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As Lebanon's Hariri appears to make a comeback, a popular uprising turns into a political front – CNN

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Issa — a bespectacled 63-year-old who is Secretary General of Lebanon’s non-sectarian National Bloc party — was one of thousands of people who were injured in the August 4 explosion at the Beirut port which laid waste to large parts of the capital. 
Over 200 others perished and the Lebanese state appeared on the verge of collapse. Two days later, Macron flew into Beirut to cobble together emergency aid, as well as a political resolution. He brought traditional politicians together in an attempt to resolve their disputes, and met with humanitarian workers and civil society actors.
Activists gather at National Bloc headquarters, which was damaged during a deadly August 4 blast in Beirut, for a large clean-up campaign in the wake of the explosion.
“I thanked him for his humanitarian help, but I thanked him for nothing else,” Issa told CNN about his meeting with Macron at the house of the French ambassador, the palatial Residénce des Pins where 100 years ago Lebanon was declared a state. 
Issa said he berated Macron for excluding major figures in Lebanon’s year-long popular uprising from talks about the crisis-ridden country’s immediate political future.
According to Issa, Macron, in turn, told him what he would that evening repeat to members of the Lebanese press: that the political alternative to Lebanon’s loathed confessional power-sharing system does not yet exist, and that the country’s reform process — later known as “the French initiative” — would have to be enacted through traditional sectarian political parties.  
The French presidential palace declined to comment on the conversation. 
The exchange between Issa and Macron, which occurred during the French president’s meeting with civil society actors, was one of the clearest signs that Lebanon’s uprising has been working to chart a new course.  
The popular movement which began last October 17 has shied away from political participation, largely refused to negotiate with the country’s sectarian leadership, and insisted that it was a “leaderless” grouping expressing widespread disgruntlement with the ruling political elite.  
But as an economic meltdown gripped the country, destroying millions of livelihoods and causing poverty levels to soar, the euphoria of the protests gave way to despair. The coronavirus pandemic has also limited people’s ability to flock to the streets. Prominent protest figures have disappeared from Lebanese television’s prime-time talk shows, and traditional sectarian politicians, who were personae non gratae in the early weeks of the demonstrations, have again taken center stage.  
Adding to the sense that Lebanon’s political mood is making a 360-degree turn is the apparently imminent return of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri as the country’s premier. Hariri resigned following huge street protests in October 2019. This Thursday, he is widely expected to be tasked with forming the country’s next government during parliamentary consultations.   
People in Beirut march on October 17 to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of anti-government protests.People in Beirut march on October 17 to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of anti-government protests.
Hariri would take over from caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, a technocrat who was brought to power by a Hezbollah-backed parliamentary coalition majority. Diab stepped down about a week after the August 4 explosion as Beirut’s streets roiled with angry demonstrations. The so-called French initiative which brokered the political process following the blast led to the naming of a Hariri-backed diplomat, Mustapha Adib, for the premiership. 
In less than a month, Adib stepped down as PM-designate and Hariri re-emerged as the country’s most likely contender for prime minister.
It’s a situation that has prompted protesters to take pause, to discuss the shortcomings of what many call “the October revolution.” And they say it has also pushed them to shift gears.  
A political front composed of non-sectarian opposition groups will be announced in the coming weeks, says Issa. His center-right National Bloc party recently forged an alliance with the non-sectarian, left-leaning Citizens in a State party (Mouwatinoun wa Mouwatinat fi dawla), as part of a bid to build a coalition that seeks to dismantle Lebanon’s ruling elite. 
Other civil society groups have also morphed into political parties and are coalescing into alliances.
“Practically speaking, people have understood that in order to break the ceiling we must create a political front,” said Issa. “Today we are all voices in the desert. We have a common enemy and a common goal. We need to topple the ruling political system.” 

From street to office 

On a quiet side-street in eastern Beirut, a group of activists are concocting tactics to keep demonstrations peaceful during the commemorations of the uprising’s anniversary last weekend. This is what Lebanon’s popular movement now looks like, they say: activists taking to their laptops and organizing.  
“I do believe that we destabilized (the ruling elite’s) presence in a way they would have never imagined,” said 29-year-old Ziad Nassar, a Doha-based business consultant and Lebanese activist. “There was a Berlin Wall before separating people in this country, between sects, and political parties.”  
“What happened on October 17 is we broke a wall.”  
National Bloc Secretary General Pierre Issa speaking at the street protests in the early weeks of Lebanon's popular uprising.National Bloc Secretary General Pierre Issa speaking at the street protests in the early weeks of Lebanon's popular uprising.
Former minister Charbel Nahas leads the Citizens in a State party which is part of Lebanon's budding non-sectarian political opposition Former minister Charbel Nahas leads the Citizens in a State party which is part of Lebanon's budding non-sectarian political opposition
But like many activists in Beirut, they say that the coming together of a population traditionally split between sectarian parties is not enough. They’re especially worried about being ill-prepared for parliamentary elections expected to be held in roughly 18 months from now.  
“What the revolution should gear to … is focusing on the elections,” said 33-year-old business strategist and activist Sarmad Nabti. “If we don’t take advantage of the time we have now to do that, then the hope is gone.  
We’re definitely going from street to office.”  
Activists acknowledge Hariri’s expected return as a setback. “I won’t accept it,” said Nabti. “I’ll either leave or go back to the streets.” 
“We will go down to the streets and we will pressure either until he falls or until he proves us wrong,” said Nassar.  
“Hariri and this regime can’t give us our services, because to satisfy their way of politics, they can’t form a real government,” said 25-year-old activist Tarek Khalil.  
Hariri is part of the ruling elite, and backed by Saudi Arabia. He’s also seen as the leader of the country’s Sunni community. Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing system allots the premiership to a Sunni Muslim.
But many in Lebanon argue that a Hariri government, particularly one that satisfies the demands of the international donor community, is imperative. The three-time prime minister appears to have the backing of the international community. If he manages to form a rescue government, he could unlock over $10 billion in pledged funds, potentially staving off collapse in a country where foreign currency reserves are rapidly drying up.  
French President Emmanuel Macron meets former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut on August 31.French President Emmanuel Macron meets former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut on August 31.
“Under all this pressure, we are in the emergency room and we need treatment,” Yassin Jaber, an independent MP affiliated with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Liberation and Development Bloc, told CNN. 
“The doctor needs to be a government that comes in to do the necessary cleaning up, the necessary patching. And then we look at the confessional system, when we are in better health than we are in at the moment.”  
The parliamentary bloc Jaber is affiliated one of those political groups widely accused of corruption by the popular movement. Jaber insists that not all politicians in the ruling elite are involved in wrongdoing but acknowledges that government corruption is widespread.
Speaking about the protest movement which Jaber says he “saw coming,” he argues that the absence of a political structure caused its eventual fizzling out.  
“Movements like this need a face. They need leadership and that’s what was lacking. You had many people talking here and there but there was no organized leadership,” said Jaber.  
Back at the Résidence des Pins, Macron made a similar defense for his limited engagement with the protest movement, according to Issa.   
“He said ‘where are you all? Where is this political alternative? Announce your front so that we can speak to you,'” recalled Issa. 
“I said ‘can’t you see us? In any case, the opposition front is En Marche, Mr. Macron,'” Issa said. It was a play on the name of the French leader’s party, and an allusion to the idea that a movement “in progress” could also, one day, be a force to be reckoned with.

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Identity politics vs. melting pot vision – OCRegister

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The jousting over Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appointment of a U.S. senator to succeed Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is fast becoming the epitome — or nadir — of identity politics.

It’s a mindset in which the personalities, talents, character and accomplishments of individual human beings are secondary to being defined by their race, ethnicity, gender, age and/or sexual identification — and are expected to automatically reflect the values and mores of their designated categories.

Inevitably, then, politics become a competition among identity groups for power and distribution of public goods — a modern version of tribalism that succeeds the earlier vision of America as a melting pot that blends immigrant cultures into a unique society.

Oddly, ordinary Americans increasingly resist such categorization. We intermarry, we happily live in integrated neighborhoods, we have and adopt children of mixed ethnicity, we send our children to integrated schools and we embrace food and music from disparate cultures. That’s especially true in California, the most ethnically and culturally complex of the 50 states.

Harris herself is both a product of the melting pot vision — her mother migrated from India, her father from Jamaica and they met as students at the University of California — and of the politics of identity. Depending on the audience and the moment, she identified herself as Black or Indo-American, but she also married a white man who is Jewish.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Newsom is feeling pressure from identity groups to choose a new senator from within their ranks, each saying Newsom “must” pay homage with an appointment.

Willie Brown, the former Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor who was also Newsom’s political mentor, is leading a public drive for a Black woman to succeed Harris, who is also a former Brown protégé.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, still another Brown protégé, is on his list, along with Congresswomen Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Barbara Lee of Oakland.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund is another group publicly pushing Newsom to make history by appointing the nation’s first openly non-heterosexual senator.

Several women’s organizations are demanding that Newsom replace Harris with another woman.

Finally, Latino groups are pressing Newsom to honor the state’s largest ethnic group by appointing California’s first Latino senator.

Asked about his intentions during a briefing on COVID-19 this week, Newsom said he doesn’t have a self-imposed deadline, “But progress has been made in terms of getting closer to that determination.”

The odds-on favorite among political handicappers is that Newsom will appoint a Latino, possibly Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has a lengthy and close relationship with the governor.

As the cynics — or realists — see the situation, Newsom has already given a nod to Black and LGBTQ groups by naming Martin Jenkins to a seat on the state Supreme Court. He could placate one of the other groups by naming a successor to Padilla in the secretary of state’s office. The same dynamics would apply if he chose another Latino, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, for the Senate.

While the competition for Newsom’s senatorial appointment typifies identity politics, it also demonstrates their unfortunate aspect of ignoring what should be the most important factor. We should have someone in the Senate of good character and demonstrated competence and who approaches the position with an independent mind, as the state’s other senator, Dianne Feinstein, has done.

It should not matter which identity group wins the competition. It should matter that whomever Newsom chooses will be seen as representing every Californian, not just one faction of the state’s 40 million residents.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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Munk Debates: Should we fear, or embrace, populist politics? – National Post

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Article content continued

Elites cannot reform themselves, as seen throughout much of American history. We do see occasions where established parties undertake reform. But serious reform often necessitates the mobilization of people. So in the end, we shall welcome and not denounce populist politics.

Donald Critchlow is a Katzin family professor at Arizona State University’s faculty of history. He is the author of “In Defense of Populism: Protest and American Democracy.”


By Timothy Garton Ash

I’m all in favour of popular protest as part of a democracy, but that’s not populism. If it were, then Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King would have been populist.

Populist politics, which comes in our resolution, is a style of politics that we have seen from U.S. President Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Narendra Modi in India, Boris Johnson in Britain, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland and Viktor Orban in Hungary. The remarkable thing is that, different though these people and countries are, in the last five years they’ve had a style of politics that has distinct features in common.

First of all, they all counterpose a supposedly pure “the people” to allegedly corrupt liberal metropolitan and cosmopolitan elites. Although, by the way, the leaders of these movements are seldom actually men or women of the people. Donald Trump is a millionaire son of a millionaire, and Boris Johnson is hardly a horny-handed son of toil.

Secondly, when you look more closely, “the people” they talk about in the abstract, rather revolutionary style, turn out to be only a part of the people. There’s always an “us” and “them.” The “us” is very often defined in ethnic terms. It’s often nativist — it’s a native population. The “them,” immigrants, be it Hispanics in the United States or east Europeans in the United Kingdom during the Brexit debate.

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Covid might mean fewer family political fights over Thanksgiving – CNN

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A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
I wrote a sort of guide on how to get smart on the Democrats’ investigation and politics before sitting down over turkey.
This year, Biden is President-elect, and with the pandemic raging, the federal government is counseling Americans not to go to Thanksgiving dinner at all.
You might give your crazy uncle, and anyone else you eat with, Covid. Or they might give it to you. That’s the truth, even though the way lies and conspiracy theories have taken root — thanks not just to social media but to new, fringe media outlets — makes it very difficult to counter fake with fact.
It’s obvious, for instance, that Trump, who might spend the holiday thinking about the notion of a self-pardon, may never publicly recognize Biden as president or concede that he lost. And he’ll carry that fantasy into the next four years, along with a war chest of small-dollar donations he’s squeezed from supporters with countless fundraising appeals after his loss and which he’ll clearly use to fund his post-White House public life.
Related: Read this CNN investigation into how dark money helped prop up three phantom candidates in Florida.

Dow hits 30k! What is it thinking?

Why would the stock market hit a record now, a time when:
  • Wall Street expects the government to pump trillions more dollars into the economy as stimulus
  • Millions of Americans are out of work
  • There are real questions about the health of US democracy
  • No one has actually gotten an approved Covid vaccine stuck in their arm
You can buy into that wisdom of crowds stuff, or you can look at how the stock market is forever and increasingly distinct from the economy as a whole.
This video with CNN’s Jon Sarlin does a really good job explaining how the market can do well no matter how the economy feels to actual Americans.
It’s really a marker of indices, it’s loaded with surging tech stocks, it’s affected by speculation, it’s compounding inequality and more. So, yes, Tesla has soared more than 10x in a year and Elon Musk is almost as rich as Bill Gates. Best Buy is having its best year in decades. Amazon is on a tear. But that’s not the economy. It’s the market.
And a picture of the economy must include the disgustingly long lines outside US food banks this Thanksgiving and the 12 million people about to lose expanded unemployment benefits in the new year.
Note: The CNN Business Fear & Greed Index is now showing levels of Extreme Greed.
What kicked the Dow to this new record? Trump emerged briefly to give a statement bragging about the market Tuesday, but it’s actually the acknowledgment by his government, without his consent, that Biden won the election, that appears to have triggered this latest bump. That, along with news of Covid vaccines and Wall Street’s comfort level with Janet Yellen, according to CNN’s Paul LaMonica.

Virtual school still sucks

Experts have been warning that virtual school will lead to a lost year for some kids and compound inequality in US schools.
Here’s the proof, from CNN’s Elizabeth Stuart, writing about the largest school district in Virginia:
The Fairfax County Public School District found a sharp increase in failing grades for the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, especially among younger students, students with disabilities, and students who speak English as a second language, according to a study released this week examining student performance with virtual learning.
Among middle and high school students, the study found an 83% increase in “F” marks, when compared to the number of students who got “F’s” during the first quarter of the 2019-20 school year.
The increase was largest among vulnerable populations, including a 63% increase among Black students, a 106% increase among English learners, and a 111% increase among students with disabilities.
“More students were failing courses during the (primarily) virtual instruction period than had occurred when instruction was delivered in-person,” the study said.
This is horrible news if you’ve been following the growing number of school closures as states and districts deal with Covid outbreaks.

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