The First Country to Make Public Transportation Free

Starting next summer, Luxembourg, a small country of 600,000 located between France and German, will remove all fares for buses, trams, and trains, making it the first country with free public transportation. 

More from The Guardian:

On top of the transport pledge, the new government is also considering legalising cannabis, and introducing two new public holidays.

Luxembourg City, the capital of the small Grand Duchy, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world.

It is home to about 110,000 people, but a further 400,000 commute into the city to work. A study suggested that drivers in the capital spent an average of 33 hours in traffic jams in 2016.

While the country as a whole has 600,000 inhabitants, nearly 200,000 people living in France, Belgium and Germany cross the border every day to work in Luxembourg.

Luxembourg has increasingly shown a progressive attitude to transport. This summer, the government brought in free transport for every child and young person under the age of 20. Secondary school students can use free shuttles between their institution and their home. Commuters need only pay €2 (£1.78) for up to two hours of travel, which in a country of just 999 sq miles (2,590 sq km) covers almost all journeys.


Let’s see if other, bigger countries take note. 

The Founders: The World Matters

Americans who dismiss or even resent the notion that we should look abroad for new ideas should know that the Founders they revere would have heavily disagreed — which makes sense given they were inspired by the European Enlightenment and Greco-Roman ideas and institutions.

James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”, believed that “no nation was so enlightened that it could ignore the impartial judgments of other nations and still expect to govern itself wisely and effectively.”

In Federalist 63 he articulated the importance of respecting global public opinion, noting that “sensibility to the opinion of the world [was] perhaps not less necessary in order to merit, than it is to obtain, its respect and confidence.” In other words, America’s standing in the world matters, and in turn depends on how open we are to foreign ideas and judgments.

Madison also laid out two reasons why every government should pay attention to the international community:

The one is, that independently of the merits of any particular plan or measure, it is desirable on various accounts, that it should appear to other nations as the offspring of a wise and honorable policy.

Thus, no matter how good or justified a domestic policy may seem, we should also ensure that other nations agree as well. It lends support and credibility while also giving us legitimacy.

The second is, that in doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion, or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world, may be the best guide that can be followed.

Translation: sometimes Americans get it wrong, and the world can offer guidance we may be lacking.

Madison then went so far as to claim that America has suffered for not taking the world into account:

What has not America lost by her want of character with foreign nations? And how many errors and follies would she not have avoided, if the justice and propriety of her measures had in every instance been previously tried by the light in which they would probably appear to the unbiassed part of mankind?”

As Goloveand and Hulesbosch point out in their law review article, A Civilized Nation, Madison’s point is clear:

“Even apart from the danger of provoking war or acting unjustly, paying respect to the consensus judgments embodied in the law of nations was an essential strategy for avoiding ‘errors and follies’ and for managing a foreign policy that would enable the nation to flourish”.

John Jay and Alexander Hamilton concurred, as did most of the Framers:

Madison’s views were shared by many of the framers, and consequently, they carefully designed the new Constitution to ensure that the new nation would uphold its duties under the law of nations. The most immediate concern, based on bitter experience, was to ensure that localist pressures at the state level would not undermine the nation’s capacity to comply. To accomplish this result, the Constitution centralized the foreign affairs powers in the hands of the federal government. As Madison put it,“[i]f we are to be one nation in any respect, it clearly ought to be in respect to other nations.”

Again, however, the framers’ concerns were not limited to federal-state relations. They also worried that popular sentiment,whipped up by “the artful misrepresentations of interested men,” would threaten to undermine compliance with the nation’s international duties. The people, John Jay lamented, were “liable to be deceived by those brilliant appearances of genius and patriotism, which like transient meteors sometimes mislead as well as dazzle.”Consequently, their representative assemblies would be prone “to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders, into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.” Indeed, it was precisely this sort of defect in democratic systems that had led to disastrous results during the Confederation. “[T]he best instruction on this subject is unhappily conveyed to America by the example of her own situation,” Madison observed. “She finds that she is held in no respect by her friends; that she is the derision of her enemies; and that she is a prey to every nation which has an interest in speculating on her fluctuating councils and embarrassed affairs.”

Hence the Constitution gives treaties and international agreements the same strength as domestic law (see the Treaty and Supremacy clauses) and insulates foreign policy from local and state politicians who are too unscrupulous or far removed from international affairs (hence the requirement that only the Senate must ratify a treaty, and Jefferson’s interpretation that many international agreements can be made by the president alone).

It is safe to say that the Founders would be marked as elitist globalists by the very Americans who deify them.

The International Space Station

One of Wikipedia’s latest featured photos: the International Space Station (ISS), taken in 2011 by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli from a departing Russian Soyuz spacecraft, while the ISS was docked Space Shuttle Endeavor. It is the largest human-made body in low Earth orbit and can often be seen with the naked eye from Earth, making close to sixteen rotations around Earth daily.

First sent into low Earth orbit in 1998, the space station has been continuously inhabited since 2000; though the last component was fitted in 2011, the station continues to be expanded and developed, with more additions planned for next year. The ISS operated jointly by the American, Russian, Japanese, European, and Canadian space agencies, and has been visited by personnel from seventeen nations. Its ownership and use is governed by various treaties and agreements.

The station is divided primarily between the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) and the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS). It also consists of pressurized modules, external trusses, solar arrays, and a microgravity and space environment research lab where crew members conduct experiments in biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and many other fields. It is also suited for testing spacecraft and equipment required for lunar and Martian missions.

The ISS has been serviced by a variety of spacecraft, including the Russian Soyuz and Progress, the American Dragon and Cygnus, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle, and formerly the American Space Shuttle and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle. Since 2011, the Soyuz has been the sole means to transfer personnel, while the Dragon is the only provider of bulk cargo return to Earth.

The ISS is the ninth space station to be inhabited by crews, and only the second not to be Russian, following the Soviet / Russian Salyut, Almaz, and Mir stations and the American Skylab. It also surpassed the record for longest continuous human presence in low Earth orbit, having surpassed Mir’s record of nine years and 357 days.

The station is expected to operate until at least 2028, with the American portion being funded until 2025 and the Russian portion until 2024. Both Russia and America have discussed developing an ISS replacement, although NASA has yet to confirm for certain if this will happen; for their part, the Russians have proposed using elements of their section for a new Russian space station, OPSEK.

The ISS is an enduring, if limited, demonstration of the fruits of global cooperation in space exploration. Various other rising space powers, including Brazil, China, and India have also discussed joining the project, or devising their own space stations.

The World Map By Population Size

A country’s geographic often has little bearing on its population, as shown by this world map adjusted for population size.

See a larger version here.

Some of the results may be surprising: Bangladesh, which is about the size of Iowa, has more people than Russia, which is nearly twice as big as the U.S. That little green blip above China is Mongolia, which is bigger than Western Europe but has fewer people than South Florida.

Countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Indonesia are far larger than most people realize. This is part of the reason the economic power and wealth is accruing to the developing world: their young and growing populations, if properly governed and invested in, offers considerable economic potential.

What the World Thinks About Pressing Economic Issues

This past Friday, Buenos Aires, Argentina hosted the 13th summit of the “Group of Twenty” (G20), which consists of 19 of the world’s largest economies plus the European Union.

Purple: G20 members | Blue: EU members not individually part of the G20 
Pink: Countries invited to the 2010 summit

Collectively the G20 accounts for around 85% of global GDP, 75-80% of world trade, two-thirds of the world’s population, and about half the world’s land area. Hence it is one of the most influential and important gatherings in the world, even though it is not a formal institution like NATO or the United Nations.

Pew recently conducted polls around the world to gauge global public opinion about some of the pressing issues on the agenda at this year’s summit.

For example, most nations are skeptical of the current economic situation, except for the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, the Philippines and a few others. A fair number of people–notably Brazilians, Greeks, and Tunisians–had more hope for their economic future. The U.S. and Canada were interestingly pretty happy about the current state of their economies, but deeply pessimistic about their children’s future.

Similarly, most people around the world approve of trading with other countries and yet are nonetheless pessimistic about the benefits for jobs and wages. And with the notable exceptions of Poland, Japan, and Hungary, the majority of people did not think automation would make their economies efficient; moreover, no country had a majority of people agree that automation would create newer and better jobs.


Finally, the leaders of the U.S., Russia, and China — currently the top world powers — are deeply unpopular, whereas Germany’s Merkel and France’s Macron had the most global confidence (and only Merkel got a majority of confidence, albeit at 52%).

Read more from the source here

The Treaty of Tlatelolco

46497943_10161228587365472_3220843945760129024_nDid you know that Mexico played a leading role in keeping nuclear weapons out of the Western Hemisphere? (Outside the U.S. of course.)

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Mexican diplomat Alfonso García Robles was a driving force for an initiative to develop a framework for keeping the region nuclear-free.

Following a series of conferences with nations from all over the region, the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco was drafted to prohibit and prevent the “testing, use, manufacture, production or acquisition by any means whatsoever of any nuclear weapons” and the “receipt, storage, installation, deployment and any form of possession of any nuclear weapons.” (The treaty is named after the district in Mexico City where the meetings were held.) Continue reading

The Jay Treaty And It’s Lessons

46454542_10161226646240472_1401776745870262272_nOn this day in 1795, the United States and Great Britain signed the Jay Treaty, resolving lingering issues from the American Revolutionary War that almost escalated to another war.

Named after John Jay, who negotiated the treaty, it was drafted by Alexander Hamilton and supported by President George Washington, although Thomas Jefferson and many Americans bitterly opposed it. The Treaty achieved the withdrawal of British forces from parts of the Northwest Territory that were supposed to be relinquished to the U.S. under the 1783 peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War; the British were retaliating against Americans for reneging on Articles 4 and 6 of that treaty, in which U.S. courts prevented the repayment of debts to British subjects and upheld the confiscation of Loyalist property.

Instead of continuing this unsustainable tit for tat, the parties agreed that disputes over wartime debts, as well as over the exact boundary between the U.S. and British Canada, were to be settled by arbitration (i.e. outside the courts but with legal binding). This was one of the first major uses of arbitration in modern diplomatic history, and set the precedent for other states to resolve disputes. Both countries granted one another “most favored nation” status and facilitate ten years of peaceful relations and commerce—an absolute shock to people on both sides of the Atlantic, whose wounds from the war were literally only a little over a decade old.

Indeed, the treaty was hotly contested by Jefferson and his supporters across every state, who failed to block its approval in the House, which ultimately failed; following one of the first constitutional debates in American history, it was decided that only a two thirds vote from the Senate was required to ratify a treaty. (Amusing to think that even while they were still alive, the Founders debated what the Constitution meant.)

The “Jeffersonians” feared that closer economic or political ties with Great Britain would strengthen promote aristocracy and undercut republicanism; they supported France in the Revolutionary Wars that were raging in Europe, and saw the French as their natural allies, not the monarchical British. Hamilton, Jay, and even Washington were denounced as monarchists who sold out American values; one rallying cry among protesters was “Damn John Jay! Damn everyone that won’t damn John Jay! Damn every one that won’t put lights in his window and sit up all night damning John Jay”. So much for the golden age of civility!

The controversy and subsequent polarization over the Jay Treaty crystallized an already emerging partisan division: despite disliking political parties, and designing the Constitution without them in mind, the Founders and their fellow Americans began to form two camps within the so called the “First Party System.” The pro-Jay Treaty Federalists, typified by Hamilton, favored closer ties with the British, as well as a strong central government; those against the treaty, called “Jeffersonian Republicans”, favored France and a weaker national government. As we now know, these proto-political parties would mark the beginning of an increasingly sophisticated and entrenched division between two major national parties—something largely unforeseen by the Founders.

In any event, the Jay Treaty went into effect in February 1796 and lasted for its entire ten year duration. When Jefferson became president in 1801, he did not initially repudiate the treaty he had so despised; in fact, he even retained the Federalist ambassador in London to settle some outstanding issues. Unfortunately, when 1806 rolled around and the Monroe–Pinkney Treaty was proposed as a replacement to the Jay Treaty, Jefferson rejected it due to its perceived failure to resolve certain pending matters. The subsequent tensions escalated toward the War of 1812—which likely would have started sooner but for the Jay Treaty. Continue reading

America’s Uniquely Bad Gun Problem

Whatever your view on guns, the causes of gun violence, and the best solutions, we should all agree that the data are overwhelmingly clear: for one reason or another (likely multiple reasons) the U.S. has an unusually high rate of violent gun deaths (which doesn’t include accidents and suicide, as these tend to inflate the figures).

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Note that even countries that are poorer and more unstable have fewer gun deaths than the U.S., including those with vast black markets or active gangs or militias. As NPR  reports:

When you consider countries with the top indicators of socioeconomic success — income per person and average education level, for instance — the United States is bested by just 18 nations, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada and Japan.

Those countries all also enjoy low rates of gun violence. But the U.S. has the 28th-highest rate in the world: 4.43 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 people in 2017. That was nine times as high as the rate in Canada, which had 0.47 deaths per 100,000 people — and 29 times as high as in Denmark, which had 0.15 deaths per 100,000.

The numbers come from a massive database maintained by the University’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracks lives lost in every country, in every year, by every possible cause of death. The 2017 figures paint a fairly rosy picture for much of the world, with deaths due to gun violence rare even in many countries that are extremely poor — such as Bangladesh, which saw 0.07 deaths per 100,000 people.

Prosperous Asian countries such as Singapore and Japan boast the absolute lowest rates, though the United Kingdom and Germany are in almost as good shape.

“It is a little surprising that a country like ours should have this level of gun violence,” Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health and epidemiology at the IHME, told NPR in an interview last year. “If you compare us to other well-off countries, we really stand out.”

Source: NPR

The Trent Affair and the Importance of Diplomatic Recognition

Last week was the anniversary of the Trent Affair, one of the most interesting scandals in the U.S. Civil War. It began in 1861 when the U.S. Navy illegally intercepted and boarded a British mail ship—in contravention of diplomatic protocol—capturing two Confederate diplomats as “contraband of war”. It was revealed that the envoys were bound for the U.K. and France to seek diplomatic recognition and possibly financial and military support.

As during the American War of Independence, the Confederate States of America (CSA) recognized the value of global legitimacy—and the subsequent aid it could bring—for strengthening their cause both ideologically and practically. Even one year into the war, the Confederates realized that ensuring independence against the more established and powerful Union would likely rest on foreign support—hence their secret mission to get the two leading powers of the day to back them.

Instead, they almost unwittingly caused the next best thing for their interests: another war between the U.K. and the U.S. American public opinion supported the capture of the diplomats and rallied against the British for perceived complicity. The British public disapproved of the violation of their neutrality and international law and viewed the Navy’s actions as an insult to national honor. Both countries clamored for war, with the British demanding an apology and the release of the prisoners; they even took steps to strengthen their military in Canada. The Confederates hoped that the tensions would, at the very least, rapture the “special relationship” between American and Britain, if not boil into war and diplomatic recognition of the CSA.

Unfortunately for them, Abraham Lincoln and his advisers were cool-headed and pragmatic; they recognized the very real risk of war with the U.K. and what a calamity a two-front conflict would be. This was far more important than saving diplomatic face. After several weeks, the crisis was finally resolved when the U.S. government released the two envoys and formally disavowed the actions of the Navy captain responsible—although without the formal apology the British demanded; for their part, they backed down from making this an absolute requirement, and settled for the resolution.

The two Confederate diplomats went on their way to Europe, albeit to no avail: the CSA never got the diplomatic recognition it craved, and that might very well have turned the war to their favor—after all, America’s securing of French recognition and support is what proved most decisive in guaranteeing its victory and subsequent independence.

The Great American-Iranian Social Media War

What a time to be alive: the President of the United States and one of Iran’s top military leaders are taking jabs at each other with Game of Thrones-style social media posts. (And HBO weighed in by tweeting “what is trademark misuse in Dothraki?)

I look forward to all our foreign policy pronouncements being conveyed social media through pop culture references.

Of course, Russian state media is more than happy to report the absurdity of this.