eyes on the U.S.

Ingobernable! A Latin American View On The U.S. Shutdown

Oct. 4 protest outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.
Oct. 4 protest outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.


SANTIAGO — What’s happening in the United States, with the partial federal government shutdown and the threat not to raise the country’s debt limit, is perhaps the most serious political crisis the country has seen in more than 100 years.

There are those who downplay these developments, because the government has been shuttered before — during the Clinton administration, for example, one such shutdown lasted three weeks — but the reality is that previous shutdowns happened because Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on budget priorities.

Today’s situation is much different. It is not being driven because of disagreement over the budget, which is simply being used as an excuse. The shutdown is happening because the Republican Party can’t stop President Barack Obama’s health care reform resorting to the proper democratic tools: the voting booth and the legislative process. Instead, the party is exploiting its majority in the House of Representatives to hijack the government, saying they won’t reopen it unless the president scales back health care reform.

This sets a disastrous precedent. The Republicans control the House of Representatives but not the Senate, a reality that is possible because of the lower chamber’s more intricate electoral system. While Senators are elected by the voters of entire states, House members are elected by districts within the states. If a party with an electoral mandate as weak as the Republican’s is able to shut down the government because it doesn’t like a law that the President proposes and the Senate supports, then any proposal supported by the majority will never be made into law — because of minority rule.

There goes democracy. The closure affects more than just federal museums and national parks. It has also left the White House with minimal staff. There are nearly three million federal employees, 800,000 of whom have been sent home. Others have been asked to work without knowing when they might be paid. The shutdown obviously affects the economy too. It’s estimated that for every week the government isn’t fully operating, the economy grows 0.1% less.

That’s bad enough, but it could get much worse. If the legislative crisis persists and the parties don’t agree before the Oct. 17 deadline, when the federal government reaches its debt ceiling, it could become a global catastrophe.

If the United States can’t continue to take on debt because the Republicans don’t allow it, the country simply won’t be able to pay all of its bills. An abrupt and severe cut in public spending would ensure, which would almost certainly cause a recession. And if the country defaults on its debts, we would all face global financial disaster with other unpredictable consequences.

Politics is the art of the possible, and democracy is based on negotiation and concessions. It assumes that all parties are interested in the common good and that they trust the good intentions of their negotiating partners. This balance has been broken in weak democracies — like what happened in many Latin American countries in the 1970s — when governments or the opposition refuse to accept the balance of democracy, insisting instead on changing the fundamentals of society. They wind up sabotaging democracy as a viable system of government.

Congress has raised the debt ceiling 74 times, many of them during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush. But since 2001, the Republican Party has regarded the debt ceiling as a tool for getting what they couldn’t get during the legislative process. That is, they are using it as a weapon for political extortion.

The Republicans aren’t demanding just the death of the president’s Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. What they want are a series of measures that failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney favored. Basically, they are asking the president, who won the election, to govern with the policies of the candidate he vanquished.

It is clear that the United States needs profound reform in its political system — something that strengthens the presidency or establishes a parliamentary regime, so that the country doesn’t end up becoming ungovernable.

For its own good, and for the sake of Western democracy, we hope that the U.S. can use some common sense. That will only be possible if Obama can manage to twist the arm of the Republican minority. Or if Republican representatives come to their senses, approve a budget and raise the debt ceiling. If the president’s health care reform is as bad as they say, voters will turn their backs on Democrats, and Republicans will win the Senate and White House in 2016. Then if they want to dismantle Obamacare, they can use the one tool that everyone says they believe in: democracy.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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