When American-Style “Debate” Comes to Britain

I feel like we need to send an “I’m sorry” note to UK voters:

What happens when no-one can win an election? That’s the question Britain’s political leaders seem likely to have to answer when voters deliver their verdict on David Cameron’s coalition government next month. Few people believe Cameron can win an overall majority in the House of Commons; even fewer think his Labour opponent, Ed Miliband, can do so either.

Which means that this British general election is simultaneously desperately predictable and fundamentally unknowable. For months now, the opinion polls have suggested that neither the Conservatives nor Labour are capable of winning much more than 35 percent of the vote. That makes a hung parliament more likely than not and in such circumstances few things are certain save, perhaps, this: Britain’s traditional two party system is broken.

Recognizing this, voters were treated to a remarkable seven-way debate on Thursday night as the leaders of the traditional Westminster powers shared a platform with a host of fringe and regional parties never previously invited onto the national stage in this fashion. It was, in this sense, more like an American-style primary debate than a Presidential confrontation. And like most of those contests, it delivered more heat than clarity.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/04/british-elections-debate-116652.html#ixzz3WXdlyeZ0

Making America Feel Better

William Cavanaugh:

When the Senate issued its report on CIA torture in December of 2014, the House Intelligence Committee chairman—Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan—questioned the wisdom of releasing the report, warning that the report’s release would have dire consequences for the United States.  Moving forward, he suggested that politicians needed to help the CIA talk differently about its activities.  “For this particular report about something that happened seven, eight, nine, ten years ago, we forget to talk about all the fantastic work that these very dedicated men and women have been doing, day in and day out, without the ability, or with the ability to follow the law and do it appropriately,” Rogers said. “We should talk about that. We should tell those stories about what they’re doing to keep America safe. I think it’ll make America feel better about who they are and what they’re doing.”

Making America feel better is, I think, the key to understanding both the CIA’s torture program and the reaction to the report about the program.

Why We Need Food Freedom

Gracy Olmstead:

The Wyoming Food Freedom Act is a rare beast: a bill, just signed into law by Wyoming’s Governor Matt Mead, that fights for the deregulation of locally-produced foods and promotes direct farm-to-consumer food sales.

As The Republic reports, the act exempts “Wyoming food sales from government inspections, licensing and certification as long as they are single transactions between a producer and an ‘informed end consumer.’” This applies to farmers’ market sales, as well as “the ability for small farmers or other individuals to sell homegrown or locally raised products.” Such direct-to-consumer sales will no longer be subjected to any “licensure, permitting, certification, inspection, packaging, or labeling” requirements by state agencies.

“This law will take local foods off the black market. It will no longer be illegal to buy a lemon meringue pie from your neighbor or a jar of milk from your local farm,” Representative Tyler Lindholm, sponsor of the bill, told Farm to Consumer.

The Benefits of Marketing Cruelty

Dan Carlin:

What are the benefits of cruelty? This question occurred to me after forcing myself to watch some of the slickly produced propaganda videos of the group that calls itself the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). The now-infamous productions often show the cruel killing of helpless captives in the most horrifying ways imaginable. It’s hard not to wonder about the intent of the filmmakers. It’s also hard not to wonder who the target audience is.

I also watched recent video of ISIS members in a museum smashing (alleged) archaeological relics from the very ancient Mesopotamian past. I felt a certain sense of historical irony while doing so. I wondered as I watched them use sledgehammers and power drills on a 3,000 year old Assyrian statue if they realized that they were following the ancient Assyrian playbook as they tried to erase the region’s past.

Family Farmers Want GOP’s Support

Yes, this:

The truth is, while the motivation to feed the world sounds noble, it’s often a front for corporate consolidation and power.

Industrial agriculture displaces the people who farm and steward the land. It produces cheap food that damages our health. It pollutes the soil and water. And it makes it harder and harder for small- and mid-sized farmers to access the credit, markets and fair prices they need to make an honest living. Yet, it’s these very farmers who show up in report after report as the ones who will actually feed the world, while also diminishing climate change and alleviating rural poverty.

In the 1980s, during the height of the farm crisis, as I toured the country on my bus, Honeysuckle Rose, I stopped in at diners and truck stops. I wanted to talk to the people who lived in the towns I was driving through. It was from these folks that I came to understand the challenges our family farmers and rural residents face—and to know what a tremendous resource they are to all of us.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/03/willie-nelson-iowa-agriculture-115815.html#ixzz3TzpSvExB

Move Over Mao

From the NYT:

“The sons and daughters of China follow you forward hand in hand,” goes one soft-rock paean to Mr. Xi that has been downloaded thousands of times. “Great general secretary, beloved President Xi, the Chinese nation is sure to rejuvenate because we have you.”

Not since Mao dominated the nation with his masterly blend of populism, fervor and fear has a Chinese leader commanded so much public awe. Deng Xiaoping was a formidable power, but he disavowed the mania of the Mao era. Since then, fawning public displays over political leaders have been taboo. Mr. Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, made a virtue of dull self-effacement.

Not Papa Xi.

Some of his appeal stems from his war on corruption and from feel-good sloganeering like the “Chinese Dream,” his pitch for a rejuvenated, powerful nation. But the adoration has also been primed by relentless propaganda portraying Mr. Xi as an indomitable alloy of Superman and Everyman who holds up his own umbrella, kicks soccer balls and knows how to fire a rifle.

A Cause Lost–and Forgotten

Helen Andrews:

When the fight in Britain over women’s suffrage came to an end with the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which enfranchised property-holding women over thirty, Mary Augusta Ward was almost relieved to have been defeated. For nearly forty years she had been the public face of the anti-suffrage campaign: head of the Woman’s National Anti-Suffrage League, editor of the Anti-Suffrage Review, author of the League’s founding manifesto, which attracted 104 signatures including Gertrude Bell’s, Beatrice Webb’s, and Virginia Woolf’s mother’s. In her capacity as the famous novelist “Mrs. Humphry Ward,” she had published Delia Blanchflower, a social problem novel about a feminist virago who comes to grief after burning down a cabinet minister’s house as an act of protest.

But all of this campaigning had come at a cost. Old friends had cut ties. Her college at Oxford had quietly disavowed her in 1909, although she had been one of its founders—the name “Somerville Hall” had been her suggestion. Sales of her novels suffered, or so she believed to the end of her life. Nor was Mrs. Ward the only one to pay a price for her involvement. Her son Arnold, a Unionist MP for eight years, was rejected by his party before the following election because women in his constituency objected to his family’s well-known anti-suffrage stance. The nomination instead went to a seventy-one-year-old rubber tycoon whom Mrs. Ward called “the stupidest man I know, and a perfectly incompetent speaker.”

What is Acceptable Risk?

Roger Scruton:

The state of Massachusetts has passed a law against sushi—that is to say, you will be allowed to eat sushi only if it has first been either cooked or frozen, so ceasing, in effect, to be sushi. Why? A minuscule risk exists that sushi, in its normal condition, will make you sick. And this is a risk that the citizens of Massachusetts are no longer allowed to take.

Manufacturers of children’s playgrounds now predict that swings in public playgrounds will become a thing of the past, since safety regulations require prohibitively expensive padding beneath them. Indeed, the regulations surrounding children’s toys, clothes, and activities are now so strict that it is hard to have an adventurous childhood. In England it is even against the law to allow your child to walk down a country lane to school, since there is a one in a billion chance that he will be abducted.

In the past, the law made a distinction between those risks to health and safety that citizens might voluntarily assume and those from which the state should protect them. Since every act of protection by the state involves a loss of freedom, lawmakers assumed that only in very special cases should the state expropriate our risk taking. In matters of public hygiene, where the risks taken by one person also fall upon others, it seemed legitimate for the state to intervene: for example, the state could compel people to maintain standards of cleanliness in public places or to undergo vaccinations against contagious diseases. But it should not forbid a person to consume a certain product, merely because there is a tiny risk to his own physical well-being. For the state to extend its jurisdiction so far involves a serious invasion of privacy. In matters that affect the citizen alone and that have no adverse consequences on others, the citizen should be free to choose. The state can inform him of the risk, but it should not forbid the choice.

Losing Liberty in an Age of Access

James Poulos:

few months before 9/11, when I first moved to downtown Los Angeles, the city’s high rises teemed with lawyers and bankers. The lights stayed on late — a beacon of industriousness. But as I quickly discovered, they rolled up the sidewalks by sundown. No matter how productive and wealthy its workers, downtown was a ghost town. LA’s urban core was no place to raise a family or own a home. With its patchwork of one-way streets and expensive lots, it was hardly even a place to own a car. The boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s that had erected LA’s skyline had not fueled residential growth. Angelenos who wanted to chase the dream of property ownership were effectively chased out of downtown.

But things change. Last month, I moved back to “DTLA,” as it’s now affectionately known. Today, once-forlorn corners boast shiny new bars, restaurants, and high-end stores. The streets are full of foot traffic, fueled by new generations of artisans, artists, and knowledge workers. They work from cafés or rented apartments, attend parties on hotel rooftops, and Uber religiously through town. Yes, there are plenty of dogs. But there are babies and children too. In a little over a decade, downtown’s generational turnover has replaced a faltering economy with a dynamic one.

What happened? Partly, it’s a tale of the magnetic power possessed by entrepreneurs and developers, who often alone enjoy enough social capital to draw friends and associates into risky areas that aren’t yet trendy. Even more, it is a story that is playing out across the country. In an age when ownership meant everything, downtown Los Angeles languished. Today, current tastes and modern technology have made access, not ownership, culturally all-important, and LA’s “historic core” is the hottest neighborhood around. Likewise, from flashy metros like San Francisco to beleaguered cities like Pittsburgh, rising generations are driving economic growth by paying to access experiences instead of buying to own.

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has an interesting piece on this issue on her blog.

Orthodox Churches Give Way to Mosques

From the Interpreter:

Staunton, January 26 – The Russian Orthodox metropolitanate of Stavropol and Nevinnomyssk says that over the last 20 years, some 6,000 mosques have been built in that region for its six million Muslims while only 600 churches have been erected for its three million Russian speakers.

That means there is now one mosque for every 1000 Muslim residents but only one for every 5,000 Russian ones, an imbalance that is increasing as a result of Russian flight, the growth of the Muslim population, and both financial and personnel problems, and a trend that gives every sign of continuing and even increasing in the future.

Svetlana Bolotnikova of “Kavkazskaya politika” cites this report at the beginning of her report on relations between the two communities, pointedly noting that mosques are growing “like mushrooms” after a spring rain but that Orthodox churches are rising “only slowly like oaks” over many years.

In many places, there are no problems, but in others, there are and on both sides. Many Cossacks are unhappy with the fact that in places where before 1917, there were Orthodox churches for them, there are no such churches now, even though there are often mosques for each ethnic group; and neither Moscow nor republic officials have been prepared to help build them.