12 Sep

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


This week, the veteran senator pulled ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa – mirroring Jeremy Corbyn’s unlikely success in the UK. But a ‘democratic socialist’ couldn’t really beat the establishment frontunner, could he?

Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire september 2015.

‘There is a political rupture in this country. Bernie is giving voice to a yearning that is out there’ … Sanders in New Hampshire this week. Photograph: Rick Friedman/Corbis

“Press 1 for revolution,” urge the hosts of a teleconference call for 17,000 union activists as they seek to sign up more volunteers for a leftwing insurgency.

Pundits scoff at their naivety, but opinion polls show the leader of this revolution – a grouchy socialist with unkempt white hair and a disdain for media niceties – pulling ahead of more-polished establishment rivals in the race to lead his party.

This grizzled veteran is proving a surprise hit on university campuses and social media, blending old-fashioned rallies with an online buzz that compensates for his lack of support from the party machinery.

Such a scenario might seem little more than a fantasy in an era of focus groups and political triangulation, but the remarkable fact is that this is the situation currently faced by parties on both sides of the Atlantic, in two countries with the most avowedly capitalist economies on the planet.

The revolutionary hosting this particular conference call on Wednesday night was not Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, but Bernie Sanders – his 74-year-old political doppelgänger from Vermont, who is seeking to become the Democratic party’s nominee for the US presidential election in 2016.

In many ways, Senator Sanders looks even more of a long shot than Corbyn. Though his politics are significantly less radical, he is seeking election in a country where what he describes as his “democratic socialism” is barely comprehended, let alone tolerated, by the political establishment.

His populist prescription might not raise that many eyebrows in Europe, with its calls for universal healthcare purchased by the state, publicly funded elections, free higher education, more protectionist trade policies and a redistributive tax system that raises money for job-creating infrastructure projects, but it represents a dramatic departure from the consensus in Washington. Furthermore, Sanders’ decision to eschew large campaign donations and rail against the power of Wall Street places him at a major disadvantage in a political system where successful presidential candidates are now expected to raise upwards of $1bn to stand a chance……………………….


The refugee crisis, though long in the news, has suddenly captured the world’s attention. But what are the underlying causes, and what should individuals and governments do to help? Ali Smith, Mary Beard, Orhan Pamuk and Pankaj Mishra and others give their view

Refugees from Syria pray after arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos aboard an inflatable dinghy across the Aegean Sea from Turkey. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

Refugees from Syria pray on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean from Turkey in an inflatable dinghy. Photograph: AFP/Getty Image

Pankaj Mishra

“History,” Emil Cioran once wrote, “is irony on the move.” It speeded up dramatically last week as Germany emerged as the moral conscience of Europe 70 years after the defeat of nazism. Its vanquishers then have now been reduced to describing the victims of war and persecution as a “swarm”, and vowing, in a worn imperial reflex, to bring “peace and stability” to the Middle East through more violence. Meanwhile, Hungary, which in 1989 precipitated the fall of communism and now hosts a major fascist and antisemitic movement, proclaimed its desire to keep Europe Christian.

What an extraordinary reversal of reputations and historical verdicts this is. But then it is hard to measure history’s velocity, direction and tone if it is treated as no more than a stimulus to nationalist onanism. Take for instance, the solemn headlines last week (“Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since 1945”), which betrayed an acute amnesia about events both after and before 1945. For the refugee, far from being a faceless habitué of the Levant, is the central figure of modern European history, both defining and exposing the limits of national sovereignty.

Nationalism, or what Rabindranath Tagore called “organised selfishness”, unleashed the world’s first mass phenomenon of refugees in the early 20th century. The collapse of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires rendered millions of people stateless: White Russians; Armenians; Bulgarians; Greeks; Germans; Hungarians and Romanians. In 1938, nearly half a million republicans fled the Spanish civil war to France, which was then expelling hundreds of thousands of Algerians and Poles. Systemic antisemitism had degraded Jews to second-class citizenship well before the rise of nazism, notably in Hungary, Europe’s doughty defender today against Muslim hordes. Hitler’s ascent forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to flee Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Many then found their escape routes blocked by west European and American antisemitism. “What is it,” a despairing Joseph Roth wrote in The Wandering Jews, “that allows European states to go spreading civilisation and ethics in foreign parts but not at home?” This penniless refugee died in 1939, mercifully before his warning was vindicated: that “centuries of civilisation are no guarantee that a European people, by some ghastly curse of fate, will not revert to barbarism”………………

Thousands of refugees were sleeping rough at Budapest’s Keleti station, waiting for trains to take them to western Europe. Then, they just got up and walked. Guardian journalist and filmmaker John Domokos went with them, every step of the way. This is the story of one Syrian family, and those who came out to help.


Online survey shows 29% would support possible takeover while 41% said they could not imagine supporting such an event

US army convoy

In the YouGov survey also that 43% of Republicans would support a military coup in certain instances, while only 20% of Democrats and 29% of independents would. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

Almost a third of Americans could imagine supporting a military coup against their own government, according to a new poll.

The YouGov survey showed 29% of Americans could imagine supporting a coup. Yet, 41% said they could not imagine supporting such an event.

YouGov, which conducts internet polls about “politics, public affairs, products, brands and other topics of general interest”, surveyed 1,000 people online on the issue.

They found that 43% of Republicans would support a military coup in certain instances, while only 20% of Democrats and 29% of independents would.

The overall numbers increased when participants were “asked whether they would hypothetically support the military stepping in to take control from a civilian government which is beginning to violate the constitution”. 43% said yes to this, and 29% said no………………….


Europe’s refugee crisis, daily life in war-torn Syria and the US Open tennis – the best photography in news, culture and sport from around the world this week


A young family, trying to shelter at a UNHCR registration centre, wait to board a train that will take them to the Serbian border with Macedonia. Click here to view more of Antonio Olmos’s photographs of the refugee crisis in Europe. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer


International Refugee Rights Initiative claims Israel has failed to live up to its promises to monitor and support Eritreans and Sudanese in their new countries

African asylum seekers in Israel gather at the Holot detention centre in the Negev desert.

African asylum seekers in Israel gather at the Holot detention centre in the Negev desert. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

The deportation under a voluntary scheme of Eritreans and Sudanese from Israel to “third countries” in Africa is exposing them to danger, with some being left without proper documentation and at risk of discrimination in unfamiliar environments, a report released this week says.

International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) interviewed 24 asylum seekers who were sent to Uganda and Rwanda between February 2014 and May 2015 as part of the voluntary deportation scheme announced by Israel in March.

Although Israel has never named the “third countries”, they are widely understood to be Rwanda and Uganda, the report says.

“Contrary to the Israeli authorities’ rhetoric, departures from Israel are neither voluntary, nor do they ensure the safety of those leaving the country. While Israel presents Rwanda and Uganda as safe destinations, in reality they are often the starting point for a dangerous journey that not all asylum seekers survive,” the report says.

In March, Israel’s immigration authorities said they would begin deporting asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan to countries in Africa, even if against their will.

At the time, interior minister Gilad Erdan said the move would “encourage infiltrators to leave the borders of the state of Israel in an honourable and safe way, and serve as an effective tool for fulfilling our obligations towards Israeli citizens and restoring the fabric of life to the residents of south Tel Aviv”.

An estimated 41,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals currently reside in Israel, of whom about 2,000 were being held in the Holot detention camp in the Negev desert, until the release of 1,178 in August.

The IRRI report said Israel had failed to live up to its promises to monitor and support the Eritreans and Sudanese in their new countries – echoing criticism also made by an Israeli rights group in April…………………



Progressives and conservatives are in a rare unity welcoming Pope Francis to the US, but anti-Catholicism was rampant before John F Kennedy was president

anti-Catholic America

The anti-Catholic ‘Native Americans,’ as they called themselves, provoked a series of riots in Philadelphia in 1844. Photograph: Corbis

Congress and the United Nations rolling out their red carpets, nuns working overtime to bake communion hosts, prison inmates carving a walnut throne, tickets for events snapped up in seconds: America is gearing up for pope-mania.

Pope Francis is expected to be greeted with huge crowds and across-the-board reverence when he tours Washington, New York and Philadelphia during his first visit as pontiff to the United States.

The rapture, however, will not change the awkward – and largely forgotten fact – that for centuries the US discriminated against Catholics.

The land of immigrants enshrined freedom of religion in the constitution yet spent much of its history despising, harassing and marginalising Catholics.

From the first Puritan settlers to televangelists, leading political, business and religious figures lambasted followers of Rome as theological abominations and traitorous fifth columnists.

“When you look back at the true, hidden history of the United States this strand of anti-Catholicism is very powerful,” said Kenneth Davis, a prominent historian and commentator.

“We want to show this patriotic view that we were this melting pot of religious freedom. Nonsense. People wanted their own religious freedom, not freedom for others. There was a very, very deep hatred of Catholics.”

anti-Catholic cartoon 1875

Thomas Nast’s anti-Catholic cartoon in Harper’s Weekly in 1875. It depicts Roman catholic bishops as crocodiles attacking public schools, with the connivance of Irish catholic politicians. Photograph: Public Domain

Discrimination dwindled in the 20th century, especially after John F Kennedy became the first Catholic president, bequeathing a sort of amnesia, said Davis. “It’s really astonishing how it has been swept under the rug. It’s as if with JFK all the past is forgiven.”………………



Aipac’s alliance with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decreased its bipartisan clout in the US Senate


Binyamin Netanyahu does not like the idea of the US working with Iran. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Over the past two months, since the Iran nuclear deal was inked by the US and world powers, opponents of the accord have delivered fiery speeches predicting dire consequences (another Holocaust, nuclear war), poured millions of dollars into fiery television advertisements (does your dog have a fallout shelter?) and vowed to stop at nothing to take the deal down. On Thursday, however, the deal overcame its most harrowing obstacle – Congress – and the opponents went down with a whimper, not a bang.

In the end it was an anti-climactic moment: a resolution in the Senate disapproving of the deal (which would have blocked its implementation) failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to pass a procedural threshold. The vote fell largely along party lines, with a only a handful of Senate Democrats siding with Republican colleagues against the deal.

Without the resolution, it doesn’t matter what the House of Representatives does – both chambers would have needed to disapprove of the deal in order to pass the law or even force Obama into a making good on his threat to veto, which was all but assured to be sustained by a third of one chamber or the other. But that doesn’t mean House Republicans are done opposing it.

As if to prove the point that their opposition to the deal was a matter of politics, not policy, they are treating the accord the same way they did Obamacare: a chaotic scramble to prepare legal challenges, put forward new bills to gut the deal by piecemeal means other than disapproval and even a last-ditch effort to revise the original resolution. So far, the GOP efforts appear to have achieved the impossible: unifying a normally unruly Democratic caucus, including those who opposed the nuclear accord, against efforts to kill it.

Some of these Johnny-come-lately efforts to derail the Iran deal will carry the imprimatur of the flagship pro-Israel lobby group here, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). But it doesn’t appear to be the juggernaut it once was, historically able to wield huge legislative influence thanks to a wealthy and well-connected donor base.

The waning clout stems from the lobby siding with the revanchist Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose Iran strategy since the 2012 US presidential campaign has been to unabashedly side with Republican hawks. Aipac’s alignment with the position effectively caused the group to marginalize itself; the GOP is now the only place where Aipac can today find lockstep support. The tens of millions Aipac spent lobbying against the deal were unable to obscure this dynamic……………….






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