US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. The rich get even richer (New York Times)

The only way to redress the income imbalance is by implementing policies that are oriented toward reversing the forces that caused it, says Steven Rattner.

2. Jeb Bush and Republican amnesia (Chicago Tribube)

When Bobby and Teddy Kennedy ran for president, they did everything they could to evoke memories of brother Jack. If Jeb were to run, he'd have to treat George W. like the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, writes Steve Chapman.

3. "Romneycare": GOP albatross or asset? (Politico)

Since he orchestrated and then signed the Massachusetts health care law, Romney is uniquely qualified to lead the GOP attacks against the federal health care reform bill, write Paul Goldman and Mark Rozell.

4. North Korea's dehumanizing treatment of its citizens is hiding in plain sight (Washington Post)

South Koreans, living in freedom, also fear a North Korean collapse  -- not only for the potential financial cost but also because they sense how different their erstwhile countrymen have become, writes Fred Hiatt.

5. Health care on the line in Supreme Court case (San Francisco Chronicle)

This editorial says the questions are: Does Washington have the right to require citizens to have health insurance or pay a penalty, as Democrats assert? Or is this mandate an overreach, at odds with constitutional limits on governmental power, as Republicans claim?

6. The right's Etch a Sketch imperative (Washington Post)

Conservatives will need an exceptionally powerful Etch a Sketch to wipe the nation's memory clean of the education it received during the 2012 campaign's most enlightening week so far, writes E.J. Dionne Jr.

7. Lobbyists, guns and money (New York Times)

Florida's now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy -- and it is, writes Paul Krugman.

8. Afghan killing spree points to deeper problems (Chicago Tribune)

Congress needs to prod the Obama administration to put a limit on how much is demanded of the limited number of military men and women whose lives are being repeatedly disrupted, while the rest of us go about our normal business, writes Leonard Pitts Jr.

9. Is the Obama administration's energy policy credible? Yes (Denver Post)

The facts are clear. President Obama is invested in our long-term energy independence that will free us from the volatile global oil market and save consumers money at the pump, says Frederico Pena.

10. Evangelicals seek positive change (USA Today)

More evangelicals are breaking formation and tackling social problems such as poverty and human trafficking that weren't on the evangelical political agenda a decade or two ago, writes Tom Krattenmaker.

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Why Podemos will defeat the Spanish Socialists

A new alliance on the Spanish Left will be stronger than the sum of its parts.

On Saturday morning, on a palm-tree lined promenade in the small city of Badalona in eastern Catalonia, a 38-year-old woman named Mar García Puig fanned herself with her speaking notes after taking her turn on the stage.

Until six months ago, Puig was a literary editor with no professional experience in politics apart from attending demonstrations and rallies. Then, in December, her life was transformed twice over. In the national election, she won a parliamentary seat for En Comú Podem, the Catalan regional ally of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Four hours after she learned of her victory, Puig gave birth to twins.

Fortunately Puig’s husband, who is a teacher, was able to take paternity leave so that she could take up her seat. In parliament, Puig “felt like an alien”, she told me over coffee. As it turned out, she had to give up her seat prematurely anyway – along with all the other Spanish MPs – when repeated attempts to form a government failed. So now, in the lead-up to Spain’s first repeat election of the modern era, to be held on 26 June, Puig was on the campaign trail once more in a drive to win a parliamentary seat.

The December general election was as historic as it was inconclusive, ushering in a novel political era in Spain and leaving the country with the most fragmented parliament in its history. Fed up with corruption, austerity and a weak recovery from the global financial crisis, voters punished the mainstream parties, ending the 40-year dominance of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which have held power since the death of General Franco. Neither group was able to win an absolute majority as new parties from both ends of the political spectrum garnered support from disenchanted voters.

On the left, Podemos, which was only founded in March 2014 by the ponytailed political scientist Pablo Iglesias, won 20 per cent of the vote. Ciudadanos (Citizens), formed in Catalonia a decade ago and occupying the centre left or centre right, depending on which analyst you talk to, secured a 14 per cent share.

Despite having four months to form a coalition government, the two biggest political parties could not reach a deal. The People’s Party, which had implemented a harsh austerity package over the past five years, recorded its worst electoral performance since 1989, losing 16 percentage points. It still won the most votes, however, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was the first leader to be asked by King Felipe VI to form a government.

By the end of January, Rajoy conceded defeat after the PSOE refused to join his “grand coalition”. The Socialists then failed in their own attempt to form a government, leading the king to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election.

Despite the inconvenience of having to campaign nationwide once again – and being away from her twins – Mar García Puig’s enthusiasm for her new career is undiminished. “In Spain there is a window of opportunity,” she said. “There is a receptiveness to politics that there wasn’t before.”

When the repeat elections were called, some questioned whether Podemos and its regional allies could mobilise its supporters to the same extent as in December. Yet Puig believes that the party’s appeal has grown further in the six months that the country has been without a government. “We are still new and Podemos has this freshness – it can still make people join,” she told me.

The following day, as the church bells rang at noon in the Basque city of Bilbao, crowds gathered for another rally. For protection against the sun, Podemos supporters had covered their heads with purple triangular paper hats displaying the party name as it will appear on the ballot paper: Unidos Podemos, or “United We Can”.

In May, Podemos entered into an alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), the radical left-wing party that includes the Communist Party of Spain, and which won 3 per cent of the vote in December. Izquierda Unida is headed by Alberto Garzón, a 30-year-old Marxist economist who, according to a poll by the state-run CIS research institute, is the most highly rated party leader in Spain. Unlike Podemos’s Iglesias, who can fire up a crowd and is seen by some as divisive, Garzón is a calm and articulate politician who appeals to disaffected voters.

Nagua Alba, who at 26 is Podemos’s youngest MP, said the new alliance would be stronger than the sum of its parts, because Spain’s voting system punishes smaller parties when it comes to allocating seats in parliament. “It [the alliance] will attract all those people that aren’t convinced yet. It shows we can all work together,” Alba said.

As part of the agreement with Podemos, Izquierda Unida has agreed to drop its demands for a programme of renationalisation and withdrawing Spain from Nato. The alliance is campaigning on a platform of reversing Rajoy’s labour reforms, removing the national debt ceiling, opposing the TTIP trade deal, and increasing the minimum wage to €900 a month. A Unidos Podemos government would attempt to move the EU’s economic policy away from austerity and towards a more expansionist stance, joining a broader effort that involves Greece, Italy and Portugal. It is also committed to offering the Catalans a referendum on independence, a move that the mainstream parties strongly oppose.

The latest polls suggest that Unidos Podemos will become Spain’s second-biggest party, with 26 per cent of the vote, behind Rajoy’s Popular Party. The Socialist Party looks poised to fall into third place, with 21 per cent, and Ciudadanos is expected to hold its 14 per cent share. If the polls are accurate, the PSOE will face a difficult choice that highlights how far its stock has fallen. It can choose to enter as a junior partner into a coalition with the insurgent left, which has politically outmanoeuvred it. Or it could decide to prop up a Partido Popular-led right-wing coalition, serving as a constraint on power. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain