Thursday, August 26, 2010

Notes From the Levant: Last of the Combat Troops Leaving Iraq? – Only in your Dreams

Notes From the Levant: Last of the Combat Troops Leaving Iraq? – Only in your Dreams

If you imagine that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is coming to an end, read the above article. By the way, the author calls the number of U.S. mercenary troops (i.e., armed soldiers employed by the U.S. government but not wearing U.S. military uniforms and NOT under the oversight of Congress) in Iraq as "unknowable." He's pretty much right, since the Pentagon tries to prevent the number from being known, but the last quoted figure I have seen is "100,000" - one of the world's more impressive armies.

Do American Fascists Exist?

Do fascists exist in the U.S.? If they did, how would they behave? Could you spot one in power? (No, I'm not talking about guys who dress up in Nazi regalia.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Democracy or Dictatorship? Rating Your Government

Democracies and dictatorships have distinct preferences. Know the difference, and you can see where your government is headed.

One could…and we should…identify a set of clear distinctions between democratic and authoritarian methods. Today’s news gives an example of one of the most basic such distinctions: democracies aspire to precise legal charges, while authoritarian regimes aspire to the vaguest possible charges. Precise charges are falsifiable (i.e., the guilty get convicted, the innocent set free) and lead to respect for the law. Vague charges make it easy for the dictator to punish his political enemies. Camus called it "une anarchie bureaucratisee." The greatest indictment of vague charges is Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago; for samples see the numerous Solzhenitsyn posts here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rightwing Attacks Israeli Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is perhaps the core pillar of democracy, and it is today under fierce attack in Israel.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Attributes of Authoritarianism

Keep this simple chart in mind when you are evaluating the performance of your elected officials. Remember, you pay them to protect your civil liberties.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Diagnosing Dictatorship

To defend their freedom, citizens of a democracy need a clear sense of the distinction between acceptable attitudes and behavior in a healthy democracy and signs of authoritarian infection.

When your body is being challenged, you call it being "sick," you check the symptoms and diagnose the cause. For the economy, being sick is called a recession, and the same diagnostic process is undertaken. For the political world, a disease could be discrimination or denial of free speech; the cancer of the political world is war. But where is the rigorous diagnostic process for identifying and curing political disease?

Putting it bluntly, "Is your democracy sick?" The answer will be every bit as complex as asking if you are sick.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Identifying the Black Shoots of Fascism

If any lesson has been learned in recent years, it should be that achieving democracy does not constitute "the end of history." Leaving aside the degree to which any society ever has "achieved" democracy, to do so would be more like a mountain climber gaining the peak - the view is splendid, but living there takes effort. Nothing is easier than sliding back down the peak of democracy.
The weeds of authoritarianism or outright fascism sprout easily in fertile democratic soil. Authoritarian figures like nothing better than to exploit the  civil liberties of democracy in order to kill it. It is not clear that even a perfect democracy would be stable, but certainly no known democratic society--especially one with a population as ignorant and amenable to manipulation by politicians with private agendas as that of the U.S.--can be considered stable. A democratic society is a mountain climber perched on a very slippery slope.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Escaping the Mideast Extremist Trap

Although Erdogan's refusal to grant Israeli right wingers a blank check is to be applauded as a tactical effort to restore some balance to Israeli behavior, Americans should be thinking much more deeply about the subtle threats to both U.S. national security and American democracy that will flow from a collapse of Turkish-Israeli relations. These dangers will be particularly severe if the U.S. blindly sides with an Israel still under rightwing control.

Turkey is a democracy struggling to emerge from the shadow of rightwing military rule; Israel is a democracy sliding into increasingly authoritarian rightwing expansionism. Each society needs the other’s moderating influence to support its own democratic aspirations. Each society suffers from its proclivity to repress an unwanted minority that it nevertheless refuses to free, with the denial of civil liberties to the minority feeding back to undermine the liberty of the majority.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Government on a Rampage

Once again, police overreaction by a repressive and short-sighted regime that assumes without forethought that A) its own position is beyond question and B) that the concerns of a frustrated population merit no consideration is manufacturing a needless crisis.