Who Makes Policy Campaign 2016 Edition

American Democracy in Peril.

Let us establish first of all here that, at this point, it is unlikely that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will win on November 8th.  Between the current polling and all of the scandals, the Donald is on a sinking ship that’s going down in a raging ball of fire.  Nothing can seem to save him now.

Now, let’s imagine for a second if Mr. Trump were to, by some act of God, win the presidency in November.  Then say, from the moment that he takes office in January, he goes about enacting the plans that he announced throughout his campaign, such as banning Muslim immigration to the United States, engaging in torture for the sake of torture, and going after the families of terrorists, among other things.  Will the American system be able to handle such blatant authoritarian actions?  Will it be able to reel back in a madman with little to no regard for the Constitution?

Yascha Mounk of Politico doesn’t have much confidence that it can handle a danger like Mr. Trump.  In this piece, “Yes, American Democracy Could Break Down,” the author argues that there is some chance that our American democratic system can ultimately fall apart when put to the test.  There are three reasons for this, according to Mounk:  1- the unprecedented nature of a person like Mr. Trump getting so close to winning the White House, let alone taking up residence there; 2- the fact that there are relatively few resources provided by the constitution to stop an authoritarian president; and 3- stopping tyranny in the United States would ultimately be contingent on public opinion.  If public opinion were to side with the authoritarian, not much can be done to stop that person’s agenda.

Luckily, for now our nation won’t have to put this to the test.  The Donald will most likely not be president.  But this is important, theoretical food for thought, as someone with similar authoritarian tendencies in a better package can come along next time and prove to be an even bigger threat.

Fear and loathing in Mosul

A lot of disturbing reports coming out of Mosul today as Iraqi forcues continued their march towards the ISIL stronghold. The New York Times reported that ISIL has used civilians as human shields and may have killed nearly 200 people.

The Guardian reported that authorities found “several murdered journalists, the bodies of nearly 50 former police officers, and dozens of dead people thrown into a river nearly 30 miles south of Mosul.”

We can expect to see these types of atrocities as ISIL continues to lose the battle for Mosul.

Racism? No, White Identity Politics! (or, Racism by another name)

I got a paragraph into this piece and decided to write a post.

It’s not racism, its White Identity.

I remember someone at my internship site who said something along the lines of “is it wrong for me to want to look out for my interests and other white people?”

Honestly, I did not think much of it at the time. Perhaps because I am white and the privilege that goes along with that made that comment slide under the proverbial radar.

I read the first few paragraphs of this piece and it all came together like Rodger Rabbit dropping and anvil on my head. There is something wrong with that statement. Sure, prima face, looking out for your own interests is arguably fine. Frankly, that is what our society is based and we have to look no further than capitalism and the greed motivation to realize that.

Take for example Speaker Paul Ryan’s favorite author, Ayn Rand. Rand promoted the theory of rational egoism or the belief that it is both “irrational and immoral” to “act against one’s self-interest.”

Perhaps that is true. But the study of ethics would have us ask is it morally right to act in one’s self-interest alone, as an end in itself, at the expense of others.

I say all of this because it leads me to the following. First, I reject the claim that “White Identity Politics” is not racial. All we have to look at is the systemic institutionalized racism that already exists in our criminal justice system, in our economic systems. White Identity Politics is a nice way of saying “were having an existential crisis because we will no longer have all the power in a few years and we don’t want to be treated the way we treated everyone else.”

Well, I am sorry, too bad. White people enslaved Blacks and hung them in trees. Promoted Jim Crow and prevented equal education. And when all of this was deemed to be a violation of human rights we ensured that possession of “black cocaine” products kept entire racial groups in jail and out of society.

Now that we have seen that for as much as things have changed nothing has changed and in the near future white people will not be a plurality of the population, well, frankly, white people ought to be scared because if we are treated as badly as we have treated black people, latinos, and other racial groups then there is something to fear.

Or, we can accept the fact that we have to atone for the past.

Acknowledging that “White Identity Politics” is racism by another name would be a good start.

Mosul Update

Iraqi and Kurdish forces continued their march toward Mosul today, surrounding the city of Bashiqa – 8 miles from Mosul. Although ISIL is outnumbered (reports put them at anywhere from 3K to 5K soldiers while the Iraqi coalition is 30k strong) the advance is proceeding with caution because of booby traps and suicide bombs that ISIL is using. Despite this, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says it is progressing faster than planned. The battle is expected to take months and will likely produce a severe humanitarian crisis.




Obama’s Plan B Still in Limbo

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Obama has yet to decide on a plan to send heavier weapons to CIA-backed rebels in Syria. The plan would send anti-aircraft and other heavy artillery to vetted rebels fighting Assad in Syria’s 5 1/2 year war. The plan was brought to the president’s desk this weekend and after a review, Obama decided to hold off on the program for now. The plan is supported by CIA Director Brennan and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter but its opponents, including John Kerry, raise serious concerns.

Kerry fears that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists or be used to shoot down Russian aircrafts, sparking a conflict with the Russians. Whatever the case, we should be rightfully skeptical of any plan/partnership with rebel groups. Our track record to date has been less than desirable.

Don’t know much about history

So much of today’s conflict in the Middle East can be understood by studying the region’s history. Sectarian conflict, tribalism, oil and trade routes all have played critical roles in the fighting that we see going on today. This Washington Post piece takes a look at Mosul and how the city has developed over the course of the past thousand years.

I’ll be posting about Mosul a lot over the next couple of weeks and this article explains why it is such an important city in the fight against ISIL.

Free Trade Zones Will Move Forward With or Without Us

Free trade agreements (FTAs), when done fairly, distribute progress in an equitable manner. It is much easier to achieve these type of results when the nations involved have similar economic conditions. FTAs have the ability to generate economic opportunities, and  bonds of cooperation and interdependence which many nations seek. That is why 54 African nations are currently negotiating the Continental Free Trade Area agreement. It would include every nation on the continent and create the largest free trade zone in the world. This zone would bring together a population of 1 billion people that is estimated to reach 2 billion by 2050. The west should see this as an opportunity to help the continent without direct “meddling.” Western nations can offer their expertise in the development of infrastructure and capacity. As Western Europe understands all too well, a crisis in Africa can create mass migration which in turn destabilize its local political landscape. It is make sense to assist underdeveloped nations in pooling their resources and strengths to create free trade zones that will result in stronger bonds of cooperation.  The potential stability can help ease some of the strain that western nations face in coping with the absorption of large numbers of economic, political and conflict refugees.

Obamacare and the Economy

An analysis of the 1.4 percentage point GDP growth in the second quarter of this year by the Bureau of Economic Analysis tells us that a steady increase in private consumption along with exports and nonresidential fixed investment were responsible for the economic growth in the first half of 2016.

The largest increase in consumer spending since gas prices have dropped, according to Aneta Markowska, economist at Societe Generale has been on healthcare.

“Since the Affordable Care Act’s main coverage provisions took effect at the beginning of 2014, expanded coverage is accelerating our recovery from the Great Recession by increasing families’ demand for health care goods and services and reducing their out-of-pocket medical costs, which frees up money to meet other pressing needs.” says Jason Furman, Chairman of Council of Economic Advisers.

“In nominal terms, household spending on healthcare averaged 3.9% between 2010 and 2013. It began to accelerate in the first half of 2014 and has averaged at 5.2% since then. Importantly, this pickup in healthcare spending was not driven by higher costs; real spending in this category accelerated from 1.9% in 2010-2013 to 3.9% thereafter. This would indicate that Americans have not only been spending more because of increased costs, but also intentionally allocating more of their wallet to the sector ” says Aneta Markowska.

“To match the increased spending, the healthcare sector’s labor market has also been booming” notes Aneta. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: the healthcare sector produced about 240,000 jobs per year between 2010 and mid-2014, since then, it has averaged at 354,000/year and the sector is currently producing about 500,000 jobs annualized. Over the past 12 months, health care has added 445,000 jobs.

Third and Final Debate Proves Substantive yet Lacking.

Tonight was the third and final debate of the 2016 presidential race and it was arguably the best one in terms of substance. The debate had a few shining moments, however, none were better than when Hillary defended a woman’s right to choose on the question of abortion. Her response was imbued with a moral clarity and conviction usually espoused by the religious right in its opposition to a woman’s right to control her own body. It was by far the best response on the issue I have ever witnessed during a debate by any politician. Her response struck such a chord of sincerity and personal connection to the topic that it can only be characterized as her most “human” moment of the campaign.

This, however, was soon followed by, in my own opinion, one of her worst responses of the night. That moment came when the moderator, Mr. Wallace, said “…we’ve learned from the WikiLeaks, that you said this, and I want to quote. ‘My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.’ So that’s the question… Is that your dream, open borders?” Rather than taking  advantage of the opportunity by promoting the idea of fair and free trade between us and our neighbors, she fall back to a bland and uninspiring reply having to do with energy. She had the opportunity to have a brief but substantive conversation with the American people on how free moving commerce between nations can a be a tool used to improve both the strategic and economic interests of our nation. Regardless, this was not what she did. As a result she missed the opportunity to make her case for current and future free trade agreements. For me, that was the low point of the debate.

Vietnam Welcomes Obama’s Pivot With Shared Concerns

For many former employees of the manufacturing sector who now toil away at minimum wage service jobs, there is not bigger issue than jobs. They’re told by the news media that the economy is rebounding, but to them it’s all a tale told by those not living in the real world. They don’t pine for the days when America was “great”, but for the days they felt like they were a part of it. To this group of citizens, our next president should have no greater priority than to address the issue of jobs. Unfortunately, it will not be the only issue faced by the next president. The reality is that a presidents first priority is always to secure the nation. A newer recognized reality is that the best way to secure foreign cooperation and friendships is through commerce. That is why our next president may view the strategic value or free trade agreements and the resulting relationships with a much higher regard than the hard issue of jobs. The new U.S. president will not be alone in feeling a sense of urgency and concern when it comes to free trade agreements. China’s surging military aspirations along with its hostile actions in the China Sea have other neighboring countries concerned and looking to move ahead with ratification of the TPP. They feel that a closer friendship and economic ties with the U.S. will help deter Chinese expansion in the area. Vietnam and Japan have made it clear that China is a concern that makes them want to move forward with the signing of the TPP>