Category Archives: U.S. Politics

Albright Warns of Rising Authoritarians

The first woman U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently released a book with the alarming title: Fascism: A Warning (2018; HarperCollins). Though President Donald Trump is a looming specter throughout the book, the former secretary claims that she was already writing this book, and would have published it even if Hillary Clinton would have won the U.S. presidency in 2016. She does, however, declare in the first chapter that one reason that Americans are asking themselves existential questions such as  “Why have such dangerous splits been allowed to develop between rich and poor, urban and rural, those with a higher education and those without?,” and “why, this far into the twenty-first century, are we once again talking about Fascism?” is Donald Trump. Further, she adds, “we have not had a chief executive in the modern era whose statements and actions are so at odds with democratic ideals.”

The opening chapter also attempts at defining fascism but does not do so in a very specific way. She sets the scene by relaying to the reader a discussion session that she and her Georgetown graduate students had attempting to answer the question(s) what is fascism? or what makes a fascist…well…a fascist? Albright ends up describing the characteristics of a fascist as “someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence to achieve the goals he or she has.” I like the historian Robert O. Paxton’s description of fascism better. He writes that fascism is “a compound, a powerful amalgam of different but marriageable conservative, national-socialist and radical Right ingredients, bonded together by common enemies and common passions for a regenerated, energized, and purified nation at whatever cost to free institutions and the rule of law” (2004, 207) However you define it, the important part of getting a reader to really understand something is to give them concrete examples of a phenomenon.

Albright spends a good third of the book giving a sort of biography and history of the birth of twentieth-century fascism, and various pivotal characters and events leading up to, and during, World War II (WWII). She does this first in a chapter on Benito Mussolini. Mussolini rose to power in a post-World War I (WWI) Italy, a country that was part of the winning coalition yet one that felt cheated out of unheeded promises given to them by Britain and France. Socialists had power in the parliament, and Mussolini tapped into discontent and the urge, desire, and belief that Italy needed to become powerful. As Albright puts it, Mussolini “promised all things,” in a time of desperation, depression, and in the very alive memory of the last great calamity, WWI, which claimed 1.2 million Italian deaths. Next, she profiles Adolf Hitler. After being appointed chancellor Hitler convinced the parliament to pass the Enabling Law, which began the Third Reich, and, as they say, the rest is some of the darkest history of the modern era. Most of the details she offers regarding fascist Italy and Germany are common knowledge, at least for people most likely to read her book. I do love it when I come across quotes that are chilling. For Mussolini: “It is better to break the bones of the democrats…and the sooner the better;” “Often, I would like to be wrong, but so far it has never happened.” For Hitler: ” “There are . . .only two possibilities: either the victory of the Aryan side or its annihilation and the victory of the Jews.” Such blinkered narcissism and binary, black and white thinking is a devastating combination. And, to this day, we keep electing such leaders because of their charisma, and unconcern in over-promising.

She later profiles modern despots such as Chávez/Maduro in Venezuela, Erdogan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, and the recent rise of far-right illiberal parties in Hungary (under Victor Orbán) and Poland (under Jarosław Kaczyński). She also profiles North Korea; the one state that she considers truly fascist. Readers of political science and history know much of what Albright writes about, but it is a decent book for a refresher on some of the most important people, countries, and pivotal moments and events. She adds anecdotes and personal stories from her experience meeting several of the men she profiled. She calls Putin “small, and pale, and so cold as to be almost reptilian,” for example (2018, 158). She also was the first secretary of state to visit and speak with the North Korean leader, who was Kim Jung-il at the time. She mentions that President Bill Clinton, with only months to go in his second term, was planning on meeting up with the North Korean president, but instead chose to attempt to make headway regarding the Israel-Palestine situation. The former president has expressed regret that he chose the latter instead of the former.

The final section of the book is the part that she was asked about in interviews during her speaking tour: the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S.  It is interesting that Albright mentions a few policies of President Trump in supportive terms. “He deserves credit for preserving Crimea-related sanctions against Russia, sending arms to a beleaguered Ukraine, and managing an effective military campaign against ISIS. In December 2017, he implemented a law, the Global Magnitsky Act, that imposes penalties on individuals and entities accused of corruption and human rights violations,” writes the former secretary (2018, 220).

President Trump has continued the Middle East policies of his predecessor Barack Obama, who’s administration championed the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, a 75 country organization with multiple goals, including degrading and defeating ISIS in Syria, and Iraq. While the military campaign might be effectively campaigned, ISIS is still alive, Iran has gained an operating base in Syria, and rebuilding efforts will take trillions of dollars and nearly a decade; and that is if efforts are enacted with earnest, little graft, and if the frail peace actually becomes a sturdy peace. It is hard to give Trump credit for simply continuing what was already in motion; and the specific changes that Trump has made, such as “looser rules of engagement,” has contributed to a more than 200% increase in civilian deaths, according to AirWars. It is not surprising that Albright does not mention the serious problems with U.S. strategy but it was disappointing nonetheless.

Albright warns Americans, and her global readers alike, of this new era, one of encroaching authoritarianism. However, there is no action plan, or concrete steps offered. Instead, she offers questions we can ask ourselves regarding future leaders. I find myself asking who exactly is this book written for? And I also am reminded of better books that cover the same terrain such as How Democracies Die (2018). Young readers just getting into international affairs and American politics would find this book a helpful primer, as Albright hops around the world and provides decent profiles of important countries right now. However, more educated readers could completely ignore this release. Read The Anatomy of Fascism instead for a deep dive into the ideological and historical contingencies that produce such monstrous regimes.

References not hyperlinked:
Albright, Madeleine. 2018. Fascism: A Warning. HarperCollins: New York.
Paxton, Robert O. 2004. The Anatomy of Fascism. Alfred A. Knopf: New York.

White Fear; Black Bodies

Book review:
Hayes, Chris. 2017. A Colony in A Nation (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.).

The excellent and fastidious Chris Hayes is back with his second book; it’s a doozy full of righteous (patriotic) indignation; telling data and statistics; and is bathed in humane empathy in a surprisingly nuanced way. He tries to emphasize with quite literally everyone – that alone should be commended.

The book, A Colony In A Nation, comes off the heels of a highly divisive presidential election, seen by many as largely about identity issues, immigration, and race. The winning candidate, Donald J. Trump, pounced on and utilized white fear in a way that only dog whistles could previously capture.

Long live the dog whistle;
blue lives matter!;
all lives matter!

Hayes’ thesis is, as he himself puts it, “simple.” We have a divided justice system producing a divided country. One part of the U.S., which Chris dubs the “Nation” has a policing regime fit for the rules based democracy that we purport to be. Another part of our country, dubbed “the Colony,” has a policing regime with remarkable similarities to militarily-occupied colonies. These “two distinct regimes,” have disproportionate results.

Black Americans largely live in the Colony and thus live by the dictates of order over law. This order is administered by low-level bureaucrats and “petty officers.” When order prevails, you get results such as: “black men aged 20 to 34 without a high school degree have an institutionalization rate of about 37 percent.” Homicide rates in the Colony? 20 per 100,000. In the Nation? 2.5 per 100,000. There are even predominantly black neighborhoods, adjacent to white neighborhoods that “have a homicide rate that is 9,000 percent higher.”

Hayes illuminates the difference not only with hard numbers, but also with his on-the-ground experiences, some from his college years and some from his reporting from the past few years in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities.

In one particularly unique passage, Hayes, the host of the award-winning All In w/ Chris Hayes (MSNBC) visited police training headquarters in New Jersey where he participated in a virtual reality simulator. This simulates 85 different scenarios and recruits are assessed based on their actions. One must be quick. Chris draws his weapon in the first scenario; the officer reminds him that that was the incorrect move. “We’re only one scene in, and already the self-righteous liberal pundit has draw his weapon on an unarmed man holding a cinder block,” Hayes rights – channeling that his training officer was “delighted” to instill some humility into the pundit.

Hayes spoke with many everyday folks, black and white, and referenced many scholarly works on criminal justice, policing, and American history; making this book’s potential audience quite wide and it’s content myriad. (Down below, I’ll finish up my thoughts regarding this strategy).

As Hayes unpacks the causes of this Nation/Colony bifurcation, he starts from the top-down and makes his way downward, to me. You. Voters. Citizens. All of us.

How did this happen?

The War on Drugs, beginning with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 and continuing through to this very day, is a good answer; a good place to start. (It’s not the earliest place to start, of course but it’s definitely relevant.) It was top-down; Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Congress passed laws such as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970, for example. But, Hayes, surmises that the War on Drugs is not the only answer. Hayes claims that “20 percent of the increase in incarceration,” can be legitimately considered occurring due to the precepts of this so-called War on Drugs.

In Ch. V, Hayes details a nice summary of what is known as “broken windows policing.” Beginning in New York City, under multiple mayors, and continued nationally by President Bill Clinton. It’s the idea that a vacant building with a broken window will facilitate and bring forth other crimes.  The idea was that “one could reduce crime by stamping out disorder.” “Stop and frisk,” was implemented; black and brown people were disproportionately stopped, humiliated, and has their constitutional rights violated. (Hayes notes that federal district judge Shira Scheindlin, in 2000, did find the policy constitutional.)

Hayes leaves no stone unturned; it’s quite an impressive feat, he weaves in history and then personal story and then reporting from Baltimore back to law, scholarship, and pointed philosophical musings.

Hayes is his most passionate when he writes about white fear being a “force” that is a “social fact” and “something burned into our individual neural pathways.” But far from coming across as morally superior, Hayes is up-front about his own biases and fear, growing up in the Bronx, a “white straight male.” He talks about getting a pass from police officers, who found weed on him as a twenty-one-year old; at the Republican National Committee conference in 2000 no less. He opens up about his fears; he agrees that that order is nice. Yet he is aware that order usually comes at the cost of violating Constitutional rights of fellow Americans, who belong in the Nation, but who live in and are policed by The Colony. In fact, in the last few pages of the final chapter, he waxes philosophically, shades of Peter Singer regarding the moral sandpit that comes with valuing order over law.

Hayes isn’t careless or ideological when he tackles the War on Drugs. (He does get a bit ideological at other times.) The Crack Years were horrifying and nearly every single crime, violent and non-violent, skyrocketed from the 1970s, into the early 1990s. In fact in 1992, the U.S. “set an all-time violent crime record with 1,932,274 incidents.”  People are driven by fear and fear is hard to assuage. Fear resides in our brain stem, an ancient part of our brain, Hayes reminds the reader.

Above when I mentioned the top-down side of the creation and propagation of the Colony, I referred to the bottom-up side, too. In the last chapter, Hayes references work from law professor James Whitman who concludes: “it is the strong anti-aristocratic strain in the American legal tradition that has made our punishment system so remorseless and harsh.” I agree with this analysis; I also agree that it’s madness that we elect prosecutors.  Perhaps the most democratic part of our system is our criminal justice system. This doesn’t shine a positive light on the American psyche or on direct democracy frankly.

Here is where I began to add up the cons of the book. Educated readers know most, if not all, of what he chose to write about. I must say that I find this book wanting. There are many paths that Hayes could have explored more, but he leaves them after promising introductions. He mentions Racecraft….doesn’t explore it. He begins to paint a picture relating what he calls the Colony to how the British treated the colonists here during the revolutionary days…then he never brings it up again. He begins to explore police training….and leaves it after a page or two. (I wouldn’t begin to write a book on criminal justice; this is extremely hard to do and the book is quite good and ranging.)

Chirs makes the reader fill in a bunch of details themselves. I simultaneously like this and dislike it.

Solutions? He doesn’t investigate any concrete solutions…at all.  I know Hayes has ideas; I’m a big admirer of his previous work. In interviews, for example, he talks about needing radical desegregation as a political and societal project that, if continued to be unmet, should be openly considered a moral failure. Now THAT is what I hoped he was going to explore.

I would be remiss to say that Hayes didn’t fill out his thesis – he did; I suppose I’m just expressing that I wanted the book to be different than what it was.

This book turns out to be about two-thirds journalistic reporting and one-third memoir. I’m not sure if Hayes would classify it as such, but it is how it reads nevertheless. Overall, I enjoyed reading it. The book is well-written – if sporadic- and needing a bit more of a focus.

I do recommend it if only for the last chapter alone.

 

Tim Kaine Will be Clinton’s VP

Making predictions helps one become better at making predictions if you meet four conditions: 1) Go public; 2) Delineate why you are predicting what you are predicting; 3) Understand why your prediction was right or wrong. 4) Reflect and repeat.

The last big prediction I made was regarding the presidential election. I thought that Secretary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee – that was easy and I was simply going with the grain. I thought Florida Senator Marco Rubio would be the Republican nominee – I was going with the grain here, too. I was 1/2. (I never wrote anything about “Brexit” but I definitely thought that Remain would win, so I would have been wrong here.)

I’m trying again.

I am 75% certain that Secretary of State, and presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton (HRC), will chose Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, from Virginia, as her vice president (VP) for a couple of simple reasons.

First, Tim Kaine is boring and right about now this is exactly what HRC is looking for. Kaine even admitted that he was boring in on one of the Sunday punditfests last week. “I am boring,” said the former Governor of Virginia. Translation: I am politically not a liability. My past is nearly without blemish and I won’t scare away any center-right people who might cross the aisle to vote for me since Trump is a disaster. Interesting strategy here; I’m not sure it is a smart one but it definitely is strategic at least. Boring doesn’t appeal to me but safe does, in some ways.

Second, and finally, this is all about demographics or identity politics. White working-class males are who the Democratic party has been reaching out to win for the past 25 years with little success. Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, according to election results and polls galore, will certainly vote for Hillary Clinton.

I know it’s only anecdotal but my brother who is a lifelong Midwestern Republican admitted that he won’t vote for a Republican ever again as he feels they have abandoned working people. As a union member, you can see why he now has come to this conclusion. He also dislikes Clinton. If Clinton’s VP pick is someone who looks like my brother (WASPY with no emphasis on the P), my brother will be more likely to hold his nose and vote for the Democratic ticket. A Clinton/Kaine pick is a safe pick. Is this the year for safe bets? Not exactly but I continue.

If Clinton chooses Elizabeth Warren – forget about it. Two female Northeastern elites on one ticket is too much for folks like my brother. I’m not saying this is morally right I’m saying it’s literally true. Thomas Perez? There is no need here to pick Perez, again due to demographics. Does all of this come down to cold political calculus? Yeah, I think so. (Go read or watch Game Change.) Corey Booker? Way too risky and this pick would certainly not gain any border-line votes like my brother.

“Insiders” (whatever that means) are now saying that Clinton has winnowed her list to 3 possible VPs (Kaine, Perez, Warren). I am fairly confident Kaine will be the choice.

So, I have went public  and I explained why.

Time will tell if I was correct or if I was wrong.

Has Obama Been Successful?

A friend of mine asked me a question that I think about all of the time. With less than a year remaining in his presidency, now is the time to start answering the question: Has Obama been a successful president?

I’m going to use the scale of A+ to F-.
With A+ being highly successful; C being moderately successful; F- being an abject failure.

“Obama would much rather be remembered as an extraordinarily intelligent president than as a great president but only of moderate capabilities. I really believe that – and that’s a problem. Ultimately, Obama needs to be right even if he’s not successful.” claims Ian Bremmer, political risk analyst, in a recent interview on The Charlie Rose Show.

I begin this blog post that way because I, personally, believe that Obama will go down as probably the smartest president, person-for-person, we have ever had. I think Obama is brilliant, well-read, and eminently modern as hell. However, Obama’s brilliance hasn’t translated into all that much success and has sometimes been a handicap.

As a leader: C

I do not think that President Obama has been that much of an effective leader. Parsing through Obama’s numerous statements and one can easily see that he is aware that he has failed to bridge the partisan gap, for example. Others may blame Congress but Obama has often commented that he considers this to be his fault because it is his responsibility. On all sorts of different issues, the president has failed to make his case to the country, and to Congress, that we should pass bills that accomplish specific goals. Obama has called for jobs/construction bills; carbon taxes; for Congress to raise the minimum wage; and to “do something” about guns. Moreover, Obama says not being able to do something regarding guns is his “biggest frustration.” I blame Congress for many if not all of the misfires but Obama could have done more to make his case. As far as leading regarding foreign policy, President Obama has helped improve our countries image while simultaneously decreased our trustworthiness. Reviewing comments from world leaders has most of them admitting that they don’t trust America. Citizens respond more positively: a median 65% of poll respondents in over 40 countries have “confidence that Obama does the right thing,” according to a Pew Research study from June 2015. I honestly think it’s more important what leaders themselves think because Obama has to work with them directly.

I give the president a barely passing grade as a leader and this is not good. Not good at all. The more I learn about the importance of leadership in my personal travails; at work; and at university, I am realizing that leadership is critically important. Leaders set a precedent for their subordinates and their peers. Obama trusts only a few insiders and he rarely meets with Congress.

On foreign policy: B

Grading on a curve because the president inherited a disaster and he became captain of a ship who’s foreign policy for over 60 years has been one of hegemonic dominance through coercion aligned with notsoliberal partners. In the past our relationship with military dictatorships has blemished our image and tainted our values. Rendition. Torture. Mass-spying and mass-collection of data. Participation in military coups over democratically-elected leaders. Funding groups that we now consider terrorists who we found acceptable as long as they were battling the Soviet Union. I could go on and on. The history of American foreign policy has left Obama with few options. As a realist thinker myself, I don’t fault Obama for not taking radical steps when he didn’t. I do fault Obama for taking radical measures, however, like the intervention in Libya which has produced another state that is barely staying afloat. At least this intervention wasn’t unilateral and was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), however

The “pivot to Asia;” the completion of the yet-to-pass Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP); the Iranian and Cuban rapprochements; and the Copenhagen climate agreement, the Obama administration have achieved some daunting and challenging successes.

I think Obama’s foreign policy moves have been sporadic and we do lack a strategy (There is an argument to be made that only China has a foreign and/or domestic strategy in the entire world.) Some of President Obama’s public comments have lacked self-awareness and lacked appreciation and patience of the average American’s views towards the state of the world. Overall, I am sympathetic to President Obama when it comes to foreign policy with a couple of massive caveats such as the proliferation of drone usage which surely will make the world much more volatile. I don’t know if any other president would have made any better decisions with the understanding that too much change in a short period of time can be quite risky. Obama has been a risk averse presidency and that is understandable.

On his campaign[s] promises: C-

Obama has kept, according to PolitiFact, less than half of his “promises” to the country. However, if you count the promises considered “compromises on…” as “kept” then that number looks better with Obama either keeping or compromising on his promises at 70%. I don’t have much to add here myself; politicians do tend to try and honor their spoken words while campaigning, contrary to what the American public seems to think.

On domestic policy: C

The presidency in the U.S.A. is a defensive position. Congress has the power of the purse and our judicial system gets the last word regarding the Constitution. Obama has offered a rather status-quo preserving budget throughout his presidency. That said, let’s review the lay of the land.

Civil rights issues such as gay marriage has progressed positively. Obama is on the record on supporting LGBT equality through the law. Climate change mitigation has been caught up in the courts but, programmatically, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A) has organized itself based on prevailing scientific understanding.

The military budget keeps growing, in dollar amount, and Obama hasn’t reigned in any abuses regarding civil liberties. Obama has also codified, supported and widened just what we call classified and secret; executive overreach to some; national security imperative to others.

Obama’s big two focuses in 2009-2010 were, first, rescuing the economy from the Great Recession and, second, passing comprehensive health care reform.

Official unemployment has dramatically improved from 7.6% in January 2009 to 4.9% in February 2016. However, income gains have mostly gone to the 1% while the average worker’s wages are stagnant. Money to help foreclosed Americans largely never came and the banks are now bigger – though arguably not as risky – than ever.

The average health care cost, per policy, has decreased. According to the Congressional Budget Office, as reported by The New York Times, “the cost of insuring people will be substantially lower than the budget agency expected when the law was passed. It now estimates that the cost will total $465 billion in 2016-19, which is 25 percent less than its original estimate.” Health care reform has had mixed results. Some Republican-led states are not making it any easier.

Race relations have worsened under Obama. I don’t blame Obama for this but it needs to be mentioned, at least. In fact, I attribute this on the history of white supremacy and the current response of millennial activists reminding white Americans of historical and contemporary problems. Passionate opinions have split the country and Trump and Sanders can largely be seen as Americans picking sides regarding identity politics.

Overall: C

I think President Obama has been moderately successful. I think history will judge him positively especially when we realize that this was the beginning of massive change due to mass empowerment/disruption tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and all sorts of globalized channels, institutions, and ideas. Could someone have done a better job than Obama in this polarized and partisan environment? I don’t know. We can’t know.

For all intents and purposes, I think Obama will go down historically as a good but not great president. Was he successful? At times and in some ways, yes. I rank President Obama as moderately successful.

Illustrative Example of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I like illustrative examples; specific actions that can symbolize an entire….administration, or decade, or era, or an individuals temperament, for example. Here is good example of what I’m talking about regarding President Obama’s Syrian dilemma. In 2012:

“Obama did ask his military and intelligence chiefs to come up with plans to speed history along, and in the summer of 2012, CIA Director David Petraeus laid out a scheme to arm a group of “moderate” Syrian rebels. The plan, which Petraeus had formulated with Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan and a few other Arab security chiefs, called for shipping small arms, mainly rifles, to a small, select group of the Syrian opposition. …The plan had the backing of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and the Joints Chiefs of Staff. But the president rejected it.

“This was not a winning argument with Obama: he was looking for something that had a chance of succeeding in the near term, and he did not want skin in a game played in the quagmire of a sectarian civil war. While Petraeus was working up the plan, Obama asked the CIA to produce a paper on how often in the past U.S. arms had succeeded in helping rebels oust hostile governments. The answer: not very often. That sealed the case.”

Fred Kaplan, in an well-written essay of Obama’s foreign policy dichotomy between theory and practice, mentions that Obama was worried that this would also drag Iran more into the mix. Kaplan argues that Obama’s preferred tools were – “words, logic, persistent questions, and sequential problem solving.” In a world like this one: good luck, Mr. President.

In 2014:

“In any case, two years later, Obama approved a similar plan. However, when the American-backed rebels started racking up victories on the battlefield and appeared to be closing in on Assad, Obama’s prediction of what would happen next came true: the Iranians redoubled their support for Assad, sending Quds Force soldiers to fight the rebels. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, fearing the loss of Moscow’s sole outpost outside the former Soviet Union, sent tanks, planes, and missiles to support the Syrian army.”

Obama’s foreign policy motto could be: In any case.

This isn’t an attack on President Obama, by the way, more of an assessment on the difficulties of making decisions in an anarchic world. It has been repeated, like a mantra, that in politics, your choices are all horrible. This also illustrates the outsider/insider bias/dichotomy. Outside and without any power, it’s easy to condemn and to say you would have done X over Y if you were in power. Inside: you must make a decision based on imperfect information and the possible black swans, or simple spillover effects, are unknown.

Trump and Identity Politics

I argue that you can explain Trump’s rise through the lens of white identity politics, for one. It’s not what he is saying or even the individual himself; it’s that his base – white suburban disaffected ‘victims’ of globalization who are struggling – see themselves in him. It is projection against what they see as an elite harvard-educated political class who is waaaay too literate for their own good and who says things with nuance that they don’t understand. They want someone who is an outsider (like them) who isn’t P.C. (like them) and who thinks in black and white categories of good and evil; of up and down; of right and wrong (like they do.)

Imagine if you are a former factory worker employed during a time of rising incomes; pensions; good health care; and seeming security. Now imagine that this in fact was reality for millions upon millions of workers. Starting in the 1980s and continuing through the present day, tens of thousands of factories have been closed. In fact, over 42,000 factories have been closed JUST since 2001. Look at Trump through the lends of globalization.

If you are a laid off employee who is being pushed further and further down the income and skills ladder, who do you blame?
Everyone.
Everything.

The political class (Yep; and they would be correct here).
Corporations and their need for maximizing profits (Yep).
Minorities and immigrants (Yep; well, ‘yep’ as in many Americans do blame these fellow under-served people; they would be wrong here however and are blaming the symptom and not the cause).

[Now there is truth to the claim that corporations are benefiting from illegal and even legal immigration by capitalizing on unskilled and/or people without franchise or much legal reprieve; this does hurt working class Americans of all color; however, the fault of this goes to the government.]

The perceived and real impacts of globalization are at work here. Basically anyone with ANY government experience at all is considered an “insider” to Trump’ supporters. Any candidate with prestigious degrees from schools they have only tangentially heard of? Too qualified and self-interested and disconnected from the needs of the working class and the shrinking middle class. This is why occasionally war hungry conservatives do in fact accept anti-war arguments. Why? Because it doesn’t matter what the person says; what matters is the answer to the internal question people are asking themselves: is this person like me? Do I see myself in this person? If the answer is yes, then we are open to their opinion even if it is not one we are, theoretically, likely to support. If we consider them the Other; then it doesn’t matter what they say.

Politics are identity politics. I am of the mind that identity politics of all types are disastrous for any future left movement because, to generalize, they are built on a foundation of separateness and focus heavily on the individual. But I can unpack that later. [I want to write a short book on that actually.]

However, the most dangerous type of identity politics is white identity politics. Why? Because white Americans had an investment in this system that, for a long time, worked for them. People who never had wealth or prosperity can sometimes not have that impetus of hope to fight for change. They don’t see a world that works for them because it largely never has. People who had a middle class life but now see it slipping away? Oh, man. These people are dangerous and angry and look for demagogues that border on fascism. They know what its like to have abundant leisure; income and wealth; and self-actualization.

This phenomenon is not going away anytime soon because it is a product of worsening economic inequality. Political Scientist Inglehart, in the recently released Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs makes this point while discussing the lack of support for redistribution:

Globalization and deindustrialization undermined the strength of unions. And the information revolution helped establish a winner-take-all economy. Together these eroded the political base for redistributive policies.” [Link]

What will the Trump of 2020 or 2024 look like if whoever wins the 2016 election doesn’t address worsening inequality?

This Time It’s Different

I noted in an earlier blog post that it’s quite evident to me that what is being called the French 9/11 will be a major geopolitical event that will shape how the next 10 years will play out. Here’s 3 possibilities of how these attacks in Paris could impact politics in the United States.

Fear Mongering is Back
Just kidding, it never went away. Fear, as a political and social and cultural phenomenon has always been a guiding light in American politics. However, we now have a newer half-generation of Americans who basically have not experience a terrorist attack conducted by an armed-group with long-term goals and plans. I streamed Morning Joe this morning, on MSNBC, and maaaaaannn….it’s like 9/11 never happened and good ‘ol American amnesia came back and everyone forgot just how we got to this place in the first place. Joe Scarborough was being all manic about Obama not calling Muslim terrorists….muslims. Obama, not long ago, said: “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” Whether you agree with this or not, if you don’t understand why Obama would say this then you don’t understand realpolitk, or even, domestic politics. It’s a tactic Joe; he’s not saying those words to you and to the media; this does not mean the Obama Administration does not understand the current situation. It does. President George W. Bush had similar remarks saying we are at war against evil, not Islam and not Muslims. Nonetheless, pundits are freaking out and telling everyone that we are in a Clash of Civilizations. This is not a clash of civilizations; this is a war where ISIS is targeting countries that are currently engaged in military attacks That’s kind of a big difference. This is not to say that ISIS isn’t engaged in what they think is a clash of civilizations; they, for all intents and purposes, do think that is what’s going on. It’s not.

This Changes the 2016 U.S. Pres Race; & It Helps Republican Chances
No really; look out for Mitt Romney getting into the race and winning the GOP nomination if he does get in. Regardless, foreign policy will now be a focus in 2016 in a way that wasn’t quite anticipated. In times when Americans are scared, they vote Republican. Americans think that Republicans tackle national security issues better; moreover, this is classic political psychology. Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist, has written about this and studied this extensively:

“People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.”

Whether its fear or a more ostensibly sanguine notion of clarity and group think, if we aren’t careful, we will let this brutalize us and make us more xenophobic and jingoistic. To reiterate, an America reminded of 9/11 and potential terrorist attacks is one that easily gives up rights. Due diligence is heeded; we must not buy into demagoguery when we need actual leadership and an actual strategy. This brings me to my final point.

Finally, this could actually push Obama to reiterate our strategy in the Middle East and regarding our position in the world, more generally.
Political scientist Ian Bremmer in his recent book Superpower: Three Choices For America’s Role in the World (2015) argues that the U.S. needs to choose a strategy and he lays out three distinct options. First, what Bremmer calls Independent America is one where we should nation build but that building should be done here; this isn’t isolationist so much as it’s a reaction to real foreign policy failure and real economic needs here at home. The second choice, Moneyball America, is basically the idea of crafting a strategy that is closer to what international affairs experts call Realism; a realist should ask: what is the alternative to the status-quo? Finally, the third possible strategy is titled Indispensable America. The anarchic world order needs a hegemonic force to help maintain the rule of law and the spread of democratic values and systems. You can’t choose all three; Bremmer wrote this book for the next president and urges them to choose a strategy and to stick with it.

Obama, today at the G-20 event in Antalya, Turkey, sounds like Obama of ‘ol. Obama articulated what amounts to a Realist understanding and a realist strategy with shades of idealism: we still must not work with Assad, argues Obama. The attacks of Paris could force the next presidential candidates to construct a strategy that deals with the reality of ISIS and the reality of the Middle East. Governments often govern from crisis to crisis; this tragic event could help focus the upcoming debates in a way that definitely is overdue: who are we?

What role will America take in this battle against ISIS? Will the U.S.A. accept refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia? Is America going to abandon the Middle East and “pivot” to China? All of these questions, and so many more, are important are are surely going to be asked, in some capacity at least, now after Paris.

#BrookingsDebate: Is the JCPOA Deal Between the P5+1 a good or bad deal?

I have read the JCPOA, or “The Nuclear Iranian Deal” and I have read many analyses regarding the deal, as well. Last night, Brooking’s had a debate regarding the deal. The proponents of the deal were Suzanne Maloney and Bruce Riedel – both Senior Fellows at the Brookings Institution. The opponents were the senior Senator John McCain – Republican from Arizona and Leon Wieseltier, who is the Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow on Culture and Policy.

Some Thoughts on the #BrookingsDebate

McCain: Blabble, babble, and blah. (“Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran,” remember that?) Also: Red Herrings. Non-sequiturs. Seriously, Senator McCain did not say a whole lot that he hasn’t said before; also, he didn’t say anything that my mother’s boyfriend hasn’t said regarding politics. McCain appealed to fear and didn’t really have a cohesive or strong argument.

Maloney: Well, she has read the deal and basically just delineates it as such. Her take on the alternative choices are all valid, too. Maloney demonstrates a strong grasp of all of the relevant actors – U.S., Israel, Iran, Russia, the American public, for example – and does so in a very serious non-partisan way.

Wieseltier: You can see why he is considered a public intellectual. Very smart words. But more suitable for a good polemical piece in The New Republic or the New York Review of Books than actually addressing the deal as a policy. I enjoy listening to this man speak, though.

Riedel: He explained the facts on the ground in a very practical way. Referencing the former Mossad agent was particularly important and an interesting way of thinking about it: Israel benefits in this deal in particular. Iran prior to the deal, theoretically, was a couple of months away – for all we know – from enrichment levels that could be used in a bomb. Now: not so much. The U.S. now has more leverage if Iran does cheat. Riedel mentioning just how superior of a power that Israel is, thanks to us, for the most part, is was particularly refreshing and honest. Israel is and will continue to flying the latest military jets; Iran – not so much. The international community also has more leverage. Neither McCain or Wieseltier addressed Riedel’s points at all.

____
I think this agreement is about realizing that Iran is and will be a regional power and one that will be more stable than Saudi Arabia, for example. This is a hedge on our current relationships with an eye on the future layout of the region. Gideon Rose says when he teaches polsci his polsci 101 rule is this: All policy choices are bad; some are worse than others. If you want to look at it in this way then the key is that this deal is more towards the bad side of the spectrum and not the absolutely horrible side. In my opinion, there is much to applaud in the agreement; in particular, the IAEA inspections and the Iranian commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Former Secretary of State, and #2016 presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton responded to the Iranian deal today, at Brookings. Her speech was very hawkish and she reconfirmed the U.S.’s commitment to Israel and that all options were on the table including military force on Iran if they cheat. Regardless of what any of us think, it looks like the Iranian deal will go through. (Edit: “Senate Dems Block GOP Measure to Kill Iran Deal,” Kim & Everett, POLITICO, September, 10, 2015.)

Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World

Book review: Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World (2015) by the president of Eurasia Groups Ian Bremmer (PhD; Stanford)

I find NYU political scientist and Time magazine editor-at-large Ian Bremmer fascinating. He is able to hold a conversation about modern affairs in a way that is authoritative yet casual and analytically brilliant and intellectually challenging. His latest book, his ninth, is his first book completely focusing on the foreign policy strategy of the U.S. I also vehemently (often, but not always) disagree with a lot of what he says; I am drawn to thinkers who challenge, provoke, and simply, to those who I disagree with. I believe this is how we grow as a thinker and is how we understand other perspectives.

Up front, he presents an interesting argument that Russia is not really a serious threat to the U.S. but that the U.S.-EU relationship could become tense due to Europe needing Russian financial customers, energy, and defense contracts. A provocative claim and one backed up with empirical data. The U.S. trades with Switzerland and Belgium, for example, more than with Russia (U.S. Census). Bremmer is worried about China who sometime during the next decade will become the largest economy but will still be “poor, potentially unstable, and authoritarian.” Whether we are talking about Russia aggression; or Chinas’ rise; or global warming (which Bremmer does not cover really at all, to my dismay); or the threat of terrorism; possible disease epidemics; or the refugee crises, America needs to choose a coherent strategy. Bremmer argues there are 3 potential choices.

Incoherent America (1990-2015)
Bremmer’s main argument is that post-Cold War through to this year, America has not had a coherent foreign policy strategy and the sole remaining superpower made mostly bumbling mistakes built on ignorance, hubris, and blurry vision and spotty goals like the Somalian intervention (Clinton); expanding NATO (Clinton/Bush 43); and the War on Terror + Bush tax cuts (Bush43/Obama). On Obama, Breemer argues that in his first term, he had a more coherent strategy but that quickly dissolved and “President Obama refused to commit to any foreign policy framework to help him make difficult decisions.” This brings us to 2015, the 2016 presidential campaigns, and the future. We need a strategy, not just tactical ideas but a coherent strategy to guide the country and to signal to the world our strengths and values. Bremmer often meets with foreign ministers from allies and enemies alike and they all say: we don’t know what America stands for. This is a problem.

Option #1: Independent America
Here Bremmer delineates the disaster that has been the rise of the military-industrial complex and the costs, human and fiscal, of American acting as the one true superpower. The author cites a 2013 Harvard study showing that when all is said and done, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will cost our country nearly $7 trillion. Americans in hundreds of polls have shown our disapproval of national building, war, “free trade” deals like NAFTA, and so on and so on. Americans are fatigued and understand that we need to nation-build here at home. Independent here refers to the fact that American citizens want America to make decisions that prioritize our interests; not our allies or our neighbors even. We need to go our separate ways and to worry about our needs such as infrastructure, education, and caring for our veterans now they are back home from a decade of war. This strategy is bolstered by being supported by the American public in poll-after-poll-after-poll.

This brings us to Bremmers’ – or Americas’ rather – second option.

Option #2: Moneyball America
Moneyball Americans view Independent America as isolationists. This view of America sees that we “must lead coalitions of the willing,” and “U.S. foreign policy must promote and protect global growth, both by minimizing the risk of war and by giving as many countries as possible a stake in stability through commerce and investment.” Moneyballers, based on the Oakland A’s famous baseball approach, “rel[y] on a cold-blooded, interest-driven approach to maximize the return on the taxpayer’s investment.” Value over values. We need to “maximize returns on minimal investment.” This is a business-minded approach. We should view foreign policy like businesses view venture projects. Regarding the three leading Middle East powers, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia, we should – in my loose summation – play all three cards. Or: American should use its hand to balance powers. Don’t get caught up in too many nets; have an exit strategy.

Option #3 Indispensable America
This final option is probably the option that most Americans are familiar with. America must lead. America is the shining light on the hill. America is the best-est most brightest country in the world. I’m being a little breezy here. On a serious note: this option is realistic. In Bremmers’ words through the glasses of a proponent: “Americans can only be more secure in a world where democracy, rule of law, access to information, freedom of speech, and human rights are universally recognized and protected, because these values create lasting strength, resilience, security, and wealth in the societies that establish and protect them.” Basically someone must lead and that someone has to be the U.S., according to this viewpoint. Regarding debt and money: “The United States can pay its debts by simply printing more money.” This is probably the sentence I agree with the most in the entire book, but that’s for a different time perhaps. In summation, this strategy is the most historically and realistically coherent, in my opinion.

What strategy should we choose?
In the beginning of the book, Ian produces a 10-question quiz and he asks the reader to take it. After each chapter/strategy-option, he reprints the quiz with highlighted answers based on the arguments of each option. According to the questions (an ex: U.S. spy capabilities: a) will always be a double-edged sword. b. Threaten our privacy. c. Are vital for protecting America. I chose a, by the way which is in alignment with Independent America, for example.) I have a mumbled complicated and overlapping (read: non-strategy strategy) answer. 10% of me is an Independent America; 50% of the time I agree with Moneyball America; 30% of the time I align with the Indispensables.

This is interesting because while reading the book, I mostly agreed with Independent America as the most wise choice of the three; followed closely by the Indispensable chapter. In reality, the way Moneyball was presented, I do sort of think about problems in my life and in politics in this way. So what did the author choose? Professor Bremmer actually chose Independent America as the wisest choice; he does so reluctantly mind you.

This book is a fantastic primer and summary of the world that awaits us. As someone who is graduating with a B.A. in political science in just a few months, I knew all of the facts presented here; I know the arguments, history, and context and therefore, I could have used a more complex book. I definitely think climate change is the existential issue of our lives; thus I always want climate change discussed more. Always. However, I am not casting aspersions. This book is great for all Americans to read. Whether you think nation-states are inherently bad and you are an anarchist or whether or not you are a international institutionalist who thinks nation-states should yield to a world government, Superpower is written as the world is, not as any of us want it to be. America will be the world’s most powerful country, in many ways, for the foreseeable future. I recommend this book to political science students; government and business leaders; and all other engaged and responsible citizens across the country.

on the First Republican Primary Debate of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

I watched the Fox News-hosted first Republican primary debate of the 2016 season and it was….alright. It was about what I expected only the candidates dialed down the crazy; at least rhetorically that is. And remember this is relative to past Republican primaries. Before I give my complete rundown, I’m gonna go over what some prominent thinkers and publications had to say, too.

The senior editor of the New Republic Jeet Heer tweeted: 

Heer also thought that the big losers were Bush and Walker. The editors of The Atlantic wrote that Rubio “gave one of the best performances of the night,” but they also thought that Jeb Bush made a strong impression. I have to agree with Chris Hayes, however, who tweeted: 

The impression I got from Bush was that of a stiff who literally was terrified of saying the wrong thing. He looked nervous and does not do well in the spotlight.

D.D. Guttenplan, for The Nation, opined that “…unless Trump self-destructs, the rich seam of anger opened by his campaign might well bring him back here next year as the GOP nominee. Because on the basis of their performance tonight no one on that stage is capable of stopping him.”

Chris Cillizza, on his “The Fix” column on The Washington Post online, trumpeted Marco Rubio and Donald Trump as the winners. His losers? Rand Paul and Scott Walker. The takeaway from his piece is that he never mentioned the words ‘Jeb’ or ‘Bush’. This brings me to my thoughts regarding last nights first Republican primary debate.

Winners

Donald Trump. The id and the base of the GOP loves him because he sounds just like them. Simply put, this is why I think he won because his xenophobic, misogynistic and hateful remarks are appealing to Republican primary voters. Moreover, he has to be a winner because many questions were based on responding to remarks that Trump made earlier. When your name is mentioned in as many questions as the Democratic frontrunner, you are doing well.

Chris Christie. He throws out numbers that are ostensibly true and he is viewed as a straight-shooter who at least has plans, policies, and is not afraid to get dirty. Looks like he is going for the 9/11 vote constituency which I didn’t realize was a thing anymore. I could have just wrote: see Trump above. I think this guy is one to worry about.

Marco Rubio. He scares me. I don’t wanna overstate this because it looks like people are but this guy can talk. Rubio is quick on his feet; he gives details; and he comes across as serious. He is probably one gaffe away from all of this following down but as of right now, he definitely comes across as someone who knows what’s going on. This is a true plus.

Losers

Jeb Bush. I think Jeb Bush lost because, in my opinion, any debate where he doesn’t steal the show and really reflect a serious candidate who can lead the country, is a loss for Bush. Bush said that we could grow our economy by “lift[ing] our spirits and hav[ing] high, lofty expectations for this great country of ours.” You think this type of performance against Hillary Clinton will amount to a win? Not a chance. Bush also comes across as one tough question away from basically throwing up his hands and saying: well, that’s all I got, folks. Take it or leave it. On a serious note: Bush proudly claiming that he defunded Planned Parenthood while Governor of Florida is going to seriously hurt him in the general election. Hillary will not let this slip. Also, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Florida ranks among the very bottom of all 50 states regarding women’s health.

Ben Carson. Carson knows his audience and he literally seemed like he memorized cultural warrior and right wing talking points and relied on the fact that this would be enough. Again, it might be what his audience wants to here (a co-worker FBed that she was voting for that guy and that she didn’t care what anyone thought) but he came across to the rest of us as someone stuck in a weird delusional twilight zone. Speaking of delusional:

Rand Paul. I don’t take most of these candidates seriously; I think they have no chance of winning a national election. Paul who, while still in those aforementioned camps, is someone who palpably makes my blood boil. He is dumb; proud of it; and is everyone’s libertarian uncle while simultaneously wanting to be the cool kid at the table so badly. He’s a charlatan and I’m glad that he did so poorly.

The United States of America. Need I say more? OK, I will. All of these candidates except for a few exceptions sound. the. exact. same. and. what. they. are. saying. is. horrifying.

Better luck next time

Mike Huckabee (who delivered the most gross line of the night: “The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.”).
John Kasich.
Scott Walker.
Ted Cruz (I think Cruz might be a sociopath.).