Tag Archives: republicans

Le Pen-Macron debate echoes Trump-Clinton slugfests

Far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron clashed in their only debate between the April first-round presidential vote and Sunday’s runoff. (Eric Feferberg / AFP)

For those of us Americans who spent 270 minutes of our autumn in 2016 glued to the television debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the experience of watching Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron spar for 150 minutes, in their only exclusive debate ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff, felt something like a cross between déjà vu and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

There was Le Pen, with half-baked policy schemes as scattered as the disheveled piles of papers and files in front of her, but plenty of resentment and the attitude you’d expect from the self-proclaimed champion of France’s working class, the losers from globalization, growing immigration and Europeanization.

There was Macron, composed to the point of arrogance, already looking beyond May 7 and toward the June parliamentary elections (where his En marche movement is hoping to go from zero seats in the 577-seat French national assembly to a majority) and beyond to at least one five-year term as the youngest president in France’s history.

At times, as one friend noted, it felt eerily like the New York University experiment that swapped Clinton’s and Trump’s genders (much to the confusion of the experiment’s audience). Continue reading Le Pen-Macron debate echoes Trump-Clinton slugfests

How Le Pen might win a runoff against Macron

Marine Le Pen (right) has worked to detoxify the brand of the Front national, but will it be enough to form a majoritarian coalition in France? (Facebook)

Emmanuel Macron should not be such a difficult candidate to defeat in the French presidential election.

Set aside the weird personality cult that gushes over Macron’s youthful good looks, or the popular movement, En Marche! that shares the candidate’s initials (E.M.) and that translates to ‘Forward!’ — a schlocky political trick for an electorate that prides itself on sophistication.

Set aside that the 39-year-old rising star has never technically won an election to anything in his life.

Set aside the gaffes — going to Algeria and calling French colonization a ‘crime against humanity’ or criticizing the same-sex marriage law that he said ‘humiliated’ traditional Catholic voters.

Set aside the nasty rumors about his personal life or the wife 24 years his senior (and yes, they are out there).

Why Macron is far weaker than polls currently show

Though Macron is in a commanding position with a month to go until voters first go to the polls, he is the product of two of the most elite educational institutions, Sciences Po and the École nationale d’administration, and before entering politics, he was an investment banker at Rothschild. He represents a strain of neoliberal economic policy that commands lower support today than ever — the Atlantic right is moving toward economic nationalism and the Atlantic left is moving to more aggressive taxation and deeper social welfare programs.

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RELATED: After presidency, Macron would face
uphill battle for National Assembly

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Macron, for all intents and purposes, is the avatar of the French political elite, amid a global climate where voters are rejecting elites. That’s even compared to a former prime minister, François Fillon, the center-right candidate of Les Républicains, or to a former education minister Benoît Hamon, the social democratic candidate of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party).

To steal a phrase from Tyler Cowen, Macron is the ‘complacent class‘ candidate of France’s 2017 election. Continue reading How Le Pen might win a runoff against Macron

Why Northern Ireland is the most serious obstacle to Article 50’s invocation

Few Protestants or Catholics want to go back to the days of a land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (BBC)
Few Protestants or Catholics want to go back to the days of a land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (BBC)

When pro-Leave campaigners argued that, by leaving the European Union, Great Britain could ‘take back control,’ one of the clear things over which Brexit proponents seem to want to take control was national borders.northernirelandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Given that Great Britain itself is an island, that’s mostly a theoretical proposition, because you can’t step across the border into England, Scotland and Wales — their ‘borders’ are through their seaports and airports.

That’s not true in Northern Ireland, the only region in the United Kingdom that does share a land border with another European Union member-state. It’s also one of the most delicate tripwires for British prime minister Theresa May in her dutiful quest to invoke Article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty next year and begin negotiations for a British EU withdrawal.

Scotland has garnered more headlines because Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has argued that Scots, who voted strongly for Remain, deserve a second independence referendum  when the British government finally does leave the European Union. But if ‘Remain’ proponents are looking to the one part of the United Kingdom that could impossibly prevent Article 50’s invocation, they should look to Northern Ireland, where Brexit could unravel two decades of peace, and where Brexit is already causing some anxiety about the region’s future.

May, just days after replacing David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, visited Belfast earlier this week in a bid to reassure both unionists and republicans. But it’s not clear that May’s first journey to Northern Ireland, which preceded a meeting with Ireland’s leader a day later, was a success.

May boldly claimed that Brexit need not result in the return of a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But settling Northern Ireland’s Brexit border issue is virtually intractable for the May government — at least without alienating one of three crucial groups of people: first, the mostly Catholic republicans of Northern Ireland; second, the most Protestant unionists of Northern Ireland or finally, those Brexit supports across the entire country who voted ‘Leave’ in large part to close UK borders to further immigration.

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As in Scotland, Northern Ireland’s voters narrowly titled against Brexit — 55.78% supported ‘Remain,’ while just 44.22% supported ‘Leave.’ Generally speaking, republicans widely supported ‘Remain,’ and unionists leaned toward ‘Leave,’ including first minister Arlene Foster. Continue reading Why Northern Ireland is the most serious obstacle to Article 50’s invocation

Fifteen questions I would like to hear at tonight’s GOP debate

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Yet another Republican presidential debate is upon us tonight. USflag

I do not expect to hear these questions and, if I did, I would not expect to hear the most clarifying answers.

  • Which document is more important in governing the United States: the Bible or the US constitution?
  • What would your administration’s strategy be regarding the Arctic region, both from an economic and security standpoint?
  • How many Syrian refugees should the United States admit in the year 2016?
  • Who would you appoint as Secretary of State in your cabinet and why? Who do you believe to have been the most effective Secretary of State in the past century?
  • Does the United States have the right to assassinate US citizens abroad, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, without due process? If so, in what constitutional and legal theory is your position rooted?
  • Suppose the DPP wins the next Taiwanese election, it universally declares independence, and mainland China launches a military attack against Taiwan. How would your administration respond?
  • Name two Obama administration policies — one on domestic policy and one on foreign policy — with which you agree.
  • Should the United States change its laws to allow for the export of crude oil and natural gas exports?
  • How can the Republican Party more successfully appeal to Asian Americans, the fastest growing immigrant group in the United States today?
  • What would your administration do if the United Kingdom’s voters elect to leave the European Union in 2017?
  • Given the Republican Party’s skepticism about the role of government, and given what we know about racial bias in sentencing , why should we trust state governments in carrying out the death penalty?
  • Given the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in sub-Saharan Africa at a time of breakneck economic growth for the region, what would your administration’s three most important priorities for US policy in Africa be?

How the Le Pen family feud influences France’s 2017 election

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Sometimes, the cruelest cuts in international politics come not only from within your own party, but from within your very own family.France Flag Icon

Just ask David Miliband.

After months of increasingly strained relations, however, Marine Le Pen has now engineered the first break yet with her controversial father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when he was formally ousted last week from the party that he founded, the far-right Front National (National Front). The legal move followed a political move earlier in the summer, when 84% of the party’s 30,000 followers also voted to expel Jean-Marie from the party that he founded in 1972.

In one sense, the Le Pen family spat has been a distraction from Marine Le Pen’s long-term goals of projecting her party as the true heir to French conservatism and building a majoritarian coalition that can woo not only traditional right-wing voters but left-wing voters disenchanted with French president François Hollande and the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) and the neoliberal economic prescriptions that now dominate policymaking within the eurozone.

Since her party easily outpaced the ruling Socialists and Sarkozy’s center-right party in the May 2014 European parliamentary elections, Marine Le Pen has spent much of 2015 feuding with her own father.

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RELATED: Marine Le Pen is still a longshot
to win France’s presidency in 2017

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What’s worse, the spat showcases just how problematic it can be when a political party becomes tied up too strongly in family dynasty — it’s as true for the French right as for Indian secularism or Canada’s center-left. As Marine tries to consolidate the Front’s rank-and-file under her leadership, with regional elections approaching in the autumn, her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the 25-year old MP from southern France, could still make her life difficult.

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Maréchal-Le Pen (pictured above) has been more sympathetic to her grandfather and, unlike Marine’s journey toward economic nationalism, popular in northern France, Marion is far more of a traditional economic liberal and, with her southern base, far more focused on immigration. In December, Maréchal-Le Pen will be running for the presidency of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region; Marion Le Pen, for her part, will be contesting the presidency of the northern Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. The party will be watching keenly to see which variety of the Front‘s politics will be more successful.

But in another sense, tossing the 87-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen to the side in 2015 could help Marine in 2017 as she continues to remake the party’s image — and brand it further away from the often anti-Semitic tones of her father’s leadership, which was also rooted in his experience as a soldier fighting to defend France’s colonial holdings in Algeria. Remarks about Nazi gas chambers being just a ‘detail of history,’ as it turns out, do not go down well for Marine’s push for a Front sanitaire.

Marine’s mission

Instead, Marine Le Pen is forging an identity that blends welfare-heavy statism, social conservatism and a nationalism that rejects both immigration and European integration. There’s a reason it’s called populism. Rallying support for ‘a strong France’ and opposition to a feckless European superstate that now essentially dictate France’s monetary, justice and border control policy, championing the comfort of an unreconstructed cradle-to-grave social welfare and attacking the ‘other’ of eastern European, African and Middle Eastern immigrants has an undeniably popular allure to many voters whose economic futures are far less certain than they were two generations ago. It’s attracted some odd supporters, including a puzzlingly high number of urban LGBT voters — Marine’s chief adviser, Florian Philippot, and the architect of Marine’s anti-eurozone policy, is openly gay. While Marine discreetly avoided the most intense battles of the same-sex marriage fight in 2013, Maréchal-Le Pen embraced the opposition to marriage equality.

That means that Le Pen has found common cause in recent years with a strange number of odd political bedfellows. That includes Nigel Farage, the anti-immigrant head of the United Kingdom Independence Party, who encourages a British exit from the European Union in the 2017 referendum, and Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam and anti-immigrant crusader of Dutch politics. But she also encouraged Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras in his standoff with European finance ministers over Greek debt relief (though Le Pen rejected him in stark terms when he agreed in July to enter negotiations for a third bailout for his country). She has also voiced sympathy for Russian president Vladimir Putin in his two-year quasi-standoff with Ukraine.

Marine’s bet seems to be working as French voters begin to focus on the contours of what could be an unpredictable presidential election in May 2017. In IFOP’s latest August 2015 poll, Le Pen leads all contenders for the first-round vote, garnering 26% in a race against Hollande (20%) and former president Nicolas Sarkozy (24%), guaranteeing her a spot in a runoff against Sarkozy. Though her father made the runoff in the 2002 presidential election against then-president Jacques Chirac, Jean-Marie Le Pen only narrowly managed a second-place victory over the Socialist candidate, prime minister Lionel Jospin. Continue reading How the Le Pen family feud influences France’s 2017 election

What the world can teach the United States about DC voting rights

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A view of DC from the top of Anacostia in East Washington.

If you walk through parts of Brasília, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t modeled, at least architecturally, upon Washington, D.C. when it was built in the late 1950. But when it comes to the voting rights of its capital’s citizens, Brazil has looked beyond the American example.Washington_DC_IconUSflag

Last month, when Brazil held a general election, some 2.5 million voters in the Brazilian Distrito Federal voted for a new governor, eight members to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazil’s National Congress, and one of its three members to the Senate, its upper house. In that regard, Brazil’s DF is not unlike any other state in the country. Remarkably, with one deputy per 310,000 residents, that’s a better ratio of representation than the residents of Brazil’s largest state, the far more populous São Paulo.

It’s a typical and unremarkable arrangement around the world, and it’s not unlike Mexico’s Federal District (Mexico City), India’s Delhi Capital Territory and even places with a much more limited history of democracy, including Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) and Malaysia’s Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.

But not in the District of Columbia.

The United States of America, otherwise a beacon of democratic rule for over two centuries, is essentially the North Korea of federal district voting rights, a clear outlier for democratic best practices across the world. As voters across the country elect members of the House of Representatives, District voters have nothing. Continue reading What the world can teach the United States about DC voting rights

Would ‘lottocracy’ be a better form of government than democracy?

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Winston Churchill is attributed with the quote, ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried.’

But it’s William F. Buckley who said, ‘I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.’

Alex Guerrero, assistant professor of philosophy, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania (and also a law school classmate of mine), thinks Buckley may have been on to something, and he makes the case for selecting representatives not by elections, but through a lottery system in Aeon today:

First, rather than having a single, generalist legislature such as the United States Congress, the legislative function would be fulfilled by many different single-issue legislatures (each one focusing on, for example, just agriculture or health care). There might be 20 or 25 of these single-issue legislatures, perhaps borrowing existing divisions in legislative committees or administrative agencies: agriculture, commerce and consumer protection, education, energy, health and human services, housing and urban development, immigration, labour, transportation, etc.

These single-issue legislatures would be chosen by lottery from the political jurisdiction, with each single-issue legislature consisting of 300 people. Each person chosen would serve for a three-year term. Terms would be staggered so that each year 100 new people begin, and 100 people finish. All adult citizens in the political jurisdiction would be eligible to be selected. People would not be required to serve if selected, but the financial incentive would be significant, efforts would be made to accommodate family and work schedules, and the civic culture might need to be developed so that serving is seen as a significant civic duty and honour.

At first read, it sounds like a nightmare out of an Arthur Miller play.  Three hundred random US citizens would congregate to tackle a discrete issue like climate change, health care reform, or immigration reform.

What’s so bad about democracy? 

Before you dismiss the idea outright, it’s important to bear in mind the long, long list of problems with elections, in their current form in the United States and in other mature democracies — and that’s saying nothing about the question of free and fair elections in countries where democratic institutions are less robust.  The business of policymaking of a typical 21st century government is typically too complex for direct democracy to thrive in most jurisdictions. The need to become informed about the nuances of even major policy decisions would quickly overwhelm all of us.  Experiments with direct democracy, through the proliferation of ballot initiatives to decide key issues, have worked better in some places (Switzerland) than in others (California).  The limitations of direct democracy have meant that, outside the classical era of Athenian democracy and a few referendum-driven jurisdictions, ‘democracy’ for most people today means representative democracy.  Voters elect legislators and executives on the basis of a plethora of policy positions.

Of course, by gaining efficiency, indirect democracies lose precision — voters will choose one candidate over another for many reasons, and no voter’s policy priorities may line up entirely with any candidate.

Moreover, we can see the other problems of representative democracy in modern US politics.  Marketing and advertising, since at least the onset of the television era, can now be more important than policy positions.  Accordingly, representatives spend more time today raising money from donors than tending to the business of lawmaking, undermining the one-person-one-vote principle that undergirds representative democracy.  As Alex notes, the current process is subject to all sorts of problems.  The influence of money and lobbyists can lead to agency and electoral capture.  Collective action problems are rife — interest groups who care deeply about an issue can skew policies to their favor, even at the expense of the widely dispersed gains that might otherwise accrue to the rest of the population.  Protectionism, tariffs and free trade is a classic example.

Gerrymandering, barriers to entry and the advantages of incumbency massively reduce competition within the political marketplace.  It’s left us with a system where, as Alex writes, ’44 per cent of US Congresspersons have a net worth of more than $1 million; 82 per cent are male; 86 per cent are white, and more than half are lawyers or bankers.’ It’s a system where Congressional reelection rates in the United States routinely exceed 90% — even in a massive ‘wave’ election like the 2010 midterms that saw a Republican wave, the reelection rate was still 85%.  Part of that you can blame on gerrymandering, but more so on the natural preferences and geopolitical distribution of urban and rural voters — and perhaps even more so on the US electoral system (i.e., single-member plurality districts instead of proportional representation).  

Tradition, financial and political infrastructure, a first-past-the-post electoral system and path dependence mean that, in the United States, two political parties reign supreme.  When those two parties agree on policy preferences, it means there’s effectively no competition within the political marketplace on many key issues — in the past three decades, this has included drug legislation, foreign policy, national security, military affairs, gun regulation, financial regulation, home ownership policy and other matters.  In many cases, the bipartisan consensus has turned out to be wrong.

Electoral competition, too, is rife with short-term thinking.  In a world where public servants are focused on reelection in two years (the US House of Representatives), four years (the US president) or six years (the US Senate), there will always be a temptation to focus on short-term benefits at the expense of long-term costs.  Say what you want about the People’s Republic of China, but the governing Chinese Communist Party has to contemplate long-term effects of its policies, because there’s no alternative party to blame.  In the US system, Democrats and Republicans can rotate in and out of office and blame each other for perpetuity.  Not so in China — the CCP has to own its policy decisions or face a massive popular revolt.

That all assumes, too, that voters make well-informed, rational decisions.  As Bryan Caplan argues in The Myth of the Rational Voter: How Democracies Choose Bad Policies, borrowing from the insights of economic theory, ‘democracy’ fails primarily due to irrational and ill-informed voters:

In the naive public-interest view, democracy works because it does what voters want.  In the view of most democracy skeptics, it fails because it does not do what voters want.  In my view, democracy fails because it does what voters want.  In economic jargon, democracy has a built-in externality.  An irrational voter does not hurt only himself.  He also hurts everyone who is, as a result of his irrationality, more likely to live under misguided policies.  Since most of the cost of voter irrationality is external — paid for by other people, why not indulge?  If enough voters think this way, socially injurious policies win by popular demand.

It’s also worth asking how truly ‘democratic’ elections have become.  Since the 20th century, government has become so complex that many policy decisions are two steps removed from the ballot box, with legislators ceding control to specialized regulators.  In the United States, the wide-ranging administrative and regulatory state nearly amounts to a fourth, unelected branch of government.  Critics of the European Union have long pointed to a ‘democratic deficit’ within the growing EU institutions.  Despite a growing role for the elected European Parliament and perhaps a more representative era in selecting the European Commission, the key decisions of European integration (including the creation of the single market and monetary union) were made more by treaty than at the ballot box. 

 

So should we, therefore, turn to policymaking-by-lottocracy?  Continue reading Would ‘lottocracy’ be a better form of government than democracy?

Could the United States and Canada effect a national merger?

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I spent an impromptu weekend in Ottawa and Montréal, which marked my first visit to Canada’s capital city — and its fourth-most populous (after Toronto, Montréal and Calgary).USflagCanada Flag Icon

Though Ottawa is a bilingual city that sits on the Ontario-Québec borders, there’s no doubting that this was a city founded by English Canadians (and, in fact, New Englanders founded the first colonial-era settlement) — which may explain why it’s impossible to find a decent meal other than poutine on a Sunday night after 10 p.m.).  But the trip gave me good reason to read the new book from National Post columnist Diane Francis, Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country. 

OK, so let that sink in for a moment.  Merging the United States and Canada into one mega-country.  Impossible, right?  A national political space with room for both Jacques Parizeau and Haley Barbour? Come on.

But it’s not an unhinged read — it’s a page-turner, and Francis has a command of the data that motivates her argument.  It also meets the ‘learn something on every page’ test.  Did you know that Canada’s First Nations residents also have US citizenship?  Or that the US defense department, if it were a nation, would have an economy the size of Turkey’s?

The political hurdles are immense 

Let’s start with the obvious — in a world where the US Congress can’t even agree for three weeks on whether to fund the government, the appetite for a merger with Canada is probably less than zero, and Francis certainly knows this.  The politics of a US-Canada merger are impossibly difficult, and the weakest part of the book is that Francis glides over the political hurdles — the Québec question and the issue of Southern intransigence in the United States are dealt with in just over three pages.  I like to think that’s because Francis knows the political obstacles are insurmountable and prefers to spend more time making her very able case for the economic synergies that a merger would bring.

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It’s tempting to believe that Canada’s relatively more statist and socially and economically liberal population would give the US Democratic Party an almost immediate lock on elections for the foreseeable future (and Francis hints as much), but that’s not necessarily the case.  It’s Canada that has a three-term Conservative prime minister in Stephen Harper and the United States that has a two-term Democratic president in Barack Obama (pictured above with Harper).  As John Ibbiston and Darrell Bricker argue in their own big-think volume from last year, The Big Shift: The Seismic Change In Canadian Politics, Business, And Culture And What It Means For Our Future, there’s a growing majoritarian coalition of immigrants, Westerners and Ontario suburbanites that could make Harper’s Tories the natural party of government in Canada in the 21st century — just as much as the Liberal Party of Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien dominated the 20th.

It’s hard to imagine that Québec premier Pauline Marois and Texas governor Rick Perry would have much in common.  Still, there are common trends in the politics of the left and right on both sides of the border, and Toronto mayor Rob Ford proves that Canada has as many colorful characters in politics as the United States.

On the right, the rise of the ‘tea party’ movement on the US political right matches the rise of a new fiscal and social conservatism captured by the rise of Alberta’s new Wildrose Party (as an alternative to the long-dominant Progressive Conservative Party).  Harper’s own rise, and the merger of the western-based Canadian Alliance with the dwindling eastern-based Progressive Conservatives, is the story of the rise of a more anti-government, pro-Christian, social and economic conservatism in Canada.  That mirrors the rightward shift of US conservatism under the influence of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and others.

On the left, the late Jack Layton led the New Democratic Party to a historic breakthrough in the 2011 federal election in a way that mirrors the new progressive coalition of minorities, moderates and young voters that powered Obama in 2008 — first to win the Democratic Party nomination over Hillary Clinton, then to win the presidency.  The difference between the pragmatic, business-friendly Liberals and the social democratic NDP in Canada is the difference between, say, US senator Chuck Schumer of New York and US senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Nonetheless, with all due respect to Paul Cellucci, the former US ambassador to Canada, the difference between Québec and Alberta is not the same as the difference between Massachusetts and Mississippi (despite the heritage of French Americans from Maine to Louisiana).  The cultural gulf between the United States and Canada is the gulf between revolution and evolution, fixed in place by 200 years of path dependence.

If I were Canadian, I would worry that the best aspects of Canadian culture and politics would be totally subsumed by US culture and politics — it was Trudeau, after all, who said that having the United States for a neighbor was like being a mouse sleeping next to an elephant.  For all the valid criticisms of the US military-industrial complex, it’s hard to believe that the Canadian influence would slow the militarism of US policy (though, frankly, deploying US troops to patrol the Arctic north or to fortify and develop new northern settlements seems a more productive endeavor than invading Iraq).  

As the United States has increasingly retreated behind a wall of homeland security in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Canada has increasingly opened its borders to immigrants.  One out of every two residents of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is foreign-born, and nearly seven million of Canada’s 35 million people are foreign-born.  In the 21st century, Canada is becoming the melting-pot society that the United States once was in the 20th century.  That would be endangered if Canada became merely the northern-most region within a greater North American superstate.

Francis also betrays a protectionist edge that view Chinese, Russian and Arab malevolence at every turn.  If I were Canadian, I’d be happy to know that China, Russia and other countries are willing to compete with US and Canadian investors to most efficiently develop the resources of Canada’s far north.  It seems to me that the kind of knee-jerk nationalism that led to the 2006 Dubai Ports World kerfuffle in the United States is something that’s more dangerous to democratic and economic institutions in North America than an investment here or there by China.

But when you get to the heart of Francis’s argument about the reasons for and benefits from a US-Canadian merger, it’s as thoughtful, radical and brilliant as you’ll find in any of the top books published last year.

Even the most outlandish ideas should win points for creative thinking.  A payout of $492,529 to each Canadian citizen at a total cost of around $17 trillion to the US treasury?  A bifurcated health care system that would include greater rights and freedoms for Canadians?  The concept that the US deep south, which chose segregation over industrialization and economic modernization for nearly a century, would sign up to a merger because it might mean more Canadians would migrate to the Sun Belt?  That Quebeckers would willingly give up what amounts to a veto on national policymaking for  irrelevance in a super-country whose First Amendment freedoms would make most of the province’s language regulations unconstitutional on Day One?  That the staid Bay Street approach to banking regulation would easily graft itself onto the creatively destructive mentality of Wall Street? None of these are politically feasible.

How to capture the benefits of greater cooperation

The good news is that the United States and Canada don’t actually have to become one nation-state in order to effect a lot of the benefits that Francis outlines, which is where her book really shines.  That’s especially true in a globalized world where national borders are conceivably less important than at any time in the post-Westphalia era.  A handful of efforts could bring much of Francis’s dream to reality without a supranational acquis communautaire or admitting Canada’s provinces and territories as the next 13 American states:

Continue reading Could the United States and Canada effect a national merger?

Ten reasons why the Iran sanctions Senate bill is policy malpractice

Iran nuclear talks: Kerry and Zarif meet at the UN

Iran is quickly moving to the front of the ever-shifting foreign policy agenda in Washington at the end of this week, with 59 members of the US Senate, including 15 Democratic senators and the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, supporting the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013.Iran Flag IconUSflag

The bill would impose additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran in the event that the current round of talks fail between Iran and the ‘P5+1,’ the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia), plus Germany.  US president Barack Obama met with the entire Democratic caucus in the US Senate Wednesday night to implore his party’s senators not to support the bill.  Senate majority leader Harry Reid opposes the bill, and he hasn’t scheduled a vote for the new Iran sanctions — and even some of its supporters may be backing off as the temporary six-month deal proceeds.

But with 59 co-sponsors, the bill is just one vote shy of passing the Senate, and it would almost certainly pass in the US House of Representatives, where the Republican Party holds a majority.  In the event that the Congress passes a bill, Obama could veto it, but the Senate is already precariously close to the two-thirds majority it would need to override Obama’s veto.

The Obama administration argues that the bill is nothing short of warmongering, while the bill’s supporters argue that the sanctions will reinforce the Obama administration’s hand in negotiations.  Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister (pictured above with US secretary of state John Kerry), has warned that the bill would destroy any chances of reaching a permanent deal, and it’s hard to blame him.  Under the current deal, reached in November, the P5+1 agreed to lift up to $8 billion in economic sanctions in exchange for Iran’s decision to freeze its nuclear program for six months while the parties work through a longer-term deal.  The deal further provides that Iran will dilute its 20% enriched uranium down to just 5% enriched uranium, and the P5+1 have agreed to release a portion of Iran’s frozen assets abroad and partially unblock Iran’s oil exports.

So what should you make of the decision of 59 US senators to hold up a negotiation process that not only the Obama administration supports, but counts the support of its British, German and French allies?

Not much.

And here are ten reasons why the bill represents nothing short of policy malpractice.   Continue reading Ten reasons why the Iran sanctions Senate bill is policy malpractice

Final thoughts (and predictions) for the U.S. presidential election

The state of the race

Of course, tomorrow’s election, in what’s still arguably the world’s most powerful country, will have huge implications for world politics — U.S. foreign policy obviously runs from the occupant of the Oval Office (more so than domestic policy), and with U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton stepping down in either case, the election result will determine the next top U.S. diplomat.  So it seemed natural to pull together some brief thoughts for Suffragio on election eve.

Nate Silver’s final post at FiveThirtyEight before tomorrow’s U.S. general election gives incumbent Barack Obama (pictured above, below with vice president Joe Biden at left) a 92.2% chance of winning.  I’m not so sure, but InTrade has Obama with 67.2% odds of winning.  National polls are essentially tied, with some giving either Obama a narrow edge or his challenger, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (pictured below), a slight edge.  State polls in swing states give Obama slight edges — the winner must win 270 out of 528 electoral votes (i.e., the presidential election is essentially 50 separate state contests — each state has a number of electoral votes ranging from three (the smallest states) to 55 (California).

Most notably of all, go read Foreign Policy‘s compendium of its best 2012 U.S. presidential election coverage, which is stellar as usual.

In terms of coverage, I’ll list favorite / obligatory pundits below:

  • Follow Slate‘s Dave Weigel here.
  • Follow Time‘s Mark Halperin here.
  • Follow National Review‘s The Corner here.
  • Follow Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog here.
  • Follow Matt Drudge here.
  • Follow Chris Cillizza’s Washington Post blog here.
  • Follow Ezra Klein’s policy blog at the Washington Post here.
Polls close between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET in Ohio, Virginia, Florida and other key states in the Electoral College, so we should have a relatively good idea of who’s won the presidency Tuesday night — unless the contest comes down to one state, likely Ohio, and that state is as close as Florida was in 2000, when we might not know the winner for a month or longer!

Don’t forget Puerto Rico elections

Although it’s a U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico will also go to the polls to select a governor, where incumbent Luis Fortuño (a Republican supporter) of the pro-statehood Partido Nuevo Progresista de Puerto Rico (the PNP, New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico) narrowly leads Alejandro García Padilla of the pro-commonwealth/status quo Partido Popular Democrático de Puerto Rico (the PPD, Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico).  Fortuño has cut Puerto Rico’s budget since taking office in 2009 and has nearly brought the island from deficit to surplus.  Nonetheless, economic growth has been elusive and while the unemployment rate has fallen, it’s still around 15%.  If Fortuño loses his race, but Romney wins, there’s a strong chance that Fortuño could be asked to take a position — or even a Cabinet-level post — in a Romney administration.

Puerto Rico will also hold yet another referendum on statehood in two parts: whether they are satisfied with Puerto Rico’s current status as a ‘commonwealth,’ and if not, whether they would prefer U.S. statehood, full independence or a confusing ‘sovereign associated state’ status.

With four million people, if Puerto Rico were independent, it would be the fourth-most populous country in the Caribbean, after Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Predictions

So now on to my own prediction.

We know the outcome of most states. Obama will almost certainly win California, New York (29 electoral votes), Illinois (20 electoral votes), New Jersey (14 electoral votes), Washington (12 electoral votes) and Romney’s Massachusetts (11 electoral votes), among others, and he is leading in Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) and Michigan (16 electoral votes), both of which voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, despite their loss in the wider Electoral College.

Romney will almost certainly win Texas (38 electoral votes), Georgia (16 electoral votes), and a swath of smaller states in the Old Confederacy South, the Great Plains states, and much of the Mountain West states.

The actual popular vote tally of all 50 states doesn’t matter, so I will whiff and say it’s too close to call — Hurricane Sandy may well depress voter turnout in Delaware, New Jersey and New York, but those states are solidly in favor of Obama.

For the electoral vote, my final prediction is Obama 276, Romney 262: Continue reading Final thoughts (and predictions) for the U.S. presidential election