The Future: America vs. Eurasia

Europe and China could change the course of History as Trump’s America First policies move America to the sidelines…Here’s the opening of my new article, just published on Impakter:

Bosphorus Bridge (Turkey) linking Europe to Asia – PHOTO JORGE1767


How will the future play out? Will Europe follow America’s example and sink into nationalist populism that will inevitably tear apart the European Union and open the way to Trump’s divide-and-conquer America First strategy? Will America’s trade war with China escalate in a real war that could go global as Trump’s stranglehold on world trade tightens further? I believe there is hope that neither will happen. Instead, we might witness something utterly different and much more likely: the rise of Eurasia.

Two events these days are early signs of such a shift for anyone who cares to look. One just took place in Paris at the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I organized by French President Macron. The other, thousands of miles away in Singapore, is the ASEAN Summit, from 11 to 15 November where a major new trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that for the first time included China, was on the agenda.

The trip was a diplomatic disaster for Trump. He started on the wrong foot even before leaving for Paris. On 9 November, Trump, misunderstanding a Macron statement about the formation of a “true European army”, sent an insulting tweet:

The misunderstanding was soon clarified: Macron had referred to the announced U.S. withdrawal from the I.N.F. nuclear arms treaty with Russia as a reason for establishing an independent army, not that the U.S. was an enemy. Macron in a speech welcoming 84 world leaders to the celebration on November 11, made another statement that shook Trump who considers himself a nationalist:

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying: ‘Our interest first. Who cares about the others?’ I do defend my country. I do believe that we have a strong identity. But I’m a strong believer in cooperation between the different peoples, and I’m a strong believer of the fact that this cooperation is good for everybody.”

From the ashes of the two World Wars came hope, he said. “This hope is called the European Union, a union freely entered into, never before seen in history, a union that has freed us of our civil wars”. Trump appeared “grim” and clapped only tepidly afterward. Significantly he missed the opening of a 3-day conference, the Paris Peace Forum that followed the ceremony to discuss how to strengthen multilateralism.

The next day, on 13 November, Trump took again to Twitter in a series of five aggressive tweets, astonishingly rude and misinformed, including this one:

Not the way to treat the leader of an American allied country. He forgets (or doesn’t know) that his own approval rating in France is abysmal (around 9%).  Macron was forced to respond. France, a historic ally, is “not a vassal state” he said in an interview on French TV: “At every moment of our history, we were allies, so between allies, respect is due. I don’t think the French expect me to respond to tweets but to continue this important history.”

Now that Angela Merkel is on her way out and Brexit is wobbling to its pell-mell conclusion – barring a last-minute legal reversal or a political crisis – there is no doubt that Macron is emerging as the main defender of a United States of Europe. A Europe increasingly under assault by Trump’s America First policies.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Euroasian continent, in Singapore, RCEP is the second major trade deal under discussion since Trump ditched the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January 2017. A serious political blunder considering that the goal of the TPP in the Obama administration’s intention, had been to exclude China. In March 2018, the situation had been reversed and it was America that was isolated: the remaining TPP members (including Canada and Australia) signed the first major Pacific trade agreement, keeping the original TPP content largely intact but renaming it the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – to take effect soon, on 30 December 2018.

Brookings Institute experts see the new RCEP as something much bigger, “an optimistic answer to populist and protectionist trends around the globe”.

Massive, the new RCEP brings together 16 countries covering 3.6 billion people for a total GDP of some $25 trillion, exceeding that of the United States. The point is that it brings China in for the first time, together with India, Japan and South Korea. It builds on commitments already taken in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Not without difficulty of course. Of the 21 chapters of the treaty, so far agreement was obtained on only seven.

RCEP negotiations are expected to be completed only at the next ASEAN summit in Thailand in 2019. Predictably, problems range from India’s fear of being overrun with products from China, Korea and Japan to Trump’s trade wars, making some countries anxious of “losing” the American market.

How Likely is Eurasia to Replace America as World Leader?

Euroasia: A little used term for a vast continent that extends from Cape Dezhnev (Russia) in the East to the Monchique Islet (Portugal) in the West to Dana Island (Indonesia) in the South. A new geo-political entity that is not yet born. The road is rocky but if it emerges, it will be the largest ever, encompassing two-thirds of the world population.

Find out! Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under politics

Trump’s Hold on International Trade and Finance

Just published on Impakter:

The midterms handed the House to the Democrats but not the Senate, despite receiving some 12 million votes more than Republicans in Senate races. As a result, Trump’s ability to pursue his conservative agenda is largely crippled. But where he can count on the backing of the Senate, Trump retains full power, including the ability to nominate judges and pursue foreign policy. His hold on international trade and finance, notably through sanctions and tariffs, remains intact. With potentially devastating consequences.

The trade war on China is not about to stop but that is only the most visible part of the Trumpian iceberg. There are, as this article will show, other, more discreet elements buried under the surface, such as America’s grip over SWIFT, the payments transfer system universally used by banks everywhere.

Packing the Federal Court System with Conservative Judges

We all know how Trump packed the Supreme Court with two conservative judges, most recently with Brett Kavanaugh, a highly controversial figure. What is less well known is how Trump is also “packing” the Federal court system. As of 4 November, the Senate has confirmed 29 judges for the United States Courts of Appeals, 53 judges for the United States District Courts, all nominated by Trump. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, Trump has successfully appointed more federal appeals court judges at the same point in his tenure than Barack Obama and George W. Bush combined:

Source: Pew Research Center. (Screenshot; note data stops at July 12, 2018 and does not include the second Supreme Court appointment made by Trump)

Expect many more nominations over the next two years. Here however I am taking a close look at foreign policy, and in particular the area that has traditionally underpinned American “soft power”: international trade and finance.

Bending World Trade and Finance to the America First Agenda

Trump has now carte blanche to reshape the rules-based world trade system to serve his America First agenda – and this is something that should deeply worry America’s allies and foes alike.

This week-end Trump is in Paris for a meeting of world leaders, invited by French President Macron to celebrate the centenary of the end of World War I. A meeting that includes Putin and that is poignantly far away from the trip taken 100 years ago by President Wilson, his idealistic predecessor, bent on rebuilding the world. The reverse of Trump’s goal which is to take it apart. And he will not stop there. Trump is scheduled to attend in November the G20 meeting (China will be there). Expect fireworks.

Will Trump change his confrontational approach to American allies, especially Europeans? Not likely. So far, he has loudly pulled out of numerous treaties (the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Asia and the equivalent treaty with Europe, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran nuclear agreement). Recently he has announced he will abandon the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed with Russia by Reagan; he threatens sanctions against the International Criminal Court and is pulling out of an 144 year-old postal treaty as part of his fight against China. He has repeatedly cheered Brexit, attacked NATO partners and declared that the “European Union is a foe”.

At the heart of Trump’s “art of the deal” are bullying tactics, plain and simple. And in a perverse way, they make sense.

The Strategy Behind Trump’s Bullying: Divide to Rule

Consider the world that we lived in until the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Do let me know what you think! 

Leave a comment

Filed under politics

Trump’s Midterms Strategy: Fear and Anger

Just published on Impakter, here’s the opening:

Previous articles about why populism is dangerous have addressed the issue of austerity (here), the public health crisis (here),  the false “migrant crisis” (here), and the propensity for war (here). This article explores Trump’s midterms strategy to drive voters to the ballot on November 6: stoking up fear and anger with fabricated crises and false solutions.

The 6 November midterm elections are seen by many as a referendum on how American citizens are ranking Trump’s performance as President. Democrats are favored to win the House and Republicans the Senate.

Surprisingly, even though the economic news are favorable, with 55% of Americans rating current economic conditions as excellent or good, the political climate is not correspondingly as good for Republicans and Trump, the latest Gallup poll shows.

Congress’ 21% job approval rating is 10 points below the average since 1974 and similar to approval ratings in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Trump’s approval rating at 40% is well below the 52% average at midterms since 1974 and is one of the lowest ever for a president prior to a midterm election.

With such results, it is not surprising that Trump has pulled all the populist stops at his disposal:  fake news, fabricated crises, false solutions. All designed to fuel emotions, stoking fear and anger to push voters to the polls. Even famous memes are used, like the Stark family motto of HBO’s Game of Thrones “Winter is coming”, to announce the reimposition of sanctions on Iran. They will take effect on Monday 5 November, the day before the elections. To make sure everyone would notice, Trump exceptionally took the trouble of pinning the tweet at the top of his thread:

This caused a storm on Twitter and HBO did not appreciate the use of its intellectual property for political purposes.

No matter that this stokes divisions. That the country is increasingly polarized. That people die while praying in a synagogue. That the public postal system is used to send pipe bombs. For Trump, it’s collateral damage of little import. The point is to win.

This is the populist strategy for maximum voter turnout: as a populist, you may hold a minority of the voters but your hold on them is stronger because they are emotionally pumped up. It’s not a question of pushing the “undecided vote” as analysts have traditionally called it; it’s a question of pushing those who already support you to actually go to the voting booths. You don’t need to convince them (that’s done). What you need to do is fire them up so that they will make the effort to vote.

Trump’s Fear and Anger Strategy

Trump is in campaign combat mode. The language on race and gender is strident, the  anti-immigrant message oppressive.

The rest on Impakter, click here to read. Let me know what you think, I love to hear from you! 

2 Comments

Filed under politics, Uncategorized

Why Populism is Dangerous: The Propensity for War

My latest article just published on Impakter:

Populism is dangerous and has shown overtime an irresistible propensity for war. Public safety, health and the economy are at risk. But populist propaganda is hard to resist. Populist politicians thrive on fake news: it is so much easier to fuel people’s emotions if you feed them fabricated news of imaginary crises. And if you divert their attention from real economic problems with the irresistible lure of national identity politics and blaming foreigners.

Previous articles have addressed the issue of austerity (here), the public health crisis (here) and the false “migrant crisis” (here). Here we take a look at populism’s propensity for war. Historically, populist leaders have been warmongers, Hitler first among them, for waging war across national borders and Pol Pot within borders. Nowadays, exhibit A is Putin’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, diverting Russians’ attention from a deepening recession. Exhibit B is Trump’s rising militarism that has just jumped to the next level with John Bolton’s visit to Moscow this week to tell Putin the U.S. will withdraw from the I.N.F. Treaty.

Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, has no doubts: A new nuclear arms race has begun, he writes in an opinion piece for the New York Times. He should know what he’s talking about. He is the man who signed with President Reagan in 1987 the I.N.F. treaty, one of the major arms non-proliferation treaties. For Europe, it is the most important since it aims at eliminating the arsenal of intermediate and shorter-range missiles.

Back then, Gorbachev was at the helm of a dying Soviet Union shaken by the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he, more than anyone, believed in a new age of peace and international cooperation. He famously talked of a “Common European Home” and hoped to bring Russia inside Europe as an equal partner.

That did not happen and the rise of Putin put paid to those hopes.

In that article, Gorbachev reminds us that the I.N.F. treaty was followed by two more important ones, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (a.k.a. Start 1, signed in 1991 by George H.W. Bush) and the New Start Treaty (2010 signed by Obama). By 2015, The US and Russia were able to report at the United Nations Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference that 85% of the arms had been retired and mostly destroyed.

An amazing success that Trump, another Republican President, is about to reverse. 

Predictably, Russia is accused of violations, the standard way to break off treaties. And yet, the Republican party was not always the party of the military-industrial complex, a notion another Republican President warned America against: It was Eisenhower, in his farewell address in 1961, who identified the threat and famously coined that phrase.

In the Trump era of America First, it’s hard to remember that just three decades ago, in the 1980s, there were politicians who had genuine liberal, progressive ideas – even in the Soviet Union that after 70 years of dictatorship looked like a hopeless case. Especially in the Soviet Union which, as events showed with Gorbachev’s Perestroika, was ready for a dramatic change, putting its Communist past and the Cold War in the dustbin of History.

Now, History’s dustbin is about to be emptied on the world stage, bringing the Cold War back. Firebrand John Bolton, Trump’s National Security adviser (appointed last April) is having his moment of glory.

A former U.S.Ambassador to the United Nations (under Bush), Bolton has always hated international treaties in general and the United Nations in particular. His fondest memory, he recalls in his 2007 memoir, was to pull the U.S. out of the International Criminal Court treaty. No matter the Court presented no particular danger to American sovereignty and that it was a major step forward for international law and justice. Bolton is an uncompromising hawk. For him the world is a jungle, justice is for sissies and the U.S. needs to be top dog.

Now he is pushing Trump to withdraw from all international treaties – including further blocking the ICC and even moving out of some minor treaties like the Universal Postal Union, a 144 year-old postal treaty run by the United Nations, accusing it of letting China ship goods at an unfair discount. That was done last week.

The fact that the ICC, as per its mandate, cannot prosecute any American without the consent of an American court is not mentioned by John Bolton or anyone in the Trump administration. They all prefer to present the ICC as illegitimate and a threat to American sovereignty. They do not accept the simple fact that the ICC is a UN body and therefore not illegitimate; and that it is never a threat to a country that respects international law and justice. And America used to be a paladin of justice but with populists in power, that has changed. Trump’s priority now is moving out of nuclear arms treaties – and that fits in nicely with his military build-up strategy.

Let’s tick off the ways Trump has gone about re-militarizing the U.S.:

  1. Pumping up the defense budget to a historic high of $717 billion, even though America has always spent more than the rest of the world combined on military expenditures; of special note: $21.9 billion for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons programs that includes research and testing;
  2. Getting out of the 2015 deal to limit Iran’s nuclear activities;
  3. And now systematically pulling out of all remaining non-proliferation arms deals.

To be fair to Trump, the U.S. had already pulled out of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. That was done by the Bush administration without a good explanation, much to the dismay of the Federation of American Scientists, an association created in 1945 by the scientists who built the first atomic bomb. Their 2001 letter of protest to Congress ended with the following words that apply equally well to all the treaties that Trump is seeking to undo:

“America has always sought to lead the world by example. Yet if other countries were to follow the example we have just set, the framework of international law would disintegrate. President Bush has just released NMDs first shot, and it has landed squarely in the heart of American security.”

Bolton’s trip this week in Russia was clearly intended to lay the ground to kill off the I.N.F. arms treaty, much to Putin’s barely concealed amusement. Watch him smile:

...(video)

See the video (it’s fun to watch) and read the rest on Impakter, click here.

2 Comments

Filed under politics

Why Populism is Dangerous: The False Migrant Crisis and The Real One

My latest article in the “Populism is Dangerous” series, just published on Impakter:

In the photo: Migrants: Germany to accept 50 rescued migrants after Italy’s plea July 15, 2018 Source:Reuters article

Populism is dangerous and puts public health and the economy at risk. But it is hard to resist. Populist politicians thrive on fake news: it is so much easier to fuel people’s emotions if you feed them fabricated news of imaginary crises. Particularly the so-called “migrant crisis”.

Italy is a harbinger of things to come in liberal democracies. It is where political change often happens first. The largest communist party in Europe outside the Soviet Union was in Italy; yet it was the first to go after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Berlusconi, a showy media tycoon who came to power in 1994 was a proto-Trump.

Previous articles have addressed the issue of austerity (here) and the public health crisis (here). Now we look at the false “migrant crisis” fabricated by populists. Yet  there is a real migrant crisis caused by the lack of assimilation of migrants already in Europe. Because the issue is not correctly diagnosed, no European country, or for that matter the U.S., has yet developed a set of policies to address it – with the exception of Sweden with its pro-active labor policies and Italy with its “Riace model”.

There is a migrant crisis for sure, but it’s not the one described by populists.

Exhibit ABrexit. The UK voted to leave the European Union, panicked by the imagined threat of a migrant invasion and is now facing economic disaster.


In the photo: Brexit poster used by UKIP  

Exhibit B: Trump, with his assault on migrants and Muslims. In view of the midterm elections, he’s upped the ante in an exceptional op-ed he wrote for USA Today on 12 October and a few days later, he re-opened his “caravan” scare on Twitter.

In the photo: Note how they move from right to left, just as in the UKIP Brexit poster, but there are children here.  These are Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., during a leg of their travel in Chiquimula , Guatemala October 16, 2018.  Source: REUTERS/Edgard Carrido Reuters article and video

In a string of tweets, he threatened to cut off funding to the countries from where immigrants fled (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) and demanded that Mexico put a stop to it. If it can’t, he announced he would use the military to shut the southern border. The most striking tweet is this one:

It encapsulates his favorite accusation against the opposition (“All Democrats fault for weak laws!”) but it puts forward an astonishing new notion: His trade wars, he says, are less important to him, even the newly achieved NAFTA that now goes by the name USMCA, U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (it still awaits ratification). That’s remarkable, considering that he could claim USMCA as an achievement.

Like any good populist strategy, such technical considerations are set aside: the point is to divert public attention to fabricated issues – like “caravans” – that readily stir up emotions. Nothing is better than the true and tried recipe of evoking migrant invasions – just as was done by Brexit supporters. By comparison, trade is profoundly dull.  To whip emotions to a frenzy, there’s nothing like spreading fake news:  “A lot of money has been passing to people to come up to try and get to the border by Election Day,” Trump declared, without any evidence for this.

He immediately got support from the Republican party. U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said U.S. border security was a key election issue: “We have to secure that border once and for all,” he told Fox News in an interview.

The False Migrant Crisis

Trump tweets of “criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in”, a vivid, scary image. But how bad is it really to allow migrants to enter the country?

Historically, America has been a beacon for migrants because of its “values”. Which is exactly what Europe also offers. And Italy in particular, a Catholic country that hosts the Leader of the Universal Church, the Pope.  What values are they exactly? A respect for human rights and human dignity. And for political refugees in particular, the protection provided by the 1951 Refugee Convention that sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of host countries.

However that welcoming environment changed in Italy well before the populists came to power in March 2018, as this PBS video makes clear:

The ground was laid out for the arrival of the populists. What we need to realize is that the austerity policies imposed on Europe since the Greek debt crisis exploded in 2010 are the root cause of the problem.

Countries that are impoverished by austerity policies  – Greece lost half its GDP, Italy is stagnant and its youth suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe  – are easy prey to populist anti-immigration policies. Blaming foreigners for one’s woes is far easier and more satisfactory than trying to sort out the problem and come to a constructive solution.

Europeans have very negative views of migrants, and the countries with the most negative views (for example, Hungary) are those that close their borders, build walls and refuse to cooperate with European Union members:

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Comments Off on Why Populism is Dangerous: The False Migrant Crisis and The Real One

Filed under politics

Going, going, gone…Banksy Self-Destructs and Shakes the Art World

Last Friday night, at Sotheby’s contemporary art auction, Banksy, the famous rebel street artist, made History.

Sotheby’s had already scored with a remarkable sale, a Jenny Saville painting, Propped, going for over £9.5 million ($12.4 million). This was a record for a living female artist and a victory for all female artists whose work, compared to their male colleagues, is regularly undervalued by the market. Propped is a self-portrait by the artist and it is often seen as a message to empower women because of the quotation from a feminist French critic scribbled across the canvas (written in reverse, hence only legible when viewed in a mirror):

In the photo: Propped, by Jenny Saville. Source: Sotheby

 

At the close of the session, Banksy’s iconic Girl with Balloon, which had been estimated at £300,000, soared to an unprecedented €1.04 million ($1.4 million).

In the photo: Girl with Balloon by Banksy , in its heavy gilded frame shown at Sotheby’s  Source: Sotheby

 

The hammer went down and people got up to leave. An alarm unexpectedly sounded and Banksy’s painting, still attached to the wall, started to self-destruct.  A shredder, hidden in its heavy gilded frame, whirred and gobbled up the painting, shredding the little girl into long vertical strips and sparing only the heart-shaped balloon:

 

Banksy immediately commented on Instagram(he’s not on Facebook or Twitter), much to his fans’ delight, “Going, going, gone…”

But there’s more to that incredible story. Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Featured Image Source: Sotheby.

Comments Off on Going, going, gone…Banksy Self-Destructs and Shakes the Art World

Filed under art

Trump vs. Macron at the United Nations

This 2018 session of the UN General Assembly gave us a special show: Trump vs. Macron. I just published an article about this, here’s the opening:

The fight between US President Trump and French President Macron at the United Nations General Assembly hit headlines around the world. It was a classic clash of values, openness and multilateralism promoted by Macron vs. unilateral nationalism, the “doctrine of patriotism” touted by Trump. Here are the highlights:

But the real differences in the style of the two leaders exploded at the UN Security Council on 26 September, this year exceptionally chaired by Trump.

He started with a long speech that was singularly devoid of specifics but included an unexpected attack on China, accusing the Chinese to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections – unexpected because it was totally off-topic, the agenda of that particular UN Security Council being the question of nuclear proliferation and how to address it (including the question of Iran and the sanctions the US are placing on anyone trading or investing in Iran). Here is Trump’s long-winded, meandering opening of the Security Council session:

See the rest on Impakter, click here.

Comments Off on Trump vs. Macron at the United Nations

Filed under politics

“Fear”: Why Bob Woodward’s New Book is a Bombshell

A key question is raging around Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear: Trump in the White House”, published by Simon & Schuster on September 11:

Did Bob Woodward wildly exaggerate and fabricate findings or is the Trump White House, and more importantly, the president himself, wildly dysfunctional?

An answer in partisan mode is no answer at all. Here, as a friendly outside observer (disclosure: I am European), I will try to clear up the issue.

The book, in a sober style, convincingly depicts an administration in the midst of a “nervous breakdown”, with aides running to contain damage. He reports this unforgettable comment from Reince Priebus: “When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody. That’s what happens.”

Among the revealing anecdotes:

  • Gary D. Cohn, former Goldman Sachs President then working for Trump as Chief Economic Adviser, removes a letter from Trump’s desk in the Oval Office to stop him from signing it – a letter that authorized withdrawal from the trade agreement with South Korea; Cohn said afterwards that he did it “for the country”, as the trade agreement vitally underpins US-South Korea cooperation, a pillar of US policy to contain North Korea;
  • Chief of Staff Kelly exploding in a meeting:  “We’re in crazytown, I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had”;
  • an exasperated Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, after a discussion with Trump last January about the nuclear standoff with North Korea, tells colleagues “the president acted like — and had the understanding of — a ‘fifth or sixth grader.’”

This particular depiction of Trump’s White House found an unexpected echo –  really a confirmation – in the anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times just a few days before Woodward’s book came out, with the striking title: “I’m Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”. It is from a White House senior official and there are many theories as to who did it. The latest from  Ann Coulter claiming Jared Kushner did it. But at the time of writing, still no one really knows.

What is most unsettling about Trump is not so much his level of understanding about issues, bad as it is, but his systematic misperception of reality.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Comments Off on “Fear”: Why Bob Woodward’s New Book is a Bombshell

Filed under Literature, non-fiction, politics

War on Migrants: Is Europe the Loser?

Just published this article about the (depressing) results of Swedish elections – once again, the extreme neo-nazi right has scored a win – and here’s why we should worry. The article opens on the results of the elections and goes on to explore the consequences for  liberal democracies in Europe and America:

This Sunday 9 September, all eyes were on Sweden, where elections for a new parliament were taking place and where populists, playing on widespread and rising hostility to migrants, seemed set to win a decisive victory. And they did. Almost one in five Swedish people voted for the Swedish Democrats (SD), the neo-nazi, anti-immigration party, giving it 17.6% of the votes:

Why has Sweden become the battlefield to watch? One of the world’s richest economies, it has drawn proportionately more migrants than most countries in Europe, along with Germany, when in 2015 Chancellor Merkel famously opened the doors to a “million immigrants”. And, in spite of an excellent “model” for integrating migrants in its economy  and statistical “proof” that migrants have contributed actively to the rise in Swedish GNP – more about this below – people in Sweden have nevertheless been drawn to the siren songs of the populists. Just as they have in America, with Trump’s fight against immigration.

While the anti-immigration SD did not gain the 20 to 25 percent predicted by some polls before the elections, it is still a sizeable win that spells gridlock in Swedish politics.

Though early news indicate that the Swedish system of two blocks (left and right, each with around 40% of the votes) that has dominated Swedish politics over decades could be coming to an end. The outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Lovfen indicated that he would keep governing and would open to the center-right block. His party the Social Democrats, while losing some ground (it’s the worst result since 1908) still came out first at 28.3%. The problem is that the center-right leader Ulf Kristersson strongly feels he should be the one forming the new government.

Can this gridlock be resolved by the SD? The SD leader Jimmie Åkesson sees himself as a kingmaker. But other parties see him as definitely dangerous and don’t want to talk to him. Small wonder: SD has proposed a “Swexit” referendum to take Sweden out of the European Union and has vowed to end Sweden’s asylum policies.

The SD’s policies resonate in Swedish society, shaken by the flows of migrants that have strained housing, health care and welfare services. Public services came under pressure in 2015 when 163,000 asylum seekers were let in, proportionately the highest number in Europe in relation to the population. And the SD call resonates particularly in rural areas where industries and public services have been cut back. The party has repeatedly tried to link a rise in violence to immigrants, although official figures show no link.

In the photo: Comment made by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage on LBC radio on Monday 20 February, when he discussed the recent comments by US President Donald Trump about terrorism in SwedenSourceBBC

Malmo, in spite of Nigel Farage’s claims, is not the rape capital of Europe. Rate of reported rapes are high in Sweden because of the way Swedish law is applied; but the rate in Malmo, and other urban centers, has not dramatically risen in recent years and has in fact declined from its peak in 2010, before the recent large increases in refugees. In short, there is not way to link

But the problem is bigger than Sweden. While such a win certainly signals another tightening of the screw on migrant inflows, more importantly, it threatens Europe’s future and the liberal values it stands for. In short, it marks a further rise in xenophobic populism.

Xenophobia is Back in Europe

It is back in Europe with a vengeance. Because that is the right term for this type of populism, rooted in the hatred of the other. The term, derived from Greek, has deep roots in History. Indeed, the ancient Greeks were the first to give it a name. They called foreigners with the derogatory term “barbarian” and saw them as only fit to be slaves.

This formula – ascribing a rise in violence and a decrease in public services to immigrants –  is exactly the policy of all populists across Europe, from Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski to Hungary’s Viktor Orban – spurred on by Steve Bannon who’s working hard to pull together all the European populists for a big win at the elections for the European Parliament in May 2019.

The populists’ aim is simple enough: kick the foreigners out. They won’t hear of managing the situation and integrating whoever can prove that they are able to work and contribute to national wealth. Integration is a dirty word, something they won’t even discuss.

The Swedish elections are a litmus test for liberal, democratic values, a test that is causing fear across Europe and should equally worry Americans. Because a strong win for populists in Sweden does two things:

  1. Confirm Trump and populist leaders like him around the world and not only in Europe, that populism rooted in anti-migrant sentiments is a winning card and that they should keep playing it;
  2. Lead to a rise in euro-skepticism and nationalism across Europe – or what used to be called chauvinism because you cannot grace this new phenomenon with the hallowed term of patriotism (although they do – but populists are masters at manipulating people’s emotions with the “right words” and spreading fake news).

The term “migrants wars” is bandied about as if flows of migrants were still on the rise, while they have in fact sharply fallen since the high in 2015. And that is the biggest piece of fake news that populists bank on.

A quick look at the facts is needed to dispel any doubts that migrant flows are rising.

The Migrant Crisis that Doesn’t Exist

Consider this diagram showing immigrants arrivals to Europe in 2018 (UN data)…

Read the rest on Impakter, click here

Comments Off on War on Migrants: Is Europe the Loser?

Filed under politics

Pope Francis under Attack

My latest on Impakter Magazine, published Friday 31 August and updated today 3 September, here’s the opening:

Allegations of sexual abuse cover-up have lately become the weapon of choice to attack the Catholic Church and Pope Francis. The problem with this weapon is that it too often relies on largely unfounded assumptions, of the “he says, she says” variety. The sexual abuse is, of course, very real and deeply shocking. But the cover-up in every case? Not so much. And in any case, cover-up is always hard to prove.

This is precisely what Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a top Vatican diplomat, former Nuncio in America, did in an 11-page long letter of accusations: He accused the Pope and several cardinals and bishops of cover-up of sexual abuse. The problem is that Viganò’s allegations are unverified.

When it was published on August 26 in the National Catholic Register and other media, it was a bombshell that shook the Catholic community not just in the United States but across the world. The letter was intentionally designed to be as scandalous as possible, citing bishops and cardinals by name, zeroing in on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in particular. And, shockingly,  concluding with a call for the Pope’s resignation:

“In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal Church, he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.”(p.11 of his letter – in bold and underlined in the original)

The Pope did not dignify his accuser of an answer. On the plane back from Ireland, he told reporters, “I will not say a single word about this, I believe the statement speaks for itself.”

The latest news from Italy is that the Pope is saddened (“amareggiato”) by the accusations but is not remotely thinking of resigning. McCarrick’s replacement in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, immediately found himself in the eye of the storm.

So what happened, has Viganò’s letter unleashed a storm in a teacup?

Not quite a teacup. Many people wondered why Viganò hadn’t published his letter before. The answer is that it was timed to inflict maximum damage to the Pope’s image, coming out a week after the Pennsylvania grand jury report:

And the Pope was traveling back from Ireland when Vigano’s letter hit the news. The visit had not been easy. The trip to Ireland was seen as hugely symbolic as Ireland, once a bastion of the Catholic Church, has now abandoned the Church’s teachings by legalizing divorce and same-sex marriage and lifting a ban on abortion. This was a country where 90 percent used to attend Sunday mass, now thirty percent do.

People had expected him to announce new measures to protect children. They were disappointed. The Pope was apologetic and repeatedly offered his commiseration. But for many, that was not enough. They wanted action from the Church, not words. Yet, the Pope in his last speech publicly acknowledged the crimes:

If Viganò’s aim was to amp the pressure on the Pope, he certainly succeeded.

It is also clear that Viganò’s attack on the Pope is part of a broader conservative strategy to discredit Francis.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Let me know what you think. Whether you are a Catholic or not, I think it’s important news. This is an attack against a Pope who stands for moral values that conservatives these days are strangely lacking. The Pope is a paladin of social justice, defending immigrants and the poor. And he is calling on all of us to fight climate change and environmental degradation. In fact, he defends the whole planet and everyone on it!   

2 Comments

Filed under politics, Religion