The energy behind Farage and his Brexit party leaves his rivals in the shadows

Paul Harris writes:

Last Sunday, I went to a Brexit party rally in Frimley, Surrey. The venue was the Lakeside Hotel and Country Club complex, well known as the setting for international darts contests. Inside, 1,200 or so people had gathered to hear Nigel Farage and most of the party’s other would-be MEPs for the south-east region. The atmosphere was roughly as I had expected: highly charged, defiant, often strangely celebratory. But what was most striking was the slickness of the presentation: brisk, elegantly structured speeches and warm-up videos, and the clear sense that everyone had been told to lay off subjects that usually buzz around Farage – immigration, chiefly. Instead, they doubled down on the twin themes of Brexit being denied and delayed, and what that says about the people and institutions in charge of the country.

The first speaker was one Robert Rowland, a candidate with the face, haircut and stiff demeanour of a freshly bought Action Man. “If Brexit fails, we cease even to be a democracy,” he said. “The duplicitous professional political class will have prevailed. The last three years have seen Britain’s establishment – the civil servants, the majority of MPs from both parties, academia, the judiciary, and of course let’s not forget the BBC” – at this point, there were loud boos – “do their damnedest to delay, diffuse and dilute Brexit. Parliament has abolished the referendum and declared war on the British people … There might not be tanks on the streets, but make no mistake: this is a coup against democracy.”

Forty minutes later came a candidate called Matt Taylor. “Our democracy is young and we still have to fight for it,” he told the crowd. “Now, they call it representative democracy. And representative democracy means that the representatives can do what they like. I say, no, that’s not democracy. In a democracy, the people are the power.” Soon after, Farage appeared, grinning from ear to ear and bellowing out his super-charged version of the same messages. The chant that greeted him suggested that if some English people have embraced the politics of wild claims and demagoguery, it at least comes with a certain bathos: “Nigel! Nigel! Nigel!”

Not, of course, that anyone should be laughing. There is something very sobering indeed about watching a handful of chancers lay in to the fragile mesh of institutions and ideas that underpin our democracy, and a head-spinning quality in the fact that they do so in the name of democracy itself. It has echoes not just of the current darkness that defines the US and much of mainland Europe, but things that go much further back. Among the many things proved by the history of the 20th century is that once such opinions gain momentum – and fuse with claims of national humiliation and betrayal, another cliche much in evidence at the rally – it rarely ends well, to say the least. [Continue reading…]

It’s not entirely up to school students to save the world

Bill McKibben writes:

In the past several months, people around the world have watched in awe as school students, led by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, have taken their concerns about the climate crisis to a new level, with a series of one-day strikes. The latest took place on Friday, and drew what is estimated as more than a million participants in a hundred and twenty-five countries. The strikes have been the biggest boost yet for the global climate movement, galvanizing public attention by reminding people just who will have to deal with the mess that older generations have created. Thunberg has spoken to the Pope and to the British and European parliaments—and this week she and her fellow student leaders are speaking to everyone else who’s older than them. On Thursday, they issued an appeal to adults to take up the same tactic, and on Friday a number of them responded, with a letter pledging to organize the first of a series of all-ages, one-day climate strikes, on Friday, September 20th. (I was among them and helped draft the letter.) The initial list of signees is composed of a wide array of, well, adults, from around the world. Some have spent their lives trying to make change from within the system, such as Christiana Figueres, the United Nations diplomat who served as the lead negotiator of the Paris climate accords. Others are writers (Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver), scientists (Tim Flannery, of the University of Melbourne; Katharine Hayhoe, of Texas Tech), trade-union leaders (Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation), and indigenous leaders from Australia (Anne Poelina) to America (Tom B. K. Goldtooth) and the Arctic (Jenni Laiti).

What all of these people have in common is a strong sense that business as usual has become the problem, and that it needs to be interrupted, if only for a day. The climate crisis is a perplexing one because, mostly, we just get up each day and do what we did the day before, as if an enormous emergency weren’t unfolding around us. That hasn’t been true of past crises: during the Second World War, oceans may have separated American civilians from the fighting, but every day they were aware of the need to change their ways of life: to conserve resources, buy bonds, black out their windows at night if they lived on the coast.

The climate emergency, however, is deceptive. Unless it’s your town that day that’s being hit by wildfire or a flood, it’s easy to let the day’s more pressing news take precedence. It can be hard to remember that climate change underlies so many daily injustices, from the forced migration of refugees to the spread of disease. Indeed, the people who suffer the most are usually those on the periphery—the iron law of climate change is that the less you did to cause it the more you suffer from it. So we focus on the latest Presidential tweet or trade war instead of on the latest incremental rise in carbon dioxide, even though that, in the end, is the far more critical news. [Continue reading…]

The seeds of Trump, Brexit and Modi’s success were sown by endemic racism and unfairness

Gary Younge writes:

The morning after both Donald Trump’s victory and the Brexit referendum, when a mood of paralysing shock and grief overcame progressives and liberals on both sides of the Atlantic, the two most common refrains I heard were: “I don’t recognise my country any more,” and “I feel like I’ve woken up in a different country.” This period of collective disorientation was promptly joined by oppositional activity, if not activism. People who had never marched before took to the streets; those who had not donated before gave; people who had not been paying attention became engaged. Many continue.

Almost three years later the Brexit party, led by Nigel Farage, is predicted to top the poll in European parliament elections in which the far right will make significant advances across the continent; Theresa May’s imminent downfall [confirmed today] could hand the premiership to Boris Johnson; Trump’s re-election in 2020 is a distinct possibility, with Democratic strategists this week predicting only a narrow electoral college victory against him. “Democrats do not walk into the 2020 election with the same enthusiasm advantage they had in the 2018 election,” said Guy Cecil, the chairman of Priorities USA, the largest Democratic political action committee.

Elsewhere, exit polls suggest Narendra Modi, the reactionary Hindu nationalist leader of India implicated in a massacre in 2002, will enjoy a landslide victory.

Sooner or later progressives are going to have to stop being stunned by these electoral defeats. The first time, it is plausible to ask, “How could this possibly happen?” But when that possibility recurs in relatively short order, what once presented itself as a shock has now curdled into self-deception. It turns out that the country you woke up in is the precisely the one you went to bed in. If you still don’t recognise it then you are going to have real problems changing it.

There are any number of lessons we might draw from this moment – for instance, the fact that our capacity to stage marches has outpaced our ability to build effective movements or the media’s efforts to maintain credibility. We are in a period during which facts are devalued, and appearing on a political show has more worth than answering any questions on that show.

There are many differences between the places I’ve mentioned, but for now I’d like to focus on one thing that unites them: that the countries which keep producing these shocks are every bit as racist, xenophobic and discriminatory as their voting habits suggest. This is not some new virus; it’s a susceptibility to a chronic illness that has crippled us for years. Ethnic and racial plurality and migration as a lived experience are older than any nation state, but equality is a relatively new idea, and some don’t like it. People forget how recently African Americans couldn’t vote, and that Winston Churchill told his cabinet “Keep England White” was a good campaign slogan. [Continue reading…]

Latest charges against Assange are an assault on press freedom

Brian Barrett writes:

On Thursday, the Department of Justice unsealed new charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Unlike the previous indictment—which focused narrowly on an apparent offer to help crack a password—the 17 superseding counts focus instead on alleged violations of the Espionage Act. In doing so, the DOJ has aimed a battering ram at the freedom of the press, whether you think Assange is a journalist or not.

The indictment, which you can read in full below, alleges that Assange published classified information over a dozen times, an act expressly forbidden by the Espionage Act, which Congress first passed in 1917. But the Espionage Act has only rarely, and never successfully, been applied to the recipient of a leak. “For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information,” says Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “This is an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration’s attacks on journalism, and a direct assault on the First Amendment.”

The Trump administration’s position that the Espionage Act should apply here would have immediate and broadly-felt repercussions far beyond WikiLeaks. Because however you personally care to classify Assange, the acts at the heart of this latest indictment mirror those made by journalists every day. They’re the reason US citizens know about PRISM, and the Pentagon Papers, and any number of other revelations around abuses of power and governmental impropriety. [Continue reading…]

Amend the Espionage Act: Public interest defenses must be allowed

In an editorial, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says:

It has been almost 102 years since the Espionage Act was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson.

Initially conceived as a means by which to “punish acts of interference with the foreign relations,” the act has since become a tool of suppression, used to punish whistleblowers who expose governmental wrongdoing and criminality. It is time that the law be amended to accommodate those who share information vital to the public interest.

Daniel Everette Hale, a 31-year-old former intelligence analyst, become the latest target of the weaponized Espionage Act with his recent arrest. Mr. Hale is accused of leaking classified documents between 2013 and 2015 regarding the Obama administration’s drone program.

The leaked information revealed details about the secret legal system used by the Obama administration to create lists of people to kill, including American citizens who had not been formally charged with crimes. It also revealed that the drone program is dangerously inaccurate, killing the wrong target as often as 90% of the time.

This information is clearly of substantive value to the public. The American people have a right to know who its government is killing and how it makes such decisions. Transparency ensures due process and ethical decision-making.

But Mr. Hale has been charged under the Espionage Act and, as a result, will be denied the right to make a “public interest defense.”

Sadly, Mr. Hale’s situation is not unique. He is the fourth individual to be charged by the Trump administration under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information to journalists. Terry Albury (FBI) and Reality Winner (NSA) are already serving prison sentences for their actions, while Joshua Schulte (CIA) has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. Only the Obama administration prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act — a total of eight people. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s witch hunt against his investigators raises national security concerns

The New York Times reports:

President Trump’s order allowing Attorney General William P. Barr to declassify any intelligence that sparked the opening of the Russia investigation sets up a potential confrontation with the C.I.A., including over the possible implications for a person close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia who provided information to the C.I.A. about his involvement in Moscow’s 2016 election interference.

The concern about the source, who is believed to be still alive, is one of several issues raised by Mr. Trump’s decision to use the intelligence to pursue his political enemies. It has also prompted fears from former national security officials and Democratic lawmakers that other sources or methods of intelligence gathering — among the government’s most closely held secrets — could be made public, not because of leaks to the news media that the administration denounces, but because the president has determined it suits his political purposes.

Mr. Trump granted Mr. Barr’s request for sweeping new authorities to conduct his review of how the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia were investigated. The president ordered the C.I.A. and the other intelligence agencies to cooperate, granting Mr. Barr the authority to unilaterally declassify their documents and thus significant leverage over the intelligence community.

On Friday afternoon, Mr. Trump, heading to his helicopter on the beginning of a trip to Japan, defended his decision and said the declassification would be sweeping. “What are we doing, we are exposing everything,” he told reporters. “We are being transparent.” He expressed no qualms about any national security implications. [Continue reading…]

Could a lack of humility be at the root of what ails America?

File 20190523 187176 aze4jc.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What happens when everyone thinks they’re smarter than everyone else?
Ljupco Smokovski/

By Frank T. McAndrew, Knox College

There are a lot of reasons behind the political polarization of the country and the deterioration of civic discourse.

I wonder if a lack of humility is one of them.

In his recent book, “The Death of Expertise,” national security expert Tom Nichols described a type of person each of us probably knows:

“They are young and old, rich and poor, some with education, others armed only with a laptop or a library card. But they all have one thing in common: They are ordinary people who believe they are actually troves of knowledge. [They are] convinced they are more informed than the experts, more broadly knowledgeable than the professors, and more insightful than the gullible masses…”

Interestingly, intellectual humility has become a hot topic in the field of personality psychology. In recent years, a spate of studies have emerged that highlight the important role it plays in our knowledge, relationships and worldview.

So what happens when everyone thinks they’re smarter than everyone else?

[Read more…]

Young people have led the climate strikes. Now we need adults to join us too

Greta Thunberg and 46 youth activists write:

Tomorrow, schoolchildren and students will be out on the streets again, in huge numbers, in 150 countries, at over 4,000 events, demanding that governments immediately provide a safe pathway to stay within 1.5C of global heating. We spent weeks and months preparing for this day. We spent uncountable hours organising and mobilising when we could have just hung out with our friends or studied for school.

We don’t feel like we have a choice: it’s been years of talking, countless negotiations, empty deals on climate change and fossil fuel companies being given free rides to drill beneath our soils and burn away our futures for their profit. Politicians have known about climate change for decades. They have willingly handed over their responsibility for our future to profiteers whose search for quick cash threatens our very existence.

We have learned that if we don’t start acting for our future, nobody else will make the first move. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. [Continue reading…]

Why some Palestinians are backing Trump’s peace push

Politico reports:

Some prominent Palestinian activists and politicians are quietly rooting for Jared Kushner as he prepares to unveil the first part of his Middle East peace plan next month.

That’s not because they think the plan will resolve their decadeslong conflict with Israel. It’s because they hope it will hasten the onset of a “one-state” solution they are coming to support.

The push for one state with equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis has gained steam in recent years as the Trump administration has been preparing its peace plan, which Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, is expected to unveil at a June conference in Bahrain. Kushner has signaled that his plan abandons America’s decadeslong official support for a “two-state solution,” in which the Palestinians are given a sovereign nation of their own.

Many Palestinian supporters of a single state — whose ranks now include Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a Palestinian-American — wouldn’t necessarily mind seeing the creation of two independent, full-fledged states in the region. But they don’t consider that outcome realistic, nor do they believe that the international community ever truly backed the idea. [Continue reading…]

How China uses high-tech surveillance to subdue minorities

The New York Times reports:

A God’s-eye view of Kashgar, an ancient city in western China, flashed onto a wall-size screen, with colorful icons marking police stations, checkpoints and the locations of recent security incidents. At the click of a mouse, a technician explained, the police can pull up live video from any surveillance camera or take a closer look at anyone passing through one of the thousands of checkpoints in the city.

To demonstrate, she showed how the system could retrieve the photo, home address and official identification number of a woman who had been stopped at a checkpoint on a major highway. The system sifted through billions of records, then displayed details of her education, family ties, links to an earlier case and recent visits to a hotel and an internet cafe.

The simulation, presented at an industry fair in China, offered a rare look at a system that now peers into nearly every corner of Xinjiang, the troubled region where Kashgar is located.

This is the vision of high-tech surveillance — precise, all-seeing, infallible — that China’s leaders are investing billions of dollars in every year, making Xinjiang an incubator for increasingly intrusive policing systems that could spread across the country and beyond. [Continue reading…]