You are browsing the archive for 2018 October 06.

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The State of Liberalism in Central and Eastern Europe

October 6, 2018 in Economics

By Tanja Porčnik

Tanja Porčnik

Not that long ago, we had the pleasure of analysing not only the
progress the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have
made toward liberalism [1] with the introduction of liberal public
policies and institutions, and flourishing of liberal democracies
[2], but also to deliberate a course to structure and implement
further reforms towards liberalism in these countries.

The last couple of years however have seen the citizens of
several CEE countries witness the erosion of hard-earned
liberalism, while privately and publicly weighing on how to prevent
populists in power from further trampling citizen’s freedoms and
rights. Admittedly, in those countries, the persuasion that liberal
democracies are stable has been shattered.

To examine what has occurred in CEE, the analysis is divided
into two parts: i) political rights and ii) personal and economic
freedoms. We shall examine regional and national trends.

First, political rights in CEE have been in retreat.
Accordingly, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy
Index
[3] shows the level of political rights in CEE has
declined from 6.43 to 6.39 on a ten-point scale in the period
2011-2017, with half (eight) of the countries decreasing their
ratings and half increasing (see Figure 1). At a country level, the
largest deteriorations in political rights in CEE have occurred in
the Czech Republic (-0.49), Macedonia (-0.52), and Montenegro
(-0.58). The largest increases in political rights occurred in
Estonia (0.30), Latvia (0.40), and Bulgaria (0.45).

Second, the Human Freedom Index [4] reveals that
personal and economic freedoms have been under assault globally
since 2009, primarily due to the rise of nationalism, populism, and
hybrid forms of authoritarianism being sold as viable alternatives
(see Figure 2). Accordingly, the global freedom rating has declined
from 7.05 to 6.93 on a ten-point scale in a 2008-2015 period, with
about half of the countries in the index increasing their ratings
and half decreasing. During the same period, freedom in CEE
increased from 7.82 to 7.90.

Of the 12 major categories that make up the index, all but five
have seen some improvement since 2008 in CEE (see Figure 3).
Movement (-0.42), Size of Government (-0.30), and Religion (-0.23)
saw the largest decreases since 2008, while Regulation (0.32),
Freedom to Trade Internationally (0.34), and Sound Money (0.56) saw
the largest increase.

Of 16 CEE countries included in the latest Human Freedom Index,
the top three jurisdictions in order were Estonia, Lithuania, and
Latvia. At the bottom were Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and
Macedonia (see Figure 4).

Notably, Figure 5 reveals Poland (-0.10), Hungary (-0.15), and
Montenegro (-0.21) losing the most freedom in the last year
analysed. While weak rule of law is a common problem …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Want Less Political Courts? Shift Power Away from Washington

October 6, 2018 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

The rule of law is supposed to be different from enforcing
policy preferences. Yet attaching partisan labels to judges has
become almost inevitable now because methods of legal
interpretation largely track with our ideologically sorted
parties.

If you’re an originalist — if you believe that the meaning
of a constitutional provision is the same now as when it was
ratified — only a Republican president will appoint you. If,
on the other hand, you think that the Constitution changes to adapt
to social norms, then you better hope for a Democratic White
House.

The only lasting solution
is to devolve power to the states, so that far fewer big decisions
for the whole country are being made in Washington.

The contretemps over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is the
culmination of a tit-for-tat escalation between these competing
camps. It doesn’t really matter where it began. Today’s
brinksmanship in the Senate is symptomatic of a larger problem: the
self-corruption of the Supreme Court as it has aided and abetted
the expansion of federal power by Congress and the executive
branch.

For the nation’s first 150 years, the Supreme Court hardly ever
had to strike down a law because Congress generally stayed within
its bounds, subject also to the presidential veto. In 1887, for
example, President Cleveland vetoed an appropriation of $10,000 to
buy seeds for farmers in drought-stricken Texas because he could
find no constitutional warrant for such action. But as government
expanded, so did the laws and regulations over which the court has
power.

It was during the Progressive Era that the idea emerged that the
General Welfare Clause justifies any legislation that gains a
congressional majority — as opposed to limiting
federal reach to truly national issues. After 1937, the court began
approving grandiose legislation of the sort it had previously
rejected. It wouldn’t again strike down legislation for exceeding
federal power until 1995. The New Deal court thus laid the
foundation for politicized judicial mischief of every stripe
— be it letting laws sail through that should be struck down
or striking down laws that should be upheld.

Depoliticizing judicial nominations is a laudable goal, but
that’ll happen only when judges stop ratifying the growth of the
federal government. And the only lasting solution is to devolve
power to the states, so that far fewer big decisions for the whole
country are being made in Washington. Federal courts will still
need to step in when local governments violate individual rights,
but there will be less political toxicity if the feds aren’t
constantly generating one-size-fits-all mandates.

And so whatever one thinks about Sen. Lindsey Graham’s role in
the Kavanaugh fight, he — and several …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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WTF Are We Still Doing in Afghanistan?

October 6, 2018 in Blogs

By Lucian K. Truscott IV, Salon

Spending $45 billion a year, and Erik Prince wants every dime


Did you read what happened earlier this week in Afghanistan? A suicide bomber set himself off in Nangarhar Province, east of Jalalabad on Tuesday and killed 14 people at an election rally. At least 43 were injured in the attack, according to the New York Times.

Last month, a suicide bomber attacked a peaceful protest in Nangarhar Province, killing 68 and wounding 165 others.

The next day, another suicide bomber attacked a wrestling gym in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, killing 30, including journalists and aid workers, and injuring 91 more.

In June, a suicide bomber killed 13 people and injured 25 more outside one of the government ministries in Kabul. This happened a week after another suicide attack in Kabul, which killed 14 Muslim clerics who had gathered to issue a fatwa against suicide bombings, according to The Independent.

Not to worry. It’s Erik Prince, former Blackwater chief and brother of Betsy Devos, to the rescue!

Yes, according to the New York Times, Prince, the king of private contractors during the Iraq war, has returned to the battlefield to save our 17 year war in Afghanistan for us!

How is he going to do this? Well, for starters, he’s got his eyeballs firmly fixed on the tax dollars we’re currently spending in Afghanistan.

According to the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight,  we are spending at least $45 billion a year in Afghanistan. About one billion of that amount is spent for “economic aid” to Afghanistan, and $5 billion is being spent on “Afghan forces,” according to the report. That leaves $13 billion we’re currently spending on U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, and $26 billion on “logistical support.” It’s that $39 billion Erik Prince has his eyes on.

Just between you and me, that’s a shitload of money.

What he wants to do is draw down our military forces until all we’ve got over there are 2,500 special operations troops for “counterterrorism missions” according to the Times. Prince would replace the …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Science Says Happiness Can Change Your Brain

October 6, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthieu Ricard, YES! Magazine

After 2,000 years of practice, Buddhist monks know that one secret to bliss is to put your mind to it.


After 2,000 years of practice, Buddhist monks know that one secret to happiness is to put your mind to it.

What is happiness, and how can we achieve it?

Happiness can’t be reduced to a few agreeable sensations. Rather, it is a way of being and of experiencing the world—a profound fulfillment that suffuses every moment and endures despite inevitable setbacks.

The paths we take in search of happiness often lead us to frustration and suffering instead. We try to create outer conditions that we believe will make us happy. But it is the mind itself that translates outer conditions into happiness or suffering. This is why we can be deeply unhappy even though we “have it all”—wealth, power, health, a good family, etc.—and, conversely, we can remain strong and serene in the face of hardship.

Anyone who takes the trouble to stabilize and clarify his or her mind will be able to experience pure consciousness.

Authentic happiness is a way of being and a skill to be cultivated. When we first begin, the mind is vulnerable and untamed, like that of a monkey or a restless child. You need practice to gain inner peace, inner strength, altruistic love, forbearance, and other qualities that lead to authentic happiness.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often teaches that, although there are limits to how much information one can learn and to our physical performance, compassion can be developed boundlessly.

Practicing Happiness

Beginning is not difficult. You just have to sit from time to time, turn your mind within, and let your thoughts calm down. Focus your attention on a chosen object. It can be an object in your room, your breath, or your  mind. Inevitably, your mind will wander as you do this. Each time it does, gently bring it back to the object of concentration, like a butterfly that returns again and again to a flower.

In the freshness of the present moment, past is gone, future is not yet born, and—if one remains in pure mindfulness …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Mary Poppins Can’t Return Fast Enough: An Adult In the Room Is the Best Fantasy of 2018

October 6, 2018 in Blogs

By Jodi Eichler-Levine, Salon

Wanted: A nanny for one dysfunctional country trapped in a cycle of toxic masculinity


Based on the enormous reception its full trailer received, “Mary Poppins Returns” may well be the hit of this coming holiday movie season. But we need Mary Poppins — and not just the Disney version — stat, in this age of #MeToo and our national search for sanity and wholeness. Mary Poppins promises a balm for our weary psyches and a woman who will get things done — not necessarily through magic, but through the power of the everyday — a no-nonsense woman of great depth whose visage is not just fantastic, but eminently sensible.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Mary Poppins and her author, Pamela Travers (nee Lyndon Goff) as I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify before senators last week, my stomach heaving as she evinced utter clinical professionalism while describing sexual assault, including the vicious laughter of her assailants that she could not forget. I thought: What would Mary Poppins do?

In the trailer for the new film, Blunt evokes a good deal of the hauteur of Mary Poppins that is more evident in the books than in the 1964 Disney classic. Mary Poppins is not a saccharine figure. She is, in fact, a stern, haughty, vain one—and a great power. In the trailer, she comes from the sky, brought in on a kite just as in the book “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” She is a salvific figure aloft on the shining clouds, come again to save the Banks family, and with them, all of us, the viewers. What kind of salvation do we seek?

In the books, the power of Mary Poppins lies in part in her ability to transmit order against the forces of chaos. She is a truly Great Communicator, able to converse with dogs, cows, and stars, among other figures. Most crucially, Mary Poppins commands with the power of the glance. When her face, like an ancient deity, appears “terrible” or with a “glare,” Jane, Michael, and even the grown-ups around them are helpless to do anything but comply.

I imagine her seated where Senator Amy Klobuchar sat in the senate hearing room when Judge Brett Kavanaugh began accusing her of drinking to excess. Klobuchar threw some admirable shade, but I …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Amazon’s Minimum Wage Hike Is Not What It Seems

October 6, 2018 in Blogs

By Nicole Karlis, Salon

Some workers say that they will lose thousands of dollars as a result of stock programs being eliminated


Online retail behemoth Amazon has faced much scrutiny in recent months over the disparity between its CEO, Jeff Bezos — who is the richest man in the world — and the company’s low-wage warehouse workers, who toil in horrifying conditions and yet without whom the company would cease to function. Naturally, that disparity has been the subject of criticism from progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been waging a PR war of sorts calling out Amazon over its worker abuses and low pay. Sanders, along with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) recently proposed a bill, known as the “Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act” (or “Stop BEZOS Act”) which would levy a tax on big corporations like Amazon.

When Amazon announced on Tuesday it was raising the minimum wage for its U.S. employees to $15 an hour, effective next month, many saw it as a huge victory for progressives and labor advocates — and Amazon's response to the criticism.

“Today I want to give credit where credit is due,” Sanders said in a statement. “What Mr. Bezos has done today is not only enormously important for Amazon's hundreds of thousands of employees, it could well be, and I think it will be, a shot heard around the world. Further, Mr. Bezos has indicated his support to raise the federal minimum wage. As the author of the $15 per hour minimum wage bill in the Senate, I look forward to working with him in this area,” he added.”

Amazon stated that their minimum wage increase to $15/hour will apply to all full-time, part-time, temporary (those hired by temp agencies are included), and seasonal employees across the United States. The $15/hour wage will go into effect on November 1. In a statement, Bezos made a point to acknowledge the wage increase is a result of listening to the company’s “critics.”

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” Bezos said in a statement. “We're excited about this change and encourage our …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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White House Counsel Prevented FBI From Full Kavanaugh Investigation Even After Trump OK'd It: Report

October 6, 2018 in Blogs

By Martin Cizmar, Raw Story

According to a new report by the New York Times, that wasn't Trump's fault.


Last week, President Donald Trump agreed to allow the FBI to conduct an investigation of the rape and attempted rape charges levied against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) demanded them before agreeing to support the nominee.

That investigation only took a few days and involved just nine witnesses, neither of which was Kavanaugh or Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who says she survived an attack by the judge.

According to a new report by the New York Times, that wasn't Trump's fault.

Rather, “an exasperated President Trump” actually wanted a real investigation and was thwarted by the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II.

“Tell the F.B.I. they can investigate anything, he told Mr. McGahn, because we need the critics to stop,” the Times reports.

However, McGahn convinced Trump that “a wide-ranging inquiry like some Democrats were demanding — and Mr. Trump was suggesting — would be potentially disastrous for Judge Kavanaugh’s chances of confirmation to the Supreme Court.”

McGahn also made the case that Trump “could not legally order the F.B.I. to rummage indiscriminately through someone’s life.”

So, instead, the FBI wrapped up the investigation without even talking to Ford and Kavanaugh.

…read more

Source: ALTERNET