Can Sri Lanka dig itself out of a $50 billion debt?

“After a month of intense civilian-led protests over Sri Lanka’s deteriorating economy, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to appoint a new council on Friday to lead the formation of an interim government. The resolution would create a coalition made up of all parties in Parliament and would remove the grip of the Rajapaksa family dynasty currently ruling the country. At issue is the country’s economic future, which is in shambles after defaulting on payments on its mountain of foreign loans — estimated to be worth $50 billion — for the first time since the country gained independence from the British in 1948.
Signs of Sri Lanka’s impending economic crisis became increasingly apparent over the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic as food prices soared and power blackouts increased in frequency. Sri Lanka currently has about $7 billion in total debt due this year.

Many attribute Sri Lanka’s economic crisis to the mishandling of its finances by successive governments through mounting foreign debt and continued infrastructure investments. The Rajapaksa administration also implemented sweeping tax cuts in 2019, slashing the value-added tax (VAT) rate — the tax applied to imports and domestic supplies — from 15 percent to 8 percent, which contributed to a decrease in the country’s revenue.”

New York Just Cost Democrats Their Big Redistricting Advantage

“On Wednesday, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the congressional map New York Democrats enacted back in February was a partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution and tossed it to the curb. The decision was a huge blow to Democrats, who until recently looked like they had gained enough seats nationally in redistricting to almost eliminate the Republican bias in the House of Representatives. But with the invalidation of New York’s map, as well as Florida’s recent passage of a congressional map that heavily favors the GOP,1 the takeaways from the 2021-22 redistricting cycle are no longer so straightforward.

That’s because much of Democrats’ national redistricting advantage rested on their gerrymander in New York.”

“There are still congressional maps that could get struck down in court, like Florida’s. And there are still states that have yet to finalize a map — like, oh yeah, New York!

In its decision, the New York Court of Appeals endorsed the idea that a neutral special master — essentially, an expert in drawing political maps — should draw New York’s next congressional map. That would presumably lead to a relatively fair map, but the details and exact partisan breakdown are, of course, still a mystery; Democrats could still gain seats from New York’s map when all is said and done (just not as many as from their gerrymander).”

The Politics of DNA

“”Luck,” E.B. White once said, “is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.” They worked hard, no doubt, to get where they are. But they also benefited enormously from good fortune, not just in life but in life’s building blocks. A fortunate combination of thousands of slight genetic differences boosted their intelligence, motivation, openness to experience, task perseverance, executive function, and interpersonal skills.

“Like being born to a rich or poor family, being born with a certain set of genetic variants is the outcome of a lottery of birth,” the behavioral geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden argues in The Genetic Lottery. “And, like social class, the outcome of the genetic lottery is a systemic force that matters for who gets more, and who gets less, of nearly everything we care about in society.””

Criminal justice reform faces political buzzsaw as GOP hones its midterm message

“The Senate delivered former President Donald Trump a bipartisan criminal justice reform deal shortly after the last midterm election. Staging a sequel for President Joe Biden this year won’t be so easy.
Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, are still in talks over finalizing a package that would serve as a more narrow follow-up to the 2018 prison and sentencing reform bill known as the First Step Act. But both senior senators acknowledge it’s not a glide path forward, particularly given the GOP messaging on rising crime ahead of the 2022 midterms — a focus that was on full display during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court hearings last month.”

“While both Durbin and Grassley say the sequel legislation is necessary to fully implement and expand on the sentencing updates in the First Step law, the campaign-season politics surrounding criminal justice reform threaten broader GOP support. Though 38 Republican senators backed the 2018 bill, it took Trump’s personal appeals to get many on board. And with Democrats in full control of Washington, Republicans’ emerging midterm message — that liberals are to blame for rising violent crime — could make sentencing changes that much harder.”

Opinion | The French Election Is a Glimpse at the Volatile Future of Western Politics

“whether Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen is victorious, the election already offers more evidence of the challenges facing mainstream politics, with the collapse of the traditionally dominant parties and populist forces still rising across the West.”

“Whether this broad rejection of the status quo means we are headed toward a world dominated by illiberal politics or merely one of extreme and permanent volatility isn’t yet clear. And new crises, notably the consequences of climate change, may well fashion some hybrid version of our politics.
But ultimately, populism is probably a transition, not an end-state. The politics of the center are far from irrelevant, but our institutions — overwhelmed by the politics of accusation and resentment — no longer know how to provide voters with reasonable and legitimate means to address their grievances from a centrist vantage point. So populism, however destructive, may yet force Western politicians to craft new institutional paths to representation and to compromise — more in sync with what people experience in their everyday lives, and with what they value. More reactive, more local, and more flexible. But a painful and treacherous transition it is, something made quite clear in the French election.”

“Macron is no longer the exciting young maverick who stormed the Elysée, having siphoned support from a frustrated center-left and scandal-plagued center-right. He’s struggled to govern through crises like the Yellow Vests protests and pension reform strikes, while his “Jupiterian” approach and occasional sarcasm have all led to a deep resentment of his persona and some outright loathing in many quarters.

Post-pandemic, most French voters might have grudgingly agreed that Macron’s government has “done OK,” and as a result, Macron entered this election well ahead of other candidates in the polls, and slightly boosted by the Ukraine crisis. But a majority of voters are at best disillusioned and most often angry.

Meanwhile, in five short years, Le Pen has furthered her mission to appear more mainstream. Gone are the days when 80 percent of French voters thought she and her far-right party were a menace to democracy. Today, the number is barely 50 percent.

Le Pen’s strategy (since she took over the party from her Holocaust-denying father in 2011) has been to focus on lower income voters. Rather than simply woo those susceptible to a traditional populist right agenda on immigration and integration as her father had done, she made a play for working class voters who increasingly felt that the traditional left had deserted them and their interests. This story is a familiar one in advanced democracies where progressive or social democratic parties have struggled to reconcile representing the economically vulnerable while supporting inclusive visions of societies that lower income voters feel disproportionately benefit an (urban, cultural) elite. We saw this play out in the Brexit vote, but also in the Trump vote.”

“In 2017, Macron was elected by reducing the Socialists to rubble and putting the center-right on life support. This year, that trend accelerated, as the Socialists’ candidate came in below 2 percent (after holding the presidency a mere five years ago) and the leading candidate of the center-right came in under 5 percent. The result is that Macron aside, the candidates from the main institutional parties have been wiped out in this election.

Of the three candidates who came in over 20 percent, one is of the populist right (Le Pen) and one is of the populist left (Mélenchon); both advocate a distanced relationship with the EU and with the U.S., governance by popular referendum and pulling out of NATO or NATO’s integrated command. Add to this the 7 percent for extreme right Éric Zemmour and the 26 percent of voters who stayed home, and it shows the vast majority of French voters are refusing to engage with mainstream politics.”

“Part of the attraction of illiberal ideologies (sometimes imported from places such as Russia and China that have gone through more recent political and economic upheavals) is their rejection of the status quo. What is coming into focus is the fact that voters have a bone to pick not just with the choices they are being offered, but with the way they are being asked to choose.”

We Are In a New Civil War … About What Exactly?

“The country many times over has witnessed dissent and disruption far more violent than anything seen in recent years. But earlier episodes featured profound ideological and moral questions — easily visible to the naked eye, in the present and to historians afterward — that lay at the heart of the matter.
The real Civil War was about slavery — at the start, to restrict its territorial expansion, by war’s end to eliminate it entirely. Capitalists opposed to the New Deal knew why they loathed FDR — he was fundamentally shifting the balance of power between public and private sectors — and FDR knew, too: “They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred.” The unrest of the 1960s was about ending segregation and stopping the Vietnam War.

Only in recent years have we seen foundation-shaking political conflict — both sides believing the other would turn the United States into something unrecognizable — with no obvious and easily summarized root cause. What is the fundamental question that hangs in the balance between the people who hate Trump and what he stands for and the people who love Trump and hate those who hate him? This is less an ideological conflict than a psychological one.”

How a Simple Twist of Fate Could End Democrats’ Control of the Senate

“States have a range of laws about replacing a departed senator, but the large majority — 37 — call on the governor to pick a successor. Of those, only seven require the governor to pick someone in the same party. So there are 30 states where the governor can pick whatever new senator he or she wants.

What that adds up to, in practical terms, is that in nine states (as of Jan. 15), a Republican governor has the authority to replace either one or two Democratic senators. If a single Democratic senator in any of those states had to leave office, the Republican governor of that state could appoint a GOP replacement that would immediately give the party a 51-49 Senate majority.”

Republicans eye new front in education wars: Making school board races partisan

“Republicans across America are pressing local jurisdictions and state lawmakers to make typically sleepy school board races into politicized, partisan elections in an attempt to gain more statewide control and swing them to victory in the 2022 midterms.

Tennessee lawmakers in October approved a measure that allows school board candidates to list their party affiliation on the ballot. Arizona and Missouri legislators are weighing similar proposals. And GOP lawmakers in Florida will push a measure in an upcoming legislative session that would pave the way for partisan school board races statewide, potentially creating new primary elections that could further inflame the debate about how to teach kids.

The issue is about to spread to other states: The center-right American Enterprise Institute is urging conservatives to “strongly consider” allowing partisan affiliations to appear on ballots next to school board candidates’ names, as part of broader efforts to boost voter turnout for the contests. A coalition of conservative leaders — including representatives of Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute and Kenneth Marcus, the Education Department civil rights chief under former Secretary Betsy DeVos — have separately called for on-cycle school board elections as part of sweeping efforts to “end critical race theory in schools.”

In Florida, school boards are among the last elected officials who blocked policies of Gov. Ron DeSantis. If Republicans succeed in pushing the state to strip school board elections of their nonpartisan status and gain more representation on school boards, they could break the last holdouts who regularly defy the governor.”

“Making school board races partisan could make an already heated political landscape even more contentious”

““I do think party labels would produce more informed voters,” West said. “But, at the same time, it would likely accelerate emerging trend of nationalization of local education politics.””