Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thursday, June 16, Night Wall Street Roundup: Wall St. Rebounds, Snaps Five-Day Losing Streak

By Lewis Krauskopf
Reuters
June 16, 2016

Wall Street closed higher on Thursday as investors digested the implications of a British lawmaker's death on the country's impending referendum on whether to leave the European Union.

The benchmark S&P 500 index snapped a five-day losing streak, after erasing sharp losses earlier in the session.

A British Member of Parliament was shot dead in the street in northern England, causing the temporary suspension of campaigning for next week's referendum on EU membership. The lawmaker, Jo Cox, had been a vocal supporter of Britain remaining in the European Union.

The prospect of Britain's voting to leave in the June 23 referendum has been rattling markets.

"We’re seeing a move in the pound rallying off its lows, the Treasuries coming off of their highs and the stocks coming off of their lows because of that," said Lou Brien, market strategist at DRW Trading in Chicago. "People are anticipating that this could be one of those things that turns a vote back in favor of remain."

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 92.93 points, or 0.53 percent, to 17,733.1, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 6.49 points, or 0.31 percent, to 2,077.99 and the Nasdaq Composite.IXIC added 9.98 points, or 0.21 percent, to 4,844.92.

Traders also said covering of short bets after several days of selling could be helping stock prices. Nine of 10 S&P sectors finished higher.

Global stocks have been under duress for a week amid looming uncertainty about the British vote and a focus on central bank policy.

"I believe there is a lot of positioning going on ahead of that event to try to hedge the risk of a negative outcome, and a negative outcome for the markets would be a vote to leave," said Walter Todd, chief investment officer at Greenwood Capital Associates in Greenwood, South Carolina.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday left interest rates unchanged but signaled it still planned two hikes this year. Fed Chair Janet Yellen acknowledged the need to see clear signs of economic strength before lifting rates.

The S&P is up more than 1 percent for the year, rebounding since mid-February with help from higher oil prices. However, on Thursday energy shares .SPNY were the lone declining sector, falling 0.2 percent, as oil slumped to one-month lows.

The CBOE Volatility index .VIX, the most notable gauge of Wall Street anxiety, shot up to a 4-month high. After weeks of calm, the index has risen significantly this week.

Merck (MRK.N) shares rose 2.5 percent, propping up the Dow and the S&P, after positive clinical trial results for cancer drug Keytruda.

Shares of Cavium (CAVM.O) fell 17.5 percent after the chipmaker said it would buy network equipment maker QLogic (QLGC.O) for about $1.36 billion. QLogic shares rose 9.3 percent.

About 7.3 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 6.8 billion average over the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

NYSE declining issues outnumbered advancers by a 1.05-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, a 1.17-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 17 new 52-week highs and 4 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 30 new highs and 59 new lows.


Article Link to Reuters:

WSJ: Clinton Considering Warren, Not Sanders, For Running Mate

By Susan Heavey
Reuters
June 16, 2016

Hillary Clinton is considering U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren for her running mate for the Democratic presidential ticket, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing several people familiar with the process.

Warren, a leading progressive voice among Democrats, is among those Democratic presidential candidate Clinton is vetting for the vice presidential position, the newspaper reported. Clinton's rival Bernie Sanders is not, it added.

Sources told Reuters earlier this month that Warren, who represents Massachusetts, is considering the potential role.

Representatives for Clinton, Sanders and Warren did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the report.

Clinton is the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for the Nov. 8 presidential election, having won the last primary contest this week in the District of Columbia.

Although Clinton and Sanders met this week, the senator from Vermont does not plan to end his campaign or endorse Clinton in a video speech to supporters scheduled for later on Thursday, his spokesman said.

While the search for a potential partner in the race is still in its early stages, the Journal reported several Democrats said Clinton's campaign is looking at a number of potential candidates, including Warren.

Other prospective running mates include U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, according to the report. Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Cory Booker of New Jersey as well as U.S. Representatives Xavier Becerra of California and Tim Ryan of Ohio are also under consideration, it said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is also a potential candidate, it added.

Warren threw her support behind Clinton last week as the former secretary of state moved her sights from the nominating contest toward a Nov. 8 match-up against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Warren could help Clinton win over Sanders supporters from the party's more liberal wing after a surprisingly protracted primary race. Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, has not yet dropped out.

She also would give Clinton a vocal boost in her fight against Trump. Warren has called Trump a threat to the country and has vowed to keep lashing out at him.


Article Link to Reuters:

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Hillary's Huge Libya Disaster

America has given up in Clinton’s wake.


By Charles R. Kubic
The National Interest
June 16, 2016

Prior to the February 17, 2011, “Day of Rage,” Libya had a national budget surplus of 8.7 percent of GDP in 2010, with oil production at 1.8 million barrels per day, on track to reach its goal of 3 million barrels per day. Currently, oil production has decreased by over 80 percent. Following the revolution, the Libyan economy contracted by an estimated 41.8 percent, with a national deficit of 17.1 percent GDP in 2011.

Before the revolution, Libya was a secure, prospering, secular Islamic country and a critical ally providing intelligence on terrorist activity post–September 11, 2001. Qaddafi was no longer a threat to the United States. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly advocated and succeeded in convincing the administration to support the Libyan rebels with a no-fly zone, intended to prevent a possible humanitarian disaster that turned quickly into all-out war.

Within weeks of the revolution there were two valid cease-fire opportunities, one presented to the Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and a second opportunity presented to U.S. Africa Command for direct military commander negotiations to effect Gaddafi’s abdication, in which I was personally involved. Both opportunities were rejected and shut down by Secretary Clinton. Internal communications that went public last year revealed that on March 18, 2011, a colonel in JCS wrote, “. . . Due to the UNSCR, Libyan forces sped up ops to get to Benghazi, and will soon cease fire. As expected. Our contact will arrange a face-to-face meeting with Saif, or a skype/video-telecon to open communications if time does not permit. It will have to be with a high level USG official for him to agree. If there will be an ultimatum before any ops, the USG must be in communication with the right leaders and hopefully listen for any answer. A peaceful solution is still possible that keeps Saif on our side without any bloodshed in Benghazi.” However, on March 14, 2011 Secretary Clinton had already met with rebel leaders in Paris, including Mahmoud Jibril, number two in the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, and had committed to support their revolution.

Despite valid ceasefire opportunities to prevent “bloodshed in Benghazi” at the onset of hostilities, Secretary Clinton intervened and quickly pushed her foreign policy in support of a revolution led by the Muslim Brotherhood and known terrorists in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. One of the Libyan Rebel Brigade commanders, Ahmed Abu Khattala, would later be involved in the terrorist attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Articulating her indifference to the chaos brought by war, Secretary Clinton stated on May 18, 2013, to the House Oversight Committee and the American public, “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Secretary Clinton’s war actually did make a difference. It led to a very real and very tragic humanitarian disaster. Her bad judgment and failed policy resulted in the arming of terrorists, months of war and tens of thousands of causalities, the murder of the American ambassador and the deaths of three other brave Americans, continued civil war and the collapse of the Libyan economy, and a failed nation-state contributing to a tragic European migrant crisis. Clearly the Libyan disaster tops Secretary Clinton’s legacy of failure.

The revolution ended October 23, 2011, and Libya held its first democratic election on July 7, 2012. A second election was held on June 25, 2014. Despite efforts made by peaceful Libyan officials to establish a strong secular nation, radical Islamic elements rejected the election results and used military force to subvert the will of the Libyan people. As a direct consequence of the chaos caused by Secretary Clinton’s failed policy, there are now four entities competing for control of Libya: (1) the twice-elected democratic secular parliamentary government forced into exile in Tobruk by Islamist attacks, (2) the unelected radical Islamist-controlled government in Tripoli, (3) the savage ISIS terrorists who control the city of Sirte and (4) the UN-imposed Government of National Accord (GNA) recently placed ashore in abandoned buildings in Tripoli. The UN is attempting, with U.S. and European support, to impose a unity government (the GNA) that will include elements of sharia law in a new constitution. This approach was rejected twice by the Libyan people, who wanted a more secular government that is not founded in sharia.

The Libyan National Oil Company (NOC) continues to control limited commercial oil exports from certain oil fields through western ports. The democratically elected government in Tobruk has objected to the continued control of oil exports by the Islamist factions in Tripoli, and has recently established its own capability to export oil from an eastern port. However, to counter the Tobruk government, the UN recently imposed a unilateral embargo on an attempted eastern shipment of 650,000 barrels of oil. The UN embargo was lifted when contested by the UN representative of the elected Libyan government.

More recently the UN, with U.S. support, has threatened to impose travel and financial sanctions on Libyan politicians representing the elected government in Tobruk simply because they are resisting the authority of the UN-imposed GNA. And, in a truly absurd move, the United States is now considering authorizing arms shipments to the UN imposed GNA in Tripoli.

America can no longer continue to support Hillary’s legacy of failure in Libya. The United States needs to support democracy in Libya, not UN sanctions or arms shipments. And the United States should support Libyan efforts to provide internal security, critical to reestablishing full oil production and unimpeded export, in order to revitalize the failing Libyan economy. In doing so, the United States and Libya can together achieve peace—through economic and military strength.


Article Link to The National Interest:

Oil Hits Three-Week Low On Weak U.S. Stock Draw, Brexit Fear

By Karolin Schaps
Reuters
June 16, 2016

Oil prices hit their lowest in more than three weeks on Thursday, the sixth straight day of losses and longest bearish run since early 2016, as U.S. crude stocks fell less than expected and concerns over Britain's future in the EU weighed.

Brent crude futures, the global benchmark, have slipped 9 percent in just five sessions after touching an eight-month high of nearly $53 a barrel a week ago.

On Thursday, the contract traded as low as $48.14, the weakest since May 24. Prices were down 68 cents at $48.29 by 0750 GMT, set for the longest losing streak in five months.

Front-month U.S. crude futures were trading at $47.37 a barrel, down 64 cents, and reached a one-month low of $47.22 earlier in the session.

"It is mainly risk aversion ahead of the Brexit vote next week so we see some profit-taking on recent long positions ahead of this event," said Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro in Amsterdam.

With a week to go before Britain votes on whether to leave the European Union, oil and other markets remain in thrall to opinion polls, which are increasingly showing those supporting an exit are in the majority.

Prices also took a bearish signal from weekly U.S. crude stock data on Wednesday showing a smaller-than-expected decline.

Crude inventories fell by 933,000 barrels last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported, less than half the 2.3-million-barrel decrease expected by analysts.


Article Link to Reuters:

Thursday, June 16, Morning Global Market Roundup: European Stocks, Oil Slide As Growth Fears Add To Brexit Pressure

By Vikram Subhedar
Reuters
June 16, 2016

* European stocks down about 1 pct, bank stocks lead declines

* Oil headed for sixth straight session of declines

* Yen hits 20-month high vs dollar after BOJ stands pat on policy

* Precious metals rise, gold hovers near 2 year high

European stocks fell while oil prices headed for a sixth session of declines on Thursday after the Bank of Japan refrained from taking further stimulus steps, hours after the Federal Reserve struck a cautious note on its policy outlook.

Sterling hit a 2-month low against the euro underscoring worries that Britain, the world's fifth-largest economy, could quit the EU after June's 23 referendum.

Concerns over Brexit have dominated markets this week and in combination with dimmed expectations on global growth have driven investors towards safe-haven assets such as German bunds and gold and out of oil and stocks.

Brent crude prices, which last week hit their highest this year, have fallen every day after June 8 and are now down 8 percent since.

"The market is going to be soft until next week. The fear is that if the British actually decide to leave the EU there may be some sort of contagion," said Avtar Sandu, senior commodities manager at Phillip Futures in Singapore.

"The rules for exit from the EU are not very clear. There are a lot of question marks over the economic consequences," he said.

Germany's 10-year bond yield fell to a new record low as fading expectations for U.S. rate hikes this year provided further fuel to a global bond market rally.

Spot gold climbed 1.4 percent and is close to hitting a two-year high.

Earlier in the day Asian markets were firmly in "risk-off" mode, with the yen surging to a 20-year high against the US dollar and the Nikkei down more than 3 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index is down 2 percent.

Benchmark equity indices across Europe followed suit with Italy's FTSE MIB down about one percent. The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 fell 0.9 percent.

Shares of European banks, the worst performing sector this year, were on the backfoot again.

Shares of UBS and Credit Suisse fell more than a percent after the Swiss National bank warned that both banks will likely each need to raise an extra 10 billion Swiss francs to meet new leverage requirements.

Deutsche Bank shares, down 2.5 percent, hit a record low earlier in the day.


Article Link to Reuters:

The Many Faces Of Putinism

What does a prominent Russian filmmaker’s apparent about-face—from Kremlin critic to a willing agent of Putin’s propaganda machine—tell us about the very nature of the Russian regime?


The American Interest
June 16, 2016

Over the last two years or so, Moscow has gotten back into the international spotlight in a way that it hasn’t been since the end of the Cold War. As a result of its reckless moves, Putin’s regime has gotten a reputation in the West as dangerous and unpredictable. Nevertheless, a profound lack of understanding as to who or what we are dealing with still pervades the halls of power from Berlin to Washington DC. For proof, one need look no further than just how well the Kremlin has wielded the element of surprise when dealing with its Western counterparts. But is Putin’s regime just about Putin himself, or is it about the whole system behind him? How much would it be transformed if Putin is forced out for whatever reason? Who are the pillars of the regime, and who could we reliably count on as a potential driver of change? The debate has been inconclusively raging among academics and policymakers for the better part of this decade. It’s time for some clarity.

A well-known Russian writer and filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, who has been called a “critic of Putin’s regime”, added a new wrinkle to the discussion recently. Nekrasov’s recent film, which plays a key role in a broader campaign to discredit the murdered Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and the American businessman Bill Browder who has worked tirelessly to shine light on the tragic affair, not only exposed new tools and techniques Russia is ready to use for its propaganda war against the West, but raised many eyebrows about the filmmaker’s supposed personal transformation.

But what if there was no transformation at all? What if Andrei Nekrasov has always been just one of the countless faces of Putin’s regime? For most in the West, especially for those who know Nekrasov by his films Disbelief (about the apartment bombings in Russia that brought Putin to power), Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case (about the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, using a rare form of polonium, in London) or Russian Lessons (about the war in Georgia), the very idea that one might call Nekrasov anything but a brave opponent of Putin’s regime, or a courageous seeker of truth, might sound insane.

However, it only takes watching his much less internationally publicized film Together Forever to start to question the filmmaker’s anti-Putinist bona fides. To get a real impression of why this particular film puts Nekrasov in line with Russia’s chief propagandist, the journalist Dmitry Kiselyov, one really ought to see the film for oneself. At the time of writing, however, it is available only in Russian, so an outline of some of the details from the film will have to do. It can serve as an eye-opener to those thaе need convincing, and helps shed light on how Nekrasov is in fact an integral part of the Putin regime’s “information warfare” strategy.

For starters, it is important to keep in mind that Together Forever was released in 2010, well before the current “personal transformation” of Nekrasov into a filmmaker more in tune with the Putinist line. All the tendencies on display today have in fact always been there.

Together Forever revolves around Russia’s relations with Belarus at the time of ongoing trade wars between the two countries in 2010. Though the film can be read as a criticism of Putin and Putinism on one level, such a reading is too superficial. One of the main narrative threads in the film is a thoroughgoing nostalgia for the Soviet Union. One wonders if Putin, who is known for saying that the collapse of the USSR is the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, would not subscribe to these exact sentiments. Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus, in the filmmaker’s interpretation and in his own words, was a reflection of everything that people in Russia and Belarus considered as having been good and holy in the Soviet Union. The vision presented is a far cry from the modern reality of Belarus: a repressive police state with a stagnant, Russia-dependent economy—the “last dictatorship in Europe” as most in the West still called it at the time the movie was made.

But a film brimming with Soviet nostalgia alone is not what puts Nekrasov in line with the likes of Dmitry Kiselyov. Rather, it is the techniques used by Nekrasov that ultimately tip his hand.

One of these techniques, currently widely used by Putin’s information warfare machine, is twisting the truth while trying to justify something using the testimony of independent Western experts. Nekrasov uses this technique throughout the film to whitewash Lukashenko’s reputation from allegations that his regime is guilty of murders. From a variety of cases available, for example, Nekrasov picked the controversial death of the Belarusian journalist Aleh Byabenin, and presented an original OSCE report as evidence that all allegations of murder were false. The only catch is that the OSCE experts conducted no new investigation into the crime—and clearly stated so in their report! They were only allowed to view existing documents from the official investigation, and concluded that according to these official documents there was no basis to question an official version of suicide being the cause of Byabenin’s death.

The other well-known technique of the Putin’s regime information warfare, frequently in use these days, is interviewing “independent” experts from the countries which the Kremlin wants to put in a bad light. These so-called experts are usually in some way related to Russia and its propaganda machine, and say exactly the things the Kremlin wants them to say. No alternative views are ever presented. Nekrasov in Together Forever does exactly that. Trying to show Belarus as a better alternative to not only Putin’s Russia, but to the European Union as well, he went to Latvia and interviewed just one “expert”: the pro-Russian activist Alexander Gaponenko. At the time of the film’s making, Gaponenko was little-known outside Latvia. Even so, Nekrasov somehow found him. (And as luck would have it, one can learn about Gaponenko’s role as a tool of Russian propaganda from a newly released documentary “The Master’s Plan”, which sheds light on Russia’s information war against Latvia and singles out Gaponenko as a key player in the campaign.)

On top of all that, Nekrasov used actors rather than real people in his “documentary” Forever Together, primarily to show the Belarusian opposition in a bad light.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Similarly, if Nekrasov uses half-truths in propaganda efforts like Putin’s regime does, if he shares nostalgia for the Soviet Union like Putin himself does, and if he can produce a film Kiselyov could be proud of, then probably, at least mentally, he was already a part of the larger phenomenon of “Putin’s Russia” no later than 2010. His openly joining the ranks of the Russian propaganda machine’s attacks against Magnitsky and Browder in 2016 should have come as no surprise.

A serious question is still left unanswered: how can a person be an integral part of Putin’s Russia, and a critic of Putin himself, both at the same time? What is behind these apparent two faces of Nekrasov?

The answer to these questions lies in the understanding that the Putin regime is not just about Putin. Putinism truly has a thousand faces. Nekrasov’s case helps illuminate this insight, especially in the context of the filmmaker’s relations with the controversial anti-Putin oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who was once one of the most powerful people in Russia.

Nekrasov has been repeatedly asked to explain his relations with Berezovsky, a man who was once called the godfather of Putin’s presidency, but who then turned into an embittered opponent of the Kremlin once in exile. Most of Nekrasov’s answers have been quite vague. Nekrasov has tried to emphasize his friendship with Alexander Litvinenko and has tried to deflect attention from his relations with Berezovsky, in large part denying that the latter financed his films. Nevertheless, Nekrasov’s creative trajectory always seemed to neatly dovetail with Berezovsky’s political agenda.

Nekrasov’s work did not concern itself much with Putin before the release Disbelief in 2004. Following his falling out with Putin, Berezovsky was a driving force behind a campaign to convince both a Russian and an international audience that Russian security services were behind bombings of the apartment buildings in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk in 1999. Nekrasov’s Disbelief is built around just those allegations.

Berezovsky himself made little secret of his moral and financial support for the Orange revolution in Ukraine in 2004, which he thought could help to get rid of Putin in Russia as well. It just so happened that Nekrasov ended up in Kyiv right after the Orange revolution. There he wrote and published a book about anticipating a Russian revolution, which was heavily promoted by Berezovsky. Around the same time, Nekrasov was considering making a film about the assassination attempt against the new Ukrainian President Victor Yuschenko during his election campaign, as well as other crimes of the outgoing Ukrainian regime. One of Berezovsky’s close associates, Alexander Goldfarb, told Ukrainian media that the fugitive tycoon was ready to put in $100,000 towards the project. Berezovsky was outspoken about the exceptional role that Ukraine and Georgia played in the democratization of the whole post-Soviet region. Nekrasov’s films about the murder of Litvinenko and the war in Georgia gelled nicely with Berezovsky’s political crusade against Putin, as well as against rival Russian oligrachs.

Berezovsky’s support for Belarus’ dictator Lukashenko has been less well known in the West. Lukashenko admitted in 2014 that the oligarch had financed at least part of his publicity campaign to improve Belarus’ image in the West. And, as the well-known Russian analyst Stanislav Belkovsky pointed out, Berezovsky wanted Belarus to make an alliance with Ukraine (and Georgia) against Putin’s Russia. Once again, Nekrasov’s Together Forever nicely lines up with Berezovsky’s political agenda.

With all that in mind, it is worth thinking through whether Berezovsky himself was as real opponent of the regime, or was just driven by personal animosity against Putin.

Berezovsky’s support for Lukashenko’s dictatorship, which is in some ways grimmer that Putin’s own regime, suggests that he is not all that concerned about democracy. And while he was an influential power broker in Moscow, Berezovsky’s preferred policies didn’t much differ from those being pursued by Putin’s regime today. If we call Putin’s Russia a kleptocracy, we should remember that Berezovsky was himself a symbol of the corrupt oligarchy. The reality of today’s Russia is that while the names have changed, the system in place exhibits many of the pathologies that were incubated under Yeltsin. We call Putin’s Russia a “mafia state”, citing Putin’s ties to gangsters; at the same time, allegations that Berezovsky worked hand in hand with Chechen gangsters never really went away. Yes, Berezovsky opposed Putin’s reckless and brutal behavior in the international arena, especially the intervention in Georgia. But at the same time, there are allegations that Berezovsky had an important role in orchestrating the second Chechen war.

Ultimately, the fact remains that Berezovsky was instrumental in Putin’s rise to power, and started his crusade against him only when realized that he had lost control over him.

All this makes a strong case to be wary of the idea that everybody who opposes Putin is actually an enemy of the dangerous phenomenon we call Putinism. Putinism is much more complex than just personal loyalty to Putin, or to the Kremlin’s policies. The West will likely have to deal with a form of Putinism in Russia well after Putin is long gone.

The Russian ‘hero’ of the war in Ukraine, Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, is now attacking Putin, but we cannot call him an opponent of Putinism in any way. The late former Russian Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Director of the Foreign Intelligence Services Yevgenyi Primakov was a staunch opponent of Russian intervention into Eastern Ukraine and made all effort to stop that war. But none of that made him an opponent of Putinism either, however gauzy an image some Western papers tried to paint of him upon his death. Or consider the recent spat between the editor of Moskovskyi Komsomolets Pavel Gusev and Dmitri Kiselyov. Tempting though it might be to think otherwise, this is probably not a sign of a weakening regime, either. Most probably it is just one more example of the constant internal conflicts—a struggle for power and influence within the system, rather than a sign of some kind of looming collapse.

Putinism is more about “values” and the mentality all representatives of the system more or less share. These values and mentality are best expressed in the actions of the individuals in question—much more so than in their words, which are after all cheap. If a supposed “opposition figure” has previously behaved in a way consonant with Putinist ideas, we should be constantly on guard against expecting too much from them in reforming the system going forward.

Nekrasov’s “transformation” has thus not surprised the kind of people who have the right kind of eyes for such things. TAI contributor David Satter, who took Nekrasov to court over unpaid royalties over the film Disbelief (which was based on Satter’s book), put it best in a recent interview with a Russian journal:


"I think the problem is that many people in Russia lack moral principles. They have certain ideals, but they lack strength to live according to them. After decades of material poverty, the money is for many an irresistible temptation. This is a very sad state of affairs. Russia needs an intelligentsia which lives according to its principles. As long as it lacks this, the country will not be free."


Nekrasov is a case in point, but so is Dmitri Kiselyov. In 2014, Lithuania decided to revoke a state award it had bestowed on Kiselyov in 1994. In 1991, Kiselyov had bravely refused to read aloud the official Kremlin news reports on the main Soviet TV channel whitewashing the bloody crackdown on protesters defending Vilnius’ TV station. These days, Kiselyov does not hesitate to spread any vicious propaganda deemed necessary by the Kremlin.The faces of Putinism are legion, and at first glance, one might be tempted to draw sharp distinctions between them when in fact more unites them than divides them. In order to understand whom we are really dealing with when we deal with the Russian regime, we need to learn to recognize and publicly name them. And we must avoid the lulling illusion that we might be able to count on some of them as driving forces for regime change.


Article Link to the American Interest:

How Trump Gets Away With A Policy-Free Campaign

By Paula Dwyer
The Bloomberg View
June 16, 2016

It was quite possibly the understatement of the year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a Bloomberg Politics podcast last week, said Donald Trump "doesn't know a lot about the issues."

Trump isn't a blank slate, exactly. He wants to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and build a wall to keep Mexicans out. He wants less open trade. And while he opposes gun control, he'd ban gun sales to anyone on a terrorism watch list.

But Trump's thinking on a host of other issues -- the details on taxes, federal budgets, deficits and debt, income inequality, the cost of child care, charter versus public schools, housing, student debt and many other things supposedly on voters' minds this year -- isn't clear.

Does it matter? Where is it written that a presidential nominee has to have a passel of policy proposals to get elected? Nowhere, say several presidential historians.

The pressure to win votes by showing a close familiarity with the issues took hold after World War II, with the rising prominence of television and radio news. The first televised debates in 1960, between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, made fluency on government policy a prerequisite for winning the presidency.

"Policy has become a profession in a way that was inconceivable before the New Deal," says Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton University and author of several books about U.S. presidents.

But even the New Deal's architect, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was vague when he was running for president in 1932 about how he would pull the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression. His predecessor, Herbert Hoover, was so badly wounded that any Democrat was sure to beat him. "The key was that he was not Hoover," says H.W. Brands, a professor of history at the University of Texas and the author of numerous books on presidents, including one on FDR.

And, of course, some presidential candidates short on solutions but long on biography made it to the White House after World War II.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, had never served in office and clearly "was not a policy wonk," Wilentz says. Yet in 1952, on the back of his World War II leadership, Eisenhower handily beat Adlai Stevenson, an intellectual who had served in many government jobs, including as governor of Illinois.

When historians and pundits search for antecedents for Trump's major-party candidacy, they go way back most often to Andrew Jackson, the U.S.'s first populist president and a real-estate baron in his day.

Jackson's campaign in 1828 consisted mostly of name-calling. Among other things, Jackson accused his opponent, President John Quincy Adams, of being the czar's pimp while serving as the U.S. ambassador to Russia. Adams's side accused Jackson of massacring Indians -- and eating some for breakfast the next morning.

While in retrospect it's clear how different philosophically Jackson and Adams were, you might not have figured that out reading warring newspaper accounts of the time.

Even the greatest presidents offered less substance than we appreciate today. "Abraham Lincoln kept his mouth quite shut on the big issue of his day: What would he do about the secession that Southerners threatened?" Brands says. In fact, "he kept his mouth shut clear till his inauguration." But because the Democrats had split, his victory was guaranteed by the electoral arithmetic.

Modern-day nominees have gotten away with being vague about policy, too, says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton University. Ronald Reagan had a few big ideas -- attacking Communism, cutting taxes, shrinking government -- yet was often criticized for a lack of specificity. His 1980 opponent, President Jimmy Carter, failed to convince voters that his detailed policy knowledge would serve voters better, says Zelizer, who has written political biographies of Carter and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In 2000, Vice President Al Gore had a tough time pinning down George W. Bush on what he would do if elected. Bush got tripped up occasionally on the names of foreign leaders and the nuances of policy. But because he had been governor of Texas, few doubted that he held strong views on the issues and would put together a government to pursue those goals.

Contrast this with Trump. Not only does he avoid laying out the details of how he would fix the problems he has promised to solve. "He is defiantly uninterested in policy," Zelizer says.

Trump instead seems to be imitating popular culture, Zelizer says, and its fascination with the antihero -- such as Walter White, the teacher-turned-meth dealer in "Breaking Bad" or Don Draper in "Mad Men." Much like the villains we root for, he is "unlikable but emotionally relatable," in Zelizer's description. (My View colleague, Timothy L. O'Brien, has described Trump's fixation on Clint Eastwood.)

This persona helped Trump defeat 16 Republican rivals during the primaries, and he probably assumes it will work well against Hillary Clinton, too. In this light, his belittling, ad hominem attacks that ignore Clinton's many 10-point white papers make calculated sense.

So does Trump's insinuation that President Barack Obama sympathizes with Islamic terrorists. "If the incumbent or his party has been discredited sufficiently, the challenger can run a successful, content-free campaign," says Brands, whose most recent presidential biography is "Reagan: The Life."

The lesson for the presumptive Republican nominee? Who needs detailed policies when name-calling works just fine. So far, anyway.


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

What Bernie Sanders Has Already Done for Hillary Clinton

By moving her to the left, he's given her a chance to look like a candidate—and president—of the future.


By Jeet Heer
The New Republic
June 15, 2016

Bernie Sanders, who was born in 1941 before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the official American entry into World War II, is the oldest presidential candidate (still) in a race dominated by senior citizens, yet he’s made his mark as the youth candidate. Sanders’s major rival is only slightly younger than him (Hillary Clinton was born in 1947), but Sanders completely dominated with young voters in the primaries that officially concluded last night. Even Barack Obama’s legendary connection with young Democrats in 2008 pales in comparison: While Obama won 60 percent of their vote in that primary season, Sanders captured 71 percent eight years later. And he did it by running on the most explicitly economically progressive presidential campaign since at least George McGovern in 1972, or perhaps even Henry Wallace in 1948.

Although Sanders is winding down his campaign, he’s likely to cast an unusually large shadow for a losing candidate, and the reason can be summed up in one sentence: He mobilized a large left-wing youth vote that will dominate the Democratic Party and shape a generation’s political aspirations for years to come.

Clinton seems to be very cognizant of Sanders’s impact—and she really has no choice. In her historic speech last Tuesday when she became presumptive nominee of the party, she said all the usual magnanimous things about Sanders—that “he has spent his long career in public service fighting for progressive causes and principles, and he’s excited millions of voters, especially young people,” and so on. But you could hear Sanders’s influence most unmistakably when she wound down her tribute by sounding nothing like the old, cautious, let’s-find-middle-ground Clinton: “Senator Sanders, his campaign, and the vigorous debate that we’ve had about how to raise incomes, reduce inequality, increase upward mobility have been very good for the Democratic Party and for America. ... We all want an economy with more opportunity and less inequality, where Wall Street can never wreck Main Street again.”

The impact that Sanders has had on Clinton can be seen not just in the sharper class angle of her denunciations of Wall Street, but also her reversals on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Keystone XL Pipeline, as well as her increasing receptiveness to raising the minimum wage to $15 and expanding health care coverage to allow people to, she now says, “buy into Medicare at a certain age.” And it’s not just Clinton who has been pulled to the left: President Obama’s coming out in favor of expanding Social Security recently would have been unthinkable if not for the way Sanders has proven there is a receptive audience for progressive economic policy.

By tugging Clinton to the left, Sanders was doing her a huge favor—one that may very well help her win in November, and that will make her presidency, if she wins, likely far more consequential. Sanders pulled her in the direction her party, and especially its youngest voters, were already heading—but where cautious Clinton wasn’t guaranteed to move without a big push. A poll released earlier this year by Pew indicated how much Democrats have moved left just since Clinton’s first run for president:

In 2015, more Democratic voters identified as liberals (42%) than as moderates (38%) or conservatives (17%), based on an average of Pew Research Center political surveys conducted last year. In 2008, when Barack Obama defeated Clinton for the party’s nomination, 41% of Democratic voters called themselves moderates, while just 33% said they were liberals and 23% said they were conservatives. And in 2000, moderate Democratic voters outnumbered liberals by 45% to 27%.

It was these increasingly liberal voters who provided the backbone of the Sanders movement. Sanders has been the gateway through which young liberals have entered the party (and much of their frustration with the rules and regulations was the natural clash between newcomers and long-time Democrats). By taking the inchoate economic frustrations of this millennial cohort and finding ways to channel them into democratic socialist policies, Sanders has shifted the equilibrium within the Democratic Party—and American politics writ large.

Clinton, like her husband, is an instinctive triangulater, someone who has always positioned herself smack dab in the middle of where the Democratic Party is. But that middle spot isn’t fixed. Thanks to Sanders it has moved markedly to the left—a trend that will likely continue as Sanders voters rise in the ranks of the party and replace their elders. It’s possible that Sanders could bow out this week, but he can look back to his primary run as having been transformative.

Bernie Sanders won’t ever be president, but he joins the small, elite group of political figures who have changed American politics as much as any resident of the White House even without ever becoming commander-in-chief. Losing candidates can also re-configure politics, as Barry Goldwater and Jesse Jackson showed. Goldwater was buried in an electoral avalanche in 1964, but his campaign made the conservative movement the dominant wing of the GOP and prepared the groundwork for the ascent of Ronald Reagan. Jackson didn’t win the Democratic nomination, but his model of a Rainbow Coalition (made up of minority groups, feminists, the young, and LGBT people) prefigured the Obama coalition more than the old-school liberalism of Walter Mondale or the technocratic politics of Michael Dukakis.

Just as Goldwater paved the way for Reagan and Jackson for Obama, Sanders will shape future Democratic administrations, perhaps as early as next year if Clinton wins. He’s made Clinton a better candidate, and he’s transformed the sense of possibilities among progressives. Sanders’s message all along was: Don’t settle. Don’t believe that the partisanship and big money and Democrats’ compromises and perpetual gridlock means that we can’t still make huge, sweeping change happen. He’s lifted the sights of young progressives, and that will continue to move the party—and, most likely, a President Clinton—for years and decades to come.


Article Link to The New Republic:

Trump Charity Was A Political Slush Fund

When the presumptive GOP nominee doled out money to veteran’s groups over the past few months, he did so using the Trump Foundation—which, according to FEC rules, is not allowed.


By Tim Mak and Andrew Desiderio 
The Daily Beast
June 16, 2016

The Trump Foundation, Donald Trump’s nonprofit organization, is under fire for allegedly operating as more of a political slush fund than a charity. The foundation is accused of violating rules prohibiting it from engaging in politics—prompting ethics watchdogs to call for public investigations.

On numerous occasions this year, Trump’s campaign work and his foundation work have overlapped—putting himself at risk for penalties and his charity at risk of being shut down.

It’s the latest example of Trump courting controversy: not merely through inflammatory rhetoric, but also through private dealings that raise serious legal questions—all of which indicate how he might govern if elected president of the United States.

Trump is listed as the president of the foundation in the charity’s annual disclosures, and his children Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump are all listed as directors. Foundations like theirs are exempt from paying taxes, and as such are barred from engaging in political causes.

“A 501(c)(3) [non-profit organization], like the Trump Foundation, is strictly prohibited from engaging in political activity. On its tax forms, the Foundation told the IRS that it does not,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

But in key early primary states this year, Trump handed out Foundation checks to charities at campaign rallies. This also calls into question “whether the foundation provided the campaign with an illegal in-kind contribution by providing services for what was a campaign event. Under the campaign finance laws… providing anything of value to a campaign for free or at less than fair market value is a contribution to the campaign,” said Larry Noble, the general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center.

And in 2013, the Trump Foundation donated $25,000 to a political organization supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi—an action the foundation is prohibited from taking, and which it failed to report on its disclosures.

The Trump campaign blamed this failure on clerical mistakes, but legal experts are sounding the alarm because at the time Bondi was reviewing complaints surrounding the businessman’s controversial Trump University project.

Both the contribution to Bondi and the overlap between the Trump campaign and his charity should be publicly examined, government watchdogs said.

“This should be investigated. There are troubling legal issues posed in both circumstances,” said Richard Skinner, a money-in-politics policy analyst at the Sunlight Foundation. “There is definately [use of] a charitable foundation in an inappropriate way.”

Noble, the general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, added that the Federal Election Commission and the IRS should both open an investigation into whether any laws were broken.

Notably, Donald Trump has legal expertise at his disposal that would allow him to know better than to put himself at risk for these violations. Donald F. McGahn, a Trump lawyer who works for the firm Jones Day, is a former FEC chairman. McGahn did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.

Trump decided to skip the January Fox News GOP debate in protest of Megyn Kelly, whose question at a debate in August prompted an onslaught of criticism from Trump and his supporters. He held a charity event for veterans instead, during which he claimed to have raised $6 million. (After much prodding from reporters, and months of delay, he accounted for $5.6 million of the original figure.)

This money was disbursed gradually, and the involvement of the foundation was clear. At multiple campaign rallies this year, the businessman handed out Trump Foundation checks to veterans’ charities.

“It would be one thing to raise money for the charity and send it to them. But if receiving the contribution was dependent on attending the campaign event, it looks like the purpose of the whole thing was to support the campaign,” Noble said. “It raises serious questions when you make a charity part of your campaign event. It could create legal problems for both the campaign and the charity.”

On January 30, with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. by his side at a campaign rally in Davenport, Iowa, Trump presented a $100,000 Trump Foundation check to Puppy Jake, a charity which supports veterans by providing service dogs.

Puppy Jake’s executive director, Becky Beach, told The Daily Beast that the Trump campaign had been in touch with her about the Trump Foundation’s contribution.

“They called me on the phone,” Beach said, but she could not remember who on the campaign her organization had coordinated with to organize their rally appearance. It was likely an “advance guy” from the Trump campaign, she said.

The next day, the day before the Iowa caucuses, the founder of Support Siouxland Soldiers, another vets charity, appeared on stage with Trump at a Sioux City campaign rally to accept a $100,000 Trump Foundation check.

Support Siouxland Soldiers executive director Sarah Petersen told The Daily Beast that she had been in touch with a Trump staffer named Hope, and provided the phone number they used in order to discuss the donation. The phone number matches up with the campaign’s listed number for Hope Hicks, the Trump campaign’s spokeswoman.

In New Hampshire, those in Trump’s orbit tried to organize a similar rally. They reached out to Keith Howard, the executive director of a local vets charity called Liberty House.

Earlier this year, Howard told The Daily Beast he received a call from a figure affiliated with the Trump campaign, who said that Trump would like to present them with a six-figure check at a Londonderry, N.H., rally right before the Granite State’s primary.

Howard, concerned that being presented with money by a political candidate at a political rally might jeopardize his charity’s nonprofit status, called an expert in the state’s attorney general’s office, who confirmed his suspicions.

Howard declined to attend the rally, and Trump instead presented the check to a New Hampshire state representative who advised him on veterans issues. The state representative ultimately passed those funds along to Howard’s group, without the fanfare.

More recently, following pressure from the press to account for the $6 million he supposedly raised, the Trump campaign announced donations to 20 additional charities. Nine of them, all of which received checks from the Trump Foundation, responded to The Daily Beast’s inquiries. Representatives for each organization said they were neither in contact with the Trump campaign nor were asked to appear at campaign rallies.

The Daily Beast’s attempts to contact the Trump Foundation suggest that the charity exists largely on paper. A phone call to the number listed on the Trump Foundation’s annual disclosures led to a staffer for the Trump Organization, the umbrella group for Trump’s business dealings. Multiple phone calls to the organization failed to yield contact with a foundation staffer.

At one point, a Daily Beast reporter was told that Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokesperson, was responsible for media inquiries related to the foundation. During a second phone call, the reporter was told to contact Justin McConney, who supposedly handles the foundation’s account and donations. Calls and emails to McConney—whose official title is director of new media for the Trump Organization—went unreturned.

The Trump campaign and the Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.

The Trump Foundation is already under a microscope.

CREW has filed a complaint against the Trump Foundation over the contribution to Bondi in March, claiming that the charity made an illegal political donation and failed to disclose it to the IRS; and Florida State Sen. Dwight Bullard has written to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking for the Justice Department to investigate the donation.

“Trump apparently does not understand either [the Federal Election Campaign Act] or the tax code and seems to have encouraged both organizations to cross the line,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at the consumer rights group Public Citizen.

When the foundation’s activity crosses over into politics, Holman said, it poses a potential violation of the FECA, which prohibits campaign coordination with outside groups that are not subject to political contribution limits and disclosure requirements.

Philip Hackney, a law professor who spent five years working for the IRS’ chief counsel, said the apparent coordination between the foundation and the campaign was “unwise” because it could put his foundation—and its tax-exempt status—in jeopardy.

The Bondi donation is probably sufficient evidence for the IRS to open an audit into the Trump Foundation, Hackney told The Daily Beast, adding that Trump himself could be subjected to extra taxes.

“I don’t know that they’ll even audit him,” Hackney said. “I think it’s dangerous, particularly politically for them right now, to audit in this realm. That bothers me, given what I see in this particular case, but I don’t know that the IRS has another choice in so
ways.”


Article Link to the The Daily Beast:

Funding Terrorism — And The Clintons

By Post Editorial Board
The New York Post
June 16, 2016

In the wake of Orlando, Hillary Clinton called out Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait for “funding extremist organizations” and “supporting radical schools and mosques all over the world.” What she didn’t mention is that all three also fund … her.

The three countries are all guilty as charged. And they’re not just funders of terrorism: All three make homosexual acts punishable by prison or even death.

But the Clintons have taken millions of dollars from those same governments through their family foundation.

Which rather tarnishes Clinton’s proud post-Orlando vow to the LGBT community that she “will keep fighting for your right to live freely, openly and without fear.”

Which they can’t do in Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Kuwait.

Nor is there any sign Hillary, as a US senator or as secretary of state, ever tried to do anything substantive about either problem.

Let alone say, Bill and I won’t take your cash unless you end your repressive, anti-women, anti-gay and pro-terrorist policies.

Make no mistake: These governments have kicked in big-time to the Clinton Foundation, especially after Hillary began her White House run. And you can be sure they all want something in return.

The Saudis have not only given $10 million to $25 million to the foundation, they also donated $10 million to help fund Bill Clinton’s presidential library.

The Foundation insists all this Mideast cash is “helping improve the lives of millions of people across the world.” But why have the three nations given far more to the Clintons than to any other charity?

It’s all well and good that Hillary vows to “defeat terrorist groups” and protect gays. She should start with her Mideast friends.


Article Link to the New York Post:

The Coming Political Catastrophe

By Peter Wehner
Commentary
June 16, 2016

Donald Trump is in the midst of a fairly dramatic collapse in public opinion polls.

What seems to be happening isn’t that Hillary Clinton is on the rise. Rather, Trump’s popularity is dangerously low for a presumptive presidential nominee at this stage (pre-summer) of the race. And since the start of June, the trend for Trump has been alarming.

Several recent polls confirm this observation. A new Bloomberg Politics national poll shows Clinton leading Trump with 49 percent to 37 percent among likely voters in November’s election. 55 percent of those polled say they could never vote for the real-estate developer and TV personality. Women are a majority of voters, and a full 63 percent of them say they could never vote for Trump.

Then there is the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showing that negative views of Trump have surged to 70 percent, their highest level of the 2016 campaign. (Hillary Clinton’s are at 55 percent.) It’s not only that Trump’s negatives are sky-high; it’s also that a majority of those who have negative impressions of him (56 percent) hold those views “strongly.”

And for those Trump supporters who are hoping he will benefit from his response to the Orlando massacre, based on the belief that he comes across as “strong” and “tough” and will protect us, there’s this: In a new CBS News poll, more than half (51 percent) of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is responding to the Orlando attack, while only a quarter (25 percent) approve.

So let’s take a step back to place where we are. This should be a moment, late spring/early summer, when Trump is consolidating Republican support and fortifying his position. Instead, the empirical evidence shows he is in perfectly awful shape, as weak and vulnerable as any major presidential candidate in decades. He is positioned to be wiped out in November, despite the fact that Mrs. Clinton is a bad candidate with much baggage.

Just a few weeks ago, Trump supporters were upbeat because he was within just a few points of Hillary Clinton. This was a false dawn. What they didn’t take into account is that she was still in a pitched battle with Bernie Sanders, which meant the Democratic support she can count on in the fall was suppressed. Trump, having effectively won the nomination, was consolidating Republican support. Once Clinton effectively secured the nomination, which she has now done, the gap was bound to increase. The fact that Trump was still losing to Clinton when he had that advantage should actually have been a warning sign.

What should be particularly worrisome for those rooting for Trump is that things have gotten markedly worse. Negative views of Trump have increased 10 points in the last month. That is because he is acting just as he has acted all year. The hope that he’ll flip the switch and become more “presidential,” more unifying, and less repulsive just isn’t happening. The Trump attacks on Judge Curiel and his heritage, arguing that because Curiel was a “Mexican” (he is not) he had an “inherent conflict of interest” and was, therefore, unable to render a fair judgment–along with Trump dabbling in more crazy conspiracy theories (Vince Foster was murdered!) and now suggesting that the president is either connected to/sympathetic with Islamic terrorists–are all simply the latest additions to the same script.

Republicans now have to struggle with the realization of what they have done, the nature of the man their party has nominated, and the coming political catastrophe. It is a very painful time for the party of Lincoln.


Article Link to Commentary:

The Faith Of The Smug, Urban Left

By Noah Rothman
Commentary
June 16, 2016

A Case Western Reserve University study defines “projection” as a defense mechanism in which an individual casts what he perceives to be his negative traits onto others. “A more rigorous understanding involves perceiving others as having traits that one inaccurately believes oneself not to have,” the study’s authors wrote. There is no better way to explain the collective unseemly antipathy expressed by the pop-cultural left toward the prayerful in the wake of mass violence.

The latest liberal icon to condemn prayer as the act of heedless people committed to inaction is the TBS news-chat show host Samantha Bee. Her furious remarks on the Orlando massacre received a great deal of praise and attention this week. And why, because Bee reserved her greatest condemnation of this event, in which at least 49 were killed by a radical Islamist who had pledged his loyalty to ISIS, for those who invoke the utility of prayer in response to horror. “The biggest, most helpful thing you can do to ensure this never happens again is [to] sit quietly in a room with your eyes closed, talking to nobody,” Bee said in sarcastic admonition of Florida Governor Rick Scott, who said he and others should pray for his state’s residents as they cope with the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001. “Stop thinking and do something to improve our society!” By which she meant, stop praying.

This is hardly a unique reaction among liberals to the atrocity of mass violence or terroristic attacks in America. In December, liberals and Democrats chose to attack prayer and faith—not of those fanatical Islamists who, inspired by ISIS, slaughtered 14 in San Bernardino—but of their fellow Americans, predominantly Christians.

Think Progress’ Igor Volsky mounted a crusade against those GOP lawmakers who he insisted offered the survivors of San Bernardino and other victims of gun violence “prayers and little else.” The New York Daily News’ increasingly hysterical front-page editor lashed out at Republicans by highlighting the GOP officeholders who dared to pray for the victims. “God isn’t fixing this,” the paper’s unhinged front page blared. “‘Thoughts and prayers’—particularly from our lawmakers—are simply not enough,” said Senator Chris Murphy. “[O]ur country deserve more than our thoughts and prayers,” Senator Dick Durbin echoed.

This reaction is, to begin with, a prejudicial attack on the faithful founded in ignorance. Those who believe in “the power of prayer” do not think that is a figurative expression. They see the act of prayer as a demonstration of agency and an intervention into events they otherwise cannot control, not a display of helplessness. The secular, urban left, which has little use for God, let alone prayer, imposes its preconceptions on the prayerful without realizing that in doing so they are only exposing themselves as insular and unacquainted with people of faith.

If expressing faith in an omnipotent higher power to effect change and to keep the public safe is condemnable, the left should perhaps be a bit more cautious about whom it chooses to condemn. The prayerful are not merely sitting at home on their knees muttering to themselves; they are actively aiding the Orlando recovery effort. Local churches spent the Sunday after the attack organizing blood drives, producing lines that stretched across blocks and in which donors waited up to three hours. Even the local Chick-Fil-A, dubbed by the fanatical left a hate restaurant because its owners are religious and personally object to same sex-marriage, opened its doors on Sunday. The restaurant decided to contravene its 70-year tradition of closing on that day so that its employees can spend time with their families and “worship if they choose to do so,” in order to provide food donations to emergency workers.

Surely, the motives of Bee and others who berate the prayerful are pure. They seek not merely to mitigate the damage from this atrocity but to prevent the next one. That is a noble impulse, but they decline to debate the merits and efficacy of their preferred solutions (both of which are highly debatable). Instead, they attack others for doing nothing while placing an undue amount of faith in a demonstrably flawed and often ineffectual institution—the federal government. When the prayerful are done praying, they work to effect the change they want to see in the world. By contrast, Bee and her fellow liberals prefer “talking to nobody” from the comfort of a studio.


Article Link to Commentary Magazine:

NATO Must Stop Crowding Russia

Menacing moves on Moscow's doorstep are a bad idea.


By Ted Galen Carpenter
The National Interest
June 16, 2016

The announcement [3] that NATO would deploy four battalions of troops to the Baltic republics and Poland [3]is merely the latest evidence that Western officials are utterly tone deaf about how their actions are going to be received in Moscow. The apparent assumption is that such a vigorous display of determination to protect the security of the Alliance’s vulnerable eastern members will cow the Kremlin and prevent any inclination to engage in coercive measures. Those officials seem oblivious to the notion that even reasonable Russians, much less the somewhat paranoid crowd gathered around President Vladimir Putin, might regard NATO’s moves as menacing to Russia’s core security interests.

It is an attitude that Western leaders need to alter drastically before the current, rather chilly, relationship with Russia escalates into a full-blown second Cold War. Indeed, the ongoing tensions have the potential to escalate into an armed conflict with nuclear implications. And unlike the original Cold War, in which Moscow bore most of the blame for the confrontation, this time the United States and its allies have that dubious distinction.

Western, especially U.S., leaders steadfastly refuse to concede Moscow even a limited sphere of influence or security zone along its borders. It has been a bipartisan view in American policy circles. Both Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, and John Kerry, Barack Obama’s, sharply condemned Russia for taking military action against recalcitrant neighbors and explicitly rejected even the theoretical legitimacy of a sphere of influence. In Rice’s case, the triggering incident [4] involved the military conflict in Georgia; [4]in Kerry’s, the annexation [5] of Crimea.

There is also a pervasive bipartisan assumption that Russia is an aggressively expansionist power. A new report by the House GOP, “Achieving U.S. Security Through Leadership & Liberty [6],” [6]fully embraces that view without any meaningful caveats. And clearly the Obama administration’s foreign- and defense-policy teams have been operating on the same assumption.

But is it a valid assumption? During the Cold War, Moscow was animated by a messianic global ideology. Today’s Russia is not. The Soviet Union aggressively attempted to extend its influence into far-flung portions of the world. Today’s Russia seems to focus on Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Black Sea—all areas that have obvious strategic importance to even the most defensive-minded Russian state.

Some of Moscow’s geopolitical actions may be crude, even brutal. That was certainly true of its role in helping secessionists to detach the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia. It was also true of the annexation of Crimea and the military support for separatists in the Donbass region of Ukraine. But one has to ask whether those maneuvers were any cruder than NATO’s earlier [7] forcible detachment of Kosovo from Serbia[7]or NATO-member Turkey’s detachment of northern Cyprus from the government of that country. And Russia had much stronger security justifications for its actions.

Americans especially should ask when and why the fate of such countries as the Baltic republics, Georgia, and Ukraine became a vital security interest of the United States. Because we now apparently regard their security as sufficiently important that we are willing to risk a military confrontation, perhaps even a full-scale war, with Russia. Given Russia’s sizable nuclear arsenal, that would be an act of folly.

Let’s remember that until the collapse of the Soviet Union—and at other times in the history of the Russian empire—those countries have been under Moscow’s direct control. For example, until Nikita Khrushchev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, gifted the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, that peninsula had been part of Russia since 1783. And Moscow’s control over such areas did not matter a whit to the United States. So why now, when we face a weakened Russia, a country with a declining population and a host of economic vulnerabilities, does the U.S. and its allies seem intent on provoking a confrontation?

Smart great powers show a decent respect for the security zones and spheres of influence of other great powers [8]. [8]Geography matters. Any major country is going to resent other nations intruding militarily into its immediate neighborhood. Imagine the U.S. reaction, for example, if an alliance led by China or India acquired clients and deployed military units in the Caribbean or Central America. We would justifiably regard such conduct as extremely menacing. Why do we then assume that the Russians should regard NATO’s actions in places such as the Baltic republics and the Black Sea differently? The current policy course is a tragic accident waiting to happen.


Article Link to The National Interest:

USA vs. Pakistan vs. Iran: The Three-Way Battle For Afghanistan

They could tear it apart—or work together.


By Alex Vatanka
The National Interest
June 16, 2016

On June 6, Khorasan Province of Islamic State claimed credit for the killing of Sher Wali Wardak, an Afghan parliamentarian. If confirmed, the killing will represent a new chapter in ISIS’s capacity to operate in Afghanistan. The attack happened as professors from Ghazni University in the eastern part of the country are warning of ISIS infiltration of the university, another sign that the group seeks to expand its base of support in the country. Elsewhere, Afghan media have reported that Al Qaeda is making efforts to strengthen its relations with the Taliban, which has been confirmed by Gen. Charles Cleveland, spokesman for NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. While radical Islamists of various shades continue to conspire and thrive on Afghan soil, the necessary pushback by regional states and the international community is still not in place. Fighting radical Islamists in Afghanistan represents a golden opportunity for international cooperation, including the United States, Iran and Pakistan. History shows it can be done.

Cursed to Be a Battleground


The idea of securing peace in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future might seem to be a pipe dream today. A decade and half after the toppling of the Taliban in late 2001 and many billions of dollars in foreign aid, the country still faces an array of calamitous challenges. From political gridlock and petty competition for power among the country’s small elite, to prevalent corruption, to a widespread sense of hopelessness within the general population, Afghanistan sits in a hard place. In the midst of all its domestic struggles, Afghanistan also needs to contend with the rivaling agendas of foreign powers, including those states—such as the United States—that are still engaged in stabilization efforts in the country, and neighboring states—such as Iran and Pakistan—that continue to view Afghan soil as battleground for geopolitical rivalry through support for local proxies. This state of affairs is hardly a new development. History shows that for decades Afghanistan has been a stage for turf wars among regional actors.

Another equally important reality is that warring Afghans are themselves mostly to be blamed for always seeking external patrons. But recent history also shows that when principal foreign actors with a vested interest in Afghan affairs converge on the lowest common denominator, Afghanistan benefits. Throughout the period from the end of the Second World War until the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet military in December 1979, that common denominator was the threat posed by Moscow to Afghan sovereignty. This test was the central point that for decades unified American, Iranian and Pakistani interests on the Afghan question.

Today the Soviet Union has long disappeared from the political map, but extremist Islamists from Taliban, Al Qaeda and now ISIS all pose a menacing threat to Afghanistan on the back of a debilitated central government in Kabul. This threat and many other questions on the future of Afghanistan appear at a time when Iran is about to resurface on the global mainstream stage, following years of isolation due to its controversial nuclear program. Not only is Iran a key player that can go a long way to constructively shape Afghan politics, but other key players in this context—most notably the United States and Pakistan—have separately signaled a willingness to cooperate with Tehran whenever a mutual interest is at stake. In such a setting, nothing is perhaps more pressing for all three states—the United States, Iran and Pakistan—than to find ways to collaborate to help Afghanistan stand on its feet.

Zero-Sum Games


What probably trumps all other obstacles in the path of international cooperation on Afghanistan is the still dominant tendency to consider the country as a winner-take-all proposition. That is to say, a conviction that going it alone and with those states that shares one’s narrow objectives, and thus hoping for the largest dividend in terms of amount of leverage in shaping Afghanistan’s trajectory, is preferable to alternatives. That is certainly the unfortunate reality of postures adopted by Iran and Pakistan—both with a rich history of having backed various Afghan groups—but also other important regional actors, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Russian Federation.

Consider the important issue of regional cooperation and the long-term hope for economic integration in a part of the world where cross-border partnership is dismally limited. In April 2016, it was announced that Afghanistan, India and Iran completed negotiations on the use of Chabahar, a southern Iranian port on the Indian Ocean that has for decades been identified as a strategic channel linking the landlocked states of Central Asia and Afghanistan to international waters. The port is considered a huge boon to Afghan international trade potential and the economic growth that might come as a result.

The announcement came during a visit to Tehran by the Indian oil minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, who also pledged $20 billion in Indian investments in the port complex. The size of the pledged Indian financial commitment to the project is certainly striking compared to the trend in the region. But what is not innovative is the basic premise behind India’s intention to invest in Chabahar. Delhi’s goal is to sideline Pakistani territory in regional infrastructure projects linking the Indian market to Central Asia and Afghanistan. This is a supreme example of the zero-sum mentality that has long plagued West Asia and the Indian subcontinent. However, the Indians and their Iranian cohorts in this effort are not alone in acting in such a unilateral fashion as to undermine broader and more inclusive regional integration.

If fact, the exact blueprint is used by officials in Islamabad, which with the help of China seeks to make Chabahar’s rival—the port of Gwadar in Pakistani Baluchistan—into a strategic hub that can service the Afghan and Central Asian hinterlands. In 2015, China announced $46 billion in investment as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which includes Islamabad giving Beijing ownership of Gwadar Port and making it into a free trade zone to enable Chinese-driven commerce from the proposed commercial center.

And yet this state of affairs cannot be merely attributed to Iran and Pakistan becoming pawns in the swelling Sino-Indian competition for power and influence across Asia. Tehran and Islamabad not only provide the physical bases for such Sino-Indian projects, but have in fact been cheerleaders for such extraregional matchups, with the hope that schemes they support will prevail. In the case of the port of Chabahar, the winner-takes-all viewpoint was evident from the earliest days when it was no more than a concept.

Back in 1972, shortly after Zulfikar Bhutto had assumed power in Pakistan, he quietly offered the United States access to air and naval bases in the country’s Baluchistan province. What was notable about the hushed offer was that it came very shortly after the shah of Iran, and Bhutto’s dependable ally, had announced a $8 billion project to turn Chabahar into Iran’s first deep blue-water port on the Indian Ocean. The shah had, among other things, intended to provide a base for large U.S. Navy vessels, and Bhutto moved to undercut him with a counteroffer to Washington. The most telling part of this episode was that it occurred at a time when both Iran and Pakistan were firmly in the U.S. camp against the Soviet Union, and were otherwise at least rhetorically committed to closer ties through various mechanisms in which both enjoyed membership, including the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and the Regional Cooperation for Development. Despite all the fanfare, when it came to concrete action, Iran and Pakistan were anything but hand-in-hand.

Goodwill Years

Nonetheless, history also shows that Iran and Pakistan have in the past been able to cooperate on diplomatic, security and economic matters when conditions called for it. The Afghan question was at the heart of it and United States was at the same time a major driving force and enabler of such cooperation among the three countries. The U.S. objective was principally to prevent a successful Soviet push southwards into the region from Soviet Central Asia, and Washington at the time held the belief that it was encouraging an integration trend that was already in motion.

From the late 1950s, before Iranian state coffers enjoyed their unprecedented windfall from oil incomes, there were voices in Islamabad that argued closer policy coordination across the board with Tehran would bring many benefits, including lessening the tension in Afghanistan-Pakistan ties. The same Zulfikar Bhutto would also as late as the mid-1970s ask the Pakistani foreign ministry to prepare policy papers on the issue of a potential confederation with Iran. The Shah too entertained the idea of Pakistan as an anchor to bolster his position in the region. Throughout the 1950 and 1960s, Afghanistan was touted as the third leg in this discussed regional confederation.

U.S. planning took into account practical military needs as much as political considerations. Were a confederation to be achieved, Afghanistan’s vast landscape would, it was said, give Pakistan additional space in which to maneuver her military forces against a Soviet invasion. Still, the by far the weakest link in the debated idea of an Afghanistan-Iran-Pakistan confederation was the dismal state of affairs between Kabul and Islamabad. Relations had begun very badly at Pakistan’s independence in 1948 and remained tense. Here the shah of Iran proved more than apt, albeit only occasionally and never lastingly. In the 1960s and 1970s, he repeatedly engaged in shuttle diplomacy to calm tensions between his quarrelling eastern neighbors. In order to pave the way for reconciliation and economic growth as a prerequisite to maintain peace, successful attempts were made to integrate on various levels. As early as 1962, Tehran and Kabul signed a five-year transit agreement, providing Afghanistan with an important alternative conduit to the world. However, there is no evidence that Iran’s intention was ever to gain more leverage in Afghanistan at the expense of the Pakistanis.

Washington soon recognized that a confederation required too many political concessions from all parties involved, and changed tack. CENTO, an entirely untested military alliance, became the chief vehicle for closer economic integration, including U.S.-supported pan-regional development of road, rail and communication infrastructures. The idea was to make some of Iran’s ports on the Persian Gulf into centers for commerce and link them up via a network of roads to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Lessons from the Past


Back then, Washington’s bottom line was clear: it would support Afghanistan as long as its government was not unfriendly, in order to prevent Kabul from falling into Moscow’s lap. A key element in this was to broker better ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan; here, Iran was a net positive contributing factor. The legacy of such efforts remains to this day, including the then world’s longest line-of-sight microwave telecommunication system, to run from the Turkish capital Ankara through Tehran to Karachi—a distance of some five thousand kilometers.

In contrast, from the early 1990s, Iran and Pakistan had become chief rivals for influence in Afghanistan and pursued policies, which amounted to nothing short of a proxy war between Tehran and Islamabad as each sought to outdo the other in amount leverage they could garner in Afghanistan. Unless Iran and Pakistan revise their Afghan policies, the two countries might soon again be on a collision path, and a crash that could come even sooner depending on the timing and scale of Western withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In other words, the quest for influence in Afghanistan might reemerge with a vengeance. The international nuclear agreement with Iran in July 2015 will not remove all the suspicion and baggage, which will continue to impact U.S.-Iranian relations. But if Washington and Tehran opt to identify and cooperate on common interests, then very few topics are as worthy as collaboration around the future of Afghanistan. At the very least, both sides can work and help the Afghan government to make sure that the emergence of cells of Islamic State in that country are contained. Regardless of both Iran and Pakistan’s complicated relations with Taliban and Al Qaeda, the fight against ISIS and making sure that the movement fails in any attempt to transplant itself in West Asia is one that Islamabad and Tehran share with Washington.

Still, the greatest impediment in closer Iranian-Pakistani cooperation today is that, unlike the 1960s and 1970s, neither Iran nor Pakistan has the other as part of its top-tier foreign policy agenda. It is almost as if managed tension is the best that can be hoped for in bilateral relations. Structural roadblocks are an important constraint. It is the two countries’ respective security and intelligence agencies—and not the foreign ministries—that are the dominant actors in shaping policy toward each other. This in turn makes security-centric considerations dominate the conversation.

In comparison, trade and other sources of economic cooperation are almost entirely absent from the bilateral discourse in any meaningful way, despite ample rhetorical pledges. Among its immediate neighbors, Iran, with its eighty-million-strong population, today trades least with Pakistan, which happens to be by far its biggest neighbor with a 190-million-strong market. If narrow and tactical geopolitical calculations persist in fashioning Tehran and Islamabad’s approach to each other, including on the question of combating extremist Islamists in Afghanistan, then the huge potential for a much broader and multifaceted relations will be left unexplored.



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How Europe Pushed Britain Toward The Door

By Clive Crook
The Bloomberg View
June 16, 2016

So Britain might actually do it. With a week to go before the referendum on June 23, recent polls say the campaign to quit the European Union is ahead. The government and its allies in the Stay campaign are alarmed.

Why is this happening?

The excellence of the Leave campaign certainly isn't the reason. Advocates of Brexit made a weak case, unable to say what leaving the EU would mean for the country's future trade arrangements or which parts of EU law would be re-adopted and which discarded. It wasn't because these issues can't be debated in advance -- they can -- but because Leave advocates are divided among themselves on what leaving the EU ought to mean.

But while the Leave campaign was bad, the Stay campaign was worse. Prime Minister David Cameron and his allies were more competent than the other side in technical terms -- maybe to a fault. They bombarded voters with study after detailed study predicting dire results for the economy if the U.K. quits. But voters remember the earlier expert consensus that Britain should ditch sterling and join the euro system, and they see how that would have worked out.

The dismal record of expert insight on Britain and Europe created a credibility problem, and the endless repetitions and recyclings of Cameron's "Project Fear" were never going to solve it.

Failing to get traction, the Stay campaign then made things worse by trending toward hysteria. All signs suggest that life outside the European Union is possible; Switzerland isn't mired, so far as one can see, in perpetual poverty. Yet the emphasis on the Britain's bleak future without the blessings of the European Commission went on.

A television audience recently laughed at Cameron when an interviewer asked him, "Which will come first, prime minister, World War Three or the Brexit recession?" Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, went one better recently, declaring that "Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also of western political civilization in its entirety."

Project Fear was a potentially fatal mistake. The positive case for a British future in Europe needed to be made as well. But spare a thought for Cameron: Europe's other leaders left him little choice in this.

The starting point for the campaigns -- the reason Cameron proposed a referendum in the first place -- was longstanding disaffection with the European project, lately amplified by fears over uncontrolled immigration. Cameron judged that this sentiment couldn't be ignored, partly because it threatened to split his party. He thought he could quell it by negotiating new terms with the EU and by promising to put the deal to voters.

Europe's other leaders could and should have helped him. They should have recognized him as an ally -- and in doing so would have strengthened the European project. Certainly, to judge by Tusk's comments, they recognize their interest in keeping Britain in. And they surely understand that Europe as a whole needs to change -- that anti-EU sentiment is on the rise in many other countries.

Yet they sent Cameron away from his vaunted renegotiation with too little. And the tone of their response was even more damaging than the lack of substance. The message came through loud and clear: It isn't Britain's place to tell Europe how to change.

Polls can be wrong. There are still enough undecided voters to give Cameron the win he's staked his career on, so long as they split disproportionately in his favor. They probably will, because undecideds usually play it safe. The betting markets, unlike the polls, still expect a vote to stay, though less confidently than before. Nonetheless, it's finally dawning on people that Brexit could happen.

It's the wrong choice. Quitting the EU would be a huge risk. The "Brexit recession" that Cameron was teased about might happen. Even if things didn't go catastrophically wrong, the costs would likely outweigh the gains. But if the U.K. does vote to quit, give the EU due credit. By demonstrating, at a critical moment, its impatience with popular opinion and implacable resistance to reform, it did all it could to make Brexit more likely.


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