Category: U.S. Politics (Page 1 of 17)

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To continue growth, keep out of conflict

When the Soviet Union was there, a field called Kremlinology was prevalent in the West. It was the study of the secretive Kremlin to understand and fathom what was happening behind the iron curtain. Things such as chair placement, who sits next to whom, etc was supposed to give an idea on how Soviet economy is supposed to perform. It was pseudoscientic, and most of it was of course threat inflated guesswork. Obviously sitting arrangements might give a hint of who within the Kremlin walls are falling out of fashion or not, but in no way can it give any hint about the overall direction of the country. Naturally the Kremlinologists couldn’t for the love of God, predict anything about Soviet economy, and couldn’t foresee the primary reason behind Soviet collapse.

In recent days, something similar is back in vogue. There is a steady stream of prediction about Chinese economy. As recently as in Davos forum last year it was predicted that Chinese economy was in for a hard landing. It wasn’t. China’s economy actually grew 6.9 percent in the first quarter from a year, which was slightly better than expected, as well as predicted. 

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Syria Strike: The better of two possible outcomes?

In the aftermath of the U.S. strike on a Syrian airstrip, the world is left to consider what this means for U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration.

While many, including myself, have been disconcerted by the prospect of American intervention in Syria, the outcome so far of Trump’s foreign policy can also be seen as reassuring compared to the extreme foreign policy vision of withdrawing from NATO, letting nuclear weapons proliferate in Asia, and committing war crimes and stealing oil he promised on the campaign trail.

Jeet Heer of the New Republic summarizes what apparently happened: The Generals won their war with Trump. Many said they hoped James Mattis would be a voice of rationality for the administration, as opposed to Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon. Now both of them are gone from the National Security Council, and H.R. McMasters has joined as well.

The problem, however, could be that men of uniform are generally more likely to rely on military solutions for almost any problem, especially in an administration where the State Department is understaffed and facing a proposed 30% budget cut.

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Who said Trump was never a non-interventionist?

In the wake of the U.S. launching over 50 missiles at targets in Syria in response to Syrian use of chemical weapons, which reportedly killed at least 74, some are surprised that Trump isn’t really a non-interventionist, nor is he a realist.

Some who aren’t surprised? The editors of Bombs + Dollars. There will be more to be written later, but for now, enjoy some of our related coverage on Trump and Syria.

Sumantra Maitra gets us started with his piece explaining why Trump was never a realist:

After the debate about Obama being a Realist, (he’s ofcourse not) it was inevitable the Neorealist tag would be on Donald Trump after his interminable dross for New York Times. It is an incoherent mess, with talking points which will make, Hayek to Say to Ricardo to Morgenthau to Waltz, all cringe in shame, but it had some interesting moments.

As I mentioned in the Obama article above, it is perhaps a bit back in fashion these days, with growing isolationist tendencies across both sides of the Atlantic, to use talking points of indifferent stoic state interest. While superficially it might sound realist, it is not, and it lacks theoretical rigor and coherence. Realists have opposed Trump previously, alongside others. And although I don’t speak on behalf of the entire Realist school of FP here, it is safe to presume, they will oppose any delusional lunatic again, and everytime.

Maitra: So, is Donald Trump a Neo-Realist?

And:
Maitra: The Realist civil war and Donald Trump
Maitra: Is Obama a Realist in Syria? TL-DR: No.
Blatt: No, Trump’s not a Realist. He’s not anything, because he has no ideas.
Blatt: Trump’s fake anti-war position slips

In a column I wrote after his inauguration, I explained that Trump is just a saber-rattling strongman who wants to use military intervention to prove his “toughness”:

The discourse over whether Donald Trump is “anti-interventionist” or a militant warmonger is misguided. Trump is neither, and yet he’s also both. Indeed, he has put forward arguments — contradictory as this may sound — for both ways of thinking.

It’s a misnomer, however, that Trump doesn’t want to send American troops abroad to fight terrorist and insurgent groups. After all, he’s repeatedly said he wants to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS in Syria. In March, he even paid lip-service to the need to send in up to 30,000 ground troops.

He has expressed the view that Obama has been a “weak” president for being relatively passive when confronting terrorism and crisis.

Blatt: Trump: Neither isolationist nor interventionist

Maitra, from 2016, on why sympathy for dead civilians is no justification for war:

Unsurprisingly, the worst kind of virtue signaling can start over a visual, and this poor boy was no exception. Historically visuals were used to rally people for a cause. Just one example, during the Indian mutiny of 1857, the power of British press was evident, as paintings of Lady Britannia delivering retributive justice to the evil Indian rebels was used to bring the entire country together in what was one of the toughest time of the Raj. Similar instances are littered throughout history.

Realist academics and policy makers cannot rely on hashtags or candle light vigils, because simply real life is different and there are more considerations than simplistic narratives. If anyone comes and shows dead children photos, and demands action or inaction, that is “Argumentum Ad Passiones” or in common parlance, an appeal to emotions. That is not however a ground for policy. What could be a policy in this situation?

Maitra: Baby pics and appeal to emotions

Correction: A previous version of this article said “over 100” people died in the sarin attack, a number that was cited in some early reports. Most reports in major media now report 74 verified deaths. B+D has updated this post to reflect that “at least 74” people died, which also includes the possibility of 100 or more.

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Quick early take on the Xi-Trump meeting

Compromises and grand bargain time ahead

 

The State Department briefing on North Korea was a diplomatic equivalent of a mic drop, the thing when hip hop artists do when they drop their microphone after a particularly pithy innuendo laden verbiage. That’s what I am told, I am obviously too old for hip hop. Anyway, after North Korea launched another missile, the state department said in a statement by Secretary Rex Tillerson, that they don’t have anything more to say. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” Short, pithy, ominous. Nothing like this have been seen in a diplomatic communique before, which are mostly long drawn, and vague. This means that the time for talk is up.

Almost within hours, President Donald Trump in an exclusive interview with Financial Times stated the often-pronounced charge, that it’s time push comes to the proverbial shove with regards to North Korea. “China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.” Trump said in the interview. But this is clear, Trump is readying himself, and US for a grand bargain with China. And in politics, every offer of bargain, implicitly comes with a threat of noncompliance. “Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.” This time, the threat is real. The time for talks is over, at least from the US side.

This is a huge change. Forget everything that one can read in op-eds in newspapers, about how the upcoming meeting is a clash of differing values, ideologies etc, about how everything will be hinged on the personal chemistry of the leaders. Nothing like that will matter in the long run. The visit of President Xi to US is considered to be a power politics, as old as the 18th century. This is international relations at its earliest form, this is the language of realpolitik, at its peak and prime, at its most raw.

Let’s simplify the situation then.

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Liberal interventionists and Trump blinded by Syrian chemical weapons attack

Donald Trump is effectively continuing Barack Obama’s policy on Syria, but you wouldn’t know that from the New York Times‘s breathless coverage of a chemical weapons attack apparently committed by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Trump’s administration affirmed one week ago, via UN ambassador Nikki Haley, that they weren’t interested in focusing on overthrowing Assad. Then a few days later, the Syrian government reportedly used chemical weapons.

Trump’s initial response was to attack Obama, for not having acted after Assad used chemical weapons in 2013–the same strategy (not overthrowing Assad), incidentally, that Trump often supported on the campaign trail. For while Obama did pay lip service to putting pressure on Assad and did sent scant weapons to anti-Assad rebels, for the most part the U.S. stayed out of Syria. For that, the U.S. was criticized by the likes of the Economist and other elite liberal publications.

Nikki Haley just formalized existing policy and stopped pretending it was anything different. There are many terrorist groups among the Assad opposition, so why should America support a policy that would likely lead to an unstable state in the mold of Libya?

The NY Times ran a news analysis by Peter Baker that begins by asserting “the world recoiled at the televised images of lifeless children in the latest atrocity in Syria’s savage civil war.” For the Times, “the world” consists of American White House correspondents cloistered in the press club in Washington, DC, and Syria is the center of the world.

Anyway: “Where other presidents might have used the moment to call for the departure of Syria’s authoritarian leader, Bashar al-Assad, President Trump’s spokesman dismissed the notion as impractical because it would not happen.”

And why shouldn’t he? It is official U.S. policy not to aggressively push for the overthrow of Assad. As there are terrorists on the ground, and no policy in place to replace Assad, it would be highly dangerous to overthrow him.

Yet, Trump, rhetorically, at least, seems persuaded by media outrage.

In less than 24 hours from his first statement, the president with no spine claimed to have changed his mind about Assad:

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Under investigation, Trump calls for Flynn to have immunity from prosecution

On February 13, then-national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned and/or was fired by the Trump administration after the Washington Post reported that he had spoken to the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions at the same time Obama was implementing sanctions against Russia for interfering in the U.S. election.

On March 20, FBI Director James Comey confirmed the FBI was investigating Trump associates to see if there had been any coordination with Russia.

Now Donald Trump is calling for Flynn to be given immunity from prosecution:

Trump tries to deny reality at every point. For many weeks after the FBI and CIA had confirmed that Russia hacked into Clinton-related emails, Trump claimed they hadn’t and even compared the CIA to Nazis. He has lied about many simple topics, including how many electoral votes he won. So now he keeps saying there is no kind of legitimate investigation happening.

In his testimony before Congress, Comey said, “The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election. That includes, investigating the nature of any links between associates of the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaigning the Russian effort.”

However, Trump has previously suggested that anyone who asks for immunity must be guilty. At a campaign rally on September 27, he said, “If you’re not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?”

In fact, he raised this line of thinking on immunity multiple times:

If one were to follow Trump’s logic, he or she would wonder why Flynn’s lawyer is trying to get immunity and why Trump thinks he should.

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An incredible liar: Post-modernism and the presidency

Women are paid 77 percent of what men are paid for the same job. Michael Brown was executed in cold blood. Donald Trump was wiretapped.

All lies, all made up to spread an agenda, reflections of a post-modern, reality-denying trend in the United States and the West. This trend is particularly attributed to academia, activism, and now, especially now, to politicians and the president.

Time‘s cover piece “Is Truth Dead?” includes some incredible quotes:

“I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right,” Trump told TIME two days later, in a 20-minute phone interview from the Oval Office. The testimony, in other words, had not fazed him at all. He was still convinced he would be proved right. “I have articles saying it happened.”

“When I said ‘wire tapping,’ it was in quotes,” he said.

Read the full article.

Meanwhile, at Areo Magazine, I add more examples of unhinged lies from Trump:

Want to talk about ignoring facts for the purpose of serving a pre-existing agenda? At Trump’s February press conference, he claimed to have won the largest electoral college victory since Ronald Reagan in 1984. He won 306. Obama won 332 in the last election and 365 the election before that. That’s something you can check on Google. You don’t even need to do a survey on that.

Add that to, “I had the largest inauguration crowd ever,” “3 million people voted illegally,” and “the Bowling Green terrorist attack was ignored.”

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“Fake news,” Cernovich, and how the Trumpist right denies reality

Alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich was featured on 60 Minutes for a segment on how bullshit and fake news spreads around the public discourse.

CBS’s Scott Pelley cited one story Cernovich published himself at his website Danger & Play titled, “Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s Disease, Physician Confirms.” The only source of information cited was Ted Noel, an anesthesiologist who later recorded a video. That means diagnosis of Parkinson’s is not even his area of expertise in the first place–and he didn’t examine Clinton, either.

If people could be diagnosed from news reports and videos, then Donald Trump and Barry Goldwater would be clinically-diagnosed narcissists.

Cernovich stood by his story, though he offered no evidence beyond his own hate of Clinton.

I don’t take anything Hillary Clinton is going to say at all as true. I’m not going to take her on her word. The media says we’re not going to take Donald Trump on his word. And that’s why we are in these different universes.

Yet, even if one were to distrust Clinton, distrusting her can’t prove she has Parkinson’s.

But let us move to a bigger point: Cernovich tried to equate his own website with actual news outlets that employ people to look into issues, ask questions, investigate, and confirm news before they report it. He equated himself with CNN and the Washington Post.

The truth is you’ve talked to a person who sincerely believes true, you must also admit that there have been many stories reported by major outlets like The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Rolling Stone, that were false. … People get it wrong, so why then come guns blazing at me, and not guns blazing at everybody?Why isn’t this segment going to say, how did the New York Times get conned? How did the Washington Post believe that Russia had hacked the power grid?

The story he’s talking about with regard to the power grid is one the Post published on December 31, 2016 about how Russians may have hacked a computer at an electric utility.

A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.

The original article overstated what happened, and the Post corrected it and added an editor’s note:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.

AOL:

So did the Russians attack a laptop at a public utility, even if it wasn’t connected to the electric grid?

It’s possible, but not certain.

The malware found was certainly Russian made and related to the malware used to infiltrate the DNC. But that does not mean that it was used by Russians.

So the Washington Post reported a story based on information from credible sources and then corrected the part that was wrong within 24 hours of its publication.

Has Cernovich retracted or offered any kind of additional note to his blog post from August 12, 2016? No, it’s 227 days later, and he still says he believes it.

Healthcare fail puts the lie to Trump’s power narrative

Less than three months into Donald Trump’s presidency, and already the Republicans have given up on their #1 promise. Repealing Obamacare was what you could count on almost any Republican to say at almost any campaign event.

They won a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010 campaigning on repealing Obamacare. They won the Senate in 2014 campaigning on repealing Obamacare. And in 2016, Donald Trump won the presidency on a campaign of selling himself as a strong leader who would dispense with the niceties of the weak Republican establishment.

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How cutthroat corporate culture imposed on politics dooms the Trump administration

Kellyanne Conway, a political activist and current advisor to President Donald Trump, and Stephen Miller, also a Trump advisor may not, at first blush, seem to be products of a corporate structure.

Employees who work in upper echelons of huge corporations all know corporate structure comes from top management, usually the CEO and Executive Board. It is easy to succumb to the rigorous demands of deeply embedded corporate structure without realizing it. However, when a corporate structure makes a cross over to government, all of the most negative factors of living the corporate life become obvious. Such is the picture the public sees of Conway and Miller. Part of the structure is what many recognize as the “rat race” to stay in close proximity to the top. Within such an environment, the level of competition between top advisors becomes overwhelming, and leaks abound. (Reportedly Conway leaked to the press that Trump was dissatisfied with press secretary Sean Spicer’s performance.)

The Ambitions of Conway and Miller

In order to remain a vital part of the “team,” Conway and Miller often become “creative” about facts and truth. They believe

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