Saturday 23rd of October 2021

FREEING JULIAN ASSANGE would be a good start...

democracydemocracy President Joe Biden will convene a ”virtual Summit for Democracy” in December – a brave and foolish move, given the political paralysis and discord in the US.


The summit will be shaped around the themes of “defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights”.


It’s likely to be counterproductive and disrupt and weaken the coherence among those forces Biden hopes to consolidate. It will simply distract from the big issues and invite derision from those he wants to counter, and pushback from those he wants to encourage. Perversely, it will show up the fragile and regressive state of democracy, not just in America, but in Europe and around the world as well.

Political systems can be judged by their effectiveness in providing material benefits to their citizens through good governance, or be evaluated by the moral products they provide – not only civil rights, justice, fairness, and equality – but the maintenance of social, cultural and religious norms. The belief that secular, elected, pluralistic, representative government is of universal application and attraction, or that so-called democratic values are universally agreed, or even aspired to, is an ideological trap for Biden. His crusade will simply confirm this.

The summit will be disparaged as a blatant attempt to bolster flagging American claims to global leadership. Many will see the irony in the posturing by what appears to be one of the world’s most dysfunctional democratic polities. Leaders of illiberal democracies, or democracies located in societies of different religious, cultural, and social backgrounds than America and Europe, will see this as an attempt to thrust American values on them, and as disrespecting their sovereignty. The world is not agreed on the content of human rights or on the structure and instrumentalization of electoral democracy.

Then, controversy can be expected over which political leaders are or aren’t invited; not just from among the African, Latin American, and Asian states with poor democratic credentials or that are sham democracies. Presidents Putin, el-Sisi and Bolsonaro are elected, as are prime minsters Orban, Modi, and Prayut Chan-o-cha; none of whom share much in the way of political philosophy with Biden. Are they in? Freedom House’s assessment of democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa would indicate that not many nations from that region would qualify for an invitation. Similarly, who from Central Asia would get a guernsey?

The Manichean bifurcation of the world in to democracies and autocrats is the logical equivalent of splitting the animal kingdom into elephants and non-elephants. And the elephants are scarce.

The simplistic political ideology of Biden has the potential to divide states, and exacerbate differences, and create grievances. And probably for no real gain as it is hard to see illiberal politicians and anti-democratic populists agreeing to work to undermine their own power and positions. How states that the US is trying to court in its competition with China like Vietnam, or Middle East allies, will see the gathering also remains to be seen.

As well as political leaders, the summit will include “civil society, philanthropy, and the private sector”. More detail will be provided as the summit nears, but it can be anticipated the entities and institutions outside of elected governments which are included will give rise to more debate. How will they be selected? By the Biden administration or will they be nominated by the governments of the invited leaders? In many instances opposition parties would think they have a good case to be included. As would a range of religious groups that might be at odds with their own governments on a range of issues, or even among themselves as to what the acceptable social norms and individual rights might be. Will non-government entities from uninvited autocratic regimes get a gig?

This summit looks like an enormous gamble and the chances that America will look ridiculous are high. Biden’s ambition is large. The summit is intended to contribute to his push to “demonstrate that democracies can deliver by improving the lives of their own people and by addressing the greatest problems facing the wider world”. However, the biggest challenges facing the global community will require the engagement, coordination, and cooperation of all states, not only democratic ones.

Global warming, ecological degradation, inequality in wealth, and uneven access to human security, food, water, and shelter are not simply matters of democratic renewal. They are intimidating, existential, global threats. By one account democracy went into reverse during the pandemic and now autocracies “number 87 states, home to 68% of the world population”. Hoping to simultaneously reverse that trend and bring the world together on the big problems is absurd. There is no time for Biden’s renewal, even were it possible.

It is folly for Biden to divert the world’s attention onto some American delusion of democratic salvation, a revivalist democratic movement that will only engender arguments about who and what is or is not legitimate.

Biden undoubtedly believes that “democracy functions and works, and together, there is nothing we can’t do” and he is sincere when speaking of the “space for innovation, for intellectual property, and the creative genius that thrives with the free exchange of ideas in open, democratic societies”. But at this point consensus has crumbled over almost every single important political and moral issue in the US. The number of robust democracies globally is declining.

Biden’s idealistic vision of democracy blinds him to the practicalities. What the administration seeks to achieve is a mystery. The virtual Summit for Democracy amounts to a denial of reality and a failure to embrace the realpolitik policies today’s crises demand.


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down to the basement..


President Biden’s job approval rating is on the downslope. As of Friday morning he was at 45.8 percent approval and 48.5 percent disapproval — from a high of 54 percent approval, 41 percent disapproval at the end of his first 100 days.

There is a laundry list of reasons for this. Not only is the United States still in the grip of a pandemic, but also the Delta variant of the coronavirus has led to record infections and deaths in Florida, Texas and other states with relatively low vaccination rates (and where officials have taken a stand against mitigation efforts). At the same time that Delta took hold, Biden also faced a huge backlash from the press and his partisan opponents over the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, which began in chaotic fashion with the collapse of the Afghan National Army, the subsequent advance of the Taliban and of course the suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 13 U.S. service members.

The administration quickly adjusted to the chaos, though, and by the time the last American soldiers left on Monday, the U.S. military and its allies had evacuated around 124,000 people, including thousands of U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghan nationals. And as seen in the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy is growing at a slower rate than it did at the start of the summer.

Taken together, you have a pretty good explanation for why Biden is doing much worse with the public than he was at the beginning of the year.

With that said, there’s another dynamic at work, one that should guide our expectations for how popular Biden is and how popular he could become. Put simply, we’re still quite polarized.

One of the most consistent findings from the past 20 years of public opinion research is that each new president is more divisive than the last. George W. Bush was more divisive than Bill Clinton; Barack Obama was more divisive than Bush; Donald Trump was more divisive than Obama; and Biden may well end up more divisive than Trump, at least in terms of approval rating by partisan affiliation. Some of this reflects circumstances, some of it reflects the individuals, but most of it is a function of partisan and ideological polarization. Modern presidents have a high floor for public opinion but a low ceiling.

This is a major change from the 1970s and 1980s, when the public was less polarized and numbers could swing from the low 30s (even the 20s) to the high 60s and beyond. At the peak of his popularity, in the wake of the Persian Gulf War of 1991, George H.W. Bush had a job approval rating of 89 percent, including 82 percent among Democrats and 88 percent among independents. Those numbers are just not possible in today’s environment.

Biden’s slide is noteworthy, but it is also exactly what we should expect given the structural conditions of American politics in the 21st century. But this cuts against the unstated assumption that a president should have an approval rating above 50 percent. It’s an assumption that, as Sam Goldman, a professor of political science at George Washington University, observed, is “another example of how we’ve adopted the deeply exceptional midcentury interlude as our baseline — partly because it remains our vision of normality, and partly because that’s when reliable data start.”

The “deeply exceptional midcentury interlude” — roughly speaking the years between the end of World War II and the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 — is the source of a lot of our normative understandings of American politics, despite the fact that the conditions of that period are impossible to replicate. When politicians and political observers pine for an era of bipartisanship, they are pining for the 1950s and 1960s (and to an extent the 1970s).

If we were to look farther back in time, to say, the late 19th century, we might find an era that, for all of its indelible foreignness, is closer to ours in terms of the shape and structure of its politics, from its sharp partisan polarization and closely contested national elections to its democratic backsliding and deep anxieties over immigration and demographic change.

We don’t have polling data for President Grover Cleveland. But we do know that he won his victory in the 1884 election by 37 votes in the Electoral College and a half-a-percent in the national popular vote. His successor, Benjamin Harrison, lost the popular vote by a little less than 1 percent and won the Electoral College by 65 votes. Those narrow results suggest, I think, a similarly narrow spread for presidential approval — high floors, low ceilings.

American politics eventually broke out of its late-19th-century equilibrium of high polarization and tightly contested elections. In the 1896 presidential election, William McKinley became the first candidate in decades to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote, beating his Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan, by 4.3 percent. He won re-election in 1900 and after his assassination the following year, his successor, Theodore Roosevelt, would win in 1904 by the most lopsided margin since Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 re-election victory.


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us and them...

Russia’s Foreign Minister has criticized the US' idea to convene a “Leader’s Summit for Democracy”, calling it another example of Cold War-style block mentality that would split the international community into “us and them.”

Speaking during the fifth day of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly on Saturday, Lavrov ripped into the current US foreign policy, accusing Washington of trying to split the international community into Cold War-style blocks.

In August, US President Joe Biden floated the idea to convene a “Leader’s Summit for Democracy” – and this, according to Lavrov, is a glaring example of this divisive policy.

The participants, of course, will be determined by Washington, that claims the right to determine a country’s degree of compliance with democratic standards. In its essence, this initiative – quite in the spirit of the Cold War and launches a new ideological crusade against all dissent,” Lavrov stated.

Despite the US administration's claims that Washington does not want to split the world into ideology-based blocks, such events only serve to prove it is indeed its goal, Lavrov suggested.

In reality, the ‘Summit for Democracy’ will become a step towards splitting the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’

The proposed summit is expected to take place on December 9 and 10, with the US-selected leaders of the ‘democracies’ convening for the virtual conference. The stated goals of the event have been extremely vague, with the White House describing it as “as an opportunity for world leaders to listen to one another and to their citizens, share successes, drive international collaboration, and speak honestly about the challenges facing democracy.”


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