Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Hong Kong lawyers demand explanation over journalist ban — Beijing is running Hong Kong now

November 16, 2018

Steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under President Xi Jinping — “We are all Uighurs now.”

Hong Kong’s powerful bar association, a group of the city’s top lawyers, has upped pressure on the government to explain the blacklisting of a British journalist in what was widely seen as an unprecedented attack on press freedom.

Victor Mallet, a senior journalist with the Financial Times, was refused a work visa extension and then barred from entering the city as a tourist after he chaired a talk by an independence activist at the city’s press club.

Image result for Carrie Lam, Xi Jinping, photos

Carrie Lam and Xi Jinping

The government has refused to explain the decision despite calls from the public and rights groups, and criticism from foreign governments including Britain and the United States.

The effective blacklisting of Mallet comes as concern grows that Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms are disappearing as Beijing tightens its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

In a statement late Thursday the bar association said the rights enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, including freedom of expression, should be respected “whether one agrees with the information or ideas or not”.

“The HKBA considers that the public, both domestically and internationally, is justifiably concerned whether the decisions (over Mallet’s visa and entry to Hong Kong) constitute undue interferences with the right to freedom of expression,” it added.

It urged the government to explain the decisions “so that the public can see if good reasons exist for them”.

Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland, protected by an agreement made before the city was handed back by Britain to China in 1997, but there is growing evidence those rights are being eroded.

A report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission this week said there had been a “steady erosion” of Hong Kong’s autonomy under President Xi Jinping and cited Mallet’s visa denial as an example of challenges to freedom of speech.

“Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s political system, rule of law and freedom of expression is moving the territory closer to becoming more like any other Chinese city,” the report said.

USCC, a congressional body that monitors national security and trade issues between the US and China, also called on the US Department of Commerce to publish assessments of the safety of exporting sensitive technology to Hong Kong.

City leader Carrie Lam denied the accusations in the report, saying it saw the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing with “coloured glasses”, an expression meaning to view something with prejudice.



US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

November 15, 2018

A US newspaper report that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering asking the Afghan government to postpone the presidential election has drawn backing from some in Afghanistan’s political quarters, while others have criticized it.

The report comes amid speculation that the presidential poll will be delayed and that instead an interim government will be formed involving the Taliban leaders in a effort to end the 17-year-long conflict.

It comes after last month’s long-delayed and chaotic parliamentary elections and the renewed US efforts for peace talks which involved the appointment of special US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Khalilzad in recent weeks has spoken with leaders of the regional powers, Taliban emissaries and the Afghan government as well as regional strongmen, some of whom fear that the outcome of presidential poll in a fractured government at this time may push the country into deeper chaos.

On Tuesday, citing US officials, The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was looking into postponing the vote.

“The possibility of such a step, one of several options being considered by US officials, is a sign of the urgency the administration sees in trying to broker a political breakthrough in a conflict that has bedeviled three successive American presidents,” The Wall Street Journal said.

In this Nov. 6, 2018, photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, listens during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at the presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)

The current administration of the joint National Unity Government (NUG), where the power is shared by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah, was formed as a result of allegedly rigged polls held in 2014.

Public frustration has mounted over the NUG’s failure to curb the crime rate, alleviate poverty and stop the deadly attacks by militants in the past four years.

Some politicians push for formation of an interim government, while others, including former President Hamid Karzai, deem the convocation of a traditional assembly, known as Loya Jirga, as a solution for the political and security crisis the country faces.

Officials close to Ghani, who is standing for re-election in the April 20 vote, said the poll will have to take place.

“Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process. Any other proposal that runs contrary to the Afghan constitution and people will not be acceptable to our people,” Fazel Fazly, an adviser to Ghani, said.

Abdullah, following the Wall Street Journal report, met on Tuesday with the US Ambassador to Kabul, John R. Bass. Abdullah in a tweet said he discussed the parliamentary and presidential elections with Bass, who told him that “the upcoming presidential election will take place on time.”

Later in the day, Bass said the US was helping Afghans to hold the elections based on the time stipulated, but added that the Afghans themselves can choose the time
for it.

“We remain committed to helping the electoral commissions and the Afghan government to prepare for the presidential elections in April 2019. Timing of the Afghan election is for the Afghans to decide,” he said in a statement. Bashir Bezhen, a lawmaker in President Ghani’s government, argued that delaying the polls goes against the constitution and it will damage the credibility of the US as well.

“This issue (the US option for delaying polls) is in violation of the constitution and it will also be a blow to US prestige because Afghanistan’s fate has its impact on the US as it has been fighting here for over 17 years,” he told Arab News.

However, he said there is no guarantee that a proper time will come that can pave the way for fair elections.

“We do not have the hope for a democratic, free, transparent election under this government and the current situation, but to hope that things will get better is a merely a dream.”

He said if the election is not held on time, then one solution would be an interim government or convocation of Loya Jirga and either way, Ghani will lose.

“Ghani is keen to hold the poll so he can win by fraudulently stuffing the ballot boxes. We feel worried about the future both if the election is held or delayed, but we have to know… what will happen if the polls are not held.”

Mohammad Nateqi, a politician, former diplomat and member of the government-appointed High Peace Council, said delaying the poll is necessary if it can lead to peace with the Taliban.

“If an interim administration or postponing of the election can help a comprehensive peace process, then it (delaying the poll) will not be a problem,” he said.

Arab News

Pioneering democracy trio prepare for trial in Hong Kong

November 13, 2018

Democracy and human rights advocates Chan Kin-man, a sociology professor, 59, law professor Benny Tai, 54, and baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming, 74, founded the “Occupy Central” movement in 2013, calling for the occupation of Hong Kong’s business district if the public was not given a fair vote for the city’s leader, who is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee.

Image result for china, map, flag

They are preparing for trial by the Communist Party ruled China government in Hong Kong.

Image result for Chan Kin-man, Benny Tai, Chu Yiu-ming, photos

Leading pro-democracy activists, Chan Kin-man (L), Benny Tai Yiu-ting (C) and Chu Yiu-ming hold a banner in front of the Wanchai police station in Hong Kong on January 24, 2015. The founders of the Occupy Central movement handed themselves in to police as part of authorities’ investigation into the 2014 mass rallies. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

HONG KONG (AFP) – Three leading Hong Kong democracy campaigners go on trial next week over their involvement in massive rallies calling for political reform, as room for opposition in the semi-autonomous city shrinks under an assertive China.

The justice department has prosecuted leading activists from the 2014 protests, with some also barred from standing for office and others thrown out of the legislature.

Most of those prosecuted so far have been young campaigners, but now it is the turn of the older generation whose original idea of taking to the streets to demand a fairer system was a precursor to the rallies.

Sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 59, law professor Benny Tai, 54, and baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming, 74, founded the “Occupy Central” movement in 2013, calling for the occupation of Hong Kong’s business district if the public was not given a fair vote for the city’s leader, who is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee.

The campaign was overtaken by a student movement that exploded in September 2014 when police fired tear gas on gathering crowds.

The Occupy trio urged people to join what became known as the Umbrella Movement as protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas and pepper spray.

The three men are among nine pro-democracy defendants facing “public nuisance” charges for their participation in the protests, which ultimately failed to win political reform, despite bringing parts of the city to a standstill for over two months.

Chan says he has become a marathon runner to prepare for the physical and mental challenges of a possible jail sentence — the maximum term for public nuisance is seven years.

He says he is “hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst” ahead of his trial, which starts on November 19, but adds he does not feel afraid.

“I’ve seen many of my friends suppressed by the Chinese government and I already feel privileged to have been able to fight against that in Hong Kong,” he told AFP.

He has chosen to testify in court to set the record straight.

“We’d like to take the witness stand and tell our story, tell people why this happened and the idea behind it,” says Chan.

“We need to restore history.”

– Beijing’s agenda –

Chan and Tai argue the charges against them are nonsensical and amount to a political prosecution.

The trio each face three charges based on a colonial-era law: conspiracy to cause public nuisance, inciting others to cause public nuisance, and inciting people to incite others to cause public nuisance.

Tai describes “inciting to incite” as a “far-fetched charge” and accuses authorities of redefining the meaning of rule of law to suit their own agenda.

“Order is the most important, national security is important, other basic rights are irrelevant. This is their way now,” he said.

However, despite the growing concerns that Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms are disappearing, Tai believes there is still an independent judiciary and the court will be fair.

Analyst Suzanne Pepper, an honorary fellow at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the political reason for the trial was to discredit the democracy movement.

The charges reflect the aim of the Hong Kong government to seek guilty verdicts through “long-unused legal excuses to pursue what is essentially Beijing’s political agenda”, she said.

The explicitly non-violent principles of the campaign could pose a challenge for prosecutors, Pepper added.

She believes that although the younger generation ultimately spearheaded the Umbrella Movement, the rallies would not have happened without the trio’s Occupy Central campaign.

Both Tai and Chan say they do not regret their involvement.

Chan believes Hong Kongers still want to fight for democracy, but it is becoming more difficult under China’s tightening grip.

He says he is angry at the city’s government for doing Beijing’s bidding.

“The speed that the government is trying to drag down Hong Kong and turn it into a mainlandised city is beyond my expectations,” he said. “I didn’t anticipate the government would have no shame.”


Lawmakers: Time to check President Donald Trump

November 9, 2018

Lawmakers who don’t dare to check President Donald Trump have abdicated their oversight role, Republican former governor and EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman told DW. She also detailed why Trump shouldn’t be impeached.

Donald Trump in a joint session of US Congress (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Lo Scalzo)

DW: Republicans in Congress, aside from the verbal admonishments, have not exactly been trying very hard to rein President Trump in, have they? Should they finally step up now after the ouster of Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

Christine Todd Whitman: Congress should play its role. Congress, [the House] and the Senate have roles to play and they abdicated those in many instances. They are the third body of the tripartite government and they need to start acting like it.

But it seems to have almost become a cult of personality and they don’t dare take him on. But they have a role. They are the brakes [on an unchecked executive branch]. If they see behavior that they feel is not in the best interest of the country as a whole or is undermining the basic statutes and laws of our country, they should speak up — more than speak up, they should take some action.

Christine Todd Whitman, ex-governor of New Jersey and EPA chief (privat)


Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman served as EPA chief under President George W. Bush

You certainly have been outspoken and have gone on record to say you don’t think Trump is fit for office. With what has happened recently including his racist campaign video, his attacks on the media, but also the firing of Sessions, is it time to impeach him?

I don’t think so. And frankly, I think that would be a waste of time. They should certainly do their oversight. This is one of the most ethically challenged administrations that I have ever seen. I can’t remember an administration where you have had as many Cabinet members who have had to resign because of ethical concerns.

But they really need to do what the people need them to do. We need to have infrastructure; and that is an area where Democrats and Republicans can get together and get something done. We are in the situation we are in now because the public was frustrated and angry about the lack of action from Congress on major issues and so they just wanted someone saying he was going to blow the whole thing up. And they didn’t think about what the consequences of that could be.

So at this point, I think oversight — yes. Call him to account when there are issues to be brought up. I think the impeachment idea — we have been down this route before and it doesn’t usually work very well because there is a very high standard of high crimes and misdemeanors to prove. I would far rather see them take on their oversight responsibilities and then start addressing the issues that we need to have addressed.

Do you think the forced exit of Sessions amounts to obstruction of justice as it could be seen as move to hamper, interfere or kill Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and its findings?

I think [Trump] is scared of what the Mueller probe might come up with. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move to get Mueller fired between now and the first of the year before the new Congress is sworn in. He does not want them to have full access. But that is not going to stop whatever Mueller has discovered to date, whatever that is. But also Mueller is not going to be intimidated. He is someone who is committed to his work. He is honest and he is not going to be told off by this president’s histrionics. And you see that by the fact that he has run a very tight ship and there have been no leaks from that investigation.

Trump has never hidden his contempt, perhaps even hatred, for journalists and the media, which he has called the “enemy of the people.” How dangerous for the freedom of press and for individual journalists is the fact that the White House has now taken away the credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta because it clearly does not like his coverage?

That’s not the way we behave in this country. I co-chair with Preet Bharara [ed. note: the former New York prosecutor fired by Sessions in 2017, after the former attorney general demanded that nearly all US attorneys appointed by Barack Obama resign] the task force on democracy and the rule of law and our first report offered several legislative actions that could be taken on ethics, the judiciary and law enforcement.

But the next thing we are looking at is the independence of the press, this fundamental premise on which are country is based. And we are looking at how what we have always considered normal behavior can be institutionalized. And one of the things we do recommend, and this is approved by bipartisan people who all held some position in government or elected office, is that there should be legislation to protect any special prosecutor so that they can do their job — because nobody is above the law.

So should Congress pass a law to protect special prosecutor Mueller?


Read more: Trump insults, attacks media in wild press conference

Other administrations have, of course, often had very strained relations with the press, but Trump seems clearly to have gone far beyond that and appears to be purposely trying to undermine and attack the press and individual journalists.

It’s very dangerous when you start to undermine the public’s confidence in the media, law enforcement and the judiciary — and this president is doing all of that. He doesn’t care about the residual impact, he doesn’t care about consequences as long as he feels it is favorable to him and he is dominating the conversation, which he does very, very well.

The questions just keep coming.  Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

It’s really dangerous. The freedom of the press is one of our basic tenets of our democracy and it needs to be protected. No president has ever had a free ride from the press — and no officeholder, believe me. We all have had to deal with uncomfortable situations, nasty questions and reporters we thought just had it out for us, and I think sometimes they did. But you have to deal with it. That goes with the job. But you don’t ban them, you don’t stop answering their questions and you don’t say that the news is fake if you don’t like it.

He is annoyed at CNN. Fox News is the only one he will go on. They have been blatant about their support of him and some of their reporters have appeared with him at various gatherings — things that a long time ago would never have been allowed within the media. You just didn’t pick sides like that if you were going to be seen as an independent journalist. He just doesn’t like anyone who doesn’t report things they way he wants them to be reported.

Read more: Ralph Nader: Trump is ‘a clear and imminent danger’ to the world

Many people in the US and beyond who observe Trump’s conduct wonder why close to 90 percent of Republicans, according to Gallup’s longstanding tracking poll, still support this president. You still are a Republican. Can you explain it?

The people being polled as self-identified Republicans are his base. That’s what’s left of the Republican Party. But it’s not a majority party. Right now 29 percent of the American people identify as Republicans — and I think that is going down — 30 percent as Democrat and 40 percent as independents or non-affiliated. People are leaving the party. So when you say 90 percent of the Republicans that’s those who will identify as Republicans and it is not the majority of the people in the country or the people who identify historically with the Republican Party.


Christine Todd Whitman served as the first female governor of New Jersey from 1994 until 2001. She then led the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under George W. Bush from 2001 until her resignation in 2003 over demands by then-Vice President Dick Cheney to loosen air pollution rules. She currently co-chairs the National Task Force on Democracy and the Rule of Law at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

Related from Bloomberg:

Trump Proves Again He’s Not Fit for Office

Thailand has a New party, old faces: political entrant’s leaders are Shinawatra loyalists

November 7, 2018

Family members and loyalists to the powerful former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra were Wednesday elected to head a new party, reinvigorating the division that has characterised and paralysed Thai politics for over a generation.

The controversial Shinawatra family have long been key political figures in Thailand. Former prime minister and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration was booted out in a 2006 coup d’etat by the powerful military, although all parties and proxies affiliated with him have won elections since 2001.

This includes Thailand’s biggest party, Pheu Thai — which was headed by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck before she was ousted in a coup in 2014.

© ASAHI SHIMBUN/AFP/File | Former Thai prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra have been divisive political figures in Thai politics

The new party associated with the clan is Thai Raksa Chart, which held a meeting Wednesday to vote on its leader and board members, and has formed ahead of much-anticipated elections early next year.

Political analysts say the party is a proxy for the Pheu Thai party, with an almost identical party logo and support from Pheu Thai stalwarts.

Preechapol Pongpanit was elected as Thai Raksa Chart’s new leader — Preechapol was also the government whip under the Pheu Thai-led administration of Yingluck Shinawatra.

Rupop Shinawatra, Thaksin’s nephew, was elected as the new party’s deputy leader.

He has previously served as an assistant to Thaksin during the brief period when the billionaire owned British football club Manchester City.

“I cannot change the name that comes with me but I want people to see me as me instead of just another Shinawatra,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Chayika Wongnapachant, Yingluck’s niece, is another member of the new party, who demurred when asked if her new party would align itself with Pheu Thai in a coalition government.

Image result for Chayika Wongnapachant, photos

Chayika Wongnapachant

“We stand with any party that stands with democracy,” Chayika said.

Political analyst Somchai Phagaphasvivat said this proxy party was created to “circumvent” a 2017 junta-drafted constitution, which makes it very difficult for any one party to have a majority in elections.

A popular party like Pheu Thai would have to get crucial support from smaller parties to gain control under the new rules.

“It’s like (Thai Raksa Chart) are in the same political family, but they are a different party,” Somchai said.

Junta leader and prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha has expressed interest in recent weeks about entering the political fray, though he has stopped short of declaring his intentions to run as a candidate.


Opinion: US midterms — a battle over principle, not facts — (Feelings seem to matter more)

November 6, 2018

The US midterms have taken on a new dimension because Donald Trump has made them all about himself. While the vote is still wide open, the president has indelibly changed the country, says DW editor-in-chief Ines Pohl.

USA Trump Yellowstone International Airport (Reuters/C. Barria)

There are some bets you don’t really want to win.

After I had spent a year travelling around the US as a reporter, my prediction ahead of the country’s 2016 presidential election deviated widely from prevailing opinion. It was clear to me that Donald Trump had a very good chance of moving into the White House. He did, and I won a bottle of bourbon.

Friend and foe

Two years later, the US faces elections again. This time, it’s not about the president, but the members of both houses of the US Congress. But in Donald Trump’s America, everything on the political stage is also about him. Accordingly, he got heavily involved in the election campaign, working even harder over the past weeks on his agenda of splitting the world into friend and foe — for instance by deploying more troops on the Mexican border than are stationed in Iraq.

Read moreWhy the US midterm elections matter for America and the world

This president actually makes things easy for his opponents. His heavy-handed, aggressive manner, the exaggerations and lies are reliably provocative, and the people he targets rarely leave an attack unanswered. That in turn keeps him in business and it prevents the Democrats from focusing on themselves and revamping both personnel and program. Their obsession with Trump’s tweets means they’re neglecting to rally around a candidate who might in two years’ time, with the right policies, be able to prevent another four years of Trump.

Polarizing political system

This is particularly dangerous in a two-party system that polarizes in the first place because it does not have to rely on coalitions that would need a certain degree of compromise. Basically, it is detrimental to democracies when camps are so split that people don’t even listen to the other side any more let alone admitting at times that their political opponents may have a point.

No debate about the better argument

Trump’s most enduring legacy for his country is likely to be how he has destroyed the capability to dispute arguments rather than tenets — not least through his Twitter obsession. People want to believe him. They want to believe that he is making America great again. And they want to believe that a strong leader will keep the challenges of this complex, globalized world at bay and solve its problems.

Read moreRepublican ‘mini-Trumps’ echo US president to woo midterm voters

Faith is not knowledge. Facts, and the clear distinction between lies and the truth, have become secondary. That is the bitter truth after Trump’s year-long election campaign and two years’ as president. There is barely a ripple when his own echo chambers on Facebook or Fox News blatantly get it wrong and even the biggest fan realizes that Trump has simply lied. Because facts no longer count. That is America’s real problem.

When the truth and facts are ignored, when lies are dismissed as trivial offences, democracy and the freedom to form opinions go out of the window. In the end, that means no less than undermining the basis of our understanding of democracy and the state, and that autocrats not only take over power — they can hang on to it too.

Companies who support dictatorships while bashing America should lose all federal funding

November 5, 2018

Google stopped Pentagon work after its engineers balked, but doesn’t blink when helping Communist China (a country that has killed tens of millions of its own citizens) censor or track dissidents.

McKinsey & Company, meanwhile, ceased its work with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in anger over ICE’s role in countering illegal immigration, explaining that it “will not, under any circumstances, engage in any work, anywhere in the world, that advances or assists policies that are at odds with our values.” Perhaps McKinsey might then explain which values attracted it to work in Saudi Arabia or to assist Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dictatorial regime in Turkey.

The imprisonment of more journalists than any other country on earth? Ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Afrin? Support for Islamist terrorist groups? The mercurial Erdogan ultimately turned on McKinsey in a fit of pique at Washington, but the consulting firm still walked away with the Turkish cash.

By Michael Rubin
Washington Examiner

U.S. administrations come and go. While domestic and foreign policy remains broadly consistent across administrations, both pundits and press amplify differences and demonize opponents. Too often, the political base believes the rhetoric. Progressives believed George W. Bush or Mitt Romney were extremists or devils incarnate. Journalists labeled mainstream Republicans as “ultra-conservatives,” if not racists. To be fair, the same phenomenon manifested itself on the political right with regard to anti-Obama conspiracy theories.

Beyond political mudslinging, however, there is a crisis of confidence within America about what it means to be American. Revisionist historians seek to transform the United States from a beacon of freedom and democracy to a country responsible for all the world’s ills. Keith Ellison, the vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, for example, last year told progressive activists that North Korean communist leader Kim Jong Un was a more responsible leader than President Trump.

Related image

Keith Ellison

Alas, young engineers and consultants living sheltered, insulated lives secure in prominent U.S. companies may believe such rhetoric. Not all have traveled outside Western liberal democracies and, when they do, it is usually in luxury. While it is easy to throw around terms like fascism, few have a visceral understanding of just what that means. When financially secure and free to opine, socialism may seem cool, never mind that it is an ideology which has contributed to the murder of almost 100 million people in the last century. Intersectionality is epistemological nonsense; in reality, it is just an excuse to embrace without consequence or thought the most illiberal ideas and causes.

Despite what partisan web outlets suggest, for example, there is no moral equivalence between the United States and Iran. Anyone never threatened by Iran’s purges, death squads, and mass repression may not realize that the progressive rhetoric and human rights rhetoric employed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are simply cynical efforts to shape perceptions that contradict reality.

Image result for Mohammad Javad Zarif, photos

Mohammad Javad Zarif

But what should policymakers do when moral and cultural equivalence has run amok and the employees of tech firms and consultancies would rather, whether because of naivete or ignorance, aid autocratic and murderous regimes than accept contracts from the U.S. government? What is the proper recourse?

Here, perhaps the 1996 Solomon Amendment can provide some direction: During the Vietnam War, many universities kicked ROTC chapters off campus and prohibited U.S. military and intelligence community recruitment on campus. Decades after the Vietnam War ended, such bans continued. Universities might rhetorically embrace a competition of ideas but, too often the progressivism at top universities like Yale, Harvard, and Stanford is an intolerant strain meant more to shield dominant campus narratives from challenge. The 1996 Solomon Amendment sought to compel an end to discrimination against the ROTC by enabling the Defense Department to deny grants to universities which engaged in such anti-military discrimination. This woke up even the most partisan university administrator, as they recognized what could happen if their universities lost tens of millions of grant dollars upon which so many departments had become dependent.

The parallels aren’t identical, but if American tech firms and consultancies would rather bolster dictatorships like China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia while they simultaneously impose a political litmus test upon their U.S. work, then perhaps it is time for Congress and the federal government to create a new Solomon Amendment for the 21st century: To discriminate against the United States should mean an end to federal contracts and other government or taxpayer-funded revenue streams. Simply put, U.S. funds should never enable anti-Americanism at home or abroad, nor should there be no accountability when U.S. companies play politics with national security.

Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.

Poll: Only half of Americans have faith in democracy

November 5, 2018

Just 51% of Americans said they have faith in democracy, and 37% say they have lost faith in democracy, according to a new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll conducted in late October.

Why it matters: It suggests that recent political turmoil has caused people to doubt the very foundation of American society, particularly leading up to election day.

An upside down flag during a 2007 war protest in Seattle.

Since October 2016, just before the last presidential election, SurveyMonkey has tracked Americans’ views toward democracy.

What’s happening: Despite the political turbulence over the past two years, Americans’ faith in democracy has been relatively stable — with two exceptions.

  • Just before heading to the polls in 2016, 52% of voters had faith in democracy.
  • That number grew from pre-election numbers (by 8 percentage points) immediately following the election in November 2016 and in February 2017, after President Trump’s inauguration.
  • One year ago, in October 2017, faith in democracy dropped by 7 percentage points and has held fairly steady since then.
  • The other half of Americans have either lost faith in democracy or never had faith in it to begin with, according to the poll.

The big picture: SurveyMonkey also found that half the country believes America is more divided today than ever before — and that these divisions will probably continue far into the future (ranging between 46% and 51% over the past two years).

  • About one-third of Americans agree America is more divided today, but are optimistic that Americans will come together in the near future.
  • 18% say America is not more divided today than it has been in the past.

Methodology: This survey was conducted Oct. 19-24 among 3,913 adults. Respondents were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.

The modeled error estimate for the full sample of that survey is plus or minus 2 percentage points and full crosstabs are available here.


Advocate For Hong Kong Warns US Legislators: City’s Freedom at Risk

November 5, 2018

When the United Kingdom handed over Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, a treaty guaranteed the city would retain its way of life through the adoption of the policy of “one country, two systems.” An expert who monitors Hong Kong’s freedoms came to Washington to warn U.S. legislators that this policy, which was meant to preserve the rule of law and protections for human rights, is threatened with becoming meaningless.

According to Benedict Rogers, chair of trustees of the UK-based group Hong Kong Watch, the “final straw” in the degradation of Hong Kong’s special status would be the passage of Article 23 of the autonomous territory’s Basic Law.

Rogers said at an event hosted by the NGO Citizen Power For China/Initiatives for China in Washington on Nov. 1, that since the student-led pro-democracy protests of 2014, Hong Kong has experienced an unprecedented crackdown on its freedoms.

By Jennifer Zeng
Epoch Times

Benedict Rogers, Chair of Trustees of Hong Kong Watch, UK, speaks at “Tightening grip: The rise of authoritarianism and the erosion of freedom in Hong Kong” at Citizen Power Initiatives for China, in Washington, on Nov. 1, 2018. (Jennifer Zeng/The Epoch Times)

Student protesters have been imprisoned; political candidates have been disqualified from running for election, and legislators have been barred from the city’s legislature. Press freedom, academic freedom, and the rule of law are all facing pressure in an atmosphere where the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule increasingly limits freedom.

Now, pressure has been building for the current administration to enact Article 23, which stipulates that the city should pass a national security law prohibiting treason, secession, sedition, and subversion.

Plans to roll out the law in 2003 failed, after at least 500,000 people marched from Victoria Park to the Government of Hong Kong’s Central Offices to protest against it, which could have been used by the government to curtail freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

The current version of Article 23 has tougher provisions than the 2003 version.

Fifteen years later, however, Rogers said: “With the system that is in Hong Kong at the moment, where Beijing is more and more encroaching every day, and there is no representative democracy, no universal suffrage, Article 23 poses the most serious threat to basic rights. So I think that should be the line that the U.S. should be watching and should be ready to act if that happens.”

During this trip, Rogers delivered this message to officials of the U.S. State Department and the staff of different congressional offices including that of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) chair Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and CECC co-chair Chris Smith (R-N.J.), among others.

Hong Kong pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo (R) is surrounded by security as she shouts “Free press! No Persecution!” as Chief Executive Carrie Lam (not pictured) arrives to deliver her policy address at the Legislative Council (Legco) in Hong Kong on October 10, 2018. (Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

A piece of legislation passed in 1992 could be the occasion for registering U.S. unhappiness with changes in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Policy Act gives Hong Kong a special status by allowing the United States to continue to treat the city separately from mainland China for matters concerning trade export and economics controls after the 1997 handover.

Rogers said he has been asking people, “if Hong Kong’s autonomy continues to erode, ‘one-country, two-systems’ continues to be virtually dismantled, and if Hong Kong just becomes another Mainland Chinese city, why should it have that special status?”

“I don’t have a case at this stage for dismantling the ‘Hong Kong Policy Act’ and special status for Hong Kong,” Rogers said. “I do think it should be reviewed and it should be on the table. Hong Kong and Beijing should be left to no doubt that if further erosion occurs, the U.S. should be prepared to take these measures.”

Rogers co-founded Hong Kong Watch in 2017, an advocacy organization to speak up for Hong Kong’s freedom and the rule of law, after he was denied entry to Hong Kong upon arrival on Oct. 11, 2017, on the orders of the Chinese government, an incident which drew international media attention widely.

Trump Digs In for a Long, Cold War With Iran

November 4, 2018

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Sanctions aim to ‘force’ a regime determined to resist

Iran has vowed to resist punishing economic sanctions planned by the U.S. to compel Tehran to pull back from its Mideast posture. Above, the grand bazaar in Tehran.
Iran has vowed to resist punishing economic sanctions planned by the U.S. to compel Tehran to pull back from its Mideast posture. Above, the grand bazaar in Tehran. Photo: atta kenare/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

President Trump has put Iran on notice that the punishing sanctions he plans to impose on Monday are just the opening salvo of an ambitious strategy to compel Tehran to pull back from its assertive posture in the Middle East or risk collapse.

“Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior or continue down the path toward economic disaster,” Mr. Trump said in a statement Friday night.

The guiding assumption behind the administration’s policy is that Iran is economically weak, has little interest in a military confrontation with the U.S.—and that Washington can force changes in decadeslong Iranian behavior that will reconfigure the Middle East, officials and experts say.

But senior Iranian officials insist Tehran will neither retrench nor negotiate. Former U.S. officials with long experience say Tehran has cards to play, including trying to ride out the sanctions in the hope that Mr. Trump is a one-term president and taking advantage of the continued turmoil in the region to stir up fresh challenges for the U.S. and its allies.

“Iran is gaining ground in the region, and I don’t see these sanctions as reversing that,” said Jeffrey Feltman, who was the top State Department official on Middle East issues from 2009 to 2012 and later served as a United Nations undersecretary general for political affairs.

An early test of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign will come in Syria. The White House has sought Russian President Vladimir Putin’s help in prodding Iranian forces and the Shiite militias Tehran backs to leave the country—so far, without success.

Administration officials are now calculating that draconian economic measures can prompt Iran to declare its military mission accomplished in Syria and bring its forces home. To drive home the point, U.S. officials have released figures asserting that Iran’s annual tab for sustaining its Lebanese ally Hezbollah is about $700 million, while Tehran has spent at least $16 billion in recent years supporting its allies in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Some former U.S. officials say, however, that Iran’s support for the Assad regime and Hezbollah are top priorities Tehran will attempt to sustain at all cost.

“They are heavily invested in Syria, and the IRGC is not going anywhere soon,” said Ryan Crocker, the veteran U.S. diplomat, referring to Iran’s paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

In a meeting last month with Wall Street Journal reporters and editors, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif portrayed Iran’s military presence in Syria as defensive and disputed the notion that its forces should withdraw.

“We believe that if we do not fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq, we will have to fight it in Iran,” Mr. Zarif said. “Our people recognize that.”

Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever and the day will come when the people will face a choice. Will they continue down the path of poverty, bloodshed and terror, or will the Iranian people return to the nation’s proud roots as a center of civilization, culture and wealth, where their people can be happy and prosperous?

—President Trump at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2017

Iran’s nuclear activities are another area where the Trump administration’s strategy will be tested.

Iran has rebuffed U.S. demands that it accept constraints on its nuclear program that are far more stringent than those imposed by the 2015 accord negotiated by the Obama administration and disowned by Mr. Trump. At the same time, Iran has acceded to European appeals that it stick with the 2015 agreement, which Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China are trying to preserve.

But Mr. Zarif signaled that Tehran might relax its adherence to that accord if economic benefits it still expects to achieve from the agreement aren’t forthcoming.

“We have the possibility of a partial reduction of our commitment,” Mr. Zarif said. “We will have to make that decision when the time comes.”

Such a move could add to the strains between Europe and Washington over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear capability.

“Their strategy as of now is the expectation that Trump will be weakened by the midterm elections and won’t be re-elected in 2020, essentially a wait-and-see approach,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan think tank.

“But their economy is in bad shape, and the trend lines are only going to worsen,” he added. “They may soon conclude they have more leverage by reconstituting their nuclear activities—not by going from 0 to 100 but from 0 to 20.”

In an effort to persuade Iran to stick with the 2015 accord, the European Union is moving toward establishing a special payment channel to maintain economic ties with Iran. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday he didn’t expect the channel to be effective in the face of U.S. pressure.

Iran also is expected to reactivate its long-developed capacity for evading sanctions, seeking to dodge the economic bullets coming from Washington. But the Trump administration has vowed to crack down.

In an August tweet, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asserted that Iran wouldn’t challenge the U.S. militarily. “THERE WILL BE NO WAR, NOR WILL WE NEGOTIATE WITH THE U.S.” he wrote.

Despite the ayatollah’s declaration, some experts believe there is a risk the regime might lash out—perhaps though regional proxies or covert operations that Tehran would publicly deny—in response to the intensifying economic pressure and calls by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for Iranians to “restore democracy.”

“Anybody remember Beirut 1983?” said Mr. Crocker, referring to the bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. “They can find a way to make life rough for us.”

Iran trained and equipped Shiite militias that attacked U.S. forces during the Iraq war. So far, those militias have refrained from attacking the U.S. military advisers who returned to Iraq for the campaign against Islamic State. But the State Department said in September it was closing the U.S. consulate in Basra, citing security risks from Iranian-backed forces.

Even staunch supporters of the administration’s Iran policy acknowledge the risks.

“The administration has invested enormous energy into tightening the sanctions noose as tight as possible,” said John Hannah, who served as an adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney and is now a senior counselor at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which has urged the administration to impose tough sanctions on Iran.

“I hope they’ve spent as much time planning for all the ways Iran could use terrorism, proxies and cyberweapons to disrupt oil markets, destabilize our allies, and attack U.S. interests,” he added.

The 12 demands issued to Iran by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 21

  • 1. Iran must provide a full accounting of its previous nuclear weapons research and abandon such work forever.
  • 2. Iran must stop enriching uranium, never pursue plutonium reprocessing and close its heavy-water reactor.
  • 3. Iran must give unqualified access to the International Atomic Energy Agency to all sites in the country.
  • 4. Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and stop developing missiles that can carry nuclear weapons.
  • 5. Iran must release all U.S. citizens and those of U.S. allies and partners.
  • 6. Iran must end support to Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Middle East “terrorist” groups.
  • 7. Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and permit the demobilization and reintegration of Shia militias.
  • 8. Iran must end its military support for the Houthi insurgency and work toward a political settlement in Yemen.
  • 9. Iran must withdraw all forces in Syria under Iranian command.
  • 10. Iran must end support for the Taliban and cease harboring al Qaeda leaders.
  • 11. Iran must end the support for terrorists and militant partners by its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
  • 12. Iran must end its threats against Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other neighbors.
  • (Source: U.S. State Department)

Write to Michael R. Gordon at