What Sánchez Should Do Next for Catalonia

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez delivers a news conference outside the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, June 22 (La Moncloa)

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez has pardoned the nine Catalan separatists who were imprisoned for organizing an unsanctioned independence referendum in 2017.

The pardons fall short of an amnesty. Former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras and the other politicians who were convicted to between nine and thirteen years in prison for “sedition” against the Spanish state and misuse of government funds are still barred from holding public office.

“Sedition” remains a crime. (Although Sánchez’ government is looking into revising the arcane statute.) A vote on Catalan independence would still be illegal. It’s why I argued a month ago a pardon was the least Sánchez could do.

Here’s what he should do next. Read more “What Sánchez Should Do Next for Catalonia”

Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden

Joe Biden
Ameican president Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 5 (White House/Adam Schultz)

European leaders are “weak”, the American president is “bold”. It’s a trope so old, at this point it tells us more about the people who perpetuate it than about elected officials on either side of the Atlantic.

Romano Prodi was “weak“. José María Aznar was “weak“. François Mitterrand was “weak“. His successor, Jacques Chirac, lacked “gravitas“.

A year before the election of Donald Trump, Robert Kaplan disparaged the “grey, insipid ciphers” who wandered Europe’s halls of power. An article in Foreign Affairs accused the continent’s “cowardly” leadership of rendering the EU “irrelevant”. A 2005 op-ed in The New York Times lamented the “weakness” of European leaders at the very time President George W. Bush called for a “renewal” in transatlantic relations. (The same George W. Bush who two years earlier had created the deepest crisis in transatlantic relations since the end of the Cold War by invading Iraq.)

Here we go again. Jef Poortmans, a commentator for Belgium’s Knack magazine, compares Joe Biden’s “zeal” with Europe’s “washed out” leadership. Timothy Garton Ash, whose expectations the EU has never met, argues the bloc faces “one of the biggest challenges of its life” (again). Philip Stephens contrasts Biden’s “ambition”, “audacity”, “energy” and “resolve” with the “defensive incrementalism” of his European counterparts, in particular Angela Merkel.

The “real significance” of Biden’s agenda, writes Stephens in the Financial Times — a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue program and a $3 trillion education and infrastructure bill — “lies in a bold reassertion of the responsibilities of government.”

His mistake is to assume America and Europe are starting from the same point. Read more “Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden”

Spanish Tribulations in Multiparty Democracy

Pablo Iglesias
Spanish Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias speaks at a rally in Madrid, May 20, 2017 (Podemos)

The rise of new parties on the left, right and center has created new opportunities in Spain: a left-wing minority government that usually relies on the support of Basque and Catalan separatists in Congress, but on rare occasions takes votes from the far-right newcomer Vox (Voice).

It has also created crises, currently in the regions of Madrid and Murcia, where the once-dominant People’s Party (PP) has called snap elections in a bid to shore up the right-wing vote. Read more “Spanish Tribulations in Multiparty Democracy”

Be Wary of the Return of Big Government

Union Station Washington DC
South Front Entrance of Union Station in Washington DC, July 4, 2019 (Unsplash/Caleb Fisher)

Big government is back.

Massive rescue programs have prevented business failures and unemployment on the scale of the Great Depression, even though last year’s economic contraction was nearly as bad. The European Union agreed a €750 billion recovery fund, financed, for the first time, by EU-issued bonds. The money comes on top of national efforts. The United States Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus, worth 10 percent of GDP, in March and added $484 billion in April. An additional $900 billion in relief was included in this year’s budget.

Joe Biden, the incoming American president, wants to spend $2 trillion more over the next four years to transition the United States to a greener economy and create a public health insurance program. Corporate tax would go up from 21 to 28 percent.

In Spain, a socialist government has introduced the biggest budget in Spanish history — partly to cope with the impact of coronavirus, but also to finance digitalization, electric cars, infrastructure, renewable energy and rural development. Taxes on income, sales and wealth are due to increase.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is building more social housing and it might renationalize rail. Unlike during the last economic crisis, it does not propose to cut spending even though tax revenues are down.

Same in the Netherlands, where all the major parties agree the government needs to do more to reduce pollution and prevent people at the bottom of the social ladder from falling through the cracks.

I’m not opposed to more government per se. I’ve argued the United States should imitate policies in Northern Europe to improve child care, health care and housing.

But let’s be careful not to throw “more government” at every problem. Sometimes government is the problem. Read more “Be Wary of the Return of Big Government”

Democratic Recriminations Argue for Switch to Multiparty System

United States Capitol
View of the United States Capitol in Washington DC in the early morning, January 15, 2017 (DoD/William Lockwood)

Democrats in the United States were hoping for more than a simple victory over Donald Trump. Polls had suggested they could win in a landslide.

That didn’t happen. Joe Biden decisively beat the president by more than six million votes, or a margin of 4 points, but Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives and failed to take the majority from Republicans in the Senate.

Democrats also lost seats in state houses, giving Republicans control of redistricting in most states; a power they could use to make it even more difficult for Democrats to win a majority of the seats even when they win a majority of the votes. (Districts are withdrawn every ten years following the Census.) Read more “Democratic Recriminations Argue for Switch to Multiparty System”

How to Restore American Democracy After Trump

United States Capitol
The United States Capitol in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Brandon Bourdages)

Donald Trump’s presidency has exposed and exacerbated fundamental weaknesses in American democracy. He must be voted out in November, but that won’t be enough.

If Democrats gain power, they must make five reforms to restore fairness, restore balance between the three branches of government and reverse the polarization that has made it impossible for the two parties to compromise on everything from climate change to gun laws to health care to immigration:

  1. Abolish the Electoral College.
  2. Add states.
  3. Put Congress first.
  4. Make it easier to remove the president.
  5. Abolish the two parties. Read more “How to Restore American Democracy After Trump”

How Germany Turned Its Refugee Crisis into Success

Muslim family
A Muslim family walks in a park in Germany, February 10, 2014 (Metropolico)

Migration is back on the European agenda after a fire in the Mória refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos left some 13,000 without shelter.

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson has called for “mandatory solidarity” from member states, but not all countries are willing to accept asylum seekers. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia resist proposals to distribute migrants proportionately across the EU.

With xenophobia hampering an effective migration policy, it’s worth taking a look at the country that has admitted the most refugees: Germany. Its “we will manage” attitude could be an example to its neighbors. Read more “How Germany Turned Its Refugee Crisis into Success”

Don’t Defund the Police

Police car Washington DC
Police car outside the White House in Washington DC (Unsplash/Matt Popovich)

It’s exasperating to see yet another black man shot by police in America when he posed no apparent threat. Officers fired seven bullets into the back of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, when he leaned into his car.

Blake survived. George Floyd didn’t. He suffocated when a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, sat on his neck for almost 9 minutes in Minneapolis in May.

Floyd’s death triggered nationwide protests. Blake’s shooting provoked demonstrations as well as looting and riots in Kenosha.

Black men in America are two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by police than white men. African Americans comprise 12 percent of the population but 33 percent of prisoners. Black men are routinely arrested and prosecuted for misdemeanors and victimless crimes when whites aren’t.

So it’s not hard to understand why “defund the police” has become a popular slogan.

But it’s not a solution. Read more “Don’t Defund the Police”

New Social Contract for the World After COVID

Miami Florida
Skyline of Miami, Florida (Unsplash/Ryan Parker)

The American economy wasn’t healthy before COVID-19. A middle-class life — the American Dream — was out of reach for most.

Social-democratic Canada and Europe prevented more people from falling through the cracks, but even there millions felt economically and culturally left behind.

A sense that the system wasn’t working for them contributed to the election of Donald Trump, the popularity of far-right nationalist parties and Brexit.

The economic impact of the pandemic can only exacerbate the divide between the well-educated and relatively well-off, who populate the major cities of Europe and North America, and the undereducated and underemployed, who live paycheck-to-paycheck in smaller cities and towns.

We need a better deal. A new social contract. Read more “New Social Contract for the World After COVID”

Democrats Should Give Caribbean and Pacific Islands Statehood

San Juan Puerto Rico
San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico (Unsplash/Wei Zeng)

Donald Trump is disliked by so many Americans that Democrats could win not just the presidency but the Senate in November.

Longer term, however, Republicans have baked-in advantages that make Democratic control of the upper chamber elusive.

The solution: turn America’s overseas dependencies into states. That would give 3.5 million Americans the federal representation they deserve and add ten more seats to the Senate, most of which would lean Democratic. Read more “Democrats Should Give Caribbean and Pacific Islands Statehood”