Putin Wins Sham Election, Trump Battles FBI

Russian president Vladimir Putin participates in a videoconference from the Kremlin in Moscow, December 27, 2016
Russian president Vladimir Putin participates in a videoconference from the Kremlin in Moscow, December 27, 2016 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

To no one’s surprise, Russia’s Vladimir Putin won another six-year term as president on Sunday. Against a slew of unimpressive, Kremlin-approved candidates, Putin supposedly won 76 percent support with 67 percent turnout.

Here is the best analysis I’m reading:

  • Robert Coalson: The Kremlin has placed Putin entirely above and outside of politics. His supporters may complain about various policies or problems in their lives, but they don’t connect those problems with Putin.
  • Mark Galeotti: Having turned the law into an instrument of state policy and private vendetta, having turned the legislature into a caricature without power of independence, and having encouraged a carnivorous culture of self-aggrandisement and enrichment, can Putin afford to become an ex-president? Conventional wisdom would say that he cannot; without being at the top of the system, he is at best vulnerable, at worst dead, and he knows it.
  • Torrey Taussig: One of the greatest threats to a personalist regime’s stability is succession. Systems governed around a cult of the individual set up a self-defeating incentive structure. Once power has been consolidated, the leader will seek to eliminate able and ambitious competitors who could threaten his rule. This strategy, while effective in the short term, hollows out the leadership funnel in the long term. Unlike in autocracies run by strong parties, in which leaders rise within the party’s hierarchy, personalist systems have no institutional structure for preparing the next generation of autocrats. Read more

Good, Bad and Ugly in Trump’s Drug Plan, Corbyn Parrots Russian Talking Points

American president Donald Trump gives a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 24, 2017
American president Donald Trump gives a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 24, 2017 (Michael Vadon)

Politico reports that Donald Trump is eying common-sense drug reforms — as well as the death penalty for drug dealers.

Here is the good, bad and ugly in the president’s plan to fight America’s opioid epidemic. Read more

Everything You Need to Know About the Russian Spy Poisoning

British prime minister Theresa May answers questions in the House of Commons in London, England, July 20, 2016
British prime minister Theresa May answers questions in the House of Commons in London, England, July 20, 2016 (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with a nerve agent in the United Kingdom two weeks ago. The British government blames Russia for the attack.

Here is everything you need to know about the attack and its consequences. Read more

Reality Check for Macron, Trump’s Emptying Administration

Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France and Donald Trump of the United States speak in Paris, July 14, 2017
Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France and Donald Trump of the United States speak in Paris, July 14, 2017 (DoD/Dominique Pineiro)

EurActiv reports that European reform is facing a reality check.

French president Emmanuel Macron has, with support from Germany, called for a common eurozone budget, harmonizing corporate tax and social security rates across Europe and merging national asylum procedures.

Two recent developments have poured cold water on his ideas:

  1. The Italian election, which saw gains for Euroskeptic parties.
  2. The Dutch organizing a resistance of deficit hawks.

The Dutch, Balts and Nordics fear that further risk-sharing in Europe will discourage high-debt countries from controlling spending. As if on cue, the same Euroskeptic parties that won the election in Italy now argue for relaxing the bloc’s 3-percent deficit rule.

These fears are shared in Germany, where conservatives have long been wary of transfer union: the permanent subsidization of the south by the north. Read more

Republicans End Russia Probe, Italian Democrats Choose Opposition

American president Donald Trump listens to a speech outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, France, July 12, 2017
American president Donald Trump listens to a speech outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, France, July 12, 2017 (DoD/Dominique A. Pineiro)

Republicans in the House have wrapped up their Russia investigation and declared there was no collusion with the Donald Trump campaign.

Just like that.

I don’t suppose anyone was expecting House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes to release an unbiased report. He has been doing Trump’s bidding from the start. But to simply declare the investigation over, without Democratic consent, is particularly brazen.

This isn’t the first time Republicans have put party before country. When evidence of Russian meddling in the election emerged in late 2016, Senate leader Mitch McConnell warned President Barack Obama that he would consider it an act of partisan politics if his administration publicized the information.

When intelligence agencies finally did tell the public Russia was tampering with the election, on the same day (such a coincidence!) WikiLeaks published stolen emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta. Read more

Le Pen Unveils New Name, Trump Toes NRA Line

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, February 24, 2016
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, February 24, 2016 (European Parliament)

Marine Le Pen has proposed to change the name of her far-right party from Front National to Rassemblement National (National Rally).

The rebranding follows a disappointing performance in last year’s presidential election, when Le Pen placed a distant second with 34 percent support to Emmanuel Macron’s 66 percent.

“Originally, we were a protest party,” Le Pen told delegates in the northern French town of Lille on Sunday. ”There must be no doubt in the eyes of all that we are now a governing party.”

To accomplish that, the Front must change more than its name; it must change its beliefs.

I argued after the 2017 election that the Front stood most to gain from becoming a socially, as opposed to a national, conservative party. With the defection of center-right, pro-market Republicans to Macron, there is even more of a vacuum on what in American terms could be called the “Christian right”.

But Republicans know it. They have made Laurent Wauquiez their leader, a social conservative and hardliner on immigration, in order to woo those same voters. If the Republicans turn into Front-lite, does is still make sense for the Front to become Republicans+?

Somebody who is definitively not helping: Steve Bannon, the far-right American firebrand who this weekend urged the Front to wear accusations of racism and xenophobia as a “badge of honor”. Read more

Democrats Should Keep Superdelegates, Salvini Calls for Anti-EU Budget

Delegates listen to a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, July 25, 2016
Delegates listen to a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, July 25, 2016 (DNCC/Chris Frommann)

BuzzFeed reports that Democrats in the United States are considering eliminating superdelegates from their presidential nominating contest.

That would be a mistake.

Superdelegates — governors, members of Congress and party officials — are a failsafe, to prevent a Democratic Donald Trump.

Opponents consider them undemocratic, but this fetishizes democracy. The point of the primary process is — or should be — to find the best candidate possible who can then go on to win in a democratic contest. Read more