Category Archives: Media

Was it a coup? No, but siege on US Capitol was the election violence of a fragile democracy

By Clayton Besaw and Matthew Frank – Did the United States just have a coup attempt?

Supporters of President Donald Trump, following his encouragement, stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, disrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Waving Trump banners, hundreds of people broke through barricades and smashed windows to enter the building where Congress convenes. One rioter died and several police officers were hospitalized in the clash. Congress went on lockdown.

While violent and shocking, what happened on Jan. 6 wasn’t a coup.

This Trumpist insurrection was election violence, much like the election violence that plagues many fragile democracies.

The uprising at the Capitol building does not meet all three criteria of a coup.

Trump’s rioting supporters targeted a branch of executive authority – Congress – and they did so illegally, through trespassing and property destruction. Categories #2 and #3, check.

As for category #1, the rioters appeared to be civilians operating of their own volition, not state actors. President Trump did incite his followers to march on the Capitol building less than an hour before the crowd invaded the grounds, insisting the election had been stolen and saying “We will not take it anymore.” This comes after months of spreading unfounded electoral lies and conspiracies that created a perception of government malfeasance in the mind of many Trump supporters.

Whether the president’s motivation in inflaming the anger of his supporters was to assault Congress is not clear, and he tepidly told them to go home as the violence escalated. For now it seems the riot in Washington, D.C., was enacted without the approval, aid or active leadership of government actors like the military, police or sympathetic GOP officials. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How central bankers misjudge forward guidance
By Rose Jacobs – One of the best ways to spur an economy is to get people spending, and policy makers have a number of tools to do that. Yet growing evidence suggests a favored approach of late—forward guidance by central banks—doesn’t work. Such guidance, usually focusing on the outlook for interest rates, is meant to make clear to consumers that prices are likely to rise soon, so buying big items now would be smart.

While people may agree with the buy-now logic, they still may not react as economists and policy makers expect, according to Boston College’s Francesco D’Acunto, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’s Daniel Hoang, and Chicago Booth’s Michael Weber. That’s because they don’t understand the signal, the researchers find.

“If you’re an economist too much stuck in your model world, this is very surprising to you,” Weber says. On the other hand, he acknowledges that not everyone can follow the logic chain that leads from a central banker predicting depressed interest rates, to lower borrowing costs, to higher inflation, to the urgency of buying now. “If you’re not too detached from reality, it’s not surprising,” Weber says.

The researchers analyzed two events in which governments or central banks signaled that prices were set to rise. One was a 2005 announcement by the German government that the country’s value-added tax (similar to the US sales tax) would increase from 16 percent to 19 percent in 2007. The second was a 2013 statement by then European Central Bank president Mario Draghi that interest rates would stay low or decline further for some time. To economists, this statement was a clear signal that price inflation would soon follow. more>

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The rule of law: a simple phrase with exacting demands

If the finger is to be pointed—rightly—at Hungary and Poland, then the EU must insist on compliance by all with universal norms.
By Albena Azmanova and Kalypso Nicolaidis – That the European Union, in its moment of public healthcare emergency and acute economic plight, should find itself paralysed over such a seemingly abstract matter as the rule of law is one of the great paradoxes of our times. And yet this is exactly the conundrum plaguing approval of the EU’s seven-year budget and recovery fund, totaling €1.81 trillion, which Poland and Hungary have been blocking over rule-of-law conditionality for the funds’ disbursement.

Respect for the rule of law is one of those self-evident truths—the absolute minimum requirement of decent political rule—which should be unproblematic in the family of liberal democracies that is the EU. It is equally beyond doubt that the prompt approval of the pandemic recovery fund is in everyone’s interest.

Many commentators assert that the EU should stand up to the defiant governments, in the name of its fundamental values. We do too. But our hope is that we, in Europe, can use this moment as an opportunity to question ourselves further.

Most of us may believe that the arguments put forward to resist rule-of-law conditionality are disingenuous. And they are. But we must still take them seriously when they are presented in line with … the rule of law.

Hungary and Poland are claiming that, by being poorly defined, the rule-of-law principle opens the door to discretionary decisions and thus to the abuse of power.

The rule of law as a political principle and legal norm was indeed born of the ambition to constrain the arbitrary power of central authority. This was why the English barons forced King John to adopt the royal charter of rights, the Magna Carta, on June 15th 1215. The specification of basic freedoms, codified not as privileges for a handful of aristocrats but as abstract and unconditional rights, was meant to ensure that no authority could place itself above these rights in pursuit of its political ends

It is true that the EU should make no compromises with the very foundation of the liberal political order. But the EU itself has complied with these principles erratically and selectively, thus violating the spirit of the rule of law.

This has been evident in several instances—from lack of concern with the Silvio Berlusconi media monopoly in Italy to France’s semi-permanent state of emergency, Malta’s and Slovakia’s complacency with political murder and the Spanish government’s response to the 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia. Often, the EU is content with narrowly reducing the remit of the rule of law to a simple matter of legality—ignoring routine violations of core values, such as the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech or even the right to liberty and life itself.

Has the EU not thereby set itself up for the current crisis, supplying the ammunition for autocrats to try to absolve themselves from compliance with the rule of law? more>

The EU’s credibility is at stake

By Otmar Lahodynsky – In July, after a four-day marathon summit in Brussels, there was agreement on the EU budget for 2021-2027 and a recovery fund for the EU’s 27 members following the COVID-19 crisis.

Together, almost €2 trillion have been reserved for this purpose. The €750 billion corona aid package is intended to help those countries that have been the most affected by the disease, including as Italy, Spain and France, but also the other Member States as they will need to rebuild their economies.

At the EU summit, a typical Brussels-style compromise was reached – each head of government presented themself as a winner at home if they will receive a lot of money for economic recovery. It was then that the so-called “frugal four” – Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden (plus Finland) – forced a reduction in the number of grants in exchange for an increase in the share of loans and a cut in their membership fees. The heads of Poland and Hungary also celebrated at home after the successfully de-linked their access to EU funding from their records on the rule of law.

Subsequently, however, the other EU states introduced this clause by a clear majority.

The Poles and Hungarians felt pressured and they vetoed the seven-year EU budget, which requires unanimity despite the fact that they were not bothered that they had previously approved it.

In his explanatory statement, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki railed against an “attack on Polish sovereignty” and adding that the EU was no longer the same as when Poland had joined the bloc in 2004, a generation after the end of Communism. Morawiecki said the Polish economy was so strong that it no longer needed any subsidies from Brussels (more than €12 billion each year). Morawiecki said that Poles were even considering an EU withdrawal along the lines of Brexit.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Brussels’ bête noire, went even further. In his view, the EU is acting like the Soviet Union once did. It wants to blackmail Hungary and force it to accept Middle Eastern refugees. In the future, Orban added, the European Commission would have the power to meddle in the internal politics of all of the Member States, as it sees fit. Orban also emphasized that the EU’s previous accusations against Hungary were all unfounded and that the concept of the rule of law was not precisely or universally defined.

The reality is that these core concepts of the bloc were long-ago enshrined in the EU treaties and in Europe’s charter of fundamental rights. Conditions for EU accession were already laid down in the 1993 Copenhagen criteria and include the stability of institutions, democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and respect and protection of minorities.

The Commission has, for too long, turned a blind eye to the transgressions of the nationalistic populists in Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European countries. The isolated attempts to bring about punitive proceedings under Article 7 of the EU Treaty did not act as a deterrent, because sanctions were not imposed. For this reason, the governments of Hungary and Poland mutually helped each other.

But now the basic principles of the EU, above all the rule of law, are being put to the test. more>

America’s Foreign Enemies Mostly Hope for a Joe Biden Win; Allies Are Divided

Neewsweek – Nations around the world are watching the U.S. election with almost the same intensity as Americans at home, and while they can’t vote, they have passionate rooting interests.

During his four years in the White House, President Donald Trump has been accused of having a soft spot for the dictators of America’s enemies. Do those countries return the love? As the 2020 election looms, the leaders and citizens of both America’s allies and rivals are hoping for outcomes that may be surprising.

With the exception of North Korea, most U.S. adversaries such as Cuba, Iran, China and Venezuela are hoping for a Joe Biden win, while America’s allies are split. Germany, Japan and Australia would like to see Biden in the White House; India, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.K. hope Trump remains in power.

The former vice president’s chief asset appears to be his predictability: with few exceptions, even the nations hoping for a second Trump term think they can work with a Biden administration. And for some countries, like Russia, the optimal outcome is neither Biden nor Trump, but chaos. more>

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It’s the most important election in our lifetime, and it always will be

We never know how important an election really is until long after it’s over.
By Ezra Klein – “There’s just one month left before the most important election of our lifetime,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted in early October.

Two days later, Sen. Bernie Sanders backed him up. “This is the most important election, not only in our lifetime but in the modern history of our country,” he said in Michigan.

In 2016, it was Donald Trump deploying the cliché. “This is by far the most important vote you’ve ever cast for anyone at any time,” he said.

I won’t be coy with my view: I think the most important election of my lifetime was 2000, and I’ll defend that view in this piece. But more interesting than the parlor game is the framework of this debate. What makes something the most important election of a lifetime? How would we know?

Before 2016, the campaign in which I heard the “most important election of our lifetime” talk most often was 2004, when George W. Bush ran for reelection against John Kerry. It certainly felt pivotal. It was a referendum on the Iraq War, which was built on lies and carried out by fools, and left Iraq soaked in blood. It was also a referendum on the hard right turn Bush had taken in office, away from “compassionate conservatism” and toward neoconservatism abroad, and a politics of patriotic paranoia at home.

Kerry lost that election. And yet, in retrospect, it clearly wasn’t the most important election of my lifetime, and it may even have been better that Kerry lost it. The ensuing four years forced Bush, and the Republican Party he led, to take responsibility for the disasters they’d created. The catastrophe of the Iraq War became clearer to the country, leading to a Democratic sweep in 2006. The financial crisis, which had been building for years, exploded, leading to Barack Obama’s election and the massive congressional majorities that passed the Affordable Care Act. more>

Reviving transatlantic relations after Trump

If Joe Biden were to win the White House, transatlantic relations could return to default or be transformed—with much depending on how Europe reacted.
By Max Bergmann – A political cliché is rehearsed every four years in the United States: ‘This is the most important election of our lifetime.’ Yet it is hard to think of a more important election in US history—rarely, if ever, has the country faced two such sharply divergent paths.

All its deep-seated divisions have been exposed in 2020. Covid-19 has foregrounded the jaw-dropping inequality, the frailty of a for-profit healthcare system and the impact of a generation-long, conservative effort to weaken the functioning of government. When Americans needed the state, the state couldn’t cope.

Economically, Wall Street hasn’t missed a beat but queues for food banks grow and ‘for lease’ signs populate vacant shop fronts. Socially, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and the subsequent protests—believed to be the largest in US history—brought into the mainstream a conversation on systemic racism and exposed the abusive nature of law enforcement, militarized and immunized from public sensitivity after ‘9/11’.

Globally, as Covid-19 struck, the US withdrew from the world, failing to lead or even participate in a transnational response. Indeed, in the midst of a pandemic, the administration led by Donald Trump pulled out of the World Health Organization, its ineptness an international embarrassment.

This does make the coming election existential. If Trump were to be re-elected president, all these trends would worsen—with dire implications for the transatlantic alliance. If not, it might be thought an incoming Democratic administration, facing such domestic turmoil, would relegate foreign policy to the second tier. But that wouldn’t be the case if Joe Biden were to prevail.

The crises of the last year have been humbling for the US and there is broad recognition that it will need allies and partners as never before. Biden would be a foreign-policy president. During the administration of Barack Obama he was a central and active foreign-policy player. His experience as chair of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee was, after all, a major factor in Obama selecting him as running mate. For the last two decades, Biden has been consumed with international relations and his inner circle of trusted advisers are experienced professionals.

A new administration would therefore hit the ground running. The question is: where would they run to? more>

Trump took a sledgehammer to US-China relations. This won’t be an easy fix, even if Biden wins

By Hui Feng – Few would have thought a US-China relationship marked by relative stability for half a century would be upended in just four years.

But US President Donald Trump’s privileged tour of the Forbidden City in November 2017 by Chinese President Xi Jinping now looks like it happened in a bygone era, given the turbulence in the bilateral relationship since then.

The shift in the US’s China policy is no doubt one of the major legacies of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, alongside a renewed peace process in the Middle East.

When Trump’s daughter Ivanka said at the Republican National Convention that “Washington has not changed Donald Trump, Donald Trump has changed Washington”. This would certainly include its handling of China.

Although China’s rise had been a concern of the previous Bush and Obama administrations, it was the Trump administration that transformed the entire narrative on China from strategic partner to “strategic competitor”, starting with its National Defense Strategy report released just one month after Trump’s 2017 China visit.

This read, in part,

China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model and reorder the region in its favor.

This new way of thinking deemed the US’s decades-long engagement strategy, deployed since President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, a failure.

Prior to Trump, the US had sought to encourage China to grow into a responsible stakeholder of a rules-based international order.

But the Trump administration believes such “goodwill” engagement has been exploited by China’s “all-of-nation long-term strategy” of asserting its power in the Indo-Pacific region.

According to the Trump administration, this is centered on “predatory economics” in trade and technology, political coercion of less-powerful democracies and Chinese military advancement in the region. more>

Evaluating democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU

The defense of universal norms needs to be broadened beyond Hungary and Poland and beyond the rule of law.
By Birgit Sippel – There is currently a lot of discussion in Europe about democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. The European Commission and the European Parliament have submitted their proposals, on what should examined, in what framework—and by whom.

But to understand what is at issue, the concept of ‘rule of law’ must first be considered more closely. The English term seems clearly expressed: laws lay down what is permissible—and what is not.

This is a definition favored especially by the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, the leader of the Polish Law and Justice party, Jarosław Kaczyzński, and their supporters. In every case, it is said, appropriate Hungarian or Polish laws exist for all that is criticized by the European Parliament and the commission, by the Council of Europe and indeed by many judges, lawyers and citizens in their own countries.

In reality such a definition falls short. In the narrow sense, it could apply to many autocracies and dictatorships, which none too seldom have laws for discrimination, exclusion and persecution.

But the European Union is an association of democratic states. Of course, laws determine what is possible—and what is not. At the same time, however, our laws also have the function of protecting democracy and the democratic rules of the game, as well as the fundamental rights of all.

Today, coalitions of two or more parties rule in many European countries. Orbán and Kaczyzński can rely on absolute majorities in their parliaments. Yet, wherever they are, democratic governments are bound by the rules of the game—for example, orderly procedures, which pay attention to the rights of the opposition, the parliamentary minority, sustaining democracy and diversity of opinion.

The same applies to the allocation of funding. Public monies must only be used for the purposes envisaged in each case. And all municipal and social organizations must be able to receive such funds—independent of whether they affiliate to the governing party, support it or associate with the opposition, adopting a stance critical of the government.

In this context, the judiciary has a special role to play. On the one hand, it must be able to apply the laws of a democratically constituted state in a manner independent of parties and governments. On the other hand, it must be able, in the light of the constitution, to examine independently whether new instruments protect its principles, the democratic rules of the game and the rights of the citizenry.

The media also have a special responsibility on all these issues. They should report freely and critically, ask questions, highlight abuses and where necessary touch a raw nerve. This is an important element of democratic control and an important contribution to an informed public. more>

Have our governments become too powerful during COVID-19?

By Yee-Fui Ng – In the fight against the coronavirus, the Australian government has enacted a series of measures that have expanded executive powers. These include the use of smartphone contact-tracing technology, mandatory isolation arrangements and the closure of borders and businesses.

While Australians seem broadly supportive of this type of government control in times of crisis, critics have expressed concerns about the long-term implications of these measures for individual rights.

There are a few salient questions: how does executive power accelerate during a pandemic — and why is this a cause for concern? And what type of oversight of executive power should there be in a democracy?

The government of the day exercises executive power to implement programs and policies. Our democratic system dictates that the use of executive power is checked by the other two branches of government: the judiciary and legislature.

But in exceptional times of disaster and crisis, the executive government tends to take a pre-eminent role. Under our biosecurity and public health laws, governments can declare states of emergency and disaster, which give them significant coercive powers.

As crises such as pandemics, disasters or wars threaten the very existence of the nation, the rationale is the government needs these enhanced powers to protect the people.

By contrast, the parliament and courts tend to stand on the sidelines and reduce their scrutiny of these powers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an expansion of executive power at both the federal and state levels. more>