Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category

“Intensified their calls for a probe into hacking during the 2016 election”

20/12/2016

Lawmakers in Congress intensified their calls for a probe into hacking during the 2016 election, raising chances of a clash with President-elect Donald Trump. Trump continues to reject the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow is to blame, telling Time Magazine that he does not believe the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was behind the hacks. House Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday that would convene a bipartisan, independent commission to look into alleged Russian attempts to interfere and sow distrust in this year’s voting. On the Senate side, a senior Republican told CNN that he will be directing his committees “to look deeply into what Russia may have done in regarding our election.” The congressional moves come as Time published an interview with Trump in which he dismissed the intelligence community’s October assessment that it had high confidence that Russia was behind hacks. They largely targeted Democrats, including the Democratic National Committee. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump is quoted as saying”.

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Tillerson’s tricky confirmation

16/12/2016

A piece discusses the confirmation propsects of Rex Tillerson, “selecting ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump is facing his first major test with Senate Republicans who are wary of his warming relations with Russia — and have warned his cabinet pick is far from assured. Trump is betting Tillerson’s corporate management experience and support from former GOP statesmen will ease the concerns of a handful of Republican hawks over the oilman’s extensive business dealings with Moscow”.

The piece goes on to note “Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who lost the Republican presidential primary to Trump after being repeatedly belittled as “Little Marco,” said he had “serious doubts” about the nomination, and alluded to Exxon’s vast global assets. “The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest,” Rubio said in a Tuesday statement”. The article adds “The Republicans’ slim 52-48 majority in the Senate doesn’t give Trump a lot of breathing room. Rubio sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, which must first clear Tillerson’s nomination before a floor vote. Republicans outnumber Democrats on the panel by just one vote, making Rubio a critical power player if Democrats unanimously seek to block Tillerson’s nomination. Democrats have already criticized Tillerson’s credentials, including Exxon’s opposition to greenhouse gas regulations, questioning of climate change science, and ties to abusive governments in Indonesia and Equatorial Guinea”.

The article notes “The nomination also comes amid reports that the CIA has concluded that Russia interfered in the U.S. election in order to boost Trump’s chances over Hillary Clinton. Lawmakers in both parties have pledged to investigate the matter. Four Republican senators who have needled Tillerson’s Russia ties — Rubio, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain — are now the focus of an expected and concerted lobbying push by Trump’s allies and aides. Graham, who also challenged Trump for the presidential nomination, called it “unnerving” that Tillerson received the Russian government’s Order of Friendship award in 2013. McCain, meanwhile, has openly questioned the Texas oilman’s loyalties. “I don’t see how anybody could be a friend of this old-time KGB agent,” McCain told CNN Monday, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin”.

The piece goes on to mention how “Trump, however, has a powerful ally in Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, whom the president-elect also reportedly considered for the role of top U.S. diplomat. In a statement, Corker called Tillerson “a very impressive individual [who] has an extraordinary working knowledge of the world.” But the committee’s Democrats already are gearing up for a fight. Sen. Ben Cardin, the panel’s ranking Democrat, has said he’s “deeply troubled” by Tillerson’s “close personal ties with Vladimir Putin” and vocal opposition to U.S. sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea. Those sanctions gummed up a few of Exxon’s largest deals in Russia, including a Siberia agreement with the state oil company potentially worth tens of billions of dollars. Cardin — who said Tuesday he will give Tillerson a fair nomination hearing — is expected to drill down into the businessman’s views on Russia, Ukraine, and Exxon’s stance on global warming. And other Democrats have made clear they will call out Republicans for hypocrisy if Tillerson is easily approved after years of GOP lawmakers accusing the Obama administration of going soft on Putin”.

It later makes the point “Democratic attacks, however, must contend with a flood of support for Tillerson by GOP House and Senate leaders and elder statesmen, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and former Secretary of State James Baker. Tillerson “would bring to the position vast knowledge, experience and success in dealing with dozens of governments and leaders in every corner of the world,” Gates said in a statement. “He is a person of great integrity whose only goal in office would be to protect and advance the interests of the United States.” Critics were quick to point out that Baker is a partner at a law firm whose clients include Exxon and its Russian business partner, the Rosneft state oil company. Rice and Gates also have connections to Exxon through their consulting firm, Rice Hadley Gates. But their names still resonated with some of Trump’s most prominent critics”.

It concludes “Tillerson’s nomination will also face a tough campaign from liberals and Democratic pressure groups active on climate change issues. “He and other company executives led ExxonMobil in funding outside groups to create an illusion of scientific uncertainty around the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change,” Neera Tanden, president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said in a statement. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump promised to draw on top private sector talent to run the country, and on Tuesday said Tillerson’s skills are exactly what Foggy Bottom needs. “His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for secretary of state,” Trump said in a statement. “Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none.”

“Prioritizes higher personnel and readiness levels over procurement”

10/12/2016

The Senate and House armed services committees have agreed upon a compromise National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 that prioritizes higher personnel and readiness levels over procurement of ships and aircraft. Senior armed services committee aides told reporters this afternoon that their compromise bill includes $3.2 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) spending aimed at adding 16,000 soldiers, 4,000 airmen and 3,000 Marines to the force. That money covers not only the military personnel costs associated with the higher force but also increased operations and maintenance costs. “One of the things that we were really focused on was getting after the readiness issues,” an aide said. “All that money went to readiness issues, particularly in the area of end strength,” with an eye specifically towards “operations and support for Air Force and Marine Corps aviation readiness shortfalls.” Marine and Navy aviation leaders have said that barriers to rebuilding readiness go beyond just funding for personnel and flight hours and also include a lack of spare parts to keep planes ready, a backlog of planes at depot maintenance facilities and other logistics and maintenance-related issues. The armed services committee aides said money was reallocated within the base budget, keeping within the Bipartisan Budget Agreement spending caps, to increase funding for aviation spares and maintenance to further help boost aviation readiness.

“The result could be the end of the post-1945 Pax Americana”

04/12/2016

Max Boot, echoing William Inboden, writes about the similarities between Trump and Obama, “It is hard to imagine two presidents more dissimilar than Barack Obama, the cerebral and elegant liberal law professor, and Donald Trump, the brash populist and reality TV star. But if Trump’s campaign pronouncements are anything to judge by, his foreign policy may be more in sync with President Obama’s than either man would care to admit. And not in a good way: Trump shares with Obama a desire to pull back from the world but lacks Obama’s calm, deliberative style and respect for international institutions. A Trump presidency is inherently unpredictable — no one knows how much of his overblown rhetoric to take seriously — but if he does even half the things he suggested on the campaign trail, the result could be the end of the post-1945 Pax Americana”.

Boot goes on to note “One of Trump’s top priorities is to improve relations with Vladimir Putin. In a post-election phone call, Trump told the Russian dictator that “he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.” Sound familiar? Obama spoke in virtually identical terms when he took office in 2009. Hence his failed “reset” of relations with Moscow. This was part of Obama’s larger rejection of what he saw as the moralizing, interventionist approach of the George W. Bush administration. (Obama also thought that Dmitry Medvedev, then Russia’s president, would be a more accommodating partner than Putin, who remained as prime minister.) During the 2008 campaign, Obama made a big point of saying that he would talk to any foreign leaders without any preconditions — a stance that his primary challenger, Hillary Clinton, criticized as naive. In office, Obama has re-established relations with the Castros in Cuba and Myanmar’s junta, reached a nuclear deal with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Iran, and did little to back up his calls for Bashar al-Assad to leave office. Instead of enforcing his “red line” with Syria, Obama agreed to a Russian-orchestrated deal under which Assad was supposed to give up his chemical weapons (a pledge the Syrian despot has not fully carried out). Obama has also refused to take any military action to stop Assad’s assaults on civilians, notwithstanding his creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board. Obama has often expressed his admiration for George H.W. Bush, and he has largely governed as an amoral realpolitiker who has put American interests, as he defines them, above the promotion of American values. Far from proselytizing for freedom and democracy, Obama has given a series of speeches in venues including Cairo and the Laotian capital of Vientiane — speeches that, to critics, have sounded like apologies for past American misconduct. (Obama’s aides have claimed he was merely “reckoning with history.”) When Iranian protesters took to the streets in the 2009 Green Revolution, Obama did not express support because he feared that doing so would interfere with his attempts to engage with the Iranian regime”.

Boot contends that “On only a few occasions has Obama allowed idealistic considerations to gain the upper hand in his cold-blooded foreign policy — and never for long. He did intervene in Libya to help topple Muammar al-Qaddafi — an intervention Trump supported at the time but now criticizes — but he did little to try to shape post-Qaddafi Libya and gives every indication of regretting his initial intervention. He also called for Hosni Mubarak to step down as Egypt’s ruler during the Arab Spring but did not oppose the subsequent military coup that ousted an elected Muslim Brotherhood government and installed the regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It is obvious that human rights promotion, while not dismissed entirely, has not been an animating principle of the president’s foreign policy. More broadly, Obama has given every indication that he does not see America as an exemplar but rather a deeply flawed nation whose forays abroad often have harmful consequences. In a 2009 press conference, Obama dismissed the idea that America is “uniquely qualified to lead the world,” saying, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” That doesn’t mean that Obama hates America, as the cruder right-wing attacks have had it. In the very same press conference, he went on to say: “Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.” Thus Obama sees the United States as imperfect but virtuous as long as it acts in concert with others — something that it has not always done”.

The piece argues that “Trump, who has a far more jaundiced view of America than Obama does. In a revealing July 20 interview with the New York Times, Trump dismissed concerns about the massive violations of civil liberties being committed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime in Turkey: “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.” In a similar vein, Trump dismissed concerns that Putin kills journalists: “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too.” This is the kind of moral relativism that Republicans once denounced but now accept from the president-elect. As with Obama, Trump’s refusal to see America as a country with a mission leads him to look askance upon interventions abroad. Like Obama, he eschews nation-building and expresses a preference to work with foreign rulers regardless of their lack of democratic legitimacy. Trump reiterated to the Wall Street Journal after his election that he plans to end support for Syrian rebels and align with Russia in Syria: “My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS.” And never mind that Iran, Russia, and Assad are all committing war crimes. Trump’s approach is quite different from what Clinton advocated during the campaign; she called for no-fly zones and safe zones. But it’s not so different from Obama’s current policy, which provides a modicum of aid to the Syrian rebels but tacitly concedes that Assad will stay in power”.

It concludes “This is not to suggest that Trump’s worldview is identical to Obama’s. One of their big divisions is over international institutions. Obama negotiated an international accord to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases; Trump has said global warming is a Chinese hoax and called for pulling out of the Paris agreement. Obama negotiated a nuclear accord with Iran; Trump promises to renegotiate it, calling it a “disgraceful deal” and an “embarrassment to our country.” Obama is a free-trader who negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); Trump is a protectionist who vows to withdraw from the TPP, rip up NAFTA, and impose tariffs. Obama has been supportive of NATO, working to expand the forces that the alliance deploys in Eastern Europe and the Baltics to guard against Russian aggression; Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and questioned the need to station U.S. troops to defend countries that don’t pay enough for the privilege. In sum, Obama is a believer in international organizations and international law; Trump is not. It is hard to imagine Trump saying, as Obama did: “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” In turn, it is hard to imagine Obama ever threatening to bomb the “shit” out of another country, to steal its oil, or to torture detainees — all of which would constitute war crimes”.

He ends “In the terms coined by Walter Russell Mead, Obama is a Jeffersonian, while Trump is a Jacksonian: The former believes that the United States should perfect its own democracy and go “not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” whereas the latter believes that “the United States should not seek out foreign quarrels” but that it should clobber anyone who messes with it. What unites Jeffersonians and Jacksonians, in spite of their substantial differences, is that both support quasi-isolationism — or, if you prefer, noninterventionism — unless severely provoked. Obama has been intent on pulling the United States back from the Middle East. The result of his withdrawal of troops from Iraq and his failure to get more actively involved in ending the Syrian civil war has been to create a vacuum of power that has been filled by the likes of the Islamic State and Hezbollah. Undaunted, Trump has said he wants not only to continue the pullback from the Middle East (he wants to subcontract American policy in Syria to Putin) but also to retreat from Europe and East Asia. He has suggested that he may lift sanctions on Russia and pull U.S. troops out of countries (from Germany to Japan) if he feels they are not paying enough for American protection. It is quite possible, then, that Trump’s foreign policy would represent an intensification rather than a repudiation of Obama’s “lead from behind” approach. American power survived eight years of an Obama presidency, albeit in diminished form. If the president-elect governs the way he campaigned (which, admittedly, is not necessarily a safe assumption), there is good cause to wonder whether U.S. ascendancy will survive four to eight years of Trumpism. The post-American age may be arriving sooner than imagined, ushered in by a president with an “America First” foreign policy”.

“Clinton has surpassed Donald Trump in the popular vote”

01/12/2016

Ballot counting continues and new figures released by The Associated Press on Wednesday show Hillary Clinton has surpassed Donald Trump in the popular vote by more than 2.3 million. The numbers reported Wednesday place Clinton at 64,874,143 to Trump’s 62,516,883, for a total difference of 2,357,260. In percentages, Clinton has won 48.1 percent of the popular vote, and Trump has 46.4 percent of the vote. In the Electoral College, however, Trump has 306 votes, while Clinton has 232.

Obama, attempting to secure his legacy

29/11/2016

A report discusses the legacy building attempts of President Obama, “With less than three months left in office, President Barack Obama will soon relinquish his foreign-policy legacy to the gimlet-eyed gaze of historians and presidential scholars. But before that happens, the White House is hellbent on completing an ambitious to-do list that will face a considerable head wind in Congress.  Eight years ago, the energetic senator from Illinois came to power on a promise to end the bloody wars and counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush, a Republican. But the 8,400 troops currently in Afghanistan and 5,000 in Iraq — not to mention regular airstrikes on Islamist fighters in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia — demonstrate the intractability of America’s post-9/11 conflicts. And though Obama closed the book on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, the lasting presence of the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is a stinging reminder of unfulfilled campaign promises to do away with the excesses of the Bush era”.

It goes on to mention how “Other widely touted achievements, such as the Iran nuclear deal or the rapprochement with Cuba, could be rolled back by Obama’s successor or Congress. Just last week, days before Secretary of State John Kerry received a peace award in Ireland for securing the Iran deal, House Republicans announced plans to pass a 10-year reauthorization of sanctions on Tehran that could undermine the landmark accord. For the president’s critics, that deal is the most vulnerable part of his foreign-policy legacy. “The Iran deal will be in trouble no matter who is elected,” said James Carafano, a conservative foreign-policy expert at the Heritage Foundation. Obama’s supporters say an underappreciated aspect of his legacy — the successful restoration of America’s standing in the world after Bush’s presidency — may be the most in danger”.

The author adds that “Another major part of Obama’s legacy relies on galvanizing Congress in the dying days of his presidency. On trade, Congress has yet to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive pact involving 11 Pacific Rim countries and the United States that the White House views as essential to boosting U.S. exports and checking China’s influence in the region. And on Syria, U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire have failed in a conflict that has killed at least 400,000 people and displaced millions more”.

The article notes the list of items Obama will try to protect “In his final months in office, Obama will be keen to prevent any attempt by Congress to undermine the Iran nuclear agreement reached in July 2015 between Tehran and world powers. The president maintains that he already has all the authority he needs to reimpose economic penalties if Tehran violates the deal and is seeking to stave off growing bipartisan support for renewing the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires in December. However, hawkish Democrats want to send a clear message to Iran that the United States stands ready to resume economic sanctions if needed. And some Republicans want to introduce additional measures that could broaden possible sanctions. Some of those new sanctions could amount to poison pills that effectively sabotage the Iran deal, possibly prompting Tehran to renounce the agreement”.

He adds that “Congressional Republicans could also forgo tinkering with sanctions in exchange for promises to pursue another bill that imposes economic penalties against Iran for its ballistic missile testing. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, adamantly wants both bills approved, which could prevent Republicans from using either legislation as a political messaging tool”.

The piece notes that he will also try to cement counterterrorism policies, “In July, Obama released policy guidance outlining in unprecedented detail his extensive rules on drone strikes, “kill or capture” missions, and detention. But because little of Obama’s so-called counterterrorism playbook is enshrined in law, a future commander in chief could reverse key parts of it. Brookings Institution legal scholar Benjamin Wittes said laws regarding the use of force and armed conflict are “frankly pretty permissive” and the next president will have “wiggle room” to change the way U.S. counterterrorism missions operate. “If we’re going to kill people — and, by the way, we’re going to kill people — you have to have a process for it,” Wittes told FP. “Otherwise, it becomes sort of Putin-esque. If you don’t know the rules, then you’re in a very scary world.” Obama has steadily loosened the rules of engagement for American troops and aircraft in places like Afghanistan and Somalia, where U.S. special operations forces are accompanying local forces on the ground. In Afghanistan, U.S. special ops commandos have been given the green light to fight the Islamic State and the Taliban — in loosely defined self-defense missions — as American troops accompany Afghan army units in the field. In June, Obama allowed U.S. aircraft to target both extremist groups in Afghanistan”.

Rightly the piece admits that “Obama has already all but lost the fight on another early campaign promise — to shutter the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Though the Obama administration has steadily whittled down the inmate population since 2009, 60 men remain detained there”.

Revising the 9/11 terrorism bill

It ends that he hopes to revise a terrorism bill, “The first and only veto override of Obama’s presidency came in September when Congress voted overwhelmingly to allow 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the terrorist attack. But less than 24 hours later, Congress’s top Republican leaders announced they might rewrite the legislation “so that our service members do not have legal problems overseas,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan said after the 348-77 vote. That was the same argument cited by Obama when he vetoed the legislation. But the president might be blocked from reversing the law from within his own Democratic Party. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is expected to become the next Senate Democratic leader, remains opposed to any changes. And no lawmaker — either in the House or Senate — has yet offered to rally support for revising the law, a congressional aide told FP on condition of anonymity”.

Trump backs off prosecuting Clinton

29/11/2016

Some of Donald Trump’s strongest conservative supporters are voicing anger and disappointment at the president-elect’s comments on Tuesday that he might back off his campaign pledge of pursuing a prosecution of former rival Hillary Clinton. Trump, in an interview with the New York Times, took a more compassionate tone toward the Democratic presidential nominee than during his campaign, when he talked about a possible criminal investigation of the opponent he dubbed “Crooked Hillary” if he won the White House. Chants of “Lock her up” echoed throughout his campaign rallies, with Trump supporters angrily alleging corruption related to her use of a private email server while secretary of state and to foreign contributions received by the Clinton Foundation charity. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious,” Trump told the Times, adding that launching an investigation was “not something I feel very strongly about.” Conservatives who had reveled in the possibility of a Clinton prosecution were not pleased. Breitbart News, the outlet once led by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, published a story on Tuesday under the headline, “Broken Promise: Trump ‘Doesn’t Wish to Pursue’ Clinton email charges.”

Realignment after Trump

27/11/2016
 Lee Drutman posits that the nature of the American political system is changing, “By the numbers, the 2016 election was not very different from the 2012 election or the 2008 election. Donald Trump won because he did slightly better in a few key states than Mitt Romney did. The map changed slightly. But as with previous elections, there were few swing voters. The election was decided primarily by disappointing turnout among core Democratic constituencies. But by the substance, the 2016 election was very different. Donald Trump romped through the primaries, breaking with conservative orthodoxy. He ran as a very different type of Republican. He was ardently nationalist, promising to rip up trade deals, make America more isolationist, and start imposing tariffs to protect American manufacturing. He promised to tighten borders, reduce immigration, and protect Social Security. His core voters were downscale whites, voters who a generation ago had been Democrats but moved over into the Republican camp for cultural and identity reason”.

Drutman goes on to argue “Now the big question is whether he will try to reshape the Republican Party along these lines. If he does, American politics will be in for some significant changes. The Republican Party will look different in substance. And the Democratic Party will, too, in response. This seems like a very likely scenario. In understanding why Trump is going to remake the Republican Party, note that his candidacy and his core movement were based around challenging the party establishment. Throughout the campaign, he has welcomed a steady stream of fights with establishment party leaders, most prominently Paul Ryan. Trump is not a man who forgives grudges. He’s a man who punishes his enemies. He’s a man who above all wants to win. Now he is about to be president. He will never be in a stronger position to be the transformative figure he clearly sees himself as. Here, it’s worth paying attention to what he has been saying. Look at the top priority in his stated plan for his first 100 days in office: “FIRST, propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.” This is not an olive branch. It’s a shot across the bow. Not surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tersely responded: “It will not be on the agenda in the Senate.” Or look at the proposal Trump gave prime real estate to in his acceptance speech. A major infrastructure rebuilding program: “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.” Again, McConnell noted a big infrastructure bill was not his top priority. After all, it sounds suspiciously like President Barack Obama’s stimulus that McConnell and his fellow Republicans once opposed so adamantly as reckless spending”.

The piece contends that “Interestingly, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been enthusiastic about Trump’s infrastructure bill, more so than Republicans. In a statement, she said: “As President-elect Trump indicated last night, investing in infrastructure is an important priority of his. We can work together to quickly pass a robust infrastructure jobs bill.” And remember that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who were most opposed to granting Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Note that the first item on Trump’s list of “seven actions to protect American workers” is renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA, and the second is withdrawing from the TPP. It’s also worth noting that Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has been aggressive in going after China for currency manipulation, also a Trump priority (No. 3 on his list of “actions to protect American workers”). Obviously, there’s much that Democrats disagree with Trump on. But typically, incoming presidents focus first on the issues where there is unity within their party, in order to capitalize on the momentum of their victory and rack up their achievements. By contrast, Trump has prioritized issues that divide his party and, together with his strident tone on social issues, make him sound more like a Southern Democrat from around the time most of his voters think America was great. Party systems in the United States are inherently unstable. Because it is a two-party system, the party that wins is the party that builds the biggest coalition. But the bigger the coalition, the more unstable it is”.

Crucially he writes “As the political scientists Gary Miller and Norman Schofield have astutely noted: “Successful American parties must be coalitions of enemies. A party gets to be a majority party by forming fragile ties across wide and deep differences in one dimension or the other. Maintaining such diverse majority coalitions is necessarily an enormous struggle against strong centrifugal forces.” Or as political scientists Edward G. Carmines and James A. Stimson similarly put it: “By their very nature, all party alignments contain the seeds of their own destruction.” The United States has had six party systems in its history. By party system, I mean relatively stable coalitions that relitigate the same set of issue battles. Each, until now, has lasted for at most 36 years. That seems to be about as long as a coalition of enemies can stick together, before some issue divides them”.

He contends that “The first system lasted from roughly 1792 to 1824 (32 years), the next from 1828 to 1856 (28 years), one from about 1860 to 1896 (36 years), another from about 1896 to 1932 (36 years), and another from about 1932 to 1968 (36 years). The current alignment came out of the 1968 election and has been pretty consistent since about 1980, when the Reagan coalition really solidified. The Reagan coalition was built around a mix of traditionally upper-class, economically conservative voters, very religious “values voters,” and “Reagan Democrats,” which became the nickname for the disaffected working-class whites whose aversion to the Democratic Party’s condescending elitism and racial liberalism overwhelmed their hope that government could somehow help them out. What these voters had in common was that they felt the Democratic Party didn’t represent them. The enemy of their enemy was their friend. For decades, these different voters came together around a shared “conservative” ideology of “limited government.” For the traditionally Republican economic conservatives, this meant low taxes and low regulation. For newer converts to the Republican coalition, limited government primarily meant not taking their money so that poor black people could get a generous welfare check. Anti-communism and a strong America abroad were powerful cementing forces. But as time went on, cracks emerged. The Soviet Union collapsed, the Iraq War turned sour, jobs went overseas in old-line manufacturing regions, and then the economy cratered”.

Crucially he posits that “More and more, the downscale Republican voters felt they were being betrayed by their party’s elites. Eventually, the only thing that united these factions was the story that America was engaged in a Manichaean struggle between good and evil in which Democrats were definitely on the side of evil. Now that Republicans control all branches of government, there is no more Obama to organize against. Now that the campaign is over, there is no more “Crooked Hillary” to unify the party around. Now they will have to wrestle with the consequences of their anti-government, anti-Washington rhetoric. And now that they finally have power, Republicans will have to find a way to reconcile two competing visions for the party: the traditional small-government, free-market, internationalist mode that many in Congress ran on and the new nationalist, populist, isolationist mode that Trump is bringing to town. In some places these views can be reconciled. But in many places, they cannot. The party will have to decide. Trump will almost certainly be bringing the fight — and looking at how he won, the electoral map is on his side. Republicans won by taking back old industrial states and winning big among working-class whites. This is now the core voting bloc of the Republican Party”.

If Republicans move in a Trumpist direction, what happens to the more upscale cosmopolitan Republicans who would have preferred Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or John Kasich, who promised they would never vote for Trump, but probably did anyway because party loyalty made it too hard for them to envision a Clinton in the White House again? Some of them will revise their beliefs so that they could still feel comfortable as Republicans. Nobody likes cognitive dissonance, and partisanship is almost always stronger than ideology. But if Trump continues his strong anti-immigration stance, continues to encourage white identity politics, and takes American foreign policy in an isolationist direction (and it’s hard to imagine him doing otherwise), more and more cosmopolitan Republicans are going to feel disenchanted with the Republican Party and start to feel homeless. This may not amount to that many voters. But it amounts to a lot of potential donors. Democrats will also have many ways to shore up their existing base in the near term. If Republicans toughen law enforcement in ways that disproportionately harm people of colour, continue to make it harder to vote for people of colour, and take away health insurance from 20 million poor people by repealing Obamacare, Democrats can reasonably bet on tremendous backlash among minority voters who didn’t fully grasp what was potentially at stake for them in this election because they were not inspired by Hillary Clinton and her policy papers. They can also rely on millennial voters, especially minority millennials, feeling less complacent in future elections. Almost their entire adult lives have been under an Obama presidency, and they took it for granted that America was becoming a more tolerant, inclusive nation. Clinton wasn’t inspiring, but Trump couldn’t really win, could he? Most likely, these voters will feel different after four years of a Trump presidency. These are reasonable assumptions for Democrats to make”.

Drutman goes on to argue “As much as Democrats might talk about winning back working-class whites, the reality is that there’s not much they can do at this point, other than wait for wages to continue to stagnate for rural and exurban whites and hope that perhaps these voters will decide things really are hopeless after four years of a Trump presidency. This might sound cynical, but with Trump as the newly enthroned tribune of the white working class, there aren’t many other realistic options. Of course, this is risky strategy for Democrats. For one, policy and even economics may not matter as much as emotional valence. Trump voters were excited because somebody finally recognized and acknowledged their plight in a way that felt genuine. Perhaps this is all Trump has to do. As long as he picks fights with the right enemies, he can continue to become the champion of the forgotten man. This may even allow him to bring in some of the (mostly white) Bernie Sanders supporters and help him win alliances with battered industrial unions who are as protectionist as Trump is. Moreover, to the extent that he can tone down some of the overt racism and attempt to speak directly to African-Americans and Hispanics who also feel like powerful elites in Washington have conspired against them, his message may resonate even more broadly. Again, although Trump may not grasp policy, his campaign is testament to his remarkable understanding of human psychology. People, above all, want to be recognized and acknowledged. They want somebody on their side. And the more Trump picks fights with unpopular Washington “establishment” types, the more he might gain in popularity, regardless of his policy successes. Democrats also will face internal fights. There will be many in the party who will now be convinced that Sanders would have won, because he tapped into the anger in the country in a real and genuine way. And they’ll want Democrats to move in this direction”.

Interestingly he notes how “it’s hard to see the Clinton wing of the party giving up power. After all, there will now be new and shiny fundraising opportunities for Democrats to be had among wealthy cosmopolitan business leaders and environmentalists (especially in Silicon Valley) who are terrified by Trump. And it’s hard to see how Democrats distinguish themselves by being Trump-like populists, just without the racism. This, then, continues to be the Democrats’ coalition moving forward: highly educated professional whites, especially women, and minority voters. This is essentially the Obama coalition, but with more of an emphasis on diversity and tolerance, and even more of a role for wealthy cosmopolitans. Again, the core story of realignment going forward is not so much a tremendous bloc of voters shifting parties, but rather both parties shifting their substance to become more in line with the sympathizers they now need to excite most. If Democrats define themselves as the party that is opposed to Republicans (as they must), they will soon find themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility (as opposed to the Republicans, who will again run huge deficits), as the party of international responsibility (as opposed to the more isolationist and nationalist Republicans), and as the party of global business (as opposed to the protectionist Republicans). They will continue to be the party of environmentalism (the stakes of this will get even greater soon) and the party of diversity and tolerance. This is the realignment that is happening. And with a President Trump, there is now a change agent to accelerate these forces”.

 

Trump wins, everyone else loses

09/11/2016

The New York Times reports “Donald John Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States on Tuesday in a stunning culmination of an explosive, populist and polarizing campaign that took relentless aim at the institutions and long-held ideals of American democracy. The surprise outcome, defying late polls that showed Hillary Clinton with a modest but persistent edge, threatened convulsions throughout the country and the world, where skeptics had watched with alarm as Mr. Trump’s unvarnished overtures to disillusioned voters took hold. The triumph for Mr. Trump, 70, a real estate developer-turned-reality television star with no government experience, was a powerful rejection of the establishment forces that had assembled against him, from the world of business to government, and the consensus they had forged on everything from trade to immigration”.

It contends “The results amounted to a repudiation, not only of Mrs. Clinton, but of President Obama, whose legacy is suddenly imperiled. And it was a decisive demonstration of power by a largely overlooked coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters who felt that the promise of the United States had slipped their grasp amid decades of globalization and multiculturalism. In Mr. Trump, a thrice-married Manhattanite who lives in a marble-wrapped three-story penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue, they found an improbable champion. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” Mr. Trump told supporters around 3 a.m. on Wednesday at a rally in New York City, just after Mrs. Clinton called to concede. In a departure from a blistering campaign in which he repeatedly stoked division, Mr. Trump sought to do something he had conspicuously avoided as a candidate: Appeal for unity. “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” he said. “It is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time.” That, he added, “is so important to me.” He offered unusually warm words for Mrs. Clinton, who he has suggested should be in jail, saying she was owed “a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.” Bolstered by Mr. Trump’s strong showing, Republicans retained control of the Senate. Only one Republican-controlled seat, in Illinois, fell to Democrats early in the evening. And Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, a Republican, easily won re-election in a race that had been among the country’s most competitive. A handful of other Republican incumbents facing difficult races were running better than expected”.

Pointedly it mentions “Trump’s win — stretching across the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania — seemed likely to set off financial jitters and immediate unease among international allies, many of which were startled when Mr. Trump in his campaign cast doubt on the necessity of America’s military commitments abroad and its allegiance to international economic partnerships. From the moment he entered the campaign, with a shocking set of claims that Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals, Mr. Trump was widely underestimated as a candidate, first by his opponents for the Republican nomination and later by Mrs. Clinton, his Democratic rival. His rise was largely missed by polling organizations and data analysts. And an air of improbability trailed his campaign, to the detriment of those who dismissed his angry message, his improvisational style and his appeal to disillusioned voters. He suggested remedies that raised questions of constitutionality, like a ban on Muslims entering the United States. He threatened opponents, promising lawsuits against news organizations that covered him critically and women who accused him of sexual assault. At times, he simply lied. But Mr. Trump’s unfiltered rallies and unshakable self-regard attracted a zealous following, fusing unsubtle identity politics with an economic populism that often defied party doctrine. His rallies — furious, entertaining, heavy on name-calling and nationalist overtones — became the nexus of a political movement, with daily promises of sweeping victory, in the election and otherwise, and an insistence that the country’s political machinery was “rigged” against Mr. Trump and those who admired him”.

The piece adds that Trump “seemed to embody the success and grandeur that so many of his followers felt was missing from their own lives — and from the country itself. And he scoffed at the poll-driven word-parsing ways of modern politics, calling them a waste of time and money. Instead, he relied on his gut. At his victory party at the New York Hilton Midtown, where a raucous crowd indulged in a cash bar and wore hats bearing his ubiquitous campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” voters expressed gratification that their voices had, at last, been heard. “He was talking to people who weren’t being spoken to,” said Joseph Gravagna, 37, a marketing company owner from Rockland County, N.Y. “That’s how I knew he was going to win.” For Mrs. Clinton, the defeat signaled an astonishing end to a political dynasty that has colored Democratic politics for a generation. Eight years after losing to President Obama in the Democratic primary — and 16 years after leaving the White House for the United States Senate, as President Bill Clinton exited office — she had seemed positioned to carry on two legacies: her husband’s and the president’s. Her shocking loss was a devastating turn for the sprawling world of Clinton aides and strategists who believed they had built an electoral machine that would swamp Mr. Trump’s ragtag band of loyal operatives and family members, many of whom had no experience running a national campaign”.

Correctly it adds “on Tuesday night, stricken Clinton aides who believed that Mr. Trump had no mathematical path to victory, anxiously paced the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center as states in which they were confident of victory, like Florida and North Carolina, either fell to Mr. Trump or seemed in danger of tipping his way. Mrs. Clinton watched the grim results roll in from a suite at the nearby Peninsula Hotel, surrounded by her family, friends and advisers who had the day before celebrated her candidacy with a champagne toast on her campaign plane. But over and over, Mrs. Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate were exposed. She failed to excite voters hungry for change. She struggled to build trust with Americans who were baffled by her decision to use a private email server as secretary of state. And she strained to make a persuasive case for herself as a champion of the economically downtrodden after delivering perfunctory paid speeches that earned her millions of dollars. The returns Tuesday also amounted to a historic rebuke of the Democratic Partyfrom the white blue-collar voters who had formed the party base from the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt to Mr. Clinton’s. Yet Mrs. Clinton and her advisers had taken for granted that states like Michigan and Wisconsin would stick with a Democratic nominee, and that she could repeat Mr. Obama’s strategy of mobilizing the party’s ascendant liberal coalition rather than pursuing a more moderate course like her husband did 24 years ago. But not until these voters were offered a Republican who ran as an unapologetic populist, railing against foreign trade deals and illegal immigration, did they move so drastically away from their ancestral political home. To the surprise of many on the left, white voters who had helped elect the nation’s first black president, appeared more reluctant to line up behind a white woman”.

Crucially it mentions how “From Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, industrial towns once full of union voters who for decades offered their votes to Democratic presidential candidates, even in the party’s lean years, shifted to Mr. Trump’s Republican Party. One county in the Mahoning Valley of Ohio, Trumbull, went to Mr. Trump by a six-point margin. Four years ago, Mr. Obama won there by 22 points. Mrs. Clinton’s loss was especially crushing to millions who had cheered her march toward history as, they hoped, the nation’s first female president. For supporters, the election often felt like a referendum on gender progress: an opportunity to elevate a woman to the nation’s top job and to repudiate a man whose remarkably boorish behaviour toward women had assumed center stage during much of the campaign. Mr. Trump boasted, in a 2005 video released last month, about using his public profile to commit sexual assault. He suggested that female political rivals lacked a presidential “look.” He ranked women on a scale of one to 10″.

Worryingly it turns to January where “Uncertainty abounds as Mr. Trump prepares to take office. His campaign featured a shape-shifting list of policy proposals, often seeming to change hour to hour. His staff was in constant turmoil, with Mr. Trump’s children serving critical campaign roles and a rotating cast of advisers alternately seeking access to Mr. Trump’s ear, losing it and, often, regaining it, depending on the day. Even Mr. Trump’s full embrace of the Republican Party came exceedingly late in life, leaving members of both parties unsure about what he truly believes. He has donated heavily to both parties and has long described his politics as the transactional reality of a businessman. Mr. Trump’s dozens of business entanglements — many of them in foreign countries — will follow him into the Oval Office, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest. His refusal to release his tax returns, and his acknowledgment that he did not pay federal income taxes for years, has left the American people with considerable gaps in their understanding of the financial dealings. But this they do know: Mr. Trump will thoroughly reimagine the tone, standards and expectations of the presidency, molding it in his own self-aggrandizing image. He is set to take the oath of office on Jan. 20”.

Comey get’s it wrong

07/11/2016

A newsreport from the New York Times covers the revelations that the director of the FBI found nothing new in Clinton’s emails.

It opens “The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, told Congress on Sunday that he had seen no evidence in a recently discovered trove of emails to change his conclusion that Hillary Clinton should face no charges over her handling of classified information. Mr. Comey’s announcement, just two days before the election, was an effort to clear the cloud of suspicion he had publicly placed over her presidential campaign late last month when he alerted Congress that the F.B.I. would examine the emails. “Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton,” Mr. Comey wrote in a letter to the leaders of several congressional committees. He said agents had reviewed all communications to and from Mrs. Clinton in the new trove from when she was secretary of state. The letter was a dramatic final twist in a tumultuous nine days for both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Comey, who drew widespread criticism for announcing that the F.B.I. had discovered new emails that might be relevant to its investigation of Mrs. Clinton, which ended in July with no charges. That criticism of Mr. Comey from both parties is likely to persist after the election. While the new letter was clear as it related to Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Comey’s message was otherwise vague. He did not say that agents had completed their review of the emails, or that they were abandoning the matter in regard to her aides. But federal law enforcement officials said that they considered the review of emails related to Mrs. Clinton’s server complete, and that Mr. Comey’s letter was intended to convey that”.

The report adds “One senior law enforcement official said that as recently as Friday, it was not clear whether the review would be completed by Election Day. But after days of working in shifts around the clock, teams of counterintelligence agents and technology specialists at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington finished their examination of the thousands of emails. Officials had decided to make their decision public as soon as they had reached it, to avoid any suggestion that they were suppressing information. According to the law enforcement official, many of the emails were personal messages or duplicates of ones that the bureau had previously examined during the original inquiry”.

It notes that “Kellyanne Conway, Donald J. Trump’s campaign manager, lamented the fact that Mr. Comey had again inserted himself into the election, but she predicted that his conclusion would have no effect on the outcome. “The investigation has been mishandled from the beginning,” Ms. Conway said on MSNBC, arguing that Mrs. Clinton had wasted taxpayer money and federal resources because of her email practices. “She was reckless, she was careless, she was selfish.” The new review began after agents discovered a cache of emails in early October in an unrelated investigation into the disgraced former congressman Anthony D. Weiner, the estranged husband of one of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aides. When searching Mr. Weiner’s laptop for evidence of whether he had exchanged illicit messages with a teenage girl, they discovered emails belonging to the aide, Huma Abedin. That announcement renewed talk of an investigation that had shadowed Mrs. Clinton for much of the Democratic primary campaign. She and her aides had been under investigation for improperly storing classified information on Mrs. Clinton’s private email server. The discovery of new emails raised the prospect that the laptop might have new information that would renew the F.B.I. inquiry”.

For context it mentions that “Federal law enforcement officials had said for the past week that only something astounding would change their conclusion that nobody should be charged. But the mere potential for legal trouble was enough to make Republicans gleeful, and Mr. Trump highlighted the F.B.I.’s actions in campaign ads. At the end of a rocky week for Mrs. Clinton that included wild, false speculation about looming indictments and shocking discoveries in the emails, Mr. Comey’s letter swept away her largest and most immediate problem. Republicans immediately accused Mr. Comey of making his announcement prematurely. “Comey must be under enormous political pressure to cave like this and announce something he can’t possibly know,” Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser, wrote on Twitter. Mr. Comey’s move is also sure to prompt questions from Democrats. Most important among them: Why did Mr. Comey raise the specter of wrongdoing before agents had even read the emails, especially since it took only days to determine that they were not significant? Just hours before Mr. Comey sent the letter to Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats said hearings should be held to examine how Mr. Comey had handled the matter. After the letter’s release, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said the Justice Department “needs to take a look at its procedures to prevent similar actions that could influence future elections.”“There’s no doubt that it created a false impression about the nature of the agency’s inquiry,” she added”.

It ends noting how “The F.B.I. director’s vague, brief announcement on Oct. 28 left Mrs. Clinton with few details to rebut and little time to do it. Many current and former F.B.I. agents and Justice Department officials said Mr. Comey had needlessly plunged the F.B.I. into the politics of a presidential election, with no clear way out. A long list of former Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., chided Mr. Comey. Despite the fact that the bureau did not find anything that changed its original conclusion about Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Comey has insisted that he had no choice but to inform Congress about the new emails because the investigation had been completed and he had pledged transparency, according to senior F.B.I. officials. Because of Mr. Comey’s Oct. 28 letter, Attorney General Loretta Lynch made completing a review of the emails a top priority. Late last month, Mr. Comey ordered agents to work around the clock to sift through the messages. That process, senior F.B.I. officials said, was painstaking, because each message that had been sent to Mrs. Clinton had to be reviewed to determine whether it had sensitive national security materials”.

Return of the Blob?

05/11/2016

A report addresses the return of the “Blob” as Obama prepares to leave office, “Obama’s presidency sent Washington’s foreign-policy hawks, or “the Blob,” as White House aide Ben Rhodes once disparagingly called them, into the wilderness. But the Blob is back, facing its best opportunity in eight years to push for a greater U.S. military role in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, hold vastly divergent positions on how to bring the five-and-a-half-year war in Syria to an end. As secretary of state, Clinton favoured arming Sunni rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and has proposed installing a no-fly zone or safe zone to protect civilians from Russian and Syrian government bombers. She has also called for providing additional arms and training to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State. It’s less clear, however, how far she would go in arming opposition groups devoted to toppling Assad”.

The piece adds “Neither Clinton nor most of the others who are calling for a tougher military response in Syria are advocating the kind of full-fledged intervention, with U.S. ground forces, that the United States has undertaken over the past 15 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. Still, her proposals have emboldened those who believe that only American firepower is capable of forcing Assad to pursue a peace deal in good faith. Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat who now advises the Syrian opposition, says he believes both Clinton and Trump would pursue a “more aggressive” Syria policy than the Obama administration — though he has no expectations of U.S. forces entering the war to fight Assad”.

He notes “plenty of voices still believe that Obama got it right by withstanding pressure from Washington’s foreign-policy establishment to bomb Assad and increase arms deliveries to a hodgepodge of rebel groups, many of whom have become entangled in alliances with extremists. Some experts say there is even scepticism within Clinton’s tight-knit group of foreign-policy advisors by some who doubt the wisdom of deepening America’s military involvement in Syria. As for a Trump presidency, the GOP nominee has expressed little interest in taking down the Syrian leader, saying in the Oct. 19 presidential debate that “you may very well end up with worse than Assad” if others vie to fill a leadership vacuum his departure would create. Instead, Trump would prefer to work with NATO allies and Russia to defeat the Islamic State: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of ISIS?” he asked at a rally in July. As Obama leaves office next January, foreign-policy wonks will have their best opportunity yet to recalibrate and redirect U.S. policy for Syria. Here’s a mix of hawkish and dovish proposals, as outlined to Foreign Policy, the next president could consider”.

The first involves “no-bomb zones”, “Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, believes Russia’s deployment of advanced missile defense systems would prove more complicated for a Clinton presidency than when she first began pushing the idea of a no-fly zone from inside the Obama administration. But Lister said the United States and Turkey have already effectively created no-bomb zones for Russian and Syrian aircraft in northeastern Syria and northern Aleppo. He suggested deploying international commandos to other areas in Syria to deter airstrikes. Lister also estimated that some 70 armed opposition groups, which he deemed “sufficiently moderate,” have been vetted by the CIA and Defense Department to receive military assistance from the United States”.

It continues with another option which suggests cutting off the rebels with the hope that the war will then end “Some critics of a military solution in Syria see the crisis from an entirely different perspective: They believe the Obama administration did not move fast enough to cut off allied support for the rebels who are linked to extremists — including the Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — a dynamic that prolonged the war in Syria. “Escalation has failed to win this proxy war. It has only prolonged it and increased the death toll,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. While no fan of Assad, Landis said the regime’s atrocities do not justify providing military and logistical support to rebels in the dim hope of a political transition that might bring a better outcome. Even so, Landis said there’s still time for the next U.S. president to get the policy right. “The U.S. should help bring the Syrian civil war to a quick end in order to reduce the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said. “The U.S. can assist in this by refusing to send more arms and money to the rebels and to encourage our allies, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, to reduce arms shipments and money flows to insurgents.”

A more aggressive strategy is outlined with decisive military force, “A new U.S. president will need to impose and maintain a credible cease-fire in Syria, said Andrew Tabler, a Syria scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. By most accounts, a U.S.- and Russian-brokered initiative to stop the fighting in eastern Aleppo unraveled in September after Damascus and Moscow restarted a massive bombing campaign. Tabler said Syria paid no price — nor has it ever — for violating the fighting pause. But he said Washington could enforce future cease-fires by launching cruise missile strikes from U.S. warships, or from a neighbouring country, to destroy Syrian airfields and other targets. To avoid escalating tensions with Moscow, the United States would need to limit its targeting to military facilities where the Russians are not present”. In August, Tabler co-wrote a New York Times op-ed with Dennis Ross, a former Middle East envoy who initially supported, but later regretted, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq”.

Importantly it adds “punishing Assad’s regime is easier said than done. Russia has signaled it will use its influence at the U.N. to block attempts by the United States and its allies to further sanction Syria for dropping chlorine-filled toxic bombs on opposition-controlled towns. The new president will have to find a way to overcome Russian opposition”.

The other option is to simply increase the arms to the rebels “The Syrian civil war will either end in defeat for one party or it will come to peace as the result of a negotiated settlement that most likely will be based on the 2012 Geneva communiqué, brokered by the United Nations. Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said he prefers the diplomatic outcome. But getting there will require a military buildup of Syria’s beleaguered rebel forces”.

The last option, and perhaps by far the weakest as it would give Russia and Iran the status and influence they crave is to do a deal “A grand bargain would require buy-in from key regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and especially Iran and Russia, Bowen said. The deal should also entail “security service reform including demilitarization of militias and the withdrawal of foreign forces,” he said.

Dems, 2016 and Iran

03/11/2016

An interesting article argues that Democrats are getting a “pass” on the Iran deal during these elections, “Democrats in Congress found themselves squeezed in a political vise over the Iran nuclear deal. President Barack Obama leaned heavily on fellow Democrats to back the agreement in the biggest lobbying effort of his administration. And pro-Israel groups launched a full-court press against the deal, spending tens of millions of dollars on adswarning lawmakers they would have “blood on their hands” if they endorsed the accord. In the end, the White House won the heated political battle, securing just enough support among Democrats in the Senate to stave off a bid to block the deal. But many Jewish groups and donors at the time warned Democratic lawmakers who supported the Iran agreement that they would pay a steep political price in the 2016 election”.

Pointedly, the writer argues “Yet more than a year later, no Democrat has been kicked out of office over the nuclear deal in a primary and it’s unlikely that any Democratic incumbent will lose their seat in the Nov. 8 election because of it. The much-anticipated blowback has yet to materialise, despite opinion polls that show a majority of Americans oppose the agreement. Although the Republican Party is hitting the issue hard in Senate and House races across the country, conservative Jewish organizations and activists have mostly pulled their punches and resisted funding rivals of lawmakers who voted for the Iran agreement. Both opponents and supporters of the deal agree the main reason the issue has not become a political spoiler is the man at the top of the Republican ticket, Donald Trump. The toxic nature of Trump’s candidacy, from his comments denigrating women to his refusal to accept the election result if he loses, has dominated the campaign and pushed aside policy debates that normally occur in presidential contests. He has turned off swaths of conservative Jewish and pro-Israel activists by trafficking in anti-Semitic rhetoric, as well bashing immigrants and U.S. allies, while praising Russian President Vladimir Putin”.

The author mentions “In last week’s presidential debate, Trump called the Iran agreement “the stupidest deal of all time, a deal that’s going to give Iran absolutely (sic)nuclear weapons.” But the Iran agreement barely featured in post-debate media coverage, largely because of Trump’s jaw-dropping comment that he was not sure if he would accept the results of the election. “This hasn’t exactly been a policy-oriented campaign season,” said Jeff Ballabon, a former media executive who runs a conservative pro-Israel super PAC called Iron Dome Alliance. “Like pretty much every substantive issue, Israel and the Iran deal have taken a back-burner to matters of personality, conduct, and style.” With Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton consistently ahead in national polls and widening her lead in key states, pro-Israel hawks are mostly resigned to a Clinton victory and see no reason to antagonise the next administration — as well as a possible Democratic majority in the Senate”.

Naturally he notes how “Sheldon Adelson, the conservative Jewish megadonor known for his hawkish stance on Israel, spent at least $98 million on Republican candidates in the 2012 elections. This year, the Las Vegas billionaire and his wife have spent only about $40 million on campaigns nationwide. And generally, Jewish donors have shunned Trump in a dramatic way. Of all funds contributed to major party candidates this year by Jewish donors, 95 percent went to Clinton and only 5 percent to Trump, according to an analysis published last month on FiveThirtyEight. That’s a sharp contrast to the 2012 presidential campaign, when about 71 percent of the $160 million given to major party candidates went to Obama’s reelection campaign and 29 percent went to the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. The funding four years ago roughly reflected the breakdown of the Jewish vote in that election. Until it became clear Trump would be the nominee, organizations and donors on both sides of the Iran nuclear issue were bracing for a no-holds-barred brawl in the election season. To national security hawks and conservative Jewish groups in Washington, Democrats — particularly incumbents who openly endorsed the deal — looked vulnerable and ripe for defeat at the ballot box”.

The report notes “Advocates of the deal, however, say Trump’s antics and insults are not the only reason the issue is not gaining more traction. They argue the agreement is working, and that there is no smoking gun that shows Iran is violating the deal and secretly building nuclear weapons. The agreement offers “a way to defang Iran’s weapons program without firing a shot,” said Jessica Rosenblum of J Street, a progressive pro-Israel group that supports the agreement.  “It’s good policy and it’s good politics.” The agreement clinched in July 2015 between Iran and major powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, imposed strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions that were choking the Iranian economy. The White House says the agreement blocks Iran’s potential path to a nuclear weapon as it imposed extensive international inspections and forced Tehran to dismantle a heavy water reactor, remove thousands of centrifuges for uranium enrichment, and ship out stockpiles of medium-enriched uranium. But opponents maintain that easing sanctions enables Iran to bankroll its militant proxies across the Middle East, and opens the door to Tehran acquiring a nuclear arsenal in 15 years when certain provisions of the agreement expire. Critics also object to how the deal was implemented. Republicans were outraged over a $400 million cash payment that Washington sent Iran on the same day last January that several American prisoners were released by Tehran. The United States sent the funds to settle a longstanding claim by Iran before an international tribunal. The money had been set aside to pay for weapons that were never delivered because the pro-U.S. monarchy fell following the Iranian revolution of 1979”.

Interestingly it notes “Throughout her campaign, Clinton has never shied away from expressing her support of the deal, even though a majority of Americans say they oppose it. She has argued the agreement “lowers the threat” posed by Iran and has vowed to hold Tehran accountable for other activities that fall outside the deal. Americans disapprove of the deal, 57 percent to 30 percent, according to a February poll by Gallup. And surveys have shown Republican voters overwhelmingly oppose the accord. Yet some polls indicate a majority of Jewish voters support the deal, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outspoken opposition. Anxious to retain a GOP majority in the Senate, Republican candidates and conservative political action committees see the issue as a winner. The Iran nuclear deal is a frequent talking point in pivotal Senate races in Florida, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Illinois, with Republicans seeking to portray their opponents as naive and weak on national security. In New Hampshire, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is gambling that her opposition to the nuclear deal can help her fend off a serious challenge from Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. Ayotte made the issue a key part of a $4.2 million advertising buy for her campaign”.

Clinton’s latest scandal

30/10/2016

The presidential election has been thrown into further controversy in light Clinton’s emails, “With just days to go until the election, a fiercely defiant Hillary Clinton demanded answers Saturday about what she suggested is a politically motivated renewal of a previously shuttered federal inquiry into her use of a private email server at the State Department. As her campaign scrambled Saturday to respond to FBI Director James B. Comey’s decision to notify Congress about renewing the email investigation, Clinton and her top aides characterized the action as inappropriate and irresponsible”.

The article mentions “Clinton’s Republican rival, Donald Trump, seized on Comey’s letter in an apparent effort to shift focus from his own controversies and score a last-minute surge in a race that even his staff has admitted he has been losing. The Democratic nominee’s strongly worded response to the new inquiry signaled a decision to go fully on offense against Comey and confront the email issue and Republican attacks head-on. It signaled clearly the havoc wrought by Comey’s announcement — and Democrats’ strategy to head off game-changing political damage from a development that had left them sputtering inside and outside the campaign. The campaign’s internal panic over the renewed FBI scrutiny was evident almost immediately after the news broke Friday. Clinton was in the air, flying from an airport in White Plains, N.Y., to campaign in Iowa. Upon landing in Cedar Rapids, she and her top aides remained cloistered in her cabin for more than 20 minutes before she emerged and ignored questions shouted at her by the press”.

It goes on to note “On Saturday morning, the campaign hastily arranged a telephone briefing with Clinton’s top two aides — campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign manager Robby Mook. The briefing took place on just over 20 minutes’ notice. In addition to the unusual firepower — Podesta does not brief the media regularly — the campaign took the additional step of providing a transcript after the fact, the better to reap any benefit from Podesta’s strong language. Podesta, a longtime Clinton family confidant, sounded agitated and angry during the call with reporters early Saturday afternoon as he described Comey’s surprise announcement Friday as “long on innuendo and short on facts,” allowing Republicans to “distort and exaggerate” its message. Podesta also sent a strongly worded letter to supporters. In her appearance Saturday, Clinton stopped just short of accusing Comey, once a registered Republican, of partisan interference in the Nov. 8 election. But she did not attempt to conceal her anger. Other Democrats went much further, issuing scathing assessments of Comey’s motives and timing, as the potential for new legal jeopardy involving the Democratic nominee roiled an already tumultuous campaign. On Saturday afternoon, the Clinton campaign sent an email with urgent talking points for its high-level surrogates about Comey’s “controversial action.” Among them was to demand that Comey “immediately provide the American people with more information.” The congressional black and Hispanic caucuses organized a news conference to denounce Comey, at least three Democratic senators drafted a letter of complaint Saturday, and the Democratic National Committee issued a sharply worded statement”.

It goes on to note how “The approach was notable given the kid-glove treatment accorded Comey by Clinton and her campaign before now and the long silence that followed the initial news about Comey’s letter on Friday. Several hours passed before Clinton or anyone on her staff weighed in on the issue, at which point Podesta called on Comey to provide more information about what he was after. Of chief concern to Democrats is whether the development, and the uncertainty surrounding it, will cause supporters to disengage or stay home. Meanwhile, the development has been a political gift to Trump, who drew huge applause Saturday when he called Clinton corrupt and untrustworthy. Trump said he thinks that some of the thousands of emails that Clinton deleted “were captured yesterday,” even though officials do not yet know what is in the emails. He also suggested, without evidence, that there was “a revolt” in the FBI that led to the letter being sent. Trump devoted most of a noontime rally in Golden, Colo., on Saturday to telling his supporters about the FBI letter and detailing the controversy. “As you have heard, it was just announced yesterday that the FBI is reopening their investigation in the criminal and illegal conduct of Hillary Clinton,” Trump said about 10 minutes into the rally. He then walked away from his lectern and applauded the news along with his supporters, who began chanting: “Lock her up! Lock her up!” “This is the biggest political scandal since Watergate, and it’s everybody’s deepest hope that justice, at last, can be properly delivered,” Trump said to more cheers. “Hillary has nobody to blame but herself for her mounting legal troubles. Her criminal action was willful, deliberate, intentional and purposeful.” While Trump has repeatedly claimed that Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state was illegal, Comey earlier this year said that the FBI found nothing that would lead to a criminal charge”.

It later goes on to point out how “Comey’s letter, sent to eight congressional committee chairmen and ranking Democrats, states that “the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into the potential mishandling of classified information when Clinton was secretary of state. That inquiry ended in July without criminal charges, which Clinton’s campaign hoped would sweep away some of the cloud of suspicion around the candidate over her decision to use a private communication system for her government work. Voters continue to tell pollsters that they disapprove of her handling of the email issue, with many doubting that she has been fully truthful. But until now, the issue seemed to be receding, and Clinton had sounded increasingly confident as she maintained a lead in most national polls over the past several weeks. Polls had begun to tighten even before the FBI development, and it is unclear what effect it will have. In his letter, Comey said, “The FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information.” Comey said it is unknown whether the information “may be significant.” According to two people familiar with the matter, the newly discovered emails were found on a computer seized during an investigation of former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner. Weiner is separated from his wife, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin”.

 

“The party of conspiracy-mongering, authoritarianism, and white power”

30/10/2016

Max Boot writes that “As a confirmed #NeverTrump conservative from day one, I should be ecstatic at the way Donald Trump’s campaign has cratered since the Oct. 7 revelation of an audiotape in which he boasted of groping women. Numerous women have now come forward to testify that this was not, as the Republican nominee claimed in the second presidential debate, an empty boast. The Real Clear Politics average has Hillary Clinton seven points ahead nationally in a two-way race; a landslide is becoming increasingly likely. And yet, although I’m relieved that Trump is unlikely to be our next president, I remain profoundly disturbed and depressed that so many of my fellow Republicans continue to back him despite the growing evidence of his degeneracy and lunacy. Their position in the campaign’s waning days — sitting on the Trump Train as it hurtles toward the precipice — bodes ill for the future of the Republican Party”.

Boot writes that “Sensing his impending downfall, Trump has been ranting that the election is rigged against him, hinting that his opponent is high on drugs, and demanding that she be locked up. Even more disturbing is his claim that Clinton is engaged in a conspiracy with a shadowy cabal of “international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends, and her donors” — language that echoes centuries of anti-Semitic slurs. Trump has also been issuing empty threats to sue the New York Times and vainly trying to rebut the sexual assault charges against him — for instance, by putting forward a notorious British fabulist and self-proclaimed pimp to assert that he was on the very same flight, in the very same first-class cabin, nearly 40 years ago when Trump was alleged to have groped a female passenger and that absolutely nothing untoward happened. The more Trump talks, the more demented he sounds. At the rate he is going, he will end the campaign in a psychiatric ward — or on his own TV channel, which is pretty much the same thing”.

The article mentions “And yet all of his unhinged harangues have barely dented Trump’s support among his slavishly loyal base. A recent Fox News poll showed Clinton ahead of Trump by 7 percent overall, but Trump is still getting 80 percent of the Republican vote — only 10 points lower than John McCain, a war hero, received in 2008. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found 72 percent approve of his threats to imprison Clinton — a violation of the most basic norms of democracy. A survey by Public Policy Polling observed that among Trump supporters in Florida, 40 percent say Clinton is literally a demon — a claim advanced by the crackpot talk-radio host Alex Jones, who says the Democratic nominee “stinks” of sulfur. These surveys suggest that most of the GOP base is so disfigured by pathological, unreasoning hatred of Clinton — a flawed candidate, to be sure, but also a centrist Democrat with ample qualifications for the presidency — that they will embrace any alternative, no matter how vile. Most Republican leaders know better than their followers how unqualified Trump is for the highest office, yet precious few are willing to act on their inner conviction. Sens. John Thune and Deb Fischer finally called on Trump to drop out after the release of the Access Hollywood audiotape — but then, after he thrilled the base with his out-of-control performance in the second debate, they announced that they will still vote for him”.

Boot writes that “Their stance is as incoherent as that of Sen. Marco Rubio, who said Trump could not be trusted with the nuclear arsenal and then, without retracting that grave (and accurate) accusation, endorsed Trump anyway. So now Rubio thinks that the nuclear codes should be given to a man who cannot be trusted with them? Rubio is part of the vast majority of Republican officeholders who have refused to abandon Trump even as disturbing details of his behaviour toward women have come to light, on top of his already well-known racism and xenophobia and his ignorance, avarice, and dishonesty. Those still endorsing Trump include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, though the latter has tried to have it both ways by saying he would not campaign for Trump. Long known as the champion of principled conservatism, Ryan looks increasingly opportunistic. Far more repulsive has been the behaviour of Trump’s most devoted surrogates, who are willing to say or do anything, no matter how meretricious, to advance their master’s ambitions. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Gov. Chris Christie, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and of course Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, have been enthusiastically parroting the campaign’s risible claims that Trump is a “genius” for not paying taxes, that his boasts about grabbing women’s genitalia are just “locker room talk,” that all of the sexual assaults detailed by numerous accusers “couldn’t possibly have happened,” that WikiLeaks (a front for Russian intelligence run by an accused rapist) is a wonderful source of information, and that the election is being “rigged” by some mysterious, all-powerful force”.

He rightly goes on to argue “Precious few Republicans will emerge from this past year with a shred of integrity intact. The honor roll of #NeverTrump politicos includes Mitt Romney, the Bushes, Sens. Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, and Lindsay Graham, as well as Govs. John Kasich, Larry Hogan, and Charlie Baker, among just a few others. A few more Republicans who had previously endorsed Trump have very belatedly turned against him, including Sens. Mark Kirk, John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Rob Portman, and Cory Gardner. That’s it. That’s the small remnant upon which the Republican Party will have to be rebuilt if it is not to become Trump’s party in perpetuity — and, Kasich aside, there is no one in the bunch who has been spoken of as a likely presidential contender. Almost all of the politicos who are rumoured to be eyeing 2020 — a group that includes Sen. Tom Cotton, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Scott Walker, Ryan, and Rubio — have been tainted by their embrace of the least qualified and most dangerous presidential candidate in U.S. history“.

He concludes “As someone who has been labouring in my own small way to advance conservative principles since the 1980s (I have written for all of the major conservative publications and served as a foreign-policy advisor to the McCain, Romney, and Rubio campaigns), I am shellshocked to find that so many people who were supposedly on “my” side are actually on Trump’s side — or are simply unprincipled power-seekers who will be on the side of anyone who promises to deliver votes for them. Am I still a Republican? I’m not sure, because I don’t know what the Republican Party stands for anymore. Is it still the party of principled conservatism, promoting freedom at home and abroad, or has it permanently become the party of conspiracy-mongering, authoritarianism, and white power? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question”.

 

Clinton and white Catholics

28/10/2016

A report in the New York Times notes how Clinton is gaining support amongst white Catholics, “Since the election of Ronald Reagan, white Catholics have flocked to Republican nominees for a raft of reasons, including their stances on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. But this year, something seems different. “Trump is the exception to the rule,” Carol Robinson, 67, said as she left an afternoon prayer meeting in this a Philadelphia suburb with other enthusiastic supporters of Hillary Clinton. “He’s a loose cannon.” Roman Catholics are the country’s second-largest religious group after evangelical Protestants, and they are as diverse as the country itself, with young liberals, cultural conservatives and, increasingly, Democratic-leaning Hispanics”. But now, the Clinton campaign senses a rare opportunity to block Mr. Trump’s narrow path to victory by making inroads with a core part of the church: white Catholics, a prized group of voters who have defied predictions this year. Though a string of polls had shown Mr. Trump opening a lead among white Catholics, a new poll released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute showed Mr. Trump hemorrhaging support”.

The piece notes that “The five-day poll, which ended two days after the release of a recording in which Mr. Trump joked about groping women, and before several women came forward to say he had forcibly kissed or touched them, showed him effectively tied with Mrs. Clinton. The poll showed 42 percent of white Catholics supported him, and 46 percent backed her, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. “That’s not where Trump wants to be in the homestretch, particularly with a core constituency in Midwestern battleground states,” said Robert Jones, a Public Religion Research Institute pollster. He added that white Catholics, much more than the white evangelicals who have largely remained loyal to Mr. Trump, seemed to be defying the Republican Party’s gravitational pull. Both campaigns see openings: Mr. Trump in hacked emails released last week in which members of the Clinton campaign spoke critically about Catholic conservatism, and Mrs. Clinton in Mr. Trump’s un-churchmanlike behaviour and his tussling with Pope Francis. The pope, on his way home from Mexico in February, suggested that Mr. Trump “is not Christian” if he preferred building barriers over bridges. Mr. Trump, not one to turn the other cheek, responded that Francis’ remarks were “disgraceful.” The episode did not hurt Mr. Trump’s standing in the Republican primaries; in fact, many Catholics believed the pope was improperly meddling in American politics”.

The report adds that “Francis may be more quietly influencing the Catholic vote in other ways. He has moved the church to emphasize inclusion and the welfare of the poor over divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality. And his personnel changes have effectively left Mr. Trump’s conservative backers without much support from prominent Catholic clergy members“It’s a concern among a lot of Catholics that maybe we’re not going to hear the kind of strong message that we heard in past elections,” said Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest who runs an anti-abortion group and is advising Mr. Trump. In 2004, a powerful group of Catholic archbishops publicly advocated the re-election of President George W. Bush. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said that if given the chance, he would deny communion to Mr. Bush’s opponent, Senator John Kerry, because of his abortion stance”.

The article mentions how “Pope Benedict XVI elevated Archbishop Burke to the rank of cardinal, but Francis has since essentially demoted him from his Vatican position. And when Cardinal Francis George, a combative voice on social issues from his high perch as the leader of the Chicago Archdiocese, took ill in 2014 (he died the next year), Pope Francis replaced him with the more inclusive Blase Cupich, who has focused his energies on climate change, gun control and immigration reform. The pope announced this month that he would elevate Archbishop Cupich to the rank of cardinal, while passing over the United States’ reigning conservative heavyweight, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who has remained outspoken in his criticism of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Prominent Catholic lawmakers are now targeting voters on behalf of the Clinton campaign. This month, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, held a round-table discussion with nuns in Dubuque, Iowa. The campaign has also created “heritage” outreach programs to try to appeal to voters with immigrant backgrounds, such as Irish and Italian, who are often Catholic. The director of the Clinton campaign’s Catholic outreach program, John McCarthy, said that lay Catholic leaders he met with in Dubuque repeatedly said they were uncomfortable with Mr. Trump. “The divisive rhetoric is what is really pushing people away,” Mr. McCarthy said. But the Trump campaign has done its own outreach”.

Unsuprusingly it notes “The Trump campaign is also courting Catholic conservatives by highlighting a recent comment from Mrs. Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine — himself an observant Catholic — that the church will one day support gay marriage. And it is making the most of every mention of Catholicism in the hacked Clinton campaign emails being released by WikiLeaks. In one 2011 conversation about Rupert Murdoch in particular and prominent Catholics in general, Jennifer Palmieri, who later became the communications director of the Clinton campaign, wrote: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.” The Trump campaign has also highlighted a 2012 email urging John D. Podesta, a former president of the Center for American Progress, to “plant the seeds of the revolution” against “Middle Ages dictatorship” within the Catholic church. Mr. Podesta, who is now Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, responded by writing that he and his allies had created groups for just such a purpose.

Dems take the Senate?

26/10/2016

An article from the Hill discusses the possibility of a Democratic victory in the Senate, “Democrats are now extremely confident they will capture control of the Senate next month in the wake of Donald Trump’s drop in the polls and an intensifying civil war in the Republican Party. Winning the majority is a given, Democratic officials told The Hill, adding that signs point to a pickup of seven seats and possibly more on Election Day. To win control of the Senate, Democrats need to pick up four seats on Nov. 8, or five if Trump wins the White House”.

The report notes that “But they say the billionaire businessman has no chance of becoming commander in chief and that his bombshell comments about groping women have tilted races around the country. Democrats contend they’re on track to pick up seats in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. “You’re looking at a potential plus-seven night,” said a Senate Democratic strategist. “I mean, that is a huge night for us if that’s how it goes down.” The last big Democratic wave election was in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won the White House and Senate Democrats netted eight seats. And then, Republicans weren’t as starkly divided as they are now. The intraparty brawl unfolding in the GOP has Democrats wondering whether seats they had given up on in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Arizona may be within reach after all. Some Democratic strategists think a nine- or 10-seat victory is not out of the question”.

It adds that “A senior Democratic aide said Tuesday that Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat in Florida is back on the table and that Ohio, where GOP Sen. Rob Portman had pulled away from his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Ted Strickland, may become competitive again. Democrats canceled ads in Florida and in Ohio after Portman built a double-digit lead there in recent weeks. The aide floated the possibility of shifting money away from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where more moderate voters are likely to be turned off by Trump’s lewd comments, to races in more Republican-leaning states. That probably won’t happen, given the risky nature of such an unorthodox move, but the talk shows that some Democrats want to go big, believing the Republican Party is in the middle of a historic meltdown”.

The article adds that “Senate Majority Leader Mitch ­McConnell (R-Ky.) has told colleagues throughout the election cycle that it is possible for Republicans to lose the White House, even by a large margin, and keep Senate control, pointing to various historical examples. “It’s never a good strategy to start measuring the drapes with still weeks to go in an election, especially when you are pulling resources out of competitive races,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Clinton and Trump are tied in Ohio, according to an average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, but those surveys were conducted before Trump’s most recent scandal”.

It mentions that “Some Democratic strategists don’t want to wait another week to get all the polling data because time is of the essence with Election Day less than a month away. The biggest problem Senate Democrats face in expanding the map is a lack of financial resources. While the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised more money than its counterpart, Republican-allied outside groups have flooded money into expensive battlegrounds such as Florida and Ohio, forcing Democrats to retreat and focus on cheaper races in Missouri and North Carolina. Rubio has not retracted his endorsement of Trump, who defeated him for the presidential nomination. Portman on Saturday said he could no longer support Trump and would instead write in his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. If Trump vents his anger on Portman by attacking his tenure as U.S. trade representative or his past support for trade deals, it could cost the senator at the ballot box. Trump this week lashed out at Republicans who pulled their support, such as Portman and vulnerable Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), tweeting: “Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides.” Ayotte initially said she supported Trump but declined to endorse him. She now says she won’t vote for him”.

It notes how “Republican candidates who stick with Trump risk turning off Republicans who might decide to sit the election out. But those who withdraw their support from Trump may see a sizable chunk of the GOP base vote against them in retaliation. “This is the worst Catch-22 I’ve ever seen in politics. These Republicans are absolutely damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said Matt Canter, a Democratic strategist at Global Strategy Group. With the election shifting decisively for Clinton — hardly a Republican strategist in Washington thinks Trump can win now — Democrats are beginning to wonder if they might be overly focused on Senate races they’ll end up winning handily. “Do you aim for a bigger night that would help you build a sea wall against losing the Senate in 2018, when we have such a terrible map?” the senior Senate Democratic aide said. Republicans are defending 24 seats this year compared to the Democrats’ 10, but in two years the advantage will be reversed. Democrats will have to worry about 25 seats while Republicans will have to defend only eight. “If you take that leap of faith, everything is in play. If Republicans stay home en masse — whichever side of the civil war they’re on — sure, everything is in play,” the source added. Arizona, where Sen. John McCain (R) appeared to be cruising to reelection, is no longer a slam-dunk for the GOP, Democrats say, especially if Trump declares war on Republicans who abandon him”.

 

“Clinton has opened up a 12-point national lead”

24/10/2016

Hillary Clinton has opened up a 12-point national lead over Donald Trump among likely voters with less than a month to go before Election Day, a new poll finds. Clinton takes 50 percent support in the Monmouth University survey released Monday, which has Trump at 38 percent. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson has 5 percent support, and the Green Party’s Jill Stein takes 2 percent. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, led by only 4 points in the same poll last month, edging Trump 46 percent to 42 percent. It’s the third recent poll to show Clinton leading by double digits nationally, although other surveys show a tighter race. An ABC News/Washington Post survey released over the weekend put her advantage at only 4 points over Trump, the Republican nominee, well within that survey’s margin of error. The RealClearPolitics average shows Clinton leading Trump by 6.3 points nationally in a four-way race. Clinton’s lead in the new poll is reduced to 9 points, 47 percent to 38 percent, among all registered voters nationally.

Wikileaks, Trump and Russia

16/10/2016

“Former Trump adviser and confidante Roger Stone on Wednesday denied the suggestion that he had “advance warning” of the release by WikiLeaks of hacked emails purported to be from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Stone, who is not a formal part of the Trump campaign, said he and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have a “mutual friend.” After Podesta on Tuesday suggested Stone was in collusion with the website, Stone called the claim “categorically false.” “I have a back-channel communications with WikiLeaks,” Stone told NBC News. “But they certainly don’t clear or tell me in advance what they’re going to do.” Emails purported to be stolen from Podesta’s Gmail account were released by WikiLeaks on Friday. Some of those emails appear to show excerpts from Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks. More emails were released Wednesday.

Dems retake the House?

14/10/2016

An article from the Hill discusses the possibility of the House being taken by the Democrats, “House Democrats are thinking the once unthinkable: They have a real shot at winning the lower chamber next month. Such a shift would require a robust wave, as the Democrats would need to steal at least 30 seats from the largest Republican majority in decades”.

The report adds “But the implosion of Donald Trump‘s presidential bid — and the Republican civil war sparked by his incendiary campaign — has left Democrats with fresh new hopes that the GOP nominee will doom the Republicans down ballot and return the Speaker’s gavel to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after six years in the minority wilderness. On Wednesday, Democrats blasted out their first bit of evidence in the form of an internal poll finding that Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat, has taken a 2-point lead over Rep. John Mica (Fla.), a 12-term Republican who has endorsed Trump. Even a month ago, Mica was considered the favourite. But the race has tightened since then, stoking the notion that Trump will be a considerable drag on the Republican brand”.

The piece goes onto mention “Commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the poll is the first district-specific survey to be aired following Friday’s release of a 2005 recording in which Trump boasts about grabbing women by the genitals. The video has torn the GOP apart, causing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to distance himself from Trump’s campaign and prompting dozens of Republican lawmakers — many facing tough reelection contests — to condemn their nominee and revoke their earlier endorsements. Democrats view the turmoil as an enormous boon to their congressional odds”.

The piece notes how “Republican strategists are quick to dismiss the Democrats’ optimism, arguing that individual candidates will be able to connect to their districts and, where necessary, separate themselves from Trump. “We hear Democrats predict cycle after cycle that they can win the majority, but it’s clear their talking points are the definition of insanity,” Katie Martin, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Wednesday in an email. “Our members’ hard work is recognized by their constituents and will be rewarded this fall.” House Democratic leaders, who have an incentive to talk up their chances of winning the House to open wallets and generate enthusiasm, are doing their best to use Trump’s controversy for momentum”.

Interestingly it adds “On a conference call with House Democrats Tuesday, DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) said with Trump’s meltdown the Democrats “are expanding our universe of opportunities,” according to a source on the call. And Pelosi predicted the Democrats would retake control of the House if the election were held this week. While not taking any contest for granted, Luján said Trump’s influence has made every close race a little more winnable, and he urged his Democratic colleagues to pitch in financially so the DCCC can expand its battleground”.

The piece argues that “Both parties are now anxiously awaiting the results of new race-specific polls in battleground districts. Democrats have commissioned several dozen such surveys designed to gauge the effect of the latest Trump scandal on vulnerable Republicans, many of whom have been successful distancing themselves from their combative presidential nominee. Those results should be trickling in by week’s end. Both parties can be expected to release only good news. “We’ll see how these head-to-heads come out, and whether there’s any trickle down,” a House Democratic official said Wednesday, tamping down expectations of a House takeover”.

It continues noting “In the meantime, the Democrats’ campaign arm is targeting every House Republican by tying them directly to Trump, regardless of whether the lawmakers are sticking by their divisive nominee. Those candidates who are still supporting Trump, like Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), are being attacked for being “blindly partisan” in backing a candidate who “not only assaults women, but is unfit to be president.” Those who have dropped their support for Trump, like Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), the DCCC is accusing of acting out of “craven … self-preservation.” Democratic contenders in tight contests, like Jacky Rosen in Nevada, are fundraising on Trump’s new comments. And outside groups like the House Majority PAC have piled on, spending millions on new ads targeting vulnerable Republicans like Reps. Coffman, Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and David Valadeo (Calif.). Then there are the second-tier Republicans, once thought of as safe, who Democrats now see as targets. They include Reps. Mica, Scott Garrett (N.J.), Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Kevin Yoder(Kan.). They’re even eying a potential pickup in Montana, where freshman GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke won with 55 percent of the vote in 2014. “If there’s a real wave I think that one opens up,” said a Democratic strategist. Democrats have their own liabilities at the top of the ticket. Hillary Clinton has long been under fire for using a private email server during her tenure as secretary of State; she’s confronting a steady drip of WikiLeaks dumps revealing embarrassing campaign emails; and her approval ratings have been consistently below 50 percent, according to national polls”.

Crucially it ends “Still, the Republican divisions are unprecedented in modern times, and Democrats have been only emboldened by an NBC poll, released Monday, showing that voters favour a Democratically controlled Congress by a spread of 7 points — a jump above their 3-point advantage just a month ago. Increasingly, they think Trump’s name atop the ballot might be radioactive enough to deliver both the Senate and House back to their control”.

Trump, autocrat-in-chief

12/10/2016

Max Boot writes that Trump is not running as a democrat, “It was both fitting and chilling that the centerpiece of the second presidential debate was Donald Trump’s threat to imprison his opponent. That is the kind of act normally associated with autocrats like Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych (who jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in 2011), Myanmar’s military junta (which put opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest even before her party won the 1990 election), Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (who overthrew and imprisoned President Mohamed Morsi in 2013), and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (who in 2003 arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a wealthy political adversary)”.

Boot correctly argues that “Trump’s apologists tried to claim that he wasn’t threatening to jail former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for being his political opponent but, rather, for supposed “felonies committed in office.” But this is exactly the kind of thing that dictators always say; no one ever admits to jailing the opposition for political reasons. The essence of democracy is not to criminalize political differences. That’s something that Trump does not seem to understand. It seems appropriate, then, that during the rest of the debate — while desperately trying to deflect attention from the “pussygate” scandal that has crippled his campaign — Trump alternatively expressed his admiration for dictators and emulated their “Big Lie” techniques for winning and keeping power. If we needed any more evidence, the debate showed just what an unprincipled power-seeker Trump is — how he is willing to say or do anything, to cross any line, to violate any norm of civilized behavior, in order to feed his insatiable ego. He came across as the kind of unscrupulous demagogue that has imperiled other democracies and that the United States has not seen since the heyday of Huey Long and George Wallace”.

Boot adds that “His sympathy for tyrants was most clearly evident when moderator Martha Raddatz asked him what he would do about the siege of the Syrian city of Aleppo. The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Putin are pummeling this city so relentlessly, killing countless civilians, that Secretary of State John Kerryhas called for a war crimes investigation. While admitting that Aleppo is a “disaster, humanitarian-wise,” Trump failed to offer a plan to stop the killing. Worse, he failed to offer a single word of condemnation for Assad and Putin’s brutal actions. Actually, he seemed to approve of what the two are doing: “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS,” referring to the Islamic State. He went on to say, “We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved,” and, “Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS.” Not quite. There is no Islamic State presence in Aleppo. Yet this is the area where the Russian and Syrian governments are concentrating their firepower. This is part of a general pattern whereby the vast majority of their attacks are focused on more moderate rebel forces, not on the Islamic State. Trump has been entirely taken in by the disinformation line put out by Assad and Putin that they are fighting “terrorists,” a name that they apply to all opponents of Assad’s brutal regime. And Trump appears to fully approveof the war crimes they are committing — perhaps not so surprising from a candidate who has threatened to commit war crimes of his own, such as torturing terrorists, killing their relatives, bombing indiscriminately, and stealing Iraq’s oil”.

Interestingly, the article notes that “Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has a better appreciation of the horrors being perpetrated in Syria. In the vice presidential debate, hedenounced the “barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo” and said that the “provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength.” He called for the establishment of “safe zones” to protect “vulnerable families” and said the United States “should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime.” On Sunday night, however, Trump disassociated himself from Pence’s view: “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.” (Perhaps the next debate should feature Trump vs. Pence?) Thus Trump continues his pattern of not saying a single negative thing about Vladimir Putin, an anti-American dictator he has praised for being a better leader than President Barack Obama. While freely insulting political opponents, reporters, and entire ethnic groups, Trump has never had one bad word to say about Putin, and that didn’t change Sunday when Trump was asked about the cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and other American targets. Last Friday, the U.S. intelligence communityformally charged Russia with responsibility for the hacking, stating, “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” In other words, Putin is responsible”.

Centrally, Boot argues that “The only true part of that statement was Trump’s admission that he knows nothing about Russia. He went on to claim: “I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.” But given Trump’s unwillingness to reveal his taxes or his business records, there is no reason to believe his protestations — especially when there actually is evidence, even based on the scant public record, that Trump does do business with the Russians. As a general proposition, whether talking about his business dealings or anything else, the Republican nominee does not exactly inspire confidence as a truth-teller. Politico already determined, based on analyzing all of Trump’s statements for a week in late September, that he averages “one falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds.” He did better — or worse — than average on Sunday night by uttering, according to Daniel Dale of theToronto Star, a total of 33 false claims during his 40 minutes of speaking time”.

The piece goes on to mention how “Just as egregious are Trump’s continuing claims to have opposed the Iraq War. In fact, there are numerous statements from him favouring regime change in Iraq before the war and not a single statement on the public record opposing the war until August 2004 — i.e., 17 months after the start of the conflict, by which time it was clear that it was not going to be a “cakewalk.” A year ago, the fact-checkers at the Washington Post awarded Trump “four Pinocchios” for his unfounded claims about opposing the war. Yet here he was again on Sunday night, when challenged by Clinton on his Iraq War lie, indignantly saying: “That’s not been debunked.” To make his falsehood even more offensive, he suggested that if he had been president in 2004, Capt. Humayun Khan, the Muslim American war hero whose family he defamed, “would be alive today, because unlike her, who voted for the war without knowing what she was doing, I would not have had our people in Iraq.” Trump has the temerity to blame Clinton not just for favouring the war in Iraq but also for favouring a pullout”.

Correctly he writes that “There is a word for someone who lies as repeatedly as Trump does and continues doubling down on his lies no matter how many times he is called out on his behaviour: pathological. Trump can’t distinguish right from wrong, truth from fiction. He has shown that he will say anything that pops into his head regardless of its veracity — and he refuses to be corrected by any fact-checking. There has never been anyone remotely like him who has been a serious presidential candidate before; the only analogues are in the ranks of dictators abroad. And although it now appears that he will not win the election — “pussygate” seems to have been the coup de grâce for his disgraceful campaign — it is nevertheless terrifying that so many millions of Americans are thrilled by his irresponsible rhetoric and extremist positions”.

Boot concludes “It is particularly appalling that even now, after all his lies and gropes, his racism and sexism, his general craziness has been exposed, a substantial section of the Republican electorate continues to stand by their man. Many of the Trump die-hards are furious at the few Republican politicians who have had a sudden outbreak of conscience in recent days and have decided to unendorse him. The grass-roots fervor for Trump suggests that the Republican Party may be beyond salvation — and that the republic itself could be in peril if in the future we see some demagogue who is smoother than Trump and devoid of his debilitating personal flaws. It could happen here — and almost did”.

“I’d talk a lot more about my faith in democracy itself”

08/10/2016

An article discusses how Clinton has to appeal to those attracted by fear driven politics, “Hillary Clinton talks a lot about globalisation and its discontents, and much of what she says about the world is intelligent and true. Her supporters correspondingly like to cast her as the cosmopolitan in America’s presidential race, the one who really understands how the world works. In this narrative, Donald Trump is the parochial rube, the guy who just doesn’t get the big picture. And you can be pretty sure that that’s how she’ll play it in tonight’s much-anticipated presidential debate. But is that really true? If you take a look around the world right now, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Donald Trump is the candidate who’s in sync with the zeitgeist. It’s a deeply depressing thought. But Clinton ignores it at her peril”.

The piece goes on to point out “Much of the world currently finds itself in the grip of dark emotions. The democracies of the West seem to be suffering from a collective nervous breakdown. Anxiety about sluggish economic growth is fusing with fears about terrorism and migration to devastating effect. There’s a widespread sense that remote political elites are completely out of touch with the anxieties of ordinary voters.In the United Kingdom, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson deftly exploited these fears in their campaign to persuade Britons to leave the EU; Johnson has now become the U.K.’s foreign minister. France’s Marine Le Pen, who has made a career out of channeling resentment against immigrants, has a real shot at becoming her country’s next president. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has vowed to end liberal democracy in his country. Meanwhile, Germans have been voting in droves for a party called the Alternative for Germany, a nativist movement that’s been causing big headaches for Chancellor Angela Merkel”.

The piece goes on later to discuss how “As far as Trump is concerned, many commentators have pointed out that his nightmare vision of the United States — a place mired in recession, weighed down by hopeless African-Americans, and plagued by rampant crime and runaway immigration — doesn’t correspond to reality. Poverty is declining, violent crime is down, and immigrants were a larger share of the U.S. population in the early 20th century. Yet Trump supporters, discomfited by a society in the grip of tumultuous cultural and demographic change, see his dark caricature as an accurate reflection of their own nagging worries. So how should the defenders of liberal democracy respond? Combating inequality and creating greater economic opportunity should obviously be part of the answer. But we also need to acknowledge the power of the id — by paying attention to the less tangible reasons for the current age of anxiety. We need to think about how to make democracy more effective at cushioning citizens from the shocks of change. We need to think hard about tackling political polarization and creating new space for politics that can actually address pressing problems rather than succumbing to the gridlock that discredits democracy. We need to think about information policies — including media literacy programs — that can offer urgently needed counterweights to the echo chambers and conspiracy factories of the internet”.

Crucially he writes that “if I were Hillary Clinton, I’d talk a lot more about my faith in democracy itself. I’d tell people that I understand their fears about the perceived loss of control to big government and the faceless forces of globalization, and I’d propose reforms to address the erosion of trust — such as radical new policies of government transparency and changes to the electoral system that would enable people to feel that their votes really count. I might even argue that true democracy is impossible without genuine law and order — which you can only have as long as the police and the courts are truly accountable to all citizens. And I would certainly talk about the crucial importance of revitalizing education, since there’s no hope for democracy without an informed electorate. Above all I would argue that it’s time for the United States to start setting a trend of its own — by showing that strongmen aren’t the answer. I suspect we can only really succeed in doing that if we acknowledge the deficits of our own democracy. I have to admit that I’m skeptical that the next president — whoever he or she is — will be up to the task. But we’re going to need to start on it sooner or later”.

 

“The race has tightened considerably over the past few weeks”

25/09/2016

An election analysis conducted in the Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation project shows that the race has tightened considerably over the past few weeks, with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump projected to win Florida, an essential battleground state, if the election were held today.  The project, which is based on a weekly tracking poll of more than 15,000 Americans, shows that the 2016 presidential race could end in a photo finish on Nov. 8, with the major-party candidates running nearly even in the Electoral College, the body that ultimately selects the president. The States of the Nation project, which delivers a weekly tally of support for the candidates in every state, shows that the race has tightened in several traditional battlegrounds. Pennsylvania has been moved from a likely win for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to a tossup; Ohio has been moved from a tossup to a likely win for Clinton. And Florida is now considered a likely win for the Republican nominee, with 50 percent support for Trump to 46 percent support for Clinton. If the election were held today, the project estimates that Clinton has a 60 percent chance of winning by 18 electoral votes. Last week, the project estimated that Clinton had a 83 percent chance of winning the election”.

The Russian victim?

19/09/2016

An article examines Clinton presidency and Russia, “If Hillary Clinton is elected president, the world will remember Aug. 25 as the day she began the Second Cold War. In a speech last month nominally about Donald Trump, Clinton calledRussian President Vladimir Putin the godfather of right-wing, extreme nationalism. To Kremlin-watchers, those were not random epithets. Two years earlier, in the most famous address of his career, Putin accused the West of backing an armed seizure of power in Ukraine by “extremists, nationalists, and right-wingers.” Clinton had not merely insulted Russia’s president: She had done so in his own words. Worse, they were words originally directed at neo-Nazis. In Moscow, this was seen as a reprise of Clinton’s comments comparing Putin to Hitler. It injected an element of personal animus into an already strained relationship — but, more importantly, it set up Putin as the representative of an ideology that is fundamentally opposed to the United States”.

The report goes on to point out how “Even as relations between Russia and the West have sunk to new lows in the wake of 2014’s revolution in Ukraine, the Kremlin has long contended that a Cold War II is impossible. That’s because, while there may be differences over, say, the fate of Donetsk, there is no longer a fundamental ideological struggle dividing East and West. To Russian ears, Clinton seemed determined in her speech to provide this missing ingredient for bipolar enmity, painting Moscow as the vanguard for racism, intolerance, and misogyny around the globe. The nation Clinton described was unrecognizable to its citizens. Anti-woman? Putin’s government provides working mothers with three years of subsidised family leave. Intolerant? The president personally attended the opening of Moscow’s great mosque. Racist? Putin often touts Russia’s ethnic diversity. To Russians, it appeared that Clinton was straining to fabricate a rationale for hostilities”.

However the author does not describe to who Putin has not been sol tolerant, gays, democracy advocates, the free press and a host of others. To pretend that he is “tolerant” is either naïve or a gross mischaracterisation.

The writer goes on to note “I have been hard-pressed to offer a more comforting explanation for Clinton’s behaviour — a task that has fallen to me as the sole Western researcher at the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Better known by its native acronym, MGIMO, the institute is the crown jewel of Russia’s national-security brain trust, which Henry Kissinger dubbed the “Harvard of Russia.” In practice, the institute is more like a hybrid of West Point and Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service: MGIMO prepares the elite of Russia’s diplomatic corps and houses the country’s most influential think tanks. There is no better vantage point to gauge Moscow’s perceptions of a potential Hillary Clinton administration. Let’s not mince words: Moscow perceives the former secretary of state as an existential threat. The Russian foreign-policy experts I consulted did not harbour even grudging respect for Clinton. The most damaging chapter of her tenure was the NATO intervention in Libya, which Russia could have prevented with its veto in the U.N. Security Council. Moscow allowed the mission to go forward only because Clinton had promised that a no-fly zone would not be used as cover for regime change”.

The writer refuses to see the argument that there was no other way to keep Libyans safe from their own government than removing Gaddafi. Moreover, for Russia to protest that it did not see what was coming by delinking Gaddafi’s actions and the treatment of his people is to say that least, disingenuous.

The writer adds “Clinton has justified her threatened attack on Russia’s air force, saying that it “gives us some leverage in our conversations with Russia.” This sounds suspiciously like the “madman theory” of deterrence subscribed to by former President Richard Nixon, who tried to maximize his leverage by convincing the Soviets he was crazy enough to start a world war. Nixon’s bluff was a failure; even when he invaded Cambodia, Moscow never questioned his sanity. Today, Russian analysts do not retain the same confidence in Hillary Clinton’s soundness of mind. Her temper became legendary in Moscow when she breached diplomatic protocol by storming out of a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov just moments after exchanging pleasantries. And the perception that she is unstable was exacerbated by reports that Clinton drank heavily while acting as America’s top diplomat — accusations that carry special weight in a country that faults alcoholism for many of Boris Yeltsin’s failures”.

The writer worryingly adds that “Moscow prefers Trump not because it sees him as easily manipulated, but because his “America First” agenda coincides with its view of international relations. Russia seeks a return to classical international law, in which states negotiate with one another based on mutually understood self-interests untainted by ideology. To Moscow, only the predictability of realpolitik can provide the coherence and stability necessary for a durable peace. For example, the situation on the ground demonstrates that Crimea has, in fact, become part of Russia. Offering to officially recognize that fact is the most powerful bargaining chip the next president can play in future negotiations with Russia. Yet Clinton has castigated Trump for so much asputting the option on the table. For ideological reasons, she prefers to pretend that Crimea will someday be returned to Ukraine — even as Moscow builds a $4 billion bridge connecting the peninsula to the Russian mainland”.

It ends “In Clinton, it sees the polar opposite — a progressive ideologue who will stubbornly adhere to moral postures regardless of their consequences. Clinton also has financial ties to George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations are considered the foremost threat to Russia’s internal stability, based on their allegedinvolvement in Eastern Europe’s prior “Color Revolutions.” Russia’s security apparatus is certain that Soros aspires to overthrow Putin’s government using the samemethods that felled President Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine: covertly orchestrated mass protests concealing armed provocateurs. The Kremlin’s only question is whether Clinton is reckless enough to back those plans. Putin condemned the United States for flirting with such an operation in 2011, when then-Secretary Clinton spoke out in favor of mass protests against his party’s victory in parliamentary elections. Her recent explosive rhetoric has given him no reason to believe that she has abandoned the dream of a Maidan on Red Square. That fear was heightened when Clinton surrogate Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, recently accused Putin of attempting to rig the U.S. election through cyberattacks. That is a grave allegation — the very kind of thing a President Clinton might repeat to justify war with Russia”.

 

“A double-digit lead over Donald Trump”

09/09/2016

Hillary Clinton hit her stride after the Democratic National Convention, riding to a double-digit lead over Donald Trump in some national and swing-state polls — her highest of the year. As of today, though, Americans’ views of her just hit a record low. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 41 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Clinton, while 56 percent have an unfavourable one. That’s the worst image Clinton has had in her quarter-century in national public life. Her previous low favourable rating this year was in July, when it was 42 percent, lower than any mark in historical Post-ABC polls except a few points in the 1990s when a large share of the public had no opinion of her. Her previous high for unfavorable views was in June, when 55 percent disliked Clinton.

Clinton, pragmatism and gay rights

09/09/2016

A piece reports Clinton’s questionable gay rights record, “During her first run for president in 2008, Hillary Clinton had an opportunity to become an undisputed leader in the gay rights movement. As she prepared for a forum on the gay-oriented Logo network, she reached out to her friend Hilary Rosen, a political consultant who is a lesbian. Rosen expressed frustration that so many mainstream political figures opposed legalised same-sex marriage, and she challenged Clinton to speak out for a community that had strongly supported her. Clinton refused. “I’m struggling with how we can support this with a religious and family context,’’ Rosen recalled Clinton telling her. Clinton just wanted to know the best way to explain the position”.

The piece adds “The exchange was painful for Rosen, who had known Clinton since they worked on children’s issues together in the 1980s. “We took it personally,” Rosen said. “You try not to because it’s politics, but in this case, the politics is personal.” Rosen remains a Clinton friend and supporter, saying, “I know her heart is in the right place.” And Clinton eventually got where her friends wanted her to go, though her change of heart came when the political risk had disappeared — close to a year after similar shifts by President Obama and Vice President Biden. This year, as the Democratic presidential nominee, she is running as a forceful advocate for the LGBT community and a full-fledged supporter of same-sex marriage. The country’s leading gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, endorsed her early in the campaign, lauding her as a “champion” for its cause. Clinton’s path to get to this point frustrated many of her supporters. While most national politicians have been slow to evolve on gay marriage, Clinton’s handling of it was particularly saddening to some activists because they had expected more. Clinton and her husband, Bill, had stood out as being among the first to actively court the gay community as an interest group and donor base — and yet they were unwilling to stand with the community on one of its biggest civil rights issues”.

Pointedly the article notes that “Clinton’s approach to same-sex marriage illustrates the caution that has come to define her political career. It also reflects a central challenge for the 68-year-old candidate, who along with her husband helped to shape an era of centrist politics designed to appeal to culturally conservative voters but has struggled to adapt to a generation of Democrats who have moved further to the left. Among the Bill Clinton-era policies that Hillary Clinton has disavowed on the presidential campaign trail is the Defense of Marriage Act, the law signed by then-President Bill Clinton in the lead-up to his 1996 reelection effort that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. As Bill Clinton sought the 1992 Democratic nomination, LGBT activists were eager to align with the Clintons. The community had a strained relationship with the previous Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, whom activists heckled at a campaign event when he said he didn’t see the need to issue an order banning discrimination against gays in the federal government”.

It mentions later that “The night before Roberta Achtenberg, then a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was scheduled to make history at the 1992 Democratic National Convention as the first openly lesbian person to ever address the gathering, Hillary Clinton called to give her a pep talk. “I’m rooting for you,” Achtenberg recalled Clinton saying. In 1993, Bill Clinton’s first year in office, relations began to fray. Members of Congress and military officials were arguing against lifting the ban on gays serving in the military. Many strategists thought the president didn’t have the political capital to push through his idea, so he had to compromise. The result was the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which allowed gay men and women to serve in the military as long as they were not open about their sexual orientation. Those who spoke to Hillary Clinton at the time said she encouraged her husband to find more support in Congress to avoid the compromise. But there was little she could do”.

Turning to DOMA, the piece makes the point that “Three years after “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the president faced another question about gay rights. Lawmakers were crafting legislation mandating that the federal government recognize only heterosexual marriage. Some White House strategists worried that if Clinton didn’t back the legislation, he might lose the support of the centrists who had helped propel him to the White House in the first place. LGBT staffers tried to change the president’s mind. Hillary Clinton, whose influence had dwindled after her failed attempt to overhaul the health-care system, mostly stayed out of those discussions, Socarides said. Still, some gay activists hoped that she might be a voice for them in the West Wing. Rosen, who at the time headed the recording industry trade association, asked Clinton whether she could help change her husband’s mind. Hillary Clinton was not receptive, Rosen recalled, because she thought she needed to stand with her husband while making tough choices”.

With DOMA signed the article posits Hillary’s run for the Senate would “undo” the mixed gay rights record of his husband, “Clinton’s potential opponent, New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, had made inroads with the city’s affluent gay community, opposing the military’s ban on openly gay members. Clinton followed suit, announcing at a fundraiser in the SoHo art studio of a gay donor that she, too, was against “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “Fitness to serve should be based on an individual’s conduct, not their sexual orientation,” Clinton said in a statement the next evening. A month later, she demonstrated the limits to her support for LGBT rights — declaring that she was unwilling to support legalised marriage”.

Pointedly it notes that “Clinton’s perpetual balancing act unnerved some supporters. When Clinton began holding fundraisers for her Senate reelection campaign in 2006, van Capelle urged gay donors to withhold their checks because “she didn’t earn it.” “If an environmental group [had] asked me to write a check for Hillary I would, and if reproductive rights group asked I would,” van Capelle said. “There was a strange relationship between politicians and fundraisers, and they thought they could use [LGBT activists] as an ATM machine and we didn’t want to be a part of it. I thought it set a bad example. What it said was you could do as little as you could at that time to get our support.” Clinton’s position was softening. She supported states that legalised same-sex marriage. As for her position on the federal ban, her staff noted that her position was in a “state of evolution.” Rosen, her longtime friend, said she pleaded with Clinton to stop discussing marriage in religious terms. The position seemed dogmatic and uncompromising, Rosen said”.

It mentions how “As secretary of state, Clinton allowed same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers the same travel benefits at married couples. She gave a speech in Geneva in 2011 in which she said, “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights,” an echo of the women’s rights speech she had delivered in China as first lady. By May 2012, as polls showed more than half of the country supporting same-sex marriage, top Democrats began indicating their support. Biden declared in a television interview that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage. Obama followed soon after, saying that “same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Clinton stayed silent”.

It concludes “In 2013, before the Supreme Court struck down a key part of DOMA, Clinton released a video with the Human Rights Campaign stating that she had reconciled her feelings. She was fully behind marriage. Black, now a fundraiser for Clinton, could only smile when she saw Clinton’s video. But she had known it was coming. After she married her partner, Judy, in April 2012 — nearly a year before Clinton’s public announcement — Black came home to a note attached to her door. It was from Clinton. “At long last!” it read.

Violent America?

03/09/2016

An article argues that even if guns were banned the United States would still be a violent place, “In 1923, the British novelist D. H. Lawrence offered a grim assessment of America and Americans: “All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” Lawrence’s observations of the American character did not draw upon deep wells of direct personal experience. When he wrote those lines, he had only been living in the United States for a bit more than a year and had spent much of that time among artists and the literati. But he was neither the first nor the last to make such an observation. Nearly 50 years ago, surveying both the wreckage of the 1960s and centuries of archives, the brilliant historian Richard Hofstadter acknowledged that “Americans certainly have reason to inquire whether, when compared with other advanced industrial nations, they are not a people of exceptional violence.” The allegation that the American character is essentially murderous — or at least more murderous than that of other nations — still strikes a chord today. It’s not just the periodic invitations to violence that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has issued over the course of his campaign, most recently against his Democratic competitor Hillary Clinton. This summer’s headlines have also enumerated trauma after trauma. Eight members of a single family murdered in Ohio. Forty-nine dead in a mass shooting in Florida. Shootings by police claiming the lives of black Americans in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Maryland. Fatal shootings of police in Texas, Louisiana, and California. Breaking reports of horror follow one another fast enough to induce a kind of whiplash”.

He argues that “consider the strenuousness with which each political party now routinely denies that Americans are inherently violent, a refrain that can begin to feel like protesting too much. In his final speech at the Republican National Convention last month, Trump bemoaned the “violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities” but, true to form, laid the blame on hordes of “illegal immigrants … roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens”; “brutal Islamic terrorism”; and the enabling of a Democratic president whom Trump has previously and unsubtly intimated isn’t really American himself. Democrats likewise tend to suggest that, for Americans, acts of violence are an aberration. Announcing a gun safety program in the wake of last December’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, President Barack Obama declared: “We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency.” From this perspective, violence in America does not indicate anything “inherent” in the American character: It is about the presence of guns, the availability of which is a contingent and remediable matter of policy”.

The piece adds “But what if there’s good reason to believe that being American has always involved a relationship of some kind to violence — whether as its victim, as its perpetrator, as a complicit party, or even as all of these at once. Rather than assuming, in Obama’s words, that Americans are “not inherently more prone to violence,” the country owes it to itself to finally try to consider the question directly. How is violence quantified, and what are the benchmarks used to assess whether a given society’s level of violence is high or low, normal or exceptional? The general practice among researchers across numerous disciplines is to present yearly “intentional homicide” rates per 100,000 of a given nation’s population; crucially, these figures do not include deaths directly related to full-blown wars”.

The author mentions how “The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) compiles national figures for its reports, the most recent of which reflects data from 2012 and 2013. Per the UNODC, some 437,000 people were murdered worldwide in 2012, putting the average murder rate at 6.2 victims per 100,000 persons. But beyond that average figure, as you might expect, there is wide variation in terms of both individual nations and continents. Regionally, Central America and southern Africa both clock in at over four times the global average (more than 25 per 100,000), while Western Europe and East Asia are some five times lower than it. Within continents and regions, the variations can be stark. Thus, to take Africa as an example, the rate in Senegal is 2.8; Egypt, 3.4; Sudan, 11.2; and Lesotho, the highest, at 38. In Europe, Switzerland’s rate is 0.6; the U.K., 1; Finland, 1.6; Lithuania, 6.7; and Russia, the highest, at 9.2. The Americas show the widest variation: Canada’s rate is 1.6; Argentina, 5.5; Costa Rica, 8.5; Panama, 17.2; Mexico, 21.5; and Honduras, the highest in the world — at 90.4 per 100,000. Against this backdrop, for the period of 2007-2012, the United States has averaged 4.9 homicides per 100,000 persons. America thus stands more or less shoulder to shoulder with Iran (4.1), Cuba (4.2), Latvia (4.7), and Albania (5). So much for the data on homicides tout court. The question then is whether or not to consider America’s standing among countries like these to be an aberration. Such states certainly aren’t in the same class as the United States in terms of development metrics like per capita GDP, and this fact tends to get cited by American politicians and political observers as prima facie evidence that something else (whether “terrorists” or guns) is skewing their country’s violence data, pushing it out of its allegedly more “natural” peer group — places like the Scandinavian states, the U.K., or Japan. But while such comparisons may sound rigorous at first blush, they are often naively aspirational (at best) or deliberately deceptive and chauvinistic (at worst). Nowhere is this more blatant than in the context of the debate over guns. For example, many gun control advocates and supposedly objective analysts will condemn violence in the United States as abnormal by invoking comparisons to “developed” nations as defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Yet these comparisons will regularly exclude Mexico, which is not only an OECD member but also America’s third-largest trading partner and its unfortunate next-door neighbor. The reason given for this exclusion, as though self-explanatory, is “the drug war.” The annual U.S. market for illegal drugs may be well over $109 billion, and an estimated quarter-million guns may be trafficked to Mexican cartels from the United States in any given year, but inviting the contemplation of such queasy moral entanglements is apparently less politically expedient, and more offensive to patriotic amour-propre, than demanding why America can’t just clean up its act and be more like the places we feel it “should” resemble”.

Interestingly he notes “It’s not just our use of empirical metrics for evaluating violence in America that can be dubious. Opining on the supposedly inherent tendencies of vast groups of people toward violence — Americans, Muslims, the left-handed, anyone — should rightly raise flags. It’s the kind of thing you might expect from a 19th-century phrenologist, someone who would measure skulls for indicators of “destructiveness.” But although the vintage pseudo-scientific quackery underwriting such speculation may have fallen out of fashion, the sentiments themselves haven’t disappeared. Consider Iowa Rep. Steve King, for example, pontificating on the civilizational contributions of whites versus other “subgroups,” or research indicating widespread biases whereby black Americans are perceived to be both “prone to violence” and less susceptible to pain. Passing judgment on “a people” as an abstraction rarely leads anywhere good and frequently reveals more about the observer than the observed”.

He argues that “Because like most goods and ills in America — from job opportunities to education to healthy drinking water — violence is not equally distributed among Americans. Indeed, drilling down into the demographics of violence in America reads like an indictment of society’s broader treatment of the poor and marginalized. As analysts have pointedly observed, black Americans are someeight times more likely to be murdered than their white compatriots and, in any given year, will be killed at rates anywhere from 10 to 20 times the benchmark OECD rates. When the homicide rates for individual states rather than the national average are compared, the results are damning: The murder rates in Louisiana (11.93 per 100,000) and Washington, D.C., (13.92) are on par with figures from countries like Nicaragua (11), the Central African Republic (11.8), and Côte d’Ivoire (13.6)”.

He makes the point that “Although in the past year many cities have experienced a sharp and disturbing increase in homicides, with no clear explanation as to why, overall violent crime rates have been dropping for decades, even as Americans have consistently expresseda conviction that crime has been steadily getting “worse” and even as they have accordingly purchased more guns than ever before. From a certain perspective, when considering America’s unprecedented saturation with firearms, observers may be forced to admit that the surprising thing is how much moreviolent America could be than it currently is. If there is any singular feature that characterizes how many Americans understand our national relation to violence, it is our ingenuity at looking the other way, at siloing problems away from one another, and at disavowing, sublimating, or repackaging our complicity in the most easily observable patterns”.

He ends “Signs of supposed progress in expressions of American violence often disguise profound continuities. For example: The era of highly visible public lynchings, which is estimated to have claimed some 5,000 lives, has passed. Yet since then we have moved on to an institutionalized death penalty regime, wherein states that previously had the highest numbers of lynchings now have the greatest numbers of black people on death row. Both per capita and in raw numbers, America’s prisons warehouse more human beings than any other country on the planet, and its police demonstrate a clear pattern of racial bias in killing their fellow citizens at a rate stratospherically higher than that of any of its supposed peer nations. U.S. soldiers are deployed in some 135 countries, and the number of troops actually engaged in combat is almost certainly much higher than authorities are willing to admit. Meanwhile, America is far and away the world’s largest exporter of weapons, with the global arms industry’s largest and most profitable players based in the United States and reaping booming markets in conflict zones while being heavily subsidized by federal and state tax dollars. Everyday Americans may not be “inherently more prone to violence,” but our way of life is certainly structured around violence and around selectively empowering, quarantining, directing, and monetizing it at home and abroad. The majority of Americans apparently find no cognitive dissonance in this arrangement, if we even perceive it at all. Instead, we express bafflement and outrage that we are not something other than what we are and what we have always been. Plumbing what lurks within the “essential American soul,” a cynic might suggest, is a self-indulgent exercise, a red herring. The better question might be whether we even have one in the first place”.

Trump’s isolationist supporters

28/08/2016

“Evan McAllister was 23 years old when he fought in the Iraqi city of Ramadi in 2006. He killed men and buried friends. Eight years later, he watched the same city fall to the Islamic State. To McAllister, a former Marine staff sergeant and scout sniper instructor, the war he fought was a harebrained mission planned by Republicans, rubber-stamped by Democrats and, in the end, lost to al-Qaeda’s brutal successor. The foreign policy establishment of both parties got his friends killed for no reason, he said, so come Election Day, he is voting for the man he believes answers to neither Democrats nor Republicans: Donald Trump.

The Iran deal, working

22/08/2016

An important piece in FA argues that Iran deal has worked, “A year has passed since diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) defied conventional wisdom and struck a deal aimed at both preventing Iran from getting the bomb and preventing it from getting bombed. At the time, the deal’s detractors were apoplectic; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” that would pave the way for Iran to obtain a bomb. But the world has not come to an end. Iran is not the hegemon of the Middle East, Israel can still be found on the map, and Washington and Tehran still define each other as enemies. These days, voices such as Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, criticize the deal for having changed too little. But a closer examination shows that it has had a profound impact on the region’s geopolitical dynamics. Only four years ago, the Iranian nuclear program was consistently referred to as the United States’ number one national security threat. Senior U.S. officials put the risk of an Israeli attack on Iran at 50–50, a confrontation that the United States would quickly get dragged into. A war that was even more destabilizing than the Iraq invasion was not just a possibility; it seemed likely. Today, however, the talk of war is gone. Even the hawkish government of Netanyahu has gone silent on the matter. Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, a hawk in his own right, announced a few weeks ago that “at this point, and in the foreseeable future, there is no existential threat facing Israel. Thus it is fitting that the leadership of the country stop scaring the citizenry and stop giving them the feeling that we are standing before a second Holocaust.” Moreover, members of the U.S. Congress who have recently visited Israel have also noted that Israelis are no longer shifting every conversation to a discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat”.

The piece adds “The nuclear deal has thus halted the march toward war and Iran’s progress toward a bomb. And that certainly qualifies as significant change. To continue to argue that Israel and the region are not safer as a result of the deal would be to contend that Iran’s nuclear program was never a threat to begin with. That is a not a position that the Likud government in Israel can argue with a straight face. Other criticisms of the deal centered on predictions that Iran would not honour the agreement. Yet the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran is abiding by its obligations under the deal. Also not borne out have been prophecies that Iran’s regional policies would radicalise, that the deal would, as The Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips wrote, “project [American] weakness that could further encourage Iranian hardliners.” To be sure, Washington continues to view many of Iran’s regional activities as unhelpful and destabilising, but those activities have not increased as a result of the nuclear deal”.

The piece goes on to mention “If anything, as the European Union’s foreign policy head, Federica Mogherini, told me last December, the deal paved the way for renewed dialogue on Syria, which offers a glimmer of hope to end the carnage there. “What we have now in Syria—talks bringing together all the different actors (and we have it now and not last year)—is because we had the [nuclear] deal,” she told me. And last month, U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry stated that Iran has been “helpful” in Iraq, where both the United States and Iran are fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). It is undisputable that outside of the nuclear deal, the relationship between the United States and Iran has shifted significantly since the breakthrough. That became abundantly clear in January, when ten American sailors drifted into Iranian waters and were apprehended by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—and were then promptly released. An incident that in the pre-deal era likely would have taken months, if not years, to resolve was now settled in 16 hours. Direct diplomacy between Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif combined with a mutual desire to resolve the matter quickly made all the difference”.

He points out that “for relations to improve beyond the nuclear deal, moderate elements on both sides need to be strengthened by the deal. That is one area where the skepticism of the critics may have been justified. Rather than seeing the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gain momentum after the deal, the pushback from Iranian hardliners has been fierce. Those officials couldn’t prevent Iran from signing the agreement, but they could create enough problems to halt any effort to translate the nuclear deal into a broader opening to the United States. A swift crackdown against individuals and entities seeking to build bridges between Iran and the West had its intended effect: Confidence that the nuclear deal would usher in a new era for U.S.-Iranian relations quickly plummeted. Moreover, challenges to sanctions relief has given hardline opponents of the deal in Iran a boost. Their critique of the agreement—that the United States is not trustworthy—seems to ring true since no major banks have been willing to enter the Iranian market. The banks’ hesitation, in turn, is mainly rooted in the fear that after the U.S. presidential elections, Washington’s political commitment to the deal will wane”.

Correctly the writer argues “Neither Republican candidate Donald Trump nor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have signaled any desire to continue down the Obama administration’s path with Iran in general. Clinton has vowed to uphold the deal, but neither she nor Trump have made it crystal clear that they will protect the agreement from new congressional sanctions or other measures that would cause the deal’s collapse. Clinton’s team has signaled that its priority will be to rebuild relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia and restore those allies’ confidence that the United States will counter Iran in the region. Meanwhile, the uncertainty around a Trump presidency needs no explaining. As a result, many banks deem the risk of entering the Iranian market too high due to the political challenges on the U.S. side. That has left Iranians without much in the way of sanctions relief, which is in turn costing Rouhani politically”.

He ends, “In other words, although the deal has been remarkably successful in achieving its explicit goals—halting, and even reversing, Iran’s nuclear advances while avoiding a costly and risky war with Tehran—its true value in rebalancing U.S. relationships in the Persian Gulf and creating a broader opening with Iran may be squandered once Obama leaves office. If Obama’s successor returns to the United States’ old ways in the Middle East while hardliners in Tehran stymie outreach to the West, these unique and historic opportunities will be wasted”.

Clinton at the convention

18/08/2016

Hillary Clinton took the stage in Philadelphia Thursday night as the first woman presidential nominee and immediately began working to persuade sceptical voters that a female commander in chief would keep the country safer than her blustery and tough talking rival, Donald Trump. “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis,” Clinton said of her Republican opponent. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” The former secretary of state has increasingly emphasised her foreign-policy credentials in a general election matchup against a GOP nominee who has no experience in political office or national security. The Clinton campaign and its surrogates argue that Trump doesn’t have the temperament or intellect to lead the U.S. as it navigates through a complex and dangerous world. “Donald Trump says, and this is a quote, ‘I know more about ISIS than the generals do,’” she said, sarcastically. “No, Donald, you don’t.” Trump has continued to give his opponents new material for their criticism. The petulant reality TV host has alarmed global leaders with a neo-isolationist, anti-trade, and anti-immigrant “America First” foreign policy and alienated broad swaths of the American electorate by using bigoted and xenophobic rhetoric”.

The report mentions “Throughout the convention, the Democratic Party’s biggest national security heavyweights have blasted Trump for encouraging Moscow to hack Clinton’s private email server and for saying Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “better leader than Obama.” Still, the deep and growing concerns about Trump — one of the least popular presidential candidates in American history — haven’t changed the fact that the race is currently a toss-up, with an average of recent polls showing the candidates virtually tied, with Trump enjoying a lead of less than 1 percent. That means Clinton needs to do more than simply tear down Trump, who she derided Thursday for “bigotry and bombast” that amounted to nothing other than “empty promises.” Instead, she needs to persuade American voters that she can ensure their safety and security. While Clinton has extensive experience handling foreign policy and national security issues, those credentials won’t necessarily be enough to overcome her flaws as a candidate — or change the fact that foreign policy issues won’t necessarily decide November”.

The piece goes on to note “The former senator and first lady has struggled to translate her wonkish tendencies into a central narrative that captures voters’ imagination or to settle on a catchphrase as memorable as “Hope and Change” or “Make America Great Again.” After controversies over her use of a private email server during her tenure at the State Department, she must also work to regain the American public’s trust. And she faces a unique challenge defending her judgement, with her fingerprints all over an Obama administration foreign policy that from Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan has failed to bring stability. On Thursday, she didn’t downplay the anxiety that has marked 2016 election in the wake of a spate of terrorist attacks from Baghdad to Nice to Orlando and globalization trends that have left sizable portions of the American electorate behind economically. Yet she rejected the pessimism Trump portrayed last week in Cleveland, quipping that he’s taken the GOP from the Reagan-era optimism of “‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America.’” “He wants to divide us — from the rest of the world, and from each other,” she said. Her answer was “stronger together,” from a U.S. that leads but works in partnership with the international community as an investment in its national security, to one that celebrates its diversity as an investment in its homeland security”.

It ends “Clinton is getting a boost from prominent retired officers like former Marine Gen. John Allen, who commanded U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan before serving as President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State. Earlier Thursday, Allen — flanked by nearly two dozen generals, admirals, and veterans of those wars that Obama’s successor will inherit — marched to the podium as part of a highly-choreographed move designed to convey that members of one of America’s most trusted institutions backed Clinton. Allen dinged Trump for saying he’d weigh whether or not to defend NATO allies against Russian invasion depending on how much they’d spent on their own militaries. “With her as our commander in chief,” he said, “our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction.”

“Clinton leads Donald Trump in three key battleground states”

16/08/2016

Democrat Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump in three key battleground states after the conclusion of the political conventions, including in all-important Ohio, according to a trio of new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls. In Iowa, Clinton is ahead of Trump by four points among registered voters, 41 percent to 37 percent, with the rest saying neither, other or they’re undecided. (Before the conventions, Clinton was up by three points in the state, 42 percent to 39 percent in last month’s NBC/WSJ/Marist poll.)  In Ohio, Clinton holds a five-point advantage over her Republican opponent, 43 percent to 38 percent. (The two were tied before the conventions at 39 percent each.) And in Pennsylvania, Clinton has expanded her lead over Trump to 11 points among registered voters, 48 percent to 37 percent. (Her lead was nine points before the conventions, 45 percent to 36 percent.)

The Democrats and Israel

08/08/2016

An interesting piece notes the discussions inside the Democratic Party of the stance on Israel as the bipartisan consensus on Israel breaks down following on from other recent reports, “A meeting at a St. Louis hotel had run for more than nine hours and stretched into the night by the time the main reason Jim Zogby was there came up. As Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s primary point person on the intractable Israeli-Palestine conflict, long a political landmine in U.S. presidential politics, Zogby was ready for a fight. “We do not often see the Arab-Israeli conflict through Palestinian eyes,” Zogby began, according to an informal transcript of the meeting obtained by Foreign Policy”.

The report goes on to mention, “He was pushing an amendment calling for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements.” American policymakers, he noted, have for decades referred to the Israeli presence in land Palestinians claim for a future state as an “occupation.” “We have to have the ability in our politics to say what we say in our policy,” he said. Wendy Sherman, a Jewish-American and the top State Department negotiator on the historic Iran nuclear deal, was representing presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton at the platform talks and pushed back, firmly but gently. She told Zogby that she sympathized with both innocent Israelis and innocent Palestinians, but that his amendment went too far”.

The piece notes “She left former California Rep. Howard Berman, an “unaligned” Democratic National Committee pick who helped push through strict Iran sanctions in 2010, to play bad cop. Berman said the amendment would be “a terrible mistake” because it was “one-sided” toward the Palestinians. “It’s not our time, I think, to select out things which understandably aggravate many people, but only on one side of the conflict,” he said. At issue in the talks was the party’s platform, a formal distillation — to be presented for ratification at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia — of the goals Clinton would pursue as president. In practice, the platforms are exercises in pleasing each party’s core constituencies but rarely carry substantive weight. Yet the late-night debate between Sanders’s allies on one side and the DNC and Clinton’s allies on the other was a half-hour snapshot of perhaps the most politically fraught fight within the Democratic Party today. Democrats have seen a seismic shift on the Israel-Palestine issue in the nearly eight years of the Obama administration — with a strong push to the left by Sanders, the first Jewish presidential candidate to win a primary”.

The piece notes “In one of the most heated exchanges of the unexpectedly contested nomination fight, the Vermont socialist used an April debate in New York to push the former secretary of state to call Israel’s 2014 strikes on Gaza disproportionate. She refused. An unofficial transcript of the Israel-Palestine debate at the drafting committee’s last meeting — as well as a copy of that portion of the final draft of the platform, which has yet to be released — shows just how far the party has moved on the issue. The current platform says “a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples, would contribute to regional stability and help sustain Israel’s identity,” reflecting longtime U.S. policy. The new version has some notable differences, even if neither Sanders nor Clinton got all they wanted. Sanders’s allies did not ultimately achieve their goal of inserting the word “occupation.” But for the first time, the platform explicitly asserts Palestinians’ “independence, sovereignty, and dignity” alongside Israeli security”.

Interestingly he mentions “Still, compared with past platforms, the subtle shifts are significant. “We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders,” it reads, “and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty and dignity.” Underscoring the continued combustibility of the issue, both the DNC and supporters of Clinton and Sanders have kept the seemingly small but significant changes quiet. None of the statements on the platform from the DNC and the campaigns in the days since the drafter’s final meeting mention the Israel-Palestine debate, and neither the Clinton campaign nor the DNC provided comment. In an interview, Zogby said the presumptive nominee’s allies peppered him anxiously before the meeting last weekend to finalize the platform”.

It ends “Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Sanders pick and one of only two Muslim-American lawmakers, urged adoption of Zogby’s amendment on Friday, according to the transcript. “I know that this is an incredibly difficult issue for many of us,” he acknowledged during the meeting. “I respect that, I appreciate that.” Business executive Bonnie Shaefer, another DNC selection and a gay Zionist Jew, said Israel is “the only place in the Middle East where I can walk down the street with my wife hand-in-hand and not be afraid.” Zogby responded that while Shaefer may be able to hold her wife’s hand in Tel Aviv, unafraid, he can’t travel without risk of harassment. He was once held at the airport for seven hours — though he’d flown to attend a dinner at Israel’s legislature at the invitation of former Vice President Al Gore. Cornel West, an outspoken Sanders surrogate, civil rights activist, and fiery scholar, drew parallels between slavery and the Palestinian experience”.

 

Another hack against the Democrats

06/08/2016

The FBI is investigating a cyber attack against another U.S. Democratic Party group, which may be related to an earlier hack against the Democratic National Committee, four people familiar with the matter told Reuters. The previously unreported incident at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, and its potential ties to Russian hackers are likely to heighten accusations, so far unproven, that Moscow is trying to meddle in the U.S. presidential election campaign to help Republican nominee Donald Trump. The Kremlin denied involvement in the DCCC cyber-attack. Hacking of the party’s emails caused discord among Democrats at the party’s convention in Philadelphia to nominate Hillary Clinton as its presidential candidate. The newly disclosed breach at the DCCC may have been intended to gather information about donors, rather than to steal money, the sources said on Thursday.

Russia, using hacking as a weapon

02/08/2016

A report discuss Putin trying to influence the US presidential election, “By breaching the servers of the Democratic National Committee and posting nearly 20,000 internal emails online, suspected Russian government hackers appear to have significantly expanded a tactic that Kremlin intelligence agencies have been using in Europe for years: using cyberweapons to try and manipulate elections and sway public opinion. In Ukraine, Russian-linked hackers broke into vote-counting machines in a failed attempt to throw a presidential election. In France, far-right parties opposed to European Union enlargement — a goal they share with Russian President Vladimir Putin — have received financial support from Russian banks. In Germany, the country’s growing right-wing party has sidled up to Putin’s political movement, and in the Netherlands, anti-EU activists forced a public referendum on a mundane trade pact with Ukraine after Russian-backed news outlets there stoked public concern”.

The piece goes on to mention that “While Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager has openly described the hack as a Russian attempt to help Donald Trump defeat the Democratic nominee, politicians in Europe have for years been struggling to detect and beat back the subtle ways Russian operatives try to exercise influence in their countries. The DNC hack — which is now being investigated by the FBI — simply marks the first time Moscow has taken that propaganda machine across the Atlantic. “They’re not just conducting cyber espionage to collect and analyze information,” said Justin Harvey, the chief security officer at Fidelis Cybersecurity. “This is collecting information to weaponize it or to affect a process within a country.” Fiona Hill, a former officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council, said the hack was evidence that Washington was “back into a kind of Cold War intelligence standoff” with Moscow. While Washington has been busy with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a global counterterrorism campaign, and an attempted to pivot to the Asia Pacific region in recent years, she said that “the Russians never changed their intelligence focus” away from the United States”.

Naturally it writes that “The election of a President Trump would potentially deliver significant dividends for Moscow since the mogul has spoken warmly of Putin and questioned whether he would come to the defense of NATO allies if they don’t meet their commitments on defense spending. In the run-up to last week’s Republican convention, Trump operatives stripped language from the party platform calling for the United States to arm Ukrainian forces against pro-Russian rebels in the country’s east. Eugene Rumer, a former U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia, said the Russian penetration of the DNC servers fits into a longstanding pattern of how Moscow has pursued its objectives covertly and without leaving fingerprints. “It’s a pretty diversified toolkit of espionage, information operations, disinformation, bribery, hacking, and financial manipulation,” Rumer said. Intelligence operatives likely working on behalf of Russia have already shown themselves capable of obtaining internal U.S. government communications and leaking it to embarrass Washington. In 2014, audio surfaced online from an intercepted phone call between Victoria Nuland, a senior State Department official, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, in which she proclaimed, “Fuck the EU.” The leak of the phone call was widely seen as an attempt to sour relations between EU negotiators working to defuse tensions in Ukraine and their American counterparts. In that respect, the eavesdropping and information operation was a success”.

It continues “Elsewhere in Europe, Moscow has spread its largesse in an attempt to boost the popularity of fringe parties who share Putin’s interest in preventing the enlargement of the EU and halting the process of European integration. The Political Capital Institute, a Budapest-based research institute, has identified 15 right-wing European parties in the U.K. Denmark, Italy, Austria, and throughout Eastern Europe that have proven ties to Russia. France’s Marine Le Pen has repeatedly sought backing from Russian financiers, as she has built out a political movement that would see her country follow Britain out of the EU. In February, her National Front party sought a $30 million loan from a Russian bank to compete in 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections. The request came after she took out $11 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014. That year, her father and the founder of the National Front, Jean Marie Le-Pen, also borrowed more than $2 million from a company owned by a former KGB agent”.

It notes how “In Germany, meanwhile, the right-wing AfD party is forging close ties with Putin’s political movement, especially between the two groups’ youth wings. The party’s skepticism toward NATO and the EU makes it a natural Putin ally, and AfD leaders make frequent pilgrimages to appear at conferences together with Putin confidantes. While the DNC hack has captured the country’s attention during a fraught political moment in American public life, analysts point out that many of the information operations that Russia has run in recent years actually haven’t been very effective. The Kremlin’s efforts to keep Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in power fell apart in early 2014 when he was ousted from office and forced to flee the country, and its attempt to disrupt Ukraine’s elections also fell flat”.

Interestingly the report adds “Some of the hackers responsible for breaking into the DNC are well known to U.S. intelligence. Cozy Bear previously broke into the unclassified email systems at the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Friday, WikiLeaks posted a huge collection of emails that appeared to have been stolen from the servers. Their provenance and authenticity remain unclear, but that hasn’t prevented the messages from sparking a political scandal within the party. DNC boss Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned after emails surfaced showing her organization openly discussing ways of limiting Sen. Bernie Sanders’s chances of the nomination. On Monday, the DNC apologized for what it called “inexcusable” remarks in the emails. “The leaking suggests to me that the either the mission has changed or that this was the mission all along — to actually influence people’s opinions about the election,” said a person close to the investigation of the DNC breach and who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss its findings. The FBI said in a statement that it is investigating the breach: “A compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously, and the FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.” On Monday, the Russian Embassy in Washington denied any involvement in the leaking of DNC emails. “We see the flood of inadequate and inappropriate allegations that yet again has inundated the U.S. media,” Yury Melnik, a spokesman for the embassy said in a statement. “One can only be surprised by such childish, groundless accusations that are far beyond reality.” American cybersecurity experts have come to a very different conclusion. Fidelis analyzed some of the technical data associated with the DNC breach and backed the conclusion reached by CrowdStrike that Russian intelligence was responsible”.

 

Trump and Clinton receive security briefings

02/08/2016

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will begin receiving classified intelligence briefings after the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, when both candidates have become their respective parties’ presidential nominees, senior intelligence officials tells ABC News. “The briefings are traditionally given after nominating conventions have identified all the candidates,” the official said. Republican and Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees have been offered introductory intelligence briefings on national security since 1952, after their parties’ national conventions. So Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Clinton’s running mate will receive them as well.

ISIS not mentioned at Democratic convention

27/07/2016

Democrats opened their convention with an emphasis on inclusion and public service, and little mention of law and order or the rise of the Islamic State — a stark contrast to the Republicans’ focus on homeland security at their convention in Cleveland last week. Hillary Clinton has made a strategic calculation to present an optimistic view of America and its place in the world as she is formally nominated this week. It’s a bet that voters will reject what her campaign calls the inaccurate fear-mongering of Republican nominee Donald Trump. But some Democrats worry that the contrast could help Trump make up in rhetoric for a lack of traditional national security credentials. “My hope is that people will see through this,” said Michèle Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon official under President Obama and a Clinton supporter. “It’s policy by bumper sticker. There will be some people who will find the strength of his rhetoric very appealing.”

Clinton and Kaine, preparing to govern

27/07/2016

A report from the New York Times notes that Clinton’s pick of Kaine means that she is looking to govern rather than campaign.

It opens “In selecting Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate, Hillary Clinton is sending the clearest signal yet that she is confident she will win the presidential election. If she were worried, she would have chosen Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who could have helped her win that critical Midwestern state — where she is now tied with Donald J. Trump. And Mr. Brown could have energized progressives nationally, who were far more enthusiastic about Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont than they have been about Mrs. Clinton. Other picks could have helped her more on Election Day. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, for instance, would have turned out Democrats and independents in his swing state. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey would have galvanized fellow African-Americans in key cities like Philadelphia and Detroit. Tom Perez, labour secretary, and Julian Castro, housing secretary, might have boosted Hispanic voting in Florida and the West. Mr. Kaine, by contrast, doesn’t bring obvious political rewards. Mrs. Clinton is likely to win his home state of Virginia in any case. The members of his natural demographic — white men — aren’t going to forget their problems with Mrs. Clinton just because Mr. Kaine is on the ticket. And he isn’t a break-up-the-big-banks liberal who will bring home the left wing of the party”.

Crucially the piece notes that “His value is almost entirely about governing — about what he can do for Mrs. Clinton in the White House rather than at the ballot box. To that end, the pick is deeply revealing about how she sees the general election and how she would govern as president. Mrs. Clinton is showing her cards: In her view, she already has a straight flush heading into the fall with President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts ready to campaign for her. She doesn’t think she needs an ace in the hole in November, according to Clinton advisers. Mr. Kaine’s chief job in the general election is to win the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 4 — it happens to be in Virginia — against his Republican counterpart, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana. Mr. Kaine and Mr. Pence are both solid debaters, but Mr. Kaine is more natural as an attack dog, a quality that Mrs. Clinton prizes. And as a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee, he is well suited to highlighting Mr. Trump’s knowledge deficits on world affairs”.

Naturally it notes that “Clinton herself is more popular than Mr. Trump with women, Hispanics, African-Americans and immigrants, which gives her some assurance that she can carry these voters without any particular help from her running mate, her advisers say. She is optimistic that because Mr. Trump is so divisive, she has no reason to fear him in traditionally Democratic states. She is investing far more money than the Trump campaign in voter turnout operations in battleground states, as well as spending far more on television commercials”.

The article goes on to discuss how Clinton and Kaine hold similar views on policy and style, “Kaine is a strong advocate of gun control, opposes the death penalty and favoured the Iran nuclear deal. He has also backed some restrictions on abortion and is a strong supporter of Israel. While he holds many progressive views, the fact that he does not come across as a fire-breathing partisan has helped give him a reputation as a moderate. He comes across like the nuts-and-bolts governor and mayor he once was — perhaps even a little boring — but it’s a style and approach to governing that won’t upstage Mrs. Clinton. “Tim is a sensible and pragmatic guy whose presence on the ticket will be very reassuring to centrist Democrats,” said Steven Rattner, a Wall Street financier and longtime ally of the Clintons. That won’t be so reassuring for supporters of Mr. Sanders, however. Mr. Kaine has supported free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Clinton’s top rival for the Democratic nomination, and other liberals regard as job and wage killers. Mr. Kaine hasn’t been an outspoken champion for the extensive overhauls of banking and Wall Street regulations that Mr. Sanders wants, nor has he been an advocate for sharply raising taxes on the wealthy”.

The report goes on to mention how “Democrats close to Mr. Sanders, who has already endorsed Mrs. Clinton, say they do not expect him to lead a revolt against Mr. Kaine, who the Vermont senator has called “a very decent guy.” Clinton advisers say they are hopeful that Mr. Kaine will win over more progressives with his stand on guns and his lines of attack against Mr. Trump. They also say that picking Mr. Brown, or even Ms. Warren, was problematic because Republican governors would have filled those seats, hurting Democratic chances of retaking the Senate. Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, will replace Mr. Kaine if he and Mrs. Clinton win”.

Interestingly the piece goes onto note how Kaine does not have a significant ego, “Among Democrats who know him well, Mr. Kaine is considered a self-effacing workhorse who shuns the spotlight and prefers digging into domestic policy and national security rather than showboating on Sunday news programs. Mrs. Clinton sees herself in much the same way. Unlike some of his rivals for the ticket, he is widely viewed by colleagues as fully capable of being president — Mrs. Clinton’s top criterion for a running mate. Mrs. Clinton also wants a vice president who acts as a sounding board for her, as Mr. Biden did for Mr. Obama and Al Gore for her husband, and can handle any task, domestic or foreign. Given his decades of experience in government and politics, Mr. Kaine wouldn’t face much of a learning curve as No. 2 to Mrs. Clinton, who is itching to dive into work after Inauguration Day. He is a strong advocate of comprehensive immigration reform and a fluent Spanish speaker, which she thinks could make him a valuable emissary on the issue with voters and former Senate colleagues. Mr. Kaine has a down-to-earth style, and drew praise for his response to the mass shooting on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007. He also received high marks when he delivered strongly bipartisan message in response to President Bush’s State of the Union address in 2006. Mrs. Clinton, with her reputation for partisanship and unpopularity with Republicans, was eager for a governing partner who would help reach out to the other party”.

The piece goes on to mention how Kaine and Bill Clinton get on well together, “Mrs. Clinton also wants a vice president who would have a good relationship with Mr. Clinton, especially since the two-term president would likely have some sort of policy role and be an outside presence in the White House. Mrs. Clinton remembers her rivalry with Mr. Gore during the first two years of the Clinton administration and wants to avoid distractions like tension between Mr. Kaine and Mr. Clinton. So far the signs are good: Mr. Clinton strongly supported the choice of Mr. Kaine, Clinton advisers say, and the two share similar policy views and were governors of Southern states”.

Clinton-Kaine

23/07/2016

A report in the New York Times notes that Hillary Clinton has chosen Senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential choice, “Hillary Clinton named Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia to be her running mate Friday, selecting a battleground-state politician with working-class roots and a fluency in Spanish, traits that she believes can bolster her chances to defeat Donald J. Trump in November. Mrs. Clinton’s choice, which she announced via text message to supporters, came after her advisers spent months poring over potential vice-presidential candidates who could lift the Democratic ticket in an unpredictable race against Mr. Trump. In the end, Mrs. Clinton decided that Mr. Kaine, 58, a former governor of Virginia who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had the qualifications and background, and the personal chemistry with her, to make the ticket a success”.

It reports that “Clinton had entertained more daring choices. She considered Thomas E. Perez, the secretary of labor, who would have been the first Hispanic on a major party ticket; Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who would have been the first African-American to seek the vice presidency; and James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral who served as the supreme allied commander at NATO but had never held elected office. Ultimately, Mrs. Clinton, who told PBS that she was “afflicted with the responsibility gene,” avoided taking a chance with a less experienced vice-presidential candidate and declined to push the historic nature of her candidacy by adding another woman or a minority to the ticket. Instead, the campaign, which had become concerned about its deficit with white men, focused on Mr. Kaine and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and looked more closely at Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado”.
The article notes that “At a campaign stop with Mrs. Clinton in Annandale, Va., last week, Mr. Kaine tried out for the role. “Do you want a ‘You’re fired’ president or a ‘You’re hired’ president?” he asked the crowd. “Do you want a trash-talker president or a bridge-builder president?” He compared Mrs. Clinton’s record of public service to that of his wife, Anne Holton, Virginia’s secretary of education. In recent days, former President Bill Clinton and the White House had expressed support for Mr. Kaine. Mrs. Clinton will formally introduce Mr. Kaine as her running mate at a campaign stop on Saturday at Florida International University in Miami, which has a large number of Hispanic students. The announcement came after a day of campaign events in Orlando and Tampa in which Mrs. Clinton tried to offer a rebuke, both in actions and in words, to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. In Orlando, she laid flowers on a makeshift memorial outside the Pulse nightclub, where a gunman who expressed sympathy with the Islamic State killed 49 people last month. At an earlier round-table discussion with emergency medical workers and elected officials, Mrs. Clinton nodded solemnly and hardly spoke, an implicit contrast with Mr. Trump’s 75-minute speech on Thursday night”.

The piece goes on to note how “At a rally in Tampa on Friday evening, Mrs. Clinton blasted the bleak vision of America presented by her Republican rival. “The last thing that we need is somebody who is running for president who talks trash about America,” Mrs. Clinton said. She showed solidarity with Mr. Trump’s top primary rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. “I mean, I never thought I’d say these words, but Ted Cruz was right,” she said, and then quoted Mr. Cruz’s despondent Wednesday night speech. “Vote your conscience.” Now some of the job of discrediting Mr. Trump will fall to Mr. Kaine, who wrote on Twitter that he was eager to hit the campaign trail. “Just got off the phone with Hillary,” he said. “I’m honored to be her running mate.” Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Kaine have similar positions on many issues, and they are said to share an easy rapport and an interest in policy details. “I do have a fondness for wonks,” Mrs. Clinton said in the PBS interview. Asked whether Mr. Kaine was boring, Mrs. Clinton said, “I love that about him.” She added, “He’s never lost an election.” Republicans seized on the selection and tried to sow discord among Democrats, arguing that the pick was evidence that Mrs. Clinton had been dishonest with her party’s liberal base. “Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine does nothing to unify a fractured Democrat base which is repelled by her dishonesty and cronyism,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “After spending last week pandering to grass-roots Democrats with Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton has chosen someone who holds positions that she’s spent the entire primary trying to get to the left of.” The Trump campaign quickly labeled Mrs. Clinton’s new running mate “Corrupt Kaine,” pointing to lavish gifts he had received during his years as governor and lieutenant governor of Virginia”.

Worryingly it points out that “some in the party’s liberal wing expressed dismay, claiming that Mr. Kaine was out of step with it on some of its core issues, like trade. “As we saw in Donald Trump’s speech last night, Republicans will run hard against Democrats on trade this year,” said Stephanie Taylor, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Unfortunately, since Tim Kaine voted to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Republicans now have a new opening to attack Democrats on this economic populist issue.” She added, “The mood of the country is a populist one.” The son of a welder who owned a small metalworking shop, Mr. Kaine, a Roman Catholic, grew up around Kansas City, Mo. He attended a Jesuit school and took a break from law school at Harvard to spend time as a Catholic missionary in Honduras, an experience that his family has said shaped him and helped him become fluent in Spanish. Early in his career, Mr. Kaine worked on fair housing and civil rights issues as a lawyer. He was elected to the City Council in Richmond, Va., in 1994, and proceeded to climb the ranks of elected office in the state. He became the city’s mayor in 1998, the state’s lieutenant governor in 2002 and the governor in 2006. He also served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As governor, Mr. Kaine drew some support from rural parts of the state as well as strong backing in the state’s Democratic-leaning suburban areas. He led the state through one of its darkest times, the shooting at Virginia Tech that killed 32 people in 2007. In 2013, Mr. Kaine implored the United States Senate to find a “small measure of courage” to fight the gun lobby and impose tougher background checks on gun ownership”.

It goes on to mention “Mr. Kaine was an early endorser of Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid in the 2008 nominating fight against Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Kaine was also considered on Mr. Obama’s shortlist of vice-presidential candidates before Mr. Obama selected Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. In 2012, Mr. Kaine defeated George Allen, a Republican, to take the Senate seat being vacated by the Democrat Jim Webb. Mrs. Clinton’s choice of Mr. Kaine underscores the rising political importance of Virginia, a state with a significant suburban and minority population. Mr. Obama defeated John McCain in the state by more than six percentage points, the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson’s victory in 1964 that the state had voted for a Democratic presidential nominee. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from July 15 shows Mrs. Clinton ahead of Mr. Trump for the state’s 13 electoral votes by nine percentage points. The search for a running mate began in April, after Mrs. Clinton had decisively won the New York primary, with a number of candidates. Mrs. Clinton came to the process with a unique vantage point, having been closely involved in her husband’s selection of Senator Al Gore of Tennessee in 1992, a choice that brought youth and Southern charm to a ticket already overflowing with it. With just days remaining before her announcement of a running mate, Mrs. Clinton had not yet made up her mind as her advisers debated what attributes voters might want in a vice president”.

It ends, “As the search narrowed, Mrs. Clinton wanted to test her chemistry on the campaign trail with Mr. Kaine. After their Virginia rally last week, she invited him to her home in Washington for a meeting that lasted until 10:30 p.m. Last Saturday, the day after meeting with other candidates in Washington, she invited Mr. Kaine and his wife to lunch at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., with her family. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, just after her fiery speech in Tampa, Mrs. Clinton called Mr. Kaine to give him the news, before calling President Obama to let him know that she had chosen his friend”.

Clinton, opposing, then support TPP

05/07/2016

A piece argues that Clinton can come back to support free trade even after opposing it, “In October, with Sen. Bernie Sanders proving to be a peskier-than-expected challenger for the Democratic presidential ticket, Hillary Clinton came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal with Pacific nations that would cover 40 percent of the world’s economy. It was, in the context of the heated fight for the Democratic nomination, understandable enough: Sanders was surging on his revolutionary message, which included an assault on free trade. He ended up nudging Clinton to the left on many other issues too, from Wall Street regulation to energy oversight”.

Pointedly the author writes “But for anybody who followed Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, those comments were jarring: She had championed the deal herself, put it at the center of her own diplomatic “pivot” to Asia, and called it the “gold standard” of trade deals. Repeatedly during her time as the nation’s top diplomat, Clinton touted the pact, strongly backed by her boss, President Barack Obama. One count has her publicly supporting it 45 times.  Trade experts don’t buy Clinton’s supposed change of heart. They told Foreign Policy that they very much doubt she would simply scrap a trade deal negotiated in good faith with many Asian nations, some of whom, like Japan, are close U.S. allies. Clinton knows, they say, that jettisoning the deal now would poison U.S. standing around the world”.

Interestingly he writes “There’s a clear path for her to evolve back to supporting the TPP, especially now that the fight for the Democratic nomination is over. Clinton has said she would fight currency manipulation by China, which is not a signatory to the TPP, and by other nations like Japan and Vietnam, which are signatories, with new duties and tariffs. Many who oppose the Asian trade deal are also concerned about currency manipulation, conveniently ignoring the fact that most economists figure this has been a non-issue for years. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a former U.S trade representative, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) won’t back it because they don’t think there is adequate punishment for deliberately cheapening a nation’s currency, which makes their exports more competitive. An undervalued currency also makes it more attractive for U.S. companies to ship jobs overseas, where they can pay less in wages”.

The piece notes “There is precedent for this kind of maneuvering, and Clinton doesn’t have to look hard to find it. When her husband, Bill Clinton, took office, he made environmental and labor side agreements to the North American Free Trade Agreement to placate opponents, especially labor unions, which opposed the pact. “He then worked very hard to pass it,” said Scott Miller, a trade expert at the Center for Strategic and Advanced International Studies. Miller said he does not believe Clinton has issued a hard “no” on TPP. “She’s been hedged. She said it’s not good enough; she hasn’t said she opposes it. The ‘not good enough’ gives her a window,” he said”.

It goes on to make the point “If the United States does ultimately abandon TPP, it would open the door for China to step in. Right now, Beijing is negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a deal meant to rival TPP that does not include the United States, but which would include India, potentially making it a major Asian trade bloc. Obama often argues that the TPP is needed to allow the United States to set the rules of the game in the Asia-Pacific, rather than abdicating the playing field to China. “I have every expectation that [RCEP] will get negotiated and it will not include the U.S. That gives China negotiating leverage,” Branstetter said. “If we’re not out there negotiating and ultimately passing deals other nations will move forward as we’re standing still.”Clinton’s flip-flop on trade makes sense politically. Both presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Sanders have used trade as a bogeyman for why the working and middle classes are falling behind. They have convinced many voters that international trade pacts like the TPP cost America manufacturing jobs, essentially creating two classes of citizens: those with a college degree, who are enjoying the benefits of a growing economy, and those without one, who have been left behind. Economists of all stripes overwhelmingly agree that free trade benefits the overall economy, increases overall employment, and saves consumers money — but some workers in some sectors see a lot more of the pain than the gains”.

It ends “If the fate of Obama’s signature trade deals falls to a President Clinton, Miller cautioned against expecting a quick passage. He said it would take months for Clinton to get her administration up and running, and even more time to create the momentum to push the deal through Congress. For Branstetter, nothing less than the credibility of the United States is at stake.“If the U.S. turns its back on TPP, we will be deeply undermining our stance as a negotiating partner,” he added. Killing it “would make it much harder for that going forward to negotiate good trade deals.”

Consequences of Brexit

03/07/2016

Long term consequences of Brexit is examined, “The unexpected decision by British voters to leave the European Union in Thursday’s historic referendum is tumbling dominoes around the world, with dire implications for everything from Britain’s political future to Europe’s fragile unity to the retirement plans of older Americans. And with all the uncertainty over just how the crumbling United Kingdom will extricate itself from a 43-year marriage with Brussels, the global contagion looks set to continue for at least two years. The fallout from the referendum — which the “Leave” campaign won by a 52-percent-to-48-percent margin thanks to a surprisingly robust turnout in eurosceptic parts of England — has implications for the U.S. presidential race, the global economy, and the balance of power among the United States, Europe, and Russia”.

The author rightly points out, “In the United States, Donald Trump’s campaign largely mirrors that of the “Leave” proponents, with an emphasis on nativist concerns and working-class angst — and the shocking U.K. result is already acting as a wake-up call to Democrats in the United States. The economic ripples from the vote have battered the British pound and the euro and poleaxed stock markets from Frankfurt to New York. Oil prices are reeling, thanks to fears the exit will usher in a prolonged recession. And key elements of U.S. foreign policy, such as closer trade relationships with the European Union, as well as a unified, trans-Atlantic response to Russian aggression, have now all been thrown by the wayside. “This is the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom,” said Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum thinking that he could defuse popular anger at Brussels, settle a long-running intra-party feud over Europe, and bolster the Tories’ electoral chances, said Friday that he would step down in the wake of the vote”.

The piece notes “Cameron’s ultimately fatal misjudgment could be good news for Trump, confirming that working-class unhappiness at what they see as a rigged economy and a broken immigration system can fuel a ballot-box revolution. Before Thursday’s vote, polls, betting shops, and talking heads all confidently predicted that British voters would choose to stay in the EU — not unlike nationwide polls confidently predicting that Trump will be demolished in November by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. “We better get a whole lot better about thinking about the unthinkable,” Heather Conley, the director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said when asked about the possibility of a Trump presidency in the aftermath of the Brexit vote”.

Correctly the writer adds “For Democrats, there are other worrying parallels. The proponents of the “Leave” campaign openly derided expert opinion and indisputable facts about Britain’s economic relationship to Brussels; “Leave” campaigners infamously repeated much-debunked claims about how much money the U.K. sends to Europe, for example, but voters proved impervious to facts. In the United States, Democrats have become increasingly frustrated that Trump’s propensity to exaggerate, falsify, and lie has little or no impact on his appeal to certain parts of the electorate. Demographically, British voters who opted to leave the EU were older and whiter than those who voted to remain; “Little England” voters in the shires of the Midlands and other parts of England outside London voted overwhelmingly to ditch Brussels. That kind of electorate is similar to the older, whiter U.S. voters enthralled by Trump’s nostalgic calls to “Make America Great Again.” Trump himself, on a lightning visit to one of his golf courses in Scotland, cheered the results of the referendum Friday, even though Scottish voters overwhelmingly sought to stay inside the EU”.

The piece mentions “The decision to leave the EU, said Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s senior policy advisor, will hurt American working families. Trump’s cheering the pound’s collapse as good for business merely shows his own self-interest, Sullivan said. But the same forces that propelled the U.K. to leave the EU — the brutalisation of the working class by globalisation; immigration and the migrant crisis; and growing anti-elite sentiment have also propelled Trump to the GOP nomination. Asked whether the Brexit vote might foreshadow a Trump victory, Clinton’s advisers argued on Friday that a U.S. presidential election is very different from a U.K. referendum on EU membership, and that the instability caused by the Brexit will cause voters to seek what Sullivan called Clinton’s “steady hand.” The Clinton campaign’s argument going into November is that the vote will offer a choice between stability and chaos — and that voters will naturally prefer the former and pull the lever for Hillary”.

The writer correctly points out that voters in the US are not certain to vote for Clinton just because of Brexit. He notes under the “economic” heading, “The pound’s bloodletting was matched by a plunging euro, thanks to fears that the Brexit vote will set off a cascade of similar secession moves and further weaken the already reeling economic union. That will make everything that Britain imports — from food to fuel — more expensive than it was Thursday morning. By midday Friday, both currencies had made up some of their losses, though they remained in the red even after British officials pledged to intervene in currency markets. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also urged the Group of 7 industrialized countries to take “whatever steps necessary” to stabilize the key international currencies. Around the world, global stock indices got hammered. In London, the blue-chip FTSE 100 fell 3 percent; other British indices fell twice that. The Dow fell off a cliff in the morning, down 500 points, and remained there in midday trading. The German DAX dropped almost 7 percent, Japan’s Nikkei fell almost 8, and Shanghai shed more than 1 percent”.

One of the few upsides, the writer points out is that “One of the key objectives of the administration of President Barack Obama, an ambitious trade pact with what was a 28-nation economic bloc, is now up in the air. And that goes double for any U.S.-U.K. trade deal. In April, during a visit to London, Obama said the U.K. would move to the “back of the queue” in any trade deal if the Brexit occurred”.

He makes the valid point that, “Even with an eventual trade deal, Britain’s economic prospects look bleaker. Scotland won’t likely remain part of the British economy, for starters: Scottish nationalist leaders said Friday that they will call another referendum on Scottish independence in the wake of the EU vote, since Scots overwhelmingly wanted to remain in the 28-nation body. Northern Ireland, which also voted to remain, has hinted at a similar move. Even some in the city of London itself, the bastion of the “Remain” vote inside England, are toying with the idea of seceding from the U.K. And there are knock-on effects for plenty of countries in the EU. About 1 million Poles live and work in the U.K., for example, and it’s not clear if they’ll need to return home and try to find new jobs if the British decision ultimately ends free movement of European citizens across borders. Hundreds of thousands of other EU citizens, from Lithuanians to Spaniards, also live and work in the U.K. and may have to pack up as well”.

On the point of EU and Russia foreign policy implications he posits, “For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from Lambeth to Leith, plenty of people were openly celebrating Britain’s farewell to Europe: authoritarians of all stripes. Sergey Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, said that “without Great Britain in the EU, no one will so zealously defend the sanctions against us.” Others, like the Kremlin’s small-business ombudsman Boris Titov, enthused over the “Leave” victory. “It seems it has happened — UK out!!!” he wrote on Facebook. Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, underscored how the vote weakens the European Union, especially as it tries to come to grips with an expansionist Russia. “Putin benefits from a weaker Europe. UK vote makes EU weaker. It’s just that simple,” McFaul wrote on Twitter. For Washington, the U.K. has long offered a like-minded state inside the European Union that could help advance its own foreign policy goals. Even after Thursday’s vote, U.S. politicians vowed that the special ties forged between Britain and the United States in World War II will continue. Speaking in Ireland on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden conceded that the United States hoped for a different outcome, but he said that the “special relationship” between London and Washington would continue”.

He ends “Conley, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Washington’s gaze will now increasingly shift to the real center of power inside Europe, Germany, to the growing detriment of Britain’s global role. “When it comes to matters of Europe, we have looked to Berlin with increasing frequency,” she said. “When the president wants something, he calls Berlin.”

“He’s the one negotiating the terms of his surrender”

21/06/2016

A piece argues that Sanders has influened the party platform, “Sanders has accepted he’s lost the war but, having won key battles, he’s the one negotiating the terms of his surrender. The Vermont Independent senator turned Democratic presidential contender met with presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton for two hours behind closed doors at a Washington hotel Tuesday night as the polls closed in the last primary of the Democratic nominating contest. A truce is taking shape between the former Senate colleagues, with Sanders and Clinton vowing in recent days to work together to defeat presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in November. Still, Sanders came to the summit with a list of demands for reforming the Democratic Party, including a vow to push for “the most progressive platform ever passed” by the party. He’s already staked out positions well to the left of Clinton’s foreign policy on issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to the war against the Islamic State, setting the stage for potentially bitter fights”.

Worryingly the piece notes “he has succeeded — and even exceeded observers’ expectations – in forcing the Democratic Party to re-evaluate its long-held assumptions about the use of military force abroad. Clinton embodies many of those views, and Sanders won millions of votes by coming at her from the left and arguing for a less interventionist foreign policy. The Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign declined to comment on what contributions Sanders may have made to the foreign policy debate during the Democratic primary. Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs also did not respond to a request for comment. Sanders’s campaign announced he will give a video address from Burlington, Vermont, on Thursday, raising expectations that he will formally abandon his quest for the nomination — and yet, the email announcing the address was titled: “The political revolution continues.” Sanders launched his campaign with a laser-sharp focus on domestic issues like universal health care and an expanded social welfare system. By the end, though, he had succeeded in putting Clinton on the defensive on issues like Libya’s unraveling, the ongoing carnage in Iraq, and international trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she came out against despite backing it countless times as Obama’s top diplomat”.

The report goes to point out “While often deflecting questions on the specifics of his foreign policy, Sanders sought to undermine Clinton’s far deeper experience by questioning her judgment — a strategy Trump has already begun to emulatein his general election campaign. And Sanders also forced concessions from the DNC that could have a lasting impact on the party far beyond its convention in Philadelphia in July. Due to Sanders’s undeniable success in mobilising Democratic voters and bringing new ones — particularly young people — into the party, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz gave him five seats on the powerful committee charged with drafting the party’s platform. Clinton, who ultimately won 3 million more votes than her rival, received just one extra seat. Even before the picks were named, Sanders’s national security advisors said he should’ve focused more on foreign policy, believing him to be more closely aligned with the Democratic base on the issue than Clinton. Several promised to push for a platform with more liberal foreign policy proposals than she has espoused, particularly in calling for more “evenhandedness” toward Palestinians in language about the long-stymied peace process”.

Thankfully the piece mentions “Jim Zogby, a foreign policy advisor for Sanders who was named to the drafting committee, credited the Vermont senator for pushing Clinton totalk more about Palestinian rights and whether Israel had used disproportionate force in retaliatory strikes. “Ending the taboo about discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a measured and balanced way was historic,” Zogby told Foreign Policy on Tuesday. He has said he will push for the word “occupation” to be included in the platform to describe the nearly five-decade Israeli presence in land Palestinians claim for a future state”.

With ill omens for the future of US leadership and willingness to look overseas the report mentions “Rather than fade away with Sanders’s campaign, Trump has given the judgment attack a second life. In recent weeks, he has parroted Sanders’s language and even invoked his name, wielding the word “judgment” some half a dozen times in as many days in late May and early June. Lee said of Sanders’s tactic, “I could question his judgment,” referring to his vote for the 2001 authorization. “But I’m not going to say that,” she laughed, “questioning another’s judgment is pushing it a little bit.” Still, she doesn’t think it will hurt Clinton in the general election, particularly against Trump who “has no foreign policy.” She said Sanders did succeed in raising “an alternative vision on foreign policy: The fact that Democrats can be strong on national security and care about global peace, without continuing to use the military option as a first resort rather than the last.” It remains too soon to tell how enthusiastically Sanders will campaign for Clinton and what else he would be willing to do to help defeat Trump. The senator continued to withhold his endorsement following Tuesday night’s meeting, though many outside observers believe he will eventually throw his support behind her”.

It ends “Wasserman Schultz said in a statement timed with the meeting: “Now that our 2016 primaries are officially at their end, Democrats are ready to unify and take on both Trump and the Republican Party that he represents.” Sanders has long accused Wasserman Schultz of being in the tank for Clinton and replacing her is one of his primary demands, though she insists she’s staying put. Still, Briggs, the Sanders spokesman, told reporters earlier Tuesday that the senator will not drop out “today, or tomorrow, or the next day” and “plans to stay in this through the Democratic convention.”

The new for new ideas from a Clinton presidency

17/06/2016

David Rothkopf argues that Trump is a trap for Clinton, “Donald Trump is a gift to Hillary Clinton. And a trap. Because as good as it was (and as satisfying as it was to hear), it fell into the pattern of every other phase of this campaign so far, which is making everything about Trump. For Clinton to win, she needs to energise the electorate about what she is for and not just what she is against, or the outcome may well be very much like that experienced by Trump’s opponents thus far. Clinton’s foreign-policy address in San Diego Thursday was certainly effective as far as it went. In fact, it was so effective at enumerating Trump’s flaws as a potential commander in chief it revealed a somewhat different challenge Clinton and her speechwriters face: Figuring out how to keep such speeches short enough so that audience members could get home in time to tuck their kids into bed. “Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different,” she said in one of her many effective, slashing assaults on the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. “They are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas — just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies.” In those brief couple of lines, you can see the beauty of opposing a human toxic waste dump like Trump: No hyperbole is necessary. Just tell it like it is, and it should be clear to any listener with a third-grade education that Trump has no more business being president than he would have teaching a course on humility”.

Rothkopf writes that “When she said Trump is “temperamentally unfit to hold” office, no one who has watched him can doubt it, but listing his idiocies — from suggesting more countries have nukes to actually arguing it wouldn’t matter to us if they used them, from singing the praises of the North Korean regime to suggesting we hand over Syria to the Islamic State — drove home the point with precision. And if her onslaught wasn’t enough, a day or two earlier that same North Korean regime actually endorsed Trump’s candidacy, an act that on its own speaks volumes about just how unfit Trump really is. North Korea wants to bring down America, folks. And its leaders know the surest way to do that is to put The Donald into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. No, it was clear Clinton’s advisors saw giving a foreign-policy speech as a special opportunity because Trump has made himself so stunningly vulnerable in that respect”.

He makes the point that “The problem with beating Trump — to paraphrase Clinton about her former boss Barack Obama’s foreign policy — is that simply being against him is not a foreign policy. (She once suggested Obama’s “don’t do stupid shit” “insight” was not enough to constitute a foreign policy. And, of course, there is no doubt that electing Trump would be the stupidest shit of all.) But that alone is not a vision for America’s future. Nor — and perhaps more importantly — is that platform alone likely to inspire more voters to see the positive reasons for voting for Clinton. Voters deserve a better speech than she gave Thursday, and if she wants to counter the wave of irrational emotion that is the only thing that could sweep a man like Trump into office, Clinton is going to have to start making people more passionate about why they should stand and vote for her, rather than why they should be against the creep the GOP now seems to be uniting around”.

He rightly makes the point that “In order for Clinton to inspire in voters the same kind of passion, she must make clear how the ideas she stands for are new and different and why she is the right person to be president at this moment, the person with the vision to imagine and realize a new world for our children and our children’s children. We need — and she needs — a few big, new ideas. And though it was expert in its dissection of Trump, Thursday’s speech was workmanlike, bland as oatmeal about her own foreign policy, and ultimately devoid of big, new ideas. There was nothing objectionable in it, of course. The points she raised — how the United States needs to be fostering strength at home, cultivating alliances, using diplomacy and development, being “wise with our rivals,” having a plan to defeat terrorists, and staying true to our values — were solid ones. It was just what you would expect from a professional who has years of familiarity with these issues”.

He mentions that “Being “wise” with Russia and China makes sense, of course. But we could use specifics and, while we’re at it, less reflexive China and trade bashing on the campaign trail. It creates a tension that Bill Clinton discovered. It’s easy to blame trade problems on foreigners. But it is also wrong, and when in office, he reversed on these issues as his wife is likely to discover she must also do. But we can go further: We need a doctrine of interdependence with China that recognizes it as a vital ally, as well as a potential rival, one that harnesses better our common interests. And we need to find a new path forward to ensure our deteriorating relationship with Russia does not get worse — even while sending a message that a new administration will not be as feckless in opposition to displays of raw Russian aggression as Obama has been. Of course, we need to defeat terrorists — which means a shift from playing whack-a-mole with an ever-evolving array of terrorist groups to combating extremism more broadly. That means not just knowing what we are against in the Middle East and elsewhere but what we are for”.

He ends “There are still five months left in this campaign. Frankly, that’s more than enough time for a whole campaign (or two). Trump is bad and must be stopped. The only way to do that is to vote for Clinton. But if she does not reach for the big ideas, surround herself with new faces, make certain voters know that she is not just the face of an establishment that fears a Trump presidency (for good reason), she may not win the support of enough voters to actually win. Trump is tapping into passion and frustration with Washington. She can’t help but be seen as part of the system … unless she makes it clear that her experience has not only convinced her massive, fundamental change is needed but that she has the ideas and the people around her to help produce that change. Experience, intelligence, and steadiness are great traits in a president. But they are not enough for a candidate. A candidate needs to inspire, to resonate with the electorate not just in their heads but in their hearts, and to give them real hope, and the one candidate capable of doing this has yet to begin doing so. Perhaps Thursday’s speech was a necessary step — outlining the Trump threat. If so, good enough, but we can’t wait too long for the follow-up speech, one that describes the promise of a Clinton presidency and moves us to stand behind it”.

“Rhodes is portrayed in the profile as the master of reducing issues to tweets”

15/06/2016

An article from the World Today notes the role of Ben Rhodes, “On May 5 The New York Times Magazine published a profile of Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. Such an article might have attracted little interest but Rhodes’s condescending remarks have made him the focus of much negative attention. His comments not only call into question the honesty of policy statements from the White House, but they also display a fundamental disregard for the news media’s role in informing the public about what its government is doing. Performing that role requires that the relationship between press and government, although characterized by dynamic tension, be built on a foundation of mutual respect”.

The piece adds “Rhodes told the article’s author, David Samuels, that journalists who cover international affairs from Washington ‘literally know nothing’ and are part of a foreign policy establishment he dismisses as an irrelevant ‘Blob’. Samuels reports that Rhodes has ‘a healthy contempt’ for the Blob and its members – including Hillary Clinton and former Defence Secretary Robert Gates – who ‘whine incessantly’. Rhodes is portrayed in the profile as the master of reducing issues to tweets and having few scruples about twisting public opinion in ways that advance the White House’s political agenda. Other administrations have similarly embraced ‘messaging’, but few have had a high-ranking staff member be so foolish as to brag publicly about his skill as a manipulator”.

The author goes on to write that “Even more unsettling in this article is the total absence of evidence that Rhodes understands the purposes or history of American foreign policy. Rhodes, who is 38, left university wanting to become a novelist. The 9/11 attacks led him to venture into international affairs, and his writing skill carried him through a series of Washington jobs that took him to the White House. He comes across in the Samuels article as a slick salesman, someone who would be just as comfortable spinning the attributes of a used car as he is in convincing the public to follow the White House lead on global affairs”.

Correctly, the writer mentions “This article, along with Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent essay The Obama Doctrine in The Atlantic, point to a fundamental shallowness in the Obama administration’s worldview. These reports are in line with cautionary words from Gates, who in his 2014 memoir, Duty, noted his concerns about the Obama national security staff, writing that they had no ‘firsthand knowledge of real-world governing’ and ‘lack an awareness of the world they had just entered’ Rhodes is part of this; well-meaning, perhaps, but not possessing the knowledge someone in his position should have. Although Rhodes’s claim that journalists ‘know nothing’ is wrong as well as insulting, they could know more”.

The piece ends “Rhodes and his White House colleagues have disproportionate influence over US foreign policy because of significant shifts of authority away from State, Defence, and other cabinet departments, with the White House enjoying mission creep. The National Security Council (NSC) was created in 1947 to bring together top-level foreign policy advisers and provide greater coherence to foreign policy planning. Its director, the national security adviser, has sometimes wielded considerable power, visibly, by Henry Kissinger during the Nixon administration, for example, and less visibly but more effectively by Brent Scowcroft during the George HW Bush presidency. The NSC staff has grown enormously. During Scowcroft’s tenure, it comprised 50 people. It has doubled with each successive presidency: 100 during Bill Clinton’s tenure; 200 under George W Bush; and during the Obama presidency it has reached 400 (and it is most definitely not eight times more efficient that it was during Scowcroft’s time). Senator John McCain has introduced legislation to cap the NSC staff at 150, but managing the White House is not the business of Congress. Obama and his aides have opened themselves to such pressure by allowing the NSC to become so bloated, although the current national security adviser, Susan Rice, has promised substantial shrinkage by the time Obama’s term ends”.

He concludes “The fragility of the balance of power between the White House and other parts of the executive branch was apparent during the efforts to secure congressional approval of the Iran nuclear agreement, during which Rhodes’s messaging skills were heavily relied upon by the administration. This episode is closely examined in Samuels’ article, and this is where Rhodes opened himself to much of the criticism he has since received. Rhodes and his team recruited friendly arms control experts to speak at think-tanks, post material on social media sites, and brief reporters. Rhodes told Samuels: ‘We created an echo chamber … They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.’ He added: ‘We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively,’ and said of the agreement’s opponents, ‘We drove them crazy.’ There is something vaguely Nixonian about those comments. Rhodes has since defended himself, writing ‘the objective of that kind of effort is to build as much public support as you can – that’s a function of White House communications.’ But when does an effort to build public support cross the line into manipulation of the public? Ben Rhodes is now paying for his hubristic encounter with The New York Times. As Barack Obama wraps up his presidency with trips to Europe, Asia and elsewhere, Obama cannot be pleased that his presumed alter ego has become the focus of so much negative attention”.

It finishes “Despite Washington’s perennial fascination with personalities, larger issues are involved. The National Security Council staff is enormously powerful, and it has a duty to knowledgeably craft America’s global agenda and to provide honest information about that process to American and global publics. As the Ben Rhodes episode illustrates, that duty is not being carried out as it should be”.

 

Fanning confirmed as Army secretary

03/06/2016

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Eric Fanning, the White House nominee to be the next secretary of the Army, making him the first openly gay man to hold an armed service’s top civilian position. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., relinquished an eight-month hold he said was unrelated to Fanning’s qualifications or his sexuality. Roberts sought  assurances from the Obama administration that detainees at the military’s Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison would not be relocated to Kansas, and he announced on the Senate floor Tuesday he received them”.

Sanders attacks the Democrats

01/06/2016

An article from the Washington Post writes that Sanders has “declared war” on the Democratic Party. It opens “If you want to make a politician really, really angry, endorse their primary opponent. That’s exactly what Bernie Sanders did Saturday to Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “Clearly, I favour her opponent,” Sanders said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper set to air today. “His views are much closer to mine than as to Wasserman Schultz’s. Let me also say this, in all due respect to the current chairperson: If [I am] elected president, she would not be reappointed chairwoman of the DNC.” That puts Sanders on the side of Tim Canova, a former Capitol Hill staffer who has enjoyed considerable fundraising success — he’s raised more than $1 million — thanks to an anti-establishment message in his primary challenge to Wasserman Schultz”.

The piece goes on to note “And it ensures that the nastiness between Sanders and his supporters and Wasserman Schultz and the mainstream Democrats she represents will now surge into a full-blown battle. Here’s why: Wasserman Schultz is a professional politician. Serving as DNC chair, she’s been on the receiving end of plenty of attacks — both from Republicans and even Democrats — over the past few years. It might annoy her, but she’s learned to live with it. What Sanders is doing is something different. He’s not only questioning her ability to oversee the party. He’s going after her livelihood — her day job. And that’s deeply personal”.

The piece goes on to note “You can be certain that Wasserman Schultz has spent the past 12 hours making sure that every one of her colleagues is aware of what Sanders has done. If he is willing to do this to me, don’t fool yourself into thinking he won’t do it to you too, she’ll argue. Yes, that’s a fundraising ploy. But, it also speaks to the very real threat that a free radical like Sanders presents to the established order. That’s exactly how Sanders likes it. His brand is shaking up the establishment — just as he has done in the presidential race against Hillary Clinton. His supporters will love that he is willing to put some political capital on the line against Wasserman Schultz, who many of them believe is rigging the race for Clinton behind the scenes”.

The piece ends, “What Sanders has done with this endorsement is to amp up the tension on both sides of the fight. And, tensions were already pretty high. Remember that this past week featured a major confrontation between Clinton and Sanders supporters at the Nevada Democratic convention and a war of words between Sanders and Wasserman Schultz over the appropriate level of condemnation necessary for the events in Nevada. Clinton, too, has spoken out in more-aggressive-than-usual terms about Sanders and why he needs to begin planning how he wants to leave the race. Now that Sanders has endorsed Wasserman Schultz’s opponent, everything is even more personal than it was 24 hours ago. And when things get personal, reason and pragmatism often fly out the window. That’s bad news for Democrats hoping to quickly unite the party in advance of the general election fight against Donald Trump. It’s war now”.

The concern is that the scortched earth policy of Sanders will make it difficult to heal the party after the elections. Or worse it will damage party unity before the elections making the Trump presidency possible. Does Sanders prefer Trump to Clinton?

 

Clinton, hurt by her experience?

26/05/2016

Stephen Walt writes that Clinton’s experience may hurt her, “Barrring a bizarre and unforeseen turn of events, next November American voters will have to choose Hillary Rodham Clinton or Donald Trump to be the nation’s 45th president. The two candidates could not be more different: female versus male; longtime public servant versus self-absorbed private businessman; Democrat versus Republican; unapologetic liberal internationalist versus xenophobic nativist; uber-cautious, poll-driven politico versus vulgar and impulsive bomb-thrower. It’s quite a choice. Their campaigns could not be more different either, especially when it comes to foreign policy. The Clinton campaign has already assembled a “massive brain trust” of policy wonks and former government officials, including Michèle Flournoy, Nicholas Burns, Madeleine Albright, Jake Sullivan, Derek Chollet, Tamara Wittes, Phil Gordon, Michael McFaul, and many, many more. As befits a former secretary of state, former senator, and former first lady, her foreign-policy machine is the living embodiment of the mainstream Foreign-Policy Establishment”.

Walt goes on to mention “By contrast, Trump’s foreign-policy views seem to spring out of his own impulsive id, and the handful of foreign-policy advisors he’s revealed are hardly bold-faced names with glittering resumes. Indeed, such is Trump’s alienation from the foreign-policy establishment that some 120 Republican foreign-policy gurus recently released an open letter denouncing his candidacy and declaring him “utterly unfitted to the office.” Trump can’t even win the backing of conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke, who might have been expected to support him for the comic value alone. You’d think this disparity would give Clinton a big advantage in the general election, and that may in fact prove to be the case. But I’m not so sure. For one thing, most Americans don’t care that much about foreign policy, and they rarely choose presidents on that basis. Economic conditions drive presidential elections more than international events do, so even if voters believe Clinton is the sounder choice on foreign-policy grounds, it may not matter that much. Furthermore, the public seems to be in a pretty rebellious mood this year, and a lot of that resentment is directed toward the “establishment.” Both the Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns have been sustained by populist anger at well-connected fat cats whom voters believe have sold the country down the river, and that discontent appears to include foreign policy. An April 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe the United States “should deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their problems as best they can,” with 41 percent saying the country did “too much” in world affairs and only 27 percent asserting it did “too little.” Needless to say, such sentiments sound a lot more like Trump than Clinton”.

Walt derides the unipolar moment arguing it accomplished little going to a slew of ad hominium attacks, “it is also an establishment that rarely holds its members accountable. If you’re a respected member of the foreign-policy elite, you can plead guilty of lying to Congress, receive a pardon, get rehired by another president, screw up again, and then land a nice sinecure at a prominent think tank. You can lobby for an ill-planned intervention in Libya, help create a failed state there, and subsequently get promoted to the position of national security advisor or U.N. ambassador. You can help lead the nation into a disastrous war in Iraq, mismanage the postwar occupation, and fail upward to become president of the World Bank. You can get caught making false statements to the public and press and still retain the “full confidence” of the president. Or you can repeatedly fail to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East and then get rehired to try again and achieve exactly the same result”.

Walt eventually gets to the point by arguing that “Hillary Clinton is intimately connected to this community and cannot help being linked to its recent performance. By signing up all those experienced foreign-policy insiders, she reinforces her association with some of the good things the United States has done in recent years. But it also means that she owns the past 25 years of foreign-policy missteps. Clinton was in the White House when her husband embraced “dual containment” in the Persian Gulf, when the United States led the charge for NATO expansion, and when it bungled the Oslo peace process. She was in the Senate when the United States went to war in Iraq, and she voted for that foolish war with apparent enthusiasm. She was running the State Department when the United States unwisely escalated in Afghanistan in 2009 (to no good purpose) and when it helped oust Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011 (ditto). She has little choice but to defend the strategy of liberal hegemony pursued by all three post-Cold War presidents: If anything, she is more enthusiastic about it than President Barack Obama has been. Her problem is that this record is not easy to defend”.

He ends “Trump is under no such burden. Because his only responsibility over the past 25 years has been mismanaging the fortune he inherited, cultivating celebrity, courting a series of wives, and presiding over a reality TV show, he is free to criticize Clinton and her phalanx of advisors and appeal to the voters’ worst instincts with vague and wildly optimistic promises of his own. Knowledgeable foreign-policy experts have been quick to attack his various proposals, but these experts may not have much street cred this year. To be clear: I’ve no desire to participate in a vast and risky social science experiment, and I won’t be voting for Trump next November. To the extent Americans care about foreign policy, they may prefer to stick with the familiar nostrums of liberal hegemony, and they may find the support Clinton gets from foreign-policy experts (including some prominent Republicans) reassuring. But if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t write him off just yet”.

Clinton’s VPOTUS pick

12/05/2016

A piece notes the problems Hillary Clinton will face in picking a running mate, “In the last two decades — and much of modern American history — the candidate who would go on to be president has chosen an elder statesman with foreign-policy chops to balance out the ticket. In 2016, Hillary Clinton is that elder statesman. Unlike President Barack Obama, a community organizer, law professor, and freshman senator from Illinois, or his predecessor, George W. Bush, a Texas governor with presidential pedigree but a reputation for being uncouth, Clinton carries her own foreign-policy credentials as a candidate, significantly broadening her vice presidential possibilities”.

The writer goes on to make the point “This campaign cycle, the veepstakes are starting early. Primary wins have put both Clinton and Republican front-runner Donald Trump on a nearly unobstructed path to their parties’ nominations months ahead of the conventions. Even Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas jumped into the game on Wednesday, naming former rival Carly Fiorina as his VP pick in a move widely seen as a last-ditch bid to derail Trump despite being mathematicallyout of the running for the Republican nomination.  From Jimmy Carter to Obama, few presidents have had extensive foreign-policy or national security backgrounds, with the notable exception of George H. W. Bush. “So they look for a vice president that really comes in with a huge national security credential,” said Joel Goldstein, a scholar on the vice presidency and professor at Saint Louis University School of Law. Obama chose then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, a Senate foreign-policy fixture, in large part to give the ticket some foreign-policy credibility. But Clinton herself covers most of the areas that VP picks are meant to shore up. She served eight years as a national security-focused senator before joining Obama’s cabinet as secretary of state. She’ll likely be the first woman nominated for president by one of the two major parties, ticking the gender box herself. She is already carrying the Latino and African-American vote and is getting an inadvertent assist from Trump, her likely Republican opponent, who is actually mobilizing minority voters to come out against him. And she is leading Trump in head-to-head matchups in the general election, including in the key swing states. With all those boxes checked, Clinton has nearly unparalleled freedom — and pressure — in choosing her running mate”.

Interestingly the piece notes that “Among the names on her not-so-short list of possible picks are Rust Belt senators like Sherrod Brown of Ohio, populists closer to the Democratic Party’s left wing like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and swing-state party stalwarts like Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. “She’s so strong on foreign policy, I think it’s less important,” Brown told Foreign Policy. “I think you look at [capability] and you look at who helps her carry states or win the election, or whatever.” But he reiterated that “I don’t really want this job.” “Everybody would like to have an African-American five-star general who is from Ohio and is beloved in the state because he was an all-American football player at Ohio State before he went off to get his Ph.D. at Harvard for something and comes from a working-class family and had to wait tables in college to pay for it,” Goldstein said. “You’re going to pick from the real-world possibilities that present themselves.” The Clinton campaign did not respond to an interview request, but of the list of some 20 names that the campaign will reportedly be vetting over the next several months — many of whom have been swirling for years — few have any national security experience”.

The article mentions that “Of the potential picks from Congress’s upper chamber, Brown represents a Rust Belt state to blunt Trump’s momentum with frustrated blue-collar voters. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is a dynamic politician whose pick would speak to the African-American community, a bedrock of the successful Obama coalition, but one that Clinton is already winning over handily. Warren is popular among the more progressive crowd backing Clinton rival Bernie Sanders, but there’s believed to be little love lost between the two women; Warren has not yet endorsed Clinton. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar could also mobilize the base with an all-woman ticket and help in a Great Lakes region of Republican governors and state houses. The problem with picking a senator: Democrats could lose a potential seat right as they are trying to win back control of the upper chamber, hopes that are fueled in part by Trump’s toxicity down ticket”.

It continues, “From Obama’s cabinet, the Clinton camp is reportedly looking at Thomas Perez, labor secretary and a Hispanic lawyer known for his civil rights work, as well as Julián Castro, the young Latino federal housing secretary and former mayor of San Antonio. Outside of Washington, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is another prominent African-American Democrat and potential pick. That whole crowd has one thing in common: very little foreign-policy experience”.

Crucially the author notes “Both Castro and Perez are little-known, and their cabinet jobs are strictly domestic. Among the senators on the list, only Booker and Kaine have committee assignments related to foreign policy: Booker serves on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee but isn’t known for his work on national security. Kaine serves on both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees and has emerged as a rising Democratic leader on the issue. When Kaine was governor of Virginia, he was one of the first to endorse Obama against Clinton ahead of the 2008 election. This time around, Kaine was one of the first to endorse Clinton. He has been elevating his profile as a Clinton surrogate, excoriating Trump for his nativist rhetoric against minorities and for insulting the U.S. military. If Clinton faces Trump, “someone who wants to be commander in chief [and] who says the American military is a disaster,” Kaine said, “I think you will see that repeated ad nauseam in Virginia,” a state with a sizable military population”.

Pointedly the author mentions that “Since 1952, Goldstein noted, there have been only two governors who have been nominated to the vice presidency: former Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s No. 2 who was forced to leave office, and Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and Arizona Sen. John McCain’s running mate for the Republican ticket against Obama in 2008. McCain, now the Armed Services Committee chairman, is the last nominee with foreign-policy experience to rival Clinton’s, as a decorated veteran and longtime senator. He gambled on Palin, a young governor with no foreign-policy experience, and after numerous and infamous gaffes, she became something of a cautionary tale. McCain said he’s trying to keep his distance from the race but gave this advice on picking a vice president: “It depends on the top of the ticket, but this would be the first election since 1980 that national security or foreign policy has been one of the top issues.” Post-Palin, choosing an untested vice president who isn’t also “presidential” is a mistake, Goldstein said — especially now that debates and media appearances are a substantial part of the job audition”.

Correctly the writer makes the argument that “George H. W. Bush — a congressman, ambassador, head of the CIA, and vice president himself — may be the best parallel to Clinton’s foreign-policy experience and emphasis, Goldstein said. The elder Bush chose the relatively unknown Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, by some accounts an ineffective vice president, in part because Bush was perceived as being too focused abroad and detached from everyday Americans who shop in grocery stores. In contrast, in 2000, George W. Bush picked his father’s defense secretary, Dick Cheney, as his vice president in order to bolster his national security gravitas. Cheney became one of the most aggressive — and arguably disastrous— vice presidents”.

Not surprisingly, “Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, made an impassioned case for Castro, arguing his precocity proves he could get up to speed quickly. He noted Latin America historically plays a large role in American foreign policy. But perhaps most importantly, he said, “What will excite Hispanics more than another Hispanic who will be VP? You don’t win by getting a majority of the Latino vote that votes; you win by getting a large majority of Latinos who don’t vote.” For former Sen. Ted Kaufman of Delaware, Biden’s chief of staff for 19 years, electability takes a back seat to the grueling demands of the office itself. “The president-elect should pick a vice president clearly based on their ability to help govern,” he said. Even candidates like Clinton who have extensive security backgrounds still tend to choose running mates who have considerable foreign-policy experience, Goldstein said”.

Changing ideology

10/05/2016

An interesting article argues the traditional ideological questions are disappearing with dangerous consequences for democracy, “This year’s U.S. presidential election is pretty extraordinary. Who would have possibly predicted the stunning rise of Donald Trump and the shrewdly calculated provocations of Bernie Sanders? But the United States isn’t the only place where the politics of liberal democracy have taken an unexpected turn. Just read Pierre Briançon’s sharp take in Politico Europe on the recent collapse of Europe’s traditional left-wing parties. He makes a compelling case that they’ve hit rock bottom. The dismal economic situation, the challenge of terrorism, and the refugee crisis all pose problems to which Europe’s traditional leaders — and, above all, those on the Left — have no coherent answers. As a result, he concludes, “The European Left often looks divided into two camps: One loses elections, the other doesn’t seem interested in winning them.” True enough. And yet the European Right isn’t doing itself any favours either”.

The piece adds “As British journalist Freddy Gray points out in the Spectator, traditional conservatives are also in disarray. “Everywhere you look, in country after country, batty nationalists are winning and conservative pragmatists are running scared,” he writes. “The victory on [April 25] of Austria’s Freedom party candidate, Norbert Hofer, who likes to carry a gun, is just the latest in a series of gains for this new right-wing populism.” The new generation — which includes Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage — has knocked establishment conservatives for a loop”.

Yet the problem with this is the definition of these people as “traditional conservatives”. Traditional conservatives seek to slow change rather than accelerate it. They are sceptical of human nature and thus grand projects. Thus, the worship of deregulation and the free market are not “traditional conservative” principles. Furthermore the notion of the organic society has been lost leading to ignoring the poor with no thought given to the moral or social consequences for the state’s withdrawal. 

The piece adds “Gray notes that Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party mayor of London, has begun positioning himself as a kind of Trump-in-waiting. Johnson aims to undermine his rival (and, technically, boss — as head of the same party), Prime Minister David Cameron, who is desperately working to stave off a potentially disastrous defeat in next month’s referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. In case you haven’t been following the Brexit controversy, Johnson wants the U.K. to leave, while Cameron wants it to remain. That divide, which appears to be growing increasingly bitter, reaches all the way down through their party. Just like Republicans in the United States, British Conservatives are — to quote Gray — “tearing [themselves] apart.” Even as political conflict intensifies, there’s a sense that the old ideological divides are breaking down”.

Importantly the author notes “We still categorise our politicians as “right” or “left,” usually without remarking that this is a distinction that dates back to the French Revolution. Yet the “conservative” Trump, who spent much of his life flirting with Democrats, doesn’t look at all like someone intent on preserving the status quo. He’s an aggressive insurgent, openly waging war on his own party even as he dumps its once-sacrosanct principles of free trade and open borders. (Which perhaps helps to explain why American über-conservative Charles Koch recently hinted that Hillary Clinton might make a better president than The Donald. After all, she started off as a Goldwater Republican, and she has shifted positions so many times since that it’s hard to tell what she really believes.) For his part, Trump even has admiring words for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin — a weakness he shares with his European counterparts like Farage, Le Pen, and Orban. For 20th-century conservatives, defending freedom was the sine qua non, the indispensable belief. Now it’s an accessory”.

The author rightly notes “Indeed, some of these profoundly un-conservative conservatives openly flirt with authoritarianism and racism in ways that would have appalled their Christian Democrat ancestors who helped build the EU in the decades after World War II. Needless to say, those pro-European conservatives of the 1950s and 1960s were motivated by an all-too-fresh awareness of where such flirtations could lead. Orban has candidly expressed his preference for “illiberal democracy” of the sort supposedly embodied by Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If Orban were to make good on his statement by rolling back Hungary’s democratic institutions, that would amount to a revolution from the Right, not a conservative defense of the status quo. Meanwhile, amid a refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of Muslims transit through Hungary, Orban has boosted his political profile by describing himself as a stalwart defender of Europe’s “Christian values” — at a time when Europeans are more secular than they’ve ever been. Meanwhile, Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” though neither he nor his fans seem to have a very clear understanding of what the term means. Historically, socialists were the people who believed that the state should own the means of production, or at least control the “commanding heights” of the economy. Sanders’s vague promises of free college education or moves to “break up the banks” are thin gruel by comparison. He may love to rant about Goldman Sachs, but even he’s never proposed nationalising it”.

The piece goes on to mention “It’s particularly ironic that Sanders has assumed the socialist mantle just at the moment when his European counterparts, whom he often holds up as models, are abandoning it. As Briançon points out in his article about the malaise of the European Left, “Politicians such as France’s reformist economy minister Emmanuel Macron hardly hide the contempt they have for a bureaucratic party system where the traditional notions of ‘Right’ or ‘Left’ have lost their significance.” Meanwhile, Britain’s Labour Party finds itself embroiled in a controversy over anti-Israel remarks — some of them with clear anti-Semitic overtones — made by leading functionaries. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to OK an independent inquiry into allegations that his party abides intolerance. Surely nothing shows how far the party has drifted away from its original values of internationalism than this”.

The report notes “The Labour scandal is all too indicative of the general confusion in which we now find ourselves. The old ideological poles of Left and Right once reflected an important social reality, the fundamental divide between the industrial and agricultural working class and the people who ordered them around. Western societies are no longer so straightforwardly organized. The number of people who work on assembly lines and farms has diminished sharply and will continue to do so. The trade union movement, once the backbone of left-wing political parties, has faded. Many members of the modern underclass perform services rather than making things. Manufacturing is steadily becoming the province of small and highly trained elites. Is a Google programmer better represented by the Left or Right? What about a farmer who depends on federal subsidies? Or a super-skilled worker who assembles sophisticated medical equipment? Is someone who works at a peer-to-peer lender a member of the ruling capitalist class? Class distinctions obviously still exist, but they’re far more complicated than they used to be. Today’s big political challenges — gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, the integration of Muslim immigrants — often turn on culture as much as economics. Over the past few decades, both American Democrats and British Labourites have defined themselves as the defenders of the minorities produced by increasingly multicultural societies — only to discover that their old core constituency, the white working class, has turned away, shifting its loyalties to the Trumps and the Farages. But the intellectual blurriness of those new populists, whose popularity owes more to tribalism and gut feeling than coherent programs, leads one to wonder whether they’ll really manage to come up with better answers”.

He ends “What we’re seeing right now, throughout the West, is a political system that is lagging dramatically behind these complicated social realities. (“Is the U.S. Ready for Post-Middle-Class Politics?” one recent headline from the New York Times Magazine asked.) I’m not sure what the answer is. But the problem is definitely attracting attention. A conservative think-tanker proposes coming up with a new name for capitalism. (Good luck with that!) An academic calls for the creation of an American social democratic party — a suggestion that, given the stagnation of Europe’s social democrats, feels a lot like a 19th-century response to 21st-century problems. Yet another public intellectual suggests the founding of an entirely new “Innovation Party,” on the assumption that Silicon Valley will find all the answers. The dismal state of civic culture on Facebook and Twitter suggests that we shouldn’t hold our collective breath. These would-be visionaries could be on the right track, of course. It’s possible that we’re facing some sort of fundamental political realignment, some profound shift in the balance of societal forces, and we just don’t yet see where it’s going to go. But there’s also a more radical possibility: that Western liberal democracy is witnessing nothing less than the end of politics as we know it — to potentially tumultuous effect. Judging by the current convulsions the West’s political system is enduring, I’m not sure that we can entirely rule that out”.

Of course such hyperbole should be dismissed. Ideology will remain but will change. There will still be the haves and have nots, there will still be the rich and poor. So while the lines will blur, the problems will remain. The question about the “free market” and the role of the state have not, and will not, be answered and are thus perennial questions that need to keep being asked, if not answered. They will remain the basis for ideology albeit under a difference guise for years to come.

 

Sanders, influencing Democrats for decades

02/05/2016

An interesting piece argues that Bernie Sanders is changing the way millenials think about politics, “After Bernie Sanders’s defeat in New York last week, his chances of winning the Democratic nomination are dwindling. Yet, even if he loses this campaign, a poll published Monday suggests that Sanders might have already won a contest that will prove crucially important in America’s political future. The poll of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 finds that Sanders is by far the most popular presidential candidate among the youngest voters. This group’s attitudes on a range of issues have become more liberal in the past year. The data, collected by researchers at Harvard University, suggest that not only has Sanders’s campaign made for an unexpectedly competitive Democratic primary, he has also changed the way millennials think about politics, said polling director John Della Volpe. “He’s not moving a party to the left. He’s moving a generation to the left,” Della Volpe said of the senator from Vermont. “Whether or not he’s winning or losing, it’s really that he’s impacting the way in which a generation — the largest generation in the history of America — thinks about politics.” Apparently, Sanders’s popularity with young voters isn’t just some shallow fad or a cult of personality with little connection to substantive questions of politics. Young people, it seems, are taking Sanders’s ideas to heart”.

The piece adds “In one of Harvard’s polls of young people in 2014, the number who agreed that “basic health insurance is a right for all people” was 42 percent. That figure increased to 45 percent last year and to 48 percent in Monday’s poll. The share who agreed that “basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them” increased from 43 percent last year to 47 percent now. The share who agreed that “The government should spend more to reduce poverty” increased from 40 percent to 45 percent. It’s rare, Della Volpe said, for young people’s attitudes to change much from year to year in Harvard’s polling, and even more remarkable for so many of these measures to shift in the same direction at the same time”.

It goes on to mention, “For the first time in the past five years of Harvard’s polls, significantly more young people called themselves Democrats than said they were independent. Forty percent were Democrats, 22 percent were Republicans and 36 percent were independent. On the trail, Sanders has railed against what he called “casino capitalism,” calling himself a “democratic socialist.” A narrow majority of respondents in Harvard’s poll said they did not support capitalism. While just 1 in 3 said they supported socialism, the figures are still an indicator of millennials’ frustration with the U.S. economic system, Della Volpe said”.

It goes on to note “The millennial generation has no universally accepted definition, but one point of departure is the Census Bureau’s projection that by 2020, 36 percent of eligible voters will be adults born after 1980. Young people don’t vote as much as older people, to be sure. Just 41 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 turned out in the last presidential election in 2012, compared with 72 percent of those older than 65. Yet as these millennial voters grow older, pollsters expect that they will begin voting more frequently, and their opinions will carry increasing weight in elections. Della Volpe cautions that it’s impossible to predict how millennials’ views will shift in the future, but people change parties only rarely after about age 30, researchers have found. If that pattern holds for the millennial generation, then Democrats could be indebted for decades to a politician who has rejected a formal association with the Democratic Party for his entire career until now. In Harvard’s poll, Sanders was the clear favourite of young people. Fifty-four percent said they had a favourable view of him, and 31 percent said they had an unfavourable view. With respect to Hillary Clinton, 53 percent had an unfavourable view, and 37 percent said their views of the former secretary of state were favourable. Her gender does not seem to be helping her among young people: even self-identified millennial feminist women in the Harvard poll say that Sanders would do the most to improve women’s lives in the United States, Della Volpe pointed out. Millennials’ opinions of Donald Trump, by contrast, are decisively negative. Seventy-four percent said they view the Republican front-runner unfavourably, including 57 percent of young Republicans. By contrast, 52 percent of the poll’s respondents viewed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) unfavourably, including just 30 percent of millennial Republicans. Among that group, 56 percent had a favourable view of Cruz”.

It ends “There are some moderate Democrats who argue that a more liberal agenda is unlikely to succeed, both politically and in practice. They’ve been pushed to the margins in this primary campaign, as both Clinton and Sanders have competed to establish themselves as liberal stalwarts. The poll suggests that as millennials vote in increasing numbers over the next several election cycles, they could pose another obstacle for moderate Democrats seeking to reestablish their position in the party. In the long term, a major question will be whether these young people newly identifying as Democrats will remain loyal to the party. If so, then today’s millennial liberalism has the potential to create a small but lasting numeric advantage for Democrats. To some degree, the increase in millennial identification with the Democrats could reflect Clinton’s efforts, along with young people’s antipathy toward Trump, the Republican front-runner. Yet Della Volpe said Sanders’s evident popularity deserves much of the credit”.

 

“Would set conditions on sales of U.S. air-to-ground weapons to Saudi Arabia”

27/04/2016

A bipartisan pair of senators has introduced a resolution that would set conditions on sales of U.S. air-to-ground weapons to Saudi Arabia.  Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) offered the measure after reports emerged that the Saudis have used U.S. weapons in attacks in Yemen that killed civilians.  “Saudi Arabia is an important partner, but we must acknowledge when a friend’s actions aren’t in our national interest,” Murphy said in a written statement. Saudi Arabia is fighting a war in Yemen against Iran-backed Shiite rebels known as the Houthi. A human rights group said last week that U.S.-supplied bombs were used last month in an airstrike on a market that killed at least 119 people. “I have yet to see evidence that the civil war we’re supplying and supporting in Yemen advances our national security,” Murphy said. “The more it drags on, the clearer it becomes that our military involvement on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition is prolonging human suffering in Yemen and aiding the very groups that are intent on attacking us.” Murphy and Paul’s resolution would require the president to certify that certain conditions are being met before selling or transferring air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia.

Hillary’s image problem

23/04/2016

A piece from the Washington Post notes that Clinton won the New York Primary but her image remains her biggest problem, “Hillary Clinton got what she needed in New York, a solid victory that stopped Bernie Sanders’s weeks-long winning streak. But any cause for celebration among her supporters probably will be tempered by the reality that her unexpectedly difficult nomination battle has taken a significant toll on her candidacy. By the end of next week’s contests in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, her lead in pledged delegates in all likelihood will be insurmountable. For Sanders, there seemingly will be no path to the nomination other than the unlikely strategy of trying to persuade superdelegates to go against the will of Democratic voters”.

The report adds “By the beginning of May, Clinton will be at liberty to turn her attention to the general election. At that point, turning around public perceptions will be crucial if she hopes not just to win the presidency but to be able to rally the country behind her agenda. The good news for Clinton — and Democrats will seize on this — is that, against either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in a possible general election matchup, she looks strong. That’s especially the case against Trump, who continues to run up negative numbers unheard of for a potential major-party nominee. But Trump’s problems do not diminish the fact that, standing alone, Clinton looks much weaker than recent nominees. Republicans must be gnashing their teeth over the fact that their two leading candidates are unpopular while the candidates with the third- and fourth-most delegates — Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who suspended his campaign in March, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who hopes for a miracle at the GOP convention — would be far stronger against Clinton. The damage to Clinton from her battle with Sanders is borne out in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. The longer this race has gone on, the more she has shown vulnerabilities. The top-line number that caught the eyes of so many analysts shows her now in a dead heat with Sanders nationally — ahead of him by just two percentage points, 50 to 48 percent”.

The report goes on to mention “Those numbers have no influence on the state-by-state results but offer a window into both the success of Sanders in generating enthusiasm and Clinton’s inability to capitalize on all her political advantages. Since October, when her candidacy began rising again after several months of controversy about her use of a private email server, she has been on a downward slide. Her lead over the senator from Vermont has dropped from what was then a 31-point advantage to the current two points. Meanwhile, her negative ratings have been rising and now outweigh her positives by 24 points, according to the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. That makes her seen no more favourably than Cruz is. Her only salvation is that Trump’s net negative is minus 41. Sanders, meanwhile, has a net positive of nine points — although it’s fair to say that one reason for that is that he has received far less in the way of attacks from Republicans or scrutiny from the media than Clinton has. Clinton’s image is at or near record lows among major demographic groups. Among men, she is at minus 40. Among women, she is at minus nine. Among whites, she is at minus 39. Among white women, she is at minus 25. Among white men, she is at minus 72. Her favourability among whites at this point in the election cycle is worse than President Obama’s ever has been, according to Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who conducted the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll with Democratic pollster Peter Hart”.

The report goes on to make the point that “Minority voters have been the linchpin of Clinton’s nomination strategy and were a key to her success in New York. Among African Americans nationally, the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows her with a net positive of 51 points. But that’s down 13 points from her first-quarter average and is about at her lowest ever. Among Latinos, her net positive is just two points, down from plus 21 points during the first quarter. Voters’ perceptions of her having the knowledge and experience to be president remain strongly positive and unchanged since last fall. On other measures, such as whether she is easygoing and likable, or “shares your position on issues,” or is able to bring real change to the country, or is honest and straightforward, she has seen her standing erode since last fall and even more when compared with her first presidential campaign, in 2008”.

Crucially he writes that “Democrats see Sanders as an agent in Clinton’s decline, arguing that in recent weeks his attacks have been aimed less at policy differences and more at questions about her character. Sanders has attacked Clinton as being too cozy with Wall Street, too dependent on big money and for not releasing transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. “It’s hard to dispute the rising negatives,” said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. “I was actually surprised when Sanders began not just to make that personal but appeared to be producing enduring damage.” Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who is working with Priorities USA, a pro-Clinton super PAC, said the primaries have reinforced perceptions of the former secretary of state as “strong, smart and resilient” and as a candidate with a policy agenda far more in tune with the electorate than what Republicans are offering. But he also said that Sanders’s attacks have “reinforced stereotypes that are untrue but challenging nonetheless” for Clinton”.

The piece concludes “Other candidates have come out of tough nominating contests badly bruised, including Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, in 1992. He was successful, through a major effort by his campaign, in turning around his image in the time between the end of the primaries in early June of that year and the end of his convention later in the summer. Republicans believe that Clinton is so well known that she will have difficulty changing minds. “She is substantially weaker as a candidate than I expected and substantially less able to create a compelling persona on the stump,” said Whit Ayres, who was Rubio’s campaign pollster”.