Category: U.S. Politics (Page 1 of 21)

Antifa and Alt-Right: bellum omnium contra omnes

There was another free speech rally in Boston on Saturday, August 20, 2017. This followed the horrific events Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, when a car rammed into counter-protestors at an alt-Right, UniteTheRight rally that descended into a riot with the white nationalists and neo-Nazis on the offensive. The car ramming killed one and injured many others.

So, the rally at Boston was always going to go ahead under a cloud of opprobrium. The media portrayed it as being majority neo-Nazi/white nationalist in character when this was not the case. They made much of the fact, both in American and British news media, that the rally saw thousands of peaceful protesters against a few hundred far-right extremists. Except it wasn’t. One of the main speakers is black. I don’t know if you’re over-familiar with the finer points of white-nationalism and neo-Nazism, but they don’t tend to like black people very much. Also, as John Podhoretz said, given the disparity in crowd size, it doesn’t exactly reinforce the idea that America’s about to be overrun by Nazis.

Nor did it stay peaceful.

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Mr. President, George Washington was no treasonous Confederate

I never thought I’d hear this argument from the President of the United States, much less from a Republican whose fans fancy themselves hardcore patriots, but Donald Trump compared George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson yesterday.

The moment came during his off-the-rails press conference in which he doubled down on his “many sides” take on the violence in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Those people — all of those people –excuse me, I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

Q Should that statue be taken down?

TRUMP: Excuse me. If you take a look at some of the groups, and you see — and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not — but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

There are only two groups of people who compare Washington to Lee: those who want to take Washington’s statue down by attaching to it the baggage of Lee, and those who want to keep Lee’s statue up by painting on the varnish of Washington. Trump either thinks Washington is just as bad as Lee or Lee is just as great as Washington.

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Why Confederate monuments should be taken down

American South and Japan share uncomfortable response to historic wrongs

The controversy over Confederate monuments isn’t new, but it has flared up in the past few years, and once again here it is front and center in the news. Because it’s not new, I wrote about it in 2015, and my thoughts are more or less the same today. And, as it happens, today is also the anniversary of Japan announcing its surrender in World War II.

This September [2015], China will host a military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The United States will celebrate not just the anniversary of World War II, but also that of the end of the American Civil War. April 9 marks 150 years since Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Northern General Ulysses S. Grant, unifying the United States and bringing about the end of slavery (although fighting continued under other generals).

Both wars played a role in ending brutal repression. Both wars preserved their respective federal government’s sovereignty over (most of) their land. Yet there is one more shameful similarity between the two wars, and that is this: neither Japan nor the former states of the confederacy have fully come to terms with their history.

In America, there remains an affinity among some southerners for the “lost cause of the south.” When The New Republic’s Brian Beutler wrote an article arguing that April 9 should be a national holiday, some conservatives, southerners, and southern conservatives reacted angrily. Rick Moran, an editor at PJ Media, accused Beutler of “hating the south.”

It shouldn’t be this way. After all, the Confederate States of America no longer exist and only existed for five years. The last living Confederate veteran died in 1951. No one today has any connection to the Confederacy.

Every country has made mistakes. In America’s case, slavery was a big one. At the same time, there is a natural desire for people to be proud of their ancestors and their history. Americans celebrate winning their independence from Britain and defeating the Nazis and Japanese imperialists in World War II.

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Trump’s “fire and fury” threat on North Korea is reckless

Donald Trump’s saber-rattling towards North Korea has heated up as North Korea is getting closer and closer to having an operational intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the United States mainland.

This afternoon, he threatened “fire and fury” against Kim Jong-un’s thiefdom.

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. He has been very threatening — beyond a normal statement. As I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Notice, too, that Trump’s strong words were made specifically in response to “threats” by Kim Jong-un and his government. North Korea makes farcical threats all the time. In 2013, years before he had the capabilities to hit even Los Angeles, Kim made a threat to attack Austin, Texas, of all places.

That Trump issued such fiery words in response to “threats” rather than anything of substance indicates his strange obsession with honor politics. He is a man whose argument for pulling out of deals is that “the world is laughing at us.” He took Cuban President Raul Castro’s absence at Obama’s arrival to Cuba as an insult to the United States.

North Korea, of course, poses some very real threats to the U.S. and its allies. It tested two ICBMs in July, prompting new UN sanctions, and a U.S. intelligence assessment holds that it has attained the capability of putting warheads on missiles.

But North Korea’s threat is just why Trump needs to be careful: hasty responses could cause miscalculation and could result in a war that would leave millions dead. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, 20 million civilians in the Seoul area and 28,500 American troops in Korea are at immediate threat of heavy artillery.

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“Free market” healthcare is a pipe dream of utopians

The healthcare market can’t function like a free market. Those who think it can are capitalist utopians.

Republicans voted yesterday to move forward the process on an unformed version of the Trumpcare healthcare bill. The concept behind Trumpcare (also known as “Obamacare repeal”), as expressed by Republicans, is to make the healthcare market function more like a free market. Cut down on regulations and make end users pay more for their own healthcare, the argument goes, and there will be more competition and lower prices.

There’s just one problem: the healthcare market can’t function like a free market. Those who think it can are capitalist utopians who haven’t learned from history—the flip-side of communist utopians.

Go directly to my explanation of why the principles of free markets are incompatible with healthcare.

Whenever communists are faced with the inevitable failures of communism and radical socialism—whether it be that of the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Khmer Cambodia, or present day examples like Cuba, North Korea, and burning Venezuela—they just as inevitably respond with one phrase, “True communism has never been tried.” No amount of data-points, no amount of evidence of human nature will ever convince them that communism doesn’t work. Nor will they be convinced that even if “true communism” hasn’t been tried, the many failures of revolutionary movements to implement true communism prove communism is fundamentally impossible to implement.

So it is with free market dogmatists. If high quality healthcare could be provided to the vast majority of people on the free market at reasonable prices, then you could look around the world for examples of a free market healthcare system working. If government regulations and universal healthcare distribution fundamentally destroys prosperity, then there would be no examples of prosperous countries with universal healthcare. American conservatives are hostile to the idea of explicitly looking to other countries (particularly “socialist” European countries) for guidance—“American Exceptionalism” and all—but looking at the world and at history is at least a good means to learn what works and doesn’t work in human civilization. It’s actually a very conservative thing to do to consider what works in practice, rather than relying on idealistic theories. After all, how do we know that communism doesn’t work?

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Donald Trump wants Republicans subservient to him

Jonah Goldberg writes about a “cult of personality” around Trump again this week. It’s a well-trodden subject, especially at National Review, in my own writings, and even from Trump’s own mouth (“I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue…”).

So far he hasn’t been able to translate his rabid base of supporters into much besides a solid 39 percent base of approval and a protective wall of Republican Congressmen who mostly want to do as little as possible to hold him accountable.

For all the Republicans have been leaking information favorable to Trump, going on TV making farciscle excuses, and (some of them) using questioning of Jim Comey to defend Trump, Trump has been shockingly ungrateful to Republicans for their help.

Over the past few weeks, he has attacked Jeff Sessions, his first Senate supporter, for recusing, questioned the allegiances of Ron Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who put his credibility on the line to help Trump fire Comey, and publicly threatened to primary Sen. Dean Heller, who is facing one of the toughest reelection fights of a Republican Senator in 2018, while sitting next to him.

Trump is noted for his views on “loyalty”–which got him in trouble with Comey–but it’s all about loyalty for he, not for thee.

But if there’s one thing Trump is in no short supply of, it’s narcissism and brazenness. This afternoon, the long-time Democrat demanded Republicans rally around him.

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Poland, Trump, and Hungary: This is what illiberal democracy looks like

The election of Trump, the Law and Politics Party winning a majority in Poland in 2015, and Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary; what they all have in common is not merely a right-wing bend, but a contempt for liberal democracy. So goes the narrative, which has been particularly on display since Trump’s speech in Poland, that “illiberal democracy” is threatening the underpinnings of democracy in the Western world and beyond.

Some of the more conservative-minded would say this argument is the resentment of the losers. Trump, Szydlo, and Orbán won their elections fair and square. Why should they be dismissed just because you disagree with them? “If a democracy now needs to be a tool for spreading liberalism, conservatives are by definition, not democratic,” Sumantra Maitra wrote for Quillette.

Here is the thing: the problem isn’t simply with policy preferences but with the normative structures of democracy itself. These governments are taking actions to solidify their own power, not just to advance ideological interests of the people, but to advance the personal and party-based interests of the leaders or the ruling parties in ways that strike at the legal and moral underpinnings of democracy and rule of law.

A few examples will illustrate what exactly is meant by illiberal democracy. In Poland, the ruling party is trying to enact a measure that would give them control over the composition of the judiciary. As reported by Politico Europe:

Poland’s parliament, under the leadership of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, passed a law dissolving an independent body responsible for the nomination of judges. At the same time, PiS submitted a draft law that would force the entire Supreme Court into retirement and give the country’s justice minister the ability to decide which judges can stay in their current roles.

Currently, Poland’s federal judges are appointed by a professional panel of lawyer. The Law and Justice party attacked the judges as leftists—the party chairman called the judiciary a “stronghold of post-communists”—and it is easy to see how a panel made up of lawyers could be attacked as “elitist” and biased to be more favorable towards political liberalism than the public, due to expected leanings within the field. Perhaps there is a case to be made for having judges appointed by the president, prime minister, parliament, or some combination thereof, as is done in places like the United States and South Korea. Although there are problems with the system in the U.S., which has resulted in the politicization of judicial appointments, there is a case to be made for some level of political accountability in the process.

The problem is that the manner by which Law and Justice is planning to implement this program appears meant to give their party control over the composition of the court

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Peter W. Smith’s blog revealed

Smith defended Trump, attacked Russia investigation as “tinfoil hat” conspiracy theory on personal blog

Peter W. Smith, the Republican operative who was trying to obtain Clinton emails from hackers, kept a blog until shortly before he ended his life, where he strenuously defended President Donald Trump and the Republicans from allegations about the Russia investigation.

On the day before Smith committed suicide in a Rochester, Minnesota hotel room, he posted, “Three Agencies, Not 17, Behind Russian Interference Allegations.” The post calls the Russia investigation “just part of the Democratic storyline that Hillary Clinton had the election stolen from her by Russian interference” and criticizes the directors of the FBI, CIA, and NSA as “all are suspect in terms of their credibility.”

It was one of eight blog posts Smith wrote defending Trump from Russian interference-related allegations or raising questions about the investigation between the day of the election and the day of his death. Other blog posts Smith wrote were supported the Republican Party and the Trump agenda. In all, he wrote 22 posts.

Smith’s blog reveals a man avidly interested in politics, strongly supportive of Trump and the Republicans, who offered political advice and opinion on a variety of issues. The issues he cared about the most, judging by the frequency of posts, were the investigation and Clinton’s emails.

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U.S. should fight against Russian incursions, not work with them

The Trump administration and the alt-right generally has been pushing for making good with Russia. The argument seems hinged as much on unfounded fears of Russia as on possible benefits that could come out of it (which are few).

Recently we saw two examples of this: one with Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20, another with revelations about Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with a Russian lawyer, which Trump Jr said was about Russian adoptions.

At the G20, Trump had a meeting with Putin that stretched for over two hours. The Trump administration said Trump raised the issue of Russia’s hacking and dissemination of emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the meeting, as one would expect the U.S. president to do, but they were vague as to whether Trump accepted Putin’s denial of such hacking, as Russia’s foreign officials said he did, and as he himself has done in public multiple times, including the day before the meeting.

Still, Trump doesn’t want to be perceived as having done little or nothing, so he tweeted that he “discussed forming” some kind of “impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..” (No word on whether Baron Trump will be appointed as the first chief of the unit, since he’s “so good with computers.”)

Besides the fact that a “Cyber Security unit” is an extremely vague term that sounds more like a useless facade with less power than the UN Human Rights Council and the fact that, according to his tweet (even taking it at face value), they merely “discussed” it, and the fact that Trump’s statements are notoriously unreliable anyway, the whole idea that the U.S. should set something up with Russia to protect itself against hacks by Russia is delusional.

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The Bear in the neighbourhood: Comments from experts on Russia policy

Is Russia an existential threat to the West? Is it just another geopolitical adversary? The answer to this question can determine Western action and Western goals. If we consider the Second World War definition of the West, which is limited to Western Europe and North America, policy prescription will be radically different than when one compares an ever expanding NATO and EU. This is important, and has been a major factor in punditry’s analysis of US President Donald Trump’s meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Hamburg G20, at a time of extreme global turmoil.

What we know so far is that there has been external interference in the US presidential election, by cyber attacks, originating from Russian mainland. That’s the US joint Intel assessment. Although the assessment claims that the cyber attack was ordered by Vladimir Putin, no public evidence was forwarded to corroborate that claim, and it is all classified. Nor is there any evidence of any active collusion between Russian intelligence and Trump campaign, yet, nor any clear indication of whether Russian interference decisively tilted the vote count.

Reporting continues to attempt to flesh out details, as investigations continue. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported last week that a Republican operative, Peter Smith, who claimed to have had communications with former Trump official advisor Michael Flynn, was actively seeking Clinton emails from hackers. Matt Tait, a cybersecurity professional who was a source for the Journal‘s reporting, wrote that he was contacted by Smith, who represented himself as working with the Trump campaign, to verify emails he said he had received on the dark web.

Whatever else turns out, Russia is still a geopolitical adversary of the United States and Europe. It is imperative for countries to have a clear coherent grand strategy and one based on a clear understanding of the issues. In light of that, we asked three International Relations experts, two from US, one from UK, on how should the West deal with Russia.

Here’s what they said.

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