Monthly Archives: June 2014

Henry Srebrnik: Do elections matter in deeply-divided societies?

The following countries have held parliamentary or presidential elections so far this year: Afghanistan, Algeria, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Thailand, and Ukraine.

So what? you might remark. After all, that’s quite a rogue’s gallery.

Yet for many people, elections have become the sine qua non of democracy. Our television screens show us people lined up at polling stations, eager to cast their ballots, and commentators usually let us know how excited these voters are to “finally” have a say in the governance of their country.

But in fact, in states without a robust civil society, the rule of law, protection of human rights, and a political culture that tolerates diversity of opinion, elections may exacerbate, rather than resolve, deep cleavages within the policy – even if they have been relatively free and honest.

In most such places, though, opposition parties often boycott what they consider to be a foregone conclusion; or, if they do contest the election, they invariably claim – usually correctly – that widespread fraud and other irregularities have rendered the result invalid.

Also, only too often, governments brought to power are fairly quickly dispatched in coups (Thailand), or themselves become highly autocratic and sectarian (Iraq). Some countries seem to be in a permanent state of rotation between civilian and military rule (Nigeria, Pakistan) or are such failed states that elections are meaningless (Lebanon).

In yet others – Central American oligarchies such as Guatemala and Honduras – incredible inequality makes for continuous political violence. Elections are irrelevant, held merely to please some foreign capital like Washington.

Elections can’t paper over issues of what Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan called problems of “stateness” in places where there are differences about the territorial boundaries of the state and who has the right of citizenship in that state.

For example: Although Sri Lanka has never ceased to be an electoral democracy, the lack of genuine political power by the minority Tamils led to a vicious decades-old civil war in which tens of thousands of people were slaughtered.

Ask yourself this: would you rather have lived in a colony without any internal self-rule at all, but with the rule of law, like pre-1990s Hong Kong, or in a sovereign state with “elections,” like Zimbabwe?

The Hustings

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Henry Srebrnik: Is it really necessary to explain why Putin isn’t Hitler?

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday asked for the revocation of a parliamentary authorization that gave him the power to invade Russia’s neighbor.

Ever since the crisis in Ukraine began, with the overthrow of the legally elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, war drums have been beating in the West. They have defined as “aggression” Putin’s attempts to make certain Russian-speakers and ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine don’t get trampled by the nationalist Ukrainians in the west – the heirs of those who fought alongside Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union in World War II.

To add to the insult, people like Hillary Clinton and Prince Charles have glibly compared Putin to – wait for it – Adolf Hitler! I guess even a lesser tyrant like Mussolini or Syria’s Assad won’t do. CNN for weeks ran almost daily “breaking news” alarmist clips warning of Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border – as if there was something illegal about a country moving its forces around within its own territory.

In fact, it’s the outgunned “rebels” in the east, not the Ukrainian army, that have been suffering most of the casualties, and have begged Putin to intervene. Unlike Hitler, he hasn’t sent forces across the border, though there has been enough provocation for him to invoke an international norm like R2P (“responsibility to protect”) to do so. Instead, he keeps calling for negotiations between the Russians in Ukraine and the new president, the oligarch Petro Poroshenko – who was elected with virtually no ethnic Russian support.

If only Hitler had been more like Putin! World War II might never have occurred.

The Hustings

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Tom Stringham: Ending the drug drama

Western society’s chaotic relationship with recreational drugs continues to tumble and turn. The British Medical Association overwhelmingly passed a motion this week to recommend a ban on tobacco sales to individuals born after 2000, a move that would effectively phase out the drug in the UK over the next century. In another part of the English-speaking world, the state of Washington is preparing to welcome its first wave of legal marijuana retailers in early July. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the West are silent while, according to the World Health Organization, alcohol kills one person every 10 seconds, four times more than are killed by war or violence worldwide.

It’s easy, if you aren’t watching, to miss the fact that the public mood on drug policy is dependent on the drug concerned. Marijuana, in vogue with the media and the political class, is riding a wave of legitimization toward inevitable legalization. Tobacco has lost all of its old glamour, and will be lucky to survive the next few decades unbanned. Alcohol, of course, enjoys its supernal status as our society’s psychoactive drug of choice.

Some of these trends are plausibly explained by concern for public health. It’s true that of the three, marijuana is the least harmful, and tobacco the deadliest by the numbers. But it’s also true that drug policy follows drug culture as much as culture bends to the law.

This idea is illustrated most egregiously by alcohol policies. Despite the fact that alcohol’s personal and societal costs are much higher than any other drug’s, and that most of these costs fall on individuals other than the user, alcohol culture is almost completely legitimized—it’s even celebrated—in most Western jurisdictions. No other recreational drug enjoys the same status. Why? Maybe because the political class enjoys drinking and binging on alcohol.

What explains, then, our falling out with tobacco and new fling with marijuana, if culture can beat public health, as it does with alcohol? Perhaps marijuana is now in the hands of politicians who grew up in an era when it was a popular counter-cultural indulgence. And maybe those politicians’ willingness to campaign against tobacco only reflects that cigarettes are now a habit of the poorest class instead of the richest.

Prohibition doesn’t work, but a sensible drug program would involve the marginalization of all harmful recreational drugs. The drug drama has got to stop, and politicians have got to grow up.

The Hustings

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Cody Boutilier: Give me your wretched refuse

In the latest issue of National Review, editor and publisher Adam Bellow of Liberty Island Media writes on the need for a conservative countercultural movement in fiction. Commenting on political correctness, which is arguably our era’s greatest threat to liberty, Bellow suggests that “the tide is turning. People are getting fed up with the humorless enforcers of the Left.”

This is true of a great many people, but passivity and inertia are ingrained in the human genetic code, and my optimistic prognosis is that a full-scale assault on the tyranny of left-wing thought control won’t ensue for at least another generation, if ever. Things will get far worse before they get better, particularly for devout Christians, but in effect for everyone. Revolutionary leftists go on periodic attack against their fellow progressives, but what’s worrisome about the Left’s current cultural ascendancy is its foundation not in violent revolution, but in Gramsci’s long march through the institutions of power. Leftist beliefs have taken root in the Western mind because Westerners have never had to suffer under totalitarian leftist governments. The Western terror will be as spiritually destructive as the French and Soviet terrors and Chinese Cultural Revolution, but bloodless and drawn-out. We won’t need guillotines, tribunals, struggle sessions, or gulags. Popular prejudice, self-preservation and timidity, and the armies of tweeting red guards will suffice to relieve society of its counterrevolutionary refuse.

I’ve long toyed with a theory that apparently sounds premature to everyone I’ve shared it with. As the vise of PC dogma tightens around the heads of religious traditionalists and the other sundry enemies of a strikingly exclusive “inclusivity,” less enlightened but semi-developed nations will discover the self-interest of offering asylum. This is hardly unprecedented. The Netherlands offered refuge to Spinoza and the Puritans; Prussia to the Huguenots; Catherine’s Russia to Mennonites; the Soviet bloc to the nonconformists of the Western bloc, and vice versa.

Jamaica and Russia, countries where political correctness is practically extraterrestrial, come to mind. Russia in particular would savor the propaganda victory of highlighting the de facto intolerance of the West. The powerful Russian Orthodox Church is notoriously hostile to Russian Protestants and other sectarians, but I think the political advantage of sheltering the West’s persecuted Christians would offset the negligible dent in the country’s religious demography.

Will this come to pass? As the Left gains concrete power, and its roll call of enemies lengthens, I think it probably will.

The Hustings

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Tom Stringham: Sex trafficking and protecting the vulnerable

A weeklong FBI crackdown on child prostitution has led to the rescue of 168 children and the arrest of 281 traffickers and child molesters in 106 cities across the United States.

This is welcome news to anyone who isn’t a child molester. But because it goes without saying that law enforcement plays a vital role in protecting children, it often, unfortunately, goes unsaid. The FBI’s sting operation this week reminds us of a few easy-to-forget lessons.

The first is that child prostitution does exist in North America. The FBI has rescued 3,600 minors from prostitution over the last decade, but most agencies estimate there are tens of thousands of children involved in sex trafficking. Some of these kids are absorbed into clandestine child prostitution networks, most of which solicit molesters over the internet. Others, trafficked by indifferent pimps, pass as adults to ignorant johns. In both cases, trafficked children tend to be hidden from our view, and thus easily forgotten or overlooked.

The second lesson is that consent is not a litmus test for legitimacy. In its press release, the FBI admits: “sometimes, it’s not easy to convince young victims they need to get away from those who are exploiting them.” These victims, many of whom are runaways, can be led by their traffickers to believe that they are better off as prostitutes. Of course, the errors of judgment and perspective that lead trafficked individuals to this state of mind do not automatically disappear at age eighteen, and prostitution laws in general should reflect this reality.

Third, it’s worth reminding ourselves that behind our present debate over internet privacy there exists a horrifying underworld of abuse. While it’s true that we don’t have to choose between privacy and protecting kids from rape, it is possible that there exist technical trade-offs between freedom from government interference and the number of trafficking networks identified and dismantled. If we knew that giving federal agencies relatively unfettered access to personal data would mean more kids would have normal lives, we might be less zealous in our crusade for personal privacy online.

This week, 168 kids and teenagers have been returned to society and restored a chance at a healthy life. The FBI’s operation symbolizes perhaps the most indispensable role of government in our lives: the protection of the most vulnerable among us. Amidst all of our political ado, whether over prostitution or internet privacy, let’s not be so careless as to forget it.

The Hustings

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