Coronavirus and Corruption: Protests Against Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, February 18, 2016 (Bundesregierung/Marvin Ibo Güngör)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw the largest protests against him in nearly a decade on Saturday, when some 10,000 rallied outside his residence in Jerusalem and outside his private home in the coastal town of Caesarea.

The protesters are upset about Netanyahu’s handling of the outbreak of coronavirus in Israel and his remaining in power despite standing trial for corruption.

Similar demonstrations took place in Tel Aviv last month. Read more “Coronavirus and Corruption: Protests Against Netanyahu”

New Social Contract for the World After COVID

Miami Florida
The 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”

Spanish Congress Approves Coronavirus Recovery Programs

Spanish parliament Madrid
The Palacio de las Cortes, seat of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, in Madrid, August 16, 2017 (Shutterstock/Vivvi Smak)

The Spanish Congress has approved three out of four recovery programs proposed by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose left-wing government does not have a majority.

Right-wing and regional parties supported plans for the economy, EU and health care. A package of social reforms, which included rental protections, a basic minimum wage and measures against gender violence, fell four votes short.

The government could reintroduce those proposals in its 2021 budget. Read more “Spanish Congress Approves Coronavirus Recovery Programs”

EU Once Again Proves the Doomsayers Wrong

Mark Rutte Pedro Sánchez Charles Michel
Prime Ministers Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Pedro Sánchez of Spain speak with European Council president Charles Michel in Brussels, July 20 (European Council)

Whenever the EU is in crisis, you can count on the doomsayers to predict its imminent demise.

Not just the Euroskeptics: British tabloids, Russian propaganda and far-right politicians amplified by Russian propaganda arguing the EU is on the “brink of collapse”.

Even Europhiles. Former European Commission chief Jacques Delors warned that “the lack of European solidarity pose[s] a mortal danger to the European Union.” Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte threatened the “destruction of the single market” if other EU countries didn’t agree with his demand for a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund consisting wholly or largely of debt-financed grants.

Lucas Guttenberg, deputy director of the Jacques Delors Center in Berlin, warned that Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden — the “frugal five” — were “playing with fire” by demanding verifiable economic reforms in return for financial support.

Christopher Wratil, an assistant professor in European politics at the University College London, argued “anyone with a sense of solidarity” would exclude those five countries from the recovery fund altogether.

As the EU summit, where the size and terms of the recovery program were hashed out this weekend, dragged on for days, the patience of pro-Europeans wore thin and inevitably World War II entered the discussion. Philipp Heimberger, an economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, tweeted:

Thinking about the Marshall Plan and debt forgiveness after World War II. Striking: leading European politicians today are oblivious to history. How else could you become a nitpicker on essential common efforts for an EU recovery fund, harming your own long-term interests?

Pay up, or war! Read more “EU Once Again Proves the Doomsayers Wrong”

Dutch Caribbean Resist Terms of Coronavirus Aid

Silveria Jacobs Eugene Rhuggenaath
Prime Ministers Silveria Jacobs of Sint Maarten and Eugene Rhuggenaath of Curaçao answer questions from reporters in The Hague, July 10 (ANP)

The prime ministers of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten have turned down conditions to qualify for as much as €1 billion in coronavirus aid from the European Netherlands. A cabinet meeting in The Hague on Friday, which the leaders of the three islands attended, failed to produce a compromise.

The Dutch have proposed appointing a three-person panel to oversee reforms to which the aid is tied. The Caribbean islands consider this an infringement of their autonomy.

Eugene Rhuggenaath, the prime minister of Curaçao, went so far as to accuse The Hague of having “an agenda for the takeover and control” of the islands, echoing the rhetoric of pro-independence parties that supported violent protests against spending cuts two weeks ago, which prompted the Dutch to deploy troops to support the local police. Read more “Dutch Caribbean Resist Terms of Coronavirus Aid”

Barcelona Without the Tourists

Barcelona Spain
The sun sets on the Hotel W in Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Leyy M)

Tourism in Spain has come virtually to a standstill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

For many residents of Barcelona, Spain’s top tourist destination, it is a relief.

The city welcomed 9.5 million tourists last year, up from under two million in the 1990s. That’s almost six times its population (1.6 million).

Most come during the summer, when I normally avoid the old medieval city and Barceloneta beach. (The beaches north of the Olympic Harbor, which were created for the 1992 Olympics, are usually less crowded but still busy.)

Now Barceloneta is actually nice. Cops constantly check to make sure sunbathers keep two meters distance, so crowding is impossible. The xiringuitos (tapas bars on the beach) have free tables. La Rambla, which is otherwise so packed it’s impossible to get through, is now pleasant for a stroll. Read more “Barcelona Without the Tourists”

Support for Quarantine Weakens in Spain

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez addresses Congress in Madrid, July 17, 2018 (La Moncloa)

Support for maintaining the coronavirus quarantine is weakening in Spain. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has partly lifted a two-month lockdown, allowing small stores to reopen and restaurants to serve takeaway, but the opposition is calling for a quicker return to normalcy.

Deaths from coronavirus disease have stabilized at under 200 per day. The infection rate is also slowing.

But Spain still has more known cases of COVID-19 than any country except the United States.

The government fears that without strict controls, the virus could rebound in the next six to eight weeks. Read more “Support for Quarantine Weakens in Spain”

Setting the EU Up to Fail

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with other European leaders by videoconference from the Élysée Place in Paris, March 10 (Élysée/Soazig de la Moissonniere)

First coronavirus itself was going to kill the EU. Now we are told the bloc’s fate was sealed in the first weeks of the outbreak, when creditworthy nations in the north refused to pool their debts with crisis-struck Italy and Spain.

Ulrich Speck, one of Germany’s top foreign-policy analysts, cautioned against jumping to conclusions:

With the corona crisis we see the return of a slightly hysterical discourse about the EU: if X, Y and Z do not immediately happen, the EU will be dead. We should have learned during the crises of the last years that the EU rests on quite solid foundations.

Not everyone has. Read more “Setting the EU Up to Fail”

Trump: Absolute Power, Absolutely No Responsibility

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 1, 2018 (USAF/Robert Cloys)

The outbreak of coronavirus disease in the United States has, if little else, given us an encapsulation of Trumpism.

As Patrick Chovanec of Columbia University puts it on Twitter:

According to the president, he has absolute power but absolutely no responsibility.

On Monday, Donald Trump falsely claimed he, not governors, have the power to impose and lift restrictions to contain the spread of the virus:

When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be.

Yet when he was asked earlier this month why he hadn’t issued a nationwide stay-at-home order, Trump did remember, “We have a thing called the Constitution,” and said, “I want the governors to be running things.”

Which was accurate, but also an abdication of duty. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez regularly consult with the leaders of German and Spanish states to coordinate the closing and reopening of businesses and schools, even though that is not strictly their responsibility. Trump could have done the same.

Now some neighboring states opposite policies in place and they are bidding against each other, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for medical devices and gear. Trump could have federalized the procurement of medical equipment, but didn’t. He could have distributed medical equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile to the states that need it most, but didn’t.

He has found time to criticize Democratic governors, including Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Andrew Cuomo of New York, from their handling of the crisis.

The president’s attitude is best summed up by the answer he gave in March, when a reporter asked him about the shortage of testing kits in the United States: “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Read more “Trump: Absolute Power, Absolutely No Responsibility”