Archive

April 9th, 2016

Impossible Missions

    I just read a book that Barack Obama and Donald Trump would both enjoy.

    It argues that the last two decades of U.S. foreign policy were an aberration — an era when America became so overwhelmingly more powerful than any rival that it got geopolitically drunk and decided that it didn’t just want to be a cop on the beat protecting our nation but also a social worker, architect and carpenter doing nation-building abroad.

    It was all done with the best of intentions and, in some cases, did save precious lives. But none of the efforts achieved the kind of self-sustaining democratizing order we wanted, which is why neither this president nor the next wants to be doing any more of that — if they can at all avoid it.

    But can they?

    The book is called “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era,”  by Johns Hopkins foreign policy professor Michael Mandelbaum, and it’s going to be one of the most talked about foreign policy books of the year.

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Iceland gets the first jolt from Panama leak

    The biggest data dump in the history of investigative journalism, the so-called Panama Papers, is having serious political consequences in one of the world's smallest countries. The leaders of Russia, China, Ukraine and other large nations will survive the exposure of their sometimes tenuous links to offshore accounts, but the political future of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of Iceland is in question.

    Gunnlaugsson's alleged transgression is, essentially, that he hid a conflict of interest. The leader of the center-right Progressive Party came to power in 2013 on promises to end Iceland's stifling capital controls, imposed in November 2008 after the country's three biggest banks -- Landsbanki, Kaupthing and Glitnir -- collapsed under $85 billion in debt. The controls, and the decision not to bail out the banks, probably saved Iceland: It couldn't afford to deal with financial disaster on that scale, and its citizens would have been hard put to survive the kind of currency devaluation that would have been necessary without a barrier to capital flight.

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How a $15 minimum wage went from 'extreme' to enacted

    What once was considered "pie in the sky" is slowly becoming law. In New York, state legislators just agreed to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, with the full effect beginning in New York City by December 2018.California just passed a compromise raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. New Jersey and the Districtare planning to move similar laws. After New York and California, nearly 1 in 5 (18 percent)in the U.S. workforce will be on the path to $15 an hour.

    How did this reform go from being scorned as "extreme" to being enacted? Consensus politicians don't champion it. Pundits and chattering heads tend to ignore it. Many liberal economists deride it as too radical. The idea moved only because workers and allies organized and demanded the change.

    Three years ago, fast-food workers walked off the job in what began the "fight for $15 and a union." With the federal government as the largest low-wage employer, federal contract workers demonstrated repeatedly outside the Pentagon, Congress and the White House, demanding executive action under the banner of a"Good Jobs Nation."

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Here is what the 'Panama Papers' tell us about the President of Ukraine

    Reports based on the Panama Papers - a collection of leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm - suggest that the president of Ukraine attempted to use an offshore company for a pre-sale restructuring of his business. Our initial analysis suggests, though, that there is no direct evidence of major wrongdoing. The incident will, however, accelerate the public debate in Ukraine about its outdated corporate governance laws, potential conflicts of interests and political accountability among officials in the highest offices.

    What happened?

    On Sunday, a number of media outlets published analysis of leaked documents referred to as the "Panama Papers" that implicate multiple international leaders in using offshore companies to manage their assets. The president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, is among the names listed. Unlike the president of Russia, who is alleged to be connected to a $2 billion dollar network of assets siphoned off the Russian banks, or the prime minister of Iceland, who is suggested to have concealed a major conflict of interest, the transgressions of the president of Ukraine appear to be more of a technical nature.

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Donald Trump Won’t Leave Us Alone

    In recent days I’ve read that Donald Trump is finally done and I’ve read that these reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. I’ve had smart people tell me confidently that a loss in Wisconsin would almost surely prevent him from winning the Republican presidential nomination and I’ve had equally smart people tell me with equal confidence that it wouldn’t.

    How and when does Trump end?

    In terms of politics, it’s a fascinating question, all the more so after Ted Cruz’s victory in the Badger State.

    In all other senses, it’s a foolish one.

    Trump doesn’t end. Whether he’s the nominee or not, moves into the White House or consoles himself at Mar-a-Lago, he’ll never shut up and never slink off — not after the convention, not after Election Day, no matter how resounding his defeat, no matter how grotesque his path there.

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A mother's cry for more compassion from the police

    When it comes to the epidemic of African-Americans dying at the hands of police, people who are asked to consider the issue often get stuck on whether or not the person in question had it coming.

    What was he or she doing at the time? Running away? Resisting arrest? And if so, doesn't that prove that he or she was guilty of something?

    And from there it's a short hop to the conclusion that if only this person had been doing the right things -- staying off the streets, keeping out of trouble, not hanging around with the wrong people or doing exactly as the police demanded at the moment of a heated encounter -- any subsequent tragedy could have been averted.

    Yeah, right.

    In a perfect world, mothers and fathers living in low-income communities with crumbling schools and few employment opportunities would heroically manage to raise children who were able to stay away from trouble with alcohol, drugs or gang-type behavior even though these things are all around them.

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Trump, leader of a modern Know-Nothing movement

    Donald Trump's inconsistency on foreign policy has the Washington punditry in a tizzy. His disjointed and, frankly, ignorant responses to questions on basic matters of international security in the Republican debates, on the campaign trail, and, more recently, in long interviews with the Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards leave much to be desired from a potential commander in chief.

    And yet: For all the complaints about how he doesn't know what the nuclear triad is, or has no grasp on the realities of NATO, or his unconstitutional-sounding plans to deal with immigrants and refugees, Trump's positions are often more in tune with the typical Republican - and even the average American - than Twitter pundits would like to acknowledge. Sadly, a major reason for this is that the American public is as ignorant about foreign policy as Donald Trump.

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Start learning Republican convention rules

    Rules and credentials could prove extremely important at the Republican National Convention if no candidate has acquired the necessary 1,237 delegates -- and possibly even if one does.

    Yet you shouldn't believe the hype about Rule 40(b) -- that the fight over this rule will wind up determining the nomination, or at least forcing a choice between only two candidates. In fact, it's unlikely to make any difference.

    The rule is designed to ensure a smoothly running convention by limiting the number of candidates who can be formally nominated. It was strengthened in 2012 to prevent Ron Paul from getting a formal nomination. As Josh Putnam explained, instead of needing a plurality of the delegates in five states, Republicans in 2012 required a majority of delegates in eight states, a much tougher hurdle. Either way, however, this rule would prevent John Kasich (who as of now has only won a single state) or any other candidate from being formally nominated before the first ballot.

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Republicans can't stop hurting themselves

    For Republicans to break the Democrats' hold on the White House, hard-line conservatives may have to loosen their grip on red states. That's a corollary to an argument put forth by political scientist Thomas Schaller in his 2015 book, "The Stronghold."

    Schaller's thesis is that Republican success in deeply conservative, overwhelmingly white congressional districts is preventing the party from altering its ideological and demographic course to make it possible to win presidential campaigns. Instead of remaking itself to appeal to a more diverse and moderate national majority, the GOP's "rising congressional fortunes have led the party quite rationally down a path that has made retrenchment more attractive and recovery less so," Schaller wrote.

    In effect, it's hard to convince hard-core conservatives who keep winning elections that their party is a mess. And through a sustained campaign of massive resistance to President Barack Obama and the federal government, conservatives keep on winning at the state and local level.

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Putin's a pauper, if he were to lose power

    Recent reports by two consortia of investigative journalists purport to have exposed the dealings and offshore accounts of some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest associates. They don't name him as a beneficiary of any account, suggesting that Putin is as poor as a church mouse -- or would be if he ever lost power.

    The investigations were published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, respectively. The first names St. Petersburg businessman Grigory Bayevskiy as someone who provided valuable real estate to, among others, Katerina Tikhonova, reportedly Putin's daughter. The Kremlin has neither confirmed nor denied that connection when asked about the reports.

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