The world’s democracies, perhaps especially our own, face a peculiar set of contradictions that are undermining faith in public endeavor and unraveling old loyalties.
There is a decline of trust in traditional political parties but also a rise in partisanship. A broad desire for governments to reduce the levels of economic insecurity and expand opportunity is constrained by a loss of confidence in the capacity of government to succeed. Intense demands for change are accompanied by fears that much of the change that is occurring will make life worse for individuals and families.
These crosscurrents are undercutting political leaders and decimating political parties with long histories. In Europe, movements on the far right and left (along with new regional parties) gain traction with disaffected citizens. Concerns about immigration reflect uneasiness among some over the social and cultural tremors in their nations. At the same time, discontent about the economic decline that afflicts regions not sharing in the global economy’s bounty calls forth protest against the privileged and the well-connected. In both cases, anger is the dominant emotion.
The convergence of these forces is especially powerful in Britain, which holds a national election on May 7 and where neither of the long-dominant Conservative and Labour Parties is likely to win a parliamentary majority. In 1951, the two parties together secured 96.8 percent of all the votes cast. This year, they are struggling to reach a combined 70 percent.
In Scotland, long a Labour stronghold, the pro-independence Scottish National Party could take as many as 50 of the region’s 59 seats, which would block British Labour leader Ed Miliband from securing a majority. But Miliband, who has run a better campaign than his foes expected, could still end up in power, partly because Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives are hemorrhaging votes to the UK Independence Party, which is critical of both immigration and the European Union.
In Greece, the traditional social democratic Pasok party was nearly destroyed after the country’s economic collapse. The left-wing Syriza party took power this year because of deep frustration with economic austerity and anger over the terms being set by the European Union for a financial rescue. Far-right parties have gained ground in France and even in usually moderate Scandinavia.
In the United States, partisan splits have rarely been so deep and acrimony across party lines so intense. But these feelings don’t come from wildly positive views about the parties voters embrace. In a widely discussed paper released earlier this month, Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, Emory University political scientists, noted that “one of the most important trends in American politics over the past several decades has been the rise of negative partisanship in the electorate.”
It occurs, they write, when “supporters of each party perceive supporters of the opposing party as very different from themselves in terms of their social characteristics and fundamental values.” Yes, our current form of partisanship leads us to dislike not only the other side’s politicians but even each other.
And the frustrations voters feel provide each camp with ideological rocks to throw at their adversaries. In a PRRI/Brookings survey I was involved with in 2013, two findings locked horns: 63 percent of Americans said government should be doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, but 59 percent also believed government had grown bigger because it had become involved in things people should do for themselves. We want government to do more about injustice, but we also seem to want it smaller.
Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, argues in the current issue of The American Prospect that this tension is partly explained by a widespread view that “special interests” have too much of a hold on government. He argues that voters “are ready for government to help — if the stables are cleaned.”
This makes good sense, but in the United States, as elsewhere, little of what’s happening in politics is reweaving frayed social bonds. The title of Princeton University historian Daniel T. Rodgers’ revelatory 2011 book, Age of Fracture, captured what’s happening to us. In our era, he wrote, “Identities become fluid and elective,” and if the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were a time of political and social “consolidation,” the dominant tendency now is toward “disaggregation.”
This is a big problem for self-government, since aggregating sustainable majorities is the first task of politicians in democratic countries. They are not doing a very good job, and the unfolding 2016 campaign doesn’t inspire much confidence that they’ll do better.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 26, 2015
“Are All Terrorists Muslims? It’s Not Even Close”: The Media Simply Does Not Cover Non-Muslim Terror Attacks With The Same Gusto
“Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” How many times have you heard that one? Sure, we heard Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade say it, but to me, that was simply part of the Fox News plan to make their viewers dumber, as we saw again this past weekend when its terrorism “expert” Steve Emerson was caught fabricating the story that Birmingham, England, is closed to non-Muslims. But more alarmingly, even some reasonable people have uttered this statement.
And that comment is often followed up by the question: Why don’t we see Christian, Buddhist, or Jewish terrorists?
Obviously, there are people who sincerely view themselves as Muslims who have committed horrible acts in the name of Islam. We Muslims can make the case that their actions are not based on any part of the faith but on their own political agenda. But they are Muslims, no denying that.
However, and this will probably shock many, so you might want to take a breath: Overwhelmingly, those who have committed terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe aren’t Muslims. Let’s give that a moment to sink in.
Now, it’s not your fault if you aren’t aware of that fact. You can blame the media. (Yes, Sarah Palin and I actually agree on one thing: The mainstream media sucks.)
So here are some statistics for those interested. Let’s start with Europe. Want to guess what percent of the terrorist attacks there were committed by Muslims over the past five years? Wrong. That is, unless you said less than 2 percent.
As Europol, the European Union’s law-enforcement agency, noted in its report released last year, the vast majority of terror attacks in Europe were perpetrated by separatist groups. For example, in 2013, there were 152 terror attacks in Europe. Only two of them were “religiously motivated,” while 84 were predicated upon ethno-nationalist or separatist beliefs.
We are talking about groups like France’s FLNC, which advocates an independent nation for the island of Corsica. In December 2013, FLNC terrorists carried out simultaneous rocket attacks against police stations in two French cities. And in Greece in late 2013, the left-wing Militant Popular Revolutionary Forces shot and killed two members of the right-wing political party Golden Dawn. While over in Italy, the anarchist group FAI engaged in numerous terror attacks including sending a bomb to a journalist. And the list goes on and on.
Have you heard of these incidents? Probably not. But if Muslims had committed them do you think our media would’ve covered it? No need to answer, that’s a rhetorical question.
Even after one of the worst terror attacks ever in Europe in 2011, when Anders Breivik slaughtered 77 people in Norway to further his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and pro-“Christian Europe” agenda as he stated in his manifesto, how much press did we see in the United States? Yes, it was covered, but not the way we see when a Muslim terrorist is involved. Plus we didn’t see terrorism experts fill the cable news sphere asking how we can stop future Christian terrorists. In fact, even the suggestion that Breivik was a “Christian terrorist” was met with outrage by many, including Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly.
Have you heard about the Buddhist terrorists? Well, extremist Buddhists have killed many Muslim civilians in Burma, and just a few months ago in Sri Lanka, some went on a violent rampage burning down Muslim homes and businesses and slaughtering four Muslims.
Or what about the (dare I mention them) Jewish terrorists? Per the 2013 State Department’s report on terrorism, there were 399 acts of terror committed by Israeli settlers in what are known as “price tag” attacks. These Jewish terrorists attacked Palestinian civilians causing physical injuries to 93 of them and also vandalized scores of mosques and Christian churches.
Back in the United States, the percentage of terror attacks committed by Muslims is almost as miniscule as in Europe. An FBI study looking at terrorism committed on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 found that 94 percent of the terror attacks were committed by non-Muslims. In actuality, 42 percent of terror attacks were carried out by Latino-related groups, followed by 24 percent perpetrated by extreme left-wing actors.
And as a 2014 study by University of North Carolina found, since the 9/11 attacks, Muslim-linked terrorism has claimed the lives of 37 Americans. In that same time period, more than 190,000 Americans were murdered (PDF).
In fact in 2013, it was actually more likely Americans would be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. In that year, three Americans were killed in the Boston Marathon bombing. How many people did toddlers kill in 2013? Five, all by accidentally shooting a gun.
But our media simply do not cover the non-Muslim terror attacks with same gusto. Why? It’s a business decision. Stories about scary “others” play better. It’s a story that can simply be framed as good versus evil with Americans being the good guy and the brown Muslim as the bad.
Honestly, when is the last time we heard the media refer to those who attack abortion clinics as “Christian terrorists,” even though these attacks occur at one of every five reproductive health-care facilities? That doesn’t sell as well. After all we are a so-called Christian nation, so that would require us to look at the enemy within our country, and that makes many uncomfortable. Or worse, it makes them change the channel.
That’s the same reason we don’t see many stories about how to reduce the 30 Americans killed each day by gun violence or the three women per day killed by domestic violence. But the media will have on expert after expert discussing how can we stop these scary brown Muslims from killing any more Americans despite the fact you actually have a better chance of being killed by a refrigerator falling on you.
Look, this article is not going to change the media’s business model. But what I hope it does is cause some to realize that not all terrorists are Muslims. In fact, they are actually a very small percent of those that are. Now, I’m not saying to ignore the dangers posed by Islamic radicals. I’m just saying look out for those refrigerators.
By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, January 14, 2015
It’s one of the best-known lines of any English-language poet — Robert Burns’ reflection on the upper-class church lady who doesn’t realize there’s a louse crawling around on her bonnet. “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!”
I had an opportunity to see how others see us while vacationing in Italy when news broke of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing teenager Michael Brown. Across Europe, the news coverage was nonstop. And it wasn’t pretty.
For most Europeans, the failure of the grand jury to indict, and resulting riots in Ferguson and other cities, was just further proof that a country that brags of its human rights record has itself a serious, continuing problem with racism. On German television, a special program on racism in America opened with the chilling observation: “For half a century, the land of the free has been trying to overcome racism and discrimination — with doubtful results.” French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira summed up her impressions on Twitter: “Racial profiling, social exclusion, territorial segregation, cultural marginalization, firearms, fear, fatal cocktail.”
Of course, nobody enjoyed rubbing our nose in it more than Russia. After years of our condemning the Russian government for its denial of basic human rights, this was their chance to get even. Russia’s foreign ministry, which dubbed the unrest a “color revolution,” cited the riots as evidence of “systematic shortcomings of American democracy.”
It’s uncomfortable to hear such criticism, especially from nations that are hardly paragons of virtue. Yet, they are right! We do have a lingering problem with racism in this country. We might as well admit it, and we’d better start dealing with it. We saw it in Los Angeles with Rodney King. We saw it in Sanford, Florida, with Trayvon Martin. We saw it in Ferguson with Michael Brown. And now we see it, once again, on Staten Island, with Eric Garner. Add to these cases that no doubt go unreported every day nationwide.
As shocking as the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson might be, the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict is even worse — because they were presented with so much more evidence. Starting with a video of the entire incident, on which Garner can be heard repeatedly warning “I can’t breathe,” as Officer Daniel Pantaleo locks him in a chokehold while four or five other police officers hold him down, face pressed into the sidewalk. They then leave him lying there for more than five minutes — handcuffed, not breathing, without administering any aid — until an ambulance arrives. And there’s no doubt how he died. The medical examiner ruled that Garner’s death was a homicide caused by the chokehold — the use of which is banned under New York Police Department rules.
Yet, despite such clear evidence of police abuse, the grand jury refused to indict Pantaleo, who thereby joined Darren Wilson as the latest white police officers to kill an unarmed black man and get away with it. Garner, meanwhile, joined Michael Brown as two of their latest victims, neither of whom deserved to die. Michael Brown’s crime? Walking down the street in Ferguson. Eric Garner’s crime? Allegedly selling loose cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island without a license. Would a young white man have been killed by police for such minor offenses?
Hopefully, the back-to-back deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner will serve as the two-by-four between the eyes necessary to wake all of us up to the need to confront the issue of race head-on — and not forget about it until the next headline-grabbing event. Yes, we’ve made a lot of progress since the days of Jim Crow. But the evidence of continuing racial discrimination is overwhelming: in racial profiling of young blacks by law enforcement, in the disproportionate number of blacks in prison, in a lack of representation in elective office and executive suites and in court decisions upholding restrictions on voting rights.
President Obama should take the lead by appointing a National Commission on Racism to hold hearings around the country, study the problem and make recommendations for action at the federal, state and local level. We can no longer accept a reality where an African-American occupies the Oval Office, yet a young black man can’t walk down the street without being stopped and questioned — merely because he’s black. It sounds harsh to say it, but it’s true. More than anyone else today, black men have much to fear when confronted by white cops.
By: Bill Press, Host, Nationally Syndicated Radio Show, Full Court Press; The National Memo, January 5, 2015
“The Ideology Of Policing”: After Ferguson, Can We Change How American Police React To Potential Threats?
The story of Michael Brown and Ferguson, Mo., is not over, even if the city is calmer today than it was just after the decision not to try officer Darren Wilson was announced. As we look for lessons about race, power and justice, we also have to ask some fundamental questions about the ideology of policing in the United States.
One of the defenses people have offered of Wilson’s decision-making on that day is that if a police officer fears for his safety, he is allowed to use deadly force. And that is indeed a standard, in one form or another, used by police departments around the country. But that standard is near the heart of the problem that Brown’s death has highlighted.
American police kill many, many more citizens than officers in similar countries around the world. The number of people killed by police in many countries in a year is in the single digits. For instance, in Britain (where most officers don’t even carry guns), police fatally shot zero people in 2013 and one person in 2012. Germany has one-quarter the population of the United States, and police there killed only six people in all of 2011. Although official figures put the number killed by American police each year around 400, the true number may be closer to 1,000.
The most common explanation is that since we have so many guns in America, police are under greater threat than other police. Which is true, but American police also kill unarmed people all the time — people who have a knife or a stick, or who are just acting erratically. There are mentally disturbed people in other countries, too, so why is it that police in Germany or France or Britain or Japan manage to deal with these threats without killing the suspect?
This is where we get to the particular American police ideology, which says that any threat to an officer’s safety, even an unlikely one, can and often should be met with deadly force. We see it again and again: Someone is brandishing a knife; the cops arrive; he takes a step toward them, and they fire. Since Brown’s death, at least 14 teenagers have been shot and killed by police; the weapons they were wielding included knives, cars and a power drill, all of which can be obtained by European citizens, at least as far as I know.
If you’ve read parts of Wilson’s account of his confrontation with Brown, you know that the justification so commonly made in cases like this — I was afraid for my safety, and therefore I killed him — is the basis of his defense. You don’t have to be convinced that Wilson should be tried for murder to find his version of events absurd at every level, starting with the assertion that he politely inquired if Brown and his friend might consider walking on the sidewalk, only to be met with a stream of invective and an unprovoked assault from this “demon” with superhuman strength.
Maybe that really is what happened. But it seems much more likely that, as the account of Brown’s friend goes, Wilson began the encounter by shouting at them to “Get the [expletive] on the sidewalk” — in other words, seeking to establish his authority and dominance. This, too is part of police ideology: that one way to keep safe is to make clear to those you interact with that you are the one in control and that they should fear you.
Two months ago I interviewed an expert in police training procedures around the world, and she pointed out that in many other countries, particularly in Europe, future police officers go through much more extensive training than American police do, a large part of which is learning how to calm down agitated people and defuse potentially dangerous situations. American cops, she said, average only 15 weeks of training before getting their badges. Even after they’re on the job, they continue to be inculcated with the idea that in a situation with a potentially dangerous individual, they need to be ready to kill to protect themselves.
Much of the focus of discussions about Ferguson has been, quite properly, on race. And race matters to this question as well; we know that cops are more likely to see black people as potential dangers to their safety. But the question is whether, even beyond the differences in how different groups are treated, we can change the way so many American police approach confrontations, both actual and potential.
Of course, this is easy for me to say. Nobody’s going to wave a knife at me while I sit in front of my computer every day. Being a cop is hard and dangerous work, particularly in places where crime is common. Most officers are never going to fire their guns in the line of duty. Even in Ferguson itself, there are officers trying to approach people as people and not as potential threats. But the fact that police all over the world manage to do the same job while killing barely anyone, while American cops kill hundreds of people every year, means that something is wrong with American policing.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 28, 2014
“The Heart Of American Exceptionalism”: When The U.N. Committee Against Torture Says You Have A Police Brutality Problem…
As everyone waits to see if the actual torture report will ever be released, the uptick in American police shootings hasn’t gone unnoticed by the international community, either:
The U.N. Committee against Torture urged the United States on Friday to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth and ensure that taser weapons are used sparingly.
The panel’s first review of the U.S. record on preventing torture since 2006 followed racially-tinged unrest in cities across the country this week sparked by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.
The committee decried “excruciating pain and prolonged suffering” for prisoners during “botched executions” as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons and extensive use of solitary confinement.
Its findings cited deep concern about “numerous reports” of police brutality and excessive use of force against people from minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals and racial profiling. The panel referred to the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”
Conservatives will accuse the U.N. of hypocrisy in tut-tutting America while doing little about major human rights abusers like Iran or China. But that’s hardly the point. America shouldn’t be in the position of saying, “Oh yeah? Well that dictatorship is worse!” The United States holds itself up as a beacon of justice and freedom. And when it comes to police shootings, America stands out from other industrialized countries as nearly barbaric.
A cursory and incomplete tally shows United States police officers kill at least 400 people a year in shootings, and the real figure is probably much higher. About a quarter of those involve white officers killing black people.
By contrast, police killings in European countries tend to fall into the single or low double digits.
Something is seriously wrong there, and either way you look at it, it cuts to the heart of American exceptionalism. Either our police forces are far too ready to use violence, or the American people are somehow far more dangerous and violent than those in other countries, or some combination of both. Or there are simply far too many guns and too many people who are too eager to use them.
By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 29, 2014