Friday, March 18, 2016

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Campus Safe Spaces for Free Speech? Why Not!

By Noah Feldman
The Bloomberg View
March 18, 2016


Tennessee State Representative Martin Daniel stirred up some outrage when he said this week that the First Amendment should give Islamic State the right to recruit on state campuses. He's wrong about the First Amendment, which doesn't prevent bans on coordinated recruitment. But the bill he was defending, which would create designated zones for free speech at state-funded Tennessee universities, isn't such a bad idea.

The law governing free speech on campuses is much more restrictive than the law that applies on a street corner or in a park. We may be approaching a time where there would be a benefit to designating safe spaces for free speech, protected from the regulatory requirements of the Department of Education and the norms of campus life.

Start with Representative Daniel, his bill, and his misstep. The bill, called the “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act,” designates all outdoor spaces at Tennessee universities as “traditional public forums,” spaces where free speech would be protected to the highest degree under the First Amendment.

In defending the bill, Daniel, a Republican, was asked by Democrat John DeBerry Jr. whether Islamic State should be allowed to “recruit” in those public spaces. Daniel, meaning to stand up for free speech, said the answer was yes. “So long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus," he said, "they can recruit people for any other organization or any other cause. I think it’s just part of being exposed to differing viewpoints.”

Unfortunately for Daniel, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 2010 case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project that even peaceful advocacy can be criminalized under the law banning material support for terrorism if it’s coordinated with a group on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. That includes Islamic State.

My own view is that the Holder precedent went too far. It undercut a1969 holding that speech could only be criminalized if it was intended to incite imminent violence and was likely to provoke it.

But the Holder rule is the law. So Islamic State can’t recruit anywhere in the U.S. Doing so would be a felony.

Nevertheless, Daniel’s bill isn’t as crazy as his legally erroneous justification (which he’s since repeated) makes it sound.

You might think that the First Amendment applies with full force on state campuses. State universities are a branch of the government, which can't suppress free speech under the Constitution. They're not like elementary or high schools, where students’ free-speech rights are balanced against the school’s interest in maintaining discipline and order.

Yet the law as it now stands treats universities not like public forums, but more like workplaces, where anti-discrimination laws can restrict certain forms of speech. Pursuant to those laws, universities adopt conduct codes that can punish speech that would almost certainly be protected if uttered in public forums like streets or parks.

The Department of Education interprets federal law to require universities that receive federal money to prevent campuses from tolerating a racially or sexually hostile environment. The department mandates sex harassment codes with specific provisions, even where universities would like to design their own versions.

Here's what this means in practice. At the University of Oklahoma last year, fraternity brothers led pledges in a horrifically racist song and, for good measure, called for lynching African-Americans. President David Boren expelled two fraternity members from the university. He was morally right to do so. He was also probably legally obligated under the Department of Education’s policy, since the song surely contributed to creating a racially hostile environment.

The expulsion was justified legally because the law considers racial discrimination a course of conduct. The law prohibiting that conduct makes some kinds of speech punishable. That’s permissible under the First Amendment, much in the way that the First Amendment permits sex harassment law to punish sexually discriminatory workplace speech. The idea is that, in a constrained environment like the workplace or a campus, the government has a strong interest in fighting discrimination and may adopt laws reasonably well-suited to achieving that end.

Under Daniel’s bill, discriminatory speech probably couldn’t be punished if it took place in an open-air campus space designated as a public forum. To ban discriminatory speech there, the Department of Education and the universities would have to show a compelling interest and a law narrowly tailored to achieve it, a standard that’s well-nigh impossible to meet unless you’re preventing terrorism.

I don’t see any value in encouraging racist speech. But the campus rules that punish it also put lots of other political discourse at risk of being barred as discriminatory or hostile.

Could a Donald Trump rally be understood as creating a racially hostile environment? It seems more than possible. Yet that would mean campuses would have to ban his rallies while allowing others -- say Hillary Clinton’s -- and that seems like viewpoint discrimination barred by the First Amendment. The same would go for a rally that made white students feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Free-speech safe zones on campus are thus an idea worth considering – not because they protect Islamic State, but because they could protect core free-speech values in the university setting.


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

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Why Canada Is Dumping Gold -- and China Isn’t

By Stephen Mihm
The Bloomberg View
March 18, 2016


Canada, home to some of the world’s largest gold-mining companies, recently announced that it had effectively liquidated all of the country’s holdings of the shiny metal and is moving to what a government spokesperson described as “easily tradable” assets.

It has been a long process. Canada held 1,088 tons of gold in 1955. By 2000, it was down to 46 tons. Today, just 77 ounces remain. This puts Canada in last place in the most up-to-date compilation of data on gold reserves compiled by an industry group, the World Gold Council. In the Council rankings, Canada is now in last place, well behind Albania, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and Papua New Guinea.

Canada’s explanation for the selloff is reasonable enough: Actual bullion bars cannot be liquidated as easily as, say, government bonds. And over the long term, central banks and governments have generally gotten a better return by investing in safe assets such as U.S. Treasuries. But the real question is not why Canada has sold its gold; it’s why other countries remain so wedded to maintaining -- even accumulating -- stocks of the precious metal despite the fact that it no longer plays any role in the money supply.

The reason some countries hold on to gold may have little to do with sound fiscal policy. Instead, the practice reflects the less tangible or rational weight of history. A look at which countries own the metal -- and which countries do not -- presents an unexpected pattern. Countries that possess significant reserves tend to have some history as global hegemons, imperial powers or economic powerhouses -- or aspirations to such status.

In a fascinating paper from 2012, two economists at the University of Santa Cruz -- Joshua Aizenman and Kenta Inoue -- crunched some numbers and found that “the intensity of holding gold is correlated with ‘global power’ -- by the history of being a past empire." This, they said, is especially true of "countries that are or were the suppliers of key currencies.”

The U.S. remains No. 1, just as it remains the world’s biggest economy and the issuer of the most common reserve currency. But the pattern reaches into the distant past. The Netherlands was an imperial heavyweight in the 17th century, but it lost that status long ago. Nonetheless, it holds the 10th largest gold reserves, even though it has a population of only 17 million.

Portugal, a country that once possessed an empire that stretched from Brazil to Angola to Macau, has 382 tons of gold, yet only has a population of about 11 million. The better-known imperial powers -- Germany, Italy, France, Russia, and of course, the U.K., all have gold holdings in the global top 20.

The trend extends beyond Europe. Japan, which sought to conquer much of the Pacific in the 20th century, and later became the world’s second-largest economy, is ranked No. 9 in gold holdings. Taiwan, which became an economic powerhouse in the second half of the 20th century, is ranked 14.

Likewise, European powers without a significant history of imperial ambition don’t seem to have much interest in gold. Finland, for example, is stuck between Argentina and Bolivia in its current holdings of gold. Ireland is even lower, sandwiched between Latvia and Lithuania. These nations are used to living in the shadow of a much bigger imperial power, and share a common history of having been conquered by those bigger neighbors.

But there are newcomers in the top 20, too. As Aizenman and Inoue point out, it’s no accident that two countries that have moved from bit players to powerhouses have been buying up gold. China is now ranked No. 6, having accumulated 1,762 tons. India is ranked No. 11, having amassed 557 tons.

China and Indian’s gold reserves, the researchers note, “increased in tandem with the sharp rise of their economic power.” In other words, they’re the latest countries to buy into an unspoken dogma that if you’re going to be a heavyweight, you need some heavy metal.

Which brings us back to Canada. It has been the plaything of empires, but has never harbored imperial ambitions of its own. And its policy makers have never felt a need to proclaim their greatness by accumulating piles of gold. As they would say to the rest of us who cling to this imperial relic: it’s all in your head.


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

Is it Game Over for Coal?

Market trends and new regulations spell the end for one of America's dominant sources of energy.


By EMMA FOEHRINGER MERCHANT
The New Republic
March 18, 2016


Last Friday, Oregon became the first state to ban coal outright, passing a bill that will phase out any electricity generated by coal by 2035. Several days earlier, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that 80 percent of last year’s retired electricity was coal-powered. In 2016, natural gas is expected to produce 33.4 percent of electricity versus coal’s 32 percent. At a time when the coal industry is facing one setback after another, it prompts the question: Has the “war on coal” been won?

"At a time when the coal industry is facing one setback after another, it prompts the question: Has the “war on coal” been won?"

The case of Oregon is a unique one. In a green-minded, true-blue state, where spending time among the Douglas firs is a cultural requisite, it’s not entirely surprising that coal is no longer welcome, even if coal currently makes up over 30 percent of the state’s power. Whether Oregon’s approach will be adopted by other states is far from clear, especially since over half the country’s states are challenging President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which contains new rules that are designed to encourage the use of renewable energy and natural gas at the expense of coal.

But Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, says state challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations can’t stop a sea change in how we get our energy. “Momentum, in my view, has been driven more by state and local advocacy and leadership,” she said. “The long-term trajectory for the coal industry is the United States is moving away from coal. It’s politically expedient, especially for Republicans, to point the finger at President Obama—but the real power behind this transition came from the American people and it came up from the grassroots.”

Whether coal’s fall will be swift or slow will depend on Obama’s successor. But due to a confluence of economic and political factors—as well as international pressure stemming from the Paris climate change agreement—even a Republican president can’t prop up the industry for long.

Much of this is Obama’s doing. During his two terms, regulations limiting carbon output and mercury emissions has cost companies. Since Obama took office, some coal company shares have tumbled 90 percent, with coal production falling by 15 percent and wind and solar power increasing by over 200 percent. A handful of the country’s largest coal companies have declared bankruptcy in the past two years, with another likely on its way this month. On Thursday, his administration offered $65.8 million for job training and other development in communities traditionally reliant on the coal economy.

But Obama’s impact on the coal industry has been assisted by the fact that natural gas is cheap and plentiful. EIA predicts U.S. coal production will decrease by another 12 percent this year, the greatest annual percentage decline since 1958. As Hitt puts it, “It’s the way the world is moving.”

And professional environmentalists aren’t the only ones who think so. “Utilities are really coming to grips with how they need to adapt to a changing climate,” said Dave Robertson of Portland General Electric, one of two utilities that serve 70 percent of customers in Oregon, and a collaborator on the Oregon legislation. He said that over the next 25 years “we’re going to need to have new power plants anyways.”

Whether those plants will continue to burn coal is up to utilities and power producers. And recently, companies have been deciding against it. According to the magazine Pacific Standard, of the 523 coal plants in operation over the last five years, more than 200 have closed or soon will. Furthermore, no new coal plants are currently planned in the United States.

“To me saying this is a war on coal is saying the Internet is a war on typewriters,” said Bob Keefe, executive director for E2, a partner of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The fact of the matter is that the energy business … is in transition. The good news is that like any major industry transition, we’re seeing a lot of progress”—specifically, the addition of 250,000 clean energy jobs in the last four years.

Renewable energy is also getting cheaper, leading to an expected 8 percent increase in renewables this year. “The ‘war on coal’ is being driven by lots of different dynamics including a huge drop in the cost of renewables and then obviously to an extent the drop in price in natural gas in the United States,” said Jake Schmidt of the NRDC. It has become economically rational “to shift away from coal to one of these sources and a lot of companies are choosing natural gas.”

To keep that edge, Keefe says the Clean Power Plan will have to move forward. Obama’s decision this week to limit methane leaks on existing oil and gas wells will also be key. For natural gas to provide a bridge to renewables, drilling practices will have to be regulated and standardized to avoid flack from critics who say natural gas is nearly as destructive to the environment as traditional sources of energy.

In the presidential election, the candidates’ stances on coal and diversifying energy have been important on both sides of the race. Bernie Sanders has been able to maintain his anti-coal stance while drawing support from coal country. Hillary Clinton, for her part, has had a tougher time. This week, the Democratic frontrunner said she’s going to “put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business.” In the same breath, she clarified that she wanted to buoy coal miners who have worked to power the country. Still, Republicans like Mitch McConnell seized on the comments, calling them “callous.” Politicians in coal-dependent West Virginia were appalled. Clinton walked back her comments, saying, “Coal will remain a part of the energy mix for years to come.” Days later, she was able to pull out a victory in Ohio coal country.

Republicans coined the phrase “war on coal” as a pejorative way to describe Obama’s regulatory policies. This year’s presidential race has continued that belligerently pro-coal approach. Trump has been particularly outspoken, calling Obama’s war a job killer, and he has raked in coal country votes and support for his efforts.

But according to Keefe, rhetorical assaults designed to boost coal are a waste of time. “If I’m a coal state politician, instead of harping about some other party’s ‘war on coal’ I would be trying my best to help those workers,” he said. “Getting them some worker retraining programs and more importantly getting more clean energy … in my state.” Clearing the way for budding renewables programs will help to ease the absence of coal across the country. Nevada has faced what Keefe calls a “solar debacle,” thanks to regulators dumping extra electricity costs on solar users, and North Carolina and Florida have seen similar struggles. Sorting out these regulations will take some pressure off natural gas.

International markets are also catching on. Though coal is still the world’s largest fuel source, 2014 showed the first decline in its consumption since the 1990s. The International Energy Agency expects consumption growth to continue, but it will be more measured.

In 2013, China became the largest coal importer and the country accounts for half of the world’s consumption. But in the last two years, its coal consumption has fallen, and its latest Five Year Plan set an energy consumption cap—part of what Schmidt describes as the country’s “war on pollution.” A recent study suggests the country’s carbon emissions may have already peaked. “At the same time, China has been basically building out a renewable-energy, clean-energy economy at a scale larger than all of the other countries in the world have done,” Schmidt explains. “When you look around the world and give it an honest assessment, you see coal consumption on decline. There’s just no way you can have China’s numbers dropping and not have it have a ripple effect.”

Though India is still building coal plants, it’s another bright spot on the renewables map, with solar challenging traditional carbon sources. China has already overtaken Germany to become the country with the largest installed solar capacity.

In the short term, Clinton is correct—coal will remain part of the energy mix in both the U.S. and around the world. But market trends imply that won’t be the case for much longer, even if a President Trump does everything in his power to prop up Big Coal.


Article Link to the New Republic:

Don’t Bork Judge Garland

To hold hearings now would be an act of cruelty.


By James Taranto
The Wall Street Journal
March 17, 2016


“President Clinton has nominated Merrick Garland, the principal Associate Attorney General, to fill the vacancy created when Chief Judge Abner J. Mikva resigned 14 months ago to become the White House counsel,” the New York Times reported in 1995. Garland was eventually confirmed and is himself now chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Yesterday President Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

In 1995 the Republicans, who controlled the Senate, were hoping to defeat Mr. Clinton in the following year’s election. So even though many supported Garland’s confirmation, they vowed not to bring the nomination to a vote, in the hope that one of their own would get to fill the seat. Garland finally won confirmation, by a 76-23 vote, two months into Mr. Clinton’s second term.

That was nothing unusual, as the Times noted in that 1995 news story. Four years earlier, “the Democrats stopped consideration of President George Bush’s nomination of John Roberts to the same court for which Mr. Garland has been nominated.” Roberts, of whom you might have heard, didn’t make it to the D.C. Circuit until 2003. As the Times summed the matter up:

"Senators from the party that does not control the White House have historically tried to slow the confirmation process, in hopes that the election could give their party’s candidate the possibility of filling those vacancies if elected."

For the Times editorial board, however, history began sometime after 2008. “Under normal, even routinely partisan, circumstances, Judge Garland would sail through confirmation hearings and be confirmed by the Senate in a matter of months, if not weeks,” today’s editorial declares. The brazen partisan hackery would be funny if it weren’t so . . . nah, never mind. It’s funny.

Even before yesterday’s announcement, Senate Republicans had vowed not to act on any nomination for the Scalia seat until after the election, a promise Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterates in a brief USA Today op-ed. And it’s true there is no precedent for that particular approach to a Supreme Court nomination, although then-Sen. Joseph Biden urged it in 1992 amid false rumors that Justice Harry Blackmun’s retirement was imminent.

But in 1987 and 1991—when similar circumstances arose and the partisan tables were turned—nominees did not “sail through confirmation hearings.” Far from it. Judge Robert Bork—whose qualifications, like Garland’s, were universally acknowledged to be excellent—endured an ideological smear campaign before being rejected in a floor vote. And Judge Clarence Thomas endured a personal smear campaign, although his nomination was narrowly confirmed.

In 1987 and 1991, as in 2016, the president’s party did not control the Senate. Bork and Thomas were both rightly thought to be considerably more conservative than the justices they were nominated to replace, Lewis Powell and Thurgood Marshall respectively. Today once again the court’s balance is at stake: The Times’s Alicia Parlapiano and Margot Sanger-Katz acknowledge that Garland “would make the justice at the center of the court more liberal than at any point in nearly 50 years.”

Thus if Senate Republicans were to follow the Democrats’ Bork-Thomas precedent, they would go all out to humiliate him at the confirmation hearings and probably vote him down on the floor. (Democrats tried this in 2005, too, with Judge Samuel Alito, to no avail as the GOP held the majority then.) Garland is by all accounts a decent and honorable man; he does not deserve such treatment any more than Bork or Thomas did.

It’s possible that today’s Judiciary Committee Republicans lack the killer instinct that men like Biden, Ted Kennedy and Pat Leahy displayed back then, when they dominated the committee. If so, the consequence of confirmation hearings would either be a premature surrender of the court’s balance or the rejection of a nominee who had not been shown to be unacceptable.

Confirmation hearings, then, would be either cruel or counterproductive. McConnell’s approach is the wisest possible under the circumstances.

Of course, circumstances are certain to change in November, when Obama’s successor is elected. “I’d probably be open to resolving this in the lame duck,” Talking Points Memo quotes Orrin Hatch, the Senate’s president pro tem and a Judiciary Committee member, as saying. That would mean holding hearings and a floor vote after the election but before January, when a new Congress convenes.

If Hillary Clinton is the president-elect, it could very well mean that Garland would sail through the hearings and be confirmed, on the theory that waiting would produce a worse result. Andrew Prokop of the young-adult website Vox acknowledges that Garland is no “moderate,” but “he was viewed as one of the most moderate of Obama’s potential picks, and some progressive groups hoping for a staunch liberal have greeted his selection with muted enthusiasm.”

Indeed, some have greeted it with outright hostility, tinged with racial resentment. Jack Mirkinson of Salon:

"Garland is the epitome of a bland choice: a centrist, impeccably credentialed white man. . . . In an election year, at a time when Democrats are fervently pitching themselves as the party of a changing, increasingly diverse nation, when the nominee could have been the potential embodiment of a leftward transformation on the court, Garland is a deflating sort of pick."


"Black women’s groups said Wednesday they feel President Barack Obama jilted them by choosing someone other than a black woman as his newest nominee for the Supreme Court."

The Nation’s George Zornick:

"Garland is clearly a qualified nominee. . . . But he is also a white male over 60. . . .
[Some] liberal groups said straightforwardly Garland hurts their efforts. “We believe that Senate Republicans need to do their job and give Judge Garland the fair hearing any Supreme Court nominee deserves, but this selection will make it harder to excite grassroots progressive about the slog ahead,” said Charles Chamberlain of Democracy for America."


The new new New Republic’s Brian Beutler:

"Nominating anyone along those lines [i.e., female or nonwhite] would have fulfilled a promise to make the court more representative of the nation and drawn attention to the Republican Party’s desperate, power-mad commitment to keeping the Court the same, and their blindness to the merits of having a more diverse court—even if it means handing the nomination power to Donald Trump.

A nominee like Garland, by contrast, cedes all of these advantages to the Republican Party. It allows them to say, in effect, “See, this has nothing to do with race, or gender, or even ideology. We just want the next president to pick Scalia’s successor.”

We’re not sure Beutler realizes he has just acknowledged the cynicism of Democratic identity politics.

Meanwhile back at Salon, Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, praises the pick on even more cynical grounds. He thinks it puts Republican senators in “a terrible bind.” If they don’t give Garland a hearing, he imagines, “they will look like petty obstructionists to swing voters in their home states.” If they do, “the pressure to actually confirm Garland will build.” (Campos doesn’t even consider the possibility of a borking.) He concludes they are likely to stick to their current position and not hold hearings:

"The only scenario in which a vote on Scalia’s now-vacant seat is likely to happen this year is this one: October rolls around, and it has become all too clear to Senate Republicans that Donald Trump or Ted Cruz is going down in flames, and that he will be taking a whole bunch of GOP senators with him. Only then, perhaps, may they decide that Obama has made them an offer they can’t refuse.
By then, however, they may well find that today’s offer has been withdrawn."

Think about that: Campos thinks Obama is jerking Garland around for the purpose of jerking his partisan adversaries around. What a low opinion he has of the president’s character.


Article Link to the Wall Street Journal:

Dark Clouds for the Latin American Left

The heady days of Chávez, Lula and Kirchner have come to an end.


By Scott B. MacDonald
The National Interest
March 17, 2016


Latin America’s left is not having a good time. In the closing months of 2015, the lengthy period of leftist-oriented government in Argentina came to an end. In Venezuela, the centrist opposition overwhelmingly defeated the socialists, under the uninspiring leadership of President Nicolás Maduro, for control of the national legislative body. In Brazil, center-left President Dilma Rousseff’s administration struggled with the worst recession since the 1930s, persistent calls for her impeachment and a major corruption scandal around the state-owned oil company, Petrobras.

This year is not likely to be much better. The Brazilian corruption investigation, Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), has now entangled former President Inácio Lula da Silva. In Bolivia, voters defeated a referendum in February to grant President Evo Morales an opportunity to run for a fourth term. To the backdrop of a harsh economic downturn, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, has opted not to pursue another term. And in one of the most symbolic turnarounds, the Castro regime is preparing for the March 22–23 visit of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Only a few years ago, the Latin American left appeared ascendant. Leaders such as Lula, Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez were popular with the majority of their citizens, as evident in their electoral victories. At the same time, throughout much of the region, the number of people living in extreme poverty declined, ranks of the middle classes expanded and efforts were made to upgrade infrastructure. Some of this happened under these leftist governments. What went wrong for the left in Latin America?

Three major factors explain the decline of the left in Latin America. First and foremost, the riches from the commodity boom of the 2000s were not always used prudently. While leaders throughout the region made inroads in tackling poverty, they often failed to implement badly needed economic reforms to diversify away from commodity exports, establish incentives to develop new industries or help make private sectors more competitive.

In some countries, such as Venezuela, there was no movement away from a top-heavy dependence on oil exports. Oil accounts over 90 percent of Venezuelan exports and is the major source of the government’s revenues. When oil was over $100 a barrel, as it was during part of the Chávez years (1999–2013), it was relatively easy to pump money into social programs.

When oil plummeted in mid-2014, Hugo Chávez’s successor, Maduro, was left with a brutal reduction in cash flow. This worsened an economic landscape in which the private sector was already decimated by socialist edicts, nationalization of certain enterprises, price controls and a driving out of many foreign companies. Greater state control of the economy left Venezuelans without many of the basic staples of daily life, such as diapers, milk and toilet paper, while Caracas has become one of the most violent cities in the world. In 2015, the economy contracted by 10 percent and is still falling. Inflation is set to rise over 700 percent, and there is a strong possibility that the country could default on its sovereign debt.

Other countries failed to make key reforms when they had the opportunity, including Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador, all of which are currently struggling to regain their economic footing. Moreover, infrastructure upgrades are still badly needed, including better sanitation systems, roads and railways. Similarly, Brazil’s hosting of the 2016 Summer Olympics will provide a major test for a country undergoing a tough recession.

The second factor that is hurting the left in Latin America is corruption. As the left rose, new political parties and their leaders replaced often corrupt right-wing and center-right governments. Venezuela was particularly notorious for the “misplacement” of oil money, but governments in Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia have long had major issues in this area. The problem now is that the former leftist political outsiders have become the new establishment, and have fallen prey to the same problems that come with being in office for long periods of time.

Brazil clearly fits this situation. Many Brazilians saw Lula’s election in 2003, and his leftist Workers’ Party (PT), as a turning of the page, from the old corruption of past rightist governments to a fresh new team. But over time, the PT fell into the old pattern of business as usual: the passing of money between big business and the political elite to get things done. For the PT governments, this meant that the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, became the center of government largesse and patronage.

Operation Car Wash, carried out by a strengthened judiciary and national police force, uncovered a multibillion-dollar web of corruption that involved both members of the ruling PT and members of other political parties, as well as high-ranking executives in a number of the country’s largest companies.

Although President Rousseff chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003 to 2010, she has not been indicted. However, another investigation over the breaking of budget rules has fueled a movement for her impeachment in the Congress and led to policy paralysis in Latin America’s largest economy. In response to this situation, many Brazilians have taken to the streets to demonstrate, with as many as 3.6 million people turning out on March 13, many demanding that the president resign.

Brazil’s political temperature only rose further later in March when President Rousseff offered former President Lula a position in her cabinet as chief of staff, an appointment that would give her mentor immunity from arrest. This did two things: the President made herself look even weaker in the eyes of the public by making Lula a member of her cabinet and it is seen by many as a blatantly political move to protect Lula, which smacks of business-as-usual establishment politics. It appears that some people are above the law. She will be lucky to see the end of the year in office.

Corruption issues, including drug trafficking allegations, have also dogged President Maduro’s administration in Venezuela, and the scandals around the former leftist governments under the Kirchner husband-and-wife team were a constant staple in Argentina’s papers. Even Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who has been in office since 2006, has come under criticism for corruption; this was probably a factor in his being denied the option to run for a fourth term.

The last factor in the decline of the Latin American left is that voting publics have grown tired of politicians with outsized egos. Having postured as men and women of the people, leftist leaders are now perceived as more distant and, in some cases, as arrogant. Efforts to control the media and stifle criticism have also injected charges of autocracy into the political discourse.

While Brazil would not fit into this group of soft autocrats, the same cannot be said for Venezuela’s Maduro, Nicaragua’s increasingly heavy-handed Daniel Ortega and, to some extent, other leaders, like Ecuador’s Correa and Bolivia’s Morales. There is a price to this; if voters are given a chance, they will vote against long-standing leftist strongmen, as they now expect more from the political system and its leaders.

Looking ahead, much of Latin America faces slow growth, tighter public spending and the need for further reforms, especially in countries like Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. Add corruption to this list and it is understandable that much of the public is angry. Latin American electorates now have higher standards in what they want from their leaders, and that impacts the left as well as the right. The current batch of leftist leaders should heed the words of Marx—Groucho, that is: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”


Article Link to the National Interest:

Inside the Doomed Conservative Dump Trump Plot

A group of powerful conservatives met on Thursday to try and hammer out a plan for a potential third party consensus candidate in case Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee.


By Betsy Woodruff
The Daily Beast
March 18, 2016


The team that brought you Santorum 2016 has decided to stop Trump.

He must be petrified.

For seven hours on Thursday, a few dozen conservative leaders gathered in an upstairs room of the Army Navy Club off K Street in downtown D.C. to rack their collective brains -- but reached no conclusion on how thwart the billionaire’s rise.

Quin Hillyer, a National Review contributing editor, fielded questions afterwards from print reporters and a Chinese camera crew, explaining that the group hoped all the 2016 presidential candidates who haven’t endorsed Trump will coalesce behind a unity ticket. He added that there wasn’t a consensus that conservatives should unite behind Cruz.

“That was not the consensus,” he said, when asked about support for a Cruz-helmed unity ticket. “The consensus was that we need a unity ticket of some sort and we’ll let the candidates work out who the unity ticket is.”

He added that the group hopes someone other than Trump will be the Republican party’s nominee.

“Obviously a third party or an independent bid is one other option,” he added. “But we didn’t come to any formal plans. We are exploring every option.”

Other attendees -- including Bob Fischer, the president of Fischer Furniture in Rapid City, S.D., who quickly jumped in an Uber when approached by reporters after the meeting, and Bill Wichterman, a key Santorum booster and a top D.C. lobbyist -- declined to talk about the closed-door discussion.

The invitation billed the event as a meeting of “conservative leaders to strategize how to defeat Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, and if he is the Republican nominee for president, to offer a true conservative candidate in the general election.”

A copy of the invitation obtained by The Daily Beast showed it went to people on the email list of a group called Conservatives of Faith -- a group that helped give energy to Rick Santorum’s 2016 presidential bid. The group came together in July of 2011 to connect Evangelical leaders with presidential hopefuls. It’s loosely affiliated with another, larger group of powerful social conservative leaders called the Council for National Policy -- which has endorsed Trump rival Ted Cruz.

The two groups sometimes have concurrent meetings so members can attend both.

Though the group has a history of helping Santorum, Thursday’s meeting wasn’t just a reunion of the former senator’s old advocates.

Conservatives of Faith held one of its first gatherings in August of 2011 at the ranch of Jim Leininger, a wealthy businessman who supports conservative Christian causes and school choice efforts. Members of the group met at the ranch with Rick Perry and his wife, Anita, at the start of his 2012 presidential campaign.

Fischer, the furniture magnate, is a key organizer of the group. The invitation to Thursday’s meeting instructed respondents to RSVP to him directly. Acquaintances describe Fischer as “thoughtful,” “low-key,” “lovely,” “wonderful,” and capable of managing others’ big egoes. His basic belief, according to sources, is that if enough conservative Christian leaders get together in a room, discuss the issues, pray, and agree upon one battle plan or chosen candidate, that they will be able to accomplish their ends.

It’s an interesting theory. But -- fortunately for Trump -- it has a poor track record. A few weeks after Obama won re-election in 2012, the Conservatives of Faith group convened at a country club in McLean, Virginia to gin up enthusiasm for a second Santorum presidential bid.

We all know how that worked out.

And though members of the Council for National Policy backed Cruz, he got schlonged in the Evangelical-heavy southern states where his team had hoped to do well. The fact that Donald Trump beat him by winning the Evangelical vote indicates that Evangelical Christian leaders -- including those in the Council for National Policy and Conservatives of Faith -- don’t have as much clout as conventional wisdom might dictate.

Still, it features a number of Evangelical power-brokers.

Sources estimated that the Conservatives of Faith email list has upwards of 300 names on it. Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum has been involved with the group in the past, but she endorsed Trump this cycle and didn’t attend the meeting on Thursday.

Trump won every state but Ohio on March 15’s Super Tuesday primaries. So today’s effort is just the latest setback for the #NeverTrump movement -- an effort that may have come just after the nick of time.

Perhaps as a result, there is reason for skepticism as this latest faction of the Republican Party sets out to try and change the trajectory of the race.

Dennis Stephens, a long-time conservative lobbyist based in D.C. who backs Trump, said the group’s plans aren’t promising.

“Third party equals Hillary Clinton,” he said.


Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Obama and the Free-Rider Phenomenon

Obama makes no bones about it. "Free riders aggravate me," he tells Goldberg.


By Daniel R. DePetris
The National Interest
March 17, 2016


Amidst the continuous obsession over Donald Trump's candidacy, the riots at his rallies, and the stories of Marco Rubio's political downfall lie a remarkably comprehensive and candid interview [4] in this month's edition of the Atlantic between President Barack Obama and writer Jeffrey Goldberg. The series of interviews, eighteen pages long, is filled with juicy nuggets about how Obama views the world, why he believes that reversing course on a bombing campaign against the Assad regime was one of the proudest moments of his presidency, and why he loathes what he terms the Washington foreign policy establishment.

If Jeffrey Goldberg ever wants to retire as a columnist, he mighṯ want to look into being a therapist. President Obama, a man commonly described as cool, detached and aloof, was as reflective on his successes and failures as he has ever been. He sees the light at the end of the tunnel and clearly wants to set the record straight on his foreign policy legacy before he leaves the presidency.

There is a lot of rich detail in Goldberg's piece. In one illuminating story, Goldberg paints a picture of America's allies in the Middle East befuddled and angry about Obama's decision to avoid using military force in Syria after the Assad regime killed about 1,400 civilians with sarin gas. "The Saudis," Goldberg writes, "were infuriated" that President Obama failed to do what he promised to do a year earlier, when he stated publicly that any use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad would provoke a tough U.S. response. UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed "fumed to American visitors that the U.S. was led by an ‘untrustworthy’ president." Indeed, of all of the decisions that Obama has made, there is perhaps none as divisive as his kicking the use of U.S. military to the Congress.

There is much in Obama's comments that one can object to, but there is at least one that Americans of all political persuasions can appreciate: common parlance of America’s decline aside, the United States is still asked to do the bulk of the world's problem solving and it's close allies are more likely to complain about the lack of American action rather than help with the problem.

This is not a new concept: the term "free riders" or "free loaders" is one that Americans can appreciate. It strikes at the core of what many Americans find objectionable about the world—that countries are used to asking the "indispensable nation" to solve their problems for them. If anything, the "free-rider" phenomenon is only increasing in popularity now that GOP frontrunner Donald Trump is frequently using the theme on the campaign trail in order to loudly complain that the United States is being under-appreciated and taken for granted by its allies.

Obama makes no bones about it. "Free riders aggravate me," he tells Goldberg. "We don't always have to be the ones who are up front." And, according to the president, America's friends and allies in Europe and the Middle East are often guilty of talking a big game and not matching their words with concrete action.

Unfortunately for British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama specifically called him out [5]. During the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya to remove Muammar el-Qaddafi from power, Cameron took his eye of the ball on a mission that he originally trumpeted as a vital humanitarian imperative, Obama argues. He became "distracted by a range of other things," leaving Washington alone to hold the reigns of an operation that President Obama himself grew to regret.

Predictably, the words have caused a diplomatic kerfuffle in the United Kingdom, where even the slightest trouble of the U.S.-U.K. special relationship creates tremors and panic among Tory and Labour politicians in Westminster. And just as predictably, the Obama administration is attempting to undo the damage [6] from Obama's remarks: "The friendship [between Obama and Cameron] is real and the closeness is real," U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Matthew Barzun told ITV News [7]. "You see that in private and you also see that in public. And you see it all around the world where the UK is leading as a diplomatic super power, where the US is leading and where we're working together."

Apologies and clarifications notwithstanding, was President Obama wrong to belittle U.S. allies as “free riders” who needed to step up their game and start contributing in a more proactive way? Is his argument fundamentally wrong? Obama may have broken diplomatic decorum by calling out the names of foreign leaders in a magazine interview, but that doesn’t mean the president was factually inaccurate. The unwillingness of European countries to individually and collectively implement their defense spending commitments under NATO, its lackluster (one could say symbolic) presence in the counter-ISIL air campaign, and the Arab world's dependency on a U.S. deterrent for external security leads one to conclude that Obama’s frustrations are not based on illusions but on what’s in front of us.

Just because the United States expends enormous military resources on the defense of its allies is, of course, not a horrible thing. Indeed, ensuring that America's friends are able to survive aggression or meddling from the Iranians, the Russians, or the North Koreans is as important to the U.S. national security interest as it is to countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, South Korea, Poland and Estonia. In addition, when America’s military resources are expended, Washington increases its diplomatic leverage over the countries that depend upon the U.S. for backup while allowing the U.S. to maintain expand its presence in key regions of the world.

But how much is too much? To President Obama, the United States may have done itself a disservice by believing that America's European, Arab and Asian partners are ready to share more of the burden. The next President of the United States could be grappling with the same reality in another ten months.


Article Link to the National Interest:

Sanders calls notion he should quit Democratic race 'absurd'

By Eric Beech
Reuters
March 18, 2016


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, responding to reports President Barack Obama called on Democrats to rally around Hillary Clinton as the likely nominee, said on Thursday it was "absurd" to suggest he drop out of the race.

Obama privately told a group of Democratic donors last Friday that Sanders was nearing the point at which his campaign against Clinton would end, and that the party must soon come together to back her, the New York Times reported.

Sanders, a Vermont senator and self-proclaimed democratic socialist, while saying he did not want to comment directly on Obama's reported remarks, pushed back on the idea that his campaign had run its course and he should throw in the towel.

"The bottom line is that when only half of the American people have participated in the political process ... I think it is absurd for anybody to suggest that those people not have a right to cast a vote," Sanders told MSNBC in an interview.

The White House on Thursday said Obama did not indicate which candidate he preferred in his remarks to the donors.

Clinton, a former secretary of state in the Obama administration, has a large lead in the race for the Democratic nomination and she won all five states that were contested on Tuesday.

Sanders said he will do better in upcoming contests in western states, after losing to Clinton in a number of southeastern states.

"To suggest we don't fight this out to the end would be, I think, a very bad mistake. People want to become engaged in the political process by having vigorous primary and caucus process. I think we open up the possibility of having a large voter turnout in November. That is exactly what we need," Sanders said.

"A low voter turnout, somebody like a Trump can win. High voter turnout, the Democratic candidate will win," he said, referring to Donald Trump, the front-runner in the race to pick the Republican nominee for the November presidential election.


Article Link to Reuters:

Rousseff's Gamble on Lula Isn't Likely to Pay Off

By Mac Margolis
The Bloomberg View
March 17, 2016


It's getting hard to keep up with the rolling political crisis that's steadily engulfing Latin America's biggest nation. On Wednesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff named former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as her new chief of staff. It was a bold move that seemed calculated not so much to help Brazil through troubled times as to prop up her own enfeebled presidency and throw a lifeline to her tarnished political mentor.

That plan lasted until nightfall. Just hours after Lula had been confirmed as Rousseff's chief of staff, Brazilian media began airing snippets of wiretapped conversations which suggested that the two leaders had conspired to evade justice. (On the argument that Lula's position could also allow him to influence ongoing legal investigations, a federal judge ruled to block the nomination, although government lawyers quickly filed an appeal.) If those charges -- and many others clouding Rousseff's government -- hold up in court, her gamble to save her career could end up quickening calls for her ouster and help push Lula, a living Brazilian legend who redeemed the poor and brought the country international glory, into disgrace.

In part, the damage already may be done. The telephone intercepts were part of an ongoing investigation into graft at the state oil company Petrobras, which has ensnared top business executives and lobbyists, and is now reaching deep into the country's political establishment. On March 4, Lula was detained and interrogated by federal police for allegedly receiving favors from contractors caught up in the Petrobras scheme. In a related case, Sao Paulo state prosecutors announced they were seeking Lula's arrest for money laundering and hiding assets.

Lula's appointment looks at the least like forum shopping: Only the Supreme Court may try sitting government authorities, a perk that would spare Lula the rigors of Sergio Moro, the implacable federal judge who is presiding over the Petrobras case. But Brazilians would be forgiven for concluding that it's also a shameless maneuver to head-fake the law. In one tape, Rousseff assures Lula she's sending over written confirmation of his pending cabinet appointment, a document that presumably would shield him from arrest.

Rousseff anticipated just such criticism, scoffing at suggestions that the country's highest bench would somehow be more indulgent than a lower court. She had a point: After all, in 2012, some two dozen moguls, lobbyists and powerful political figures tied to the former Lula government were convicted in a vote-buying scam after a trial in the Supreme Court, where eight of 11 judges had been named by Lula or Rousseff.

And yet a former senior government ally has told prosecutors that Rousseff tried to meddle in the Petrobras investigation by naming a superior court judge whom she allegedly deemed to be amenable to releasing two jailed government contractors. Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing.

But even the most generous interpretation of Rousseff's gamble on Lula -- that the former leader's prestige can rally rebellious allies, rescue the economy and whip up enough congressional votes to avoid impeachment -- looks like an exercise in magical realism.

Lula's rise owes to his extraordinary charisma, pragmatism and skills as a political dealmaker, but also to a fabulous stroke of luck. He led Brazil during the international commodities boom, which fueled economic growth over the last decade, helped lift 28 million people from poverty, and turned Brazil for the first time into a majority middle-class society.

But the boom is over, and while many Latin American countries continue to grow, thanks to more prudent economic stewardship,Brazil's economy is failing. Unemployment in 2015 reached a three-year high, and the aspiring middle class is slipping back. And now so is Lula.

Despite Lula's vehement denials, a black-market financier at the heart of the corruption case has claimed that both he and Rousseff knew about corruption at Petrobras, a scam that prosecutors have traced back to his presidency. Brazilians seem to agree.

Thirteen years ago, I watched adoring crowds cheer as the lathe-operator-turned-president climbed the concrete ramp to Brasilia's handsome Planalto Palace. Now, the crowds are back at the palace -- this time to demand Lula's arrest and Rousseff's resignation. The hero of the day? The federal court judge who suspended Lula's nomination yesterday, who became an instant celebrity on Brazilian social media.


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

Friday, March 18, Morning Global Market Roundup: Asia stocks, oil jump as dollar sags after Fed

By Hideyuki Sano and Nichola Saminather
Reuters
March 18, 2016


Asian shares edged higher on Friday, oil touched a 2016 high and the U.S. dollar weakened as investors turned more positive on riskier assets after the Federal Reserve's cautious stance on further interest rate increases.

But that optimism looked unlikely to spread to European shares, with financial spreadbetters expecting Britain's FTSE 100 .FTSE to open little changed, Germany's DAX.GDAXI to start the day as much as 0.1-percent lower and France's CAC 40 .FCHI to begin down about 0.2 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS rose 0.8 percent, entering positive territory for the year for the first time. It is up 2.3 percent this week, and has surged 10.4 percent this month.

The Hang Seng index .HSI was up 0.6 percent, heading for a weekly rise of 3.6 percent. China's Shanghai Composite index .SSEC and CSI 300 .CSI300 climbed about 1.9 percent each, and were set for gains of about 6.4 percent for the week.

Chinese home prices rose at their fastest clip in almost two years in February thanks to red-hot demand in big cities. Still, risks of overheating in some places combined with weak growth in smaller cities threaten to put more stress on an already slowing economy.

Japanese shares, however, bucked the trend as the dollar's fall against the yen is seen hurting the country's exporters, with the Nikkei .N225 closing down 1.3 percent for a weekly decline also of 1.3 percent.

The broader gains echoed a recovery on Wall Street, where the S&P 500 Index .SPX gained 0.66 percent overnight to close at its highest since Dec. 31, led by the materials and energy sectors.

The rallies in commodities and equities were spurred by Wednesday's Fed review when policymakers took a more cautious stance on future U.S. interest rate increases.

"We have got an important week out of the way from a macro data perspective, and not only have we come out of it unscathed, we are seemingly in a stronger place than where we started the week," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst at online brokerage OptionsXpress in Sydney.

"We have heard from central banks in all corners of the globe now and the liquidity party rolls on with the potential for more to come."

The benign rate environment, as well as optimism major producers would reach a deal to freeze output, proved a boon for oil.

OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC producers led by Russia will meet on April 17 in the Qatar capital Doha, aiming for the first global supply deal in 15 years.

After surging more than 10 percent over the prior two sessions, U.S. oil futures CLC1 advanced to $40.55, the highest level since Dec. 4. They were last trading at $40.25, on track for a 4.6-percent increase for the week, their fifth straight week of gains and longest winning streak in about a year.

Brent crude LCOC1 held close to its three-month high of $41.60 reached in the previous session and again on Friday. It's headed for a 3-percent gain for the week.

Oil's rally has also been aided by a weakening dollar, triggered by the Fed's cautious approach to raising rates.

The dollar's index against a basket of six major currencies .DXY =USD on Friday touched a five-month low of 94.578, before edging up to 94.825.

The euro EUR= retreated slightly from the five-week high of $1.1342 it hit on Thursday, last fetching $1.1310.

The yen JPY= was trading at 111.48, after climbing to 110.67 to the dollar on Thursday, the highest since October 2014.

The Chinese yuan firmed sharply against the dollar to reach a 2016 high, after the People's Bank of China set the midpoint rate CNY=SAEC at 6.4628 per dollar prior to market open, compared with the previous fix of 6.4961, the biggest daily rise since November.

The spot market CNY=CFXS opened at 6.4615 and hit an intraday high of 6.4559, its firmest since late December, before easing to 6.4669, still stronger than the previous close of 6.4755.

Even the British pound GBP=D4, which has been dogged by worries about "Brexit" from the European Union, retreated only 0.2 percent to $1.4468 from Thursday's one-month high of $1.4504.

The Australian dollar AUD=D4 shot up to $0.7681, its highest since July, helped by a recovery in commodity prices. It was last trading at $0.7654.

Copper CMCU3 advanced to a 4-1/2-month high of $5,126 a tonne, and was last trading up 1 percent at $5,118. Silver XAG= too jumped to a 4-1/2-month high of $16.111 per ounce, before falling back slightly to $16.08.


Article Link to Reuters:

After US Sanctions, Defiant North Korea fires ballistic missile into sea

SEOUL | BY JACK KIM AND JU-MIN PARK

Reuters
March 18, 2016


North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile on Friday, which flew about 800 km (500 miles) before hitting the sea off its east coast, South Korea's military said, as the isolated state stepped up its defiance of tough new U.N. and U.S. sanctions.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the missile was likely a medium-range Rodong-missile. If confirmed, it would mark North Korea's first test of a medium range missile, capable of reaching Japan, since 2014.

The launch comes amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula after the North rejected U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed earlier in the month in response to a nuclear test conducted in January and the United States issued fresh sanctions this week.

The missile was launched from north of the capital, Pyongyang, flying across the peninsula and into the sea off the east coast early Friday morning, the South's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

It appeared the North may have fired a second missile soon after from the same region, with a projectile disappearing from radar at an altitude of about 17 km, it added.

South Korea did not confirm the type of the missiles. But 800 km was likely beyond the range of most short-range missiles in the North's arsenal. The North's Rodong missile has an estimated maximum range of 1,300 km, according to the South's defense ministry.

A U.S. official told Reuters in Washington that it appeared to be a medium-range missile fired from a road-mobile launcher.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement it was closely monitoring the situation and urged North Korea to focus on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations.

JAPAN CONCERNED


Japan quickly condemned the launch, lodging a protest with North Korea through its embassy in Beijing, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament.

"Japan strongly demands North Korea to exercise self-restraint and will take all necessary measures, such as warning and surveillance activity, to be able to respond to any situations," Abe said.

Last week, the North fired two short-range missiles into the sea off its east coast and its leader Kim Jong Un ordered more nuclear weapons tests and missile tests to improve attack capability.

North Korea often fires missiles at periods of tension on the Korean peninsula or when it comes under pressure to curb its defiance and abandon its weapons programs.

New U.S. sanctions on Pyongyang were issued on Wednesday aiming to expand its blockade by blacklisting individuals and entities that deal with the North's economy.

The North has also reacted angrily to annual joint military drills by U.S. and South Korean troops that began on March 7, calling the exercises "nuclear war moves" and threatening to wipe out its enemies.

South Korea and U.S. officials began discussions this month on deploying the advanced anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system to the U.S. military in the South, despite Chinese and Russian objection.

Japan has previously said it was considering THAAD to beef up its defenses.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in Jan. 6 and launched a long-range rocket on Feb. 7 in defiance of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions.

On Wednesday, North Korea's supreme court sentenced a visiting American student to 15 years of hard labor for crimes against the state, a punishment Washington condemned as politically motivated.

Article Link to Reuters:


GOP Primary Outcome Is in Kasich's Hands

By Sean Trende
Real Clear Politics
March 17, 2016


If Donald Trump becomes the Republican Party nominee, the list of players who were indispensable to his rise will be lengthy: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and the news media. As one of my friends put it, the anti-Trump forces have always been about three weeks behind the front-runner: It was a 16-person field when it needed to be 10, a six-person field when it needed to be four, and so forth.

But assuming he makes good on his threat to continue his campaign to the Republican convention, John Kasich will ultimately play the biggest role. That is because the outcome of the race will probably be decided by whether this is a two-person or three-person race after the next couple of weeks.

Why? It goes back to this piece that I wrote in the wake of the “SEC primary.” Trump has benefited immensely from the fractured Republican field; he routinely trails or ties opponents when exit polls ask about head-to-head matchups between candidates. The race has largely fractured along lines of education and income, with Kasich likely pulling disproportionately from Rubio, and now Cruz.

As you can see from the first chart in that March 2 piece, Trump has, generally speaking, performed best among voters with a high school education or less, with Cruz having his best showing among voters with some college or college degrees, while Rubio and Kasich have performed best among voters with graduate degrees.

When we look at the race through the lens of income, Trump performs best among voters earning the least, Cruz with middle incomes, and Kasich and Rubio with the highest earners.

In other words, if we were to rank Rubio voters’ preferences for other candidates, we might reasonably surmise they would choose Kasich. (You can also see the demographic overlap between Kasich and Rubio using my colleague David Byler’s demographic calculator). This in no way means that all of Rubio’s voters will go to Kasich, or that there are no Trump voters in Rubio’s camp. All it means is that Kasich probably grabs the lion’s share of Rubio’s voters.

Now, if this had happened in the early phases of the race, it would be inconsequential. But in the late phases, where states are either winner-take-all or winner-take-all by congressional district, it is crucial.

To see how this plays out, I ran two different scenarios in our delegate calculator. I won’t give you the specifics, but the general idea is this: I generally gave Trump 40 percent of the vote, to Cruz’s 35 percent and Kasich’s 25 percent. In New England, I gave Trump 60 percent of the vote to Kasich’s 25 percent and Cruz’s 15. In West Virginia, I gave Trump 60 percent, Cruz 25 percent and Kasich 15 percent. I also skipped Colorado, North Dakota, and American Samoa, since their delegations are unbound.

Now, this obviously isn’t exactly how things will shake out in the real world – Trump would probably win more delegates in New York than the 60 percent estimate above suggests, but I’m not sure he would really run as well in Connecticut or Utah as I’ve assumed. There will probably be some Great Plains states where Cruz will run up the score. The point is to just set some sort of baseline, so that we can get a sense of how these things work. I then re-ran the scenario without Kasich, allocating 70 percent of his vote to Cruz and 30 percent to Trump.

The outcome is fairly stark. Under the first scenario, Trump wins 1,296 delegates and clinches the nomination on the last day of primary voting.

Under the second, Kasich-less scenario, however, Trump has 1,125 delegates, while Cruz collects 899. Given that under the second scenario, Cruz rattles off a string of wins at the end, and given the fact that Rubio’s and Kasich’s 300 delegates would probably disproportionately gravitate toward Cruz, this would likely be enough deny Trump the nomination.

Again, I don’t think this is precisely how things would play out. Trump would probably still win Arizona without Kasich, and would win more delegates in New York state, but I think Cruz would perform better on the West Coast and on the Plains (Trump has not performed well west of the Mississippi).

The interesting thing about the Republican race is that it slows down now. We have Arizona and Utah next week and Wisconsin in early April. That’s basically all we have between now and mid-to-late April, when the rest of the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic votes. If Kasich doesn’t bow out before then, Trump is probably going to be the Republican nominee. If he does, it’s still anyone’s game.


Article Link to Real Clear Politics:

Putin’s Most Powerful Enemy (in Exile)

Russia may not be ready for the ex-billionaire to return, but his arguments are gaining ground.


By Anna Nemtsova
The Daily Beast
March 18, 2016


LONDON—On a recent afternoon the Open Russia Foundation, which basically represents the brains and money behind the Russian opposition, held an event at its headquarters on Hanover Square in London. And the predictions for Russia’s future seemed to grow darker by the minute.

Two Russian scientists, Yelena Lukyanova from Moscow's Higher School of Economics and Dr. Vladimir Pastukhov from Oxford’s St. Antony’s College exchanged speculative arguments about the chance Russia could one day fall apart. How much longer will President Vladimir Putin hold on? Participants wondered. And what will become of Russia after he’s gone?

On the back row of the rather thin audience, the foundation’s sponsor, exiled Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovksy—in torn jeans—was busy reading an e-book. Only once did the host of the event peer up through his spectacles to glance at the event’s participants.

The master of his little empire on Hanover Square, Khodorkovsky has spent years in Russian jails and, most recently, was charged by Moscow with the 1998 murder of Neteyugansk mayor Vladimir Petukhov. In 2010 Putin said about Khodorkovsky, “This man has blood on his hands.”

He’s not going back there any time soon. But he who formerly was the richest man in Russia has a long-term goal: to outlive Putin while preparing his countrymen for major reforms.

“I plan to return to the country; I will come back as soon as the regime begins to fall apart,” Khodorkovsky told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview last week. “And now I am doing a lot, everything I can, to arrange it so that when this regime begins to fall, the collapse happens in a different way, so the damaging mistakes made in the early ‘90s are not repeated.”

It was the chaos of the crumbling Soviet empire and the collapsed Russian economy 20 years ago that opened the door for Putin’s brand of order and national pride.

The most recent survey by the Levada Center shows that Khodorkovsky, albeit in exile, is the most famous opposition figure in Russia: 45 percent of Russians know his name. About the same percentage, 47 percent of the population, approved of Putin’s decision to let Khodorkovsky out of jail, where he spent 10 years for tax evasion, fraud and embezzlement.

That decade of incarceration gave him plenty of time to think of Russia’s future. And he feels like he can wait another 10 years, if that is what it takes. Members of his team talk about Khodorkovsky as a thinker with great endurance, “a long breath.”

It would seem likely that Putin, with his current, vast public support and lack of internal competition, will easily win presidential elections in 2018 to remain Russia’s president for six more years, until 2024. By then, Khodorkovsky would be 60 years old and Putin would be 72.

But the delay and uncertainty do not seem to disturb Khodorkovsky. “I think there is a chance that his system will be finished sooner than in 10 years,” Khodorkovsky told The Daily Beast. “This is a very unstable situation, as Putin’s circle begin to think, now, what will be left after Putin? The model that he is constructing now is not able to live long—in 10 years, he will have a crisis of loyalty, when he is over 70 years old and his bureaucrats will be only 40 years old.”

While still in prison, Khodorkovsky published thoughtful, well-researched articles in independent newspapers, giving thousands of his countrymen in the most remote corners of the country hope that he would change their lives for the better.

Those expectations are what keep him pushing for change, said Khodorkovsky, even though he knows he may be vulnerable for promising more than he can deliver at this point.

“As soon as a person begins to act, immediately at least half of the people who had been waiting for him begin to demonstrate how displeased they are with what he is doing,” said Khodorkovsky.

His intuition about public support was right. At least for now, Russians do not see him as a future president. Even the most open leaders of Russian civil society have felt frustrated about Khodorkovsky’s words and work in the past two years. His Open Russia team, with rare exceptions, is blamed for being greedy, cynical and making money off the former tycoon.

“I stopped being interested in what Khodorkovsky and especially his employees do; they are even more useless for Russia, than the deputies in the Duma,” said Anton Krasovsky, a civil activist leader from the Stop AIDS movement. “Unfortunately, I thought he would be our breakthrough but it turned out that his foundation did not make much difference—that is a major disappointment.”

An activist from Russia Behind Bars, Olga Romanenko, believed Khodorvsky was smarter than Putin but “also an imperialist with very Soviet mindset.”

For Chechen civil society, Khodorkovsky’s position on the independence of Northern Caucuses republics from Russia was unacceptable. A Chechen human rights defender, Raisa Borshchigova, told The Daily Beast that she was once a big fan, and read all Khodorkovskiy’s correspondence from prison with Russian novelists.

“I thought of him as of a Russian Mandela, but he made a deal with Putin to come out of jail, then said that he would fight against us Chechens, if necessary—he is no different from Putin who bombed Chechen civilians,” Borshchigova said.

Khodokovsky is no longer among the world’s extraordinarily wealthy people. He was once worth an estimated $15 billion. According to the recent analysis by Forbes he is today “an ordinary multi-millionaire” worth $100 million to $250 million.

He said he’s not looking for revenge, after the Kremlin took him away from his four children for so many years. Instead he deplored the Kremlin’s abusive pressure on civil society as a whole. On hearing recent news about the beatings of Russian and Scandinavian reporters near Chechnya, Khodorkovsky closed his eyes and repeated several times: “This is a catastrophe.”

Khodorkovsky looks back to the times when his oil company, Yukos, and other successful Russian businesses pumped billions of dollars into the Russian economy, enough to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

“I feel most sorry, that at the moment back in 2003, instead of choosing transparency, industrialization of Russian economy, and its westernization, Putin got scared and chose his own unchangeable power with corruption, imperialistic capitalism, monopolized capitalism.”

“We got $2 to $3 trillion dollars for the country. Where did they spend it? Instead of creating at least 10 solidly developed cities—they did not finish Peter, Krasnodar, Yekaterinburg—they flushed the money down the toilet.”

At his Hanover Square headquarters, Putin’s critic has created new mechanisms to challenge the current Russia’s leaders. “This regime has done a lot of bad things; there would have to be court trials with all the necessary evidence presented,” he said. “I am against prosecutions. Our history has seen enough of that. But an independent court should find out whether Putin personally ordered Litvinenko killed or not, or if he personally ordered to shoot at peaceful people in Ukraine.” (Alexandr Litvinenko, a former intelligence operative who turned on Putin, was poisoned in London with a rare radioactive isotope.)

“The redrawing of internal borders could be discussed later, Crimea and Northern Caucuses could be discussed later,” he added.

At times Khodorkovsky spoke in his usual self-confident, top-manager tone, as if he was once again an important decision maker in Russia. “We’ll have a problem with people who really committed crimes, as they are thousands of them,” he said. “We would not be able to put all of them in the dock, so we would offer them the chance to sign an amnesty act stipulating conditions of depriving their rights to occupy state positions and obliging them to return all property.”

How to turn Russian society from apathy to social awareness, from accepting illegitimate institutions and rules to a society demanding its rights? That is Khodorkovsky’s favorite topic these days: making Russians believe that they run the state.

“My key idea, is that we break down the notion people have that the state controls them,” he said, suggesting, “We should take the income for natural resources and give it to people, from Individual pension accounts, the way they do it in Norway.”

Everybody, both in Russia and on the West, expected that sooner or later there would be a Vaclav Havel in Moscow, a quiet voice of reason and peace with whom the West would find common language.

Preaching from his London office and traveling around international conferences, Khodorkovsky explains to European and American politicians, those who still doubted, that they would never manage to agree with Putin, because he has a “police mentality.”

Alluding to the bluster and bullying of US presidential candidate Donald Trump, Khodorkovsky said, “Even if somebody like Trump makes a deal with Putin, something will go wrong,”

Interpreting Putin to the West is one more role Khodorkovsky sees for himself as patiently, but persistently, he waits for the end of Putin’s role.


Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Both Trump and the Totalitarian Left Are a Threat to Civilized Politics

By Charles Krauthammer 
The National Review
March 17, 2016


By international and historical standards, political violence is exceedingly rare in the United States. The last serious outburst was 1968 with its bloody Democratic-convention riots. By that standard, 2016 is, as yet, tame. It may not remain so.

The political thuggery that shut down a Donald Trump rally in Chicago last week may just be a harbinger. It would be nice, therefore, if we could think straight about cause and effect.

The immediate conventional wisdom was to blame the disturbance on the “toxic climate” created by Trump. Nonsense. This was an act of deliberate sabotage created by a totalitarian Left that specializes in the intimidation and silencing of political opponents.

Its pedigree goes back to early-20th-century Fascism and Communism. Its more recent incarnation has been developed on college campuses, where for years leftists have been taunting, disrupting, and ultimately shutting down and shutting out conservative speakers of every stripe — long before Donald Trump.

The Chicago shutdown was a planned attack on free speech and free assembly. Hence the exultant chant of the protesters upon the announcement of the rally’s cancellation: “We stopped Trump.” It had all of the spontaneity of a beer-hall putsch.

Given the people, the money, and the groups (including MoveOn.org) behind Chicago, it is likely to be replicated, constituting a serious threat to a civilized politics. But there’s a second, quite separate form of thuggery threatening the 2016 campaign — a leading candidate who, with a wink and a nod (and sometimes less subtlety), is stoking anger and encouraging violence.

This must be distinguished from what happened in Chicago, where Trump was the victim and for which he is not responsible. But he is responsible for saying of a protester at his rally in Las Vegas that “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that . . . ? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”

He told another rally that if they see any protesters preparing to throw a tomato, to “knock the crap out of them. . . . I promise you I will pay for the legal fees.” Referring in an interview to yet another protester, Trump said “maybe he should have been roughed up.”

At the Vegas event, Trump had said, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” Well, in Fayetteville, N.C., one of his supporters did exactly that for him — sucker-punching in the face a protester being led away. The attacker is being charged with assault.

Trump is not responsible for the assault. But he is responsible for refusing to condemn it. Asked about it, he dodged and weaved, searching for extenuation. “The man got carried away.” So what? If people who get carried away are allowed to sucker-punch others, we’d be living in a jungle.

Trump said that it was obvious that the cold-cocker “obviously loves his country.” What is it about punching a demonstrator in the face that makes evident one’s patriotism? Particularly when the attacker said on television, “Next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”

Whoa! That’s lynch talk. And rather than condemn that man, Trump said he would be instructing his people to look into paying his legal fees.

This from the leader of the now strongest faction in the Republican party, the man most likely to be the GOP nominee for president. And who, when asked on Wednesday about the possibility of being denied the nomination at the convention if he’s way ahead in delegates but just short of a majority, said: “I think you’d have riots,” adding, “I wouldn’t lead it but I think bad things would happen.”

Is that incitement to riot? Legally, no. But you’d have to be a fool to miss the underlying implication.

There’s an air of division in the country. Fine. It’s happened often in our history. Indeed, the whole point of politics is to identify, highlight, argue, and ultimately adjudicate and accommodate such divisions. Politics is the civilized substitute for settling things the old-fashioned way — laying your opponent out on a stretcher.

What is so disturbing today is that suffusing our politics is not just an air of division but an air of menace. It’s being fueled on both sides: one side through organized anti-free-speech agitation using Bolshevik tactics; the other side by verbal encouragement and threats of varying degrees of subtlety.

They may feed off each other but they are of independent origin. And both are repugnant, both 
dangerous, and both deserving of the most unreserved condemnation.


Article Link to the National Interest:

Obama privately urges Democratic donors to back Clinton

By Nick Gass
Politico
March 17, 2016


President Barack Obama is urging Democratic donors against supporting Bernie Sanders for the party’s nomination, telling them that the time has come to unite behind Hillary Clinton, two senior Democrats confirmed to POLITICO.

The New York Times first reported Thursday on Obama’s private meeting last week with Democratic National Committee donors in Austin, Texas, where the president acknowledged the shortcomings of his 2008 primary rival.

Although Obama did not call on Sanders to drop out of the race and did not explicitly endorse Clinton, according to the Times’ report, those in attendance told the newspaper that the president’s tone suggested urgency. And the Times also confirmed that Obama acknowledged that many Democrats were not "excited" about her candidacy.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said during Thursday's news briefing that he was at the fundraiser when the conversation happened and did not deny the story.

"What I'll just say in general is that President Obama made the case that would be familiar to all of you, which is that as Democrats through this competitive primary process, we need to be mindful of the fact that our success in November in electing a Democratic president will depend on the commitment and ability of the Democratic Party to come together behind our nominee, and the president did not indicate or specify a preference in the race," Earnest said.

"In fact, the president pointed out something that he's pointed out to all of you, which is that both of the Democrats who are running, because they have demonstrated an understanding and a commitment to building on the progress that we've made thus far, will be far better presidents than anybody that's been put up on the Republican side," he said.

Obama's private remarks echo those he made publicly in an interview with POLITICO in January, when he declined to discuss specific differences between the two Democratic candidates but seemed to be leaning toward Clinton. “[The] one thing everybody understands is that this job right here, you don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one thing,” he told POLITICO's Glenn Thrush — a comment many interpreted as a swipe at Sanders and his intense focus on inequality and Wall Street greed.


Article Link to Politico:

Obama privately urges Democratic donors to back Clinton