Punishing Hungary

This week, more than two-thirds of members of the European Parliament approved unprecedented disciplinary action against Hungary in response to alleged violations of EU core values. The motion accuses the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban of refusing to accept migrants according to EU quotas agreed by a majority vote of EU members. It rebukes the Hungarian government for its attacks on the media, minorities, and the rule of law.


Orban called the charges blackmail and an insult to Hungary’s people. His foreign minister denounced them as the "petty revenge" of "pro-immigration" bureaucrats.

Each side claims it is defending “European values.” Most members of the European Parliament define those values as freedom of speech, respect for human rights, judicial independence, and separation of powers within a democracy. Orban and likeminded allies in other countries define them as local values and protection of traditional ethnic and religious identity against mandates from politicians in other countries. Europeans say Orban is bullying Hungarians who don’t support him. Orban says European institutions are bullying Hungary.

What power does the EU have to discipline Hungary? That question now rests in the hands of the EU Council—the heads of government of the 28 EU member states. Stripping Hungary of voting rights would require a unanimous vote. Poland, which may soon face similar disciplinary pressure from the EU, would cast a veto.

The European Commission has proposed measures that would tie some of the money that member states receive as part of the EU budget to respect for the rule of law. That means countries like Hungary and Poland might one day face substantial cuts in EU subsidies.

That’s a big deal for smaller countries that receive more from the EU budget than they contribute. Hungary contributed €924 million to the EU budget in 2016, it received €4.5 billion in EU funding in the same year.

But those changes are not imminent, and this action against Hungary is the first of its kind. There are still more questions than answers.

In the meantime, Brussels must hope that Hungary will take steps to avoid pariah status, but this latest action may serve mainly to further elevate Orban’s stature as champion of those who say the EU lacks respect for the values of its member states.

Internationally, food security is under threat from drought, while agriculture is subject to thin margins and complex global trade. There is also pressure to do more with less to ensure food security for the global population. Because of this, farmers are driven to get the most out of every harvest, even if that short-term focus may have long-term ill effects on the soil and their yield. Farmers in the U.S. are now turning to Ag-Analytics, a leader in AI solutions, to help address these concerns. Sharing Microsoft's goal to help monitor, model and manage Earth's natural resources with cloud and AI, the company brings precision agriculture to fruition in a platform that helps farmers leverage data to make decisions. Read more on Microsoft on the Issues.

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As topsy-turvy as global politics has been over the past several years –Brexit, Trump, the rise of anti-establishment leaders in France, the Philippines, Italy, Pakistan, and Brazil, the surge of the European far right and so on – it's all unfolded during a time when the global economy was actually doing pretty well.

So what happens when the inevitable recession hits? Earlier this week, markets suffered their worst day of the year as investors confronted that question.

Germany's economy, the world's fourth-largest, is shrinking. China's factories are churning at their slowest rate in 17 years. The trade fights between the US and China, the US and Europe, and South Korea and Japan involve countries that together account for half the global economy. And worries about a chaotic British exit from the EU aren't helping either.

Even more worrying than these individual trends, through, is that the zero-sum politics driving all this disruption might also make a global economic swoon harder to get out of.

During the last big economic crisis in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, the world's major economies were able to compromise and coordinate their responses to the recession in ways that avoided an even deeper downturn.

In today's more cutthroat political environment, that kind of cooperation is a lot less likely -- particularly if a downturn fuels even more of social and political polarization within countries that has empowered economic nationalists in the first place.

We're not in a recession yet. But buckle up, because when the next downturn hits, politics is going to make it harder to contain the pain.

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Maduro's crackdown on the military – One reason Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has survived an economic collapse, a popular revolt, assassination attempts, and a failed coup by opposition leader Juan Guaido is that the military brass has stuck with him. For one thing, they are tied to the regime's lucrative illegal businesses and black market schemes. But there's also now a stick to go along with that carrot: The New York Times describes Maduro's "growing reliance on torture" and purges of military officers – including alleged coup-plotter Captain Rafael Acosta, who died after being beaten and electrocuted to in a Venezuelan military hospital. We are watching closely to see if there is a point where Maduro screws up the calibration of carrots vs sticks and finds himself at the business end of a rifle in the Miraflores palace.

Trudeau's woes – In many ways Nicolas Maduro's polar opposite, Canada's prime minister has a lot going for him: dreamy good looks; a decent – if not overwhelming – majority for his Liberal Party in Parliament; and a generally safe, resource-rich country with millions of lakes, friendly people, big skies and (relatively) small problems. But earlier this week, an independent ethics commissioner ruled that the prime minister had breached the country's conflict of interest laws earlier this year when he pressured prosecutors to ease off of a bribery investigation of a major Canadian construction firm, because of fears about job losses. Trudeau has accepted the report's findings, but isn't resigning. We're watching to see how this simmering scandal affects Canada's upcoming national elections in October.

Something your salmon friends will never believe – You are a salmon. You are trying to get upriver so you can mate and die. Also you must avoid bears and bald eagles. Now there is a dam in your way of your favorite river. This is a problem. You pause an— WHAT IS HAPPENING. SUDDENLY YOU ARE BEING SHOT THROUGH A PNEUMATIC TUBE AND… just look at this thing.

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Japanese robotic tails Researchers at Japan's Keio University have developed a wearable robotic tail that they say could help elderly people and others with balance problems steady themselves. Look, we know that managing an ageing population is one of Japan's most pressing challenges. We also know that automation is one way that countries with shrinking workforces can better support a growing population of retirees. But giving people tails seems like a less efficient way to address these problems than, say, tweaking immigration policy ever so slightly to bring in more young workers, no?