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‘Wartime’ coronavirus powers could hurt our democracy – without keeping us safe

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We are not at war with a virus. I don’t care how many politicians say it, from Xi Jinping’s “people’s war” to Donald Trump’s “our big war”, or how many pundits repeat it: we are not “at war” with the coronavirus. I know that in deeply militarized countries like the US, the term “war” is now simply used to emphasize the importance of an issue – from the non-existent “war on Christmas” that conservatives talk about to the liberal “war on poverty”. But words have meanings, and often real consequences, as we are still seeing in the “war on drugs” and “war on terror”.

During a war, the liberal democratic order is temporarily suspended, and extraordinary measures are passed that significantly extend state powers and limit the population’s rights. Some of the extended state powers only marginally infringe upon the lives and rights of citizens, such as the creation of a “war economy” (ie making economic production subservient to wartime efforts), but others have traumatic consequences, such as the mass internment of Japanese Americans during the second world war.

Across the world, government leaders have declared (and extended) states of emergency, in countries such as Spain, provinces such as Nova Scotia, Canada, and cities such as Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I’m writing this column in my liberal college town of Athens, Georgia, which declared a state of emergency a week ago and recently added a “shelter-in-place” ordinance to it – which is partly undermined by the much laxer response by nextdoor (Republican-run) Oconee county, so that Athens residents can still dine and shop there.

State-of-emergency measures should be strictly related to the crisis at hand and proportional to the threat

State-of-emergency measures are necessary in a real crisis, whether economic or health-related, but they can be taken without the use of “war” language. They also should be strictly related to the crisis at hand and proportional to the threat. At this stage, the threat of contagion is very high, which means that measures to limit the movement of people are legitimized.

Similarly, most countries are woefully ill-prepared for the pandemic, with hospitals dangerously overcrowded and underresourced, requiring urgent state intervention. In addition to using massive funds to buy much-needed medical supplies, this could also include enlisting the military to create temporary hospitals, as New York is currently doing.

But many politicians have gone much further, trying to use the health crisis to push through dubious repressive legislation. For instance, in the United Kingdom, where the Conservative government response so far has shown almost criminal negligence, Boris Johnson has pushed through a draconian “coronavirus bill”, which, among others, gives police and immigration officials sweeping powers to arrest people suspected of carrying the coronavirus – this could make innocent Brits of Chinese descent targets of state repression in a similar way that post-9/11 measures have targeted innocent British Muslims.

In Israel, the embattled prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hoped that the coronavirus could do what three elections have failed to achieve: extend his government rule and keep him out of prison. Linking anti-corona measures to anti-terrorism measures, Netanyahu proposed a package that critics have called “anti-democratic” and has led to public protests in several Israeli cities.

Never to be outdone, the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has jumped on the coronavirus to push the final nail in the coffin of the country’s bruised and battered democracy. On Monday, the Fidesz party-controlled government will vote on a law that, according to one prominent critic, would “give Viktor Orbán dictatorial powers under a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus”.

In the US, President Donald Trump, forced to finally acknowledge the reality and seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic after weeks of delusional statements, is starting to see the political potential of the crisis. In a recent speech, he stated, in his own unique English: “I view it as a, in a sense, a wartime president.”

What this “wartime presidency” could look like we could see in the emergency powers the Department of Justice “quietly asked” Congress for. Most involve, unsurprisingly, powers to further restrict immigration – undoubtedly influenced by the anti-immigration zealot Stephen Miller, Trump’s longest-serving key adviser (outside of members of his own family). It also includes the request to grant chief judges the power to detain people indefinitely without trial, which critics fear could mean the suspension of habeas corpus (the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release).

To prevent another Patriot Act, each new ’emergency measure’ should be assessed individually on the basis of three clear questions

There are very serious problems with many of the proposed measures, many of them similar to the repressive measures taken after 9/11. First, in many cases the proposals are combinations of repressive measures that are unrelated to this specific crisis. Second, many measures are disproportional to the threat we face – habeas corpus is at the heart of the rule of law; should we really sacrifice that for a health crisis whose lethality is still largely unknown? Third, while they are all explicitly billed as “emergency measures”, limited to that emergency, the language is often vague and could be used to justify (endless) extensions. We know from experience that temporary measures often become permanent measures.

To prevent another Patriot Act, each new “emergency measure” should be assessed individually on the basis of three clear questions: (1) what is its contribution to the fight against the coronavirus?; (2) what are its negative consequences for liberal democracy?; (3) when will it be abolished? If any of these three questions cannot be adequately answered, the measure should be rejected. Advertisement

While it is important to take the threat of the coronavirus seriously – really, people, stay at home! – and to provide the state with the powers it needs to fight the pandemic, we should not let our fear be used to drag us into yet another false “war”. Because if we do, politicians will use it once again to strengthen the already far too strong repressive powers of our surveillance states.

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Top US admiral bristles at criticism of ‘woke’ military: ‘We are not weak’

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Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, rebuffed pointed interrogations by GOP lawmakers who grilled him over his decision to recommend sailors read a book deemed by some conservatives as anti-American.

The U.S. Navy’s top admiral also defended moves to address and root out racism and extremism in the forces as well as its efforts to bolster inclusion and diversity, which have prompted criticism from some conservatives and Republican lawmakers.

“Do you personally consider advocating for the destruction of American capitalism to be extremist?” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asked Gilday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, referring to a passage from Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist,” which argues capitalism and racism are interlinked.

Banks continued to interrogate the admiral over specific quotes from Kendi’s book, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller in 2020, and statements he had made elsewhere in the past.

Visibly distraught, Gilday fired back:

“I am not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book,” he said. “This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy, as weak, as woke.”

He added that sailors had spent 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits — the longest deployments the Navy has done, he said.

“We are not weak. We are strong,” Gilday said.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., also challenged the admiral by citing specific quotes from the book and asked him how those ideas laid out by Kendi would further advance or improve the Navy’s power.

Gilday responded by arguing the importance of transparency and open dialogue about racism.

“There is racism in the Navy just as there is racism in our country, and the way we are going to get out of it is by being honest and not to sweep it under the rug,” he expounded, adding that he does not agree with everything the author says in the book.

The key point however, he said, is for sailors “to be able to think critically.”

The exchange was the latest in vociferous complaints from some conservative leaders and lawmakers who suggest the armed forces are becoming a pawn for the country’s culture wars and “wokeness” ideology, as the military takes steps to address issues of racial inclusion, extremism, racism and white supremacy.

And only last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accosted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about Kendi’s book, which Cotton said promoted “critical race theories” at a different Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Austin was testifying.

Days earlier, Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas — two combat veterans — launched a “whistleblowers” online platform to report examples of “woke ideology” in the military.

“Enough is enough. We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology,” Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, said in a tweet.

Also in February, Austin instructed a one-day stand-down across the Defense Department pausing regular activities to address extremism and white nationalism in the ranks — an issue Austin declared as a priority after a number of rioters at the U.S. Capitol in January were found to have military backgrounds.

The stand down completed in April was an effort to better understand the scope of the problem of extremism in the ranks, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said in a briefing then.

Earlier, Austin had revoked a ban on diversity training for the military.

More recently, in May, a U.S. Army animated ad focused on soldier diversity — featuring the real story of a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California — drew criticism and political backlash from some conservative lawmakers.

“Holy crap,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a tweet. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea. . . .”

Cruz was referring to a TikTok video that compared the U.S. Army ad with a Russia campaign that showed buff soldiers doing push-ups and leaping out of airplanes, adding that the contrast made the American soldiers “into pansies.”

The confrontation Tuesday is also the latest in reproaches by Rep. Banks, who is a Naval Reserve officer, and other GOP members over Gilday’s recommendation to include Kendi’s book in the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program.

In February, Banks sent a letter to Gilday arguing that the views promoted in the book are “explicitly anti-American” and demanded Gilday explain the Navy’s decision to include it on the reading list or remove it.

Gilday responded to Banks in a letter obtained by Fox News saying that the book was included on the list because “it evokes the author’s own personal journey in understanding barriers to true inclusion, the deep nuances of racism and racial inequalities.”

Lamborn and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, D-Mo., also wrote a letter to the admiral to convey their concern about the inclusion of Kendi’s book as well as Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Jason Pierceson’s “Sexual Minorities and Politics.”

The GOP lawmakers argued the books “reinforce a view that America is a confederation of identity categories of the oppressed and their oppressors rather than a common homeland of individual citizens who are united by common purposes,“ Lamborn and Hartzler wrote, according to Fox News.

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Looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021

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Our understanding of events refines with time. New developments reframe the issues, and prompt reassessment of the solutions applied, their design and outcomes. What does looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021 tell us?

For three decades, India celebrated and criticised the 1991 reforms. The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout. The reforms, they insist, were ‘home-grown’. In the years leading up to 1991, technocrats in government had been thinking and writing about how India’s economic policies had been blocking the country’s rise to potential and the structural changes needed. If the broad range of reforms—including tearing down the industrial license permit raj, an exchange rate correction, and liberalising foreign direct investment and trade policies—could be launched within a matter of days of a new government joining office, they argue, it is because the blueprints were ready, waiting for the go-ahead from the political leadership.

The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout.

At least two well-regarded technocrats that were important in the 1991 reforms disagree—publicly and in off-the-record conversations. In a media interview last month, one of them, the economic adviser in the reforms team, Dr Ashok Desai, suggested that if there were any reformers in government before the IMF “forced” India to liberalise in 1991, “they hid themselves very well”. According to him, after the BOP crisis was resolved, finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh turned “dead against reforms”.

The multiple versions of the reforms story make it difficult to separate fact from romance. It cannot be disputed, though, that the 1991 BOP crisis was a turning point for the economy. India had tided over BOP crises earlier with loans from the IMF, repaid them prematurely, and avoided going through with the bailout’s conditionalities. 1991 was singularly different because India was on the brink of default, which is likely to have forced politicians to set politics aside and listen to technocrats. Any default on external obligations would have meant hurting India’s credibility grievously and an inescapable sense of national shame. The government probably took the view that there was no choice other than to take corrective steps. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao named Dr Manmohan Singh, who had been a technocrat in government and was well regarded in global policy circles, as his finance minister. Dr Singh clearly had the Prime Minister’s, his party’s and the IMF’s trust. Records irrefutably show that the Congress party’s acceptance of the reversals in the interventionist economic policies of the first four post-Independence decades was not secured by the Prime Minister. He had delegated the task of tackling doubts and resistance within the party to his ministers, in particular, the finance minister and the commerce minister, and an aide in his office. The finance minister defended the reforms on the floor of the house in Parliament.

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Taxpayer-funded NPR mocks ‘CaPitAliSm,’ prompting calls to ‘defund’ media outlet

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National Public Radio (NPR) ignited a social media firestorm Thursday night over a tweet that appears to mock capitalism, despite taxpayer dollars accounting for much of the organization’s annual budget.

The outlet posted a story titled “And Now, Crocs With Stiletto Heels” that explores a curious new collaboration between luxury fashion brand Balenciaga and Crocs, the rubber slipper company responsible for fashion faux pas among the millions of comfort-clinging owners nationwide.

The caption accompanying the article, which was written in both uppercase and lowercase letters, appears to mock the collaboration: “CaPitAliSm bReEds InNovAtiOn,” it reads. 

The tweet’s language sparked outrage on social media, with figures like conservative Tim Young calling out the irony in NPR’s three-word post.

“You wouldn’t exist without capitalism, clown who is tweeting on behalf of NPR,” he wrote.

“Job at public news station wouldn’t exist wo capitalism,” another user echoed. “Are you guys ok?”

“Our tax money shouldn’t pay for this,” one person expressed.

“It’s still a hell of a lot better than communism at breeding innovation, even if some of the products are silly,” one woman fired back.

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