Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Two Faces of American Statecraft

Washington must balance its economic and military policies.


By James Jay Carafano
The National Interest
April 1, 2016


Squaring economic and security interests is the core of statecraft in the twenty-first century.

Balancing the relationship between trade and security policy has always been complicated. Since its founding, the U.S. economy has been integrated with the global economy. Because the young republic was so dependent on transatlantic trade, for example, it found itself at war with Barbary Pirates. By the dawn of the twentieth century, America was so embroiled in the transatlantic economy, Washington could not avoid being drawn into the First World War despite its isolationist stance. In 1941, the United States cut economic ties with Japan to punish the regime for its imperial foreign policy—a move that precipitated the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II.

By contrast, the Cold War was simpler for the United States in terms of balancing trade and security policy. The United States mostly traded with its friends and did almost no business with its chief competitors. Foreign policy got made from the perspective that security concerns came first. Trade policy was separate. But recent U.S. trading partners may suggest that American statecraft is rusty after decades of not having to make Manichean choices between trade and security. As a result, Washington is struggling with hard choices.

For example, China represents a new kind of challenge for America. On one hand, complex economic ties bind the two countries. Yet both powers are locked in a vigorous security competition in the Indo-Pacific sphere. The United States is not alone in this precarious situation. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia and India are in the same boat: nurturing economic links with China while growing increasingly uneasy over Beijing’s hegemonic aspirations. There is nothing to be gained from kowtowing to Beijing’s bad behavior in cyberspace, maritime space, or outer space. Tacitly accepting such misbehavior has only begotten more of it. If China is not pressed now to conform to international norms, there could be much more costly consequences later. Nations that care need to start stepping up and pushing back.

The United States is in a similar bind with Iran. Iran is deepening its economic engagement with the US and Europe, while offering no sign toning down its destabilizing activities. Iranian long-range missile tests sparked a new round of fretting over Tehran’s behavior, even as foreign companies line up to sign new contracts with the regime.

Then there is Russia. The United States will need a more nuanced policy than all-or-nothing relations with Putin. Washington needs to take a harder line on Russian meddling in Europe and the Middle East. But other places—like the Arctic—offer opportunities for both economic and security cooperation.

The pull to restrain security concerns out of fear that antagonizing a trading partner will cause economic pain that isn't worth the gain creates tremendous tension. In a globalized world, big powers have to work on two independent, but related, tracks. The US and its friends and allies must work to make the global economy freer. But that pursuit can’t limit proactive, determined and robust action on the security front.

But subordinating security issues to business interests and leaving them unresolved can lead to big wars that cost far more than a little economic agitation. Before World War I, Britain, France and Germany all did business with one another. That didn't keep them from falling into the maelstrom in 1914. Running a two-track security and foreign economic policy would be even easier if the United States and its friends competed from positions of greater economic strength. There is much the United States could do promote economic freedom worldwide. Liberalizing U.S. energy exports may have been a great first step, but there is much more to be done. Economic freedom continues to wane domestically. Freeing the American economy from excessive spending and regulation is important for us and all free nations. Until that happens, America cannot be the engine of global economic growth it should be.

Washington has run up heavy, unstainable long-term debt, which is crippling the economy. Washington needs more sensible budgets. Our next president will need to lead the charge to get entitlement spending under control before it swallows the entire federal budget and buries the American economy.

The US needs to be strong abroad and sensible at home. That starts with not hamstringing foreign policy for economic fears. The next president will inherit a long to-do list in foreign relations. As he or she completes those chores, America’s friends and allies will follow that lead more and more.


Article Link to the National Interest:

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Recession

By A. Gary Shilling
The Bloomberg View
March 31, 2016


At the beginning of the year, fears were widespread that recession was heading toward the U.S. -- and, indeed, the rest of the world. Even the perennially optimistic Wall Street Journal survey of economists put the odds of recession in the coming 12 months at 21 percent, twice the level anticipated a year earlier and the highest reading since 2012. On balance, I believe the pessimism over the economic outlook and in financial markets was overdone early this year -- but so too is the more recent euphoria.

Early this year, major country central banks and world leaders in effect acknowledged the impotence of monetary policy in what I call"the age of deleveraging." They called for labor market and other structural reforms, infrastructure spending, and more business-friendly tax structures. For China, they recommended shutting down zombie companies such as steel mills wallowing in excess capacity, and slashing the huge stockpile of excess housing.

Investors, meantime, were worried about big unknowns including whether the Fed would keep raising interest rates, whether China would continue to devalue the yuan, whether the U.K. would leave the European Union, and whether the next U.S. president would be Donald Trump on the extreme right or Bernie Sanders on the far left.

I've never been shy about forecasting recession when the conditions are ripe, as I did emphatically during the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s and in 2007 as the collapse in subprime mortgages began to unfold. But this year, I simply didn’t see a trigger for a business downturn (although I did allow that if crude oil prices dropped to my target of $10 to $20 per barrel, the resulting financial fallout would probably precipitate a global economic downturn). Instead, I noted that recessions have typically resulted from substantial Fed interest rate hikes or major shocks.

Sure, the Fed raised interest rates in December and planned four more hikes in 2016, but it had cried wolf so many times about accelerating growth and a resurgent labor market that if it did nothing last year, its credibility would have been further eroded.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to that widely forecast recession. China didn’t massively devalue the yuan and turned, as it has in the past, to infrastructure spending to stave off a collapse in economic growth, despite the predictable result of more debt and more excess capacity.

And with inflation running well below the Fed’s 2 percent target and deflation still a danger, the U.S. central bank scaled back its rate-raising plans. At the March 16 meeting, it halved the number of expected quarter-point rate hikes this year to two, and reduced its 2016 year-end inflation forecast to 1.2 percent from 1.6 percent. The Standard & Poors 500 Index, which dropped 5 percent in January, has been rising since the second week of February and is now about 1 percent higher for the year.

Even so, many of the reasons to be cautious about the outlook for growth have not changed in the past month or so of optimism. First, commodity prices will likely continue to fall as slow global demand growth meets the huge supply resulting from past over-investment and the tendency among many commodity producers to further increase output in the face of falling prices. This is especially true for oil as OPEC (led by Saudi Arabia) is in a deadly game of chicken to see which major producers will slash prices to eliminate excess supply.

Second, the world is still working off the heavy debts and other imbalances accumulated during the 1980s and 1990s. As one example, total U.S. household debt as a percentage of disposable (after-tax) income has declined to 104 percent from its 130 percent peak, but remains far above the earlier norm of 65 percent. The household saving rate has rebounded from a 2 percent low in 2005 to 5.4 percent in February, but is still well below the 12 percent level of the early 1980s to which I expect it to return.

Furthermore, the three-decade-long era of globalization is over. It transferred manufacturing and other production from North America and Europe to China and other developing countries and drove economic activity there. But just about everything that can move already has; there’s little manufacturing capacity left to export.

So, from the depths of despair and fears of global recession in January, hope and investor confidence returned in February and March. But has anything fundamentally changed, on balance?


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

The Bill Clinton Way to Save the GOP

‘Until you understand why you’re losing, it’s hard to put together a strategy on how to win.’


By Eleanor Clift
The Daily Beast
March 31, 2016


A movie pick for Republicans frantically trying to figure out how to revive what remains of the Grand Old Party now that Donald Trump has thrown it into the hole it dug for itself: Crashing the Party.

That’s the new documentary, debuting at the Annapolis Film Festival on April 2, about how an “entrepreneurial insurgent operation,” the Democratic Leadership Council, brought the party back to the White House in 1992 after it had lost five of the last six contests. (Full disclosure: As a reporter for Newsweek, I covered these events and I was interviewed for the film.)

Running as a “New Democrat,” Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton won back the working-class white voters dubbed Reagan Democrats by defying liberal orthodoxy and offering a pro-business, trade-friendly agenda while promising (more on this in a moment) to “end welfare as we know it” and put 100,000 cops on the streets.

Before Clinton, “we were out of power, out of ideas, completely out of touch with the country,” says Al From, who founded the DLC in 1985 after Walter Mondale’s crushing 49-state loss to Ronald Reagan.

So why should Republicans watch? Every step the DLC took can be replicated by a band of insurgents within the GOP when the party finally hits bottom. It’s an arc that resembles addiction recovery, and the first step is simply telling the truth—that your party has lost touch with the voters it seeks to represent.

“Until you understand why you’re losing, it’s hard to put together a strategy on how to win,” says Elaine Kamarck, a DLC ally who appears in the film, and is now with Brookings.

Second, dispense with the myth that if only you could mobilize more of your voters, victory would be at hand, as Trump suggests when he regularly invokes a 90-year-old woman he says he met on the campaign trail who will be voting for the first time. There aren’t millions of disgruntled white voters who are going to flock to the polls.

Third, block out the siren song of ideology that’s a recurring theme within both parties. If only the Democrat had been more liberal, or the Republican more conservative. If Ted Cruz somehow claims the party’s nomination, his hard-line conservatism would be a wake-up call about the limits of that philosophy’s appeal.

Fourth, tune out what Kamarck calls the myth of Congress. Some Republicans have begun to tell themselves that losing the White House isn’t so bad as long as they keep their strong majority in the House and retain control of the Senate.

Not true for the Democrats back then, she says, or the GOP today, for that matter, because the trends causing the party to lose the White House eventually catch up to their congressional seats, as when Democrats lost the House in 1994 after a 40-year reign.

Finally, Republicans will have to come to the same realization that Democrats did when they were all but exiled from the White House—that ideas matter, and a party that isn’t offering a credible alternative is not going to win votes.

Clinton chaired the DLC the year before he announced for president, traveling the country on issue-themed trips that laid the groundwork for his candidacy and finally won the presidency on a platform of DLC ideas that he says were part of his DNA. “I felt I might never have made it if I didn’t have Al From,” he says.

That bedrock of ideas helped him survive what From euphemistically calls in the film “a few unanticipated occurrences” involving marital infidelity and draft avoidance that would have ended a less prepared candidate’s campaign.

The Democrats emerged victorious and united (victory has a way of uniting), but getting there was tumultuous. Clinton and the DLC were at odds with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had run for president in ’84 and ’88, and who referred to the DLC as Democrats for the Leisure Class.

Interviewed in the film, Jackson says he regarded the group’s commitment to equal opportunity but not to equal outcomes as a “back-handed slap at affirmative action.” They didn’t invite him to speak at their convention, which he described as private, invitation-only, no labor, no blacks.

Al From and his closest colleagues, Will Marshall and Bruce Reed, were often derided as the Southern White Boys Caucus, and that added to the tension with Jackson when Clinton spoke out against a young black woman rapper, Sister Souljah, who’d appeared at an event Jackson had organized after giving an interview where she talked about killing cops. The episode is remembered for its symbolic power in distancing the New Democrats from the Jackson wing of the party and the perceived excesses of liberalism.

In the film, Clinton calls Jackson a good friend and says “a lot of this is theater.” Jackson doesn’t seem quite so forgiving; the exclusion still stings. Kamarck says candidly, “That tension served us.”

What would be the equivalent “Sister Souljah moment” on the Republican side?

Give the devil his due, Trump has done some of it in defying big donors and channeling the anger of voters who feel their voices are not heard. But he’s more problem than solution.

Al From and his band of brothers called themselves the cavalry. Don’t change parties, they said, join our campaign to change the party from within, and that message took hold.

For Republicans today intent on “saving” their party from Trump, insurgent reform from within based on ideas is the road less traveled, at least for now.


Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Turkish military denies coup attempt against Erdogan. What next?

By M.K. Bhadrakumar
The Asia Times
March 31, 2016


The Russian media comments have speculated in recent weeks on the likelihood of a ‘regime change’ in Turkey engineered by the United States. These speculations could well be wishful thinking or ‘psywar’ – or both – against the backdrop of the deep chill in relations between the two countries following the downing of a Russian jet by a Turkish F-16 aircraft last November.

Yet, the paradox of rumor is that while it cannot be disproved easily, it also cannot be brushed away as falsehood; it hangs out in the grey zone where fact morphs into fiction. Is the Russian rumor becoming reality?

Indeed, the Turkish General Staff felt compelled to issue an extraordinary statement on March 31 in Ankara refuting that there could be a coup d’etat by the military. The statement said, “Discipline, absolute obedience and single order command is essential in the Turkish Armed Forces. It is not possible there to be any concessions to any illegal or out-of-command chain hierarchy establishment (sic)”.

The statement added that criminal charges have been initiated against those disseminating such rumors. It stressed the Turkish armed forces’ “loyalty to democracy” and regretted that such rumors “naturally demoralize the military personnel”.

To be sure, the current four-day visit by Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan to the US attracts attention. Its outcome will be carefully analyzed because it can impact Turkish politics at a crucial juncture when the Middle East is in deep crisis.

The signs of mounting western pressure against Erdogan are apparent. A song and video, which was aired last week on Extra 3, a satire program on German public broadcaster NDR, titled “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan”, ridiculed the Turkish president, his alleged extravagant spending and crackdown on civil liberties. The footage showed Erdogan’s most absurd public comments interspersed with his crackdown on protesters.

Ankara protested and demanded that the program should be deleted. Berlin knows that hell has no fury like an Erdogan scorned. Germany depends heavily on Ankara to stem the refugee flow from Syria.

In fact, Chancellor Angela Merkel personally piloted the recent deal with Turkey whereby for helping out with Europe’s refugee crisis, European Union will open a new chapter in its moribund accession process and liberalize visas for Turkish nationals plus make a seductive gift of $6.6 billion as financial aid.

Nonetheless, astonishingly enough, Berlin flatly said ‘Nein’ to the Turkish demarche. The German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman retorted, “[It has been] made clear that despite all the interests Germany and Turkey share, the view on press freedom and freedom of expression is non-negotiable for us.”

Meanwhile, European diplomats made it a point to attend the trial in Istanbul last week of two top Turkish editors who have annoyed Erdogan. Erdogan condemned their lack of diplomatic propriety.

But the British consul-general crossed all limits by taking a selfie in the court room and posting it on the social network sites. The French foreign ministry rejected Erdogan’s protest, arguing, “The diplomats follow the news in their country of residence and, in that context, routinely attend judicial hearings as observers around the world.”

The intention, clearly, is to provoke the ‘Sultan’ and draw him out into a nasty street brawl that he possibly cannot win amidst the highly vitriolic western media campaign against him, alternatively lampooning and condemning him. The US state department and White House spokesmen have been regularly making taunting remarks regarding Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent.

Amidst all this comes the unkindest cut of all – US president Barack Obama’s refusal to grant a one-on-one to Erdogan on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Obama will only have an “informal meeting.”

Obama also turned down Erdogan’s invitation to the opening of a newly-built mosque, financed by Turkey, in Maryland. And, on the eve of Erdogan’s departure from Ankara, Washington ordered all American diplomatic and military families to leave southern Turkey due to “increased threats from terrorist groups”.

On the face of it, a war of nerves over the Syrian situation is likely nearing flashpoint. Turkey’s continued support of extremist groups in Syria and its non-participation in the US-led operations against Islamic State in Iraq; Turkey’s perception of Syrian Kurds as terrorists, while US sees them as allies; Turkey’s lukewarm attitude toward the Syrian peace process sponsored by the UN; Turkey’s perceived doublespeak on Syrian refugees pouring into Europe and so on have annoyed Washington.

On the other hand, there is a sense of impotence, since the US-led coalition against the Islamic State operates out of Incirlik airbase in southeastern Turkey.

But the crumbling US-Turkey relationship has a wider background. The differences over Syria bring out that the US and Turkey have different identities, interests and priorities. Erdogan believes that Turkey should be a ‘stand-alone’ Middle Eastern power, which could have selective cooperation with the US, but the six-decade old strategic congruence has become an ‘a la carte’ choice.

Erdogan’s lurch toward the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (and Russia); his inclination to source missile defence system from China; his dalliance with Iran and refusal to identify with US’ containment strategy; his growing disinterest in the EU accession process; his rupture with Israel; his mentorship of Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood – these are symptomatic of a bigger problem, namely, Turkey’s independent trajectory in foreign policies, albeit being a NATO country.

Added to that, the empathetic relationship between Obama and Erdogan has broken down. Erdogan is no more the role model for a New Middle East, as Obama visualized in 2010 – a “moderate Muslim leader who would bridge the divide between East and West.”

Today Obama sees Erdogan as “a failure and an authoritarian”.

However, the mother of all ironies would be that if the US seeks a regime change in Turkey, it will be to overthrow a democratic-elected, charismatic, able politician with a huge popular base that embraces virtually one half of all Turkey. Washington’s frustration is essentially that Erdogan has spun out of the US orbit. Now, is that justification for ‘regime change’?

Obama overlooks that the Turkish-American alliance is as ancient as the hills. Turkey holds a unique importance to the US in the volatile Middle East. To quote Soner Cagaptay at the Washington Institute of Middle East Policy,

"Although Washington has other allies in the Gulf and Europe, Turkey is the only NATO ally that borders Iraq and Syria. Its absence from U.S. war efforts complicates operational logistics and drives up the cost associated with air operations. While Ankara must decide how much U.S. leadership it can stomach, Washington, too, needs to decide how much it wants Turkey on its side."

It shouldn’t be really so very difficult to understand Turkey’s core interests in northern Syria. Are they any less legitimate or vital than Russia’s in Ukraine or the US’ in Mexico? Simply demonizing Erdogan will not do. What we witness here is the efficacy of a multipolar world order.


Article Link to the Asia Times:

Thursday, March 31, Night Wall Street Roundup: Feeble finish to a tempestuous quarter on Wall Street

By Noel Randewich
Reuters
March 31, 2016


Wall Street ended the first quarter with a whimper on Thursday after a seven-week rally that rescued the S&P 500 from its worst start to a year since 2009.

Angst about a troubled global economy drove a steep selloff in stocks in January, before a rebound in oil prices cleared the way for the S&P's 13-percent recovery since mid-February that has left the index up 0.8 percent for 2016.

But Thursday's trading was languid, with S&P and the Dow Jones industrial average dipping after three days of gains, even as some fund managers snapped up stocks at the end of March and the quarter.

Data on Thursday showed U.S. jobless claims rose unexpectedly last week but remained well below the 300,000 mark, denoting a healthy labor market.

Critical U.S. non-farm payrolls data will be in sharp focus on Friday and provide investors a clearer reading on the economy.

"The job number looks like it's going to be positive on Friday, so you'll get a little uptake there," said Phil Blancato, head of Ladenburg Thalmann Asset Management in New York.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI ended 0.18 percent lower at 17,685.09 points and the S&P 500 .SPX lost 0.2 percent to 2,059.74.

The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC edged up 0.01 percent to 4,869.85.

So far in 2016, the Dow has gained 1.5 percent and the Nasdaq is down 2.7 percent.

On Thursday, nine of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, with a 0.88 percent decline in the materials sector SPLRCM weighing most.

Investors' nerves were soothed this week by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's comments that the central bank should be cautious about raising interest rates.

Wall Street is also concerned about tepid corporate earnings and will keep a close eye on the quarterly reports that start rolling in next month.

Analysts expect S&P 500 companies' first-quarter earnings to fall 7 percent year over year, with energy companies weighing heavily.

Shares of Best Buy (BBY.N) added 2.76 percent after Barclays initiated coverage of the stock with an "overweight" rating.

Even though the S&P ended lower for the day, advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,665 to 1,356. On the Nasdaq, 1,444 issues fell and 1,397 advanced.

The S&P 500 index showed 40 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 53 new highs and 21 new lows.

About 6.8 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.7 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.


Article Link to Reuters:

Halcon Resources -- Symbol HK -- is an in intriguing Intraday Buy now @ $.95; +/- .015

Thursday, March 31, Morning Global Market Roundup: Roller-coaster quarter ends with shares, oil under pressure

LONDON | BY MARC JONES

Reuters
March 31, 2016


World stocks fell for the first time in four days on Thursday as a roller-coaster quarter drew to a close after hammering the dollar and the pound but boosting gold and bonds.

European markets opened with shares FTEU3 down 1 percent, the dollar hovering near a seven-week low versus the euro EUR= and oil LCOc1 almost back where it started after a wild V-shaped ride.

Analysts were cautious to draw too many conclusions, but there was a sense the underlying currents of the past few months were still running strong.

Oil slipped to $39 a barrel on record U.S. stockpiles, China was put on a downgrade warning by S&P and new data showed euro zone inflation remains non-existent despite the European Central Bank's redoubling its stimulus efforts.

That's a large part of reason German government bonds are set for their best quarter since the height of the euro zone crisis in late 2011.

Bund yields DE10YT=TWEB were down another couple of ticks in early trading on Thursday. They have shed nearly 50 basis points since the start of the year, within touching distance of zero again.

This quarter "has all been about the three C's. Commodities, China and central banks," said Aberdeen Asset Management investment committee member Kevin Daly.

The currency market saw a resumptions of this week's latest sell-off in the dollar, after cautious comments on Tuesday from the head of the Federal Reserve about the global outlook.

The dollar index .DXY dropped for a fourth day as the euro inched up to $1.1325 EUR=, putting the index on track for its biggest monthly decline since April 2015 and largest quarterly drop in five years.

"Obviously, Tuesday was very interesting from Janet Yellen and it had the desired effect." said Charles Schwab managing director Kully Samra.

Sterling was steady in early deals, but it has suffered as concern grows that Britain will leave the European Union - its quarterly drop was the biggest in more than six years against the euro EURGBP=R and on a trade-weighted basis. March has been its best month in almost a year against the dollar, though GBP=D4.

The greenback's recent weakness has also been a boon to the Australian and New Zealand dollars, both of which soared to nine-month highs.

GOLD SHINES BRIGHTEST

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS closed up 0.4 percent overnight, at its highest since early December. It eked out a gain of 1 percent this quarter, which saw equities rocked earlier by global growth worries, and particularly for the Chinese economy.

Japan's Nikkei .N225 dropped 0.7 percent and saw an 11 percent loss for the quarter as the yen climbed against the dollar.

Shanghai shares .SSEC have been an even bigger loser, dropping about 15 percent since the start of the year, notwithstanding a gradual rebound since mid-January.

The big winner of 2016 so far has been safe-haven gold XAU=. It ticked up to $1,232 an ounce in early European trading and has jumped 16 percent this quarter, its best run in nearly 30 years. [GOL/]

"It is difficult to get bearish on gold at this stage given that the Fed has made it quite clear that it is reluctant to raise rates," said INTL FCStone analyst Edward Meir.

"As a result, the dollar is not rallying on constructive macro releases, and we have to suspect that its weaker tone will limit any substantial declines in gold for the time being."


Article Link to Reuters:

Is Bernie Sanders’s Nuclear Phaseout Plan a Hippie Pipe Dream or Smart Policy?

By Ben Adler
The New Republic
March 30, 2016


You’ve probably heard that Bernie Sanders has the most impressive climate agenda of any major-party presidential candidate in history. His proposals may be politically unrealistic, but they are bold. If Sanders were president and he had a pliant Congress, his carbon tax and investments in renewables would radically overhaul our energy system for the better.

But some enviro wonks say there is a serious defect in Sanders’s plan: his approach to nuclear energy. He has called for phasing out all U.S. nuclear power plants, which currently account for 19 percent of our electricity portfolio. Nuclear energy has plenty of problems: reactors can melt down, they are ripe targets for terrorists, they are wildly uneconomical, mining the uranium that feeds them is dangerous and environmentally destructive, and no one wants the spent fuel stored nearby. These are the reasons Sanders has long been an opponent of nuclear energy. A few decades ago, that was a widespread view on the left. But now climate change has become the main concern of many environmentalists, and nuclear energy’s saving grace is that it has virtually no carbon emissions.

Sanders’s own climate plan is, rightly, centered around the goal of transitioning away from fossil fuels. Even given a friendly political climate, that will be an enormous challenge. The U.S. currently gets about 67 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, so all of that dirty energy must be replaced. Does it make sense to try to transition away from nuclear at the same time—to replace yet another 19 percent of our electric capacity—when nuclear power is not a climate threat?

And our need for electricity is going to grow dramatically, which will make greening our electricity system even harder. Although power generation is the biggest-emitting single sector of our economy, a majority of our emissions come from other sectors—burning fossil fuels in our cars, in our factories, and to heat our homes and businesses. To reach a carbon-free economy, we will need to switch transportation, heating, and industrial processes that currently use fossil fuels to run on electricity. For example, we should be shifting away from gasoline-powered cars and trucks to electric ones—and the electricity feeding them must be clean.

“We don’t think anything should be taken off the table, including building new nuclear plants and carbon capture and sequestration, because decarbonizing the energy sector by 2050 is going to be a huge challenge,” says Steve Clemmer, director of energy research for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate and energy program. The 2014 “Pathways to Deep Decarbonization” report by consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics estimated that U.S. electricity demand would double as a result of electrifying sectors such as transportation.

Critics like Slate’s Eric Holthaus have slammed Sanders for his anti-nuclear stance. Environmental contrarian Ted Nordhaus recently did the same in USA Today. It’s an easy narrative: Idealistic lefty Vermonter Bernie Sanders opposes nuclear energy for sentimental reasons, even though getting rid of it would do more harm than good. Beware of unintended consequences!

But Sanders’s plan is not so simplistic and naive as it might appear at first blush. He doesn’t call for shutting down all nuclear power plants right away. Rather, he would deny their relicensing applications. Currently, there are 61 nuclear power plants with 99 reactors operating in the U.S., with a few more under construction. The vast majority were built in the 1970s, before the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown and the Chernobyl disaster soured public opinion on nuclear energy. Typically, plants last around 50 to 60 years and are relicensed every 20 years. So plants that are coming up for relicensing would, if denied, maybe have their lives shortened by 20 years. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other forces working against nuclear.

The case for keeping nuclear power in the mix

Is hastening nuclear power’s demise a good idea? Holthaus, citing Nordhaus’ frequent collaborator Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, argues that if you ramp down nuclear too quickly, it will lead to an increase in the use of coal or gas.

That’s also the view of Devin Hartman, electricity policy manager for the R Street Institute, a center-right think tank, and a former energy market analyst at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He points out that retired nuclear plants in the Northeast and California have been mostly replaced by increased natural gas usage. And in Japan and Germany, where the governments have been shutting down nuclear reactors since the Fukushima meltdown, coal use has spiked.

“Shutting down nuclear plants would create a little more demand for energy efficiency and renewables, but the net effect of nuclear retirements will generally be increasing emissions,” Hartman says.

That’s partly because there is excess coal- and gas-burning capacity in the current energy system. While generating an additional megawatt-hour of electricity from existing solar or wind facilities can be cheaper than burning coal, building a whole new set of wind turbines is more expensive than just feeding more gas into your existing gas-fired plant.

Holthaus cites a report from centrist think tank Third Way on U.S. nuclear plant retirements; it projects that shuttered plants would lead to more natural gas usage and increased CO2 emissions.

The case for pushing nuclear power out

Other experts, though, point out that nuclear power plants are beset with so many problems that they’re poised to die a natural death anyway. Sanders would just accelerate the transition, and that could be good for renewables, they argue.

The aging nuclear fleet in the U.S. is becoming increasingly uneconomical. “As reactors get older, they get more expensive to maintain. It’s not competitive with renewables or natural gas,” says Matthew McKinzie, a nuclear energy expert and advisor to the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund. “By mid-century, we might have 20 reactors operating.”

Getting older nuclear plants in good enough shape to get relicensed can be expensive, as environmental and safety standards have been raised since the plants were built. Renewables advocates argue that the money could be put to better uses.

“Take Diablo Canyon, which is up for re-permitting [in 2024],” says Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, referring to a nuclear power plant 160 miles northwest of Los Angeles on the California coast. The plant has serious environmental problems that would need to be fixed.According to the Los Angeles Times, “Every day, Diablo’s cooling system sucks in 2.5 billion gallons of seawater. An estimated 1.5 billion fish eggs and larvae each year get swept along for the ride, churned, cooked and killed. The water then returns to the sea about 18.5 degrees warmer than it left.” Diablo Canyon is also located along a series of fault lines, some of which were discovered after it was built. That puts it at high risk of a Fukushima-like event if there were an earthquake, with possibly even more devastating results because the ocean currents there would send radiation toward other communities along the coast instead of out to sea. “To get relicensed, it would need new cooling towers and it might need to upgrade for earthquake safety,” says Jacobson. “New cooling towers would cost $8 billion. If you took that $8 billion, you could replace Diablo Canyon with on-shore wind and utility-scale solar. So to say closing it would increase emissions is just nonsense.”

Whether a utility would actually go that route would depend a lot on the specific economic and policy situation. If Diablo Canyon’s owner, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, were denied a new license, it could decide to replace the plant with renewables instead of natural gas; California’s renewable portfolio standard might push the utility in that direction. But in other states and regions, depending on the policies in place and the costs of gas versus renewables, utilities might be more likely to turn to gas instead of wind and solar.

There’s also the prospect of building new nuclear plants, but that’s extremely expensive too. Under current conditions, it would be completely uneconomical without loan guarantees provided by the federal government. At nuclear power plants currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, costs have already run way beyond initial projections. Jacobson argues that federal nuclear loan guarantees should be ended and the funds used instead to support development of renewables.

How the nuclear phaseout fits into Sanders’s bigger plan

Sanders’s critics are right to note that under the current set of policies in place in the U.S., renewables won’t account for a majority of our energy portfolio for at least another two decades, so it’s not safe to assume that a retired nuclear plant would be replaced by clean energy. In that context, lopping 20 years off the life of a nuclear reactor may very well mean higher carbon emissions than if you relicensed it.

But Sanders’s desire to phase out nuclear power makes a lot more sense in the context of his broader climate and energy plan. He would make fossil fuels more expensive through a carbon tax, and make major investments in clean energy, so renewables would be better poised to replace power lost from shuttered nuclear plants.

The sticking point, of course, is that even if Sanders got to the White House, he wouldn’t get a cooperative Congress, so his larger climate plan would not be enacted. In that case, deciding whether to relicense nuclear plants would be a trickier matter.

The Sanders campaign declined to comment directly on what Sanders would do if he were president and found himself in that situation, offering only this emailed statement from spokesman Karthik Ganapathy: “Sen. Sanders knows there are lots of reasons why nuclear power is a bad idea. Whether it’s the exceptional destructiveness of uranium mining, the fact that there’s no good way to store nuclear waste or the lingering risk of a tragedy like Fukushima or Chernobyl in the U.S., the truth is: nuclear power is a cure worse than the disease. Safer, cleaner energy sources like wind and solar will help us meet America’s energy needs while protecting the health of our people and combatting the threat of climate change.”

Those views put Sanders right in line with environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, which oppose nuclear power across the board.

Some other green groups take a more nuanced approach. NRDC, for example, supports relicensing plants in situations where it’s safer and the plants can’t yet be replaced by renewable energy, and it calls for rejecting those—such as Indian Point in Westchester, New York—that are uniquely dangerous. Alexander Ochs, senior director of climate and energy at the Worldwatch Institute, says we should put a moratorium on new nuclear plant construction and subject existing plants to “the closest safety scrutiny.” In the end, while these policy positions are based on a different analysis than Sanders’s, they differ from his in degree more than in kind: they would hasten the natural death of nuclear energy, only more slowly than Sanders would, in the interest of limiting short-term emissions.

While Sanders’s nuclear power phaseout might not be the best idea from a climate perspective, it’s not actually the shallow hippie caricature that his critics describe.


Article Link to the New Republic:

Cruz and the Convention Chess Game

By Caitlin Huey-Burns
Real Clear Politics
March 31, 2016


Armed with newfound, if tepid, support from unlikely sources over the past few weeks, Ted Cruz has touted himself as a Republican uniter whose campaign represents a broad and ideologically diverse spectrum of the party.

But with the GOP aiming for a contested convention in July, there are mixed signals as to whether Cruz is the consensus choice in that scenario or simply the party’s vehicle to Cleveland, only to be ditched later.

While Donald Trump still has a viable path to securing the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, a loss to Cruz in Wisconsin next week would make his road longer and rockier. For his part, the Texas senator has shown particular savvy when it comes to delegate strategy, as evidenced by his campaign’s success in scooping up “free agent” delegates in Louisiana last week, catching the Trump team off guard.

Marco Rubio is still working to prevent Trump from the nomination by holding on to the delegates he earned while still in the race, also signaling he might have a role to play at the convention.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to give the Republican Party reasons to prevent him from becoming the official standard-bearer. During a televised town-hall gathering Wednesday, he advocated punishing women who have abortions if the procedure is banned, a statement that offended both opponents and supporters of abortion rights.

During a similar event the night before, the billionaire businessman suggested that Japan and South Korea should have weapons of mass destruction, saying, "It's going to happen anyway." And he identified education and health care as issues in which federal government should play a key role, before almost immediately reversing course. This all came as his campaign manager was charged with assaulting a reporter.

The moves and statements by Trump have cast a kinder light on Cruz in the eyes of Republicans, something that might have been unimaginable just months ago.

Cruz has a narrow path to winning the nomination before the convention and is preparing for a contest there. The first-term senator has maintained that only he himself and Trump would be qualified for the nomination by this summer, citing a 2012 rule that required the nominee to have won a majority in at least eight states, which would render John Kasich, or any other candidates, ineligible. Cruz has won majorities in four states thus far, but insists he will reach the threshold by June. Campaigning in Manhattan last week, he told reporters that if party leaders tried to put forth another candidate, “you would see the voters revolt, quite rightly.”

But the rules for the 2016 convention have not been finalized. “The rules set by the 2012 Convention Rules Committee are a placeholder until the new convention rules committee meets in July,” said Lindsay Walters, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

The RNC has largely stayed behind the scenes as the dramatic race for the nomination has unfolded. All of the remaining candidates have backed away from a pledge to support the eventual nominee, putting an even brighter spotlight on the convention scenarios and raising questions about the party’s ability to unify.

“This is up to the voters and delegates elected by the grassroots to decide, but our nominee is likely to be one of the three candidates running for president now,” Walters told RCP.

Half-hearted endorsements by Lindsay Graham, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and others have raised questions about whether party leaders want Cruz to be president or whether they want to stop Trump from securing the necessary delegates. What’s more, Cruz has not received much more support from his congressional colleagues. And while the floating of people such as Paul Ryan or Romney as possible convention saviors is but a pipe dream, it does speak to discontent within the GOP about its options.

Scott Walker garnered attention last week when he said that “if it's an open convention, it's very likely it would be someone who's not currently running.” The Wisconsin governor seemed to walk back that possibility slightly when he endorsed Cruz this week ahead of his home state’s all important primary—which figures to serve as a last stand for the Never Trump movement. "I wanted to make sure I was for someone, not just against someone,” Walker said in announcing is support of Cruz.

Kasich might hope that Cruz is a mere vehicle and not a galvanizing force. The Ohio governor’s only hope of becoming the nominee rests at the convention, as it is now mathematically impossible for him to secure the requisite delegates before then. His campaign argues that both Trump and Cruz would be unelectable in November, which would also have consequences for down-ballot GOP candidates.

“If you looked at the history of conventions,” said Kasich spokesman Mike Schrimpf, “in the majority of the cases the delegate leader does not wind up with the nomination and it’s often the most electable candidate who winds up with the nomination.”

Kasich recently hired operatives Stu Spencer and Charlie Black, both former Ronald Reagan advisers, to guide his convention strategy. Spencer aided Gerald Ford in the contested party gathering of 1976. The campaign is eyeing unplugged and unbound delegates to the convention.

But the operation will have to contend with Cruz’s proven infrastructure. The Texas lawmaker’s ability to acquire additional delegates in Louisiana at the state party’s convention after the primary demonstrated his prowess. Trump had won the state, but the campaign didn’t account for rules that freed up delegates previously allocated to candidates who had dropped out. Trump threatened to sue, even though Cruz simply followed the rules. The real estate mogul then hired veteran GOP operative Paul Manafort to run his delegate effort, seen as an admission of the Louisiana mistake and the prospect of a contested convention.

There are similar opportunities to pick up delegates, like in state conventions in North Dakota this weekend and in Colorado next week. Cruz is planning to attend both in person, while his rivals are sending surrogates. The senator's plan underscores a dedication to the delegate hunt and foreshadows his capabilities at the convention.

“The Cruz people are better organized and more familiar with how to win actual contests within the Republican Party, so I think certainly that if there is a second ballot, Cruz is going to get considerably more votes than he would have received on the first ballot,” said Morton Blackwell, an RNC member and longtime veteran of GOP conventions, and also a Cruz supporter.

Cruz and his backers would likely revolt if the committee did not keep in place the rule from 2012, which was proposed by Romney in an effort to prevent Ron Paul from contesting the nomination at the convention.

Blackwell fought against the rule at the time because he believed it to be overreach by the establishment and a disenfranchisement of voters who wanted someone else. After trying again earlier this year to change the rule, Blackwell now believes it’s too late. “At this point it would be wrong to change the rules,” he told RCP.

“I think it would be a horrible reaction, and I think it could split the Republican Party,” Blackwell said of the prospect of another candidate being brought forth. He pointed to the irony that rules designed to promote the once-leading candidates such as Jeb Bush have helped non-establishment figures like Trump and Cruz.

Even if there were a consensus alternative to the current cast of contenders, it would require both Trump and Cruz to give in to someone who won fewer contests than they did, or even none at all.

There is also a sense within the party that biting the bullet and coalescing around Cruz is the best option at this point, especially where the party platform is concerned. Graham has justified his support by contending that Cruz, at least, is a conservative. Trump remains wildly unpredictable and holds views at odds with core tenants of the GOP.

“There’s also a school of thought that if the Republican voters are intent on flying the plane into a mountain, let’s do it with Cruz and not Trump,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican strategist and former communications director for the party’s Senate campaign arm.

Walsh said that while opinion within the party on how to proceed at the convention is still mixed, there is a belief that choosing Cruz could settle an argument over whether the GOP is better off with a nominee who is strictly conservative or one who carries broader appeal to some of the groups the party has been trying to court.

The convention has become something of a shifting chess board, with no good moves in sight.

“If it's an open convention, and we go through an arduous multi-ballot exercise to select our nominee, it’s bound to be a problematic road to the White House,” says Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

“If Cruz, Kasich and others can keep Trump from getting the required number of delegates and they emerge with a negotiated ticket, it is likely to leave [with a ticket] from a very divided convention.”


Article Link to Real Clear Politics:

Polish Foreign Minister: No More ‘Negro Mentality’ Toward US

Witold Waszczykowski’s words get him into trouble again.


By Jan Cienski
Politico EU
March 31, 2016


Poland’s new government has shed the country’s “negro mentality” when it comes to relations with the United States, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said on Polish public television.

Waszczykowski’s use of murzyńskości, a phrase insulting in both Polish and English, was supposed to be his way of showing that Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) government has broken with the supposed servile attitude towards Washington demonstrated by the previous government.

Waszczykowski was defending the government’s foreign policy record at a time when President Andrzej Duda is under fire for not meeting one-on-one with Barack Obama during this week’s nuclear summit in Washington.

“There will be a short meeting because there isn’t time for more during a summit,” an irritated Waszczykowski told the television interviewer Tuesday.

Although Law and Justice has long seen the U.S. as Poland’s most reliable foreign policy ally, there is a strain in the relationship under the new government.

A crisis over the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal, Poland’s highest court, and the government’s tightening control over public radio and television has prompted concern from Washington, but that has been brushed aside by Polish authorities as being uninformed or inspired by the opposition.

However, the political opposition has seized on indications of tension between Warsaw and Washington to criticize the government at a time when it hopes to strengthen U.S. commitment to beefing up NATO’s military presence in Central Europe.

“We will become a third-ranking country in NATO and the EU,” warned Ryszard Petru, leader of the Modern opposition party, in an interview with the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper. “We can see it already in international relations, including with our most important partner — the United States.”

Those kinds of attacks from the opposition have put the president and the government on the defensive. In his interview, Waszczykowski stressed that he and other ministers have met senior U.S. officials

Relations are “much better than when Radek Sikorski was Poland’s foreign minister,” Waszczykowski told Poland’s TVN television on Wednesday.

It was Sikorski — foreign minister from 2007-2014 — who first used the term “negro mentality” when assessing relations with the U.S. during a 2014 private dinner with former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowki. The conversation was illegally recorded and splashed all over Polish media. That recording was one of the factors that disenchanted voters and led Civic Platform to its electoral defeat last October.

“Quoting illegally recorded conversations isn’t an activity for gentlemen,” Sikorski tweeted on Wednesday in response to Waszczykowski’s comments.

Waszczykowski’s vocabulary quickly turned into the main story. Even Stanisław Karczewski, the Law and Justice speaker of the Senate, the upper chamber of parliament, responded: ” These are words that should never be spoken.”

Waszczykowski’s boss, Prime Minister Beata Szydło, also stepped in, saying, “It’s a term which was once used by former minister Radosław Sikorski. In my opinion it’s an unfortunate term.”

It’s not the first time the minister’s language has gotten him into trouble.

In a January interview with German tabloid Bild, he denounced vegetarians, cyclists, racial mixing and renewable energy as hallmarks of a left-wing ideology that “has little in common with traditional Polish values.”

He tangled with the organizers of a Düsseldorf carnival parade that had a float poking fun at Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS and Poland’s most powerful politician.

Waszczykowski has also been in trouble with Kaczyński for his decision to invite the Venice Commission, the legal advisory body of the Council of Europe, to Poland to examine the dispute around the Constitutional Tribunal. The commission’s report heaped blame on the government for the crisis, undermining Waszczykowski’s position in the cabinet.

He again made the news at the time of the report, comparing the president of the tribunal to “an Iranian ayatollah.”


Article Link to Politico EU:

Oil falls as U.S. crude stocks hit record for seventh week in a row

SINGAPORE | BY KEITH WALLIS

Reuters
March 31, 2016


Oil futures fell in Asian trade on Thursday, with U.S. crude hitting its lowest level in more than two weeks, amid renewed worries of global oversupply after inventories in the United States rose to a record high.

That increase in U.S. crude oil stocks came despite seasonal refinery utilisation hitting an 11-year high, with a rise in the dollar index .DXY put further pressure on oil prices.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 fell 26 cents to $39 a barrel as of 0710 GMT. It ended up 12 cents in the previous session after touching a session peak of $40.61.

The front-month contract for U.S. crude futures CLc1 dropped 43 cents to $37.89 a barrel, after dropping to $37.74 earlier, the lowest since March 16. It settle up 4 cents in the previous session following a gain of 3 percent earlier in the session.

Prices will "zig-zag" for the rest of the year, said Tony Nunan, oil risk manager at Japan's Mitsubishi Corp.

U.S. crude stockpiles rose by 2.3 million barrels to 534.8 million barrels in the week to March 25, the seventh week at record high levels, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows.

The increase was less than analysts' expectations of a 3.3 million-barrel build after crude imports fell 636,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 7.4 million bpd.

China's still growing demand - although at a slower pace - should help to offset the declines in U.S. oil intake figures.

China is set to import 7.5 million bpd this year, overtaking the U.S. as the world's biggest crude importer, Zhong Fuliang, Vice President of Unipec, trading arm of Sinopec told a seminar on Thursday.

Crude prices, which have risen about 50 percent since mid-February, have started to track lower in the past week.

"Oil prices will trend down again ... $35 a barrel will be the support level. Low prices are not sustainable in the long-run," Nunan said.

But with OPEC flagging a price of $50 a barrel and oil producers scheduled to meet in Doha on April 17 to discuss a possible output freeze, prices are likely to remain range-bound.

"Anytime prices get close to $45-$50 a barrel, funds that have taken long positions are likely to take profits. Unless things really ignite the global economy, then people will sell-off at that level," Nunan said.

In Asia, sustained weakness in oil prices is continuing to suppress upstream oil and gas production activity, consultancy BMI Research said in a report on Thursday.

Weaker oil prices are "limiting opportunities to stem natural declines in ageing assets and bringing new production sources online," the report added.

Concerns over global oversupply were further fuelled after crude output from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) rose in March to 32.47 million bpd from 32.37 million bpd in February, according to a Reuters survey based on shipping and other data.

Iran is expected to add half a million barrels of oil supply a day within a year from existing oilfields after sanctions were lifted in January, Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency told Reuters on Wednesday.


Article Link to Reuters:

How a Trump White House Would Work

By Jonathan S. Tobin
Commentary 
March 30, 2016


One of the recurring patterns of the 2016 presidential campaign is that anytime Donald Trump is dealt a setback, or one of his opponents has a good break, the GOP frontrunner has been able to change the subject by doing or saying something outrageous. This is sheer political genius on his part, but, as with most successful people, a little luck also helps. That was proved true yesterday when the big political news of the day on Tuesday should have been Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s endorsement of Ted Cruz a week before his state’s crucial primary. But instead, the news cycle was dominated by the announcement that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was being charged with misdemeanor battery for roughing up former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a Trump rally. Yet even as we marvel at Trump’s ability to spin a disaster as a triumph, we ought to also be wondering about what all this means for a possible Trump administration.

Since the timing was the result of a decision by the Jupiter, Florida police, we can call it serendipity. The effect was the same as every previous Trump diversion. The news was dominated by Trump’s defense of his man’s thuggish behavior, as well as his unconscionable and misogynist attacks of Fields. Walker became a footnote as the nation debated Trump’s attempt to persuade us not to believe our lying eyes when the video shows Lewandowski doing what Fields and the police allege said he did. We don’t need to waste much time joining in that discussion, since this isn’t so much a “he said, she said” dispute as it is yet another chapter in the book of Trump fabulism.

In terms of its impact on Trump’s general election prospects, I agree with our John Podhoretz when he says in today’s New York Post that the candidate’s loyalty to an out-of-control aide is “politically insane.” This story only feeds a narrative that more or less dooms the GOP in November as it gives female voters and independents one more reason to join Hispanics in shunning the party.

But, like every other crazy thing Trump has said or done in the last nine months of political insanity, it’s not going to persuade his legion of fans to abandon him. Any other candidate would cut loose a character like Lewandowski, especially since he’s also mixed it up with protesters at Trump rallies. But Trump’s willingness to smear an innocent reporter as a liar or obsessed with Lewandowski (a classic chauvinist tactic) will be seen by his supporters as admirable loyalty to a faithful retainer. Even worse, it will be interpreted as more proof of his indomitable refusal to bow to political correctness. They will cheer his defiance of the media as evidence of an admirable belief in “telling it like it is,” even if everything he and his apologists say about the issue is a lie as shown by the video, an audio transcript, and eyewitnesses to the incident.

But, for the moment, let’s put aside the short-term boost this gives Trump among his supporters and the long-term problem it poses for the Republicans chances of holding Congress, let alone their dwindling chances of taking back the White House. Instead, let’s ponder what the l’affaire Lewandowski tells about what a Trump administration would be like.

If we suspend disbelief and imagine a world in which there are enough angry and credulous white males to elect a candidate like Trump to the White House, let’s take the next step and conjure up a West Wing inhabited by Trump henchmen like Lewandowski.

Let’s concede that all presidential staffs are hostile to reporters that aren’t prepared to recycle administration spin. But there’s a difference between hostility and violence. As with the candidate’s open encouragement for his supporters to attack demonstrators at his rallies (something that Lewandowski has also done), a Trump White House would be one where anyone that refused to play along would be at risk in one way or another.

But though the focus of this controversy has been about how Trump treats the press (something about which most people don’t care), this is about more than just the treatment of the media. It also illustrates the way Trump does business and how he and his staff view the world.

This is not just the “culture” of violence encouraged by Trump. When presented with the damning truth about an incident, any normal candidate would assess the situation and look to cut its losses. But not Trump. That’s partly because of his belief that, if everyone says to do something, then he must do the opposite in order to preserve his outsider brand. But more than that, Trump’s bare-faced lies that are contradicted by a tape, an audio transcript, and eyewitnesses also illustrate how he operates in a bubble that is a closed circle indifferent to the facts as much as it is to perception.

Worse than that, it also shows a Stalinist streak in which the leader believes his words, no matter how ridiculous, are more powerful than even the demonstrable truth. Again, such an administration wouldn’t be the first to be at odds with the facts as we’ve seen over the last eight years with President Obama and his team. But the sort of behavior we’ve seen from Trump takes the workaday mendacity of Obama and morphs into the sort of 2+2=5 madness that seems straight out of the world of Orwellian totalitarianism. Not only would there be nothing sacred in a Trump White House, it would also be a place where the lies of reality television would be united with the awesome power of the federal government.

While a staffer bruising a reporter may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, when it is in the service of a celebrity personality cult, it takes on a more sinister tone. In a White House led by a man who would employ and then defend Lewandowski, anything is imaginable when it comes to not merely lying to the press, but it also shows just how far it might go to suppress the free press and the truth.

A president that would personally threaten a competitor’s wife, as well as sanction both the roughing up of a reporter and then lying about her, is one that is capable of anything. It doesn’t merely show how minor incidents could become unmanageable international incidents. It also gives us a hint of authoritarianism that would chill democracy in the manner of a Vladimir Putin. As bad as Obama has been, a President Trump would be a man that appears to be even less willing to act within the constraints imposed upon the executive by the Constitution than his predecessors.

Like everything else about Trump, the Lewandowski business makes for riveting television. But it also illustrates that a Trump administration would be more of a horror film than a reality show. Though such instances make a Trump presidency less likely, it would be foolish to deny that he has a chance to sit in the White House if he wins the GOP nomination. If somehow he is elected, after this and other incidents that illustrate Trump’s character and habits, Americans will not be able to claim they didn’t know what would this mean.


Article Link to Commentary:

After Apple vs. The FBI

The Apple vs. FBI fight is over. Now we can have an adult conversation about your iPhone.


By Peter Weber
The Week 
March 30, 2016


After weeks of dire warnings from both Apple and the FBI, the legal fight over unlocking the iPhone of San Bernardino mass shooter Syed Farook ended with a whimper Monday.

The FBI said in a terse statement that it had accessed the iPhone's data and "no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc." A law enforcement official said a company outside the government had provided the tool to circumvent Farook's passcode — a key that Apple strenuously refused to create. The Justice Department is closely guarding the third party's identity and the method used to break into the iPhone.

It is an ambiguous end to a high-profile fight over the proper limits of law enforcement and privacy rights. That's probably a good thing. Because American needs to have a serious debate about privacy versus security, and Farook's iPhone was not a helpful conversation starter.

The Apple-FBI legal battle was "a bad question to ask in a bad forum," Misha Govshteyn, the chief strategy officer at Alert Logic, said at a discussion I attended at South by Southwest earlier this month. The case was not about encryption and it wasn't really about privacy, Govshteyn said. "Apple hands over customer data all the time. In this case, it's the mechanism they're objecting to."

Michael Slaby, the head of mission at charity-focused tech consultancy Timshel, agreed that the iPhone fight was a bad jumping-off point. "There are foundational, fabric-of-our-society questions, and that's not really the level of conversation we're having at the moment," he said. Part of the problem is that the phone in question belonged to Farook, turning the case into a "pop-culture, Jack Bauer scenario" that makes for great TV but bad policy, Slaby argued. "Legislating and policy-making from a place of fear and crisis is not going to lead to good outcomes."

If Apple's battle with the FBI didn't focus on strength of encryption or appropriate government surveillance, it also didn't solve the fight between tech companies and the government. Apple will eventually patch the hole found by the FBI's hired hackers, tech companies will build more hack-proof devices and more secure methods of communication, and law enforcement agencies will demand access.

There are no easy answers — absolute privacy has real downsides, as does invasive surveillance — but waiting for the next crisis isn't a good option. And the old way of coming up with viable solutions, bringing the biggest stakeholders together in a room to talk, isn't working. President Obama has convened plenty of cybersecurity summits with technology powerhouses. But these companies feel burned by the Edward Snowden leaks, which revealed a previously cozy relationship between Silicon Valley and government eavesdroppers. Tech companies are reacting to the resulting global loss of trust and money, Govshteyn said, by "finding ways to absolve themselves of this responsibility," funding "very aggressive programs that enable them to not ever give out any [customer] information and be physically unable to do so."

Eric Berg, a former Justice Department lawyer who now works on electronic surveillance at a private law firm, agrees that tech companies will just continue to make devices harder to crack with each software update and hardware upgrade, setting up another inevitable showdown. Still, "this case has forced a national dialogue, and it really has brought this issue front and center," Berg tells The New York Times. "So the public won in the sense that this issue is now being debated."

In theory, it does seem like the perfect moment for the United States to have the debate about surveillance it so desperately needs. The nation has had three years to digest Snowden's revelations, and with a new president guaranteed to take office in less than a year, Americans can have a real say in whose balancing of privacy and security they most agree with. In reality, the five remaining presidential candidates are busy arguing over other topics, and the broader discussion has become "almost background noise in the media," as Govshteyn rightly noted.

This is a shame. If we let the conversation regress back to a fight between staunch civil libertarians and national security absolutists, the stakes will only get higher the next time it bursts into the foreground. And when it does, there may not be a hacker deus ex machina to help kick the can down the road again.


Article Link to The Week:

21 Generals Lead an ISIS War the U.S. Denies

There are only 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq—about what a colonel usually commands. But for this ISIS war, as many as 21 generals have been deployed. Why?


By Nancy A. Youssef
The Daily Beast
March 31, 2016


In the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the U.S. military is notably short on soldiers, but apparently not on generals.

There are at least 12 U.S. generals in Iraq, a stunningly high number for a war that, if you believe the White House talking points, doesn’t involve American troops in combat. And that number is, if anything, a conservative estimate, not taking into account the flag officers running the U.S. air war, the admirals helping wage the war from the sea, or their superiors back in the Pentagon.

At U.S. headquarters inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, even majors and colonels frequently find themselves saluting superiors at a pace that outranks the Pentagon and certainly any normal military installation. With about 5,000 troops deployed to Iraq and Syria ISIS war, that means there’s a general for every 416 troops, give or take. To compare, there are some captains in the U.S. Army in charge of that many people.

Moreover, many of those generals come with staffs and bureaucracy that some argue slows decision-making against an agile terror group.

The Obama administration has frequently argued that the U.S. maintains a so-called light footprint in Iraq to reassure the American public that its military is not back in Iraq. Indeed, at times, the United States has not acknowledged where it has deployed troops until one of them died.

But if the U.S. footprint is so small, why does the war demand so many generals?

There is the four-star general in charge of the war, Army Gen. Sean MacFarland, and his two deputies, one of whom in in Iraq at any given time. There is the two-star Army general in charge of the ground war, Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, and his two deputies, who also travel between Iraq and Kuwait. There is the two-star general in charge of security cooperation—things like military sales—and his deputy.

Then there are the one-star generals in charge of intelligence, operations, future operations, targeting, and theater support.

There also are an untold number of Special Forces commanders in the battlefield whom the military does not speak publicly about; the dozen figure presumes at least one one-star Special Forces general.

And that is just the beginning of the top-heavy war fight. That figure doesn’t include the bevy of generals stationed in places like Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar to support the mission. Nor does it count the two-star Air Force general and his one-star deputy in charge of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, which is headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. Then there is a three-star Marine in charge of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, based out of MacDill Air Force, Florida, and his deputy and their Navy counterparts. All three commands are responsible for the Middle East.

Finally, there are a number of generals from the other roughly 60 coalition countries. The Daily Beast knows of three who support the U.S. generals—from Australia and the United Kingdom.

Once all those additional generals are included, there are at least 21 flag officers in Iraq, a number even military officials concede is conservative, as there likely are other coalition generals and possibly other Special Forces commanders.

Officially, there are only 3,870 U.S. troops, or the equivalent of a heavy brigade, which is usually led by a colonel. One colonel.

As The Daily Beast first reported, however, there are actually more than 5,000 troops, still far short of a footprint that would usually demand a score of generals.

Defense officials defended the deployment of so many generals to The Daily Beast. In a war where there are so many different types of fighters, these officials said, you need generals to coordinate. Today’s warfighter is more lethal, thanks to improved technology, and therefore needs a commander with the appropriate authority to sign off authority on the use of that power. The intelligence reaching the front lines is so complex, it demands the talents of a one-star general, defense officials argued to The Daily Beast.

(Of course, it’s odd to brag about such lethality when the Defense Department has said repeatedly that American troops were “not in an active combat mission” in Iraq.)

These officials also say it is only fitting that Iraqi military leaders engage with a U.S. counterpart of the same rank.

When you look at what they do and what they are in command of and how they provide support, I think it is justifiable,” one defense official explained to The Daily Beast.

Some defenders offer a more simplistic answer—the U.S. military has always used this structure to deploy generals to places like Iraq.

There are as a rule two types of generals in the U.S. military—those who command troops and those who support the fight. The military argues that in Iraq, the U.S. needs far more of the latter than the former. The Iraqi troops, led by Iraq generals, should shape the front lines, they said.

But critics argue that such dependency on U.S. generals in areas outside the battlefield not only suggests a lack of Iraqi skills but also obfuscates the U.S. effort.

“Having this many generals and flag officers gives the appearance of commitment without the substance of commitment,” Christopher Harmer, a naval analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, explained to The Daily Beast.

After World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War, the U.S. military downsized its rank and file troops but did not shrink the size of its general and flag officer corps proportionally. The result is a long-standing criticism of a top-heavy military that some argue is costly and not as effective.

A May 2013 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, for example, concluded that “mission and headquarters support-costs at the combatant commands more than doubled from fiscal years 2007 through 2012, to about $1.1 billion.”

Several past defense secretaries have tried to cut the number of generals. Former defense secretary Chuck Hagel tried to reduce the number of general officers and civilians by 20 percent but wasn’t in the job long enough to make it happen. Robert Gates, the defense secretary during the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, proposed eliminating 50 generals and admirals.

If Gates’s efforts succeeded, it is not obvious in today’s military. In addition to all those generals in the Middle East, there are dozens of others at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, which is in charge of the Middle East, and at the Pentagon who also support the U.S. effort in Iraq and Syria—so many that it is impossible to say just how many how many generals are part of the U.S. war effort.

On Wednesday, two of the leading four-star generals of the war stateside took new command positions. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the outgoing special operations commander, became the new head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East. Army Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas is Votel’s special operations replacement.

Soon, they’ll be visiting the front lines in Iraq—and adding to the number of American generals on the ground in the ISIS war.


Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Does China Need Allies?

It may be time for Beijing to rethink its reluctant partnerships.


By Lyle J. Goldstein
The National Interest
March 31, 2016


At a conference in China recently, a Chinese scholar seated next to me made the following ominous comment: “The United States is building up its alliances to surround and contain China. But China can also build up alliances to counter the United States.” Many Western strategists are, of course, dismissive of such warnings, on account of Beijing’s long-touted conviction that alliances are outdated and irrelevant. To boot, those states closest to Beijing, such as Pakistan, Laos and North Korea, are not particularly powerful and may form more of a burden than a benefit to Chinese foreign policy. But as a recent article on this forum illustrates, some major Chinese academic strategists continue to advocate for a change in China’s approach.

Further evidence of an intensifying debate in Beijing foreign policy circles is a December 2015 article in the important Chinese journal Chinese Foreign Policy (中国外交). Written by China Academy of Social Sciences researcher Xu Jin (徐进) the article merits a closer look because it was the volume’s lead paper, implying the argument has already garnered some significant support. It turns out, however, that the piece is being republished after appearing originally in another journal, once again underlining its importance. The title of the piece is simply “Why China Rejects Alliances” (当代中国拒斥同盟心里的理由), and the argumentation is clear in the very first sentence, when the curt question is answered. China rejects alliances, according to Xu Jin, because of a “few misunderstandings.”

Xu begins his argument with the bold statement that “Looking around the world since 1648, there has never been another single great power that pursued a policy of rejecting alliances” (不结盟). He admits that this policy frequently affords Beijing greater flexibility, but he also believes that China may be viewed by certain countries as “evading responsibility” and “unreliable.” He then proceeds to outline several misconceptions that he claims are held by the Chinese foreign policy elite with respect to alliances.

First, he says that they fail to understand that an alliance is not the same as friendship. He explains the essence of an alliance actually revolves around common interests and goals. Thus, Xu cites U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia as a legitimate alliance, but one that governs a broader relationship that is “neither hostile nor friendly” (非敌非友). A second misunderstanding reflects the apparently common conviction among Chinese scholars that an alliance must imply a full spectrum of cooperation. Here, Xu presents as an illustrative example the U.S.-French and even the U.S.-UK relationships, wherein he suggests there have been frequent disagreements, with the Europeans often pursuing their own independent approaches. Directly criticizing major Chinese foreign policy thinkers like Liu Jianfei (刘建飞) of the Central Party School, Xu contends that it is nonsensical to say forming alliances reflect a “Cold War mentality.” Rather, he says, countries have been making alliances for thousands of years, so that line of thinking does not correspond to an accurate reading of the historical record.

A fourth assumption that Xu attributes to the conventional rejection in Chinese foreign policy of alliances is the notion that seeking out alliances represents a weakening of national sovereignty, with a commensurate loss of flexibility. He suggests that even in the close alliance between Tokyo and Washington, the United States has retained significant flexibility, as demonstrated by Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China in 1971 or by Washington’s somewhat “murky strategy” (模糊战略) toward defending the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu islets. Xu ultimately concedes, however, that a price may indeed have to be paid in terms of flexibility and sovereignty. He argues that sometimes circumstances are such that “two countries understand that if each depends only on their own capacities, there would be no possibility for them to realize the goal of seeking gain and avoiding harm” (双方都知道单靠自己的力量已经无法达到趋利避害的目的).

A final sacred cow of Chinese foreign policy assumptions with respect to alliances that Xu confronts is the notion that China should treat all states in the exact same way. He explains that since the 1980s, Chinese foreign policy has “watered down any notion of friends and enemies” (谈话敌友理念). He then compares relations between countries to simple interpersonal relations. “Could a person recognize and develop friendly relations with all other people?” Xu asks, and then answers: “Obviously, that is not possible.” He then states emphatically that Russia and Pakistan have a certain friendly and helpful disposition toward China, while Japan and Philippines certainly do not. He then warns: “Countries that are engaged in strategic confrontation with China should not be treated with kindness.” An implication of this argument may well be a more realist, hard-headed disposition in Beijing, which could even entail the formation of new, countervailing alliances.

The end of Xu’s article has a rather detailed analysis of the Sino-Soviet dispute that developed in the late 1950s and nearly resulted in a war between Moscow and Beijing in the late 1960s. His focus on that history seems wholly justified, since he maintains that this is the preeminent case in the minds of Chinese foreign policy analysts when they think about an alliance gone dreadfully wrong. He points out several reasons for the steady decline of the Sino-Soviet alliance under Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong. First, Xu cites “leadership personalities” (领导人个性) as a significant problem for managing the erstwhile alliance, but he also discusses “ideology” and “the lack of experience in both countries in managing such an alliance.” He argues that these factors are not likely to inhibit China’s ability to manage alliances in the future. Thus, he thinks Chinese diplomacy going forward will be pragmatic, and thus “will forgo participation in such a type of ideological alliance” (不会参加一个意识形态同盟).

In a final demonstration of intellectual boldness, this Chinese scholar calls on Chinese foreign policy elites to study Western practice with respect to alliance formation. He observes: “From now on, China has to study how to lead other people. Leading the world, however, is no easy feat. In that respect, we had better study the experience of the British and the Americans.” He further states that “as an alliance leader, the United States was quite a bit more lenient than the Soviet Union, and its leadership practice proved wiser.”

At the end of the article, the clarion call for alliance building and leadership is substantially reigned in. Earlier in the piece, Xu had noted that more than thirty years of steady economic growth show that the disposition to “reject alliances” (不结盟) under Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum to “conceal one’s strength and bide one’s time” (韬光养晦) has enjoyed significant success. He contends that Beijing’s current inclination to form partnerships (结伴), rather than alliances, suits China’s current circumstances. However, Xu is quite clear that he doesn’t want alliances, as a tool of diplomacy, to be taken off the table of China’s future options.

One cannot be entirely pessimistic reading this innovative article, which demonstrates a dynamic debate underway among Beijing’s academic strategists. Moreover, it is rational and relatively moderate in its tone. The author demonstrates plenty admiration for American diplomacy and, especially, the United States’ management of alliances. Nevertheless, such a line of argumentation could encourage strategic pessimists in Beijing to push for creation of a genuine alliance, encompassing such important powers as Russia and Iran, for example. That would be an alarming development for the world order, to be sure. Those thinkers on both sides of the Pacific (and the Atlantic for that matter) concerned about preventing a new Cold War from taking shape need to take steps to arrest such disturbing tendencies.


Article Link to the National Interest:

Has the US found a new friend in Iraq's Shiite militias?

Despite its earlier fears that Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units would assume a sectarian role in the liberation of Sunni areas from the Islamic State, the United States is now expressing support for the force.


By Ali Mamouri
Al-Monitor
March 31, 2016


On March 12, US Consul General Steve Walker visited Al-Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basra to pay his respects to wounded members of the Popular Mobilization Units. The visit marked the first time a US official has publicly met these troops. This is particularly remarkable as until now, the official US position toward the Popular Mobilization Units was negative, and the United States had even demanded that the Iraqi government prevent the forces from taking part in the operations to liberate some areas, such as the city of Ramadi in Anbar, that were freed without their participation by US request.

Walker made it clear that the trip was not just a courtesy visit. Accompanied by TV stations such as the US-based Alhurra, which broadcast the visit and his remarks in Arabic, Walker said, “The US recognizes the important contribution of the Popular Mobilization Units under the command of Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi], and most of the Popular Mobilization troops came from the south. This is why I would like to express my condolences to the people of Basra and the south who have lost their loved ones or friends in the war against the Islamic State.”

Walker expressed his solidarity with the wounded, who welcomed his visit. He told them, “The US and Iraqi people are very, very proud of you.”

The visit coincided with the debate on the Popular Mobilization Units’ participation in the battle for Mosul. On Feb. 29, the Ninevah Provincial Council voted against their participation in the operations to liberate the city. Atheel al-Nujaifi, the former governor of Ninevah province and head of a small military force consisting of volunteers from Mosul called Hashid Watani (Arabic for "National Mobilization"), said, “The Popular Mobilization Units’ participation in the battle for Mosul is unacceptable … and the insistence on such participation implies an insistence on the destruction of Mosul.”

Although the National Mobilization is a part of the wider organization, there is disagreement between the two. The National Mobilization does not follow the Popular Mobilization Units administration, and the latter does not provide support to the former.

However, on Feb. 19, Abadi told the parliament that the Popular Mobilization Units will join in the operation to liberate Mosul, and that he will not surrender to pressure exerted by any of the parties to prevent the force from taking part in the battle for Mosul.

The United States seems to stand in solidarity with Abadi’s position on including the Popular Mobilization Units in the battle for Mosul, contrary to its stance in the battles for Tikrit and Ramadi. The United States banned the force from taking part in the Ramadi operation and prevented it from entering Tikrit. Walker was even quoted as saying during his visit to the hospital that the United States does not have a veto on the force's participation in the battle for Mosul, and that it is up to Abadi to decide.

Regional powers have joined the debate. On Jan. 23, Saudi Ambassador to Baghdad Thamer al-Sabhan called the Popular Mobilization Units a sectarian organization with a criminal agenda. His remarks sparked large-scale criticism in the Iraqi street.

Some observers feel that Walker’s visit and remarks reflect a great shift in the US alliances in the Middle East. Following Iran’s nuclear deal, US policy has clearly changed, moving away from its old friends in the region, most notably Saudi Arabia, and closer to Iran.

In an interview with The Atlantic on March 12, US President Barack Obama criticized Saudi Arabia, which “heavily funded Wahhabist madrassas, seminaries that teach the fundamentalist version of Islam.” When asked whether Saudi Arabia is a friend of the United States, he answered, “It’s complicated.” Obama added that the Saudis need to “share” the Middle East with their Iranian foes.

The United States seems to have become more aware of the nature of Iraqi actors like the Popular Mobilization Units. In May 2015, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter IS, retired Gen. John Allen, told CBS News, “The militias are not just a single monolithic entity. There are the militias that you and I are used to hearing [about] that have close alignments with Iran. Those are the extremist elements, and we don’t have anything to do with that. But there are elements of the [Shiite] militias that volunteered last year to try to defend Iraq from the onslaught of [IS] who were called to arms by Grand Ayatollah [Ali al-] Sistani, and those elements, or the Popular Mobilization Force, as they are known, have been subordinated to the Iraqi higher military campaign or command.”

Allen concluded that the United States is going to need to assume a positive role in supporting the force in order to defeat IS.

Nevertheless, some factions within the Popular Mobilization Units still have doubts regarding the new US attitude. In a statement, Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the renamed Peace Brigades (formerly the Mahdi Army), condemned Walker’s visit and criticized stances favoring the visit by politicians and even parties within the organization without naming them.

Gen. Abdul Karim al-Zuhairi, a security commander concerned with coordination with the Popular Mobilization Units, told Al-Monitor, “The US shift toward the Popular Mobilization Units came after it realized that it has lost a presence in the region and learned about the Popular Mobilization Units’ huge popularity. This is added to the support for these units by Iran, which is one of the most important regional actors.”

Al-Monitor interviewed Norman Ricklefs, CEO of Iraq Advisory Group and former adviser to the secretary-general of the Iraq's Defense Ministry and senior adviser to the Interior Minister. He said, “The Popular Mobilization Units proved to be efficient and gradually evolved into a more regular force than it was in the past, especially after the operations to liberate Tikrit. It is important and very good to see that the Popular Mobilization Units are increasingly being recognized within international circles. Yet these units need to welcome international support, lower their hostility to the US and make greater efforts to achieve administrative and legal integration in the official Iraqi military forces.”