Britain’s democratic failure

Kenneth Rogoff writes: the current international standard for breaking up a country is arguably less demanding than a vote for lowering the drinking age.

With Europe now facing the risk of a slew of further breakup votes, an urgent question is whether there is a better way to make these decisions. I polled several leading political scientists to see whether there is any academic consensus; unfortunately, the short answer is no.

For one thing, the Brexit decision may have looked simple on the ballot, but in truth no one knows what comes next after a leave vote. What we do know is that, in practice, most countries require a “supermajority” for nation-defining decisions, not a mere 51 percent. There is no universal figure like 60 percent, but the general principle is that, at a bare minimum, the majority ought to be demonstrably stable. A country should not be making fundamental, irreversible changes based on a razor-thin minority that might prevail only during a brief window of emotion. Even if the UK economy does not fall into outright recession after this vote (the pound’s decline might cushion the initial blow), there is every chance that the resulting economic and political disorder will give some who voted to leave “buyer’s remorse.” [Continue reading…]

A UK petition calling for a second EU referendum has already received over two million signatures.

Facebooktwittermail

Why Trump makes me scared for my family

Aziz Ansari writes: “Don’t go anywhere near a mosque,” I told my mother. “Do all your prayer at home. O.K.?”

“We’re not going,” she replied.

I am the son of Muslim immigrants. As I sent that text, in the aftermath of the horrible attack in Orlando, Fla., I realized how awful it was to tell an American citizen to be careful about how she worshiped.

Being Muslim American already carries a decent amount of baggage. In our culture, when people think “Muslim,” the picture in their heads is not usually of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the kid who left the boy band One Direction. It’s of a scary terrorist character from “Homeland” or some monster from the news.

Today, with the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels. It’s visceral, and scary, and it affects how people live, work and pray. It makes me afraid for my family. It also makes no sense. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Why fear won and Britain lost

Gary Younge writes: Referendums are by their very nature crude. “In” or “out”; “yes” or “no”. They take important issues and reduce them to their most basic level and then corral them into uncomfortable alliances. Jeremy Corbyn lines up with the captains of industry and David Cameron; George Galloway makes common cause with Nigel Farage.

But if the question was crude the campaigns were vulgar. Sanctimonious, fear-mongering and uninspiring, remain was tone-deaf to an insurrectionary mood that suffered fools more gladly than experts. Wheeling out John Major, Tony Blair, George Soros and the head of the International Monetary Fund, they failed to realise that the surrogates they were employing represented the very establishment with which people were disillusioned. They produced budgets that didn’t add up, evoked wars that wouldn’t happen. Taxes would rise, pensions would fall, the sick would go untended.

Moreover, it never made a case for Europe, only a case for not leaving it on the basis that terrible things that would happen. Commissioners nobody had elected and leaders of foreign states threatened us in a gentler tone but with the same purpose as they did the Greeks: “It’s your choice, don’t make the wrong one.”

Meanwhile a section of London-based commentariat anthropologised the British working class as though they were a lesser evolved breed from distant parts, all too often portraying them as bigots who did not know what was good for them. Having assumed themselves cosmopolitan, the more self-aware pundits began to realise just how parochial they were: having experienced much of the world, they discovered they didn’t know their own country as well as they might.

But if the remain campaign was incompetent and patronising, leave was both inflammatory and irresponsible.

It is a banal axiom to insist that “it’s not racist to talk about immigration”. It’s not racist to talk about black people, Jews or Muslims either. The issue is not whether you talk about them but how you talk about them and whether they ever get a chance to talk for themselves. When you dehumanise immigrants, using vile imagery and language, scapegoating them for a nation’s ills and targeting them as job-stealing interlopers, you stoke prejudice and foment hatred.

The chutzpah with which the Tory right – the very people who had pioneered austerity, damaging jobs, services and communities – blamed immigrants for the lack of resources was breathtaking. The mendacity with which a section of the press fanned those flames was nauseating. The pusillanimity of the remain campaign’s failure to counter these claims was indefensible.

Not everyone, or even most, of the people who voted leave were driven by racism. But the leave campaign imbued racists with a confidence they have not enjoyed for many decades and poured arsenic into the water supply of our national conversation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Donald Trump hails EU referendum result as he arrives in UK

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump has touched down in Scotland in the middle of the UK’s biggest political crisis for decades to welcome Brexit, hailing the referendum result as a reflection of anger over loss of control to the European Union.

“The UK had taken back control. It is a great thing,” the Republican presidential candidate said.

He landed by helicopter on the front lawn of his Trump Turnberry golf resort shortly after 9am on Friday to find a Britain shell-shocked by the Brexit vote.

Wearing a white baseball cap, Trump strode the couple of hundred yards up the gravel path to the Ayrshire hotel accompanied by his family. He was not scheduled to speak to the press but could not resist responding to shouted questions from the media scrum.

He described the referendum result as a historic vote and predicted many such uprisings around the world. “It will not be the last. There is lots of anger.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The Brexit debate has made Britain more racist

Anyusha Rose writes: For evidence that the Brexit debate is normalizing British racism, look no further than the country’s most enduring national treasure: the pub.

Last weekend at a pub in London’s Soho neighborhood, I got talking to a middle-aged couple. The conversation soon moved to the senseless slaughter of MP Jo Cox at the hands of a terrorist. Killer Thomas Mair was homegrown: a white working-class man from the Scottish “burgh” of Kilmarnock.

Why Cox, asked the bloke. Why couldn’t he have killed a foreigner? Then he gave me the once over and asked, “Where are you really from?”

Six months ago, I would have found his comments shocking. But the Brexit debate has not just challenged the way we conceive of sovereignty. It has legitimized the poisonous campaign vocabulary of U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage and his “breaking point” propaganda.

Farage is the same leader who once said his party would “never win the n—-r vote”, and defended using a racist word for Chinese people in live radio broadcasts. In March, he fueled antagonism toward foreigners when he claimed that mass male-on-female sex attacks were a “nuclear bomb” waiting to explode because of the United Kingdom’s “high” immigration levels. (Police records show that sexual assaults have decreased by half since 2006.) Last week, Farage linked the upcoming Brexit vote to the refugee crisis explicitly, and unveiled a poster featuring a queue of Syrian refugees captioned “Breaking point: the EU has failed us.

This rhetoric has had a poisonous effect. Because of the Brexit campaign, racism is no longer racism – it’s legitimate opinion. The idea of “getting our country back,” once considered a crass empire throwback, is now causing ripples of bigoted glee. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Tough gun laws in Australia eliminate mass shootings

Science News reports: Australia has seen zero mass shootings in the 20 years since it enacted strict gun control laws and a mandatory gun buyback program, researchers report June 22 in JAMA.

Key to this success is probably the reduction in people’s exposure to semiautomatic weapons, Johns Hopkins University health policy researcher Daniel Webster writes in an accompanying editorial.

“Here’s a society that recognized a public safety threat, found it unacceptable, and took measures to address the problem,” Webster says.

In April 1996, a man with two semiautomatic rifles shot and killed 35 people in Tasmania and wounded at least 18 others. Two months after the shooting, known as the Port Arthur massacre, Australia began implementing a comprehensive set of gun regulations, called the National Firearms Agreement.

The NFA is famous for banning semiautomatic long guns (including the ones used by the Port Arthur shooter), but, as Webster points out, it also made buying other guns a lot harder too. People have to document a “genuine need,” pass a safety test, wait a minimum of 28 days, have no restraining orders for violence and demonstrate good moral character, among other restrictions, Webster writes.

“In Australia, they look at someone’s full record and ask, ‘Is this a good idea to let this person have a firearm?’” Webster says. In the United States, “we do pretty much the opposite. The burden is on the government to show that you are too dangerous to have a firearm.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How the U.S. gun industry sells self-defense

 

Facebooktwittermail

Bernie Sanders: Here’s what we want

Bernie Sanders writes: As we head toward the Democratic National Convention, I often hear the question, “What does Bernie want?” Wrong question. The right question is what the 12 million Americans who voted for a political revolution want.

And the answer is: They want real change in this country, they want it now and they are prepared to take on the political cowardice and powerful special interests which have prevented that change from happening.

They understand that the United States is the richest country in the history of the world, and that new technology and innovation make us wealthier every day. What they don’t understand is why the middle class continues to decline, 47 million of us live in poverty and many Americans are forced to work two or three jobs just to cobble together the income they need to survive.

What do we want? We want an economy that is not based on uncontrollable greed, monopolistic practices and illegal behavior. We want an economy that protects the human needs and dignity of all people — children, the elderly, the sick, working people and the poor. We want an economic and political system that works for all of us, not one in which almost all new wealth and power rests with a handful of billionaire families. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump flies to Scotland to tend to business interests while hoping his campaign can ‘reset’

The New York Times reports: His campaign is desperately short of cash. He has struggled to hire staff. Influential Republicans are demanding that he demonstrate he can run a serious general election campaign.

But, for reasons that emphasize just how unusual a candidate he is, Donald J. Trump is leaving the campaign trail on Thursday to travel to Scotland to promote a golf course his company purchased on the country’s southwestern coast.

Normally when presidential contenders travel abroad, they do so to burnish their foreign policy credentials, cramming their schedules with high-level meetings with foreign dignitaries and opining on the pressing international issues of the day.

But, to a large extent, Mr. Trump’s business interests still drive his behavior, and his schedule. He has planned two days in Scotland, with no meetings with government or political leaders scheduled.

And despite the fact that Mr. Trump touches down in Britain the day after its “Brexit” vote on whether to leave the European Union, his itinerary — a helicopter landing at his luxury resort, a ceremonial ribbon cutting and family photo, and a news conference — reads like a public relations junket crossed with a golf vacation.

When asked about the vote in an interview this month with The Hollywood Reporter, Mr. Trump seemed not to be familiar with Britain’s referendum, first answering, “Huh?” and then, “Hmm.” Finally, after the Brexit vote was explained to him, Mr. Trump answered with his trademark decisiveness: “Oh yeah, I think they should leave,” he said, a sentiment he has since repeated. On Wednesday morning, however, Mr. Trump told Fox Business that his opinion on the issue was not significant since he had not followed it closely. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Donald Trump faces wall of opposition as he returns to Scotland

The Guardian reports: When Susie and John Munro bought their cottage 35 years ago they had a clear view of Girdle Ness lighthouse in Aberdeen 10 miles south and the rugged, towering dunes which became their kids’ playground. All they can see now is an earth wall built by Donald Trump for “the world’s greatest golf course”, to hide their home from sight.

The berm, which reaches four metres-high and sits opposite their front door, entirely blocks out the horizon and the sea. A hefty locked gate blocks the public road they once used to reach the beach. In heavy rain, say the Munros, the road now floods. At times, they say Trump’s security staff sit in 4×4 vehicles watching their movements.

“He has just ruined it for us here. He has just hemmed us in,” Susie Munro said. “He just did what he pleased and the council just turned a blind eye.” And in a reference to his presidential campaign pledge to deal with immigration, she says quietly: “Mr Trump likes his walls.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Saudi Arabia has declared an end to its oil war with the U.S.

Quartz reports: Two years after quietly declaring war on upstart US shale, Saudi Arabia says the need for the fighting is over. In remarks to journalists while on a US visit, Saudi Arabian energy minister Khalid Al-Falih said that the worldwide oil glut has vanished, signaling an end to Saudi Arabia’s strategy of flooding the global market with oil to try to put American drillers out of business.

The implication was that Saudi Arabia owned the victory. But a three-week-long resurgence of US oil drilling after 21 months of decline suggests that Saudi and the US fought to a draw.

Falih noted that a record volume of oil remains in storage in the US and around the world (paywall), built up during the glut, but once much of that is sold off, the kingdom can resume its traditional role managing supply and demand. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Uncovered: Dark new CIA torture claims

The Daily Beast reports: The CIA said it would only torture detainees to psychologically break them, according to a previously-unreported passage from a 2007 Justice Department memo. It’s a claim that’s at odds with how congressional investigators say the agency really handled captives in the early days of the war on terror.

And it’s not the only eye-opening assertion found in newly declassified portions of Bush-era documents on the CIA’s use of torture. A second document says that the CIA believed itself to be legally barred from torturing others countries’ detainees — but not from using so-called enhanced interrogations on its own captives.

In a passage from a 2007 memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the CIA said it would only subject detainees to harsh techniques, such as waterboarding, in order to break a detainee down to the point where he would no longer withhold information. The interrogations weren’t designed to get answers to specific questions; in fact, the agency interrogator “generally does not ask questions… to which the CIA does not already know the answers,” the memo states.

But that claim is contradicted by the agency’s actual record, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the government to disclose the portions of the document. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Israeli president says Palestinian peace deal won’t happen any time soon

The Wall Street Journal reports: Israel’s president warned that there was no prospect of a peace deal with the Palestinians in the near future and urged the European Union to show patience and put its weight behind measures to facilitate future negotiations.

In a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, Reuven Rivlin criticized France’s peace-conference initiative, launched earlier this month, which he said amounted to “negotiations for negotiations’ sake” and would only deepen divisions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Later in the day, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was also visiting Brussels, called the French peace push a “vital conference for our region and the whole world.”

U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations fell apart in 2014 over disagreements on land swaps and prisoner exchanges. The White House has been working on options for reviving negotiations before President Barack Obama leaves office, although it isn’t clear whether the administration will launch new talks before January.

EU officials said Wednesday they were hoping that Mr. Abbas and Mr. Rivlin would meet and talk in Brussels. That would be the highest level meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership since the 2014 talks. No meeting had taken place by Wednesday evening, though Israeli officials said Mr. Rivlin was ready to meet Mr. Abbas “anytime, anywhere.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Populism and hatred do not erupt, they are stoked

By Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol

This was once a referendum about whether or not the UK should remain in the EU. But not anymore. The referendum has effectively turned into a plebiscite about diversity and tolerance vs divisiveness and hatred: the Leave campaign in particular has largely ditched its long-demolished economic arguments and remoulded itself into an appeal to increasingly shrill and ugly emotion.

How could it have come to that? How could a campaign find so much popular traction by explicitly disavowing rational and informed deliberation?

Some commentators have responded to those questions with bewilderment and resignation, as if right-wing populism and hatred are unavoidable socio-political events, much like volcanic eruptions or earthquakes.

Far from it. Populism and hatred do not erupt, they are stoked. The “Tea Party” in the US was not a spontaneous eruption of “grassroots” opposition to Barack Obama but the result of long-standing efforts by libertarian “think tanks” and political operatives.

Likewise, the present demagoguery in the UK against the EU arises at least in part from media ignorance or hostility towards migrants, and a similar well-funded but nebulous network of organisations (often linked to human-caused climate change denial).

Populism is not an inevitable natural disaster but the result of political choices made by identifiable individuals who ultimately can be held accountable for those choices.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Racism and paranoia are threatening to engulf stable societies. It’s time to fight back

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, writes: The murder of British MP Jo Cox last week has forced the world to look at itself anew. This week, social movements will hold events to remember Jo’s life in many cities, including Ottawa. Members of parliaments in Canada and everywhere have been asked to “stand together to stem the poisonous rising tide of fear and hate that breeds division and extremism.”

We all need to hold ourselves to this same challenge. It feels like the world is entering a frightening new phase. No one is immune, anywhere.

Jo Cox dedicated her life to the struggle against injustice and intolerance. I did not know Jo myself, but so many across Oxfam did and were touched by her. So many people were inspired by her compassion, commitment and energy for change. She was clearly an incredible woman.

Jo was a passionate feminist, a woman after my own heart. While working in Oxfam she got involved in a discussion about how women can best become genuinely empowered. “Education,” said one person. No, said Jo, the answer is politics. Support women as they seek political power — the rest will follow. Everything I have ever experienced, working with women in Africa and across the world, tells me she was right. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail