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Ideas

Geopolitics

The Trumpian Virus Undermining Democracy Is Now Spreading Through South America

Taking inspiration from events in the United States over the past four years, rejection of election results and established state institutions is on the rise in Latin America.

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — South Africa's Nelson Mandela used to say it was "so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build."

Intolerance toward those who think differently, even inside the same political space, is corroding the bases of representative democracy, which is the only system we know that allows us to live and grow in freedom, in spite of its flaws.

Recent events in South America and elsewhere are precisely alerting us to that danger. The most explosive example was in Brazil, where a crowd of thousands managed to storm key institutional premises like the presidential palace, parliament and the Supreme Court.

In Peru, the country's Marxist (now former) president, Pedro Castillo, sought to use the armed and security forces to shut down parliament and halt the Supreme Court and state prosecutors from investigating corruption allegations against him.

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"Collateral Benefit": Could Putin's Launching A Failed War Make The World Better?

Consider the inverse of "collateral damage." Envision Russia's defeat and the triumph of a democratic coalition offers reflection on the most weighty sense of costs and benefits.

-Analysis-

PARIS — The concept of collateral damage has developed in the course of so-called "asymmetrical” wars, fought between opponents considered unequal.

The U.S. drone which targeted rebel fighters in Afghanistan, and annihilated an entire family gathered for a wedding, appears to be the perfect example of collateral damage: a doubtful military gain, and a certain political cost. One might also consider the American bombing of Normandy towns around June 6, 1944 as collateral damage.

But is it possible to reverse the expression, and speak of "collateral benefits"? When applied to an armed conflict, the expression may seem shocking.

No one benefits from a war, which leaves in its trace a trail of dead, wounded and displaced people, destroyed cities or children brutally torn from their parents.

And yet the notion of "collateral benefits" is particularly applicable to the war that has been raging in Ukraine for almost a year.

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Modi's Fight Against "Fake News" Looks A Whole Lot Like Censorship

The Modi government’s attempts to censor the media and intimidate independent journalism pose a grave danger to Indian democracy.

A distinct chill has set in this January.

The first month of the New Year has spelt trouble for anybody interested in India’s future as a democracy – where freedom of expression ought to be guaranteed. Not to speak of our newly minted status as the "mother of democracy."

There are things happening, which must be seen together to understand the reality: Censorship is here.

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Hey ChatGPT, Are You A Google Killer? That's The Wrong Prompt People

Reports that the new AI natural-language chatbot is a threat to Google's search business fails to see that the two machines serve very different functions.

Since OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT to the world last November, people have wasted little time finding imaginative uses for the eerily human-like chatbot. They have used it to generate code, create Dungeons & Dragons adventures and converse on a seemingly infinite array of topics.

Now some in Silicon Valley are speculating that the masses might come to adopt the ChatGPT-style bots as an alternative to traditional internet searches.

Microsoft, which made an early $1 billion investment in OpenAI, plans to release an implementation of its Bing search engine that incorporates ChatGPT before the end of March. According to a recent article in The New York Times, Google has declared “code red” over fears ChatGPT could pose a significant threat to its $149-billion-dollar-a-year search business.

Could ChatGPT really be on the verge of disrupting the global search engine industry?

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Ideas
Rohan Banerjee*

Joshimath, The Sinking Indian City Has Also Become A Hotbed Of Government Censorship

The Indian authorities' decision to hide factual reports on the land subsidence in Joshimath only furthers a sense of paranoia.

MUMBAI — Midway through the movie Don’t Look Up (2021), the outspoken PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is bundled into a car, a bag over her head. The White House, we are told, wants her “off the grid”. She is taken to a warehouse – the sort of place where CIA and FBI agents seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in Hollywood movies – and charged with violating national security secrets.

The Hobson’s choice offered to her is to either face prosecution or suspend “all public media appearances and incendiary language relating to Comet Dibiasky”, an interstellar object on a collision course with earth. Exasperated, she acquiesces to the gag order.

Don’t Look Upis a satirical take on the collective apathy towards climate change; only, the slow burn of fossil fuel is replaced by the more imminent threat of a comet crashing into our planet. As a couple of scientists try to warn humanity about its potential extinction, they discover a media, an administration, and indeed, a society that is not just unwilling to face the truth but would even deny it.

This premise and the caricatured characters border on the farcical, with plot devices designed to produce absurd scenarios that would be inconceivable in the real world we inhabit. After all, would any government dealing with a natural disaster, issue an edict prohibiting researchers and scientists from talking about the event? Surely not. Right?

On January 11, the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), one of the centers of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), issued a preliminary report on the land subsidence issue occurring in Joshimath, the mountainside city in the Himalayas.

The word ‘subsidence’ entered the public lexicon at the turn of the year as disturbing images of cracked roads and tilted buildings began to emanate from Joshimath.

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Ideas
Marek Halter

An Open Letter To Netanyahu, From A Notable "Jew Of The Diaspora"

The Polish-French writer Marek Halter addresses a letter to Israel’s leader warning him against the undercurrents of his government that threaten the very essence of the Jewish state.

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Geopolitics
Pierre Haski

Davos, The Slow Melt Into Irrelevance

The Davos Forum was once a true shaper of our collective future in a globalized world. Today it is beyond its expiry date, even if global solutions to global problems are needed more than ever.

-Analysis-

PARIS — For almost three decades now, perched in the Swiss Alps, has been the sunny face of a globalization that works.

It was the place, in the 1990s, where I understood for the first time the impact of the digital revolution. Davos was a place where one could meet Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk or Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, up close, and far away from South Africa or the Middle East.

It was also there that the new democracies of Eastern Europe took their first steps into the free-market economy and where emerging countries could be paired up with international investors.

This era, we must say, is now truly over. The dream-like world of Davos, the world of the free flow of goods and capital, the world of globally integrated supply chains, and technology designed for the common good, has run into perils it did not or could not predict.

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Ideas
Pierre Haski

China's COVID Coverup Is The Perfect Script For One-Party Rule

That it fools nobody is essential to the plot. That people are dying turns it into tragedy.

-Analysis-

Rarely has the gap between official information and reality been so wide. Every night at 8 p.m., China's newscast opens with a long montage devoted to the daily activities of the country's leaders, by order of importance: Xi Jinping at an economic meeting, Xi Jinping publishing a new book ... Then, after 20 minutes or so, some images about COVID, just in passing, and mainly to highlight that the Party line is the right one.

Among the Chinese population, it is exactly the opposite. COVID dominates conversations: the race for drugs, saturated hospitals with beds set up outside, endless waits at crematoriums working non-stop. And death, with the number of pandemic casualties unknown since the government has changed the definition of what constitutes a COVID victim.

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Geopolitics
Pierre Haski

European Defense: How Russia's War Changed Everything And Nothing

The EU and NATO have vowed to expand cooperation, which may mean a major long-term shift in European defense strategy. Still, the French know that the reality on the ground means that European defense effectively still means NATO.

-Analysis-

PARIS — It's undoubtedly one of the great paradoxes of Vladimir Putin's war: It triggered a rapprochement between the European Union and NATO — the exact opposite of what the Russian president hoped. Yet for the EU's leading military, France, this has not exactly been the dream scenario.

Even though NATO and the EU's headquarters are only a few kilometers apart, their leaders have long kept their distance from each other.

On Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the European Commission's and European Council's top representatives, finally met and signed a declaration that promised “a higher level” of collaboration between both institutions.

It may seem trivial, but there is nothing obvious about this newly formed alliance. For most of its existence, the European Union has mostly been keeping at bay from defense issues.

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Ideas
Bekir Ağırdır

Election Year In Turkey: End Of An Era For Erdoğan?

Turkey heads to the polls in June in elections that decide the country's future direction. It is a referendum on President Erdoğan, but also a challenge for the divided opposition. Much is at stake in a country roiled by multiple crises and declining trust in its leaders.

-Analysis-

ISTANBUL — Both the world and Turkey are struggling with crises. Global clashes of politics, economics and cultures are reflected in every aspect of our lives. As humanity attempts to move from an industrialized to information society, a series of crises of climate change, food and energy shortages, and regional and global migration undermine our very foundations.

Turkey is facing these multiple crises with its old institutions and rules. It has not yet had the transformations of mentality in terms of education, law, secularist state and gender equality that are the requirements of the industrial age. What’s more, Turkey has to handle the uncertainty and chaos of this tangle of crises with politicians who are unable to overcome their mindsets of political polarization and identity politics.

While the pandemic and the following economic crisis have started to silence the identity politics and given a louder voice to the issues of class tension, injustice and poverty, politicians once again drag us towards identity and polarization.

The opposition parties in Turkey cannot find time to compete with the government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has held power since 2014, as they are busy fighting among themselves. People are trying to get rid of the heavy chains of polarization and identities, but politics is putting them back in chains.

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Ideas
Friedrich Wilhelm Graf

The Protestant Twist To Pope Benedict's Theological Legacy

In his Spiritual Testament, Pope Benedict XVI only cited Protestant theologians – not a single Catholic thinker. Were the Catholics not interesting enough for him? And what do Joseph Ratzinger’s pre-modern understanding of the concept of reason and inaccurate Kant quotes have to do with it?

-Analysis-

MUNICH — Joseph Ratzinger first became known to an educated readership in 1968 when he published Introduction to Christianity. The book was widely read, selling 45,000 copies in its first year of publication.

However, in the small, elite world of German-speaking theology professors, the book came in for heavy criticism. In 1969 Walter Kasper, who was then Professor of Dogmatics at the University of Tübingen, wrote a scathing review in which he accused his colleague of having a false, overly subjective understanding of Christian theology.

Kasper claimed Ratzinger had relied too heavily on the existentialist thought of Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard and interpretations of Kierkegaard’s work by Rudolf Bultmann, a Lutheran theologian and Professor of the New Testament at the University of Marburg. This meant that, according to Kasper, Ratzinger’s work played fast and loose with “the objective ecclesiastical form of the Church within the Christian faith.” In other words, Ratzinger’s “existentialist interpretation” risked “tipping over into a purely spiritualistic understanding of the Church.”

That was serious criticism. Kasper, who decades later moved to Rome when he was made a Cardinal of the Roman Curia and President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was accusing Ratzinger of being too heavily influenced by Protestant thought.

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Ideas
Iryna Serheieva*

Cargo 300: For The Wounds Of Ukraine Have No Time To Heal

After a grim New Year, a soldier and mother reflects on the trauma of the past 10 months: fear, the corpses of friends and the choice between her own children and joining the war effort.

-Essay-

The Facebook feed of holiday photos is not pleasant.

Someone is seen celebrating in a trench; others in blacked-out cities. Another is in a foreign country. And some spend a first holiday without a beloved father, son or husband.

It is all sadness.

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Cargo 300 is a military term for transporting a wounded soldier out of combat zones. Cargo 200 is for the deceased.

As I return to civilian life, I realize that from now on and for decades to come, we will be a nation of "300s," wounded by war, physically and morally crippled, regardless of whether or not we were directly on the battlefield.

Immediately after demobilization, I travelled to Germany, where my children were all this time. I met a friend who had served eight months in Iraq.

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