Shallow Dive #6: Refugees, Mali & Old Man Joe

 

 

Turkey is encouraging refugees to head to Greece and the EU aren’t happy. Meanwhile climate change is only going to make the problem worse, on a global scale. Also British troops are heading to Mali.

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on  Apple Podcasts, StitcherAcastCastboxOvercastAnchorBreakerPocket CastsRadioPublicSpreakerBlubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.

 


Further reading

Turkey turns a blind eye as refugees head for border.

The EU’s morality is facing a severe test when it comes to refugees. Greece aren’t helping.

It’s all part of a geopolitical balancing act regarding Turkey’s intervention in Syria, on the opposite side to Russia.

Turkey-US relations have been strained by the case of an evangelical pastor and Turkey’s buying of Russian weapons.

The EU and Turkey agreed a deal in 2016, but Turkey says the EU hasn’t held up its side.

Accession talks for Turkey to join the EU have been stalled for years.

The climate crisis will intensify the migrant crisis over the next few decades.

The US judiciary has ruled against the ‘Remain in Mexico’ strategy but allowed it continue, for now.

Here’s what it could mean for the 60,000 migrants in terrible conditions at the border.

British troops are back on the front line, fighting troops in Mali. Here’s what’s at stake.

France bypassed the national assembly to get through controversial pension reforms.

Australian news is changing forever.

Trump tells Colombia to keep using potentially carcinogenic herbicide to destroy coca plants.

Peace with the Taliban isn’t so peaceful.

Authoritarian uses crisis to punish vulnerable minority – in Hungary. 

SUPER TUESDAY WASN’T SO SUPER FOR WARREN

Shallow Dive #5: India, NIMBYs, Bedbugs & Biden

 

India is struck with ethnic violence , France is overrun with bedbugs, and we ask: are local councils preventing action on climate change?

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast, Castbox, Overcast, Anchor, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Spreaker, Blubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.

 


Further reading

32 people died in Delhi as mobs attacked majority-Muslim areas of the city, following protests around a new law discriminating against Muslims.

How the protests escalated.

The law reformed India’s refugee policy, long one of the world’s harshest.

The law is accused of delegitimising Muslim citizenship in India.

India has also suffered a spate of attacks against Muslims in the countryside.

WhatsApp has played a crucial role in spreading conspiracy theories that fuel the lynch mobs.

Kashmir, a majority-Muslim area of India, has been under lockdown for many months.

India has also been expanding a National Register of Citizens over the last few years.

Trump had a confusing visit to India. Here’s what they got out of it.

India is increasingly worried about China’s growing influence in the region.

South Sudan has a new government.

Thailand’s opposition party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court. (It has a history.)

The Egyptian government is welcoming back Jews who were previously forced to flee.

Slovakia goes to the polls. A neofascist party is expected to surge.

Cameroon’s main opposition leader returned to the country for the first time since his imprisonment.

France has a bedbug problem.

Joe Biden had another gaffe.

Shallow Dive #3: Justice, Badgers, and the BBC

 

The rule of law is under attack everywhere, it seems, but Ecuador. Plus Donald Trump’s many questions about badgers, and we ask: should the licence fee be scrapped?

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast, Castbox, Overcast, Anchor, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Spreaker, Blubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.

 


Further reading

Sajid Javid is out, after a cabinet reshuffle that was more dramatic than many expected.

The Roger Stone fiasco.

Roger Stone’s role in the Mueller investigation, explained.

Roger Stone threatened to kidnap Randy Credico’s dog.

Plans to reform judicial review in the UK.

Poland’s ominous plans to undermine the independence of their judiciary.

Ecuador’s president is undoing the damage done to the courts by the previous one.

report from the WWF argues that climate change will be devastating to our global economy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sacks his chief of staff.

massive data breach in Israel.

Armed soldiers enter El Salvador’s parliament.

Matteo Salvini to stand trial over kidnapping charges.

Snow in Baghdad, for the first time in ten years.

The government is considering scrapping the licence fee.

Donald Trump had a lot of questions to do with badgers.

Shallow Dive #2: Chaos in Iowa, and the case for regulating Facebook

 

The Iowa Caucuses descended into chaos, Russian police have been convicted of busting their own drug den, and we ask: should the government step in to save Facebook from itself?

Not a Spotify user? It’s also on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast, Castbox, Overcast, Anchor, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Spreaker, Blubrry, iHeart Radio and Digital Podcast.

 


Further reading

The Iowa caucuses were utter chaos.

Doing well in Iowa is important, but only if you can get media attention out of it.

Pete Buttigieg: who he is.

Buttigieg controversially fired South Bend’s first African-American police chief.

Buttigieg’s town-regeneration project has also come under criticism from minority communities in South Bend.

Partly as a result, Buttigeg has a major problem with nonwhite voters.

Buttigieg started off with a fairly left-wing campaign, but has pivoted to the centre recently, leading to accusations of opportunism from leftists.

Bernie Sanders: who he is.

Sanders’s healthcare proposals are maybe half as left-wing as what the UK currently has.

Romney voted to convict Trump.

Nancy Pelosi tore up a copy of Trump’s speech.

State election fiasco in Germany.

Land grab in Vietnam.

Iraqi protests shaken up.

Irish elections.

Chile protests.

murder mystery in Lesotho.

Iceland says you can’t name your child after the devil, apparently.

Russian police convicted of busting their own drug den.

WhatsApp Killed Brexit

WhatsApp Killed Brexit

The other day, I was listening to Ezra Klein’s (highly recommended) podcast The Ezra Klein Show. The guest was Tim Alberta (and, full disclosure, I haven’t read his book yet – though it sounds fantastic). The conversation between the two is a fantastic one all round, so well worth a listen.

But I was struck by two things that were mentioned in the conversation.

Firstly, the way that the Republican and Democratic parties in the US have increasingly less power nowadays. The past few weeks have seen internecine fighting within the Democratic Party explode into the open, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic party leaders openly attacking liberal Democratic congresswomen for their refusal to toe the party line.

And, secondly, the way that members of Congress in the US often really struggle to find ways to effectively communicate with each other despite working in the same building. Klein and Alberta talk about how, when reporting on members of Congress, they often found they had a greater breadth of knowledge on what other members of Congress were doing than the members did themselves. The following passage is from around 1:04:00 in the conversation:

Ezra Klein: I think this is something you learn as a political reporter and that is not clear if you’re outside the system: Members of Congress are extremely misinformed on each other. The thing that was most strange to me when I began reporting on Congress — I would be talking to these members of the House or the Senate… and they were talking to me, and they’d be like, ‘Well, what are you hearing?’ And I’d be asking about something [then Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid was doing, and they’d be like, ‘Well.. I don’t know… I saw him say in National Journal the other day…’ Or I would talk to someone in the leadership office, and I’d be talking to them about something [conservative Democratic Senator Joe] Liebermann was doing on the bill, and they’d be saying, ‘Oh, you know, we’re not sure… but something he said the other day in Politico…’

And it was this moment where I was like, ‘Are they learning about each other the same way we’re learning about them?’

I had always thought that they must call each other, that they must have some kind of internal information system. But they don’t! They’re constantly wrong about what the other ones are doing; they’re mad at each other, so they’re not talking to each other…

I think that people really underestimate how bad the information processes inside Congress actually are. It seems like they should know what’s going on inside their own institution. But the degree to which they don’t, and particularly to which they don’t if they’re outside a couple of the core positions, is really striking to me.

Tim Alberta: There’s no question. And I think a reason I was able to be somewhat successful in covering Congress and breaking some news over the years: when I would sit down with a member, and we’d start shooting the shit, I would realise in nine cases out of ten that they wanted more information from me than I wanted from them. If you were willing to trade the gossip and were willing to just BS for a while with them, you could get really great information.

They’ve got the immediate information – they’ve been in the meetings, etc. — but anything that’s even one level to the periphery is pretty much lost on them. So they are really poorly informed, you’re totally right about that.

(Transcript edited slightly for concision.)

The two points here that I’m focusing on – the crumbling of traditional party power in the US, and the historic inability of members of Congress to communicate effectively with each other – aren’t explicitly linked by Klein and Alberta in their conversation. But it strikes me that in some ways, they’re in fact very much linked.

I, of course, am writing from the UK, and there’s a lot of similarity with what’s going on over here. On this side of the pond, there’s obviously a much fuzzier line between the legislative and executive branches — there are several mechanisms for the prime minister to be replaced if they’re doing things the legislative branch is unhappy with (or divided on), but it also means (traditionally) that can be very hard for the legislative branch to stop the executive branch doing certain things, including on certain legislative matters, unless it’s prepared to push that nuclear button and remove the executive.

Until now. The basic cause of the Brexit stalemate is that the executive branch has been trying to push through a plan that the legislative branch is extremely unhappy with, and has been exceptionally unwilling to try to forge a bipartisan path that would make some concessions to MPs’ concerns. But Conservative MPs haven’t been willing to push that nuclear button — vote against the government in a vote of no-confidence — because it would risk a Labour administration. Ordinarily, that would mean the executive branch would be able to push through its plans despite the legislative branch’s objections. But this time, it’s found it really, really difficult.

There’s a number of reasons why the government’s found it so difficult: among them are the newish Fixed-Term Parliament Act (an exceptionally bad piece of legislation that complicates the process of taking down the government) and the fact that the government’s majority is exceptionally slim.

But an underappreciated cause of the Brexit stalemate is WhatsApp. It’s an open secret that a huge amount of the machinations going on in parliament is now organised through WhatsApp. WhatsApp groups appear to have revolutionised the way MPs communicate with each other, making it far easier for them to organise rebellions against the government. They coordinate media strategy in these groups. They use them to plot innovative ways of bending the parliamentary rules so that they’re able to bind the executive to their will without replacing the executive — something you’re not really supposed to be able to do ordinarily under the British system! Barely a week goes by without two or three leaks from UK parliamentary WhatsApp groups in the British press.

I don’t think there’s any going back now. MPs have realised how much easier it now is to rebel against their own party, and they won’t stop at Brexit. Recent weeks have seen huge rebellions over a Northern Ireland bill, with MPs introducing amendments that would liberalise abortion law and introduce same-sex marriage if a devolved government cannot be formed within a few months.

(Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK where abortion and same-sex marriage are illegal, as these things are devolved to the regional assembly. The DUP, a socially conservative, Protestant and unionist party in Northern Ireland, objects to liberalising these things. This is a major reason why power-sharing talks between the DUP and Sinn Feìn, a Catholic, socially liberal and separatist party, broke down several years ago. Without a power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland, a devolved administration cannot be formed due to commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.)

And just yesterday, there was another setback in Parliament: 27 Tory MPs voted against the government in order to make it harder for Parliament to be ‘prorogued’. (Prorogation, in case you’ve forgotten, being a closing down of parliament, and a device that has been recently floated as a way of preventing MPs from passing legislation to stop a no-deal Brexit). Paul Waugh, Executive Editor of HuffPost UK, put it well on last night’s episode of The World Tonight (around 12 minutes in) when he said that ‘what’s fascinating about rebellion is that it is addictive.’ And Waugh rightly drew attention to the words of Keith Simpson, who said yesterday that, after 22 years as a Tory MP, this was his first rebellion against the party. “You can get a taste for it,” Simpson said.

So the similarities between the US and the UK are, I think, really striking here.

Parties in the US used to be incredibly strong institutions, but these institutions now feel under threat as members of Congress such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez develop new forms of power through their connection to the party membership base and their virtuoso use of Twitter. In a similar way, parties in the UK also used to be incredibly strong institutions. But that traditional control by the parties over Members of Parliament is breaking down. And it’s breaking down at least in part because there’s been a huge revolution in the ability of MPs to communicate with each other, as a result of social media and in particular WhatsApp.

The communications revolution has totally transformed the ability of backbench MPs to organise rebellions against government business, and brought the Brexit process to a nearly year-long stalemate.