The Culture Wars Are Ending. Here’s What’s On the Other Side

An opponent and two proponents of marriage equality demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington DC, June 25, 2015
An opponent and two proponents of marriage equality demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington DC, June 25, 2015 (Elvert Barnes)

In 1967, Timothy Leary told the Human Be-In of San Francisco’s Gate Park to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” It was a high point for counterculturalism, a crescendo of anti-establishment, anti-centrism that exploded into antiwar protests, race riots, civil rights marches and an definitive end of America’s 1950s cultural high. Read more

Trump’s Ban: Alternative Facts Create Real-Life Policy

Vice President Mike Pence applauds as President Donald Trump signs a document confirming James Mattis as his secretary of defense during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington DC, January 27
Vice President Mike Pence applauds as President Donald Trump signs a document confirming James Mattis as his secretary of defense during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington DC, January 27 (DoD/Jette Carr)

Donald Trump has always had a difficult relationship with the truth. His sheer volume of daily falsehoods overwhelms an unprepared news media — and buries unsavory stories which the Republican would prefer to keep hidden.

Trump even manages to construct entire narratives via a steady diet of alternative facts delivered to his supporters.

This weekend, we saw something new: For the first time, those falsehoods came together to generate, enact and justify policy. Read more

Merkel Proposes to Ban the Burqa: Why and Why Now?

German chancellor Angela Merkel addresses parliament in Berlin, September 14, 2012
German chancellor Angela Merkel addresses parliament in Berlin, September 14, 2012 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

Angela Merkel’s proposal to ban the burqa has caught some of her foreign admirers by surprise.

A headline at the left-leaning Vox reads, “Germany’s famously tolerant chancellor just proposed a burqa ban,” implying it is both intolerant and out of character for Merkel.

Vox is right when it argues the timing is political. Merkel recently announced she will seek a fourth term as chancellor next year and is facing criticism of her immigration policy from the right.

But this is not an about-face. If anything, her open-doors immigration policy was. Read more

Muslim Registry Would Require Investigation of Thought Crimes

Visitors wait in line outside the Islamic Institute of Orange County, California, October 17, 2010
Visitors wait in line outside the Islamic Institute of Orange County, California, October 17, 2010 (IIOC)

As the Trump transition rolls along, the infamous “Muslim ban” has returned to the forefront.

It all started on December 7, 2015, when then-candidate Donald Trump spoke to supporters after the San Bernardino mass shooting. He advocated a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” This proposal is still on his website.

It has been willfully forgotten or explained away since, but the fact remains: Trump’s first instinct was to call for a Muslim ban of indeterminate length.

It doesn’t stop there. Even in July, Trump said his plan had undergone an “expansion” and would bar individuals from places “compromised by terrorism.” This includes NATO allies like France and Germany. They “totally” meet this definition, Trump said, because they “allowed people to come into their territory.” Read more

Obama Should Tyrant-Proof the Presidency

President Barack Obama is shown information on a tablet computer in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, April 15, 2013
President Barack Obama is shown information on a tablet computer in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, April 15, 2013 (White House/Pete Souza)

Parents of small children child-proof a new house before moving in. Barack Obama should tyrant-proof the White House before moving out, argues Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic.

With Donald Trump leading in the polls to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, the imperative to limit executive power is all the more pressing.

Courtesy of Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, a would-be American tyrant has all the tools he or she might need.

“Under current precedent, the commander in chief can give a secret order to kill an American citizen with a drone strike without charges or trial,” writes Friedersdorf.

More than that, the president can order indefinite detentions without charges or trial and order the security services to resume torturing detainees with an executive order — something Trump has explicitly said he would do.

The United States — indeed, the world — has been relying on Obama’s good judgment for a president not to abuse those powers. That is not a very good way to protect democracy and rights, whoever his successor might be.

Friedersdorf urges Obama to limit the presidency’s “ability to violate liberties or hide atrocities” before he goes. “It may be the most significant step you can take to safeguard your legacy.”

It’s a good point.

Supreme Court’s Reputation Cannot Weigh Against Liberty

Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer speaks at the Brookings Institutions in Washington April 3, 2014
Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer speaks at the Brookings Institutions in Washington April 3, 2014 (sfphotoworks/Sharon Farmer)

It’s an odd thing to be forced to pay for something you disagree with. It’s worse to be told it must stay that way for the sake of somebody else’s reputation.

Yet that is what the left-leaning justices on America’s Supreme Court are saying.

The court heard arguments last week in a case brought against the California Teachers Association by Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other teachers from the state who argue that being forced to pay “fair-share fees” to a union whose politics they disagree with violates their right to free speech under the First Amendment.

Back in 1977, the Supreme Court decided that while unions cannot force anyone to pay for their political activities, states can allow unions to collect compulsory fees to support their collective bargaining efforts.

The plaintiffs argue that such negotiations are inherently political.

It will certainly seem that way to a liberal-minded worker when a union demands higher wages even if the employer can’t afford any. A sensible union would show restraint in the long-term interest of the employees, but not all trade unions are so sensible.

The right-leaning majority on the Supreme Court appears to sympathize. Justice Samuel Alito has previously called the 1977 decision “something of an anomaly.” Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, has pointed out that non-union teachers who oppose seniority-based salaries nevertheless end up financing unions’ “public-relations” (political?) campaigns against merit pay.

But Justice Stephen Breyer ventured an odd argument against overturning the original decision, wondering “what happens to the country thinking of us as a kind of stability” if the court were to “overrule a compromise that was worked out over forty years.”

There is something to Breyer’s argument. Legislation and regulation must be predictable so companies and individuals can make long-term plans. But that can never be an excuse for not righting a wrong.

Forcing workers to pay dues even if they’re not union members — whatever the money is used for — is wrong. The Supreme Court made a mistake forty years ago. It should rectify it this year, rather than let its own credibility weigh against the plaintiffs.

Hungary Cites Migrant Crisis for Draconian Measures

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán attends a debate in the European Parliament in Brussels, May 19
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán attends a debate in the European Parliament in Brussels, May 19 (European Parliament)

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party introduced legislation this week that, if enacted, would further weaken the Central European nation’s democracy.

From making it easier for soldiers to use force and enabling police to conduct searches without warrants to enlisting telecom companies in the collection of bulk phone data, the new laws seem more becoming of a police state than a European republic.

Given that Fidesz has an absolute majority in parliament, the bills are almost certain to pass, possibly as early as Friday.

The government claims the measures are needed to cope with a swelling migrant crisis that is seeing tens of thousands of asylum seekers pass through the country this year on their way to Germany and Scandinavia.

Some of the policies, such as making it easier to imprison migrants without papers and prosecuting those who help them, clearly are linked to the record high influx of people from the Balkans and the Middle East.

But it seems Fidesz is also using the crisis to move away from “leftist” European Union policies it disparages, toward what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had called “illiberal democracy”.

More than 110,000 people have applied for asylum in Hungary this year, already five times more than did in 2014, figures from the International Organization for Migration show.

Yet Orbán says Hungary doesn’t have a migrant crisis. “The problem is a German problem,” he said during a news conference in Brussels on Thursday.

Nobody would like to stay in Hungary so we don’t have difficulties with those who would like to stay in Hungary.

This is also hardly the first time Hungary has broken ranks with its neighbors.

To the dismay of most other European nations, Hungary is building a fence along its border with Serbia in an attempt to keep migrants out. Orbán insists that by closing the Hungarian border, “we defend Europe.”

Under his leadership, Hungary has refused to sever ties with Russia in the wake of its former Soviet master’s occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. While the European Union as a whole applied sanctions, Hungary borrowed $30 billion from Russia to pay it for building a nuclear power plant. It also refused to withdraw its support from the South Stream gas pipeline — which was designed to circumvent Ukraine — before Russia itself pulled the plug on the project in late 2014.

The European Commission has repeatedly censured Orbán’s nationalist economic policies, which defy the bloc’s competition rules, as well as his weakening of the judiciary. al reforms enacted in 2011 limited the supreme court’s powers and annulled all its previous rulings.

Rating agencies have cited Orbán’s weakening of the central bank’s autonomy as a reason for lowering Hungary’s credit rating while human rights agencies have criticized his government’s treatment of minorities and policies that privilege ethnic Hungarians.