Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tuesday, May 31, Night Wall Street Roundup: Wall St. Ends May With Whimper As Energy Shares Slump

By Lewis Krauskopf
Reuters
May 31, 2016

The S&P 500 wrapped up its third straight month of gains on a flat note on Tuesday as weaker energy shares countered a rise in safe-haven utilities.

The Nasdaq closed higher on Tuesday, and ended up 3.6 percent for the month, the best performance of the three major indexes. The Dow eked out gains for May to notch its fourth straight positive month.

Data on Tuesday showed U.S. consumer spending recorded its biggest increase in more than six years in April as households stepped up purchases of automobiles, while another report showed an ebb in consumer confidence in May.

Consumer staples .SPLRCS ended down 0.49 percent, while consumer discretionary shares .SPLRCD fell 0.11 percent.

Energy shares .SPNY were the worst performing sector, dropping 0.57 percent, as oil prices settled lower. Utilities .SPLRCU rose 0.56 percent, leading all sectors.

"There’s nothing out there today bringing money off the sidelines," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 86.09 points, or 0.48 percent, to 17,787.13, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 2.11 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,096.95 and the Nasdaq Composite.IXIC added 14.55 points, or 0.29 percent, to 4,948.06.

Investors will be parsing through economic data, including Friday's employment report, to gauge whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates as soon as its June 14-15 meeting. The central bank caught investors off guard earlier this month when it signaled its next rate hike could be just weeks away.

"The market is getting used to the idea of potentially higher rates and the Fed hiking this summer," said Aaron Jett, vice president of global equity research at Bel Air Investment Advisors in Los Angeles. "It’s been an amazing change in sentiment compared to the middle of February where people were ready to jump out of the window."

After a rough start to the year amid jitters about the global economy and volatility in the oil market, the S&P 500 notched its third straight month of gains, its first such streak in two years. The benchmark index is up more than 2 percent in 2016.

On Tuesday, Dow component Disney (DIS.N) fell 1.1 percent. The studio's latest release, "Alice Through the Looking Glass," received poor reviews.

Celator Pharma (CPXX.O) surged 71.6 percent to $30.08 after agreeing to be bought by Jazz Pharma (JAZZ.O) for about $1.5 billion. The Nasdaq Biotechnology index .NBI rose 1.3 percent.

Great Plains Energy Inc (GXP.N) will buy bigger rival Westar Energy Inc (WR.N) for $8.6 billion, the largest deal in the U.S. electricity distribution market so far this year. Westar jumped 6.4 percent, while Great Plains fell 5.9 percent.

About 8.2 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, well above the roughly 7 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,648 to 1,395, for a 1.18-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,591 issues rose and 1,250 fell for a 1.27-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 25 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 81 new highs and 21 new lows.


Article Link to Reuters:

Today's Stock In Play is Skyline Medical (Symbol SKLN)

5 Reasons Trump Is Dominating American Politics

Everyone missed the signs of what was coming.


The National Interest
May 29, 2016

One remarkable element of American politics is the extent to which unthinkable developments become commonplace once they happen. Consider simply the men who have become president by defying the conventional wisdom that said they could never reach that office, because they weren’t right for the times and the times weren’t right for them. They include Abraham Lincoln, considered a western bumpkin with only a single congressional term under his belt and no discernible sophistication about him. Or Ronald Reagan, considered a failed actor, a man whose detractors felt he was simply too dumb to be president. And let’s not forget Barack Obama, clearly an accomplished and polished politician whose race, it was believed by many, would constitute a barrier because the country wasn’t yet ready for a black president. But when these men actually reached the White House it seemed entirely natural. The country casually absorbed the reality of something that previously had seemed impossible.

Now we have Donald Trump emerging as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, a development utterly unthinkable until it happened. When he first announced his candidacy, it was considered a joke. When he emerged as the leader in polls, it was said he would falter as soon as actual voting commenced. When he began winning primaries, we were assured it wouldn’t last. When he kept winning, the party elites mounted plans to outmaneuver him through convention manipulations, because this simply couldn’t happen.

And yet here he is, occupying a position once thought unthinkable. And now it seems possible that he actually could become president. How did this happen? How did the unthinkable become commonplace? Herewith a stab at identifying the five greatest reasons for the Trump emergence, offered with a proviso that whenever the unthinkable becomes reality, there are always understandable and compelling reasons that simply weren’t perceived beforehand.

Political Correctness


The disciplines of this powerful movement had become so entrenched in the American culture that we didn’t really perceive just how much seething anger it was generating among Americans who didn’t view the world as the enforcement legions of political correctness demanded. Of course, everyone now knows how this bludgeon of right thinking has practically destroyed free speech and free thought on American campuses, as spineless administrators have stood by or joined in. That clearly disturbs many Americans, particularly those who want their children to seek an education in an environment that is at least open to political thinking consonant with their own views and principles. But it wasn’t clear until Trump’s emergence just how much ordinary citizens chafed at this cultural phenomenon in terms of the impact on their own everyday lives. Political correctness has sought, with much success, to narrow the range of political discourse by labeling as illegitimate certain views and thoughts that, just a few years ago, were considered entirely acceptable.

Thus, if you believed in secure borders for America, you ran the risk of being labeled a racist or a xenophobe. Same thing if you wondered aloud whether, given the historical antagonism between the West and Islam and the anti-Western fervor of Islamist fundamentalism, it might be best to curb the Muslim inflow into the West. If you harbored traditional views about marriage that, a generation ago, were considered entirely normal by the vast majority of Americans, suddenly you found yourself labeled an extremist or a bigot. If you believed that a civilized society requires a certain respect for law enforcement, you watched in disgust as an assault on the nation’s police generated diffidence among officers and their leaders, and contributed to a sudden rise in crime.

A stark reflection of this could be heard in a radio news report in Seattle recently about a high school youth there who put up a sign saying, “Build the Wall.” He was ordered to take it down, which was appropriate enough if the school had a policy against overt political expression on campus. But the principal had another rationale for the action. “We don’t tolerate racism at this school,” she told the radio station. The student was forced into a groveling apology. Thus did we have a student expressing the views of a politician who had collected nearly 11 million votes in the GOP primaries—yet was forced to recant upon pain of being cast out of polite society as a racist.

Donald Trump stood up to all of that, and he did so with pugilistic resolve. No presidential politician had done that before, and now it’s clear that many Americans were waiting for someone to express their frustrations over the zealous cadres of political correctness. The most stark example was Trump’s call for a temporary ban on the entry of Muslims into the country, pending a better understanding of the domestic terrorism threat. His suggestion was considered outlandish, if not utterly outrageous, and he was roundly attacked from both left and right. But exit polls during the primary season revealed that significant numbers of Americans agreed. Political correctness may have silenced many of those people, but it couldn’t convert them.

Immigration


Before Trump’s emergence on the political scene, no politician had demonstrated a credible seriousness about sealing the U.S. border. The country had never really managed to get beyond what might be called the Great Fraud of 1986—amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country in exchange for promises of a sealed border. But then the illegal influx increased dramatically under the noses of inert government officials. Nobody believed their leaders in Washington were really serious about the problem. Meanwhile, liberal commentators and intellectuals delighted in suggesting that the game was up, that the influx of immigrants was transforming the country’s politics in ways that disfavored traditionalists and Republicans and anyone who felt that the old cultural sensibilities of the country were worth protecting and sustaining. So the message was: Get over it. Republican leaders, with their straight-line analysis, generally embraced the view that they would have to get on board this bandwagon or the party would be swamped by newcomers who found distasteful the old Republican principles of self-reliance, nationalism and secure borders.

Then along comes Trump, who not only takes on the globalist elites, with their casualness toward open borders, but does so with force and an open disdain for the political correctness that previously had enveloped the debate. In doing so, he declared unmistakably that this was one politician who took the issue seriously and would do something about it. By transforming the terms of debate on the issue, he transformed also the dynamics of the issue.

Middle-Class Decline


Late last year the Pew Research Center reported that America’s middle class had shrunk to less than half the population, compared to 61 percent in the late 1960s. These are the people who once were considered the bedrock of American society and the engine of much of its growth and progress. Many factors contributed to this decline, but one was the deindustrialization of America. As the country’s industrial base was hollowed out, so was the working class that propelled those industrial factories and enjoyed the fruits of those solid blue-collar jobs. Many of those people traditionally did well even without college degrees. But now that has changed. “Those Americans without a college degree stand out as experiencing a substantial loss in economic status,” said the Pew report.

Research by an MIT professor named David Autor, reports the Financial Times, suggests that “the earnings gap between the median college-educated US male and the median male with a high school education doubled between 1979 and 2012.” This during a time when there wasn’t much overall wage growth in the country at large.

Much has been written about the social havoc this economic decline as wreaked on America’s traditional middle class, with significant increases in divorce, alcoholism, drug use and suicide. Many of these people feel that they have been left out and left behind by the political elites of the country, focused as they are on helping the poor and bringing in immigrants who put downward pressure on wage rates. Few politicians spoke to them or their plight—until Trump. His answer is to attack the deindustrialization of the country through protectionist tariffs. Whether that can work is an open question, but it evinces a concern for those people left out in the cold by the country’s industrial decline.

Globalism

I have written in these spaces about globalism and nationalism as representing probably the most fundamental political fault line in the country today. Globalists don’t like borders. They believe goods, money and people should be able to move freely around the world without much interdiction or burden. They don’t hold much truck with nationalism—a relic, in their view, of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which codified the recognition of coexisting nation states. Nationalists believe in the nation state, particularly their own. That’s why they believe in borders. Globalists seem enchanted by overseas adventures either to foster American greatness (neoconservatives such as George W. Bush) or to salve the hurts and wounds of humanity (Wilsonian interventionists such as Hillary Clinton). Globalists dominate the country’s elite institutions—the media, academia, big corporations, big finance, Hollywood, think tanks, NGOs, charitable foundations.

But nationalist sentiment is widespread in America, though nationalists have tended to feel frustrated in the face of the barrage of globalist sentiment and advocacy coming from the elite institutions. Now they have an outlet for expressing their frustration—a vote for Trump.

The Coarsening of American Culture


This phenomenon has been seen in a decades-long assault on traditional mores and values relating to sex, drug use, everyday language, marriage, ethics and much more. Nearly three decades ago the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined a phrase, “defining deviancy down,” meaning lowering the definition of what once was considered deviant behavior and accepting—even embracing—activity once frowned upon by society. The senator was talking mostly about criminal behavior, but the concept applies to all of society, seen most starkly in the popular culture of movies, TV, popular music and drama. Raunch is in, and getting raunchier.

Trump, of course, has given us his own debasement of political behavior, so his emergence certainly can’t be seen as a reaction to the vulgarization of American culture. Quite the opposite, that vulgarization has cleared the way for his own brand of tawdry politics. But it’s interesting to see Trump’s detractors waxing indignant about his coarse rhetoric as they go about their lives in a sea of vulgarity that brings from them hardly a stir of recognition, let alone indignation. That American middle class, as a bedrock of the country’s economic health in the long-ago past, also strained to enforce certain standards and values of behavior. That middle-class role got crushed by new standards and values enforced through elite institutions and the popular culture.

And so there was no bulwark to stand against Trump’s bad-boy politics. The coarsening of American society had helped pave the way for him.



Article Link to The National Interest:

U.S. Oil Rises, Global Crude Weaker On Strong Middle East Output

By Henning Gloystein
Reuters
May 31, 2016

U.S. oil prices rose on Tuesday, buoyed by the start of the U.S. summer driving season, while international fuel markets fell on rising output in the Middle East, which mostly serves Asian customers.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures CLc1 were trading at $49.58 per barrel at 0707 GMT (04:07 a.m. EDT), up 25 cents from their last settlement. Brent crude oil futures LCOc1 were down 18 cents to $49.58 a barrel.

Demand in North America is set to pick up as the summer driving season signals peak demand, triggering a cut in the amount of open short crude positions that would profit from falling prices.

"Investor positioning points to further support for commodity prices as bearish bets continue to be reduced," ANZ bank said on Tuesday.

The number of outstanding managed short crude positions of U.S. WTI crude futures 1067651MSHT on NYMEX fell to its lowest level this year last week.

"Since the start of the rally back in February ... speculative length on the NYMEX have been growing by 0.6 percent per week, whereas speculative shorts have been falling by 8 percent per week," the U.S.-based Schork Report said in a note to clients.

The pick-up in demand is also seen in rising U.S. refining availability, which is expected to increase by 354,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the week to June 3 compared with the previous week, according to data from research company IIR.

International oil markets, however, were hit by a rise in Middle Eastern crude exports.

Iraq will supply 5 million barrels of extra crude to its partners in June, industry sources familiar with the issue said, joining other Middle East producers by lifting market share ahead of an OPEC meeting this week.

Iraq, which is the second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, had already been targeting record crude export volumes from southern terminals next month of 3.47 million barrels per day.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top crude exporter, as well as fellow OPEC producers Kuwait, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, also plan to raise supplies in the third quarter in an ongoing race for market share in the world's biggest consumer region, Asia.


Article Link to Reuters:

Tuesday, May 31, Morning Global Market Roundup: Asia Shares Firm, But Set For Near 2% Monthly Loss

By Nichola Saminather and Lisa Twaronite
Reuters
May 31, 2016

Asian shares recovered from a wobbly start on Tuesday, but remained on track for a monthly loss, while the dollar edged away from recent peaks scaled on expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates as soon as next month.

European markets are poised for a mixed start, with financial spreadbetters expecting Britain's FTSE 100 to open down 0.3 percent lower, France's CAC to begin the day 0.1 percent lower and Germany's DAX to rise 0.1 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.6 percent, but looked set to end the month down 1.8 percent on jitters over Fed rate hikes and disappointing data out of China.

Japan's Nikkei stock index backtracked on earlier losses to end the day up 1 percent, extending a 1.4 percent rally in the previous session. It is up 3.4 percent for May, thanks to a tailwind from a weaker yen.

Data earlier in the session showed Japanese industrial output unexpectedly rose 0.3 percent in April, suggesting production is holding up despite weak exports and the impact from a series of earthquakes that struck southern Japan during that month.

China's CSI 300 surged 3 percent and the Shanghai Composite advanced 2.9 percent as investors bet that MSCI will add mainland shares to its index for the first time next month. That helped the former erase losses for the month, and the latter to shrink declines to 1.1 percent.

The positive mood spilled into Hong Kong, boosting the Hang Seng index 1.4 percent and paring its slide in May to 0.8 percent.

Underpinning Asian equities, European shares hit one-month highs on Monday amid otherwise light trade with markets in London and New York closed for public holidays.

"The focus will be on U.S. data," Bernard Aw, market analyst at IG in Singapore, wrote in a note. "Investors will be keen to see if U.S. data this week will corroborate the Fed’s slightly optimistic tone."

The dollar has surged recently on expectations of higher U.S. rates. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday that the central bank should hike rates "in the coming months" if economic growth picks up and the labour market continues to improve.

Against that backdrop, the May U.S. private-sector ISM manufacturing data, due on Wednesday, and non-farm payrolls report on Friday will garner even more attention than usual. Solid readings could further heighten expectations for a move as soon as the Federal Reserve's next policy meeting on June 14-15.

Economists predict the jobs report will show that U.S. employers added 170,000 jobs, slightly more than they did in April. Hourly wages are expected to show a 0.2 percent increase from the previous month. [ECONUS]

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six rival currencies, gained 0.2 percent to 95.773, not far from a two-month high of 95.968 and up nearly 2.9 percent for the month.

Against the yen, the dollar advanced 0.2 percent to 111.300. But it rose to as high as 111.455 in the previous session, its loftiest peak in a month, and is on track to notch a gain of 4.6 percent in May.

The euro slipped 0.1 percent to $1.11255, hovering near a 2-1/2 month low of $1.1097 hit in the previous session. It is set to end the month 2.9 percent lower.

Moves in crude oil futures were limited ahead of Thursday's meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Most analysts did not expect any changes in the group's flat-out production.

There was no Monday settlement for U.S. crude futures because of the U.S. Memorial Day holiday. They were up 0.7 percent at $49.66 on Tuesday, lifted by the start of the peak demand summer driving season in the U.S. They are set for an 8.2 percent jump in May.

Brent crude futures were steady at $49.74 a barrel, poised for a gain of 3.4 percent for the month.

While a softer dollar on Tuesday gave gold a boost, the recent recovery in risk sentiment pushed the precious metal to its biggest monthly decline since November.

Spot gold climbed 0.6 percent to 1,212.70 per ounce, but was headed for a slide of 6.3 percent for the month.


Article Link to Reuters:

Attempted North Korea Missile Launch Fails

By Ju-min Park
Reuters
May 31, 2016

North Korea attempted to fire a missile from its east coast early on Tuesday but the launch appears to have failed, South Korean officials said, in what would be the latest in a string of unsuccessful ballistic missile tests by the isolated country.

The launch attempt took place at around 5:20 a.m. Seoul time (04:20 p.m. EDT), said the officials, who asked not to be identified, without elaborating.

Tension in Northeast Asia has been high since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and followed that with a satellite launch and test launches of various missiles.

Japan put its military alert on Monday for a possible North Korean ballistic missile launch.

"We have no reports of any damage in Japan. We are gathering and analyzing data. The defense ministry is prepared to respond to any situation," Japanese Minister of Defence Gen Nakatani told a media briefing.

"North Korea shows no sign of abandoning the development of nuclear missiles and so we will continue to work closely with the U.S. and South Korea in response and maintain a close watch on North Korea," Nakatani said.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said it appeared North Korea had attempted to launch an intermediate-range Musudan missile. North Korea attempted three test launches of the Musudan in April, all of which failed, U.S. and South Korean officials have said.

Yonhap quoted a South Korean government source as saying the missile was likely to have exploded at about the time it lifted off from a mobile launcher.

The flurry of weapons technology tests this year came in the run-up to the first congress in 36 years of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party early this month, where young leader Kim Jong Un further consolidated his control.

Tuesday's attempted launch appears to have been its first missile test since then, and experts have said it was unusual to test-fire a missile so soon after a previous failure.

The South Korean military said Pyongyang's continuous missile launches could stem from Kim's order in March for further tests of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.

"They must've been in a rush. Maybe Kim Jong Un was very upset about the failures," said Lee Choon-geun, senior research fellow at South Korea's state-run Science and Technology Policy Institute.

Repeated Failures

North Korea has never had a successful launch of the Musudan missile, which theoretically has the range to reach any part of Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam.

North Korea is believed to have roughly 20 to 30 Musudan missiles, according to South Korean media, which officials said were first deployed in around 2007.

"It could have cracks and something wrong with the welding," Lee said of possible causes for the latest failure. "But deployment before test-firing these to complete development seems unusual."

The attempted launch took place near the east coast city of Wonson, one of the South Korean officials said, the same area where previous Musudan tests had taken place.

Separately, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported on Tuesday that career diplomat Ri Su Yong, one of North Korea's highest-profile officials, would visit China on Tuesday.

There was no indication of any link between the latest failed missile launch and Ri's visit to China.

China is reclusive North Korea's only major ally but has been angered by Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests and signed up to tough UN sanctions against the reclusive country.

Ri was North Korea's foreign minister until he was named a member of the politburo during the recent Workers' Party congress.


Article Link to Reuters:

Bernie's Graceless Platform Shakedown

California voters will effectively decide how much sway he’ll have over the mostly meaningless document.


By Michael Tomasky
The Daily Beast
May 31, 2016

Mixed messages over the past few days from camp Sanders on how hard he’s going to fight on the Democratic platform. Friday night, Rachel Maddow broke the news that the Sanders campaign wanted Clinton backers Dannel Malloy and Barney Frank removed from their positions as co-chairs of, respectively, the Platform and Rules committees; Maddow suggested Sanders was threatening to tie the convention in knots if they weren’t removed.

The Democratic National Committee said no dice to this on Saturday, and Sanders softened his tone a bit. Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd tried to lure Sanders into talking some platform smack, but he didn’t engage.

The old cliché about platforms is that no one reads them and no one cares. The new cliché, which I just invented, is: It’s still true that no one reads them, but that need not prevent millions of people from getting irate about what is and isn’t in them after they’ve been instructed on Twitter to get irate. So we have every reason to think that this platform fight is going to be a much bigger deal than usual. How hard Sanders and his appointments to the platform committee push—and on what exact points—will say a lot about how unified the Democrats are going to be.

Before we look at that, though, let’s just spend a paragraph noting how extraordinary it is that Sanders has appointments on the platform committee at all. Throughout history, party chairs have appointed these people. Whatever you think of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her decision to let Sanders name five of the committee’s 15 members went way beyond what was necessary.

And then Sanders responded in his usual graceless way. Four of his appointees are fine to very good, but Cornel West is just a bulging middle finger to the president and the party. He despises the Democratic Party. What possible interest could he have in shaping its platform, except to enrage the kinds of Democrats—like, oh, the future nominee, for example—for whom he such open contempt?

All right. I’ve read different accounts in which Sanders is going to demand about 20 different things, all of them uttered by him or leaked out by his campaign over the past month. One big one was going to be a demand that there be no vote in this Congress on the Trans Pacific Partnership. That’s exactly the kind of Sanders bluster that drives me nuts, since as he well knows Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan decide on that, and they don’t care what Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton think. And in any case, Clinton has already agreed to this piece of utterly meaningless theater. So we can check that one off the list.

Last week the media focused on Israel as a big point of contention. There is potential here for messiness, as Clinton has been a big Israel hawk ever since representing New York in the Senate. But I’ve been in contact with a couple of sources who think this is being overplayed. Even Sanders said on MTP: “I have the feeling that while the media wants to make this into a great conflict, I think there's going to be broad consensus within the Democratic convention on that issue.” It may well come down to just adding language accepting that the Palestinian people have to be seen as human beings. As those of you who monitor my columns for evidence of thought crimes might remember, this is the one issue for which I have nothing but praise for Sanders.

No, the major issues are probably going to be the ones at the heart of Sanders’s campaign: the big banks; the free stuff; the corrupt-system complaints. And here, Clinton should say no on the first two but cede ground on the third.

Breaking up the big banks isn’t her position. The guy who’s going to end up with about 300 fewer pledged delegates and more than 3 million fewer votes doesn’t get to say “you beat me, but you must adopt my position.” It’s preposterous and arrogant, which of course means he will do it. And she’ll probably have no choice but to arrive at some kind of semantic accommodation of him. But will he rail on about how her refusal to adopt his position shows that she’s corrupt and give us another two months of “release the Goldman-Sachs transcripts”?

As for free college, that’s just bad policy, and it would be nice if Clinton would say so, although alas she probably won’t be in a position to. Why is it bad policy? As Harvard’s Theda Skocpol explained at The Huffington Post, universal free tuition would “waste resources on upper-middle-income families that can afford to pay or borrow to cover at least some college costs.” Clinton’s plan for debt-free college is actually more progressive in that it targets those who really need help most, while still offering massive relief to those in the upper-middle brackets. I hope against hope that if the time comes she will just stand up and say this.

Finally, on corruption questions, she should just largely agree. She already does, on overturning Citizens United (another vastly overrated thing that will help, although not nearly as much as its proponents think or as Sanders has led his followers to believe, although of course I’m for it). Since most of these matters are for the courts to decide anyway, the only actual commitment she need make here is to nominate progressive judges, which she’s obviously going to do anyway.

We’ll have to see how Bernie plays it. If he wins California he’ll be feeling his oats. If he loses it narrowly we can probably expect another week of “the system is rigged” and resultant prickliness to follow. If she defeats him by more than four or five points, even he might finally accept reality.


Democrats’ Civil War Is Only Just Getting Started

By Matt Rhoades
The New York Post
May 30, 2016

During the last few election cycles, Democrats have gleefully watched as the Republican Party ripped itself apart in a battle over ideological purity. But they shouldn’t get too comfortable: Their civil war is upon us, too.

In 2010 and 2012, divisive Senate primaries led to unpalatable GOP general-election candidates in Nevada, Delaware, Missouri, Indiana and Colorado — all states that could have elected Republican senators and provided a nearly filibuster-proof majority. Democrats laughed as the GOP shot itself in the foot.

Now, in 2016, I have three words for Democrats: Winter is here. Your party is now locked in a fierce civil war, the populists are at the gate and there are more bloody battles in store.

In one corner is the Hillary Clinton wing of the party, represented by the liberal establishment in the Acela Corridor. These are the left-of-center party leaders interested only in preserving power.

In the other is the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders wing that rose to prominence on the backs of the radical Occupy Wall Street protest movement. Vehemently opposed to American free enterprise, these extremists are fueled by burning left-wing populism and hostility toward capitalism. They demonize success by pitting the so-called “one percent” versus the “99 percent,” and have less interest in governing than they do advancing ideological purity.

The growing influence of the Warren/Sanders wing of the party is obvious. Despite spending nearly $200 million in the Democratic primary, Clinton has still failed to close out a 74-year-old socialist who doesn’t even comb his hair.

Even though Clinton will eventually stagger to her party’s nomination, the Democratic civil war is far from over.

The headlines have been dominated by a widening schism led by enraged Sanders supporters who believe their candidate has been treated unfairly. The clash has also spilled over into key Senate races. In Florida, for example, an explosive altercation between Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and progressive flamethrower Alan Grayson grew so heated that Reid’s security detail was forced to intervene.

In Pennsylvania, it took nearly $5 million from the liberal DC establishment to push its candidate for Senate, Katie McGinty, over the finish line against her upstart challengers.

At the top of the ticket, one major point of contention has been the Democrats’ reliance on the undemocratic superdelegates that have greatly benefited Clinton.

In mid-May, the type of violence that marked the Occupy Wall Street movement erupted at the Nevada Democratic Convention with competing factions hurling insults, chairs and even death threats at each other. By mid-week, the Nevada Democratic Party formally filed a complaint charging the Sanders campaign with “fomenting violence.”

In an extraordinary turn of events, Sanders endorsed and even fund-raised for the populist primary challenger to DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a controversial figure who co-chaired Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid and has faced accusations of rigging the system for her in 2016.

As the populists take over, the establishment faces a choice: acquiesce or fight for the heart and soul of their party. Clinton’s pick for vice president will provide an indication of which direction she intends to take.

If she names Warren as her running mate, it would be a clear signal the keys have been turned over to the populists. The Occupy Wall Street crowd that began at Zuccotti Park five years ago will now potentially be one heartbeat away from leading the free world.

Even if Warren is passed over, she and her acolytes will have left a permanent mark on Clinton and her party. Under constant pressure, Clinton has lurched leftward on a host of hot-button issues like trade, criminal justice, energy and her views toward the financial-services industry. Clinton limps out of the bitter Democratic primary a far different candidate than she entered last April.

The ultimate victor of this struggle is yet to be determined, but the battle lines have been drawn, there are many political casualties ahead and the future of the Democratic Party hangs in the balance.


Article Link To The New York Post:

Trump Trolls Plot To Bait Bernie And Hillary Into Twitter Wars

Trump supporters launched a plan to use fake Twitter accounts to pit Bernie and Clinton fans against each other. It didn’t really work, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.


By Gideon Resnick
The Daily Beast
May 31, 2016

“Let’s troll Bernie and Hillary supporters systematically,” the 4Chan thread on a recent weekend in May read.

The plan was simple: get a bunch of people to create pro-Bernie Sanders and pro-Hillary Clinton accounts and go to war on Twitter. The sham accounts would use hashtags to slander the opposite candidate and try to rile up die-hard fans into saying accusatory things to the supporters on the other side. The goal was to create more divisions and somehow use it to help Donald Trump gain more support.

“We need to take advantage of this,” the author of the original post wrote. “This is Trump's gift. If we're serious about a Trump presidency we need to start infiltrating their conversations in order to sow more divison. I'm talking systematic and long-term /mischief/, not just a hew [sic] minutes trolling dumbass SJW's (social justice warriors).”

According to Greg Hughes—the name the author of the post provided to The Daily Beast—it didn’t pan out as well as intended, despite dozens of comments of approval on the post.

“If the thread and idea was successful it would've spawned a new thread- it didn't,” Hughes, a customer service representative for a logistics company, told The Daily Beast. “No momentum, it just didn't catch fire. Maybe we could still do it but the weekend is over. Nobody has time now.”

Hughes, who says he earnestly wants Trump to win the election, goes by the moniker John J. Miller on Twitter, a reference to the infamous pseudonym Trump used to speak with reporters years ago. He thinks the climate of anonymous liberal back-and-forths, as well as the inherent skepticism between supporters of the two Democratic candidates on Twitter is ripe for a hostile takeover.

“We could've gotten any anti-Bernie or anti-Hillary hashtag we wanted to trend and with nobody the wiser when the fights began,” he explained. Some hashtags Hughes proposed on 4chan were: #BernieSlanders, #BernBroSlanders, #BerniebroTears, #BerniebroSobStories and #PettyBernie.

While his initial efforts may have fallen short of his expectations, it did not go completely unanswered.

On Saturday for instance, someone in the original thread created the account “@1992DavidKelly” which made an effort to stoke animosity.

“It saddens me to see how delusional #BernieSanders supporters are. The numbers don't add up 4 Bernie. Come #imwithher so we can beat Trump,” the account tweeted. It got five retweets, which is considerable given that the account only has seven followers as of this writing.

On Wednesday, another user offered up a similar plan to Hughes’ idea.

“They are going all out to paint Bernie supporters as non-Democrats and selfish ‘white people,’” a w 4chan post read, referring to the media at large.

“This is an excellent wedge that you can exploit by finding Bernie supporters and calling them privileged and entitled white men from the point of view of a Hillary supporter,” the post continued. “Your main goal should be to mock and humiliate Bernie supporters while leaving subtle but unmistakable hints that you're voting for Clinton.”

The poster added, “Remember, if they hate you and you support Clinton, then they will hate Clinton.”

When Hughes began this project, he thought that the infrastructure was already in place to make stoking fights like this an easy process.

“Correct The Record is the greatest gift to Trump ever, let's use it to our advantage and make both sides lose credibility with each other,” he wrote in the original thread.

He’s referring to the pro-Clinton Super PAC which has already engaged in a kind of social media warfare to push back against negative attacks against Clinton, as first reported by The Daily Beast, only adding to the skepticism some Sanders supporters have about their efforts.

If the chaos Hughes hoped to incite would have really panned out, Correct the Record could have been on the offensive against what appeared to be pro-Sanders supporters that were in fact just trolls.

It’s unclear if the PAC’s “Breaking Barriers” project (its anti-negativity campaign) takes into account that certain people may not be forthright in their attacks—or if it’s even possible to assess this.

"Correct the Record's effort to push back on online harassment, Barrier Breakers, is dedicated to responding to any hateful, incendiary language,” communications director Elizabeth Shappell told The Daily Beast. “This is a general election-focused initiative, and currently, the Barrier Breakers content is exclusively positive.”

Hughes’ plan also may not have turned into a firestorm because some Sanders supporters caught wind of the idea before it could really get off the ground.

“Dear Admins (or whoever else wants to see what the other side is doing to troll us)... These idiots created a website on specific strategies to troll us,” Tam L. Cocar wrote, referring to the thread in the “Bernie Believers” Facebook group. “Unfortunately, a lot of it seems too familiar as of late. So if you have hours to waste to see how elaborate their trolling strategy has become (they seem deluded enough to fancy themselves as 007 types), please do. Why some moron would post this without the site being password protected I don't understand.”

Yet even the presence of the thread was enough to convince Cocar that Clinton supporters may have been behind it in what would be the double-cross of the century.

“I think it's paid Shillary trolls - posing as Trump trolls - in a slimy effort to somehow get us NOT to vote for him & align with her if she steals the nomination,” she commented on her own post. “She & her super pacs are THAT devious. They left this link hanging out there on one of their pages.”

Cocar did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.

But other Sanders supporters, like Eric Varney who runs the “By Sanders Supporters, For Sanders Supporters” Facebook page said he doesn’t think people would fall for this.

“An attempt like this would only work with people who are uneducated about the political system and do not know how to debate civilly,” Varney told The Daily Beast. “Neither the majority of Clinton or Sanders supporters are stupid. There are ignorant people on both sides who would fight the wind if it whistled wrong. But that's the nature of social media.”

Yet he remained skeptical of Correct the Record and cited a debunked conspiracy that Clinton supporters got pro-Sanders Facebook pages taken down after reporting them for child pornography.

It’s this rift and mistrust that people like Hughes hope to exploit.

“It's not enough to troll for fun, you have to complete [sic] sever the ties that bind them for good -a pressure movement for Bernie to disavow HRC,” he wrote in his original thread.

“Even if you didn't get Bernie to do it, imagine thousands of Sanders supports [sic] chanting our hashtag at rallies, the news reporting on it. That would mean millions of Bernie supports would not vote for Hillary. Vote for Stein. Honestly I think them voting Trump is a non-starter.”

And maybe being outed was all part of the plan.

“Even if we're caught, it fucking makes them mistrust each other,” he wrote. “The wound is there, the limb just has to be severed.”


Article Link to The Daily Beast:

‘Brexit’ Vote Is Britain’s Chance To Declare Independence

By George F. Will
The New York Post
May 31, 2016

Leaders of the campaign to end Britain’s membership in the European Union hope that next month’s referendum will make June 23, 2016, a date as luminous in modern British history as May 3, 1979, when voters made Margaret Thatcher prime minister.

Michael Gove, secretary of justice and leader of the campaign for Brexit — Britain’s withdrawal from the EU — anticipates a “galvanizing, liberating, empowering moment of national renewal.”

For Americans, Britain’s debate about Brexit is more substantive, and perhaps more important, than their dispiriting presidential choice. American conservatives would regard Britain’s withdrawal from the EU as the healthy rejection of political grandiosity.

Gove’s friend, Prime Minister David Cameron, who opposes Brexit, says the referendum is “perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes.” Advocates of Brexit agree, but add: If Britons vote to remain in the EU, this might be the last important decision made at British ballot boxes because important decisions will increasingly be made in Brussels.

The EU’s “democracy deficit” is mistakenly considered merely an unintended injury done by the creation of a blessing — a continent-wide administrative state. Actually, the deficit is the point of such a state. In Europe, as in the United States, the administrative state exists to marginalize politics — to achieve Henri de Saint-Simon’s goal of “replacing the government of persons by the administration of things.”

The idea of a continent-wide European democracy presupposes the existence of a single European demos, the nonexistence of which can be confirmed by a drive from, say, Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic.

Gove believes that the ongoing concentration of power in Brussels, seat of “the bureaucratic regulatory temptation,” guarantees “regulation in the interest of incumbents” who “do not want a dynamic, innovative Europe.” Under Europe’s administrative state, Gove says, “interest groups are stronger than ever,” and they prefer social stasis to the uncertainties of societies that welcome the creative destruction of those interests that thrive by rent-seeking.

Gove likens the EU’s figurehead Parliament to “the Russian Duma under the czars, or the Hapsburg parliament.” The EU is “a rigged cartel in the interest of the smug.”

If, as some serious people here fear, Europe’s current crisis of migration is just the beginning of one of the largest population movements in history, the EU’s enfeebled national governments must prepare to cope with inundations. But each EU member’s latitude for action exists at the sufferance of EU institutions.

Gove believes that most of the British public, and even most members of Parliament, see the familiar trappings and procedures of the House of Commons — the mace, question time — and think nothing has changed. But most of binding law in Britain — estimates vary from 55 percent to 65 percent — doesn’t arise from the Parliament in Westminster but from the European Commission in Brussels.

The EU has a flag no one salutes, an anthem no one sings, a president no one can name, a parliament that no one other than its members wants to have more power (which must be subtracted from national legislatures), a capital of coagulated bureaucracies that no one admires or controls, a currency that presupposes what neither does nor should exist (a European central government administering fiscal policy) and rules of fiscal behavior (limits on debt-to-GDP ratios) that few if any members obey and none has been penalized for ignoring.

Journalist and historian Max Hastings, who will vote Remain, says the bitterness between Leave and Remain Conservatives is reminiscent of the Suez crisis of 1956 and is “wildly unreasonable,” given that Britain’s gravest problems — an unsustainable National Health Service, a “failing” education system, low economic productivity — “have nothing to do with Brussels.”

Besides, especially given the worsening migration crisis, “I cannot believe that the EU, and even more the eurozone, will or should survive in their present form through another decade.” Supporters of Brexit agree that, such is the EU’s flux, there is no stable status quo to embrace, so leaving is no more risky than remaining.

Mildly invoking 1776 for an American guest, Gove says, “Self-government works better than being part of an empire that doesn’t have our interests at heart.”

So, the 23rd of June can become Britain’s Fourth of July — a Declaration of Independence. If Britain rejects continuing complicity in the EU project — constructing a bland leviathan from surrendered national sovereignties — it will have rejected the idea that its future greatness depends on submersion in something larger than itself.

It will have taken an off-ramp from the road to serfdom.Leaders of the campaign to end Britain’s membership in the European Union hope that next month’s referendum will make June 23, 2016, a date as luminous in modern British history as May 3, 1979, when voters made Margaret Thatcher prime minister.

Michael Gove, secretary of justice and leader of the campaign for Brexit — Britain’s withdrawal from the EU — anticipates a “galvanizing, liberating, empowering moment of national renewal.”

For Americans, Britain’s debate about Brexit is more substantive, and perhaps more important, than their dispiriting presidential choice. American conservatives would regard Britain’s withdrawal from the EU as the healthy rejection of political grandiosity.

Gove’s friend, Prime Minister David Cameron, who opposes Brexit, says the referendum is “perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes.” Advocates of Brexit agree, but add: If Britons vote to remain in the EU, this might be the last important decision made at British ballot boxes because important decisions will increasingly be made in Brussels.

The EU’s “democracy deficit” is mistakenly considered merely an unintended injury done by the creation of a blessing — a continent-wide administrative state. Actually, the deficit is the point of such a state. In Europe, as in the United States, the administrative state exists to marginalize politics — to achieve Henri de Saint-Simon’s goal of “replacing the government of persons by the administration of things.”

The idea of a continent-wide European democracy presupposes the existence of a single European demos, the nonexistence of which can be confirmed by a drive from, say, Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic.

Gove believes that the ongoing concentration of power in Brussels, seat of “the bureaucratic regulatory temptation,” guarantees “regulation in the interest of incumbents” who “do not want a dynamic, innovative Europe.” Under Europe’s administrative state, Gove says, “interest groups are stronger than ever,” and they prefer social stasis to the uncertainties of societies that welcome the creative destruction of those interests that thrive by rent-seeking.

Gove likens the EU’s figurehead Parliament to “the Russian Duma under the czars, or the Hapsburg parliament.” The EU is “a rigged cartel in the interest of the smug.”

If, as some serious people here fear, Europe’s current crisis of migration is just the beginning of one of the largest population movements in history, the EU’s enfeebled national governments must prepare to cope with inundations. But each EU member’s latitude for action exists at the sufferance of EU institutions.

Gove believes that most of the British public, and even most members of Parliament, see the familiar trappings and procedures of the House of Commons — the mace, question time — and think nothing has changed. But most of binding law in Britain — estimates vary from 55 percent to 65 percent — doesn’t arise from the Parliament in Westminster but from the European Commission in Brussels.

The EU has a flag no one salutes, an anthem no one sings, a president no one can name, a parliament that no one other than its members wants to have more power (which must be subtracted from national legislatures), a capital of coagulated bureaucracies that no one admires or controls, a currency that presupposes what neither does nor should exist (a European central government administering fiscal policy) and rules of fiscal behavior (limits on debt-to-GDP ratios) that few if any members obey and none has been penalized for ignoring.

Journalist and historian Max Hastings, who will vote Remain, says the bitterness between Leave and Remain Conservatives is reminiscent of the Suez crisis of 1956 and is “wildly unreasonable,” given that Britain’s gravest problems — an unsustainable National Health Service, a “failing” education system, low economic productivity — “have nothing to do with Brussels.”

Besides, especially given the worsening migration crisis, “I cannot believe that the EU, and even more the eurozone, will or should survive in their present form through another decade.” Supporters of Brexit agree that, such is the EU’s flux, there is no stable status quo to embrace, so leaving is no more risky than remaining.

Mildly invoking 1776 for an American guest, Gove says, “Self-government works better than being part of an empire that doesn’t have our interests at heart.”

So, the 23rd of June can become Britain’s Fourth of July — a Declaration of Independence. If Britain rejects continuing complicity in the EU project — constructing a bland leviathan from surrendered national sovereignties — it will have rejected the idea that its future greatness depends on submersion in something larger than itself.

It will have taken an off-ramp from the road to serfdom.


Article Link to The New York Post:

Israel's Army Gets Pulled Deeper Into The Political Mire

By Daniel Gordis
The Bloomberg View
May 31, 2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision last week to fire Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon continues to roil Israeli society.

The break began with the shooting and killing of an already neutralized Palestinian terrorist by a member of the Israeli Defense Forces. Ya’alon, who has consistently called for high ethical standards in the IDF, decried the shooting.

Although images of the incident that circulated on the Internet seemed damning (though others argued that the video supported the soldier’s version of the story), the political right condemned Ya’alon for “siding” with a terrorist over one of his own soldiers.

The video, however, puts Ya’alon on solid ground, both moral and apparently evidentiary. Had the controversy ended there, he might still be defense minister. But just a few weeks later, he came to the defense of the IDF deputy chief of staff, Major General Yair Golan, and matters became more complicated.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day (a powerful commemoration during which Israelis come to a complete stop as air raid sirens sound across the country), Golan also spoke about the importance of morality in the IDF. But he went further: "If there's something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance it's the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then -- 70, 80 and 90 years ago -- and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016."

Likening events in Israel to any aspect of Hitler's Germany violated a fundamental social and cultural taboo in Israel. Not surprisingly, the outcry was immediate and broad-based. Netanyahu, furious, asked Ya’alon for a “clarification.” The prime minister clearly expected that Ya’alon would at least reprimand his deputy, but the defense minister did precisely the opposite -- he stood up for Golan’s right to express himself.

Ya’alon then went even further and used the brouhaha as an opportunity to condemn Israel’s political right. The attacks are "intentional, distorted interpretations" of Golan's comments and “are an additional attempt of a worrisome campaign to inflict political damage on the IDF and its officers,” Ya’alon said.

Even though Golan later backed off his analogy and apologized, the speech set off a public duel between the army and the government. Ya’alon’s departure was virtually inevitable and followed only weeks later.

Israel has a long history of public criticism of its army, and in the past such critiques rarely got people dismissed; indeed, they often catapulted them to national prominence. In 1949, for example, S. Yizhar (the pen name of Yizhar Smilansky), wrote "Khirbet Khizeh," a novella that was deeply critical of the IDF’s treatment of some Arab villages it captured and destroyed during the War of Independence. Even though Israelis accepted that the war had been a battle for survival, the critique was welcomed. "Khirbet Khizeh" was added to Israel’s high school curriculum, and S. Yizhar was elected to the Knesset several times (representing Ben-Gurion’s Mapai, the predecessor of the Labor Party). Self-criticism has been central to Israel’s ethos since the country's establishment.

So why the outcry this time? Several factors seem to have coalesced. First, Golan was not incorrect. An increasingly dogmatic right wing has been on the rise in Israel. It is less open to the sort of critiques that Yizhar penned decades ago, and that Amos Oz and David Grossman, two of Israel’s finest novelists, continue to produce today. The virulence of the attacks against Golan, particularly from the hard right, may stem from the fact that some of Israeli society recognized itself in what he said.

Second, the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust still has paramount cultural, historical and even religious significance in Israel, and any attempt to liken Nazi Germany to the social ills Israel is experiencing was bound to strike many as heresy. Golan’s point was on target -- his rhetoric was poorly chosen.

Finally, Netanyahu has not shied from trying to define the limits of national discourse. Just last year, David Grossman withdrew his name from candidacy for the 2015 Israel Prize because he objected to Netanyahu’s meddling in the selection process. Judges also resigned, citing the prime minister’s heavy-handed involvement in a process that should have been entirely apolitical.

Netanyahu overplayed his hand in that instance. He may now have done so again. Ya’alon was a highly respected defense minister (and chief of staff before that), and many Israelis were proud that he stood up for the rule of law in the Hebron case and for freedom of expression in the Golan affair. Netanyahu's manhandling of Ya’alon is proving highly unpopular.

Change may be close at hand. “Israelis were lucky to have Ya’alon as defense chief these last few years, and this luck now seems to have run out," Moshe Arens, a respected right-of-center politician and writer, said. “A political earthquake is in the offing.”

If Netanyahu, usually a masterful political tactician, did overplay his hand, Ya’alon’s exit from politics may be temporary. In that case, the departure the prime minister precipitated may prove to have been his own.


Article Link to The Bloomberg View:

Obama’s Myths About War

By Max Boot
Commentary
May 29, 2016

President Obama’s eloquent and interesting, if incomplete, speech at Hiroshima was about far more than nuclear weapons. He began with the origins of warfare in prehistoric times (“Our early ancestors having learned to make blades from flint and spears from wood used these tools not just for hunting but against their own kind”) and ended with a plea for a revolution in thinking, to turn away from war and to embrace peace. “That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening,” he said.

Obama didn’t mention it, but I suspect that a 2011 book by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, shaped the thinking behind the speech. In his well-received tome, Pinker argued that a moral revolution against war, and violence in general, is not just Utopian thinking: It has actually happened. Violence, he argues, is at historic lows.

This would seem hard to square with the terrible history of the 20th century when just four events — World Wars I and II, and the mass murders of Stalin and Mao — killed at least 130 million. But Pinker points out that the Mongol conquests in the 13th century killed 40 million people out of a far smaller world population. If the 20th century had suffered as much bloodshed on a per capita basis, the result would have been 278 million dead — more than twice the actual figure. Murder rates, he believes, are also much lower now than in centuries past.

The evidence appears compelling for Pinker’s counterintuitive case that the present is better than the past. The difficult question is: Why? Pinker attributes much of this progress to the “civilizing process” brought about by the consolidation of state power and the spread of commerce. The former disarmed various feudal and tribal forces, while the latter convinced people that their neighbors were worth more to them alive than dead. At the same time, the Enlightenment brought about a rights revolution that caused people to see torture, despotism, slavery, racism, imperialism, and other practices that were common throughout history as being wrong.

There is a good deal of explanatory power in these arguments, and they suggest that Obama’s hope for reducing warfare is not simply a pipe dream. But these arguments are also incomplete. They leave out a couple of inconvenient facts that Obama ignored in his Hiroshima speech.

First, the peaceful impact of nuclear weapons. A large part of the reason why we have enjoyed a long respite from great power conflict–there has no been such war since 1945 if you omit the fighting between Americana and Chinese soldiers in the Korean War—is because of the terrible threat of nuclear weapons. The possession of the ultimate weapon created a stability in U.S.-Soviet relations that might easily have spiraled out of control into all-out conflict if the only weapons on hand were conventional. Nuclear weapons have also been a stabilizing force between Russia and China, India and Pakistan, the U.S. and China, among others.

This reality runs counter to Obama’s expressed desire to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Ironically if he could achieve this Utopian goal–and of course neither he nor anyone else can put the atomic genie back in the bottle–the paradoxical result would be to make the world safer for conventional war. Considering that more than 55 million people died in World War II when conventional weapons were far less lethal, that is a worrisome thought.

The second reality unmentioned by Obama is the contribution the U.S. has made to world peace by flexing its muscles around the world. A big part of the reason why the post-1945 era has been, in relative terms, more tranquil than preceding epochs has been the unrivaled power of the United States, a liberal and benevolent hegemon. It has been far more important than the United Nations or any other international body. The Pax Americana has helped to bury old rivalries in Europe and East Asia and to impose some rules of the road on the international order.

Cross-border transgression, for example, was forcefully dealt with in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush led an intentional coalition to evict the Iraqi army from Kuwait — and earlier when President Harry Truman led an international coalition to evict the North Korean army from South Korea in 1950. Mass killing was forcefully dealt with when President Bill Clinton led an international coalition in Bosnia in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999.

The U.S. has hardly acted in every instance to address every international crime — witness America’s inaction during the Rwanda and Darfur genocides. But the U.S. has done far more than any other actor to impose a modicum of civility in the international sphere.

Unfortunately, the lessons that might have been drawn by bad actors from those past American interventions have dissipated in recent years. President Obama has allowed Russia to annex Crimea and invade Ukraine, China to attempt the annexation of the South China Sea, and Bashar Assad and other factions in the Syrian civil war to engage in war crimes verging, and sometimes crossing over into, genocide.

Yes, the world is still a much safer place than it was in centuries past. But I fear that it is growing more dangerous as America loses the will to maintain the Pax Americana. That is a trend that has started under Obama and would vastly accelerate under the isolationist Donald Trump were he to win office. So, sadly, in years to come rather than celebrating further reductions in violence, we may be lamenting that the trend has been going in the wrong direction.


Article Link to Commentary:

Resolve Cold War POWs

Commentary
May 30, 2016

When most Americans think of those missing in action this Memorial Day, they will think of Vietnam. But while there was hope in some quarters in the 1980s and perhaps even 1990s that some POWs might still be alive — the Vietnamese willingness to cooperate on the issue was the major hurdle to re-establishment of relations during the Clinton administration — there is widespread acknowledgment today both that Vietnam holds no POWs and that Vietnamese authorities are generally cooperative on the issue.

But, Vietnam was not the only country to seize, mistreat, and often hold illegally POW/MIAs. During the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and China did as well. On May 28, the National Alliance of Families held an event in Washington unveiling information on a new Cold War POW/MIA case as well as updated revelations about what the Soviets knew and their Russian successor state knows. While Soviet shoot-downs of American planes like Francis Gary Powers’ 1960 U-2 incident garnered press attention largely because the Soviet Union sought to publicize it, that was the exception rather than the rule. The Soviets kept their acquisition of most American POWs/MIAs a secret.

On this Memorial Day, this website outlining many of the unresolved and outstanding cases dating back to the Korean War should be essential reading. And, while both the White House and Defense Department seem more desirous to sweep the issue under the rug, Americans from across the political spectrum should ask why Putin shut down an inquiry into Americans who disappeared into the Gulag just as it was gaining traction and why a personal sighting by an imprisoned Lithuanian aviator of an American in a Soviet camp was not followed up. In 1954, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow formally requested the return of American Korean War POWs who had been transferred into Soviet custody, but the Soviet Union never acceded to the request.

The issue is not only historical or academic. In some cases, the wives of missing remain alive. They deserve answers. Diplomats may believe that such matters are tangential to their jobs and missions, but it is never sophisticated to leave Americans behind or to sweep the maltreatment of Americans under the carpet. It is time to precondition further cooperation with both Moscow and Beijing on the resolution of these cases, and it is time that American school children know the names of those like Jim Deane and Lloyd Smith Jr. Memorial Day isn’t about the barbecues; it is about the men and women who served and sacrificed. Many families received closure upon learning of the deaths of their loved ones. Families of MIAs and POWs deserve the same closure.


Article Link to Commentary:

The South China Sea Crisis: Next Stop The UN Security Council?

What Happens Then?


Greg Raymond
The National Interest
May 31, 2016

All the signs indicate that China is preparing to reject the anticipated adverse judgment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the South China Sea.

The Philippines is arguing [4] that China is acting illegally in exploiting resources in the areas beyond the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) limits while forcibly preventing other nearby states like the Philippines from exploiting the resources in the same areas. If the PCA calls for China to abandon its nine-dash line claims and China rejects this finding, what options would then be available to the international community?

The PCA is a less powerful court than the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Unlike the ICJ, it does not have the equivalent of article 94 in the UN Charter [5] which ominously states that:

If any party to a case fails to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the Court, the other party may have recourse to the Security Council, which may, if it deems necessary, make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken to give effect to the judgment.

Still, ignoring a finding of the PCA would still be significant, as it would amount to ignoring international law. As such, members of the UN Security Council could seek a UN Security Council discussion and resolution on the matter. They could interpret a rejection of the PCA finding as highly damaging to the credibility of UNCLOS, and the decades of diplomatic work that its successful negotiation entailed. They could classify the South China Sea issue as a dispute causing international friction, and hence within the UN Security Council’s mandate. While it is inevitable that China, and perhaps also Russia, would seek to prevent the UNSC from discussing the issue, what would be the likely position of the other Security Council members?

At least two of the Permanent Council members, the US and the UK, are taking a strong line. Despite the US not ratifying UNCLOS, President Barack Obama has strongly emphasised [6] respecting the PCA’s findings. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has recently stated [7] that he expects China to abide by the outcomes of the Court. France is more difficult to predict. It and other EU members have been calling for resolution of the South China Sea disputes through international law. At the same time, however, they have been unwilling to directly confront or denounce China’s more assertive actions, such as its declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea in 2013.

Some of the non-permanent members may be willing to support a UN security council discussion of the case. Japan is speaking the language of the ‘rules-based global order’ [8] in relation to the South China Sea. Malaysia is a claimant state in the region and appears to be increasingly concerned[9] about the situation. However, it has also sought to maintain a ‘special bilateral relationship’ [10] with China and to date has been unwilling to publicly confront China’s actions. It may not be willing to take a strong stand.

Australia, China and the South China Sea:


Australia has a strong interest in the resolution of disputes in the Asia Pacific through peaceful means and international law. Australia sees China’s nine-dash line as an unacceptable claim and its actions as inconsistent with the rules-based global order. While China is not an obstacle to world order overall, a degree of pushback is reasonable. Any PCA ruling casting doubt on China’s nine-dash line claim represents an important opportunity for Australia to develop, strengthen and diversify its approach. Part of this can be to increase diplomatic pressure in line with Rory Medcalf and Ashley Townsend’s recent call [11] for a broader-based campaign that increases the reputational costs of China’s unilateralist posture.

There are two advantages of broadening and extending diplomatic pressure, especially by comparison with Freedom of Navigation operations (FONOPs). This approach does not risk sending ADF assets into disputed zones of the South China Sea. While China’s adoption of better collision avoidance protocols has reduced the risk, a recent unsafe intercept [12] of a US spy plane shows that there is still potential for a repeat of the 2001 EP-3 incident [13]. This approach also avoids the perception that Australia is militarizing the issue.

Australia can expect blowback from China if it seeks to increase diplomatic pressure. A taste of this as already evident in the form of some Chinese community groups warning the government [14] against a strong stand on the South China Sea last month. Or we can think back to the reaction to the visit of Rebiya Kadeer [15] in 2009, when the Chinese Embassy here sought to prevent the Uighur leader speaking.

China could threaten economic retaliation. China is alleged to have used economic levers such as its trade in rare earth metals against Japan after East China Sea tensions arose in 2010 (although this is still unproven [16]). But China may be just as (if not more) wary of disrupting trade with Australia. As Alan Oxley recently noted [17], what matters more to China in the long run: national growth — and hence social harmony — or its ambitions in the South China Sea?

One point in Australia’s favor is that it has stood up to a major power before in support of the rules-based global order. In 1986 the ICJ found that the US’s Nicaragua policy violated international law and ordered the US to cease its support for the Contra paramilitary and military activities. The UNSC drafted a resolution [18] calling for US compliance. Australia, then a non-permanent member of the UNSC, courageously supported the resolution. While the US ultimately exercised its veto, the process threw a spotlight on questionable policies in South America.

While Australia did not speak to the resolution, it likely sympathized with some of the arguments put forward. Ghana stated that ‘any development which undermines the existence and efficient functioning of the UN also undermines our own sovereignty’. Denmark stated that it ‘remained convinced of the important role of the ICJ in the peaceful settlement of disputes and of the necessity for member states to accept the Court’s verdicts’. Iran pointed out that in the ‘absence of a law enforcement agency for international law… respect for the UN Charter depended on the degree of accommodation that member states would show in rejecting parochial short-sightedness in favour of a functional and universally respected international system.’

These points would seem to be as valid today as they were 30 years ago. If these developments come to pass, Australia should publicly and privately encourage a spotlight on China flouting the international justice system, just as it did in 1986 when the US did the same.


Article Link to The National Interest:

What 'Boots On The Ground' Truly Means

A metaphor conceals the price paid by those who serve their country in times of war.


By James Wright
The Atlantic
May 30, 2016


This election year, Memorial Day comes amid debates about how to respond to those who threaten the United States and its allies. A military response or preventive action is a common suggestion to deal with threats. The rhetoric from candidates, from political leaders, from cheering sections, and from pundits has been aggressive. Recent months have brought proposals for increased air strikes, carpet bombing, establishing and enforcing no-fly zones, congressional declarations of war, authorizing torture of suspects, and arming and aiding those whose weapons now seem aimed in what America currently considers the right direction.

Some of these plans include the introduction of combat troops to combat ISIS—calling for “boots on the ground. ” This is unambiguously a muscular assertion. Foes beware and friends take comfort—the American troops have landed.

But “boots on the ground” is about more than a figure of speech, a synonym for combat deployment. The metaphor obscures and abstracts the humanity of the young Americans dispatched on open-ended assignments. Calling them “boots” substitutes leather for flesh and blood—flesh that will be torn and blood that will be spilled. To advocate sending boots onto hostile ground is easier than proposing to send young men and women into a dangerous situation.

Calls for “boots on the ground” also evoke images of what is commonly called the “battlefield cross.” It is part of the unofficial military ceremony that men and women often hold, either in the field or back at their home base, to memorialize a deceased comrade.

This “cross” is not a cross but a field weapon, a rifle, with fixed bayonet thrust into the ground. A helmet sits on the top of the butt of the rifle. This inverted-rifle icon is at the center of a ceremony that enables comrades to pause, to bend a knee, to remember, to grieve, to say farewell. There is often a final roll call, understanding that one—or more—of the names shouted out will elicit no response.

At least as far back as the Vietnam War, this memorial has been further enriched and humanized by a pair of field boots sitting next to the weapon, helmet, and bayonet. Many have seen this image or even just the empty combat boots placed in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and other sites to remember friends who served and died.


"If they have an obligation to remember these sacrifices when the shooting stops, they have a contract with those who serve to anticipate them before the shooting starts."


These boots are a forceful and personal reminder. The U.S. Army Manual describing the field ceremony notes that the boots symbolize the “final march of the last battle.” Combat boots in the ceremony democratize a very old tradition in military funerals of leaders—the riderless horse with empty boots reversed in the stirrups, following the caisson with the body of the deceased. This rattling saber is silently sheathed.

Memorial Day is a single day, set aside for Americans to reflect upon and honor those whom they should reflect upon and honor every day. It provides a symbolic occasion to pause and consider those who serve in the military, and especially those whose sacrifice is forever—indelibly symbolized by the quiet markers in national cemeteries. But Americans need to make this act of reflection an enduring commitment rather than a perfunctory salute. If they have an obligation to remember these sacrifices when the shooting stops, they have a contract with those who serve to anticipate them before the shooting starts.

There unfortunately will be occasions when the United States needs to ask members of its military to take on an assignment on hostile ground. That can be a necessary action. And it can be an expected deployment for those who have volunteered to serve. They will go. But before such an order is issued, those who urge and authorize such an assignment should assess and explain it carefully, to make clear what the military’s goal is and what the metric is for knowing this deployed force has achieved it.

Explaining these things has become far more complicated. Since World War II, American wars have been fought for often general, typically ambiguous, and always evolving political ends. Combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been called “asymmetrical warfare,” engagements in which there is seldom an enemy in uniform in the field. In these conflicts, American military forces need to follow stringent rules of engagement, to recognize protected areas, to respect and protect noncombatants, and to seek to win often-fickle and always-frightened hearts and minds among the civilian residents. They need to work as civic, economic, and cultural advisors, as well as a police force aiming to control carefully and seldom overtly. None of these are conventional military actions—and public debate has not kept pace.

One way to change that is to move from metaphor to reality. Those who urge this deployment must think not of robotic drones, of shock and awe video-game firepower, or of marching boots and of other bloodless euphemisms, but of the young countrymen and women involved. And to anticipate that these operations will inevitably result in real boots on the ground—empty boots sitting next to a rifle attached to a bayonet thrust in the earth. With loved ones grieving at home and comrades grieving in the field.

Think of these boots and those who wore them on Memorial Day. And every day.


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The Folly Of Lobbying To Carve Up Iraq

The smooth Kurdish PR campaign.


By Luay al-Khatteeb
The National Interest
May 31, 2016


“It was the Kurds,” wrote Thomas Friedman in 2014, “who used the window of freedom we opened for them to overcome internal divisions, start to reform their once Sopranos-like politics and create a vibrant economy that is now throwing up skyscrapers and colleges.”

This has become the popular story of Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government that has circulated increasingly in Washington and London. According to this narrative, Iraq’s Kurds have been long oppressed, but instead of collapsing into internal conflict as many liberated societies in the region do, they have pressed ahead with democracy.

As one Kurdish official recently noted, the Kurds remain steadfast as the West’s ally of choice against Islamic State (ISIS), patiently building relations with their neighbors despite a venal and corrupt government in Baghdad that sabotages every bid they make for financial independence.

This narrative is more than a contentious historical interpretation—it is a PR invention. It was recently reported that the KRG spent almost $6 million lobbying in Washington since 2010, more than Pakistan has spent with its requests for subsidized F-16s and aid. Now that ISIS is weakening, while Baghdad remains broke, the KRG lobbying effort has reached fever pitch, with no fewer than three articles by officials in the Washington Post,Foreign Policy and Britain’s Guardian.

These KRG officials won’t mention that at least a portion of their lobbying budget, if not all of it until the end of 2013, was paid for by Baghdad. This money, along with at least $120 billion in oil revenues since 2003 from the federal government and disputed oil fields, has been used to create a bloated and collapsing public sector, undermining the Kurdish Democratic Party’s claims that the region is mistreated.

In fact, this was never the case, as by 2005 the Kurdish budget had increased from $2.5 billion to $5 billion, all of it in transfers from the central government. So, from the beginning, it has benefited the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) to stay within the federation, biding its time until (it was hoped) independent oil exports could provide financial independence. Arguably, compared to Basra, the KRI has done fantastically well by Baghdad.

Unfortunately, op-eds by KRG officials capitalize on the limited understanding most outsiders have of Iraq. At the head of these efforts is Masoud Barzani, whose mandate to rule ended in August of last year. Therefore, the Kurdish bid for independence is not currently based on democracy.

Kurdish autonomy has long been based on a division of public funds between dynasties, who crowd out reformist opposition such as the Kurdish Gorran Party. This arrangement has its roots in the division of oil smuggling and customs revenues between the KDP and Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the 1990s.

Dissent is highly regulated. The KDP has been widely accused by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of arresting and intimidating dissenters, murdering journalists and allowing widespread corruption. In October 2015, Reporters Without Borders accused the KDP of unleashing a “wave of terror” on the media, after TV stations critical of the KDP were attacked.

Of course, Baghdad is not innocent of human rights violations, but an overview of Iraqi media shows a landscape of political satire. In fact, the recent “storming” of the Green Zone (most protesters were peaceful and left when told to do so) contrasts markedly with protests in the KRI and demonstrations under Maliki. Five Kurds were killed in protests in October last year.

At the same time, Iraq is not a perfect democracy. But it is one of the few areas of the region that has achieved a delicate democratic transition with inclusive governments. While under threat in Baghdad, this inclusivity now seems to have halted in the KRI.

KDP supporters argue that their region has been a haven for internally displaced people including Yazidis and Iraqi Christians, who have endured appalling oppression at the hands of ISIS. This is true in terms of sheer numbers of IDPs. But Human Rights Watch recently reported how Iraqi Christians in the KRI were stopped from protesting a government land seizure by members of the KDP’s security forces, commonly known as the Asayish.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad there is a camp for Iraqi Christians, not far from the headquarters of the Babylon Brigades, a Christian force in the pro-government Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary group. This camp receives aid from the organization that run Iraq’s holy shrines. Of course, many Christians have left Baghdad, but this is overwhelmingly because of the resurgence of ISIS in 2014.

Nonetheless, Kurdish officials press on with the narrative of a hopelessly chaotic Arab Iraq and the beacon of tolerance that exists under KDP control in Erbil. KDP officials have lamented Baghdad’s attempt to deny the Kurdish oil that they claim it can rightfully export, suggesting that the Kurds have entered financial chaos purely because of Baghdad.

The first point to make here regards the legality of Kurdish oil exports. In 2014 a court in Texas upheld the government of Iraq’s claim that a Kurdish oil shipment to the United States was illegal. The following year, a UK court also ruled that the KRI cannot claim “sovereign immunity” when it comes to energy matters.

This debate distracts ordinary Kurdish people from the pressing issue of rapid and far reaching economic reform in the KRI. Again, it should be pointed out that Baghdad needs reform urgently, but it is wrong to continue the story of Erbil’s incredible economic diversification and the chaos of a failed Baghdad. Kurdistan has accrued almost $20 billion in debt, an impressive amount for a region of just 5 million people. This has strained Erbil’s supposedly excellent contracts with international oil companies, as the KRG has struggled to pay on time for those companies’ contracted work.

As with the government in Baghdad, ministries have been used as political hiring schemes. In 2008 the State Department noted that the Kurdish Ministry of Agriculture had over thirteen thousand employees, while the equivalent institution in California, a state with a population of 38 million, had under two thousand employees. This is why the region is short almost $400 million per month: because the public sector payroll is a staggering $700 million.

Kurdish officials still assert that because they did not receive the full allocation of cash from Baghdad, they had no choice but to export oil unilaterally. In fact, the KDP were making deals with Genel Energy as long ago as 2002, when the Turkish-British company first signed a deal for Taq Taq oil field. Later deals appear to have been between the KDP and international oil companies, so it is questionable whether these deals have been made on behalf of Iraqi Kurds.

For example, officials from the KRI’s Ministry of Natural Resources came under scrutiny in 2009 for their close relationship with DNO, who were fined $188,000 by the Oslo Stock Exchange following allegations of insider trading. One official came under scrutiny again a year later for his relationship with Heritage Oil, to whom he awarded a contract and in which he then bought shares.

Currently, the KRI is struggling to borrow because it is not a sovereign entity. But while the KDP is in charge, potential lenders should be wary. Last year, it was noted that of sixteen bank accounts for oil revenues from independent exports from the KRI, only one is under the control of the Minister of Finance, which contained less than $20 million, while the other seventeen are under KDP control.

These uncomfortable facts do not deter the lobbyists. So, the Kurds are “the antidote to ISIS,” while Baghdad is a shambolic failure in terms of corruption and shaky commitment to democracy. Meanwhile the story gets repeated that the Iraqi army has failed to defeat ISIS, which was 2014’s headline. That last point no longer applies to an organization that has retaken Ramadi and has now reached the static Kurdish frontline at Makhmour. KRG lobbyists still complain that Baghdad was not transferring them U.S.-delivered arms, a claim then publicly refuted by the U.S. “Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL,” Brett McGurk.

The Future

Over a year after Thomas Friedman’s article about the miracles in Erbil, his tone had changed. In March, he wrote of the Kurdish region, “Just trying to figure out the differences among the Kurdish parties and militias in Syria and Iraq — the Y.P.G., P.Y.D., P.U.K., K.D.P. and P.K.K. — took me a day.”

Even if we put aside the factional complexity of an essentially broke region that has just seen its estimated oil reserves massively downgraded, we must also consider the factions Baghdad is trying to control in disputed territory in the flashpoints of Tuz Khurmatu and Kirkuk. It is here, where pro-government groups in the Hashd al-Shaabi have clashed with Kurdish peshmerga, that politicians from Baghdad and the Kurdish region have been meeting to coordinate a peaceful arrangement.

This is how Iraq can go forward: through serious negotiations between politicians who have a long relationship going back to the 1992 opposition conferences. Emotional lobbying campaigns that distort facts (for example, conveniently forgetting the KDP’s bizarre alliance with Saddam Husseinin the mid-nineties) serve nobody’s interests except the KDP. More than ever, Iraq needs the international community to help with negotiating a peaceful resolution to issues such as disputed territories.

These will be difficult issues, and if it appears that the Kurds will finally break away from Iraq, the international community must ensure that unresolved issues such as the Kirkuk cluster oilfields, which were seized by the peshmerga in 2014, are resolved peacefully.

Other problems, such as the ongoing violence between Erdoğan’s government and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds (as well as Turkish Kurds and the Iraqi PKK) pose serious questions over whether an independent Kurdish region would lead to the peace the Kurds have long sought. At the same time, Baghdad should give serious consideration as to how the Kurds might find remaining within Iraq an attractive prospect. Letting go of Kurdistan could be best for both, but initiating an independent Kurdistan will be a delicate process.

To that end, misinformation campaigns in leading newspapers are probably not a good starting point.



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