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How Much Havoc to Democracy can a Deranged Presidency Create?

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] R [/yt_dropcap]ecently I had a robust discussion with a colleague on the predicament of American democracy. I was told that I should desist from my obsessing with President Trump and focus instead on the damage already done. Trump is merely filling the vacuum created by such damage. He kept reminding me that it is not him who is crazy, it is us who are crazy for electing him.

He went on to characterize the nature of the damage created previous to Trump’s election: in the first place there is the failure, after the Cold War, to establish a working, cooperative, trustworthy relationship with Russia, at least on common grounds. In the second place, there is the failure to properly assess and appreciate the existential threat which global warming represents.

As a result of those failure the world may be a much less safer place today than it was before 1991. This general feeling of insecurity (or malaise, as President Carter would call it) actually began with President Clinton, followed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. After 1991, instead of working with Russia, the US asserted its military power, expanded NATO toward Russia’s borders, and proceeded to invade several Middle East countries. In effect the Cold War was revived rather than ended once and for all.

While during the Cold war the existential threat was felt to be from powerful nuclear weapons, something that was easy to perceive, today that threat seems to come from human-induced climate change which is not as easy to perceive. It requires at a minimum, a basic knowledge of the dynamics of quantum physics, earth’s climate, economic history. Our politicians, unfortunately, are more versed in receiving money from lobbyists, gas company and billionaires out to throw regulations for the sake of profits. Thus we are gambling with our very survival as a human species.

My response was that while all that is undeniable, the fact remains that there is an element of recklessness and even derangement in Trump’s attitude toward nuclear weapons and climate change. He has been known to suggest casually that Japan and South Korea ought to become nuclear powers; that a new nuclear-arms race would not be a bad idea, that when it comes to ISIS they ought not be put off the table, that the most disturbing thing in all that is the sheer denial, the fact that Trump has turned over environmental policies to the oil and gas industry (think of Exxon Mobil at the State Department, and Scott Pruit, someone financed by the fossel-fruit industry, not to speak of the Koch brothers.

What in fact continues to be exhibited at the White House is a bully whose bluster is designed to intimidate. An attitude that seems to imply that everybody is a rival or a foe. There are killers and there are losers, and the bluster insures is meant to place the killer ahead of the loser.

My point to my colleague is that faced with this unique pathological situation, just reasonable arguments may not do the trick. Perhaps facing down the bully when his emotions get the better of him. This man, like emperor Caligula, is not within the box and perhaps one has to think outside the box and resort to satire. Fortunately there are courts (the judicial) and a Congress (the legislative) to help us out.

We finally agreed that the issue is not simplistic and needed further reflection on our part. In the meantime we attempted to define the ways by which a narcissist’s recklessness could be kept in check, or at least mitigated. We came up with those: the judiciary who will quash many of those ill conceived executive orders.

A few patriotic Republican senators who refuse to stand by while our imperial president recklessly brings us to the brink of nuclear war? One thinks of McCain, Graham, Collins, Portman, Murkowsky. Would they allow the gutting of the Paris Climate Agreement? They too have children and grandchildren.

There may be silver lining in the rampant confusion we notice only after one month of Caligula presidency. It has managed to unite the world in some perverse way. It has managed to have the president of the EU declare the Trump administration, alongside Russia, China and the Middle East threats to the European Union. China’s Xi Kinping wants to pick up the internationalist mantle what Trump wants to relinquish. The UN is more resolved than ever in urging nuclear weapon countries to honor their solemn obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Millennials may now lead the way in unison with leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in making people aware of distributive justice and climate change, in putting brand names on notice that if they play along with Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, or American Petroleum Institute, or General Electric, or Pepsi, Walmart, IBM, Walt Disney there will be a price to be paid.

My colleague and I remain hopeful that people will refuse to be bullied and intimidated, for Trump is no Caesar or Augustus, he is more like a deranged Caligula and America is no Roman Republic on the verge of succumbing to mad emperors. We also remain hopeful that the system of check and balances will hold, even when weakened by the enemy of democracy. That is already happening: people are not willing to accede to bullies and insane inept politicians.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Commission revealed 12 winners of VET Excellence Awards

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The European Vocational Skills Week took place across Europe and beyond last week (from 16 to 20 May). Organised by the European Commission every year, it is an occasion to celebrate best practices in Vocational Education and Training (VET), bringing together everyone involved – from local, to national and regional authorities, students, teachers and education and training organisation stakeholders – to showcase the benefits VET offers to young people and adults alike. This year’s sixth edition focused on ‘VET and the Green Transition’, supporting people to acquire the necessary skills for the green transition, in line with the European Green Deal.  

At the VET Excellence Awards ceremony, the Commission announced the winners of this flagship prize in different categories. An accountancy apprentice from Greece, the Piedmont Region in Italy, and a Swedish tree care programme have received the European Vocational Skills Week Excellence Award 2022, along with 9 other award winners.

Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “It is great to see so many outstanding nominees and winners, celebrating the true benefits that vocational education and training can offer to everyone, young people and adults alike. They showcase the transformational impact that education and training can have on people’s careers and lives. I would also like to give a ‘special mention’ for our partners in Ukraine. We have been working closely together, also through the European Training Foundation, and will continue doing so, to support on topics such as qualifications, to help the Ukrainian people in these extremely difficult times.”

Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, said: “The green transition can become a real job engine if people receive the right support they need to thrive in their careers and the changing labour markets. The VET Excellence Awards help us identify the best approaches to become fit for the green economy, overcoming today’s labour shortages in key sectors such as construction, manufacturing and energy. I would like to congratulate all the nominees and VET learners, and to thank the thousands of providers of vocational education and training for their dedication.”

This year’s winners

The Commission awarded 12 prizes in four categories and one special mention to apprentices, projects, companies and regions, from the EU, neighbouring and neighbourhood countries, who have successfully used VET to build a greener, more digital and more inclusive society.

The award winners include:

  • Evangelos Pouftas, an apprentice with an accountancy firm in Greece, who demonstrated the key role of apprentices in accelerating the digital transition of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), by helping the company’s clients to digitalise their work, such as setting up online services to remain competitive, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased remote working.
  • The Piedmont Region of Italy,with the support of theEuropean Social Fund, promoted to young learners a culture of sustainability in food production and consumption along the agri-food chain.
  • The ‘Veteran Tree Management Skills Certification’ project of Stiftelsen Pro Natura. This Swedish programme, funded by Erasmus+,is designed to raise the standard of the caring for trees that have an exceptional value for nature conservation, landscape or culture, known as ‘veteran trees’.

Further award winners are:

  • AKMI S.A., Greece
  • Programme ‘Working inclusion and equal opportunities for the most disadvantaged’, ALMI BILBAO S.A.L., Spain
  • Cyclades –  5th Evening Vocational High School of Patra, Greece
  • Environmental and Agricultural Education in School, Georgia
  • Prof. Dr. Linda Clarke, University of Westminster, United Kingdom
  • ÖBB Infrastruktur AG, Austria
  • Otto Stöckl Elektroinstallationen GmbH, Austria
  • Riga State Technical School, Latvia
  • Virtual Dawn, Finland

In addition to the prizes in the different categories, a special mention went to Ukrainian partners who, along with the European Training Foundation, have been reforming their education and training systems, focusing on qualifications, the future of skills in key economic sectors, and governance arrangements to modernise the system and to bring it closer to the system in the EU.

EU actions to promote VET

The Commission is actively promoting vocational education and training as part of its work to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, and specifically the right to education, training and lifelong learning. This is also important to achieve the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan EU headline target that all partners committed to at the Porto Social Summit: at least 60% of all adults should participate in training every year.

On 1 July 2020, the Commission proposed a Council Recommendation on vocational education and training, to make VET more modern, attractive, flexible and fit for the digital age and the green transition. This proposal is embedded in other Commission initiatives, such as the European Skills Agenda and the Communication on Youth Employment Support – A Bridge to Jobs for the next generation.

In addition, the Commission put forward in December 2021 proposals for Individual Learning Accounts and Micro-credentials, to help open up more opportunities for people to find learning offers, and employment opportunities.

The European Commission also supports vocational education and training through significant funding, such as through the European Social Fund Plus (with total budget of almost €99.3 billion for 2021-2027), Erasmus+, and the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which has ‘reskilling and upskilling’ as one of its seven flagship areas for reforms and investments. 

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, Addresses World Economic Forum

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, in a live video address to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos-Klosters, told participants how he wakes up every day to read the numbers of his people killed in the war in the last 24 hours.

“Today,” he said, “we lost 87 people and the future of Ukraine will be without these 87 people”.

His stark message was in response to the question, whatis your dream for Ukraine?

Zelenskyy was speaking at the opening session of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022. Nearly 2,500 leaders from politics, business, civil society and the media were welcomed by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, to the first in-person Annual Meeting for more than two years held under the theme, History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies.

Speaking through a translator, the Ukrainian president said: “This year the words ‘turning point’ appear to have become more than just a rhetorical figure of speech. This is really the moment when it is decided whether brute force will rule the world.”

He went on: “Brute force does not discuss – it kills, as Russia does in Ukraine as we speak today.”

“Instead of successful peaceful cities there’s only black ruins. Instead of normal trade there are seas full of mines and blocked ports. Instead of tourism there are closed skies and thousands of Russian bombs and cruise missiles.” He said: “This is what the world would look like if humanity misses this turning point.”

He called for “maximum” sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo and a complete withdrawal of foreign companies. “All trade with the aggressor should be stopped. All foreign business should leave Russia so that your brands are not associated with war crimes. So that your offices, bills and goods are not used by war criminals in their bloody interests. Values must matter.”

He continued: “This is what sanctions should be. They should be maximum, so that Russia and every other potential aggressor that wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbour clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions.”

He compared Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with events in Sarajevo in 1914 and Munich in 1938, two historic moments that preceded the two world wars.

Zelenskyy praised his people’s courage. The war and the Ukrainian people’s resistance have stirred the unity of the democratic world and showed “that freedom must be fought for”. The Ukrainian leader received a standing ovation.

“The war in Ukraine represents a turning point in history and the resulting tragedy will reshape our political and our economic landscape in the coming years,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive, Chairman, World Economic Forum.

Ignazio Cassis, President of Switzerland, said: “Switzerland has strongly opposed the war of aggression in Ukraine. There can be no neutral attitude in the face of a brutal attack on our shared values of freedom and democracy. We stand alongside other countries in condemning the war.”

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In Times of Division, Arts and Culture Bring Us Together: Meet the Davos Cultural Leaders

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Yo-Yo Ma, Cellist, USA, captured during the 'Presentation of the Crystal Award' at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2008. Copyright World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org) www.swiss-image.ch/Photo by Andy Mettler

The World Economic Forum announced today the participation of prominent cultural leaders in the Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos-Klosters. These prominent figures will join their peers from business, government, the media and civil society to advance dialogue on how to reconnect in a post-pandemic era and unite to rebuild a world of inclusivity and sustainability under the meeting’s theme “History at a turning point: Government policies and business strategies”.

Cultural leaders will include former Crystal Award recipients world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and musician will.i.am; portrait and documentary photographer Platon; Verbier Festival and Academy founder and director Martin Engström; Grammy-winning classical pianist Emanuel Ax; singer/songwriter, actress and activist Inna Modja; and new media artist and director Harry Yeff.

“Never has there been a time more important, more pressing, then the present for arts and culture to unite us,” said Joseph Fowler, Head of Arts and Culture at the World Economic Forum. “When you experience culture, there is a sense of expansion when you cease to think about yourself and you feel part of something larger. The creative sectors are some of the most important when it comes to social impact and human connection and when they are coupled with the power of new technologies, arts and culture have an immense potential to nurture a culture of peace.”

Arts and culture will be integrated across throughout the Annual Meeting 2022:

Thepower and potential of the human voice is the focus of Voice Gems – Messages of Hope. Created by Harry Yeff and Trung Bao, the Voice Gems system sculpts over 200,000 particles with fingerprint-like voice data to create the colours and form of the each unique gem stone. The exhibition will feature a total of 17 messages of hope that have been recorded by a diverse selection of people including primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall; creative innovator, entertainer and tech investor will.i.am; poet and author Rupi Kaur; author and disability advocate Sinead Burke; and spiritual leader Sadhguru.

The Annual Meeting concert entitled “Our Shared Humanity” – to be performed byYo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax – is a celebration of humanity and shared hopes for a united and prosperous future. The accompanying immersive backdrop includes images provided by Atlas of Humanity as well as an exclusive filmed performance by dancer and choreographer Ahmad Joudeh. It is also a musical statement of support and solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

In collaboration with the Natural History Museum – London, a selection of photographs from the 2021 edition of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition will be showcased, inviting viewers to gaze through the lens of some of the world’s best wildlife photographers and explore the natural world in all its fragility, diversity and wonder.

Exploring the endless scope of opportunity the Metaversepresents, the Forum has partnered with Microsoft and Accenture to create the Global Collaboration Village. This will be anopen, collaborative platformbuilt together with international organizations, governments, civil society organizations and arts organizations. The overall concept and architecture will be showcased at Davos as well as a prototype of the experience and its functionality. An immersive experience will tell the story of the Sahel and Africa’s Great Green Wall Initiative supported by 1T.org.

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