Oddly enough, I have few large professional regrets, things I really wish I had done differently. But there are many small ones. Here’s one. Sometime in TAC‘s first year, perhaps even before we published our first issue, I don’t recall exactly, I got a call from an associate of Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean Marie, leader of the French Front National. She would be in Washington in a day or two—was I free for lunch? As it happened, I wasn’t really. There were some complicated personal matters at home, I was commuting back and forth to New York, and hadn’t planned to be in DC that day.
But I also wasn’t that eager. I thought that Jean Marie Le Pen was getting a bit of bad rap by being labeled an anti-Semite, if not a fascist, all of the time. But I was aware of some of the things he had said which could well give that impression, and was also aware that I wasn’t paying much attention to France in those days, and that if I was, I might agree with the charge.
So did I want to have lunch? Not really. There might be some requests for favorable coverage, or overtures towards linking TAC to the general European populist (or far) right. I didn’t feel TAC was far right, and didn’t want to give anyone that impression. Much as I was curious to meet Marine Le Pen, there were good reasons (besides my personal ones) for not rearranging my schedule. I replied that regrettably, I would be out of town.
Marine Le Pen has for years now succeeded her father as head of the National Front, the party which has—in the limited but far from unimportant elections for the European Parliaments, scored higher than any party in France, besting the ruling socialists, besting the center-right parties. Marine Le Pen has changed the FN’s image, modernized it, softened it, without repudiating her garrulous father, whom she always refers to publicly as “Jean Marie Le Pen.” Generally speaking the Front National is the French anti-immigrant party—the one that worries about whether a multicultural society with an expanding and pious Muslim minority is really possible or desirable. I think this is a reasonable argument to make, though difficult to carry off without attracting racists and bigots and turning the party into something potentially worse than the perceived problem. I suspect that vast majorities of Frenchmen would agree with the FN’s premise: De Gaulle, who once said that trying to hold on to French Algeria would ensure that his village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises would become Colombey-les-Deux-Mosques, almost certainly would.
Marine Le Pen’s argument is buttressed by the fact that none of the “mainstream” French parties showed the slightest desire to protect the values and interests of the French who were troubled by mass immigration. The center-right of Sarkozy campaigned on a fierce law and order line, but failed to stem France’s rising crime rate. And mass immigration—if it produced some discomfiture about public prayer, or rising crime, or complicated governmental services—also was a symbol of the larger issue, loss of nationhood, loss of sovereignty over the French space. The steady rise in power of the Brussels bureaucracy and the European Union gave the FN another issue to campaign about—though it might have been essentially the same thing: globalization. The FN and Marine Le Pen were opposed. For France’s elites, membership in “Europe”, even at the expense of France’s currency and control of borders, was considered a closed question and certainly not one to be put before the French people. Read More…
News that Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, plans to buy Britain’s AstraZeneca for $106 billion, renounce its U.S. citizenship, and declare itself a British company, has jolted Congress. Pfizer is being denounced as disloyal to the land of its birth, and politicians are devising ways to stop Pfizer from departing.
Yet Pfizer is not alone. Hedge fund managers are urging giant corporations like Walgreens to go nation-shopping for new residences abroad to evade the 35 percent U.S. corporate income tax. Britain’s corporate income tax is 20 percent, and Pfizer stands to save over $1 billion a year by moving there.
In what are called “inversions,” dozens of U.S. companies have bought up foreign rivals, and then moved abroad to countries with lower tax rates, cutting revenue to the U.S. Treasury. But Pfizer is far and away the biggest.
The real question, however, is not why companies are fleeing the USA, but why our politicians continue to drive them out of the country.
Consider. Here in America we do not tax charities, churches or colleges. Yet these institutions produce a fraction of the jobs that businesses produce. If, as a nation, we are committed to “creating jobs,” does it make sense to impose the highest corporate tax rate in the Western world on our biggest and best job creators? Is this not economic masochism?
Many governors understand that if you want something in your state, you do not drive it out with high taxes. You strengthen the magnet of low taxes. Florida wants residents of other states to move there and retire there, so it has no income, estate or inheritance tax. For years, Rep. Jack Kemp urged the creation of enterprise zones in poor communities like Benton Harbor, Michigan, and Harlan County, Kentucky. Businesses that relocated there would be exempt from corporate income taxes.
Why not make the United States the largest enterprise zone on earth—by abolishing the corporate income tax? Read More…
In his Kremlin defense of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin, even before he began listing the battles where Russian blood had been shed on Crimean soil, spoke of an older deeper bond.
Crimea, said Putin, “is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”
Russia is a Christian country, Putin was saying. This speech recalls last December’s address where the former KGB chief spoke of Russia as standing against a decadent West:
Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.
Heard any Western leader, say, Barack Obama, talk like that lately?
Indicting the “Bolsheviks” who gave away Crimea to Ukraine, Putin declared, “May God judge them.” What is going on here? With Marxism-Leninism a dead faith, Putin is saying the new ideological struggle is between a debauched West led by the United States and a traditionalist world Russia would be proud to lead. In the new war of beliefs, Putin is saying, it is Russia that is on God’s side. The West is Gomorrah.
Western leaders who compare Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria, who dismiss him as a “KGB thug,” who call him “the alleged thief, liar and murderer who rules Russia,” as Wall Street Journal‘s Holman Jenkins did, believe Putin’s claim to stand on higher moral ground is beyond blasphemous. Read More…
Last weekend, the New York Times and Der Spiegel reported that the NSA has been spying on and hacking into Chinese telecommunications company Huawei since 2009 according to documents released by Edward Snowden. The Chinese response has been swift and strident—high ranking officials condemned these actions and predictably called for an end to the espionage. This disclosure strains the already complicated relationship between the U.S. and China as both giants race to ensure their own economic growth and national security.
At the same time, China may be taking baby steps towards laying down underwater internet fiber optic cables similar to the infrastructure the NSA and British spy agency GHCQ have exploited, what the NSA called their “home-field advantage.” This tactic was among the first in a series of staggered revelations from Edward Snowden in June of 2013. Through a program called Tempora, GHCQ can store communication data for three days and can store metadata for up to 30, providing GHCQ with more metadata than the NSA’s program, with less oversight. This surveillance is conducted partly with assistance from private companies, known as “intercept partners.” It is also conducted without the companies’ knowledge, however, relying on geographic proximity and national familiarity to tap major cables and core internet switches. Now Huawei appears to be developing a similar “home-field advantage” for China. Its current scale is quite small, but Huawei intends to be “one of the top three in the industry.”
It has been well-established that Huawei’s leadership has ties to the People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese Communist Party, and the Chinese government. The founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei was a PLA engineer, and Sun Yafang, a executive board member, previously worked at the Chinese spy agency, Ministry of State Security Communications Department. When Huawei was still a fledgling company, Sun provided Huawei with millions of dollars to keep it afloat. Since the 1990s, Huawei has repeatedly attempted to establish a foothold in the U.S. telecommunications market, with no success. The United States has remained wary of the Shenzhen-based company, and consistently thwarted Huawei’s efforts to break into the U.S. markets. Finally, at the end of 2013, Huawei announced its intention to seek other opportunities to expand. Huawei has repeatedly denied any significant ties to the Chinese military or government. Read More…
The turmoil and tension surrounding Ukraine has dominated the media as of late—and before that, war in Syria drove the news for many months. But a year ago Egypt was preeminent: the military overthrow of elected President Muhammed Morsi last summer brought both outrage and applause from various factions.
Now, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the defense minister who led last summer’s takeover, is running for president. Sisi has been in charge since last year’s military takeover—this would just put a formal title to his rulership. New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick believes it’s likely, almost certain, he will win: “Several would-be candidates have declined to enter the presidential race, arguing that the support of the military and security services all but guaranteed Mr. Sisi’s election,” he writes.
Yahoo News reporters Maggie Michael and Lee Keath report that Sisi has surrounded himself with former President Hosni Mubarak’s circle of “politicians, technocrats and big businessmen,” suggesting his presidency would mark a return to the autocratic methods of bygone days.
But Financial Times reporter David Gardner believes Sisi will amass more power than Mubarak, for a few reasons: first, “he has tilted power away from the security services towards the army,” and has used the new constitution to bolster military power. Second, branding the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group and throwing 15,000 to 20,000 of its members into prison has solidified his political prospects. While Sisi may hang up his uniform, notes Gardner, he hasn’t given up its power. Read More…
Taiwan, the semi-autonomous nation not known for making waves, is erupting over a trade pact with China. Last week, hundreds of student protesters occupied the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s unicameral legislative body, demonstrating against the Guomindang’s (KMT) unilateral passage of a service trade agreement signed last year. According to CNN, protesters successfully blocked riot police from the Legislative Yuan with chairs, and have been seated both in and outside the building, singing, chanting, and holding up signs. Police have since used force to clear the Legislative Yuan, with the prime minister saying that the students were “paralyz[ing] our administrative workings,” according to a New York Times report yesterday.
The pact’s passage breaks the KMT’s promise to collaborate with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), staving off an inevitable conflict with the opposition over the pact. The DPP’s longtime stance is rooted in advocating full Taiwanese independence and dissolving ties with China, with much of its energy expended attacking the KMT for colluding with China against local Taiwanese interests. One of the DPP party slogans is, “sell Taiwan”, implying that the KMT is a cowardly puppet government with no interest in advocating for Taiwanese independence.
The protests come at the tail of a long decline in popular opinion of Taiwanese president Ma Ying-Jeou, whose conciliatory stance with China has incited a slow-burning resentment among his political opponents, and has even caused those within his own party to distance themselves from him. Ma’s approval ratings have dropped close to the level of disgraced former DPP prime minister Chen Sui-bian, who was convicted of money laundering in 2009.
One possible outcome of these protests, especially if the trade pact is derailed, is that formal relations across the strait could begin to deteriorate. Damon Linker in The Week speculates that if China were to take Taiwan, it would herald the end of American expansionism in the region. He argues that in spite of written agreements to help Taiwan defend itself, the United States would be unlikely to join in such a war. American neutrality in a hegemon-underdog dispute would bespeak our weakening global image as the world’s national guard, in Linker’s view. While logically sound, this perspective overlooks one important aspect of U.S.-China-Taiwan relations: The United States’s ability to influence Taiwanese relations with China or in the international community was never very strong to begin with. Read More…
A week ago, in the St. George’s Hall in the Kremlin, Russia’s elite cheered and wept as Vladimir Putin announced the re-annexation of Crimea. Seven in 10 Russians approve of Putin’s rule. In Crimea, the Russian majority has not ceased celebrating. The re-conquest nears completion. In Eastern Ukraine, Russians have now begun to agitate for annexation by Moscow. Ukrainian nationalism, manifest in the anti-Russia coup in Kiev, has produced its inevitable reaction among Russians. While praising the Ukrainians who came out to Maidan to protest peacefully, Putin said that those behind the decisive events “resorted to terror, murder and riots. Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup.” The Kremlin erupted in cheers.
But not only in Ukraine is ethnic nationalism surging.
“National Front Vote Stuns Hollande” was the headline on the Financial Times’ story about France’s municipal elections Sunday. Though the FN of Marine Le Pen, daughter of party founder Jean Marie Le Pen, did not field candidates in many cities, it won the mayoral race outright in Henin-Beaumont and ran first or second in a dozen medium-sized cities, qualifying for run-off elections on March 30. ”The National Front has arrived as a major independent force — a political force both at the national and local levels,” declared Le Pen.
No one is arguing the point. Indeed, a measure of panic has set in for the socialist party of Francois Hollande, which is calling on all parties to unite against FN candidates. In early polling for the May elections for the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the National Front is running close behind the UMP of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, and ahead of Hollande’s socialists. Begun as an anti-immigrant, anti-EU Party, the FN has broadened its base to issues like crime and unemployment.
But the most startling news on the nationalist front last week came in Venice and the Veneto region, where 89 percent of a large turnout in a non-binding referendum voted to secede from Italy and re-establish the Venetian republic that vanished in 1866. Exulted Luca Zaia of the separatist Northern League, “The will for secession is growing very strong. We are only at the Big Bang of the movement—but revolutions are born of hunger and we are now hungry. Venice can now escape.” The proposed “Repubblica Veneta” would embrace five million inhabitants of Veneto. Should it succeed in seceding, Lombardy and Trentino would likely follow, bringing about a partition of Italy. Sardinia is also reportedly looking for an exit.
In readying their referendum, Venetians journeyed to Scotland to observe preparations by the Scottish National Party for the vote this fall to sever the 1707 Act of Union with England. Also observing in Scotland were representatives of Catalonia who will hold a similar referendum this fall on secession from Spain. Basque Country secessionists were present in Scotland as well.
In a report published this weekend, “Europe on Trial,” a poll of 20,000 British commissioned by Lord Ashcroft of the Conservative Party found that Russia (before the Kiev-Crimea crisis) was viewed more favorably than either the EU or European Parliament. By 49-31, British think the costs of membership in the EU outweigh the benefits and they are now evenly divided, 41-41, on whether to get out of the union altogether.
Prime Minister David Cameron has set a vote on EU membership for 2017. Now it appears the Labour Party, seeing the unpopularity of the EU, may also be open to changing the EU treaty and a referendum on saying goodbye to Europe, should they take power in 2015.
Why is the EU under rising centrifugal pressure? Why do so many nations of Europe seem on the verge of breaking up? There is no single or simple explanation.
Venice and Northern Italy feel exploited. Why, they ask, should we subsidize a less industrious and lazier south that consumes tax revenues we raise here. Many northern Italians believe they have more in common with Swiss than Romans, Neapolitans, or Sicilians. Flanders feels the same about the Walloons in Belgium. Scots and Catalans believe they are a people with a culture, history and identity separate from the nations to which they belong.
Across Europe, there is a fear that the ethnic character of their countries and continent are being altered forever against the will of the people. Western Europeans are recoiling at the Bulgarians, Rumanians and gypsies arriving from Eastern Europe. Asylum seekers, economic refugees and migrants in the scores of thousands arrive annually on the Italian island of Lampedusa and in the Spanish Canaries. Early this month, the New York Times reported a surge of 80,000 African migrants headed for the tiny Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast.
The goal these desperate people seek: the mother countries of the Old Continent and the wealthy welfare states of Northern Europe. What the children of Europe are rebelling against is what their fathers, paralyzed by political correctness, refused to prevent. It was predictable, it was predicted, and it has come to pass.
Advocates of education reform have pointed to Finland consistently over the past few years, urging the U.S. to take note of its educational success. The country has “consistently performed among the top nations on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA),” writes Atlantic contributor Christine Gross-Loh, yet their system “break[s] a lot of the rules we take for granted.”
In her interview with Finnish Education Chief Krista Kiuru, Gross-Loh highlights many of Finland’s most successful policies, and contrasts them with U.S. education reform policy to great effect. Through the interview, several of Finland’s best educational measures (some with rather conservative values) stand out:
Encouraging the principle of subsidiarity
As part of a series of educational reforms in the 1970s and ’80s, Finland “shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation,” wrote Smithsonian Magazine contributor LynNell Hancock in September 2011. ”Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines.”
Additionally, Finland has eliminated mandated standardized testing, with one exception: the National Matriculation Exam, which all students take at the end of upper-secondary school (similar to an American high school). “Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves,” wrote Atlantic author Anu Partanen in December 2011. ”All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher.”
“There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions,” writes Hancock. Because of this, Finnish educators are somewhat puzzled by the U.S. “fascination” with standardized testing—Louhivuori told Hancock such tests are “nonsense”: “We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”
Instead of requiring a state inspections, veteran teacher and principal Kari Louhivuori told Hancock, “Our incentives come from inside.” Teacher accountability and inspections are the responsibility of teachers and principals, not federal officials.
Hancock compared Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, in which states compete for federal dollars using tests and standards like Common Core, to Finland’s flexible, decentralized system. Helsinki principal Timo Heikkinen told Hancock, “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.” And indeed, the “human aspect” seems very important to Finnish education.
Focusing on the human element, rather than numbers
Teachers spend fewer hours at school and less time in classrooms than their American counterparts. Rather, they use this extra time to create curricula, assess students, and continue their own education. Children spend more time playing outside, and homework is minimal, according to Hancock. Read More…
In the last stanza of “The Battle of Blenheim,” Robert Southey writes:
‘But what good came of it at last?’ Quoth little Peterkin.
‘Why, that I cannot tell,’ said he; ‘But ’twas a famous victory.’
What did it really matter? The poet was asking of the triumph of the Duke of Marlborough—”Who this great fight did win.” What brings back this poem about the transience of glory and folly of war—during this week’s struggle over whose flag will fly over Crimea—is a wall chart that just arrived from the UN.
“World Population 2012″ projects the population growth, or decline, of every country and continent, between now and 2050. Most deeply involved in Crimea’s crisis are Russia and Ukraine. Yet, looking at the UN numbers, there seems an element of absurdity in this confrontation that could lead to a shooting war.
Between 2012 and 2050, Ukraine, war or no war, will lose one-fourth of its population. Eleven to twelve million Ukrainians will vanish from the earth, a figure far higher than the highest estimate of the death toll of the horrific Holodomor of 1932-33. Russia will lose 22 million people, with her population falling below 121 million. Every month between now and 2050, close to 50,000 Russians will disappear. Some demographers believe the UN numbers to be optimistic. Indeed, this writer has seen projections far more dire.
Those who warn that Vladimir Putin is trying to reconstitute the Soviet Union might explain how this is going to be done as Russia loses 22 million people, while the former Soviet republics of Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan—together add 22 million people.
How often in history do nations with shrinking populations invade and annex those with surging populations?
When the UN was set up in 1945, Stalin wanted each of 15 Soviet republics given a seat in the General Assembly. He settled for three seats—for Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia, now Belarus. That was the core of the old Soviet Union. Yet, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine will lose together 35 million people by mid-century, a figure comparable to the human losses from four years of the Hitler-Stalin war and seven decades of Bolshevik rule.
Our War Party is demanding that we send military assistance and possibly troops to Poland, the Baltic republics and Rumania, and bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. This would mean America would fight Russia to defend them all, should another clash occur as in 2008 in Georgia and today in Crimea. Does this make sense—for any of us? Read More…
Chaos erupted on Saturday afternoon at a Kunming railway station, in the Yunnan province of southwestern China. Ten men and women carrying scimitars and meat cleavers descended on unsuspecting passengers, slicing and stabbing at random. Unreleased photos depict multiple victims lying in pools of their own blood. All told, 130 people were injured and 30 were killed. Four suspects were shot and killed at the scene; one is currently detained while recovering from injuries. It is believed that there are currently five suspects are still at large. There was a heightened security presence at both the Kunming railway station and in Beijing on Monday. President Xi Jinping harshly condemned these acts, which have been classified as acts of terrorism. A vigil was held on Sunday to honor the dead and wounded.
The attack was linked to Uighur separatists, who hail from the Xinjiang province in northwest China, directly north of Tibet. Tensions have flared between the Han Chinese and the Turkic Muslim ethnic groups in the region for the last several years, each conflict bringing severe government crackdowns. Because of tight restrictions on reporting, there is speculation as to whether the government has exaggerated the Uighur terrorism in order to justify the use of violence. But there does seem to be legitimate unrest that is swept under the rug.
As recently as last October, Uighur separatists claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Tiananmen Square. The square represents both the heart of Chinese power and dissidence—25 years ago the square was the site of mass student demonstrations advocating for democracy. A photo of the suicide bombing features a single pillar of smoke stretching in front of Tiananmen tower, where the portrait of Mao Zedong looks impassively on. It is not yet known if one or several groups carry out these acts of violence, or if these groups coordinate their efforts.
The Xinjiang region consists of 45 percent Uighurs, most of whom are Muslim, and 40 percent Han Chinese. The Han Chinese are the dominant ethnic group in China, making up 94 percent of the population. As China’s population rises, the Chinese government has facilitated moving some of the Han population further West, to the consternation of the local Uighur population. The inhabitants of Xinjiang, a part of China heretofore known as an “autonomous region” consider the resettlement both a political and cultural imposition, and fear the loss of their culture by an ethnic hegemon.
Reports of armed attacks from Xinjiang began in 2008, when a woman detonated a bomb in protest of a prominent local businessman who died while in police custody. In 2009, multiple reports emerged of stabbings via hypodermic needles. Protesters took to the streets to display their disapproval with the ensuing investigation. Three years ago, 18 men took over a police station, shouting religious slogans and taking several hostages with knives and bombs. Fourteen of them were killed in a police confrontation.
The inherent opaqueness of such unrest is either incomplete or partially confirmed. In the midst of all the incomplete information, one fact remains clear: the unrest is no longer contained to a remote corner of China. The people responsible for committing this violence have brought the battle to the front and center of Chinese—and international—politics.