As US drug policy loosens, Dutch laws tighten

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Increasingly over the past three decades, The Netherlands has become a haven for controversial policies on social issues — prostitution, physician-assisted euthanasia and, of course, drug legalization.Netherlands Flag Icon

Just this week, the Dutch made global headlines by firing an employee of its central bank who failed to report that she was moonlighting as a sex worker.

But even as states like Washington and Colorado experiment with legal marijuana regimes, and as the US justice department falls back from the aggressive prosecution of a ‘war on drugs’ that for decades swelled the US prison population with non-violent drug offenders, it’s the Dutch who are now second-thinking the permissive regulatory approach that transformed Amsterdam into a pleasure capital, where locals and tourists alike could indulge in vices prohibited elsewhere in the world. The bold steps toward full legalization in Washington and Colorado, however, are bringing marijuana into the mainstream. Seattle, Denver and Boulder are now the laboratories for the world’s most progressive drug reforms, not Amsterdam.

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RELATED: Jamaican government targets legalizing ganja by September [June 2014]

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Dutch liberalization, which dates back to the 1970s when officials embraced a policy of gedoogbeleid (tolerance) for soft drug use, was always an experiment in half-steps. Selling small quantities at Dutch ‘coffee shops’ or growing cannabis for personal use were decriminalized, but the wholesale trade in marijuana remained illegal. That kept the weed trade firmly in the ‘gray market’ — neither fully prohibited nor fully welcomed.

Though Amsterdam’s tourism industry resisted attempts to restrict marijuana use to Dutch citizens alone, it hasn’t stopped Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte’s government from introducing new restrictions that make it more difficult for non-nationals to smoke weed in The Netherlands. Since 2011, new laws give municipalities a wide berth to establish just how permissive they’d like to be. That means that while Amsterdam has largely resisted the crackdown, other cities, especially border towns like Maastricht, have embraced the tighter restrictions with enthusiasm. New police powers took effect last month allowing officials to prosecute those who facilitate the widespread cultivation of marijuana, such as ‘grow shops’ that sell the the equipment necessary to grow marijuana plants.

The result? A greater role for organized crime in the marijuana trade:

The result: Coffee shops are increasingly buying buds from criminal organizations willing to absorb the risk of prosecution by growing large amounts of cannabis in shipping containers buried underground, with little regard for quality or mold abatement. “It’s amazing how bad the quality has become,” says Bergman. “And the price is up. It’s what we’ve all predicted.”

It’s an ironic result for a party like Rutte’s Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), one of the most successful economic liberal parties in all of Europe. Rutte’s predecessor, the Christian democratic Jan Peter Balkenende, was even more hostile to marijuana, and he pushed for legislation that would require all coffee shop visitors to acquire a ‘weed pass.’ Though that didn’t happen, subsequent Dutch governments have chipped away at drug liberalization, and the number of coffee shops in Amsterdam alone fell in the last decade by about one-third.

Nevertheless, the Dutch lessons were palpable. The most enduring lesson for US policymakers was the distinction between soft drugs and hard drugs. By taking a more permissive attitude to soft drugs like marijuana, Dutch officials could devote more resources to reducing the trade in harder drugs like heroin. While the United States took a tougher approach to hard-core drug users in the 1990s, The Netherlands treated heroin use, for example, as a public health issue instead of a crime problem. Twenty years later, with heroin use once again on the rise globally, it’s the United States that is taking the Dutch approach to addiction at every level of government — from US attorney general Eric Holder, who has pushed to end long, mandatory sentences for drug offenses, to Vermont governor Peter Shumlin, who’s made heroin treatment a pillar of his state government.

Finland election results — and what they mean for Europe

sipilaPhoto credit to Jari Laukkanen/Suomenmaa.

As expected, the liberal Suomen Keskusta (Centre Party) won the largest share of the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Finland after a campaign dominated by Finland’s flagging economic recovery.finland flag

That means Juha Sipilä, a former telecommunications executive who entered Finnish politics just four years ago, will become the country’s next prime minister, and he will prioritize an agenda of economic reform that includes personal and business tax cuts, further budget-trimming and steps designed to increase the competitiveness of Finnish industry.

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The Centre Party led Finland’s government most recently between 2003 and 2010 under former prime minister Matti Vanhanen, who also emphasized tax cuts and promoted innovation — Vanhanen’s government was the first in the world to introduce a legal right to broadband internet. Olli Rehn (pictured above), who from 2004 to 2014 became the European Commission’s chief official for economic and monetary policy, won a constituency in Helsinki to return to the Finnish parliament, where he’s expected to play a leading role in the new government — quite possibly as Finland’s next finance minister.

But the Centre Party’s narrow victory wasn’t the most convincing — it only defeated the governing center-right Kansallinen Kokoomus (National Coalition Party) by just over 3%. Another two parties, the far-right Perussuomalaiset (PS, Finns Party) and the center-left Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue (SDP, Social Democratic Party) weren’t far behind.

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Each of Finland’s four major parties won between 17% and 21% of the vote, hardly a ringing endorsement for anything other than the traditional moderation and consensus that has marked past Finnish governments. For now, the Centre Party’s victory will end talk of Finland’s potential accession to NATO, a position that outgoing prime minister Alexander Stubb favored and that Sipilä (along with most Finns) opposes.

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RELATED: Who is Juha Sipilä?
The man who wants to become CEO of Finland, Inc.

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But it also means Sipilä’s government will almost certainly depend on the Finns Party in some form. Throughout the Finnish election campaign, that has caused trepidation throughout Europe for two reasons. First, the eurosceptic far right will now hold the balance of power in Finland, a scenario that’s becoming increasingly common in the Nordics as anti-EU nationalists continue to gain support throughout all of Europe. Second, because the Finns Party are opposed to future Greek bailouts, Finland’s new government could complicate efforts to reach a new deal on Greece’s financing that will allow it to remain in the eurozone.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Sunday’s vote was the strong showing of the Vihreä liitto (Green League), which gained five seats (for a total of 15) in the 200-member Eduskunta, the unicameral Finnish parliament.

Sipilä hopes to avoid the same unwieldy coalition that hampered the National Coalition-led government since 2011, first under Jyrki Katainen and under Stubb for the past 10 months after Katainen joined the European Commission (where he currently serves as vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness). Katainen was disappointed in his plan to enact deeper reforms, in part because he was forced to balance an unwieldy six-party coalition that included not only the center-right National Coalition, but the Social Democrats, the Green League and the Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto).

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Sipilä starts out with less than half the seats he needs for a coalition. If Sipilä includes the conservative Kristillisdemokraatit (Christian Democrats) and the Svenska folkpartiet i Finland (Swedish People’s Party), a small party devoted to the interests of Finland’s Swedish-speaking population, he’ll have just 63 seats.

Continue reading Finland election results — and what they mean for Europe

Who is Juha Sipilä? The man who wants to become CEO of Finland, Inc.

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If the voters of Finland elect challenger Juha Sipilä as its next prime minister, the former telecommunications minister will have the iPhone to thank.finland flag

That’s because the Finnish economy was in recession in 2012 and 2013, and it registered only tepid growth last year. In part, it’s due to Nokia’s loss of market share. Once a synonym for state-of-the-art technology in mobile phones, the exponential rise of the iPhone in the past eight years left the Finnish champion reeling for new areas of growth and shedding jobs near the Finnish capital of Helsinki.

Notwithstanding plans for Nokia to merge with French telecoms equipment provider Alcatel announced last week, Nokia’s global dominance in mobile smartphones collapsed over the course of the four-year government of the center-right, liberal Kansallinen Kokoomus (National Coalition Party) while Samsung and Apple increasingly pushed Nokia out of the market. Nokia ultimately sold it devices and services business to Microsoft in 2013. Simultaneous woes have afflicted Finland’s once-thriving timber market.

So it’s not surprising that voters are poised to elect Sipilä as their next prime minister, a former telecommunications executive who aims to run Finland like a private-sector company.

There’s a sense that voters also want to punish the National Coalition. Even former prime minister Jyrki Katainen appeared to sense that when he stepped down last spring to take a position at the European Commission, where he currently serves as the Commission’s vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness. Katainen left it to his former European affairs minister, Alexander Stubb, to lead his party into the March 19 elections. Polls suggest that has become increasingly difficult over the course of the past 10 months since Stubb assumed the premiership.

A victory for Sipilä would return the Suomen Keskusta (Centre Party) back to power after a four-year hiatus in opposition. Sipilä came to politics only recently, elected for the first time in 2011 to the Eduskunta, Finland’s 200-member unicameral parliament after a successful career in the telecommunications  industry.  Continue reading Who is Juha Sipilä? The man who wants to become CEO of Finland, Inc.

Exit Vendola, stage left, as Puglia’s regional president

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Nichi Vendola, the openly gay, openly socialist president of Puglia, the southeastern Italian region, was once the new face of the Italian left — and was regarded as a potential prime minister by fawning profiles in the global media in 2010 and 2011.pugliaItaly Flag Icon

That praise came with good reason.

Vendola (pictured above), in the waning days of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s domination of Italian politics, was the anti-Berlusconi. In a conservative region like Puglia, where Catholicism is still a strong force, Puglia became an unlikely leader.

This week, however, Vendola announced that while he would always be a militante of the left, he will step aside as the leader of his democratic socialist party, Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL, Left Ecology Freedom), when he leaves office in Puglia later this year. Italy will hold regional elections in seven regions, including Puglia, on May 31. In recent days, Vendola has spoken about marrying his longtime partner, speculating about fatherhood.

There’s one major reason, among many, that Vendola is headed for retirement instead of to Rome.

It’s the ascendance of Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, the former Florence mayor who won the leadership of the center-right Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) in November 2013 and who wrested the premiership in February 2014 from his technocratic PD colleague Enrico Letta. In one sense, Renzi’s rise has been great news for the Italian left. Renzi’s youthful image and reform-minded approach to government has positioned the Democratic Party as the most dominant centrist force since the fall of the old Christian Democratic Party in the early 1990s.

While that’s been wonderful for moderates, plenty of die-hard leftists are not thrilled with Renzi, especially among the labor unions that have traditionally controlled the political left. For Vendola, an avowed communist, Renzi’s dominance will almost certainly close the door to any further ambitions for Vendola. Despite his widespread popularity in Puglia, where he won two consecutive elections, Vendola failed to win much more than 3% of the vote nationally in the 2013 general election. Though SEL is still polling between 3% and 5% in national polls, it’s difficult to see much of a future for the party without Vendola, whose star quality and charisma propelled it as a wary electoral partner for the Democratic Party, even if Vendola has increasingly distanced himself from Renzi over the past two years. With Vendola’s retirement and with the 2008 collapse of the successor to Italy’s Communist Party, Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (PRC, Communist Refoundation Party), it will be difficult to find any bona-fide communists in the homeland of Gramsci. Continue reading Exit Vendola, stage left, as Puglia’s regional president

Obama’s move to remove Cuba from terror list was long overdue

obamaraulPhoto credit to Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.

Fully 15 out of 19 hijackers in the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were Saudi nationals, products of a country governed by a royal family in a centuries-long symbiotic relationship with fundamentalist Wahhabism. When US special forces finally found and killed Osama bin Laden (also a Saudi national) in 2011, he was being protected by Pakistani forces, with plenty of sympathizers within Pakistan’s  military and intelligence community.USflagcuba

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Pakistan, however, have ever been designated by the US State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list, which has always had more to do with the geopolitics of American foreign policy than with reality.

So on the heels of US president Barack Obama’s meeting with Cuban president Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas last weekend (pictured above), the Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it would recommend removing Cuba from the ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list. The recommendation will take effect in 45 days, following the Obama administration’s notification to the US Congress. Though Congressional action is unlikely to halt Obama’s decision, Obama will need the Republican-controlled Congress to approve any measure to lift the embargo initially imposed on Cuba in 1960 by the United States. Former president George W. Bush took a similar decision with respect to North Korea in June 2008 in consideration for the reclusive country’s decision to allow greater inspection of its nuclear sites.

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RELATED: Six key questions about the landmark Cuba deal

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Republican president Ronald Reagan initially added Cuba to the list in 1982, when it became clear that its leader Fidel Castro was supporting leftist guerrilla movements across Latin America that the Reagan administration believed imperative to stop. Nevertheless, Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua in the 1980s and Hugo Chavez’s firmly anti-American government in Venezuela in the 2000s never landed on the list. The most recent 2013 State Department review that justified Cuba’s continued ‘terror sponsor’ status reads like satire, noting that the Cuban government is harboring fugitives from the US justice system, Basque nationalists and Colombian rebels. Never mind the Spanish government concluded a ceasefire with the Basque guerrilla ETA in 2011 and even though Havana was by 2012 hosting talking between the Colombian government and the left-wing FARC.

Though a few dozen US nationals are currently in Cuba evading American law, Cuba is hardly the only country guilty of this. Edward Snowden has been in Russia nearly two years. Yemen, Somalia and dozens of other countries are likely harboring individuals who pose much greater threats to US national interests than Cuba these days. The decision leaves just Syria, Sudan and Iran on the list, all of which have ties to the Lebanese militia Hezbollah or the Palestinian group Hamas.

Cuba participated in the pan-American summit last week in Panama City only for the first time since 1994 when the first summit was held, and though Obama and Castro outlined their countries’ respective differences at length, Obama argued that the longstanding enmity between the two countries originated in another time:

“The United States will not be imprisoned by the past — we’re looking to the future,” Mr. Obama, 53, said of his approach to Cuba at the summit meeting’s first plenary session on Saturday. “I’m not interested in having battles that frankly started before I was born.”

“The Cold War,” he added, “has been over for a long time.”

Critics, from hawkish Republicans to Democrats like former Senate foreign relations committee chair Robert Menendez condemned Obama’s decision, and it’s not clear that Obama will succeed in his quest to lift the embargo in the remainder of his administration. Obama’s critics also include the Miami-born Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida and the son of Cuban immigrants. Rubio, who became the third major Republican to announce a presidential campaign on Monday, sharply denounced the Obama administration’s overtures to Cuba, putting him out of step with many American voters, including increasingly younger Cuban Americans.

Though the decision to remove Cuba is mostly symbolic, it will open Cuba to the global payments system because international banks with links to the United States have largely avoided handling Cuban funds, out of fear of repercussions from the US department of justice. That, in turn, will facilitate the formal re-opening of embassies in both Havana and Washington. Lifting the designation also means that the US government may now provide greater economic assistance.

Domestic policy considerations have long delayed the thawing of US-Cuba relations, but Cuba hasn’t been sponsor of terrorism in decades, and there’s no evidence that Cuba ever supported any kind of terrorism that truly threatened US national interests. Even in the absence of the parallel US opening to Cuba, the Obama administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the list of terrorism sponsors was long overdue.

Maimane, sudden favorite to lead the DA, faces uphill battle

maimaneattacksPhoto credit to Lulama Zenzile / Foto24.

With four years to go in her second term as premier of Western Cape province, Helen Zille announced Monday that she would not go forward as the leader of South Africa’s opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).  south africa flag

That opens the way for the DA’s parliamentary leader, Mmusi Maimane, to win the leadership in three weeks’ time at the party congress. If he wins, as is very likely, it will be the first time that a black South African will lead the country’s chief opposition party. It comes at a time when both Maimane and Julius Malema, the leader of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), are making headlines by challenging president Jacob Zuma, whose ruling African National Congress (ANC) has dominated South African politics and governance since the end of apartheid in 1994.

At age 34, Maimane is part of the generation a bit too young to join the resistance struggle against apartheid. Nevertheless, he has consistently outperformed his party as a member of the South African National Assembly from Gauteng — the largest of South Africa’s provinces, and home to both Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, and Pretoria, its capital. In the 2014 election, Maimane won 30.8% of the vote in Gauteng to just 53.6% for the ANC, and also he performed strongly in the 2011 Johannesburg mayoral election. Strong performances alone, however, that boost the DA’s support to the 30% threshold, will not create a true two-party system in South Africa.

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RELATED: Who is Mmusi Maimane?
Possibly the next premier of Gauteng.

RELATED: Even with victory assured, is the ANC’s future at risk?

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In contrast to ANC propaganda that sharply denounces the Democratic Alliance as a white-dominated vehicle for post-colonial oppression, Zille was a celebrated journalist who worked to uncover the injustices of minority rule in South Africa during the 1980s and 1990s. In 2004, the Democratic Alliance won just 12.4% of the popular vote. After Zille took control of the leadership, the party won control of Western Cape province and increased the DA’s national share of the vote to 22.2% in the May 2014 general election. Nevertheless, when the ANC, under Zuma’s weak leadership, can still command over 62% of the vote, it’s clear that there’s a ceiling to the support that a party led by a white South African will command in a country where the racial nature of politics runs deep.

That doesn’t mean that Maimane’s probable ascension as the party’s next leader will solve the party’s image problem, and Maimane might be well-advised to rename and rebrand the party as his first priority if elected as its next leader. Even under the best conditions possible for the Democratic Alliance, it’s inconceivable to believe that the ANC will be dislodged in the next election in 2019 or even perhaps the 2024 election. But Maimane, whose father grew up in the notorious Soweto slum, can present a fresh contrast to an increasingly geriatric ruling class. Zuma will be 77 when his second term ends. His most likely successor, vice president Cyril Ramaphosa, is currently 62 years old, and he first seriously contested the ANC’s leadership in the late 1990s, when Thabo Mbeki edged him out for the opportunity to succeed Nelson Mandela.  Continue reading Maimane, sudden favorite to lead the DA, faces uphill battle

Australia’s government changes law to punish anti-vaxxers

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He may be one of Australia’s most conservative prime ministers in recent history, but Tony Abbott isn’t above using government as a nudge to coerce better public policy outcomes.australia new

Earlier this week, Abbott announced that Australia’s national government is serious about compelling parents to vaccinate their children from diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough, that were largely eradicated in the post-vaccination era, and that are now returning as larger numbers of parents refuse to vaccinate their children out of fears of autism or other untoward health effects. Doctors overwhelmingly argue that there’s no link between vaccination and autism or other severe side effects.

The anti-vaccination movement has become an increasing problem throughout the world for many reasons, including both pious Muslims in northern Nigeria (who have resisted polio vaccinations) and health-conscious leftists in California (with fears over autism). The Abbott government’s step is one of the most aggressive steps that any government in the world has taken to coerce parents to accept vaccination.

Starting in January 2016, the government will no longer recognize an exemption for ‘conscientious objectors,’ which currently allows nearly 40,000 Australians to refuse vaccination for their children. That, in turn, has boosted the number of incidents of childhood diseases that had largely disappeared (and not only among children). The change means that Australian parents stand to lose funding of up to A$2100 (equivalent to US$1600) per child in tax credits and up to A$15,000 (equivalent to US$11,400) in additional government funding, including rebates for child care, if they continue to refuse to vaccinate.

With enough participation in a vaccination program, not every person needs to be vaccinated, because of the so-called ‘herd immunity’ that comes when a high percentage of a population has been protected. It provided protect to those who can’t tolerate the vaccine, including very young children or the immune-compromised. But it also creates a ‘free-rider’ problem, whereby any given individual has an incentive to opt out of vaccination due to the fear, real or imagined, of any risk that might come with receiving a particular vaccine.   Continue reading Australia’s government changes law to punish anti-vaxxers

Sudan’s Bashir set for expected reelection

SUDAN-POLITICS-OPPOSITION-BASHIRPhoto credit to Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

Guest post by Kevin Buettner

In the span of just a couple weeks, Africa will experience both a historic democratic transfer of power in Nigeria and the stubborn clinging to power by a dictator in Sudan, as scheduled elections begin for the first time since the largely Christian South Sudan split from the rest of the chiefly Muslim country in 2011.sudan

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has ruled over perhaps the most turbulent stretch of Sudan’s post-colonial existence. During the last quarter-century, Bashir watched as Sudan lost South Sudan after decades of conflict, a concurrent genocide in Darfur (for which Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court), and a escalating crisis in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in the south of the new, truncated Sudan.

The ruling National Congress Party (NCP, المؤتمر الوطني) has ensured its continued power and Bashir’s easy reelection by designating as ‘independent’ all persons running for office without the explicit consent of the NCP leadership. With strict NCP and government control over the Sudanese media, the NCP has created the perception that the opposition is disunited.

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RELATED: Who would win a South Sudanese civil war? Khartoum.

RELATED: Pressing pause — South Sudan at a crossroads

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Moreover, much of the Sudanese opposition is simply boycotting polls that are expected to fall well short of international standards for free and fair elections. No one expects Bashir to lose reelection, despite some of the most strident protests in recent memory in September 2013 when residents in Khartoum, the capital city, turned out to denounce price increases and the economic malaise of the 2010s, many calling on Bashir to resign. Several dissident NCP members denounced Bashir and in November 2013, Bashir dismissed his long-serving first vice president, Osman Taha, who was largely credited with working with South Sudan and the international community to enact the peace agreement that cleared the way for South Sudan’s 2011 independence referendum. Today, however, it seems clear that Bashir has widely survived the 2013 tumult.

Though Bashir rose to Sudan’s presidency for the first time in a 1989 military coup, he only truly consolidated power between 1996 and 1999, when he outmaneuvered Sudan’s behind-the-scenes leader, Islamist hardliner Hassan al-Turabi, in part due to rising US concern about Sudan’s ties to radical Islamic terrorism.

Today, Sudan’s electorate is hardly in the kind of shape to hold a robust election that meets any kind of norm of civil society. Continue reading Sudan’s Bashir set for expected reelection

Humala’s popularity sinks as Peru gets 7th PM in four years

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It’s become a political law of gravity in Peru in the past 15 years that the popularity of its elected presidents drops as each five-year term ends.Peru Flag Icon

That’s irrelevant for the current president, Ollanta Humala, since Peruvian presidents aren’t eligible for reelection to two consecutive terms. But a week after opposition parties in Peru’s Congreso de la República (Congress of the Republic) forced Humala’s prime minister Ana Jara to step down amid a internal spying scandal, Humala was obligated to appoint the seventh prime minister of his administration.

Although the Peruvian president functions both as head of state and head of government, the prime minister heads the executive cabinet, and the appointment of Pedro Cateriano launched yet another reshuffle in the Humala administration as voters seem to be souring on Humala in the fourth of his five-year term. The Congress voted on March 30 to censure Jara in relation to allegations that Peru’s intelligence agency, the Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia (DINI), was spying on opposition politicians, journalists and businessmen.

Despite fears during the 2011 election that Humala, a leftist and former army officer, would lead Peru in a populist direction in the manner of socialist governments in Ecuador, Cuba and Venezuela, Humala instead pursued the same liberal, pro-market economic policies of all Peruvian administrations since the 1990s. Nevertheless, as  commodities prices drop, GDP growth projections are falling in a country where gold, zinc and copper mining undergirded some of the fastest economic growth in the world throughout the 2000s. It’s the same problem that Chile, Peru’s Pacific neighbor to the south and also a prolific copper exporter, is facing. The difference is that GDP per capita is just over twice as high in Chile as in Peru, a country of just over 31 million that is still struggling to rise to the same level of development as Chile, Mexico and other leaders in Latin America. Nevertheless, Humala failed earlier this year to implement even a watered-down labor market reform designed to make it easier for young graduates to find work.

With growth forecasts slowing, however, it’s not enough that Humala has pursued continuity in economic policymaking. His failure to reform Peru’s economy, combined with an expected slowdown (if not an outright recession), will make it difficult for Humala’s allies to maintain power in 2016. In Peru, a country without firmly settled political parties, however, it’s a question whether Humala is still a man of the political left. Though liberal reformers believe Humala’s accomplishments are tepid, he’s now closer to Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa than the traditional left. For example, Humala has struggled throughout his administration to respond to the economic, labor rights and environmental complaints of Peru’s mining workers.

Gana Perú (Peru Wins), the leftist electoral coalition that formed to support Humala’s candidacy in 2011, claims that it will still field a candidate in the upcoming 2016 vote. The party remains the largest bloc in the unicameral Congress, having won 47 out of 130 seats at the last election. That number, however, has fallen due to defections over the years. Humala’s wife, Nadine Heredia, was forced to disavow any presidential ambitions in the middle of her husband’s term, and any majestic hopes evaporated with fresh allegations in February of corruption and money laundering, a familiar refrain in a country where former president Alejandro Toledo is also under a cloud of suspicion for corruption and may yet face criminal charges. Humala’s popular former interior minister, Daniel Urresti, was forced to resign in February after his indictment for the murder of Hugo Bustios in 1988 when Urresti was involved in the fight against Senedero Luminoso (Shining Path).

That means that the leaders in the 2016 field, for now, are the runners-up to Humala from the 2011 field. Polls today show that Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, leads the field, followed in second place by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a liberal who served as a former prime minister and economy minister. Fujimori’s candidacy was controversial in 2011 because of fears that she would pardon her father, who remains in prison on human rights abuses, potentially undermining the rule of law and encouraging impunity in the future. Humala has consistently refused to release Fujimori from prison, and the former dictator’s health has declined so much that the pardon issue may lack the same relevance in 2016. Proving the rule of the lingering unpopularity of Peruvian presidents, both Toledo and former president Alan García poll far behind. Fujimori’s record is still controversial in Peru, where supporters believe his economic reforms put Peru on the path to stable inflation and GDP growth and opponents point to his disrespect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights. His daughter, Keiko Fujimori, seems more committed to democratic Peru, though her frontrunner status in 2016 means that Peruvians could spend more time hand-wringing about the past than envisioning the future.

One possibility is Luis Castañeda, who returned to the mayor’s office in Lima last October and who has already run for the Peruvian presidency twice. The pragmatism and pro-development agenda of his first two terms as mayor between 2003 and 2010, appealed to the Peruvian business community. So far, however, Castañeda has spent much of his third term seemingly engaged in settling scores with his immediate predecessor, the more leftist Susana Villarán, instead of establishing a platform for a third presidential campaign in 2016.

Four sentences that frame the Greek-EU brinksmanship conundrum

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If you don’t have time to read Suffragio‘s latest update on the chances of Greek elections, here’s an easy framework to think about the endgame for Greece and EU leaders:Greece Flag Icon

1. The central dilemma for Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his SYRIZA-led government is that the Greek electorate wants both (a) Tsipras to continue to engage in high-stakes brinkmanship with the European Union and Greece’s lenders to get a better deal on Greek debt and (b) to remain in the eurozone, and this is an untenable position for Greek voters to take, given the facts — even if you believe that the austerity measures taken pursuant to Greece’s two bailouts were unjust and injurious to the Greek economy.

2. The trickiest question now is when Greece and the Eurogroup will reach a ‘brink’ moment where there’s no going back, which could be triggered by any sort of financial, political or other factors.

3. If Tsipras calls fresh snap elections before the ‘brink’ moment, it could make a final deal on Greek debt even harder because Tsipras might easily win a stronger mandate from the Greek electorate, especially if Greek voters don’t fully realize the inconsistencies of point (1) above (and, by the way, Tspiras will have no political incentive to clarify them).

4. If the ‘brink’ moment comes before any fresh elections, Tsipras will have to choose between (a) making a deal with the Eurogroup, which will cause SYRIZA to crumble one way or another (though not necessarily Tsipras if he’s politically talented enough to emerge as the leader of whatever center-left entity emerges from the collateral damage) or (b) returning to the drachma, probably on an involuntary basis when Greece can’t meet its obligations.

Call option 4a the ‘Cyprus 2013′ option.

Call option 4b the ‘British Black Wednesday 1992′ option on steroids.

Both will be painful.

Economist Tyler Cowen, over at Marginal Revolution,  has taken to calling Greece’s new government the ‘Not Very Serious People,’ riffing off a term familiar to Paul Krugman’s readers. But put aside all the smoke over the personalities (of course Wolfgang Schäuble and Yanis Varoufakis hate one another) and the smokescreen over reparations and the possibility of a last-minute loan from Moscow (or Beijing), and what you’re left with is the conclusion that Tsipras and his government have some Very Serious decisions to make soon.

Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up

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The most notable thing about former British prime minister Tony Blair’s sudden reappearance in the United Kingdom’s domestic politics, with just under a month to go until a general election, is that no one particularly noticed his absence from domestic political matters.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Unlike former US president Bill Clinton, who has balanced his financial and philanthropic activities with lingering, widespread popularity on the American political scene, Blair’s popularity diminished after he left 10 Downing Street. Still well-regarded abroad, Blair has offered his consulting services to leaders from Albania to Kazakhstan, and he’s become a wealthy man in the process, a much more controversial proposition for a former British prime minister than a former US president. Blair suffers further by contrast to his successor, Gordon Brown, who quietly receded from public view when he lost the premiership in 2010, resurfacing only to promote a dense policy book or to campaign full-heartedly against Scottish independence. There’s a sense that Brown hasn’t ‘cashed out’ the way that Blair did.

Though current prime minister David Cameron has attempted to blame both Blair and Brown for wasteful government spending as a prelude to his own government’s budget cuts, it is Blair’s role in the US-led invasion of Iraq that haunts his legacy. Blair only recently left his position as an envoy for the Middle East ‘quartet’ (the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia), where his impact in the region has been negligible at best. Despite high hopes when he assumed the role shortly after leaving office, Blair is unlikely to lead any grand gestures in the Middle East.

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RELATED: Analyzing the British leaders’ debate

RELATED: Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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Blair rode to victory in May 1997 on a landslide wave proclaiming the arrival of his center-oriented ‘New Labour.’ Though he capitalized then on a popular, youthful image, he is largely reviled in Great Britain today, as Sarah Ellison wrote in a scathing Vanity Fair profile earlier this year:

A man with aspirations to global leadership—even to global moral leadership—is now regarded by many of his countrymen as a shill for big corporations and deep-pocketed and dubious regimes. In terms of personal wealth, Blair is said to be worth an estimated £100 million ($150 million), a figure he denies. Today, Blair rarely makes public appearances in London. In 2010, he canceled a book party to celebrate the publication of his memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, to avoid the inevitable protests. Blair wasn’t invited to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Last January, a London waiter attempted a citizen’s arrest of Blair for alleged war crimes arising from the invasion of Iraq.

Last month, two Labour candidates actually refused to accept £1000 donations from Blair, who had pledged £106,000 to candidates in marginal seats.

When Blair surfaced in domestic politics at all, it was usually to snipe at his successor as Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, whose leadership campaign narrowly defeated his brother, David Miliband, the more Blairite alternative. As recently as January, Blair was obliquely warning Miliband to run to the center in advance of the May 7 general election, via an interview with The Economist: Continue reading Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up

What are the chances of snap elections (again) in Greece?

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It’s a sign that fiscal affairs in Greece are bad when the sensible Plan B to cover the Greek government’s looming shortfall involves loans from Moscow (despite protests to the contrary).Greece Flag Icon

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has dismissed European sanctions against Russia, and he met Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this week, signaling to the European Union that Greece is keeping its options open if ongoing debt talks fail. Though Tsipras didn’t seek any financial assistance from Putin, he failed to convince Putin to lift a ban on Greek agricultural exports.

The even more outlandish Plan B involves demanding reparations from Germany for World War II damages, amounting to €278.7 billion. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s just a little more than the €240 billion in financing that Greece has received in the last half-decade under two bailout programs from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Today, Greece’s government, not even three months old, will repay a €460 million portion of its debt to the International Monetary Fund. But that doesn’t mean that all is well in Athens, where last year’s green shoots of economic recovery are now obscured by the uncertainty of a leftist administration that’s engaged in brinksmanship over Greece’s financing and, ultimately, over the wider question of national fiscal sovereignty in today’s eurozone.

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RELATED: EU should give Tsipras a chance to govern

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 Why Tsipras can’t (and won’t) make a deal on Berlin’s terms

Without a deal, Tsipras will go down in history as the prime minister who led Greece out of the eurozone, willingly or not. Politically, however, Tspiras can’t agree to any deal that the Eurogroup seems to be offering. That’s increasingly a recipe for Tsipras to call fresh elections early this summer, but there’s no guarantee the results will solve the Greek-EU political quagmire.

Tsipras and his anti-austerity SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) were elected three months ago on a pledge to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s debt with its European lenders and end the harsh austerity measures that have exacerbated Greece’s contracting economy and growing unemployment. But the EU’s leaders, including Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, German chancellor Angela Merkel and, presumably, ECB president Mario Draghi, no longer fear the ‘contagion’ effect of a Greek eurozone exit.  Continue reading What are the chances of snap elections (again) in Greece?

Expect Paul campaign to launch genuine US foreign policy debate

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With the dream of uniting an unlikely coalition of socially liberal Millennials, fiscally conservative ‘tea party’ supporters and a swatch of economic liberals in both parties, US senator Rand Paul of Kentucky became the second major US figure to launch a 2016 presidential bid today.USflag

His chances of winning the White House aren’t, frankly, great. But they’re not non-existent, and if he wins the Republican nomination, he could potentially convince a much wider electorate to support him over the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former US secretary of state. If he fails, he’ll still have burnished his profile as a thoughtful foreign policy counterweight within the Republican Party — sort of a conservative version of the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold. More importantly, he will drive a necessary debate on controversial aspects of US foreign policy that are increasingly taken for granted.

As a deeply libertarian voice in the US Senate and an avowed non-interventionist when it comes to the Middle East, Paul will present the strongest challenge to mainstream US foreign policy that, despite recently squabbles over Iran, Israel and Russia, remains chiefly bipartisan in nature. He will make the case for a truly alternative US policy worldview that questions everything from a 14-year global approach to terrorism, Internet surveillance and civil liberties, the proliferation of unmanned ‘drone’ aircraft in the US effort to stop radical Islamism, the use of drones to target US nationals abroad, ongoing US military action in Afghanistan and escalating action in Syria and Iraq, and the Obama administration’s ongoing diplomatic initiatives with Cuba and Iran. He is also likely to question the US Congress’s decades-long supine position on foreign policy.

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RELATED: Six important points from Clinton’s foreign policy interview [August 2014]

RELATED: What would Jeb Bush’s foreign policy look like?
[December 2014]

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Paul will find many traditional allies on the right, who believe that the United States is at its best when its military adventurism is kept to a minimum, and he will find many traditional allies on the left, where even Obama supporters have grumbled for years that his administration features more continuity than rupture with many aspects of the foreign policy developed by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Initially, Paul will benefit from supporters who backed his father, Ron Paul, the US congressman from Texas, in his 2008 and 2012 presidential contests. Though Paul (the father) served as something like the crazy/wise uncle of the Republican contests in 2008 and 2012, there’s a sense that his son is both more polished and more pragmatic.

Paul will also benefit from the quiet support of Mitch McConnell, Paul’s Kentucky colleague in the Senate. Paul’s support crucially boosted McConnell, now the Senate majority leader, to primary and general election victories in the 2014 midterm elections. McConnell’s support and his access to national donors should give Paul the kind of ‘insider-outsider’ credentials to make him a serious threat for the nomination. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Paul has reached out to the 2012 nominee, former governor Mitt Romney, with whom Paul’s father developed a close relationship in the 2012 contest. Other young, libertarian-minded Republican officials might also support Paul.

Paul’s campaign means that the Republican nomination contest will feature the most robust debate since perhaps the 2008 nomination contest between Obama and Clinton on the role of the United States in the world. Already, Paul has demonstrated his willingness to break with Republican orthodoxy by cautiously welcoming the Obama administration’s relaxation of ties with Cuba. His reticence to engage US troops abroad will also bring him into conflict with much more hawkish Republican voices so long as Iran, Yemen and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) top the list of US foreign policy headaches as the 2016 campaign season unfolds.

But Paul’s presence in the 2016 contest will most importantly highlight that there’s just not that much difference between Clinton, on the one hand, and the Republican foreign policy establishment that would likely take power if Republican frontrunners like former Florida governor Jeb Bush or Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

Continue reading Expect Paul campaign to launch genuine US foreign policy debate

LIVE BLOG: British leaders debate

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9:57: Obviously, it’s hard to ‘keep score’ of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in a seven-way debate. Bennett seemed largely invisible and, aside from the dust-up over immigration, so was Farage, who tried to turn every other question into an opportunity to discuss the European Union and immigration.

Wood and Sturgeon had strong nights, and their attacks on Cameron often made the Labour case better than Miliband’s arguments. Sturgeon, in particular, will have benefited from airing Scottish grievances directly to a British prime minister for the first time in a leader’s debate.

Clegg tried, sometimes successfully, to position himself as a sensible moderate. He also successfully signaled that he could work with a Labour government as well as a Tory one.

Miliband was most successful, I thought, in his criticisms of Cameron’s EU policy and his plans for the NHS. But he didn’t have any clear moments where anyone could say, ‘Aha, there’s the next prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.’ He came across as a thoughtful, earnest opposition leader.

Which brings us to Cameron. He’s a skillful debater, and he knew when to attack (against Miliband), when to hold back (against Clegg), and he quite cleverly triangulated Miliband against Farage. The format clearly helped to make Cameron look ‘more like a prime minister,’ even at the expense of having to stand mutely listening to a lecture from the Scottish first minister. Nevertheless, it’s not clear why Cameron is so scared of a direct face-off against Miliband. Continue reading LIVE BLOG: British leaders debate

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