Brexit, Facebook and Life After Mueller
Can We Brexit Already?
What’s going on in England? Brexit talks have stalled to a halt as the deadline for leaving the European Union is rapidly approaching. For those of us in America, all the back and forth about Brexit has been very confusing, partly because their system of government is so different than ours. The gridlock can be traced in part to a vote almost three years ago now, when the British people decided to leave the EU, a shock to the majority of parliament. Since then, the government has been working with the EU to negotiate the country’s exit. The Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, Theresa May, has been tasked with negotiating a deal and winning the support of a majority of parliament to navigate the transition. Because Britain is a parliamentary system, May sits at the helm of a coalition government, one made up of many different parties, and one that has splintered on the rock of Brexit.
This week, May offered to resign if her proposal passed the vote. Parliament has shown over and over they have lost faith in May and her government; some because they don’t believe in the deal she’s negotiated and others because they don’t want Brexit regardless of the terms. In her defense, May was anti-Brexit before the vote, and although she may be remembered for her inability to get a plan through parliament, she’s worked hard to unify a divided country. Her plan has been too mild for the pro-Brexit group and dead on arrival for Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-Brexit Labour party. Nobody wants to leave without a deal. Unfortunately, May’s deal failed to pass again. Three of her cabinet members resigned in order to vote for parliament to take over the Brexit negotiations. They will begin voting on new measures this week. The Brexit deadline stands at April 12, but many believe another year will be required for parliament to come up with a plan.
The process has been humiliating for the UK. Regardless of how surprising it was, the people voted to leave the EU almost three years ago and the government has failed to work on their behalf. Brexit serves as a political fable for a bigger movement across the west in which large portions of the population are ideologically opposed by strong factions of the government. Representative governments require that representatives actually advocate for the will of the people. In theory, then, the elected representatives will carry out the measures people care about and vote for. Across the west, this system is broken. Lawmakers and their constituents are increasingly far apart on social, political, and economic issue. If it feels like those in Washington D.C. are removed from the votes, Britain and the EU have it just as badly, or worse. We’re watching an important shift in the nature of government. In the Middle East, democracy is waning, partly because it’s easier to run a country as a dictator, even if it’s worse for everyone involved. In Asia, totalitarian regimes continue to be the norm, even as they embrace modified forms of open markets. Brexit is an emblem of the struggle for representation, as the 2020 election season will be in the United States, and it’s worth watching over the next month.
Life After Mueller
While the AG’s summary of Mueller’s 400 page report may not have completely cleared the President, many feel more confident after hearing there was no collusion with Russia in 2016. Calls for impeachment are subsiding momentarily, especially among the American people. The full Mueller report is expected to be delivered to Congress in April according to AG Barr. In the meantime, the President is moving forward on several of his policy agendas, including healthcare legislation, interest rates, and the ongoing crisis at the southern border. For the time being, we may enjoy a hiatus from collusion and impeachment and a return to politics.
Facebook’s Latest Trouble
We’ve all but decided Facebook can’t be trusted and Mark Zuckerberg is preparing for life after trust. This week, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that the internet needs to be regulated. The piece is part PR move and part blame shifting. The founder and CEO of Facebook saying they need more external regulations is like a child arguing that the only way they can stop stealing is if someone watches their every move; it’s a complete and total punt of their ethical responsibilities. The last two years have borne this out. After the 2016 election and the Cambridge Analytica disaster, Facebook’s credibility has continued to unravel. Zuckerberg has gone on numerous apology tours and after each one, news has broken that the company actually shared data well after they said they did, or used data in immoral ways when they said they hadn’t.
Now Zuckerberg is adopting a new strategy. He wants external regulations. We should be suspicious when the world’s most famous social media CEO is asking for regulation. This isn’t altruism. Zuckerberg is tired of developing internal standards of morality and conduct only to be second guessed by everyone else. It’s obvious his vision for what Facebook should and should not do does not align with the government or the American people, so he’s offering a challenge - regulate us.
This is an offer the government should take up. Social media companies have brought revolutionary progress to the way we connect with each other, and they’ve also done tremendous harm, both personally and geopolitically. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has laid out an aggressive plan to break up companies like Facebook, to the extent of retroactively blocking its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. The new U.S. attorney in San Francisco is expected to turn up the heat on white-collar cases in Silicon Valley.
Here’s what’s at stake with Facebook: the ability for companies to treat people’s data as a commodity. To an extent, this is impossible to avoid. Conspiracy theories aside, our choices are being influenced by what media companies know about us. That can be both convenient and terrifying. Facebook has demonstrated several times over that they will give data they said was private to third parties, and if they aren’t going to fix that, the government should. There is a difference between economic and moral regulation. Zuckerberg’s op-ed is an ethical case study. Facebook should stop sharing private information illegally and immorally. Where they are incapable, or unwilling, to make those changes, regulators should step in.
One of the most fascinating, if not foreboding, features of the run-up to the 2020 election will be watching how the Democratic party sorts through their dozens of candidates. Early on, Beto and Biden have found themselves on the wrong side of the diversity doyens. Beto fell out because of comments he made about his wife and white privilege, Biden because of inappropriate behavior towards women. The issue gained momentum when Lucy Flores published an essay claiming Joe Biden touched her inappropriately and gave her an unwanted kiss on the head when he came to speak on her behalf during her 2014 run for the lieutenant governor of Nevada. Flores claims that Biden’s creepy behavior is an “open secret” in political circles. Not anymore.
Biden will stare down the most serious moral and political movement of our time, and it may cost him the nomination before he even officially enters the race. It’s possible the momentum wanes and he skates by on his way to the next political crisis. If so, it will show the Democrats’ hand. If this essay had been written about a Republican, the momentum would be reaching a fever-pitch. Now that’s not to say Republicans haven’t been in the wrong in overlooking immoral behavior, but only to point out the asymmetry of the way this issue is being treated.
On the other hand, if others come forward, this could easily be the end of Biden. Given his polling numbers and the prominent role he’s going to play in the Democratic field, chances are slim this will take him down, but regardless of what happens we should watch with two thoughts in our minds. First, how do we continue to take morality seriously in politics? It’s easy to either be an alarmist or to be jaded and dismissive - it’s hard to be wise. Second, how do we use our voice to both honor and protect women and at the same time de-escalate the process of allegation, conviction, and punishment before all the facts come to light? The next week will be instructive as to how the Democratic race will be run.
“Wisdom, Gender, and Strength in Proverbs” - Mark Horne, Theopolis
While we intellectually ascent to the fact that the book of Proverbs was written by the wisest man who ever lived, few of us read the book like it has much to offer for everyday life. But Proverbs is loaded with biblical wisdom on nearly every topic, including the topics of masculinity and femininity. In fact, large portions of the book are directed to young men and focus on growing up into maturity. It might come as a surprise to learn that Proverbs actually talks about feminine strength more than masculine strength, and encourages young men to take a lesson from the strong women in their lives. The last line is wonderful; “Men can actually learn wise behavior from women who don’t have strength to misuse.” I’d love to see more articles like this; biblical, insightful, and extremely relevant.
“Why Tyndale’s Bible Changed the World” - Justin Brierly, Melvyn Bragg, and Ben Virgo, Unbelievable
I thought I’d change things up and recommend a podcast this week. I really enjoy the Unbelievable podcast. They have scholars from around the world on to discuss religion, politics, philosophy, and nearly everything else. In the last few weeks, they’ve covered identity politics, spiritual gifts, and the relationship between science and religion. In this episode, famed historian and BBC host Melvyn Bragg discusses the impact the Bible has had on language, culture, and society with London tour guide, Ben Virgo. What’s remarkable is Bragg is not a Christian - at least not in terms of his religious beliefs. But he understands and passionately defends the importance and impact of the Bible. The episode covers the amazing history of Tyndale’s translation as well as the ways the language of the English Bible has shaped the West.
“At 71, She’s Never Felt Pain or Anxiety. Scientists Now Know Why” - Heather Murphy, The New York Times
On the surface it sounds like a dream come true, a life completely free from pain and anxiety, even childbirth was relatively pleasant for Jo Cameron. Because of an extremely rare mutation, Cameron does not feel pain at all, and scientist have just begun to understand the effect that has had on every part of her life. The findings have spurred researchers to think about how new kinds of pain medication could lead to less anxiety. There’s a reason this article has been the most read at the New York Times the last few days. Everyone wants to have less pain and less anxiety. Thought-provoking.
"The Sistine Chapel" - Cullen Murphy, The Wall Street Journal
How do they clean the Sistine Chapel? With a spider, of course. That's what they call the lift used by the conservation staff at the Vatican charged with preserving some of the world's most famous pieces of art. This is a fascinating article. Every winter, a team of curators, historian, and technicians spend four hours a night for over a month surveying the frescos in the chapel, making sure there are no pockets of moisture building up or cracks forming in the plasters. The amount of work and technology that goes into the upkeep is astonishing; it made me thankful for the people who spent their lives producing masterpieces for the church. This is a fun read, and the pictures are incredible.
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