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Public Agenda and U.S. Politics

Qasim Raza

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The group of Iranian students attacked the United States embassy in Tehran and more than 60 United States nationals were made hostages on 04th November, 1979. The incident was the reaction to Jimmy Carter’s decision of providing shelter to deportee Raza Shah of Iran, who was present at that time in United States for the treatment of cancer. Those hostages were released by Iran after deadlock of 444 days, when President Ronald Reagan delivered his inaugural speech.

The hostage crisis is believed to be the main reason of Jimmy Carter’s defeat. The opinion polls before some days of Presidential Elections between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan reflected very close competition. But, exactly two days before the Election, media broke the news that hostages in Iran might be released. Later on, it turned out that they were not. Impact of this news raised more propagation in public, and which also overshadowed the main public agendas. That news produced more curiosity among the public about the hostage crisis.

Before the news about hostage crisis the public of United States categorize their agendas in the following sequence:

  1. Inflation
  2. Crime
  3. Unemployment
  4. Pollution
  5. Hostage Crisis

But, after the news of hostage crisis the sequence of public agenda changed with the following categorization:

  1. Hostage Crisis
  2. Inflation
  3. Crime
  4. Unemployment
  5. Pollution

Media news created perception among masses that Jimmy Carter’s administration has failed to tackle the hostage crisis, and it was / is also believed that the same crisis resulted in the victory of Ronald Reagan as President of United States. Although there were also unverified charges on Regan’s campaign officials that they have conducted secret deal with an Iranian cleric to stop the release of hostages until after the elections. Mr. Gary Sick stated in New York Times that secret deal regarding hostages was started on July 1980 at Madrid hotel between William J. Casey and Iranian Cleric.

Media considered the hostage crisis as mania, which changed the general public perception of the people of United States. Walter Cronkite was a famous news anchor, he used to aware public on daily basis about the real time and days of the captivity of hostages at the end of the broadcast on the CBS network. Jimmy Carter tried all resources to communicate with Iran. Carter’s early secret approach to contact Ayatollah Khomeini wasted, because it was disclosed to the US media. After that, Carter delivered a negotiated hand written letter to Ayatollah Khomeini with the help of William Miller and Attorney General Ramsey Clark to release the hostages and promote the bilateral relations. Khomeini rejected the proposal and prohibited the Iranian authorities to speak to the US authorities.

Daily dramatized and prompt coverage of the hostage crisis on the national media of  United States created more difficulties for the administration of Jimmy Carter. Hence, it can be analyzed that media has ability to place an agenda, which is on the third or fourth priority into first number in the eyes of public. Media also has the capability to divert the focus of public from the basic agendas towards the desires of unknowns. In this pertinent scenario, policy agenda became media agenda, which was successfully transformed into public agenda.

Murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its implication on the future of the United States as policy agenda, media agenda and public agenda would now be discussed. Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi Embassy of Istanbul on 2nd October, 2018. He was a famous journalist and used to criticize Saudi Arabian policies. He had good relations with Saudi Royal Family and also worked as an adviser for the Saudi government. Last year, he lost the favor of Saudis and got into exile in the United States. He criticized Crown Suleiman Prince through articles from United States, in a monthly column in Washington Post.

Before 3 days to disappear, Jamal Khashoggi quoted that:

“The people being arrested are not even being dissidents; they just have an independent mind”

He criticized the Saudi crackdown on different scholars and predicted no place for democracy under the rule of Muhammad bin Suleiman. According to some schools of thought, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered because he was going to break the news of unproved chemical attack by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Mr. Khashoggi’s close friend exposed that Khashoggi was near to get the documentary proof of the chemical attack by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

He revealed that:

“I met him a week before his death. He was unhappy and he was worried” said the Middle Eastern academic, who did not wish to be named.

“When I asked him why he was worried, he didn’t really want to reply, but eventually he told me he was getting proof that Saudi Arabia had used chemical weapons.” He said he hoped he be getting documentary evidence.

“All I can tell you is that the next thing I heard, he was missing.”

The main concern of Mr. Khashoggi was phosphorus. Earlier, it was claimed that Saudi Arabia had used US supplied white phosphorous as weapon against civilians and opponents in Yemen.

“If Khashoggi did, in fact, have proof that Saudi Arabia was deliberately misusing phosphorous for this purpose, it would be highly embarrassing for the regime and provides the nearest motive yet as to why Riyadh may have acted when they did against him.”

The CIA has reported on 17th November 2018 that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman strategized the lethal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This report directly contradicts the Saudi government’s claim that Muhammad Bin Suleiman was not involved in the murder, not to mention the US president’s inclination to believe Riyadh. The State Department also responded Saturday afternoon, distancing itself from the CIA’s reported assessment.

History testifies the fact that midterm elections of United States frequently change the dynamics of power between congress and white house, and which has resultantly insisted the US administration to alter their strategy for foreign policy. For example, the Democrats’ sweeping victory in congressional vote in 2006, forced the Bush administration to modify its approach in Iraq and to appease Iran regime. After that, the revival of Republicans in US midterm elections of 2010 compelled President Obama to back military intervention in Libya, which, later on, resulted in “the worst mistake” of his presidency. The US midterm elections of 2018 are going to place several consequences for US foreign policy especially for Middle-East, doesn’t matter what are results.

The timing of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi really matters, because he was murdered some weeks before the midterm elections of United States. There is a perception of close relationship among Donald Trump, His Son in law Jared Khushner and Saudia Royal Family.The media campaign by neoliberals for seeking justice for Jamal Khashoggi in the context of Donald Trump having allegedly strong relations with Saudi Arabia is also viewed as character assassination movement to tackle conservative political base of Donald trump and this campaign has also showed its effects on the results of midterm elections of United States.

The complicated political scenario in USA, vicious contemporary issues of the world and war of words between the trump administration and the media could repeat the episode of Jimmy Carter of 1980s election. If one policy failure and the extreme media coverage on that issue can topple the Jimmy Carter’s administration, then in the 2018 in a globalised world, where social media is also very active, it seems very difficult for the Trump administration to survive, especially in upcoming General elections of USA.

The trump administration have to take strong and true measures for the Jamal Khashoggi issue, otherwise it’s position for upcoming General elections could be as weak as Jimmy Crater’s in 1980, because media emphasize on Jamal Khashoggi murder has just started and it could become severe public agenda from media agenda.

Point to Remember: Jimmy Carter’s administration never provoked the media directly and they faced the defeat due to media trail of one issue in 1980, on the other side Trump administration is provoking US media aggressively on several issues especially Jamal Khashoggi murder, now the question is that how the US media would wish the Trump administration on Khashoggi’s issue and other such matters.

Qasim Raza holds a Master's degree in Mass Communication from the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad. Currently, he is an M. Phil scholar at Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), Islamabad. His area of research includes human rights, media theories, nuclear safety and security, Arms Control & Disarmament and global contemporary affairs. He can be reached at qasim.raza6891[at]gmail.com

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Americas

In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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