Tag Archives: Government

How democracy can win again

Democratic erosion in Hungary is symptomatic of structural problems afflicting most democracies, even threatening the future of civilization.
By Gergely Karácsony – My political awakening coincided with the systemic changes that unfolded following the collapse of communism in Hungary in 1989. I was both fascinated and overjoyed by my country’s rapid democratization. As a teenager, I persuaded my family to drive me to the Austrian border to see history in the making: the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, which allowed east-German refugees to head for the west. Reading many new publications and attending rallies for newly established democratic political parties, I was swept up by the atmosphere of unbounded hope for our future.

Today, such sentiments seem like childish naivety, or at least the product of an idyllic state of mind. Both democracy and the future of human civilization are now in grave danger, beset by multifaceted and overlapping crises.

Three decades after the fall of communism, we are again forced to confront anti-democratic political forces in Europe. Their actions often resemble those of old-style communists, only now they run on a platform of authoritarian, nativist populism. They still grumble, like the communists of old, about ‘foreign agents’ and ‘enemies of the state’—by which they mean anyone who opposes their values or policy preferences—and they still disparage the west, often using the same terms of abuse we heard during communism. Their political practices have eroded democratic norms and institutions, destroying the public sphere and brainwashing citizens through lies and manipulation.

Nativist populism tends to be geared toward only one purpose—to monopolise state power and all its assets. In my country, the regime of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has almost captured the entire state through the deft manipulation of democratic institutions and the corruption of the economy. Next year’s parliamentary election (in which I am challenging Orbán) will show whether Hungary’s state capture can still be reversed. more>

America is still stuck in the world 9/11 built

By Sean Illing – Did 9/11 pave the way for Donald Trump?

That’s a big question, and until I read Spencer Ackerman’s new book, Reign of Terror: How 9/11 Destabilized America and Produced Trump, I hadn’t really thought about it. Ackerman is a longtime national security journalist who’s covered the “war on terror” since its inception roughly two decades ago.

Ackerman’s answer to the above question is yes, but his thesis is even more pointed: The war on terror — and the panoply of excesses it unleashed — eroded the institutional armor of American democracy and left the country defenseless against its own pathologies. And those pathologies, which Ackerman lays out with meticulous attention, prepared the ground for a figure like Trump.

Reading Ackerman’s book was a bit of a whirlwind. I was 19 years old when the Twin Towers fell. I’ll never forget watching the planes hit the wall. I’ll never forget how confused and angry I was. And I’ll never forget the thoughts running through my mind as I realized I was heading to boot camp in just four months. more>

Why the EU needs interoperable digital wallets

By Lars Rensing – Recently, the news emerged that the EU Commission had proposed a new framework for the introduction of European Digital Identity. This framework proposal represents an interoperable EU digital ID, which will be produced by the individual Member States. These IDs will be linked to national digital IDs, and the announcement demonstrates how the EU is looking ahead by working to establish a European-wide digital ID system.

Something that will be included in this framework is the creation of a digital wallet, which will enable users to present their IDs digitally to access cross-border services. Digital wallets also help citizens regain control over their personal data. These wallets hold users’ digital identities, so they can then choose who they share information with.

However, the current production of these wallets will be the responsibility of each individual Member State, using whatever system they see fit. Using different systems for digital wallets could cause problems for citizens, though, when they need to access cross-border services or when they need to verify documents or identities with other member states. Making digital wallets and IDs as interoperable as possible, then, is essential. The proposed framework from the EU Commission needs to be interoperable, to ensure that the wallets created by each member state can interact with each other. more>

Vaccine Greed: Capitalism Without Competition Isn’t Capitalism, It’s Exploitation

Among the pandemic’s many lessons, however, is that greed can easily work against the common good
By Jag Bhalla – DID GREED JUST save the day? That’s what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed recently. “The reason we have the vaccine success,” he said in a private call to Conservative members of Parliament, “is because of capitalism, because of greed.

Despite later backpedaling, Johnson’s remark reflects a widely influential but wildly incoherent view of innovation: that greed — the unfettered pursuit of profit above all else — is a necessary driver of technological progress. Call it the need-greed theory.

Among the pandemic’s many lessons, however, is that greed can easily work against the common good. We rightly celebrate the near-miraculous development of effective vaccines, which have been widely deployed in rich nations. But the global picture reveals not even a semblance of justice: As of May, low-income nations received just 0.3 percent of the global vaccine supply. At this rate it would take 57 years for them to achieve full vaccination.

This disparity has been dubbed “vaccine apartheid,” and it’s exacerbated by greed. A year after the launch of the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool — a program aimed at encouraging the collaborative exchange of intellectual property, knowledge, and data — “not a single company has donated its technical knowhow,” wrote politicians from India, Kenya, and Bolivia in a June essay for The Guardian. As of that month, the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, a vaccine sharing scheme established to provide developing countries equitable access, had delivered only about 90 million out of a promised 2 billion doses. Currently, pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists, and conservative lawmakers continue to oppose proposals for patent waivers that would allow local drug makers to manufacture the vaccines without legal jeopardy. They claim the waivers would slow down existing production, “foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” and, as North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr said, “undermine the very innovation we are relying on to bring this pandemic to an end.” more>

Germany is the freest country in Europe; Norway, Lithuania, and Finland are the worst on the 2021 Nanny State Index

By Christopher Snowdon – Today sees the publication of the Nanny State Index, now in its fourth edition. Launched in 2016, it looks at the over-regulation of food, soft drinks, vaping, tobacco and alcohol in thirty European countries. Since the last edition was published in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has led governments around the world to impose coercive controls on an almost unprecedented scale.

The index does not include anti-Covid policies that are expected to be a genuinely temporary response to the pandemic, but the outlook is bleak nonetheless. Almost without exception, governments across Europe are adopting higher sin taxes and more prohibitions.

Norway tops the league table, although that could change once it legalises e-cigarettes. Lithuania, with its heavy temperance legislation, is again in second place while Finland drops to third. The top of the table is dominated by Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Greece is the only country from southern Europe in the top half, largely thanks to its very high sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco. At the more liberal end of the table, the best countries are a mixed bag. Germany has performed the extraordinary feat of having the lowest score in all four categories of the index. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

A new approach to ensuring drugs are safe
Researchers propose a new empirical method for monitoring and evaluating the safety of drugs already on the market
By Sarah Kuta – In May 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a strict warning for rosiglitazone after studies linked the approved diabetes drug to an increased risk of heart problems. Use of the drug plummeted 78 percent in 15 months; annual sales dropped from $3 billion to $183 million.

In 2013, following additional studies of the drug’s safety, the FDA reversed course and removed restrictions on rosiglitazone. But it was too late to undo the damage caused by their initial warning—sales never recovered, and patients had to resort to taking potentially less suitable medications.

The FDA could have prevented this six-year roller-coaster ride if it had taken a more robust, data-driven approach to its postmarket drug surveillance process, suggests research by Southern Methodist University’s Vishal Ahuja, Texas Tech’s Carlos Alvarez, and Chicago Booth’s John R. Birge and Chad Syverson.

Using rosiglitazone as a retrospective case study, the researchers propose a new empirical method for monitoring and evaluating the safety of drugs already on the market. Their approach uses large, relevant, and reliable longitudinal databases and established econometrics methods to assess the relationships between approved drugs and potentially related adverse health events.

This evaluation method could help prevent incorrect drug recalls and warnings that cause financial consequences for drugmakers, confusion among doctors, and potential harm to patients’ health, the researchers argue. more>

Related>

Grieving Parents of Murdered Mexican Students on List of Suspected Targets of Military-Grade Israeli Spyware

When their children were killed or abducted, the parents of Ayotzinapa relentlessly petitioned their government for truth and justice. But even as they placed their hopes in the federal government, it may have targeted them for invasive surveillance.
By Lilia Saul, Pavla Holcova, and Marlen Castro – Cristina Bautista grew up working in the corn fields of a dusty village high in the mountains of Mexico’s Guerrero state. For most of her life she’s survived by selling whatever she can scrounge up: bread, pozole, little trinkets made of palm leaves.

She counts herself lucky that her house is made of concrete and not corrugated metal or wood planks, a feat she pulled off only after a stint working in Connecticut.

She’s not wealthy, powerful, or famous. Even within Mexico, she’s one of the poorest of the poor. But her own government may have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars putting her under one of the most intensive forms of surveillance in the world, targeting her cell phone for hacking with powerful Israeli spyware.

What was so threatening about Bautista?

Nothing but the fact that she’s a victim. She and several dozen other grief-stricken parents have spent years demanding to know what happened to their children, 43 students at a rural teacher’s college who were abducted in 2014 after a bloody encounter with police in Iguala, a town in Mexico’s southwest. more>

Pegasus scandal involves over 10 countries and targets thousands via smartphones

By Otmar Lahodynsky – EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has expressed ‘great concern; over reports that sophisticated spy software was used worldwide against journalists and politicians, most notably in the EU n Hungary.

“If this is the case, it is totally unacceptable and a violation of all the values and rules we have in the EU regarding media freedom,” she said at a press conference on July 19 in Prague, adding “Media freedom is a fundamental principle of the EU.”

An international research network of more than 18 media led by the French non-profit organization Forbidden Stories has uncovered a worldwide network of wiretaps targeting politicians, journalists and lawyers. According to the report, those who were victims of the hack were located in more than 10 countries, including – Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Mexico and India. They were spied on with the help of the Pegasus spyware that was designed by the Israeli company, NSO Group.

The spying was done via smartphones, whose vulnerabilities made it possible to listen in on telephone calls, as well as through SMS and chat messages. The most prominent victim in the EU was French President Emmanuel Macron, who was intercepted by Morocco’s secret service via at least one of his official mobile phones. This has already caused a veritable crisis in bilateral relations. Furthermore, the government of Saudi Arabia is believed to have wiretapped the entourage of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in Istanbul in 2018, both before and after the murder. In India, according to the British newspaper The Guardian, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rival Rahul Gandhi was also placed under Pegasus’ surveillance. more>

Germany’s renewable electric plan gets green light from EU

New scheme lifts some important barriers for the use of electrolysers in order to produce hydrogen
By Kostis Geropoulos – The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, the prolongation and modification of a German scheme to support the production of electricity from renewable energy sources and from mine gas, as well as reductions of charges to fund support for electricity from renewable sources, the EU’s competition chief said.

The German Renewable Energy Act (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz – EEG) 2021 scheme will provide important support to the environmentally-friendly production of electricity, in line with EU rules, European Commission Executive Vice-President in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said.

“Thanks to this measure, a higher share of electricity in Germany will be produced through renewable energy sources, contributing to further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and supporting the objectives of the Green Deal,” she said. “The scheme introduces new features to ensure that aid is kept to the minimum and electricity production occurs in line with market signals, while at the same time ensuring the competitiveness of energy-intensive companies and reducing pollution caused by ships in harbour. In this way, the scheme provides the best value for taxpayers’ money, while minimizing possible distortions of competition,” Vestager added.

The scheme also introduces small modifications to the German EEG surcharge reductions for energy intensive companies, a dedicated rule for surcharge reductions for hydrogen for energy intensive companies, as well as EEG surcharge reductions to promote the use of shore-side electricity by ships while at berth in ports.

Hydrogen Europe Secretary General Jorgo Chatzimarkakis told New Europe on April 30 the new scheme lifts some important barriers for the use of electrolysers in order to produce hydrogen. “This is good news and important signal for investments in the sector of ‘HydroGenewables,’” he said. more>

Empire Politician

A Half-Century of Joe Biden’s Stances on War, Militarism, and the CIA
(theintercept.com)By Jeremy Scahill – “I’m not going to change,” Joe Biden said in his 2008 vice presidential debate with Sarah Palin. “I have 35 years in public office. People can judge who I am. I haven’t changed in that time.”

Never in U.S. history has the country had a president with the voluminous paper trail that followed Biden into the White House. Since the Vietnam War, Biden has been in public office for all but four of the past 49 years. He has cast thousands of votes, sponsored or co-sponsored hundreds of bills, and taken public positions on virtually every possible foreign and domestic policy issue. He has served long enough to make it possible to chart, in great detail, the evolution of his positions on a range of issues, to analyze his contradictions, and to draw conclusions about how he sees the role of Congress and the executive branch on the most sensitive and consequential decisions made by the government: decisions about war and organized state violence.

The Intercept conducted an exhaustive analysis of Biden’s political career, with a focus on his positions on dozens of U.S. wars and military campaigns, CIA covert actions, and abuses of power; his views on whistleblowers and leakers; and his shifting stance on the often contentious relationship between the executive and legislative branches over war powers. While many of Biden’s positions could be assessed by reviewing his sprawling voting record and public statements, evaluating some of his actions, particularly from the first few decades of his career, required poring over copies of the congressional record, speech transcripts, archival media reports, and declassified government documents, including from the CIA.

The picture that emerges is of a man who is dedicated to the U.S. as an empire, who believes that preserving U.S. national interests and “prestige” on the global stage outweighs considerations of morality or even at times the deaths of innocent people. It also reveals a politician who consistently claims to hold bedrock principles but who often strays from those positions in support of a partisan agenda or because he wants a policy adopted regardless of the hypocrisy or contradictions. Nowhere is this dynamic more pronounced than on U.S. wars.

The picture that emerges is of a man who is dedicated to the U.S. as an empire. more>