Duda Hasn’t Stopped Law and Justice from Subjugating Poland’s Courts

Polish president Andrzej Duda answers questions from reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, January 18, 2016
Polish president Andrzej Duda answers questions from reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, January 18, 2016 (NATO)

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, has surprised observers by vetoing legislation from his own Law and Justice party that would have defanged the judiciary.

Closer scrutiny suggests Duda’s opposition is less meaningful than it is made out to be, though.

The president has said he will sign the bills if they are amended and Leonid Bershidsky argues at Bloomberg View that his proposed changes don’t deviate from the legislation’s objective: “to put the judiciary, which the party argues has turned into an elitist caste, under more political control.” Read more

Trump Behaves Like the Head of a Banana Republic

Donald Trump gestures after being sworn in as president of the United States in Washington DC, January 20
Donald Trump gestures after being sworn in as president of the United States in Washington DC, January 20 (Hillel Steinberg)

Considering pardons for himself and his family, calling on soldiers to support his political agenda and using a scout jamboree to trash his opponents — Donald Trump looks more like the head of a banana republic, as Phillip Carter puts it, than the president of the United States.

This weekend, Trump urged sailors attending the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford to discard centuries of military ethics as well as the armed forces’ own rules to lobby their congressmen and senators to approve his health and spending plans.

It wasn’t Trump’s first breach of republican norms and it wouldn’t be his last. Read more

Kushner Had “Hardly Any” Contacts with Russians. Except for These

Jared Kushner listens as his wife, Ivanka, speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and American president Donald Trump outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17
Jared Kushner listens as his wife, Ivanka, speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and American president Donald Trump outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

American president Donald Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, Jared Kushner, claims he had “hardly any” contacts with Russians during the 2016 election campaign.

Except for these:

  • One (brief) meeting with Sergei Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, in April.
  • And maybe two phone calls with Kislyak in the months thereafter, as Reuters has reported. Kushner is “skeptical” the calls took place.
  • Definitively a meeting with various Russian officials, including the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, that was also attended by Donald Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort, and his oldest son. Read more

Ukraine Might Be Better Off If “Little Russia” Did Secede

Military vehicles of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic are seen in eastern Ukraine, May 30, 2015
Military vehicles of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic are seen in eastern Ukraine, May 30, 2015 (Wikimedia Commons/Mstyslav Chernov)

Separatists in the southeast of Ukraine have declared a new country: “Little Russia”.

The announcement by Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, amounts to little, argues Gwendolyn Sasse of Carnegie Europe.

She points out that leaders in Luhansk, Ukraine’s other breakaway region, have distanced themselves from it. Russia, which otherwise backs the Donbas uprising, hasn’t voiced support either. And the local population doesn’t want independence. A survey conducted earlier this year found a majority in favor of remaining in Ukraine. Only a third want to join Russia.

Yet it might be better for Ukraine if the region does secede. Read more

Conservatives Need to Make Capitalism Work for Everyone: Davidson

Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson
Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson (Scottish Conservatives)

It is not inequality that bothers Brits, argues Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative Party leader, in the new online magazine UnHerd. It’s injustice.

People expect that the CEO of a corporation will be the highest paid person on the payroll. What they don’t accept is that FTSE 100 bosses are paid 174 times the average worker’s wage in this decade — compared to 13 to 44 times in 1980.

Especially when many of their companies have received either big fraud-related fines or bailouts from the state.

The distinction matters, because it goes to a broader point. Read more

German-Turkish Relations Have Been Going Downhill for Years

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan answer questions from reporters in Ankara, February 2
German chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan answer questions from reporters in Ankara, February 2 (Turkish Presidency)

Germany has urged its citizens not to travel to Turkey and advised companies to scale back their investments in the country.

The dramatic measures follow Turkey’s arrest of a German human-rights activist, Peter Steudtner. But relations between the NATO allies have been going downhill for years.

  • German chancellor Angela Merkel offended her Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in 2005, when she declared her opposition to Turkish membership of the EU.
  • Germany has for years complained about Turkish attempts to influence its three to four million citizens of Turkish descent.
  • Earlier this year, Erdoğan called German officials Nazis when they would not allow his surrogates to campaign for him in Germany.
  • Turkey refused to give German lawmakers access to the Incirlik Air Base, where their troops fighting the Islamic State were based. Germany eventually moved its forces to Jordan.
  • Turkey arrested a German-Turkish journalist, Deniz Yücel, after he had written critical articles about Erdoğan. Yücel is still being held in solitary confinement. Read more

To Save Saudi Arabia, They Needed a Young King

Ray Mabus, then America's secretary of the navy, speaks with Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, November 28, 2016
Ray Mabus, then America’s secretary of the navy, speaks with Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, November 28, 2016 (USN/Armando Gonzales)

By most metrics, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is running out of time. It’s finding it impossible to balance its budget after trying to wage a failed price war on shale oil. It is lurching toward a knowledge economy but hoping that knowledge does not bring a demand for political freedom along the way. Its economic model has hit a dead end. A housing crisis coupled with high, nearly permanent unemployment is dragging down the competitiveness of the kingdom.

Plus there’s the surging power of Iran, the madness of the Sunni supremacists in the Islamic State and Al Qaeda and the quite probable retrenchment of the Americans away from their old alliances in the Middle East.

To be a Saudi leader is to look into the future and despair.

Yet doomsday is not certain. In other places, great kings have overcome the burdens of geopolitics by force of will and shrewd wisdom. Peter the Great of Russia force-marched his empire into modernity, bestowing a powerful polity for his successors. Emperor Constantine cobbled together a Roman Empire from the fragments of a century of civil discord. Fredrick the Great managed to guide Prussia from a minor German state to the spine that would eventually unite the whole country after his death.

They all had one thing in common: decades of absolute power. Peter the Great ruled 39 years; Constantine, 31 years; Frederick the Great, 46 years. They had both time and energy to fix the many problems afflicting their domains.

Now the Saudis are gambling that Mohammad bin Salman, just 31 years old, can do the same for their kingdom. Read more