The Conversation – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 24 Nov 2020 06:01:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 China beat the coronavirus with science and strong public health measures, not just with authoritarianism Tue, 24 Nov 2020 05:01:36 +0000 By Elanah Uretsky | –

I live in a democracy. But as Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself longing for the type of freedom I am seeing in China.

People in China are able to move around freely right now. Many Americans may believe that the Chinese are able to enjoy this freedom because of China’s authoritarian regime. As a scholar of public health in China, I think the answers go beyond that.

My research suggests that the control of the virus in China is not the result of authoritarian policy, but of a national prioritization of health. China learned a tough lesson with SARS, the first coronavirus pandemic of the 21st century.

How China flattened its curve

Barely less than a year ago, a novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, with 80,000 cases identified within three months, killing 3,000 people.

In late January 2020, the Chinese government decided to lock down this city of 11 million people. All transportation to and from the city was stopped. Officials further locked down several other cities in Hubei Province, eventually quarantining over 50 million people.

By the beginning of April, the Chinese government limited the spread of the virus to the point where they felt comfortable opening up Wuhan once again.

Seven months later, China has confirmed 9,100 additional cases and recorded 1,407 more deaths due to the coronavirus. People in China travel, eat in restaurants and go into theaters, and kids go to school without much concern for their health. Juxtapose that to what we are experiencing in the U.S. To date, we have confirmed over 11 million cases, with the last 1 million recorded in just the last one week alone.

In September and October, friends from China sent me pictures of food from all over the country as they traveled around to visit friends and family for the mid-autumn festival and then the seven-day National Day vacation week. I envied them then and envy them even more now as Americans prepare and wonder how we will celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

Mainland China and Hong Kong were both taken off guard by SARS.

What China learned from SARS

We Americans are told that the freedoms Chinese now enjoy come at the expense of being subject to a set of draconian public health policies that can be instituted only by an authoritarian government. But they also have the experience of living through a similar epidemic.

SARS broke out in November of 2002 and ended in May of 2003, and China was anything but prepared for its emergence. It didn’t have the public health infrastructure in place to detect or control such a disease, and initially decided to prioritize politics and economy over health by covering up the epidemic. This didn’t work with such a virulent disease that started spreading around the world.

After being forced to come to terms with SARS, China’s leaders eventually did enforce quarantine in Beijing and canceled the week-long May Day holiday of 2003. This helped to end the pandemic within a few short months, with minimal impact. SARS infected approximately 8,000 worldwide and killed about 800, 65% of which occurred in China and Hong Kong.

The Chinese government learned from SARS the important role public health plays in protecting the nation. Following SARS, the government improved training of public health professionals and developed one of the most sophisticated disease surveillance systems in the world. While caught off guard for this next big coronavirus outbreak in December 2019, the country quickly mobilized its resources to bring the epidemic almost to a halt inside its borders within three months.

What can the US learn from China?

Knowing that there were no safe or proven treatments or an effective vaccine, China relied on proven nonpharmaceutical interventions to conquer the epidemic. First and foremost was containing the virus through controlling the sources of infection and blocking transmission. This was accomplished through early detection (testing), isolation, treatment and tracing the close contacts of any infected individual.

This strategy was aided by the three field hospitals (fancang) the government built to isolate patients with mild to moderate symptoms from their families. Strict quarantine measures were also central to preventing the spread of this epidemic, as it was with the SARS epidemic in 2003. This was paired with compulsory mask-wearing, promotion of personal hygiene (hand-washing, home disinfection, ventilation), self-monitoring of body temperature, universal compulsory stay-at-home orders for all residents, and universal symptom surveys conducted by community workers and volunteers.

What else could the US have done to be prepared?

SARS exposed serious weaknesses in China’s public health system and prompted its government to reinvent its public health system. COVID-19 has exposed similar shortcomings in the U.S. public health system. To date, however, the current administration has taken the exact opposite approach, devastating our public health system.

The Trump administration made major cuts to the budgets of the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The last budget submitted by the Trump administration in February 2020, as the pandemic was beginning, called for an additional reduction of US$693 million to the CDC budget.

This affected our ability to prepare for a pandemic outbreak. In the past, this preparation included international partnerships to help detect disease before it reached our shores. For example, the CDC built up partnerships with China following the SARS epidemic, to help contain the emergence of infectious disease coming from the region. At one point the CDC had 10 American experts working on the ground in China and 40 local Chinese staff, who mostly concentrated on infectious disease. Trump started slashing these positions shortly after taking office, and by the time COVID-19 broke out, those programs were whittled down to a skeleton staff of one or two.

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The Declaration of Alma Ata guaranteed health for all, and not just health for people governed under a specific type of bureaucratic system. The U.S. has been, and can be, just as dedicated to protecting the health of its people as China under its authoritarian government. We demonstrated this during the Ebola epidemic, with the launch of a whole government effort coordinated by Ron Klain, who has been appointed White House chief of staff under President-elect Biden.

This effort, which included a coordinated response with both African nations and China, improved preparedness within the U.S. and ultimately helped to save hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. A reduction in funding for our public health infrastructure, under the Trump administration, was a divestment in the health of the American people and should not have happened. A new administration that places public health at the helm, once again, will I hope prove to us that health is not just something that can be protected under an authoritarian government, but is in fact a right for all.The Conversation

Elanah Uretsky, Associate Professor of International and Global Studies, Brandeis University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Featured Photo: One of the Wuhan train stations in fall 2020. The city reopened in April 2020 after a total shutdown.
Liu Yan, CC BY-SA

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Has Trump’s last-minute Purge of Defense Agencies Put America in Danger? Sun, 22 Nov 2020 05:01:31 +0000 By Arie Perliger | –

President Donald Trump’s recent firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and subsequent resignations from the department of four more top civilian officials – either in protest or under pressure – are raising alarms in Washington. All were replaced by people with questionable qualifications.

One defense official described the situation to CNN as “scary” and “very unsettling.”

On Nov. 17, Trump also fired the cybersecurity director at the Department of Homeland Security, who had rejected the president’s claims of election fraud. Trump is reportedly weighing the additional termination of CIA director Gina Haspel as part of a late-term purge.

The transition period between two administrations, especially ones that are ideologically opposed, can be a socially and politically unstable time. Trump’s refusal to concede increases that instability this year.

Major personnel changes at America’s defense and intelligence agencies make it difficult for these departments to maintain the daily operations that oversee military forces and protect U.S. national security – much less follow strategic plans.

A lapse in preparedness can be deadly. According to the 9/11 Commission, the unusually short transition period between the Clinton and Bush administrations – truncated by the dispute over the election’s outcome – resulted in some of the intelligence and policy deficiencies that allowed Al-Qaida to attack and kill close to 3,000 Americans.

Politicizing national security

Political appointments have always influenced the American security apparatus. But this problem has intensified dramatically in recent years. If security and intelligence agencies make decisions based on narrow political considerations like satisfying the personal grudge or campaign promise of a president, it can put lives at risk.

Trump’s latest Defense Department appointments have some necessary policy experience. But their main attribute appears to be loyalty to the president. Loyalty goes beyond partisanship. It means policy decisions may be subject to the personal interests of the president.

For example, Defense Secretary Esper may have lost his job for opposing the sped-up withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan now underway. A withdrawal is in line with Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge to end “endless wars.” One former CIA official described the Afghanistan troop drawdown as “reckless.”

Brig. Gen. Antony Tata, who on Nov. 10 replaced Esper’s second-in-command James Anderson as undersecretary of defense for policy, is known for his vocal criticism of Democrats. In one 2018 tweet he called former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader.”

U.S. intelligence has also become politicized under Trump.

The roles of CIA director and director of national intelligence have both traditionally been held by nonpartisan figures with substantial military and intelligence experience. Trump replaced one such figure, former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, with a series of partisan appointees, some of whom were never vetted or confirmed by the Senate. Finally he chose John Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman loyal to Trump who has no intelligence experience.

Lives at stake

Politicization undermines the ability of the intelligence community to deliver an unbiased, accurate and critical assessment of U.S. security policies and potential threats. That compromises the standing and effectiveness of these agencies.

“If people believe that our intelligence community is politicized, it will lose its credibility,” wrote intelligence veteren Michael Morell, a former CIA acting director, in a blunt Oct. 12 Washington Post op-ed. “Its views on important issues will carry less weight with policymakers and the American people, and it will therefore be less effective in warning of threats to our national security.”

“We will all be less safe as a result,” Morrell concluded.

Ratcliffe lost credibility within months of his May 2020 confirmation when he overrode the advice of numerous colleagues to declassify “at the direction of the president of the United States” sensitive information based on unsubstantiated Russian sources.

The intelligence, which alleged that Hillary Clinton tried to create a scandal in 2016 by tying Trump to Russian hacking, was released 35 days before the 2020 election in an apparent bid to damage the Democratic Party.

Intelligence may be declassified when “public interest in disclosure outweighs the damage to national security.” Ratcliffe’s case did not meet this bar, according to experienced legal experts.

Eroding civilian oversight

A desire to aid Trump’s presidential campaign may also explain Ratcliffe’s attempt to limit civilian supervision over intelligence agencies.

One of Congress’ major duties is to supervise and monitor the various agencies of the executive branch. Legislative supervision is carried out via the control over budgeting, appointments and specialized investigative and legislative forums and committees.

Congressional oversight is particularly important with secretive agencies like the CIA, National Security Agency and the FBI.

These agencies have powers that can undermine constitutional guarantees, civil rights and international law. They undertake missions that may endanger American lives and have far-reaching consequences for the United States’ domestic security and international relationships. Occasionally they have violated legal norms.

Yet in August Director of National Intelligence Ratcliffe announced he would end in-person briefings to Congress until after the Nov. 3 elections, allegedly to reduce leaks. Ratcliffe reversed his decision after pressure from Congress. But attempting to keep U.S. intelligence from lawmakers was unprecedented.

End of an era

Congressional supervision of defense and intelligence functions was, until recently, one of the few reliably bipartisan enclaves of American politics.

From Republicans like the late Sen. John McCain to Democrats like President-elect Joe Biden, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come together to ensure these agencies work in legal and ethical ways to protect national security.

Congress authorizes wars, anti-terror missions, foreign negotiations and even the detention of American citizens based on the intelligence it receives. Oversight allows Congress to trust this information is accurate, unbiased and realistic.

Congressional supervision is a check on the executive-controlled intelligence and security agencies. With the country experiencing political and social instability, this civilian authority is more critical than ever.The Conversation

Arie Perliger, Director of Security Studies and Professor, University of Massachusetts Lowell

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Trump’s election tantrum could still fuel widespread violence Sat, 21 Nov 2020 05:01:34 +0000 By Jack L. Rozdilsky | –

In the lead-up to the American presidential election, it was estimated that the risk of post-election violence was high.

Retailers in American cities were correct in being cautious in preparing for damage and theft due to contested election results. So far in 2020, the Insurance Information Institute estimated sustained losses of over $1 billion, making this year’s social justice protests perhaps the costliest civil disorder in United States history.

The so-called Million MAGA March, cheered on by outgoing President Donald Trump, drew thousands of Trump supporters to the U.S. capital on Nov. 14. Some violence broke out when counter-protesters showed up, and about 20 people were arrested.

Have such predictions of election-related civil unrest been exaggerated or well-advised? Probably a little bit of both. As the sun sets on Trump’s administration, it’s clear that the last four years have made the United States a more fragile state.

Not unprecedented

Predictions of post-election violence in the United States haven’t been unfounded because such unrest is not unprecedented.

During the 1920 election, violence in Florida intimidated and prevented Black people from voting, and dozens of African Americans were subsequently killed in the election-related Ocoee Riot of 1920.

That riot almost exactly 100 years ago was the worst instance of election day violence in U.S. history.

Warnings that were particularly sobering in the lead-up to Nov. 3 can perhaps be looked at with slightly less alarm today. However, with an unpredictable president remaining in the White House until Jan. 20, 2021, potential dangers to democracy still exit given his supporters believe his claims that the election was “rigged.”

One warning came from the International Crisis Group, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Brussels, Belgium.

In the lead-up to the election, for the first time in its 25-year history, the group turned its attention to analyzing the risks of political violence in the U.S. The organization typically provides warnings concerning conflict-prone regions where democracy is fragile.

Red flags

Certain items consistently emerged as red flags, indicating potential electoral violence. These risk factors include a polarized electorate, highly segregated and mutually mistrusted sources of information and the existence of armed citizens and militias with easy access to weapons.

In addition, prior to the election, unresolved racial tensions were still present in the U.S. stemming from the killing of George Floyd in May and the subsequent widespread civil unrest.

In June, during a peak period of racially driven civil unrest in the U.S., the president threatened to use the Insurrection Act to put down protests and used his rhetoric to inflame rather than to quell violence.

Perhaps the most dangerous top indicator of electoral violence was Trump’s tendency to use the executive branch as a bully pulpit to fuel divisions and sow chaos. In fact, as late as election eve, Trump tweeted that a court decision he did not favour would allow cheating and also lead to violence in the streets.

Presidents have never spoken in ways that link their election prospects and violence immediately prior to election day.

Peaceful transfer of power

The historical norm of the post-election peaceful transfer of power in the U.S. dates back to 1801, when John Adams ceded political power to his opponent Thomas Jefferson after a contested election.

President-elect Joe Biden’s team is taking tangible actions to work towards a transition of power. Trump however continues to claim fraud and to attempt to use government machinery to reverse the election, following the time-honoured tools of dictators.

In the period of transition, the new test of American democracy is whether a lame-duck president like Trump can undo 200 years of post-electoral norms to weaken American democracy.

There are four characteristics of fragile states: a loss of the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services and the inability to interact with other nation-states as a full member of the international community.

While there remains a long way for the U.S. to fall, even falling a little towards the direction of a fragile state prior to Jan. 20 can create a more permissive environment for inappropriate expressions of grievances through violence.

Conditions for violence still exist

Insights can be gained from studies of democratization in post-war societies. For example, peace and conflict researcher Kristine Höglund has studied the factors that encouraged violence at elections.

Höglund found that conditions that enabled the use of electoral violence include situations where violence is viewed as a legitimate political tool, and agitators have access to arms. Other factors that trigger electoral violence are false interpretations of close elections, misuse of political rights and militant mobilization.

Those conditions currently exist in America.

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights is now closing its International Election Observation Mission (IOEM) in the U.S. In their post-election findings, IEOM interlocutors reported that “election day was orderly and took place in a peaceful atmosphere without unrest or intimidation.”

Despite Trump’s continuing post-defeat attempts to sow chaos, most American people have not yet been goaded into using violence and disorder this election season. Hopefully it will remain that way.The Conversation

Jack L. Rozdilsky, Associate Professor of Disaster and Emergency Management, York University, Canada

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

The Ring of Fire: “Crazed Trump Supporters Are Threatening The Lives Of Election Officials”

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A Trump strike on Iran will make the US an Outcast and won’t stop Tehran’s civilian Nuclear Program Fri, 20 Nov 2020 05:03:02 +0000 By Christoph Bluth | –

Donald Trump asked his senior advisers to examine options for air strikes against Iran’s main nuclear installation, the New York Times reported recently. According to the report, the meeting occurred the day after inspectors reported a significant increase in the country’s stockpile of nuclear material. Key advisers reportedly counselled against this course of action, warning of the possibility of rapid escalation into a regional conflict.

This situation is of the Trump administration’s making. The Iran nuclear deal (formally the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan) was the result of extensive negotiations, as Iran’s violations of its commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty had become apparent. Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities were severely restricted for ten years, and it gave up its entire stockpile of medium-enriched uranium as well 98% of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

On May 8 2018, the Trump Administration announced its withdrawal from the JCPOA and imposed sanctions. As Iran was and for some time remained in compliance with the nuclear deal, there was nothing to achieve with sanctions directed at the ballistic missile programme and Iran’s military actions and subversion abroad. Iran kept to its restrictions until July 2019, but after the killing of General Qassem Soleimani by the Trump administration in January 2020, the country announced its rejection of all limitations on its nuclear programme.

However, this doesn’t mean that Iran will build a nuclear weapon. It remains committed to being a non-nuclear state under the non-proliferation treaty, and going nuclear has all kinds of repercussions, including the loss of any technology cooperation with Russia, any access to the international uranium market and making Iran an explicit target for US and Israeli nuclear capabilities.

Other states might react by also going nuclear, and if Saudi Arabia decides it cannot rely on the protection of the United States, it could develop its own weapons which would set off a spiral of nuclear proliferation. For all of these reasons, Iran is likely to remain in the NPT.

No to military intervention

The risks of military action against Iran are high, as Trump’s advisers pointed out to him. There is no basis in international law to use military force against a country just because it has a nuclear programme. There is no prospect that the UN Security Council would approve military action against Iran. And for the United States to engage in yet another military intervention that is likely to be widely interpreted to defy international law will have wide-ranging consequences for the position of the US and the international system as a whole.

If Iran chooses to leave the NPT, there would be no legal instruments available to censure Iran and there would be no international support for the use of force. Trump is not the first US president to explore the use of military action against Iran’s nuclear programme, but the military leadership has always been clear that airpower alone is unlikely achieve the objective. It may well be that the main purpose of Trump’s idea for a military attack is to prevent a Biden administration from reactivating the nuclear deal.

While air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities may delay the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, they will not prevent it. Iran’s nuclear programme cannot be stopped if Tehran is determined to go nuclear, short of a major invasion and regime change. Not only would such an action be disproportionate, but the United States government under any administration will lack the political capital for such an undertaking.

By describing a nuclear-armed Iran as an absolute threat that cannot be tolerated, the political elite in the US is digging a dangerous trap for itself, given that it lacks the instruments to deal with this threat effectively. The underlying cause of the strategic conflict between the United States and Iran is the nature of the regime, the oppression of its citizens and its aggressive foreign policy (involving the use of terrorism). In other words, it is about domestic governance and the illicit use of force to further political objectives.

While the US is justified in maintaining robust power projection capabilities, the strategic objective of US policy must be to induce Iran to act within the rule of law both domestically and in its foreign policy, which entails abandoning the use of military threats and terrorism as tools of diplomacy.

The strategic conflict with Iran is a long and complex game that requires patience and determination. The nuclear issue is only one and by no means the most significant element. But Washington needs to rely on the tools of soft power unless there is really no other choice.The Conversation

Christoph Bluth, Professor of International Relations and Security, University of Bradford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Trump’s “Multipronged Attack Against Iran” Ramps Up with New Sanctions, Possible Bombing Plans”

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Criticizing Israel is not antisemitic — it’s academic freedom Thu, 19 Nov 2020 05:03:43 +0000 By Jasmin Zine, Greg Bird and Sara Matthews | –

This summer controversy arose around the hiring of Valentina Azarova as the director of the University of Toronto faculty of law’s international human rights program.

Some faculty accused the dean of rescinding a job offer because public figures were uncomfortable with her scholarly criticism of Israel’s human rights record.

This incident is particularly concerning to scholars who conduct research on Palestine and Israel. Many see it as part of a growing trend to equate criticism of Israeli state policies with antisemitism.

Globally, scholars who criticize Israel are facing an increasingly uphill battle to protect their academic freedom.

Redefining antisemitism

At the heart of the issue rests the new definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Proponents of the IHRA definition are part of what some are calling a new antisemitism movement that seeks to label criticism of Israel as antisemitic.

While challenging antisemitism is vital, Canadian critics of the IHRA definition argue that the new language could “chill political expressions of criticism of Israel as well as support for Palestinian rights.”

The IHRA definition is vague. It fails to connect antisemitism to other forms of racism. It also appears more intent on silencing critics of Israel than halting antisemitic threats from far-right white supremacists.

A series of open letters by scholars have warned against adopting this definition, including in Canada, the United Kingdom and Israel.

The main issue with the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is not its short 38 word definition, but the 11 illustrative examples of anti-Semitism. Seven of these examples equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Two of them reference Israel without mentioning Jewish people.

Israel should be subject to the same critiques as other nations.

One of the original draftees of the IHRA definition, Kenneth Stern, now says that the new language “weaponizes” the definition of antisemitism.

Academic silencing: Scholars face harassment

Earlier this year, in Germany where the IHRA definition and its illustrations have been adopted nationally, renowned scholar Achille Mbembe (currently teaching at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg) was accused of racism and antisemitism by public figures and institutions because of his support of the BDS movement. BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is a Palestinian-led movement for the freedom, justice and equality of Palestinians.

In the United States, where various jurisdictions have adopted the IHRA working definition, investigations of alleged antisemitism have been launched at several institutions. These include: Rutgers University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina and Williams College, with another possible investigation into New York University.

In each case, the “antisemitic speech” being investigated is criticism of Israel.

In the U.K., universities face funding cuts if they do not adopt the IHRA definition. Universities have cancelled events, punished faculty and expelled students who criticize Israel.

Websites run by neoconservative campus groups demonize, harass and intimidate scholars who support Palestinian rights, support BDS and are critical of Israel’s policies. These targeted attacks have a chilling effect on classrooms, research and campus politics.

Canadian campuses

On Canadian campuses, student governments at Ryerson University and McGill University have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism in their anti-discrimination policies. This will potentially allow them to deny critics of Israel access to campus resources.

A recent conference at the University of Winnipeg focused on the Trump administration’s decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Citing the IHRA definition, the university condemned the conference and declared certain statements expressed at the conference to be a violation of the institution’s anti-harassment policy.

Legal controversy in Ontario

On Oct. 26, the Ontario government led by Doug Ford abandoned its controversial private members’ Bill 168 “Combating Antisemitism Act” and instead used Order in Council 1450/2020 to adopt the IHRA definition. An order-in-council is an executive decree that effectively shuts down the legislative process, including public discussion on the bill.

The order-in-council recognized “the working definition of antisemitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).”

While Bill 168 was still under consideration by the Standing Committee on Justice Policy in Ontario, faculty unions across the province passed motions to oppose it.

Earlier this year, Premier Ford gave universities an ultimatum: adopt free speech policies or risk losing their funding. The new IHRA definition of antisemitism in Ontario seems to subvert the government’s demand that universities uphold free speech and academic freedom.

It is unclear whether or not Ontario’s adoption of the IHRA working definition includes the illustrative examples. Without a clear position on this, academic freedom in this province remains vulnerable to political interference.

Scholarly freedom to criticize racism

Arguments made by many of the world’s leading scholars contain statements that are critical of Israeli state violence and racism. This writing could easily be censored as antisemitic under the new definition.

Under this type of legal censure, professors could be at risk for teaching influential Jewish scholars such as Hannah Arendt and Judith Butler, the post-colonial legend Edward Said, Black liberation scholar Angela Davis and a long list of other scholars because of their critical work on Israel.

Canada’s federal government has adopted the IHRA definition and its examples, and it is possible that other provinces and institutions may feel pressured to follow suit.

Equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism undermines the ability of scholars to engage in important anti-racist and decolonial work.

Ontario’s adoption of the IHRA definition leaves academics and students vulnerable. Enacting laws or adopting statements that potentially criminalize criticism of state violence and racism subverts the struggles of marginalized communities seeking social justice. These decisions set a dangerous precedent.The Conversation

Jasmin Zine, Professor of Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier University; Greg Bird, Associate Professor, Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Sara Matthews, Associate Professor, Department of Global Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

The Rational National: “University ‘Cancels’ Academic Over Her Progressive Views”

We only need $1.5 Trillion to meet Paris climate goals, a fraction of what Gov’ts are spending on Pandemic Relief Wed, 18 Nov 2020 05:02:24 +0000 By David L. McCollum | –

As of late summer, governments around the world had pledged US$12.2 trillion of relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic. That’s around 15% of global GDP, three times larger than government spending put forward during and after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and enough for every adult in the world to receive a $2,000 check.

A good chunk of initial COVID-19 aid funding is being used – quite rightly – to support health care systems, preserve people’s livelihoods and stabilize employment. But much is slated for investment into infrastructure and economies. Whether those are climate-friendly investments or not still remains to be seen.

While the world’s bout with the virus is far from over, there is already talk amongst leaders like Joe Biden and Boris Johnson about rebuilding toward a more sustainable, more resilient future.

The global economic rebuild could include efforts to avoid the worst impacts of one of today’s looming mega-threats: climate change.

Money needed to achieve climate goals

Moving toward a cleaner energy world is cheaper than many people perceive.

My work at the Electric Power Research Institute, University of Tennessee and with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change focuses on the costs and benefits of energy and climate decisions made by governments and companies.

According to research done by me and my colleagues, we estimate it would cost around $1.4 trillion per year over the next five years in clean-energy investment to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. This amount – if invested around the globe in things like solar and wind power, advanced power grids, carbon capture and storage, biofuels, electric vehicles, better insulated homes and other carbon-saving efforts – would start to bend the emissions curve, putting the world on a path to net-zero emissions by midcentury.


In other words, it is by no means impossible to hold global temperature rise to +1.5 C (2.7 F).

A lot is already being spent on climate initiatives

While $1.4 trillion per year sounds like a lot of money, it’s actually not so much greater than what is already being spent on clean energy worldwide.

Countries are projected to invest an estimated $1.1 trillion per year over the next five years into low-carbon energy strategies. This pathway would take the world toward 3 degrees Celsius of warming, a level that could be quite harmful for the planet.

Much of this funding comes in response to national, state and local policy mandates and incentives. But a lot is happening thanks to pure economics as well: companies aiming to profit from new clean energy installations, which are becoming increasingly more affordable in many places.

Thus, taking into account the $1.1 trillion per year baked into the system already, the additional amount of clean energy investment needed to get on a 1.5 C track comes to just $0.3 trillion – or $300 billion – per year over the next five years.

For the entire globe, $300 billion per year over five years – or $1.5 trillion cumulative – is not an outrageous sum of money. It represents just one-eighth of the $12.2 trillion governments around the world have announced for COVID-19 relief to date.

Thus, a fraction of current bailout funding could provide the extra near-term boost the world needs to get on track to meet +2 or 1.5 C (+3.6 or 2.7 F) of warming, the levels countries committed to in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Change course, then move forward

President-elect Joe Biden is calling for some $1.7 trillion investment in clean energy and energy efficiency over the next 10 years. This level of investment, if also realized in other countries, could put the world on a path to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The U.S. has already committed trillions of dollars for COVID-19 relief, much of which is going toward important needs like patient care, vaccine research and direct economic bailouts. But economic recovery plans contain money for long-term economic growth, too. And that’s the money I am suggesting could be directed toward climate-friendly investments.

Meeting the Paris goals will ultimately demand continued and increasing investments going forward, climbing above the $300 billion per year over the next five years that would get the world on track to 1.5 C (2.7 F). Nevertheless, an initial injection of funds into clean energy could achieve two goals: boost the global economy through large infrastructure spending and accelerate the deployment of clean energy production and energy efficiency measures.

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Like with so many things, the question seems to be one of political will – are governments and companies willing and able to turn toward a cleaner, more prosperous future to the benefit of all?

Public funding appears to be available – for now – and given how massive this funding is, it provides a unique opportunity to catalyze the development, deployment and dissemination of clean technologies during the next decade, an absolutely critical period in the fight against climate change.The Conversation

David L. McCollum, Senior Research Scientist, University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump 2024? Presidential comebacks have mixed success Tue, 17 Nov 2020 05:01:41 +0000 By Robert Speel | –

American author F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives.”

Yet it’s already assumed Donald Trump will go on to a next act in one form or another.

Will he start his own media company? Serve as a GOP kingmaker?

There are even rumblings that he will decide to run again for president in 2024. Having served only one term, he is constitutionally eligible to try for another.

If he does decide to run again – and if he wins – he’ll be in rare company.

Only one American president has lost reelection and then won back his office: Grover Cleveland. In the American elections course that I teach, students learn details about the long-term political impacts of these comeback efforts, most of which are exercises in futility.

‘Gone to the White House, ha ha ha’

The late 19th-century political environment resembled today’s in many ways: tight polarized elections, strong regional patterns in national voting, relatively high voter turnout and negative campaigning.

Cleveland, a Democrat, had been governor of New York for less than two years when his party nominated him for president in 1884. As governor, he had gained a reputation for fighting Tammany Hall corruption in New York City.

During the 1884 campaign, in which Cleveland ran against Republican James Blaine, a scandal erupted when a New York woman named Maria Halpin accused Cleveland of raping and impregnating her. She was eventually institutionalized and forced to give up her child for adoption. Cleveland disputed some of the details of the story, and his supporters countered jeers of “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?” with chants of “Gone to the White House, ha ha ha.”

Cleveland ended up winning the national popular vote by a slim margin – 48.85% to 48.28% – and won 219 electoral votes to Blaine’s 182. Cleveland’s base of support was in the South and in his home state of New York, while Blaine did well in the rest of the North. Voter turnout was high, estimated at 77.5% of the voting-age population.

During Cleveland’s term, tariffs became a divisive partisan issue in American politics. Republicans favored higher tariffs to protect Northern manufacturing interests, while Democrats like Cleveland generally wanted lower tariffs to help the South’s agricultural export-oriented interests and to lower prices for consumers.

Cleveland’s comeback

When Cleveland ran for reelection in 1888, he faced off against Republican Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland again won the national popular vote by a tight margin, but lost two states – Indiana and New York – that he had won in 1884. It was enough to flip the Electoral College and allow Harrison to be elected president.

A campaign poster highlights the platform of Cleveland's reelection campaign.
Grover Cleveland ran on tariff reform in 1888 – and lost.
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

After losing the election, Cleveland returned to work as an attorney in New York. Under President Harrison, Congress approved the McKinley Tariff and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, each of which were strongly opposed by Cleveland.

In 1891, after two years of avoiding the public spotlight, Cleveland again became politically active and started to vocally oppose the economic policies of Harrison. Cleveland attracted some national attention that year with a public letter indicating his continuing support for the gold standard.

As Cleveland met with party leaders and made some public speeches in 1892, national Democratic support for his presidential nomination began to grow. By the time the Democratic National Convention met in June that year, support for Cleveland had become overwhelming, and he secured the nomination.

With Populist Party candidate James B. Weaver on the ballot pulling votes from both major party presidential candidates, Cleveland won the national popular vote for the third straight election, this time besting Harrison by a 46% to 43% margin and winning the Electoral College.

Try, try again

While Cleveland has, thus far, been the only U.S. president to lose reelection and then come back and win, other presidents have tried and failed.

In 1840, Democratic President Martin Van Buren lost reelection. He attempted to be renominated by his party in 1844, but Democrats instead chose James Polk. By 1848, Van Buren joined with a group of disaffected Democrats and anti-slavery activists to become the nominee of the Free Soil Party, which opposed the extension of legal slavery to U.S. territories. While Van Buren won 10% of the national popular vote and finished second in New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, he won no Electoral College votes.

Van Buren is the only president other than Cleveland to be renominated by his party, lose reelection and then appear again on ballots as a presidential candidate.

Three other presidents also made attempted comebacks to regain the presidency after leaving office.

In 1852, President Millard Fillmore, who had ascended to the presidency after the death of Zachary Taylor, made a halfhearted attempt to win the Whig Party nomination for a full term. When he failed, he came back four years later as the presidential candidate of the American Party, better known as the “Know Nothings,” a political movement to restrict Catholic immigration to the United States. Fillmore won over 21% of the national popular vote, the second-best performance by a third-party presidential candidate in American history and won Maryland’s electoral votes.

The best performance by a third-party presidential candidate in American history was also by a former president, Theodore Roosevelt. In 1912, he ran for the Republican presidential nomination against his more conservative protege, President William Howard Taft. When Roosevelt failed to get his party’s nomination that year, he ran as the Progressive Party candidate.

After being shot at a campaign rally during the month before the election and surviving, Roosevelt got 27% of the national popular vote and 88 electoral votes, finishing far ahead of Taft in both vote tallies – but well behind the winner, Woodrow Wilson.

The last American president to lose reelection and attempt to run for president again was Herbert Hoover, who was unsuccessful in both 1936 and 1940 at persuading other Republicans to let him lead the party again after he lost in a landslide in 1932.

Richard Nixon made a different kind of political comeback.

He lost the presidential election of 1960 while serving as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice president and then went on to lose the 1962 California gubernatorial election.

After the two losses, Nixon famously told the press, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” But the press did get another whack at Nixon when he ran for president a second time – and won – in 1968.

The last attempt at a political comeback by a defeated president was a very brief effort by Gerald Ford, who had lost reelection in 1976, to negotiate the possibility of being Ronald Reagan’s running mate during the 1980 Republican National Convention. The plan fell through, and Ford returned to private life.

Once out of office, most ex-presidents stay out of the spotlight and avoid criticizing their successor. Whether or not President Trump attempts a political comeback in 2024, it’s likely that he won’t stay mum over the next four years.

[Get our most insightful politics and election stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s Politics Weekly.]The Conversation

Robert Speel, Associate Professor of Political Science, Erie campus, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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CNN: “Donald Trump 2024? Why he may run again”

Why do People reject the Science of Climate Crisis, and can their Minds be Changed? Sun, 15 Nov 2020 05:01:33 +0000 By Peter Ellerton | –

Why do humans instinctively reject evidence contrary to their beliefs? Do we understand why and how people change their mind about climate change? Is there anything we can do to engage people?

These are three very significant questions. They could be answered separately but, in the context of climate science, they make a powerful trilogy.

We understand the world and our role in it by creating narratives that have explanatory power, make sense of the complexity of our lives and give us a sense of purpose and place.


These narratives can be political, social, religious, scientific or cultural and help define our sense of identity and belonging. Ultimately, they connect our experiences together and help us find coherence and meaning.

Narratives are not trivial things to mess with. They help us form stable cognitive and emotional patterns that are resistant to change and potentially antagonistic to agents of change (such as people trying to make us change our mind about something we believe).

If new information threatens the coherence of our belief set, if we cannot assimilate it into our existing beliefs without creating cognitive or emotional turbulence, then we might look for reasons to minimise or dismiss it.

At odds with each other

Consider the current presidential election in the United States and the supporters of Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The seemingly irreconcilable views of segments of the population are the result of very different narratives.

Each side interprets events through a lens of pre-existing beliefs that determines the meaning of new information. They might all be looking at the same thing, but they understand it in very different ways.

Information that one side points out can refute a claim from the other side is dismissed as conspiracy or deliberate falsehoods, or whatever it takes not to have to engage with and assimilate it.

More than this, sometimes we can only make sense of people who don’t share our world view by assuming they have some defect of perception or cognition that limits their ability to see things as clearly as we do.

After all, if they could see as clearly, surely they’d agree with us!

Climate science denial

Climate science is a typical example of this kind of effect.

Not only are there very different narratives people use to describe themselves and each other, but misinformation produced by some media organisations and private corporations is designed to feed into and amplify existing narratives for the purposes of creating doubt and dissent.

But it gets even worse. Because of an increasingly polarised political environment in many parts of the world and the intensification of the so-called culture wars, stances on topics that might once have been shared across the political and ideological spectrum are now grouped together.

Sign on a fence in the US saying 'Trump: COVID and climate denier'.
Not one, but two denials.
Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock

For example, denial of the science of climate change is linked to denial of COVID-19 as a legitimate concern. We also find positions on climate science highly correlated to other, more basic ideologies.

Pick a topic and it’s increasingly easy to predict what someone might think about it based on their opinion about another topic in that same political basket of ideologies. The narratives are becoming more inclusive; it’s been a while since the politics of climate science has just been about the science.

It is also the case that belief in climate science is not a binary affair. There are many shades of belief here.

But all this does not mean people are immune to changing their view, even when they are deeply woven into their personal identity.

Yes, you can engage people … and change their mind

US musician, actor and writer Daryl Davis is a black man responsible for dozens of members of the Ku Klux Klan leaving and denouncing the organisation, including national leaders.

He did this through engaging them in conversation, and ultimately befriending them, in a genuine attempt to understand their world views and the deep assumptions on which they were based.

For Davis, mutual respect and a desire to understand each other are necessary conditions for peaceful coexistence and a convergence of views.

What Davis appreciated is a core principle of public reasoning, or reasoning together. If we wish others to join us in believing in something or in some course of action, we must not only have reasons that make sense to us, they must also be meaningful to others. Otherwise, explaining our reasoning amounts to little more than making another kind of assertion.

Creating shared meaning through reasoning together requires respectful dialogue and an intimate understanding and appreciation of each other’s world views.

Don’t lose sight of the truth

Let’s be clear, trying to understand how someone thinks is not about meeting them halfway on everything. The truth still matters.

A protest sign saying 'Denial is not a policy'.
Protests against climate change denial.
Michael Coghlan/Flickr, CC BY-SA

In the case of climate change, we know that the planet is warming, that the consequences of this warming are very serious and that humans contribute significantly to it.

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, and we are. But that rationality is not devoid of emotional contexts. Indeed, we seem to need emotions to be rational.

For this reason, facts alone are not as convincing as we would like them to be. But facts coupled with respect, understanding and compassion can be enormously persuasive.The Conversation

Peter Ellerton, Senior Lecturer in Critical Thinking; Curriculum Director, UQ Critical Thinking Project, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

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What’s behind Trump’s refusal to concede? For Republicans, the end game is Georgia and control of the Senate Sat, 14 Nov 2020 05:01:41 +0000 By Markus Wagner | –

The world may have expected the chaos and uncertainty of the US presidential election to end when Joe Biden was declared the winner last weekend. But these are not normal times and Donald Trump is not a conventional president.

Concessions that used to be a part of the political process have been replaced by baseless allegations of voter fraud and election stealing, loud, all-caps shouting on Twitter and plans for a “Million MAGA March” on Washington.

The courts are the proper venue for candidates to challenge the results of elections. But a legal process requires evidence of illegality — and as of yet, the Trump campaign has produced very little.

So, then, how long can Trump string things out — and, more importantly, what’s the end game?

More lawsuits are filed, with little chance of success

Lawsuits can be filed for a number of reasons after an election: violations of state law by local election officials, discrimination against voters, political manipulation of the outcome or irregularities in the ballot counting process.

The Trump campaign has filed numerous lawsuits in both state and federal courts. Some challenges in Georgia and Michigan were quickly dismissed.

In one case filed in Pennsylvania, Republicans sought to stop the vote count in Philadelphia on the grounds Trump campaign officials were not allowed to be close enough to the ballot-counting process.

Under questioning from the judge, the Trump campaign lawyers were forced to admit a “non-zero number” of Republican observers were present. The judge, clearly exasperated, responded by asking, “I’m sorry, then what’s your problem?”

In another filing before a federal court in Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign alleges voting by mail runs afoul of the Constitution’s equal protection clause, a claim bound to fail.

The most interesting – and perhaps most viable – case concerns whether a state court can extend the time limit for mail-in ballots to arrive.

In this case, the Trump campaign challenged a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to allow mail-in votes received up to three days after election day to be counted.

The US Supreme Court twice declined to halt the counting of these votes, but did order the ballots to be segregated, leaving the door open to a challenge after the election.

A group of Republican attorneys-general filed a brief at the US Supreme Court this week urging it to take up the case.

Amy Coney Barrett, the newly appointed Supreme Court justice, did not participate in the earlier decisions, and it remains to be seen if her vote would change the outcome should the case reach the court.

Hoever, this may all be a moot point, as there are likely not enough late-arriving ballots for Trump to make up the sizeable gap to Biden in the state.

Attorney-general steps into the fray

Attorney-General William Barr has also inserted the Department of Justice into the post-election drama, authorising investigations by US attorneys into alleged voter fraud across the country. The move outraged the top official in charge of voter fraud investigations, prompting him to resign.

The Department of Justice has historically stayed out of elections, a policy Barr criticised in his memo, saying

such a passive and delayed enforcement approach can result in situations in which election misconduct cannot realistically be rectified.

The department’s about-face is important for several reasons. It changes long-standing practice, as Barr himself admits. The general practice, he wrote, had been to counsel that

overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.

Of course, Barr has ingratiated himself with Trump before, most notably in his 2018 memo to the Justice Department expressing concerns over the Mueller investigation.

Many had wondered why Barr had remained unusually quiet for so long on the election. It appears he is back, and willing to support Trump and the Republican cause.

The end game: Georgia and the US Senate

Given Trump and Republicans have very little chance of overturning the result through these tactics, the question remains: what is the goal?

Yes, this all could be explained simply as Trump not liking to lose. But setting such indulgences aside, the reason for this obstruction appears to be two upcoming US Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5.

Under Georgia law, a runoff is required between the two candidates that came out on top if neither wins 50% of the vote in the state election.

The Republicans currently hold a 50-to-48-seat edge in the Senate, meaning control of the chamber now comes down to who wins the two Georgia runoffs.

The positions taken by Republican senators in recent days are telling — they have stood firmly behind Trump’s challenges and gone out of their way not to congratulate Biden on his victory. Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota put it bluntly,

We need [Trump’s] voters […] we want him helping in Georgia.

The Senate plays a crucial role for the Biden presidency. If it remains in Republican hands, this could leave Biden with few avenues to implement his favoured policies on the economy, climate change or health care and would deny Democrats the ability to expand the Supreme Court.

Already, it’s clear the focus of the GOP is shifting toward Georgia. The two Republican Senate candidates this week called for the resignation of the secretary of state, a fellow Republican, repeating Trump’s baseless claims over voter fraud in Georgia.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this was done to appease Trump

lest he tweet a negative word about them and risk divorcing them from his base ahead of the consequential runoff.

Is democracy at stake?

It appears all these efforts are aimed at one goal: energising the Trumpian base for the Georgia run-off elections by delegitimising not only Biden, but the election process itself.

The long-term implications are momentous. The US is already bitterly divided, as demonstrated by the large voter turnout on both sides in the election. This division will only deepen the more Trump presses his claims and signals he won’t go away silently.

This continued fracturing of the US would prevent Biden from achieving one of the main goals he set out in his victory speech: bringing Republicans and Democrats together.

If half the country buys into his claims of a stolen election, the real danger is the erosion of democracy in the US as we know it.The Conversation

Markus Wagner, Associate Professor of Law, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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What Georgia’s changing political landscape could mean for power in US senate | Nightline