One of the more popular comparisons of critics of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is between the brand of ‘democratic socialism’ that Sanders has espoused in his Democratic presidential campaign and Venezuelan-style socialism.
But for reasons I’ll describe below, it’s a facile and wrong-headed comparison, and it’s an insult both to Sanders and to the Venezuelan opposition that’s struggling so hard against something much more insidious than just ‘democratic socialism.’
Sanders has looked to countries like Sweden and Denmark, arguing that the US social welfare net should look more like the Nordic social welfare net. Those are countries that, by and large, conduct free and fair elections with a firm dividing line between government and party, squeaky-clean transparency, a tradition both of consensus-building and more recently, a reformist nudge that’s tried to retool creaking social welfare system toward more competition and liberalism.
No one disputes Venezuela’s problems, which faces today probably the globe’s most painful economic crisis. They are immense.
Nearly two years ago, when Indian voters swept Narendra Modi into power, it was all supposed to be about development.
Modi, the former Gujarati first minister, led the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) to a dizzying landslide on the promise that he would be the energetic 21st century CEO of India, Inc. He repeatedly emphasized that his administration would prioritize toilets over temples, that a Modi-led government would be far more interested in promoting economic growth, human development and policy reform than in policing the religious norms of the Hindu nationalists so influential in the BJP.
But by the standards of Modi’s own 2014 campaign, he’s failing.
His efforts to enact business-friendly land reform (essentially, giving the Indian government stronger rights to eminent domain) was curtailed by farmers, Rahul Gandhi and even opponents to Modi’s own right flank.
An attempt to enact a Goods and Services Tax bill, which would harmonize a single tax rate across India’s state borders, is also flailing (for now) in the upper house of the Indian parliament. Officially, the economy grew in 2015 by 7.5%, but there’s reason to doubt those numbers.
For a two-term incumbent mayor of London, supporting the campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union might amount to policy malpractice.
No city stands to lose more from Brexit than London, which, despite sterling’s resilience, has become the de facto financial capital of Europe and is one of three or four truly global capitals. If the British vote to leave the European Union, of course, many finance jobs could leave London, depressing many other secondary industries. While there are powerful arguments for Brexit, even among London’s residents, it’s hard to believe that Brexit would be a net positive for London as a global and European capital.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t surprising that London’s outgoing mayor, Boris Johnson, announced his support Sunday for leaving the European Union in a lengthy ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ editorial for TheTelegraph. Itfollowed a weeklong Hamlet act that left prime minister David Cameron gasping for the support of his slightly older one-time Eton classmate. Johnson couched his support for Brexit in terms of restoring democratic control to British voters, all while proclaiming his love for Europe and making the case for strong EU-UK relations in a post-Brexit world.
Be bold, Johnson urged British voters!
Now is not the time to ‘hug the skirts of Nurse in Brussels.’
‘Boris’ is one of a few British politicians known to voters by his first name, and his star power was enough to slam the British pound to a seven-year low Monday morning. Breaking ranks with most of the cabinet in David Cameron’s majority government, Johnson upended the Brexit battle, transforming what was already becoming a tough internal fight among Tories into an all-out struggle to dominate the post-referendum era. Continue reading The smart (and cynical) politics behind Boris’s Brexit decision→
Everyone knows that Scotland narrowly voted against independence in September 2014.
The ‘Yes’ campaign waged that fight fully knowing that, by 2017, there would be a broader UK-wide vote on the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union. Given that Scots are relatively (though not universally) more pro-European than English voters, growing British euroscepticism may have played an important role to nudge some Scots toward the ‘Yes’ camp.
With that Brexit referendum now set for June 23, it’s the Scottish referendum that looms over the coming vote in at least two ways that could make Brexit more likely.
The first amounts to pure game theory on the part of Scotland’s voters, who comprise around 8.4% of the total UK population.
EL PASO, Texas and CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico – When Pope Francis visits Ciudad Juárez on Wednesday, city officials hope that the international attention will change its reputation as the homicidal, lawless capital of Mexican drug violence.
Five years ago, at the height of the city’s instability, it registered over 3,000 homicides annually. But that was before a renewed push for less corrupt policing, the local victory of the Sinaloa cartel and a retreat by the current Mexican government from a militarized approach to defeating drug cartels.
In 2015, the city recorded just 311 homicides, the lowest murder rate in nearly a decade. Philadelphia, by contrast, with roughly the same population, recorded 277 homicides in 2015.
But it’s not just Juarenses who hope the papal presence can rebrand the city. It’s also El Paso, which lies just across the border, and which is one of the safest cities in the United States, even at the height of the violent battle between the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels. In fact, Beto O’Rourke, who has represented the 16th Congressional district that includes El Paso since 2013, had hoped to work with Mexican officials to use to visit to highlight U.S.-Mexican relations on a far grander scale.
“There was an attempt that we were part of, short-lived, that was ambitious, to construct at small bridge across the [Rio Grande] to allow the Pope to sort of walk across and put his hand on the border fence,” O’Rourke said in an interview late last month. “I spoke to the diocese, to the bishop. I think that would have done so much to bring home to people how connected our two countries are. It would have been a powerful message.”
Though the plans fell through, O’Rourke will attend this week’s papal mass in Juárez, and he hoped that many El Pasoans will have a chance to see Francis, the first Latin American pope, as he drives along a border that divides one community into two cities that belong to two countries, the Apollonian yin of El Paso counterbalancing the Dionysian yang of Juárez.
In snowy New Hampshire, voters endorsed another view about the U.S.-Mexican border last week when Donald Trump swept to a crushing victory in the Republican presidential primary. When he announced his candidacy for the nomination last June in the lobby of Manhattan’s Trump Tower, the businessman attacked Mexico as an enemy of the United States, a country “killing us economically,” and he painted the vision of a southern border overrun with immigrants “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime,” labeling many would-be migrants as “rapists,” even while conceding that some “are good people.” Continue reading For El Paso-Juárez, Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception→
As part of a reporting trip to El Paso and Ciudad Juárez earlier last month, I spoke with El Paso’s congressman, Beto O’Rourke, by telephone, on January 27. The transcript follows below, and it encompasses essentially the entire interview with the congressman, a member of the Democratic Party and a former member of the El Paso city council. Congressman O’Rourke has represented Texas’s 16th district since January 2013.
You will be able to read my piece on El Paso and Juárez — and how their interconnectivity belies the rhetoric of Donald Trump — shortly. But the more wide-ranging and thoughtful interview with Congressman O’Rourke is also worth a read, given that we touched on many topics, including Trump, the history of the El Paso-Juárez region, the US ‘war on drugs,’ income inequality in an international context and the Democratic primary battle between former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.
Kevin Lees: Thanks for talking to me today.
Congressman Beto O’Rourke: My pleasure.
KL: How much time do we have?
BOR: I have right now about 30 minutes.
KL: So when are you headed back to Washington?
BOR: Monday, and you probably know this, but we were supposed to be there this week.
KL: You missed a snowstorm!
BOR: I know! [small talk continues]
BOR: I’m interested in people’s impression of El Paso. We have a very large military installation here. And there are somewhere around 30,000 to 32,000 active duty service members, most of whom are not from El Paso. And you hear what they thought when they found out they were going to be posted to El Paso, which is almost always negative, and then [you hear] what their actual experience was when they got here, is almost always positive. In part because they really assumed and feared the worst, and so starting from such a low point it can only get better once they got here. But it is really beautiful. We’re in the Rocky Mountains, which people don’t expect when they are in Texas. Where the US and Mexico, and then Texas and New Mexico and Chihuahua all meet. There‘s no other place that I’ve ever been that is as extraordinary. I haven’t been everywhere in the world, but I’ve been to a lot of places, it’s really beautiful.
KL: And the culture is really a very bespoke culture, a sort of hybrid between American and Mexican culture. Its own borderlands kind of thing, where everyone sort of has a foot in two different countries. It’s very special to me. I thought it was a lot of fun.
BOR: I don’t know if you Snapchat at all, but we’re trying to connect with people to broadcast their views, information exclusively from Snapchat. Which apparently is big for a lot of people 14- to 24-year olds. And I’m trying to use it to show people what it is when they think about this region. So I used it for a run today along the Rio Grande and the Upper Valley of El Paso, and I kind of took a shot and posted it of ‘Over here is El Paso, this is Del Ray where Mexico, New Mexico, and Mexico all connect; this is a neighborhood in Juárez; all in one shot.’
It really kind of blows people’s minds when they see that or realize that we really are either at the end of the world, or the beginning of the world in terms of what your world is. Either the back door to the United States or the front door to the United States. Front door or back door to Latin America.
In April, Ireland will celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Easter Rising, the failed rebellion of an overpowered band of Irish republicans.
The heavy-handed response of British troops ended up martyring the republican cause, their lethal overreaction ultimately changing, and hardening, Irish public opinion in favor of independence from the United Kingdom.
Under the penumbra of this year’s centennial celebrations, Irish voters will go to the polls on February 26, after Enda Kenny, Ireland’s Taoiseach (prime minister) announced last week the dissolution of the Irish parliament, the Dáil, to ask voters to reelect his center-right Fine Gael, along with its junior coalition partner, Ireland’s social democratic Labour Party.
But polls show that the party with the most momentum is Sinn Féin, which hopes to capitalize on several factors toward what would be a historic victory. Hoping to peel off disaffected Labour voters, Sinn Féin might even be within striking distance of first place, given that no single party will come close to an absolute majority. Continue reading Sinn Fein joins list of surging anti-austerity forces in Europe→
For the most part, mainstream economic views in the United States (and most of the developed world, for that matter) can be traced to a long-established line of theory in the history of economic thought.
Adam Smith’s invisible hand. David Ricardo’s views on free trade and comparative advantage. Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction. If you’re on the right, you look perhaps to 19th century marginalists or monetarists like Milton Friedman. If you’re on the left, perhaps you look more to John Maynard Keynes and other macroeconomic theories.
But Donald Trump’s view of economics and world trade seems to have its roots, intentionally or unintentionally, in a brand of economic theory that predates Smith and Ricardo — the mercantilist school, which essentially views world trade as a zero-sum exercise. The key to wealth is to maximize your exports, limit your imports and, for good measure, amass as much gold as possible. England’s loss was France’s gain.
Those kind of mercantilist theories are at the heart of Trump’s economic pitch to voters. It was on full display in his victory speech after Trump handily won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary:
We’re going to beat China, Japan, beat Mexico at trade. We’re going to beat all of these countries that are taking so much of our money away from us on a daily basis. It’s not going to happen anymore.
It’s not been a great night for former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is losing the New Hampshire primary to Vermont senator Bernie Sanders by a margin of more than 20%.
Though there’s reason to believe that Clinton will bounce back in the Nevada caucuses on February 20 and the South Carolina primary on February 27, there’s one low-hanging piece of fruit that she could pluck that might instantly boost her campaign’s chances. It’s a policy that could attract Sanders supporters, emphasize the historic nature of her candidacy to become the first female president of the United States and put the eventual Republican presidential nominee on the defensive, all at once.
It’s paid parental leave — and the United States is one of the few countries in the developed world that doesn’t guarantee it. The OECD average is 17 weeks of maternity leave, the United Kingdom offers 39 weeks, Mexico offers six weeks, and many European countries offer far more to both mothers and fathers (though not always paid at 100% of one’s income):
It’s hard to compare one primary contest to another.
Each race has its own dynamics, and the 2008 contest among then-senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards was as different from this year’s race as the 2000 election between vice president Al Gore and former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley.
But if there’s one thing that we can compare, it’s the margin of victory between the first-placed candidate and the second-placed candidate. Exit polls showed that 12% more of the electorate considered themselves ‘liberal’ than the 2008 Democratic electorate, for example, an effect of growing political polarization that surely boosted Vermont senator Bernie Sanders into landslide territory.
If you had a sense of deja vu to former president Bill Clinton’s weekend harangue against Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, it’s understandable.
The attack was reminiscent of Clinton’s bristling criticisms of then-senator Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination contest, when Obama upset Clinton’s wife Hillary Clinton, who is running again for the nomination against Sanders, a septuagenarian democratic socialist. Sanders essentially tied Clinton in last week’s Iowa caucuses and is projected to win tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary.
But Clinton’s remarks are also eerily reminiscent of the attacks that former British prime minister Tony Blair mounted against the insurgent candidate of the hard left, Jeremy Corbyn, when it looked like Corbyn, another elderly socialist, might win the Labour Party’s leadership last summer. Continue reading Why Bill Clinton’s attack on Sanders won’t work→
Earlier in January, I gamed out what I thought would be the more toughly fought of the 2016 primary fights — that on the Republican side.
By and large, my analysis held up — Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will both live to fight another day and a third candidate (Marco Rubio) will now have fresh momentum in New Hampshire to consolidate ‘establishment lane’ supporters.
Polls, in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses on the Democratic side, showed a very tight race between Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and, as of this post, she’s up by 49.9% to 49.6%.
It’s great news for Clinton, because the Sanders campaign always seemed best fit to states like Iowa (and New Hampshire, where Sanders is currently projected to win by a double-digit margin).
But 49.9% in a race for a former first lady, New York senator and the 2008 presidential runner-up? Losing by a nearly 4-to-1 margin among young voters, the future of the Democratic Party? Weak tea.
Very broadly, in 2008, Obama crafted a coalition of three sets of voters: African Americans and Latinos, so-called ‘wine track’ white voters (typically higher income and professional) and the young, while Clinton attracted women and so-called ‘beer track’ white voters (typically lower income). Demographics were destiny, so much so that you could plausibly predict a primary’s winner in 2008 on the electorate demographics alone.
Last night showed that 2016 is scrambling those coalitions. Sanders is winning a dwindling contingent of ‘beer track’ voters (many of whom are trending Republican), a handful of ‘wine track’ voters and the young. Clinton is winning women, minorities and a plurality of ‘wine track voters.’ For example, Clinton leads among those who make over $100,000 in income, Sanders less than $50,000.
Each candidate in 2016 is winning around 50% of Obama’s 2008 supporters and around 50% of Clinton’s 2008 supporters:
That makes relatively ‘whiter’ states like Iowa and New Hampshire fertile ground for Sanders; it’s a different story in more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina, to say nothing of California or New York or Florida.
So his post-New Hampshire challenge will be to win over more ‘wine-track’ white voters and minorities.
Many voters still think Sanders doesn’t have the right experience to be president. But he has decades of legislative experience building relationships in Congress and, perhaps most importantly, executive experience as Burlington’s mayor, where he governed as a pragmatic progressive, championing things like mixed-use housing, green space and bike paths — urban policies that seemed outlandish, perhaps, in the 1980s but are commonplace today. Sanders has left that record completely out of his campaign’s narrative.
Sanders has struggled to demonstrate his understanding, let alone commitment, to the priorities of the Black Lives Matter movement. But even in the second term of the first non-white US president, racial injustice remains stubbornly commonplace in American justice and economic systems, and Sanders must give racial inequities as prominent a role as income inequality if he wants to have any real chance at the nomination.