over the past few decades, Skidelsky observes, has allowed for “obscenely lavish rewards for a few, high levels of unemployment and underemployment, and curtailment of the state’s role in welfare provision.” And this widening inequality, he writes, “strips away the democratic veil that hides from the majority of citizens the true workings of power.”
But Gavekal Dragonomics Chief Economist Anatole Kaletsky sees another dynamic at work, and offers “several reasons to question the link between populist politics and economic distress.” For starters, he points out that “most populist voters are neither poor nor unemployed; they are not victims of globalization, immigration, and free trade.” Having analyzed Brexit exit polls and voter-survey responses, Kaletsky concludes that “cultural and ethnic attitudes, not direct economic motivations, are the real distinguishing features of anti-globalization voting.”
At first blush, these arguments may seem incompatible; but their disagreement is really only between ultimate and proximate causes. For Skidelsky, “It is when the rewards of economic progress accrue mainly to the already wealthy that the disjunction between minority and majority cultural values becomes seriously destabilizing.” Likewise, for Kaletsky, “The main relevance of economics is that the 2008 financial crisis created conditions for a political backlash by older, more conservative voters, who have been losing the cultural battles over race, gender, and social identity.”
Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel warns against focusing exclusively on “the bigotry in populist protest” or viewing it “only in economic terms.” The fundamental issue, he argues, is “that the upheavals of 2016 stemmed from the establishment’s inability to address – or even adequately recognize – genuine grievances.” And, because these grievances “are about social esteem, not only about wages and jobs,” they are difficult to disentangle “from the intolerant aspects of populist protest” – namely, anti-immigrant sentiments.
Nobel laureate economist Edmund Phelps also links populist voters’ anger to their loss of dignity in the larger political economy. As the share of US employment in manufacturing has steadily declined, blue-collar workers, Phelps notes. “have lost the opportunity to do meaningful work, and to feel a sense of agency.” In other words, “losing their ‘good jobs’” meant losing “the central source of meaning in their lives.” And while many of the lost manufacturing jobs were replaced with new jobs in new sectors, as Oxford University historian Margaret MacMillan cautions, nuanced economic arguments “cannot counter the unhappiness of people who feel marginalized, undervalued, and scorned.”

A Democratic Disease

Princeton University’s Jan-Werner Mueller, who published a highly regarded book about populism last year, has identified such “feelings of dispossession and disenfranchisement” as “fertile ground” in which populist politicians can sow seeds of resentment. And, in an earlier commentary that long predated the current news cycle, Mueller explained that, “Populism cannot be understood at the level of policies; rather, it is a particular way of imagining politics.” Above all, he observes, the populist imagination is inherently divisive: “It pits the innocent, always hard-working people against both a corrupt elite (who do not really work, other than to further their own interests) and those on the very bottom of society (who also do not work and live off others).”
In its more virulent forms, populism can be thought of as being akin to an autoimmune disease, whereby democracy gives rise to forces that attack it. Andrés Velasco, a former finance minister of Chile, laments that the nature of representative democracy can create an impression that politicians are “distant and untrustworthy.” The “rhetoric of modern democracy,” he writes, “emphasizes closeness to voters and their concerns.” But elected representatives cannot spend all of their time interacting with constituents when they have a duty to govern. When this dissonance between rhetoric and reality becomes “too glaring,” Velasco notes, “political leaders’ credibility suffers.”
This loss of trust leads disaffected citizens to put a premium on perceived authenticity. So, “although populist policies reduce overall economic welfare,” Velasco notes, “rational voters choose them because they are the price of distinguishing between different types of politicians.” In fact, such a willingness to suffer further economic pain in order to avenge elite betrayals and strike back at scapegoats may be a defining element of today’s populist resurgence.
Populist leaders in Hungary and Poland, who are currently advancing their own brand of “illiberal democracy,” seem to have staked their governments’ future on this presumption. As Central European University’s Maciej Kisilowski points out, it may not even matter that “the high economic costs of illiberal democracy are already apparent.” These countries’ electorates, Kisilowski surmises, “may regard economic stagnation as an acceptable price to pay for what they want most: a more familiar world where the state guarantees the dominant in-group’s sense of belonging and dignity, at the expense of ‘others.’”
Sławomir Sierakowski of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw provides further support for this point. When Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) returned to power in Poland a year ago, many assumed that it would quickly fail. Instead, it has succeeded, because Kaczyński mastered the politics of “two issues near and dear to voters: social transfers and immigration,” Sierakowski explains. “As long as he controls these two bastions of voter sentiment, he is safe.” Of course, given the PiS government’s politicization of the courts, the civil service, and the press, the same cannot be said for Poland’s democratic institutions.

A Populist Placebo

But how long can populist governments sustain generous transfers in the absence of strong economic growth? The answer will depend on how long their supporters remain convinced that they can have their cake and eat it – which is precisely what former Brexit leader and current British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson promised to Leave voters. Indeed, as Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs observed just after the Brexit vote, “Working-class ‘Leave’ voters reasoned that most or all of the income losses would in any event be borne by the rich, and especially the despised bankers of the City of London.”
Given the UK economy’s unexpected resilience last year, the populists probably feel vindicated. But, though most economists misjudged “the immediate impact that the United Kingdom’s [vote] would have on its economy,” writes Chatham House’s Paola Subacchi, “a gloomy long-term prognosis is probably correct,” given British leaders’ desire for a complete break from the European Union’s single market and customs union.
Such delayed effects can create an alibi for unsustainable policies, which, according to Velasco, is precisely “how economic populism works.” For example, the approach that Trump seems likely to take – tax cuts, growth-stimulating measures, and protectionism, with little thought given to inflation or public debt – is untenable, and will ultimately fail. But, as Velasco puts it, “‘Ultimately’ can be a very long time.” And that can give populist governments more staying power than many observers assume. “Populist policies are called that because they are popular,” he notes. “And they are popular because they work – at least for a while.”
In the meantime, populist leaders can pursue policies favored not only by their base, but also by many of their opponents. In the whirlwind of his first days in office, for example, Trump fulfilled his campaign promise to abandon the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This, Princeton University’s Ashoka Mody believes, was actually a welcome move, given that “international trade agreements, propped up by powerful interests, have become increasingly intrusive.” Similarly, before Trump’s election, Harvard University economist Dani Rodrik called for a rebalancing “between national autonomy and globalization.” In Rodrik’s view, it should go without saying that “the requirements of liberal democracy” must come before “those of international trade and investment.”
Trump’s promise of corporate tax reform has also wide appeal beyond his electoral base. For Harvard’s Martin Feldstein, who chaired President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, current legislative proposals to overhaul the US’s outdated tax system could “have a highly favorable impact on business investment, raising productivity and overall economic growth.” Assuming that Trump, working with congressional Republicans, can strike the right policy balance, he will have bought himself some time with the business community.
Princeton University economic historian Harold James makes a related point, arguing that “the economics of US populism will not necessarily fail, at least not immediately,” owing to the US’s “uniquely resilient” position in the global economy. “Because [the US] has historically been the global safe haven in times of economic uncertainty,” James notes, “it may be less affected than other countries by political unpredictability.”

A Turn for the Worse

But even if Trump can extend his honeymoon, James does not discount the possibility that “today’s contagious populism will create the conditions for its own destruction.” One way that could happen, argues Benjamin Cohen of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is if the US loses its “exorbitant privilege” as the issuer of the dominant international reserve currency. If Trump “pursues his protectionist promise to put ‘America first,’” Cohen writes, “investors and central banks could gradually be impelled to find alternative reserves for their spare billions.”
Trump’s version of economic populism could also face a reckoning if it results in a new boom-bust cycle – one that could end in a period of stagflation around the 2018 US congressional elections. Just before the election, Feldstein warned that “overpriced assets are fostering an increasingly risky environment.” Given that the US economy is already at full employment, with an inflation rate near 2%, Trump’s planned fiscal stimulus could push it into overdrive, and force the Federal Reserve to raise the federal funds rate.
Such a scenario would certainly worsen the plight of Trump’s constituency of white working-class voters in America’s former manufacturing heartland. But so, too, would his trade proposals, which could easily precipitate trade wars with China, Mexico, and other trading partners. Trump has told displaced blue-collar workers to blame trade deals and competition from imports for the loss of their jobs. But, “with productivity gains exceeding demand growth” worldwide, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, America “would have faced deindustrialization even without freer trade.”
Given this, Trump’s prescription of trade protectionism, Stiglitz says, will only “make all Americans poorer.” One reason, explains former World Bank Chief Economist Anne Krueger, is that imports create and sustain jobs, too. The irony of Trump’s proposed import tariffs is that they threaten American exporters. Many export-industry jobs, Krueger points out, exist because inexpensive imports enable American manufactures to compete domestically and abroad; and “exporting to the US gives foreigners more income with which to buy imports from the US and other countries.”
Simon Johnson of MIT also fears such a lose-lose scenario. If Trump starts taxing imports, Johnson argues, “the cost per job will be high: all imports will become more expensive, and this increase in the price level will filter through to the cost of everything Americans buy.”

Botching the Operation

Other Project Syndicate commentators have pinpointed a deeper flaw in populist economics, apart from any specific policy proposal: recklessness. Populists often overplay their hand by flouting legal, economic, or political conventions, or by exerting inappropriate influence in markets to try to funnel benefits to their supporters. In fact, according to a classic study of economic populism in Latin America by Sebastián Edwards of UCLA and the late Rüdiger Dornbusch of MIT, it is standard populist practice to show “no concern for the existence of fiscal and foreign exchange constraints” in the pursuit of faster growth and redistribution.
New York University’s Nouriel Roubini suspects that Trump may be similarly tempted to interfere inappropriately in currency markets. As his stimulus measures push up the value of the dollar, Roubini says, “Trump could unilaterally intervene to weaken the dollar, or impose capital controls to limit dollar-strengthening capital inflows.” But if Trump is too reckless with his “damage-control methods,” already-wary markets will succumb to “full-blown panic.”
Mody, for his part, sees serious risks in Trump’s interference in corporations’ practices and business decisions. By bullying companies over Twitter to keep jobs based in the US (or to punish them for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line), Trump has already begun to undermine “the norms and institutions that govern markets.” And in Phelps’s view, Trump’s Twitter interventions, combined with his deregulation agenda, risk entrenching corporatism at the expense of the innovation and competition necessary to sustain economic dynamism and income growth.

The Search for a Cure

With populist movements leaving political establishments reeling, could a positive counter-populist economic policy agenda soon emerge? The Nobel laureate economist Michael Spence sees an opportunity in disaffected voters’ rejection of an insufficiently inclusive economic-growth model. “With previous presumptions, biases, and taboos having been erased,” he writes, “it may be possible to create something better.” Likewise, for Stiglitz, Trumpism’s silver lining is that its opponents are experiencing “a new sense of solidarity over core values such as tolerance and equality, sustained by awareness of the bigotry and misogyny, whether hidden or open, that Trump and his team embody.”
An implicit argument running through many Project Syndicate commentaries is that the only prophylactic against economist populism is more aggressive redistribution. As Rodrik puts it, populism – and poor governance generally – emerges when elites prove unwilling to “make adjustments to ensure that everyone does indeed benefit” from the existing economic model.
Behind recent, large-scale rejections of the “system” is a widely shared sense among certain groups of voters that the “establishment” has subordinated citizens’ interests to cosmopolitan goals such as globalization, immigration, and cultural diversity. Most commentators agree that economic shocks such as the Great Recession or the eurozone sovereign-debt crisis are neither necessary nor sufficient to explain the rise of populism. Rather, populism is more a response to prolonged economic malaise, deteriorating living standards, declining trust in established institutions, and a common perception that incumbent leaders have feathered their nests at the people’s expense.
These are complex economic and political problems for which populism offers fancifully simple solutions. Efforts by the media to move the populist mind have proved counter-productive, and will likely continue to do so.Those opposed to the populist cure will have to come up with an equally powerful alternative, or look on helplessly as economic uncertainty and despair overwhelm the patient.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The emerging face of fascism in the USA


 
How does fascism emerge? An analysis of the events leading up to the emergence of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s point to some important findings. These are –

1.      High unemployment (1921 in Italy and 1932 in Germany.)

  1. Destabilized government in the wake of WW I.   Both countries were at the mercy of factional strife, coups, and street fighting.
  2. Fear of Communism.   When the Communists came to power in Russia, they executed Tsar Nicholas II, cruelly bayoneting his daughters.   This sent a down every royal spine in Europe (many of whom were related to Nicholas.)  The wealthy also feared for their power and riches.   Communists were active in both countries, trying to get themselves elected or take the government by force.   Both Mussolini and Hitler exploited this fear to secure help from the wealthy and powerful.
  3. Wounded national pride in the wake of WW I.  Although Italy was among the victors of WW I, it was quickly marginalized by the other victors.   It received none of the spoils of war and no voice in the armistice.   Germany lost the war, much territory, and had to endure the Treaty of Versailles which inflicted total blame and financial reparations.
  4. Many war veterans from WWI.   The streets were full of experienced soldiers, jobless, often still armed.   They were ripe to be organized against other political parties.   Political disputes often spilled over to gunfire in the streets.   These conditions favored the most ruthless political party.
In the light of current events, is the USA witnessing the birth of fascism? After all, there are much similarities that make the case for fascism, if one were to replace the word ‘communism’ with ISIS (DAESH) or the so-called Radical Islam.

For instance, millions of jobs, esp. in the manufacturing sector have moved away from the USA to countries, at least since the 1990s, where the costs of manufacturing are lower. Most of these jobs never returned to the USA. Many of those former employees are either out of job or are forced to work for low-paying jobs in parts of the USA that are commonly called these days as ‘rust belts.’ The 2008 economic melt-down, brought about by Bush Jr.’s hawkish policy and neo-Crusades - the perennial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - saw many of their life-time savings evaporate; many lost their homes and businesses. They are bitter, angry and frustrated, and would like to see a change for the better. They have been the major force to elect Donald Trump as the 45th POTUS.

Ever since Barack H. Obama was elected as the 44th president, the USA has witnessed a series of tense events along racial fault lines. The election outcome in November 2008 was undesirable to many White Americans who refused to accept the evolution of their country and government that has increasingly become diverse, slightly more tolerant on sensitive issues. Many of them joined white supremacist militia groups, preparing to bring about a race war against non-Whites and a federal government that they considered illegitimate and run by a ‘disguised Muslim’ (and not a ‘faithful’ follower of Jesus Christ) who – in their faulty understanding - was not even born within the USA.

After the loss of the Democrats to the Republicans in both the Houses in the 2010 mid-term election the Obama administration was weak to tackle a plethora of internal problems facing the divided country. The right-wing extremists and conservatives (including evangelicals) saw the Obamacare as expensive and thus, unhelpful to general public and rallied for its annulment. They also saw several of the executive orders of Obama, e.g., on LBGT, as warning signs for the conservatives to wake up and rally behind the Republican candidates.

The voices of these disgruntled White Americans found a very powerful advocate, or more correctly a provocateur, in ultra-right Fox TV News, owned by the neoconservative Rupert Murdoch. With a non-stop barrage of propaganda, based on ‘fake news’, fed by the conservative media outlets (including radio talk show hosts), the last couple of years of Obama administration saw the Congress as a lame-duck, which would not allow Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court to even get a hearing.

9/11 had already dug a gigantic, deep wound in American pride that had defined American psyche and politics ever since. No time in its history was the USA ever attacked by non-state actors that killed some three thousand citizens. Rather than finding the root causes of the attack, the USA and its western partners attacked first Afghanistan and then Iraq savagely, killing in the process nearly a million unarmed citizens of those countries that had nothing to do with 9/11. Those regimes were soon toppled, the entire infra-structure of those countries destroyed, and puppet regimes installed. The rest is history!

More than a trillion dollars has already been spent in the Bush-initiated and Obama-continued ‘Global War on Terror’ in those countries to keep America ‘safe’ here from terrorists. [With all the expenses piling up for health care needs of injured veterans, the cost of the war may rise to six trillion dollars.] And yet, the wars, started by the chicken-hawk, neocons within George W. Bush’s administration, have not ended with American soldiers still dying there.

In spite of its gaping flaws, America’s war in faraway countries that did not attack the USA was sold to the general public and soldiers as a necessary and justifiable war. As part of the military’s rule of engagement, unarmed civilians – old and young, including toddlers and infants - were mercilessly killed or maimed unprovoked.

As a result of the evil that they committed in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, many of the soldiers are now suffering from chronic PTSD. The Veterans Administration has failed them. Consequently, many of the returning soldiers are now dependent on drugs to temporarily forget their war crimes. Some of them have also committed homicides. Many of them remain jobless and are very critical of the government for what they consider their abandonment. Many are joining private militias for a ‘higher’ cause and some are even killing non-Christians to that end.

Thanks to western savagery and the sectarian heavy-handed practices of the U.S.-supported Iraqi government, a new nemesis – Daesh (more commonly called ISIS/ISIL), an un-Islamic terrorist outfit – has emerged in the scene, which seems to be more dangerous and determined to not only take over the ownership of Iraq and Syria but also to bring the fight to both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Their mindless nihilism has killed and injured mostly Muslims; a much smaller number of Europeans and Americans has also been victimized by their brainwashed comrades. Daesh has recruited thousands - Muslims and non-Muslims alike - to join the rank and file to kill and be killed in an imbalanced war with the West. They remain a formidable force unless they are defeated both ideologically and materially.

As a result of continuing wars in vast territories of Asia and Africa, tens of millions of affected people are on the move now. While a vast majority of these refugees have found temporary shelters in nearby Muslim countries, a much smaller fraction of the refugees has also poured into Europe, Canada, Australia and the USA, which are overwhelmingly Christian countries, where the old racism of the past has resurfaced under the new insignia of anti-immigration movement. Many of the racists and bigots within these countries – historically, all former colonizers – are defining the ugly face of neo-fascism in their respective countries.

Not surprisingly, the fear of ISIS and immigration has filled the vacuum left over by communism to see that this new breed of fascism is alive and kicking in many parts of Europe, Australia and the USA.

Like the fascism of the past, while the enemy’s face has changed, the new fascism glorifies war (by suggesting that if ‘we’ don’t defeat and crush ‘them’ ‘they’ will make ‘us’ inferior and force ‘us’ to alter our lifestyle) and promotes authoritarianism. It is populist. It is opposed to the free press and sees its function only as a vehicle to promote and propagate its agenda.

It is no accident that Senator McCain, an old guard of the Republican Party, sees fascist leanings in President Trump’s attacks against the media.

Like his fascist predecessors – Mussolini and Hitler - Trump has been able to exploit the dissatisfaction among the jobless White Americans, the fear of immigrants - esp. the Latinos and Muslim immigrants (from war torn countries), let alone the so-called Islamic radicals and the ISIS, an erosion of conservative values, a divided Congress, the wounded pride of the Americans and the anger of the returning veterans to his advantage. His toxic formula to present himself as a populist leader succeeded so well that in spite of his brazen and offensive utterings about women, many White Americans (including women) voted for him to make him the president.

Many political observers imagined that once elected, and with time, his behavior would modify. But so far he has proven them wrong. He has also surrounded himself in the White House with advisers who are known more for espousing their despicable hatred and intolerance against ‘others’ than anything either noble or good, except probably the inclusion of two generals – one (retired) ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis and the other (a serving general) McMaster. Both the latter individuals are level-headed, honest and visionary leaders. Only time would show whether they would have a sobering effect on Trump to modulate his behavior or become a casualty.

There is no doubt that the USA is going through an unusual time under a new president whose rhetoric has made the world leaders jittery and wary of his intentions.

One of the major global threats is Daesh, which needs to be defeated – the sooner the better.

However, as I have noted in the past, history has repeatedly shown that it’s very difficult to defeat neo-Khawariz organizations like today’s Daesh, and yesterday’s Hashishyyin (Assassins). Even after their political defeat, they continue(d) to wreak havoc. The best measure is to defeat them ideologically. It is there that the Muslim community can be an unmatched asset to mortally defeat it. [Sadly, the current intolerance against Muslims by the fascist-leaning leaders in many parts of the world (esp. Europe and the USA) is not helpful at all.] I am glad to note that this age-old wisdom is understood quite well by smart students of world history like Generals Mattis and McMaster.

Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told the staff of the National Security Council last Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic.” That is a repudiation of the language regularly used by both the president and General McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week after admitting that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about a phone call with a Russian diplomat. It is also a sign that General McMaster, a veteran of the Iraq war known for his sense of history and independent streak, might move the council away from the ideologically charged views of Flynn. If he succeeds, this would be a great victory for all.

There is no doubt that Trump’s unbridled remarks against immigrants are emboldening many white supremacists who are unleashing their hate crimes against ‘others’. This week, two Indians (who had legal permits) were shot in a bar in Kansas by an anti-immigrant bigot - Adam W. Purinton (wearing military medals) who tossed ethnic slurs at them and suggesting they did not belong in the United States before returning to the bar to kill one and wounding the other Indian.

The attack, which the federal and local authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime, reverberated far beyond both states. It raised new alarms about a climate of hostility toward foreigners in the United States, where President Trump has made clamping down on immigration a central plank of his “America first” agenda.

Nearly three weeks ago, a trial began in federal court in Tennessee of a self-professed Christian minister Robert Doggart - who plotted to kill Americans of another faith (Islam) to prove his “commitment to our God.” The trial did not get much publicity simply because the man on trial is not Muslim. If he were Muslim, we would of course have heard of his sinister plot. But as we have seen time and time again, terrorist plots by non-Muslims are met with a collective yawn by most in our media.

Undercover FBI agents allege that Doggart was plotting to travel to upstate New York to kill Muslims there using explosives, an M-4 assault rifle and even a machete to cut the infidels to shreds. The FBI’s investigation also found that Doggart viewed himself as a religious “warrior” who wanted to kill Muslims to show to his commitment to his Christian God. Doggart even boasted that the attack on the Muslims “will be cruel. And we will burn down their buildings [Referring to their mosque and school.] … and if anybody attempts to harm us in any way… we will take them down.”

As noted by Dean Obeidallah, this man sounds no different from an ISIS terrorist wanting to kill people of other faiths in accordance with their own perverted interpretation of their religious faith.

In December 2016 white supremacist Glendon Scott Crawford was sentenced to 30 years to life for trying to build a radioactive weapon to kill Muslim Americans. Crawford, a Navy Veteran and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was an electrical engineer who has carried out extensive research on his radiation dispersal device designed to target a Muslim community.

In September 2016 three men known as “The Crusaders were arrested for plotting to kill Muslim refugees in Kansas. Per the FBI, the three had been engaged in surveillance of the apartment complex where primarily Somalian Muslim refugees lived. The FBI also noted that the three spoke of dipping their bullets in pig’s blood before shooting the Muslims—which was reminiscent of a Trump’s campaign stump speech when he wrongly claimed that General Pershing had done the same when fighting in the Philippines.

All these are warning signs for the USA, and parallel criminal activities of fascist predecessors of Italy and Germany against the so-called undesirables – the Jews and gypsies.

It’s high time that the media start reporting on the threats by white supremacists and Christian radicals plotting to kill Muslim Americans and other religious minorities with the same intensity as when a Muslim suspect is involved. Otherwise, it won’t be too late when we shall all fall prey to an emerging fascism that the USA has never seen before.

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