Tag: Political Grind (Page 1 of 2)

Why Yoweri Museveni’s Retirement is Key to Uganda’s Democratization

By: David O. Monda

Uganda is romantically idealized as the Pearl of Africa. The reality is that in the field of democratization, the Pearl of Africa metamorphoses into the Peril of Africa. This is because the example of Museveni’s mockery of Uganda’s constitution is being replicated in many African countries. African presidents have discovered ways to amend their national constitutions to perpetuate themselves in power at the expense of democratization in their countries. These constitutional amendments have the effect of institutionalizing the individual in power rather than building the institutions that will safeguard the nation long after the individual president is gone. Yoweri Museveni’s retirement is key to Uganda’s democratization.

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Why Doug Jones Matters

It was September in Birmingham, crisp northern winds rolling down from Appalachia to meet the heat of the American South. It was clear fall was coming. And with fall came hopes of a new year, and perhaps a more peaceful time for the African-American community living in one of America’s most violent cities.

Whatever doubts many had about the direction of the nation – one that seemingly had no place for a black man seeking equality – children still played, schools still taught, and church bells could still be heard.

One of those children was Cynthia Wesley. Cynthia was a pretty girl, her dimpled face in pictures are caressed with dark lavish curls and a toothy grin that, sadly, seems out of place on someone who grew up in those times. Her eyes were large and dark, almost always dancing off the smile on her face every time the camera went snap.

Wesley grew up in a town charged with animosity based on color and sex, so for the little 9th grader in that historic year of 1963, the innocence of childhood probably did not completely shield her from the struggles her community faced. Certainly with friends like Denise McNair, her 11-year-old Sunday school buddy who dreamed at a very young age of fighting for Social Justice, she must have heard the stories of those killed and persecuted for the color of their skin; the color of her skin.

However, Cynthia wasn’t into all that. She wanted to help in different ways. Watching her parents example growing up, Cynthia longed to teach like her father and mother. She wanted more than to be defined by centuries of racial prejudice. She wanted to be more than a little black girl.

Birmingham couldn’t stop her from dreaming; but it could do something far, far worse.

The 15th was a Sunday, and just like every Sunday in Birmingham, bells were ringing across the city, calling finely-clad church-goers, black and white, were on their way to attend worship services. In the 16th Street Baptist Church, Cynthia and three other girls, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson, were in the basement changing into their choir robes, tying each other’s dress sashes, maybe giggling at gossip, maybe chatting about schoolwork.

Whatever they were doing, they never finished.

The room erupted into a hellish landscape of screams, fear and terror as 15 pieces of TNT blew a hole in the church’s basement. Fire enveloped the room, and the dreams 4 little girls were crushed forever. Science class had lost their best student. The world was deprived of a future teacher. And 8 parents lost one of the few things that provided them with a glimmer of light in those dark times.

There was nothing special about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. It was the latest in a heinous string of bombings that had earned the city the nickname Bombingham. And although it shocked the nation, very little changed. This was just another day in Birmingham, Alabama.


As Alabamians prepare to go to polls on December 12th to elect a new senator, it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset that nothing ever changes: Alabama is a place filled with racial tension, poverty, and a sad history representing America’s ultimate sin. And in terms of day-to-day politics, the Republican has it in the bag. After all, it is Alabama.

However, the race between civil rights lawyer Doug Jones and former State Supreme Court judge Roy Moore is tighter than expected according to recent polls and analysis. This is historic in several ways. It’s the first time in decades a Democrat has a chance of winning. And the race’s tone harkens back to days long past, with Moore clearly appealing to a mindset molded by Nixonian southern politics.

To see why Doug Jones really matters, you have to understand what he’s running against. And that means revisiting the 1960s, when southern politics realigned, creating the worldview in which Roy Moore operates.

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On Forcing Your Religion via Canada’s Transgender Rights Bill

By: Hendrik van der Breggen
One of the winning submissions from the Battle of Ideas op-ed contest on the theme of Free Speech.

Remember rock band R.E.M.’s song “Losing my religion”? In view of Canada’s recent passing of Bill C16—a.k.a. Transgender Rights Bill—I think a new song should be sung. I title it “Forcing your religion.”

Consider this.

If we take University of Toronto psychologist Jordan B. Peterson’s criticisms of C16 seriously (which I do, because I think they’re strong logically and evidentially), then C16 will likely require Canadians to use a person’s preferred pronouns.

We may have to say “she” instead of “he”; or “he” instead of “she”; or maybe “e” or “ey” or “hu” or “peh” or “per” or “sie” or “ve” or “xe” or “ze” or “zhe”—whatever is preferred as a label for however one self-identifies one’s sex/ gender.

Interestingly, in discussions leading up to the passing of C16, Canadian Senator Grant Mitchell said the following in defence of C16:

“There is also the argument that transgender identity is too subjective a concept to be enshrined in law because it is defined as an individual’s deeply felt internal experience of gender. Yet we, of course, accept outright that no one can discriminate on the basis of religion, and that too is clearly a very deeply subjective and personal feeling.”

Here is Senator Mitchell’s argument (in favour of C16) restated: Freedom to identify as transgender is like freedom of religion, so just as I am free to determine and live according to my religious identity, so too transgender persons are free to identify and portray themselves as such to the world.

Let’s think.

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Trump’s Banality of Evil

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

What does fascism smell like? It’s a question the late Christopher Hitchens used to ask, and one that’s worth revisiting. In 1945 it might have smelled like Zyklon B, whose reportedly almondy aroma rose with the ashes from the brick chimneys of Nazi death camps into the skies of Europe. In 1988 it might have smelled like the sick yellow waves of chlorine gas that swept over the northern provinces of Mesopotamia during the Halabja massacre, when the Baathist regime tried, not for the last time, to eliminate the Kurdish people of Iraq. Americans in New York and Washington DC certainly knew what it smelled like in September 2001. Last Friday though, it took on a seemingly more innocuous smell, one that could have been synonymous with any other summer night in America: the bitter odor of a thousand citronella torches in the streets of Charlottesville. 48 hours later, the President proved himself incapable of performing the most basic of moral duties: to stand behind a podium for a scripted ten-minutes and call this stench by its name.

I’ve scanned enough Facebook fights to have seen the word “Nazi” appear somewhere in my feed at least once a month, and I’ve been to enough rallies to have seen a black toothbrush mustache smeared on the face of at least every major world leader, regardless of context. The problem with throwing around hyperbolic clichés so lightly is that they lose what little currency they already have in discourse. Indeed, what makes clichés so tyrannous is that they’re true but useless. As a writer, I have a visceral aversion to platitudes perhaps more than the average person, and the reductio ad Hiterlum approaches the very top of my list. But the cliché of calling someone a fascist is somewhat supported by the fact that fascism is itself a cliché. The irony of the events in Virginia last week and the President’s colossally mishandled response to it, was that this banality was conspicuously absent precisely when it was called for.

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Lessons from Montana

By: Caleb Mills

Learning the hard way is not fun, but the lessons are all the more valuable for it. Particularly when it comes to politics, no one wants to lose and, yet, the losses are what instruct you as to what you did wrong, and how to do better the next time.

The May 25th, 2017, special congressional election in Montana provides such hard lessons. It reminds the interested observer that in American politics, voters are more moved by ideas than by ideologies, and that it is never wise to ignore the moderate center of the electorate.

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Women Rule – How They Took Down a King

By: Elizabeth Larkin Bouché

As inauguration day approaches and women ready themselves for the Women’s March on Washington, I am reminded of Europe’s most remarkable uprising of women against tyranny—The Women’s March on Versailles in 1789.

It was a major, dramatic event on a par with the storming of the Bastille. A food riot in Paris, led seven thousand women, transformed into an armed march to take flour from the king’s stores 12 miles away in Versailles. Revolutionaries seized the opportunity to join the women and forced the king to sign the recently composed “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” so ending his absolute rule.  The king and his entourage were dragged back to the capital as prisoners. It was a turning point in history, signaling a shift in power from the nobility to the common people.

The Women’s March on Versailles is a reminder of the power of popular protest movements. Following the election of Trump, and spurred by growing unease with our own Versailles-like oligarchs, similar protests are now cropping up at grassroots level in the United States. The Paris women were driven by famine; they and their children were hungry. Women today are mobilized by threats to hard-won advances made since the Enlightenment. The ordinary women who have organized the March on Washington are unleashing what is perhaps a primal and formidable maternal fury once again.

The comparison between revolutionary France and current events is not so far-fetched. Civil unrest in Paris was fueled by paranoid plots in the press and fake news. It was also the result of basic needs becoming unaffordable, market deregulation, widespread distrust of government, huge national debt, and deeply divided political opinions. One key factor was the staggering inequality of the ancien régime, in which the clergy and nobles, or first and second estates, held vast wealth and paid no taxes, while the third estate, or 97 percent of the population, were heavily taxed for foreign wars. The parallels did not escape the notice of “Time” magazine. Its person of the year cover featured Trump seated on a tawdry carved chair decorated with a fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the French monarchy. Indeed, Trump draws the comparison himself when he chooses to be interviewed while seated in a gilded throne in his French Rococo-style dwellings.

Considering all this, and with large numbers of women taking to the streets, it is interesting to look at what drove French women to insurrection at a powder keg moment in history.

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Life is More Binary than Fiction: A Writer Reflects on Political Polarization

By: Shannon Kirk and Political Animal

Shannon Kirk is a novelist, a practicing attorney and law professor in Massachusetts, and also an avid follower of politics. She, like many of us, finds Trumpian politics incredibly distracting. In a world where the President-elect is constantly saying new and outrageous things on Twitter, how are news junkies supposed to get anything done?

In a great column on The Thrill Begins, Kirk addresses this problem, and outlines the system she’s using to try to stay focused. We highly recommend reading the whole thing.

One particularly interesting point is her observation that our current political climate encourages people to sort ourselves into two hostile camps based on our political identity. From a novelist’s perspective, this is maddening. Depth and contradiction make characters believable–because human life is complex. So why are we so attractive to binary extremism in our political life?


The following Is an excerpt from The article originally published in The Thrill Begins:

A good friend has a great response to try to chill me out every time I get spun up about the current political environment: “Is this going to impact the happiness of your cats?” Meaning, is this really going to lead to something that will change your life in a catastrophic way? I wish I could have this outlook on politics. I used to. I used to be able to tune most of it out and concentrate.

Now?

I confess. I have a problem. I’m addicted. I am distractified by Trump. But since I acknowledge this serious weakness, I’m hoping to fight my way back to my old ways and not let him win. I have devised a system, which I include at the end. No idea if this will work.

The distractification of Trump has impacted my writing in three ways: To lose time. To wallow in the quagmire of arguing about the fallacy of binary extremism. To resist bullying.

Distractified by Binary Extremism (frustrating my notion of character development)

Let’s first set the table and acknowledge the objective fact that we are living in La La Land right now. Nothing is normal, and, yes, nothing is logical. If your objective is to disagree and say that things are logical, then you are trolling this article; please move on.[1]

The reason it’s easy for me to get distractified by all this is actually nothing new; it’s something that’s always been a gripe of mine, even before Trump—just now more acute and in my face every single damn day, and in alarming ways. It is indeed a core issue I try to battle in my writing: the pushing of people into simplistic, binary camps. Example: Your character is a scientist, so she must be an atheist. I battle this notion, I reject it.

Here’s where we are, I liken it to the Fruit Loops vs. Cheerios Political System. Each Fruit Loop represents a position on an issue, and each Cheerio its “opposite.” If you are on Team Fruit Loop, you MUST accept and agree and support all Fruit Loops, likewise with Team Cheerio. Never may a Fruit Loop cross-pollinate the Cheerio world, and NEVER EVER may a Cheerio contaminate a Fruit-Loop-protected zone.

This is a binary system.

This is bullshit.

We would never allow such simple sorting for fictional characters, so why is it being pushed in reality?

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What is “Fascist”? Umberto Eco on Ur-Fascism

Howl of the Day: Nov 30, 2016

There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

In 1995, the late Umberto Eco wrote an essay on what he called “Ur-Fascism”. What he meant by this term is the fuzzy constellation of ideas and feelings out of which fascism grows. “[B]ehind a regime and its ideology there is always a way of thinking and feeling, a group of cultural habits, of obscure instincts and unfathomable drives.” In the case of fascism, this is Ur-Fascism.

Eco’s essay is as relevant today as when he wrote it. Indeed, with the election of Trump, and the debate over to what degree it is fair to call him or his positions “fascist,” it is extremely timely. (A topic we have covered a number of times before.)

The key insight of the essay is that fascism, and the underlying mode of thinking that gives rise to it, are impossible to clearly define, because they embrace many contradictory elements. “Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions.”

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Georgetown and Slavery: Catholic Redemption in Contemporary Political Time

By: Justin R. Harbour, ALM

Georgetown University is currently engaged in an attempt to research, understand, and repair its role in the perpetuation of slavery in 19th century America. Georgetown University is not the first American university to undertake such an uncomfortable and disheartening reflection. Some of these institutions preceding Georgetown, Harvard and Brown University included, arrived at such a reflective moment through a natural desire to confront their relationship to this most sordid institution of American history. Others have been delivered to this moment through student demands (Yale, Princeton, and Oxford, for example). Georgetown’s deliverance is more of the former than the latter. As MIT historian of slavery Craig Steven Wilder recently observed to the New York Times, Georgetown’s attempt at reconciliation “recognize[s] the humanity of the problem they’re dealing with, [and are treating] it as more than a public relations problem.”  Yet the fact that Georgetown has gone further than any of its peers with respect to research and suggestions for repairs should not be surprising. In the foregoing I will argue that Georgetown’s reconciliation with its relationship to slavery today is the result of a historical development of Catholic Jesuits at a unique place in historical time that makes their contemporary institutions of higher learning an obvious and predictable introspective exemplar amongst its secular peers, and one that should be celebrated.

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Sanders at Dearborn: A Socialist Love-Story

Howl of the Day: Mar 16, 2016

In the wake of Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Michigan primary, one of the main themes in the press coverage is that the pundits were taken aback by the large numbers of Arabs and Muslims who voted for Sanders [1] [2] [3]. Cities such as Dearborn, which has the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the nation, went heavily for Sanders to the surprise of many in the media. This surprise, if it is one, is attributed to the fact that Sanders is Jewish. And, of course, to the prejudicial assumption that few people would expect large numbers of Arabs and Muslims to vote for a Jewish candidate.

With that assumption proving unfounded, the media has rushed to an opposite and equally dubious sweeping assumption, viewing the high levels of support for Sanders among Arab and Muslim voters as evidence that anti-Semitism is not widespread in their communities.

The claim that Sanders’ support in Dearborn suggests there is little anti-Semitic feeling among Arabs and Muslims in America, or even beyond, is as great a folly as the claim that there is no more racism in America, since it has elected a black president. Many of the leading figures in the design and rise of European socialism were secular Jews–including Marx himself and Trotsky– yet, as 20th century European history makes abundantly clear, attraction to the socialist cause was not an antidote for anti-Semitism.

Despite the tone of desperate wishfulness in the articles that propose it to be so, Sanders’ ethnic and religious background had little or nothing to do with the results. The media should be asking why these communities voted for Sanders, rather than why they voted for him despite his being Jewish. The results are much more clearly understood as driven by Sanders’ views and his ideological commitments.

Bernie Sanders is a self-professed democratic socialist, and socialism is one of the few Western political ideologies to have taken root in a big way in the broader Arab and Muslim world or to find consilience there. For this reason, Sanders is probably the least surprising candidate to have garnered such support in these communities.

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