Author: Alex Wall (Page 1 of 5)

Foreign Envoys’ Statement on Democracy in Kenya Lets an Undemocratic Government off the Hook

By: David O. Monda

The recent media statement titled “Kenya’s Democracy is at Crossroads” by a number of envoys from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada, among others, attempted to equally castigate the Jubilee government and the opposition NASA coalition for the lack of a National Conversation on a range of political issues. The envoys spent significant diplomatic capital trying to maintain a neutral stance between condemning the brinkmanship of Jubilee and that of NASA. At the end of the statement, the status quo was maintained. Neither side is compelled to negotiate. As a result, Kenya’s democratic gains continue to erode. Having been constitutionally elected into office, the onus is on the Jubilee Administration to reach out and initiate dialogue to move the country forward. The envoys’ statement on democracy in Kenya let an undemocratic government off the hook. It is a sad day for democracy in Kenya.

The onus to initiate dialogue needs to come from the victorious party. In this case President Kenyatta and his coalition. It will not be possible to repress the discontent from the half of Kenya that rejected the Uhuru presidency on August 8th. A measure as simple as the president visiting opposition strongholds would be a good first step to bring the nation together. This is a measure lacking in the envoy’s statement.

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Lorde’s Crusade

By: Caleb Mills

Here’s a story whose cast of characters couldn’t be more odd: The Washington Post, “America’s Rabbi”, and Lorde. Even though it may sound like the beginning of a bad joke your uncle would tell (The Washington Post, a Rabbi, and the ‘Lorde’ all walk into a bar…) the spat between the singer and the rabbi is actually a perfect encapsulation of a serious problem in contemporary political discourse.  

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Trump’s Racist Comments on Africa Obfuscate a Domestic Political Struggle in America​

By: David O. Monda

Presidents Trump’s racist comments on Africa obfuscate a deeper political struggle in America. Africa finds itself at the center of a tricky political play by an American president desperate to consolidate his base via blatantly racist comments. President Trump criticized immigration from Africa by calling African nations “shithole countries” at a meeting with US Congress members.  He suggested the United States focus its immigration policy on entry of immigrants from countries like Norway. Africa is not a collection of “shithole countries”. However, the American President’s comments illustrate a complex play at consolidating his political base through racist rhetoric.

A background of historical context is necessary in contextualizing Mr. Trump’s comments. The legacy of the transatlantic slave trade remains a problem in dealing with race relations in America. This is because people of African ancestry were repeatedly considered as less human in the United States than people of European ancestry. In addition to this, the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade devastated African economies and went a long way in creating the modern state of marginalization of the continent in global trade and commerce.

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Battle of Ideas

This is your invitation to enter the fray. To attack or defend ideas that matter.

Political Animal Magazine is running a contest for short op-ed style articles that look at politics in terms of the ideas that underlie them.

We are looking for articles that take a philosophic argument or claim, explain why it matters to politics today, and make a case why it is right or wrong. Winning submissions will clearly and compellingly articulate the meaning and merit of the ideas in question. Pieces should be no more than 2000 words, written in an op-ed or blog style that is accessible to intelligent general readers, and highlight the role of ideas in politics.


Theme: Net Neutrality

The theme of the contest is Net Neutrality. On December 14 2017, the FCC is scheduled to vote on repeal of the net neutrality rules put into place by the Obama administration.

We want articles that explore the deeper theoretical implications of the issue. Examples of questions might be: Is net neutrality a challenge to the free market? Is the internet a public good, on the terms articulated by economists such as Paul Samuelson and James M. Buchanan? Does the internet protect our liberties with the access it provides, or compromise them, by restricting the sorts of exchanges we can engage in, and what role should government have in shaping its future?

Award

The two submissions judged best will each receive an award of $50. We will publish all submissions of note, including crosslinks to any other sites on which the pieces appear, should you request this.

Deadline

The deadline for submissions is Jan 30, 2017. Submissions should be sent to submissions@politicalanimalmagazine.com, with the email subject “Contest”.

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Why Doug Jones Matters

By: Caleb Mills

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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Harvey Weinstein and the Aims and Structure of Hollywood

Howl of the Day: Oct 13, 2017

Political scientist Corey Robin has an interesting take on the current Harvey Weinstein debacle. Robin observes that power relationships leave little room for morality:

In virtually every oppressive workplace regime—and other types of oppressive regimes—you see the same phenomenon. ….

Those at the bottom of the regime, these less established actresses who need the most, look up and wonder why those above them, those more established actresses who need less, don’t speak out against an injustice: The more established have power, why don’t they use it, what are they afraid of?

Those higher up the ladder, those more established actresses, look down on those at the very bottom and wonder why they don’t speak out against that injustice: They’ve got nothing to lose, what are they afraid of?

Neither is wrong; they’re both accurately reflecting and acting upon their objective situations and interests. This is one of the reasons why collective action against injustice and oppression is so difficult. It’s Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand at work (in both senses), without the happy ending: everyone pursues their individual interests as individuals; the result is a social catastrophe.

This seems true, but at the same time, focusing on the power dynamic at play as opposed to the ends for which the power is used obscures something essential about the problem.

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The Libertarian Error

By: Richard Oxenberg

I. Introduction

As Congress gears up for another round of massive tax cuts whose benefits will primarily go to the wealthiest, it might be worthwhile to consider the underlying rationale for these cuts.

In general, there are two arguments presented in justification for such cuts. The first is a utilitarian argument. The claim is that tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate the economy and make things generally better for everyone. There are many good reasons to think that this is not true, but I am going to leave this claim aside for now as it is largely a practical question concerning how a capitalist system operates.

The more fundamental, and more philosophical, justification comes from the libertarians. The libertarian claim is that taxation for any other purpose than the defense of liberty is illegitimate, indeed, a kind of theft. According to the libertarians, the government simply has no right to impose taxes for such services as public education, aid to the poor, health care, social security, or any other service that does not involve a direct protection from those who might deprive us of liberty (e.g., criminals or foreign invaders).

This libertarian idea has gained a lot of traction in recent decades, even among many who would not identify as libertarian. It provides the ideological foundation for the hostility toward government, indeed toward democracy as a form of government, fostered by the radical right. I believe it is deeply flawed. The following is my attempt to say why.

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Penelope’s Choice

By: Michael Grenke

The Odyssey’s Penelope is a Thinker, a person who is effective in facing her world and its problems by thinking her way out of them. She is, perhaps, even more of a thinker than her much-devising husband, as he is still, occasionally, given to “solving” his problems with brute force. It is in Penelope that Homer more purely explores the possibilities and limitations of Odyssean cleverness. The emblem of Penelope’s cleverness is the device by which she tricks her suitors for three years, her weaving. She uses the weaving to buy herself time, but the weaving is itself an image of time. Time is a weaving and unweaving; it makes and unmakes beings and relations. In her deception, Penelope gives the impression time has no consequence for human beings. And understood thus, time poses a great difficulty that attends and deforms the kind of thinking in which Penelope engages.

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Right to Silence in the Age of Aadhaar

By: Ishaan Saha

India’s Aadhaar is the world’s largest biometric ID system. Linking biometric data to income tax returns, the scheme is now mandatory for all Indian residents. This article analyzes the Aadhaar scheme in the context of the right to privacy, and in particular, the fundamental right to silence.

There is a distinction in the law on the right to silence, between compelling a person to divulge her password to a digital device, as opposed to compelling a person to use her fingerprint to unlock the same device. In light of this distinction, Aadhaar could effectively render the right against self-incrimination illusory, as the biometric information already stored on the Aadhaar database could easily be used to access an individual’s digital information stored on her phone or computer protected by a fingerprint lock.

Comparing US law on the right to silence and its interface with digital technology with the Indian law on the issue, we see that the US position on the subject is incongruous to the fundamental rights envisaged under the Indian Constitution and also out of pace with the technological advancements of the day. Unless the right to silence comes of age and accommodates the technological challenges posed by biometric ID systems, the lacuna in the law which protects one’s right to refuse to divulge a password confined in her mind, while at the same time excluding from the ambit of protection, the use of one’s fingerprint or other biometric information to access the very same information stored on a hard drive, can be exploited to render the fundamental right to silence — which is often the last bastion of civil society — an abortive ideal.

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