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When Scientists Become Political Dissenters – Scientific American



Science advances by the free exchange of ideas. New ones are put forward and pitted against existing ones, and fights are fought with rational arguments. Scientists tend to take this freedom for granted, and carry it over to other fields, such as politics, where challenging prevailing opinion goes under the name of dissent, and may be much less welcome.

Scientists make tough dissenters for the powers that be. They cannot be dismissed offhand as incompetent, and they bring to the discussion professional standards that are hard to match. They cannot be quietly put away for their opinions, for they belong to an international community that will support them. So, they have to be discredited in some way.

In the time of the Soviet Union, the preferred charge was insanity. Dissenting scientists, such as Alexander Esenin-Volpin and Leonid Plyushch, were routinely sent to psychiatric hospitals. Nowadays, the favored charge is supporting terrorism. Here are three examples, among many others:

Turkish mathematician Tuna Altınel has lived and worked in Lyon, France since 1996. In 2019 he participated in a public meeting in Lyon on the subject of alleged massacres in southeastern Turkey. The local Turkish consul reported on this meeting to the Turkish authorities in Ankara, mentioning that Altınel had served as a poll watcher. A charge of membership in an armed terrorist group resulted.

On an April visit to Turkey, Altınel’s passport was confiscated. He was subsequently arrested and placed in pretrial detention for 81 days. Charges were later reduced to propaganda for a terrorist group. Altınel was acquitted of the latter charge in January 2020. His passport has not been restored, and the government recently sent a letter saying it will not be; he thus remains unable to leave Turkey. Administrative sanctions not subject to public scrutiny have been widely applied in Turkey in response to political expression.

With reference to the statutes invoked, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned the use of criminal procedures such as detention on remand to punish and discourage the exercise of freedom of expression.

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The case of Azat Miftakhov, a mathematics graduate student at Moscow State University, is somewhat special. Miftakhov was neither a public opponent of Putin’s regime nor yet a professional scientist. His academic career was only starting (with a single publication in the field of stochastics). By that reason one can hardly expect that professional organizations would step up for him. However, Miftakhov’s figure became a sort of litmus test for Russian academic society, dividing people into those who trust the system and those who question its justice. Miftakhov comes from Tatarstan in the Russian Federation. While still in school, he won prizes in several math competitions and received support given to talented young people by the Ministry of Education and Science.

As a student in Moscow, he became involved with the anarchist movement. In June 2018 and January 2019 Miftakhov was harassed via a telegram channel allegedly connected with Russia’s law enforcement agencies. In February 2019, right after his return from a conference in Nizhni Novgorod where Miftakhov gave his first talk in English, he was detained by the state authorities and accused of manufacturing explosives. Miftakhov was reportedly tortured by the police. After three days he was released as the court found no evidence for his detention. In less than two days, on February 9, 2019, Miftakhov was again arrested and accused of destruction of the office window of the ruling political party, United Russia, which occurred more than a year ago.

Miftakhov has pled not guilty. Despite the obvious lack of evidence, he has been kept in jail since then. The Russian human rights center Memorial recognizes Miftakhov as a political prisoner. A letter condemning torture against Miftakhov and calling for his immediate release was signed by many prominent scientists from Russia and worldwide. For more information about both Miftakhov and Altınel see

On Thursday, July 16th 2020, Palestinian astrophysicist Imad Barghouthi, a professor at the university of Al-Quds in East Jerusalem, was detained by Israeli military forces during a routine stop at a military checkpoint outside of Anata. After more than two weeks without information on the reason for his detention, on August 2 Barghouthi was charged by an Israeli military prosecutor with “incitement and support for a hostile organization” on the basis of his Facebook posts.

After an Israeli judge twice accepted his lawyer’s request that Barghouthi be released on bail, the military commander of the West Bank ordered him placed under administrative detention until November 15. Administrative detention is an illegal measure under international law commonly used by the Israeli military forces to hold Palestinians in prison without charge or trial.

This is not the first time that the Israeli military forces have arrested Barghouthi, one of Palestine’s most prominent scientists. In 2014 he was placed under administrative detention for two months, and in 2016 he was again detained for six months. In both cases his arrest triggered significant indignation on the part of the international scientific community.

The procedures may differ, but the result is the same: through administrative and juridical harassment, civil or military, our colleagues are deprived of their fundamental freedoms, including academic freedom. It is up to scientists to alert their professional associations and to mobilize, as they did at the time of the Soviet Union, to demand that Altınel, Miftakhov, and Barghouthi recover their freedom and their rights, immediately and unconditionally.

The views expressed by the authors are their own, and do not represent those of their institutions, which are included for identification purposes only.

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The return of austerity politics – Washington Post



Here is a prediction that you can take to the bank. I’m not in the business of handicapping, but if anyone offers to bet against the following proposition, don’t just take the bet. Double down on it.

Should Joe Biden win the election, the moment he puts his hand on the Bible on Inauguration Day, the Republican Party will suddenly remember that there is nothing more threatening to America than budget deficits.

Note that I label this the return of austerity politics, not economics. Although garments will be rended and dire warnings will be made, this isn’t about the economics of debt. At one level, it’s about blocking Democratic priorities. At a deeper level, it’s about kneecapping a Biden presidency before it has a chance to take off. (Disclosure: I informally advise the Biden campaign.)

This outcome must be avoided and not just because the evolving economics of fiscal debt — one of the most interesting, evolving and inherently progressive areas of economics — says so. The main reason the return of austerity politics must be resisted is its human cost.

The equation couldn’t be simpler: Austerity equals human suffering. And such suffering will not be equally distributed. It will fall on those most vulnerable to the coronavirus and the economic damage it has unleashed.

The new economics of public debt underscores the urgency of this equation. The old argument that public borrowing competes with private borrowing, leading to higher interest rates and slower growth, has lacked empirical support for decades. Right now, we have a historically huge budget deficit of 15 percent of GDP (over $3 trillion) and debt about the same size as the economy. Yet the yield on the 10-year Treasury bill is below 1 percent (its average since the 1960s is 6 percent). More to the point, because these are unusual economic times, interest rates on government debt have been uncorrelated to the magnitude of that debt for decades now, as I discussed in recent testimony on the topic.

In fact, this has been the case in most advanced economies, regardless of debt levels, with Japan as the most notable example (its public debt has long been multiples of its economy). One reason is that these economies have operated below capacity, with both low inflation and excess savings relative to investment putting downward pressure on rates. That dynamic has drawn central banks, like our Federal Reserve, into the mix, trying to close output gaps by aggressively holding down the benchmark rates they control.

Inequality also plays a role. When growth flows disproportionately to those who are already wealthy, they tend to save, not spend, marginal dollars relative to middle and lower-income households. This, too, has boosted savings and lowered interest rates, while restricting the spending and the living standards of lower-income families.

But whatever the reason, the fact of persistently low rates offers new opportunities for near-term relief to those who need it and longer-term public investment to meet the existential challenges we face right now, from climate change to racial injustice.

One strong piece of evidence for this contention of ample fiscal space is that the most recent Congressional Budget Office forecast of what it will cost the government to service its debt has gone down, not up, since its previous forecast. And that earlier forecast didn’t include that $3 trillion of new debt incurred to offset the pandemic. How can we have more debt yet pay less to service it? Lower rates, of course.

This doesn’t mean that deficits never matter. They do, not least because when we carry such high debt levels, we’re a lot more vulnerable to an unforeseen spike in interest rates. So piling on wasteful debt is as economically wrongheaded now as it has ever been, which is why the highly regressive, deficit-financed Trump tax cuts were such a mistake. This also implies that the suddenly hawkish Republicans will be guilty of two fiscal crimes: piling on bad debt while refusing to countenance good debt.

But isn’t bad and good debt in the eye of beholder? No, because good debt does three things that bad debt doesn’t: It promotes growth, relieves hardship and advances racial equity. Investing in affordable housing for racial victims of housing segregation: good debt. Cuts in capital gains taxes: bad debt. Enhanced benefits for the unemployed and nutritional support for the millions not able to meet this basic need: good. Tax breaks for profitable corporations: bad.

Still, even with low rates and the ensuing low debt service, it is essential to raise the necessary revenue to pay for permanent measures, such as lasting investments in clean energy, standing up an affordable child-care sector and providing universal pre-K and free college for those of limited means — all of which are Biden proposals. Especially as these programs are both growth- and equity-inducing, paying for them through deficit financing is better than not doing them at all, but to stop there would severely undercut their political sustainability.

Should the election outcome break our way, how can progressives achieve these goals in the face of the forthcoming fiscal flip?

First, we must ignore the phony caterwauling of the deficit chicken hawks. One rule to be aggressively enforced is that anyone who voted for the Trump tax cuts has zero credibility on deficits and should be summarily ignored, if not ridiculed.

Second, we must help politicians with austere muscle memory understand these new dynamics. Here again, that’s not just an economic argument; it’s a political one. If conservatives ignore austerity when they’re in power but Democrats embrace it when they take control, then conservatives will consistently meet the demands of their constituents in the donor class while Democrats consistently fail to meet the needs of their constituents.

That is a not just a recipe for facilitating reckless fiscal policy and wasteful debt. It’s also a recipe for losing progressive support and political power — something no Democrat should want.

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The Real Divide in America Is Between Political Junkies and Everyone Else – The New York Times



The common view of American politics today is of a clamorous divide between Democrats and Republicans, an unyielding, inevitable clash of harsh partisan polarization.

But that focus obscures another, enormous gulf — the gap between those who follow politics closely and those who don’t. Call it the “attention divide.”

What we found is that most Americans — upward of 80 percent to 85 percent — follow politics casually or not at all. Just 15 percent to 20 percent follow it closely (the people we call “deeply involved”): the group of people who monitor everything from covfefe to the politics of “Cuties.”

At the start of the year (i.e., pre-pandemic), we asked people to name the two most important issues facing the country. As expected, we found some clear partisan divides: For example, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to cite illegal immigration as an important issue.

But on a number of other issues, we found that Americans fall much less neatly into partisan camps. For example, Democrats and Republicans who don’t follow politics closely believe that low hourly wages are one of the most important problems facing the country. But for hard partisans, the issue barely registers.

Partisan Republicans were most likely to say drug abuse was the most important problem facing the country. But less-attentive Republicans ranked it second to last, and they were also concerned about the deficit and divisions between Democrats and Republicans.

Among Democrats, the political junkies think the influence of wealthy donors and interest groups is an urgent problems. But less-attentive Democrats are 25 percentage points more likely to name moral decline as an important problem facing the country — a problem partisan Democrats never even mention.

These gaps extend beyond issues to feelings about the other party. Hard partisans are twice as likely as people who pay less attention to politics to say that they would be unhappy if their child married someone of the opposing party.

Hard partisans are also more likely to speak out about these political likes and dislikes. Almost 45 percent of people who are deeply involved say they frequently share their views on social media — in some cases, daily. It’s only 11 percent for those without a politics habit. To put this in perspective, a Pew study finds that 10 percent of Twitter users are responsible for 97 percent of all tweets about politics.

This gap between the politically indifferent and hard, loud partisans exacerbates the perception of a hopeless division in American politics because it is the partisans who define what it means to engage in politics. When a Democrat imagines a Republican, she is not imagining a co-worker who mostly posts cat pictures and happens to vote differently; she is more likely imagining a co-worker she had to mute on Facebook because the Trump posts became too hard to bear.

We see this effect in a study we did with three other political scientists, James Druckman, Samara Klar and Matthew Levendusky. We asked a group of over 3,000 Americans to describe either themselves or members of the other party. Only 27 percent of these people said that they discuss politics frequently; a majority consider themselves moderates. But nearly 70 percent of these people believe that a typical member of the other party talks about politics incessantly and is definitely not moderate.

For partisans, politics is a morality play, a struggle of good versus evil. But most Americans just see two angry groups of people bickering over issues that may not always seem pressing or important.

How can politics better match the opinions of a majority of Americans? The fact is, it’s not an easy problem to solve. We can try to give the hardened partisans less voice in the news. Featuring people who exemplify partisan conflict and extremist ideas elevates their presence in politics (though of course by definition, it is the partisans who are most closely watching the news who are also most likely to give their opinions). This is particularly true of social media: What a vocal minority shares on social media is not the opinion of the public. Yet such political tweets, as the political communication scholar Shannon McGregor finds, are increasingly making their way into news coverage as stand-ins for public opinion.

There might be an advantage for politicians who focus less on the demands of partisans and more on tangible issues. Yes, hard partisans are more likely to reward ideological victories, but they are also a minority of the electorate.

Each day, partisan Democrats wonder whether that day’s “outrage” will finally change how people feel about President Trump. Partisan Republicans wonder the same thing about Joe Biden. But most “regular” voters are not paying that much attention to the daily onslaught. It turns them off.

And the major scandals that do break through? Well, to many of them, that is “just politics.”

Yanna Krupnikov (@ykrupnikov) and John Barry Ryan (@ryanbq), associate professors of political science at Stony Brook University, are the authors of a forthcoming book about polarization and disengagement in American politics.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email:

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

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La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre retires from politics – Saskatoon StarPhoenix



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I knew what I was getting into, minus COVID-19. I’ve had some personal impacts when it comes to tragedies. Strong support from council and the community’s belief in my leadership helped us get through those moments. Without those supports, and of course the support of my family, it’s very challenging.

When I proceeded to become the mayor of La Loche, I thought I’d be able to step up to the plate and do what I needed to do. I think I was successful considering all the challenges that came my way during that time. Having good staff is (also) key to any successful leadership.

Healing, as individuals and as a community, was a common theme during your term. How is La Loche doing in that process?

We’re still struggling with a lot. There’s a lot of mental health capacity we need to work with and individuals and families that were directly impacted by that incident, and the community as a whole.

But with COVID-19 coming into the community, isolated people weren’t allowed to visit. (It was a challenge) putting on those measures and restrictions in the community, especially when we hit the pandemic and the numbers started to soar.

All those have an impact on an individual’s psyche. Getting those measures put in place, and getting some of these mental health positions filled to support individuals is going to be paramount in the years to come.

What went into La Loche’s COVID-19 response and how it affected residents there?

A lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of time. I was on the phone from 8 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. each day. … Everything has to be clear to point where we can relay those messages to the community.

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