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How the Smug Politics of COVID-19 Empowers the Far Right – The Atlantic

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a portrait of a king wearing a golden mask.
Getty; The Atlantic

A few weeks ago, the center-left government of the Australian state of Victoria announced new restrictions to combat COVID-19. Victoria has already had, by some measures, the longest lockdown of anywhere in the world, employing curfews, curbs on outdoor activities, and the closure of children’s playgrounds.

The latest rules targeted the construction industry, closing down building-site “tearooms,” where workers escape the elements for breaks and meals, and imposing a vaccine mandate for the entire sector with little notice. Soon after, several construction workers took part in a peaceful protest, setting up their tearooms on the street and blocking major roads. Demonstrations soon grew, targeting both the state government and the local construction union for not doing enough to fight for the industry.

Before long, however, the protests were co-opted by members of the far right, and some turned to violence—engaging in street brawls, throwing bottles of urine at journalists, and kicking dogs. The state government countered harshly; images of police brutality circulated widely.

Yet in their response, the authorities (as well as their fellow Australian progressive politicians and commentators) have illustrated how the left, both in Australia and abroad, has largely abandoned working-class voters and ignored their concerns. This progressive political binary—one in which those opposed to harsh restrictions aimed at combatting COVID-19 are castigated for wanting to “let it rip”—has exploded during the pandemic, alienating huge numbers of people and aiding far-right recruitment.

I have been researching the far right and its connections to masculinity for four years, and the data indicate that although some people join the movement with deeply held racist and white-supremacist ideologies, that is not always the case. Many instead look to the far right primarily because of a sense of social alienation; they feel disconnected from family, social groups, and society more generally. The far right, in these cases, appeals not necessarily as a consequence of its ideology, but because it was the first group that listened. Ideology comes later.

In Australia, we are starting to see this growing sense of social alienation. My colleagues and I recently found that disenchantment with politics and our democratic system is on the rise, part of a long-term trend of disillusionment in which individuals see governments as more of a threat than a benefit to their lives. Echoing the sentiment that helped elect Donald Trump and cement Brexit, many Australians are turning against their country’s elites.

At the same time, progressive politics itself has become more elitist. Elements of the left have adopted what the Australian writer Jeff Sparrow calls a “smug politics,” one that looks down upon the working class. “Rather than treating working people as an agency for change or a constituency to be served,” Sparrow writes, progressives have “publicly declared them a problem to be solved.” This paternalistic worldview scolds workers for their failures, and says that a strong state is needed to tell them how to live their lives.

This trend has become more prominent during the pandemic. After the initial success of Australia’s response in 2020—we suffered far fewer hospitalizations and deaths than the United States and Europe—multiple cities this year have been plunged into months-long lockdowns, many of which have been harsher than those of the year before. Today in Melbourne, more than 80 percent of the eligible population has had the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, yet a nighttime curfew is still in place, outdoor gatherings are limited, and city residents cannot travel more than 15 kilometers (about nine miles) from their homes. Drinking alcohol outdoors, which is legal in Australia, has also been banned. Although the state has eased some of these rules, other restrictions, such as the bans on outdoor drinking and workplace curbs such as those in the construction industry, are harsher than last year’s regulations.

These restrictions have left many people suffering—the (conservative) federal government has thus far failed to implement financial support for those unable to work, and mental-health problems are worsening. Yet while several good campaigns have been introduced by some state and local authorities, as well as charities, to provide support for those struggling, big chunks of the left have instead lambasted individuals who have complained, accusing them of wanting to remove all restrictions entirely—to “let it rip.” Politicians and media members alike have engaged in an often racist and classist ritual humiliation of so-called wrongdoers: Dan Andrews, the leader of the Labor Party in Victoria, has been a ringleader, using his pulpit to attack individuals for apparently breaking the rules, although in many cases, later evidence has shown they hadn’t, while Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Labor premier of Queensland, mocked individuals who wanted to travel overseas, despite her own recent trip to Japan for the Olympics.

Here we return to Melbourne’s tearoom protests, which were seeded by genuine concerns from those whom we in Australia call “tradies.” The closure of tearooms represented a major safety issue, removing the only place workers have to take some rest, and the vaccine mandate gave workers only six days to prove that they had gotten their first jab, an incredibly short period in a country that has suffered from delays to its vaccine rollout. (In discussion I monitored online, many expressed fears that they would not be able to book vaccine appointments in time, leaving them unable to work, while others said that although they supported the vaccine, they did not want the government to force them to take it.)

In response to the earlier, more peaceful tearoom protests, however, one high-profile progressive writer in Australia said that construction workers were engaging in “man baby tantrums.” Later demonstrations, which were largely against the government’s vaccine mandate, elicited a similar response. The former Labor Party leader Bill Shorten described protesters as “man baby Nazis,” and Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton accused protesters of “living in a fantasy world,” saying “let’s not pretend these are otherwise rational individuals. They’re absolutely wacky.” But in monitoring the Telegram messenger groups that organized these protests, I found that many of the people who took part were not opposed to vaccinations themselves; rather, they believed that the policy was heavy-handed and would unfairly cost people their livelihood.

When you look at these responses from officials and progressive leaders, it is easier to understand how the far right was able to co-opt these protests. It was the only group willing to listen, empathize, and fight back. Many, if not most, of the people protesting were not “Nazis,” but the far right mirrored their anti-establishment rhetoric effectively. Writing about the authorities’ response to these protesters, Jay Daniel Thompson, a communications lecturer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, argues, “It’s not difficult to imagine how such remarks might be framed as evidence by, say, anti-vaccine groups that governmental ‘elites’ are uncaring of—indeed, actively hostile toward—their constituents.”

The far right was also able to capitalize on simplistic narratives that labeled all participants as white supremacists or extremists. As Elise Thomas, an intelligence analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, notes, far-right groups could turn that labeling around, telling protesters who are not white supremacists that elites are clearly lying, and if elites are lying about this, then what else might they be lying about?

This is how the far right achieves success, and why COVID-19 has been such a boon for its recruitment efforts. Far-right groups tap into genuine anger about government policy and elite response and direct that into their favored ideas. Progressives, by contrast, over the course of the pandemic, have insisted that we must trust elites to implement some of the biggest social changes carried out in recent decades. When people ask questions or raise concerns, they are criticized and told they are letting it rip. The far right has done a good job of bringing those who may have reasonable suspicions of these policies into the fold.

Progressives—and I would include myself in this group—need to rethink how we engage with individuals tempted by far-right ideas. I’m not suggesting we repeat the mistakes of many journalists who have interviewed far-right leaders to try to “understand” their views, thus giving them a platform to normalize these beliefs. But there is a difference between those leading the far right and those who have a looser connection to it. The latter group needs more engagement.

This starts with solidarity, recognizing that those of us in the working class have more in common with each other than we do with the elite. We should strive to improve people’s material conditions, reduce the power of the state to control people’s lives, and restore the fundamental right to dissent through protesting and striking. Most important, we need to understand that people’s distrust of the elite is based on real failures from governments of all political persuasions.

A better narrative and true engagement are the ways forward. Dismissing people’s real concerns as “man baby tantrums” does not cut it—if anything, it is making the situation much worse.

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ACWS release report on dynamics of violence against women in politics – Sherwood Park News

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The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) has released a new research report exploring the dynamics of violence against women in politics.

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“On the eve of the Alberta municipal elections, this report about violence against women in politics is timely,” explained Olivia Street, Coordinator of Communications and Social Advocacy for the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.

The municipal election this week yielded encouraging results for gender parity.

As of Tuesday, Fort Saskatchewan unofficially has a gender-balanced council, with three of the six council seats filled by women.

The recent election saw two women run for the role of mayor, with incumbent Gale Katchur set to add to her ten-year tenure as mayor of Fort Saskatchewan.

For the first time ever, there are more female Edmonton city councillors than male ones, with eight female candidates having been elected in the nearby city.

The ‘Lift Her Up’ initiative, a campaign launched by ACWS in 2016 to counter the negative rhetoric being directed at women in political office, seeks to encourage understanding of the links between violence against women in the public sphere and domestic violence.

Considering the current Alberta municipal elections, ACWS’ members collectively saw an opportunity to encourage a “more welcoming and supportive political discourse.” The second iteration of the #LiftHerUp campaign is in full swing, and many candidates across Alberta committed to participating in non-violent discourse throughout the campaign.

‘Lift Her Up’ has since evolved into a broader initiative to remove gendered violence from political participation, which led to the creation of the new report.

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“Building on what we learned in the 2017 Alberta municipal elections, ACWS examined the research, combed the news, and spoke directly with women who have participated in campaigns or currently hold political office to inform the project,” Jan Reimer, Executive Director of ACWS, said of the research process. “These conversations revealed some troubling data about the violence and abuse experienced by women in politics. The women themselves always knew these things to be true, but we now have a way to visualize that experience and interpret it a part of the larger social issue of violence against women.”

Following the release of these findings, ACWS will embark on another stage of the project––developing an “equity and accountability wheel,” a positive spin, in partnership with organizations committed to supporting diversity in public office. “This balancing wheel will help us understand the key elements in creating and supporting safe(r) spaces for women in politics.”

“The ACWS is driven by the belief that the issues of violence and abuse are the responsibilities of the entire community including, legal, social and political structures, and in seeing violence against women in politics manifest explicitly in Alberta, we felt compelled to act to further our vision of a world free from violence and abuse,” Street wrote.

For more information about the Lift Her Up campaign, visit ACWS’ website at acws.ca.

jhamilton@postmedia.com

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Twitter's algorithm favours right-leaning politics, research finds – BBC News

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Twitter amplifies tweets from right-leaning political parties and news outlets more than from the left, its own research suggests.

The social-media giant said it made the discovery while exploring how its algorithm recommends political content to users.

But it admitted it did not know why, saying that was a “more difficult question to answer”.

Twitter’s study examined tweets from political parties and users sharing content from news outlets in seven countries around the world: Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the UK, and the US.

It analysed millions of tweets sent between 1 April and 15 August 2020.

Researchers then used the data to see which tweets were being amplified more on an algorithmically ordered feed compared with a reverse-chronological feed, both of which users have an option of using.

They found that mainstream parties and outlets on the political right enjoyed higher levels of “algorithmic amplification” compared with their counterparts on the left.

Rumman Chowdhury, director of Twitter’s Meta (machine-learning, ethics, transparency, and accountability) team, said the company’s next step was to find out the reason behind the phenomenon.

“In six out of seven countries, tweets posted by political-right elected officials are algorithmically amplified more than the political left. Right-leaning news outlets… see greater amplification compared to left-leaning,” she said.

“Establishing why these observed patterns occur is a significantly more difficult question to answer and something Meta will examine.”

Researchers noted that the difference in amplification could be due to the “differing strategies” used by political parties to reach audiences on the platform.

They also said the findings did not suggest that its algorithms pushed “extreme ideologies more than mainstream political voices” – another common concern expressed by Twitter’s critics.

This is not the first time Twitter has highlighted apparent bias in its algorithm.

In April, the platform revealed that it was conducting a study to determine whether its algorithms contributed to “unintentional harms”.

In May, the company revealed that its automatic cropping of images had underlying issues that favoured white individuals over black people, and women over men.

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Biden says United States would come to Taiwan’s defense

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The United States would come to Taiwan‘s defense and has a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday, though the White House said later there was no change in policy towards the island.

“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said at a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan, which has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty.

While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

In August, a Biden administration https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-position-taiwan-unchanged-despite-biden-comment-official-2021-08-19 official said U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed after the president appeared to suggest the United States would defend the island if it were attacked.

A White House spokesperson said Biden at his town hall was not announcing any change in U.S. policy and “there is no change in our policy”.

“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the spokesperson said.

Biden said people should not worry about Washington’s military strength because “China, Russia and the rest of the world knows we’re the most powerful military in the history of the world,”

“What you do have to worry about is whether or not they’re going to engage in activities that would put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake,” Biden said.

“I don’t want a cold war with China. I just want China to understand that we’re not going to step back, that we’re not going to change any of our views.”

Military tensions between Taiwan and China are at their worst in more than 40 years, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said this month, adding that China will be capable of mounting a “full-scale” invasion by 2025.

Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy.

China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States and has denounced what it calls “collusion” between Washington and Taipei.

Speaking to reporters earlier on Thursday, China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun said they are pursuing “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan and responding to “separatist attempts” by its ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

“We are not the troublemaker. On the contrary, some countries – the U.S. in particular – is taking dangerous actions, leading the situation in Taiwan Strait into a dangerous direction,” he said.

“I think at this moment what we should call is that the United States to stop such practice. Dragging Taiwan into a war definitely is in nobody’s interest. I don’t see that the United States will gain anything from that.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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