Monday, March 27, 2017

Juicy French Politics

By Madeleine Kando

The current administration is mired in controversy, ranging from conflicts of interest and foreign meddling in our elections, to sexual misconduct, but looking at what is happening in France, we certainly don’t have the monopoly on political scandals.

The French Presidential elections are around the corner and of the five candidates that are competing for the job, two are under investigation: Francois Fillon, leader of the conservative party ‘Les Republicains’ and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right populist party ‘Front National’.

If you think it unethical for Trump to hire family members to help him govern, you only have to look at France to see that nepotism is not exclusive to America. Giving positions to family members is actually common amongst French politicians, but the latest scandal going by the name ‘Penelopegate’ was too much to swallow for the French voter.

Francois Fillon, is charged with paying his wife $1 million with public money for a job as his assistant, that she never fulfilled. Fillon is seen as a hypocrite, since he has proposed cuts to civil servant jobs to save money. Read more...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

It's the Birthrate, Not Immigration

Just for once, let me NOT write about Trump - although, even today’s topic is prompted by what he stands for, namely white supremacy.

White supremacists include Geert Wilders and Steve King. The former is a Dutch nativist, a Dutch Trump, who fortunately just lost an election in the Netherlands. King is an Iowa congressman who recently said that   “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”  This apes Breitbart News, Trump adviser Steve Bannon, the KKK and all others in Europe, America and elsewhere  who, under the guise of “nationalism,” believe that the white race has a corner on human civilization.

Today, this white panic is prompted in part by the fact that whites make up an ever smaller percentage of the world’s population. There is panic at the prospect that people who are white andChristian are increasingly being replaced by people of color, people who are Muslims, etc. Read more...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Takeaway from the Dutch Elections

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders
by Madeleine Kando

Holland is in the news this week. They just had their elections and thankfully, the populist PVV party did not win the majority of votes, although it came in a close second. The rest of the world has been watching the Dutch elections closely, since it is the bellwether country for populism in the entire continent. Like the flu, populism is contagious, but the PVV’s relative defeat showed that the Dutch built up some resistance against the populist virus. France has Marine LePenn, leader of the National Front, Germany has the AfD, Italy has the Five Star Movement and Hungary is governed by ultra-right-winger Viktor Orban.

What does this disease consist of, you might ask? It manifests itself in the form of nationalism, anti-immigration on the right and anti-capitalism and a push for redistribution on the left. The ugly side of populism on both sides, is that it is based on exclusion, be it the ruling elite or immigrants, it pushes itself off by demonizing the ‘other’.

Geert Wilders, the leader of the PVV, is often referred to as the Donald Trump of the Netherlands. His is the second largest party at the polls, but that doesn’t mean that the PVV will even be part of the Dutch government, since no other party wants to work with him because of his extreme views on immigration.

In a nationally televised pre-election debate, the ‘Turkish crisis’ was discussed. This is in reference to two Turkish ministers being barred from campaigning in Holland in a bid to drum up support amongst the Turkish residents for Prime Minister Erdogan back home. This caused Turkish authorities to accuse the Dutch of being’ Nazis’. An angry crowd staged an all-out protest outside the Dutch consulate in Istanbul, stabbing oranges with knives and drinking gallons of orange juice. An outsider might conclude that the Turks have finally gone bonkers as a result of being ruled by a madman, but it appears that the color orange is linked to the Netherlands and stabbing oranges was their way to show their displeasure with the Dutch. Read more...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: an Eye Opener

Jane Mayer
By Madeleine Kando

I always knew that money was a big influence in politics, but I took it as a given, an unpleasant fact of life, like the harsh winters in New England. But after reading Jane Mayer’s ‘Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right’, I realize that there are different types of money spent on politics. Hard money is regulated and has to be account for, but soft money, also known as dark money, is not. This type is now so entrenched in the American political system, that it would take an earthquake of enormous force to dislodge it.

Of course, the biggest players in the story of dark money are the Koch brothers. I was not aware of the extent to which they are responsible for the rightward trend in American politics and how far they are willing to go to advance their political ideas, not to mention their fortunes.

They have been at it for almost half a century, inheriting their libertarian (if not anarchistic) views from their grandfather, Fred Koch, whose rabid anti-communism did not prevent him from making a fortune building refineries for Stalin and later made lucrative business deals with Hitler, whom he greatly admired.

Koch Industries’ corporate rap sheet is miles long. They were found guilty of countless health violations, causing the death of several employees. They were convicted of falsifying emissions output figures at their refineries; they willfully disregard safety regulations, which they consider ‘socialistic’. ‘My freedom is more important than your life’ should be the industry’s motto. Read more...

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Oh, Oh, Amerika

 I just read the book by that title, written by the Dutchman Charles Groenhuijsen (2015).

The premise of the book is similar to that of Rick Nieman’s What we Can Learn from America: An Optimistic Story about the Promised Land (2015), which we reviewed a few months ago (see What we Can Learn from America). While it provides a detailed critique of most of America’s many flaws, its basic theme is that the country is on the road to progress, and that it enjoys many advantages over Europe. In other words, it is one more optimistic and sympathetic analysis of the USA coming from the Netherlands. Interesting.

In this article, I will summarize Groenhuijsen’s book, and conclude that (1) the author is overly optimistic and that (2) his prognosis might have been more negative if he had written the book AFTER Donald Trump’s election rather than just a few months before.

First, what is good about America, according to Groenhuijsen?

● For one thing, Americans are becoming more liberal in their lifestyle. Gay marriage is now the law of the land, more and more jurisdictions are legalizing recreational marijuana, the country is becoming more secular; church attendance is declining, etc. Read more...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

President Trump Stress Disorder (PTSD)

by Madeleine Kando

Yesterday, I watched Trump addressing a crowd of core supporters at the American Conservative Political Action Conference. **

My visceral reaction was a tremendous sense of doom. Not because he said anything new, which was accusing ‘the dishonest media’ and repeating all the platitudes that we heard during his campaign, but because of the crowd’s reaction. The speech went on for an hour and as the crowd exploded in a chant of ‘USA! USA!’ shivers went down my spine. At the height of this frenzy, Trump turned his back to the audience, showing the world that they have completely surrendered to him and nothing that he can do will change their allegiance to their leader.

How did we get to this state of madness? Gone are the good old days when I could go about my daily life, a life of relative harmony, a life of simple pleasures like taking walks in the forest or wonder whether it was too early to plant my seedlings.

Trump has put an end to all this normalcy. Now I worry about politics every minute of the day. It is like finding out that your child has a major disease and suddenly all your time is taken up by learning everything about that disease and feverishly trying to find a treatment plan. But in the end, would I not rely on the medical experts to tell me what to do? Read more...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Evil Rising

I just spent nearly a month in Europe. It’s interesting to compare notes:

Europe is also experiencing a resurgence of nativism, xenophobia, anxiety and rightward politics among its still dominant white bourgeoisie. Like the US, Europe is also flirting with neo-fascism. Holland has its Geert Wilders, France has its Marine Le Pen, Hungary has its Viktor Orbán, etc. These are all far-right demagogues, already in power (Orban) or likely to win upcoming elections (Wilders, Le Pen).

Why is this happening?

There are the obvious alleged reasons, ceaselessly reiterated by the pundits. These include:
1. The threat of foreign influx - largely Muslims in Europe, Latinos in the US. In other words, the demographic threat to the primacy of the traditional, white, European-American dominant majority. This is aided and abetted by the ceaseless chatter about terrorism.
2. De-industrialization due to globalization and automation, greatly increasing economic insecurity.
3. Social change, including the decline of patriarchy, which makes men angry.
In sum: A feeling of being threatened, of losing ground, especially among groups that previously held all the cards.