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Hometown: Xenia, OH
Member since: Tue Sep 19, 2006, 04:46 PM
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Journal Archives

There is no symmetry between the so-called 'extremism' of left and right (Syriza in Greece)

The recent election of Syriza in Greece (Report, 26 May) offers a vibrant glimmer of hope for the future of social and economic democracy in Europe. At the same time, however, the rise of rightwing nationalism, stoking racist and antisemitic sentiments, threatens the ideals of a plural and democratic Europe. Media accounts that misrepresent the importance of the growing electoral support for Syriza as the rise of leftwing "extremism" must be countered in the strongest of terms. There is no contemporary symmetry between the so-called "extremism" of left and right.

The efforts to dismiss the emphatic call for economic justice in both Greece and Spain (Podemos gathered 8%) as "populist", "anti-European" or "scepticism" misreads their political reach and importance. These radical left victories cannot be compared with the rise of the Front National in France, Ukip in England, the strengthening of antisemitic parties in both Greece and Hungary as well as anti-immigrant populism in Belgium and Denmark.

The rise of the "Eurosceptic" right wing, with its clearly racist platforms, is a direct result of austerity policies. The rise of the left, on the other hand, offers a critique and alternative to social and economic inequalities spawned by austerity policies. To prevent violence and despair spreading further, the European Union needs new alliances across national borders and a radical rearrangement of its institutions to achieve greater democracy and economic equality. A major public debate should be launched to discuss the future of the EU, the role of solidarity and social justice, and the contemporary meaning of the "idea of Europe".

The success of a democratic public debate, however, depends upon truth and transparency in the media representation of political movements and their claims. We demand vigilant attention to the difference between political objections to austerity that seek greater inequality and those that seek greater equality. Only then can we see more clearly how the future of democracy is at stake.


An extremely timely letter. The "Eurosceptic right wing" seeks to break up the EU and foster greater inequality economically, between immigrants and native-born and between Christians-Muslims-Jews-Atheists. The radical left seeks "greater equality" with "new alliances across national borders and a radical rearrangement of its institutions to achieve greater democracy and economic equality", IOW a shift to fighting inequality caused by austerity by enhancing and improving the EU, its structures and its policies, not by destroying it.

80% of Germans, 77% of Swedes believe that immigrants do not take jobs of native-born.

Of course, that leaves 20%+ who believe the opposite. That is about the percentage that the European far-right is polling these days. A minority but a rising minority which is making a lot of noise.

Do Europeans Really Fear Migrants?

Strikingly, the far right only has a faint heartbeat in those EU member states that have been the most proactive in managing migration and immigrant integration. Germany, Spain, Sweden, and Portugal, for example, have done more than most others to open legal channels for migration and invest in migrants’ integration. In fact, these countries’ citizens generally support legal migration and perceive integration efforts as being successful. In Germany, 62% of those surveyed by the German Marshall Fund view immigration as more of an opportunity than a problem; that number reaches 68% in Sweden. In Portugal, when asked if first-generation immigrants are well integrated, 79% of respondents said yes, as did 63% of those surveyed in Spain.

By speaking openly about migration and addressing voters’ legitimate concerns, politicians in these countries also have helped to ground public debate in reality. They frame immigration as a generally positive development that helps to mitigate the problems of aging populations and labor-market gaps. As a result, fear is muted: asked whether immigrants take away jobs from native-born citizens, 80% of Germans and 77% of Swedes said that they do not.

In places where the rhetoric surrounding immigration flies off the handle, as in the UK, perceptions are sometimes grossly distorted. The average Briton, for example, believes that 31% of the UK population was born abroad, whereas the actual number is 13%. Compare that to Sweden, where the difference between perception and reality is just three percentage points. Reality-based debate and policymaking can fundamentally transform the negative dynamics surrounding migration.

Europeans also have far fewer cultural concerns about migrants than media coverage might lead one to believe: 69% of Europeans believe that migrants do not pose a cultural threat. In fact, almost two-thirds – including 82% in Sweden and 71% in Germany – say that immigrants enrich their national culture.


The point is that liberal governments that openly discuss immigration and have policies regarding the integration of immigrants do not have the level of right-wing populist anti-immigrant politics so present elsewhere in Europe.

Immigrants as a percent of total population: US - 14%, Germany - 12%, Sweden - 16%, Spain - 14%, Portugal - 9%, Norway - 14%, UK - 12%, France - 12%, Canada - 21%, Australia - 28%.

And Americans are even more uninformed than the British regarding what percentage of the population is immigrants. The perception is the 39% of US residents are immigrants. The actual figure is 14%.

Marine Le Pen to meet other far-right leaders in move to create anti-EU bloc

France's Front National leader Marine Le Pen will meet other far-right and eurosceptic leaders on Wednesday in an attempt to create a powerful bloc in the European parliament.

Le Pen insisted the party's score was an unqualified victory despite an abstention rate of 57%. She demanded that France call a halt to talks between the European Union and the United States to create a vast free market, known as the Transatlantic Trade Treaty.

"I clearly call on the president of the Republic, firstly the dissolution of the Assemblée Nationale, because you know it is no longer at all representative of the French people," Le Pen said.

"I also demand that he does three things to take Sunday's vote into account: firstly, France halts the transatlantic treaty, secondly, France states its veto of Turkey's entry into the European Union and, thirdly, he nationalises Alstom, contrary to the rules of the European Union, to save this strategic company."


It should be interesting to see if far-right nationalist parties can form a transnational bloc.

Russia toughens laws against separatists seeking self-determination inside Russia.

According to president Vladimir Putin, those in Crimea who voted to secede from Ukraine were simply exercising their right to self-determination, and the Kremlin continues to condemn Kiev's military operation against separatists in eastern Ukraine. But that hasn't stopped Russia's parliament from toughening punishments for separatist ideas in its own country.

New legislation introduced by Andrei Klishas, head of the Federation Council's committee on constitutional legislation, seeks to increase the maximum punishment from three to four years imprisonment for "public calls for actions violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation." The bill also adds lesser punishments including arrest for up to six months and compulsory work for up to three years.

A government crackdown on independent media has been accompanied by stricter regulations on the internet in recent months. Putin signed a controversial law earlier this month forcing popular bloggers to register with the government's internet watchdog.

Meanwhile, the government was discussing on Friday the creation of an "internet ombudsman" position, according to the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The newspaper reported that one of the candidates for the position was conservative MP Sergei Zheleznyak, who has authored a variety of moralistic legislation, as well as initiatives to increase the authorities' access to internet users' information.


What's good for the goose may not be good for the gander.

Krugman: The danger from the right in Sunday's European election

It’s hard to imagine war in today’s Europe, which has coalesced around democratic values and even taken its first steps toward political union. Indeed, as I write this, elections are being held all across Europe, not to choose national governments, but to select members of the European Parliament.

But here’s the thing: An alarmingly high fraction of the vote is expected to go to right-wing extremists hostile to the very values that made the election possible. Put it this way: Some of the biggest winners in Europe’s election will probably be people taking Vladimir Putin’s side in the Ukraine crisis.

The truth is that the European project — peace guaranteed by democracy and prosperity — is in deep trouble; the Continent still has peace, but it’s falling short on prosperity and, in a subtler way, democracy. And, if Europe stumbles, it will be a very bad thing not just for Europe itself but for the world as a whole.

Why is Europe in trouble?

The immediate problem is poor economic performance. The euro, Europe’s common currency, was supposed to be the culminating step in the Continent’s economic integration. Instead, it turned into a trap. First, it created a dangerous complacency, as investors funneled huge amounts of cash into southern Europe, heedless of risk. Then, when the boom turned to bust, debtor countries found themselves shackled, unable to regain lost competitiveness without years of Depression-level unemployment.


Germany sees ‘spectacular increase’ in immigrants (now 2nd to the US)

Migration into Germany rose more than a third in 2012, as the continent’s strongest economy took in an additional 400,000 people, mainly from central, eastern and southern Europe.

The data will add to the debate over the extent of immigration in Europe, with rightwing and populist parties across the continent likely to exploit unease among some Europeans about the issue to make big gains in this week’s European parliamentary elections.

The latest rise means Germany has overtaken Spain as the industrialised nation receiving the second largest number of migrants. The US remains the largest recipient of migrants, although the pace of increase there has flattened. Since 2007, the number of US immigrants has actually fallen 3 per cent.

Overall, the number of migrants across the 33 OECD members, which represent the largest economies, is a third higher since the pace of cross-border movement began to pick up in 2000. But it is still 14 per cent lower than in 2007, the year before the global recession set in.


Foreign-born are now about 13% of Germany's population, almost exactly the same percentage as the US.

34% of Germany's immigrants are "highly educated". In the US it is 21% and in Canada 31%.

Putin could be a winner in European parliamentary vote if far right gains ground

When voters across Europe go to the polls this week to elect a new parliament, far-right parties are expected to be among the winners. But one of the election’s biggest beneficiaries could be a man whose name isn’t on the ballot: Vladimir Putin.

Even as mainstream European leaders sputter their condemnation of Russian aggression, voters appear poised to reward parties that make no secret of their fawning admiration for the way the Russian leader has defied the West and dismembered Ukraine. And indeed, the Russian media has begun to do just that, highlighting far-right leaders as the legitimate representatives of Europe. Those leaders, in turn, have eagerly embraced their moment in the Russian spotlight.

As pro-Russian forces wreaked havoc in eastern Ukraine last month, the head of France’s far-right National Front was in Moscow telling reporters that “a Cold War on Russia has been declared in the European Union." Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party and a frequent guest on the pro-Kremlin television network RT, has cited Putin as the foreign leader he most admires and asserted on national television that the 28-member E.U. has “blood on its hands” for its handling of Ukraine.

While Europe’s far-right parties differ in many respects, they share a desire to weaken the influence of the Brussels-based E.U. and “to pursue a similarly nationalist and authoritarian line” to the one embraced by Putin, according to Hajo Funke, a German political analyst and expert on right-wing extremism. Indeed, in many respects, Putin is an ideological soul mate. He rails against Western decadence and liberalism and speaks in favor of an orthodox and conservative nationalism that rejects gay rights and commands adherence to traditional values.


The love fest of Europe's far right for Putin continues.

On 2/20 parliament voted 236-2 to condemn the violence, ban the use of weapons against protesters,

236 deputies out of 238 present (...mostly from the opposition and some representatives of the Yanukovich's Party of Regions) voted (first reading) to condemn the recent violence, ban the use of weapons against protesters, withdraw troops and the police deployed against them.

The next day, February 21

A compromise deal was agreed to and signed by both opposition leaders and the president after overnight negotiations. The deal agreed to: a restoration of the Constitution as it was between 2004 and 2010; constitutional reform to be completed by September; early presidential elections no later than December 2014; an investigation into the violence conducted under joint monitoring of the authorities, opposition, and the Council of Europe; a veto on imposing a state of emergency; amnesty for protesters arrested since 17 February; surrendering of public buildings occupied by protesters; the forfeiture of illegal weapons; "new electoral laws" to be passed and the formation of a new Central Election Commission.

Parliament voted unanimously, 386–0, to return to the 2004 constitution, and then 332–0 in a vote to suspend acting interior minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, including 54 from the Party of Regions and 32 Communists. A bill was introduced in parliament on the impeachment of president Yanukovych, filed by Mykola Rudkovsky.

By late afternoon, hundreds of riot police officers guarding the presidential compound and nearby government buildings had vanished. Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski described the withdrawal of forces as "astonishing," noting it was not part of the agreement.

Oleksandr Turchynov stated that in fact most of the ministers had disappeared as well as Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko (who is reported to have fled to Belarus) and President Viktor Yanukovych, "The only one legitimate body left is the Verkhovna Rada – so we are here to vote today. The major tasks for today are: to vote for the new speaker, prime minister and interior minister." In the Verkhovna Rada, deputies voted 328:0 to set the Presidential election date to 25 May. The action did not follow the impeachment process as specified by the Constitution of Ukraine; instead, the Verkhovna Rada declared that Yanukovych "withdrew from his duties in an unconstitutional manner" and cited "circumstances of extreme urgency" as the reason for early elections. Oleksandr Turchynov was then voted by parliament Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament and acting President and Prime Minister of Ukraine.


Does not sound like a coup, does it? Several parliament members of Yanukovich's party defected to the opposition resulting in a parliamentary majority opposing Yanukovich and his tactics against the protesters.

Nothing in the February 21 agreement signed by Yanukovich and representatives of the protesters required him to resign his office or to order security forces not to protect government buildings. In fact it allowed him to stay in office until December 2014 when there would be elections, in which he presumably might be reelected. He was still the Commander-in-Chief and was in full charge of the security forces and the military.

Perhaps the parliament should have continued with impeachment proceedings
in abstentia (since Yanukovich obviously was not coming back from Russia for the proceedings). I suppose that most people thought it a waste of time to impeach someone who had abandoned his office already and left the country. The US did not even follow through with an impeachment vote against Nixon after he left office voluntarily.

In 2010 both presidential candidates campaigned in favor of integration with Europe.

They must have perceived that to be a popular position with Ukrainian voters. You or I may know better than they do what is best for them but, the way the world works, they get to make the decision.

Russia made it quite clear that the REAL Ukraine could control their own course, but that does not mean that we will or should be allowed to set that course for them.

If the "REAL Ukraine" is any Ukrainian government that is fairly elected then I respect Russia's intention to let them control their own course - whatever that course - just as the US should respect the course that the Venezuelan government chooses. Too many American politicians and perhaps too many Russian ones consider the only REAL government of a small country to be one that agrees with them.

Neither Russia nor the US should say that we only respect the course that a REAL Ukrainian or a REAL Venezuelan government pursues if it is consistent with our vision of what their policies should be. Neither of us should "set that course for them".

And in any case, the bigger issue here was Crimea, and that's already settled now. Russia would likely go to war over that, the Ukraine not so much.

I don't think the rest of the world thinks that Crimea is as 'settled' as you and Vladimir do since no other country recognizes the sovereignty of Russia over Ukraine.

While the conquest of Crimea has made Putin quite popular at home, it may come back to haunt him. It is an expensive acquisition in the sense of required spending on infrastructure needs particularly in terms of the provision of water and electricity, 80% of each come from what remains of Ukraine. Electorally, what was roughly a 50-50 country between the pro-Russia and pro-Europe factions has lost a big chunk of its pro-Russia voters. On a national level the pro-Europe politicians are going to have a much easier time getting elected and the pro-Russian ones a much tougher time. Eventually that is likely to bring the EU right to Russia border - something that strategically Russia had wanted to avoid.

During his 2010 election campaign Yanukovich said: "Ukraine's integration with the EU remains our

strategic aim".

In May 2011, Yanukovych stated that he will strive for Ukraine to join the EU. Yanukovych's stance towards integration with the EU has, according to The Economist, led him to be "seen in Moscow as a traitor", a reversal of the 2004 presidential election where Moscow openly supported Yanukovych.


Of course in 2013 he changed that the policy of favoring integration with Europe and signed an agreement with Russia. Whatever his reasons for this policy reversal, apparently his explanation of the reasoning behind his reversal was not accepted by many Ukrainians. I dare say that many of us do not like it when a presidential candidate campaigns for one policy then, once in office, decides that the opposite policy is actually the way to go.

After months of massive, sustained public protests throughout a cold, Ukrainian winter, Yanukovich signed an agreement with the protesters in which he agreed to remain in office until early elections in December and to use security forces to protect public buildings. He still had complete control of the security forces and the military and could quite easily have lived up to his end of the agreement. If he had done so he would still be president of Ukraine today, governing the country and preparing himself for national elections in 5 months.

What did he do? Rather than remain in office and to his job with the protection of the security forces, he decided to pursue a different strategy - running away.

Within hours of signing the agreement the protesters (with the police, army and security forces under his control), he hastily abandoned his residence and left Kiev. Before leaving he ordered security forces not to protect public buildings. Why issue an order contradicting the agreement he had just signed? The image of mobs mobbing and looting public buildings would create an image of lawlessness and violence that could be used by others to justify military intervention. Of course the looting and burning did not happen (much to the surprise of him and Putin), but that did not change the spin.

If he had simply lived up to the agreement he signed with the protesters in February, he would be sitting in Kiev running the government pending elections in December. Now his own political party has abandoned him and Putin never mentions him. Indeed reports are that Putin is quite mad at him for the mess he made in Kiev and never says publicly that he thinks Yanukovich should return to the presidency.

It's not much of a shock that the fascists of one country hate those of another. That's how it works.

Actually, no it is not. Fascists in Europe get along with other just fine, no matter what country they are from. If you know of examples of "hatred" among fascists of different European countries, please provide them. Right now European fascists are planning to form a coalition in the EU parliament after elections this month, assuming they do as well as many people seem to think they will do. The fact that European fascists side with Putin and not the government in Kiev is highly relevant. They side with those who share their goals - regardless of what country they are from - not their enemies.
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