Monday, April 4, 2016

Republican Ryan is raising big money but not for White House race


April 4, 2016

Overlooked in all the speculation about running for president, Republican Paul Ryan has quietly laid to rest doubts about his ability as a campaign fundraiser for congressional colleagues.

Ryan has raised more than $9 million through his "Team Ryan" network since his first day as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 30, 2015, through the end of January 2016, a Reuters review of U.S. Federal Election Commission filings showed.

That haul helps House Republicans and party committees and compares with about $6 million raised by his predecessor John Boehner over the same three-month period in the 2014 campaign cycle and about $7 million in the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Ryan has delivered at least $8 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), a party group that backs congressional Republicans, again topping Boehner in 2014 and 2012, according to FEC filings through Feb. 29.

That has helped put the NRCC in its best cash-on-hand position ever entering an election year, and placed it $2 million ahead of the rival Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"I’ll put it this way, Paul Ryan is a finance chair’s dream in terms of fund-raising," said Representative Ann Wagner, the NRCC's finance chairman.

The uncertainty this election year about who will win both parties' presidential nominations has also helped fundraising for congressional candidates, she said.

Ryan has defied skeptics who doubted last year that he could match Boehner on the cash front and still fulfill a pledge to be at home with his family on weekends.


In U.S. politics, the ability to fundraise is a key test of potential for higher office, but Ryan, who ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 2012, has consistently denied he is interested in entering the 2016 White House race.

"Get my name out of it ... I'm not that person," Ryan said on Monday, speaking from Israel, where he is on a congressional visit, in an interview with talk radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Nonetheless Ryan is the center of speculation that he could emerge as a compromise nominee if the party's presidential nominating convention dissolves in chaos in July.

“I'm not running for president ... End of story,” Ryan said.

Despite his fundraising prowess, there are some signs of trouble ahead for Ryan. The mere mention of his name produced boos from supporters of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump at a recent rally in Ryan's home district. And a Wisconsin conservative has announced he will challenge Ryan in the Republican congressional primary election scheduled for August.

On Capitol Hill, Ryan must also preserve a tentative peace he has achieved among warring Republican factions in the Congress.

The first test will be to get Congress to pass a budget, and Ryan risks infuriating conservatives if he is forced to compromise with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown, as critics accused Boehner of doing.

“The challenge for Ryan is similar to the challenge Boehner faced. The Republican base, at this point, really doesn’t like its own leadership," said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"So just being speaker may eventually take a toll on Ryan’s popularity among Republicans,” he said.

Article Link to Reuters:

Asian shares slip, crude oil extends losses


April 4, 2016

Asian shares slipped in early trade on Tuesday, pressured by losses on Wall Street against a backdrop of slumping crude oil prices and mixed messages on the outlook for U.S. monetary policy.

Oil prices nursed losses after shedding more than 2 percent overnight, which brought Brent to one-month lows, as investors doubted that oil producing countries would freeze output to address a global glut.

Brent LCOc1 skidded 0.5 percent to $37.51 a barrel after losing 2.5 percent on Monday. U.S. crude CLc1 lost nearly 3 percent overnight, and on Tuesday was down about 0.7 percent at $35.45.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was down 0.3 percent, after commodity-related and industrial shares helped drag down U.S. stock indexes overnight.

Japan's Nikkei stock index .N225 dropped 0.7 percent, as the dollar wallowed around two-week lows against the yen.

U.S. economic data on Monday suggested that economic growth remained sluggish in the first quarter. New orders for manufactured goods dropped in February, as they have for 14 of the past 19 months, while business spending on capital goods was much weaker than initially believed.

That gave investors no reason to believe the U.S. Federal Reserve would raise interest rates anytime soon, in line with the cautious tone Fed chair Janet Yellen sounded last week that contrasted with more hawkish remarks from other central bank policymakers.

Boston Fed Reserve President Eric Rosengren was the latest to fly into the hawkish zone on Monday, calling it "surprising" that futures markets currently price in just one or even no rate hikes this year, which he said could prove "too pessimistic."

"Rosengren is usually on the dovish side of the spectrum, highlighting how out of line Fed chair Yellen sounded last week compared to her colleagues," Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac, said in a note.

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari said on Monday he is "comfortable" with the current stance of U.S. monetary policy, and expects "moderate" economic growth ahead.

Against the yen, the dollar shed about 0.2 percent to 111.13 JPY=, after retracing the overnight low of 111.10.

The euro was steady at $1.1390 EUR=, within sight of Thursday's 5-1/2 month peak of $1.1438.

The Australian dollar edged down about 0.1 percent to $0.7595, as investors awaited the outcome of the Reserve Bank of Australia's latest policy meeting, expected at 0430 GMT (12:40 a.m EDT).

The RBA is widely expected to keep its cash rate at a record low 2 percent, where it has stood since May last year. Subdued retail sales and inflation data on Monday suggested the central bank might consider cutting rates in the months ahead.

Article Link to Reuters:

And for the last of this morning's stock picks, take in another 10%+ gain on SUNE and enjoy the rest of the day off -- Sell @ $.25; +/- .0125

The break point for SunEdison is $.20/share -- which it will unlikely fall below for too long of a time at this point -- Buy SUNE Intraday @ $.195; +/- .015

Chalk up another great gain in UPL of 8-10% and sell $.385; +/- .01

Boom -- take the 10% gain on SGY and sell @ $.705; +/- .0125

Stone Energy -- Symbol SGY -- is a solid Intraday Buy @ $.615, +/- .02

Ultra Petroleum -- Symbol UPL -- is a great Intraday Buy out of the gate this morning @ $.32; +/- .02

The Greatest Short Sell is always off of a reverse stock split -- take that into account, and remember Great Basin Scientific (GBSN)

Today's Stock In Play Is Peabody Energy -- Symbol BTU

The Week Trump Turned Into Palin

By Jonathan S, Tobin
April 1, 2016

Donald Trump has not had a good week. His campaign manager got charged with assault. He faced blowback for incredibly ill-informed comments about American foreign policy and nuclear weapons. He’s falling like a stone in the polls in Wisconsin, making it likely that he will suffer a decisive defeat next Tuesday. His net unpopularity is at record levels for a mainstream presidential frontrunner if not likely nominee. And, he also said something very, very stupid about abortion that he had to walk back. Though the last item may seem to be no more important than the others, I’d argue that it was actually a critical mistake that could mark the turning point of this election. Though stopping Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination is still a long shot, if it became a bit more likely this week, it was because of his statement about punishing women who had abortions — not his threats aimed at Heidi Cruz, Corey Lewandowski’s hijinks, or even his incredibly dangerous ignorance about foreign policy.

How is that possible? It’s because the abortion flip-flop was perhaps the first instance during his magical presidential run when he didn’t get away with being Donald Trump. Instead of the “winner” that can do anything and pay no price, Trump not only further depressed his already dismal favorability numbers among women, he had to resort to sniveling excuses about being misled by his questioner or the burden of answering so many questions. In other words, he looked like a loser.

Talking heads and pundits have pondered the reason why so many people like Trump ever since he started soaring in the polls last summer. The oft-repeated answer is that they like his ability to say whatever he is thinking — no matter how factually incorrect, outrageous, or offensive — and get away with it. In an era when the deadening effect of political correctness has stifled debate and made it hard for ordinary people to discuss issues without having to worry about being considered out of step with the culture, Trump is in that sense a breath of fresh air. He has been the voice of a simmering resentment against the powers that be, even if none of us – including those applauding Trump — are always sure about who exactly fits into the category of the dreaded establishment that needs to be put in its place.

But while Trump has reaped the benefits of tapping into that anger, we also need to recognize that one essential aspect of it has been that last part. Unlike everybody else who must bow to the media and toe the line, Trump doesn’t apologize or backtrack. But not this time.

The remarkable aspect of the aftermath of his assertion that the law should punish women who had abortions is the way his fans sought to mitigate the damage on social media. Instead of the usual defiance and commitment to defending misleading and offensive statements or outright falsehoods, this time we got the sort of weak excuses that we heard when other candidates got in trouble, whether it was Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or Ben Carson. We were told they should be graded on a curve or that their mistakes were mitigated by the hardships or the unfairness of politics. It made them look weak and that was a fair evaluation of their predicament. But now Trump is playing the same game and it undermines his narrative of “winning,” as well as the notion that he can say things others can’t. The abortion comment wasn’t just embarrassing proof that he is a liberal pretending to be a conservative. Nor was it an example of Trump saying stupid things because that’s what he thinks voters want to hear. It was the tipping point after which no one can pretend that Trump is immune to the conventional laws of political gravity.

Trump on abortion reminded me of the way Sarah Palin collapsed under scrutiny in the fall of 2008 once she stopped speaking from scripts and had to answer questions from unfriendly journalists. Up until that point, Palin looked like a conservative populist that could not only appeal to the right but also transcend that demographic. But after flunking her primetime audition, she became a narrow, bitter, and divisive figure with a strong fan base but without the broad appeal that Trump has demonstrated.

Of course, Trump is a much savvier performer and a tougher individual than Palin. Unlike her, he had decades of being a rich celebrity seeking to manipulate the press to prepare him for the national spotlight, and he’s made the most of it. But, like Palin, the foreign policy interviews with the Washington Post and the New York Times, as well as the events of the last week in which his campaign looked more like a reality show than a presidential juggernaut, demonstrated that he is out of his depth in seeking the White House. Even his fans have started to sense it as they lamely try to justify the unjustifiable in ways that seem more reminiscent of the desperate actions of those who backed Trump rivals that have since fallen by the wayside.

That doesn’t mean they’ll abandon him. To the contrary, “My Trump, right or wrong,” has been their motto from the start and enabled them to stick with a candidate that is pretty much always wrong and utterly disconnected from, if not unfamiliar with the principles that his followers claim to support. But his run of primary victories was built on his ability to get beyond that core group of supporters. His appeal to primary voters that were willing to overlook his shortcomings was, in no small measure, the function of a belief in that “winner” personality. That was fed by the notion that Trump was willing to hit harder than any Republican had in recent memory while never giving an inch.

That aura, as well as the notion of his electability, was swept away in the last week as his negatives have hit record levels. Can that turn the tide in the GOP race? At this late date, the answer is probably not. He may be able to shrug off a defeat in Wisconsin if he can answer it with victories in New York and other northeastern states later in the month. But there’s no doubt that the moment in which he can loom over both political parties as a colossus that can’t be tamed is over.

Instead of the unbeatable Donald Trump that can do anything, he is now in the category of a Sarah Palin; a sectarian figure that can inspire devotion from a niche of supporters — and in Trump’s case, it’s a large enough niche to win pluralities in GOP primaries — but one that is so despised and reviled outside of that narrow demographic that this renders them toxic in a general election. Trump fans, like Palin’s devoted following, will never run out of excuses for their man and blame his defeats on his establishment foes or the media. But they must understand that he is a person for whom the rest of the country will never be willing to make allowances. Like her, he will be worshipped by his acolytes but be relegated to the status of a national joke and/or embarrassment to everyone else.

That ought to give food for thought both to the voters in the remaining Republican primaries as well as those GOP delegates that will be asked to put him over the top at the Cleveland convention if he falls short of a majority.

Article Link to Commentary:

Are Kasich, Sanders Strongest for General Election?

By Bill Scher
Real Clear Politics
April 4, 2016

Sen. Bernie Sanders never misses an opportunity to cite how well he is going in general election polls. On “Meet the Press” last week, Sanders boasted “in all of the national polling that I have seen, we are beating Donald Trump by much greater margins than is Secretary Clinton.”

Gov. John Kasich regularly sings the same song. In a recent Fox Business Network interview, he crowed, “I’m beating Hillary Clinton in every single poll. … I’m the only one with the positive ratings.”

There’s one statistic that neither one of them cites. however: how they fare against each other. The Real Clear Politics average has this matchup as basically a tie: Sanders up 45 to 44 percent, though Kasich leads in three of the five polls taken in March. Neither can argue that he, or his ideology, has definitively won the hearts of the American majority yet. If one had, he’d be beating the other.

Still, can they at least argue that they are the strongest options for their respective parties?

In one sense, yes. They do poll best in general election trial heats, and have the lowest “unfavorable” rating compared to their party rivals.

We can’t know if those poll numbers would hold up under the pressures of a general election. And, because neither Sanders nor Kasich is expected to win their respective party’s nomination, we may never know. For that same reason, neither man has been bombarded with negative attacks from the opposing party. In comparison, the Republican National Committee has been hammering Hillary Clinton for months (in addition to the last 24 years) as untrustworthy and Donald Trump is a Democratic piñata.

Furthermore, if the nation was falling in love with either candidate, millions more voters would be backing them in the primaries. The vast majority of Sanders’ wins, 10 of 14, have been in low-turnout caucus states. Kasich hasn’t won anything outside of his native Ohio.

The typical underlying premise of the underdog’s I’m-better-in-the-general-election argument is that he would be best at attracting swing voters who don’t participate in primaries. But in the cases of Sanders and Kasich, there’s confusing and contradictory data.

Sanders’ supporters often point to his strength with independent voters who do participate in the primaries. For example, he won independents by 2-to-1 or better in his most recent Midwest primary losses: Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. But many of these are left-wing independents who hold disdain for the Democratic establishment, not ideologically moderate independents. Clinton is the one who secured the centrist vote in all three states.

There is another pocket of non-traditional Democrats whom Sanders does attract: “old registered Democrats who vote Republican in presidential elections,” as the New York Times’ number-cruncher Nate Cohn describes them. But it’s unclear whether these voters are evidence of the cross-ideological appeal of Sanders’ economic populism, or evidence of antipathy to Clinton and national Democrats in general. Cohn notes, “The exit polls in Oklahoma showed Mr. Sanders winning big — 59 percent to 24 percent — among the large number (28 percent) of voters who wanted the next president to change to less liberal policies. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t support Mr. Sanders; perhaps they think of liberalism in cultural terms, like racial issues or guns. But it does raise doubts.”

Kasich’s primary exit poll case is even weaker than Sanders’: He flat-out gets beat among independents and moderates. Looking at the March 15 primaries in North Carolina, Missouri and Illinois (let’s leave out Kasich’s home state of Ohio, and Florida, where Marco Rubio was a factor), Trump won the moderate vote in each, and by solid margins. Trump and Ted Cruz effectively tied with independents in North Carolina and Missouri, while Trump won them outright in Illinois.

Considering how Trump currently gets shellacked by both Sanders and Clinton, trying to extrapolate general election dynamics from “independent” and “moderate” exit poll data is perhaps a giant waste of time. The 20 state primaries so far have attracted about half the voters of the 2012 general election in those same states. Plenty of people – ten of millions – are not hooked on politics and aren’t paying close attention yet.

That reality can be an argument in favor of nominating Sanders and Kasich. If you believe Clinton, Trump and Cruz are damaged goods, at least Sanders and Kasich are not yet damaged. They may be able to keep their unfavorable ratings below 50 percent.

Anything is possible. But you can’t base the argument on springtime poll data. The most striking example of a poll-based mirage was the 1988 Michael Dukakis campaign. By mid-May, Dukakis was beating George H. W. Bush by 10 points. After the Democratic convention, Dukakis was up by a whopping 17 points. Only then did the barrage of opposition research come crashing down on his head, sending him to an eight-point defeat.

Both Sanders and Kasich suffer from a form of chicken-and-egg problem: Voters can’t know how well they would weather the general election firestorm until they get close enough to winning the nomination to attract general election-style attacks.

Around this time of the year in 2008, Democrats got an unusual chance to see how an untested Barack Obama could handle a “live fire” simulation when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons and Obama’s “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion” comments surfaced. His poised responses assured Democratic voters he could handle any future attacks and kept Democratic super delegates from abandoning him.

Various flaps have happened on the Sanders and Kasich campaign trails – such as when Sanders said, “When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto,” or when Kasich said he once won support from “women who left their kitchens.” They haven’t sparked the same sort of media firestorm because neither one is leading the race. In turn, voters can’t tell how good they would be at putting out the flames, or how effectively they handle more obvious attacks on their respective policy positions, like Sanders’ tax increases or Kasich’s record of restricting abortion access in Ohio. It may be that they both would handle matters just fine, but it’s simply an unknown.

We know this much: Neither Sanders’ mild version of democratic socialism nor Kasich’s brand of sunny, soft-edged conservatism gets dismissed out of hand by the general electorate, and that’s no small achievement. But neither candidate has unequivocal evidence of support that runs broad enough and deep enough to prove he is the best possible option for his party’s electoral prospects.

Article Link to Real Clear Politics:

'Secure The Borders' Will Succeed As Much As 'The War On Drugs'

By John Tamny 
April 3, 2016

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that human traffickers in Greece are enjoying a major business surge. With “the entire human highway to Europe’s north” closed to new arrivals from the Middle East, immigrants afraid to return to the life-threatening dysfunction they escaped have turned to expensive smugglers in order to reach relative safety in Europe.

What’s happening in Europe right is hopefully a good jumping off point for yet another piece on immigration. Doing what I do, I’m asked about immigration a lot. On a very individual level, I love it. Few things energize me more than seeing or hearing about someone who came from something much worse making it in the United States. Immigration reminds me of how lucky I am to have been born in the U.S. in the first place, and then it makes me beam with pride that individuals continue to risk everything (including their lives) to make it to the United States. Still, simple emotion is rarely the source of good policy. Usually the opposite.

Emotion aside, the fact that foreigners continue to make their way to the U.S. is the surest market signal of all that all the talk about a U.S. in decline, or more obnoxiously a U.S. that needs to be “saved” by (insert politician), is utter nonsense. The U.S. is where people come to fix their problems, most notably poverty. While there’s a lot wrong with what is great, if the U.S. has lost a step it’s a step that no other country ever had. The inflow of foreigners is once again a reminder of a country that is exceptional. It’s when foreigners stop coming to the U.S. that we should be concerned.

All of which leads us to a frequent argument made by immigration skeptics. Some argue that immigrants are more and more coming here for handouts, as opposed to opportunity. The good news is that the available statistics seem to suggest otherwise. As the Wall Street Journal’s Mary O’Grady wrote a little ways back, from 2009-2014 more Mexicans returned to Mexico from the U.S. than left Mexico for the U.S. Notable here is that the U.S. economy was uncharacteristically weak during the timeframe mentioned. What this tells us is that the biggest barrier to immigrant arrivals isn’t a border patrol, or a hypothetical 1,650 mile wall that some errant politicians like to talk about; rather the biggest immigrant repellent is a weak economy. The arrival of immigrants is a positive sign of a booming economy. That fewer have tried to make their way to the U.S. in recent years is a signal that our economy hasn’t been free enough. We’ll know it’s in better shape when more of the foreign-born find a way in, legal or illegal.

Another reasoned argument against immigration involves utilization of public resources – think schools, hospitals, and other theoretically public goods like that. Up front, it should first be pointed out that it’s illegal even for legal immigrants to access what we know as welfare for at least five years. Second, it should also be noted that whether it’s welfare, hospitals or schools made accessible to members of the public (including immigrants), what’s being described is a problem of too many public services as opposed to a problem of immigration. If citizens are concerned about all or any of the three, then they should aggressively seek a reduction in the size of local government.

The logical response to the above is that no amount of activism will shrink government, or handouts from same. It’s a great response, and also very true. Politicians exist to obnoxiously spend what they take from us. At the same time the answer about people being powerless vis-a-vis government is also one that speaks to the value of a federal policy (since it’s a border subject, immigration is arguably a federal issue) that legalizes the arrival of all workers. If it were legal for workers to come back and forth into the U.S., then it’s certainly true that the incentives to bring grandma plus the wife and kids would be greatly reduced. The unintended consequence of rules against immigration is that those forced to break the law in search of American opportunity almost have to bring the whole family such that school and hospital usage increases. Back in 2006 Joel Millman at the Wall Street Journal found that of the workers legal to go back and between from Mexico and the U.S., they were less likely to bring the whole family with them. Why would they? They were solely crossing into the U.S. for work as opposed to citizenship, voting rights, or handouts.

So while a compelling, fact-and-theory based argument can be made in favor of rather open immigration, it may be best to stop arguing altogether. That’s the case simply because immigration into the U.S. is going to happen no matter what. No matter the individual elected, whether it be an immigration-restrictionist like Donald Trump or an open-borders pol like Bernie Sanders, foreigners will continue to risk everything in order to reach the U.S. and its abundant opportunity. The only immigrant repellent in the federal government’s arsenal is a truly lousy economy, but then Congress would block Sanders’ socialism in much the same way that it would limit Trump’s horrid lurches in the direction of protectionism. Separation of powers will hopefully save us from a truly bad economy that would have foreigners ignoring the U.S. as a destination.

Just as the misguided but very expensive “War on Drugs” proved unequal to stateside demand for different ways of feeling good, so will laws and walls do little to keep out those who want something better. We see this right now in Europe. While countries on the continent are funding razor-wire fences guarded by riot police, the booming economic situation of human traffickers tells us fairly plainly that immigrants will still find a way in.

The U.S. is no different. Greatly enhanced anti-immigration measures won’t succeed at keeping foreigners out, but they will succeed in increasing the size of government. That’s about it. Everyone’s got reasons why the U.S. should or should not allow in immigrants. What both sides perhaps miss is that immigration quite simply IS. Since it is, the debate about it will greatly improve once we accept what’s going to happen and start talking about ways to mitigate the inevitable bad that springs from what is undeniably good.

Laws against immigrants will “succeed” as much as laws against drug use, or drug imports. 

Meaning, laws against immigrants won’t succeed at all.

Article Link to Forbes:

The Strange History of Democratic Superdelegates

Ex-officio delegates serve as a prophylactic against another amnesty, abortion, and acid campaign.

By Eleanor Clift
The Daily Beast
April 4, 2016

The main thing to know about superdelegates is that Republicans don’t have them—which they’re regretting as the Trump train comes crashing down the tracks.

The Democratic Party created its firewall of “ex-officio delegates” as a hedge against the kind of electoral disaster the party suffered in 1972 when candidate George McGovern lost in a landslide.

McGovern had won the nomination in a grassroots uprising energized by opposition to the Vietnam War and social movements for civil rights and women’s rights. Republicans dubbed him the candidate of amnesty, abortion, and acid. At the Democratic Convention in Miami, divisions in the party were highlighted when McGovern ousted Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, once the consummate powerbroker, seating instead an Illinois delegation headed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In the wake of McGovern’s historic defeat, the Democratic Party bigwigs shunned in Miami looked for a way to regain some of their lost influence. Three blue-ribbon commissions followed before a compromise was struck between liberal reformers, who wanted zero party officials as delegates, and state chairs and party officials who wanted 25 percent representation.

Democratic Party activist Mark Siegel was part of the ABM effort (Anybody But McGovern), and served on all three commissions. He wrote the rule that emerged calling for 10 percent of the delegates to be party officials—governors, mayors, members of Congress and distinguished party leaders like former presidential candidates and former national party chairs. The Democratic National Committee then added its members, some 300 additional people, boosting the percentage of these uncommitted superdelegates to 15 percent of the total delegates.

“Supers are a hedge against disaster,” Siegel told the Daily Beast. “These are people who by virtue of the office they hold should be included. They’re legitimate… It gives the party some wiggle room to avoid electoral catastrophe.”

In the current cycle, there are 715 supers out of 4,765 total delegates. Of the supers, 473 are pledged to Hillary Clinton, 32 to Bernie Sanders, and 1 to Martin O’Malley, who left the race after Iowa. The rest, 209, are uncommitted.

Ideally, the superdelegates affirm the will of the people, moving in large numbers toward the candidate who receives the most votes in the party’s primaries and caucuses. That’s the argument that Tad Devine, now working for Sanders, made in a 2008 op-ed recalling how worried he was as Walter Mondale’s delegate counter in 1984 when he realized the morning after the last primaries that they were 40 delegates short of a majority. After a frantic round of phone calls, the supers put Mondale over the top by noon.

Devine made the point in his article that this mass of uncommitted convention voters “should resist the impulse and pressure to decide the nomination before the voters have had their say.”

It has been a major irritant to the Sanders campaign that hundreds of supers are pledged to Clinton, some in states where Sanders won more votes. But after attacking superdelegates as elitist establishmentarians who thwart the will of the people, Sanders is now aggressively lobbying many of them for their support.

That’s because the only way he can possibly overtake Clinton in the delegate math is to get backing from the supers. It’s a conundrum Clinton knows well. She lagged behind Barack Obama in delegates in ’08, but she was ahead of him in the popular vote and thought the supers would move to her as the more electable candidate. Instead, they came down on the side of Obama, prioritizing his greater share of earned delegates as representing the will of the people.

Sanders is more than two million votes behind Clinton, so it’s hard to see on what basis he would persuade a significant number of superdelegates to endorse him. They tend to be party regulars and Sanders—until last year an independent who caucused with the Democrats, and who’s outright said he’s running as one for the “media exposure”—underscored his lack of allegiance to the Democratic Party when he called a pricey fundraiser hosted by George Clooney “obscene.” The money raised will be pooled among several Democratic Party organizations working to elect Democrats down the ticket.

Asked by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow if he might direct some of his prodigious fundraising efforts to party building, Sanders offered a non-committal, “we’ll see,” saying his priority is winning the nomination.

And with his organization now trying to move ex-officio delegates into his column, or at least out of Clintons, “he’s moved from railing against ‘superdelegates are terrible, they thwart the will of the people,’ to saying if she’s leading, he’ll still try to win them over, says Norm Ornstein, a political scientist with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

“For a guy who presumably is in the race because of his moral stance on important issues, he’s looking like a completely selfish, manipulative politician.”

On the Republican side, party elders—with a much smaller cushion of uncommitted delegates, less than 10 percent—are wishing for more successful selfish and manipulative politicians to stop Trump, who needs 54 percent of the remaining delegates to win a majority, from outright claiming the nomination.

“Their nightmare scenario is if he falls 30 or 50 delegates short, and they conspire to deny him the nomination,” says Ornstein.

There are three from each state and territory (national committeeman, national committeewoman, and state chair), plus 112 national committee members. Republicans believe in federalism, so each state is allowed to design within broad parameters how to select its delegates.

And while all Democratic delegates are subject to Candidate Right of Approval, or CRA the Republicans have that in only 12 states, meaning there are faithless delegates likely to vote with the Stop Trump forces on the convention floor.

These arcane rules only become relevant under extraordinary circumstances like we’re seeing on the Republican side. It’s not unlike the Bush v. Gore recount of 2000, when state laws and provisions that had been on the books for years suddenly became relevant. The system is stressed, and there’s no good outcome other than to let the process play itself out, warts and all.

And that is a recipe for chaos in Cleveland if Trump can’t close the deal before then.

“They”—meaning GOP leadership—“lose either way,” says Siegel. “It’s wholesale robbery or they go over the cliff with a candidate that may even cost them the House.”

Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Win or Lose, Sandersism Isn't Going Away

By Albert R. Hunt
The Bloomberg View
April 4, 2016

Senator Bernie Sanders is waging an improbable presidential campaign, but he won't disappear after this election. Nor will his followers: Perhaps they'll be called the Bernie Brigade or Sanderistas.

The Vermont socialist probably has no more than a 10 percent shot at winning the Democratic nomination -- and that's if something bad happens to Hillary Clinton or, less likely, if after winning in Wisconsin this week, he scores a huge upset in New York two weeks later and transforms the race.

Yet Sanders, who for the left wing was a consolation choice after Senator Elizabeth Warren wouldn't run, has a message that will continue to resonate, especially among the multitudes of young supporters.

The clarity and coherence of the campaign have surprised even those who sharply disagree with him.

"Bernie has run a much better campaign than I ever thought he would," says Trent Lott, the former Senate Republican leader and Mississippi conservative.

Sanders is setting much of the Democratic agenda, forcing Clinton to move left by opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Keystone pipeline and by frequently assailing Wall Street. Even Republicans have picked up some of his populist rhetoric.

If, as the odds-makers now predict, Clinton wins the nomination and the presidency, Sanders, with two years left in his Senate term, will be looking over her left shoulder. If Democrats, including the next president or the next Democratic Senate leader (likely Chuck Schumer of New York), cozy up to Wall Street, expect a Sanders-Warren barrage. The so-called bank bailout in 2008 probably prevented the economy from going over the cliff. But Sanders has reinforced a public sense that bankers are making out like bandits while Main Street struggles.

One virtual certainty: the next Treasury secretary won't come from Wall Street.

Sanders also has galvanized public outrage over Supreme Court decisions that unleashed a flood of big money into politics. Most Americans agree with him that the U.S. system of money in politics is corrupt. Both President Bill Clinton and Barack Obama paid lip service to campaign-finance reform and then put it on the back burner. Sanders's campaign ensures that another President Clinton won't have that luxury.

Some of his radical notions, including sky-high taxes on the wealthy and a totally government-run health care system, are nonstarters. But the public has moved closer to his view on economic fairness, and his call for free public higher education is a debate that will endure.

Sanders has attracted extraordinary support from young voters, beating Clinton by huge margins. These Americans have grown up in tough times, with more limited opportunities. They're skeptical about the establishment and the socialist label doesn't have the negative connotation it does for many older Americans.

The question is whether Sanders will keep these young people politically energized. The last such cause-centric pied piper was Eugene McCarthy in 1968, though he basically checked out of Democratic politics after he lost the presidential nomination.

Katy Harriger, a political scientist at Wake Forest University who has studied the youth vote, thinks that Sanders has the capacity to keep them mobilized on issues such as campaign financing and economic inequality. That engagement could carry to the off-year elections, when participation of young voters traditionally drops off.

"He has tapped into something very real and has credibility with a lot of these young voters," Harriger says.

Unlike McCarthy, whose views evolved over time, Sanders has been consistently to the left for almost a half-century. Although he started in dingy basements and sparsely attended rallies for lost causes, he now has a national megaphone that he's not likely to relinquish. He also will have more than 2 million contributors, mostly small donations, and almost to 4 million have clicked "like"on his Facebook page. In today's politics, that's a machine.

Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

What If Israel Didn't Have Nuclear Weapons?

Jerusalem's bomb may not have made much difference at all, either to its own security or to regional nonproliferation efforts.

By Robert Farley
The National Interest
April 2, 2016

Since the early 1970s, Israel has informally maintained a nuclear deterrent. In order to prevent the activation of a variety of legal instruments that would disrupt Israeli relations with the United States and Europe, Israel has not acknowledged the program. It remains, however, the worst-kept secret in international politics.

But a country always has options. What if Israel had never developed these nukes? What impact would a different decision have had on Israel’s security, and on regional politics more broadly?

Origins of the program

Israel started research into nuclear weapons in the late 1940s, under the belief that only a nuclear deterrent could prevent national destruction. Israel was hardly alone in this conviction; at the time, many analysts expected the wide proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. Copious French assistance made the program possible, along with covert funding from groups in the United States. Great Britain also periodically delivered supplies necessary to the program. Washington helped mainly by looking away.

As Israel’s security dilemma became more stark in the 1950s and 1960s, the program accelerated. The Israel Defense Forces won stunning victories in 1948, 1956, and again in 1967, but with only a thin margin of error; the hostility and growing strength of Soviet client states in Syria, Iraq and Egypt made the future uncertain.

Israel probably constructed its first nuclear device around 1966, with an arsenal of usable weapons available by the early 1970s. The first delivery systems were fighter-bombers (reports vary as to whether Mirage IIIs, F-4 Phantoms, or A-4 Skyhawks bore the primary burden), supplemented before long by ballistic missiles.

Impact on regional politics

As with every other nuclear power since 1945, Israel has refrained from using its weapons in combat. However, the presence of nukes can have wide-ranging political effects (indeed, this is half the point of building them). Israeli nuclear weapons may have deterred regional rivals, but may also have driven regional proliferation. How plausible are these claims?

There are two problems with the claim that Israeli nukes have deterred regional adversaries. The first problem is that Israeli conventional dominance, established in 1967 and 1973 and expanded since, may have been enough. The second problem is that Israel has come under attack on multiple occasions since the 1970s from foes without nuclear weapons. Indeed, in 1973 Israel suffered a massive conventional assault from Syria and Egypt, finally prevailing through armored maneuver on both fronts. Israel considered using nuclear weapons in 1973, but the tactical situation developed in a way that made the “Samson Option” unnecessary.

With respect to proliferation, at least three states in Israel’s immediate neighborhood have pursued their own nuclear programs since the 1970s. Iranian interest in nuclear weapons began in the mid-1970s, with the program advancing in fits and starts until the present day. The Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and the recent nuclear deal with the United States have slowed progress or brought it to a halt. For its part, Iraq pursued a nuclear weapons program through the 1980s, briefly interrupted by the Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor and then pursued with redoubled enthusiasm. The program ended, for all intents and purposes, with the Gulf War of 1991. Israeli fighter-bombers disposed of Syria’s nascent nuclear program in 2007.

Iran, Iraq and Syria each had good reasons to pursue nuclear weapons completely apart from the existence of the Israeli deterrent. Rhetoric notwithstanding, Iran and Iraq faced a greater threat from one another than from Israel. Syria, bordering on Israel and having lost territory in 1967, faced a more complex decision. However, the threat posed by the United States may have had a greater impact on Syrian decision-making than the long-standing Israeli deterrent. Thus, the Israeli nuclear program has not driven regional nuclear proliferation in any meaningful sense. The wealthiest states (Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) have refrained, while the proliferators have developed programs largely for reasons other than Israel.

What if?

In 1948 Israel’s founders saw a world in which something like the Holocaust could happen, and in which nuclear weapons could make it happen with frightening speed. The concentration of a great part of the world’s Jewish population within Israel enhanced conventional deterrence, but at the same time increased nuclear vulnerability. While Israel is not and never has been a “one bomb country,” a dedicated foe with access to a moderate nuclear arsenal could easily pose an existential threat.

What were Israel’s alternatives, given such a world? Obviously, Israel could have refrained from pursuing nuclear weapons, focusing instead on nonproliferation efforts and on conventional deterrence. With respect to the latter, Israel has already achieved presumptive conventional superiority over any foe or potential combination of foes in the region; what more can you ask?

On the former, the primary multilateral instruments of nonproliferation came into effect after the completion of the Israeli nuclear program. Strong Israeli advocacy for nuclear nonproliferation might have carried some weight in the 1950s and 1960s, especially given the Jewish experience of World War II, but it is hard to see how this would have resulted in a stronger, or earlier, nonproliferation regime. As noted above, it is difficult to argue that any nuclear proliferant has developed its program specifically in response to Israel’s (with the possible exception of Syria), and it is hardly clear that the Israeli example made much difference to decision-makers in India, North Korea or Pakistan.

South Africa poses the biggest problem for this argument; South African leaders clearly saw the Israeli program as political relevant to their own situation, and South Africa derived some technical assistance from the Israelis in the 1970s. However, the South African program disappeared with the end of the apartheid government, which was in any case viewed as deeply illegitimate around the world.

More recently, there is little question that Israel has played a spoiler role in regional and global nonproliferation efforts over the past two decades. It’s less clear, however, that this role has had any real consequences. Declaring a “nuclear free zone” in the Middle East might have changed minds in Tehran about the utility of a deterrent, but more likely Iran would have continued to pursue what it saw as its national interest. Of course, things could change; if Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Turkey decide to go nuclear, then we might look differently at Israeli intransigence on the nuclear question.

Fireworks aside, the Israeli nuclear program may not have made much difference at all, either to Israel’s security or to regional nonproliferation efforts. Since the development of the program, but largely unrelated to its existence, the political situation has tipped in Israel’s favor, the conventional balance has grown to favor Israel and the threat profile presented by Israel’s opponents has moved in an unconventional direction. This has made the nuclear deterrent less critical to Israel’s survival, notwithstanding the running apocalyptic commentary about Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

This isn’t to say that Israel was wrong to embark on a nuclear program, or that it should unilaterally give up its nukes now. The political developments of the 1970s and 1980s, including the defanging of Egypt, the cauldron of the Iran-Iraq conflict, and the end of the Cold War, were difficult to foresee from the vantage point of the mid-1960s. Perhaps most importantly, the ironclad relationship between Israel and the United States did not exist when the Israelis established their program. Given the decision, taken in the late 1940s, to try to make Israel the epicenter of Jewish global life, nuclear aspirations to defend that epicenter hardly seem unreasonable.

Article Link to the National Interest:

Oil prices fall on dimming prospect of output restraint


April 4, 2016

Oil prices fell on Monday as the chances of Middle East producers agreeing to curb overproduction appeared to fade, while stubbornly high U.S. output and worries about Asia's economic outlook also dragged on prices.

Iran, returning to global oil markets after sanctions against it were lifted in January, said it would continue increasing its oil production and exports until it reaches the market position it enjoyed before the imposition of sanctions, according to a media report.

This makes a proposed deal by major producers to restrict ballooning output unlikely as top exporter Saudi Arabia said last week it would only participate if its rival Iran also took part.

U.S. crude futures CLc1 were at $36.33 per barrel at 0700 GMT, down 1.25 percent or 46 cents from their last settlement, while Brent crude LCOc1 was down 1 percent or 40 cents at $38.27. A global glut has pulled down oil prices by as much as 70 percent since 2014.

"Macroeconomic concerns and high petroleum inventories are the oil market's ball and chain and are likely to keep the oil price between the mid-$30s and low $40s in Q2," Barclays said.

While some analysts expect a recent weakening of the U.S. dollar .DXY to spur demand for oil from importers holding other currencies, Morgan Stanley said "negative oil headlines, producer hedging at higher prices and bloated inventories" indicate any upside in prices will be limited.

Adding to concerns of a global glut is U.S. production remains high despite steep cuts in drilling for new reserves as well as a jump in bankruptcies.

"The U.S. oil rig count dropped further this week, with a total 10 rigs idled," Goldman Sachs said. "The current rig count implies U.S. production ... would decrease by 705,000 barrels per day yoy (year-on-year) on average in 2016, and by 375,000 barrels per day yoy in 2017," it added.

So far, U.S. production remains stubbornly high, at over 9 million barrels per day.

Despite a pick-up in recent economic data, including from India and China, analysts also poured cold water on hopes that Asia's economic prospects were improving.

"Asia continues to face a structural growth problem – one that will not be cured in the space of a few, short months," said HSBC's Frederic Neumann.

Given a growing belief that prices might not recover by much any time soon, hedge funds have cut their net long positions in U.S. crude for the first time in six weeks.

The chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company said oil markets would only start to rebalance in 2016 and 2017.

Article Link to Reuters:

Tax authorities begin probes into some people named in Panama Papers leak


April 4, 2016

Tax authorities in Australia and New Zealand are probing local clients of a Panama-based law firm at the center of a massive data leak for possible tax evasion.

The leak involves more than 11.5 million documents from the files of law firm Mossack Fonseca, based in the tax haven of Panama, revealing details of hundreds of thousands of clients in multiple jurisdictions.

The documents are at the center of an investigation published on Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations around the globe. Suddeutsche Zeitung reported it received the huge cache of documents and then shared them with the other media outlets.

The leaked "Panama Papers" cover a period over almost 40 years, from 1977 until as recently as last December, and allegedly show that some companies domiciled in tax havens were being used for suspected money laundering, arms and drug deals, and tax evasion.

Britain´s Guardian newspaper said the documents showed a network of secret offshore deals and loans worth $2 billion led to close friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reuters couldn't independently confirm those details.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) said on Monday it is investigating more than 800 wealthy clients of Mossack Fonseca.

"Currently we have identified over 800 individual taxpayers and we have now linked over 120 of them to an associate offshore service provider located in Hong Kong," the Australian tax office said in a statement emailed to Reuters. It did not name the Hong Kong company.


The head of Mossack Fonseca has denied any wrongdoing but acknowledged his firm had suffered a successful but "limited" hack on its database.

The firm's director, Ramon Fonseca described the hack and leak as "an international campaign against privacy".

Fonseca, who was up until March a senior government official in Panama, said in a telephone interview with Reuters on Sunday the firm, which specializes in setting up offshore companies, has formed more than 240,000 such companies and noted the "vast majority" of these have been used for "legitimate purposes."

ATO Deputy Commissioner Michael Cranston said his office was working with the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission and anti-money laundering regulator AUSTRAC to further cross-check the data from the documents.

"Some cases may be referred to the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce," Cranston said in the statement.

The 800 individuals under investigation include some taxpayers who had previously been investigated and others who had reported themselves to the tax office under a voluntary disclosure initiative, which allowed people to come forward and avoid steep penalties and criminal charges and has since ended.

However, the ATO said those under investigation also included a large number of taxpayers who had not previously come forward.

New Zealand's tax agency on Monday said it is "working closely" with its tax treaty partners to obtain full details of any New Zealand tax residents who may have been involved in arrangements facilitated by Mossack Fonseca.

John Nash, the New Zealand agency's international revenue strategy manager, told Reuters in emailed comments that there is an "active compliance program focused on those who engage in abusive offshore arrangements and don't meet their tax obligations."

Separately, media reports said the leaked data pointed to a link between a member of global soccer body FIFA's ethics committee and a Uruguayan soccer official who was arrested last year as part of a wide-ranging U.S. probe into corruption in the sport.

FIFA's ethics committee said in a statement on Sunday that Juan Pedro Damiani, a member of the committee's judgment chamber, was being investigated over a possible business relationship with fellow Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo, one of the soccer officials arrested in Zurich last year.

Damiani told Reuters in Montevideo on Sunday that he broke off relations with Figueredo when the latter was accused of corruption.

Article Link to Reuters:

Vladimir Putin’s mysterious moving border

A dispatch from one of the least secure, most arbitrary frontiers in the world.

Politico EU
April 4, 2016

TAMARASHENI, Georgia—The farmers awoke to find their wheat ripening inside another country.

South Ossetian troops and their Russian allies had worked through the night, sinking new border-marking poles across fields outside a hamlet called Tamarasheni in the golden hills of central Georgia. The Russians granted the local farmers 72 hours for an emergency harvest then ordered them to leave—forever. Piling out of a military truck the next day, the soldiers inspected their night’s handiwork: expanding Moscow’s perimeter of influence in the Caucasus.

A small knot of Georgian border guards, overmatched as usual, watched the proceedings bleakly from 50 yards away. The Russians ignored them. It was a kabuki theater of power and powerlessness.

“They took 10 hectares this time,” said farmer Levan Kipshidze, tallying the latest chunk of Georgia—about 25 acres—swallowed last August along a shifting line of demarcation between his country and the Moscow-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia. “This can happen anywhere. It can happen anytime. No one can do anything to stop it.”

Over the late summer and fall, I made several visits to this new boundary that is, by political design, one of the least secure frontiers in the world. It’s been a strange time to document how imaginary lines and the structures that mark them alter lives as well as landscapes. Hardened borders are back in geopolitical fashion with a zeal unseen since the height of the Cold War. In the U.S. presidential race, Donald Trump has built his campaign on an Iron Age technology—a Great Wall of China—to deal with 21st century immigration problems along the Rio Grande. A fearful Europe, meanwhile, is busy erecting barricades to check historic flows of refugees and Islamic terrorists.

In the Caucasus, the Kremlin—a seasoned master of aggressive boundaries—is doing what some other politicians have only promised. In the process it has exposed the continuing weakness of a former republic that it steamrolled in 2008 in a week-long war over South Ossetia. And though the legal status of the tiny “Republic of South Ossetia” is unsettled—only Russia and few of its clients recognize the separatist region’s independence—a de-facto frontier already zigzags among the rumpled hills of Georgia, veering between tragedy and farce. Russian and Ossetian troops creep out after dark to move the unofficial line—usually only a few yards, but once by more than a mile—deeper into Georgia. Georgian cows and sheep get stranded on the Ossetian side. So do people. One elderly Georgian couple, refusing to evacuate their farmhouse, have been fenced inside South Ossetia. (The Ossetians cut the castaways’ electricity; Georgian neighbors have run an extension cord under the razor wire.) Over the past seven years of frozen war, Georgia says more than 800 of its citizens have been detained by Ossetian forces for “illegal entry” to their lost fields, pastures and wood lots.

Georgia calls this nibbling away of its territory by Russia a “creeping occupation.” Russia says it’s simply heeding the wishes of its backwater vassal, one of two former Georgian regions now effectively absorbed by Moscow. (The other is Abkhazia.) And the outside world, represented by a small and rather lonely European Union peace monitoring team, labels the land grabs “borderization.”

“Similar problems occur in places like Lebanon, Israel and Bosnia,” said John Durnin, a European Union monitor who watched from his white SUV as the Russians marched their boundary posts into the fields around Tamarasheni. “What’s unique here is that nobody knows where a line should go, even if it were recognized. The uncertainty creates hardship. It’s a denial of civil rights, of freedom of movement.”


The erratic crack between Georgia and South Ossetia isn’t easy to spot at first.

Clues begin to appear about 50 miles north of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. The rural roads simply cease to function as roads. Ribbons of asphalt devolve into parking lots for rusty tractors, kids’ soccer fields or drying yards for crops of beans. This means that somewhere ahead makeshift fences or concrete barriers block the way. From here, you must get out and walk. Old front lines snake vaguely through abandoned farms that have reverted to bush. Some of the trees hide security cameras installed by the Russians. And among the foliage, old torched houses gape rooflessly at the sky. Most of the unofficial boundary remains unfenced. The advancing Russian border posts often jut hundreds of yards apart. An air of stagnation hangs over villages nearby. South Ossetians usually occupy the heights and control water sources. Georgians cling to valleys. It’s a dead-end landscape. It doesn’t pay to wander off the roads.

“You might get kidnapped,” said Zakaria Mamagulashvili, an apple farmer from the village of Dvani. “I myself have taken a forced holiday twice.”

Mamagulashvili was referring to his capture by patrolling South Ossetian and Russian troops. Most recently, last March, he was pruning his orchard when two South Ossetian soldiers walked 60 yards into Georgia and marched the farmer across the murky new frontier at rifle point. He spent seven days in a ramshackle police cell. He heard another Georgian captive being beaten.

Mamagulashvili paid a 5,000-ruble fine to be released. (About $90 dollars at the time.) This was a hardship because he’s getting poorer all the time: The new border has ingested half of Mamagulashvili’s harvest, or about 300 boxes of apples a year.

“Come back in five years,” he said bitterly, handing me one of his ripe Jonathans. “You’ll find all of us living on the South Ossetian side.”

A few miles away, Davit and Valia Vanishvili already are.

After refusing to budge from the path of an expanding border fence, the stubborn Georgian couple was sealed inside South Ossetia by Russian troops. The Vanishvilis lost access to their wheat fields. Today, they survive on charity passed through the razor wire by neighbors living in the amputated village of Khurvaleti. In exchange, the old couple places traditional Georgian offerings—boiled eggs, flowers—on the family graves of neighbors now cut off from the village cemetery.

We believe the Russians are using a 1984 Soviet general staff map to draw the new border,” Durnin, the EU monitor, told me. “But we really don’t know.”

“We didn’t want to leave our house to strangers,” explained Valia, a twig-limbed woman of 75. “Why did they do this to us? We never had fences here before. We always got along with the Ossetians.”

This is largely true.

Each side in the conflict still promotes its own narrative of grievance. Georgians blame Russia’s divide-and-conquer policies during the Soviet era for colonizing swathes of Georgian farmland with Ossetian loyalists from the North Caucasus. The Ossetians, in turn, complain that they were discriminated against under Tbilisi’s rule. Yet the two ethnic groups have lived in harmony for generations. Until 2008, mixed marriages were common. And Ossetian and Georgian villages were interspersed. That’s precisely why the borderline’s artificiality is so demoralizing.

“We believe the Russians are using a 1984 Soviet general staff map to draw the new border,” Durnin, the EU monitor, told me. “But we really don’t know.” Russia doesn’t allow foreign observers into South Ossetia. Durnin wakes up, like everyone else, to proliferating green signs that read, in English, Russian and Georgian, “ATTENTION: State Border. Passage is Forbidden.” He describes his job in a Beckettian koan: “Ninety-nine percent of the world doesn’t accept the new boundary’s existence. But we have to know where it is in order not to cross it.”

Whatever ghostly map is used—if any—it’s working.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the flamboyant Georgian president who took on the Russians over South Ossetia, is long gone. Georgia’s new government, led by a flailing coalition called Georgian Dream, is noticeably warmer to Moscow. Its credibility is mauled with each new report of a Georgian shepherd “kidnapped” along a phantom borderline with teeth.

“We feel abandoned,” said Lia Mekarishvili, 52, an elementary school teacher in the village of Dvani, whose classes, once numbering dozens of students, have shrunk to four. Mekarishvili started to cry but stopped herself. “We are tired. People are ready to give up. We are alone. Russia never gets tired. It will win because it waits.”

A mile or less down a village road that was no longer really a road, the new frontier bent like a tensed muscle through a dead zone of brushy gardens and neglected orchards. It already had shifted within the heart of fruit grower Merab Mekavishvili.

“On Easter, I used to go down and shake hands across the fence with my old Ossetian friends,” Mekavishvili, 53, said. “The Russians don’t like this. So my friends don’t do it anymore.” The burly, white-haired farmer said his Ossetian friends’ children didn’t remember the good old days of ethnic coexistence. The younger Ossetians didn’t know Georgians at all, he said. He said they hated him.

Article Link to Politico EU:

Here comes the anti-Nicolas Sarkozy

Jean-François Copé has nothing to lose in his bid for the right’s presidential nomination.

By Nicholas Vinocur
Politico EU
April 4, 2016

PARIS — Jean-François Copé has little to lose.

The former French minister emerged from a two-year legal ordeal to mount a long-shot bid to win the presidential nomination of France’s main center-right party.

Cleared of all suspicion but scarred by betrayals, the 51-year-old has few friends left in Les Républicains party, and is aiming his punches squarely at a former ally who failed to defend his name when it was being dragged through the mud: Nicolas Sarkozy.

“We never eliminated the 35 hours [work week under Sarkozy]. We never reformed the pension system. We never simplified the labor code. We never adopted a selective immigration policy,” Copé said in an interview at his office in the National Assembly. “In short, we never created the necessary conditions to improve competitiveness and bring down unemployment.”

While Copé did not mention Sarkozy by name, it was crystal clear who he was talking about.

Once close allies and political doppelgängers, the men had a spectacular falling out during the so-called Bygmalion Affair. It was during this complex campaign financing scandal that Copé was accused of having set up an accounting scam to cover cost overruns in Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign.

In a book published in January to coincide with his comeback (“Le Sursaut Français“, or the “French Upheaval”), Copé wrote that Sarkozy “denied” him a cabinet post that was his due after the 2007 election win.

As it turned out, being frozen out gave Copé one of his best weapons in the current race: freedom to criticize anything and everything that happened during the Sarkozy years.

The three other candidates in the race — Alain Juppé, Bruno Le Maire and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet — were all members of Sarkozy’s cabinet and have to answer for part of his legacy, for better or worse.

“It [not having been a member of cabinet] gives me a form of distance and a freedom of expression that sets me apart from the others,” said Copé. “For the four other candidates it’s very difficult to say that none of this was their fault.”

What was their fault, said Copé, was letting France decline economically and lose almost all of its clout on the European stage. Asked about his record on economic reform, Sarkozy frequently says he was too busy fending off disaster during the global financial crisis.

For Copé, that’s not good enough.

“The crisis had serious consequences for our growth,” said Copé, who was budget minister under Jacques Chirac between 2004 and 2007. “But I observe that other countries, notably Germany, went through an even graver crisis, and they nevertheless managed to obtain much better results than we did thanks to structural reforms.”

In order to fix France and make its voice count once again in Europe, Copé prescribes a shock program of reform. His campaign slogan, “We retreat no more,” sets the tone: Copé, a World War I expert, wants to rule France via “ordinances” — direct orders that the government can issue after receiving authorization from parliament.

“I’ve got to a point in my life — and it has to do with the struggle I endured for a year and a half — where I believe that decisions have to be taken,” he said. “They must be taken right away, via ordinances, with much more time spent on the decision’s application than the decision itself.”

Long shot

Copé’s stance looks designed to represent the anti-Sarkozy. The former president, who now runs Les Républicains and is a close second in the polls behind Juppé for the party’s presidential nomination, has vowed that he will consult the French frequently via plebiscites if he is re-elected president.

For Copé, that amounts to a pledge of inefficacy.

“[Holding a referendum] is a way of not acting,” he said. “What does it mean? You get elected in May and in September you ask people to vote, again, in a referendum for a program that they voted for just four months earlier? It’s as if you were asking them for a chance not to carry out the reform.”

Copé knows his candidacy is a long shot. Having launched his campaign almost a year after the frontrunner, Juppé, he has a huge poll gap to make up. In late March, a survey by Ifop showed that Copé had just 2 percent support among right-wing voters, which places him dead last in the race.

There is also the question of Copé’s public image. After Sarkozy lost the 2012 election to François Hollande, Copé became embroiled in a lengthy fratricidal battle against ex-Prime Minister François Fillon for control over the party. Both men suffered as a result, appearing disloyal and obsessed with power.

Copé sees a way forward thanks to his outsider status. Fillon is not just linked to Sarkozy; he was a famously obedient prime minister who stayed in office for the full five-year presidential term. Juppé is the favorite by default who could collapse when the race heats up and other candidates start to hammer away at his legacy and age (70).

Whether the distinction of never having served under Sarkozy will be enough to catapult Copé into the lead remains to be seen.

The champion of a right-wing movement dubbed the “Uninhibited Right” (la Droite Décomplexée), Copé has at times misstepped politically. An attempt he made in 2012 to turn anti-white racism into a political issue, by claiming that white children were getting afterschool snacks torn from their hands during the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan, backfired spectacularly.

When asked about populism, and particularly the appeal of U.S. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, Copé said he was in favor of strong opinions and clear ideas as long as you back them up with action.

“If it’s a question of voicing your opinions, I do that, no problem,” he said. “But if you are being shocking only to win, and then you spend most of your time in office contradicting what you said during your campaign … I don’t think that’s the right way to do politics.”

It was another swipe at Sarkozy. The next step is getting him to punch back.

Article Link to Politico EU:

WikiLeaks Controversy Strengthens Case for Greek Debt Forgiveness

By Mohamed A. El-Erian
The Bloomberg View
April 4, 2016

The release this weekend by WikiLeaks of the purported transcript ofdiscussions among International Monetary Fund officials about the best way to compel Greece's creditors to accept debt restructuring led to much finger pointing and seeming indignation.

Yet the economic case for forgiving that country's debt is straightforward: Without relief within a comprehensive reform program, Greece will struggle to grow, unemployment will remain high, and the turmoil will continue to periodically challenge the functioning of the euro zone.

The political calculus is a lot harder, however. Even the window opened by Europe’s refugee crisis is failing to provide a sufficient catalyst for change. If that continues, Greece could end up an element of a much larger threat to the integrity and performance of both the euro zone and the European Union.

Debt forgiveness is never granted easily, and with good reason. Even when it is a financially viable solution, the concept raises fundamental issues of fairness and incentive-compatibility.

Why should a deadbeat debtor be granted relief when others have labored to pay off their debt? What about the creditors who worked hard to earn the money that they lent; why should they be punished? And doesn't the granting of debt forgiveness encourage other debtors to be less diligent, potentially undermining the overall flow of credit that supports economic growth and broader opportunities for well-being and prosperity?

These are legitimate economic questions. Over time, such considerations have rightly made debt forgiveness rare, subject to protracted negotiations or dependent on the outcome of other truly exceptional events. But the economic analysis also suggests that there are a few cases when debt forgiveness is in fact the better option when a "first best" solution isn’t available.

Here is the economic argument:

Beyond a certain point, high indebtedness does more than crush directly the recovery efforts of the debtor. It also inhibits new capital from coming in as fresh providers rightly worry about being contaminated by what is already an excessive existing liability. Without the much-needed oxygen provided by capital inflows, the debtor suffers even more, rendering growth almost impossible and making the debt trap even deeper.

Historical examples include the hard lessons of Latin America's "lost decade" of the 1980s. During this particularly sad episode, many countries struggled to overcome crushing debt burdens and ended up with prolonged economic stagnation, high long-term unemployment and rising poverty levels. The comprehensive debt relief that finally came at the end of the decade and in the early 1990s was too late to avoid misery, especially for the poorest citizens. There also is the example of poor countries in Africa, which benefited from a cooperative global Debt Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries in the mid-1990s that allowed a notable pickup in their growth, investment and poverty alleviation.

Most economists agree that Greece will not be able to grow without debt forgiveness. It is a necessary, though not sufficient, component of almost any approach to restoring the country to a sustainable growth path, reducing alarming levels of joblessness and avoiding a lost generation of unemployed and disenfranchised youth. Granted in the context of a comprehensive reform effort, such relief also would help restore Greece's status as a full working member of the euro zone, whose objectives extend beyond economics to important social and political achievements.

But even if the case is straightforward in economic terms, it also is politically complicated.

Primarily because of decisions made in the earlier bailout programs for Greece, the bulk of the country's debt is now owed to other European countries and their official institutions. Accordingly, the debt relief decision only can result from a political process that involves national parliaments, including those of Germany, Finland and the Netherlands, which tend to be averse to any softening of the terms on past loans.

Many had thought that the refugee crisis would make easier the political approval of this economically necessary, though difficult decision. After all, Greece has been in the forefront of the crisis, hosting -- under extremely difficult conditions -- hundreds of thousands of refugees who are looking to settle elsewhere on the continent.

But this window has proven hard to exploit given the deep divisions within the EU that have been exposed by the crisis. Moreover, as the leader on this and many other European issues, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, is finding that her courageous approach to the refugee crisis now faces growing internal opposition.

WikiLeaks's publication of the transcript of internal deliberations at the IMF, an important provider of funds and technical assistance to Greece, makes the politics even more complicated. The document details the thinking of fund technocrats as they attempt to predict how the complex EU politics of the next few months could affect a strategy to obtain the debt forgiveness for Greece that they have long regarded as necessary and are now suggesting could be a prerequisite for further aid.

It turns out that the start of the summer could be an even more challenging period for both the EU and the euro zone. By then, Greece could be running out of money to run its economy and meet debt service payments. The U.K. will vote on whether it should remain in the EU. And Europe is likely to have found out, the difficult way, that the recent regional agreement on refugee flows is hard to implement.

Europe should be taking actions now to avoid a potential confluence of problems this summer that, badly managed, would not just seriously test the region's resolve and problem-solving capabilities, but also its political credibility. In this context, the seemingly hard decision on Greek debt forgiveness takes on a pragmatic necessity that reinforces its economic justification.

It is the one decision that is in the hands of European governments and parliaments that, though they are challenged by anti-establishment nationalistic movements, are still dominated by those who believe in the historic project of an ever-closer European union.

Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

U.S. Spies Fired For Telling Truth About Obama's ISIS War

The growing scandal over cooked ISIS intelligence just got much worse. Now, analysts are saying they’re being forced out for not toeing the Obama administration’s line on the war.

By Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef
The Daily Beast
April 4, 2016

Two senior intelligence analysts at U.S. Central Command say the military has forced them out of their jobs because of their skeptical reporting on U.S.-backed rebel groups in Syria, three sources with knowledge of their claim told The Daily Beast. It’s the first known instance of possible reprisals against CENTCOM personnel after analysts accused their bosses of manipulating intelligence reports about the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS in order to paint a rosier picture of progress in the war.

One of the analysts alleging reprisals is the top analyst in charge of Syria issues at CENTCOM. He and a colleague doubted rebels’ capabilities and their commitment to U.S. objectives in the region. The analysts have been effectively sidelined from their positions and will no longer be working at CENTCOM, according to two individuals familiar with the dispute, and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The analysts’ skeptical views put them at odds with military brass, who last year had predicted that a so-called “moderate opposition” would make up a 15,000-man ground force to take on ISIS in its self-declared caliphate. An initial $500 million program to train and arm those fighters failed spectacularly. And until the very end, Pentagon leaders claimed the operation was more or less on track. Lawmakers called the plan a “joke” when Gen. Lloyd Austin, the CENTCOM commander, finally testified last September that there were just “four or five” American-trained fighters in Syria.

Earlier allegations from CENTCOM, the military command responsible for overseeing the Middle East, had focused on leaders there fudging intelligence reports about U.S. efforts to attack ISIS and undermine its financing operations. That analysts are now raising red flags around reporting on Syrian rebel groups suggests that, at least from the analysts’ perspective, there is a broader systemic problem than was previously known.

The Pentagon inspector general and a congressional task force are investigating allegations of doctored intelligence reports about ISIS.

The working environment at CENTCOM has been described as “toxic” and “hostile.” As The Daily Beast previously reported, more than 50 CENTCOM analysts have said that senior officials gave more scrutiny and pushback on reports that suggested U.S. efforts to destroy ISIS weren’t progressing. Analysis that took a more optimistic view of the war effort got comparatively less attention from higher-ups.

In a separate development, the head of Iraq analysis at CENTCOM, Gregory Hooker, is being reassigned to a position in the United Kingdom, three sources knowledgeable of the transfer told The Daily Beast. Hooker was identified last year by The New York Times as leading the group of analysts that raised objections about the ISIS reports.

There was no evidence that Hooker’s reassignment was a retaliatory move by his superiors, Rather some suggested he had requested the change.

But for the analysts who have accused their bosses of improper behavior, the climate has become anxious, particularly as now some fear for their jobs.

“[They] are scared all the time,” one official told The Daily Beast.

The Syria analysts spoke out after Austin directed his subordinates last year not to retaliate against anyone who voiced concerns about political influence or bias being brought to bear on intelligence analysis, said one individual knowledgeable of their complaints. More than 1,000 analysts work at CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa. Fla, and their reports are meant to help senior U.S. officials and policymakers understand the facts on the battlefield.

Investigators from the congressional task force have met with analysts at both CENTCOM headquarters and, last month, in Washington, half a dozen sources with knowledge of the meetings said.

Spokespersons for the task force declined to comment.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes previously told The Daily Beast that investigators were unable to obtain certain documents germane to the analysts’ allegations about altered ISIS reports, and that congressional staff had to interview the analysts in the presence of CENTCOM personnel, whom Nunes referred to as “minders.”

“They’re having a tough time talking to us,” Nunes said of the analysts whom congressional staff have interviewed in Tampa.

The Defense Department inspector general is also looking into the ISIS reports. The watchdog’s office has said the investigation, which is expected to be finished soon, “will address whether there was any falsification, distortion, delay, suppression, or improper modification of intelligence information,” as well as “personal accountability for any misconduct or failure to follow established processes.”

At CENTCOM’s intelligence unit, there’s growing anticipation for the results of the Defense Department inspector general’s investigation. Some have said they hope it will hold those they feel are responsible for altering reports, but there’s also concern that the findings will seek to downplay the severity of the problem and won’t lead to any significant changes.

At least one change is in the works. Last week, the Pentagon announced that Maj. Gen. Mark R. Quantock, currently the intelligence director of the U.S.-led military effort in Afghanistan, will take over as the head of intelligence at CENTCOM. Two officials described Quantock as a “straight shooter” who could help relieve tensions at the command headquarters.

Quantock, who is expected to arrive this summer, will replace Maj. Gen. Steven Grove, whom analysts have said is chiefly responsible for altering the ISIS reports. Grove and his civilian deputy, Gregory Ryckman, have also been accused of deleting emails and files from computer systems before the inspector general could examine them, three individuals familiar with the investigation told The Daily Beast.

Investigators from Capitol Hill and the Pentagon’s watchdog have pulled analysts away from work to ask them questions. Their colleagues try to glean insights about the course of the investigation by keeping note of who is being queried and for how long.

And in another sign of rising anxiety, some believe that that military leadership is trying to piece together which analysts have made allegations about Grove, and to whom, whether they be investigators or journalists.

Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Are Iranian hard-liners backing Trump?

Iranian newspapers have returned after a two-week hiatus, with one hard-line editor offering up what seems to be an endorsement of US presidential candidate Donald Trump.

By Arash Karami
April 4, 2016

Iranian newspapers have come back from a two-week Nowruz vacation ready to renew old partisan fights with new talking points. While websites and news agencies continued to cover the significant stories of the country, it is the print media where the partisan divide is the most obvious. This year it seems that the US presidential elections have sparked an early row.

“The wisest plan of crazy [Donald] Trump is tearing up the nuclear deal,” Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the hard-line Kayhan newspaper, told Fars News Agency when asked about the Republican front-runner’s opposition to the nuclear deal. Shariatmadari called the nuclear deal a “golden document” for the United States but insisted that for Iran it has caused nothing but “damages, humiliation and deception.” Instead of making proclamations, Shariatmadari invited the administration to show one achievement of the nuclear deal.

While the director general for political affairs of the Foreign Ministry, Hamid Baeidinejad, responded that Shariatmadari’s comments were surprising, it was Reformist Arman Daily that compared Shariatmadari to Trump, who is sometimes simply referred to as “crazy Trump” in Iranian media. In the front-page story titled “What Shariatmadari and Trump have in common,” Arman Daily wrote that Trump’s opposition to the nuclear deal has made “domestic critics happy,” and that Shariatmadari “once again become one voice with American extremists.”

Two and a half months after the implementation of the nuclear deal, there still continue to be serious disagreements within Iran over its achievements. In an interview with Iranian television April 2, Abbas Araghchi, deputy foreign minister and chief of staff for the implementation of the nuclear deal, appears to also be tasked with the job of asking Iranians to be patient to see the results of the deal.

Araghchi said all the sanctions that were planned to be removed have been removed, but warned it would take time for Iran to get back to where it was pre-sanctions, given that they went from selling 2.5 million barrels a day to 1 million barrels. Perhaps showing frustration with domestic criticism, Araghchi said, “The West promised tolift oil sanctions — they did not promise to find us oil customers.”

While there have been questions over other countries seeking to do business with Iran fearing the remaining US sanctions not related to the nuclear program, Araghchi also addressed other concerns that foreign businesses may have, saying, “Sometimes we fuel distrust a little bit and if we want to solve problems quicker we have to create this trust.”

While the administration is hoping that the results of the nuclear deal improve the economic situation, a number of Iranian media looked domestically toward Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s slogan for the year: "Economy of Resistance: Action and Implementation." The Iran newspaper, which operates under the administration, dedicated four articles to the topic. Most of these articles had a positive spin, with Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia suggesting that the implementation of the resistance economy had already begun. Hard-line Vatan-e Emroz, which has been opposed to many of President Hassan Rouhani’s policies, dedicated four of the six articles on its front page to the economy, perhaps suggesting that this is where they will be able to apply the most pressure on the administration in the upcoming year.

One interesting topic raised in the Iran newspaper was whether or not Iranian newspapers should take a two-week holiday for Nowruz. On April 1, many newspapers published their first papers since March 18, two days before the Iranian New Year. The author wrote, “A two-week media holiday in a world where the media says the first word is unacceptable in every way.” The article continued, “Any country that can have no newspapers for two weeks can go all 52 weeks of the year without a newspaper.”

The author conceded that the biggest obstacle is the distribution networks to newsstands during the holiday schedule, when many kiosks are closed. According to the author, only a few voices each year raise this issue. However, the author believes that it would not be difficult to change the holiday schedule to only the four official days that are given for Nowruz. The article asked readers to write in and ask the newspaper owners and editors to change this policy.

Article Link to Al-Monitor:

Are Iranian hard-liners backing Trump?