“Unfortunately, the NRA leadership in Washington has lost its way and is more concerned about political power than gun rights and gun safety,” he said. “I am the same proud gun owner and NRA member that I have always been and I believe that criminal and mental background checks are a commonsense approach to protect our neighbors and children without infringing on our 2nd Amendment rights. I think most NRA members agree with me.”
Grover Norquist’s iron grip over much of the Republican Party is somewhat puzzling. Why should Senators and other lawmakers listen to a guy caught laundering money for Jack Abramoff?
But consider Norquist’s tax pledge and political power another way: that he’s just a proxy for the powerful interest groups that finance him. In the nineties, it was big tobacco that used Norquist’s tax pledge as a cover to lobby lawmakers against cigarette taxes (Norquist still uses an e-mail system donated to him by Altria to send out Tea Party action alerts against tobacco taxes). Now, big PhRMA and other industry groups provide grants to Norquist while his foundation endorses other giveaways, like protectionist support against importing cheaper drugs from Canada and the classification of tax subsidies to refineries as “tax cuts” that must not be cut.
I took a look at the last available budget numbers for Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist’s group. Though they do not reveal their donors, we can cobble together much of Norquist’s donors using foundations and other nonprofits that donate money to him.
The disclosures show that only two billionaire-backed groups have provided over 66 percent of Norquist’s funding:
Fouad Ajami on the Syrian Rebellion: How a People Conquered Fear to Challenge a Despot of Unspeakable Cruelty
Yalla Erhal Ya Bashar” (“Come on Bashar, Leave”), the crowds had taken to chanting. More poignantly, in Hama, the young people carried placards that read, “Like Father, Like Son.” Back when he had come into power, Bashar al-Assad had made a good first impression, if only because he was different from his intimidating, stern father Hafez al-Assad. His father had been a peasant boy, born in the Alawi mountains and married into his own community; he had come into the coastal city of Latakia, and he had plotted his way to the summit of political power. So many of Hafez al-Assad’s peers and rivals had fallen to assassins’ bullets or perished in Syria’s cruel prisons, dispatched there by Assad himself.
In contrast, Bashar had been the entitled prince, schooled in the best academies in Damascus and with a stint of time in London behind him. He had known no hardship. In the manner of a society eager for deliverance, it was hoped that he would open up the big prison that Syria had become under his father.
Outsiders prophesied good tidings for Bashar. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who had gone to the Old Man’s funeral in 2000 and met the son, came back with a favorable report: he was a “reformer,” she said, bent on modernizing his country. French President Jacques Chirac took it upon himself to induct the young ruler into the respectable order of nations. Bashar married well, which was his first olive branch to his country. His wife was a Sunni, the London-born daughter of a cardiologist, Fawwaz al-Akhras, who lived in self-imposed exile in London and spoke discreetly of the sins of the old regime. The bride had worked for J. P. Morgan in London and was on her way to pursue a Harvard MBA when she met and then married Bashar. There was talk of a “Damascus Spring” at the beginning of his reign.
Small gestures mattered. Bashar made his way to restaurants now and then without heavy security. He was head of the Syria Computer Society and promised openness in a country where the ownership of fax machines was restricted. Western cigarettes, banned by his father, were now available. There was a boom in tourism and a respectable flow of investments from the Gulf states. Art galleries and five-star hotels changed the drab atmosphere.
A specter is haunting the academy—the specter of “new communism.” A worldview recently the source of immense suffering and misery, and responsible for more deaths than fascism and Nazism, is mounting a comeback; a new form of left-wing totalitarianism that enjoys intellectual celebrity but aspires to political power.
The Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek and the French philosopher and ex-Maoist Alain Badiou have become the leading proponents of this new school. Others associated with the project are the authors of the influential trilogy Empire, Multitude, Commonwealth, the American Michael Hardt of Duke University and the Italian Marxist Toni Negri; the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo (who recently declared that he has positively “reevaluated” The Protocols of the Elders of Zion); Bologna University professor and ex-Maoist Alessandro Russo; and the professor of poetry at the European Graduate School (and another ex-Maoist) Judith Balso. Other leading voices include Alberto Toscano, translator of Alain Badiou, a sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths in London, and a member of the editorial board of Historical Materialism; the literary critic and essayist Terry Eagleton; and Bruno Bosteels from Cornell University. Most spoke at “The Idea of Communism,” a three-day conference held in London in 2009 that, to the astonishment of the organizers, attracted nearly a thousand people willing to pay more than one hundred pounds each. After that event, a companion publishing industry, powered by Verso Books, has grown up to accompany the movement, making it respectable on campuses. Among new communism’s most important English-language texts, all published in the last few years, are The Idea of Communism, edited by Costas Douzinas and Zizek, Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis, and Bosteels’s The Actuality of Communism.
When the Cold War ended, the work of America’s intelligence analysts suddenly became vastly more difficult. In the past, they had known who the nation’s main adversaries were and what bits of information they needed to acquire about them: the number of SS-9 missiles Moscow could deploy, for example, or the number of warheads each missile could carry. The U.S. intelligence community had been in search of secrets—facts that exist but are hidden by one government from another. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, as Bruce Berkowitz and Allan Goodman observe in Best Truth: Intelligence in the Information Age (2002), it found a new role thrust upon it: the untangling of mysteries.
Computer security expert Susan Landau identifies the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran as one of the first indicators that the intelligence community needed to shift its focus from secrets to mysteries. On its surface, Iran was a strong, stable ally of the United States, an “island of stability” in the region, according to President Jimmy Carter. The rapid ouster of the shah and a referendum that turned a monarchy into a theocracy led by a formerly exiled religious scholar left governments around the world shocked and baffled.
The Islamic Revolution was a surprise because it had taken root in mosques and homes, not palaces or barracks. The calls to resist the shah weren’t broadcast on state media but transmitted via handmade leaflets and audiocassettes of speeches by Ayatollah Khomeini. In their book analyzing the events of 1979, Small Media, Big Revolution (1994), Annabelle Sreberny and Ali Mohammad, who both participated in the Iranian revolution, emphasize the role of two types of technology: tools that let people obtain access to information from outside Iran, and tools that let people spread and share that information on a local scale. Connections to the outside world (direct-dial long-distance phone lines, cassettes of sermons sent through the mail, broadcasts on the BBC World Service) and tools that amplified those connections (home cassette recorders, photocopying machines) helped build a movement more potent than governments and armies had anticipated.
As we enter an age of increased global connection, we are also entering an age of increasing participation. The billions of people worldwide who access the Internet via computers and mobile phones have access to information far beyond their borders, and the opportunity to contribute their own insights and opinions. It should be no surprise that we are experiencing a concomitant rise in mystery that parallels the increases in connection.
The mysteries brought to the fore in a connected age extend well beyond the realm of political power. Bad subprime loans in the United States lead to the failure of an investment bank; this, in turn, depresses interbank lending, pushing Iceland’s heavily leveraged economy into collapse and consequently leaving British consumers infuriated at the disappearance of their deposits from Icelandic banks that had offered high interest rates on savings accounts. An American businessman on a flight to Singapore takes ill, and epidemiologists find themselves tracing the SARS epidemic in cities from Toronto to Manila, eventually discovering a disease that originated with civet cats and was passed to humans because civets are sold as food in southern China. Not all mysteries are tragedies—the path of a musical style from Miami clubs through dance parties in the favelas of Rio to the hit singles of British-Sri Lankan singer M.I.A. is at least as unexpected and convoluted.
Uncovering secrets might require counting missile silos in satellite images or debriefing double agents. To understand our connected world, we need different skills. Landau suggests that “solving mysteries requires deep, often unconventional thinking, and a full picture of the world around the mystery.”
In the past, Germany’s far-right NPD party was associated with skinheads and violent thugs. In recent years, however, the party has been trying to appeal to mainstream voters by cultivating a respectable image and campaigning on populist issues. But the party needs its links to the neo-Nazi scene to maintain its political power. By SPIEGEL Staff
This is part two of SPIEGEL’s cover story on the NPD. You can read the first part here.
The NPD, anxious to ensure that no one says the wrong things, is putting a great deal of emphasis on self-control at the moment. Because of the NSU’s alleged killing spree uncovered in November and the public debate over what should be done about the NPD, the party is faced, once again, with the prospect of a possible ban. This makes it all the more important for the NPD to project an image of itself as a well-behaved and rational mainstream conservative party. Hence its self-portrayal as a “party that cares” about people in Germany — provided they are ethnic Germans, of course.
In the past, the NPD used the term “National Socialism” as a provocation. But Apfel doesn’t like the term anymore, characterizing it as being “burned by history.” Instead, the party now prefers the slogan “respectable radicalism.” It describes the attempt to camouflage (but not necessarily dispense with) the party’s unpleasant associations, so that ordinary citizens can identify with it more closely. The party is putting on its mainstream façade for ordinary people by engaging in social grassroots activities, but always in the hope that the national awakening of its fellow Germans will eventually follow.
“Tutoring, children’s sports, providing advice on Hartz IV (welfare benefits) — wherever we see an area where the government isn’t doing enough, we move in,” says Peter Marx. He speaks with the soft, singsong-like inflection of people native to the western state of Rhineland-Palatine, an accent he took with him when he moved to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania a few years ago. Marx, the manager of the NPD’s parliamentary group in the state, exploits the fact that the famous “blooming landscapes” that former Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised for eastern Germany never materialized in many places. If there were functioning civil-society structures in Western Pomeranian towns like Anklam or Ueckermünde, the right-wing extremists would be little more than an annoyance in the region. The fact that these structures are absent is what makes the party so dangerous.