How Northern Ireland is complicating Biden’s European agenda

“Brexit happened, and the United Kingdom formally left the European Union. But the UK and EU are still arguing over the deal they both signed on the status of Northern Ireland.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016, it created the tricky issue of what to do about the land border between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (which is an independent country and part of the EU).

It is no ordinary border. During the decades of bloody sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, that border was heavily militarized, and it served as both a symbol of the strife and a very real target for nationalist paramilitary groups.

A critical part of the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 peace process that ended the Troubles, involved increasing cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That meant softening the border between the two. As a result, the 310-mile border is practically invisible and completely free from checks and physical infrastructure today.

But once the UK and EU split up, that would become the only land border between the UK and Europe. And with the two sides following different trade rules (that was one of the main points of Brexit), there would need to be some kind of checks put back in place to regulate the goods crossing the border.

So you see the problem: Not having any checkpoints or physical border is seen as critical to maintaining the peace. But the UK’s departure from the EU (and its trading rules) made some sort of customs check necessary.

The UK and the EU ultimately coalesced around a plan that carved out a special status for Northern Ireland. It would leave with the UK but follow many of the EU’s rules, thus keeping that land border open. To achieve this, certain goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of Great Britain would require checks, just in case they ended up in the EU’s single market. This put a customs border in the Irish Sea — effectively, within the UK.”

“In March, a set of grace periods expired for some provisions, and at the time, the UK just unilaterally extended those deadlines. The EU reminded the UK that, this being a treaty and all, the UK couldn’t just act alone, and so sued them for breaking international law.

Now another set of grace periods is expiring at the end of the month, including a provision related to chilled meats, such as sausages. The UK now needs to start conducting regulatory checks on any chilled meats coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of Great Britain. If the UK doesn’t do them, it would effectively prevent Great Britain from selling its own sausages in Northern Ireland, since those, in theory, might be at risk of entering Ireland, which could mean illicit sausages in the EU single market.

The sausage dilemma is really just the latest fracture between the EU and UK. The EU thinks Boris Johnson’s government isn’t an honest broker and is likely to renege on the protocol once again.

“It’s not about sausages per se, it really is about the fact that an agreement had been entered into, not too long ago,” Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Micheál Martin said. “If there’s consistent, unilateral deviation from that agreement, that clearly undermines the broader relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which is in nobody’s interest.”

Johnson, meanwhile, says he’s defending the territorial and economic integrity of the UK. His government has accused the EU of failing to do anything to minimize the trade frictions, which may leave them no choice but to get rid of the deal entirely. The problem, of course, is that Johnson himself signed up to the rules that he no longer seems to like very much.”

“the protocol has revived tensions in Northern Ireland itself, specifically among the unionist community in Northern Ireland.

The unionists reject any division between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (i.e., they support the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland), and some feel, not totally incorrectly, that they were shunted aside in the Brexit deal. Some unionists are urging the UK to scrap the deal entirely. Northern Ireland saw unrest back in the spring, and there are fears over renewed violence, especially as “marching season” reaches its peak on July 12, when loyalists — extreme unionists — engage in parades and demonstrations.”

“The “sausage wars” may sound silly, but Biden will struggle to create this coalition of democracies to serve as a counterweight to authoritarianism if the EU-UK divorce keeps getting in the way. And it’s just a lot harder to sell the vision that the US and its partners are the ones to trust over China when key members of that group are backing out of agreements or engaging in a trade war.”

What Obamacare achieved — and didn’t

“The Affordable Care Act’s achievements are clear. People who buy insurance in the individual and small-group markets no longer face discrimination for preexisting conditions. Preventive services for Americans with all types of insurance are free. Combine the marketplaces that provide tax subsidies for private coverage and the Medicaid expansions adopted by 38 states (along with a handful of smaller provisions), and the ACA has provided coverage to about 31 million Americans, according to a new estimate from the Biden administration.

After the rocky rollout of HealthCare.gov in 2014 and a few years of soaring premiums, the law’s private marketplaces have stabilized”

“one of the biggest gaps in the ACA itself: Medicaid. The program’s expansion to cover more low-income adults was supposed to be mandatory for all 50 states, a statutory overreach that was scaled back by the Supreme Court, where two liberal justices joined the conservatives to rule that the expansion must be optional.

As a result, 12 states still refuse to expand Medicaid. An estimated 4 million people who would have been covered by the expansion remain uninsured.”

“Some people who purchase private insurance through the law can still face high out-of-pocket costs. Some of the health plans sold on the marketplaces have deductibles as high as $6,000 for an individual or $13,000 for a family — and those are usually the cheapest plans available. Until this year, people who made too much money to qualify for the law’s subsidies had to pay the full cost for their insurance, making it unaffordable for some.”

“one core problem remains: While every other developed country in the world enjoys universal (or near-universal) health coverage, 1 in 10 people living in the United States still don’t have insurance.

That number is lower than it was before 2010, when it was about 17 percent. But it is an embarrassing outlier among our economic peers. Americans also spend more of their own money on their health care than people in almost every other country.”

“America spends more money on health care for worse outcomes than its peer countries, as researchers have noted time and again. On a global index of health care quality and access, the US trails many more socialized systems. Life expectancy has dipped in recent years, ending decades of progress and dropping the US further behind comparable countries.

There is no denying that the high quality of health care available in the United States — for those who can afford it. The US health care industry can undoubtedly be among the most innovative in the world: It was American science that cured hepatitis-C in the last decade. The success of the country’s Covid-19 vaccine development, production and distribution is undeniable.

But prioritizing innovation above all else creates its own problems, leaving US health policy captive to private interests.”

US and Germany have Nord Stream 2 deal, but lack authority to implement it

“A day after the U.S. and Germany announced a deal allowing the completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, top officials conceded that neither the White House nor the Chancellery have the authority to implement some of its most crucial components.

As a huge outcry went up from opponents of the Russia-led pipeline project, Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged that her agreement with President Joe Biden hardly settled their political disagreements, and that much remained uncertain.

“The agreement with the U.S. government does not cement the differences, but it does not overcome all differences either,” Merkel said at a news conference. “The differences remain.” Of the deal, she added: “It is an attempt between the U.S. government and us to set certain conditions that also have to be implemented.

“I am glad that we have succeeded so far,” Merkel continued. “And we also have a lot of tasks ahead.”

Those tasks are hardly small and include overcoming fierce opposition from some members of the United States Congress, persuading some extremely dubious EU countries to get on board, and convincing Russia to liberalize its energy sector, divest itself of the €9.5 billion pipeline, and pay Ukraine some additional €20 billion through 2034 to make up for the loss of gas transit fees — which the new pipeline would effectively render unnecessary.

While some influential Germans — notably former chancellor and current Nord Stream 2 chairman of the board Gerhard Schröder — have been instrumental in securing the pipeline’s completion, Berlin may have little to no influence over Moscow once construction is done and gas is flowing.

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat on the foreign relations committee who co-authored U.S. sanctions legislation targeting the pipeline, said she was “skeptical” of the deal given that “the key player at the table — Russia — refuses to play by the rules.””

The Trade Embargo Allows Cuba’s Regime To Blame the U.S. for Communism’s Failings

“Despite being in place since 1962, the trade embargo has plainly failed to accomplish its primary goal of toppling Cuba’s regime. If anything, the policy has likely bolstered the regime by allowing the communist government to blame the U.S. for its own economic problems, as Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel did on Sunday. The trade embargo has contributed to the Cuban government’s impoverishing of millions of Cubans while limiting Americans’ economic freedom, too. That it remains in place nearly three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union shows that America’s foreign policy towards Cuba has failed to learn the primary lesson of the end of the Cold War: Economic freedom is the best weapon to aim at communism.”

“Cuba’s government is authoritarian, but there should be no mincing of words about this. Communism is what broke Cuba. The authoritarianism on display is merely the natural evolution of communist regimes—a pattern of economic and political repression that has been tragically repeated in too many corners of the world during the past century.
Biden’s statement is right to conflate the lack of economic freedom with long-running political repression in Cuba. That’s exactly why America’s trade embargo is such a backward strategy, one that assumes economic and political freedom aren’t fundamentally linked.

Look at what happened when the Obama administration loosened some of the rules banning Americans from traveling to Cuba as part of an effort to reestablish diplomatic relations. Even with the trade embargo still in place, that slight policy change helped create a boomlet of entrepreneurship amid then-Cuban President Raul Castro’s thawing of tight state control over private businesses on the island.”

“Since taking over as Cuba’s president in 2018, Díaz-Canel has cracked down on Cuba’s private sector. Former President Donald Trump helped him smother the nascent economic reforms by reversing some of Obama’s attempts to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations and by slapping new economic sanctions on Cuba just before leaving office in January.

Advocates for maintaining the embargo against Cuba argue that increased trade and tourism would enrich and strengthen the communist regime while failing to aid most Cubans. This was basically Trump’s approach—one that reflects longstanding hardline conservative views about how to handle the communist state just 90 miles from the Florida coast. “There is zero reason to delude ourselves into believing that ‘engagement’ will get the tyrants in Havana to change their ways,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) wrote in January.

This is a clever misdirection. Where is the evidence that disengagement is working? The embargo has been in place for nearly six decades. How much longer should we wait? How much longer should the people of Cuba have to wait?”

“As the people of Cuba strive to cast off their communist oppressors, the United States can do more than simply offer words of support. Undoing Trump’s restrictions on the remittances that many Cuban Americans send to their families still trapped under the communist regime would be a great place to start.

If Biden were to reinstate Obama’s travel and economic policies toward Cuba and call on Congress to end the failed trade embargo, it would be unlikely to immediately change the reality on the ground in Havana. But it would signal to the Cuban people—and to the country’s potential future leaders in the event of a full-scale toppling of the regime—that the United States is prepared to let trade and tourism serve as vital economic and political lifelines for the island’s long-suffering residents. And it would remove one excuse the Cuban government routinely uses to dismiss the failings of communism.”

Don’t Ask U.S. Troops To Solve Haiti’s Problems

“Outside of buttressing a U.S. Marine detail to protect the U.S. Embassy, the Biden administration is wary, if not outright opposed, to Haiti’s request for a U.S. troop deployment. While the prospect of thousands of Haitians fleeing to the United States can’t be ruled out if the situation further deteriorates, President Joe Biden is right to reject the Haitian government’s request. The last thing Washington needs is yet another ill-advised, reactive military intervention in a de facto failed state—particularly at a time when the White House appears intent on extricating U.S. forces from wars that have cost too much, have gone on for too long, and have had next to no return.

Even before Moïse’s late-night assassination, Haiti was in the midst of extreme political and economic turmoil. The nation of 12 million people has been without a functioning parliament for a year and a half. Due to the absence of a legislature, the entire government has operated by decree. Approximately 30 gangs control a large area of Port-au-Prince; thousands of Haitians have fled their neighborhoods from intergang violence. René Sylvestre, the head of Haiti’s Supreme Court, passed away from COVID-19, a virus that is ravaging the broader population.

Moïse’s killing has taken this dire situation and turned it into a catastrophe. Today, there are three separate Haitian politicians claiming to be Moïse’s successor, a political contest for power bearing the markings of a serious confrontation. One of Haiti’s powerful gang bosses is readying his own troops for action, claiming the assassination was a large foreign-orchestrated conspiracy against the Haitian population. The police, corrupt and riven by schisms, aren’t exactly in a position to quell any violence that may erupt.

The U.S. military, however, isn’t in a position to do so either. In fact, it’s questionable whether foreign troops in any capacity would have the resources, patience, and fortitude to save Haitians from the depravity of their own politicians. There was a time not so long ago when United Nations peacekeepers were authorized to return democracy to the island during yet another fractious period in its history—the forced exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That U.N.-authorized peacekeeping mission would last for more than 15 years, and the result was anything but the peace, democracy, and stability Washington and its partners on the Security Council hoped to accomplish. Instead, Haiti’s problems arguably multiplied. The mission was not only implicated in human rights abuses, but brought a deadly cholera epidemic to the country which killed upward of 10,000 people.

The U.S. military has some experience in Haiti as well. In 1994, 25,000 U.S. troops were sent to the island in a mission code-named Operation Uphold Democracy, a deployment designed to restore the democratically elected government to power after being ousted in a military coup three years earlier. While the mission succeeded in ridding the military junta from the capital and negotiating the exile of the coup’s architect (Lt. Gen. Raoul Cédras), one can hardly call it a long-term success given Haiti’s current circumstances.”

“To task U.S. troops with political missions is to saddle them with responsibilities they can’t reasonably be expected to meet, all the while providing the host government with the cover to continue business as usual. Whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Haiti, deployments like these create more problems than they solve, shift the ultimate responsibility for fixing them onto the backs of U.S. soldiers, and can easily expand from months to years.”

America’s asylum system is broken. Here’s how Biden could fix it.

“The US can anticipate these spikes, which are symptoms of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. For years, these countries have suffered from gang violence, government corruption, extortion, and some of the highest rates of poverty and violent crime in the world. The pandemic-related economic downturn and a pair of hurricanes late last year that devastated Honduras and Guatemala, in particular, have only exacerbated those longstanding problems. Many of the migrants arriving on the southern border, sometimes in large caravans, likely felt they had no choice but to seek refuge elsewhere”

“The US doesn’t have a system in place to ensure that migrants are treated humanely and in accordance with federal law when these spikes occur. Children have consequently been kept in jail-like holding facilities operated by US Customs and Border Protection beyond the 72-hour legal time limit. That is why the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and the Biden administration have been condemned for keeping “kids in cages.””

“several immigrant advocacy groups and think tanks have devised potential frameworks to improve migrant processing. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have also drafted a bill that would implement related reforms, though it’s not clear whether the legislation will draw significant support from members of either party. Those strategies will become all the more important as the Biden administration begins to lift pandemic-related restrictions at the southern border and resumes processing migrants en masse.”

America still needs to learn from its biggest pandemic failure

“Many Americans did take Covid-19 seriously, social distancing and masking up as federal officials and experts asked them to. They have continued to do so, too, getting vaccines as soon as they were available.

But with Covid-19, just a few people can spoil everything. A few people going out, gathering, and failing to wear masks can launch an outbreak across a community. That ends up exposing not just the people in the initial outbreak but anyone else who gets caught in the subsequent contact chain. Maybe someone contracted Covid-19 by hosting an ill-advised Halloween party, and then spread the coronavirus further when he went into work, bought groceries, picked up food at a restaurant, and visited family. A single person’s mistake can have a lot of fallout.”

The US is telling migrants “don’t come.” They might not be listening.

“Migrants typically get information about the conditions on the border from people in their network who have successfully made the journey, rather than from top-down declarations from US officials. Smugglers have also sought to spread misinformation about the Biden administration’s plans to process asylum seekers. Immigrant advocates on the border have reported hearing rumors spreading that migrants staying in certain camps will be processed or that the border would open at midnight.

These rumors have survived on the hopes of people who have long aspired to migrate. Many of the people arriving on the southern border are fleeing dangerous or unlivable conditions and felt they had no choice but to leave their home countries.”

Why Militias Are So Hard To Stop

“When you’ve got neo-Nazis harassing an innocent family in the suburbs because of a podcast that has nothing to do with them, it’s pretty clear this country has a domestic extremism problem. The Department of Homeland Security knows it, Congress knows it, and every single person who watched the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in horror knows it. There are many elements to the domestic extremism threat in America, but one prominent component is private militias. An assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has warned that violent extremist militias present “the most lethal” threats in the U.S., and the share of public demonstrations involving far-right militias has increased since the 2020 general election, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.”

“Militias pose a prickly dilemma for law enforcement because they butt up against a bunch of different American narratives around self-defense, gun rights and how to live in a safe society. Some militias are just a group of guys doing target practice in the woods. Other militias plot to kidnap a governor.”

“The presence of the term “a well regulated militia” in the Second Amendment to the Constitution leads a lot of people to believe that these groups must be constitutionally protected, but the Bill of Rights is open to interpretation. Some scholars say the Second Amendment was referring only to state-run militias called upon by the governor or federal government as needed, not private groups. In fact, in the Supreme Court’s 2008 landmark ruling that upheld an individual’s right to bear arms, the justices notably reaffirmed an 1886 ruling that the Second Amendment “does not prevent the prohibition of private paramilitary organizations” — in other words, private militias.
“Private militias want us to think the Second Amendment protects them, and they’re just wrong,” said Mary McCord, the executive director of Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. “‘Well regulated’ has always meant ‘regulated by the state.’””

“When Facebook recommended he join the Wolverine Watchmen, Dan thought it was a group for firearm training. It wasn’t until a fellow group member started inquiring about how to find the home addresses of police officers that alarm bells started going off.

Dan, whose last name has not been publicly released in order to protect him, went on to become an FBI informant who was critical in uncovering the Watchmen’s plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. In March, he testified at a preliminary hearing for three of the more than a dozen people arrested and charged in the case since October.”

“law enforcement doesn’t always act when it encounters militia activity, and that can lead to dramatic consequences. It’s part of the reason why armed protesters, including some militia members, who had planned to storm the Michigan Capitol in April 2020 didn’t have to storm anything. Instead, they were allowed inside by state police and stood in the gallery above the Senate chamber, toting semiautomatic rifles, staring down as lawmakers went about their business. At least two of these militia members were later arrested for the foiled plot to kidnap Whitmer.”

America’s Semiconductor Industry Doesn’t Need $52 Billion in New Subsidies To Stay Ahead of China

“Rather than countering a perceived threat from China, lawmakers risk bogging down one of the most innovative and successful parts of the American economy with an industrial policy that will force chipmakers to care more about what makes Washington happy than what is best for their own businesses.”

“Companies that, by the way, admit they don’t need the cash to be competitive. Intel, one of the world’s biggest chipmaking companies, is in the process of building a $20 billion fabrication facility in Arizona. In March, CEO Pat Gelsinger said the project “would not depend on a penny of government support or state support.” (Though he immediately followed that comment by saying that “of course…we want incentives” and it appears that Congress is prepared to dutifully provide them.)”

“According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, American-based firms control 47 percent of the global share of the semiconductor industry—a far cry from congressional concerns about the U.S. losing its competitive edge.”

“The trick that lawmakers are trying to pull here is to focus on where semiconductors are made. But this doesn’t really matter. It’s true that a smaller share is manufactured in the U.S. today than 30 years ago, but that’s the result of natural shifts in the market, not evidence of a collapse in American technological prowess.
Indeed, American companies are still at the forefront of semiconductor development—earlier this month, American-based IBM announced a breakthrough in the development of the world’s first two-nanometer chip.”

“It takes a long time to make semiconductors—up to 26 weeks, in some cases—and production is still ramping up again in the wake of last year’s disruptive pandemic. This isn’t a nationalist issue in which some evil foreigners are cutting off America’s share of semiconductors, but a market-based issue that will be resolved as chipmakers increase production capacity to catch up to increasing demand.
But what about China? Yes, the Chinese government is investing heavily in semiconductor-making technology, but it remains far behind America in terms of technological know-how. A recent Nikkei report shows that China mostly manufactures nothing smaller than 14-nanometer chips, which are several generations behind the most advanced chips being made elsewhere—remember, IBM just announced plans for a two-nanometer chip. Closing that gap will be difficult now that America has banned the sale of semiconductor-manufacturing equipment to China (and enforced that ban even when the sale involved other countries).

If there is one major worry for the global supply chain of semiconductors, it is the island of Taiwan. The majority of the world’s semiconductors are made in Taiwan, which is home to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, by far the world’s largest chipmaker. There are obviously many complicated geopolitical issues involving Taiwan that America and the world’s semiconductor industry will have to navigate in the coming years—but it is downright foolish to believe that $52 billion in subsidies will make a meaningful impact in that complex situation, or in a global market that was worth $425 billion last year alone.”

“All it will do is shovel $52 billion of taxpayer money (some of it probably borrowed from China, ironically enough) to successful businesses flush with cash.”