Gabbard’s Way – a work in progress

You’ve already been introduced to Tulsi Gabbard and you now know something of her background and who she is as a person.

Now it’s time to find out who she is as a politician.

I am not a big fan of the mainstream media. I consider that the pressures of running a large successful business oftentimes dictates or, at the very least, influences editorial policy to the extent that clear biases emerge to steer a story in a particular direction. And this is not surprising. If you are really honest, you will acknowledge that no news reportage is absolutely objective. It just cannot be and it will never be. It is up to the reader to select across the wide range of available news to get a clear and full picture of what is going on in the world.

That said, it was interesting to find two, inter-related articles that appeared in two “well respected” newspapers. The articles were published in late 2015 and they dealt with some issues concerning the Democratic Party in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. One article was published in The Washington Post and the other in The New York Times.

Ahem, ahem, cough, cough!

It occurs to me that these stories provide an excellent introduction of how Ms. Gabbard is going about conducting her political career.

I will only use extracts from the two stories since I do not wish to get bogged down in the details of the issue in question. Rather, I want to focus on the substance that concerns Tulsi Gabbard and her political actions.

The Washington Post kicked off with a very bold headline that implied a hidden challenge:

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: The Democrat that Republicans love and the DNC can’t control” (b – 15 October 2015)

“…..All this week, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has been in a nasty back and forth with the Democratic National Committee where she serves as vice chairwoman about whether its chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), suggested Gabbard shouldn’t go to Tuesday’s Las Vegas debate. The she-said, she-said came shortly after Gabbard suggested on MSNBC that the DNC should host more than the current six debates (many have accused the DNC of holding fewer debates to help Hillary Clinton). DNC officials told the the New York Times, which broke the story, that Gabbard’s debate drama would have been a “distraction” from the candidates on stage.”

So what did The New York Times report:

D.N.C. Officer Says She Was Disinvited From Debate After Calling for More of Them (by Maggie Haberman – 12 October 2015)

Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said she was disinvited from the first Democratic presidential primary debate in Nevada after she appeared on television and called for more face-offs.

Ms. Gabbard confirmed on Sunday that her chief of staff received a message last Tuesday from the chief of staff to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the national committee, about her attendance at the debate. A day earlier, Ms. Gabbard had appeared on MSNBC and said there should be an increase beyond the current six sanctioned debates.

A person close to the committee who asked for anonymity to discuss internal discussions insisted, however, that Ms. Gabbard had not been disinvited. Instead, the person said, an aide to Ms. Wasserman Schultz expressed a desire to keep the focus on the candidates as the debate approached, rather than on a “distraction” that could divide the party, and suggested that if Ms. Gabbard could not do that, she should reconsider going.

Ms. Gabbard insisted otherwise.

“When I first came to Washington, one of the things that I was disappointed about was there’s a lot of immaturity and petty gamesmanship that goes on, and it kind of reminds me of how high school teenagers act,” Ms. Gabbard said in a telephone interview on Sunday night. She said she would watch the debate in her district in Hawaii, which elected her to her second term last year.

“It’s very dangerous when we have people in positions of leadership who use their power to try to quiet those who disagree with them,” she added. “When I signed up to be vice chair of the D.N.C., no one told me I would be relinquishing my freedom of speech and checking it at the door.”

Holly Shulman, a spokeswoman for the committee, said the desire was to allow the Democrats to present a clear contrast with the Republicans.

“The focus of the debate in Nevada as well as the other debates and forums in the coming weeks should be on the candidates who will take the stage, and their vision to move America forward,” she said. “All that was asked of Ms. Gabbard’s staff was to prioritize our candidates and this important opportunity they have to introduce themselves to the American people. The Democratic Party is a big-tent party, and we embrace the diversity of opinions and ideas that come from our members.”

Ms. Gabbard and R.T. Rybak, a committee vice chairman and a former mayor of Minneapolis, have for weeks publicly called for more debates.

“More and more people on the ground from states all across the country are calling for more debates, are wanting to have this transparency and greater engagement in our democratic process at a critical time, as they make the decision of who should be the next person to lead our country,” Ms. Gabbard said in her MSNBC appearance.

…..The person close to the committee insisted: “She was not uninvited. The D.N.C. team wanted this first debate to have all the focus on the candidates. Gabbard’s people were told that if they couldn’t commit to that, since Tulsi was trying to publicly divide the D.N.C. leadership last week, then they should consider not coming.”

The person added, “The fact that she is still making this about her and not our great candidates by talking to The New York Times says something unfortunate.”

Ms. Gabbard said the only issue raised had been “the fact that I had publicly disagreed” with Ms. Wasserman Schultz.

“This isn’t about any one person,” Ms. Gabbard said. “It’s about how the Democratic Party should be representing democratic values, allowing for free speech and open debate within our party, and for more transparency and debates for our presidential candidates.”

“All of our candidates agree with my position,” she added.

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who has been struggling to gain traction in the Democratic primary contest, has been calling for more debates and has accused Ms. Wasserman Schultz of trying to benefit the leader in the polls, Hillary Rodham Clinton, by limiting debates. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has also called for more debates, although he has not been as adamant as Mr. O’Malley has.”

On the face of it, this all seems like a silly little spat between some politicians seeking a bit of lime-light.

But is it really?

The Washington Post goes a little deeper behind the story:

“…..But if you thought this was an isolated incident, you haven’t been paying attention to Tulsi Gabbard. In fact, this week’s drama has plenty to do with the party’s young, outspoken star’s demonstrated willingness to speak out in ways her party would rather she not. Gabbard is a wildcard who has given Democrats as many headaches in her nearly three years in Congress as she has blessings.

Gabbard’s resume is a political operative’s dream. She is the first American Samoan elected to Congress. She was the first elected Hindu (she took her oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita) and one of two female combat veterans to join Congress in 2013. Oh, and the then-31-year old was also the youngest woman in Congress at the time.

…..Back home in her Democratic-heavy, rural Oahu district, Gabbard is clearly in command of her political future. She won re-election to a second term with close to 79 percent of the vote.

…..In Washington, Democrats no doubt noticed how great Gabbard looks on paper and on television. She was elevated quickly to top jobs like vice chair of the DNC and to important committee assignments that fit with her military experience.

…..House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Vogue that Gabbard is “an emerging star” and invited the then-congressional candidate to speak at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. “Some fresh recruits stay and some go,” Pelosi said. “It’s hard to tell what route she’ll choose.”

So far, Gabbard is choosing her own route, and it’s not one Democrats hoping to groom her for leadership would have her take. Especially with regard to foreign policy, Gabbard often sounds more like a hawkish Republican than a potential future Democratic leader. She has blasted President Obama for failing to talk about Islamic extremism.

…..What’s more, Gabbard has been glorified in the conservative media. Her criticism of Obama’s failure to cite “Islamic extremism” earned her appearances on Fox News, and in April, the conservative National Review wrote a glowing profile about the “beautiful, tough young” Democrat “who’s challenging Obama’s foreign policy”.

This shouldn’t be a complete surprise though. Gabbard’s political background is non-traditional. Her conservative Democratic state senator father led the charge in Hawaii against same-sex marriage. Gabbard said she generally aligned with social conservatism until she deployed twice to Iraq with the Hawaii Army National Guard. In 2012, she described what Honolulu Civil Beat called her “leftward journey” to the paper:

“Some of these experiences living and working in oppressive countries, not only witnessing firsthand but actually experiencing myself what happens when a government basically attempts to act as a moral arbiter.”

Gabbard seems happy to soak up the spotlight from both sides, but it’s gotten her in trouble at least once. During the 2014 August recess, she went “extreme surfing” with Yahoo’s Chris Moody and sent out the clip as a fundraiser.

…..And that’s Gabbard in a nutshell. She’s shown that she’s not likely to back down from a fight, even when it’s with a party that would very much like to promote her.

Democrats no doubt appreciate the diversity and charisma that their newest recruit brings, but lately it has come with a price. The question now for party leaders is how they handle a young, rising star who is as much a wildcard as just about anybody in their party.”

So what did the National Review have to say about Ms. Gabbard?

Meet the Beautiful, Tough Young Democrat Who’s Turning Heads by Challenging Obama’s Foreign Policy

by Brendan Bordelon & Eliana Johnson (2 April 2015)

She’s young, she’s hip, and she’s beautiful. She’s also a combat veteran and a Democrat who has made headlines for slamming the Obama administration’s rudderless foreign policy. Tulsi Gabbard may be a Democrat, but the 33-year-old congresswoman from Hawaii has endeared herself to right-wing hawks by showing a willingness to buck the president, and her party, on foreign affairs. “I like her thinking a lot,” American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks tells National Review in an e-mail. Brooks describes Gabbard as “smart and reasonable,” as well as “pragmatically strong on defense.”

“She could be a very powerful new voice on the D side,” he says.

It’s not often, especially in the Age of Obama, that you hear prominent Republicans lavish praise on up-and-coming Democrats. But Gabbard’s public condemnation of the president’s national-security strategy is turning heads and winning her rave reviews from across the aisle. With the U.S. on the precipice of a deal with Iran, Gabbard’s embrace of American exceptionalism, combined with her exotic background — she was born in American Samoa, and she is Hindu — seems to offer the Democratic party a different way forward. It harkens back to the Truman era, and it’s attractive to many Republicans, particularly those who care about foreign affairs and are seeking to renew a bipartisan consensus on national security.

“I think she’s a responsible American congresswoman who served in the military and looks at the situation as she sees it,” says Danielle Pletka, AEI’s vice president for foreign policy and defense. “She doesn’t see everything through a political prism and is thoughtful and serious,” Pletka says. “I admire her.”

Since taking office in January 2013, Gabbard has cultivated relationships with conservative national-security and defense experts, particularly those from AEI, an institution known for churning out research advocating a muscular foreign policy. She was one of just three Democrats to land an invitation to AEI’s exclusive annual retreat in Sea Island, Ga., earlier this month — New Jersey senator Cory Booker and Maryland congressman John Delaney were also invited – and she’s befriended and impressed AEI’s foreign-policy wonks.

At the suggestion of Michael Auslin, an Asia expert at AEI, Gabbard was invited to the Halifax International Security Forum last November. When Auslin first met Gabbard in 2013, he says, he was struck by her “very developed sense of American national interests.”

“She wasn’t hemming or hawing or wishfully thinking about what North Korea might or might not do, or what China might or might not do,” Auslin says. “She’s not dogmatic.”

Though not the only Democrat to voice anxiety over the White House’s national-security priorities, Gabbard is perhaps the most conspicuous. Her Republican fans describe her as a conventional liberal where domestic politics are concerned, but the twice-deployed Iraq War veteran is one of the most hawkish Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee.

When the president held his “Combating Violent Extremism” summit in February, conservatives and Republicans gnashed their teeth over his refusal to label such groups as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda “Islamic.” Gabbard leapt into the fray.

“Unless you accurately identify who your enemy is, then you can’t come up with an effective strategy, a winning strategy to defeat that enemy,” she told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on February 18. “You’re not identifying the fact that they are not fueled by a materialistic motivation, it’s actually a theological — this radical Islamic ideology that is allowing them to continue to recruit, that is allowing them to continue to grow in strength and that’s really fueling these horrific terrorist activities around the world.”

Gabbard’s gripes about the administration’s foreign policy go beyond semantics. She has consistently challenged what she considers the White House’s failed strategy for combating ISIS and stabilizing Iraq. As recently as two weeks ago, in an appearance on Face the Nation, she criticized the “failed” American policy of “propping up this Shia-led government in Baghdad that’s heavily influenced by Iran, [which] has caused, essentially, . . . ISIS to grow in Iraq.” She flatly accused the Obama administration of having “no clear plan in place for the Sunni people to take charge of the Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq, which is the only thing that will prevent ISIS from coming back in, even if there is a military victory.”

She’s also taken the administration to task over its recent rapprochement with Iran, lamenting the “confusion” in U.S. policy during another interview with Cavuto on March 24. “We have the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, omitting Iran and Hezbollah from the list of threats to our country for the first time in a long time,” she said, noting that the Islamic theocracy is meanwhile building an empire in the region. “There seems to really be a lack of a coherent strategy with regards to how we, as the United States, are dealing with Iran, as we look at this threat of a nuclear-armed Iran,” she said.

Not all conservatives are as smitten with Gabbard as those who roam the hallways at AEI. James Jay Carafano, a national-security expert at the Heritage Foundation, says all the exuberance is unwarranted, and that Gabbard has attracted outsized attention and gotten a media platform because she is an Iraq War veteran who has bucked a Democratic president. “I wouldn’t put too much stock in this,” he says. Whether her background indicates she’s a “national-security leader that fits into the kind of traditional mold,” he says, is “very different than a couple of press quotes.”

And, impressed as she is with Gabbard, Pletka doesn’t view her a singular figure. “I think it’s hugely unfair to single her out as somebody who’s been a particularly vocal critic of the administration because she’s a woman, because she’s from Hawaii,” she says. “She may be a thought leader, but she’s certainly not alone in the Democratic party.”

Gabbard is canny, which means she’s also cautious about her association with conservative hawks. Auslin says she considered writing an article with him last fall on the security situation in Asia, but the idea was not high on her list of priorities with a reelection campaign looming, and it fell by the wayside (“Does she really want to be writing a piece with an AEI guy right before her first [re]election?” he says). And her office did not respond to repeated interview requests. “You guys’ profiling her is going to be like the kiss of death,” Auslin says with a laugh.

A lot of people hope that’s not the case. Auslin, for one, sees a Senate bid as a “natural” progression for Gabbard’s career. If so, she’s setting herself up to direct the Democratic party away from the path trod by the last young politician with Hawaiian origins, a funny name, and uniquely American ambitions.

And, according to her fans, she is not alone, even if she’s getting the most attention right now. Auslin says the pushback within the Democratic party against the Obama administration’s foreign policy is building, particularly among Gabbard’s generation. “I’ll admit, I see a lot of young Democrats like her”, he says. “Not everyone has taken the stand that she has. Not everyone has approached it from that sort of statesmanlike level. But I think it’s something that, particularly as conservatives, we shouldn’t ignore.”

Now that was back in 2015 and nothing’s changed. Tulsi’s light is still shining and it’s brighter than ever.

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Winner of the “Funniest Story of 2017” award

I know that it’s a bit early to make an award for the Peter Smith’s “Funniest Story of 2017” competition, but I am prepared to gamble than nothing will come along as good to be able to top the nominated 2017 winner.

Secondly, the key to successful comedy is timing. Many a good joke has been spoiled by a poorly timed delivery. And that is also the case here. If I wait until the end of the year before making the award, the context will have been forgotten and the impact lost.

As most politicians will know to their utter shame and embarrassment, satire is a common medium that people use to respond to the nonsense that the “powers that be” try to get us to swallow. I can think of a couple of exponents of the comedic and satiric art whose careers have been successfully launched into stardom by material provided by politicians.

Rob Slane, the winner of the “Funniest Story of the Month” award for April, has obviously taken this accolade as a motivation to spur himself onto even greater achievements. With his latest blogpost, he has raised the bar a few more notches higher.

Rob assures me that the letters published in his article did not come from the Russians, Wikileaks or a CIA whistleblower. As hard as you will find this to believe, he says they are figments of his imagination.

Of course, Rob may just be trying to protect his sources by pretending that these letters are fakes. These days, what with CNN, the NewYorkTimes, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer all putting a spin on the truth, you just don’t know what to believe anymore. As far as I can make out, these letters sound pretty genuine to me.

Read Rob’s post and make up your own mind.

Congratulations Flood in to Donald Trump From Around the World After His Attack on Syria

by Rob Slane (10 April 2017)

“Mr Trump’s hit on Syria last week may have been met with utter dismay from many who voted for him, but it has been a big hit with many former opponents. In another Blogmire exclusive, we can reveal some of the letters of congratulations Mr Trump has received from around the world.

Dear Donald,

I just wanted to let you know that I’m really very sorry for some of the things I said about you in the past. I must admit to being completely taken in by your act during the elections where you seemed to be very hostile to our cause. But what a brilliant act, I now realise. You had us all fooled over here in Germany and the EU, and we were all very worried. Now that you’ve come out of the closet, so to speak, and I see you are on our side after all, I can’t tell you how relieved and happy that makes me. I am now having wonderful sleep for … well for the first time since I started my open door policy.

Please do forgive and forget any past misunderstanding. I look forward to the next bombs (perhaps my only criticism would be that some warning might be nice next time). And I look forward to inviting you to Berlin where I promise that I’ll not let you go without shaking your hand very fervently in front of the cameras.

Mit besten Grüßen

Angela Merkel

PS. Just a slight corrective that’s been bugging me since our meeting. The “g” in Angela is pronounced as in Gotterdamerung, rather than the g in Germany.

PPS. Please do convey my warmest wishes to Ivanka. I must admit I was somewhat surprised to be seated next to her at our meeting in March, and perhaps didn’t listen to her fashion advice as attentively as I should. But rest assured, I shall be very ready to listen next time we meet, whether about her recommendations for stylists or for bombing somewhere.

Dear Donald,

I wanted to drop you a note to thank you personally for what you did in Syria last week. It was great. “A great bombing,” as you might say yourself.

It seems such a shame that we’ve been at cross-purposes for too long, with all that fake news stuff, but it looks like we may have just been misreading one another. When you said all that stuff about America minding its own business and not getting involved in wars in other countries, I have to admit we did sort of freak out a bit. We actually thought you meant it. Ha! But boy what a great ruse to get elected. It now makes perfect sense and I’d like to assure you that for our part, we will support you wholeheartedly as long as you continue to bomb Syria and other places that need bombing.

Would it be too much to request a meeting where we could put our differences behind us for good and work together to make sure any future action you take gets the best possible exposure to the American public?

Yours sincerely,

Jeff Zucker
President of CNN

Dear Donald,

Thank you for bombing Syria. We had been on the ropes for some time, but your action has given us fresh hope that we might be able to turn the tables. Keep up the good work and don’t leave it too long before sending us another “present”.

Best wishes,

Al Nusra

Dear Donald,

We just wanted to write to you to let you know how excited we are about what you did in Syria. Really excited!

You have proven us wrong, and we owe you an apology for some of the things we’ve said. Like so many, we thought you really meant it when you came out with all that “no more foreign wars” “America first” stuff. Heck, we even thought you were serious when you said all that stuff about “getting along with Russia”. We can’t tell you how much that freaked us out, especially as we saw our whole life’s dream of war with them being shattered.

But though you had us fooled, we feel the need to caution you against being content with a one-off action. Yes you’ve taken the right action at last, yet every day of your Presidency that you haven’t been raining down Tomahawks somewhere in Syria has been a lost opportunity and a terrible stain on your leadership. Make no mistake, we need to bomb Syria again. And again. And again and again and again. We need to do it until the whole country has been bombed. It’s the only way to stop Assad from bombing his own people.

And then when we’ve done there, we need to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. And then North Korea. And then Russia. And then China. And then… well if there’s anywhere else that needs bombing, we need to bomb there as well. It’s the only language that these people understand.

Once again apologies for misunderstanding the act, brilliant though it was. Now go get on with the job and know that we’ll be cheering on every bomb you drop.

Best wishes,

Sen. John McCain
Sen. Lindsey Graham

Dear Donald,

Wow. Just wow. Hope you don’t mind me saying that. I mean cripes. Tallyho’s what I thought when I saw those missiles fly. Cracking stuff. Jolly good show, as we say over here.

Tempted to think that we have something in common. Like you I changed my opinions on Syria shortly after I got the job. After they explained the plan to me, that is. Tempted to think you must have got the same treatment, what?

One question: not entirely sure what to do next. Cancelled visit to Moscow. Now awaiting further instructions. If Mr Tillerson could let me know what I should do when it’s convenient for him, I’d be much obliged.

My very best regards,

Boris Johnson
Foreign Secretary of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Dear Donald,

What can I say except all is forgiven (well except I’m jealous that you got to do it and not me). Bill and I would love to have you and Melania come and stay some time. Let us know when it’s convenient.

Best regards,


PS. Do you think if I pretend to be in favour of peace, no more foreign interventions and getting along with Putin, I might stand a chance in 2020?”

Don’t be surprised when you read similar letters in a Wikileak’s exclusive release of the “Trump Files” in about 12 month’s time.

Posted in Humourous and Serious | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Tulsi Gabbard: will aloha be enough to influence US politics?

Aloha is a Hawaiian greeting literally meaning “the joyful sharing of life” or more simply “love” and the joyful sharing of life and love is what Tulsi Gabbard wants to do in the world.

Tulsi is a member of the Democratic Party and she has been the US Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District since 2012. In the 2016 elections, she was returned to Congress with an 81% vote. She co-featured in an article of mine last year, “Step aside Gentlemen, Ladies first” about some very talented women who are making their mark in world politics.

Well, I was not wrong!

I am sure that you will forgive me for thinking that Ms. Gabbard is a bit unique in US politics. But I will show why I think this is the case later in this article.

Firstly, I must explain how an American politician fits into a blog about European economics and politics. Well, not just any politician – a special one.

One who really cares about her people and her country – a real patriot. One who stands genuinely for the people who voted for her – behind them when they need support and in front of them when they need leadership. One who has the sense and morality to know right from wrong – and who is prepared to do something about it, even if her actions and point of view could jeopardise her political career.

One who wishes “aloha” to the people of the world.

Either as an example to others across the pond or in some position of influence in her own country, a politician like Ms. Gabbard could have some profound effect on European affairs in the future. So by giving her my vote, so to speak, this is my small contribution towards trying to achieve a better, more prosperous and peaceful world.

Tulsi Gabbard’s story is all the more remarkable if one digs a little deeper into her background. Her secondary education was unorthodox and she didn’t attend an elite US university or college like so many other US politicians. Tulsi didn’t come from some well to do, old traditional American family like the Kennedys and neither did she have wealthy and powerful connections like the Bushes or the Clintons.

Tulsi was born on April 12, 1981, in Leloaloa, American Samoa, the fourth child of five children in her family. Then, in 1983, when she was two years old, her family moved to Hawaii.

Tulsi grew up in a multi-cultural and multi-religious home. Her father, Mike Gabbard, is of Samoan and European ancestry and was also born in American Samoa. He became a naturalized US citizen at the age of one. He is a practicing Christian in the Catholic Church. Her mother, Carol, is of European descent and was born in Indiana, USA and is a practicing Hindu.

“It’s a matter of distilling the teachings of the Bible, which I was brought up with because of my father, who’s a practicing Catholic, and the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita because of my mom, who’s a practicing Hindu. And the essence of both these Scriptures come back to the same place – loving God and doing your best to serve and make a positive impact on those around you. These are two principles that are simple and can be applied in your everyday life. And they are obviously in alignment with each other.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Viren Mayani for]

The name “Tulsi” comes from the name of the holy basil, a plant sacred in Hinduism. Tulsi fully embraced Hinduism in her teenage years and she follows the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism. Vaishnava means “the worship of the Supreme Lord” who has the name of Vishnu.

“I identify as a Hindu,” Ms. Gabbard wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. “However, I am much more into spirituality than I am religious labels.”

“In that sense,” she added,” I am a Hindu in the mold of the most famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, who is my hero and role model.”

Ms. Gabbard wrote that she “was raised in a multi-cultural, multi-race, multi-faith family which allowed me to spend a lot of time studying and contemplating upon both the Bhagavad-gita and the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Mark Oppenheimer for the New York Times]

Tulsi is a vegetarian and she practices yoga everyday.

“I start the day with some meditation and yoga asanas. Most people see yoga simply as a way to stretch their bodies or increase flexibility. But the greatest gifts of yoga are wisdom and spiritual love, which lead us to true peace and happiness in life and fearlessness in the face of death.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

Tulsi likes to go snowboarding in winter and she is skilled in various forms of martial arts. She lists among her favourite books, A Band of Brothers and The Audacity to Win. And she loves music – she plays the guitar and the conga drums.

But her favorite sport is surfing.

“Literally every time I come home, my first stop is the ocean,” Gabbard tells me as we sit on our boards in the water. “Every time I come out of the water I feel refreshed. I feel inspired, I feel motivated.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Chris Moody for Yahoo News]

When Ms. Gabbard is not rankling party leaders in D.C. these days, she’s elbowing her way into the lineup back home on Oahu on a 5’8″ Hypto Krypto surfboard. You could say she’s the most active member of the congressional surfing caucus.

“A couple of guys from California used to surf,” she says. “But I’m pretty sure I’m the only female.”

“I was born in American Samoa but grew up on Oahu learning to swim, surf, and hike. That’s what got me interested in politics. When I ran for the state house when I was 21, I wanted to take action on the environmental issues I cared about.”

“When you take the politics out of it, making sure we have clean energy, keeping our water clean, our oceans clean—these are things that are important to all of us.”

“I make surfing a top priority when I’m home. I jump in the ocean as soon as I get back to Oahu.  It’s just such a wonderfully centering experience. It brings everything into perspective.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Graham Averill for]

To the great credit of her parents, Tulsi was home-schooled through high school except for two years that she spent at a girls-only missionary academy in the Philippines.

“The foundation for the path that I’ve followed was laid in my youth. Both of my parents taught us at home. My dad is an English major, so he focused in that area and my mom took care of the math and sciences. Both of them are teachers by training and brought their own individual background to making sure that we received a quality education.’

“Whether it was experiences at home in Hawaii, or the time that I spent in the Philippines, there were lessons that were taught from the books, but there were bigger life lessons that helped to illustrate some of the spiritual lessons that they tried to instill in us.”

“I’ll never forget the first time I got off the plane in Manila and was driving in the traffic. I was still quite young and seeing for the first time those squatters in cardboard shelters by the road, children knocking on your car window, looking emaciated and hungry, and begging for food and money.”

“Being exposed to these different experiences throughout my childhood and in many different places gave me a deep appreciation of both what is important in life and the urgency of needing to act and serve with purpose, and not taking for granted some of the things that we very easily take for granted in our comfortable lives here.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Viren Mayani for]

Tulsi learned the challenges and rewards of small business at an early age, helping her parents with two successful family businesses, including “Hawaiian Toffee Treasures”.

At the age of 19, Tulsi co-founded the Healthy Hawaii Coalition (HHC), a non-profit grassroots organization whose mission is to protect the environment and improve individual and community health. She was instrumental in developing HHC’s watershed education curriculum, which has been presented to more than 50 public and private schools statewide and focuses on educating children about protecting Hawaii’s environment.

In 2002, when Tulsi was only 21 years old, she was elected to the Hawaiian State Legislature and she became the youngest person in the United States to be elected to a state legislature at the time. She proved to be an effective, admired, and hard-working legislator and she served on the Education, Higher Education, Tourism, and Economic Development committees until 2004.

In April 2003, while serving in office, Tulsi enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

Then, in 2004, when Tulsi’s fellow soldiers from the 29th Brigade were called to war in Iraq, Tulsi volunteered to join them. She didn’t need to put her life on the line. She could have stayed in the State House of Representatives, but in her heart, she felt it was more important to stand in solidarity with her fellow soldiers than to climb the political ladder.

“When Hawaii’s 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion was activated for a deployment to Iraq in 2004, I was not on the mandatory deployment roster. I stepped away from my campaign, and volunteered to deploy to Iraq because I knew there was no way I could stay back in beautiful Hawaii and watch my brothers and sisters march off into combat. I knew that some of those soldiers wouldn’t be coming home. I had to stand with them.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

So, in 2005, Tulsi started a 12-month tour at the Logistical Support Area, Anaconda in Iraq, where she served in a field medical unit as a specialist with the 29th Support Battalion Medical Company. She was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal at the end of that tour. The personnel at LSA Anaconda nicknamed it “Mortaritaville” for all the enemy fire it received.

“We had lots of daily attacks. It was a very real thing”.

“I won’t tell you everything I’ve done in my life I’ve done without fear. It’s overcoming the fear and knowing where to go to get that courage. That’s really been the experience: having to come to grips with the reality – you’re fighting for the man to your left and right, and you understand what the outcome might be.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

After her return from Iraq, Tulsi went to Washington D.C. to serve in the U.S. Senate as a legislative aide to Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI). Her main task was to advise Senator Akaka on issues relating to energy independence, homeland security, the environment, and veteran affairs. Tulsi says that she was proud to serve with Senator Akaka and continues to be inspired by his mentorship and deep love and aloha for the people of Hawaii and his commitment to public service.

While working for Senator Akaka in 2007, Tulsi graduated from the Accelerated Officer Candidate School at the Alabama Military Academy, Fort McClellan, where she was the first woman to finish as the Distinguished Honors Graduate in the Academy’s 50-year history. Tulsi was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and she was assigned to the 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the Hawaii Army National Guard as a Military Police Platoon Leader.

Tulsi continued to work for Senator Akaka until 2009, when she again voluntarily deployed with her unit to the Middle East. During this second deployment, in addition to leading her platoon on a wide variety of security missions, she also conducted non-military host-nation visits and served as a primary trainer for the Kuwait National Guard. She was one of the first women to set foot inside a Kuwait military facility and became the first woman to ever be awarded and honored by the Kuwait National Guard for her work in their training and readiness program.

Tulsi is currently a reserve military police officer with the rank of major in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

While working in Washington and during her time in the military forces, Tulsi found time to study and eventually in 2009, she graduated from the Hawaii Pacific University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration – International Business.

When Tulsi returned from Iraq, she offered to serve on the Honolulu City Council and in November 2010, she was elected to the Council. She served as Chair of the Safety, Economic Development, and Government Affairs committee, as Vice Chair of the Budget committee and as a member of the Zoning and Public Works committee. In her capacity as committee chair, Tulsi took the lead on many important issues such as medical waste, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), dengue fever, and creating new economic opportunities through Honolulu’s first Sister City Summit.

In 2011, Tulsi visited Indonesia as part of a peacekeeping training mission with the Indonesian Army.

In 2012, as a member of the Democratic Party, Tulsi was elected to the United States House of Representatives, serving Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District. She achieved an overwhelming 81% vote and she is the first American Samoan, one of the first two female combat veterans and the first Hindu to serve in Congress.

This was the reason she gave for wanting to seeking Public Office:

“Disapproval ratings in Congress have never been higher. People are frustrated with the same-old politics as usual.”

“The problem in Washington is quite simple: too many of our leaders have forgotten why they’re there. They have put their own interests and those of huge corporations and rich special interests before the needs of our working families and regular people like us. They are out of touch with the realities that our families are facing to make ends meet and put food on the table, pay the electricity bill, and make sure our children have what they need.”

“If we want to break through this gridlock and start getting things done for the people of Hawaii, this culture of self-centeredness, greed, and corruption must change.”

“This is why I’m offering to serve you in Congress.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

Indeed, already in 2013, Tulsi was starting to catch the eye of many and it had nothing to do with her looks. I will leave it to John Howard to describe the interview he had with Tulsi for Vogue magazine.

Making a Splash: Is Tulsi Gabbard the Next Democratic Party Star?

by John Howard (25 June 2014)

“I grew up with the Aloha Spirit,” says Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. “We try to treat everyone with respect. Like family.”

…..And then you have Gabbard, a tanned 32-year-old with mahogany-brown hair that falls just past her shoulders, a fit surfer’s physique, and a smile so warm that it’s no surprise Web sites have offered polls rating her “hotness.”

Yet this is no Democratic Sarah Palin—all barracuda populism and you-betcha sass. She takes the stage and calmly expresses her support for the shipping policies that matter so much to her audience, making no attempt to rev up the crowd—this is a barbecue, after all, not a campaign rally. Still, when she finishes, the listeners explode into applause. Gabbard steps from the dais, and audience members rush to hug her and urge her to run for governor or senator.

…..But even by the standards of her peers, Gabbard stands out, and not only because she’s the youngest woman in Congress. She also comes across as an embodiment of the Obama era, with its shattering of political stereotypes and explosion of cultural diversity.

“I think she’s wonderful,” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer tells me. “She’s been in combat in a leadership role, and she knows how to lead. She deals well with men and women, young and old, Republican and Democrat. She’s got an extraordinary political talent.”

…..She was also happily married—to her childhood sweetheart Eduardo Tamayo. “You know,” she says wryly, “young love. We surfed together and were best friends. His family was like my family.” Gabbard’s personal life and career looked steady; then, in the spring of 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, and she made a choice that dismayed her political advisers: She joined the Hawaii Army National Guard, and when her brigade was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and her name was left off the deployment list, she insisted on going anyway.

“The reason I went was apolitical,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t sit back in the safety of home and normal life while my fellow soldiers were marching off to this foreign country. I went to my commander and said I wanted to deploy. He said no.” She laughs. “I don’t take no very well.”

She found she loved basic training. “From day zero, you get off the bus,” she says, “and the bond that’s created between you and your fellow soldiers is unlike anything I’ve experienced. And yes, when you’re low-crawling through the mud beneath barbed wire and climbing over rock walls and rappelling down the sides of buildings—I enjoy it.” A pause. “I’m pretty good at it, too.”

…..Wartime changed her. For starters, it cost Gabbard her marriage to Tamayo. “It was sad and difficult, but unfortunately, not an uncommon story for people who go through being separated for nearly two years,” she says. “The stress that’s placed on those who are left at home—it’s difficult to communicate what that means.”

Iraq shaped her foreign-policy thinking as well. “It was a war of choice rather than of necessity,” she says. “Did we do some good things? Absolutely. But ten years, hundreds of thousands of troops who were facing and continue to face the effects of serving . . . the cost is almost immeasurable.” Today she wants to get our soldiers out of Afghanistan as soon as possible and is wary of America’s serving as the world’s policeman. More telling, perhaps, she’s come to disavow the social conservatism she’d been raised with.

“I love my parents dearly,” she explains, “but serving in the Middle East I saw firsthand the extreme negative effects when a government attempts to act as a moral arbiter for its people. It’s not government’s place to interfere, especially in those areas that are most personal—for a woman, her right to choose, or who a person chooses to spend their life with.”

It was this Iraq-forged Tulsi Gabbard who pulled off her upset victory for Congress in 2012. When she first announced, she trailed her Democratic primary opponent, former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann, in the polls by nearly 50 points. But over the next seven months, she ran a grassroots campaign that drew a combination of young voters and veterans in a state with long and important military ties. Voters liked her service—liked that she walked the walk. Gabbard won the nomination by 20 points and took the general election with 81 percent.

…..I ask what she hopes to get done in office. Like all new Democratic congresspersons, she has a long wish list of (mainly liberal) ideas, including more stringent financial regulation (“I don’t think Dodd-Frank went far enough”), protecting Social Security and Medicare in their current form (she opposes Obama’s proposal of so-called chained CPI), and more money for missile defense. She’s particularly vocal on the last subject: “For us here in Hawaii, North Korea is a real threat. It drives me insane when I hear talking heads on TV saying, ‘This is just saber-rattling. They can’t reach the U.S. with their missiles. Hawaii or Guam, but not the continental U.S.’ Really blowing off the fact that we’re the fiftieth state, and we’re in a very strategic place with strategic national assets.”

From her seat on the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security, she has argued this tough line and has begun sponsoring veteran-friendly legislation. Of course, achieving much of anything seems unlikely in these days of political gridlock. Every place she goes, somebody asks some version of the question “What in the heck is going on in Washington?” Isn’t she as frustrated as the public is?

The answer is obviously yes, but at this early stage she’s moving cautiously, positioning herself as open to all ideas—even winning a few fans across the aisle. “Having someone like Tulsi to work with is a pleasure,” says Republican representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina. “There are a number of issues on which we disagree, but she’s not one for partisan rhetoric.” And then there are the alliances within her own party, which will be key to her political future. She has been named one of five vice-chairs of the Democratic National Committee—a plum role for a House rookie—and has forged friendships with everyone from Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona (another freshman lawmaker) and Newark mayor and potential Senate candidate Cory Booker (“She’s one of the leading voices in the party now,” says Booker) to Harold & Kumar actor and former White House liaison Kal Penn. The two men threw their weight behind Gabbard when she put herself forward in December to fill the Senate vacancy left by the death of Daniel Inouye. In the end, Hawaii’s governor passed her over for the nomination—but the move was a hint of her broader political ambitions.

For now, Gabbard, who is single, must content herself with the unglamorous life of a freshman House member: jetting ten hours and six time zones for district visits, splitting her time between her tiny apartment on Capitol Hill and her modest rental (a small unit behind another house) in Kailua. You’ll get nowhere asking if any of it wears on her. This is a woman who takes obvious pride in being a good soldier who approaches things with a blend of stoicism and hope.

“Before the campaign, some people asked me, ‘Why would you want to come to work in Congress at a time like this? Congress is the least-liked body in the country.’ But it’s at times like this that the hard work is necessary. People at home don’t care whether you’ve got a D or R in front of your name. They want you to get things done.”

In the 2014 elections, Tulsi kept her seat by obtaining 79% of the vote.

“More millennials are getting elected to Congress and state legislatures. There’s a shift in mentality with our generation. We want results. Earlier generations want to pay dues, bide their time, and wait 15 years to gain seniority before getting anything done. But my constituents hired me for two years. I’m going to do what I can and work with people who are like-minded.”

“In Washington, a bunch of us from both sides of the aisle meet every morning at 6:30 to work out. It’s led by a congressman who was a mixed martial artist. It’s important to see each other outside work and build relationships with people you don’t agree with so you can have candid conversations about the issues.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

During her entire tenure in Congress, it appears that Tulsi has often been at odds with the prevailing official Democratic Party policy on many issues and this is also reflected in her official stated political position on many subjects. So it seems that this is obviously a lady who marches to her own drum.

In the run-up to the recent presidential election, Tulsi encountered some difficulties due to the stances that she took. Firstly, she resigned her position as a vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee in February 2016 in order to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination and she was the first female Democratic Party member of Congress to endorse Sanders. At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, she gave the nominating speech putting his name forward.

Furthermore, in July 2016, Tulsi launched a petition to end the Democratic Party’s process of appointing superdelegates in the nomination process, and ran ads for the petition on Facebook.

So Ms Gabbard certainly has no qualms in challenging whatever she perceives to be wrong or not in the best interests of the American people.

We will investigate what her political stances are and what she has been up to recently, in a follow up article.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Winner of the “Funniest Story of the Month” award for April

Things in Europe have been a bit dismal of late, with not much around to lighten the heart and bring a chuckle to one’s lips. Therefore finding contenders for the Peter Smith’s “Funniest Story of the Month” competition has been a bit difficult, let alone being able to find something worthy of the award.

I used to be able to find an abundance of material in the mainstream media that met the criteria. However that avenue has recently dried up as the media has sunk to such levels of ridiculousness and stupidity that I would be embarrassed to admit that I even read their stories.

I follow the blogs of Pete North and Rob Slane who both write excellent articles with very particular styles that I always enjoy reading. Rob is not as prolific as Pete, whose articles also often contain some first class, dry humour. Rob seems to like writing witty articles that are, in fact, an incisive reflection and comment on the political stupidity that takes place around the world.

I am not a close follower of events in the USA. However, as you no doubt have noticed, the American electorate have just recently elected a clown as a president and he is now giving the other stand-up comedians in Brussels a bit of a run for their money. So it is hardly surprising that at least one funny story concerns this gentleman.

Rob’s most recent article just hits the jackpot.

Therefore, without further ado, I present to you the winner of the “Funniest Story of the Month” award for April.

Donald J. Swamp: How the Man Who Promised to Drain the Swamp Got Drained by the Swamp

by Rob Slane (7 April 2017)

“There were only three reasons that a rational person might have considered going out to vote for Donald J Swamp. The first was that he wasn’t the psychopath, Hillary Clinton. The second was that he looked to be the least likely of all the candidates to start a war with Russia and therefore WWIII. And the third was that he said he was going to “drain the swamp”. They were always very thin reasons. As I wrote back here and here:

“People have elected a loose cannon, and although I will hold my breath and give him a chance, nothing about his character, his temperament, not to mention some of the more stupid statements he has made, gives me much confidence that America in four years will be a whole lot better than the America of 2016.”

“Granted, one of the candidates appears, at least on the surface, to be marginally less likely to lead us to a global war than the other. Isn’t that a rational reason to vote for him? Possibly, until you consider that the “marginally-less-likely-to-lead-us-to-global-war-candidate” often appears to decide his foreign policy by the use of a roulette wheel, and so whether trusting in the wheel can be counted as rational is a moot point … The swamp that needs draining is far bigger than the one Mr Trump locates in D.C., and it will take national repentance, not another politician making grand promises, to achieve that.”

And so it has proved. Despite being elected on promises of discontinuing America’s heinous policies of regime change and fighting hegemonic wars in countries thousands of miles from its borders, Mr Swamp has now broken all of these promises. It is not yet clear whether these promises were always hollow, or whether he has simply caved in to enormous pressure from the neo-Trotskyist Deep State (laughably known as neo-“conservative” (what do they conserve?)).

My guess is that he really did believe it (his Tweets about not getting involved in Syria from before he announced his candidacy certainly suggest this), but thought that he could run the White House like he ran his business empire. My guess is that he was quickly shown that this would not be the case, and that he would either dance to the tune of the neo-Trots, or be deposed. My guess is he probably thinks he can appease them by taking his “tough’n’macho” action against a sovereign state — an action based on completely unproven claims about the use of chemical weapons and, I might add, an action that just happens to be hugely helpful to the Islamist fanatics who are trying to turn that poor country into a Salafist state.

If these guesses are correct, I’m sorry to have to spell it out to Mr Swamp, but he is greatly mistaken. The Trots cannot be pacified. They cannot be appeased. He is now under their total control and is the prisoner of whatever they want him to do. Any refusal on his part and they will destroy him.

But of course being a neo-Trotskyist puppet means that he has now lost a significant portion of his supporters who voted for him because they believed his promises to drain the swamp. By failing to stand up to the neo-Trots, he is now set to incur the displeasure not only of the liberal-left who despise him for other reasons, but also millions of his supporters who had given him their backing. He is now set to be the most unpopular President in history, and the calls for his impeachment will start coming from both sides.

The slim hope that those who voted for Mr Swamp had that he wasn’t a psychopath, that he might stop US warmongering around the globe, and that he would drain the swamp now lie in tatters after his vain, stupid, irrational, dangerous and unconstitutional rush to war to appease the Deep State. I doubt very much whether he will be President by the end of the year. The man who promised to drain the swamp has been drained by the swamp. Donald J. Swamp.”

Posted in Humourous and Serious | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Chalk and Cheese

As a follower of European affairs and particularly the unfolding events in Greece and the United Kingdom, some comments to an article that appeared in another blog that I follow, really caught my attention.

Klaus Kastner writes mostly about economic and political affairs in Greece. In his most recent article, the following comments were made by “Phoevos”:

“…..Troika’s hope was that Greece could return to markets and begin to replace existing low interest EU debt with market debt.

But Greece can’t even attempt the conversion because it makes no sense to replace low interest debt with debt that carries interest 5-6 times higher.

So whether you postpone, deffer or extend debt service is all about symantics because the effort to repay the debt (recycle with new debt) has already failed and will continue to fail in the future because the numbers involved are no longer manageable by a borrower with the size of Greece’s GDP.

So we are talking about a permanent memorandum condition for Greece which will lead to the total destruction of the greek political class and perhaps to a revolution by the people.”

So that’s a view-point about the situation of a country that wishes to remain a member of the European Union.

Well what about a view-point concerning the situation of a country that has decided to leave the European Union.

“Phoevos” sounds like he is a Greek and he obviously yearns for something better for his country. In his imagination, I guess that this is the sort of letter that he wishes he might receive from the Greek Prime Minister, announcing Greece’s departure from the EU:

“This is the personalized note I received from Teresa May:

Dear Phoevos:

Today we formally begin the process of leaving the European Union. This is a moment for our country to come together and to forge a new partnership with Europe and with the rest of the world.

Pledge your support for our Plan for Britain today.

When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the whole United Kingdom – young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between. And yes, those EU nationals who have made this country their home.

It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country.

For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can – and must – bring us together.

We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today. We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed. We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren. We all want to live in a truly Global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world.

These are the ambitions of this Government’s Plan for Britain. Ambitions that unite us, so that we are no longer defined by the vote we cast, but by our determination to make a success of the result.

We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future.

And, now that the decision has been made to leave the EU, it is time to come together.

So please show your support for our Plan for Britain today.

Thank you.

Theresa May
Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party”

The above letter may be imaginary, but the situation described in the letter is totally true.

[Opening paragraphs of UK PM’s letter to President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk]

The full letter is here.

I could not help but to give my congratulations to the British people on the announcement of the birth of their new nation (comments made in another blog) and pledge my solidarity:

“May I take this opportunity to salute all of you courageous citizens of the United Kingdom who, despite all of the odds, have taken this momentous step to take back total control of your country.

If only the people of Greece had found the same courage, maybe the situation in that country would have stabilized and a glimmer of hope might have begun to shine through.

Like so many of you, I have the same trepidation and anxiety about the road that lies ahead. But it will be no more difficult than what you have had to endure and overcome in the past. Mr Churchill would be proud of you.

And the lesson has been learned, albeit in the harshest way – do not ever again hitch your carriage to a team of donkeys.

To be the masters of your own destiny and to be in total control of your means and direction of travel is always going to be far more preferable than being passengers in a bus with a poor driver on a journey to nowhere.

Good luck, my friends.

More people than you realize are rooting for your success!”

Posted in EU & Euro | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Gosh, darn – the Yanks are showing us the way things should be done!

For those of you who don’t follow American affairs very closely, and I am one too (ha, ha, get the joke?), you can be excused for not picking up on a rather interesting trend that is rearing it head in US politics. Some would just call it “the rise of populism”, which seems also to be an increasing trend in European politics as well, if you are to believe the hype from our media.

There is nothing new about using terminology in an entirely novel sense without announcing the change, and thereby misleading readers. It happens every day. It is also no surprise if, being unable to explain a new phenomenon, people just give it a resounding name instead of presenting a theory or at least providing a description. This is what is happening with “populism” or “right-wing populism” and even “left-wing populism” – words used to depict states of affairs as old as the hills and, at the same time, as if it was a new phenomenon.

So is anyone with an anti-establishment rhetoric, no matter how convincing, a populist?

Does a stance opposing the political, economic and cultural “elites” automatically fall into the category of populism?

These questions are discussed in a paper titled “The Rise of Right-wing Populism in Europe and the United States – A Comparative Perspective” written by Thomas Greven, who is an associated professor of political science at Freie Universität Berlin. Here are some extracts from the paper, relevant to this post.

“The agrarian Populist (or People’s) Party in the 1890s in the US is at the origin of what we call populism today. The party challenged the established two party system with its critique of the moneyed interests and ended up merging with, and somewhat transforming, the Democratic Party. While the Democrats moved to the left, however, the US experienced a period of Republican dominance. Henceforth, many observers considered the US almost to be immune to populist challenges because the two major parties seemed capable to absorb them. The current experience of intra-party populism, embodied by the Tea Party movement and Donald Trump in the Republican party, and to a certain extent by Bernie Sanders in the Democratic party, puts this proposition to the test.

But what exactly is populism? And what distinguishes right-wing populism? While many parties sometimes use appeals to the people or claim to represent general interests versus the interests of a specific group, the occasional use of these strategies does not make a party populist. These strategies are often called populist simply to denounce them but are better described as opportunistic. At the same time, a consistent ideology or program is not the most important factor for a populist party’s essence or for its success. In terms of political positions (on most issues), populist parties are more flexible than programmatic parties. Populism’s central and permanent narrative is the juxtaposition of a (corrupt) “political class”, “elite” or “the establishment” and “the people” as whose sole authentic voice the populist party bills itself. Populists thus favor instruments of direct democracy.

Right-wing populism adds a second antagonism of “us versus them” to this constellation as well as a specific style of political communication. Firstly, based on a definition of the people as culturally homogenous, right-wing populists juxtapose its identity and common interests, with are considered to be based on common sense, with the identity and interests of “others”, usually minorities such as migrants, which are supposedly favored by the (corrupt) elites. Secondly, right-wing populists strategically and tactically use negativity in political communication. Tools range from the calculated break of supposed taboos and disrespect of formal and informal rules (e.g. political correctness) to emotional appeals and personal insults. Conspiracy theories and biologist or violent metaphors have a place. In line with the anti-pluralism of its conception of the people, right-wing populists refuse the give and take of political compromise and demand radical solutions (concerning their core issues).

While right-wing and left-wing populism can be distinguished, the concept of “populism” is not a useful category when trying to measure the extent of the radicalism or extremism of a political party or movement. That is to say that radical and extremist parties can all be populist. In fact, their political ideologies lend themselves to populism. This is clearly not the case for mainstream, catch-all parties. They are too diverse in terms of their support base, too pluralist in their political debate, too complex and rational in terms of the policies they propose – which is why it often backfires when they try the “simple solutions” of populism: it is not credible. While the essence of populism thus is not political ideology, it is more than a simply a style of politics: Populism is a particular style of politics that is intricately related to particular political ideologies.

Why then talk about “right-wing populism” and not radicalism or extremism? Today, in light of the Euro-crisis and the arrival of refugees, populism is working for right-wing radical and extremist parties, and mainstream parties have not been able to develop strategies to effectively counter this populism.

Right-wing populists are not necessarily extremists, and extremists are not necessarily populists. The latter, however, is very likely, as extremism lends itself to populism. The more ethno-centric the conception of “the people” is, the more xenophobic is the positioning against “the other”, and the clearer the desire to overthrow democratic governance is, the more likely it is that a right-wing populist party is also extremist. The extremism of many right-wing populist parties, but also their programmatic flexibility, is evident across Europe.

…..2.2 The peculiar case of the United States: Trumpism and the Tea Party

The American two party system with its winner-take all elections has been mostly immune to third party challenges, at least since today’s Republican party replaced the Whig Party in the 1860s. The Populist Party of the 1890s was absorbed into the Democratic Party. The historian Richard Hofstadter compared third party challenges to bees: once they have stung (the system), they quickly die. Still, as Donald Trump secures the Republican nomination for president, right-wing populism has taken hold in the US as well. Intra-party populism is not a new phenomenon; in fact, the Republican party has for decades more or less embraced tenets of the “us versus them” narrative: Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy successfully exploited the racism of southern whites, after Barry Goldwater tried and failed. Ronald Reagan demonized African-American welfare recipients to win northern suburban voters. George H.W. Bush did the same with African-American convicts, always playing on racist sentiments of white voters, and his son George W. Bush used people’s unease with gay marriage to win the 2004 election. This political opportunism did not make the Republican Party a populist party, however. First the rise of the rank and file Tea Party movement, embittered with the Obama presidency, alleged bail-outs of African-American and Latino debtors, the national debt, Obamacare, and the Republican establishment, and now the presumptive presidential nomination of Donald Trump, have profoundly changed the American political landscape in a populist fashion. [According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group count, the number of hate groups in the US increased sharply after Barack Obama’s election].

The Republican establishment, which has condoned the use of racism, nativism, demonization of the opponent in the past, is now merely hypocritical when professing to be “shocked” by statements of Donald Trump about wanting to deport eleven million illegal immigrants, to close US borders to all Muslims, and to build a wall on the US-Mexican border (for which Mexico would have to pay) to keep out once and for all “Mexican rapists and murderers”. By the same token, both the Republican and – to a lesser extent – the Democratic party are responsible for the transformation of American politics into a polarized battlefield. They have adopted policies that have made the life of many of the people who now support Trump, namely parts of the white (male) working class, increasingly difficult. Trump’s promises of easy solutions to complex problems, without any need for compromise or negotiation, are quite obviously only workable in a fantasy world, but they are appealing to a highly disaffected section of the American public, as are his constant challenges of the supposedly hegemonic “political correctness”. Former secretary of labor Robert Reich may go too far (for now) when he calls Donald Trump an “American fascist” but Trump does not simply have charisma, simple solutions, (and money), he has condoned the use of violence in politics, he operates a movement outside of political institutions, and he detests and evades independent media.”

Bernie Sanders has been known as a democratic socialist for decades, although not as member of the Democratic Party. In fact, when he entered into mainstream politics in 1980, Sanders opposed Democrats and Republicans alike. Then in 1990, Sanders was elected into Congress as an Independent where he served for 16 years. During his tenure, he often voted in support of positions taken by the Democratic Party. In 2006, he contested the Senate seat for Vermont and won, again as an Independent but with the strong support of the Democrats.

In 2015, Sanders became one of the Democratic Party 2016 US presidential candidates. During his campaign for the Party’s nomination, Sanders developed a massive public support for his message which was not always the traditional, liberal, Democratic one. Although Hillary Clinton was the Democratic Party’s favoured candidate, Sanders eventually became so popular with the people that the race for the nomination was closely contested until the very end. The Clinton faction were so concerned about Sanders popularity that they became desperate and employed some very underhand tactics, including colluding with certain mainstream newspapers and TV channels, in order to give Clinton an edge over Sanders. Ultimately, the overall effect of this skullduggery swung the Democratic Party’s nomination in favour of Clinton.

After being affiliated to various political parties for a number of years, Trump rejoined the Republican Party in 2012. In mid-2015 he announced that he would be one of the Republican Party 2016 US presidential candidates. In the campaign for the Party’s nomination, none of the other seventeen Republican candidates even came close to Trump’s triumph in the Primaries. This was despite him being at odds with many of the established members of the Republican Party and having his entire campaign constantly fraught with controversies. You could say that, ultimately, Trump successfully hijacked the Republican Party and all of its resources to snatch the presidency from the Democrats. And, in turn, I guess that many Republicans were quite happy with that turn of events, although they now face the task of trying to tame the beast or at least keep it under some control.

So, although the Democratic party was more successful than the Republicans to ensure that their more favoured candidate got nominated, the in-fighting and divisions created within both parties during this process was unprecedented. Out of three major presidential hopefuls, only one closely adhered to the traditional, accepted Party line. The other two were mavericks, and despite all the odds, one of them became president. Never in US history has something similar to this ever happened.

“The polls, data, punditry, and prognostications stated categorically that Trump would never win the presidency. After all, virtually every pundit on CNN assured voters Hillary Clinton would win the election. With every editorial and opinion piece in The New York Times endorsing Clinton, and with every CNN panelist laughing at Trump’s bizarre style of communication, the Frankenstein presidency grew stronger.

Donald Trump loves being the antagonist in a media slugfest, in the same manner professional wrestling needs a villain.

Trump is the foil to the overtly disingenuous and deceitful politicians of the world. No doubt, Trump is disingenuous and deceitful, but he doesn’t hide these traits; he’s completely honest with his faults, even proud of them. He won’t deny that he hates his enemies and loves his friends. Everything is either good, bad, or needs to become great again. Rather than focus on policy and report the facts, CNN and The New York Times reveled in their newfound toy. They wanted to bully Trump, the schoolyard bully, but in the process elevated the reality show star. In the end, the media bullies were kicked around by a stronger bully, who knew how to manipulate their hatred of him.

Trump was a cash cow to CNN and The New York Times and as they put their weight behind Clinton, the giants laughed at the orange billionaire with funny hair.  The two behemoths incessantly mocked Trump; prodding him to entertain viewers and readership with more Tweets and violent rallies.”

[extract from “CNN and The New York Times Created Trump. Now Trump is Banning Them” by published on Counter Propa]

Although Trump won the presidential election as Republican Party candidate, Trump was never the Party’s favorite. The list of notable Republicans and conservatives who opposed Trump is too long to list here. What probably upset them the most was that Trump took the Republican Party’s purest ideology and he gave it exposure, exalted it and made it plain and simple for the ordinary “person in the street”. In doing this, he made the old, traditional Republicans squirm with embarrassment to hear the less savory aspects of American conservatism laid bare before the world. Trump made few friends and many enemies in the Republican establishment but “the people” loved it. In fact, it often appeared that Trump was being deliberately controversial to gain the widest amount of exposure and get the attention of the people. He’s an individualist and he doesn’t follow orders. He’s the Boss and he will not let anyone forget it. Trump, the man himself and what he said and what he promised to do, resonated well with disgruntled, conservative Americans far more than the other more traditional Republican Party candidates.

And the people voted for him.

Now we can argue the toss endlessly about who got the most votes and whether the Russians meddled in the elections and who really should have been president. Needless to say, when all was said and done, Donald Trump, the arch-populist menace, was declared the winner. Of his being a potential menace there is no doubt. Did he use many populist tactics and positions to appeal to the voters? It often looked like this was the case.

But are Trump’s real political positions populist? Nope, I don’t think so. He proposes to alleviate unemployment by building roads and bridges. This is the way the Pyramids were built – was the Pharaoh a “populist”? I doubt it.

Even the experts are divided on this issue. In the end, the best they can come up is to create a new term for the new phenomenon – “Trumpism”.

But it is not really populism that I wish to discuss. I sense that something more profound than mere populism is occurring and it is starting to have a major affect on the political landscape, at least in the USA.

Since the 1980’s and up until recently when Bernie Sanders muscled his way into the Democratic Party hierarchy (see here for an excellent bio on Bernie), the Democrats have generally been able to avoid internal dissent, which has been remarkable since the Party is home to quite a large number of left-wing factions (such as the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the New Democrat Coalition, the Democratic Freedom Caucus and the Blue Dog Coalition). Post 2016, however, the Democrats have not yet been able to fully understand, or properly respond to or even embrace the “Sander’s Syndrome”.

For a long period up until about 2009, the Republicans have also been able to avoid internal dissent, whilst also being home to three main right-wing factions (the Conservative Wing, the Main Street Republicans and the Republican Liberty Caucus). However, in early 2009, the Tea Party movement was formed by conservative Republicans who were dissatisfied with the Republican Party’s performance in opposition to the Democrats during the 2008 presidential election, which was won by Barack Obama. This movement created a clear division within the Party for some years until the Tea Party ideals became largely integrated into the main core of the Republican Party. Now, with the arrival of Trump on the political scene, there has been a rekindling of internal division within the party, with the conservative faction in the ascendancy.

In the past, being a member of a particular political party but having stand-points different to your party was a sure guarantee of putting the brakes on a political career. Independent thinkers and mavericks were definitely not encouraged and much weight was placed on toeing the party line if you wanted to rise up the ranks in your Party. And championing the causes of the “common people” who gave you their votes, well that was just unheard of. Not to mention honesty, decency and plain, old, common sense. As long as the dissenters brought votes or money to the Party, these differences were played down or simply ignored.

But not anymore, it seems.

These days, political labels seem to have lost their traditional meanings and do no longer describe things like the way they used to. And to confuse things even further, the terms Republican or Democrat do not really describe the political positions and views of some of the politicians who bear those labels.

Prior to 1987, Trump supported the Democrats. Then in 1987, he joined the Republican Party. In 1999, Trump became one of the Reform Party’s nominees in the 2000 presidential election. The Reform Party was a political party founded by Ross Perot to challenge both the Republican & Democratic Parties. However, Trump withdrew from the race in 2000 due to irreconcilable differences with senior party officials. In 2001, Trump changed his party affiliation to Democratic and then, in 2009, Trump rejoined the Republican Party. For a period between 2011 and 2012, Trump claimed to have “no party affiliation” but in 2012 he again returned to the Republican Party.

Now if that has left you a bit confused, how about another, better example.

I have the honour of being responsible for introducing a relatively unknown US politician to the readers of my blog.

Of course you know immediately who I am referring to – Tulsi Gabbard.

Unlike some American politicians, Ms. Gabbard does not seem to like talking too much about who she is. Rather she prefers to spend more time talking about what she stands for and what she wishes to achieve. So her bio on her official website is a little sparse.

As a disinterested outsider, I have no such qualms or reservations. In fact, Tulsi Gabbard’s story is all the more remarkable if one digs a little deeper into her background.

And I’ve done a bit of digging – don’t miss my next post to discover what I found.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Left, Right, Left, Right – all you populists stay in step please!

Demonise the populists and the electorate become confused.

And when the electorate become confused, the elites stay in power.

In my first post about populism I used a very good article written by Cas Mudde, who is an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia (USA), to explain what populism is.

As we head into 2017, the political scene in Europe and the USA is set to be shaken up by the uncertainties and challenges that face our societies, compounded by the failure of our economic systems to benefit the majority of the people. Cas is concerned that radical political propaganda is blinding our judgement and the demise of traditional liberal ideology embodied in left-wing political parties is allowing radical conservatism to flourish. Thus the pressing need to defend “liberal democracy” is not being understood nor acted upon by “the people”.

by Cas Mudde [20 March 2017]

We have to talk about the P-word. It is truly everywhere these days. And everyone is using it: men, women, I even heard some children say it. I’m talking, of course, about populism. You can’t read an article about politics these days without it. Virtually any election or referendum is set up as a struggle between an emboldened populism and an embattled establishment. There is no room for anything else.

Don’t get me wrong, populism is a useful concept to understand contemporary politics in Europe, and far beyond, but only under two strict conditions. First, it must be clearly defined and, second, it should be applied as one of several concepts to understand politics. Unfortunately, this is not the case in most accounts of politics and populism today. The dominance of the populism lens makes it so we see both too much populism and too little non-populism.

Populism is used in many different ways, mostly devoid of any clear definition, instead broadly referring to irresponsible or untraditional politics, such as promising everything to everyone or speaking in a folksy way. Neither is specific to populism, and both are in fact rather widespread in political campaigning more generally. Instead, populism is best defined as the following:

An ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups ― “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite” ― and argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale or general will of the people.

Populism is both monist and moralist. Populists believe that all people share the same interests and values and that the key distinction between “the people” and “the elite” is moral, i.e. “pure” versus “corrupt.” They present politics as a struggle of all against one, one against all, which, ironically, is confirmed by the dominant media narrative of an emboldened populism versus an embattled establishment.

There is no doubt that populism is an important aspect of contemporary politics; populist parties are represented in most European parliaments and populist presidents and prime ministers rule in both European and American countries. But most of these parties and politicians are not just populists; they combine populism with other ideological features. Left populists combine populism with some form of socialism ― think Syriza in Greece or Chavismo in Venezuela ― while right populists primarily combine it with authoritarianism and nativism ― think U.S. President Donald Trump in America or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.

Before the rise of left populism, right populists would be discussed as “radical right” rather than “populists,” while a combination of the two, populist radical right (or, if you wish, radical right populism), is most appropriate. This is not just an academic matter, however. Because Western media tend to perceive the contemporary challenge to liberal democracy exclusively in terms of populism, they focus predominantly on anti-establishment sentiments by political outsiders. Hence, media outlets were quick to celebrate conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s victory of “good populism” over Geert Wilders’ “bad populism.”

What was missed, however, was that the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) with leader Rutte and Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) with leader Sybrand Buma conducted an increasingly authoritarian and nativist campaign. Both CDA and VVD presented themselves as defenders of “Christian” and “Dutch” values, including the singing of the national anthem and the racist tradition of Black Pete. VVD parliamentary leader Halbe Zijlstra even suggested Easter eggs were under threat from Islam and Muslims, assisted by secular, left-wing fellow travelers. And Rutte took it a step further by explicitly targeting immigrants and refugees in his “act normal” campaign, implying that even descendants of immigrants are at best probationary Dutch citizens.

But whereas most media saw too little in the Dutch elections, they saw too much in the British European Union referendum and the U.S. presidential elections. Both are now routinely hailed as populist victories, which is an exaggeration at best and a falsehood at worst. While the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP, played an important role in pushing the “Leave” camp over the 50 percent mark, the push for Brexit was always predominantly a Conservative endeavor. Hence, many Brits didn’t vote against some kind of “corrupt elite,” be it British or European, but rather for re-establishing national sovereignty, as they perceive it, in line with a significant part of the Tory elite.

Similarly, despite all the hype, the 2016 U.S. presidential elections were, first and foremost, just another presidential election, in which Republicans voted Republican and Democrats voted Democrat. It might be true that populism motivated some angry white working class men in the “American heartland” to turn out, which might have swung these states and thereby the whole election, but they constituted at best a tiny minority of the Republican electorate. The vast majority of people who voted for Trump did so for traditional Republican reasons like abortion, immigration, taxes, and, most notably, partisanship.

In short, it is time to put the populism frame back in its correct place. Yes, populism is an important feature of contemporary politics, but not all anti-establishment politics is populism and populist parties are not just about populism. In fact, to accurately understand politicians like Trump and Wilders, and the challenge they pose to liberal democracy, authoritarianism and nativism are at least as important as populism, if not more. Moreover, while established politicians mainly adopt populism in their campaign rhetoric, authoritarianism and nativism are actually implemented in their policies, as we can see in recent responses to the refugee crisis and terrorism, from the EU-Turkey deal to the state of emergency in France.

If we want to truly understand contemporary politics, and protect liberal democracy, it is time we focus on all aspects of the populist radical right challenge, including from inside the political establishment, not just on the populism of the outsiders. Because under the cover of fighting off the “populists,” the political establishment is slowly but steadily hollowing out the liberal democratic system.”

Over the past few years, the political situation in many European countries has become very unsettled. Indeed, in some of the countries, the rapid growth and popularity of previously unknown, small or new political parties has caught many people off-guard. Whether we are talking about Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece, Austria or Poland, the list is getting a bit too long for comfort. And it is taking the citizens a while to understand and embrace what is going on.

However, there is one country in Europe that has been spearheading a new type of European politics for a while now. After assuming office in 2010, Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, set about doing things differently in his country. Initially, many people dismissed Orban’s efforts in Hungary as a short-term political experiment that they thought would soon fizzle out. Indeed, even the EU leadership treated him like a maverick and often made fun of him in public.

Who can forget that memorable moment in May 2015 at the start of the EU summit in Riga, Latvia when the real clown of Europe, Jean-Claude Junker, announced to the Prime Minister of Latvia standing next to him, “the dictator is coming”, and raised his right hand in a quasi-Nazi salute. Junker then greeted Orban by calling him “dictator” to his face, shook his hand and then playfully slapped him in the face.

Now Orban is returning the favour – Hungary is giving the EU a bit of a slap around these days.

Joseph Larsen is a research fellow at the Caucasus Research Resource Centers in Tbilisi and graduate of Central European University in Budapest. He writes about politics in Eastern Europe and the United States. The following article was published on the website over two years ago but it has relevance to our discussion about populism.

Viktor Orban and the rise of the populist right…right?

by Joseph Larsen [3 December 2014]

Viktor Orban is a man who refuses to be ignored, whether one thinks him contemptible, incomprehensible, inspiring or visionary. The Hungarian Prime Minister is arguably Europe’s most charismatic head of government, the leader of a small nation which has, for better or worse, earned a place on the world stage.

Orban’s greatest achievement is his attaining status as a figure emblematic of contemporary European populism. Defined by the political theorist Margaret Canovan as involving “exaltation and appeal to the ‘people’” and by definition “anti-elitist,” populist movements are usually put into neatly self-contained boxes labeled “right-wing” (xenophobic, anti-intellectual elite) and “left-wing” (anti-market, anti-economic elite). But like European populists in general, Orban is neither of the right nor the left. He is the child of both.

Journalists and pundits, especially those on the left, have a tendency to label Orban as “right-wing” due to his open disavowal of liberalism and embrace of a vaguely-defined program he calls “illiberal democracy.” But characterizing Orban as a creature of the right obscures the fact that his rejection of liberalism is as much anti-market as it is nationalistic and socially conservative.

Orban and his Fidesz party fly the flag of the Right in proud colors, but since winning a parliamentary majority by a landslide in 2010 they have implemented a slew of statist economic policies: instituting one-off “crisis” levies on energy, telecommunications and banks (the last containing a nationalist component: three of the four largest banks operating in Hungary are foreign-owned), a tax on financial transactions, strict price controls on electricity, partial nationalizations of private companies such as MOL and Rába Automotive Holding, and the creation of a cartel with the exclusive right to sell tobacco products.

In 2011 Orban rejected the conditions of an IMF standby agreement, opting instead to employ “unorthodox economic policy” to raise the revenue necessary for meeting the state’s debt obligations. Not that there’s any inherent problem with snubbing the IMF, but such behavior certainly seems unbecoming of a “right-wing” leader. In a strange paradox, Fidesz and its Prime Minister are in reality farther to the left than the Hungarian Socialist Party. One can’t help but think that if Orban were the head of a post-colonial rather than European country, much of the Left would admire him for standing up to powerful business interests.

While Orban practices leftism in both word and deed, he has earned a label as a rightist due to his bellicose nationalist rhetoric; alienating the mainstream Left with his cautious flirtation with the Jobbik Party (a group called everything from “neo-fascist” to “anti-Semitic” to “xenophobic”), framing of himself as the protector of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania, and manipulation of national narratives for political ends.

The most visible example of the last is his vocal defense of a recently erected monument to commemorate victims of the German occupation of 1944-45. Orban called the monument “morally exact and immaculate,” but opposition leader Gordon Bajnai struck a more somber tone when he said that “the planned statue’s aim is not to face up to ourselves but to cover up the Hungarian state’s role in the Shoah.” Eager to construct a victim’s narrative of noble national sacrifice, Orban has never admitted that the Hungarian government forged an alliance with Nazi Germany in 1933. In short, Orban and Fidesz push the boundaries of both right and left, as do many populist politicians and parties in Europe.

Viewed through a simple left-right prism, Orban’s messy hodgepodge of contradictory positions and policies makes him an enigma. But when analyzed in the distinctly European context in which his politics are embedded, he makes a lot of sense. By definition ideal types don’t exist in reality, and political systems, parties and persons characterized as right- or left-wing are always in fact located somewhere on a continuum.

European nationalist parties are generally labeled as “right-wing,” but in many cases that designation should be qualified by admitting the presence of a strong but unacknowledged leftist bent in both rhetoric and policy. The majority of European populist parties are simultaneously right- and left-wing, rejecting both social and economic liberalism. The social and cultural stances of such parties as Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Gábor Vona’s Jobbik, and Geert Van Wilder’s Party of Freedom are right-wing, but each of these groups promotes an unequivocal, albeit unacknowledged, leftist economic program. It can be caricatured this way: socialism, but only for real Frenchmen, real Hungarians, and real Dutchmen. While the ostensible Left has performed poorly at the polls in both national and EU-level elections, leftism permeates the populism of parties even on the Right.

To speak bluntly but not hyperbolically, Europe’s right-wing populism smacks of a softened form of mid-century Fascism: intense nationalism wedded with a populist economic program. The moniker National Socialism thus remains a useful analytical tool for viewing European populism, not to equate contemporary populist parties with the German Nazi party, but to illuminate the significance of this very European melding of left and right.

Most populist parties view both social liberalism and free markets as grave threats to the security, unity and sanctity of the nation-state. Such a left-right ideological alliance had near-apocalyptic consequences during the first half of the 20th Century, but today its greatest threat lies in its capacity to undermine the process of European integration. Again, to highlight the fading relevance of the left-right spectrum, many of the “left-wing” parties which once posed the staunchest opposition to integration are now fighting the hardest to sustain it.

Analyzing populism in Europe can tell us much about respective social cleavages on either continent. Europeans are deeply divided on social issues, with the current political discourse dominated by tension between the modernistic vision of the European Union and the traditionalism of the nation-state. But Europeans of all political leanings and social strata tend to be distrustful of the free market. In America social cleavages are deeper, because they more neatly divide society into two camps; socially conservative nativists hostile to any real or perceived encroachment on the sanctity of the market, and social liberals clamoring for an American welfare state.

While European populism is pugnacious and occasionally violent, the political discourse somewhat ironically apportions a surprising amount of space for common ground. Only such an environment could have produced Viktor Orban, a man defined by right-wing tendencies but whose policies are irreconcilable with the theory and practice of the free market.

In a 21 August article in Foreign Policy, Amy Brouillette described Orban as having a “unique ability to read and respond to the public’s mood and political culture.” This statement could be expanded to characterize European populists in general. Whichever label they are given by journalists and intellectuals, populist parties prove that a bird flies best when able to flap with both wings.”

And it did not end there.

A few years later, Orban is still unwavering in his uncompromising stance to always place Hungary first in all matters. Furthermore, as explained previously, Orban has successfully harnessed support from both the left-wing and right-wing political spectra in his country.

In recent months, as we head into 2017, there has already been a fundamental shift in global politics. Positions and policies are moving in a different direction, changing in response to public outcry and voter dissatisfaction. The old guard are being taken to task.

And Viktor Orban is leading the charge here in Europe.

by Zoltán Kovács [16 January 2017]

In Europe, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been at the forefront of this revolution. Though initially he had to go it alone, the prime minister’s unwavering determination to protect the European Union through border reinforcements and strict border controls eventually has “changed the terms of the debate” in Europe about how to respond to the migration crisis. Once denounced as a rebellious populist, his approaches have proven successful, not just for Hungary but for the continent.

Having blazed a trail, the prime minister has opened the way for other leaders and voices to follow. One area in particular where he has been consistently outspoken is the need for a strong European Union of nation states that limit the power of unelected Eurocrats to dictate policy from Brussels. The year 2017 will be, according to PM Orbán, the year when the nation states of the EU rebel against Brussels, “sometimes openly, sometimes by stealth”.

Last Friday morning, during his regular, public radio interview, the prime minister predicted that we will see two major battles play out in this year of rebellion: one on the issue of migration, and the other on economic strategy. “We shall have to defend our sovereignty” on both fronts, he said.

“There will be a tough fight between the politics defending the self-interests of the European states and the centrist will of the European Union trying to take away more and more competencies. This will be the defining dramatic tension of the year 2017,” he said.

We can already see the signs. French presidential candidate François Fillon, who PM Orbán described as having “a program of rebellion”, has a fundamental dislike of European asylum policies and is pushing for change. The presidential election in the United States of America is another indicator.

President-elect Trump won in no small part because of his stance on immigration and his promise to bring industry back to the United States. The Trump Administration will have many differences from the outgoing one, the prime minister said. “The Obama administration was globalist; the incoming is not.”

PM Orbán said that the new administration will be bolder. They do not equivocate, do not over-complicate things, “and this, by the way, used to be a competitive advantage of the US.” In comparison, the new administration consists of self-made people, who, unlike the outgoing one, never talk about who they know, instead they talk of what they have achieved.

Although the changing global political agenda is important, PM Orbán is focused on how it impacts events here in Hungary.

The Orbán Government’s efforts to help business in the current economic climate have seen investment in Hungary increase. “Orbanomics” is paying off as businesses grow and Hungarians have started to spend again. Property prices are up, pension packages are better, healthcare and education are improving, and compared to six years ago, an average family with two children has an extra 360,000 HUF (approximately 1,170 EUR) to spend annually.

“Nothing succeeds like success,” PM Orbán said, borrowing from the English proverb.

For Hungary, rebellion is a fundamental part of the nation’s hard wiring, putting the interests of the Hungarian people before anything else. But interests in Brussels will not give up easily, according to the prime minister, meaning that “all of a sudden” we’ll see sentences appear in proposals that limit the government’s competencies. For example, in a proposal regarding the “Energy Union”, a sentence popped up that asserted that a national government will no longer be able to decide on the price of energy and, if put into effect, that would mean that Brussels would undermine Hungary’s government policy of cutting utility prices.

In the case of migration, Hungary has reintroduced alien detention for an indefinite period, which “goes against the principles of Brussels.” However, “every law that makes it easier to commit acts of terror should be changed” and the principle of allowing aliens to wander freely until their asylum case is decided upon creates a clear vulnerability.

On the issue of civil society and recent reports that the government is considering a new policy, PM Orbán said that NGOs based in Hungary must operate with transparency. “Hungarian citizens must be given the right to know about all public actors, who they are and who pays them. We have the right to know,” he said. “So, we want transparency.”

It’s clear where the prime minister stands amid these shifts in political trends. Where globalists continue to try to impose decisions that run counter to the interests of the Hungarian people, the prime minister remains a formidable opponent.”

And just to prove he means business, Orban has thrown down the gauntlet regarding Hungary’s position in the EU.

‘Self righteous’ EU BLASTED by Hungarian PM as he prepares for 2017 WAR with Brussels

by Zoie O’Brien [16 Febuary 2017]

Viktor Orbán, who stood against the EU in 2016 and allowed his country to vote on mandatory migrant quotas set in Brussels, has again fired a warning shot at Brussels.

The Hungarian leader addressed the nation on Friday, when he said history “took a sharp turn” in 2016.

Citizens of EU member states, according to Orbán, have been “silenced by political correctness”.

Brexit, the Hungarian referendum and the “ousting” of the Italian government all came about after voters “whose voices had not been heard” got the chance to stick it to Brussels, he said.

Slamming the union, he said people are tired of “being force-fed” utopian ideals.

What Orbán labelled as “revolts” took place when nations rebelled against globalists and the middle class rebelled against its political leaders.

Voters are at war with “Brussels bureaucrats” according to Orban who said “battle lines” have been drawn between sovereign countries and “unionists”.

The leader conceded the European Union appears to be prosperous – yet he insisted the future “casts a shadow on the present”.

Moves made in Hungry to defy the European Union have been frequent.

Most recently the country became the first to erect a razor wire fence and cut off the journey of migrants into Europe – beginning a domino effect which saw the suspension of the Schengen zone.

The Hungarian referendum result in April 2016 was overwhelming with 98 per cent voting to say “no” to migrant quotas.

…..But the history goes deeper.

Orbán said his country was “perhaps the first to revolt, in 2010”, with its decision to “send home” the International Monetary Fund, taxing multinational corporations and cutting household utility fees.

He said Hungary’s main task in 2017 would be defending itself against five major “attacks” including Brussels’ plan to force Hungary to roll back its public utility fee cuts scheme, and migration.

Orbán wants to be able to stop migrants from moving around the country freely until their asylum applications have been ruled on.

The prime minister, who has huge support in his country, also said Hungary had “finally managed” to overcome its “culture of self-pity” and adopt a “culture of action”.

Posted in EU & Euro | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Populism: it’s really all about restoring our democracy

I don’t know about you, but I think that this whole populism thing is now starting to make some sense to me.

If we continue on from the previous post, we now know the origin and background of the term and how the whole concept and ideology of populism has been hijacked by our ruling elites and turned against us. In this endevour they have also been aided by the actions of the extreme right-wing and extreme left-wing political parties, who have promoted their agendas on populist platforms.

By knowing and understanding the weaknesses in the system, we can counter the effects.

Chantal Mouffe is a Belgian political theorist and professor at the University of Westminster. She has been visiting professor at several European, Latin American and US universities. As an author, she has written a number of books and is globally known for “Hegemony and Socialist Strategy – Towards a radicalization of democracy”, which she co-authored with Ernesto Laclau.

The following two articles are excellent explanations of where we should go from here and highlight the challenges that face “the people” and our politicians, alike. The content has a strong academic tone and is a bit heavy-going at times. But if you make it to the end, you will be rewarded with new insights into the subject.

The populist moment

by Chantal Mouffe [21 November 2016]

We are experiencing a ‘populist moment’ in Europe today. This is a turning point for our democracies, whose future depends on the response to this challenge. To address this situation, it is essential to discard the simplistic vision of the media, presenting populism as mere demagogy, and adopt an analytical perspective. I propose to follow Ernesto Laclau, who defines populism as a way to construct the political by establishing a political frontier that divides society into two camps, appealing to the mobilization of the ‘underdog’ against ‘those in power’.

Populism is not an ideology or a political regime, and cannot be attributed to a specific programmatic content. It is compatible with different forms of government. It is a way of doing politics which can take various forms, depending on the periods and the places. It emerges when one aims at building a new subject of collective action – the people – capable of reconfiguring a social order lived as unfair.

Examined from this standpoint, Europe’s recent success of populist forms of politics is the expression of a crisis of liberal-democratic politics. This is due to the convergence of several phenomena that, in recent years, have affected the conditions in which democracy is exercised. The first phenomenon is what I have proposed to call ‘post-politics’, referring to the blurring of political frontiers between right and left. It was the result of the consensus established between the parties of the center-right and center-left on the idea that there was no alternative to neo-liberal globalization. Under the imperative of ‘modernization’, they accepted diktats of globalized financial capitalism and the limits it imposed on state intervention and public policies. The role of parliaments and institutions that allow citizens to influence policy decisions was drastically reduced. The notion that represented the heart of the democratic ideal: the power of people was abandoned. Today, talking about “democracy” is only to refer to the existence of elections and the defense of human rights.

This evolution, far from being a progress towards a more mature society, as it is said sometimes, undermines the very foundations of our Western model of democracy, usually designated as ‘liberal democracy’. That model was the result of the articulation between two traditions. The first one is the liberal tradition of the rule of law, separation of powers and the affirmation of individual freedom. And the second one is the democratic tradition of equality and popular sovereignty. To be sure, these two political logics are ultimately irreconcilable, since there will always be a tension between the principles of freedom and equality. But that tension is constitutive of our democratic model because it guarantees pluralism.

Throughout European history, it has been negotiated through an ‘agonistic’ struggle between the ‘right’, which favors freedom, and the ‘left’, which emphasizes equality. As the left/right frontier became more and more blurred due to the reduction of democracy to its liberal dimension, the space disappeared where that agonistic confrontation between adversaries could take place, and today the democratic aspiration can no longer find channels of expression within the traditional political framework. The ‘demos’, the sovereign people, has been declared a ‘zombie’ category and this is why we now live in ‘post-democratic’ societies.

These changes at the political level took place within the context of a new ‘neo-liberal’ hegemonic formulation, characterized by a form of regulation of capitalism in which the role of financial capital is central. We have seen an exponential increase in inequality not only affecting the working-class, but also a great part of the middle-class who have entered a process of pauperization and precarization. One can therefore speak of a true phenomenon of ‘oligarchization’ of our societies.

In those conditions of social and political crisis, a variety of populist movements has emerged rejecting post-politics and post-democracy. They claim to give back to the people the voice that has been confiscated by the elites. Regardless of the problematic forms that some of these movements may take, it is important to recognize that they are the expression of legitimate democratic aspirations. Nonetheless, the people can be constructed in very different ways and the problem is that not all are going towards a progressive direction. In several European countries, this aspiration to regain sovereignty has been captured by right-wing populist parties that have managed to construct the people through a xenophobic discourse that excludes immigrants, considered as a threat to national prosperity. These parties are constructing a people whose voice calls for a democracy aimed at exclusively defending the interests of those considered ‘true nationals’. The only way to prevent the emergence of such parties and to oppose those that already exist is through the construction of another people, promoting a progressive populist movement that is receptive to those democratic aspirations and orientates them toward a defense of equality and social justice.

It is the absence of a narrative able to offer a different vocabulary to formulate these democratic demands which explains that right-wing populism has an echo in increasingly numerous social sectors. It is urgent to realize that in order to fight this kind of populism, moral condemnation and demonization of their supporters does not work. This strategy is completely counterproductive because it reinforces the anti-establishment feelings of the popular classes. Instead of disqualifying their demands, they must be formulated in a progressive way, defining the adversary as the configuration of forces that strengthen and promote the neo-liberal project. What is at stake is the constitution of a collective will that establishes a synergy between the multiplicity of social movements and political forces and whose objective is the deepening of democracy. Given that numerous social sectors suffer the effects of financialized capitalism, there is a potential for this collective will to have a transversal character that exceeds the right / left distinction as traditionally configured. To live up to the challenge that the populist moment represents for the future of democracy what is needed is a politics that reestablishes the agonistic tension between the liberal logic and the democratic logic. Despite what it is sometimes argued, it can be done without endangering the basic democratic institutions. Conceived in a progressive way, populism, far from being a perversion of democracy, constitutes the most adequate political force to recover it and expand it in today’s Europe.”

by Chantal Mouffe [21 November 2016]

Posted in EU & Euro | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Democracy Alert – Radical populists seize the initiative!

On 15th March 2017, Wayne Swan, who is currently the Australian Labor Party member of parliament for the Federal Division of Lilley in Brisbane, gave a speech at an Adelaide university. Swan was a former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party from 2010 to 2013 and Treasurer of Australia from 2007 to 2013.

The speech was titled “Beyond the GFC: Foundations for Prosperity and Inclusion

“A quarter-century ago Western liberal democracy was riding high: communism had collapsed, Europe was uniting; and a new global economic consensus led by the United States had been established.

This New Consensus dictated that free markets — uninhibited by government regulation, lower taxes and reliance on monetary policy to fine tune an economy — would deliver sustained economic growth and rising living standards and that the wealth created at the top would trickle-down.

For some time the New Consensus seemed to work – liberalised international trade helped power a strongly growing global economy.

But concealed by the strong global economy and a new age of consumerism, dangerous undercurrents were emerging in the developed world including: technological displacement, aging populations, and growing income and wealth inequality.

Finally in 2007-08 the Global Financial Crisis catalysed the Great Recession – an economic tsunami that exposed the dangerous undercurrents which had been submerged.

The new post-GFC global economy was characterised by failed austerity programs, anemic economic growth, persistently high unemployment, low and even negative interest rates, and even greater wealth and income disparity.

It’s clear an almighty economic and social cloud has formed over the developed world from what I call politically inspired inequality.

And this cloud now threatens the very political stability of the developed world.

To this point, global economic leadership from bodies like the G20 and domestic political leadership have been woefully impotent in meeting the challenges posed by these trends.

In the United States in particular, this failure of leadership has allowed radical populists to seize the initiative.

As Presidential candidates, Trump and Sanders were the poster boys for anti-establishment movements.

While this story has some way to run, it seems undeniable we are witnessing the most significant shift in the tectonic plates yet of the European-American political and economic order.

And more aftershocks are on the way……”

What caught my eye in Swan’s speech was the statement that “in the United States in particular, this failure of leadership has allowed radical populists to seize the initiative” and that Trump was a “poster boy for [an] anti-establishment movement[s]”.


A very experienced politician calls Donald Trump, the President of the United States, a radical populist. Well now, let’s just ponder this for a moment. How did this come about? Can Trump be considered to be a populist? And anyway, what is a populist?

I have to say that this growing trend of politicians and the media referring to “the rise of populism” in Europe and the USA, has not gone unnoticed by me. And to understand what is really going on, I thought that it would be good idea to take a closer look at what populism is.

I doubt that I would be wrong to say that many people do not know what the term populism really means or where it originated from. And for that I would excuse them because the real meaning has been steadily twisted and obscured by politicians and the media alike. Furthermore, the term “populist’ has almost become a meaningless word after being applied to all sorts of political movements, which have little in common with each other except that they all challenge Establishment political parties.

The word populist first appeared in America in the 1890s with the founding of the Populist Party, which stood for the interests of the farmers against the big-money interests. In later years, populism came to be associated with the blue-collar class in the cities as well.

The ideology of populism is often hard to grasp. It sometimes has a religious tendency; it usually isn’t very interested in international affairs; it has sometimes been unfriendly to immigrants and blacks; and it’s usually anti-intellectual. So populism often switches between liberal and conservative ideologies. But the populist style always associates its concern with people with average incomes as opposed to the rich and powerful. So the term “elitist” would be used to describe one who is the opposite of a populist and this is where the complications begin.

The Oxford dictionary defines a populist as “a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a populist as “a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people” and “a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people”. Now that sounds all very reasonable. But perhaps the word “claiming” in the second definition above gives the game away a little, especially in respect of unscrupulous politicians.

To start with, let’s have a look where and how the tag “populism” is being applied these days:

Populism in Europe: a primer

by Cas Mudde [associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia (USA)]

Already in 2010, a good five years before a populist coalition government would be formed in Greece, the then EU President Herman van Rompuy called populism “the greatest danger for Europe” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 9 April 2010). Since then, many establishment voices have done the same, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the editors of the New York Times. What all warnings have in common is that they (1) come from people in power; (2) are vague on the exact meaning of populism; and (3) claim that populism is (omni)present in European politics.

Historically, populism has been a marginal political phenomenon in Europe, unlike in the Americas (North and South). In recent years populist parties of the left and right have gained electoral successes throughout Europe, although their effects on European politics have so far remained fairly limited.

What populism is (not)

Populism is a buzzword in the media around the world. There is virtually not a politician who has not been labeled populist at one time. In fact, accused would be a better term, as most people use populism is a Kampfbegriff to defame a political opponent. Few politicians self-identify as populist. Those who do usually first redefine the term in a way that is closer to the popular use of democracy than of populism.

In the public debate, populism is mostly used to denounce a form of politics that uses (a combination of) demagogy, charismatic leadership, or a Stammtisch (pub) discourse. None of the three are accurate understandings of populism. While some populists might promise everything to everyone (i.e. demagogy) or speak a simple, even vulgar, language (i.e. Stammtisch discourse), many do not. More importantly, many non-populist populists also do this, particularly during election campaigns. Similarly, while some successful populists are charismatic leaders, some are not, and many successful non-populists are also considered charismatic.

Instead, populism is best defined as

a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ and ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté general (general will) of the people.

This means that populism is a particular view on how society is and should be structured, but it addresses only a limited part of the larger political agenda. For example, it says little about the ideal economic or political system that a (populist) state should have. Its essential features are: morality and monism.

The key point is that populism sees both groups as essentially homogeneous, i.e. without fundamental internal divisions, and considers the essence of the division between the two groups to be moral. Consequently, its main opposites are elitism and pluralism. Elitism sees the same major division, but considers the elite to be pure and the people as corrupt. Pluralism has a fundamentally different worldview than both elitism and populism, seeing society as divided into several groups with different interests and favoring a politics based on consensus between these groups.

Contrary to what defenders and opponents may claim, populism is neither the essence nor the negation of democracy. To put it simply, populism is pro-democracy, but anti-liberal democracy. It supports popular sovereignty and majority rule, but rejects pluralism and minority rights. In the European context, populism can be seen as an illiberal democratic answer to problems created by an undemocratic liberalism. Criticizing the decade-old trend to depoliticize controversial issues by placing them outside of the national democratic (i.e. electoral) realm, by transferring them to supranational institutions like the European Union or to (neo-)liberal institutions like courts and central banks, populists call for the re-politicization of issues like European integration, gay rights, or immigration.

A final point to note is that populism is neither right nor left; or, perhaps better, populism can be found on both the left and the right. This is not exactly the same as saying that populism is like a “chameleon,” as it is not necessarily the same populist actor who changes colors. Populism rarely exists in a pure form, in the sense that most populist actors combine it with another ideology. This so-called host ideology, which tends to be very stable, is either left or right. Generally, left populists will combine populism with some interpretation of socialism, while right populists will combine it with some form of nationalism. Today populism is more on the left in Southern Europe and more on the right in Northern Europe.

[extract from Populism in Europe: a primer by Cas Mudde]

Understanding populism now becomes even more complicated because the article above suggests that the original, simple definition needs some serious qualification. My original understanding would have been that every single democratically elected politician could be described as a populist because they would, in all likelihood, represent the common people in the majority. However, we not encouraged to look at the subject in this way.

Perhaps if we consider the rise and development of populism in Europe, we can start to understand why so many people seemed to have got this negative idea about it.

Populism in Europe

Although populism has a long history in Europe, it has always been a marginal political phenomenon. It emerged for the first time in Russia in the late-19th century. The so-called Narodniki were a relatively small group of urban elites who unsuccessfully tried to stir a peasant revolt. While unsuccessful in Russia, Nardoniki did have a strong influence in Eastern Europe, where several agrarian populist parties existed in the early 20th century. Most of these groups had little political influence in the largely authoritarian states of that period. And while both communism and fascism used populist rhetoric, particularly during the movement stage, both ideologies and regimes were essentially elitist.

Post-war Europe saw very little populism until the 1990s. There was Poujadism in France in the late-1950s, the Danish and Norwegian Progress Parties in the 1970s, and PASOK in the 1980s, but all these movements were largely sui genesis rather than part of a broader populist moment. This changed with the rise of the populist radical right in the late 1980s. Although the oldest parties of this group, like the National Front (FN) in France and the Flemish Bloc (now Flemish Interest, VB) in Belgium, started out as elitist parties, they soon embraced a populist platform with slogans like “We Say What You Think” and “The Voice of the People.” In recent years a new left populism has also emerged in some countries, particularly in Southern Europe.

When we are focusing only on the (minority of) European countries where populism is a major political phenomenon, there are four important conclusions to draw. First, in five countries a populist party is the biggest political party – Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, and Switzerland. Second, populist parties gained a majority of votes in three countries – Hungary, Italy, and Slovakia. However, in at least two of these countries the main populist parties are strongly opposed to collaboration. The situation in Hungary is most striking, as both its main governmental party (Fidesz) and its main opposition party (Jobbik) is populist. Third, populist parties are currently in the national government in seven countries – Finland, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Norway, Slovakia, and Switzerland. Greece is unique in that it has a populist coalition government of a left and a right populist party. Fourth, and final, in six countries a populist party is part of the established political parties – Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Switzerland. This is important to note, as populism is normally associated exclusively with challenger parties and deemed incapable of establishing itself in a political system. Yet, while populist parties have to be extra careful not to be considered part of ‘the elite’, populists like former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi and current Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán have been successful at retaining their cleverly constructed ‘outsider’ status in power.

Why is populism successful (now)?

Given the immense academic interest in the phenomenon of populism one would assume that we have a good understanding of why populist parties are successful and, even more specific, under which circumstances they rise and decline. This is not the case. Most analyses of European populism focus almost exclusively on one type of populist parties, notably the populist radical right, and particularly its non-populist aspects. However, immigration has little explanatory power for populist parties in countries that have little immigration (like Hungary and Poland) or for populist parties that don’t oppose immigration (such as Podemos or SYRIZA). At the same time, the most popular theories are often too broad and vague. While crisis and globalization have some relationship to the rise of populism, globalization is related to everything and crisis is usually undefined and simply used whenever a populist party becomes successful (making the ‘theory’ tautological). The following four reasons are also quite broad, and to a certain extent vague, but indicate some important factors that address both the demand-side and supply-side of populist politics.

First, large parts of the European electorates believe that important issues are not (adequately) addressed by the political elites. This relates to issues like European integration and immigration, on which established parties have long been unwilling to campaign, as well as socio-economic issues like unemployment and welfare state reform, particularly in light of the current economic crisis. While it seems fair to argue that political elites have indeed been less forthcoming and successful in addressing important issues, and to a larger extent than in previous periods (i.e. before the 1990s), what is more important to note is that large parts of the European populations have come to perceive this as a major problem. This has created widespread political dissatisfaction, which is a fertile breeding ground for populist parties, but also for other anti-establishment parties, such as Ciudadanos (Citizens) in Spain.

Second, national political elites are increasingly perceived as being “all the same.” Again, the perception is more important than the reality, although the two are not unrelated. While commentators have decried the so-called “end of ideology” since the late 1960s, there is little doubt that the situation today is much more extreme. Responding to the structural transformation of European societies as a consequence of the “post-industrial revolution,” including the decline of the working class and secularization, the main established parties have moderated their ideologies and converged strongly on both socio-cultural and socio-economic issues. The emergence of the “neue Mitte” (new center) and “Third Way” on the center-left, which by and large transformed social democratic parties into center-right parties targeting the same voters as the Christian democratic and conservative-liberal parties, alienated a large part of the remaining working class and left more ideological voters of both left and right without a political voice.

Third, more and more people see the national politically elites as essentially “powerless”. Again, perception and reality are closely linked, even if many people will necessarily be accurately informed. In the past decades European elites have engaged in one of the most amazing transfers of power from the national to the supranational. Rarely have politicians so happily marginalized themselves. Of particular importance was the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which has taken many important issues out of the national democratic realm and transferred them to the much less democratic EU sphere. This was, of course, most notably the case for the countries that joined the Eurozone, which no longer control their own currency or monetary policy. At the same time, the process of “cognitive mobilization” has made the European people better educated and more independent, and consequently more critical and less deferential toward the political elites. Getting mixed messages from the political elites, who claim to be powerless in the case of unpopular policies (“the results of the EU/globalization/US”) but in full control in the case of popular policies (“my successful economic policies”), European populations feel confident to judge their politicians to be incompetent or even deceitful.

Fourth, the media structure has become much more favorable to political challengers. Until at least the 1980s the established parties controlled most of the important media in Europe, be it party-owned newspapers or state radio and television controlled by parties-appointed boards. While active censorship was rare, most journalists self-censored stories that challenged the interests and values of the political mainstream. Consequently, critique of immigration or European integration was long marginalized, while major corruption, particularly involving elites from several established parties, was left uncovered. This is no longer possible in a world dominated by party-independent, private media and an uncontrollable Internet. Not only do all stories and voices find an outlet, populist stories and voices are particularly attractive to a media dominated by an economic logic. After all, scandals and controversy sell!

Finally, while the previous four factors have created a fertile breeding ground and favorable ‘discursive opportunity structure’ for populists, the success of populist parties like the FN or SYRIZA is also related to the fact that populist actors have become much more “attractive” to voters (and media). Almost all successful populist parties have skillful people at the top, including media-savvy leaders like Beppe Grillo (M5S), Pablo Iglesias (Podemos), or Geert Wilders (PVV). They can not only hold their own in political debates with leaders of established parties, but they are often much more adept at exploiting the huge potential of new resources, such as social media. For example, for years Wilders dominated the Dutch political debate purely through Twitter. Just one well-constructed tweet would be picked up by journalists, who would then force established politicians to respond, and thereby helped Wilders set the political agenda and frame the political debate.

[extract from Populism in Europe: a primer by Cas Mudde]

So there we have it.   Now we know what populism is.   Or do we?

“In the European context, as we all know, the label ‘populist’ is indiscriminately utilized to describe a vast variety of policies, politicians, parties or rhetorical styles. What this multiplicity of phenomena is supposed to share is revealed by the ‘enlightened’ gaze of the scholar or the public commentator: ‘populism’ is most often treated as a democratic malaise, as a virulent social disease threatening European democracy. It is supposed to invariably involve an irrational Manichean view of society that mesmerizes the ‘immature’ masses, releasing uncontrolled social passions and thereby threatening to tear society apart.

In this prevailing view we find a real ‘trap’ for the political scientist – as well as for every citizen for that matter….the temptation to oversimplify, to essentialize, or even hypostasize the object of analysis, to treat it as one and homogenous, as coherent, as a speaking and acting ‘it’.

Ironically enough this type of anti-populist critique is usually articulated in a very populist and Manichean manner: through the drawing of strict dichotomies, evident both in academia, journalism and politics. Such dichotomies include: ‘Democracy vs. Populism’, ‘Pluralism vs. Populism’ or even ‘Europe vs. Populism’. This last one is of particular interest, given our geographical location and the force with which it has been articulated by people like Herman Van Rompuy and Manuel Barroso.

Indeed, post-war Europe seemed to incarnate all the virtues of pluralism and the European Union was initially hailed as an innovative political experiment advancing democratic values, respect for otherness, tolerance, the welfare state, moderation, and so forth. Anybody opposing this project had to be an authoritarian/totalitarian enemy of democracy. Thus, when so-called ‘right-wing populists’ gained momentum from the late 1980s onwards, the representation that dominated the field was that of a clash between Europe, conceived of as intrinsically democratic, moderate, benign, and Populism, conceived of as inherently undemocratic, extreme and malignant.

This representation seemed persuasive to the extent that anti-European extreme right-wing forces were indeed predominantly anti-democratic (although the widening democratic deficit in European Union decision-making started providing them with an indirect democratic aura). However, to the extent that the crisis is transforming almost everything around us, is this representation still valid? Simply put, which ‘Europe’ and which ‘Populism’ can one observe in our crisis-ridden landscape? And how are we to judge their effects on democracy?

…..Can this Europe still claim to be rational and democratic? Only if one favours an unreflexive ‘rationality’ without reason and an oligarchic ‘democracy’ without the demos. Radical change is surely needed, but can this be conceived, decided and implemented without the involvement and consent of the people? Can the European project be reinvigorated without further involving the masses of the people in our common project?

The problem here is that whoever does that, whoever utilizes in her/his discourse the forgotten symbolic resource of ‘the people’, is bound to be accused as an ‘irresponsible populist’ or a ‘demagogue’ and to be demonized as an irrational enemy of democracy and the European project. This is the case even if we are talking about political forces that have nothing to do with the extreme right; even, that is to say, if we are dealing with inclusionary populism and not with the exclusionary dystopias of so-called ‘right-wing populists’”.

[extract from – “Populism, anti-populism and European democracy: a view from the South” by Giorgos Katsambekis and Yannis Stavrakakis published on]

We are expected to accept that “the people” appear to suffer from some deficiency that makes them a liability in the democratic process. What democracy really means is the availability of choice and the freedom to exercise that choice. And while the governing elite has increasingly borrowed populist rhetoric from the extreme right to win elections, it has also used the growth of populism to discredit the concept of “the people” and redefine the meaning of democracy.

I think that there is a lot of obfuscation being used to deliberately keep us off balance. But I refuse to give up so easily. I’ll let you know as soon as I have made more progress with my investigation.

Posted in EU & Euro | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Religious freedom and other radical ideas!

How about this for a radical idea – “Peace, Unity, Tolerance and Religious Freedom”.

We’ve tried all of this before“, I hear you say, “and it didn’t work then either“.

Well, perhaps you didn’t do it the right way. Perhaps, you just heard the words and missed the real meaning. Perhaps you should have had a bit more courage and tenacity and you shouldn’t have given up so easily.

Today, on this “International Day of Happiness“, I am honoured to be able to bring to you a positive message, a message full of inspiration and hope.

Amidst that political and social catastrophe we call the United States of America, a lone voice of sense and reason is starting to be heard loudly in the hallowed halls of power.

Betrayed by the idiots who call themselves politicians, now the people are awakening to the gentle call of “aloha” and they want to hear more.

Continue reading

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment