Wednesday, March 23, 2016

NFL official: Don't write off Las Vegas as possible home for the Raiders

By John Breech 
CBS Sports
March 23, 2016

Although we know the Raiders will be spending the 2016 NFL season in Oakland, everything after that is a jumbled mess.

Following the 2016 season, the Raiders could end up in Los Angeles, but only if the Chargers turn down their option to move.

The Raiders could also stay in Oakland; after all, the team does have two one-year options in their newest lease that would enable them to stay in the city until 2018.

What happens if Oakland and Los Angeles both fall through?

Viva Las Vegas!

Sin City was a hot topic at the NFL owners meetings this week, and it's starting to look like Vegas is becoming a more attractive option.

"I think it would be a mistake to just write Las Vegas off," a high-ranking league official told the Los Angeles Daily News. "It's all predicated on getting the financing in order, but if they do, considering the Raiders brand and how well it could play in Las Vegas and all the various other dots that can be connected, the Raiders would have a very compelling argument to make."

So far, Vegas has done one big thing that Oakland hasn't been able to do: come up with a stadium proposal. Back in January, the Las Vegas Sands drew up plans for a $1.2 billion domed stadium that's practically located on the strip.

The Vegas plan beats the Oakland plan, because Oakland currently has no plan and zero funding for any potential plan, which is why the Raiders are in their current situation.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about a Raiders move to Vegas on Wednesday at the owners meeting, and he didn't exactly shoot the idea down.

"[Raiders owner] Mark Davis is appropriately looking at all of his alternatives," Goodell said. "There are several cities that have a tremendous interest in the Raiders."

Goodell did add that in an ideal world, the Raiders would stay in the Bay Area.

"I'm hopeful that we can avoid any relocation to start with," Goodell said.

The elephant in the room with Vegas right now is gambling, which doesn't mesh well with the NFL's "We hate gambling" policy. However, for the first time, Goodell said that gambling might not be enough to keep a team out of Vegas.

"We'd have to understand [gambling], we'd have to understand what the impact is on us and ultimately each owner would have a vote on that," Goodell said. "That would be a factor that I think many owners would have to balance, the league would have to balance, but until we got a hard proposal that really put that in front of us, we'd have to understand what the ramifications of that are."

That proposal could come soon.

According to Fox 5 in Vegas, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee is set to meet Thursday to "formally hear the proposal for the $1.2 billion stadium," which could be the first step in getting a stadium built. Not only that, but Vegas seems excited about the possibility of building the stadium -- with or without an NFL team.

Raiders owner Mark Davis visited the potential stadium site in Nevada back in January and seemed to approve. Davis also made a follow-up visit recently, where he met with Nevada governor Brian Sandoval.

At the owners meeting, Davis was asked if he thought Vegas could "maximize the Raiders."

"I think the Raiders would maximize Las Vegas," Davis said.

Whatever happens, Goodell doesn't think it will happen anytime soon.

"I think their ultimate decision is a long ways off," Goodell said.

The Chargers only have until January 2017 to decide if they're going to L.A. or staying in San Diego, and the Raiders' lease in Oakland is up after the 2018 season, so the decision might not be as far off as we think.


Article Link to CBS Sports:

The Myth That Partition Will Save the Middle East

Dividing countries won't solve the deeper conflicts.


By Adam R. Alexander
The National Interest
March 23, 2016


One day after the last U.S. soldier departed from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi—the most senior Sunni in the Iraqi government. His arrest was the first of many to come for Iraqi Sunnis. In the months to follow, Sunnis were systematically removed from positions of power. When Sunnis took to the streets to protest the dismissals, they were brutally suppressed. The United States had been gone for a single day, but already Iraq was slipping back into a sectarian war thousands of U.S. soldiers had given their lives to stop.

Can the deep hatreds that divide Iraq, Syria and so many other developing countries ever be overcome? Is it true that these people have never really gotten along with each other—that they were forced together into artificial boundaries drawn by ill-informed colonial powers? Wouldn’t they all be better off if they went their separate ways forming their own, more homogenous and therefore more peaceful countries? Many current and former policymakers seem to think so. Last year, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno told the press that a partition of Iraq along ethnic lines “might be the only solution” and that in the future “Iraq might not look like it did in the past.” In February, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that a partition of Syria is a possible ‘Plan B’ if the ceasefire fails. James Stavridis supported the idea recently in Foreign Policy, stating “Syria as a nation is increasingly a fiction. . . . Like Humpty Dumpty in the children’s nursery rhyme, the odds of putting Syria back together again into a functioning entity appear very low. It is time to consider a partition.”

It’s easy to see the appeal of partition proposals—if the kids can’t play nice, we’ll just send them each to their room. But upon closer examination it’s clear that partitioning countries tends to create as many new conflicts as it resolves and the “ancient hatreds” so often cited as requiring separate states, dissolve away under closer inspection.

Redrawing borders to end ethnic conflict is rarely successful. In a recent paper, Nicholas Sambanis and Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl show that civil wars resolved through partition are just as likely to reoccur as those that leave countries whole. Even when partitions successfully resolve one particular source of conflict, they inevitably create several more. Partitions almost always leave behind residual members of the rival ethnicity within the boundaries of the new state. This leads to ethnic cleansing and further violence. Just a year after it split away from Yugoslavia, Croatia was at war with its Serbian leftovers as they fought to become part of Serbia. In Iraq, an independent Kurdistan would be unwilling to relinquish control of oil rich, but majority Arab, Kirkuk. One can easily imagine an Arab insurgency in Kirkuk springing forth like the Serbian insurgency in Croatia.

Partition can also activate dormant identities that become a new source of conflict, turning groups who were formerly allies against one another for control of the new state. After Christian South Sudan split away from the Muslim north in 2011, it quickly descended into violence between the South Sudan Democratic Movement and the South Sudan Liberation Movement. In Iraq, a newly autonomous Shiite region would quickly find itself torn between state controlled forces loyal to Prime Minister Abadi’s Dawa Party and Sadrist militias like the Jaysh al-Mahdi. In Syria, it’s hard to imagine that the disparate bands of the Free Syrian Army not to mention Jabhat al-Nusra could form a government over an autonomous North Syria without resorting to yet another civil war. In short, what we can expect from partition plans is a period of tumultuous and probably violent sorting out as communities uproot (or are uprooted) to join their co-ethnics. After homogenizing their new states, ethnic leaders then turn on each other over control of their new domains.

So if not partition then what?

We should abandon the fiction that civil conflicts are driven by ancient, primal hatreds and address the true causes of enduring conflict. There is nothing inherent about ethnic diversity that leads to violence. In a landmark 2003 paper, James Fearon and David Laitin demonstrate how the degree of ethnic diversity in a state has no relationship to whether or not it experiences a civil war. Another paper finds a greater risk of civil war when particular groups are deliberately excluded from the government. Most countries contain a diverse array of peoples living within their borders, but only a relative few descend into violence. What causes civil war is not ethnic diversity, but rather weak and exclusive states. When state institutions are weak and some social groups are excluded from power, violence entrepreneurs are free to exploit the divisions in society for their own political gain.

Fearon and Laitin’s findings cut both ways—there may be nothing inherently violent in diversity, but almost any social division can be exploited to motivate violence. Syria’s Alawi, Christians and Sunnis, as well as Iraq’s Sunnis, Kurds and Shias, have far more years of peaceful coexistence than sectarian civil war. It was only when the capacity of the state was shocked that violence entrepreneurs were free to instrumentalize this diversity for their own political ends.

The path to peace in Syria and Iraq lies not in partition, but in restoring state control and making the state more inclusive. Restoring government control to the contested regions of Syria and Iraq will be exceedingly difficult and will certainly require international peacekeeping, but we should not allow the idea of carving up these countries to distract us from the real work of reconciling the people that live within them.


Article Link to the National Interest:

Oil down 4 percent; U.S. stockpile build threatens market recovery

NEW YORK | BY BARANI KRISHNAN

Reuters
March 23, 2016


Oil prices tumbled 4 percent on Wednesday, with U.S crude settling below the key $40 per barrel mark after a sixth straight week of record highs in stockpiles that traders warned could cut short the market's two-month long rally.

Weak equity markets also sapped the strength in oil while a strong dollar weighed on demand for crude from users of the euro and other currencies. [.N] [FRX/]

The U.S. government's Energy Information Administration (EIA) said crude stockpiles rose 9.4 million barrels last week - three times the 3.1 million barrels build forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll. [EIA/S]

"The data will do little to help oil bulls, given the monster build for crude inventories already at record high levels prior to this," said Chris Jarvis, analyst at Caprock Risk Management in Frederick, Maryland.

U.S. crude futures settled down $1.66, or 4 percent, at $39.79 a barrel. It was the sharpest one-day drop for the front-month contract in U.S. crude since Feb. 11, when prices fell to a 12-year low of $26.05.

Brent crude futures finished down $1.32, or 3.2 percent, at $40.47 a barrel.

Oil prices have rallied about 50 percent over the past two months. While declining U.S. oil output and strong gasoline demand drove some of the gains, the bulk was powered by OPEC and other major producers' plans to freeze production at January's highs.

"A recovery built on fickle risk appetite and temporary supply disruptions has gotten ahead of itself, and a pullback is expected," said Mike Wittner, global head of oil research at Societe Generale.

Some traders such as Tariq Zahir at Tyche Capital Advisors in New York were betting nearer-dated U.S. oil contracts would weaken versus longer-dated ones, expanding the market's so-called "contango" structure. "The rally, in our opinion, has run its course for now," Zahir said.

Trading houses such as Vitol, Gunvor and Glencore were betting on oil remaining oversupplied at least until 2018.

The EIA data was not entirely negative, showing gasoline stocks falling three times more than forecast and four-week demand for the motor fuel up 7 percent year-on-year.

Crude stockpiles at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub - an important data point - fell for the first time in seven weeks.

Still, the focus was on total crude stockpiles, which hit all-time highs of 532.5 million barrels.

The oil minister of Nigeria, an OPEC member, was confident crude prices would stabilize after the producer group agrees to a supply freeze in Doha next month.


Is Retaking the House a Democratic Pipe Dream?

If Trump drags down the GOP candidates, there's a chance. But there are also a lot of obstacles—of the Democrats' own making.


By David Dayen
The New Republic
March 23, 2016


Partisan Democrats get incredibly excited when Republicans pick lousy candidates who enable them to stumble to victory. Names like Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, and Richard Mourdock are etched in recent political history as extremist conservatives who handed Democrats seats they were fated to lose. You’ll be hearing references to those names a lot, because liberals are now back at it, giddy that a Donald Trump presidential nomination—or a Ted Cruz nomination, for that matter—could put the 30-seat Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives into play.


"The lack of Democratic House candidates on the ballot robs the party of capitalizing on a backlash against Trump."



Some prominent political analysts have begun to agree with them. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report recently altered ten House ratings to favor Democrats, commenting, “It’s impossible to know just how bad it could get for Republicans sharing a ballot with Trump or Cruz.”

True enough. But before liberals get too excited, a reality check may be in order: To take advantage of the Republicans’ terrible choice at the top of the ticket, Democrats would have to actually run candidates for the House who can win. A lot of them. And after two historic wipeouts in recent midterms, combined with a thin bench of state legislators who can move up and a learned helplessness about redistricting that assumes many seats off the table before elections even begin, Democrats may not be well-positioned for sudden viability in a sufficient number of House races.

Even experts who give Democrats a chance to flip the House recognize that everything would have to go perfectly. Wasserman notes in his report that, despite the recent alterations, he rates only 31 Republican seats at risk of a loss. (Daily Kos Elections puts it a bit higher, with 36 Republican seats potentially threatened.) This means Democrats would have to win virtually every seat in play, and lose none of their own, just to regain a bare majority.

But it takes years to recruit and train candidates who can raise enough money to win a congressional election; you can’t throw it together in a few months. You can see how unprepared Democrats are for this scenario by looking at how many districts won’t have a Democratic candidate at all. Nineteen states have already closed their filing process for House elections, representing 163 Congressional districts. And asStephen Wolf points out, in 27 of those 163 seats—about one in six—no Democrat will appear on the ballot.

Most of those seats are hopelessly Republican, but not all of them. Six of the districts have a Cook Partisan Voting Index score (a measure of how much more partisan a district is than the median) of “Republican+10” or less. Democrats held two of them, the 3rd and 10th districts in Pennsylvania, as recently as 2010. Illinois’s 16th district, held by Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger, is only R+4, but no Democrat emerged to challenge him. Given their thin margin for error, Democrats need surprises in seats like Kinzinger’s to win the majority. But they cannot get his.

If this pattern continues, dozens more Republicans (in the states where candidates can still file) will see no general-election opposition from Democrats. To give one glaring example, Virginia’s 2nd district, which Mitt Romney won only narrowly in 2012, has an open seat; incumbent Scott Rigell is retiring. But while two Republicans have announced they’re running, no Democrat has declared yet, and filing closes March 31. There’s also no Democrat currently running in Colorado’s 3rd district, an R+5 seat where incumbent Scott Tipton only won 53 percent of the vote in 2012.

Even if most of the Democrat-free districts are deep red, the lack of candidates on the ballot robs the party of capitalizing on a backlash against Trump, or a scandal involving a GOP incumbent. The lack of competition also allows the Republicans to focus more heavily on seats where they’re strongly challenged, preventing the party from being stretched thin financially.

Even in districts where they’ve managed to find a candidate, Democrats aren’t always primed to win. Daily Kos Elections’ David Nir looked at two winnable Republican seats in southern New Jersey, where antipathy to Trump could produce unexpected results. In the 2nd district (D+1), Representative Frank LoBiondo will likely face a Democratic challenger who raised only $55,000 when he was on the ballot in 2014, losing his primary by 64 points. In the 3rd district (R+1), freshman Representative Tom McArthur will compete against one of two Democrats: perennial losing candidate Frederick LaVergne, or Jim Keady, who got pummeled in a state legislative race last year.

Other races have similarly weak candidates. The Democrat in Florida’s toss-up 7thdistrict (R+2), Bill Phillips, has less than $20,000 in his campaign account, nowhere near enough to mount a serious race. In two California races, the 21st (D+2) and 25th(R+3) districts, locally supported candidates Daniel Parra and Lou Vince have raised so few funds that national Democrats sent “carpetbaggers” from outside the district into the primaries, leading to anger from local activists.

In California, opportunities to pick up House seats like those mentioned above may be frustrated by the unique primary system. Because California’s June primary will be key for Republicans—with Trump needing a good showing to reach the 1,237 delegate threshold for the nomination—his presence could drive high turnout, as it has elsewhere. California’s primary ballots for non-presidential races allow voters to choose any candidate; the top two advance to the general election, even if they are from the same party. The possible upshot: In some districts juiced by Trump (or anti-Trump) turnout, you could see two Republicans in the general election, keeping Democrats off the November ballot.

But let’s say everything breaks right for Democrats, and they earn the House majority—narrowly. That may not translate to a bumper crop of progressive legislation, because in districts where Democrats are facing off in primaries, the winning candidates won’t necessarily be liberally inclined. For example, in Iowa’s toss-up 1st district (D+5), either former House Speaker Pat Murphy or Cedar Rapids city councilor Monica Vernon will face Republican incumbent Rob Blum. But while Murphy was endorsed by most progressive organizations when he lost narrowly to Blum in 2014, Vernon was a Republican until 2009. That hasn’t stopped the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from endorsing Vernon.

In Pennsylvania’s suburban 6th district (R+2), Democrat Mike Parrish—an oil-services executive and a Republican until 2013 who donated to John McCain and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns—has picked up several local party endorsements, and one from former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell. A second candidate, Lindy Li, could win the primary, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee left this winnable race off their target lists, signaling they have no faith in either Democrat. Nevada’s 4th district (D+4), with Bernie Sanders supporter Lucy Floresfacing more establishment contenders, represents another ideological fulcrum point.

Even in safe Democratic seats, primaries could tip the balance of power in the House, ideologically speaking. Maryland’s 8th district, where Representative Chris Van Hollen is giving up his seat to run for U.S. Senate, could go to state Senator Jamie Raskin, seen as a progressive stalwart—or to rich wine retailer David Trone, or to Kathleen Matthews (wife of Hardball host Chris Matthews), a Marriott Hotels executive with significant financial support from the corporate wing of the party. Without progressive victories at the primary level, a Democratic House majority won’t be inclined to rack up the kind of meaningful accomplishments that are the purpose of elections in the first place.

The Democrats’ lack of preparation for a path to a House majority is somewhat understandable: Plenty of people, after all, have been blindsided by Trump’s rise. But the situation only reinforces why it’s an inexcusable mistake to not have viable candidates available to run everywhere. National parties need to plan for unforeseen events. And so should those on the left, fighting for the ideological soul of the Democratic Party.


Article Link to the New Republic:

Putting America at Risk: The Visa Waiver Program

The U.S. doesn't always know who's coming in.


By Jan Kallberg and Adam Lowther
The National Interest
March 23, 2016


As a part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) citizens or nationals of thirty-eight countries, mainly in Europe, may travel to the United States without undergoing the more rigorous process of obtaining a visa. While the Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 sought to prevent refugees from Iraq and Syria with ties to terrorism from entering the United States through gaining nationality papers in one of the thirty-eight Visa Waiver Program countries, there is a glaring hole in this effort to secure the nation. Let us explain.

The VWP allows citizens and nationals from the selected countries to enter the United States after the travelers have submitted information to the Department of Homeland Security Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Congress created the program in 1986, as a way of making it easier for travelers to enter the country without facing a lengthy visa process, which was deterring travel to the United States.

Over twenty million travelers enter the United States every year under the Visa Waiver Program. The program has been an economic success and also strengthened the cultural bond between the United States and friendly nations, but circumstances changed dramatically after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and have changed even more over the past year. In short, in their well-intentioned efforts to aid refugees from places like Iraq and Syria, northern European nations are likely putting American security at risk, by providing new identities to refugees who lack any way to prove who they are or where they come from.

The Case of Sweden and Germany


Sweden is currently experiencing an influx of 100,000–150,000 asylum seekers per year, primarily due to the country’s generous offer to guarantee permanent residency to Syrian war refugees. The actual number is hard to determine, as the influx varies heavily month to months. Of those who seek asylum, approximately 70 percent are granted permanent residency. The Swedish national immigration agency, Migrationsverket, is only able to determine the actual identity of approximately 60 percent of those who seek asylum in Sweden and receive permanent residency. That statistic isthe agency’s own estimation, and is likely to be too high, as immigration officials often accept false documentation to facilitate the process.

German estimates suggest that at least one-third of asylum seekers falsely claim to be Syrians. Eurostat, the EU statistics authority, published a report in September 2015 suggesting that of those who seek asylum in Europe, 79 percent are not Syrians. The actual number is unclear, but a significant portion either claims to be a Syrian war refugee or provides a false identity, seeking an advantage in receiving asylum. It is likely that those who are not Syrians continue to Sweden, where the identification requirements are laxer than Germany.

Swedish immigration authorities have stated that fewer than 20 percent of asylum seekers have an actual passport. The rest are “identified” by providing supporting documents, such as college transcripts, tax documents, draft cards, contracts or letters. Reports suggest that asylum seekers will often discard their passports before entering Sweden, because they believe they are better off without identification and that asylum processing will be purely based on their oral presentation.

If available information is correct, it is likely that unverified immigrants to Sweden receive approximately twenty-eight thousand new identities each year. These immigrants can choose to either maintain their original name, date of birth, birthplace and former residency, or else fabricate a completely new identity. This makes it very difficult for the United States to effectively monitor a large number of potentially dangerous persons who may seek to enter the country.

Other countries that face the same problem of identification, but to a lesser extent, due to stricter regulations, are Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. All of these countries are in the Visa Waiver Program.

It is important to note that after five years as a permanent resident in Sweden, the former asylum seekers can become Swedish citizens, slipping through the security protocols that were recently added to the Visa Waiver Program. The United States’ prescreening process for the VWP relies on information presented by the European country. Thus, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) can be fed with bogus information in the form of an official European passport. Even if the individual is already on a DHS watch list or No Fly List, they can enter the country using the identity provided by Sweden or another European state.

While the probability of terrorists using this weakness in the system to enter the United States and conduct attacks is low, it is important to remember that it took fewer than twenty men to carry out the 9/11 attacks. In order to prevent such an occurrence, European states should share the identities of any asylum seekers whose identities cannot be rigorously verified. For the Visa Waiver Program to continue—with the mutual recognition of travel documents—European states must ensure that their inability to identify new residents does not put the United States at risk.


Article Link to the National Interest:

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Trumpism, the Economic Wrecking Ball

Exploding deficits, high tariffs and the deportation of millions of workers would spark a global depression.


By Alan S. Blinder
The Wall Street Journal
March 21, 2016


For much of the past six months, I’ve tried to ignore the political ascent of Donald Trump. Too horrible to be true, I assured myself. But the unthinkable has happened, and Mr. Trump is now the likely nominee of the Republican Party. So what might a Trump presidency bring?

To be frank, the most horrifying aspects of Trumpism are not his economic policies. The worst he could do there would be to precipitate a global depression. It’s far scarier to contemplate an erratic, blustering demagogue taking command of the most powerful military force on earth. Or the foreign-policy calamities that might befall us.

But I’m an economist, so I’ll stick with economics.

Let’s start on familiar terrain: large tax cuts for the rich. Some variant of that theme has been a staple of Republican economic policy since Ronald Reagan. The evidence that “trickle down” doesn’t work began as a trickle but is now a flood. Never mind, the donor class wants it. So Mr. Trump has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other Republican candidates in advocating tax cuts for the non-needy.

But Mr. Trump’s proposed tax cuts, naturally, have to be bigger. According to the Tax Policy Center, the 10-year net revenue loss from Mr. Trump’s proposals would be an astonishing $9.5 trillion—and that’s after netting out some $2 trillion in loophole-closers and other tax hikes that probably would never happen. The corresponding net revenue loss in Ted Cruz’s tax plan is $8.6 trillion. In case you can’t wrap your mind around numbers that large, $9.5 trillion is about 20% of all federal revenue projected for that decade.

Huge tax cuts would balloon the federal budget deficit, just as they did after the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. Yet Republicans decry even today’s comparatively small deficit. How does candidate Trump propose to square the circle? Well, we got an inkling in the March 3 debate, when he proposed to squeeze “hundreds of billions of dollars in waste” from a Medicare drug budget of $78 billion.

Next come Mr. Trump’s anti-immigration promises. First the candidate boasted that he could build a wall on the Mexican border for $8 billion; he has since upped it to $10 billion and cut the length of the wall in half. Did someone say “cost overruns?” Who cares? Mexico will pay, right? Wrong.

Second, has anyone told Mr. Trump that more Mexicans are going home than are coming here these days? So do we—does he—want to wall them in?

The wall is not the worst Trump immigration idea. Try to imagine the economic disruption and gigantic cost (not to mention the human tragedies) from rounding up 3% of the U.S. population (the undocumented) and deporting them. Who, by the way, will do the work when they’re gone?

But I have saved the worst for last: international trade. In TrumpWorld, America “loses” whenever we run a trade deficit. Really? Don’t Americans get goods and services at lower cost while our trading partners get pieces of paper like Treasury bills (our IOUs)? No one forces Americans to buy all those imports. Don’t voluntary exchanges benefit both parties to a transaction? Billionaires wouldn’t notice the higher prices at Wal-Mart, Costco and elsewhere, but middle-class Americans would.

If a trade deficit “costs American jobs,” how did the U.S. manage to have 4% unemployment in 2000 when the trade deficit was 3.7% of GDP—larger than today’s?

And remember, all the trade deficits and surpluses in the world must add up to zero. So if all trade deficits must disappear, so must all trade surpluses—which, in practice, would mean that international trade shrivels. We tried that approach in 1930 with the Smoot-Hawley tariffs. It didn’t work out too well.

Finally, let’s not forget that America is signatory to numerous international treaties. Mr. Trump says he’ll “break” the North American Free Trade Agreement if he can’t renegotiate it. Has he asked Canada or Mexico? Mr. Trump has also advocated 45% tariffs on Chinese imports. Has he heard of the World Trade Organization agreement? It goes on. And the costs of abrogating treaties transcend economics. What country wants to deal with a serial treaty breaker?

Let’s tote up the score. Mr. Trump’s tax plan is doable, if Congress is sufficiently pliant. But it would exacerbate income inequality and explode the federal deficit. Mr. Trump’s immigration plans are heartless, hugely expensive and incredibly disruptive to the U.S. economy. His positions on international trade display abysmal ignorance, are economically harmful and threaten America’s standing in the world.

And remember: These are the best parts of what Mr. Trump has to offer.


Article Link to the Wall Street Journal:

It’s the End of the Line for GOP as We Know It

By Jonah Goldberg 
The National Review
March 23, 2016


Nominating Donald Trump will wreck the Republican party as we know it. Not nominating Trump will wreck the Republican party as we know it. The sooner everyone recognizes this fact, the better.

Denial has been Trump’s greatest ally. Republicans and commentators didn’t believe he would run. They didn’t believe he could be an attractive candidate to rational people, no matter how angry with “the establishment” voters said they were. They — which includes me — were wrong.

The denial lasted longer for some than others. Long after many observers had come to the realization that Trump was the front-runner, Jeb Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, believed Bush’s real rival was Marco Rubio. It spent $35 million trying to destroy Rubio before it dropped its first $25,000 attacking Trump.

Over the weekend, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus showed the first public signs of acceptance about what’s in store for the party. He finally acknowledged that the Republican nominee was probably going to be determined on the convention floor in Cleveland.

Priebus explained, rightly, that the rules are the rules, and that if Trump can’t secure the required 1,237 delegates before Cleveland, it’s anyone’s game. “This is a delegate-driven process,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash. “The minority of delegates doesn’t rule for the majority.”

Trump’s response to this floor-fight talk was to vomit up the usual word salad.

“All I can say is this, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Trump told ABC’s This Week. “But I will say this, you’re going to have a lot of very unhappy people [if I’m denied the nomination]. And I think, frankly, for the Republicans to disenfranchise all those people because if that happens, they’re not voting and the Republicans lose.”

Even through the syntactical fog, Trump’s point is clear: If he can’t reach 1,237, he should get the nomination anyway. Because he is Trump. If that doesn’t happen, his supporters will stay home, defect from the party, riot, or all three.

And he’s right. Not about deserving the nomination even if he doesn’t have the delegates. That’s typical Trumpian whining. But he’s right that if he’s denied the nomination, many — not all, but many — of his supporters will bolt from the convention and the party.

Left out of Trump’s unsubtle threat: Many anti-Trump Republicans will desert the convention and the party if he’s not denied the nomination.

There are only three possible ways to avoid a calamitous walkout. Ted Cruz can win the nomination outright before the convention. That’s very unlikely given that he’d need to win roughly 80 percent of all the remaining delegates.

Second, Trump could reveal he has a hidden reservoir of magnanimity and patriotism, and rally his faithful to the consensus nominee. Stop laughing.

Third, the delegates could pick someone sufficiently attractive that Trump followers get over their understandable bitterness and support that candidate despite Trump’s objections. Who would that be? Certainly not Mitt Romney. Maybe a reanimated Ronald Reagan. Or Batman? I have no idea.

All of these scenarios are so unlikely in part because the split in the GOP isn’t merely about a single personality. Trump represents just the most pronounced of a spiderweb of ideological and demographic fault lines that are increasingly difficult to paper over. As Joel Kotkin put it in a column for the Orange County Register, the Republican party now “consists of interest groups that so broadly dislike each other that they share little common ground.”

Put simply, and with the incessant and obtuse comparisons of Trump to Reagan notwithstanding, you cannot have a party that’s both Reaganite and Trumpish.

Trump’s cheerleaders insist that he’s a symptom of long-simmering maladies on the right. I’m persuaded (even though I think Dr. Trump’s remedies are nothing but snake oil). Even now, too many GOP leaders think Trump’s success is purely a result of his brash personality, and nothing more. But only when we accept that a terrible diagnosis is real is it possible to think intelligently about our options.

To wit: This ends in tears no matter what. Get over it and pick a side.


Article Link to the National Review:


Trump and Cruz shift to trench warfare

The two Republican candidates will be scrapping for delegates after splitting Tuesday’s contests.


By Shane Goldmacher
Politico
March 23, 2016 


The Republican primary shifted to a new phase — trench warfare — as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz each won one state in Tuesday’s contests and dug in for an increasingly ugly battle that will now likely drag through the final primary in California, if not beyond.

Trump won Arizona and its 58 delegates. Cruz scored a victory in Utah and appeared poised to win all of its 40 delegates by winning more than 50 percent of the vote there. But the dueling results only underscored how far the GOP is from unifying behind Trump, who extended his delegate lead and cemented his frontrunner status.

Trump, who has won 19 of the 29 states that have been decided, has loudly called on GOP leaders to coalesce behind him. “They should embrace this movement,” Trump said as he campaigned in the nation’s capital earlier this week.

He again pushed that message after racking up the Arizona delegates, tweeting, “Hopefully the Republican Party can come together and have a big WIN in November, paving the way for many great Supreme Court Justices!”

But Cruz, John Kasich (who lost badly in both states Tuesday), and the anti-Trump forces within the GOP continue their push to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination and force a historic contested convention this summer in Cleveland.

“All of our projections had Trump winning AZ. We didn't play there. His road to 1,237 just as rocky,” Katie Packer, founder of the anti-Trump group Our Priorities PAC, tweeted shortly after Trump’s Arizona win.

Trump has at least 739 delegates, nearly 60 percent of the total he needs. Cruz lags far behind, while Kasich has already been mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright.

Attention will now turn to Wisconsin, the only state to vote in the next 27 days, on April 5. Cruz will campaign there for three straight days, starting Wednesday, as his campaign prepares to open yet another “Camp Cruz,” a dormitory for supporters willing to come knock doors on his behalf.

The backdrop for Tuesday’s elections was new terror attacks in Europe that killed at least 31 in Brussels and reignited national security fears. Cruz and Trump spent much of the day trying to outdo one another in terms of cracking down on radical Islamic terrorists.

Trump, who has positioned himself as a strongman who can obliterate the Islamic State and strictly control immigration, bluntly called for the return of torture as an America policy. Cruz refused to be upstaged, and called for heightened policing of Muslim communities in the United States.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, condemned them both in her own victory speech Tuesday night after beating Bernie Sanders in Arizona by a huge margin. “We see people who are running for president of the United States who are literally inciting bigotry and violence,” she said. After losing Arizona, Sanders went on to win big in both Idaho and Utah on Tuesday.

In a sign of just how nasty the tone of the Republican race has gotten, Trump tweeted, then deleted, and then tweeted again a threat about Cruz’s wife just as the polls closed Tuesday night.

"Lyin' Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!"

The message is an apparent reference to an anti-Trump group, not affiliated with Cruz's campaign, that has been running Facebook ads featuring a photo of Trump's wife posing nude for British GQ in 2000.

Cruz fired back, tweeting, “Pic of your wife not from us. Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you're more of a coward than I thought. #classless.”

Cruz isn’t just battling with Trump. He is pushing for Kasich to get out of the race, telling Bill O’Reilly on Fox News on Tuesday night that Kasich “can only be a spoiler.”

“He went 0-for-27, he won his home state and then he's going to proceed to lose this series of states,” Cruz said, adding, “At this point what he's doing doesn't make any sense unless he's auditioning to be Trump's vice president.”

The Club for Growth, which has underwritten millions of dollars of anti-Trump ads, announced it had formally endorsed Cruz on Wednesday, part of the push to consolidate the anti-Trump movement behind Cruz.

Kasich’s campaign, however, is dug in. His chief strategist John Weaver issued a memo Tuesday calling Kasich “the key” to stopping Trump and arguing both Cruz and Trump “would lose to Hillary Clinton in dramatic fashion.”


Article Link to Politico:

Trump and Cruz shift to trench warfare

Google Knows You’re Sick

Companies are mining our data in the name of medical research.


By Adam Gaffney
The New Republic
March 22, 2016


The Internet, it seems, can reflect the health of the body politic, though we may not like what we see. Consider, for instance, an analysis done by economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, as described by him in The New York Times earlier this month. More than 700,000 Google searches, he found, were performed last year by individuals seeking information on how to perform their own abortion. Some, he notes, used the phrase “how to have a miscarriage,” others inquired into the use of Vitamin C or bleach or a blow to the abdomen as an abortifacient, and a small minority queried the very words “how to do a coat hanger abortion.”


Yom-Tov's book makes the case that what we divulge in cyberspace—whether through searches or posts on social media—constitutes an invaluable trove of data that can shed light on a wide range of medical issues.

More disconcerting, however, are the trends he traces: those states with the highest frequency of these sorts of searches were (for the most part) the very same states that heavily restrict access to legal abortion. At the same time, he describes a sharp increase in such searches following 2011, a year when legal abortions began to be increasingly restricted in many places. Admittedly, he acknowledges, this is a preliminary analysis, deserving more academic study. Still, it suggests how this method of research can be used as a type of population-level microscope—in this case, so as to observe the alarming state of reproductive health care access in the United States.

This—the use of “big data” culled from the Internet for medical research—is the precise topic of a stimulating new book, Crowdsourced Health: How What You Do On the Internet Will Improve Medicine. It is written by Elad Yom-Tov, an academic who works from within the world of tech. Yom-Tov previously held positions in the research outfits of IBM and Yahoo, and is now a researcher at Microsoft. His book makes the case that what we divulge in cyberspace—whether through searches or posts on social media—constitutes an invaluable trove of data that can shed light on a wide range of medical issues. It’s a slim but effective volume, albeit more a description of his own research than a synthesis of the field. Nonetheless, it reveals both the promise and the pitfalls of such methods, and—just as notably—their potential perils.

At first blush, the overall premise seems sound. When medical illness—or, more commonly, apprehension thereof—strikes, the first place many (most?) of us turn is the Internet. Yom-Tov explores some of the reasons for this. Compared with a health care professional, for instance, the Internet is always available, has no other patients waiting, and—critically—permits a degree of anonymity when we are at our most vulnerable. (I can personally recall my first experience with this as a young teenager: a game of “spin-the-bottle” had me later neurotically combing the Internet for days on end in pursuit of definitive facts on the possibility of contracting HIV through kissing. For better or worse, it was many years before any similar concerns would be again raised).

Perhaps just as important, the Internet doesn’t charge copayments. Early in his book, Yom-Tov observes the role this factor plays when he looked at what people search for after they (or a relative) are given a diagnosis of cancer. “One of the terms that appear most often in queries in conjunction with different types of cancers,” he notes, “is ‘free.’” A cancer specialist tells him that this could be the result of people searching for “disease free survival,” a common metric of efficacy for cancer treatments. Alas, that was not the case: “[W]hen we looked at the queries closely,” he notes, “it became apparent that the context was ‘free diagnosis’ and ‘free treatment,’ probably because the people who submitted the queries had no other option for obtaining treatment.” As with Stephens-Davidowitz’s analysis, such a finding helps reveal the gaps within our health care system. Yom-Tov rightly points to uninsurance and underinsurance—serious and persistent deficiencies of the American health care system—as potential factors contributing to this phenomenon.

His larger point, however, is that we can draw on this deluge of Internet data to understand—and indeed improve—our health. Take, for instance, his research on anorexia nervosa, which occupies one chapter. He argues that the Internet is key to understanding anorexia, not merely because we can learn about anorexia-sufferers from what they share on it, but because the Internet may itself play a role in the disease’s propagation. He cites, for instance, one estimate putting the number of “pro-anorexia” websites at over 600. He also notes that other general use websites (like Flickr) contain what he calls “pro-anorexia content.” Such websites and postings are not simply supportive of anorexia sufferers, he describes, but instead explicitly promote the condition as a “lifestyle” choice instead of a disease: For instance, “thinspiration” sites provide pictures of anorexic celebrities that positively accentuate their gaunt bodies, while other sites provide tips on how to contend with meddling family members. Given the role that such content could potentially play in the development of anorexia, Yom-Tov fairly argues that the Internet is an important arena in which to study it.

He and his team ask some interesting questions. One example: Does Internet exposure to anorexic celebrities lead, in some sense, to anorexia? To answer this, they looked at the Internet searches of more than 9 million people and identified certain search terms that plausibly suggested a diagnosis of anorexia (for instance, such phrases as “tips for anorexia” or “how to become anorexic?”). They also assigned “anorexia” scores to various celebrities. They found that searching for more than one celebrity with a high anorexia score increased the hazard of later developing possible anorexia (again, based on suggestive search terms) by about nine-fold. “Apparently,” Yom-Tov concludes, “viewing celebrities who are perceived as anorexic is correlated with later making queries that are typical of an anorexic.” Whether this is actually a cause-and-effect relationship seems questionable, though Yom-Tov draws on data from Twitter—in which media reports on anorexic celebrities instigate “waves” of tweets that in turn inspire searches suggesting the development of anorexia—to argue that it is. He contends that the way the media describes these individuals—whether they are portrayed as ill or not—is a critical factor in this process. As he concludes,

"information on the Internet aids people in becoming anorexic. A major part of this information, and especially being aware to it, is driven by media reports about celebrities who are perceived as suffering from an eating disorder. Positive or indifferent reporting on these celebrities seems to cause people to develop anorexia. However, when these reports indicate that this celebrity is sick with anorexia, such a path does not appear, perhaps because people do not aspire to be sick—they want to be thin."

Lessons about America's Role in the World

The U.S. should seek to expand the ranks of the world’s liberal democracies.


By Zalmay Khalilzad
The National Interest
March 23, 2016


It is difficult to think of another election season in modern history in which so many traditional tenets of U.S. foreign policy were being questioned. This is understandable at some level. The United States has fallen far short of its aspirations in its foreign policy, and it seems that conflicts and threats, rather than opportunities, are dominating our relations with virtually every region of the world.

Recent statements, however, not only by our presidential candidates but also by President Obama, suggest that our national debate is drifting in a concerning direction. The following points are becoming all too common in the national discourse, and must be considered with appropriate perspective as we decide on a sound new U.S. strategy.

1. We should disengage from the Middle East.

The bluntest articulation of this view has come from President Obama and his closest aides. The Arab Spring, according to CIA Director John Brennan, convinced the president that “the Middle East was consuming us.” President Obama concluded that only a few threats—Al Qaeda, Israel’s existence and a nuclear Iran—justify direct military intervention. Otherwise, he stated, “There is no way we should commit to governing the Middle East and North Africa...That would be a basic, fundamental mistake.” Overextension in the region, President Obama fears, could “ultimately harm our economy, harm our ability to look for other opportunities and to deal with other challenges, and, most important, endanger the lives of American service members for reasons that are not in the direct American national-security interest.”

The problem with the president’s critique—shared to varying extent by the presidential candidates—is that it fails to consider the even greater problems that would arise amid a U.S. retreat. The United States protects access to the Persian Gulf, holding the line against a regional conflagration that would instigate an oil price shock. The ill-considered disengagement from Iraq in 2010, the resulting rise of ISIS and the conflict in Syria offer a taste of what would happen amid a further U.S. withdrawal. Already, regional powers were doubling down behind their proxies in the Iraqi and Syria civil wars, but the assertion of Russian power has made these wars even more dangerous. Moscow has returned as a significant player in the geopolitics of the region—a factor that, until now, had been absent since the Cold War. Other great powers, particularly China and the Europeans, are also becoming more involved in the Middle East, which points to the beginning of a chaotic multipolar trend as a consequence of American retrenchment.

Confidence in the United States to manage regional security has already declined. Some states are hedging by building relations with U.S. rivals, including China and Russia. However, it is difficult to see how the United States could avoid defending a critical set of interests beyond what the President has outlined. If sectarian war were to spread to the Shia areas of eastern Saudi Arabia, where ten million barrels of oil are produced every day, could we remain uninvolved? Facing the prospect of a major recession at home from disruptions in global energy markets and a further tilt toward Iran in the geopolitical balance, Washington would be compelled to undertake a large-scale U.S. intervention in defense of Saudi Arabia on the order of Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

We are better off remaining engaged in the Middle East, and shaping events positively, rather than allowing major crises to arise, which would compel us to intervene in much more difficult and costly circumstances.

2. We should strike terrorists kinetically, but avoid getting involved in nation building.


As Sen. Ted Cruz put it, “It is not the job of the U.S. military to engage in nation building to turn foreign countries into democratic utopias.” Donald Trump has also argued against nation and state building abroad.

In fact, the rationale for U.S. involvement in nation and state building has always has been more hard-headed and nuanced than creating “democratic utopias.” Consider the history of why the United States decided to pursue nation building in Afghanistan in the first place.

As a White House official in 2002, I shared the view, espoused by President Bush and his principal advisers, that the United States should maintain a light military footprint in Afghanistan. After spending many months in Afghanistan as a presidential envoy, however, I realized that it would be impossible to prevent the reemergence of terrorist safe havens without rebuilding the country’s institutions.

I, among other skeptics, came to embrace state building, not out of airy idealism, but rather because there was no other way to secure our core counterterrorism interests at a cheaper cost. We concluded that the long-term solution to achieving even basic counterterrorism objectives was to enable Afghans to defend and police their own territory, thereby preventing the infiltration of terrorist groups from Pakistan and the regrowth of such groups from within. Otherwise, Americans, rather than Afghan troops and police, would have to stand watch unless we were prepared to allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist sanctuary again.

A bipartisan majority in Congress—hardly eager to spend taxpayer dollars on Afghanistan—agreed with this analysis. In 2004, Congress funded a $1.6 billion increase in Afghanistan reconstruction programs to build stronger Afghan institutions, knowing that it would create a virtuous cycle that redounded to the benefit of U.S. counterterrorism interests.

While a bipartisan consensus has endured in supporting Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts, the Obama years have seen a greater emphasis on Special Forces, drone strikes and kinetic operations. The persistence of the terrorism threat and the broader disorder in the Middle East have exposed the limits of these instruments. The United States needs to put much greater emphasis on mobilizing indigenous forces who themselves oppose extremism and terrorism, and who can foster and sustain a positive, alternative vision for the region’s peoples.

Shallow criticisms of state building ultimately distract from the more serious question that needs to be asked: Why is the U.S. government so poorly equipped to handle post-conflict planning and implementation? Growing disorder in the world will compel the United States, whether we like it or not, to engage in state and nation building in difficult settings. The real question is how we can develop stronger capabilities and mechanisms to succeed in these operations.

In my book The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World, I propose a number of reforms in both the State Department and USAID to increase our effectiveness in state- and nation-building missions. Establishing a new expeditionary “cone” at the State Department, for example, supported by a civilian reserve of specialists, is one of many cost-effective steps we could take. Doing so would undercut the temptation later on to turn to the military when there is a need to engage in state and nation building.

3. The United States does not need to contain major powers like Russia, China, and Iran, and instead, can rely on our friends to keep them within confined spheres of influence.

A “sphere of influence” approach to managing major powers is making a comeback. President Obama wants Saudi Arabia and Iran to “share” influence in the Middle East, and dismisses the “idea that talking tough or engaging in some military action” in areas “tangential” to U.S. interests are going to “influence the decision making of Russia or China.” The president concedes the “fact” that Ukraine, as a non-NATO country, “is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do.” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has gone further, declaring that the unipolar world is over and that we now live in a multipolar world. Donald Trump, too, in his skepticism of NATO and other long-standing U.S. alliances, has endorsed a de facto sphere of influence strategy for Europe and Asia.

As a Pentagon planner in 1992, my colleagues and I considered seriously the idea of conceding to great powers like Russia and China their own spheres of influence, which would potentially allow the United States to collect a bigger “peace dividend” and spend it on domestic priorities.

Ultimately, however, we concluded that the United States has a strong interest in precluding the emergence of another bipolar world—as in the Cold War—or a world of many great powers, as existed before the two world wars. Multipolarity led to two world wars and bipolarity resulted in a protracted worldwide struggle with the risk of nuclear annihilation. To avoid a return such circumstances, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney ultimately agreed that our objective must be to prevent a hostile power to dominate a “critical region,” which would give it the resources, industrial capabilities and population to pose a global challenge. This insight has guided U.S. defense policy throughout the post–Cold War era.

Giving major powers the green light to establish spheres of influence would produce a multipolar world and risk the return of war between the major powers. Without a stabilizing U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf and U.S. relationships with Jordan and the Gulf States, Iran could shut down oil shipments in its supposed sphere of influence. A similar scenario in fact played out during the 1987 “tanker war” of the Iran-Iraq war, which eventually escalated into a direct military conflict between the United States and Iran. Iran’s nuclear program makes these scenarios even more dangerous.

The United States can manage the rise and resurgence of great powers like China, Russia and Iran at an acceptable cost without ceding entire spheres of influence. The key is to focus on normalizing the geopolitics of the Middle East, Europe and the Asia-Pacific, which the United States can do by strengthening its transatlantic and transpacific alliances and adapting them to the new, dangerous circumstances on the horizon. The United States should promote a balance of power in key regions while seeking opportunities to reconcile differences among major actors.

In Asia, the United States should enhance the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region to sustain a balance against the rising Chinese power and shape Beijing’s behavior in partnership with allies, while pursuing a forum for confidence building that includes all the countries of the region, including China. The forum might resemble the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has succeeded in establishing basic rules and processes to manage regional disputes. With U.S. prodding, the Helsinki Accords could serve as a model for the charter of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. It would complement the multiple regional organizations and groups already in place, and would complete the security architecture of the region. Perhaps the best candidate to evolve into this role is the East Asia Summit. It has the right membership, but to perform a role similar to OSCE, it must be institutionalized with a clear mandate and structure. It would also need to be established in a context in which the United States and its allies are developing a joint approach regarding the contested maritime issues in the East China Sea and South China Sea—one that draws red lines where necessary but employs diplomacy to avoid the risk of escalating crises.

The problems of regional rivalry, sectarian conflict and state collapse pose the most difficult and immediate challenges in the Middle East. The fundamental solution, I believe, is to promote a regional balance of power, strengthen moderate and progressive states, and undertake with others the heavy lifting of fostering internal political settlements in Syria and Iraq. Improving governance and economic development in states that actively oppose extremism is perhaps our greatest lever in effecting a balance of power in the region. The United States should also establish a new diplomatic forum for dialogue akin to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Just as the religious wars of Europe eventually provided an impetus for a rules-based order through the Westphalian system, we should consider whether talks to end the Syrian stalemate might lay the groundwork for a neo-Westphalian agreement for the region, starting with an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia for mutual acceptance and some rules for cooperation and interaction in the region. Such an agreement can be followed by a broader forum for dialogue that could set forth a program for confidence building and cooperation.

In Europe, though Putin’s actions are vexing, it should be possible to check his aggressive ambitions while cooperating in areas of common interest. Putin’s Russia is troubled internally, with low oil prices creating major budget deficits and population trends pointing to a demographic decline. With modest NATO deployments to Central and Eastern Europe and a program to arm the Ukrainian armed forces, we can not only raise the price of aggression, but also bolster deterrence in the Baltic and other frontline states. At the same time, we should engage Putin and continue to cooperate on space exploration, countering proliferation and fighting Islamist extremism. Though cooperation may need to be transactional in the immediate future, trends might encourage Russia to cooperate more fully over time.

How Rob Ford Wrote the Donald Trump Playbook

Famous for the video of his crack-smoking, the former Toronto mayor has died—but his confrontational, controversial politicking lives on thanks to Trump.


By Shinan Govani 
The Daily Beast
March 23, 2016


“I feel like I have a lot to talk to with Mayor Ford,” Jimmy Kimmel was saying. “I don’t think I’ve had this many questions since the series finale of Lost.”

If ever there was a thunderbolt reminder of mortality, it arrived Tuesday when it hit me that it was only two years ago, this month, when I shuffled backstage at the El Capitan Theatre, at the corner of Hollywood & Highland.

I had been commandeered there to report on an all-too-incongruous late-night-show appearance by then-Toronto mayor Rob Ford, whose very name, at that point, was affixed to the adjective “notorious.”

Ford’s life ended in a quiet hospital room—this after the world-spanning Breaking Bad-goes-SCTV scandal of caught-on-tape crack-smoking (which had Ford in a stupor, calling now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “fag,” and later led to an apparent extortion-related plot related to the video), the bewildering press conferences which once descended into talk of oral pleasuring, the pick-your-poison nights of intoxication which ended with him breaking out in Patois, and the out-and-out mayhem he stirred in Canada.

Ford died in Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, succumbing to pleomorphic liposarcoma, a rare form of soft-tissue cancer, after a reported nine rounds of chemotherapy in so many months. He was 46.

Prime Minister Trudeau tweeted, “Rob Ford fought cancer with courage and determination. My condolences and best wishes to the Ford family today.”

“I will continue to fight,” the feisty-as-ever and man-of-the-people Ford remarked after the last municipal election (during which he’d actually started off running for re-election, with a characteristic volley of chutzpah, but eventually had to drop out of the mayoral race because of his diagnosis).

Vowing to come back to City Hall in 2018 to un-seat the new mayor, John Tory, in Canada’s largest metropolis, he added, “I will continue to fight. Trust me. I’m just warming up.”

At least one of Canada’s national newspapers, I’m told, composed Ford’s obituary weeks ago. The outlook had been looking grim for a while.

Meanwhile, many of the same journalists who exhaustively covered every twitch out of Rob Ford—the ones kept in the stranglehold of an ever-and-ever more surreal political rise that reminds many of a certain citrus-colored national figure in America—staggered, suddenly, to come up with appropriate things to say about a man (and father of two young children) who had just died.

One—the host of local 24-hour TV channel—attended to the news by calling him “a great spirit.”

Both loved and loathed in his time, Ford certainly continues to have a knack for zeitgeist-zapping in death: his demise came just days after a jury weighed a $115 million verdict against Gawker, in the case involving Hulk Hogan and the embattled gossip site (the very one which thrust the saga of Rob Ford on the world).

Another time, another videotape.

Then, there is the T-word: Trump. As many a political decoder has noted, much of the political wizardry of The Donald today, in the United States, is right out of Ford’s playbook—both in terms of plank (the promises of gravy-train reduction), the populism, but also, most critically, the shamelessness and the truth-scrambling.

The Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent, Daniel Dale—who has the unique perch of having covered both Ford, as mayor, in Toronto, and now is on the Trump train—is only too aware about the similarities.

Remarking on some of the Trump rallies he’s attended, Dale told Toronto Life magazine recently, “I felt their utter devotion to this man, and it reminded me so much of the devotion many Ford supporters had and still have. And then there have been a whole bunch of developments in the Trump saga that have been so similar to the Ford saga.”

A key one? “The moment when I really felt it was when Trump said, ‘I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and I wouldn’t lose any supporters,’ and I thought, where have I heard that before? It was almost verbatim the Doug Ford (Doug Ford’s brother and key defense-man) quote from 2010 about Rob Ford being able to strangle someone on the steps of City Hall and still win the election.”

Notably, like Trump, Ford was a self-generated, plain-speaking populist despite coming from money himself, his own family fiefdom comprising a company, DECO Labels and Tags, which, in 2014, was said to be generating an estimated $100 million in annual sales.

Unlike Trump, however, who prides himself as not being a “politician,” Ford proudly hailed from something of a political dynasty, with patriarch Doug Sr., having served as a Member of Provincial Parliament in the Ontario legislature, and both his brother, and nephew, Michael Ford, political creatures too.

In death, there has been solace offered for the man, if not the politician.

“As inexcusable and outrageously hypocritical as much of his behavior was, it seemed that most Torontonians were genuinely sympathetic toward his battles with drugs, with the bottle and with cancer,” wrote Chris Selley, a columnist with the National Post.

Writing that Ford should never have been mayor of Toronto, Selley nevertheless added, “Those afflictions are great levellers. We should resolve to afford everyone that sort of understanding and kindness in their darkest moments.”

And, certainly, it wasn’t too long at all before his No. 1 taunter on late-night made his condolences know via Twitter.

“Condolences to the family and fans of @TorontoRobFord—an unforgettable man who loved his job and city and his job like few men I’ve met,” wrote Jimmy Kimmel.


Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Is ISIS Planning a Europe-Wide Attack?

ISIS has a plan for taking down Europe. Do Europeans have one to stop them?


By Scott Atran
The Daily Beast
March 23, 2016


Today’s Brussels attacks represented only the latest in an ever-more effective series of hits intended to foment chaos in Europe and thereby “Extinguish the Grey Zone,” in the words of a 12-page editorial in ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015.

The Grey Zone here is the twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil—in other words, between the Caliphate and the Infidel—which the “blessed operations of September 11” brought into relief. The editorial quotes Osama bin Laden, for whom ISIS is the true heir: “The world today is divided. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,’ with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the Western Crusaders. Now, the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Grayzone everywhere.”

The idea is for ISIS to fill the void wherever chaos already exists, as in much of the Sahel and Sahara, and to create chaos that it can then fill—as its working to do in Europe.

A welcome to Syrian refugees fleeing this chaos would clearly represent a winning Western response to this strategy of division, whereas wholesale rejection of refugees just as clearly represents a losing response. Remember when Ted Cruz talks about having Americans cops “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods, when Donald Trump talks about a Muslim ban, that they are literally taking a page from the ISIS playbook.

The following axioms are taken from “The Grey Zone”, and from The Management of Chaos-Savagery, published in 2004, that’s become required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir. The group’s actions have been, and likely will continue to be, consistent with these axioms:

Diversify the strikes and attack soft targets—tourist areas, eating places, places of entertainment, sports events, and so forth—that cannot possibly be defended everywhere. Disperse the infidels’ resources and drain them to the greatest extent possible, and so undermine people’s faith in the ability of their governments to provide security, most basic of all state functions.

Motivate the masses to fly to regions that we manage, by eliminating the “Gray Zone” between the true believer and the infidel, which most people, including most Muslims, currently inhabit. Use so-called “terror attacks” to help Muslims realize that non-Muslims hate Islam and want to harm all who practice it, to show that peacefulness gains Muslims nothing but pain.

Use social media to inspire sympathizers abroad to violence. Communicate the message: Do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.

I suspect that ISIS is planning a coordinated attack across multiple cities in Europe to ramp up the process of extinguishing the gray zone, and to also shift the focus of its possible adherents away form its increasingly noteworthy military containment in Syria and Iraq.

Unlike Al Qaeda, whose attacks in Europe and elsewhere were largely instigated by inspiration rather than direct command and control, ISIS is now able to remotely command as well as inspire with the idea of a utopian Caliphate in the here and now (something Bin Laden earnestly rejected as long as the U.S.A. was powerful enough to contain and thereby delegitimize it). It has infiltrated immigrant neighborhoods, ridden piggyback on refugee pipelines and tapped into the ennui of a Western society that hasn't know war or real struggle over values for 70 years and the anomie of a seemingly endless, genderless, culturally indistinct adolescence.

The Islamic State radically terminates all of this with clear red lines and spectacular violence that its foreign adherents experience as breaking personal chains and those of humanity.

In the absence of a devout alternative of passion and significance, many who join ISIS seem to say: “Better an end to suffering the status quo, with hope for something better, whatever suffering and horror it takes.” That, of course, is the heart of the apocalyptic mindset; that to save this world it may be necessary to destroy it, and postpone hope to the next life.

It is an ultimate expression of the power of seemingly preposterous ideas made real: that privilege of absurdity to which no creature but man is subject, but which renders all creatures subject to His whim, including fellow men.

Military action to contain and degrade ISIS in its heartland—and, crucially, to do without the massive introduction of American troops—is a necessary condition of defeating the group, albeit one that will be far more difficult to achieve than is commonly conveyed by our politicians and military leaders.

Even that, by itself, won’t be sufficient if we hope to avoid losing generations to come. The best hope we have to counter the lure of ISIS and its ilk in the long run will come from a global push for community-based initiatives led by trained young activists who are equipped to offer an alternative expression of idealism founded on adventurous, festive and glorious forms of “peace-building” as enticing as war.

Or we can send out more of Cruz’s cops to patrol Muslims, and brace for more and worse to come.


Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Assessing Market Reactions to Brussels

By Mohamed A. El-Erian
The Bloomberg View
March 23, 2016


The reaction of financial markets to the terrorist attacks in Brussels on Tuesday was calm and mature, showing that they have learned the lessons of such tragedies, which have become all too common. Nonetheless, markets will find it increasingly difficult to price the longer-term effects, including unusual political developments that could affect the global economy.

The markets' relatively muted reaction signaled that macroeconomic effects would be limited. This forecast of a contained impact is consistent with the after-effects of other such outrages, including those that followed the attacks in London, Madrid and Paris. In previous cases, the impact on overall gross domestic product has usually been limited and transitory, fading with time.

Investors and traders also reacted maturely at the sector level. The price action in markets on Tuesday was characterized by notable differentiation, again illustrating the extent to which the marketplace has learned from previous attacks in Europe. For example, travel and leisure stocks underperformed the market as a whole while health care and technology outperformed.

But even though markets responded rationally in the short run, there now could be a greater sense of uncertainty about what is ahead. The effects of that incertitude are not easy to predict and price.

The main question concerns the ways in which national politics will be influenced by geopolitical developments that are perpetrated by non-state disruptors rather than traditional nation-states. Such changes could have consequences for economic policy, growth and corporate earnings. In this case, it is likely that the Brussels attacks will further fuel the rise of non-traditional and anti-establishment political movements on both sides of the Atlantic.

In continental Europe, this is likely to translate into a greater empowerment of fringe parties that, in countries such as Denmark and France, already have become serious electoral contenders. In the U.K., the disruption will embolden the anti-immigration message of those who want their nation to leave the European Union. In the U.S., it could lead to greater support for Donald Trump in the Republican presidential nomination contest.

None of these developments has yet reached an unambiguous tipping point. But the horror on Tuesday brings such an outcome a step closer. And these events complicate the role of traditional parties, including those now in office, even as a comprehensive policy approach is needed to take over from the increasingly overburdened central banks.


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

A Sea of Troubles for Our Next President

From deficits and slow economic growth to violence here and abroad, the challenges are enormous.


By Michael Tanner 
The National Review
March 23, 2016


The presidential campaign might increasingly look like a three-ring circus, but no matter what we might think about our choices, a new president will be sworn in on January 20, 2017. And, whether that president is Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or a still unidentifiable third possibility, he or she will have to deal with some very real problems. Among them:

Deficits are back: Over the past seven years, a combination of increased revenue and spending restraint reduced our annual budget deficit from $1.4 trillion to just $439 billion. But those days are over. This year, the deficit is expected to rise to $544 billion, a $105 billion increase from last year. From here on out, unless drastic changes are made, it just keeps rising. Six years from now, in 2022, we will be back to trillion-dollar deficits every year. As a result, our national debt is expected to top $29 trillion within a decade. And that’s the good news. Entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare face more than $69 trillion in unfunded future liabilities, pushing our real indebtedness to more than $88.3 trillion. Welcome to Greece.

If the incoming president wants to avoid fiscal calamity, while funding his or her own priorities, there will have to be a willingness to cut spending and reform entitlements that has been missing in the campaign so far. And, no, cutting “waste, fraud, and abuse” isn’t going to do it alone. That means the new president is going to have to make some very powerful interest groups very unhappy.


The wreckage of Obamacare: With each passing day, it becomes more obvious that the Affordable Care Act is a failure — maybe not the brilliant explosive failure once envisioned, but the drip, drip, drip of unremitting bad news. After a decade of relative restraint, the cost of medical care is rising at its fastest rate since 2012. Obamacare premiums are up as much as 41 percent in some states, physician networks are shrinking, and insurers in eleven states report loss ratios above 100 percent, threatening an adverse-selection death spiral. Last week brought the news that four more co-ops have so far failed to attain the minimum enrollment officials say is needed for fiscal solvency. Average monthly enrollment in the exchanges will likely be around 11 million this year, roughly half the rate that was earlier projected. Affordable it’s not. Universal coverage it’s not.

Tinkering around the edges won’t be enough to prop up the tottering edifice of the ACA. At the same time, simply repealing the still unpopular law remains a political non-starter. As tired as Americans are of the endless debate over health-care reform, the new president will have to find a viable alternative. Anyone who thinks this issue is going away is sadly mistaken.


Slow growth and too few jobs:
The recovery from the Great Recession remains one of the slowest recoveries in history, with a real average growth rate of just 2.1 percent since 2010. Although unemployment has dropped to 4.9 percent, workforce participation continues to lag. (In fairness, our aging population is responsible for a significant portion of the long-term decline in workforce participation, but discouraged workers remain a big problem.) Those regions hardest hit by the recession have not bounced back as fast as other regions, with employment rates still as much as 1.3 percent below comparable areas. More than a quarter of the 7.8 million unemployed have been jobless six months or longer; that figure is about 70 percent higher than before the Great Recession. In addition, nearly 6 million Americans who hold part-time jobs indicate that they want to work on full-time schedules. And when workers do find jobs, too many of those jobs pay less than they used to. Wage growth has hovered around 2.25 percent for the last two years, a full percentage point behind the 3.25 percent average growth rate since 1983. And automation means that many low-skilled manufacturing jobs are not “coming back.”

Worse, the next president will have limited tools available to jump-start the economy. Tax cuts can help, but they won’t solve the problem by themselves, and, unless they are accompanied by spending restraint, they risk increasing the deficit. Government jobs programs and stimulus spending may have a short-run impact, but they do little to increase sustained long-term growth. Either a trade war or a federal spending spree will only make things worse. The new president will have little room for economic error.


Balancing security and civil rights:
The world is increasingly dangerous and chaotic. Age-old conflicts are destabilizing large regions of the globe. Traditional adversaries like Russia and China are growing more adventurous. As this week’s attack in Brussels makes clear, there are those who seek to do the West harm. And what not so long ago looked like a worldwide trend toward democracy and free markets has stalled, if not reversed.

At home, the question for the next president will be how to keep Americans safe without compromising what America is. He or she will need to foster an America that is vigilant but not unnecessarily frightened. It will take an unusually careful and steady hand to prevent another Brussels or Paris or San Bernardino without turning the country into a surveillance state, restricting individual rights, or giving in to prejudice and discrimination.

Overseas, the president will have to distinguish between America’s vital interests and the desire to be the world’s policeman. Can America remain actively engaged in the world without sending troops — or drones — to every trouble spot that pops up on the evening news? Today, U.S. forces are deployed in more than 80 countries and are engaged in active conflicts in at least a half-dozen of them. How much are we prepared to spend in lives and treasure on each of these conflicts, or new ones? Which conflicts make us safer and which make the world more dangerous?


An America divided:
Our country is increasingly diverse, demographically, culturally, and politically. Already, four states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas), as well as the District of Columbia, have non-white majorities. Women, gays, and racial and religious minorities have new opportunities and new voices within the system. This diversity brings incredible strength, energy, and vitality to our country. It is part of what makes America great. But it also brings inevitable dislocations and tensions. Change, however necessary or inexorable, is never easy.

These conflicts are made that much harder to negotiate by our current take-no-prisoners brand of politics. From President Obama’s promise that “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” and his declaration that he can do whatever he wants because “I won. Deal with it,” to Donald Trump’s desire to see protesters carried out on stretchers, our political discourse has been coarsened and debased. Fully 58 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats say they “hate” members of the opposing party, according to a recent NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll. Hillary Clinton lists Republicans along with Iranians among those she considers her “enemies.”

Civic discourse is no better. We’ve seen our cities burn and peaceful worshipers murdered in church. We shout at each other more than we listen.

A new president will have to rise above these divisions and be a president for all of us. He or she must find a way to unify us, to bridge differences, to, in Lincoln’s phrase, “bind up the nation’s wounds.”

Moreover, if the next president hopes to make any progress on the issues facing us, he or she will have to find a way to build coalitions in support for his or her policies, and to work with opponents without compromising basic principles.

Dealing with these challenges would be difficult for any president. And the candidates we currently are watching offer little reason for confidence that whoever is elected this November will be up to the task. But, if the new president isn’t, this country will be left weaker, poorer, and more divided than we already are. Yes, things could actually get worse.

Every four years, someone tells us that “This might be the most important election of our lifetime.” This time it might be true. When we step into that voting booth, whether for the remaining primaries or in November, we should be asking whether the candidate we are intending to vote for is really up to the challenge.


Article Link to the National Review:

China’s new economic plan to test leadership’s political resolve

A lot is at stake and the global economy needs China to succeed.


By Alexander D. Pevzner
The Jerusalem Post
March 22, 2016


China’s new economic plan aims to balance measures aimed at supporting near-term growth with the steps needed to carry out painful reforms in old-tech industries, goals that will test the political resolve of Chinese leadership as it strives toward an ambitious target of achieving a prosperous society by 2020.

The ruling Communist Party of China’s (CPC) National People’s Congress (NPC) endorsed at its annual session the new, 13th Five-Year Plan (FYP) for the years 2016-2020, that aims not only to find new drivers of growth for the slowing economy but also ensure benefits from the accrued wealth reach a larger segment of China’s massive population.

The importance of the new plan cannot be overestimated. China has accounted for as much as a third of global economic growth in the past several years, and with increasing global economic and financial headwinds and sluggish growth elsewhere, much hinges on China’s success of finding ways to boost its economy.

The new economic plan is the first adopted under the current generation of Chinese leaders headed by Party Secretary Xi Jinping, highlighting the political significance for the Chinese government. China aims to complete the building of a “moderately harmonious society” by 2020, in time for the centennial of the founding of the CPC (in 2021) and as part of the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” touted by Xi.

But making the new plan work will test every bit of leadership of President Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and the entire government. Many economists doubt the ability of the government to deliver on its promises of both carrying out painless reform while at the same time ensuring sustainable growth in the world’s second-largest economy and avoiding the “middle- income trap.”

China’s gross domestic product (GDP) slowed to 6.9 percent in 2015, the slowest in 25 years, and while the government has acknowledged China’s transition to a “new normal,” the issue of finding new growth drivers has been put in the center of the new plan. Chinese leaders had called the country’s previous economic growth model “unbalanced and unsustainable.”

Since the beginning of China’s reform and opening in 1978, China has relied on investment, capital accumulation and manufacturing and exports to drive growth. While this growth model has succeed in lifting 500 million people out of poverty and making China the world’s second- largest economy behind the US, it has run its course, especially after the 2008 global economic crisis.

China is currently in the midst of a transition away from reliance on exports to consumption and services, and some of the goals put forth in the 12th FYP were successfully met.

Consumption and services already account for more than half of GDP and China’s urbanization rate also crossed the 50% threshold. Acknowledging the fast greying population, authorities have also gradually eased and eventually abolished the onechild policy.

But when the global economic crisis hit in 2008, China responded with a massive CNY4 trillion-stimulus (subsequently followed by further stimulus packages), leading to some of the structural excesses mentioned by policy makers, such as massive overcapacity in steel, coal and other traditional industries. Barclays estimates the general government deficit in 2015 widened to 3.4% of GDP, above the 2.3% budgeted deficit. Taken together with local government debt and weaknesses in the banking system, this raises questions about the government’s ability to deliver further fiscal stimulus.

Faced with faltering global growth and several stock-market routes since last summer, China’s central bank took several steps including repeatedly cutting required reserve ratios for banks and devaluing the Chinese yuan (or renminbi). Not all of China’s economy is slowing down – in fact, high-tech and e-commerce are thriving.

As part of the new five-year plan, China plans to restructure industries, which may lead to layoffs of millions of workers, and this has already led to worker protest, especially in China’s “rust-belt” northeast provinces.

At the NPC’s concluding press conference, Premier Li voiced confidence over the government’s ability to balance cyclical support with structural reform. Li said the structural reform can unleash new vitality and the government can cut back bloated industries without mass layoffs. Li said the government could still offer more aid for laid-off workers, in addition to a CNY100 billion ($15.3 billion) fund announced in February aimed at relocating workers who lose their jobs.

The government has set a target of adding 50 million new jobs in the coming five years, and plans to further promote urbanization in order to solve the problem of hukou, which reduces workforce mobility by tying people to their household registration location and preventing access to quality services.

The achieve Xi’s goal of doubling China’s GDP by 2020 from 2010 levels, the government said the economy needs to grow by an average of 6.5% over the 2016-2020 period, and that is the goal set in the 13th FYP.

Some economists expect the government to resort to further monetary stimulus in order to achieve this goal, even though at the last G20 meeting in Shanghai in late February, leaders have promised not to resort to “competitive devaluation.”

But questions remain over the remaining firepower in the government’s arsenal, and its ability to execute painful reforms in the face of political opposition and social unrest.

A lot is at stake and the global economy needs China to succeed.