Who Makes Policy Campaign 2016 Edition

The end is near

Assad has made serious gains in Aleppo in the past week. At the expense of his own people, government troops have retaken areas of the city that were under rebel control. It’s time to face the hard truth. Assad will soon capture Aleppo and probably not much longer after that, will defeat the opposition forces. Trump hasn’t laid out a coherent Syria policy to date other than bombing the shit out of ISIS but its time for him to start planning what his next move will be and how will this war end.

There may be a better reason to leave the country than just a Trump victory

We’ve heard it time and time again since the devastation that occurred a month ago- “I am going to move to (insert any country, island, or planet here)”. While some have found that attitude to be the extremist way of responding to opposing political authority, that attitude may get a boost in membership soon due to climate change. Climate change has really affected this country, and if you look at California’s  (a state that is pushing for  greenhouse gas emission controls) pattern of drought lately, you can see that migration has been the response of many of its residents. Widespread crop and pasture losses and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells is what California is dealing with and could become a reality for other states as well given an administration that believes climate change isn’t something to be worried about or that is even exists.  In case you’re thinking about packing up those boxes, for whatever reason, this old Atlantic article recommends Switzerland.

It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I don’t feel fine)

So after someone whispered in Trump’s ear that he can not just dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), he went ahead and hired a climate denier to head the agency, well played sir.  Scott Pruitt, who currently serves as the attorney general of Oklahoma is notorious for coordinating cases against federal agencies and has even set up a “federalism unit” in order to address perceived federal overreach. One of the many cases that this “federalism unit” is currently pursuing is the 28-state lawsuit against the Obama administration over climate change regulations. It seems that there should be some rule in place to not allow a fervent climate denier and coal-industry supporter to this position, sort of how the court systems don’t allow those who have can’t maintain objectivity to be part of a jury. America is the defendant here and it seems like we will not be winning this case. More on this from the NY Times.

Say No to NSEERS

Are you an immigrant? Do you have any “unique” traits that indicate where you’ve come from or what non-white Anglo-Saxon line of blood you are a descendent of? If so, you can pretty much guarantee that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is against your residency in this country. How dare you take up the space that is meant for “real” Americans? Kobach has decided that you pose a threat to the safety of our country…which is also YOUR country as much as Kobach would like to get you to feel otherwise. I know this because not only is he helping Trump shape his incredibly restrictive and bigoted immigration policy reforms, he has a history of being a shameless white nationalist.

The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System was created in reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The sociopolitical climate of our country immediately after that horrific event was one that called for the implementation of programs that would enhance national security measures so as to ensure that any future attempts to attack us would be thwarted. During such nerve-wracking times when the whole nation is plagued by fear and uncertainty, it is important for the leadership to be the calming authority figure that can be counted on to take drastic action if that’s what they deem necessary in order to put Americans’ minds at ease. It has to start with restoring the people’s trust in their government’s ability to protect them. If the means to that end involves restricting the rights of certain groups of people due to the likeness of their physical characteristics or religious beliefs to those of the perpetrator of the most recent act of violence, then that is just the price our country is willing to pay in return for some peace of mind. Now let me repeat that sentiment but using words that more accurately reflect how these ideas play out in reality. The wealthy white elite are perfectly okay with disenfranchising groups that are different from them, because different means not as good or important, and then when it’s the same type of different as the individual that committed an act of terror against our nation – well then what other choice is there but to assume that all the members of this group are just as likely as the actual perpetrator to be a threat to our nation’s safety. If you subscribe to the same religious as a terrorist, the govenrment feels it is justified in lumping you in with that person and taking away some of your rights, even though you as an individual have done nothing wrong. Because #safetyfirst, right?

No. Not right at all.   

After terror attacks, restoring the country to a sense of “normalcy” is easier when the flawed logic behind the process used to do so is just not addressed.  How can you determine an individuals potential to take a certain action in the future if the only evidence that exists which would serve to support your conclusion is that the same action was already taken by someone similar to them? Similar in that they share certain characteristics that have not been proven to have any direct bearing on any one person’s capacity for violence, thought processes, decision-making skills, personal values and morals, etc. But these aspects of their being are not acknowledged because judgement was already passed long ago, the moment it became apparent that this person is the same kind of “other” as the person that did the terrible thing to our country.  

If you fall into any number of the multitude of groups considered “others” you may be familiar with this treatment.

The nuances regarding what type of person you are on the inside, or whether your heart is as big and warm as the sun – these are all irrelevant when our country (=rich white men) are feeling vulnerable and on unsteady ground because a totally separate, free-thinking individual that was from the same geographic area or shared some of your physical attributes took violent action against our beloved citizens – a group that you actually consider yourself a member of.It’s just too bad your skin color/ accent/ hair texture/ hijab usage/other noticeably distinguishing characteristics had to out you as a possible member of the “opposition.”

A brain wracked with fear will go to great lengths to make sense of things it does not understand. It is easier to come to terms with something that you were able to classify in some way, even if the thread connecting one thing to the other is incredibly thin.

Here we are 15 years later, and our collective anxiety level is not equivalent to that which we experienced following 9/11. Probably because we haven’t been attacked again on such a grand scale ever since that day. So is there really a justifiable need for the reinstatement of NSEERS? What perceived threat is the Trump camp basing this sudden need for targeted data collection?  If the safety of Americans truly is at risk, if the general population feels as though their basic human rights are being threatened, they will look to the government to provide them with protection through any means necessary, which can –and some would say should – include racial, ethnic, and religious profiling. If most terrorists are known to be Muslim, then why shouldn’t we take the extra precaution of having every single member of the Muslim faith be legally made to undergo procedures that no other Americans are expected to do? (Hint: that’s called persecution and it’s just not nice). It is not only immoral and illogical to hold an entire group responsible for the violent actions of a select number of individual group members, but it is also an inefficient means of policing for potential future perpetrators. In terms of successfully managing issues to do with national security, the government’s resources would be more effective if they were allocated toward the implementation of safety initiatives that used actually relevant facts as evidence when determining whether the person being monitored poses any threat to our nation at all. NSEERS has no place in 2017 America.

Additional Note: I’m not sure if this is meant to be humorous, tongue-in-cheek, or completely serious, but someone has created a “National Registry of White Males” google doc and I wanted to share it.

Trump team…assemble!

Trump’s inconsistencies have made it nearly impossible to pin down how exactly he will govern. His cabinet and advisor selections are the first glimpse we get into what type of president he will be. Of all the positions he’s announced so far, perhaps none is more important than the National Security Advisor. It is this person’s responsibility to know what is happening in the world and advise the president on emerging threats. Trump selected retired Gen. Michael Flynn, the loon who was a staple on any Fox News set during the campaign.

This man has touted conspiracy theories and is aggressively opposed to the Iran deal. His selection concerned many in the intelligence community and one of his former employees thinks he may lead us to war with Iran.

I do not trust Flynn to objectively and intelligently advise the president on the threats we face and I’m genuinely scared for our safety under a Trump presidency.

The Next World Order

We all knew that we’d be seeing plenty of analyses on what happened after Trump’s victory. I found this piece, The End of the Anglo-American Order, by Ian Buruma in NYT Magazine. Buruma, a Dutch scholar born several years after the end of WW2, connects Brexit with the election of Trump and the other populist movements we’ve seen in Europe. If I’m reading it right, he views these movements as a rejection of the world that the Brits and the Americans designed after WW2. Buruma understands that most Americans and Birtons think of themselves as exceptional people that live in exceptional countries, a feeling that gained steam after the defeat of the Nazis and the resistance to communism. He sees these votes as a very protest against the things that made us feel exceptional.

It is a fascinating piece – well worth the read.

When our allies support our enemies

The NYT has been posting some fantastic pieces on Saudi Arabia this year and today’s article was no exception. The United States and Saudi Arabia have had a complicated year – from the JASTA vote, the arms deal, and the “28 pages” – we saw a rift open in our relations with the Kingdom.

Today’s report detailed how Saudi Arabia plays both sides of the conflict in Afghanistan. On one hand, the Saudis are a valuable partner in our fight against the Taliban. On the other, SA allies with Pakistan, who openly supports the Taliban, while wealthy Saudis have funded the Taliban’s resurgence in addition to donating to schools and mosques that promote a fundamentalist ideology.

It’s important to view this through the lens of the region. Saudi Arabia and Iran are in a fight for regional hegemony. Playing both sides of this conflict allows the Kingdom to have a say no matter what the outcome.

“The Media” Joins Trump in Trying to Making Sense of it All

It has become pretty clear that Donald Trump is still figuring out what it means to be president. But, in trying to report on a man with no political history or experience, the press is still figuring out how to cover Donald Trump.

In trying to understand what will happen to policy in the new administration, the press tries to reconcile a RINO (Republican in Name Only) president and a republican controlled Congress. With a long tradition of championing free markets and capitalism, the current republican controlled Congress seems poised to either publicly challenge on trade and commerce what very much resembles a third-party president that lost the popular vote by over 2.5 million votes, or fully embrace what feel like pre-WWII trade policies.

Today we saw headlines across many major news outlets proclaiming that “Top House Republican won’t back Trump’s tariff proposal,” “House G.O.P. Signals Break With Trump Over Tariff Threat,” and “Trump’s tariff plan hits a hurdle: Congressional Republicans.” The press was reporting on vague statements made by a couple of House Representatives that still show signs of uncertainty and trepidation on how to deal with a RINO president that even seems fearless in attacking members of his own party. Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy said when asked by reporters about Donald Trumps proposal to levy a tax on goods entering the U.S. from American companies offshoring jobs:

“‘I think the point the president-elect was trying to make was he wants to create jobs in America,’ McCarthy said of Trump’s latest comments about tariffs. ‘Today, the best way to make that change is through tax reform … I think there are other ways to achieve what the president elect is talking about, but the only way you can do any of this is you’ve got to have tax reform.’…Asked if Trump’s tariff plan made him uneasy, McCarthy merely added: ‘I don’t want to get into some kind of trade war … I think creating an incentive where you have a tax structure [that’s attractive to companies ] in American, that means lower corporate taxes, you won’t have’ companies leaving.'”

When asked the same question, Republican Representative Paul Ryan stated that:

“…an overhaul of the corporate tax code would more effectively keep companies in the United States than tax penalties. ‘I think we can get at the goal here,’ he said, ‘which is to keep American businesses American, build things in America and sell them overseas — that can be properly addressed with comprehensive tax reform.'”

The truth is that, regardless of vague comments, no one really knows what will happen. It’s highly doubtful that a republican Congress will go to war with a republican president in the middle of a propaganda campaign aimed to convince America that the Republican Party was given a mandate by the electorate. So, there are few clues in the wealth of innuendo and speculation.

The Republican Party: Hostage of Its Own Ambitions.

A victim of its own ambitions, the Republican party has a choice to make; commit suicide by mistaking Donald Trump’s election as some kind of mandate to adopt populist policies, or stay true to conservatism.

In a not so surprising and UN-Republican move, Donald Trump issued to the public his version of an extensive policy paper. In a scathing and detailed rebuke to capitalism, The Donald issued on Sunday a presidential threat on Twitter to every American corporation thinking of making the strategic business decision of shifting jobs to overseas factories. He warned every company moving jobs overseas that they would automatically be slapped with a 35% tariff.

In making his case for the “policy”, Mr. Trump showed that he, like most Americans on the right and left, hasn’t really grasped the main reasons for manufacturing job losses in America. Offering a future corporate tax rate to rival that of most states sales taxes, he believes it to be incentive and reason enough to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S. As so many economist and journalist have already noted exhaustively, most of the manufacturing job losses in America have been due to modernization and automation. Even in cases where American companies have decided to return production to the U.S., they don’t bring back all of the jobs. They usually have been able to return jobs to the U.S. only after automation has taken over most of the production process making the costs feasible.

Useless facts and reason aside, it appears that Donald Trump will continue to pursue, at least in public, his populist policies. The question then becomes, are Republicans afraid of him enough to pull the trigger on the gun they hold to their own heads? The fact is that if they choose to support his anti-capitalistic and populist policies of tariffs and unchecked deficits, the republican party will be admitting that their platform is dead. They will signal loud and clear that deficits, national debt, and free markets are as irrelevant as the Republican party will be the second they concede. The sound will be of bullet being fired into the heart of the party and its ideology.


The Last Diplomat

This piece in the WSJ, “The Last Diplomat” details how one lifelong diplomat became the center of an FBI espionage investigation. Robin Raphel joined the State Department in the 70s and became a fixture in Pakistani social and political circles. Her close relationships with foreigners was normal for Ambassadors but raised red flags over at the FBI. After the WikiLeaks and Snowden revelations of the early 2010s, the Obama administration set out to crack down on government moles. Raphel was targeted by the FBI for her frequent contact with Pakistanis and the ensuing investigation upended Raphel’s life and left a black stain on the FBI forever.