Friday, April 1, 2016

Noonan: Trump’s Mess Has Become His Message

His supporters are getting embarrassed by his sheer dumb grossness.

By Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
March 31, 2016

This is almost always true:

A woman who aborts a child is operating within an emotional and spiritual context of fear, disappointment, confusion and sadness. If she receives an illegal abortion she should not be “punished” by the law. This is in line with long human tradition and is based on the simple wisdom that she has already been gravely and tragically penalized: She has lost her child, someone who was very likely going to love her, someone she very likely would have loved. The doctor who performs such an abortion on the other hand is not in turmoil, he is in business. He breaks the law and ends the life of the child with full consciousness, and for profit. He should be “punished.” He should be in jail.

That we even have to discuss this is absurd. It also feels very 1970s, when the subject to so many was new. I guess it’s still new to Donald Trump, and so unexamined, un-thought-through. Yes, he walked back or clarified his stand on punishment, and yes, Chris Matthews badgered and browbeat him on MSNBC. But presidential hopefuls, especially Republican ones, are routinely badgered and browbeaten. You have to deal with it. It’s part of how you earn the big job.

But I feel like we’re missing something in this latest.

Mr. Trump is hurting himself, in real time and for the first time. We will likely see it, and soon, in the polls. Already his numbers in next week’s Wisconsin primary have fallen, and as for women—well, with women nationally Mr. Trump is currently more popular than cholera, but not by much.

We’re missing what’s happening because we’re blocked by clichés. The first great Trump cliché, which began seven or eight months ago, was that he’d quickly do himself in with some outrageous comment. So everyone waited. His insults to John McCain, Megyn Kelly—that would do it. But it didn’t. The more outrageous he was the stronger he got.

So a new cliché was born, the still-reigning one: Whatever Mr. Trump says it won’t hurt him, people will just love him more.

But that’s not right. It was always a mistake to think one explosive statement would blow his candidacy up. What could damage him, and is damaging him, is the aggregate—a growing pile of statements and attitudes that becomes a mood, a warning sign, a barrier.

It’s been going on for four or five weeks, and you can take your pick as to the tipping point. Maybe it was when he threatened to “spill the beans” on another candidate’s wife, or when he retweeted the jeering pictures of her and his own wife. Maybe it was his inability to clearly, promptly denounce the KKK; maybe it was when he hinted at riots if he’s cheated out of the nomination. Maybe it was Corey Lewandowski’s alleged battery of reporter Michelle Fields. Maybe it was when Mr. Trump referred in debate to his genitals, a true national first.

It has all added up into a large blob of sheer dumb grossness. He is now seriously misjudging the room. The room is still America.

I speak to Trump supporters a lot, and they are getting embarrassed. Their feeling was perfectly encapsulated by what Ann Coulter said on a podcast after the retweeting of the wives’ photos: “Do you realize our candidate is mental?” She said of having to defend his mad statements and tweets: “It’s like constantly having to bail out your 16-year-old son from prison.”

It has left me thinking about the political theory of The Mess. The Mess is something a candidate occasionally brings with him that voters can tell is going to cause trouble down the road. The Mess is a warning sign; it tells potential supporters to slow down, think twice. The Mess might be a pattern of scrapes with the law, a series of love affairs or other scandals. Voters will accept normal, flawed human beings but they don’t like patterns of bad behavior. They don’t like when they see a Mess, because they don’t want to elect trouble to high office. Donald Trump’s Mess is his mouth, his indiscipline, his refusal to be . . . serious.

At the same time Mr. Trump doesn’t even seem to be trying to do the one big thing he has to do now. He is the front-runner for the nomination. At this point it is his job to keep the support he has and persuade those who don’t like him to give him a second or third look. To do that he only has to be more thoughtful, stable and mature in his approach—show he may be irrepressible and fun and surprising, even shocking, but at bottom he has within him a plausible president.

Instead, he is stuck at nutty. Rather than attempt to win over, he doubles down. In the process he shows that what occupies his mind isn’t big issues, significant questions or the position of the little guy, but subjects that are small, petty, unworthy.

Instead of reassuring potential or reluctant supporters, he has given them pause. Instead of gathering in, he is repelling. This is political malpractice on a grand scale.

It was always Mr. Trump who was the only one big enough to take down Mr. Trump. He may be doing it. In the process he does a great favor to his current and potential opponents. One of the things Mr. Trump does is make everyone else look normal. His outrageousness cancels out theirs. Once Hillary Clinton was too corrupt to be elected, had too many negatives, too much bad history from her early days in Arkansas to the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, the emails. She brought and brings quite a mess.

But his mess cancels out her mess.

The sheer force of Donald Trump’s weird, outsized strangeness has made her look normal. It’s made Ted Cruz look normal too, like a nice, sincere fella right in the middle of the political bell curve.

There are people who used to dismiss Trump supporters, and who later self-corrected to show compassion from great heights: “My God, they’re suffering in America.” They have now taken a newly jaundiced eye—his supporters are his enablers.

My thought is different. Maybe the sadness here is that Mr. Trump’s supporters are earnest and full of concern for America and he isn’t worthy of them. Maybe he only harnessed their legitimate anger but can’t do anything with it because he’s not as serious as so many of them are, but a flake, a dope with poor impulse control.

What happens to Trumpism—his stands on illegal immigration, trade, entitlements—when Mr. Trump is gone? Does he have any sense of responsibility for what he leads?

And the immediate question: Is it possible he can change and be worthy of the moment? I don’t know but doubt it, because in my observation people at the end of middle age don’t usually change, they just become more so. In any case it’s getting late. So far Donald Trump has conquered all expectations, half-conquered the American political system, and almost conquered one of our two great political parties. It is sad he can’t conquer himself.

Article Link to the Wall Street Journal:

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Bern-Out: 3 Reasons Sanders Has Peaked

Despite recent victories, Sanders's end is near.

By Daniel R. DePetris
The National Interest
April 1, 2016

There is no way around it for Hillary Clinton supporters: last Saturday was a statistical massacre for the Clinton campaign. Sen. Bernie Sanders won all three Pacific caucuses—and he won big. It was difficult to watch CNN’s election coverage and not wonder whether John King’s magic wall was on the fritz.

Bernie’s romp through Alaska, Washington and Hawaii made his New Hampshire win look like a close contest. He swept Alaska by sixty-three points (81.6 to 18.4 percent), Washington by forty-five points (72.7 to 27.1 percent) and Hawaii by thirty-nine points (69.8 to 30 percent). Even more important was Sanders’s delegate tally at the end of the night. His victories earned him fifty-five delegates to Hillary Clinton’s thirty, allowing him to chip away at Clinton’s monumental delegate lead. If you were an alien looking down on Earth, you would reasonably assume that Democratic primary voters really dug the seventy-four-year-old grandpa from Vermont, frizzy white hair and all.

Talking to Sanders supporters in coffee shops and on the street, I get the overwhelming feeling that they truly believe last weekend’s blowout is the beginning of a new era in the 2016 Democratic presidential race. Bernie, of course, is more than happy to bask, telling NBC’s Chuck Todd that when he continues to win states as decisively, the superdelegates currently supporting Clinton will abandon her and carry him across the finish line to 2,383. “Our calculations are that in fact we can win the pledged delegates,” said Sanders. “And at a time when we have the momentum, we have won five out of the six last contests in landslide fashion, in all of the national polling that I have seen, we are beating Donald Trump by much greater margins than is Secretary Clinton.”

There is only one thing standing in the way of Bernie’s political revolution: reality. Sanders may feel that he has the wind at his back, but three particular obstacles will, more likely than not, prevent him from becoming the greatest primary spoiler in the history of contemporary U.S. politics.

1. Winner Takes . . . Some

Superdelegates notwithstanding, Clinton holds a 268 delegate lead as of March 28. If we were talking about the Republican primary, crawling back from a 268-delegate lead would certainly be achievable thanks to winner-take-all primaries. The Democratic primaries are a completely different story: delegates are awarded proportionally, which means the only way that Sanders can make up ground is by repeating the kind of overwhelming victories he achieved in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska. The chances of that happening are slim—only four big states, with delegate counts of at least 100, remain.

2. Superdelegates

Sanders supporters like to complain about the undemocratic nature of superdelegates, in which party officials and elected leaders get to vote for any candidate they want. The governor of New York, for instance, could decide to vote for Hillary Clinton even if Sanders wins the state (and vice versa). But this is how the Democratic primary system works, and complaining about it does nothing but make the Sanders campaign look petty.

Sanders supporters despise the superdelegate system because the vast majority allocated so far (94 percent) have pledged their loyalty to Clinton. And that makes the delegate math that much harder for Sanders. With 2,049 delegates left, Sanders would have to claim 67 percent in order to win the nomination. Put another way: Sanders would need to perform twice as well in the next three months than the previous two. Winning roughly 37 percent of the delegates, as he has so far, simply won’t cut it.

3. Unfavorable Demographics

It’s a well-worn cliché that Bernie does best in open primaries, where boatloads of independent voters can participate, and in caucus states with solidly white majorities. Clinton pummeled Sanders in the South because African American voters were simply not buying what he was selling. Clinton’s established inroads with minority communities have, to date, been among her strongest assets in the race.

With the exception of Michigan, Sanders has won in states where white progressives are the dominant participants. In Washington, where Sanders won big, the minority population is marginal (over 77.3 percent of the state is white according to 2010 U.S. census data). The same goes for Utah, another state where Sanders trounced Clinton in the primary (86.1 percent white).

These demographics will change as the calendar draws into the summer months. New York, Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Delaware all have sizable African American or Latino populations—traditionally friendly turf for Hillary Clinton. Sanders has yet to break into these communities to the extent that one would expect of a Democratic nominee for president; besides winning the Latino vote in the Nevada caucuses, his track record with minority communities compared to Clinton has been beyond dismal. Do we really believe this trend will magically reverse before heading into the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states next month?

To put it crudely to Sanders supporters: your guy had a great showing this past weekend, but his landslide victories are an exception to the rule. As the Democratic nominating process returns to a more diverse electorate and as Clinton continues to accrue delegates (even if she loses), a wave of cold water will submerge the Cinderella story that is Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. And once that happens, it will be up to Sanders to convince his dedicated following of white progressives and young people to rally behind Clinton—that is, if Democrats hope to retain the White House for a third consecutive term.

Article Link to the National Interest:

Did Trump Illegally Promise Ben Carson a Cabinet Position In Exchange For His Endorsement?

By Nick Gass
March 31, 2016

A political accountability group backed by Hillary Clinton supporters this week filed a complaint to the Justice Department alleging that Donald Trump illegally promised Ben Carson a position in his administration in exchange for his endorsement, according to a document provided to POLITICO on Thursday.

"It has recently come to light that Mr. Donald Trump may have willfully offered Dr. Ben Carson an appointment to his administration should he become president in return for supporting his candidacy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 599," wrote Brad Woodhouse, the head of the David Brock-backed American Democracy Legal Fund. The letter is dated March 29 and addressed to Raymond Hulser, the head of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section.

"ADLF respectfully requests that you investigate this matter and take all appropriate action as soon as possible," the letter says.

The complaint focuses on comments that Carson made in an interview with Newsmax TV on March 14, three days after the Trump campaign rolled out the endorsement of the retired neurosurgeon in Florida. Carson was vague when asked about what he and Trump had discussed the day before the endorsement. In the interview with Newsmax's Steve Malzberg, Carson said Trump would "surround himself with very good people.”

"I'm not going to reveal any details about it right now, because all of this is still very liquid," Carson said.

He has explicitly since denied any quid pro quo, telling Yahoo News' Bianna Golodryga on March 16 that any suggestion otherwise is "ridiculous."

"That would be ridiculous. I would never ask for such a thing. And people take liberties and then you believe what they say. That’s just not true," Carson said in that interview.

In the complaint, which features CNN and Washington Post articles reporting on the endorsement and the aforementioned Newsmax piece, Woodhouse wrote that “Dr. Carson’s comments strongly suggest that Mr. Trump promised him an administration position in return for his endorsement.”

“Dr. Carson’s comments indicate that Mr. Trump used the promise of a role in his administration to secure Dr. Carson’s support for his presidential campaign," he concluded. "For the above stated reasons, we respectfully request that you undertake an immediate investigation of this matter.”

ADLF's complaint against Trump is the second the group has filed against the candidate in the last nine months, and is among a series alleging various misdeeds by politicians.

On Wednesday, it released three separate complaints against Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, and another against Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on Thursday. The organization also filed a complaint against Trump with the Federal Election Commission last July, alleging that he did not disclose paying what had been reported to be actors to appear at his campaign kickoff rally.

A spokeswoman for Trump and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Article Link to Politico:

How Anonymous Hacked Donald Trump

Can hacktivism bring down The Donald?

By Adam G. Klein
The New Republic
March 31, 2016

When Anonymous declared “total war” on Donald Trump in early March, the hacktivist group set a countdown clock, calling on “everyone to target Trump websites” on April 1. But that may not have been its real objective.

Regardless of what, if anything, is planned for April 1, the actual attack may have already happened. That’s because the hack appears to be not of any website or technology but rather of Trump himself.

By exploiting Trump’s quick-trigger tendencies to attack and destroy his rivals—including by threatening police action—Anonymous is seeking to tear down not his personal privacy, but something much more sacred to him: his brand.

On March 17, the group published Trump’s Social Security and cellphone numbers. Trump’s response was swift and sharp: His campaign issued a statement demanding the immediate arrest of those behind the release. The Secret Service—which has been protecting Trump since November 2015—and the FBI both announced they were investigating.

My research into Anonymous, its goals and its tactics, suggests that provoking just such an aggressive response, including the involvement of multiple law enforcement agencies, may have been the actual goal of the Anonymous effort.

As a spokesman in an ever-grinning mask would soon reveal, those “private” details of the billionaire-turned-presidential-candidate were already public—they had been available online since 2013. “Trump want[s] to turn America into a fascist dictatorship where anyone can be arrested for just posting old information online,” the hacktivists contended.

Understanding hacktivism

This bait-and-switch tactic of issuing a technological threat and then playing a non-technical trick on Trump may seem like a departure from traditional hacktivist methods. After all, Anonymous is best known for digital actions, including actually stealing private information, defacing websites and, most destructively, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which a deluge of well-coordinated web traffic forces a website to shut down.

Some see a contradiction in this group that champions free speech while effectively silencing that of their enemies. However, a close look at Anonymous reveals that its overall aim is not technological in nature, but rather societal: to pull the curtain back on their adversaries and force the public to look. Most hacktivist “#operations” are backed by a clear mission statement, protesting issues as diverse as whale-hunting and unlawful incarcerations around the globe.

Their tactics reflect this drive for social change. Journalist Andres Jauregui likened one Anonymous method, DDoS, to a civil disobedience strategy employed by student activists in the 1960s: “Clog the hallway of a government office with enough people, and it effectively ceases to function; direct enough traffic to a website, and the same thing happens.” But that is not how the media portray the group.

My 2015 news analysis found that most journalists frame Anonymous as “malicious pranksters” whose missions are broadly tantamount to tying the enemy’s shoelaces together and running away. The next most frequent characterization used more ominous terms, painting Anonymous as a global threat much like the movie character in the Guy Fawkes mask who gleefully plotted the demise of world order.

By eliciting such a forceful and police-centric response, Anonymous is highlighting its basis in protest. The group is making the political suggestion that rather than being viewed as the political outsider of this election season, Trump represents a brand of totalitarianism that will aim establishment power at whatever target he directs. Like his personal information, Anonymous seems to say, Trump’s true nature is already visible to the public.

Attacking Trump’s brand

My research also found that 78 percent of Anonymous’s targets belonged to one of the following categories: government agencies, corporations and media empires—a tripartite of corrupted establishments, according to hacktivists. To Trump supporters, the rogue Republican candidate would seem an odd choice to add to that list.

Indeed, poll after poll has shown that Trump supporters choose him because he is the antiestablishment candidate who answers to no corporate sponsor, media outlet or political party agenda.

But Anonymous’s declaration of “war” on Donald Trump may not really be the establishment-threatening assault suggested by “V for Vendetta.“ Rather, it appears to be an attack in the spirit of conning a con man, as in “The Sting.”

Based on the group’s previous actions, we can then speculate that Anonymous’s goal is to show that Trump is the quintessential autocrat in the making. When he promises a “deportation force” to round up illegal immigrants, or threatens to expose sensitive information on his political enemies or their wives, and even when he calls on everyone to “boycott Starbucks” for allegedly removing Christmas from their cups, he is directly raising the specter of Anonymous’s Orwellian nightmare.

Whether or not Anonymous succeeds in dismantling—or even tries to attack—Donald Trump’s websites on April Fools’ Day is probably irrelevant. By cleverly goading Trump into calling for a law enforcement response against people who have only distributed already-public information, Anonymous has already begun to undermine his antiestablishment brand. That’s a pretty good trick.

Article Link to the New Republic:

Why Are We Colonizing Puerto Rico?

A GOP proposal to resolve the island's debt crisis would harm its economy, sideline its democracy, and boost corporate profits.

By David Dayen
The New Republic
April 1, 2016

One catalyst to the water crisis in Flint was the role of the city’s emergency financial manager, empowered by the state of Michigan to dictate practically every aspect of local governance. The financial manager wasn’t accountable to Flint residents, and didn’t have to worry about whether ignoring their concerns about lead-tainted water would harm future election prospects. Democracy in Flint, for all practical purposes, had been suspended by the state.

"The proposed bill would would spell disaster for vulnerable Puerto Rican citizens, and a bonanza for private corporations looking to take over public functions."

Now Republicans in Congress want to export this model across the Atlantic Ocean, to the island of Puerto Rico. Proposed legislation from the House Natural Resources Committee, ostensibly drawn up to rescue Puerto Rico from its debt crisis, imposes a federal oversight board that effectively turns the commonwealth into a colony. The result would spell disaster for vulnerable Puerto Rican citizens, and create a bonanza for private corporations looking to take over public functions. Worst of all, it would eliminate the basic principle of self-government Americans fought a revolution to win—only to now deny it to a vassal state, a century after the supposed end of our imperial designs.

Here is the quick backstory: After a decade of economic depression and encouragements by financial institutions to paper over it with borrowing, Puerto Rico carries $72 billion in “unpayable” debt. Successive local governments made plenty of mistakes to exacerbate the crisis. Congress played a role too, making shipping costs to the island larger and Medicare reimbursements smaller, along with many other rules that produced economic hardship.Unemployment on the island has hit 12 percent, and more Puerto Ricans have migrated away in the last two years than in all of the 1980s and 1990s combined.

One solution to the mess would be for Puerto Rico to file bankruptcy and restructure its debt. But peculiar rules disallow commonwealths from utilizing U.S. bankruptcy laws the way cities like Detroit have. These rules give so-called “vulture funds,” who have scooped up the Puerto Rican debt at a discount, the opportunity to demand repayment in full amid threats of a lawsuit. The vultures have little incentive to make a deal because the laws work so completely in their favor.

The Puerto Rican government has pleaded with Congress to help it weather the crisis, and initially House Speaker Paul Ryan promised legislation by the end of March. Today is April 1, and we’re only at the “discussion draft” stage. The real deadline is May 1, when debt payments totaling $2.4 billion begin to come due. Puerto Rico has defaulted on minor amounts of the debt on two occasions, paying off the rest by using funds earmarked for future creditor payments. But the island leadership has said it cannot make upcoming payments without a creditor deal or congressional action.

The House discussion draft, known as the “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act’’ or PROMESA (Spanish for “promise”), would set up a Financial Oversight and Management Board for the commonwealth. This five-member board would by appointed by the president, but four of the five appointees would come from lists provided by the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader. No board member can be a Puerto Rican elected official or even a candidate for office; the governor of the commonwealth would sit on the board as an additional member, but have no voting rights.

In other words, Puerto Ricans would have absolutely no say over the oversight board. In fact, the board wouldn’t have to follow the laws of Puerto Rico. According to a summary of the discussion draft, the oversight board will be empowered to audit the Puerto Rican government (and would have subpoena power to compel documents), and to subsequently create “efficiencies and reforms” to address the debt crisis. Those are code words for austerity, which has already ravaged the island and worsened its economic prospects.

In other words, PROMESA is a recipe to rip away the sovereignty from Puerto Rico’s government and impose austerity solutions with no hope of escape. This is precisely the kind of counterproductive scenario that pushed Greece into depression. And inevitably, it would resolve the debt crisis on the backs of pensioners and ordinary Puerto Rican citizens, with the bondholders almost entirely protected.

The bill triggers an automatic injunction, halting Puerto Rican debt payments for 18 months and preventing creditors from suing to get their money back more quickly. But $72 billion in unpayable debt can only be resolved through some form of restructuring. PROMESA doesn’t require that; in fact, it makes such restructuring a last resort. First, Puerto Rico must see if more “efficiencies” imposed by the board—i.e., slashing budget cuts—can free up enough funds to pay off the debt. Then, the island and its creditors must engage in voluntary mediation to find a solution. Only if that fails would court-ordered restructuring (the draft is careful to not call this bankruptcy) kick in.

While such a plan would theoretically allow for the extinguishing of some debt, Section 404 of the discussion draft (as Melissa Jacoby points out at says the opposite: that “Nothing in this Act may be construed to relieve any obligations existing as of the date of the enactment ... to repay any individual or entity from whom Puerto Rico has borrowed funds.” So if all else fails, Puerto Rico can restructure the debt—except it can’t.

This gives Puerto Rico no leverage to force a decent deal. Creditors have actually united to put together their own counter-proposal to Puerto Rico’s initial offer of a debt reduction. But they have no reason to grant Puerto Rico good terms without some threat that they might do worse in the courts. Indeed, the oversight board can veto any voluntary deal. That takes even the ability to negotiate out of the Puerto Rican government’s hands.

The oversight board wouldn’t be merely empowered to resolve the debt crisis, but to restructure the entire Puerto Rican economy—in favor of the usual corporate suspects. The board would have unique authority to issue Puerto Rican municipal debt for the foreseeable future. It would include a “revitalization coordinator” who would approve all infrastructure projects on the island, bypassing reviews under Puerto Rican law. That appears tailor-made for privatization of key infrastructure needs on the island; in fact, the House’s discussion draft states that one of the criteria for future projects is “access to private capital.”

The board would also assume enforcement powers that would let it block unionized Puerto Rican public workers from striking. The bill prevents Puerto Rico from benefiting from the Labor Department’s new proposed overtime rules, exempting thousands of island workers from overtime pay. And it would grant exemptions to federal minimum-wage laws for temporary workers in Puerto Rico under age 25, creating a two-tiered structure and encouraging a race to the bottom.

House National Resources Committee chair Rob Bishop has said he released the draft of the legislation to “encourage feedback.” So far, it’s been largely negative. Governor Alejandro García Padilla said it would deprive the island of its own government. The president of the Puerto Rican Senate related it to “colonial subjugations.” And House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that “more progress must be made throughout the legislation,” adding that “the sweeping powers of the oversight board … would exert undue and undemocratic control over Puerto Rico’s government and residents.”

Since right-wing Republicans see any debt relief, however remote, as rewarding failure, Democrats will probably be needed for any bill to pass, so Pelosi’s words mean more than usual here. As the price of their support, Democrats should demand an end to excluding Puerto Rican municipalities from the bankruptcy process. That’s the only way to create a level playing field that protects 4.5 million U.S. citizens from untold suffering. They should also insist on granting equal treatment for Puerto Rico on things like Medicare reimbursement, access to the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Jones Act shipping rules. They should come up with economic initiatives for the island, too, because not even bankruptcy will pull Puerto Rico out of depression.

Above all else, Democrats must prevent the creation of an oversight board that effectively moves the capital of Puerto Rico from San Juan to Washington. The discussion draft proposes war on self-government. The cure of the fiscal oversight board must not be worse than the disease.

Article Link to the New Republic:

The Downside of the Minimum-Wage Fad

By Editorial Board
The Bloomberg View
April 1, 2016

Raising wages by government fiat seems to be catching on. The lowest-paid workers in Britain and California -- two of the world's largest economies -- are only the latest beneficiaries of plans to lift the minimum wage.

The goal in every case is commendable, but the method is far from ideal. On Friday, Britain's minimum wage will increase to 7.20 pounds ($10.36) an hour for workers age 25 and older, rising each year until it is expected to be above 9 pounds by 2020. California has agreed to set a $15 minimum wage by 2022. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to do the same in his state.

At least 25 U.S. cities have raised their minimum wage since 2014. Germany did so last year, and more increases are planned. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for a 3 percent increase in the minimum wage each year.

It's hard to quarrel with the goal of a "higher wage, lower welfare, lower tax" society, as the U.K.'s government puts it. But the minimum wage is a two-edged instrument, because it raises the cost of hiring unskilled labor. Any increase, therefore, runs the risk of raising unemployment -- and the bigger the increase, the bigger the risk. In addition, governments aren't being honest about who bears the costs. At least some of the increase in employers' costs will be passed along as higher prices to consumers.

It's hard to say exactly what the effects of this minimum-wage activism will be. The economic literature on the subject is voluminous -- but inconclusive. A 2014 Congressional Budget Office study concluded that a $10.10 minimum wage in the U.S. would lift 900,000 out of poverty but result in the loss of 500,000 low-wage jobs. Other studies say the employment effects would be smaller. There's little experience as yet with minimums as high as $15.

Another problem, especially with national minimums, is that labor-market conditions vary a lot from place to place. Britain's minimum applies equally to London, where the wage floor by 2020 will be 47 percent of local median income, and Sheffield, where it will be 71 percent. The one-size-fits-all approach is going to cause problems for Germany as it tries to absorb an enormous influx of unskilled immigrants.

If governments overdo it and push the minimum too high, correcting the error might not be easy. Lowering the minimum will arouse political resistance. The California proposal includes "off ramps" that would allow the government to pause the annual increases, but it couldn't lower the floor -- and current rates of inflation would take a long while to do that without assistance.

A safer and more honest way to support the wages of the low-paid is with a subsidy, using programs such as the U.S.'s earned income tax credit. Rather than reducing the demand for unskilled labor, a subsidy increases it. The drawback is political rather than economic -- the cost to taxpayers is explicit. This approach, therefore, calls for brave leadership, which is not always in supply.

The best way to raise low wages is to raise productivity by helping workers to acquire skills and by ensuring that new entrants to the workforce are well educated. Reform along these lines requires not just political courage but also patience, because the benefits might not be apparent for years.

In the short term, raising the minimum wage -- modestly, and with sufficient flexibility to allow for local market conditions -- might do more good than harm. Relieving poverty in work deserves to be a high priority. But smarter ways of doing it shouldn't be sidelined, and caution should be the watchword.

Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

Obama’s Greatest Triumph

He is six months away from destroying both the Republican Party and Reagan’s legacy.

By Daniel Henninger 
The Wall Street Journal
March 30, 2016

Barack Obama will retire a happy man. He is now close to destroying his political enemies—the Republican Party, the American conservative movement and the public-policy legacy of Ronald Reagan.

Today, the last men standing amidst the debris of the Republican presidential competition are Donald Trump, a political independent who is using the Republican Party like an Uber car; Ted Cruz, who used the Republican Party as a footstool; and John Kasich, a remnant of the Reagan revolution, who is being told by Republicans to quit.

History may quibble, but this death-spiral began with Barack Obama’s health-care summit at Blair House on Feb. 25, 2010. For a day, Republicans gave detailed policy critiques of the proposed Affordable Care Act. When it was over, the Democrats, including Mr. Obama, said they had heard nothing new.

That meeting was the last good-faith event in the Obama presidency. Barack Obama killed politics in Washington that day because he had no use for it, and has said so many times. The Democrats survived the Obama desert by going to ground. But frustrated Republicans outside Congress eventually started tearing each other apart.

After Mr. Obama won in 2008, Democrats controlled the Senate and House with large majorities. Normally, a party out of power is disabled but not destroyed by the presidency’s advantages. Democrats, when out of power, historically remain intact until the wheel turns again. Their ideology has been simple: tax and spend.

The minority Republicans began well. In 2010, ObamaCare passed with zero Republican Senate votes, and Dodd-Frank with only one Republican Senate vote. It was a remarkable display of party discipline.

In the first term, Republicans and conservatives fought Barack Obama. In the second term, they decided it made more sense to fight each other.

Among the reasons is that the Republican leadership missed the messaging force of social media until it was too late. Congressional politics is mostly process. Modern politics is mostly message. The Obama message machine, “tax cuts for millionaires,” never stopped.

With no party spokesman for conservatism, an ideological vacuum existed. Freelance operators filled it.

They included two hyper-ambitious Senate freshman, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. They also included a movement to purge and cleanse conservatism, led by groups such as Heritage Action and by talk radio hosts. Together they conjured an internal enemy—the Republican Establishment.

Conservatives complain constantly about the bias of the mainstream media. With the bar so low on website entry, members-only media alternatives emerged, such as RedState and Breitbart News.

But the hated MSM is essentially a Roman phalanx. It stays in formation and protects the progressive castle. The conservative alternatives showed no such discipline. Early into the second Obama term, they commenced an internecine political war.

The right began demanding that congressional Republicans conduct ritualistic suicide raids on the Obama presidency. The MSM would have depicted these as hapless defeats by presidential veto, but some wanted the catharsis of constant public losses—on principle.

By early 2015, when the primary season began, virtually all issues inside the Republican Party had been reframed as proof of betrayal—either of conservative principle or of “the middle class.” Trade is a jobs sellout. Immigration reform is amnesty.

With his Cheshire Cat grin, Barack Obama faded into the background and let the conservatives’ civil war rip. For Republicans, every grievance, slight or loss became a scab to be picked, day after day.

In time, the attacks on “the establishment” and “donor class” became indiscriminate, ostracizing good people in the party and inside the conservative movement. The anti-establishment offensive created a frenzy faction inside the Republican base. And of course, it produced Donald Trump.

The Trumpians and Cruzians, who of late have been knifing one another in a blind rage, say this is a rebirth. So was Rosemary’s baby.

The New York Times this week published a lead piece by Nicholas Confessore called “How the G.O.P. Elite Lost Its Voters to Donald Trump.” It is a gleeful, disingenuous and malign burial of the one thing the Democratic left never thought it could kill: Ronald Reagan’s conservative legacy.

The piece, which mostly transcribes the opinions of “some conservative intellectuals,” is a road map to Republican self-destruction, delegitimizing everything Ronald Reagan stood for—tax cuts, deregulation, entitlement reform, even economic growth. (Archaic footnote: Reaganomics produced an historic economic boom, for everyone, from 1983-90.)

Conservatives, it says, instead of challenging the economy Barack Obama rendered half-dead for two terms, now favor “wage subsidies, relocation aid” and “even targeted infrastructure spending.”

And Citizens United merely enabled the “donor class,” identified as Paul Singer and Charles and David Koch, who favor the discredited “Ryan budgets,” a proxy for Reagan.

In early 2015, Republicans were one election away from defeating a weak Democratic opponent and controlling both houses of Congress. Barring a miracle in Cleveland, they likely are six months away from losing two of those three plus the Supreme Court.

Barack Obama should frame the Confessore piece and hang it in the Obama Library. His presidency produced a moribund U.S. economy for eight years. In a response so bizarre that future historians will gape, the Republicans decided to destroy each other.

Article Link to the Wall Street Journal:

How Mubarak decision divided the White House

Barack Obama phoned the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and advised him to announce he was stepping down.

By Alan Philps
The National
March 31, 2016

In February 2011, US president Barack Obama faced what his aides have described as one of the toughest decisions of his time in the White House: how to deal with the mass protests against the 30-year-rule of America’s closest ally in the Arab world, president Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Obama considers his handling of the Egyptian revolution as a success in avoiding a bloodbath among the thousands gathered in Tahrir Square chanting for the president to leave. For his critics, however, it is the defining moment where idealism triumphed over realpolitik in the Obama White House.

For US allies around the world, Mr Obama’s decision to hasten the departure of Mr Mubarak has raised doubts about the credibility of Washington as an ally, which linger to this day. These doubts have been cleverly exploited by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Whatever the long-term effect of his intervention in the Syrian conflict, he can say he went to the aid of an old ally and turned the tide of battle.

The battle lines around the fall of Mr Mubarak are now clearly drawn thanks to two new documentaries. Inside Obama’s White House, by producer Norma Percy, now being shown by the BBC in Britain, tells the story of the presidency in four long episodes through interviews with the key players.

On the events of February 2011, it is clear that the White House team was bitterly split on what to do. An aide to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton says that there was a clash of generations, with the more experienced voices – Mrs Clinton and Robert Gates, the defence secretary – pushing for a cautious approach and younger officials demanding that the president be forced to step down immediately.

Mr Gates says it was a “crazy idea" to force Mr Mubarak out, pointing – with some justification – to how this would be interpreted by US allies. “We have been his closest ally for 30 years. The message – if you just throw him under the bus – is a huge one throughout the entire region."

The younger generation is represented by Ben Rhodes, a former speech writer serving as deputy national security adviser, who says showing support for the Egyptian leader would have been inconsistent with Mr Obama’s endorsement of democracy throughout the Middle East. “You don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of history," Mr Rhodes says.

This is a phrase which clearly infuriated Mr Gates, a veteran who has served in security roles under eight US presidents, including George W Bush. He recalls late-night meetings with top US generals to discuss the White House’s “crazy idea".

In a clip from a separate documentary, Rising Threats – Shrinking Military, made for Fox News and which is still to be released, Mr Gates gives a far harsher view of the White House split. He says the president ignored the “entire national security team" and took the advice of “three junior backbenchers" on how to treat the Egyptian president.

As for being on the right side of history, Mr Gates recalls saying: “Yeah, if we could just figure that out, we’d be a long way ahead."

Mr Obama phoned the Egyptian president and advised him to announce he was stepping down and begin an orderly transition. But Mr Mubarak refused, saying he had a better understanding of the Middle East than Mr Obama. It was then that the White House opened a line of communication to urge the Egyptian military to take control in order to prevent chaos.

Mr Obama says in the BBC documentary that his aim was to prevent “tanks shooting into the crowds in Tahrir Square similar to what happened in Tiananmen Square" in Beijing in 1989. After Mr Mubarak stepped down, a jubilant Mr Obama announced: “The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same."

These words ring hollow today. If the fall of Mr Mubarak had led to peace and prosperity in Egypt and the end of crony capitalism, no one would care about those anguished arguments between the idealists and the realists in Washington.

But the result was an incompetent Muslim Brotherhood government which was not up to the task of running Egypt, particularly given the strength of institutional support for the old regime. Far from speaking with one voice, the people of Egypt have spoken with many voices, both yearning for revolutionary change and clinging to army-enforced stability.

With hindsight, and given what has happened in the rest of the Arab world, Mr Obama seems to have acted with an excess of idealism – which is not surprising given that he was first and foremost determined to rescue America’s reputation in the Middle East after the catastrophic Bush-era wars, not to cement US power.

No doubt if Mrs Clinton wins the Democratic nomination for president, her critics will charge her with nonchalantly handing over Egypt to the “terrorists" of the Muslim Brotherhood, who came to power in democratic elections after the fall of the old regime.

But if this charge is to stick, the critics need to say what they would have done differently. It was a volatile situation and after 30 years in power it was clearly time for some new blood at the top in Cairo. Even if Mr Obama had not gone public with a call for Mr Mubarak to step down, behind the scenes the US would still have had to engineer a transition which by its nature would have been unpredictable.

That does not change Mr Obama’s broader legacy in the Middle East – one of chaos from the Mediterranean to the borders of Iran. For all his idealism, Mr Obama came to the conclusion that there was not much America could do about the Arab world, resulting in a policy vacuum. His successor will surely dial down the “strategic patience" which has been a characteristic of the Obama White House and seek to put in place a policy for action.

Article Link to the National:

This Time the Hague Got It Wrong

By Marc Champion
The Bloomberg View
March 31, 2016

A United Nations court in The Hague has acquitted Vojislav Seselj, the Serbian nationalist whose volunteers helped to start the war in Croatia in 1991, of all charges. It isn't the "not guilty" verdict that's shocking or necessarily wrong. It is the tribunal's reasoning, which contradicts much of what this court has taught us about the war over the last two decades.

The verdict comes just days after the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentenced former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to 40 years in jail for war crimes he committed during the attempt to create a Greater Serbia by clearing the territory of non-Serbs. The big difference between the two men is that Karadzic was in charge. He had a clear chain of command through which his orders could be carried out. Seselj's position, as a Belgrade parliamentarian who sent volunteers to fight at the front, was less clear-cut.

So the prosecution may well have failed to demonstrate Seselj's direct responsibility for the war crimes his fighters carried out. But the tribunal's two-judge majority went much further. They argued that the prosecution failed even to show that the crimes were crimes, because Seselj's project for a Greater Serbia was a political one, the fighting happened in the context of Croatia and Bosnia's secession from Yugoslavia, and because Seselj might just have thought he was defending Yugoslavia and protecting Serbian civilians, which would be legitimate.

When Seselj gave speeches at the front calling on fighters to wipe the Croats from Greater Serbian territory, the judges said they couldn't rule out that his comments "were meant to boost the morale of the troops of his camp, rather than calling upon them to spare no one." Well, yes they could.

After covering the first weeks of fighting in eastern Croatia in July 1991, I went to see Seselj. People I had spoken to on both sides of the fighting in villages along the west bank of the Danube, where it forms the border between Croatia and Serbia, said the killing began when "Seselj's men" infiltrated across the river to arm and fight with local Serbs. They were distinguishable by their beards and costume-style uniforms. Seselj, too, was disarmingly frank. As I wrote at the time:

On the wall above his desk in his Belgrade office, he has pinned the colors of the Chetnik nationalist movement of which he is the leader — a white skull and crossbones against a black background and with the inscription "Free or Dead." The crude simplicity of the Chetnik logo suits Mr Seselj well: He seems to have made the idiom his own. "We want no one else on our territory and we will fight for our true borders. The Croats must either move or die," he said.

Seselj was equally clear that he wasn't trying to defend Yugoslavia, which at the time was what Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic insisted he was trying to do:

"We are against Yugoslavia," said Mr Seselj. "We do not want to live in the same country as Croats." Slovenia, he says, should be allowed to be independent. And so should Croatia — up to a point. For before Croatia is freed, it should amputate the arm of its territory that runs south along the Dalmatian coast, all of Slavonia — its eastern shoulder — and part of its center. Everything south and east of the new Croatian border would then become greater Serbia.

Equally, in Kosovo, the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority were "guests," who must become loyal Serbian subjects or go home, Seselj explained. Macedonia was an artificial construct, as was Bosnia. Montenegro was simply Serbia. All of it was Greater Serbia.

Wanting a Greater Serbia didn't, as the court rightly said, make Seselj a war criminal. In the same way, wanting a caliphate doesn't make Islamic State terrorists. The U.K. and other countries have tied themselves in knots trying to find ways to jail preachers such as Abu Hamza, who proselytized in favor of al-Qaeda -- without directly recruiting their disciples to go kill British infidels. As vile and dangerous as these people were, they committed no crime.

But Seselj did recruit fighters and did then incite them in public speeches to go kill Croats and Bosnian Muslims, whom he also referred to as fascists and "excrement," respectively. To argue that Seselj's project for a Greater Serbia didn't necessarily require ethnic cleansing, or that he maybe didn't mean it when he said Croats should "move or die," or that buses laid on to ship Croatian civilians from villages claimed for Greater Serbia might have been "humanitarian" -- as the tribunal did -- is hard to justify. Seselj reveled in his hard line. The buses were enlisted for ethnic cleansing. As the man his volunteers described as their commander-in-chief, he had a duty -- at the least -- to tell them to spare civilians, even as he urged them to fight Croatian soldiers.

I have to agree with Judge Lattanzi, the dissenting member of the tribunal, when he concludes:

The majority sets aside all the rules of international humanitarian law that existed before the creation of the Tribunal and all the applicable law established since the inception of the Tribunal in order to acquit Vojislav Seselj. On reading the majority’s Judgement, I felt I was thrown back in time to a period in human history, centuries ago, when one said – and it was the Romans who used to say this to justify their bloody conquests and murders of their political opponents in civil wars: “silent enim leges inter arma” (In time of war, the laws fall silent, Cicero).

This is not just what happens in war, as the tribunal's majority implies. It certainly wasn't for Karadzic or the 79 other Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims the court has convicted of war crimes since its formation in 1993. Telling fighters you have recruited to go expel an ethnic group, which they then proceed to do, should not be within the laws of war.

Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

Tesla's Miracle Car Could Destroy It

The vehicle debuts today but won’t hit the road for two years, it won’t be as cheap as promised, and it will be plagued with problems. Worst of all, the firm will run out of money unless today’s hype can delude investors once again.

By Edward Niedermeyer
The Daily Beast
March 31, 2016

Way back in 2006, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk laid out his vision for his electric car company in a blog post promising that its six-figure luxury cars would be succeeded by increasingly affordable vehicles. Ten years later, the promise is seemingly here as Tesla fans line up at stores around the world to put down $1,000 deposits on the upcoming Model 3.

With a price expected to start at less than $40,000, the Model 3 may not be as cheap as most family sedans but thanks to a $7,500 federal tax credit many Tesla fans believe they will be able to buy a Tesla for about the $35,000 Americans spend on the average new vehicle. With Tesla poised to present the first look at the Model 3 in an event Thursday evening, public enthusiasm and anticipation is once again being driven up to levels the rest of the auto industry could only hope to generate. But behind the hype there are a number of warning signs that indicate this intense excitement may ultimately lead to disappointment... especially for those Tesla fans who most need help getting into the electric car of their dreams.

On Wednesday night Musk took the first step toward containing Model 3 hype, tweeting that “Tomorrow is Part 1 of the Model 3 unveil. Part 2, which takes things to another level, will be closer to production.” Tesla plans on launching the Model 3 in the last quarter of 2017, and given the firm’s consistent inability to meet its previous self-imposed deadlines it seems more than likely that the people lined up today won’t actually take delivery of their Model 3 until well into 2018. It’s highly unusual for an automaker to preview a production vehicle so far from its actual launch date for a variety of reasons: as Musk admits, the car is likely to change during the next two years of development work. In the meantime, a heavily hyped but unavailable car could cut into demand for Tesla’s existing models. With Tesla’s cash reserves falling below $1 billion and dwindling fast, the company might not survive long enough to launch the car people are currently lined up for.

So why is Tesla running a risk that every other automaker so studiously avoids?

Two plausible explanations come to mind. First, Tesla is racing to beat competing EVs to the market. General Motors has already begun pre-production of its Chevrolet Bolt EV, which appears to compete directly with the new Model 3 on price point ($37,500 before the tax credit) and driving range (200 miles). Perhaps Tesla wants to be seen as being the first company to bring an affordable EV to market, even if the Model 3 doesn’t hit sales showrooms until well after the Bolt (and potentially Nissan’s forthcoming next-generation Leaf EV as well). After all, a huge amount of its astounding brand power comes from the not-entirely-justified perception that Tesla alone is pushing electric cars into the mass market.

But there’s another, more troubling explanation for Tesla’s rush: The company needs more cash to actually complete development of the Model 3 and bring it to market. Tesla has been burning cash at a remarkable rate over the last year in order to ramp up Model X production and develop Model 3: As of the end of last year it was down to its last $1 billion in cash (maybe $1.2 billion, rounding up). Given its deep operating losses (it burned nearly $1 billion in cash in 2015 alone), that burn rate is too high to survive until 2018 while completing development work on Model 3 and ramping up its sales, service and Supercharger infrastructure needed to handle the expected new influx of customers. Even if 50,000 people line up to put $1,000 deposits on the Model 3 in the next 24 hours, that won’t make a dent in Tesla’s capital requirements.

But the spectacle of tens of thousands of people lining up to buy a car that’s still years away from delivery will almost certainly boost Tesla’s volatile share price high enough to support a secondary equity offering without causing an exodus of existing investors. If the next 48 hours turn into the media circus everyone seems to expect, Tesla will be able to raise the billions it needs from an investor base that will be more convinced than ever that Tesla has built the brand power to make itself the Apple of automobiles, with corresponding Apple-like profits to come.

No automobile manufacturer will ever deliver the kinds of eye-popping margins Apple has achieved, though. Just because Tesla is based in Silicon Valley does not mean it is exempt it from the capital-intensive, low-margin reality of the automobile manufacturing business.

But investors aren’t the only ones setting themselves up for disappointment; the biggest letdown ahead awaits the longtime Tesla fans who hope that they may finally be able to stretch the family budget just enough to buy the affordable Tesla they have been waiting for since 2006. In order to bring the cost of a Model 3 below the $35,000 mark, buyers will need to qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit—but that credit begins to expire after Tesla sells 200,000 qualifying vehicles. At current sales projections, Tesla will run out of those tax credits sometime in 2018—just as Model 3s start rolling off production lines. In order to be one of the lucky few to qualify for those few remaining credits, the Tesla fans most in need of the financial assistance are camping out in front of stores to claim their shot at getting a truly affordable Tesla before the credits expire.

Unfortunately for these fans who most represent Tesla’s mission to make electric cars affordable to more than the super-wealthy, the remaining Tesla tax credits are likely to be all gone by the time their Model 3 gets built. Tesla is giving current Tesla owners (who have already bought a six-figure Model S or Model X) priority status on the Model 3 reservation list. More importantly, Tesla is pursuing its existing strategy of prioritizing the production of fully-loaded Model 3s, meaning the initial production run of the “affordable” Tesla will on average sell for well above the base price. In other words, those credits that are left by the time the Model 3 makes it into production will go to either existing Tesla owners (by definition, wealthy people) or new buyers who have enough to spend on a fully-specced Model 3 that could approach the Model S's $80,000 base price. The new, downmarket buyers who have waited patiently for Tesla to deliver its long-promised affordable electric car are likely to be stuck paying full price for a bare-bones version of the Model 3, with little to no help from the federal subsidy. But because their need is the greatest, these desperate fans have the strongest motivation to line up at Tesla stores and put down $1,000 for a car they have never seen and may never be able to afford.

This cynically exploitative strategy may come as a surprise to anyone who has bought into Tesla's remarkably durable media halo, but behind the “save the world” headlines and unabashed Elon Musk worship there have long been signs that Tesla is not living up to its “save the world” image.

The company has failed to deliver on some of its biggest promises, such as the promise that all Tesla Superchargers would be solar powered and zero-emission net energy generators. Behind the gushing praise for the Model S (which is undoubtedly an impressive car in many respects) massive quality problems lurk. Surveys and feedback at forums show that the majority of Model S drive units have already needed to be replaced, and some like have had to replace the drive unit on their Model S multiple times. Problems with sunroofs, door handles, window seals, and other issues fill Tesla owner forums but go largely unreported by the fawning press corps. Fans have even begun generating delivery checklists that are more extensive than those done at the quality-control phase in traditional car factories, so buyers of Tesla’s six-figure luxury cars can do the quality assurance that Tesla apparently can not.

Counter-intuitively, these rampant quality problems are better tolerated by high-end car buyers than everyday drivers. Anyone who can afford a six-figure Model S or Model X will never be at the mercy of a single car, and likely has a number of alternative vehicles to drive if their prestigious electric car needs to be repaired. By contrast, anyone hoping to replace the family workhorse with a Tesla would find the level of quality problems—not to mention Tesla’s limited service and recharging infrastructure—an unacceptable downgrade from the high levels of quality and reliability achieved by modern mass-market cars with internal-combustion engines.

What’s more, these quality problems are likely to dramatically expand as Tesla boosts production from 50,000 vehicles in 2015 to 500,000 vehicles in 2020. Building expensive cars at low volume is like playing the auto industry on “easy mode,” from both a production quality and a customer satisfaction perspective. Moving into mass volume and lower price points will dramatically exacerbate all of Tesla’s existing (but undercovered) problems, and anyone who buys a Tesla as their family’s single car is asking to find out just how badly these problems scale.

Of course, nobody lines up to buy any product they’ve never seen before out of pure reason. Musk has made a bold play at marketing Tesla as a luxury company by necessity with a “real” mission to bring its slick looks, speedy performance and Silicon Valley prestige to the mass market. The lines currently stretching out of Tesla stores are proof that it has worked, but with the Model 3, the tension between Tesla's reality as a troubled, overvalued luxury car company and its mythos as a messianic, green car profit powerhouse will be put to its ultimate test. Unfortunately for the fans who most believe in the myth and who may be putting their personal financial well-being at risk, reality seems far more likely to win out.

The good news is that Musk’s mythos-building has been so effective that he’s pushed more pragmatic, capable competitors to capitalize on the electric car enthusiasm that Tesla has unleashed. If you just want an affordable, premium electric car there’s no need to put down cash or wait in line. By the time the Model 3 actually starts being produced, you’ll be able to buy one from a variety of competitors that won’t require you to do or expect anything different than you would when buying any other car. Those who just want a zero-emissions car without a lot of risk and hassle can skip the Model 3’s long lines and uncertain outcome. The revolution is already on the way.

Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Trump’s Uphill Delegate Scramble

The Republican front-runner risks an exodus of delegates if he fails to clinch the nomination outright.

By Kyle Cheney and Ben Schreckinger
April 1, 2016

If Donald Trump loses in Wisconsin next week, he will need to win roughly 60 percent of the remaining delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination outright — a daunting but not impossible challenge.

But if he fails to achieve it, and is thus unable to win the nomination outright, Trump is poised to suffer an exodus of delegates at a contested convention.

Interviews with dozens of delegates, delegate candidates, operatives and party leaders in recent days suggest that more than a hundred delegates — bound by rules and laws to back Trump on a first vote at the July convention in Cleveland — are prepared to break with him on a second ballot.

In one illustration of Trump’s lack of support, out of the 168 Republican National Committee members — each of whom doubles as a convention delegate — only one publicly supports Trump, and she knows of only a handful of others who support him privately.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has been whipping Trump in the quiet, early race to elect his own loyalists to become delegates to the convention, meaning that the Texas senator could triumph through delegates who are freed to vote their own preferences on a second ballot, regardless of who won their state.

“As far as the stealing of the Trump nomination, that’s a big concern for everybody,” said Diana Orrock, the RNC committeewoman from Nevada and the only one of 112 committeemen and women who openly supports Trump. None of the nation’s 56 state and territory GOP chairmen, also convention delegates, have endorsed Trump either. They are subjected to a mix of state-based rules as far as their obligation to back Trump on the first vote.

The risk of a routing at a contested convention is becoming more acute because of Trump’s uncertain standing going into Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday. Two polls this week showed Cruz 10 points ahead of Trump in the state.

A loss in Wisconsin would hardly be devastating, but it would surely embolden the anti-Trump forces in other states, making his efforts to win the 60 percent of the yet-to-be-awarded delegates to reach the 1,237 figure needed to clinch the nomination outright that much more difficult, according to a POLITICO analysis.

“They’ve got to get their s--- together in Wisconsin,” said a top Trump ally in the South. “If he doesn’t have 1,237, I'd be very concerned with what happens in Cleveland.”

Barry Bennett, a Trump adviser involved in convention preparations, panned the doomsday predictions as "inside Beltway talk” in an interview with POLITICO on Thursday evening.

And while he acknowledged that Cruz had been more active on the delegate courting front so far, he added, "Big deal. We're doing it now. We're going to talk to all these people. Everybody on the campaign, including Mr. Trump. We're at it."

However, the apparent realization of the magnitude of the delegate flight risk has prompted a sharp and sudden reordering of Trump’s delegate strategy. The campaign this week tapped convention veteran Paul Manafort to become his campaign’s point person on corralling delegates.

Sources close to the campaign say Manafort will, in duty rather than title, become the most powerful strategist in the Trump orbit over the next few weeks as he brings aboard a team that includes veterans of the 1976 convention, when he helped Gerald Ford neutralize a challenge from Ronald Reagan. Manafort is running the delegate operation out of a new campaign office opened this week in Washington.

Trump has also become more vocal about the prospect of losing the nomination at the convention — arguing that a plurality of delegates should be sufficient to win the nomination and predicting riots in Cleveland if he enters with a lead but loses.

One of Trump's top advisers privately acknowledged worries to a Republican operative that Trump might not make it to 1,237 and aired concerns that his rivals are better-positioned to win a drawn-out convention, according to the operative.

Charlie Black, a veteran of Republican conventions who is advising John Kasich’s campaign, said Trump could find himself in third place on a second ballot in Cleveland.

“I do know the nature of the delegates. The majority of them, they’re conservatives but they’re party regulars — County chairmen, state regulars, local sheriffs,” he said, suggesting they’re less inclined to vote for Trump if left to their own devices.

In recent days, evidence has emerged that Cruz has proven especially adept at outmaneuvering Trump in the delegate scramble, especially in Louisiana, South Dakota, South Carolina and Wyoming. Reports suggest Cruz is also better organized in Georgia, too.

Perhaps the most glaring warning sign for Trump is the looming battle for delegates in Massachusetts. Trump scored 49 percent of the vote there, 31 points ahead of second-place Kasich. Cruz finished a distant fourth with 9.6 percent. Yet, it’s Cruz who seems to have the momentum as the state GOP prepares to hold Congressional District conventions and a state party meeting that will elect 39 national delegates.

“The Trump campaign hasn’t really gotten out of first gear, but the Cruz campaign is starting to accelerate,” said Brad Wyatt, a longtime party activist who’s not aligned with either the Cruz or Trump camps. Another top Massachusetts Republican, speaking on condition of anonymity said that at best, Trump will find himself in a dogfight for delegates in the state, despite his dominance at the polls.

The cause seems clear to many party insiders: Trump cleaned up among Massachusetts’s huge population of independent voters. But delegate elections are restricted only to the state’s much smaller population of registered Republicans, many of whom more naturally line up with Cruz. That scenario could play out across the country in states that held open primaries, since Republican Party rules limit delegate selection contests to registered Republicans.

“In order to get into the [delegate] caucuses, you have to registered Republican by February 10,” said Massachusetts state committeeman Reed Hillman, a Kasich supporter. “That’s going to change the dynamics in terms of the universe of potential participants. The Trump percentage will be significantly lower. The caucuses — I think they’re going to have a lot of energetic people showing up for either Kasich delegates or Cruz delegates.”

Trump allies in Massachusetts huddled Tuesday to begin strategizing for the delegate fight and expressed confidence they’d help the mogul win his fair share of supporters to the convention. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure we have Trump delegates who are elected at those caucuses,” said state Rep. Geoff Diehl, Trump’s point man in the state. “We feel very confident that we’re going to be able to achieve that.”

Two longtime party activists in Massachusetts — Amy Carnevale and Vincent DeVito — said they intend to run to become convention delegates for Trump over the next two months.

But Cruz’s operation, helmed by Diehl’s state House colleague Jim Lyons, has been earning more looks from party insiders who see it as better positioned to capture a disproportionate share of delegates. Kasich’s operation, too, is mobilizing in Massachusetts to deny Trump.

“We’re building out a statewide organization to elect delegates at caucuses in Massachusetts,” said Andrew Boucher, one of two national strategists helming Kasich’s delegate operation. “Trump might’ve won the state, but John Kasich came in a strong second. There are a lot of Kasich supporters in the state, there are a lot of Kasich volunteers in the state.”

Trump’s statement on Tuesday that he might not support the eventual Republican nominee has his opponents claiming he violated the state party’s loyalty pledge — a requirement to get on the ballot in South Carolina — and are planning to challenge their binding to Trump, as first reported by Time.

But a top Trump supporter in the state pointed out that Kasich and Cruz have both cast doubt on whether they would support Trump if he were to become the nominee. The Trump ally dismissed the theory and talk of delegate double agents as “the parlor games that the college Republican tools of the party sit around playing.”

The Trump campaign is not planning to go down without a fight. For months, Dan Scavino, a longtime Trump loyalist and the campaign’s director of social media, has been conducting a charm offensive with likely and definite delegates, holding meetings around the country with RNC members — including Georgia Committeeman Randy Evans — and other Republican VIPs.

On Thursday, Trump himself traveled to Washington to meet with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, and he emerged professing a renewed commitment to party unity just two days after he discarded the loyalty oath.

Priebus, speaking to Fox on Thursday night, acknowledged that the delegate selection has gotten “very intense.” He said that Trump and Cruz both still have the chance of reaching the “magic number” of delegates but acknowledged that it’s a very real possibility that the party is headed to a contested convention.

In South Carolina, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, who endorsed Trump in January, has been making calls and holding meetings in an effort to find Trump loyalists among the eligible pool of delegates, who were selected at party conventions last year.

And an unaligned senior Republican official in the state said he has seen more potential delegates openly campaigning as Trump delegates at meetings of party activists, though he said that was not necessarily a sign that Trump had more support among potential delegates. “Kasich and Cruz delegates are being a bit more circumspect about their intentions,” he said. “It could be a strategic mistake to openly campaign at this point for a candidate.”

Though Trump won all 50 delegates in the South Carolina primary, interviews with two dozen prospective delegates and state party insiders suggest many are likely to abandon him on a second ballot. The process in South Carolina is largely dictated by party insiders. And Trump's decision to sideline his loyalty pledge raised another unnerving specter for his campaign: State Party Chairman Matt Moore suggested on Twitter that the move could disqualify Trump from earning delegates at all, according to state rules.

The next test of Trump’s ability to prevail in Cleveland will begin this weekend in North Dakota, where Republican insiders will elect 25 national delegates at a state convention. Trump is dispatching a top surrogate, Ben Carson. Kasich is deploying former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey on his behalf. The Cruz campaign is sending the candidate himself.

Article Link to Politico:

Four Reasons It’s Time to Retake the ISIS Capital of Raqqa

By Tom Rogan 
The National Review Online
April 1, 2016

“Lots of work, slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Around every corner could be a world of hurt and on more than one occasion I remember whoever was on point saying “Oh s**t!” and then gunfire. Tough work.”

— Maciej Kolodinski, USMC veteran (Fighting 13th) of Anbar campaign (2006–07), describes urban warfare to NRO

For civilians and combatants alike, urban warfare is brutal. Battles in two cities, 60 miles and 745 years apart, serve as cases in point. In 1258, Hulagu’s Mongols seized Baghdad, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocents. In November 2004, when the U.S. Marines (and special-operations forces from other U.S. and allied services) stormed Fallujah and vanquished al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Corps lost nearly 100 men in bloody house-to-house fighting.

So urban fighting carries a high cost. Still, for four reasons, as the battle for Mosul gets underway, it’s also time to commence the battle for Raqqa, the capital city of Daesh (also known as ISIS).

First, Daesh is facing new internal vulnerabilities. Under pressure in western and northern Syria, its forces must also now grapple with insecure supply lines across the northern Iraqi–Syrian border. Daesh finances are also coming under increasing pressure — though not to the catastrophic degree some are claiming. More important, conditions in Raqqa are worsening. As the human-rights group known as “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” — which has personnel on the ground in Raqqa — has explained in recent days, Daesh has raised taxes, lowered salaries, and increased rationing of electricity and water in the city. In addition, just as the need for public servants reaches critical levels, Daesh has banned women from working in hospitals. (Raqqa’s collapse of public services was predictable.)

Adding to the discord is the anger of Raqqa’s population (and Iraqi and Syrian Daesh fighters) toward the city’s foreign-fighter residents. Favored by the group’s senior leadership for their propaganda value, foreign fighters have the highest privileges. All of this together means that the enemy is now vulnerable and destabilized – and a ripe target for an allied offensive.

Second, Daesh is more vulnerable now for specifically military reasons. An aggregation (admittedly ramshackle) of Syrian-Arab and Kurdish forces has now succeeded in dominating the northern approaches to Raqqa. While these forces are supported by an unusual combination of actors – some by Russian president Vladimir Putin (pursuing malicious interests), some by the U.S. and Sunni Arab nations, and some by both — they collectively pose a potent threat to Daesh.

Raqqa, like Mosul, is compressed against the Euphrates River. Daesh would therefore face three choices in a battle for the city: surrender; run south into the desert (and face aerial obliteration); or face annihilation in separated blocks of the city (in a face-to-face, man-to-man urban battle). In short, the military situation favors attack. (The first factor, the discontent within Raqqa, is linked to this military factor: As the regional analyst known as “Beyond the Levant” noted to me, disgust for Daesh in Raqqa means that the population might even accept Kurdish forces.

Third, retaking Raqqa now would amount to a vital and serious strategic recognition of the broader regional politics at play in Iraq and Syria. 
Iran’s grand strategy is now to bring Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq under dominion. A victory over Daesh in Syrian Raqqa would also offer much-needed credibility to Abadi in Baghdad.

Fourth — and this is crucial — the Brussels attacks make it essential that we retake Raqqa.
As I noted here on NRO, Brussels proves that Daesh’s hordes remain strong. From Afghanistan to Belgium to Indonesia to Britain to all 50 U.S. states, Daesh’s black flag of tyranny continues to wave proudly. The group continues to provoke innocents into fear and extremists into aggression. It continues to attract new recruits, allies, and financiers. And the military capacity that this fealty affords Daesh is intolerable for the West.

Of course, defeat in Raqqa won’t be the end of Daesh. Speaking to me yesterday, Jim Reese, a former Delta senior officer and a true expert on these matters, made two key points. First, “Daesh already knows its days are up in Raqqa and has begun retrograde operations to displace key leaders and their best fighters.” Second, we need to win warrior allies in Muslim populations, the way the Marines did in Iraq, and also wage a war of attrition against senior Daesh leaders, as we did in Iraq: “We crushed them at dinners, parties, and never made a big deal of it, and kept our mouths shut and scared them so badly they were always looking over their shoulders.”

Article Link to the National Review:

Krauthammer: The Final Four White House Contenders and Their Foreign Policies

By Charles Krauthammer
The National Review
March 31, 2016

After dozens of contests featuring cliffhangers, buzzer-beaters, and a ton of flagrant fouls, we’re down to the Final Four: Sanders, Clinton, Cruz, and Trump. (If Kasich pulls a miracle, he’ll get his own column.) The world wants to know: What are their foreign policies?

Herewith, four candidates and four schools: pacifist, internationalist, unilateralist, and mercantilist.

(1) Bernie Sanders, pacifist.

His pacifism is part swords-into-plowshares utopianism, part get-thee-gone isolationism. Emblematic was the November 14 Democratic debate, which was supposed to focus on the economy but occurred the day after the Paris massacre. Sanders objected to starting the debate with a question about Paris. He did not prevail, however, and answered the first question with some anti-terror pablum that immediately gave way to an impassioned attack on his usual “handful of billionaires.”

Sanders boasts of voting against the Iraq War. But he also voted against the 1991 Gulf War. His reaction to all such dilemmas is the same anti-imperialist/pacifist reflex: Stay away, but if we must get involved, let others lead.

That’s for means. As for ends, Sanders’s foreign-policy objectives are invariably global and universal, beginning above all with climate change. The rest is foreign-policy-as-social-work do-goodism, most especially undoing the work of U.S. imperialism.

Don’t be surprised if President Sanders hands Guantanamo Bay over to the Castros, although Alaska looks relatively safe for now.

Closest historical analog: George McGovern.

(2) Hillary Clinton, internationalist.

The “Clinton/Obama” foreign policy from Ukraine to Iran to the South China Sea has been a demonstrable failure. But in trying to figure out what President Clinton would do in the future, we need to note that she often gave contrary advice, generally more assertive and aggressive than President Obama’s, that was overruled — most notably, keeping troops in Iraq beyond 2011 and early arming of the Syrian rebels.

The Libya adventure was her grand attempt at humanitarian interventionism. She’s been chastened by the disaster that followed.

Her worldview is traditional, post-Vietnam liberal internationalism — America as the indispensable nation, but consciously restraining its exercise of power through multilateralism and near-obsessive legalism.

Closest historical analog: the Bill Clinton foreign policy of the 1990s.

(3) Ted Cruz, unilateralist.

The most aggressive of the three contenders thus far. Wants post–Cold War U.S. leadership restored. Is prepared to take risks and act alone when necessary. Pledges to tear up the Iran deal, cement the U.S.–Israel alliance, and carpet-bomb the Islamic State.

Overdoes it with “carpet” — it implies Dresden — although it was likely just an attempt at rhetorical emphasis. He’s of the school that will not delay action while waiting on feckless allies or farcical entities like the U.N.

Closest analog: Ronald Reagan.

(4) Donald Trump, mercantilist.

He promises to make America strong, for which, he explains, he must first make America rich. Treating countries like companies, he therefore promises to play turnaround artist for a foreign policy that is currently a hopeless money-losing operation in which our allies take us for fools and suck us dry.

You could put the Sanders, Clinton, and Cruz foreign policies on a recognizable ideological spectrum, left to right. But not Trump’s. It inhabits a different space because it lacks any geopolitical coherence. It’s all about money. He sees no particular purpose for allies or foreign bases. They are simply a financial drain.

Imperial Spain roamed and ravaged the world in search of gold. Trump advocates a kinder, gentler form of wealth transfer from abroad, though equally gold-oriented.

Thus, if Japan and South Korea don’t pony up more money for our troops stationed there, we go home. The possible effects on the balance of power in the Pacific Rim or on Chinese hegemonic designs don’t enter into the equation.

Same for NATO. If those free-riding European leeches don’t give us more money too, why stick around? Concerns about tempting Russian ambitions and/or aggression are nowhere in sight.

The one exception to this singular focus on foreign policy as a form of national enrichment is the Islamic State. Trump’s goal is simple — “bomb the s*** out of them.” Yet even here he can’t quite stifle his mercantilist impulses, insisting that after crushing the Islamic State, he’ll keep their oil. Whatever that means.

Closest historical analog: King Philip II of Spain (1556–98).

On January 20, one of these four contenders will be sworn in as president. And one of these four approaches to the world will become the foreign policy of the United States.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Article Link to the National Review:

Oil prices fall on oversupply worries, firmer dollar

By Keith Wallis
April 1, 2016

Oil futures fell on Friday as oversupply, a strengthening dollar and weaker Asian stock markets dragged on sentiment, but data showing lower U.S. oil output helped put a floor under prices.

Brent crude for June delivery LCOc1 fell 23 cents to $40.10 a barrel as of 0704 GMT. The May contract, which expired on Thursday, settled up 34 cents at $39.60 a barrel. Brent rose 6 percent in the first quarter, its first such increase since a 15 percent rally in the second quarter of 2015.

U.S. crude CLc1 fell 33 cents to $38.01 a barrel after settling up 2 cents on Thursday. Prices rose almost 4 percent over January-March, also the first quarterly gain since surging nearly 25 percent in the second quarter of last year.

Prices have recently pulled back on low trading volumes, concerns about oversupply ahead of an oil producers' meeting in Doha to agree a possible output freeze on April 17, and a firmer dollar, said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at Sydney's CMC Markets. "There is very little bullishness."

The dollar index .DXY inched up on Friday, coming off a more than five-month low hit in the previous session. A stronger greenback makes dollar-denominated commodities more expensive for holders of other currencies.

Asian oil investors showed little reaction to the release of China's manufacturing data on Friday, which showed an unexpected expansion in March, the first in nine months.

"The lack of reaction is a bit perplexing. I think the lead will come out of the U.S.," said Jonathan Barratt, chief investment officer at Sydney's Ayers Alliance.

China's official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) rose to 50.2 in March, from February's 49, showing a mild expansion in output and new orders that would normally underpin oil demand.

U.S. non-farm payroll data, to be released later on Friday, will also give direction to oil prices, Barratt said.

As of now, falls in Asian stock markets are putting further pressure on oil prices, he added.

China and Hong Kong stocks fell more than 1 percent on Friday, as S&P's cut to China's credit outlook offset any optimism from a pick-up in March manufacturing activity.[.SS]

But a drop in U.S. crude output is helping check losses in oil prices, CMC's McCarthy said.

U.S. oil output fell for a fourth straight month in January, to 9.179 million barrels per day - the lowest since October 2014, U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows.

Article Link to Reuters: