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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Will Today's Referendum in Turkey Empower or Chasten Erdogan?

In their DER SPEIGEL piece, How Erdogan's Referendum Gamble Might Backfire, Eren Caylan and Maximilian Popp report on signs of restiveness within Erdogan's own party, the AKP.

Some excerpts:

Lawyer Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat is one of those founders to have left the party out of irritation with Erdogan. He turned his back on the AKP in 2014. "The AKP was more than a party. It was the promise of more democracy," he says. "But we were so enthralled with our success that we didn't see the authoritarian tendencies."
Firat believes that three events led to the radicalization and division of the AKP: the power struggle with the military, the Gezi Park protests in 2013 and the quarrel with the Islamist Gülen movement.
Erdogan and Gülen were once allies. Together, they clipped the military's wings but then quarreled in 2013 over the distribution of their newly gained power.
The coup attempt, which Erdogan blames on Gülen, has definitively split the party in two. Around 130,000 public servants have been suspended from their jobs while 45,000 more have been arrested as suspected conspirators. The purge mostly affected people from the conservative Islamist milieu that had previously been broadly supportive of the AKP.
Now, with just a few days to go before the referendum, nervousness is growing in the party. Previously, Erdogan had always managed to unite the party behind him before elections. But the discord within the AKP can no longer be denied.
What If He Loses?

Wolf Richter Points Out Two Warning Signs for the U.S. Economy separate SEEKING ALPHA posts.

Consumers' appetite for eating out seems to have been curbed of late, claims Richter in Restaurants In Worst Tailspin Since 2009/2010.

Some excerpts:
Foot traffic at chain restaurants in March dropped 3.4% from a year ago. Menu prices couldn't be increased enough to make up for it, and same-store sales fell 1.1%. The least bad region was the Western US, where sales inched up 1.2% year over year and traffic fell only 1.7%, according to TDn2K's Restaurant Industry Snapshot. The worst was the NY-NJ Region, where sales plunged 4.6% and foot traffic 6.3%.
This comes after a dismal February, when foot traffic had dropped 5% year over year and same-store sales 3.7%. The February debacle was blamed on $65 billion in delayed tax refunds from the IRS, as mandated by Congress, to allow the IRS to get its arms around a large-scale identity-theft problem. But by mid-February, the floodgates opened and record amounts of tax refunds started pouring out. By the end of February, the IRS was pretty much caught up. So March, with all this money sloshing around in bank accounts, was expected to be better. But no.
In his post Great Debt Unwind: Consumer Bankruptcies Jump, First since 2010. Commercial Bankruptcies Spike Wolf observes that business backruptcies are on the rise.

Some excerpts:

Commercial bankruptcy filings, from corporations to sole proprietorships, spiked 28% in March from February, the largest month-to-month move in the data series of the American Bankruptcy Institute going back to 2012. They’re up 8% year-over-year. Over the past 24 months, they soared 37%! At 3,658, they’re at the highest level for any March since 2013.
Commercial bankruptcy filings skyrocketed during the Financial Crisis and peaked in March 2010 at 9,004. Then they fell sharply until they reached their low point in October 2015. November 2015 was the turning point, when for the first time since March 2010, commercial bankruptcy filings rose year-over-year.
Are consumers immune from debt problems?

Apparently not, according to Richter:

Now come the consumers – not all consumers, but those with mounting piles of debt and stagnating or declining real incomes, of which there are many. They’d been hanging on by their teeth, with bankruptcy filings consistently declining since 2010. But that ended in November 2016.
In December, bankruptcy filings rose 4.5% from a year earlier. In January they rose 5.4%. It was the first time consumer bankruptcies rose back-to-back since 2010. I called it “a red flag that’ll be highlighted only afterwards as a turning point.”
In March, consumer bankruptcy filings rose 4% year-over-year, to 77,900, the highest since March 2015, when 79,000 filings occurred, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute data.  The turning point has now been confirmed.
To sum up...
Total US bankruptcy filings by consumers and businesses in March spiked 40% from February and rose 4% year-over-year to 81,590, the highest since March 2015...

Friday, April 14, 2017

How could a 'March for Science' go wrong ?

Heather Wilhelm answers that question in her NATIONAL REVIEW piece, The Left's New Cure-All : 'Science'.

An excerpt:
The troubles brewing within the March for Science surfaced in January, marked by a now-deleted official tweet: “Colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ justice are scientific issues.” Since then, the addled march has torn through four different diversity statements, shellacked by critics on both sides. (Harvard’s Steven Pinker bashed the march’s “anti-science PC/identity politics/hard-left rhetoric,” while others complained the statement didn’t go far enough.) The march’s latest set of “Diversity and Inclusion Principles,” when paired with its more shame-faced and apologetic sibling, the “Statement on Diversity and Inclusion,” tops out at over 1,000 words."

Monday, April 10, 2017

What are 'sensitivity readers' and is freedom of thought now under fire in the publishing industry ?

This article in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY addresses those questions.

Some excerpts... That I will soon render readable...

“Politics is a dangerous thing to be candid about,” said one agent, who has worked with conservative authors. “It’s now acceptable to ban speech on college campuses; this is the world we live in.” Although this agent did not equate what happened at schools such as the University of California, Berkeley and Middlebury College in Vermont—where protestors, some of them students, violently opposed appearances by Yiannopoulos and Bell Curve author Charles Murray, respectively—with what is happening in publishing, he feels the industry needs to pay attention to these events. He cited, as a trend to watch, the appearance of “sensitivity readers,” who are being hired by some publishers and authors (largely in YA and middle grade) to ensure accuracy and sensitivity in portrayals of characters who have marginalized identities or experiences. (In most cases sensitivity readers are hired when authors are depicting characters with backgrounds or identities different from their own.) “It’s a short trip between [sensitivity readers] and trigger warnings.”

"While the major New York houses have consistently and successfully published conservative authors for decades, many sources saw some truth in Ross’s [Marji Ross, president at Regnery Publishing] comments. Some cited the existence of conservative imprints (at all Big Five publishers) as proof that right-wing authors are treated differently than liberal ones. One source described the existence of these imprints as something that “balkanizes” conservative authors. He said, “I’ve had editors tell me they wouldn’t possibly consider a book by a conservative, and I never would hear that if the politics were flipped.”

Another agent, who handles a number of conservative authors, said the industry’s longstanding “double standard” for right-wing authors is evidenced by the fact that “there are no quote-unquote liberal imprints in publishing.” In other words, books espousing liberal ideas often land at general-interest imprints. This, more than anything else, means there are fewer places to shop conservative books and authors. “A liberal senator has dozens of options [when it comes to imprints and editors that will publish his book],” he said. “Conservatives have a much smaller pool.”

Another agent, who also has conservative clients, said he believes the author reaction to S&S’s deal with Yiannopoulos—more than 100 of the house’s authors wrote a letter to CEO Carolyn Reidy requesting the publisher drop the title—will be the thing people in the business remember. “I think part of the internal calculus [on future deals for controversial conservatives] will be trying to take the temperature of the author community,” he noted. “Publishers will have to be really smart in deciding who’s an alternative voice who has a right to be at the table, and who’s just a vile person.”
Ross predicts that what happened with Yiannopoulos “may, indeed, be the start of a new trend: liberal authors demanding not only their own right to offend others but the silencing of those they find offensive.”

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Sen. Schumer (D-NY) in 2007: Okay to block a Supreme Court nominee for 19 months until next election

So much for consistency, as the WASHINGTON EXAMINER points out.

The GOP's blocking of Garland was of far shorter duration.

And of course, in blocking Garland, the GOP--as well as Schumer--followed the doctrine set forth by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DEL) in 1992. See this 2016 WP piece on this topic.

GOP Senate Follows NUCLEAR OPTION Precedent set Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) re: Supreme Court

Incredible what a difference four years and one presidency can make. Back in 2013, the Washington Post supported Reid's move to remove the filibuster. Today, of course, the WP has a totally different take. Excerpts from Paul Kane's 2013 report--actually not so much reportage as propaganda--follow.

Senate Democrats took the dramatic step Thursday of eliminating filibusters for most nominations by presidents, a power play they said was necessary to fix a broken system but one that Republicans said will only rupture it further.
Democrats used a rare parliamentary move to change the rules so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote supermajority that has been the standard for nearly four decades.
The immediate rationale for the move was to allow the confirmation of three picks by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — the most recent examples of what Democrats have long considered unreasonably partisan obstruction by Republicans.
In the long term, the rule change represents a substantial power shift in a chamber that for more than two centuries has prided itself on affording more rights to the minority party than any other legislative body in the world. Now, a president whose party holds the majority in the Senate is virtually assured of having his nominees approved, with far less opportunity for political obstruction.
The main combatants Thursday were the chamber’s two chiefs, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who have clashed for several years over Republican filibusters of Obama’s agenda and nominees.
Reid said the chamber “must evolve” beyond parliamentary roadblocks. “The American people believe the Senate is broken, and I believe the American people are right,” he said, adding: “It’s time to get the Senate working again.”

How can a CNN Reporter closely connected with Susan Rice report objectively on the Rice Intelligence Scandal?

That's what Matthew Balan reasonably asks here.

Similarly on THE HILL, Joe Concha asks, 'Why is the Mainstream Media Trying to cover up the Susan Rice Story?'.

What's 'Progressive' About Reflexive Hate and Intolerance ?

This, from Nicholas Kristof in the NYT:

When I write about people struggling with addictions or homelessness, liberals exude sympathy while conservatives respond with snarling hostility to losers who make “bad choices.”

When I write about voters who supported President Trump, it’s the reverse: Now it’s liberals who respond with venom, hoping that Trump voters suffer for their bad choice.

“I absolutely despise these people,” one woman tweeted at me after I interviewed Trump voters. “Truly the worst of humanity. To hell with every one of them.”

More on Susan Rice and Abuse of Intelligence


On Tuesday, Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice admitted that she used the intelligence community to spy on members of the Trump team, but this type of behavior isn’t anything new.

In fact, it appears the Obama White House had been spying on its political opponents and leaking classified information about them long before Donald Trump won the presidential election last November, Lee Smith of Tablet Magazine writes.

Partisan Politics and Whitewashing Susan Rice

From WP Op Ed, this article.

Friday, January 20, 2017

On Inauguration Day, George Friedman offers this compelling analysis of the new President's Foreign Policy a new Geopolitical Futures post, Donald Trump Has a Coherent, Radical Foreign Policy Doctrine.

Some excerpts:

...Trump’s rhetoric is a problem, but so is conventionally clear political rhetoric that clearly says nothing. I say this because I think that observers tend too readily to dismiss what he says. This is an attempt to decode it.

Trump’s core strategic argument is that the United States is overextended. The core reason for this overextension is that the United States has substituted a system of multilateral relationships for a careful analysis of the national interest. In this reading, Washington is entangled in complex relationships that place risks and burdens on the United States to come to the aid of some countries. However, its commitments are not matched by those countries in capability, nor in intent.

NATO is the obvious case. The United States has been involved in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Islamic world. NATO has not provided decisive strategic support to these efforts. Many have provided what support they could or what support they wanted, but that level of support was far below the abilities of NATO members.

The members of the European Union have roughly the same collective gross domestic product as the United States, and a larger population. They also have a substantial industrial base. Europe is well beyond where it was when NATO was founded, when it was incapable of collective defense without the United States. NATO members have taken for granted that Washington will bear the primary burden for defense, measured not only in terms of dollars spent, but also in the development of military capabilities.

As important, the primary strategic activity of the United States for the past 15 years has been in the Islamic world. Many in NATO objected to the U.S. operation in Iraq, and except for the United Kingdom they provided little or no significant support. Alliance members have no obligation to join in conflicts initiated by the United States outside the area of NATO’s focus. Trump accepts that principle but points out that the organization has been irrelevant to U.S. strategic needs. Where the alliance engaged, it did so with far too little force to constitute a strategic force. Their reasonable argument that the 28-member alliance makes no commitment to out-of-area engagements not undertaken under Article 5 raises the question of what, then, NATO’s value is to the United States. In sum, NATO lacks significant strategic capabilities, and the alliance is defined in such a way that its members can and do elect to avoid those conflicts that matter most to America.

It is therefore not clear that NATO as currently constituted is of value to the United States. The United States is liable for the defense of Europe. Europe is not liable for defending American interests, which today lie outside of Europe. Trump believes this relationship must be mutually renegotiated. If the Europeans are unwilling to renegotiate, the United States should exit NATO and develop bilateral relations with countries that are capable and are prepared to work with the United States in areas of its national interest in return for guarantees from Washington. Similar re-examination of our relationships ought to be carried out globally in regard to allies such as Japan and South Korea to assure that such relationships remain of value to both parties, and that the level of effort and risk reflects that value.

The same view holds true for Trump’s policy on foreign trade. It is not clear that the current international trade regime has benefited the United States. International trade is not an end in itself; it must serve the interests of each party. At this point in history, the primary economic need in the United States is to create trade relations that build jobs in the United States. The previous goal of aggregate growth of an economy without regard to societal consequences is no longer acceptable. The terms under which most international trade agreements have been structured are now therefore unacceptable.  Free trade may well increase the GDP, but it does not deal with critical societal issues.

Large multilateral free-trade agreements are therefore far too complex to fine-tune to the American interest. They need to be avoided in favor of bilateral treaties, or of smaller ones such as NAFTA, that can be reshaped to serve the current American interest. In these negotiations, the United States, producing about 25 percent of the world’s GDP, holds the strong hand. The United States’ primary concern must be the same as that of other countries: trade relations that are beneficial to it, and not an abstract commitment to free trade.

Trump’s core strategic argument is that the United States is overextended. The core reason for this overextension is that the United States has substituted a system of multilateral relationships for a careful analysis of the national interest. In this reading, Washington is entangled in complex relationships that place risks and burdens on the United States to come to the aid of some countries. However, its commitments are not matched by those countries in capability, nor in intent.

For Trump, the key is to recognize that the Post-World War II period of multilateralism is over, and that continuing to act otherwise is harming the United States’ interests in multiple ways. For the United States 9/11 remains a defining moment, and 15 years of unsatisfactory operations in the Middle East do not mean that a solution is unattainable. Since NATO members are either unwilling to commit to this effort, or have very little to commit, the United States seeks other nations with a common interest, and chief among those is Russia.

Trump has actually said most of these things in a rather disjointed way. But if we ignore rhetorical flaws and look at the substance of what he has said, he has a coherent and radical foreign policy. Trump is proposing a redefinition of U.S. foreign policies based on current realities, not those of 40 years ago. It is a foreign policy in which American strength is maximized in order to achieve American ends.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tonight's Blogger DJ Song, for the Inauguration Thunderclap Newman's '60' classic, Get it Together.

DER SPIEGEL : Purges Have Weakened Once Mighty Turkish Military

report Peter Müller and Maximilian Popp in their recent post.

...In the wake of the coup attempt, Erdogan has been tough in cracking down on suspected conspirators. He has fired close to 100,000 public servants while the governors of 47 districts and the deans of all Turkish universities have been forced to resign. Nearly 200 media organizations have also been forced to shut down. But no institution has been as hard hit by the purge as the military. One-third of all generals and admirals have been suspended from service and the air force has lost 265 of its around 400 fighter pilots. The repression has also been directed at Turks abroad. Erdogan has recalled at least 270 officers and military attachés at NATO bases, including those in Mons, Naples and Ramstein in Germany. NATO Supreme Commander Curtis Scaparrotti warns the dismissals have "degraded" the alliance's military capabilities.

Some of the fired NATO officers have now spoken to SPIEGEL, the first time they have gone public with their stories. For the interview, Özcan and three colleagues have all changed their names to protect their identities; they have family in Turkey are are concerned about the government taking revenge. The men provide a devastating assessment of the Turkish armed forces. They say the failed coup has damaged the troops' morale and image while adding that diverse groups are wrestling for power with some of them openly opposing army Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar. "The military is going through the most difficult time in its history," says former Chief of the General Staff Ilker Basbug.

President Erdogan doesn't seem to care. He has sent his soldiers into Syria and Iraq, both of which are complicated operations. In the midst of crisis, Turkey appears to be veering away from the West and toward the East, particularly toward Russia. Since the July 15 revolt, Turkey -- once a pillar of NATO with the coalition's second biggest army -- has become a danger to the alliance.

The general staff is now having trouble refilling the massive number of posts left empty by the arrests. The government is currently using newspaper ads in an attempt to attract 25,000 new recruits. Many of the officers who are now sitting in jail controlled key parts of the military and it will take generations for the armed forces to recover from this loss of experience and knowledge, argues Gareth Jenkins, a Turkey expert at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. The shortage of air force personnel has become so acute that nine pilots are currently flying sorties in Syria who were placed in temporary detention over the summer as alleged members of the putsch. They aren't actually allowed to leave the country and they are required to report to the police before and after each mission.

The turmoil within the army poses threats to the troops' safety. Turkey marched into Syria in August in order to drive Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish militias out of the border regions and Turkish soldiers have now been fighting for six months in the neighboring country, with no sign of an end to the operation. Former Turkish ambassador to the United States Faruk Lagoglu has described it as a "suicide mission." At the end of December, 16 soldiers died during an attack against IS in the city of al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo. The losses on the ground are "higher than they need to be" because the air force is no longer capable of providing sufficient support, says one fighter pilot dismissed from his position by the government.

Turkey's self-image has taken a hit as a result of the military's weakness. The armed forces had long been the source of great pride in the country with generals, known as pashas, having determined the country's political direction for decades. They view themselves as the guardians of the secular-nationalist legacy of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern-day Turkey. But Erdogan has broken the military's power since taking office as prime minister in 2003. Together with members of the Gülen movement in the state apparatus, with whom he was still allied at the time, he had hundreds of Kemalist officers sentenced in show trials. Gülen supporters took advantage of the clear-cutting to rise within the military. But in the ensuing years, Gülen and Erdogan had a falling out. Erdogan claimed last summer that the preacher had orchestrated the coup attempt in order to topple him and he has since taken a hardline approach toward alleged Gülen supporters.

The second major purge in the Turkish military within just a few years has created a vacuum -- one that splinter groups are now trying to fill. The country's ultra-nationalist Patriotic Party (Vatan Partisi) and the radical Islamist Sadat group are expanding their influence within the military. Patriotic Party head Dogu Perincek is advocating for Turkey to turn away from Europe and he is working together with Russian political consultant Alexander Dugin. Sadat, meanwhile, arose from a private security firm whose founder, Adnan Tanriverdi, a former general who was forced into early retirement during the 1990s because of his Islamist activities, has now, following the attempted coup, become an adviser to Erdogan.

Don't Miss This Great Survey on U.S. Presidential Transitions... Larry Sabato on the U. Va Center for Politics website, entitled The End of the Beginning: Sic Transit Transition.

Some excerpts:

The transition gives Americans sufficient time to adjust to the change they themselves have wrought. Over 70 days of transition exist between the November election and the Jan. 20 inauguration, and before the 20th Amendment first applied in 1936, the transition was close to double that time span, from November until March 4. The transition was cut in half precisely because the Hoover-to-FDR handoff was fraught with peril and left the nation rudderless during a calamitous period.
Much worse than any scheduled transition were the nine immediate White House transformations caused by natural death, assassination, or resignation. Popular and governmental adjustment had to be instantaneous, and the elevated vice presidents usually had personal styles that contrasted with their late predecessors, as well as some different substantive policies. Theodore Roosevelt was about as dissimilar from William McKinley as two presidents from the same party could be, for instance.
History could only partially prepare us for the aftermath of November 2016’s earthquake. In the hours and days following Donald Trump’s shocking upset, many observers wondered if a crisis would develop right away. How could Trump and Obama, fierce personal enemies and ideological polar opposites, ever manage a transition? After all, Trump had spent five years as the most prominent leader of the spurious, outrageous birther movement that sought to delegitimize Obama’s presidency by claiming he was not a natural-born American. In return, Obama had made a thin-skinned Trump the butt of jokes and barbs for years. And no one worked harder than Obama to keep Trump out of the Oval Office.
It couldn’t have been easy for either man to be civil to the other after the election. But they were and continued to be, for the most part, to their substantial credit. Our country is still deeply divided, much more so than usual, yet imagine how much worse it could have been had No. 44 and No. 45 feuded day after day. Their businesslike tone made cooperation possible, or at least less of a chore, for their staffs. We can’t expect political enemies to join hands and sing kumbaya; we can expect presidents to act in the national interest...
Even after a close, losing campaign that greatly disappointed him, President Gerald Ford was determined to organize the most extensive and professional transition ever -- and he did, as Jimmy Carter noted at the outset of his 1977 inaugural address and again as a speaker at Ford’s funeral decades later.
If any president has exceeded Ford’s labors, it might be George W. Bush. The Obamas have frequently mentioned the extraordinary efforts of President and Mrs. Bush to make their move into the White House a smooth one. Moreover, Bush and Obama did what Hoover and FDR did not -- coordinate on some urgent responses to the near-collapse of the U.S. financial superstructure in 2008.
No doubt the precedent set by Bush influenced Obama’s actions in recent weeks. The outgoing president knew he owed the incoming one every assistance, whatever their past conflicts. And while Trump has launched broadsides at many an Obama program and ally, the president-elect of late has stayed generally respectful of the outgoing president himself.
In these hyper-partisan times, one is grateful for any hint of civility. Under difficult circumstances, both Obama and Trump have listened to the better angels of their nature. It may be too much to hope that this initial precedent will apply to the many battles on the horizon, but to the extent it can, we’ll all be better off.

George Friedman Agrees with Trump, NATO IS Obsolete a recent GEOPOLITICAL FUTURES post entitled 'NATO and the United States'.

An excerpt:

Trump’s approach to NATO has been forced on the U.S. by the Europeans and would be on the table with a different president. NATO doesn’t function as an alliance. It is a group of sovereign nations that will respond to American requests as they see fit. The U.S. understands this, and inevitably, the veil of good manners was going to be torn away. Someone was going to point out that NATO is obsolete. Trump happened to enjoy saying it.

But whether it is a tragedy or comedy, the matter can be summed up the following way. The Europeans are wondering if the U.S. will leave NATO. The U.S. is wondering if the Europeans will join NATO. Forgetting NATO, the question is this. What is the commitment of European countries to the United States, and what is the American commitment to Europe? It is not clear that there is a geopolitical basis for this commitment any longer. Interests have diverged, NATO is not suited to the realities of today, and the U.S.’ relations with European states differ from nation to nation, as do European nations’ relations to the United States.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The TELEGRAPH Gives a Thumbs-up to P. M. May's Speech

Click here to hear speech. its January 17 editorial, excerpted below.

Good things come to those who wait. Theresa May’s excellent speech on Brexit was months in the making, but that time was well spent. Mrs May voted Remain, and needed time to think through all of the issues with experts, civil servants and her Cabinet before deciding exactly how to proceed. It is greatly to her credit that she has now developed such a clear and radical vision of a thriving post-Brexit Britain. Her optimistic global outlook – reminiscent of the upbeat, positive spirit of the Vote Leave campaign – will stand Britain in good stead in the negotiations to come. Her enthusiastic belief in Britain’s potential to be even greater satisfies the demand for a clear sense of direction; this was real leadership, of the sort we see all too rarely. It is no exaggeration to describe this speech as a defining moment in British politics, one that will one day be remembered in the same light as Lady Thatcher’s famous Bruges address, which launched the modern Eurosceptic movement.

The Prime Minister has a plan, and it is the right one: we will leave the single market and, in effect, the customs union, cooperate closely with our European allies on a range of issues and seek to be the world leader in free trade. We will remain a pro-immigration society but will choose who we want to move here. The plan represents a masterclass in common sense and is exactly what Britain voted for last June. Mrs May’s plan deserves support and will surely get it from most reasonable people. That is because it is rooted in confidence. Confidence about Britain and its prospects in a global economy. Confidence in this country’s ability to grow and prosper regardless of how EU negotiations conclude – crucially, the Prime Minister is willing to walk away from a bad deal and understands the strength of our bargaining position, unlike David Cameron.

Some will carp that Mrs May’s vision for a post-Brexit relationship with the EU is too optimistic, that her suggestions about access to the single market for key industries and a new customs-free deal amount to hoping to have our cake and eat it.  In fact, Mrs May’s approach is absolutely right: global Britain should seek the freest possible trade with Europe while remaining free to strike trade deals with other economies, not least the US.

The plan is ambitious, and all the better for it. The doubters underestimate the strength of Britain’s hand. She was right to observe that trade makes everyone richer, so a sensible EU will seek the deal that allows the greatest possible trade between the EU and Britain. Yet Britain is more than a first-rank economy and trading partner. We are a first-rank military power and a world leader in intelligence. Those capabilities are of crucial importance to the EU, and its eastern members in particular, in a world where Donald Trump regrettably calls the Nato alliance into question. Mrs May was not so crude as to directly link British cooperation on security to Brexit negotiations, but security must be a dimension in those talks.

In time, EU leaders who bluster about punishing Britain for leaving will come to realise that it is in everyone’s interests to take a more constructive approach. Mrs May did not say it explicitly, but there was steel behind her words: Britain can be a good friend to the EU, or a bad enemy. And the EU today needs all the friends it can get.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fans of the American Western, Check out...

Best Silver Screen Cowboys, submitted by screenwriter Henry C. Parke in TRUE WEST magazine.  Henry also authors a great blog, Henry's Western Roundup.

Ironically, THE WILD BUNCH, one of my faves, doesn't make the above list...

Click here to view the LA GOLONDRIA scene from THE WILD BUNCH

What Concerns Eastern Europe the Most, Today...

can easily be discerned in the December 2016 joint statement made by heads of state of the V4 or 'Visegrad' Group (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary). Clearly the Immigration crisis and threats to the sovereignty of the Ukraine are tops on their list.

Some excerpts:

Internal security agenda remains of crucial importance. Instruments enhancing citizens’ confidence in safe environment are of major importance. That is why Counter Terrorism Directive should be adopted and Passenger Name Record Directive implemented.
The Prime Ministers of the Visegrad countries underline their commitment to the strengthening of the Common Security and Defence Policy in line with the Council conclusions of 17 October and 14 November.
To respond to the deteriorating security environment, we must make the security of the EU, its Member States and citizens our top priority. Therefore, we call on the Member States to act responsibly and step up efforts to tackle the threats and challenges of the present day, notably hybrid and cyber threats or terrorism, in a coherent and effective way.
In line with the European Council Conclusions of December 2013 on security and defence, the Visegrad countries reiterate the need to enhance the effectiveness of the CSDP and the development and maintenance of Member States’ defense and security capabilities, supported by a more integrated, sustainable, innovative and competitive European Defence Technological and Industrial Base, with full participation of SMEs, which also contributes to jobs, growth and innovation across the EU and can enhance Europe’s strategic autonomy, strengthening its ability to act autonomously when and where necessary and with partners wherever possible.
The Prime Ministers of the Visegrad countries emphasize that close cooperation of the EU and NATO is a vital to enhance the Common Security and Defence Policy and the security of Europe. In this light, they welcome the progress on the implementation of the EU-NATO Joint Declaration which provides for measures to advance the practical cooperation of the two organisations. Avoiding unnecessary duplication and ensuring complementarity between the EU and NATO will guarantee that our resources and capabilities are used efficiently.
The Visegrad countries reiterate their support to the process of ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine and emphasize their will to look for a solution that will allow for a swift conclusion of this process by all Member States of the EU.
The Prime Ministers of the Visegrad countries reaffirmed the importance of the Association Agreement/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (AA/DCFTA) with Ukraine. It is an important element of the Eastern Partnership policy, which the Visegrad countries consider as a strategic dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy.

For background on the Visegrad group, click here.

What is the World Economic Forum (WEF) and What Does its Annual Meeting at Davos Accomplish?

Davos, A Not-so-Magic Mountain for the 99%'s Prosperity

According to the WEF website, "The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters remains the foremost creative force for engaging the world’s top leaders in collaborative activities to shape the global, regional and industry agendas at the beginning of each year. For over four decades, the World Economic Forum’s mission – improving the state of the world – has driven the design and development of the Annual Meeting programme..."

Christopher Dickey offers an interesting perspective on this conclave in his Daily Beast article, Davos Man Confronts Trumpocalypse Over Canapés.

Some excerpts:

In the 1970s the World Economic Forum, organized by Geneva University professor Klaus Schwab, put Davos on the map as the site where each January the financial, business, and political elites of the world gathered to network, to see and be seen, and to share ideas about how they’d like to see the planet run.

As it grew and evolved, the event inevitably was caricatured as the place where CEOs arrived on private jets to talk about reining in greenhouse gasses, ate opulent meals and swilled copious quantities of expensive booze while rubbing elbows with do-gooder celebrities like Bono and Angelina Jolie—all the while bemoaning the fate of the starving masses.

Every year they came up with recommendations for policies the world should follow, which they would recommend again the next year when it didn’t. In the meantime, what Samuel Huntington dubbed “Davos Man” did help to push and implement policies that steadily opened the world to big companies, to vast capital flows, to migration flows, and what proved to be the cruel Darwinism of globalization.

For most of the big executives there, Davos was, and is, a place to make more deals face to face with more people much faster than they could anywhere else—then spend a few hours on the slopes or taking in the esoteric offerings on the conference agenda, like a talk Goldie Hawn gave in 2014 about meditation. “I like to improve my mind,” one influential American CEO told me back then.
But, in truth, that wasn’t doing much to improve the world.

Ironically, Klaus Schwab himself was the ultimate Cassandra, warning of doom only to discover nobody would act on his prophecies, when he predicted way back in 1996 in a piece he co-authored for the erstwhile International Herald Tribune that ran under the headline “Start Taking the Backlash Against Globalization Seriously [emphasis mine]."

Twenty-one years later, it reads as if it were written yesterday.
Schwab warned that in many industrial democracies the mood was “one of helplessness and anxiety, which helps explain the rise of a new brand of populist politicians.”

(Kind of gives you a chill when you read that, no?)

The “lightning speed” at which capital moved across borders, the acceleration of technological changes, the rapid evolution of global marketing and management requirements—all strained the existing system “to a breaking point,” said Schwab.

“This is multiplying the human and social costs of the globalization process to a level that tests the social fabric of the democracies in an unprecedented way.”
“It becomes apparent that the head-on mega-competition that is part and parcel of globalization leads to winner-take-all situations,” wrote Schwab. “Those who come out on top win big, and the losers lose even bigger. The gap between those able to ride the wave of globalization …  and those left behind is getting wider at the national, corporate, and individual levels….

“The way transnational corporations have to operate to compete in the global economy means that it is now routine to have corporations announce new profit increases along with a new wave of layoffs,” as Schwab noted.

“Some estimates put at 3 million the number of layoffs since the end of the 1980s in the United States, and more are expected,” said Schwab before penning a line to be remembered: “It is no consolation for a laid-off employee to hear analysts explain how the re-engineering of which he is a victim will help his former employer prosper.”

“Public opinion in the industrial democracies will no longer be satisfied with articles of faith about the virtues and future benefits of the global economy,” he wrote. “It is pressing for action [emphasis mine].”

Schwab’s recommendation was to set national priorities: training and education, overhauling communications and infrastructure, developing policies that gave more incentives to entrepreneurs, and adapting social policies to protect those who lose out. Corporations, too, would have to make sure the “free market on a rampage” did not become “a brakeless train wreaking havoc,” he wrote.

European Democracy : Not with a bang, but a whimper basically the thesis of Dalibor Rohac in his US News and World Report piece, Europe's Slow Rot.

Some excerpts:

Instead of big-bang resets or global conflicts, the biggest dangers to Europe are coming from sources that might seem mundane. As the Scottish philosopher David Hume noted, "it is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once." The EU does not have to implode dramatically in order to become irrelevant. And European countries do not have to go through violent revolutions in order to end up looking increasingly like Russia and Turkey...

Finally, much as the idea of an open military conflict between Russia and the West is troubling, it does not seem to be on the table. For one, it is not clear what Western power would be willing to fight in it. Considering the views of America's president-elect, the fact that pro-Kremlin candidates dominate the French polls ahead of the presidential election, and the focus of British leaders on Brexit, it is reasonable to expect more accommodation of Russia.

That will come at the expense of liberal democracy and rule of law in Central and Eastern Europe. The Kremlin's job is made easier by the loss of historical memory across Europe, even in places that experienced totalitarianism and Soviet oppression less than three decades ago. With the exception of the Poles and the Balts, few in Eastern Europe see Russian propaganda and the co-opting of local political elites as an existential threat to their societies.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What to make of Russia's Aggressive Behavior, and How the US Should Respond...

Click for Kagan bio
is addressed by Fred Kagan in his AEI article Understanding Russia Today : Russia's Many Revisions.

An excerpt: redefining Russian identity in the terms the tsars used in the 19th Century—Russian Orthodoxy, nationalism, and strong government (they called it autocracy, but he does not).He claims the right to renegotiate the terms of the bad deals Russia made with the post-Soviet states, by force if necessary.  He cites the plight of ethnic Russians in the new republics as justification for eroding or even erasing the sovereignty of those states.He seeks to restore Russia to the position of global eminence it had as the Soviet Union by re-establishing its positions in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. He stokes conflict with the West to distract it from these endeavors even as he blames the West for inventing the hostility he has created

The West cannot appease its way out of this crypto-war.  Putin requires conflict to justify his rule at home and his actions in the territory of the former Soviet Union. But Western appeasement cannot address problems that spring from deep within Russia itself.  Putin is encouraging Russians to believe that they must regain suzerainty over their former empire, that they must weaken and fragment the West, that they must cut the United States down to size, and that the West will oppose them implacably in all these endeavors.  Appeasement can only draw him into further demands, since he cannot allow the hostility to wane.

The West, with the United States at its head, must rather persuade Putin and the Russian people to accept the terms they themselves negotiated for the post-Cold War settlement—or renegotiate those terms on an equal basis and in peace with their neighbors.  We must persuade Russia that it will lose another confrontation, and that the consequences of another loss will be even worse than those of 1991.  We must cajole Russia into developing a new national identity not bound in the subjugation of a large empire and military might but rather as a peaceful democratic state with an ancient tradition and a future of hope.

Victor Davis Hanson puts the Trump Election and America's Divide into a broader context

Click for Hanson background. his recent CITY JOURNAL article.

An excerpt:

"In sum, Donald Trump captured the twenty-first-century malaise of a rural America left behind by globalized coastal elites and largely ignored by the establishments of both political parties. Central to Trump’s electoral success, too, were age-old rural habits and values that tend to make the interior broadly conservative. That a New York billionaire almost alone grasped how red-state America truly thought, talked, and acted, and adjusted his message and style accordingly, will remain one of the astonishing ironies of American political history."

Don't miss Newt Gingrich's terrific interview in DER SPIEGEL

Click here for link

Some excerpts...

SPIEGEL: Many people fear that after Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20, the United States will become a less tolerant and instead more authoritarian, Putin-style state. This fear is also palpable in Europe.

Gingrich: That is irrational verging on insane. I mean, any suggestion that the most open and diverse society on the planet is likely to in any way resemble Russia requires a suspension of common sense that is pretty hard to deal with. Have you ever been in Moscow?

SPIEGEL: No, unfortunately not.

SPIEGEL: Europeans fear the consequences of a new Trump-Putin alliance. What do you expect in this regard?

Gingrich: I expect that Trump believes we do not have an obligation to have a Cold War with Russia, but that he is very cautious. By the way, you all have this schizophrenic approach. People are afraid that he'll launch an arms race, and you're afraid that he'll sell out to Putin, and you do both simultaneously. That's pretty cool. I mean, which is the greater fear? Trump is the one who said if somebody really wants an arms race, we'll drown him.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tonight's Blogger DJ Song is a pearl from 1966

...from the group 13th Floor Elevators, entitled You're Gonna Miss Me.

Fans of the 2000 John Cusack film HIGH FIDELITY will instantly recognize this cut. Or not.

Two views on Turkey's place in--or out--of NATO from July 2016, another, from January 2017.

* * *

In ALJAZEERA, Marwan Bishara addressed the issue TUREXIT: SHOULD TURKEY LEAVE NATO? shortly after Erdogan survived a coup attempt. Excerpts follow:
...But Ankara will hang tight to its NATO membership - more for its political than military benefits.
Contrary to huffs and puffs coming out of Washington and Paris, Turkey's experience shows that its NATO membership guarantees it can do what it pleases internally as long as it serves US and NATO externally.
Judging from President Barack Obama's phone call to President Erdogan this week, the US is holding tight to its Turkish ally. Likewise, if Admiral Starvidis's recommendations are anything to go by, so will Clinton.
So as Erdogan strengthens his grip over the country's military and political establishment, Turkey and NATO will continue to embrace each other, and probably increase visit exchanges, improve their lines of communications and intensify the cooperation against ISIL.

Yekaterina Chulkovskaya asks WILL TURKEY LEAVE NATO? in an AL-MONITOR post of January 10, 2017. Citing increasing ties between Russia and Turkey, Chulkovskaya highlights Turkey's involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO):
The “Shanghai Five” (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) was founded in 1996. It was renamed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization after Uzbekistan joined the group in 2001. Later, SCO observer status was granted to Mongolia, Iran, Belarus and Afghanistan. India and Pakistan signed accession agreements in June 2016 and are to become members this year. Turkey joined the SCO as a “dialogue partner” in 2012...
Russian military experts, however, are skeptical about Turkey's SCO membership. One such expert, a retired colonel and military journalist, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that without leaving NATO, Turkey can't join the SCO. "The SCO was established as a regional organization, which concentrates, first of all, on security threats such as extremism, terrorism, security and close military cooperation. It is just impossible that a NATO country will become an SCO member," he said.
In Turkey, however, membership in the SCO is hardly viewed as an alternative to NATO or the EU.
"Turkey, due to its geography and culture, is in Asia and in Europe, similar to Russia. Thus, Shanghai is not an alternative to the EU," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told the media during a December trip to Russia. "We are not using [the SCO] to scare the EU. [But] Turkey cannot disregard the threats and opportunities it faces. We do not have the luxury to say, 'The EU is our only option and we will be there whenever it wants us to be there."
Soysal told Al-Monitor, "I don't see why Turkey [would have] to leave NATO. The SCO was not established as an alternative to NATO."
Russia has viewed the SCO as more of a security and political organization than an economic one. This seriously diminishes the membership chances for a NATO state in the SCO, even though Moscow welcomes Ankara’s efforts to join. Liberal Democrat leader Zhirinovsky, during his November visit to Turkey, said Erdogan personally asked him to help with Turkey’s efforts to join the SCO and said there is a possibility Turkey will leave NATO.
It's interesting to speculate whether Erdogan was joking this time.

For more information on the SCO, see The Council on Foreign Relations' background paper.

Can--or should--a President be both a Leader and Policymaker?

George Friedman argues that the President cannot be both and is most effective as a leader in his recent Geopolitical Futures post, TRUMP, THE PRESIDENCY AND POLICYMAKING, excerpted below.

* * *

Leaders experience government as chaos. The process of becoming president is the experience of random and shifting pressures from an almost infinite number of directions. Leaders, to be effective, cannot have fixed and comprehensive positions on the endless issues with which they must cope. No U.S. president has the ability to comprehend the vast array of policy issues that face him, nor can he grasp the depths of any single issue. Some presidents have tried. They generally did not do well.

Presidents who succeed have certain characteristics. They can lead. They provide the public with a sense that they understand what is needed and how to get it done, and that they care deeply about those who are hoping problems will be solved. They rarely take office with that ability, but rather gain it in the course of balancing things that cannot be balanced. In many cases, their ability to lead is best seen after they leave office.

Washington’s primary industry is the production of policy papers. It is the center of a democratic republic, and its decision makers must be far more concerned with the voters who elect the president than the bright meritocracy who wants to advise him. The ideas might be technically good, but whether they will survive the chaos of democracy is the issue. Whether a president who focuses on policy will flourish is another issue. The best policy from a technocratic point of view may have no connection to political realities that bind American society together. Policies are crafted on the fly, in the midst of the push and pull of special interests, since all Americans pursue special interests, namely their own.

What Trump has not done is immerse himself in the details of policy, for which he is condemned. But he is actually publicly saying what all presidents know. The foundation of the job is to lead and enunciate broad policy outlines. He then must select people he trusts and who know better than he does how to execute this broad intent without tearing the presidency apart.

Reagan was charged with being detached. Jimmy Carter was praised for his deep involvement in the details of governing. Carter was defeated after his first term. Reagan won two terms and has become an iconic figure. Some defend Reagan by claiming that he was far more involved in policymaking than it appeared. That may be true, but Reagan knew something Carter didn’t. Making policy is not a president’s central task, except in crisis. Presidents should be leaders who create a seductive image of what the country should be like and allow the love and hate of a country to focus on them – by allowing themselves to become a battleground that drives the country forward. Carter created an energy policy. He could not lead, seduce or accept his role as an icon. He missed the point of the presidency

Trump’s general outline on foreign policy is simple. He argues that the international structures and ideologies that have been in place since World War II no longer serve the national interest. Free trade is not an absolute good and its benefits depend on the circumstances. The U.S. commitment to allies must be examined based both on U.S. interests and whether or not allies have acted like allies. All of this must be measured against U.S. strategic and economic interests.

This is the broad vision that comes from “Making America Great Again.” What follows is not a set of clear policy initiatives to implement this, but rather political chaos. Trump has posed a sea change to American foreign policy, and he will need to build coalitions in Congress, corporations, labor and so on. He will need to deal with foreign powers and encounter the reality that we need some of them more than they need us. Trump will have to deal with a country that feels he has failed on his promises, as no president can fulfill promises this vast.

The policies that eventually emerge will not be the product of presidential engineering, but rather what is left after factions in the U.S. and foreign powers have ripped it apart and rebuilt it. Visions come from presidents. Papers come from think tanks. Reality emerges from the political process. The U.S. founders did not envision a technocracy.

Just as Kennedy could not fulfill the promise to protect liberty everywhere, nor could he avoid problems he wanted to avoid, Trump will have to face not only the limits of his own power as president, but also that which must happen and that which must not happen, despite what he wants...

DER SPIEGEL's survey of the Security Debate within Germany after the Christmas Market Bombing

Image result for christmas market bombing in germany

...unsuccessfully walks a tightrope between serious analysis and reportage on the one hand, and infuriating hand-wringing and wool-gathering on the other. I believe the latter wins out.

The image of the gray semi-truck in the middle of an idyllically decorated square marks a turning point for Germany. Islamist terror has arrived in full force. It is no longer merely apparent in the form of arrests and investigations, no longer present in speeches about "abstract threats" and the serious expressions on the faces of security agency heads following the comparatively minor attacks of last summer. Islamist terror has now struck at the heart of German culture -- a Christmas market shortly before Christmas Eve.
And the facts speak for themselves: German security agencies were unable to prevent the attack despite the fact that its perpetrator, Anis Amri, had been known for months to be an Islamist threat. Numerous agencies had files on him, they were aware of his contacts to Islamic State and they knew that he had searched the internet for bomb-building instructions.
It is never easy for a democracy to find the correct equilibrium between freedom and security, but Germany thus far has done an adequate job of balancing out political reflexes [emphasis mine].
Domestic security/intelligence is handled not only by a Federal agency but also by agencies in each of Germany's 16 states. How that decentralization or dispersion of authority and responsibility prevented decisive action in the case of Anis Amri the DER SPIEGEL article makes appallingly clear.    

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tonight's Blogger DJ song is


What is the LMCI and why should we care ? Jeffrey Snider of Alhambra Partners tells us... his concise SEEKING ALPHA post, LMCI : Not Yet Finiished:

The LCMI or Labor Market Conditions Index is "the Federal Reserve's alternate, comprehensive factor model for the labor market" consisting of some 19 separate factors some of which are lagging indicators of economic activity, others leading indicators.

That the LCMI turned negative in December would not be worrisome. What is concerning is the corroborative evidence supplied by the Conference Board's Employment Trend's Index or ETI.

As Snider explains:

That group's Employment Trends Index was down also in December, as five of the eight subcomponents turned negative, a change that wasn't anticipated.
December's decline in the ETI was fueled by negative contributions from five of the eight components. In order from the largest negative contributor to the smallest, these were: Percentage of Respondents Who Say They Find "Jobs Hard to Get," Percentage of Firms With Positions Not Able to Fill Right Now, Number of Employees Hired by the Temporary-Help Industry, Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance, and Job Openings.
...It's not so much that any of these statistics are contracting, it is more so that they are not actually surging and accelerating. The lack of visible and obvious growth is itself very damning, not just about economic interpretations as they pertain, wrongly, to specific adjectives like "strong" and "solid" but more so the actual economic climate. By all these labor measures, 2016 ended no better than it started, and in many cases, across the jobs market was somewhat worse. 
...Year over year the LMCI was down nearly 6%, the largest decline by far since the "recovery" began. Thus, we have to conclude that though there is much in the index that is lagging and therefore a reflection of past weakness, there isn't anything looking forward that is close enough to offset it and suggest actual (as opposed to the uniform commentary of "strong" no matter what any of these numbers really are) acceleration and economic improvement. To the contrary, there is still the hint of further weakness with the arrows still pointing slightly negative in far too many places.
The issue, as ever, is not imminent recession or not, but rather an end to the depression; to truly exit what has been a distinct lack of any actual cycle. That expiration is just not there, though by all orthodox standards and expectations it should be this far after "global turmoil." It seems the drag of the "rising dollar" is not yet finished. 

Looking ahead from the 2016 Elections with Larry Sabato...

of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, and his article 2017: At the Dawn of the Age of Trump.

An excerpt:
It is true that Democrats theoretically have enough votes in the Senate — 48 when including the two independents who caucus with them — to block measures that require 60 votes. However, there are more filibuster-proof items than ever due to rule changes made by the Democrats in 2013 when they still controlled the upper chamber, meaning that Cabinet-level appointees and most federal judicial nominees (but not for the Supreme Court) only need 51 votes to be confirmed. In addition, 10 Democratic senators are up for reelection in 2018 in states carried by Trump, and some of the most endangered ones cannot be counted on to vote with their caucus in all circumstances. Maybe a few Republicans will defect in the other direction from time to time, as early declarations about the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election indicate.
The Democratic Party, which fully expected to control the White House and the Senate going forward, is still in shock from the stunning November outcome — and in its worst governing position nationally and in the states in modern times. You have to reach back to the 1920s to find a comparable period of Democratic impotence.
As we have pointed out many times, President Obama’s tenure has been a disaster for his party at other levels. Over his two terms, Democrats have set the post-World War II record for losses by the White House party. Taking governorships, state legislators, and members of the U.S. House and Senate together, Democrats have suffered a net loss of over 1,000 posts from Obama’s initial victory in 2008 to the loss of Hillary Clinton under his watch. The Democratic bench is almost empty in many critical states, another reason why political analysts have a hard time coming up with an expansive list of potential presidential nominees for 2020. Given the potential for GOP gains in the Senate come 2018, Democratic hopes for fresh blood may depend heavily on their performance in big-state gubernatorial elections at the midterm.
All 435 House seats will also be contested in 22 months, but despite the Republicans’ substantial 241-194 majority in the new Congress, Crystal Ball Managing Editor Kyle Kondik found that only 23 House Republicans occupy seats won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race (it is possible that this number will change slightly but not substantially). Compare that to the 2010 midterm, when Democrats were defending 48 seats won by John McCain in 2008 — major Democratic overexposure that significantly contributed to the GOP’s massive 63-seat net gain. Democrats also hold 12 districts won by Trump in 2016, including a few he won by double digits. Republicans may mount credible challenges in many of these seats. Simply put, the Republicans do not appear to be all that overextended in the House at the starting gate of the 2018 campaign, although much will depend on the national mood heading into the midterm...

Monday, January 9, 2017

U.S. Foreign Policy after You-Know-Who

Courtesy of World.Mic

...while summarized in the graphic above, is surveyed by Thomas Donnelly in a separate and distinct article from the AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE entitled Obama’s Foreign Policy: No Easy Fix, heavily excerpted below.

* * *

The fundamental tenet of the “Obama Doctrine” has been to deconstruct and delegitimize the global order built on Anglo-American political principles, and to reverse the previous course of U.S. strategy. The “world that America made” rested on five pillars—preserving a favorable balance of power in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East, sustaining sufficient military power to lead coalitions in each of these theaters, and, through promoting Americans’ sense of “exceptionalism” and moral ambition, preserving the domestic political will to exercise geopolitical leadership.

President Obama has achieved measures of success in each of these areas. The least change has come in those areas—Europe and East Asia—where the efforts of previous presidents were longest-standing, most institutionalized, most deeply rooted and, consequently, the balance of power most durable. Americans have been directly involved in Europe for a century, been the dominant military power since 1945, and the dispositive power since the end of the Cold War. Disturbing as they have been, Russia’s land-grabs in Georgia and Ukraine are not by themselves serious challenges to the American-made peace of Europe, and Russia will not soon be a true great power. The United States retains the means to rebuild a new containment policy and military deterrent. Likewise in East Asia, Chinese expansionism has moved at a relatively cautious pace—though its direction has been clear to the nations of the region, and the appetite there for an American-led containment coalition and more robust deterrent posture is palpable. The military risk would be somewhat greater—the People’s Liberation Army is a more dangerous force than Putin’s “little green men”—but the U.S. military still has the capacity and could quickly acquire selected new capabilities to restore a favorable balance.

In the Middle East, the challenge is immeasurably greater; historians well may come to regard 2009 as the high-water mark of American power in the region. Determined to “end” all direct U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama years have been witness to the near-total collapse of the previous order. Thanks to the recently-concluded deal with Iran and his strategic abandonment of America’s traditional Sunni and Israeli allies, President Obama has raised Tehran from the gutter and given its hegemonic hopes a tremendous boost. Finally, the utter confusion of the Sunni world leaves the Islamic State with the leading claim to be the champion of most of the world’s Muslims. This is a profound and disastrous shift; even a succession of presidents committed to a “rollback” strategy to reestablish a favorable regional balance of power would face an uncertain and uphill path.

And with the collusion of the congressional leadership of the Republican Party, President Obama has wreaked havoc on the U.S. military and encouraged Americans to turn inward in an especially narcissistic way. The Department of Defense has not bought a substantial fleet of any single weapons system since the Reagan years; the few things that have been procured—such as the F-22 fighter—are too few in number to maintain the kind of operational advantages of the past. But, even more importantly, the force is way too small; even at the peak of the Iraq surge, the United States could not supply or sustain adequate numbers of ground troops to conduct simultaneous campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The continued “post-conflict” drawdown, enshrined in the 2011 Budget Control Act—an eerie echo of the British “10-year rule” of 1919—ensures this weakness will continue for the foreseeable future.

Another great article on (the Great American Jobs) Exodus

by Jeffrey Snider of Alhambra Partners in SEEKING ALPHA, entitled FACTORIES OR MONEY

Some excerpts...

At the peak in 2000, calendar year factory orders were $4.16 trillion. Three years into supposed recovery, factory orders in 2004 were still less than $4 trillion. It wasn't until the sharp rise in 2005 that the factory sector finally appeared to put what was really a mild recession behind. But manufacturing in the US wasn't ever the same.

While the US economy was ostensibly in recovery in 2002, 2003 and 2004, it was mostly if not all from the "demand" side of the equation. It was during those years where the largest exodus of manufacturing jobs in history was witnessed. Whether or not you believe Ross Perot was correct in his "giant sucking sound" prophecy, there is no doubt that there was some good correlation between the loss of those jobs during those years and what to many was not a recovery; and even in economics, there was a great deal of agreement that economic function during that time was highly unusual.

That is what led policymakers toward embracing the lunacy of the housing bubble in its final stage. In one sense, the one led to the other, or at least allowed it to happen. By that I mean the huge buildup in debt was that "demand" side that essentially paid, at the margins, for those goods to be produced overseas. It was the substitution of finance for income; mortgage and consumer debt for the labor lost in manufacturing jobs and production.

This is where the "free trade" mantra espoused by economists loses, completely discredited. If there was an organic trend of efficient resource calculation that led low skill jobs elsewhere to be replaced by better jobs here, then the Ricardian equivalence holds. But that isn't what happened. Those jobs left, and not just the immediate jobs that already existed but in addition all future growth in jobs and investment that were, again, replaced by mostly finance. In this case, as all others, that means the eurodollar.

Globalization is the eurodollar, or at least was. Without its ability to stream channels of funds, denominated in dollars ("global savings glut"), from all over the world to these various far-flung locales, the cheap labor would have remained idle in all those places. You can have an ocean of potential unskilled labor, but without the monetary/financial backing and capabilities it will remain idle. You have to finance construction of new facilities, move logistical capabilities, engage in sufficient graft, and then obtain raw material and other components on global markets. All that takes enormous amounts of fluid, fungible "dollars."

...In all the economic history of the world but especially the United States, economists don't say why Americans picked the 2000s with which to make a clean break from the whole consistent past where labor flexibility was one of the true economic strengths of this nation. Even in the industrialization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, workers displaced from agricultural pursuits by capital efficiency (and productive deflation) were faced with some "skills mismatch" as they shifted by the millions anyway to industrial work.

What is lacking is not labor flexibility, but rather labor opportunity. There is, in the 21st century, no place for workers to go...

The rising rejection of globalization is the inevitable end of an unstable arrangement. Nothing will work for long that requires so much steady and massive growth, particularly monetary in form. Thus, as factory orders decrease for a second year in a row in the US, that signals this time not just lack of traditional recovery like it did in the middle 2000s, but economic pain the whole world round. In 2017, "dollars" are increasingly difficult to come by, and so there aren't manufacturing jobs anywhere.

California a Role Model for the U.S? No, says Joel Kotkin his recent NEW GEOGRAPHY article, 'California as Alt-America'

Two Excerpts:

Indeed, a closer examination shows that the California “boom” is really about one region, the tech-rich San Francisco Bay Area, with roughly half the state’s job growth recorded there since 2007 even though the region accounts for barely a fifth of the state’s population. Outside the Bay Area, the vast majority of employment gains have been in low-paying retail, hospitality and medical fields. And even in Silicon Valley itself, a large portion of the population, notably Latinos, are downwardly mobile given the loss of manufacturing jobs.

According to the most recent Social Science Research Council report, the state overall suffers the greatest levels of income inequality in the nation; the Public Policy Institute places the gap well over 10 percent higher than the national average. And though California may be home to some of the wealthiest communities in the nation, accounting for 15 of the 20 wealthiest, its poverty rate, adjusted for cost, is also the highest in the nation. Indeed, a recent United Way study found that half of all California Latinos, and some 40 percent of African-Americans, have incomes below the cost of necessities (the “Real Cost Measure”). Among non-citizens, 60 percent of households have incomes below the Real Cost Measure, a figure that stretches to 80 percent below among Latinos.

In sharp contrast to the 1960s California governed by Jerry Brown’s great father, Pat, upward mobility is not particularly promising for the state’s majority Latino next generation. Not only are housing prices out of reach for all but a few, but the state’s public education system ranks 40th in the nation, behind New York, Texas and South Carolina.  If California remains the technological leader, it is also becoming the harbinger of something else -- a kind of feudal society divided by a rich elite and a larger poverty class, while the middle class either struggles or leaves town.


Nor, unlike during much of the postwar era, can it be said that California represents the demographic future.  The state -- even the Bay Area -- generally loses people to other states, particularly those in middle age, according to an analysis of IRS numbers.  Brown apologists suggest it’s only the poor and uneducated who are leaving, but it also turns out that California is losing affluent people just as rapidly, with the largest net loss occurring among those making between $100,000 and 200,000.

Perhaps more revealing, the number of children is declining, particularly in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Children made up a third of California’s population in 1970, but USC demographer Dowell Myers projects that by 2030 they will compose just a fifth.

Nor is help on the way. Although boomtown San Francisco has maintained its share of millennials, most large California cities have not. And the number of people in their mid-thirties -- prime child-bearing years -- appears to be declining rapidly, notably in the Bay Area.   Coastal California is becoming the golden land for affluent baby boomers rather than young hipsters. Surfing dudes will increasingly be those with gray ponytails.

Instead of a role model for the future, the Golden State seems likely to become a cross between Hawaii and Tijuana, a land for the aging rich and their servants. It still remains a perfect social model for a progressive political regime, but perhaps not one the rest of the country would likely wish to, or afford, to adopt.