Let's get political
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Norman Rozenberg
nprwrites21 days ago

Let's get political

My thoughts and questions about today's complicated political world.
21 days ago

Troubling Trends: The World is Less Free in 2017

It’s been a busy few days in global politics. Donald Trump continues to make waves with a flurry of executive orders while violence erupted again in Eastern Ukraine. In the midst of the storm, Freedom House has published their yearly Freedom in the World Index. Unfortunately, the news is not good: we are less free and the trend is troubling.

Rise of the nationalists and populists

The Index separates the world into three categories: Free, Partly Free and Not Free. These designations are based on an aggregate score of political rights and civil liberties. Analysts compile data on all sorts of different rights, such as voters’ rights, and liberties such as freedom of speech, to come up with these scores.

What the analysts found was less than encouraging. More countries received lower scores than the year before. Some countries, like Russia, moved down in the rankings to the “Not Free” designation. Russians today have less political rights and civil liberties than last year, for example.

The Index highlights two key reasons for the downwards trend in the world: nationalism and populism are challenging world democracies. In “Free” countries such as France, nationalist parties are influencing national politics. Just one year ago, the thought of President Marine Le Pen from the French National Front would be a joke in satire. Today, she is one of the leading contenders for France’s most powerful government position.

The U.S. is not immune to this trend. With a nationalist and populist Donald Trump espousing his “America First” philosophy, uncertainty over political rights and civil liberties in the U.S. is growing.

Any bright spots?

Despite the negative trend globally, there is one bright spot.

Out of the 11 countries to watch highlighted by Freedom House, only one was for a positive reason. Colombia’s peace agreement between FARC rebels and the government is giving the country a shot at sustainable development and smooth democratization.

Other countries have shown slight improvements: Belarus, Argentina and Somalia have moved up in the rankings. Belarus, for example, has lifted some visa restrictions and has even indicated they would like to join the World Trade Organization.

For now, 87 of the 195 countries surveyed do rate “Free” but the number could be shrinking.

The Freedom House index is a warning.

Pay attention to global trends and start organizing. 

a month ago

Four New Words for Trump’s America

As we get used to a country where nothing is true but everything is possible, we should also learn some of the vocabulary that can help us frame what is happening here in the United States. It is only fitting that we draw inspiration from Soviet and Russian words that define political phenomena that are becoming more and more important in this country. These Russian words used to describe the Soviet experience, but are now finding new meaning in today’s American politics.

Blat: (pronounced blaht). My mother constantly reminds me that nothing, in both the Soviet Union and in the U.S., could get done without blat. These are favors in your informal network. How did you become the White House counsel? Blat. How did Trump Inc. get a building permit in Argentina? Blat. In the U.S., we might network or attempt to call in favors to find a new job. In Trump’s world, you need only be the right son-in-law or a company’s namesake.

Politburo: This word used to describe the executive committee of the Communist Party, where the leader considered and decided all policies while other members of the party would nod in forced agreement. With a motley crew of ex-Goldman Sachs executives, private billionaires and family members, the White House is shaping up to be its own bona fide politburo under the guidance of the smartest man in the room.

Nomenklatura: The who’s-who of the Soviet world comprised the Community Party elites. As Trump pads his White House, we’ll see a new nomenklatura coming to Washington. Rather than draining the swamp as Trump promised on the campaign trail, he’s introducing a dangerous new breed of alligators. The nomenklatura was able to operate in a completely different world than ordinary citizens. They were afforded freedoms and luxuries that no one else in the vast country could. Trump’s Washington will not look any different.

And finally,

Kompromat: The short form of “compromising materials,” or translated roughly as blackmail. We had a taste of what kompromat is throughout the election cycle. These could be true, mostly true or completely fabricated stories that seek to discredit or control an opponent. Russia, after its chaotic 1990s, has developed expert capabilities in deploying kompromat. Using intelligence and security officials, the Kremlin was able to essentially create a library of kompromat and use it against political enemies. Mayors were sacked, opposition leaders run out of the country. Russia is an expert. So much so, that they are now taking the game overseas. With Hillary Clinton’s email leaks and the unverified dossier on Trump, there’s no doubt that we’ll continue to run across this word. Ordinary Russians see entertainment value, as much of the kompromat includes sex scandals or overseas bank account dramas. For Russians, kompromat is part of life. We should get used to it here as well.

Welcome to Trump’s brave new world. 

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