European Union

Llewellyn King: Beware the tyranny of polling

Comparing 1975 and 2016 referenda on U.K. membership in the European Union (whose predecessor organization, in 1975, was the European Economic Community).

Comparing 1975 and 2016 referenda on U.K. membership in the European Union (whose predecessor organization, in 1975, was the European Economic Community).

The political chaos in Britain — and the situation in British politics is chaotic — can be laid at the base of two interventions by direct government usurping representative government.

The first is the intervention of polling. Polling, although useful and indeed invaluable most of the time, does restrict the free operation of representative government. The public state of mind the polling day affects the actions of its elected representatives and can inhibit new ideas as they evolve. In the defense of polls, they are reality check when politicians give way to intoxication with their own thinking. Polls are here to stay; an organic part of the political landscape.

Yet the deliberative process can be inhibited by them. It is no accident that the U.S. Senate is regarded as a great deliberative forum: With six years between elections, there is time to work through a problem — at least there should be.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron called a referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union because his pollster assured him that the public would support him, as they had voted by a large majority for Britain to remain in the European Economic Community, as it was then known, in 1975. Britain’s membership began in 1973.

A poll is a snapshot and reflects not only the feeling of the populace at the time but also the basis of what it thinks it believes or, in fact, does believe.

Cameron did not allow for campaigning and the emotional appeal of inflamed nationalism, plus some pretty hefty fibs from the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his allies in the Brexit camp.

Had the E.U. membership issue been left to simmer, as it has simmered for decades, it might eventually have been decided by the elected representatives of the people in Parliament or just simmered on, either to dissipate or develop into an election issue at a later time.

But this has always been a particularly difficult issue for Parliament where the two main parties were split on it. Neither of them, Labor and Conservative, was wholly for Europe or against it. Successive Labor and Conservative governments have stayed firmly in Europe, although complaining all the way — as did Margaret Thatcher during her time as prime minister.

The E.U. referendum was an intrusion of direct government into the workings of parliamentary representative government — a referendum, not favored in Britain’s unwritten constitution, a sort of legal blithe spirit of practice, precedent, tradition and habit, trailing all the way back to the Magna Carta.

The constitution, long believed to gain its strength from its flexibility, now is flexed to a point of full crisis. Polls gave Cameron overconfidence in looking to a referendum to settle a nettlesome issue. It did, but not in the way Cameron and the polls predicted.

Polls are not going away. Recently I visited Quinnipiac University, in Hamden, Conn., home to the influential Quinnipiac Poll, where I conducted a television interview. Conclusion: Those pollsters know what they are doing, and they do it with science and without prejudice. Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, and his staff are employed by the university. The polling arm takes no outside funding, shielding the poll from allegations of political favoritism or manipulation.

It should be recognized by politicians that polls are only a snapshot, a second in time, of evolving public opinion. They do not handle complex issues well and referendums, which are polls taken to extreme, are unreasoning.

It can be argued, and I will not argue against you, that politicians now have abandoned thinking, reasoning and compromising in favor rigidities on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet politicians, in doing their jobs in session, remain a better way of deciding great issues than the whole populace in a committee of the whole.

Britain is in crisis not because it is a democracy, but because it tried something undemocratic and antithetical to its own traditions. The nation that ruled much of the world appears unable to rule itself.

On Twitter: @llewellynking2

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS.

Llewellyn King: Europe and democracy under dark clouds

Agrinio, Greece, in the Christmas season.

Agrinio, Greece, in the Christmas season.

AGRINIO, Greece

]There is not a dark cloud hanging over Europe. There are a bunch of them. Taken together they account for a sense of foreboding, not quite despair, but a definite feeling that things are unraveling and, worse, that there is no leadership – second-raters at all the national helms. That was the near consensus at the annual Congress of the Association of European Journalists here in lovely Western Greece.

In a class by itself in worries in Europe is Russia. It is creating trouble all over Europe, but especially in the countries the comprised the former Soviet Union. It has a propaganda effort the likes of which has not been seen since the days of the Cold War -- except modern technology and its social media manifestation have made it more deadly, surreptitious and deniable. The problem is one which affects news organizations directly. Fake events vie with pernicious posting on social media and relentless cyber-undermining of systems and processes.

Disparaging democracy seems to be a primary Russian goal, making it appear unworkable.

When will Russia move from soft war to hard war? The current standoff over Crimea augers badly for vulnerable Russian neighbors particularly the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. They are battling massive Russian undermining of truth and wonder whether they will fall again to the Russian bear.

Add to this fear a new dynamic: What will America do if Russia moves? The fear is it will do nothing. President Trump’s haranguing of the other NATO allies is not reassuring to them.

After the existential worries about Russia, comes Brexit. It is here and now. It is, in the eyes of continentals, a ghastly mistake that is going to cost all of Europe dearly. And what for? The vague shibboleth of “sovereignty.” Euros remain sadly hopeful that somehow there will be a second referendum in Britain and that everything will be as it was: Britain being a stabilizer among the 28 nations that make up the European Union.

Since Britain’s entry in 1973, it has been a fundamental side of an iron triangle of the three big economies: Germany, France and Britain. Britain has been an older sibling, the sensible one. Now the odds are that it will be gone, headed for an uncertain future leaving behind the wreckage of a broken marriage and squandered hope for what Tony Blair, the former Labor prime minister, used to call the “European Project.”

Hungary and the ultra-right policies of Viktor Orban are a very great worry in Europe. Similarly, Poland’s shift to the right and the success of right-wing, near fascist parties across Europe, including Austria (heretofore a center of cautious reasonableness), add to the sense of disintegration.

Two other worries are France and Italy. Along with Hungary and Poland, Italy, with an amalgamated government of the ultra-right and ultra-left, looks as determined as the other two to thumb its nose at the European Union and its rules, maybe to withdraw even. Hungary does it over press freedom and human rights, Italy over fiscal probity and open hostility to the EU.

France is a different story. Emmanuel Macron, the young president was, briefly, the great hope of Europe, but his popularity at home has slid and he has had to turn back his ambitious reforms after street demonstrations, violence and fatalities.

Add to all this shifting sand the uncertain future in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is on her way out and, suddenly, she seems a more desirable leader than she was thought to be during her tenure.

Feeding the swing to the right and as far from resolution today as it was when it began, illegal immigration is an undermining pressure, un-addressed on the left and exploited on the right.

Meanwhile, across Europe press freedom is teetering: a big issue at this congress. As a Bulgarian delegate said to me, “When the press goes, so goes democracy.” Then she added, “We thought that, in some way, America would help, but not now. We are on our own.”

Europe will have a fine Christmas -- it does Christmas so well. Next year though, some of the stresses may reach breaking point and the carols will have given way to uglier, discordant notes.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com.



David Haworth: Missing person report from the E.U.

250px-Flag_of_Europe.svg.png

BRUSSELS

To foreigners an oddity of U.S. diplomatic practice is the long gap between postings when replacing one envoy with another.

In contrast, most other foreign services put a premium on slipping the next Excellency into his or her predecessor’s place as soon as possible and the incomer’s name is known even before the valedictory cocktails are out of the way.

And there’s another thing debated locally when any American Embassy changeover takes place: Will the job be a State Department choice (career) or be the happy gift of an incoming president (political appointee)?

Frankly in most cases these two characteristics of State’s continuum don’t much matter, the hum of diplomacy continues anyway under a put-upon charge d’affaires.

But what about the post of the Representative of the United States of America to the European Union?

Highly regarded Anthony L. Gardner left that post just before Christmas 2016 – that is, well over a year ago – and has yet to be replaced.

This does not sit well with the European Union authorities, who deploy some 140 missions round the world.

The continued absence of a U.S. ambassador in the so-called “capital of Europe” is, therefore, not only a painful jab in E.U. officials’ pride but has serious practical consequences as well for a relationship in goods and services worth an annual $1.1 trillion.

What precisely does “America First” mean for the 28-member E.U.? Few, perhaps no one, can know with certainty.

Is the continuing failure to nominate an ambassador a calculated snub or just the normal vagaries of choice? To what extent does it represent America’s growing isolation – or “Exitismus” as it’s known in think tank circles?

One clearly irritated E.U. ambassador told me of the urgent need for a “valued interlocutor” from Washington D.C. – someone who carries the president’s authority to shape trans-Atlantic relations at a time when, arguably, they have never been worse or more volatile.

The E.U.’s proposal for a “digital tax” to raise more revenue from hi-tech corporations such as Google, Apple and Facebook has done nothing to improve Brussels-Washington relations. In the defense and security areas the Middle East continues to vex both sides. President Trump has made known he’s angry that some NATO members, most notably Germany, don’t pay their full dues to the alliance.

As the leading German weekly Die Zeit admits: “There is nothing to romanticize about the trans-Atlantic relationship but rather a lot to repair” and there’s little time.

On May 1, Trump will drop the temporary reprieve from tariffs on U.S. steel (25 percent) and aluminum (10 percent) but the E.U. wants a permanent exemption, according to the French and German leaders and European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who has said that that deadline is impossible to meet.

Some officials fear the steel-tariff issue could be the opening shot in a threatened trans-Atlantic trade war with retaliation targets Harley-Davidson, bourbon and Levi’s jeans among 200 other U.S. brands; more optimistic Europeans point out trade spats are nothing new, part of the weather.

Beyond dispute, however, is the need for an authoritative U.S. point man, an ambassador to the E.U., who can finesse political messages coming out of the White House.

The Trump presidency has disturbed most previous European assumptions about U.S. policy. Straightaway the new president dumped the pending Atlantic free trade agreement (TTIP), then he opted out of the Climate Change deal so carefully crafted in Paris.

European anxiety grew when one of Trump’s friends, Ted R. Malloch, was – apparently -- to head up the U.S. mission here. During a short visit last spring the former businessman/academic caused offence by claiming on TV the E.U.’s common currency, the euro, would fail, and moreover the E.U. had become anti-democratic and anti-American.

He also claimed the Trump administration “is no longer interested in the old form of European integration.”

Since then the Malloch prospect has faded – to be replaced by whom?

E.U. institutions, the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament, not to mention 28 chancelleries, are impatient to know. When the choice is finally made, it will be a defining moment in Atlantic relations.

Brussels-based David Haworth writes for Inside Sources, where this piece first appeared. A seasoned reporter on European subjects, he has worked for the International Herald Tribune, the Irish Independent, the Irish Daily Mail & The Observer.

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Faulkner: Report takes aim at using wood for energy

Heater using wood pellets.

Heater using wood pellets.

Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

A new study contends that wood-fueled power plants continue to be a polluting energy source especially as their use grows. The report Not Carbon Neutral, recently published in Environmental Research Letters, challenges the claim that wood pellets, trees and forestry residue have a negligible effect on greenhouse-gas emissions when used to generate energy.

The author, Mary Booth, argues that many biomass/bioenergy plants and pellet manufacturers are using whole tree “rounds” instead of wood byproducts and tree residue, as they claim. And even if the wood-power and pellet industry adhered to sustainable sourcing of wood, carbon dioxide emissions are still much higher than claimed and similar to coal and other fossil fuels, according to the report.

“This analysis shows that power plants burning residues-derived chips and wood pellets are a net source of carbon pollution in the coming decades just when it is most urgent to reduce emissions,” Booth said.

Booth reaches her conclusion by including fossil-fuel emissions from the shipping and manufacturing of wood fuels, such as wood pellets. Wood pellets are produced in the southeastern United States and most are shipped to biomass power plants in the United Kingdom and Belgium. The European Union classifies woody biomass as carbon neutral and offers subsidies for switching from coal and other fossil fuels to wood.

However, a growing body of research claims that it takes decades for replanted forests to recoup the carbon emissions released from trees used as fuel or to make wood pellets. Researchers and environmentalists are raising questions as climate scientists urge greenhouse-gas reductions during the next 10 to 20 years, to curb some of the worst effects of climate change.

While Massachusetts has restrictions on biomass power plants, the state released guidelines in December for biomass boilers and industrial heating systems, systems that qualify for renewable-energy incentives. Gov. Charlie Baker supports woody biomass and sees it as a boost to the state’s lumber industry.

Rhode Island imports electricity from woody biomass power plants in northern New England for its program to deliver renewable energy to the regional grid. As of 2015, according to the latest report available, 34 percent of Rhode Island’s renewable-energy portfolio was supplied by woody biomass power plants.

President Trump supports biomass with his "all of the above" energy policy. On Feb. 13, Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt visited New Hampshire, which has a handful of biomass power plants, to declare woody biomass a carbon-neutral energy “in appropriate circumstances.”

Booth lives in Pelham, Mass., and battles against local wood-burning power plants and state efforts to expand biomass. Her organization Partnership for Public Policy offers a global perspective on biomass energy.

“Even under the best-case scenario the carbon footprint is really big,” she said.

Booth directed her latest research toward the Inter­governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations organization that studies the causes and impacts of climate change. The IPCC endorses biomass if it is sourced from agriculture and forestry residues. But Booth noted that even if lifecycle emissions are ignored, the report “finds that even assuming the materials burned are true residues, up to 95 percent of the cumulative CO2 emitted represents a net addition to the atmosphere over decades."

And time is one part of the equation that can't be ignored.

“To avoid dangerous climate warming requires us to reduce power sector CO2 emissions immediately,” Booth said.

Tim Faulkner is a reporter and writer for ecoRI News.

David Warsh: On Russia, Trump hoisted on the Democrats' petard

A few months after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, in 2014, Foreign Affairs conducted an illuminating exchange of views. It is as good a place as any to begin to retrace the steps that brought us to the present day “Russia crisis.” It is always a good idea to go back to the beginning when you are lost.

John Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, wrote “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions that Provoked Putin.  Michael McFaul, advisor to President Barack Obama, back at Stanford after a two-year stint as ambassador to Moscow, argued that the takeover had been “Moscow’s Choice: Who Started the Ukraine Crisis.”  Alexander Lukin, vice president of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described “What the Kremlin Is Thinking: Putin’s Vision for Eurasia.” (Foreign Affairs allows non-subscribers only one free article a month, so choose your link carefully.)

Mearsheimer, 69, the leading expositor (after Henry Kissinger, 94) of what is commonly called the realist view in international affairs, described a triple package of encroachment:  NATO enlargement, European Union expansion, and aggressive democracy promotion.  Of these, NATO was the “taproot” of the trouble. Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend, he wrote, especially for those who remembered Russian experiences with Napoleonic France (in 1812), imperial Germany (in World War I) and Nazi Germany (in World War II). He continued,

No Russian leader would tolerate [NATO], a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently, moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West…. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it.''

McFaul, 53, an expositor of the liberal view of foreign affairs, responded in the next issue. If Russia was really opposed to NATO expansion, why didn’t it raise  a stink after 1999, when NATO expansion began?  Hadn’t Russian president Dimitri Mededev permitted the U.S. to continue to operate its airbase in Kyrgyzstan?  Hadn’t he tacitly acquiesced to NATO intervention in Libya?

"In the five years that I served in the Obama administration, I attended almost every meeting Obama held with Putin and Medvedev, and, for three of those years, while working at the While House, I listened in on every phone conversation, and I cannot remember NATO expansion ever coming up.''

The real reason for the annexation, McFaul wrote, had to do with internal Russian politics. Putin needed to cast the US as an enemy in order to discredit those who opposed his election to a third presidential term.  He feared a “color revolution,” like the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004, might force him from power.

Mearsheimer wasn’t impressed:  And to argue that Russian opposition was based on “resentment,” as had former Bill Clinton adviser Stephen Sestanovich, 67, in a companion piece, “How the West Has Won,”  was to miss the point.  Russia was worried about its border.

"Great powers always worry about the balance of power in their neighborhoods and push back when other great powers march up to their doorstep. This is why the United States adopted the Monroe Doctrine in the early nineteenth century and why it has repeatedly used military force and covert action to shape political events in the Western Hemisphere.''

Meanwhile, Lukin, the Kremlin insider, had already reminded readers of the gauzy view of Russia that had taken hold in America after 1993.  Gradually Russia would embrace Western-style democracy at home and cease to pose a threat to the security of its former satellites. It would accept Western leadership in economic affairs.  And it would recognize that various tough treatment of its one-time allies – Serbia, Libya, Iraq, and Iran – was the legitimate exercise of Western leadership in global affairs. Lukin wrote:

"The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has finally put an end to this fantasy.   In annexing Crimea, Moscow decisively rejected the West’s rules and in the process shattered many flawed Western assumptions about its motivations.  US and European officials need a new paradigm for how to think about Russian foreign policy – and if they want to resolve the Ukraine crisis and prevent similar ones from occurring in the future, they need to get better at putting themselves in Moscow’s shoes.''

What Putin had in mind, Lukin wrote, was the formation of a Eurasian Union, similar to the European Union but not particularly a rival to it, linking the economies of Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine.

"The concept of a Eurasian space or identity first arose among Russian philosophers and historians who emigrated from communist Russia to Western Europe in  the 1920s. Like Russian Slavophiles before them, advocates of Eurasianism spoke of the special nature of Russian civilization and its differences from European society; but they gazed in a different direction. Whereas earlier Slavophiles emphasized Slavic unity and contrasted European individualism with the collectivism of Russian peasant communities, the Eurasians linked the Russian people to the Turkic-speaking people, or 'Turanians,' of the Central Asian Steppe.''

The differences of opinion had been clearly set out.

That was three years ago. You know the rest. Escalating sanctions on Russia from the West, especially the US.  From Russia, increasing bellicosity.

Since he was elected, Donald Trump has been hoist on a petard largely of the Democratic Party’s making, going back to Bill Clinton’s decision to press for NATO expansion in 1994. Enlargement was forcefully opposed by other Democrats in 1996, but to no avail.  Clinton went ahead. George W. Bush and Obama continued in the same groove.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to say a kind word about Trump.  He first came by his views of Russia from well-heeled Russian customers for his real estate developments.  And I am only mildly sympathetic to Putin’s problems.  We have enough of our own.

The good news is that Trump has appointed two sensible realists who know a thing or two about Russia:  Rex Tillerson Secretary of State and, the other week, Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia.  It is the beginning of a long journey back to common sense.

David Warsh is proprietor of economicprincipals.com, where this first ran. He is a long-time columnist and economic historian.

Hosting a Chinese propaganda agency

Hassenfield Common and the Unistucture & Globe Dome at Bryant University, in Smithfield, R.I. Bryant has a unit of China's controversial Confucius Institute on its remarkably attractive modernistic campus.

Hassenfield Common and the Unistucture & Globe Dome at Bryant University, in Smithfield, R.I. Bryant has a unit of China's controversial Confucius Institute on its remarkably attractive modernistic campus.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com

As the United States withdraws from speaking out for human rights and democracy, the Chinese dictatorship moves in with piles of money. That money is already having sad effects.

Consider that Greece has vetoed a European Union statement denouncing Chinese human-rights abuses in the wake of Greece recently getting billions of dollars in infrastructure investments from Beijing. Croatia and Hungary (the latter run by a semi-fascist president), also the beneficiary of massive Chinese spending, have also blocked E.U. statements on Chinese actions, including China’s attempt to take over the entire South China Sea. Each E.U. nation has veto power over statements meant to be the official E.U. position.

Here at home we have the Confucius Institute problem. The Institute is affiliated with China’s Education Ministry and hasthe official aim to promote Chinese language and culture.  But it is really a propaganda and intelligence office, a handy base for industrial and other espionageand a sturdy platform for the increasingly aggressive and expansionist dictatorship to keep in line Chinese students studying abroad.  Their very presence tends to constrain intellectual freedom regarding things Chinese.

Some U.S. colleges and universities, such as Rhode Island’s Bryant University, have partnered with the Institutesatellites for the money and business connections they provide after they set up shop on American campuses. These Confucius Institute operations provide free (to the colleges) teachers and textbooks and cover operating costs.   Some administrators and faculty members like them because they help bring in full-tuition-paying Chinese students and provide freeand luxurious junkets to China to some administrators and faculty members.  Such operations are inappropriate on American college campuses.

Rachelle Peterson, director of research at the National Association of Scholars, a conservative group, has accurately complained: “Confucius Institutes export the fear of speaking freely around the world. They permit a foreign government to have intimate influence over college classrooms. It’s time to kick them off campus.’’ Ms. Peterson quoted former Chinese Communist Party propaganda chief Li Changchun as calling the on-campus Confucius Institute satellites “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda efforts.’’

 

 

The West should circle the wagons.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's Nov. 3 "Digital Diary'' column in GoLocal 24.

In  one of the nuttier episodes in the trade wars,  the government of Wallonia, the poorer, French-speaking part of Belgium, held up for days a trade deal between the European Union and Canada. Finally, concessions were made to the Walloons aimed at protecting their farmers and Rust Belt-style businesses from being hit hard by competition with multinational companies, and the pact was signed.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which backers predict will boost trade by 20 percent between Canada and the E.U., will now go into effect.

I can understand the opposition of many people in Europe and the U.S. to international trade that seems to have benefited the elite and not the middle class, but we should be expanding trade within the West as much as possible to strengthen the world’s core of democracy, human rights (including labor rights) and environmental protection. It’s trade with police state China that has done the most damage. Cut U.S. trade with China, Russia and other dictatorships as much as possible and boost it with Western Europe,  Canada, Australia, NewZealand, as well as with India, Japan and Taiwan and a few other non-Western nations that share many of our democratic values.

Western nations need to circle the wagons and do as much as they can to  better compete with China and other dictatorships.  We need a free-trade zone with all the Western democracies. That doesn’t mean a larger version of the European Union, which, with its noneconomic elements, is quite something else. Rather we need, first off,  what used to be called the “European Common Market’’ expanded to include the U.S. and Canada while boosting NATO to stop Russian aggression.

Will Putin admirer  (and debtor?) and "free-trade'' foe President-elect Donald Trump come to recognize this?

Llewellyn King: Taking a wrecking ball to the U.S. and U.K.

On both sides of the Atlantic, political and business retaining walls are being torn down in the belief that they are of no structural importance. Messing with the political and business architecture is likely to have grave, and possibly terrible, effects on democracy and prosperity.

In the United States solid, political orthodoxy, which has served well for so long, is under attack in the Congress and on the hustings.

A more advanced attack is underway in Europe than the United States, but it is a harbinger nonetheless of bad things that can happen here. The commonalities outweigh the differences.

In Europe, Britain has embarked on one of the great, avoidable debacles of history: the decision to leave the European Union. It will destabilize Europe, almost certainly lead to a breakup of the United Kingdom, and leave the British Isles vulnerable and impoverished, clinging to the tatters of its “sovereignty.”

To bring about this state of affairs, the British had to take aim at the very architecture of the English Constitution: the collection of rules and precedents that has flowed since Magna Carta and is enshrined in the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty.

Now the Conservative Party is bowing to the result of a referendum, a decisive result nonetheless, which will involve the withdrawal from Europe without a debate or vote in the House of Commons. A referendum in Britain — there have only ever been three, and all have been on Europe — denies representative government, created over the centuries, as the only system of government: the fundamental political architecture.

In the United States, the political architecture is under threat because we fail to revere it. A book by Richard Arenberg and Robert Dove, titled Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate, outlines one way that the structure is facing the wrecking ball. For 34 years, Arenberg worked in the Senate for such Democratic political giants as George Mitchell, Carl Levin and Paul Tsongas. Robert Dove served twice as Senate parliamentarian and was on Republican Leader Robert Dole’s staff. They argue that the political architecture in the Senate is under attack from the ceaseless, ugly partisanship and that the filibuster, a minority guarantee to a say, may be swept away.

Arenberg told me that the filibuster, always used sparingly and seldom invoked, has been abused in recent years to such an extent that a change in the Senate rules could sweep away this unique tool of whichever party is in the minority to be heard. If that happens, he said, a situation like the one in the House would prevail, where the majority holds sway without regard to the minority, more like a parliamentary system.

Other threats to the structure of American democracy abound. Many of them have been enunciated by Hedrick Smith, a distinguished documentary filmmaker and former New York Times correspondent, in his book Who Stole the American Dream? He points to gerrymandering and special interests and their money as threatening the retaining walls of the American democracy.

Worse, maybe, on both sides of the Atlantic, is the growing conservative rejection of trade as the basis not only of prosperity, but also of foreign-policy stability.

Brexit is the willing destruction of Britain’s largest trade arrangement and an equivalent reduction in its influence in Europe and, by extrapolation, in the world.

In the United States, Hillary Clinton has pusillanimously turned her back on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact that she helped write. And Donald Trump has declared his intention to trash almost all our trade treaties, which, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, he claims have been written by idiots to favor our competitors.

Most worrying is the way the U.K.’s Conservative Party and Republicans, silenced by Trump’s candidacy, here have accepted this rejection of traditional conservative bedrock: prosperity through trade. Institutionally, they have been quiet, so quiet.

The threat to good governance in Europe and America, combined with the prevailing economic heresy, poses a serious threat to the West and must have its enemies in Moscow and Beijing doing a happy dance. They know that if you knock down enough retaining walls, the structure will be weakened to the point of collapse. The wrecking balls are already at work.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking2@gmail.com) is host and executive producer of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a veteran publisher, columnist and international business consultant.

Robert Whitcomb: A little context, please, on race relations; for ferries; democracy in Vt.

This originated in GoLocalProv.com

The news media, for marketing reasons, and the general public, for psychological/emotional ones, generally want simple narratives of big events, preferably with clear villains and heroes, idiots and geniuses, not to mention vivid starts and banging ends. A recent narrative is that Britain’s exit from the European Union was suicidal and will  be a world-historical catastrophe. No it won’t, as calmer members of the financial sector quickly realized.

Last week it was the shootings by police and then the lunatic Micah Xavier Johnson’s murder of five police officers. Tragic indeed, but the implication by some news media that America is somehow doomed to ever-widening  conflict about race and related law-enforcement matters is ridiculous.

America -- like all nations! – has plenty of racism. But the progress  that our huge, and complicated country has made in recent decades toward an inclusive and  mostly un bigoted society is impressive. I can remember back when drinking fountains were segregated in the South. The United States is a far more just (except perhaps economically) and peaceful place now than it was in, say, 1968 --  the disorderly year to which 2016 is now compared by people who didn’t live through ‘68.

That three of the key personalities in commenting on last week’s racially related incidents  -- Dallas Police Chief David Brown, President Obama and U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch--- are African-American says something important.

Most Americans are ignorant of many basic facts of their nation’s history. About foreign matters they’re even worse: The bigotries in most of the world far exceed America’s. That’s  one big reason that, for all our faults, so many people from the rest of the world want to move to the United States. Those denouncing  extremely ethnically diverse America as somehow uniquely vicious in race relations ought to do more reading and traveling.

A couple of other observations spawned by last week’s horrors:

Some people complain about the “militarization of America’s police.’’ But what do they expect given that it’s so easy for nonpolice to buy or otherwise get military-style weapons? The NRA, its employees on Capitol Hill and the likes of Walmart that sell so many weapons have been the biggest militarizers of America. They’ve made the nation an armed camp, and the police have to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, an interesting story in the July 11 New York Times reports:

“A new study confirms that black men and women are treated differently in the hands of law enforcement. They are more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed by a police officer, even after accounting for how, where and when they encounter the police.

“But when it comes to the most lethal form of force — police shootings — the study finds no racial bias.

“’It is the most surprising result of my career,” said Roland G. Fryer Jr., the author of the study and a professor of economics at Harvard and anAfrican-American.’’  Here’s the link:

The conventional wisdom can usually use a bit of editing.

xxx

Let’s hope that the return of warm-weather Providence-Newport ferry service, which will last just 10 weeks, helps get Rhode Island officials, working with the U.S. Transportation Department,  to start year-round commuter services by boat around Narragansett Bay. TheBay’s coast is heavily populated, there are lots of harbors and the (bad) roads are often congested – all making Rhode Island a damn good place for ferries.

In Europe,  most bodies of water with dense populations around them have ferry service, as does Massachusetts Bay. See:  http://www.bostonharborcruises.com/commuters/

Boston Harbor Cruises (BHC) runs  MBTA commuter boats that carry thousands of passengers to and from work each day, including the Inner Harbor Ferry between Charlestown Navy Yard and Long Wharf; the Hingham-to-Boston Ferry service, and the Hingham/Hull/Boston/Logan service.  BHC also operates the Salem Ferry under contract with the City of Salem in the summer. Its slogan is:  “Leave Gridlock in Your Wake’’.

What a fine economic-development tool ferries could be for a crowded state much of which is a bay.

xxx

Ah, Vermont, where citizens flock to hear local and state candidates take (usually) polite questions. Vermont and New Hampshire, for all their differences, have especially civic-minded and engaged citizens.

I saw an example last Sunday at a forum sponsored by the Washington and Orange County (Vt.) Republican committees, at which two smart candidates vying for the gubernatorial nomination answered some questions prepared by a moderator, made brief general statements on why they should be governor and took some queries from the floor. The forum was in the barnlike Vermont Granite Museum in Barre. That city is the site of famed granite quarries and some of the most bizarre cemetery sculptures I have ever seen! 

The candidates – former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman and Vermont Lt. Gov. and businessman Phil Scott – were both very articulate. They generally had coherent if, of course, predictably vague answers to questions and made  sure that they told the audience what they wanted they to hear.

This led to some typical (hypocritical?) contradictions such as talking up the need for business-friendly deregulation and economic development while also implying that they’d block a big (and utopian) development proposed by a Utah businessman and put the kibosh on more wind turbines on Vermont’s ridges because they’re unpopular among the neighbors. 

And the scary word “Trump’’ was never mentioned on the stage.

I went mostly because I wanted to see and hear my friend Josh Fitzhugh, chairman of the  Washington County Republican Committee, dress up like Vermont founder Ethan Allen and give a speech, rife with 18th Century language but along the lines of what a Republican circa 2016 might say. To read the speech, hit this link: http://newenglanddiary.com/home/2016/7/11

The speakers, the earnest and cordial audience, the stout and rich-voiced lady singing “The National Anthem’’ at the start and “God Bless America’’ at the end and a fried-chicken  picnic (inside – it was raining) made it a day of industrial-strength Americana.

xxx

Donald Trump’s capacity for sleaze is exceeded by his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, a man who apparently would do just about anything for money.

For decades,  Washington lobbyist and fixer Mr. Manafort has represented some of the world’s worst people, including the late Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, former Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych  and the late Somali dictator Siad Barre. He has  also worked with Pakistan intelligence services (which have worked hand in glove with Islamic terrorist groups). In purely domestic matters, he has also shown a similar rapaciousness. He is truly an archduke of amorality among his fellow Beltway Bandits. Donald Trump presents himself as an “outsider’’ who will shake up Washington. Eh?

xxx

I think that many readers will look differently at their own lives as they plow through My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3,600-page, barely edited autobiographical novel, or extended journal, or whatever it is. The Norwegian writer’s astonishing recall of the joys, pains, drama and tedium of daily life deepens our understanding of what it has been like to live in a Western nation for the last few decades.

xxx

As I walked our dog on a balmy night last week, I heard   a man softly playing songs from the ‘30s on a piano in his living room.   The music mixed with the sound of leaves being rustled by the southwest wind. It was a magical moment, and rare in these cacophonous times.

Robert Whitcomb is overseer of New England Diary.

Robert Whitcomb; Treatment for Brexit bathos; 'The Genius of Birds'

This first ran in Robert Whitcomb "Digital Diary'' column in GoLocalProv.com.

"There's been a little bit of hysteria post-Brexit vote, as if somehow NATO's gone, the Trans-Atlantic Alliance is dissolving, and every country is rushing off to its own corner. That's not what's happening."

--   President Obama

Quite right. And the Western World has been prosperous for long stretches without the E.U.!

The 51.8 percent vote  in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union stemmed from, among other things, the failure of the E.U. to slow the flood of refugees from nasty places and, somewhat related, the dwindling job prospects of millions of people hurt by globalization and computerization. Outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron, for example, had vowed to cut net immigration into the U.K. to 100,000 a year. In fact,  it rose to  333,000 in 2015.

Then there was the desire to protect the orderly British way of life.

The British and many people on the Continent understandably fear for their tolerant and opensocieties when so many people from illiberal, corrupt, religiously fanatic and indeed barbaric cultures flee to Europe for its safety andprosperity, not to mention welfare benefits, butrefuse to give up some of the nasty archaic aspects of the cultures whence they came. The British “Leave’’ voters want to adjust the influx of immigrants from non-Western cultures to a pace that  allows for thegradual education of these newcomers so that they come to accept the values of an open, tolerant, democratic and secular society.

What happens next?

Future events might include:

·      The U.K. deciding not to leave the E.U. after all. For one thing, the referendum isn’t legallybinding!

·      Letting Scotland veto Brexit since, under one legal interpretation, leaving requires the Scottish Parliament’s approval and the Scots have strongly favored staying in the E.U.

·      Renegotiating the U.K.’s membership in the E.U. -- for example, giving Britain and other member nations more power to control population movements into their nations.

The U.K. will muddle through with new arrangements with the E.U., perhaps along the lines of non-members Norway and Switzerland and, I hope, develop  even closer connections with its offspring the United States.

Brexit should remind us that we need to strengthen the unity of the wider West – Europe, the U.S. and Canada --  especially as aggressive dictatorships, particularly Vladimir Putin’s Russia, as well as Islamic terrorists, pose intensifying dangers.  NATO must block Putin’s obvious plan to take over the Baltic Republics and that  part of Ukraine he hasn’t already grabbed. And the U.S., the U.K and the E.U. need to accelerate negotiations  to enact  the TransatlanticTrade and Investment Partnership to strengthen the West on both sides of the Atlantic.

An analysis at the World Economic Forum in Davos listed the 10 best nations to live in. All except Japan are Western democracies. Brexit may spawn new ways of thinking to keep it that way.

xxx


MontyBurnham, who chairs the Preservation Society of Newport County,  controlled her exasperation in her recent status report on  long-delayed upgrades to three Newport mansions – upgrades that would draw in more tourist money to the City by the Sea.

Tedious Nimby legal actions have long held up a long-overdue welcome center at The Breakers as well as refreshment services at Marble House and The Elms. The society will almost certainly finally triumph this year, letting these improvements be implemented next year. But what a pity it will have taken so long to offer these amenities. America has become an increasingly difficult place to do public projects, no matter how good for the general public.

xxx

Republican leaders have long denounced the Affordable Care Act without coming up with a detailed plan with a cost-benefit analysis to replace it.

The tradition continues with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s election-year healthcare replacement “plan’’ for the ACA. As usual, it involves further complicating the tax code -- in this case,  with a new tax credit for people (including rich folks) to buy insurance in markets to be regulated by the states.

The speaker doesn’t project how much the credit would be worth, what the total cost would be, how many people it would cover and the range of  health conditions to be covered by such policies. So, at this point anyway, it means pretty much nothing.

Meanwhile, the most cost-effective and least complicated way to improve American healthcare – extending Medicare to everyone – remains off the table. Lobbyists rule!

xxx

Jennifer Ackerman’s new book, The Genius of Birds, about birds’ cognitive abilities, is quite something. Birds use tools, plan, have capacious memories and complex social lives. Many species are anything but what we think of as ‘’birdbrained’’.

But then,  the more we learn about nonhuman animals the more we’re surprised by how many species are smart and deeply feeling creatures. Pigs, certainly. (And some fish?)

And yet we continue to terrify, kill and eat intelligent animals.

Robert Whitcomb is overseer of New England Diary.

David Warsh: RIP: Great Britain, 1688-2016

SOMERVILLE, Mass.

My English friend first noticed the tendency years ago when English football hooligans began wearing the red and white Cross of St. George to matches in preference to the Union Jack. The latter ensign dated from 1606, when James I ordered the blue and white St. Andrew’s cross of the flag of Scotland to be sewn onto the English banner to represent his dual monarchy. For the next hundred years the striking new design was seen mainly on the masts of his British majesty’s ships at sea.

Not until 1688 did the English parliament get into the act, when its members invited the Dutchman William of Orange and his English wife to become King William III and Queen Mary II, fending off the restoration of hierarchical Catholic governance under James II.  Crowned in 1685, James was chased off the throne and out of the country in 1688.

This was the “Glorious Revolution,” long cherished by the English as supposedly peaceful, aristocratic and consensual. It has been persuasively reinterpreted recently as “violent, popular and divisive” by Yale historian Steve Pincus and extensively illuminated by Deidre McCloskey in her Bourgeois Trilogy as the first truly modern revolution, precursor to the American and French experiences.

This was modernization based on a Dutch model, not a French one, writes Pincus. It included a broad array of inventions associated with becoming a nation-state: republican governance; elected representatives of the citizenry; the rule of law; bourgeois values of various sorts, especially the fundamental and widespread curiosity we now describe as “scientific”; and, not incidentally, the strong army and first-rate navy required by a nation bent on global domination. The Union Jack became Britain’s official flag only after both parliaments passed Acts of Union in 1707.

Elizabeth, England’s first Protestant queen, had begun her rule in 1558. For the next 250 years, Britain battled Spain, the Netherlands and France for control of Europe, North America, and the sea, finally emerging  mostly victorious in 1815. Long before, writers including Edward Gibbon and Adam Smith had begun comparing its hegemony to that of the Roman Empire.

The Victorian era, broadly construed, lasted for a century, but as early as 1890 it was becoming clear that the empire had become overextended.  In The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline 1895-1905 (Princeton, 1977), Princeton historian Aaron Friedberg argued that the Boer War, in South Africa, exhausted Britain’s willingness to tax itself to pay to maintain its status as the world’s dominant power.

Two long and bitter wars with Germany in the 20th Century further sapped Britain’s human, military and financial capacity.  An attempted military intervention, with the aid of France and Israel, against Egypt in Suez in 1956 succeeded militarily but failed utterly politically and diplomatically. Gradually its naval forces were pulled back from Singapore. Hong Kong remained a commercial enclave long after it ceased to be a naval strong point; its sovereignty and governance were handed over to China in 1997.

What remained, until last week, was Britain’s capacity for moral leadership.  Britain had declined to join European Coal and Steel Community in the years after World War II.  French President Charles de Gaulle then fended off its attempt to join the European Economic Community (“the Common Market”) that emerged in the late 1950s. Britain finally entered the EEC in 1973, but opted out of the 1985 Schengen Agreement, which abolished most border controls among member states. The landmark Maastricht Treaty of 1992 created the European Union and the concept of European citizenship, E.U. passports and the free movement of labor among the member nations. Subsequent treaties have extended the principle of central European government from its seat in Brussels, and expanded membership to 28 member states.

What happened last week was not just Britain’s retreat from Europe; it was the abandonment of the project that began in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a dream of empire that turned out be a spectacular success.  Britain now will return to being the island nation celebrated by Shakespeare as “this fortress built by Nature for herself/ against infection and the hand of war.”  None of us who were raised on this story can be less than sad at the news; those who have labored in its service are heartbroken.

What happens now in Britain? Martin Wolf, economics columnist of the Financial Times, put it succinctly: Britain has prospered inside the E.U.  but it will not do as well outside.  It seems doubtful that London can remain the same immensely powerful global financial hub it has become – central banks such as the Bank of England have power only by dint of governments’ authority to tax.

Elites are fuming; they can hardly believe their comfortable way of life has been put at risk; so are the young, who voted overwhelmingly (75 percent of 18-24-year olds, 56 percent of 25-50 year olds) to remain.  

Can the vote be reversed?   British law may offer some exits.

My English friend first noticed the tendency years ago when English football hooligans began wearing the red and white Cross of St. George to matches in preference to the Union Jack. The latter ensign dated from 1606, when James I ordered the blue and white St. Andrew’s cross of the flag of Scotland to be sewn onto the English banner to represent his dual monarchy. For the next hundred years the striking new design was seen mainly on the masts of his British majesty’s ships at sea.

Not until 1688 did the English parliament get into the act, when its members invited the Dutchman William of Orange and his English wife to become King William III and Queen Mary II, fending off the restoration of hierarchical Catholic governance under James II.  Crowned in 1685, James was chased off the throne and out of the country in 1688.

This was the “Glorious Revolution,” long cherished by the English as supposedly peaceful, aristocratic and consensual. It has been persuasively reinterpreted recently as “violent, popular and divisive” by Yale historian Steve Pincus and extensively illuminated by Deidre McCloskey in her Bourgeois Trilogy as the first truly modern revolution, precursor to the American and French experiences.

This was modernization based on a Dutch model, not a French one, writes Pincus. It included a broad array of inventions associated with becoming a nation-state: republican governance; elected representatives of the citizenry; the rule of law; bourgeois values of various sorts, especially the fundamental and widespread curiosity we now describe as “scientific”; and, not incidentally, the strong army and first-rate navy required by a nation bent on global domination. The Union Jack became Britain’s official flag only after both parliaments passed Acts of Union in 1707.

Elizabeth, England’s first Protestant queen, had begun her rule in 1558. For the next 250 years, Britain battled Spain, the Netherlands and France for control of Europe, North America, and the sea, finally emerging  mostly victorious in 1815. Long before, writers including Edward Gibbon and Adam Smith had begun comparing its hegemony to that of the Roman Empire.

The Victorian era, broadly construed, lasted for a century, but as early as 1890 it was becoming clear that the empire had become overextended.  In The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline 1895-1905 (Princeton, 1977), Princeton historian Aaron Friedberg argued that the Boer War, in South Africa, exhausted Britain’s willingness to tax itself to pay to maintain its status as the world’s dominant power.

Two long and bitter wars with Germany in the 20th Century further sapped Britain’s human, military and financial capacity.  An attempted military intervention, with the aid of France and Israel, against Egypt in Suez in 1956 succeeded militarily but failed utterly politically and diplomatically. Gradually its naval forces were pulled back from Singapore. Hong Kong remained a commercial enclave long after it ceased to be a naval strong point; its sovereignty and governance were handed over to China in 1997.

What remained, until last week, was Britain’s capacity for moral leadership.  Britain had declined to join European Coal and Steel Community in the years after World War II.  French President Charles de Gaulle then fended off its attempt to join the European Economic Community (“the Common Market”) that emerged in the late 1950s. Britain finally entered the EEC in 1973, but opted out of the 1985 Schengen Agreement, which abolished most border controls among member states. The landmark Maastricht Treaty of 1992 created the European Union and the concept of European citizenship, E.U. passports and the free movement of labor among the member nations. Subsequent treaties have extended the principle of central European government from its seat in Brussels, and expanded membership to 28 member states.

What happened last week was not just Britain’s retreat from Europe; it was the abandonment of the project that began in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a dream of empire that turned out be a spectacular success.  Britain now will return to being the island nation celebrated by Shakespeare as “this fortress built by Nature for herself/ against infection and the hand of war.”  None of us who were raised on this story can be less than sad at the news; those who have labored in its service are heartbroken.

What happens now in Britain? Martin Wolf, economics columnist of the Financial Times, put it succinctly: Britain has prospered inside the E.U.  but it will not do as well outside.  It seems doubtful that London can remain the same immensely powerful global financial hub it has become – central banks such as the Bank of England have power only by dint of governments’ authority to tax.

Elites are fuming; they can hardly believe their comfortable way of life has been put at risk; so are the young, who voted overwhelmingly (75 percent of 18-24-year olds, 56 percent of 25-50 year olds) to remain.  

Can the vote be reversed?  Apparently just possibly.  Hit this link.

There is a distinct possibility that Scotland will choose to remain in the European Union. In that case the Union Jack may actually come apart. Those ancient flags will reappear:  the azure Saltire, worn by Scottish soldiers fighting in France in the 14th Century; the red-on-white St. George’s cross, brought back in the 12th  from Malta after the Second Crusade.

Meanwhile, what about the rest of the world?  That is a much more complicated story. You can expect to hear plenty more about it in the coming months, beginning with the other huge multi-national organization based in Brussels — the sprawling military-industrial complex known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

David Warsh, a longtime economic historian and financial columnist, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.

There is a distinct possibility that Scotland will choose to remain in the European Union. In that case the Union Jack may actually come apart. Those ancient flags will reappear:  the azure Saltire, worn by Scottish soldiers fighting in France in the 14th Century; the red-on-white St. George’s cross, brought back in the 12th  from Malta after the Second Crusade.

Meanwhile, what about the rest of the world?  That is a much more complicated story. You can expect to hear plenty more about it in the coming months, beginning with the other huge multi-national organization based in Brussels — the sprawling military-industrial complex known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

David Warsh, a longtime economic historian and financial columnist, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.

Jarrod Hazelton: Brexit a triumph of ignorance

Brexit is perhaps most appropriately summed up in the words of Mr. Donald Trump: 

“Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!” 

A Tweet heard (naturally) ‘round the world, whose expression of ignorance wa signored by his supporters  even as it was rightfully lampooned by everybody else.   Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union; England and Wales voted to leave.

Support for Brexit worldwide is a veritable Who’s Who of international Nuevo-fascism: Trump, Zhirinovsky, Putin, Marine le Pen. It is also the direct result of unabashed ignorance.  Take, for example, the recent remarks by U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage.

One of the central tenets of the Leave campaign was that £350 million per week in payments to the European Union would be diverted to the British National Health Service after Brexit. This incredible incentive is certainly something to consider, but for the fact that it was a total fabrication. Rather than admit this, Farage has instead made the preposterous assertion that he never said such a thing, regardless of the Leave campaign tour bus being emblazoned with the £350 million figure as it traversed the English countryside. Perhaps one of his handlers forgot to mention the design change. Additionally,  a Tory member of the European Parliament,  David Hannan, back-pedaled on immigration, claiming less than 24 hours after the Brexit vote that immigration levels  from the E.U. into Britain might remain unchanged after Brexit goes into full effect. Who knew that the UK had just voted in favor of a group of BRINOs (Brexitors In Name Only)?

Lying in politics is certainly not new but the  size of such preposterous claims in recent history is impressive. Trump is a virtual cacophony of spewing, festering untruths, and yet his followers  go along with his claims regardless of veracity. Instead, he maintains a stronghold on their collective frustration at  being excluded from a system that has long since left them behind.

What Brexitors and Trump supporters have in common may be less xenophobia, bigotry, racism and a longing to take back “again” whatever it is they feel is no longer theirs than ignorance. In America, Trumpists, are nostalgic for a country that once afforded them labor protections, defined-benefit pensions, generous employer-subsidized healthcare, affordable education and other things that have been stripped from them, albeit with scraps still trickling down to them from the rich interests so powerful in Washington, D.C. 

Ironically, market forces that have assaulted Brexitors and Trump and Sanders supporters who will refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton may ultimately solve their problems for them. Sovereign wealth funds lost over 30 percent of their interests in the U.K. overnight as  the pound crashed with the Brexit news, and won’t stand for  this to go on. Businesses in Britain will realize the vast expense of hiring and retraining based on citizenry regulations to be too egregious. And Brexit Remorse may lead to a second referendum, and/or negotiations to leave the E.U may result in a realm of clauses and capitulations that would truly make a Brexit In Name Only.

The prevailing ignorance, xenophobia, bigotry and socio-economic factors behind market forces may solve themselves for a time, but in so doing no lessons will be learned.

Jarrod Hazelton, who holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, is a financial analyst.

 

Chris Powell: Leaving E.U. essential to protecting British sovereignty, democracy, culture

 


Recognizing that the objective of the European project, ever-closer political and economic union, meant the destruction of democracy, sovereignty and the country’s very culture, Britain has voted in a great referendum to withdraw from the European Union.

The majority arose from a remarkable combination of the free-market, limited-government political right, the core of the Conservative Party, with the working-class political left, the core of the Labor Party, both party cores repudiating their leaderships as well as the national elites.

The result has enormous implications for the United Kingdom, starting with whether it can remain united, since Scotland -- formerly the most industrious and inventive province in the world, now perhaps the most welfare-addled -- probably will make a second attempt to secede, figuring that free stuff is more likely to flow through continued association with the E.U. than with England, which is growing resentful of the freeloaders up north.

But there are enormous implications for the world as well. The E.U. project has  never won forthright ratification by the people of its member states and indeed has sometimes refused to accept rejection by them. Indeed, the whole E.U. government is largely unaccountable. So the British vote quickly prompted demands for similar referendums in France and the Netherlands, where conservative populist movements have been gaining strength.

The politically correct elites are portraying the British vote as a "xenophobic" response to free movement of labor across the E.U. and particularly as opposition to the vast recent immigration into Europe from the Middle East and Africa. This immigration is widely misunderstood as being mainly a matter of refugees from civil war. In fact this immigration has been mainly economic and it has driven wages down in less-skilled jobs while increasing welfare costs throughout Europe, which explains the British Laborite support for leaving the E.U.

But it is not "xenophobic" to oppose the uncontrolled and indeed anarchic immigration that the European Union has countenanced. For any nation that cannot control immigration isn’t a nation at all or won’t be one for long. Since most immigration into Europe lately has come from a medieval and essentially fascist culture and involves people who have little interest in assimilating into a democratic and secular society, this immigration has threatened to destroy Europe as it has understood itself. Britain has been lucky to be at the far end of this immigration, but voters there saw the mess that it has been making on the other side of the Channel. They wisely opted to reassert control of their borders.

Their example should be appreciated in the United States, which for decades has failed to enforce its own immigration law and as a result hosts more than 10 million people living in the country illegally and unscreened. Fortunately few of this country’s illegal immigrants come from a culture that believes in murdering homosexuals, oppressing women and monopolizing religion. But the negative economic and social effects here are similar to those in Europe and properly have become political issues.

The main lesson of Britain’s decision may be an old one -- that nations have to develop organically, arising from the consent of the governed and a common culture, and that they can’t be manufactured by elites. Having defended its sovereignty and indeed liberty itself against Napoleon and Hitler, Britain now has set out to defend them again. So rule, Britannia -- Britannia, rule thyself.

From “Rule Britannia’’:

The nations not so blest as thee

Must in their turn to tyrants fall,

While thou shalt flourish great and free,

The dread and envy of them all.

Chris Powell is a political writer and also the managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Llewellyn King: Blame stupid English nativism for E.U. vote debacle

The English appear to have laid down the burden of sanity. They have voted to leave the European Union.

It was never about Great Britain; it was always at its kernel about England. There was always a primal, nativist, historically seated English antipathy to Europe and by extension to the European project.

I should know. You could say I was there in the beginning.

Way back in the early 1960s, as a young journalist, I worked for Lord Beaverbrook, the Canadian-born newspaper publisher who led the early fight against the European Economic Community, also called the Common Market. There were then, in 1962 and 1963, just six members and the rival outfit, the European Free Trade Area had seven.

I believed that when Britain finally joined what is now the European Union in 1973 that a decade earlier we had been wrong. And I believe that leaving the European Union today is terribly wrong, a ghastly self-inflicted wound that will hasten the end of the United Kingdom, encourage a surge in right-wing bigotry in Europe, and leave no one -- not one individual in any country of Europe -- better off, particularly the residents of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In the wreckage that now has to be sorted out across the Atlantic, two lessons stand out: first, referendums have no place in a representative democracy and second, today's political parties, across the world, no longer represent the feelings of their electorates. In Britain, as in America, and most recently in Italy, it is now apparent that the old left-right divide does not address a smoldering anger that affects the democracies of the world.

Give angry people something to smash and they will smash it. The angry English have just smashed up the place where they live. It is ineffably sad for those who have followed Europe’s attempt to come together, to boost trade, and to end war in on the continent.

During the long and campaign leading to Thursday’s vote, every shibboleth about sovereignty, faceless bureaucrats, money transfers and European skullduggery was trotted out.

When the facts do not fit, harken back to another time: That is easy enough to do in England with its storied history. They never said it, but the triumphant Leave campaign implied every day in every way: We’ll make England great again. Donald Trump could have ghosted the Leave campaign.

When Britain joined the Common Market in 1973, the country was often referred to as the sick man of Europe. Today, Britain is the world’s fifth-largest economy and it has been the strongest advocate for free markets and free trade in Europe. Not only will Britain be setting a new course, but so will the European Union.

Europe, including Britain, has a massive migration problem that fed the anxieties of the English, particularly in the depressed north of the country. But Europe has yet another problem that will not go away: The euro has failed. Britain wisely never adopted it, but the 19 countries of the Eurozone are paying a high price. Weak economies on the southern flank of Europe, most notably Greece, cannot devalue to make their goods and services more salable and the strong economies, most importantly Germany, are the beneficiaries of a weak euro in their exports.

The British vote will spur reforms in Europe and if they are not fast enough and far enough-reaching, the European Union itself will break apart. Italy is an early candidate to bolt, but so are its southern neighbors.

It is not Europe as a free-trade area they should be trying to escape, but rather its benighted currency. Consider: If the euro was fazed out and the old currencies were to reappear, Germany would have an increasingly hard currency, the mark, and Italy and Greece, with the lira and the drachma, would produce goods and services that were very affordable to their customers.

But that is not Britain’s problem. It has to find new markets and a way of living with the strictures of European trade without a voice in the writing of those strictures.

Political folly has led Britain to be lesser. “Little England” and Little Englanders always have been pejoratives in British political invective. Today the Little Englanders are triumphant, having chosen insignificance and poverty over importance and wealth. Shame.

The British (read English) electorate has signed on to a dream. The nightmare begins now. 

Llewellyn King, host and executive producer of White House Chronicle on PBS, is a longtime publisher, columnist and international business consultant. This piece first ran on Inside Sources.

Robert Whitcomb: What to do with those islands near Europe

 

On a business trip to London in the ‘80s, I saw a billboard for an airline at Heathrow Airport that proclaimed “Best Route to Europe’’. I asked a cabbie: “Aren’t we in Europe?’’ He answered: “No, Sir, we’re in England’’.

Whenever I visit Britain, I never feel  I am in “Europe,’’ but rather in something closer to the U.S. or Canada. It  isn’t just the language;  it’s in the manner of the people and the look of the place.  London reminds me of Boston (Mass.), Nottingham of Worcester (Mass.).

On June 23, British subjects will vote on whether the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) should quit the European Union (the exit called the “Brexit’’). There would be pitfalls (for a while) in doing so but advantages too.

The pitfalls: Harder for British people to get jobs on the Continent, less flexibility for big U.K. companies in doing deals with Continental companies and snags in coordinating sometransnational anti-terrorism security measures with E.U. members. 

Still, while Brexit would hurt the U.K. economy  for several years it would strengthen it for the long term.

It would give the U.K. more control over its own affairs, thus letting it better maintain its best qualities,  especially its love of liberty;  its quirky individualism; its entrepreneurialism; the strength and stability of its institutions, including its glorious Common Law, the astonishingly adaptable language that England gave the world and that 1.5 billion people speak now, and its special relationship with America.

For all their flaws, no nations have benefited the world as  much as have the United Kingdom and its offspring the United States.  The U.K.’s cultural/political/economic characteristics made that possible.  Further absorption into the homogenizing, bureaucratizing and centralizing European Union, mostly run by  unelected, if highly professional and well-meaning, administrators, threatens to dilute these strengths.

The late historian Robert Conquest wrote: “within the West, it is above all the English-speaking community which has …pioneered and maintained the middle way between anarchy and despotism.’’

Brexit would probably encourage the U.K. to tighten ties with its most important offspring – America -- with which it shares so many values -- and with the 53-nation Commonwealth of Nations, formerly the British Commonwealth,  to help offset negative economic effects of Brexit.

I used to live in France and  am a fan of the European Union – for the Continent.  For all its regulations, bureaucracy and social engineering, the E.U. has, all in all,  helped make the Continent more prosperous and humane and war in Western and Central Europe much less likely.

That the E.U. has  made it much easier for citizens of E.U. countries to travel and work where they want within the Union has usually been a boon. But it also has made it easier for terrorists and other criminals to operate freely over a wide area, which has increasingly worried the British. Thank God for the Channel!

The biggest near-term threats to the E.U. come from the  gangster Vladimir Putin’s aggression and from Islamic pathologies,  which wreak terror attacks and refugee floods, but confronting them is mostly NATO ‘s job, not the E.U.’s. And the United Kingdom will remain in NATO, whether or not it leaves the E.U.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of  the glories of “multiculturalism,’’ the fact is that Western culture has brought more prosperity and human rights to the world than any other.   No wonder almost all refugees want to flee to the West. We need to do everything possible to boost the  broader Western World through, for example, such projects as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a huge free-trade area  in the mutual self-interest of the European Union, the U.K.  (Brexit or not) and the U.S.  

But in such cooperation, let’s not dilute the best idiosyncratic elements of Western Civilization’s parts.  The U.K., in the long run,  would do better as a friendly partner of the E.U. than as a member. Its  history, its enduring psychic separation from Europe, its  curious blend of insularity and worldliness (much of the latter stemming from the British Empire experience) has served itself and the world well.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com) is overseer of newenglanddiary.com and former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune.

Llewellyn King: The pernicious effects of polling on the body politic

Warning: the political news you are consuming may be synthetic, manufactured in a corporation and served up breathlessly by the media. Like many synthetic substances, it could be bad for your health.

I refer, of course, to the epidemic of polling. Polls have become a political narcotic. There is an appetite for them that knows no bounds. If you do not like or trust one poll, take another.

This, in turn, reflects a time when the science of polling faces challenges. Polling had become fearsomely accurate, but recently it has encountered two bugaboos: Changing demographics and changing telephone usage. These things have cleft polling in two: polls that are conducted through telephone interviews and those that are conducted electronically.

The evidence is that the old way remains more accurate, but it is bedeviled with fewer land lines and more people who do not want to be interviewed, or may not be comfortable speaking English.

It is, I am told, cheaper to poll electronically, but the bugs are not all out of the system and wide discrepancies in results are showing up. Hence, a poll that shows Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump in the general election is followed by another equally reputable poll that shows Trump defeating Hillary.

The pollsters I have known are a canny lot, and I have no doubt they will get on top of these problems. The most egg that has landed on the face of the polling industry was in getting the last British election so wrong. That fiasco is informing the doubt surrounding polls on whether or not Britain should leave the European Union. They are struggling with a close call and public distrust of polling.

In the United States, polling has gotten the presidential primaries more or less right. But the putative contest between Clinton and Trump has wide swings in polling results; so wide that the pollsters themselves are having difficulty asking the right questions and managing the results.

Not since 1945, when it started seriously, has polling seemed so challenged as in this presidential contest.

But unreliable or not, the debate is fashioned by the polls. Talk radio, talk television and the newspapers are nourished by the latest polls, which pass as news.

For me the argument is not whether the polls are accurate, but rather the damage they do to the system. They are — and I am assuming that the pollsters will regain their former omnipotence — an impediment to the political process.

A poll is a snapshot that morphs into a narrative. A second in time becomes a reality, and candidacies are extinguished before they can catch fire.

Commentators extrapolate a grain of truth into a mountain of fact.

Polling has reached a point where not only is it part of the democratic process, but it also distorts that process, picking winners and losers before the electorate has assimilated the facts.

The news media has fallen onto the habit of taking this synthetic news — a suspect commodity for which the great news organizations pay — as the real thing. A poll gets the same weight as the ballot, thus affecting the ballot.

I believe that polls do reveal a truth, but a truth of one brief moment in time. The trouble is that revelation becomes the revealed truth, and the future gets tethered to that moment. Normal evolution in political thinking is hampered by this synthetic truth.

In hiring pollsters, news organizations are unwittingly setting up what is the equivalent of a posed photograph: a photograph that will be reprinted hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times until it has become a kind of truth and its dubious genesis is forgotten.

Politicians are swayed by polls, fitting their policies to synthetic truths that have been certified as the will of the people: erroneous certifications, as it happens.

Llewellyn King is the host and executive producer of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a longtime publisher, columnist and international business consultant. This piece first ran on Inside Sources.

 

 

Gregory N. Hicks: U.S. must stay at the trade table

  The Boston Tea Party remains one of the seminal events in American history, and it continues to resonate among political elites, because most Americans believe that the “Tea Party” was a protest about taxation without representation.

It really wasn’t. It was actually about the setting of rules for international commerce without representation. John Hancock, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, merchant, ship owner and one of wealthiest men in the colonies, along with the Sons of Liberty, instigated the Boston Tea Party because the British government had given the British East India Company a monopoly to transport tea to the colonies and sell it there, effectively excluding American merchants from competing in a trade in which they had been profitably engaged. From the very beginnings of our republic, Americans have demanded the opportunity to compete internationally on a level playing field.

Two thousand years ago, Roman Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero said “the sinews of power are money, money, and more money.” This observation is as true for the 21st Century as it was in the First Century BCE. National power comes from national prosperity.

Fifteen years into the 21st Century, it is clear that the international economy has entered a transition period similar to the change that occurred a century ago, when the United States emerged as the world’s leading economic power. When that occurred, the United States did not use its economic power to influence global events, instead adopting a foreign policy of isolationism and international disarmament.

“The business of America is business,”  said President Coolidge, and America’s insistence on repayment of World War I debts contributed to economic instability in Europe. Isolationism led to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, the Great Depression and World War II.

Fully cognizant of this history as well as the necessity of rebuilding the world’s economy after World War II, the U.S. government  leveraged America’s overwhelming post-war economic superiority to establish the dollar as the dominant currency of international finance and trade and to found the multilateral institutions that are the girders of today’s rules-based international economic system. The relatively level playing field for international commerce that was created has led to 70  years of economic growth and prosperity that has lifted millions from poverty.

Economies rose from the ashes of World War II by adopting key aspects of the American economic model, but in 1990, the United States was still the world’s largest economy. Our nearest competitor, Japan, had a GDP only 40 percent the size of America’s; China’s GDP was less than one-sixth the size of ours.

Today, the United States is no longer the world’s largest economy; that status belongs to the European Union. Most economists project that China will soon overtake the United States as the world’s largest national economy, although some argue that milestone has already been passed. Meanwhile, India’s economy is not too far behind.

Despite the emergence of multiple global economic competitors, the United States remains the acknowledged leader and fulcrum of the international economy. Five major trends in the global economy – the internet impact on international commerce, the emergence of global value chains, the oil exploration technology revolution, the rebound in U.S. manufacturing, and the resilience of the dollar after the 2008 financial crisis – illustrate the centrality of the United States to both the international economy and international relations.

We’re all familiar with the Internet’s impact on our daily lives, and at work, we experience the internet’s effects on productivity, but on a larger scale, it is also transforming international trade opportunities. For instance, E-bay and Amazon are fostering an Internet-based international retail revolution. The first company makes it possible for any individual to engage in an international commercial transaction. Any American who offers a good on E-bay could find that it has been purchased by someone from Ghana or Fiji; and the reverse transaction is equally possible. For its part, Amazon, based on its global warehouse network and relationships with modern logistical companies, has built a virtual mall in which customers can buy almost anything and have it delivered to their doorstep within a few days.

Internet communication has also made cross-border vertical integration of production, or global value chains, possible. Pioneered by Nike and improved by Apple, the process is perhaps epitomized today by Gilead, a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company that is saving thousands of lives by developing and lowering consumer drug prices through innovative production arrangements with pharmaceutical producers in a number of developing countries.

Global value chains are inducing a reconsideration of the statistical analysis of international trade, which is changing perspectives on international economic policy. Analysts are grasping the importance of trade in intermediate goods, i.e., components or partially finished goods that are moving across borders through vertically integrated production processes. For the United States, one-third of exports and three-fifths of imports are intra-firm trade in intermediate goods.

A recent International Monetary Fund study looked at the major economic powers from the standpoint of domestic value-added (DVA) and foreign value-added (FVA) in their national output. The study found that China’s economy is the most dependent on foreign value-added content of any of the major economies, while the United States is the least dependent. The study also suggested that if China let its currency, the Yuan, appreciate, it would both move up the value chain and reduce the dependence of its economy on foreign inputs. Perhaps tellingly, China’s leaders have been allowing the Yuan to appreciate steadily over the past decade.

“Fracking,” that uniquely American technological innovation, is also changing the international policy landscape, and if the U.S. resumes exporting oil and natural gas, could have an even greater impact. The current policies of Arab oil-producing states clearly reflect their unease with growing American energy independence, while Europe, through employing fracking to develop its own energy resources or importing American oil and gas, has the potential to reduce its energy dependence on Russia by substantial amounts.

The manufacturing sector provides the tools of national power, and a newly released Congressional Research Service study suggests that all the talk of the demise of U.S. manufacturing is premature. While China became the world’s top manufacturing country in 2010, the United States remains second by a wide margin. In addition, U.S. manufacturing output grew between 2005 and 2013 by 5 percent, despite the Great Recession. Much of this growth was powered by inward foreign direct investment, 39 percent of which has been landing in the manufacturing sector.

Despite setbacks to the dollar’s reputation arising from the international financial crisis, the dollar continues to symbolize American economic strength and prowess. The dollar’s central role in international finance and trade provides unique avenues for the United States to use economic power in lieu of military intervention or other forms of pressure to resolve international problems. Yet that unique role is under competitive pressure as China, the European Union, Japan, Russia, India and Brazil all seek to put their currencies on an equal footing with the dollar.

International economic policy offers the U.S. government a range of tools to advance U.S. foreign policy and commercial interests in an increasingly competitive, multipolar environment. Among those tools, preferential trade and investment agreements positively affect more aspects of economies than any other. Not only do trade agreements lock-in existing trading and investment patterns, they create new links by eliminating trade barriers through reducing taxes and writing new trade and investment rules that go beyond those found in the 1994 World Trade Organization agreement.

In  national power, trade agreements not only generate economic growth, jobs, and tax revenue, but they also create economic interdependence among agreement parties. The voluntary acceptance of that interdependence is an unambiguous symbolic foreign-policy statement. In a multipolar world, such agreements are essential to economic competitiveness and peaceful coexistence.

Our competitors understand these characteristics very well, including the axiom, illustrated by the 1773 Tea Act that sparked the Boston Tea Party: “He who writes the rules, wins.” They are aggressively negotiating trade pacts around the world, changing the terms and rules of trade in their favor. Currently, the European Union, formed itself by a trade agreement, has 32 preferential trade agreements in place with 88 countries, and it is currently negotiating 12 agreements covering an additional 36 countries. India’s existing preferential trade network includes 26 countries via 14 agreements, and it is negotiating four new agreements covering 37 additional nations. Japan has implemented 14 agreements with 16 countries, and is negotiating three trade agreements covering 35 nations. China has 12 preferential trade pacts in force with 21 countries, and is negotiating three more agreements that would cover 14 additional states.

Completing both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations would expand the U.S. preferential trade network consisting of 14 agreements covering 20 countries to an additional 33 nations. TPP and TTIP involve three of the world’s top four economies and cover a majority of the world’s existing trade.

Moreover, they seek to write new trade rules that facilitate the growth of 21st Century international trading patterns such as e-commerce, global value chains, and foreign investment, among others. As importantly, they revitalize longstanding strategic relationships with our Asian and European allies, an important signal to both China and Russia that the United States intends to remain a competitive actor in Asia and Europe. Conversely, failure to complete these agreements would be an act of unilateral economic-policy disarmament with long term consequences for U.S. economic growth and national power.

In a 21st Century world that is more multipolar, more complex, more integrated and more competitive than the United States has ever experienced in its history, U.S. competitors and strategic allies alike – Brazil, China, the European Union, Japan, India, and Russia – are seeking to amass economic power and to deploy it as a leading element of their foreign policies. In many cases, they seek  strategic advantages through these efforts, often at the expense of U.S. interests.

International economic-policy tools such as trade negotiations provide an effective, peaceful means to compete with these challenges.   If we do not participate in making the rules for international trade, others will write our companies out of the competition, many jobs will be lost and many more never created, and our national prosperity and national power will decline. If they were alive today, John Hancock and the Sons of Liberty would support the negotiation of TPP and TTIP. We should too.

Gregory N. Hicks is State Department Visiting Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington; an economist and a veteran U.S. diplomat. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.  This piece stems from Mr. Hicks's remarks at the June 9 meeting of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations (thepcfr.org)

 

 

Robert Whitcomb: Another trap in the energy cycles

A few years ago I co-wrote a book, with Wendy Williams, about a controversy centered on Nantucket Sound. The quasi-social comedy, called Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Energy, Class, Politics and the Battle for Our Energy Future, told of how, since 2001, a company led by entrepreneur James Gordon has struggled to put up a wind farm in the sound in the face of opposition from the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound — a long name for fossil-fuel billionaire Bill Koch, a member of the famous right-wing Republican family.  An amusing movie, Cape Spin,  directed by John Kirby and produced by Libby Handros, came out of this saga, too. Mr. Koch's houses include a summer mansion in Osterville, Mass., from which he doesn’t want to see wind turbines on his southern horizon on clear days.

Mr. Koch may now have won the battle, as very rich people usually do. Two big utilities, National Grid and Northeast Utilities, are trying to bail out of a politicized plan, which they never liked, forcing them to buy Cape Wind electricity. They cite the fact that the company missed the Dec. 31, 2014, deadline in contracts signed in 2012 to obtain financing and start construction. Cape Wind said it doesn’t “regard these terminations as valid” since, it asserts, the contracts let the utilities’ contracts be extended because of the alliance’s “unprecedented and relentless litigation.” Bill Koch has virtually unlimited funds to pay lawyers to litigate unto the Second Coming, aided by imaginative rhetoric supplied by his  very smart and well paid pit-bull  anti-Cape Wind spokeswoman, Audra Parker,  even though the project has won all regulatory approvals.

It's no secret that it has gotten harder and harder to do big projects in the United States because of endless litigation and ever more layers of regulation. Thus our physical infrastructure --- electrical grid, transportation and so on -- continues to fall behind our friendly competitors, say in the European Union and Japan, and our not-so-friendly competitors, especially in China. Read my friend Philip K. Howard's latest book, The Rule of Nobody, on this.

With the death of Cape Wind, New Englanders would lose what could have helped diversify the region’s energy mix — and smooth out price and supply swings — with home-grown, renewable electricity. Cape Wind is far from a panacea for the region’s dependence on natural gas, oil and nuclear, but it would add a tad more security.

Some of Cape Wind’s foes will say that the natural gas from fracking will take care of everything. But New England lacks adequate natural-gas pipeline capacity, to no small extent because affluent people along the routes hold up their construction. And NIMBYs (not in my backyard) have also blocked efforts to bring in more Canadian hydro-electric power. So our electricity rates are soaring, even as many of those who complain about the rates also fight any attempt to put new energy infrastructure near them. As for nuclear, it seems too politically incorrect for it to be expanded again in New England.

Meanwhile, the drawbacks to fracking, including water pollution and earthquakes in fracked countryside, are becoming more obvious. And the gas reserves may well be exaggerated. I support fracking anyway, since it means less use of oil and coal and because much of the gas is nearby, in Pennsylvania. (New York, however, recently banned fracking.)

Get ready for brownouts and higher electricity bills. As for oil prices, they are low now, but I have seen many, many energy price cycles over the last 45 years of watching the sector. And they often come with little warning. But meanwhile, many Americans, with ever-worsening amnesia, flock to buy SUV's again.

Robert Whitcomb oversees New England Diary.

Wenonah Hauter: Field day for fracking

U.S. and European Union negotiators recently began a new round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. Because the talks are happening behind closed doors, the public is left largely in the dark about the nature of the discussions over a deal also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

So what, exactly, do we know?

Officially, not much. But an E.U. negotiation position “on raw materials and energy” was leaked to the Huffington Post in May. The text amounts to a wish list of demands from Big Oil and Gas that would lock in any of their investments in fossil fuels in general, and shale gas and fracking in particular.

Article C of the document states that no restrictions should apply to the “exports of energy goods” between the transatlantic trade partners. Any request, for example, for an export license to ship natural gas from the United States to the E.U. would be approved “automatically.”

That means no questions asked, even if this arrangement could lead to environmental damage from widespread use of fracking, increased gas prices for U.S. consumers, increased import dependency, and other problems.

This trade deal would lock in our mutual dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels at the expense of our climate. While it would bode well for the quarterly profits that oil and gas companies earn, this arrangement wouldn’t serve the public interest.

Largely unregulated energy commerce between the United States and E.U. would also be a frontal assault on the possibility for governments to impose a “public service obligation.” It could bar mandates for utility companies to deliver natural gas at certain prices to consumers, for example.

Any such public service obligation should be “clearly defined and of limited duration” and no “more burdensome than necessary,” according to the leaked draft. With such vague wording, lawyers will have a field day attacking any price regulation in the energy sector.

This leak shows that civil-society groups on both sides of the Atlantic have been right all along to be suspicious about what’s being negotiated behind closed doors. The expression “No news is good news” clearly doesn’t apply to the transatlantic free trade deal. The more we learn about the ongoing negotiations, the less we like it. Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of Foodopoly: The Future of Food and Farming in America. Foodopoly.org This is distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org).