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.

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Jo Cox ‘died for her views’ her widower Brendan tells BBC News

 

More In Common: A Worldwide Celebration of Jo Cox:
On Jo Cox’s birthday this Wednesday, show the world that we have far #MoreInCommon than that which divides us.

Across the world, we will gather together to celebrate Jo’s life; her warmth, love, energy, passion, flair, Yorkshire heritage, and her belief in the humanity of every person in every place, from Batley and Spen to Aleppo and Darayya.

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Will Latin America finally rebuke Venezuela?

Christopher Sabatini writes: At least on paper, both Europe and the Americas seem equally committed to being democracies-only clubs, willing to defend and preserve the rule of law in member nations. In practice, however, it may be unfair to compare the perplexing web of regional Latin American organizations with the European Union. The juxtaposition of the EU’s recent statement of concern over the rule of law in Poland and the long-overdue response by Latin American and Caribbean governments to the decades-long political crisis festering in Venezuela is a striking case in point.

On June 1, after more than five months of discussion with the Polish government elected in October 2015, the European Commission issued an opinion expressing its concerns over the new conservative government’s packing of the country’s constitutional tribunal and changes to the public broadcasting law.

Compared to Venezuela, which has suffered from a steady two-decade-long erosion of its democratic checks and balances, Poland’s peccadilloes are pretty small stuff. Since his assumption of the presidency in 1999, former president Hugo Chávez and then his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro (elected with a slim 1.5 percent margin in 2013 after Chávez died from cancer), have diminished democratic institutions, politicized the state, harassed and imprisoned political opponents, and closed down independent media.

There appeared a slight ray of hope in December 2015 when the unified opposition bloc — defying a biased electoral system — won what appeared to be a super majority of two-thirds of the National Assembly.

The hope, though, was short-lived. Before the new legislature could be seated, the pro-government electoral commission refused to accept the victories of the deputies from Amazonas province (three of whom were opposition and one Chavista), alleging pre-electoral violations, thus denying the opposition its super majority.

The only constitutional means of resolving the country’s deep polarization and the unpopularity of the government is a recall referendum triggered by 20 percent of voters. Earlier this year, citizens collected several million signatures requesting such a referendum. The effort, though, has been mocked by the president and vice president and the decision of whether to allow citizens to continue to collect more signatures is in the hands of the solidly pro-government electoral commission (the Comisión National Electoral — CNE).

Venezuela’s slide into authoritarianism has elicited hardly a collective peep from the region’s many multilateral organizations, almost all of them purporting to defend democracy and human rights. In fact, Latin America and the Caribbean may have the distinction of being the most heavily networked, multi-lateralized, summit-oriented region in the world. There’s the 70-year-old Organization of American States (OAS) and its inter-American system of human rights, the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR), and the more recent creations of the Union of South American Republics (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) — all of which count Venezuela as a member, and are supposedly committed to defending and protecting democracy and human rights. [Continue reading…]

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A day of infamy

Following the murder of Jo Cox, in a nation that has become inflamed by anti-immigrant rhetoric, Alex Massie writes: When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

We can’t control the weather but, in politics, we can control the climate in which the weather happens. That’s on us, all of us, whatever side of any given argument we happen to be. Today, it feels like we’ve done something terrible to that climate.

Sad doesn’t begin to cover it. This is worse, much worse, than just sad. This is a day of infamy, a day in which we should all feel angry and ashamed. Because if you don’t feel a little ashamed – if you don’t feel sick, right now, wherever you are reading this – then something’s gone wrong with you somewhere. [Continue reading…]

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The murder of Jo Cox cannot be viewed in isolation

Polly Toynbee writes: When politicians from a mainstream party use immigration as their main weapon in a hotly fought campaign, they unleash something dark and hateful that always lurks in all countries not far beneath the surface.

Did we delude ourselves we were a tolerant country – or can we still save our better selves? Over recent years, struggling to identify “Britishness”, to connect with a natural patriotic love of country that citizens have every right to feel, politicians floundering for a British identity reach for the reassuring idea that this cradle of democracy is blessed with some special civility.

But if the vote is out [of the EU], then out goes that impression of what kind of country we are. Around the world we will be seen as the island that cut itself off out of anti-foreigner feeling: that will identify us globally more than any other attribute. Our image, our reality, will change overnight.

Contempt for politics is dangerous and contagious, yet it has become a widespread default sneer. There was Jo Cox, a dedicated MP, going about her business doing what good MPs do, making herself available to any constituents with any problems to drop in to her surgery. Just why she became the victim of such a vicious attack, we may learn eventually. But in the aftermath of her death, there are truths of which we should remind ourselves right now.

Democracy is precious and precarious. It relies on a degree of respect for the opinions of others, soliciting support for political ideas without stirring up undue savagery and hatred against opponents. [Continue reading…]

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Jo Cox: Colleagues recall a great humanitarian

 

“Jo Cox was a force of nature, a five-foot bundle of Yorkshire grit and determination absolutely committed to helping other people.” Andrew Mitchell

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The murder of Jo Cox: An attack on humanity, idealism and democracy

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In an editorial, The Guardian says: The slide from civilisation to barbarism is shorter than we might like to imagine. Every violent crime taints the ideal of an orderly society, but when that crime is committed against the people who are peacefully selected to write the rules, then the affront is that much more profound.

The assassination, by stabbing and repeated shooting in the street, of Jo Cox is, in the first instance, an exceptionally heinous villainy, as the killing of a mother of young children is bound to be. It is also, however, and in a very real sense, an attack on democracy. Here was the MP whom the citizens of Batley and Spen had entrusted to represent them, fresh from conducting her duty to solve the practical problems of those same citizens in a constituency surgery. To single her out, at this time and in this place, is to turn a gun on every value of which decent Britons are justifiably proud.

Jo Cox, however, was not just any MP doing her duty. She was also an MP who was driven by an ideal. She explained what that was as eloquently as anyone could in her maiden speech last year. “Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration,” the new member said, “be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel ​around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” [Continue reading…]

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Orlando massacre: The shooter was an American

Mohammed Fairouz writes: In the early hours of Sunday morning, a young aquaintance through my inner circle of friends was shot and killed in Orlando. He was 32 years old. I saw his mother crying on TV.

I am incandescent with rage and overcome with grief.

I have never held a gun in my life and I probably never will. I do not feel as though I’m missing out on anything. No civilian needs an assault rifle. Period.

The shooter was not a ‘US citizen of Afghan descent’ as the press describes him. It’s a passable description on a technical level, but it is not a fundamentally true one. He was a Floridian and an American. The town in which he was born, New York City, is as American as apple pie. The Florida town in which he was raised is as American as apple pie. The assault weapon that he used to kill those people is as American as apple pie.

We have to acknowledge this. We have to look in the mirror and admit that we have a problem and we have to fix our problem.

The men who drafted the US Constitution understood that, like all functioning constitutions in the world, it would need to be a dynamic document. The founders were also men who, naturally, made mistakes with that document; mistakes like enshrining slavery into the original version. It took a bloody civil war to fix that mistake. But laws are made by us: flawed, mortal, human beings. And that is why they are in need of constant study, revision and change. [Continue reading…]

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Anthony Barnett talks to Yanis Varoufakis at Another Europe Is Possible

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The global impact of transnational criminal cartels

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Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán and Luis Jorge Garay-Salamanca report: In the early morning hours of Friday, January 8, 2016, Mexican marines closed in on the world’s most wanted man: Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, a notorious drug trafficker with a net worth estimated near $1 billion. The climactic shootout in Sinaloa, Mexico, took place after Guzmán made a getaway into the sewer system from a house that the authorities had been watching. He was finally apprehended after he reemerged and stole a car. His capture brought to a close six months of humiliation for the Mexican government, which had struggled to explain how Guzmán could escape from a maximum-security prison by walking into the shower, under full view of a video camera, and slipping away through a tiny hole in the floor that led to a 30-foot-deep, mile-long tunnel that had taken perhaps a year to construct. It was the second time that El Chapo had broken out of prison under the noses of Mexican officials. Mexican officials are currently debating whether to hold Guzmán — really, whether they can hold him or — extradite him to the United States, where he faces indictments in multiple federal courts on drug trafficking and murder charges. His organization, the Sinaloa cartel, has smuggled vast quantities of drugs into the United States through elaborate tunnel systems near the border between the two countries.

In Mexico, the confrontation between cartels such as Sinaloa, Los Zetas, and Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) has cost nearly 44,000 lives during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. Human rights organizations counted more than 100,000 deaths during the tenure of Nieto’s predecessor. These and other criminal networks originating in Mexico pay bribes and co-opt police chiefs, mayors, local legislators, and municipal and state police. They infiltrate state institutions, such as courts and attorney offices, especially at the local level, spreading corruption and violence across the country. Though usually defined as “Mexican drug cartels,” they don’t confine their operations to Mexico or their activities to drug trafficking. They extort, kidnap, and murder across Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Los Zetas has perpetrated mass murders in Guatemala, while members of Sinaloa operate in Colombia and Venezuela.

As the United States’ interest in extraditing Guzmán shows, the impact of these activities is often felt beyond Latin America. In 2012, the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division pointed out that at least $881 million in proceeds from drug trafficking, some of which involved Sinaloa in Mexico and the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia, had been laundered through HSBC Bank USA, without being detected. A U.S. district court requested extradition of former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo in 2013, and convicted him in 2014, for laundering millions of dollars through American bank accounts with the help of Jorge Armando Llort, whom he had appointed director of a semi-state-owned bank, Banco de Crédito Hipotecario Nacional. No Guatemalan courts sentenced the bank’s director or the former president.

What few observers realize is that, while El Chapo’s capture made for a dramatic story, the criminal operations of his Sinaloa cartel will proceed almost as if nothing happened. In his notorious Rolling Stone interview with Sean Penn, El Chapo observed: “The day I don’t exist, it’s not going to decrease in any way at all. Drug trafficking does not depend on just one person.”

Sinaloa and other criminal cartels have evolved structures that no longer depend on the direction of single leaders. They have become transnational criminal networks — enormous, decentralized, and difficult to map and control. Their operations, too, have become more varied, not only in their criminal activities but in their infiltration and co-optation of legal entities, including government and law enforcement. Even in some countries with strong rule-of-law traditions, they have overcome judicial systems, reconfigured state institutions, and influenced formal democratic processes. [Continue reading…]

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The meaningless politics of liberal democracies

Emma Green writes: Ben Affleck has become an unlikely spokesman for a view on Islam held by many on the American left. In 2014, the actor made a now-famous stand against Bill Maher and Sam Harris in defense of Muslims, arguing that it’s wrong to make generalizations about the religion based on ideological extremists and terrorists. “How about the more than 1 billion people who aren’t fanatical, who don’t punch women, who just want to go to school, have some sandwiches, and pray five times a day?” he said.

In his new book Islamic Exceptionalism, Shadi Hamid — an Atlantic contributor, a scholar at Brookings, and a self-identified liberal — calls Affleck’s declaration a “well-intentioned … red herring.” Islam really is different from other religions, he says, and many Muslims view politics, theocracy, and violence differently than do Christians, Jews, or non-religious people in Europe and the United States.

Perhaps his most provocative claim is this: History will not necessarily favor the secular, liberal democracies of the West. Hamid does not believe all countries will inevitably follow a path from revolution to rational Enlightenment and non-theocratic government, nor should they. There are some basic arguments for this: Islam is growing, and in some majority-Muslim nations, huge numbers of citizens believe Islamic law should be upheld by the state. But Hamid also thinks there’s something lacking in Western democracies, that there’s a sense of overarching meaninglessness in political and cultural life in these countries that can help explain why a young Muslim who grew up in the U.K. might feel drawn to martyrdom, for example. This is not a dismissal of democracy, nor does it comprehensively explain the phenomenon of jihadism. Rather, it’s a note of skepticism about the promise of secular democracy — and the wisdom of pushing that model on other cultures and regions.

Most Islamists — people who, in his words, “believe Islam or Islamic law should play a central role in political life” — are not terrorists. But the meaning they find in religion, Hamid said, helps explain their vision of governance, and it’s one that can seem incomprehensible to people who live in liberal democracies.

I spoke with Hamid recently about Islamism, ISIS, and the “patronizing” assumptions Americans sometimes make about Islam. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. [Continue reading…]

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The dangerous new age of global autarky

British Conservative MP and Brexit supporter, Boris Johnson

British Conservative MP and Brexit supporter, Boris Johnson

Catherine Rampell writes: The age of autarky is again upon us.

Britain, in two weeks, will vote on whether to leave the European Union, that great postwar project to promote both peace and prosperity.

No matter that economists have almost uniformly warned that a possible “Brexit” would devastate the British economy, with an estimated cost of approximately $6,000 per British household. Disregard news that markets are already freaking out about the consequences for the pound and the overall financial sector; that high-skilled talent has become skittish about moving to the British isles, whose relationship to the E.U. in a post-Brexit world is as yet unknown; and that foreign clients have begun suspending or delaying contracts with British companies.

Who cares that these small islands, so dependent on the continent for both what they consume and where they send their exports, are putting so much economic activity at risk?

Many Brits want to withdraw, to show they’re separate and politically self-determined and not really into all this expensive pan-ethnic, pan-European unity rubbish. So withdraw they might. Recent polls show the “leave” and “stay” contingents about evenly split.

Financially self-defeating as it may seem, the British are hardly alone in their flirtation with economic, political and cultural separatism. [Continue reading…]

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In a traumatised Netherlands, faith in the EU is plummeting

Joris Luyendijk writes: Once a beacon of progressive politics, the Netherlands today is a traumatised, angry and deeply confused nation. Support for immigration and the European project are at all-time lows. Synagogues and Jewish schools need police protection from homegrown jihadists, and freedom of expression is under serious pressure. Leading pundits and comedians incite hatred against Muslims in much the same way that antisemites rage against “the Jews”.

It seems a long time since “Dutch” was synonymous with tolerance. A founding member of the European Union, the Netherlands developed from the 1970s onwards into a laboratory for social and cultural change, boldly pioneering the legalisation of prostitution, soft drugs, euthanasia and gay marriage.

Those were the days when Dutch politicians and opinion-makers would refer to the Netherlands, without any apparent irony, as a “gidsland”, or “guide country”: a small nation leading by example. Its proudest moment probably came in June 1988 when an ethnically mixed team of Dutch footballers won the European Championships, beating the all-white teams of arch-rival Germany and then Russia. It felt like the ultimate vindication of multiculturalism.

Fast-forward 28 years, and heading the polls today is Geert Wilders’ PVV or Freedom party. Elected “politician of the year 2015”, Wilders is the sole member of the party he founded, ruling over it as undemocratically as the Arab dictators he so despises. He wants the Netherlands to drop the euro and leave the EU. Like Donald Trump he demands an end to all immigration from Islamic countries. A typical Wilders tweet: “As long as we have ‘leaders’ such as [Dutch prime minister] Rutte, Merkel, Obama and Cameron denying Islam and terror are one and the same, there will be more terrorist attacks.”

Of course there was racism and intolerance in the Netherlands during the 70s, 80s and 90s, too, and the country of old has not entirely disappeared. A slim majority continues to vote for pro-EU parties that abhor discrimination against Muslims. The popular mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, is openly and proudly Muslim. The speaker of parliament, Khadija Arib, is of Moroccan descent; and in 2007 Dutch readers voted the book The House of the Mosque by Iranian-born Kader Abdolah to be the second “best Dutch book ever”.

Yet the influence of the PVV is widely felt, particularly because the steadily growing far-left Socialist party shares many of its views on the EU. And with every new terrorist attack, wave of refugees or expensive euro bailout, the forces of regression grow stronger, both on the far right and the far left. [Continue reading…]

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Voting rights at the crossroads

Elaine Godfrey writes: The November election will be the first presidential contest to take place since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to strip some of the major protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required states with a history of voter discrimination to get federal clearance before changing their voting laws. Seventeen states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time. Among them, Wisconsin, Texas, and North Carolina have tightened their photo ID requirements; Kansas now requires proof of citizenship to cast a ballot; and Arizona has made it a felony for people to collect ballots from others and take them to the polls.

Some people — mostly Democrats — say these laws disenfranchise poor and minority voters. But others — mostly Republicans — defend the stringent requirements as part of an effort to prevent voter fraud (an occurrence scholars largely consider to be a myth, and in some states, is more rare than a lightning strike).

But just as some states are making it more difficult to vote, others are passing legislation to make it easier.

The Illinois House and Senate approved a measure on Tuesday to register people to vote automatically when they renew their driver’s licenses at the DMV (with an option to opt out). If Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signs the legislation—something he has shown support for in the past—the Prairie State will be the fifth state to enact automatic voter registration, after Oregon, California, Vermont, and West Virginia. Dozens of other states are considering similar legislation. [Continue reading…]

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Teaching ‘grit’ is bad for children, and bad for democracy

Nicholas Tampio writes: According to the grit narrative, children in the United States are lazy, entitled and unprepared to compete in the global economy. Schools have contributed to the problem by neglecting socio-emotional skills. The solution, then, is for schools to impart the dispositions that enable American children to succeed in college and careers. According to this story, politicians, policymakers, corporate executives and parents agree that kids need more grit.

The person who has arguably done more than anyone else to elevate the concept of grit in academic and popular conversations is Angela Duckworth, professor at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. In her new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, she explains the concept of grit and how people can cultivate it in themselves and others.

According to Duckworth, grit is the ability to overcome any obstacle in pursuit of a long-term project: ‘To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times and rise eight.’ Duckworth names musicians, athletes, coaches, academics and business people who succeed because of grit. Her book will be a boon for policymakers who want schools to inculcate and measure grit.

There is a time and place for grit. However, praising grit as such makes no sense because it can often lead to stupid or mean behaviour. Duckworth’s book is filled with gritty people doing things that they, perhaps, shouldn’t. [Continue reading…]

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