March 8, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 172

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: What the heck is going on in Syria these days? Who is Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka and which wing of Hungarian politics does he come from? People: Bill and Nate. Produced: March 6th, 2017.

Episode 172 (52 min):
AFD 172

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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Nate’s Reading Corner:

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Portugal: Poor presidential judgment or fall of democracy?

And now we turn to my beloved Portugal. Are dramatic headlines of Portugal’s democracy being subverted to EU neoliberalism fair or a tempest in a teapot?

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The international business editor of The Daily Telegraph (in the UK), Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, published a column this past Friday with the dramatic headline “Eurozone crosses Rubicon as Portugal’s anti-euro Left banned from power”. The subheader followed up equally dramatically with “Constitutional crisis looms after anti-austerity Left is denied parliamentary prerogative to form a majority government.”

I’m not sure this take on the situation is exactly accurate (as I’ll get into below), but let’s take a look at the explanation provided in the column.

Anibal Cavaco Silva, Portugal’s constitutional president, has refused to appoint a Left-wing coalition government even though it secured an absolute majority in the Portuguese parliament and won a mandate to smash the austerity regime bequeathed by the EU-IMF Troika.

He deemed it too risky to let the Left Bloc or the Communists come close to power, insisting that conservatives should soldier on as a minority in order to satisfy Brussels and appease foreign financial markets.

Democracy must take second place to the higher imperative of euro rules and membership.
[…]
Mr Cavaco Silva argued that the great majority of the Portuguese people did not vote for parties that want a return to the escudo or that advocate a traumatic showdown with Brussels.

This is true, but he skipped over the other core message from the elections held three weeks ago: that they also voted for an end to wage cuts and Troika austerity. The combined parties of the Left won 50.7pc of the vote. Led by the Socialists, they control the Assembleia.

 
While I’ve expressed or anticipated very similar concerns about balancing democracy and the demands of the European Union’s technocracy upon national governments in other situations, I’m not quite ready to jump on this op-ed’s bandwagon. Why? To me, it seems potentially like it might be an over-reaction or at least misdiagnosis of the situation. Here’s what I notice about it.

For one thing, Anibal Cavaco Silva, the president trying to keep the center-right PSD government in power, is the former leader of the PSD (and prime minister for 10 years). That’s a huge problem if that’s his motivation here, but it’s a different problem than (essentially) arguing “he’s subverting democracy for an agenda in Brussels.”

Next, it’s also worth pointing out that the PSD did finish first and — as I understand it — therefore gets first crack at forming a government, whether or not anyone else is pitching a majority. He actually does acknowledge that in the piece, but it’s definitely buried in there:

The conservative premier, Pedro Passos Coelho, came first and therefore gets first shot at forming a government, but his Right-wing coalition as a whole secured just 38.5pc of the vote.

 
Yes the PSD and their allies lost seats, but it’s not like the Socialists and their allies won a convincing victory and are now being denied out of hand the chance to govern.

Lastly, even if his motivations or rationale are dubious, President Cavaco Silva identifies a legitimate quandary with coalition governments: If the vast majority of the country didn’t vote for a (relatively) radical party with sharply divergent policy views from the larger parties, should the country then be taken along for a ride on the agenda demands of a junior coalition partner?

That’s certainly something I question whenever a far-right party ends up in coalition with a center-right party. It just happens in this case that the Communists or Left Bloc (who would be the two junior partners of the Socialists) want to leave the euro and a bunch of other econo/fiscal things, rather than proposing some Portuguese version of the Sweden Democrats or whatever.

I don’t know if the president is making the right call on that particular philosophical/theoretical debate on coalition governments — and perhaps the Socialists wouldn’t have allowed some of the extreme agenda points in a coalition agreement — but it’s at least a somewhat legitimate democratic concern (whether or not he’s sincere about it).

All that being said, the bigger thesis of the column, beyond the shock headline and opening, is actually about how the damaging austerity regime will continue under the center-right government, which is bad news for Portugal. I pretty much agree with that part.

Also, I agree that if the Socialists, Communists, and Left Bloc parties all stick together in the opposition and manage to block major PSD agenda items and budgets, then the minority government under the PSD would probably stumble quite badly and struggle to survive confidence votes, which is not ideal. (And constitutionally there can’t be fresh elections for almost another year.) And that may well be a good reason to let them form a government now. But it doesn’t require it per se. And the three-party alliance may fall apart anyway.

The EU’s ill-conceived TTIP technocracy strikes again

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The Independent: ‘You need to hear what the EU official in charge of TTIP has told me’ (an account from a TTIP opponent):

When put to her, [EU Trade Commissioner] Malmström acknowledged that a trade deal has never inspired such passionate and widespread opposition [as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has]. Yet when I asked the trade commissioner how she could continue her persistent promotion of the deal in the face of such massive public opposition, her response came back icy cold: “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”

So who does Cecilia Malmström take her mandate from? Officially, EU commissioners are supposed to follow the elected governments of Europe. Yet the European Commission is carrying on the TTIP negotiations behind closed doors without the proper involvement European governments, let alone MPs or members of the public. British civil servants have admitted to us that they have been kept in the dark throughout the TTIP talks, and that this makes their job impossible.

 
Not all of the European public’s concerns and trust issues on the negotiations are unwarranted just because a few of them are paranoid. Whether or not TTIP is a good idea (personally I think not), European officials need to take those concerns more seriously — particularly as any deal will have to be ratified by an increasingly jittery 28 national parliaments facing hostile publics more directly.


Previously from AFD on this topic:

“Drawbacks of Technocracy, Part 1: Europe’s Political Crisis”
“The Economist on technocracy in democracies”

Europe Must Strengthen and Expand Its Refugees Policy

The European project was born in the ashes of World War II and its own massive refugee crisis.
Guest Post by Etienne Borocco of France.

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On August 28, 2015, 71 corpses were found in a truck at the Austrian border. They were refugees, mainly from Syria. Days later, after the latest ship full of refugees sank in the Mediterranean, images seen worldwide showed the drowned victims, including a small child. All were trying to escape a horrific war, which has reached a death toll greater than 200,000 casualties after a 4-year conflict.

Syrians are not alone, however. There are a lot of refugees from Eritrea, which is sometimes called “Africa’s North Korea.” Or from South Sudan, prey to a merciless civil war. Or from Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, and so on…

All these refugees are qualified to a granted asylum because the situation is terrible in their home country. However, they cannot apply to asylum in a European embassy. They must first travel illegally to apply. This trip is dangerous and creates a big opportunity for unscrupulous human traffickers.

The latter can be grateful to the European countries for their flourishing business. The situation on the European side results from an absence of agreement for a common policy to host refugees.

Moreover, the Dublin convention has serious pitfalls. The first Member State where fingerprints are stored or an asylum claim is lodged is responsible for a person’s asylum claim. The countries at the border of the EU are then overwhelmed.

160,000 refugees landed in Greece between January and July 2015, to say nothing of those who came in the previous two years. This figure alone is already comparable to the Irish exodus during the Great Famine in 1847. In that era, 215,000 Irish immigrants fled to the United States.

Recently, Germany decided to not enforce the Dublin regulation anymore. The German government decided to grant asylum to all the Syrian refugees regardless of which country of the Dublin-regulation area they landed in first .

On the other hand, Hungary has recently built a wall at the border with Serbia, and Austria seeks to control its borders more strictly. The whole European project is threatened because governments are tempted to act alone without coordination.

The irony is the European project was born from the ashes of the Second World War. During this period, a lot of refugees fled conflicts. French citizens crossed the borders with Spain, where they were illegal aliens. Francoist Spain used to deport them and a great part was directly delivered to Nazi Germany. They were promised to a certain death.

However, those who managed join the Free Forces participated to the French liberation. In the Netherlands, the “England-Voyagers” (Engelandvaarders) took makeshift boats to cross the North Sea to England. Some famous Dutch resistance members like Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema were part of the “England-Voyagers”.

London also hosted the central command of the French Resistance directed by General de Gaulle, as well as several other governments-in-exile of Nazi-occupied territories.

Several other countries hosted significant numbers of refugees from Axis countries during the war. Many wartime refugees risked and lost their lives crossing borders or the Mediterranean to flee. When the borders were being redrawn after the Axis surrender in 1945, millions more people were also displaced. It was in this context that the European project began.
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Austrian chancellor suggests Viktor Orban is a Nazi

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Lots of global criticism in the past couple weeks (at long last) of the right-wing government in EU member Hungary for fostering a deeply hostile environment against incoming refugees — and enacting hostile policy.

Police were caught throwing food over a fence into a detention camp to watch refugees scramble miserably for it. A Catholic bishop in Hungary openly rejected the Pope’s appeals for compassion. A camerawoman tripped a Syrian child intentionally; she was affiliated with a partisan media operation advocating Jobbik, the fascist opposition party that is widely viewed as the main competition to the ruling right-wing populist Fidesz party.

Hungarian authorities also packed trains full of people and sent them on to Austria and Germany, unilaterally and against European Union policy. This last move finally prompted the social democratic Austrian Chancellor, Werner Faymann, to publicly shame his Hungarian counterpart, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán…strongly implying he was behaving like a Nazi:

“Sticking refugees in trains and sending them somewhere completely different to where they think they’re going reminds us of the darkest chapter of our continent’s history.”

 
Bit of a shame it took this long to call this increasingly authoritarian right-wing regime by its true colors.

Photos also emerged this week of the long-awaited “border fence” Hungary’s Orbán had ordered the military and prison inmates to erect as rapidly as possible.

Orbanism Rising.

Sept 2, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 141

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: A vital ruling by the National Labor Relations Board; the European refugee crisis; Lebanon’s capital protests lack of trash collection. People: Bill, Kelley, Nate. Produced: August 30th, 2015.

Episode 141 (56 min):
AFD 141

Discussion Points:

– Workers’ rights: Major U.S. corporations will no longer be able to shield themselves on labor issues by subcontracting and franchisees will have to face unions.
– Refugees: Is the European Union doing enough to deal with the refugee crisis? Is the world prepared for mass climate refugee situations?
– Lebanon: The people rise up in Beirut as trash goes uncollected for weeks on end.

Related Links

– Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “NLRB ruling could be boost for contract and franchise employees”
The Guardian: “Syrians fleeing war find new route to Europe – via the Arctic Circle”
“Why Al Jazeera will not say Mediterranean ‘migrants'”
AFD: “Real world costs when the Left sells out immigrants”
AFD: Beirut’s Garbage Uprising
AFD: “Lebanon gov’t hastily builds concrete wall, then tears it down”

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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video game blog of our announcer, Justin.

TG: “Turkey and EU’s Self-Righteousness”

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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Soli Özel on European Union countries mishandling and misrepresenting their relations with Turkey:

A current question often raised in the European debate is this: What will happen if Turkey becomes more authoritarian? The background of the question is usually to push Turkey further onto the European sidelines. It also belittles the vitality of the political debate inside Turkey and the vitality and creativity of its civil society.

To make my point, let me ask what will happen to Hungary, an existing EU and NATO member, if it goes more authoritarian than it already has?
[…]
When France decided in 2005 — and much more aggressively after 2007, when Nicolas Sarkozy became President – to ditch Turkey and stop it on its route to EU membership, it came on the heels of the referendum on the European Constitution. Meanwhile, in Germany, Angela Merkel came to power and that country’s position changed as well.

Mind you, those years were not a time when Turkish democracy was being questioned. Between 2002 and 2007/08, if anything, Turkish democracy was improving by leaps and bounds. The idea often presented in the European debate — that Turkey was ditched because it was not sufficiently democratic or democratizing — is not true.

In fact, as if to add insult to injury, when things started to go wrong in Turkey between 2009 and 2011, the EU Commission wrote the lamest – repeat: lamest! – annual reports on the country’s progress.

Read the full essay.