Where are the freest places to live in terms of individual rights, economic freedoms, and political protections?
From "Brexit" to Brazil's election of Jair Bolsonaro, from Donald Trump's controversial stances to historic protests in the streets of Paris, political upsets and cultural shifts across the world have altered what it means to be a modern citizen. Interpretations of "liberty" and personal freedom will always vary between cultures and governments' ideologies, but where are the freest places to live in terms of individual rights, economic freedoms, and political protections, including social tolerance?
Evaluations of various countries' personal freedom in 2018 gave acute focus on freedoms of speech and religion and social acceptance of immigrants and ethnic minorities. According to reports from The Legatum Prosperity Index and Freedom House, the North American region showed overall gains in personal and economic freedom, while living in the Middle East and North Africa still present struggles in terms of safety and individual rights. Meanwhile, Northern European countries maintained historically high standards of civil liberties and political rights, accounting for six of the top ten "freest" countries.
League of Students
This country of over 5 million citizens has consistently earned the top ranking in various assessments of personal liberty. Norway was the first Scandinavian country to legalize same-sex marriage, and men and women are guaranteed parity by law, from education and healthcare to social services and labor. Offering the 4th greatest access to education and healthy social capital, living in Norway combines economic freedoms with guaranteed freedoms of press and religion. In addition, residents enjoy arguably the safest and most secure protections against foreign threats and crime.
2. New Zealand
New Zealand tops assessments of economic freedom in terms of social capital and business environment. Historically free of corruption, the Parliament's democratic elections represents its 4.7 million citizens in a multi-party system. In addition to protecting political freedom, the government prioritizes civil liberties for its citizens, particularly freedoms of free speech, press, and religion. For instance, same-sex marriage has been legal in Norway since 2009, and Parliament has been approximately 50% women since the 1980s.
Old Town pier in Helsinki, Finland Lonely Planet
With top rankings in education and governance, Finland also protects political freedom with multi-party elections and anti-corruption legislation. In terms of social parity, women enjoy a "high degree of equality" and traditional courtesy." In fact, in 1906 Finland became the first European country to extend suffrage to women. Due to ample civil liberties protections, Finland was described by Forbes as the "happiest country in the world," drawing a high number of immigrant residents among its population of 5.5 million.
As a country that relies on direct democracy, Switzerland extends political freedom to 8.4 million residents through regular public referendums and a governing coalition of four political parties. Switzerland also offers excellent access to education and economic freedom. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2007, and Switzerland has been described as one of the best countries for immigrants, with younger generations displaying an open attitude towards immigration.
Denmark protects economic freedoms with strong opportunities for social capital with open-market policies. The government historically protects freedoms of expression and association, guaranteeing freedoms of press and speech under its constitution. Denmark was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex unions in the form of registered partnership. In 2012, same-sex marriages were legalized. Additionally, in 2016 the US News and World Report named Denmark the "best country in the world for women," citing gender equality, income quality, safety, and progressiveness.
While the U.S was #17 in The Legatum Prosperity Index's rankings (and #58 according to Freedom House), "freedom" remains a moving target that changes its appearance with each era. While many Scandinavian countries have offered exemplary
personal freedom protections to its citizens, shifting politics are changing the legal landscape that defines "freedom." For instance, while Finland legalized same-sex marriage in 2017, the country is still working to abolish the dark shadow of 1970s discriminatory laws, including forced sterilization for transgender people applying for sex reassignment surgery. In Switzerland, security measures passed in 2017 endow the government with heightened powers of surveillance of suspected terrorists, which critics say unfairly target new waves of immigrants.
Other countries to make the top 10 include (in order of ranking): Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, and Ireland. But as modern trends of immigration and growing awareness of LGBTQIA issues have outlined, even the "freest" countries can still improve.
Trump threatens to close the border completely, despite having no authority to do so.
On Sunday, a group of Mexican migrants reportedly rushed the San Ysidro border crossing near San Diego, drawing tear gas from Border Patrollers. Consequently, the crossing was closed for several hours. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen later said the closing of the border was "to ensure public safety in response to large numbers of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. illegally." According to the Washington Post, "At least two dozen tear gas canisters could be seen on the Mexican side of the border after the migrants eventually turned back."
Images from the incident, shot by Reuters photographer Kim Kyung-Hoon and showing young children fleeing the tear gas in obvious distress, have elicited outrage across the country. The photos also appear to contradict Republican propaganda claiming the migrant caravan was full of criminals.
Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, condemned the extreme measures taken by border patrol, tweeting:
Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor-elect from California, echoed this sentiment, saying:
On Monday, President Trump addressed the border closing by threatening to close the border permanently and calling for the deportation of the tear gassed migrants.
Despite this inflammatory claim, there are no legal provisions that would allow Trump to close the border in its entirety. Additionally, by law, asylum seekers must be allowed to present their case to a U.S. judge if they're able to cross the border. This means that the migrants who were tear-gassed on Sunday were not there illegally at all, and U.S. officials are required by law to consider their claim before deporting them back to Mexico. Yale Law School's Harold Hongju Koh, former legal adviser to the State Department, said that what Trump does not understand "is that everyone crossing our Southern border is not illegally present. Those with valid asylum claims have a legal right to assert those claims and remain."
But as the number of migrants waiting at the border grows and as Trump's anti-immigration policies and rhetoric cause longer and longer delays in the hearing of these cases, illegal immigration actually becomes more likely, not less. Wayne Cornelius, professor at the University of California, San Diego and expert on the border, told the New York Times, "The longer the caravaners stay in Tijuana, the more likely they are to succumb to the temptation to cross illegally into the U.S." So the Trump administration's anti-immigration stance is not only perpetuating a false impression that immigrants at the border are breaking the law, but also making the illegal immigration they're supposedly so opposed to more likely than ever.
Now, Trump is reportedly working with the Mexican government to add further peril and hardship to the journeys of these migrants. Trump tweeted on Saturday:
This provision, which the new Mexican government is reportedly agreeable to, would further violate asylum laws, which state that the United States must ensure that individuals waiting for asylum are safe not only from a hostile government, but from gangs and other threats. It would be nearly impossible for America to ensure asylum seekers this kind of protection while they're still in Mexico, and it would undoubtedly require a massive allocation of resources to do so. The American Civil Liberties Union immigration attorney Lee Gelernt told the Washington Post on Sunday night, "We believe it would be impossible for the U.S." to ensure asylum seekers safety while still in Mexico.
The truth of the matter is that these migrants are not the villains Trump has made them out to be, as they're merely seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Andrés Medina, 22, who left Honduras to escape gang recruitment and was a part of the group that rushed the crossing, said, "We've got to try one more time, we don't even have weapons." He added, "We just wanted to cross."
Democrats have control of the House for the first time in eight years. Now, they have a mandate to push for a bold agenda on infrastructure, healthcare, immigration, and voting rights.
After months of warnings, the "Blue Wave" finally came to shore. Democrats took back control of the House, gaining 32 seats, a number that could increase to 38 or 39, depending on the results of the uncalled races. With the party back in charge of the lower chamber, much of the discussion around what their priorities should be has revolved around investigating the president and his myriad of financial and political scandals. House Democrats have a clear mandate to fulfill their constitutional duty to provide oversight of the White House, but Democrats also have a mandate to address a number of major legislative issues. Though it's unlikely Democrats that will get any of these priorities pushed before the president and a Republican Senate, it's crucial that they signal to their voters what they want to done should they win the presidency and the Senate in the future.
As a candidate and in the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump promised to tackle the nation's crumbling infrastructure. That, of course, has gone nowhere and every "Infrastructure Week" ended in some scandal, quickly becoming an ongoing joke. But the state of America's infrastructure is nothing to joke about. Infrastructure spending has long been a Democratic Party priority before Trump attempted to co-opt it. Democrats should push that issue once again, proposing a bold infrastructure plan to repair crumbling roads and bridges, modernize public transportation systems, expand access to high-speed, fiber-optic Internet, and invest in green energy projects like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.
Such an infrastructure plan would signal the party's commitment to investing in neglected communities and funding renewable energy projects such as a broader plan to combat climate change—not to mention open the door to the many economic benefits of infrastructure spending. It would also establish a clear contrast with Trump's previous infrastructure plan that's been criticized as a giveaway to private contractors. The president has said he is willing to work with Democrats, so why not press him to keep his word? Democrats would be wise to pressure the president and his Republican supporters to prioritize infrastructure, or face political consequences.
No other issue played a bigger role in the Democrats' midterm success than healthcare. Their electoral message on healthcare was simple: Protect people with pre-existing conditions, expand coverage and stop proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Now they must deliver on these promises. House Democrats can immediately pass legislation to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, pressuring Trump and other Republicans who have vowed to do the same to keep their word. With a full repeal of the Affordable Care act now temporarily off the table, Democrats should push to expand coverage and address the limitations of the ACA. These can range from introducing incremental policies that get support from more moderate Democrats, like legislation to stabilize insurance markets, to bolder policies that attract the progressive wing of the party, like allowing Medicare more power to negotiate drug prices and proposing a Medicare buy-in for 55 to 64-year-olds.
While the long-term goal for the party should be to push for a Medicare for All system, these are positive steps toward a goal that still has a lot of opposition from within the party. Finally, any budget proposed by House Democrats should reverse any funding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats have an ideal opportunity to push for a positive vision on healthcare and continue to have the upper hand on the issue heading into 2020.
Bitter political battles over immigration, especially over funding for the border wall and the fate of DACA, will be a prominent feature of politics the next two years. Democrats are right to be alarmed over the administration's immigration policies like family separation and ending DACA, but now it's crucial they advocate for an immigration agenda in contrast to the Republican agenda. With the fate of DACA likely in the hands of the Supreme Court, Democrats must push for a long-term legislative solution. The most stable solution is the passage of the Dream Act. It would also be politically beneficial for the Democrats to bring it to the floor cleanly, without a compromise on funding for the wall. Furthermore, Democrats should schedule hearings about the family separation policy and Trump's pre-election decision to bring troops to the southern border in response to the migrant caravan. Democratic voters have become more liberal on immigration, and it's important the party signal to its base that they are willing to find solutions on the issue without compromising its core values.
Much of the post-election analysis has focused on the effects of voter suppression, notably in Georgia, North Dakota, and Florida. These voter suppression efforts have only increased since the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of racial discrimination to get permission from the Department of Justice when enacting any changes in voting laws. In response, states around the country immediately passed strict voter ID laws. Fortunately, the Supreme Court decision left the door open for future legislative action. House Democrats can immediately take action and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. They would also be wise to propose legislation to make Election Day a federal holiday, or move Election Day to a Sunday, as it is in most places around the world. While Republicans are busy spreading conspiracy theories about voter fraud, Democrats should take the opposite path and make it clear they will fight continuing discrimination in voting. For strategic and moral purposes, the party has an obligation to extend democracy in every way when voting rights are under tremendous pressure.
Dan is a writer, thinker and occasional optimist in this random, chaotic world. You can follow him on Twitter @danescalona77.
The President vilifies immigrants as the midterms approach.
On Thursday Nov. 1st, President Trump released a political ad that accused Democrats of plotting to help murderers and criminals invade the country.
The ad is a flagrantly manipulative and fear mongering move, a new low in Trump's inflammatory closing argument of the GOP's midterm campaign.
The video — produced by Trump's campaign — features Luis Bracamontes, a Mexican immigrant who returned to the United States after being deported, and was then convicted of killing two California deputies. Bracamontes is shown with a chilling smile, saying, "I'm going to kill more cops soon," meanwhile, a caption flashes across the screen that reads "Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay." The video then goes on to show footage of people crossing the border as menacing music plays. The screen then reads, "Who else would Democrats let in?" The spot is not only a clear attempt at sowing fear, but also rife with misinformation, as Bracamontes was actually originally deported by a democrat, Bill Clinton, and let back in by a Republican, George W. Bush.
After posting the video, Trump told reporters he would deploy 15,000 troops to the southern border to repel a caravan of central American immigrants, which is still hundreds of miles away. He also suggested that these troops could fire on the migrant caravan if rocks or stones were thrown, a claim that contradicts Official Department of Defense regulations, which state, "deadly force is justified only when there is a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to a person." Additionally, Trump repeatedly implied to reporters that there are Middle Eastern individuals hiding amongst the caravan, but later said, "There's no proof of anything. There's no proof of anything. But there could very well be."
In the wake of all of this troubling rhetoric surrounding immigration, Trump claimed Thursday that he would sign an executive order "next week" aimed at limiting immigrants ability to seek asylum in the United States. These developments come on the heels of Trump's recent assertion that he aims to repeal the 14th amendment, which automatically grants citizenship to children born in the United States.
Trump has expressed his intention to repeal the 14th amendment.
President Trump's latest attack on immigration targets the children of undocumented persons by threatening to nullify the writ of birthright citizenship, also known as the 14th Amendment. Legislatively, this is nearly impossible and unheard of; but, most damningly, its patent ridiculousness is alienating both sides of the aisle.
While fatuous celebrity rants may err in understanding constitutional law, as was the case of Kanye West's Twitter fodder to "abolish" the 13th Amendment, a United States President's defective understanding of the constitution is as alarming as it is shameful.
But on Wednesday Trump once again aimed his tweets directly at his blind spot for facts, underscoring that he's impenetrable to shame. He claimed that "so-called Birthright Citizenship...is very unfair to our citizens. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words 'subject to the jurisdiction thereof."
The tweet was precipitated by an interview with Axios on HBO, which was released on Tuesday. Trump evinced his ignorance on constitutional law by stating, "It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don't." Convinced, he added, "You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."
No, of course he can't. In brief, the U.S. policy of jus soli dictates that an individual has a right to citizenship in the country he/she is born. This "Citizenship Clause" is codified in the 14th Amendment, which reads, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Depending on your interpretation of the constitution, no matter if you see it as elastic or fixed, legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1898 has upheld the Citizenship Clause as we know it.
Trump went on to misattribute the "law of soil" as a singularly American mistake, stating, "We're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits." That's incorrect; over 30 other nations recognize birthright citizenship. "It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end," Trump went on.
Of course, rudimentary awareness of American history reminds us that constitutional amendments are complex pieces of legislation which are subject to checks and balances. If President Trump truly believes he can solely command an amendment change, House Speaker Paul Ryan clarified in a radio interview that he "obviously cannot do that." In fact, Ryan spoke on behalf of all conservatives as fully dissenting from Trump's views.
"You obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order. We didn't like it when Obama tried changing immigration laws via executive action, and obviously as conservatives, we believe in the Constitution," Ryan told WVLK radio. "I'm a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case, the 14th Amendment's pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy Constitutional process." Ryan added, "I believe in interpreting the Constitution as its written."
With midterm elections approaching, Trump's turgid misrepresentations of immigration law can only be in hopes of rallying votes from anti-immigration supporters and encouraging strife between republicans and democrats. Dem. Sen. of Virginia, Mark Warner said, "This is simply an attempt for Donald Trump, who wants to do anything possible to bring back fears around immigration, to use that as a political tool in this last week before the election."
He adds, tellingly, "This is again, where a President's words matter. The Constitution is quite clear that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law."
Indeed, the President's stream of inflammatory rhetoric only serves as a distraction from his unfulfilled promises and his administration's failings. For instance, two new studies reported by The New York Times indicate growing anti-Trump sentiments in the top GOP district, suggesting that voters are alienated by "endless lies and hate-mongering." Greg Sargent at The Washington Post adds, "One likely answer is that the story Trump has told about the economy - and the country - just isn't resonating in many of these districts."
That Trump took to Twitter to repudiate Paul Ryan's reality check is par for the course, as was his ad hominem attack questioning Ryan's credentials to comment on birthright citizenship.
"This caravan cannot come to the United States. They will not be allowed in," said Department of Homeland Security Department Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Thousands of asylum-seeking migrants are making their way towards the U.S.-Mexico border, and President Trump wants to stop them.
The administration is looking at ways to crack down on border crossings as a means to rally his political base ahead of the midterm elections, specifically taking aim at the controversial migrant caravan that left Honduras on October 12th.
Reportedly still more than 1,000 miles from the U.S. border, the caravan's exact numbers are unknown amidst conflicting accounts. The Mexican government estimates the number of people taking part in the caravan has fallen below 4,000, while United Nations officials assisting Mexican authorities said Monday that more than 7,200 people had participated. Alex Mensing, a U.S.-based organizer with the humanitarian group Pueblo Sin Fronteras claimed the size of the caravan has swelled to 10,000.
Officials said they are considering all options for sealing the border, including denial of Central American asylum applications based on the so-called "travel ban" of 2017, which a deeply divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld as a legitimate use of executive authority. No final decisions have been made, they said, citing legal challenges as a barrier to some of the more aggressive methods.
Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images
"The administration is considering a wide range of administrative, legal and legislative options to address the Democrat-created crisis of mass illegal immigration," a White House official explained. "No decisions have been made at this time. Nor will we forecast to smugglers or caravans what precise strategies will or will not be deployed."
The details are expected to be finalized by early next week in a speech by the president. In the meantime, the Pentagon is preparing to deploy at least 800 troops to the border to confront the caravan.
Department of Homeland Security Department Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Thursday night, "If [the migrants] come here illegally with no legitimate reason to stay, they absolutely will be apprehended and removed immediately," she said. "To ignore, basically, refuge and continue, in some cases, to come to the United States raises questions of what their real motives are."
Human Rights First, a non-profit and non-partisan rights group, spoke out against this proposed regulation,
saying President Trump is "misinterpreting the law."
"The fact that the president can apply it to asylum is where we say no," said Jennifer Quigley, an advocacy strategist for refugee protections with Human Rights First, a non-profit and non-partisan rights group. She explained that such a move from the Trump administration would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution's due process clause and obligations under international law, such as the Refugee Convention.
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center agreed that closing the border would do more harm than good. "This is going to impact a large range of people coming through who may or may not be part of the caravan, other people who are seeking asylum, or other forms of visas," she said. "A lot of people are simply coming over to do business."
The Trump Administration's new regulation would affect legal immigrants on welfare programs such as food stamps.
A new rule proposed over the weekend by the Trump Administration seeks to limit green cards to those who legally use food stamps, Medicaid, and other public benefits.
Pro-immigrant groups quickly condemned the regulation, saying that it creates additional barriers for legal immigrants in the U.S.
The National Immigration Law Center's executive director Marielena Hincapié said in a statement: "The Trump administration is using this regulatory backdoor approach because it attempted to enact its draconian agenda of restricting legal immigration through Congress — and failed. This rule change is radical and extreme, and it leaves the door wide open for potential abuse. All of us, regardless of where we were born, suffer when immigrants are penalized for trying to have their basic needs met."
Maryland crab picking factories are wanting for workers, but America's current immigration policy is keeping seasonal workers out of the country.
One unforeseen consequence of our current immigration policy is the way in which it hurts American business, the very thing these policies claim to protect. On the one hand, illegal immigrants allow business owners to hire workers at a fraction of the market rate due to these workers' precarious position. This is the sort of thing that ought to be eliminated in the interest of providing fair pay to the entire American workforce.
A guide to the naturalization process, what comes before and what happens after
With all the talk surrounding immigration, we thought it would be useful to break down the actual process of becoming a U.S. citizen.