• First, some definitions. A “constitution” is not just a document, codified or otherwise. Even nations with “written constitutions” do not have all their constitutional arrangements recorded in one document. That of the US, for example, contains no explicit mention of judicial review, the key check of the judiciary on executive or legislative over-reach. A document may record and even prescribe constitutional arrangements, but there will always be more to a constitution in practice.

    Instead, it is the descriptive answer to simple questions. How is a particular state constituted? How are the relationships between the elements of the state regulated? What happens when there is conflict between the elements of the state, or between the state and the individual? What are the mechanisms for resolving tensions so that they do not become contradictions?

    So a constitutional crisis occurs when there is a contradiction between elements of the state, or between the state and the citizen, which is not capable of easy resolution; where there is a fundamental conflict the outcome of which cannot be predicted or managed.

    There have been such occasions in English history, in the 1640s and 1680s, and the UK came close to one in respect of both the powers of the House of Lords and Irish Home Rule before the first world war.

    Brexit had the makings of an immense constitutional crisis, even a constitutional revolution. After the referendum of June 2016, the government did two things that could have created one.

    The first step was a matter of principle. The government (and, to be fair, the Labour opposition) interpreted the referendum result as a fixed mandate that could not be gainsaid by parliament. This was a flat rejection of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy. The “will of the people” had to prevail.

    The second step was a matter of practice. The government sought to exclude parliament (and the devolved administrations) from any involvement either in the Brexit negotiations or respect of Brexit policy.

    Parliament would have no role in formulating or approving the parameters of the deal. Supposed analyses of the impact of Brexit would not be published. Ministers sought to legislate at will with wide statutory discretions. Whitehall was seeking to take control, but from Westminster and not Brussels.

    In terms of principle and practice, therefore, parliament faced the gravest possible challenge to its authority. But the executive failed. The wide statutory discretions were narrowed. A meaningful vote provision was inserted. The Supreme Court held that parliament and not the executive must authorise the Article 50 notification. Mr Bercow ruled that government business motions could be amended. Publication of economic analysis and legal advice from attorney-general Geoffrey Cox to the cabinet was forced on the government by MPs using the ancient means of a “humble address”. The third “meaningful vote” was ruled out of order this week — another decision by Mr Bercow — because of an even older precedent, dating from 1604.

    None of these checks were inevitable, and each development had to be fought for. To an extent, the government undermined itself with a general election where it lost its overall majority. And it has often shown itself to be incompetent over procedure. It seems the Speaker’s ruling on the meaningful vote took the government by surprise. The government’s lack of Brexit contingency planning is as evident in constitutional matters as it is in policymaking.

    Things could have gone differently (and may still do so), but so far each tension between the elements of the UK state occasioned by Brexit has been regulated and resolved. The government has not got away with its constitutional revolution. The courts and then parliament have asserted themselves.

    In a curious way, Brexit has resulted in the country’s supreme parliament “taking back control” — though not in the manner intended by Brexit campaigners. Mr Buckland confuses the government not getting its way with a constitutional crisis. But his complaint is itself the sound of a working constitution. Had the executive succeeded in its intended power grab, that would have been a constitutional crisis. But, so far, that has been avoided.

    tags: UKparliament constitution law politics Brexit DavidAllenGreen

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  • But this problem goes far deeper than the particular rhetoric of a particular political party. If the United States and other western democracies have a recurring problem with white power and white supremacist violence, it’s because they grow out of habits and assumptions that are still embedded in our societies. The extremists who dream of a white ethno-state aren’t too far removed to the more ordinary people who see no problem with (and even defend) continued segregation of schools and neighborhoods. The people who target mosques at home are channeling our disregard for Muslim lives abroad. Settler societies built on the removal and extermination of native peoples will produce ideologies that treat those actions as good, even laudatory.

    Which is just to say that as we struggle against the forces behind these decades of violence, from Oklahoma City to Christchurch, we must remember that we aren’t fighting with strangers. Instead, we are confronting the very worst of our legacy — wrestling with our own shadows.

    tags: white nationalism terrorism extremism intolerance denial politics hatespeech USpolitics Norway NewZealand killing UShistory DonaldTrump Oklahoma

  • Are we complicit in spreading the ideas of these fascists by writing about them? The answer is no. Radicalization happens first and foremost on the internet, where violent extremists meet and incite each other, and where they should be tracked down and monitored.

    We can’t allow ourselves to be ignorant. To fight terrorism, we need to research how individuals become terrorists. We need to analyze and expose fascist thoughts and violence.

    People like Mr. Breivik and Mr. Tarrant spread myths and conspiracies dressed up as facts. They use guns to be read. Their thoughts thrive in the darkness, tailored to an underground community. We need to expose the ideas and the lives of these white supremacists. Only then can we dissect them properly.

    tags: white terrorism nationalism extremism socialmedia security NewZealand Norway racism paranoia intolerance propaganda incitement

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  • It happens again and again that, when there are many possible descriptions of a physical situation—all making equivalent predictions, yet all wildly different in premise—one will turn out to be preferable, because it extends to an underlying reality, seeming to account for more of the universe at once. And yet this new description might, in turn, have multiple formulations—and one of those alternatives may apply even more broadly. It’s as though physicists are playing a modified telephone game in which, with each whisper, the message is translated into a different language. The languages describe different scales or domains of the same reality but aren’t always related etymologically. In this modified game, the objective isn’t—or isn’t only—to seek a bedrock equation governing reality’s smallest bits. The existence of this branching, interconnected web of mathematical languages, each with its own associated picture of the world, is what needs to be understood.

    This web of laws creates traps for physicists. Suppose you’re a researcher seeking to understand the universe more deeply. You may get stuck using a dead-end description—clinging to a principle that seems correct but is merely one of nature’s disguises. It’s for this reason that Paul Dirac, a British pioneer of quantum theory, stressed the importance of reformulating existing theories: it’s by finding new ways of describing known phenomena that you can escape the trap of provisional or limited belief. This was the trick that led Dirac to predict antimatter, in 1928. “It is not always so that theories which are equivalent are equally good,” he said, five decades later, “because one of them may be more suitable than the other for future developments.”

    It seems inconceivable that this intricate web of perfect mathematical descriptions is random or happenstance. This mystery must have an explanation. But what might such an explanation look like? One common conception of physics is that its laws are like a machine that humans are building in order to predict what will happen in the future. The “theory of everything” is like the ultimate prediction machine—a single equation from which everything follows. But this outlook ignores the existence of the many different machines, built in all manner of ingenious ways, that give us equivalent predictions.

    Arkani-Hamed now sees the ultimate goal of physics as figuring out the mathematical question from which all the answers flow. “The ascension to the tenth level of intellectual heaven,” he told me, “would be if we find the question to which the universe is the answer, and the nature of that question in and of itself explains why it was possible to describe it in so many different ways.” It’s as though physics has been turned inside out. It now appears that the answers already surround us. It’s the question we don’t know.

    tags: physics reality theory truth mathematics mystery RichardFeynman

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  • I’ve traveled England trying to understand what drives the Brexit psyche.The June 2016 Brexit referendum left Britain a divided nation. That much we know. But the referendum didn’t create division. It exposed something that was already there, latent. This was hard to see if you attended to people’s conventional political views about taxation or public spending; even the issue of immigration, by itself, wasn’t “it.” Nor was it to be found in something as vague as “feelings” or “emotions.” It lay elsewhere, in the realm of the individual political psyche, that blending of personal, family and nonacademic history, casually informed reasoning, clan prejudice, tribal loyalty and ancestor worship that forms the imaginative framework in which, as we represent it to ourselves, our lives relate to events in the wider world.In that framework, the way our representation of the past relates to our representation of the present isn’t always linear. What may seem, rationally, to be dead, gone and replaced (or to have never existed) is actually still there, immanent, or hidden, or stolen. An empire. An all-white Britain. A socialist Britain. A country that stood alone against the Nazi menace. One’s young self. A word for this is “dreaming.”…The major cause of this paralysis is the breakdown of the just-about-ruling Conservative Party — one faction prepared to compromise over Brexit, the other, a small minority in Parliament, eager to break absolutely with the European Union whatever the consequences. This makes sense only if you understand the hard-core Brexiteer minority as most in tune with the Leaver dreaming: that state of mind where it’s natural to talk about the Britons who endured the Nazi siege of the early 1940s as “we,” as if the present and the past, the dead and the living, were one and the same, bound to re-enact the slaying of a European dragon every few generations.I’ve spent a lot of time traveling in England, before and since the referendum, listening to people talk about their lives. Remainers have their own rich dreams, no less fascinating, but I spoke mainly to Leavers, since they were the disrupters. I heard many true stories and many strong opinions, but as the years went by I began to attend more and more to the hints of dreaming between the lines, in what was not said as well as what was said. I noticed three things.One was a strong sense of oppression, of being censored, and an attendant resentment. There were several occasions when Leavers I spoke to left pregnant gaps that could only have been filled with anti-immigrant sentiments that they weren’t “allowed” to say. By no means all Leavers are racist, but I ended up with the impression that for many, casual racism is regarded as a lost patrimony; that as much as Leavers might oppose immigration, they are no less resentful of the “elites” rendering it awkward to categorize people along racial lines.Another thing I noticed was the internationalism of Leavers — internationalism with a particular flavor: the nostalgia for Ian Smith’s Rhodesia by a Norfolk farmer and member of the European Parliament from the far-right U.K. Independence Party; for the freedom to roam the North Sea without engaging with other littoral countries, from Grimsby fishermen; the indignation, from an ex-chocolate factory worker and U.K.I.P. member in the West Country, that young Britons who want to study abroad “have to” go to Europe (they don’t, but let that pass) when they should be going to Australian universities instead.The third thing was the preoccupation with the state as defender of its people. This was literal — U.K.I.P. fliers boasting of how many extra aircraft carriers they would build in government — but also figurative, that it was the British government’s job to defend native Britons against immigrants; foreign competition; greedy capitalists; and, through the National Health Service, illness.I used to be skeptical of the idea that Britain hadn’t come to terms with the loss of its empire. It was such a long time ago, and not a single one of the many Leavers I’ve had hours of conversations with over the years has explicitly expressed wanting it back. How could you? It would be ridiculous. I believe now that a subliminal empire does persist in the dreaming of a large number of Britons, hinted at in a longing for the return of guilt-free racial categorization, in the idea that my country can be both globally open and privileged in an international trading system where it can somehow turn the rules to its advantage, in the idea of a safe white core protected from the dark hordes beyond by a mighty armed force.How could this dreaming have survived so long after the fall of the actual empire? One answer may lie in the matchless political skills of Margaret Thatcher. She achieved the extraordinary feat of turning into political orthodoxy a plainly contradictory credo, that nationalism and borderless capitalism could easily coexist. The reality of the new Britain has been a shrunken welfare state, a country ruthlessly exposed to global free-market competition. The blindness of Thatcherism’s supporters has been to accept it as the patriotic solution to the globalism it enabled.This idea, which begins to make sense only if your country happens to control a global empire, came from someone whose childhood dream was to be an official in the Indian Civil Service. It has been orthodoxy for four decades, not just in her own party but for a time, at least, in the main opposition. The bizarre and already disproved notion that the global free market might work as an avatar of Britain’s imperial power lies at the heart of the die-hard Brexit psyche. Propagating it was Mrs. Thatcher’s personal success, and that success, as we can now see, was her great failure.

    tags: Brexit UK politics publicopinion psychology nationalism delusion fantasy racism imperialism colonialism ConservativeParty Thatcher

  • All those who have helped to spread the worldwide myth that Muslims are a threat have blood on their hands.

    tags: NewZealand killing Islamophobia racism extremism nationalism paranoia propaganda socialmedia white hatespeech

  • The massacre in New Zealand highlights the contagious ways in which the extreme right has spread in the 21st century — even to a country not strongly associated with it…”The ideas expressed in this manifesto are pretty widely shared beyond the really fanatic fringe — in not just the far-right but also the mainstream,” said Tore Bjørgo, director of the Center for Research on Extremism at the University of Oslo. “But there are very few” — outside the extreme fringes of the extreme-right — “who would take it one step further and try to start a race war.”The killer’s ability to livestream the attack via his own social media channels — which led to the dissemination of the video and manifesto across YouTube, Facebook and several mainstream media outlets — also highlights how the far-right has harnessed the reach of major media and technology companies, even as it continues to spread its message through the dark corners of obscure internet sites.By broadcasting his atrocity himself, the killer was able to both circumvent the traditional gatekeepers of news coverage, while also encouraging those same gatekeepers to subsequently regurgitate some of his footage and even unwittingly amplify his ideas to millions more potential imitators than he might otherwise have reached.”It’s clearly made for media coverage,” Dr. Bjørgo said.And by writing most of the manifesto in a question-and-answer format, its author had clearly — and correctly — expected it to be picked up and distributed by mainstream media networks, amplifying his ideas further than ever.”One of the sickest and most upsetting parts of this for me is that the killings, the actual terrorist attacks, are forms of propaganda for the statements,” said Mr. Feldman of the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right. “They draw attentions to their statements through their actions.”That leaves media organizations in an ethical bind, Mr. Feldman said.”The coverage will be wall-to-wall today,” he said, “and tomorrow it will set someone else off.”

    tags: propaganda racism extremism Islamophobia NewZealand killing socialmedia hatespeech incitement

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  • It’s especially important for working parents…3 Work Skills That Are Useful at Home, TooIs your home life more chaotic than your work life? If so, you’re not alone, and some of the skills you use in your job can help.– Planning and scheduling. Do you struggle to finish your personal to-do list? Block out time in your calendar for the things you need to get done (even mundane tasks like laundry and errands). You’ll feel more in control and more productive. — Decision making. is about understanding how your actions affect other people. To improve, pay attention to how your colleagues react to things, and ask yourself (or them) what could be behind their behavior. — Putting people first. At work, would you idly check your phone while a client speaks? Of course not — and our families deserve the same respect. Try to give people your full attention at home, even after a long day of work. It will help you feel more connected to the ones who matter most.

    tags: home family life timemanagement stress howto

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  • Mrs May must bear most of the blame for the failure to secure a parliamentary majority. Her negotiating strategy was muddled and contradictory, and she continually put narrow party interests ahead of those of the nation… 
    ….
    This means ending the fantasy of bringing her deal to parliament a third time. EU officials have made clear there will be no further concessions on the backstop aimed at avoiding a hard border in Ireland. Mrs May should instead allow parliament to take control. She must work to promote and facilitate exactly the kind of cross-party co-operation in the national interest that she has so far stubbornly resisted….

    tags: Brexit TheresaMay character

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  •  Robert Shrimsley

    Theresa May might not see it this way but there is reason to thank Michel Barnier for the hated Irish backstop that now threatens to destroy the prime minister’s Brexit deal. The EU chief negotiator’s backstop not only saves the island of Ireland from a hard internal border. It may also protect Britain from the Conservative party.

    Under the terms of the backstop, if a frictionless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is not secured in the next round of negotiations, then the UK is bound into an inescapable customs union (and Northern Ireland into aspects of the single market) with the EU until such time as all sides agree it is no longer necessary. It is, in many respects, an outrage that may well lead a future government to break an international treaty. But the happy side-effect is that it limits the ability of a future Tory government to do even more damage to the British economy. However bad the next stage gets, the backstop puts a floor on the disruption.

    This matters because the saga of Brexit has, from the start, been a crisis of the Conservative party. The route to Brexit has marked, at every stage, the party’s path from being economic rationalists and upholders of the existing order back to the narrow economic and political nationalism that helped destroy it in the 1840s and again in the early 1900s. The Tories have been most successful when keeping a balance between these two poles. Now the narrow nationalists are taking over.

    Initially, the crisis was containable — at first because the Conservative leadership protected the country from its hardliners and then because Tony Blair’s Labour government kept them from power. But the Brexit referendum and Mrs May’s leadership have brought the party close to the final surrender. Having ceded ground to secure the premiership, it is only lately that she has tried to restrain the zealots.

    The politics of Brexit has been a story of the Conservative party. Nearly three years after the referendum, the tussles with Brussels remain almost a sideshow. For all that time, the prime minister’s real negotiations have been with her own party. With just 18 days to go (18 days! I have planned drinks with friends that had more certainty this far in advance), Mrs May is still negotiating with her party on how to resolve the biggest constitutional and economic change to hit the UK in modern history. The country watches on helplessly like a guest at the outbreak of a marital row.

    Mrs May’s own premiership is effectively over even if she lingers in office a little longer. For months, she has been less a leader than a convener. Now she is not even that. The country needs a prime minister who can negotiate across parliament and find a common position. Mrs May cannot negotiate across her own cabinet. The only thing that keeps her in place is the conviction that it is possible for things to get worse.

    Nonetheless, we are probably into her final weeks and all the likely successors — even the “compromise candidates” like Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary — herald a tighter grip for the hardliners. The government is falling into the hands of those who claim to “speak for the people”. These so-called supporters of parliamentary democracy, the Catiline conservatives, use their voice to whip up a mob, against which they then proclaim themselves the only bulwark. Brexit is only what they say it is. They alone are the voice of the 17.4m.

    The Conservative party has been captured by demagogues, economic illiterates, provincial nationalists and wild-eyed free marketeers. Power is passing to those who think diplomacy means shouting at foreigners. Their revolution is every bit as fervid as Jeremy Corbyn’s on the left. Personally cushioned from the economic impact, they admit they would see GDP fall as the price of “freedom”. The UK’s economy will always be second to their ideological fixations. Only a lengthy spell out of office will restore the Tory equilibrium.

    It is understandable that those seeking a second referendum or a softer Brexit balk at backing Mrs May’s plan. They should still see the value of the backstop. Other Brexit options, including the Norway route of single market membership, or a customs union cannot at this stage be reached without it. More importantly, a future government is limited in the further economic damage it can do in the name of nationalism.

    And so, outrageous infringement to sovereignty that it is, we should be grateful for the backstop. If this deal ever passes, we may one day build statues to Mr Barnier. He will not only have saved Ireland from a hard border and Britain from the Tory zealots. He may ultimately have saved the Conservatives from themselves.

    tags: Brexit MichelBarnier ConservativeParty UK 2019 RobertShrimsley

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