A Republic Without the Public

Rob Wijnberg from the Correspondent admonishing the news media to stop treating the United States as if it’s a democracy should be required reading:

It would be a major misconception to assume that the downfall of US democracy started in November 2016, when Trump was elected. In fact, it’s the other way around: the first openly kleptocratic president moving into the White House marked the consummation of its decay, not its initial conception.

Born from theft, built on slavery, held together by self-deception, the United States has grown to become the richest poor country in the history of humankind. It is a country that has violence in its DNA, inequality embedded in its genes, and a completely mythical self-image as its national identity.

It’s a country with the world’s highest GDP, where 40 million people live below the poverty line. The only industrialised nation on the planet without universal healthcare, any real social welfare system or decent retirement provisions. The only free nation where 1 in 40 adults are behind bars and which has more guns in circulation than people living within its borders. The only western economy where the richest three inhabitants hold more wealth than the poorest half of the entire population.

There’s so much here but one of our great faults as a nation is the utterly unearned exceptionalism.

  • Iran is a dangerous theocracy ruled by ayatollahs, but one Supreme Court justice’s passing is the difference between democracy and fascism.
  • West African states are corrupt and driven by cults of personality, but when the the president and congress do it, it’s somehow both abnormal but par for the course because, politics.

And on and on.

We aren’t honest to ourselves about our country. Which is why I think journalism like Slate’s If It Happened There series is important, because it highlights how complicit our media is, intentionally or otherwise, in our myth-making.

Alberto Garzón on the Spanish Right

Tommy Greene and Eoghan Gilmartin interviewed Consumer Affairs minister and Izquierda Unida leader Alberto Garzón for Jacobin on the Spanish Right’s refusal to accept the current governmental coalition:

You have to remember that the right wing in our country does not have democratic origins. It is not like the mainstream right in France or Germany, where there is, at least in part, an anti-fascist tradition. The Spanish right hasn’t looked to isolate the extreme right, as German chancellor Angela Merkel has done. In Spain, the right-wing parties broker power-sharing agreements and govern with the extreme right [at the regional level].

They conceive of Spain as their own patrimony, in which they are the arbiters of who is truly Spanish and who is a patriot or not. Their vision of the country doesn’t allow for a party like ours [Unidas Podemos] to be in government — it’s a kind of coup d’état, in their eyes, that we are governing Spain at present. They’ve called us traitors, criminals, terrorists, assassins — they have raised the level of discursive belligerence in public life to the point whereby its polarizing consequences have seeped into and are felt in almost all sectors of Spanish society. You can see this in the ongoing campaign of harassment against deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias and equality minister Irene Montero [with members of the far-right camped outside their family home for the last three months].

A Fugitive Old King and an ‘Impossible’ Republic

Following Juan Carlos I’s quick exit and self-exile (Portugal, Dominican Republic, perhaps Abu Dhabi?) to prevent more bad publicity for la casa real, some are wondering what the future of the Spanish Crown holds.

My wife has nurtured a strong opposition towards the Spanish royals much longer than I have.

What I did not know, however, was the constitution from 1978, the one written during the transition from the Francoist state into an ostensible democracy, makes it practically impossible to hold a popular referendum on the monarchy and construct a third republic. “Armor-clad,” says Alberto Lardíes of the monarchy. He should know, he wrote a book on the called The Borbon Democracy.

Aitor Hernández-Morales in Politico:

In order to hold a referendum on the monarchy, two-thirds of members of the Spanish Congress and Senate would have to vote in favor of the proposal, and immediately afterward the parliament would have to be dissolved. Two-thirds of the successor Congress and Senate would have to ratify the same motion, and only then would it go before the Spanish public — which would have to vote in its favor to make it successful.

Monarchies are old world systems that need to be abolished entirely. It will be an interesting September, when Spanish republican factions will start mobilizing.

How Starship Troopers Aligns With Our Moment of American Defeat

David Roth in The New Yorker:

For most of “Starship Troopers,” humanity, in every possible facet, gets its ass kicked. A culture that reveres and communicates exclusively through violence—a culture very much like one that responds to peaceful protests with indiscriminate police brutality, or whose pandemic strategy is to “dominate” an unreasoning virus—keeps running up against its own self-imposed limitations. Once again, the present has caught up to Verhoeven’s acid vision of the future. It’s not a realization that anyone in the film can articulate, or seemingly even process, but the failure is plain: society has left itself a single solution to every problem, and it doesn’t work.

Donald Trump didn’t empty American politics of everything but violence; he’s just what was left afterward. He is more an emblem of American defeat than its author. The world of “Starship Troopers” aligns with our moment in its wastefulness and brutality, and most of all in being so helplessly recursive.

Rethinking Mauritania Policy Over Human Rights Abuses

After some deliberation, I’m moving links off of the main page. While I have added a menu option for links that is more prominent and they will still appear in the RSS feed, I removed them for a couple reasons. They are usually not directly related to the photos or journal posts and they are often extended quotes with a bit of my own commentary.

But that won’t stop me from sharing what I read. With reduced time in the my own vampire castle, I prefer the open spaces of the independent web even more.

I might occasionally bundle some diverse links together without any relation to each other, which is pretty in-character for me. But not today.

Amandla Thomas-Johnson, a Dakar-based journalist for Middle East Eye, is very reliable for Mauritania news in English. His piece about five Republican congressmen’s letter to the Secretary of State Pompeo warning of the human rights situation could be a good place to start for people unfamiliar to the country’s issues.

These efforts to lobby what are two of the country’s most stalwart allies come as Mauritanian activists make renewed calls for the government to address racial injustices amid a global groundswell of Black Lives Matter protests.

Mauritania is a key ally for the United States in its ’war on terror’ and hosts the second-largest diaspora community for Mauritanians, despite Trump’s ICE going after some of them.

Mauritania has a deep racism problem embedded into the fabric of society, so much so that even well-meaning people who are not subjected to second-class citizenship often fail to see the problem. Does this remind you of another country? I should hope so.

The congressmen’s letter said: “Mauritania has a long history of hereditary slavery based on ethnic and racial discrimination against Black Mauritanians.” The country formally abolished the practice in 1981 but criminalised it only in 2007, and in 2018 the Global Slavery Index estimated that 90,000 people in Mauritania were living under modern slavery.

On top of the vestiges of slavery that does not look like the chattel plantation slavery system of the America, Mauritania

The congressmen also criticised the lack of accountability for purges by state forces of Black African Mauritanians between 1989-1991, in which tens of thousands – about eight percent of the community – were deported or forced to flee to neighbouring countries. “Mauritania has not provided accountability for mass murders, repression and unwarranted deportations,” their letter said.

Most of those purged from the country were subsistence farmers working on the little arable land Mauritania has, which lies along the Senegal River valley in the south. Others were intellectuals, businesspeople and professionals, members of the thriving urban elites who were pushed out as the government pursued a sectarian Arab-nationalist ideology.

Black Africans make up about a third of the country’s population, as do Arab-Berbers, the dominant group. Haratin, the Black descendants of slaves once owned by Arab-Berbers, account for the rest.

Despite the violence, a law was passed to shield the perpetrators from justice and an amnesty was granted to the security forces involved.

Mauritania has been described as the other apartheid for its treatment of Afro-Mauritanians. As many in the the United States wake up to our own failings, it’s a small but positive step that some in Congress, from the own president’s party no less, are speaking up.