Tag Archives: immigration

A country-by-country look at Trump’s immigration executive order

Yazidi women in both Syria and Iraq have suffered greatly at the hands of ISIS — but they will be caught up in Trump-era restrictions on refugees all the same. (Reuters)

There’s a neighborhood in Los Angeles, commonly known as Tehrangeles, that is home to up to a half-million Persian Americans, most of whom fled Iran after the 1979 Islamic republic or who are their second-generation children and third-generation grandchildren, all of them American citizens. 

The neighborhood runs along Westwood Boulevard, and it is home to some of the wealthiest Angelinos. But under the executive action that US president Donald Trump signed Friday afternoon, their relatives in Iran will have a much more difficult time visiting them in Los Angeles (or elsewhere in the United States). The impact of the order, over the weekend, proved far deeper than originally imagined last week when drafts of the order circulated widely in the media.

The ban attempts to accomplish at least five different actions, all of which began to take effect immediately on Friday:

  • First, the order institutes a ban for 90 days on immigrants from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya.
  • Secondly, the ban initially seemed to include even US permanent residents with valid green cards with citizenship from those seven countries (though the Department of Homeland Security was walking that back on Sunday, after reports that presidential adviser and former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon initially overruled DHS objections Friday). But it also includes citizens of third countries with dual citizenship (which presents its own problems and which the White House does not seem to be walking back).
  • Third, it institutes a 120-day freeze on all refugees into the United States from anywhere across the globe and an indefinite ban for all refugees from Syria.
  • Fourth, it places a cap of 50,000 on all refugees for 2017 — that’s far less than nearly 85,000 refugees who were admitted to the United States in 2016, though it’s not markedly less than the nearly 55,000 refugees admitted in 2011 (the lowest point of the Obama administration) and it’s more than the roughly 25,000 to 30,000 refugees admitted in 2002 and 2003 during the Bush administration.
  • Fifth, and finally, when the United States once again permits refugees, it purports to prioritize admitting those refugees ‘when the person is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution.’ It’s widely assumed that this is a back-door approach to prioritizing Christian refugees. More on that below.

In practice, it’s already incredibly difficult to get a visa of any variety if you are coming from one of those countries, with a few exceptions. But formalizing the list is both overbroad (it captures mostly innocent travelers and refugees) and underbroad (it doesn’t include potential terrorists from other countries), and experts believe it will hurt US citizens, US businesses and bona fide refugees who otherwise might have expected asylum in the United States. On Sunday, many Republican leaders, including Arizona senator John McCain admitted as such:

Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.

On the campaign trail, Trump initially called for a ban on all Muslims from entering the country; when experts responded that such a broad-based religious test would be unconstitutional, Trump said he would instead extend the ban on the basis of nationality.

Friday’s executive action looks like the first step of institutionalizing the de facto Muslim ban that Trump originally promised (thought it would on its face be blatantly unconstitutional).

Of course, as many commentators have noted, the list doesn’t contain the countries that match the nationalities of the September 2001 hijackers — mostly Saudi Arabia. But it doesn’t contain Lebanon, though Hezbollah fighters have aligned with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in that country’s civil war. It doesn’t include Egypt, which is the most populous Muslim country in north Africa and home to one of the Sept. 2001 terrorists. Nor does it include Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. Nor Pakistan nor Afghanistan, where US troops fought to eradicate forms of hardline Taliban government and where US troops ultimately tracked and killed Osama bin Laden.

This isn’t a call to add more countries to the list, of course, which would be even more self-defeating as US policy. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Bannon and Trump, anticipating this criticism, will use it to justify a second round of countries.

In the meanwhile, the diplomatic fallout is only just beginning (and certainly will intensify — Monday is the first full business day after we’ve read the actual text of Friday’s executive order). Already, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, citing the obligations of international law under the Geneva Conventions, disavowed the ban. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau used it as an opportunity to showcase his country’s openness to immigration and welcomed the refugees to Canada. Even Theresa May, the British prime minister who shared a stage with Trump in Washington on Friday afternoon, distanced herself from the ban, and British foreign minister Boris Johnson called it ‘divisive.’

But the most direct impact will be felt in relations with the seven countries directly affected by the ban, and there are already indications that the United States will suffer a strategic, diplomatic and possible economic price for Trump’s hasty unilateral executive order.  Continue reading A country-by-country look at Trump’s immigration executive order

Mexico starts to fight back in earnest against Trump’s US border wall and protectionism threat

Former president Vicente Fox takes a bat to a Trump-shaped piñata in September.

Vicente Fox wants you to know that Mexico is not paying for ‘that fucking wall.’

Though US president Donald Trump officially took office just six days ago, his willingness to push his key campaign proposal of building a border wall along the southern border of the United States has already touched off a diplomatic crisis with Mexican officials. After Trump enacted an executive order (of somewhat dubious legality) instructing the federal government to start construction on the wall, Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a planned trip to meet Trump in Washington today.

Though Peña Nieto welcomed Trump on a surprise campaign visit to Mexico City last summer, backing down from confronting someone who was then just the Republican Party presidential nominee, Wednesday’s executive order and the White House’s insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall led Peña Nieto to push back in a video message late Wednesday night. Trump responded with his own Twitter rant on Thursday, essentially daring Peña Nieto to cancel the meeting, during which the two presidents planned to discuss cooperation on security and renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

No one, however, has been more outspoken against Trump than Fox, who served as president between 2000 and 2006 and who has railed against Trump’s proposed border wall, routinely in profane terms. In September, Fox gleefully took a bat to a Trump-shaped piñata and, upon completion, noted that Trump was just was empty-brained as the empty piñata.

Fox is a former president who knows a little something about political revolutions.

In 2000, he became the first president in seven decades from outside the long-governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party). His election, to this day, represents a watershed moment in Mexico’s multiparty democracy. Fox (and his successor) are members of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party) that held the Mexican presidency for 12 years — until the telegenic Peña Nieto’s election in 2012, when the PRI returned to Los Pinos. Fox, like George W. Bush in the 1990s, was a governor, and before the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks refocused the Bush administration’s efforts, the two presidents had hoped to work together on immigration reform and deeper harmonization between the two countries, a priority that fell to the back burner with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Continue reading Mexico starts to fight back in earnest against Trump’s US border wall and protectionism threat

Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)
Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was elected in July 2012 to great fanfare, so it was almost certain that his administration would fall well short of expectations.Mexico Flag Icon

In the leadup to that 2012 presidential election, Peña Nieto spent so many years as such a heavy frontrunner he was practically Mexico’s president-in-waiting. When he ultimately won the presidency by a margin of around 6.5%, it was less than polls predicted, but still the largest margin of victory in a presidential election since 1994. With movie star looks and a bona-fide star for a wife in Angélica Rivera, a model and telenovela actress, his victory was a triumph not only for himself, but for his party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party), which lost the presidency in 2000 after seven decades of consecutive rule in Mexico and that spent a difficult decade shut out of executive power at the national level. In Peña Nieto, the telegenic former governor of the state of Mexico, with over 15 million people, by far the largest in the country and the surrounding state of Mexico’s central federal district.

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RELATED: For El Paso-Juárez,
Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

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When he rose to the presidency, Peña Nieto was widely expected to do just two things as the face of what Mexican voters believed to be a reformed and a modernizing PRI.

First, Peña Nieto would enact a range of reforms liberalizing everything from Mexico’s energy sector to its tax collections scheme. Second, Peña Nieto would bring peace to a country roiled by drug violence, lethal competition among drug cartel and what seemed like an increasingly self-defeating militarized response to drug violence by Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón, of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party).

On both fronts, Peña Nieto fell short of expectations.

While Mexico might today be more becalmed than in 2012, violence and government incompetence have dominated headlines. Peña Nieto’s presidency will forever be marred by the abduction and assassination of 43 students in Iguala by police officers in Guerrero state in September 2014. The glory of his government’s capture in 2014 of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the leader of the infamous Sinaloa cartel, was soon eclipsed by his escape from a maximum-security prison in 2015, and Guzmán, recaptured seven months later, now faces extradition to the United States.

Peña Nieto’s presidency has been a mix of the good (significant political and economic reforms), the bad (corruption, impunity at the highest level of the PRI and his own administration and ineptitude in the face of cartel strength) and the ugly (the Iguala massacre).

By most measures, though, his performance has been far worse than many observers expected, with less impressive reforms than promised and a legacy of sporadic drug violence, police brutalization, personal conflict-of-interest scandals and continuing widespread corruption at all levels of government. That’s all on top of a Mexican economy struggling to deal with far lower global prices for oil and other commodities. It’s so bad that his approval rating sank earlier this month to just 23%, lower than any Mexican president since Ernesto Zedillo faced an acute peso crisis in the mid-1990s.

In the July 2015 midterm elections, the PRI lost nine seats in the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Mexican congress, and in the June 2016 gubernatorial elections, the PRI lost power in states it’s held since 1929 — including Veracruz, Tamaulipas Durango and Quintana Roo.

Just this week, as he prepares to deliver his state of the union address on Thursday, Peña Nieto has faced down embarrassing revelations that he plagiarized much of the thesis that he submitted for his law degree. Earlier this month, his wife faced fresh accusations of a new conflicts-of-interest scandal involving the use of a luxury apartment from a Mexican businessman in Miami.

So as the Mexican president prepares to welcome Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for an unexpected private meeting on Wednesday, it’s no understatement that Mexico’s beleaguered president could use a diversion. With his approval ratings so low, though, Trump presents an easy target. Continue reading Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

Ten things that May’s elevation to No. 10 tells us about Britain’s future

Home secretary Theresa May has a clear path to succeed David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images)
Home secretary Theresa May has a clear path to succeed David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images)

It’s as if an entire season of Game of Thrones swept through British politics in the space of two-and-a-half weeks.United Kingdom Flag Icon

The list of political careers in ruins runs long and deep. Prime minister David Cameron himself. Chancellor George Osborne. Former London mayor Boris Johnson. Justice secretary Michael Gove. Nigel Farage, the retiring leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Maybe even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who may enjoy the support of grassroots Labour members, but not of his parliamentary party.

Monday brought another casualty of the post-Brexit era: energy secretary Andrea Leadsom, who withdrew from the September leadership contest for the Conservative Party leadership. The decision came just four days after Tory MPs pitted Leadsom (with 84 votes) in a runoff against home secretary Theresa May (with 199 votes), eliminating Gove (with just 46 MPs supporting him).

Leadsom, who supported the Leave campaign in the June 23 referendum, had garnered the support of the eurosceptic Tory right, including endorsements from former leader Iain Duncan Smith and other Leave campaign heavy-hitters like Johnson and even Farage. But Leadsom struggled to adapt to the public stage as a figure virtually unknown outside of Westminster a week or two ago (reminiscent in some ways of Chuka Umunna’s aborted Labour leadership campaign last year).

Though she promised to bring far more rupture to Conservative government than May, Leadsom also struggled to defend against charges that she embellished her record as an executive in the financial sector before turning to politics. Over the weekend, she suffered a backlash after suggesting she would be a better leader because she (unlike May) had children.

tory 2016

It was always an uphill fight for Leadsom, despite the rebellious mood of a Tory electorate that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit and was clearly attracted to Leadsom’s more radical approach. May, a more cautious figure, supported the Remain campaign during the referendum, though she largely avoiding making strong statements either for or against EU membership. At one point, she argued that the United Kingdom should leave the European Court on Human Rights (a position that she has disavowed now as a leadership contender).

So what happens next? And what do the prior 18 days portend for the policies and politics of the May government?  Continue reading Ten things that May’s elevation to No. 10 tells us about Britain’s future

British voters take to polls today for historic EU referendum vote

After years of preparation, it's now up to voters to make their choice.
After years of preparation, it’s now up to voters to make their choice.

So it’s finally here.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Polls are now open across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where voters are deciding whether to either remain a member of the European Union or to leave the European Union. It’s home to the largest city in the European Union (London) and, with 64.9 million people, it’s the third-most populous state in the European Union, after Germany and France.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m. — that means that here on the east coast of the United States, polls will be closing at 5 p.m. ET, with the first results to arrive shortly thereafter. No official exit polls are being conducted, but private hedge funds are believed to have commissioned exit polls and early financial indictors could tell us know traders believe the result will go. In any event, the final result is expected to be announced by ‘breakfast time’ on Friday morning.

The United Kingdom joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973 under Conservative prime minister Edward Heath, after two failed attempts at membership, in each case vetoed by French president Charles de Gaulle. Continue reading British voters take to polls today for historic EU referendum vote

‘Leave’ campaign’s immigration emphasis could trump Brexit economics

UKIP leader Nigel Farage made immigration the heart of his campaign to leave the European Union. (PA)
UKIP leader Nigel Farage made immigration the heart of his campaign to leave the European Union. (PA)

Turkey is not going to become a member-state of the European Union anytime soon.United Kingdom Flag IconEuropean_Union

No matter what joint talks take place next week, next month or next decade between Turkish and European diplomats, it is absolutely incomprehensible that the European Union, with or without the United Kingdom, would be willing to grant membership to a state with the level of economic corruption and political authoritarianism as Turkey. Full stop.

Even if European diplomats did, though, and even if each of the other 27 member-states of the European Union wanted to admit Turkey — which today borders war-torn Syria and destabilized Iraq — all it would take is for a British prime minister to say, simply, ‘No.’

That’s because EU membership is one of a handful of issues accomplished only by unanimity of the European Union’s member-states. For example, Greece has held up Macedonia’s EU accession hopes for years over a long-simmering conflict over the name ‘Macedonia,’ and the Greeks, for the better part of the last century, have been none too keen on doing many favors for their Turkish rivals, either.

Last week, EU officials cheekily informed Turkey that the country has not yet met all of the EU conditions for visa-free travel to the European Union, one of the rewards that Turkey received as part of a controversial deal to stem the flow of Syrian and Iraqi migrants from Turkey into the European Union. Though critics of German chancellor Angela Merkel argue that she sold out EU values in exchange for a Turkish solution to the EU migration crisis, Europeans are holding firm in requiring that Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stop using ‘anti-terror’ laws to arrest journalists, academics and political opponents. This is hardly the stuff of happy Turkish-EU relationsContinue reading ‘Leave’ campaign’s immigration emphasis could trump Brexit economics

Will Melania Trump make Slovenia great again?

Melania Trump could become the most influential Slovenian-born figure in American history. (Facebook)
Melania Trump could become the most influential Slovene-born figure in American history. (Facebook)

Donald Trump’s campaign to ‘Make America Great Again’ may be associated with halting immigration from Mexico or making deals with China, Russia or Japan. But a Trump administration might bring another country to the forefront of international relations. USflagslovenia

That’s because his wife, Melania Knauss Trump (in Slovene, Melanija Knavs) would be only the second First Lady born outside the United States.

Louisa Adams, the wife of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was born in England. Teresa Heinz Kerry, a Mozambican-born American, the wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry, would have also been a foreign-born First Lady, had Kerry won the 2004 presidential election.

With a staggering victory in Florida’s Republican primary on Tuesday, Trump has amassed around 673 delegates to July’s Republican convention in Cleveland — more than half of what he’ll need to reach 1,237 and the nomination, and much to the horror of a shellshocked Republican Party that’s watched Trump attack Mexican immigrants as racists, called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States, threatened to sue journalists and encouraged physical violence at rallies.

So, even as Trumpmania sweeps right-wing voters across the United States, is the country ready for a Slovene-born supermodel in the East Wing?

For a candidate whose approach to presidential politics is anything but ordinary, Melania Trump’s approach to the campaign trail has been equally unorthodox in a race pitting her against former US president Bill Clinton for the title of ‘first spouse.’

If Bill Clinton’s role in a Hillary-led White House remains something of a mystery, so does Melania Trump’s. She hasn’t identified any particular key issues that she would champion as First Lady, such as Laura Bush’s focus on education and literacy or Michelle Obama’s focus on childhood obesity and fitness. But that’s also because she is raising a 10-year old son, Barron, the youngest of Donald Trump’s five children across three marriages. There’s more than a murmur of talk that Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, would fulfill more of the traditional roles of the First Lady.

vogue

Regardless, Melania Trump would certainly bring a level of elegance to the White House unseen since perhaps the 1960s when Jacqueline Kennedy lived there. As American voters focus on a general election showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Melania Trump’s most important role could be humanizing and softening her husband’s image — he would enter the general election as the most unpopular major-party candidate in recent US history.

Born in 1970 in the small town of Sevnica in southeastern Slovenia, the 45-year-old Melania Trump, is the daughter of a fashion designer, which propelled young Melania’s own modeling career in Milano and Paris and, finally, New York City. She first met Donald Trump at fashion week in the autumn of 1998, and they married in 2005. To date, it’s been Donald Trump’s longest and, seemingly, most successful marriage. Although she became a permanent resident of the United States in 2001, she obtained her citizenship a decade ago in 2006.

But the 45-year-old supermodel, who has graced the cover of Vogue and GQ but not Time, is not exactly a ubiquitous presence on the campaign trail. She rarely makes speeches or gives interviews, though that has changed as Trump’s candidacy gained traction. The rapid transition from supermodel to campaign trail spouse hasn’t been incredibly easy. Most potential first ladies spend a lifetime in politics becoming just as savvy in politics as their spouses. Melania Trump, whose first language isn’t English, has had exactly nine months.

Moreover, when she has ventured into the media, she’s faced tough questions about her husband’s statements about women and his strong anti-immigration stands. In particular, she has faced criticism that as a European model, her path to American citizenship, which involved a special kind of H1B visa, has been far easier than most immigrants. In a debate earlier this month, Donald Trump appeared to soften his stand against the kind of H1B visas available to workers in high demand (including models), only to harden his stand again a day later.

(GRID-Arendal)
(GRID-Arendal)

But the nature of the modern presidency means that Trump’s nomination or, especially, a Trump victory in November, will bring Slovenia squarely into the center of American consciousness for, let’s face it, probably the first time in US history. It would be a surprise if many Americans could even place Slovenia on a map or even know that it’s part of what used to be Yugoslavia.

Television news crews have already started descending on Sevnica, a trickle that is likely to turn into a flood by the time of the July convention or, despite the terror of Democrats and more than a few Republicans, next January’s presidential inauguration.

More importantly for Slovenia, the rash of attention means that even if the Trump candidacy somehow fades this spring or falls short of 270 electoral votes in November, interest in Slovenia, including tourism from the United States, could skyrocket for years to come. Since 2012, The New York Times has published just four items in its travel section on Slovenia. It’s a smart bet that will change as the Trump narrative dominates headlines in 2016 and the American electorate gets to know Melania Trump and her background.
Continue reading Will Melania Trump make Slovenia great again?

For El Paso-Juárez, Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

In the leadup to Pope Francis's visit to Juárez, signs and billboards welcome him with slogans like, 'Chihuahua is love.' (Kevin Lees)
In the leadup to Pope Francis’s visit to Juárez, signs and billboards welcome him with slogans like, ‘Chihuahua is love.’ (Kevin Lees)

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.USflagMexico Flag Icontexas flag

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.

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RELATED: An interview with El Paso-area congressman Beto O’Rourke

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“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

An interview with El Paso-area Congressman Beto O’Rourke

Congressman Beto O'Rourke has been representing the El Paso area in the U.S. House of Representatives since January 2013. (Rod Lamkey / Getty Images)
Congressman Beto O’Rourke has been representing the El Paso area in the US House of Representatives since January 2013. (Rod Lamkey / Getty Images)

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.USflagtexas flagMexico Flag Icon

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.

A view of El Paso and the Rocky Mountains from the US-Mexican border. (Kevin Lees)
A view of El Paso and the Rocky Mountains from the US-Mexican border. (Kevin Lees)

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.

KL: One of the things that you realize when you are in El Paso and Juárez is the two cities function as sort of each other’s yin and yang in some ways. In what ways do you consider El Paso and Juárez the same city? Continue reading An interview with El Paso-area Congressman Beto O’Rourke

Why Marco Rubio is such a strong candidate for the Republican nomination

rubio

…in 15 tweets.USflag

Step back from the horse race, step back from the scorecards of last night’s debate, step back from the peculiarities of Iowa and New Hampshire. Envision what the Republican general election campaign in November 2016 will have to offer to an electorate where young voters, women (possibly in historical numbers) and racial and ethnic minorities will still favor the Democratic ticket, barring a catastrophic turn in voting patterns or economic conditions.

Who, given the current 15-candidate field, will Republicans want running that campaign?

Harper’s legacy is the birth of a modern 21st century Canadian conservatism

Outgoing prime minister Stephen Harper is the only leader that Canada’s modern Conservative Party has ever known. (Facebook)

Next week, for the first time since 2002, Stephen Harper will neither be Canada’s prime minister nor opposition leader. Canada Flag Icon

At the same time that Stephen Harper was on stage conceding defeat to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, he announced (via a statement) that he would indeed be stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party, a position that he has held since 2003 when the party first came into being.

In the days ahead, the Conservative Party will decide how to appoint a caretaker interim leader pending a full leadership election to choose the party’s second leader.

Harper leaves behind a mixed legacy, like any prime minister.

For Canada’s conservatives, Harper wasn’t just a three-term prime minister, though his nine-year tenure will be longer than all but five prime ministers in Canadian history. He’s the tribune who led the Canadian right out of the wilderness of opposition and the man who brought the Canadian west back into the national conversation that had focused too long on Toronto commercial matters, constitutional crises, bilingualism and appeasing the Quebeckers.

In retrospect, it’s amazing that it took just three years for Harper to take power after engineering the December 2003 merger between his Canadian Alliance, the upstart prairie and western movement that brought a more full-throated, US-style, socially conservative attitude to national politics, and the more troubled Progressive Conservative Party. By the 2000s, the PCs were a relic of the eastern elite, and the party never fully recovered from the 1993 election, when it lost all but two seats in the House of Commons.

Incredibly, as the Conservative Party looks to choose Harper’s successor in the weeks and months ahead, he is the only leader that the current Conservative Party has known — not counting, of course, the two living former Tory prime ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, neither of whom ever completely warmed to the Calgarian warrior from the west.

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RELATED: Live-blogging Canada’s election results

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At just 56 years old, Harper certainly didn’t look or act like a leader (or prime minister) in a hurry for retirement. He looked mostly like someone who believed, until too late, that leftist and moderate voters would split between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP), giving the Conservatives yet another path to government by plurality vote. To his misfortune (and to the NDP’s), that didn’t happen.

Post-election reports reveal that Harper was considering a pledge not to seek a fifth term after 2015. But having only won his first majority government in 2011, Harper might have easily stuck around to run for a fifth mandate if he’d survived October 19. But in shooting for a fourth consecutive term, Harper knew well that he was facing long odds attempting to repeat what only Conservative John Macdonald and Liberal Wilfrid Laurier accomplished before.

Coupled with the onset of a mild economic recession, it was always an uphill fight for Harper. He can walk away from the election result with his head held high, having remade Canadian conservatism and nudged Canada toward greater fiscal responsibility, more enthusiasm for free trade and presided over a generally more unified Canadian entity.  Continue reading Harper’s legacy is the birth of a modern 21st century Canadian conservatism

Eight things Americans should know about the Danish (and Nordic) welfare state

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Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate had barely started when the two leading contenders, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and US senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont immediately clashed.USflagdenmark flag

Over Denmark.

That’s right. Before Iran or Cuba, Syria or Russia, the US Democratic debate began with a minor tussle over a small Nordic country that’s home to just 5.614 million people.

From the beginning of his campaign, Sanders has called for a Nordic-style state that pays for single-payer health care, free education and other state-provided benefits, and he defended the Nordic model as a lodestar for US policy-making on Tuesday night:

Those are some of the principles that I believe in, and I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.

Clinton, for her part, argued that the Danish model wasn’t particularly well suited for the United States:

But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America. And it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities we’re seeing in our economic system.

Neither candidate necessarily went beyond a surface-level comparison with the Nordics, though.

When Sanders — a self-described ‘democratic socialist’ — refers to the Nordic model, he’s referring to a generic set of policies that describe a typically high-tax, high-services government that provides health care, education, child care, ample family leave, copious unemployment benefits and, in some cases, up to five weeks of annual vacation time for workers. It’s often described as a kind of hybrid system that melds elements of socialism and capitalism. Denmark proportionately spends more than 150% on social welfare spending than the United States — 30.1% of GDP, compared to the US standard of 19.2%.

Increasingly, however, across the Nordics, the rise of center-right and sometimes far-right groups have succeeded in reforming that understanding of the welfare state by trimming benefits and reducing taxes, all while pushing for policies that encourage innovation and easing business regulation. Today, there are center-right governments in four of the five Nordics (Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark), and an eight-year, reformist center-right government ended just last autumn in Sweden under the still-popular former prime minister Göran Persson. In three of those countries, governments rely on hard-right and often anti-immigrant parties to support their policy agendas.

Taken together, the Nordics — and that includes Denmark — are generally some of the happiest, wealthiest, most productive and surprisingly competitive in the global marketplace.

But the story of the Nordic model is much more complex and nuanced, and there are reasons why it might work better in northern Europe than elsewhere, including the United States.

Here are eight features of the Danish system, in particular, that help explain some of that context — both good and bad.

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1. Denmark has been ranked the ‘happiest country in the world’

In Danish culture, there’s a concept called hygge, and it’s said that there’s really not an English language translation for it — warmth, coziness, contentment.

It’s one of the elements that motivates the Danish welfare state, and it explains why, for many Danes, consumerism isn’t as important as spending time with family, working reduced hours and using more free time to pursue individual hobbies and non-professional lives.

That explains, perhaps, why a couple of years ago, Denmark was ranked the happiest country in the world.

But it also explains why peculiarly Danish or Nordic or European cultural features do not easily translate in a country like the United States, and why policies based on Danish cultural attributes might not be nearly as popular in the American context.

2. Its reformed welfare state is actually pro-business

The fact of a strong welfare system isn’t necessarily incompatible with a pro-business orientation. As Marian Tupy wrote earlier for the Cato Institute, Denmark today is ranked as an easier place to do business than the United States, boasts a freer trade regime and slightly outpaces the United States on economic freedom.

Companies like Mærsk dominate global shipping, and Danske Bank is a key financial operator throughout northern Europe. But Denmark’s system has also unleashed as much creativity as commercialism. LEGO is a Danish concept, and the country spawned an entire school of designers in the mid 20th century Denmark, most notably the architect Arne Jacobsen. Today, there’s no more cutting-edge trend in cuisine than the ‘new Nordic’ cuisine, and its hub is Copenhagen, which is home to several Michelin-starred restaurants.

It’s true, however, that the Danish welfare state isn’t your father’s Nordic welfare state. Since the 1970s, successive center-right governments, including that of prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the 2000s, have tried to freeze tax increases or even lower taxes in certain cases, especially for business. Despite the enduring popularity of the Danish welfare state, Danes are increasingly aware of the demands that an aging population will make. So far, reforms include an increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 gradually over the next eight years, a decrease in the limit for unemployment benefits from four years to just two and certain limits on grants provided to students.

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3. It gets nearly 50% of its electricity from wind power

Environmentalists also take much delight with Denmark. It was a leading developer of wind power as a renewable energy source in the 1980s, and today wind power amounts to 39% of Denmark’s total electricity consumption — and that’s set to rise to 50% within five years. On some particularly windy days, Denmark meets up to 140% of its total electricity needs.

Though the results of Denmark’s renewable energy program give heart to environmentalists, they should also perk up capitalists as well. Wind power is now big money, at least for Denmark, despite the highly subsidized start-up costs of building offshore wind farms. Moreover, its push to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels resulted from a sense of conservative prudence from the aftermath of the 1970s oil shocks.

4. Education, even for adults, is an important public value

One of Denmark’s national heroes is the 19th century philosopher Nikolaj Gruntvig, who is credited with formulating Denmark’s national education theory. That translated, from the 1840s onward, a dedication to the value of public education in Denmark. Even today, Denmark has a tradition of the folkehøjskole, or ‘folk high school,’ where adults can return to education to obtain new skills for their careers or even just for fun or for post-retirement intellectual stimulation.

That’s one of the reasons that free education is such a cherished value in Denmark. But it also shows that the roots of the Nordic welfare system are often centuries in the making. Unlike, say, in the United Kingdom, where universal government-run health care was a postwar phenomenon, the ingredients of the Danish welfare system lie in the rise of social democratic and agrarian political movements in the 19th century, and the communal spirit of compromise and reform goes back to the 18th century of beyond.

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5. Freedom of information is key to government transparency

Scandinavian countries were some of the first countries to enact freedom-of-information laws. Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act dates back to 1766, for example, and Nordic countries have generally pushed to expand the European Union’s freedom-of-information directives more widely. Denmark’s most recent law, the Access to Public Administration Files Act, even includes certain private and public energy suppliers in the scope of what’s covered.

That comes with its own benefits. Denmark ranked first in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruptions Perception Index — the United States ranked just 17th, far behind Denmark, Finland (3rd), Sweden (4th) and Norway (5th). The ethos of good government and transparency infuses every level of government (and it’s one of the motivating themes of the hit television series Borgen, a three-season show about the personal and professional lives of Danish politicians and journalists).

The perception that the Nordics are an essentially corruption-free zone are another reason why businesses are so keen on relocating there.

But it’s also the kind of place where an official like Clinton would never be able to get away with keeping a secret server, unbeknownst to the Obama administration, to conduct official and unofficial state business alike.

6. Family leave policies are quite generous

In Denmark, parents receive a full year of maternity and paternity leave — mothers are guaranteed 18 weeks and fathers are guaranteed two weeks, with a further 32 weeks to be split up as between the two parents as they see fit. That’s aside from a guarantee of up to five weeks of vacation time annually for workers.

Though no one expects Sanders (or anyone else, for that matter) to introduce single-payer health care to the United States, there is a growing sense that the United States should offer at least some basic parental leave. American workers currently have no federal guarantee of maternity or paternity leave nor do they have a right to vacation leave — something that makes the United States an extreme outlier throughout the developed world.

This is one area where there’s cause for optimism. If Clinton, as widely expected, wins the Democratic nomination, she will be well-placed as the first female nominee of a major party to make this a chief policy priority. There’s a great symbolism in the notion that the first American woman in the presidency will also implement the first universal maternity leave policy.

But it’s an issue that could resonate with conservatives as well. In the United Kingdom, prime minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party campaigned on extending tax credits for child care. Though he ultimately abandoned it, former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, also a conservative, campaigned in 2013 on expanding paid parental leave. Certainly, social conservatives and Christian voters who value strong families might also champion a policy. It’s one area where, in an increasingly polarized political scene, both Republicans and Democrats might come to agree.

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7. The population is more homogeneous —
and far less welcoming to immigrants

One of the theories behind the Nordic model’s success is that countries like Denmark have greater civic trust because they have small and, on the whole, homogeneous populations. That’s one of the reasons that critics say a Nordic-style approach would never work in such a sprawling and heterogeneous place like the United States.

But that also points to one of the darker sides of Danish policy.

Only recently, Denmark’s center-right government made global headlines for its unwelcoming attitude to mostly Muslim refugees arriving on European shores. It went so far as to take out Arabic-language advertisements in Lebanese newspapers noting that family reunification might not be possible and that public assistance for immigrants is now lower.

The message is clear — Denmark is not a particularly welcoming place for immigrants. Denmark, notably, opted out of the migration quota system agreed among the vast majority of EU nations earlier this year. In early December, Danes will vote in a referendum that could see the country ‘opt-out’ of certain justice and home affairs standards.

The anti-Islam and anti-migrant Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) won more votes in the recent June 2015 snap elections than any other party, with the exception of former prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s center-left Socialdemokraterne (Social Democrats). As the Social Democrats’ left-wing allies lost votes, it remained for the third-placed center-right Venestre to form a minority government under current prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who depends on the People’s Party as well as other smaller center-right parties to govern.

The rise of the Danish far-right (and the Scandinavian far-right in general) has pushed both of the major parties toward less migrant-friendly positions. Even Thorning-Schmidt tried to co-opt that message earlier this year with billboards proclaiming that migrants to Denmark would have to find work.  One of Rasmussen’s first actions as prime minister was to enact, in August, on a highly divided vote, a measure that cuts benefits by 45% for immigrants who have not lived in Denmark for seven of the last eight years.

Sweden, which remains far more welcoming of migrants, especially Syrians and others from outside the European Union, has not responded to the refugee crisis with the same level of closed-mindedness as the Danish. Nevertheless, growing antipathy toward immigrants (in Denmark and Sweden alike) and increasingly multicultural Nordic populations will certainly test the ‘homogeneity theory’ in the years ahead.

8. There’s not just ‘one’ Nordic model

Generally speaking, it’s a mistake to refer to a single Nordic model, because the five countries that comprise the Nordics are actually very different. Denmark and Sweden, on one hand, spent much of the past half-millennium as colonial powers. Norway, Iceland and Finland, on the other hand, spent much of the past half-millennium as subjugated colonies — Iceland won its independence from Denmark only in 1944, and Norway won its independence from Sweden in 1905. Today, that filters through culture and geography — Stockholm and Copenhagen are imperial cities, while Oslo and Helsinki are not.

Norway’s vast oil wealth, in particular, makes it a special case that has elements of other Nordic states, but also the problems that many petrostates face. Finland’s longtime relationship with Russia gives it a certain sensibility in European geostrategic matters (and that explains why both it and Sweden are still not members of NATO).

Neither Iceland nor Norway are members of the European Union, lest their rich fish stocks be subject to competition from Spanish and Greek fishermen. While Finland is a member of the eurozone, both Denmark and Sweden have retained their own national currencies and control over their monetary policy.

All of which is to say that even Scandinavians can’t agree on which ingredients are most key to their ‘model’ — and that makes its export outside the northern European context all the more difficult.

Race politics looms behind potential deportation of Haitian Dominicans

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It’s not an exaggeration to say that relations between the two nation-states that occupy the island of Hispaniola have been strained for centuries.Dominican Republic Flag Icon

The Dominican Republic celebrates its national day on February 27, marking not its independence from Spain but the anniversary of the end of the Haitian occupation of 1822 to 1844. The country’s autocratic leader, Rafael Trujillo launched a 1937 military attack on Haitians living near the nebulous border that, even today, remains particularly porous. The attack left an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians dead. Following the assault, known today as the Masacre del Perejil, Trujillo tried to install a puppet government in Haiti.

Joaquín Balaguer, Trujillo’s successor, won a narrow victory in the highly disputed 1994 election in part through attacks on the Haitian ancestry of his opponent José Francisco Peña Gómez. Leonel Fernández, the candidate of the country’s now-dominant Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD, Dominican Liberation Party), which has held power in 15 out of the past 20 years, deployed similar tactics against Peña in 1996.

So racism, both subtle and blatant, against darker-skinned Dominicans of Haitian descent has always been a feature of life in the Dominican Republic.

As Greg Grandin and others are reporting in recent days, the country is gearing up for what might become yet another difficult moment, with up to 500,000 Haitian Dominicans in danger of being deported after June 17 — even though many of them have lived most of their lives in the Dominican Republic, speak Spanish and not Haiti’s French creole and, indeed, have never even set foot on Haitian soil. The debacle has led to a rush of Haitian Dominicans attempting to register for citizenship before today’s deadline, fearing that failure to acquire the right paperwork could result in a massive disruption in their lives.

A decade of setbacks for Haitian Dominicans

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The current crisis stems from a December 2011 decision by the Dominican supreme court that affirmed the government’s decision to reject a request from a Dominican-born man for his birth certificate. The ruling’s effect threw into doubt the citizenship of Dominicans born to Haitian immigrants after 1929. Under significant international pressure, Dominican president Danilo Medina (pictured above), a popular leader who now hopes to run for reelection in May 2016, tried to resolve the situation by allowing undocumented Dominicans to register. Continue reading Race politics looms behind potential deportation of Haitian Dominicans

How Helle got her groove back in Denmark’s snap election

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Not so long ago, British prime minister David Cameron suggested that his Danish counterpart, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, would make a good alternative candidate for the presidency of the European Commission.denmark flag

Thorning-Schmidt (pictured above) demurred the speculation. Ultimately, European leaders embraced former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker and instead of seeking a safe job in Brussels, Thorning-Schmidt became increasingly convinced that she could lead her center-left government to reelection in a vote originally expected in September.

A Rorschach test for EU economic policy?

Thorning-Schmidt called snap elections for June 18, hoping to take advantage of a growing sense of momentum. Indeed, she may have taken a different sort of comfort from Cameron, who last month won an even stronger mandate for a second term in his own general election. After a period of GDP contraction and fiscal tightening, Thorning-Schmidt is betting that nascent economy recovery and the promise of greater welfare spending in the years ahead will be enough to replicate Cameron’s feat in Denmark.

If she succeeds, both sides on the European debate over economic policy will try to claim victory. For the European center-right, a Thorning-Schmidt victory would provide more evidence that an electorate is willing to reward a government’s hard grind to demonstrate fiscal stability. For the European center-left, it would show the way forward for social democrats struggling to salvage, reform and reinvent the welfare state in an age of austerity.

Furthermore, as the second-most populous Nordic country, Denmark (with 5.7 million people) is a weathervane of all the recent political, cultural and economic trends across northern Europe — and where the region may be headed.

How Helle turned a near-certain defeat into a dead heat

Thorning-Schmidt is the leader of the Socialdemokraterne (Social Democrats), the largest party on the Danish left, and she leads an informal ‘red’ coalition of parties that may be willing to join forces for a broad leftist government after the election. Not surprisingly, she won sympathy from voters in the wake of a radical Islamic attack on a Copenhagen cafe and synagogue in February. Moreover, she is hoping that forecasts of 1.5% or greater GDP growth will overshadow the GDP contraction and fiscal contraction that marked the first half of her government. Continue reading How Helle got her groove back in Denmark’s snap election

Farage’s future hinges on South Thanet win

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He’s one of the most charismatic characters in British politics, and it’s difficult to imagine much of a future for the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) with him leading it.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Nevertheless, Nigel Farage, the investment-banker-turned-beer-swilling-bloke-next-door, has pledged to stand down as UKIP’s leader if he fails to win election to the House of Commons on May 7 from the constituency of South Thanet. At best, some polls give Farage a slight lead; many other polls, however, suggest Farage is locked in a three-way fight with his Conservative and Labour challengers. The race to win South Thanet, a constituency in the southeastern corner of England in Kent, has kept the UKIP leader focused on winning his own high-stakes contest instead of zipping throughout the country to bolster the party’s chances nationally.

Farage, who is also a member of the European Parliament, is unlikely to fade away, even if he loses. He presumably remain a colorful presence in British and European politics, especially if prime minister David Cameron wins a second term and holds a referendum on the country’s membership in the European Union in 2017.

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RELATED: Why England needs a series of regional parliaments

RELATED: UKIP’s Farage is winning the British debate on Europe

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But Farage’s loss would highlight the shrinking fortunes of UKIP, just a year after it won more votes in the European parliamentary elections than any other party as British voters lodged protest votes over growing EU influence. Farage, in the afterglow of his unprecedented victory, hoped to ride a populist wave into 2015 on a platform that questions the value of the country’s membership in the European Union, restricts growing immigration to the United Kingdom, and rebalances a constitutional structure that’s left England, as a region, out of the devolution trend that’s given Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland more regional control.

It’s hard not to like Farage when he’s lined up in a room with Conservative prime minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democratic deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. He’s got swagger and charisma in droves. He’s never far from being photographed in a pub sipping on a pint of beer, and he’s one of the most talented politicians in the United Kingdom. For all the nastiness of UKIP’s fringes, a party that Cameron once dismissed as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists,’ Farage and his merry band of ‘Kippers’ make a compelling case with respect to both the European Union and English nationalism. Continue reading Farage’s future hinges on South Thanet win